The Methodist movement is a group of denominations of Protestant Christianity.
The Methodist revival originated in England. It was started by John Wesley, his younger brother Charles and George Whitefield as a movement within the Church of England in the 18th century, focused on Bible study, and a methodical approach to scriptures. The term "Methodist" was a pejorative college nickname that was bestowed upon a small society of students at Oxford, who met together between 1729 and 1735 for the purpose of mutual improvement. They were accustomed to communicate every week, to fast regularly and to abstain from most forms of amusement and luxury. They also frequently visited poor and sick persons and prisoners in the gaol.
The early Methodists reacted against the apathy of the Church of England, became open-air preachers and established Methodist societies wherever they went. They were notorious for their enthusiastic sermons and often accused of fanaticism. In those days, members of the established church feared that the powerful new doctrines promulgated by the Methodists, such as the necessity to salvation of a New Birth, of Justification by Faith, and of the constant and sustained action of the Holy Spirit upon the believer's soul, would produce ill effects upon weak minds. Theophilus Evans, an early critic of the movement, even wrote that it was "the natural Tendency of their Behaviour, in Voice and Gesture and horrid Expressions, to make People mad." In one of his prints, William Hogarth likewise attacked Methodists as "enthusiasts" full of "Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism." But the Methodists resisted the many attacks against their movement. (See John Wesley and George Whitefield for a much more complete discussion of early Methodism).
John Wesley came under the influence of the Moravians (The Czech Brethren) and Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, while Whitefield adopted Calvinistic views. Consequently, their followers separated, those of Whitefield becoming Calvinistic Methodists. Generally Methodists have followed Wesley in Arminian theology.
Traditionally, Methodism has believed in the Arminian view of free will as opposed to predestination. This distinguishes it, historically, from Calvinist traditions such as Presbyterianism. However, in strongly Calvinist countries such as Wales, Calvinistic Methodists remain. Also, more recent theological debates have often cut across denominational lines, so that theologically liberal Methodist and Reformed churches have more in common with each other than with more conservative members of their own denominations.
John Wesley was not a systematic theologian, though Methodist ministerial students and trainee local preachers do study his sermons for his theology. The popular expression of Methodist theology is in the hymns of Charles Wesley. Since enthusiastic congregational singing was a part of the Evangelical movement, Wesleyan theology took root and spread through this channel.
Methodism follows the traditional and near-universal Christian belief in the triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In devotional terms, this confession is said to embrace the biblical witness to God's activity in creation, encompass God's gracious self-involvement in the dramas of history, and anticipate the consummation of God's reign. For them, there are two Sacraments ordained of Christ: Baptism and Communion (Supper of the Lord).
It is a traditional position of the church that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason. By reason, it is said, they read and interpret Scripture. By reason they determine whether their Christian witness is clear. By reason they ask questions of faith and seek to understand God's action and will.
This church insists that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
In liturgical matters, a unique feature of the Methodist Church is its observance of the season of Kingdomtide, which encompasses the last 13 weeks before Advent, thus dividing the long season after Pentecost into two discrete segments. During Kingdomtide, Methodist liturgy emphasizes charitable work and alleviating the suffering of the poor.
A second distinctive liturgical feature of Methodism is the use of Covenant services. Although practice varies between different national churches, most Methodist churches annually follow the call of John Wesley for a renewal of their covenant with God. In UK Methodism, each church normally holds an annual Covenant Service on the first convenient Sunday of the year, and Wesley's Covenant Prayer is still used, with minor modification, in the order of service. It is a striking and sobering piece of liturgical writing, as the following excerpts illustrate:
...Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both... Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
...I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal...