Methodism, also known as the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity which derive their inspiration from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John's brother Charles Wesley were also significant early leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival movement within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond because of vigorous missionary work, today claiming approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.
Wesley's theology focused on sanctification and the effect of faith on the character of a Christian. Distinguishing Methodist doctrines include the new birth, an assurance of salvation, imparted righteousness, the possibility of perfection in love, the works of piety, and the primacy of Scripture. Most Methodists teach that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for all of humanity and that salvation is available for all; in theology, this view is known as Arminianism. This teaching rejects the Calvinist position that God has pre-ordained the salvation of a select group of people. However, Whitefield and several other early leaders of the movement were considered Calvinistic Methodists and held to the Calvinist position. Methodism emphasises charity and support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the works of mercy. These ideals are put into practice by the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and schools to follow Christ's command to spread the gospel and serve all people.
The movement has a wide variety of forms of worship, ranging from high church to low church in liturgical usage. Denominations that descend from the British Methodist tradition are generally less ritualistic, while American Methodism is more so, the United Methodist Church in particular. Methodism is known for its rich musical tradition, and Charles Wesley was instrumental in writing much of the hymnody of the Methodist Church.
The Wesley Covenant Service
was adapted by John Wesley
, the founder of Methodism
, for use in services for the Renewal of the believer's Covenant
with God. In his Short history of the people called Methodists
, Wesley describes the first covenant service; a similar account is to be found in his Journal
of the time. Wesley says that the first service was held on Monday 11 August 1755, at the French church at Spitalfields
in London, with 1800 people present. He reports that he "recited the tenor of the covenant proposed, in the words of that blessed man, Richard Alleine
The covenant prayer and service are recognised as one of the most distinctive contributions of Methodism to the liturgy of the Church in general, and they are also used from time to time by other denominations.
(28 June [O.S.
17 June] 1703 – 2 March 1791) was an Anglican
cleric and theologian
, and is largely credited with founding the Methodist movement. He helped to organize and form Methodist societies throughout Britain and Ireland, small groups that developed intensive, personal accountability
and religious instruction among members.
Under Wesley's direction, Methodists became leaders in many social justice issues of the day, including prison reform and abolitionism movements. Wesley's contribution as a theologian was to propose a system of opposing theological stances. His greatest theological achievement was his promotion of what he termed "Christian perfection" or holiness of heart and life. Wesley insisted that in this life, the Christian could come to a state where the love of God, or perfect love, reigned supreme in one's heart. His evangelical theology, especially his understanding of Christian perfection, was firmly grounded in his sacramental theology. He continually insisted on the general use of the means of grace (prayer, Scripture, meditation, Holy Communion, etc.) as the means by which God transforms the believer.
Today, Wesley's influence as a teacher persists. He continues to be the primary theological interpreter for Methodists the world over. Wesley's call to personal and social holiness continues to challenge Christians who attempt to discern what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God.
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