The Methodist Traditions

10 Interesting Facts about the Methodist Church and Beliefs

The United Methodist Church is a collection of associated Protestant congregations whose doctrine and beliefs are motivated by the spirit and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John Wesley's brother, Charles Wesley, were also significant early leaders in the movement. Early Methodists consisted of all levels of society, including the aristocracy. However, the Methodist preachers brought the teachings to laborers and criminals who were likely left outside of organized religion then. The Methodist Church considerably impacted the developing working class in Britain in the early decades.

1. The Methodist Church began as a reformation of the Church of England

The Methodist movement started with a collection of men, including John Wesley and his younger brother Charles, as an act of reform within the Church of England in the 18th century. The Wesley brothers originated the "Holy Club" at the University of Oxford, where John was an associate and later an instructor at Lincoln College.

The group met weekly and methodically set about living a holy life. They preferred to receive Communion every week, abstain from most forms of amusement and luxury, and commonly visit the sick and the poor. The fellowship was stigmatized as "Methodist" by their classmates because of the way they used "rule" and "method" to determine their religious convictions. John, the club leader, took the attempted mockery and turned it into a title of honor.

2. Wesley did not intend to split from the Church of England

Initially, the Methodists sought reform within the Church of England.  As Methodist congregations multiplied and elements of a distinct theology were adopted, the rift between John Wesley and the Church of England steadily expanded. In 1784, Wesley responded to the lack of priests in the colonies due to the American Revolutionary War by anointing preachers with authority to administer the sacraments. This was a significant reason for Methodism's eventual split from the Church of England after Wesley's death.  This separation created a distinct group of church denominations. Concerning the occurrence of Methodism within Christianity, John Wesley once noted that "what God had achieved in the development of Methodism was no mere human endeavor but the work of God. As such it would be preserved by God so long as history remained."

3. John Wesley taught four key points fundamental to the Methodist Church.

1) A person is free not only to reject salvation but also to accept it by an act of free will.

2) All people who are obedient to the gospel according to the measure of knowledge given them will be saved.

3) The Holy Spirit assures a Christian of their salvation directly, through an inner "experience" (assurance of salvation).

4) Christians in this life are capable of Christian perfection and are commanded by God to pursue it.

4.  Methodists are known for their rich musical tradition

Some of the most well-known hymn writers in Christianity were Methodists.  Most notable was Charles Wesley, who penned over 6,000 hymns in his lifetime.  His hymns are translated into other languages, forming the foundation for Methodist hymnals.  Wesley's hymns are famous for interpretations of Scripture. As a result of his renowned hymnody, the Gospel Music Association acknowledged his contributions to gospel music in 1995 by including his name in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

5. The United Methodist Church is the largest American church of Methodism

With nearly 12 million members in 42,000 congregations worldwide, the United Methodist Church is the largest American mainline Methodist Church. The UMC was formed in 1968 by merging the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church.  Today, the UMC participates in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches.  There are seven World Methodist Council denominations in the United States: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church; and the United Methodist Church.

6. The Methodist denomination grew from four people to over a hundred thousand in Wesley's lifetime

From the origin of Methodism, a group of four men who called themselves the “holy club” at Oxford, there was impressive growth in John Wesley's lifetime. When Wesley passed away in 1791, the movement he helped start had grown to 72,000 members in the British Isles and 60,000 in America.  Methodism continued to grow; today, across the multiple Methodist denominations, there are nearly 40 million members worldwide.

7. Wesley believed in the importance of “social holiness.”

Wesley preached that we needed to be connected in “social holiness.”  He believed we could only grow as Christians in a community surrounded by people of similar faith and conviction.  In his preface to the 1739 hymnal, he was resolute that “the gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

8. John Wesley coined the term “agree to disagree.”

Wesley often engaged in heated theological disputes with another renowned preacher, George Whitefield. Though they both debated intensely, Wesley reflected on their belief contrast in a memorial sermon for Whitefield by saying, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature. ... In these, we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast to the essentials. …” This appears to be the first documented use of the phrase. It indicated Wesley’s manner of sticking to his convictions while remaining in connection with those with whom he disagreed.

9. John Wesley wrote one of the bestselling medical texts ever.

John Wesley was convinced that God is concerned about our earthly and heavenly lives. To that end, he wrote a medical text for the everyday person titled Primitive Physic.  The book discussed contemporary knowledge about home health remedies and went through 32 editions, making it one of England's most widely read books. Many of Wesley’s suggestions for a healthy life remain commonly confirmed. While some of his recommendations were hopeful thinking, the most significant portion of his philosophy was his conviction on continual observation to support hypotheses. Wesley bravely questioned modern doctors about how they sometimes treated humans like machines and that much of their “medicine” lacked merit and evidence to support its effectiveness.

10. John Wesley and others, while a part of the Holy Club, developed 22 questions for everyday devotion and reflection

These are 22 questions the John Wesley’s Holy Club members asked themselves daily in their private devotions over 200 years ago.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?

4. Can I be trusted?

5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

7. Did the Bible live in me today?

8. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

9. Am I enjoying prayer?

10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?

11. Do I pray about the money I spend?

12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

13. Do I disobey God in anything?

14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

17. How do I spend my spare time?

18. Am I proud?

19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?

20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?

21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?

22. Is Christ real to me?