The Methodist movement began with the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. They organized a group of students at Oxford University in England to be more spiritually disciplined. The disciplines involved works of piety (prayer, Bible reading, taking Holy Communion, fasting) and mercy (visiting prisons and hospitals.) Over several decades, under the brothers’ leadership, the movement became more sophisticated in its thinking, organization, and inspiration. It eventually involved lay preachers, organized classes, rules, annual conferences, songs (Charles wrote more than 6,000 hymns), publishing, and a new denomination (starting in the United States.)
Methodism is a reform movement. Methodism aims to reform the individual, the church, and the society. From the beginning, individual reforms included advocacy of sobriety, education, financial responsibility, personal piety, and love for neighbor. The early Methodist movement, starting out as it did in England, aimed to reform the Church of England. Church reforms included a central role for the Bible, clergy reforms so that the clergy would serve the church instead of being served by it, and a central place for piety. For society at large, the Methodists advocated an end to slavery. They also were against war.
In Methodism, the head and heart both matter. Religion should be intelligent. It should be conversant with all other disciplines of study. It should follow rules of reason and logic. It should be informed by history and science. When talking about spiritual matters, “reason” is one of the tests. Religious people ought to relish expanding their knowledge in other disciplines. and religion should be a matter of the heart: passionate, eager, tender, joyful, hopeful, and warm.
Personal holiness matters to Methodists. In gratitude to a God who does so much for us, it is good to be personal. Holiness involves doing no harm, doing all the good we can, and proactively loving God. Methodists advocate good character and believe it is a worthy accomplishment in this life — more so than riches, popularity, or political power.
Social holiness matters as much as personal holiness. Methodists treasure their social principles, which advocate care for the earth, families and marriage, and the poor. We strongly support peace and social justice. Freedom and democracy are highly valued. We pray for our government’s officials, but we will also speak the truth in love.
Methodists believe in a grace-filled life. We believe that the good and abundant life is not just a result of our own strong-willed efforts. In other words, our relationship with God is not based on our piety and righteousness. But rather ultimate goodness and salvation are the result of God’s gift to us. Methodists identify several kinds of grace — God’s work on our behalf — undeserved by us. Prevenient grace is what God does for us before our even knowing it. Justifying grace is what God does to take away our status of guilt and alienation. Sanctifying grace is what God does to help make our actions and attitudes more Christ-like. And while we can do nothing to earn grace, we practice the “means of grace,” those habits which keep us near God’s generous flow of deliverance.
Methodists have lots of bishops and conferences. We are organized into geographic conferences called Annual Conferences. Each conference recruits and approves an appropriate number of pastors to serve the various churches within its boundaries. The churches in each conference work together in mission and evangelistic strategy. Some conferences have over a thousand churches. A bishop presides over meetings of the annual conference — and appoints the pastors to their various fields of service. A bishop makes those pastoral appointments with the assistance of a group of regional supervisors called District Superintendents. Methodists have other conferences as well: local church conferences, district conferences, jurisdictional conferences (made up of several annual conferences), and the general conference (which meets every four years and is made up of representatives from around the world.)
Our slogan is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” While remaining rooted in scripture, reason, tradition, and our own experiences — we do not believe that we have a corner on the truth — or love — or God’s work. United Methodists are highly respectful of other denominations and religions. And we are quick to affirm the humanitarian spirit — wherever it is found.
We sometimes like to use the big word, “quadrilateral.” This means that we have a four-fold process for thinking through tough issues: Is a position faithful to scripture? Is it in the spirit of our traditions? Is it reasonable? Is it consistent with our life-experiences?
People of the Methodist persuasion are organized into many different denominations, such as Nazarene, the Free Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal. The largest Methodist denomination is The United Methodist Church. Our congregation is United Methodist. There are 12 million United Methodists in the world, most are in the United States (8 million) and the rest are located mostly in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. There are 122 United Methodist annual conferences worldwide and 41,800 congregations.