What’s a Methodist?

United Methodists Today

umc cross and flameUnited Methodists are people who seek to love and serve God with our head, our heart, and our hands.  We are orthodox in faith, liberal in spirit, passionate and deeply devoted to Christ, and desire to be wholly surrendered to God.  We bring together both the evangelical and social gospel – inviting people to a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, and then equipping and challenging them to live their faith in the public sphere, being engaged in the issues of our time and seeking to shape a world that looks more like the Kingdom of God.  Methodists have been known as “reasonable enthusiasts” – valuing both a personal, passionate faith and one that is intellectually informed.  Methodists are constantly looking to connect our faith to the world in meaningful, relevant ways.  Methodists value spiritual disciplines and a “methodical” approach to growing in the faith.  They strive for both personal holiness and social holiness.

United Methodists are not afraid to ask difficult questions, to take on tough subjects, and to admit that they do not always understand the answers.  We are “people of the Book” – holding the Bible to be the inspired Word from God and encouraging people to read, study, and live by its words.  “While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve experience, tradition, and reason.  Like Scripture, these become creative vehicles of the Holy Spirit as they function within the church.”[1]  Methodists also believe the Bible came to us through people who heard God’s Word in the light of their own cultural and historical circumstances.  And hence, they study the scriptures carefully, making use of scholarship and asking critical questions.  And, as Methodists encounter theological differences amongst Christians, they bear in mind John Wesley’s approach, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”[2]

Methodists are people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and love their neighbors.  We pursue acts of piety toward God and acts of mercy toward others.  We value passionate worship, relevant preaching, small groups to hold Christians accountable to one another, the need to address the social issues of our time, and the need to be people whose faith is firmly rooted in and built upon the scriptures.  Methodists value the full participation of women and men, people of all races, classes, and backgrounds in all facets of fellowship and leadership within the church and society.

This is our heritage, and it continues to shape Morehead United Methodist Church in every area of our ministry.

 

Historical Statement

The United Methodist Church shares a common history and heritage with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. The lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703–1791) and of his brother, Charles (1707–1788), mark the origin of their common roots. Both John and Charles were Church of England missionaries to the colony of Georgia, arriving in March 1736. It was their only occasion to visit America. Their mission was far from an unqualified success, and both returned to England disillusioned and discouraged, Charles in December 1736, and John in February 1738.

Methodism spread quickly as John Wesley and his preachers took their message outside the church walls.

Methodism spread quickly as John Wesley and his preachers took their message outside the church walls.

Both of the Wesley brothers had transforming religious experiences in May 1738. In the years following, the Wesleys succeeded in leading a lively renewal movement in the Church of England. As the Methodist movement grew, it became apparent that their ministry would spread to the American colonies as some Methodists made the exhausting and hazardous Atlantic voyage to the New World.

Organized Methodism in America began as a lay movement. Among its earliest leaders were Robert Strawbridge, an immigrant farmer who organized work about 1760 in Maryland and Virginia, Philip Embury and his cousin, Barbara Heck, who began work in New York in 1766, and Captain Thomas Webb, whose labors were instrumental in Methodist beginnings in Philadelphia in 1767.

To strengthen the Methodist work in the colonies, John Wesley sent two of his lay preachers, Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore, to America in 1769. Two years later Richard Wright and Francis Asbury were also dispatched by Wesley to undergird the growing American Methodist societies. Francis Asbury became the most important figure in early American Methodism. His energetic devotion to the principles of Wesleyan theology, ministry, and organization shaped Methodism in America in a way unmatched by any other individual. In addition to the preachers sent by Wesley, some Methodists in the colonies also answered the call to become lay preachers in the movement.

The first conference of Methodist preachers in the colonies was held in Philadelphia in 1773. The ten who attended took several important actions. They pledged allegiance to Wesley’s leadership and agreed that they would not administer the sacraments because they were laypersons. Their people were to receive the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper at the local Anglican parish church. They emphasized strong discipline among the societies and preachers. A system of regular conferences of the preachers was inaugurated similar to those Wesley had instituted in England to conduct the business of the Methodist movement.

The American Revolution had a profound impact on Methodism. John Wesley’s Toryism (loyalism) and his writings against the revolutionary cause did not enhance the image of Methodism among many who supported independence. Furthermore, a number of Methodist preachers refused to bear arms to aid the patriots.

When independence from England had been won, Wesley recognized that changes were necessary in American Methodism. He sent Thomas Coke to America to superintend the work with Asbury. Coke brought with him a prayer book titled The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, prepared by Wesley and incorporating his revision of the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Two other preachers, Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey, whom Wesley had ordained, accompanied Coke. Wesley’s ordinations set a precedent that ultimately permitted Methodists in America to become an independent church.

In December 1784, the famous Christmas Conference of preachers was held in Baltimore at Lovely Lane Chapel to chart the future course of the movement in America. Most of the American preachers attended, probably including two African Americans, Harry Hosier and Richard Allen. It was at this gathering that the movement became organized as The Methodist Episcopal Church in America.

In the years following the Christmas Conference, The Methodist Episcopal Church published its first Discipline (1785), adopted a quadrennial General Conference, the first of which was held in 1792, drafted a Constitution in 1808, refined its structure, established a publishing house, and became an ardent proponent of revivalism and the camp meeting.

As The Methodist Episcopal Church was in its infancy, two other churches were being formed. In their earliest years they were composed almost entirely of German-speaking people. The first was founded by Philip William Otterbein (1726–1813) and Martin Boehm (1725–1812). Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, and Boehm, a Mennonite, preached an evangelical message and experience similar to the Methodists. In 1800 their followers formally organized the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. A second church, The Evangelical Association, was begun by Jacob Albright (1759–1808), a Lutheran farmer and tilemaker in eastern Pennsylvania who had been converted and nurtured under Methodist teaching. The Evangelical Association was officially organized in 1803. These two churches were to unite with each other in 1946 and with The Methodist Church in 1968 to form The United Methodist Church.

 


[1] 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church ,¶ 104

[2] Ibid, ¶ 102

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