A Brief History of John Wesley and Methodism
Rev. John Wesley was born June 17, 1703, the 15th of 19 children of
the Rev. Samuel and Susanna Wesley.
Samuel was controversial because of his political leanings. Locals mocked his children, burned the family
crops, and damaged the rectory of the Epworth Anglican Parish in Lincolnshire, England.
Wesley graduated from Oxford
University and became a
priest in the Church of England in 1728.
Beginning in 1729, he participated in the Holy Club, a religious study
group organized by his brother Charles (1707-1788). Critics ridiculed the “Methodists” for their
methodical study and devotion. Bound by
covenant, they worshipped, prayed and studied-and visited prisoners and cared
for the poor, orphans and the sick, emphasizing both personal and social
turning point in Wesley’s life followed a two-year missionary trip (1735-1737)
to Savannah, GA.
On May 24, 1738, Wesley, then 34, attended a Moravian service at Aldersgate Street
in London. Listening to the reading of Luther’s Preface to
the Epistle to the Romans, he heard an explanation of faith and the doctrine of
justification by faith. “I felt my heart
strangely warmed,” he wrote. “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for
salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins.” In 1739, Wesley accepted an invitation from
his friend George Whitefield to preach in the open air to miners near Bristol. He said he had “till very lately” considered
preaching outside a pulpit as “almost a sin.”
The miners’ response led him to preach outside the church often to
working-class people who found little welcome in established churches. Other Anglican clergy refused to follow his
example, so Wesley allowed lay people to preach and teach.
scholars credit the Wesleyan movement with preventing civil war in England,
especially as it crossed class lines and allowed women to share in leadership.
1743, as the number of societies grew, Wesley prepared “General Rules” for the
societies. They became the nucleus of the Methodist Discipline. The breach
between Wesley and the Church of England gradually widened, but he never
considered his societies to be outside the Anglican Church. After Anglican clergy fled America during
the Revolution, Wesley was faced with caring for some 15,000 followers
there. The Bishop of London refused to
ordain any clergy for him, so Wesley ordained ministers on his own authority,
an important step in the creation of the Methodist
Church in America.
is believed to have traveled more than 250,000 miles and to have preached more
than 40,000 times. He died in 1791. He affirmed the Trinity, the Resurrection,
the Ascension and the “sufficiency of Scriptures for salvation.” He did not believe in Purgatory and opposed
the practice of clergy speaking in Latin or any language not understood by
parishioners. He accepted only baptism
and communion as sacraments. He used
reason, tradition and experience as tools to derive the truth contained in
Scripture. He considered the doctrines
of justification and new birth to be fundamental. “In the moment we are justified by the grace
of God, through the redemption that is in Jesus, we are as “born of the
Spirit,’” Wesley wrote.
Methodist Episcopal Church in the US
was organized in Baltimore
on Dec 24, 1784. Brought to America in 1766
by English and Irish immigrants, the colonial Methodists organized themselves
at the famous Christmas Conference in 1784, and held their first General
Conference in 1792. Leaders of the
movement included Bishop Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke.
was formed in 1946 by the union of the Evangelical Church
and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Both denominations originated in the early
1800s among German speaking immigrants.
Church was begun by the
evangelical efforts of Jacob Albright, a Lutheran convert to Methodism. The United Brethren in Christ came into being
as a result of the preaching of Philip Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, and
Martin Boehm, a Mennonite bishop. These
two denominations, just as their Methodist counterparts, had an Episcopal form
of church government, and held similar theological beliefs emphasizing prayer,
a life of devotion to Christ, and the responsibility to the individual. These churches grew and expanded rapidly
during the 1800s and into the 1900s, spreading across the continent as the
nation expanded westward. Unfortunately,
there were several divisions over the issues of slavery and church
governance. Methodists reunited in 1939
as The Methodist Church. Thus, the 1968
union of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches was in fact a
consolidation of groups which traced their heritage from the protestant
evangelical revivals which swept the nation in the eighteenth and nineteenth
churches also incorporated programs of social outreach in their ministries,
encouraging and promoting education, missions, hospitals, youth groups, women’s
work, institutional chaplaincies, and other benevolent work. The circuit riding itinerant preacher
traveling on horseback to minister to settlers on the frontier is a part of the
American saga. From these early
beginnings has grown an American church of 8.7 million members. Go to this page for a history of the Trenton United Methodist Church