Vision and Values
The Methodist Church is a Discipleship Movement shaped for Mission
All can be saved
Methodist teaching is traditionally summarised:
‘All need to be saved.
All may be saved.
All may know themselves saved.
All may be saved to the uttermost.’
The 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.
John 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 holiness.
A 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.
Some scholars credit the Wesleyan movement with preventing civil war in England, especially as it crossed class lines and allowed women to share in leadership.
In 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.
Wesley 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.
A grassroots movement
It is a strong feature of Methodism that ordinary lay people play a major part in the running of the Church. A recent survey of Methodist congregations revealed that three out four individuals who responded held some sort of church role.
Local lay people called ‘stewards’ take responsibility for the fabric of church buildings and manses and for the handling of money. They share with ordained ministers the role of setting direction for the churches in a particular area or ‘circuit’.
Worship each week is not always led by an ordained minister, but often by a local preacher – a lay person who has been trained and authorized to lead worship and preach. Every ordained minister in the Methodist Church was first a local preacher.
At all levels of the Methodist Church, lay people are involved in decision making, and the vice-president of the Conference is always a lay person.
This emphasis goes back to the roots of Methodism. John Wesley was very much a folk theologian who wanted to speak ‘plain truth to plain people’. He took seriously the working people of his day. He addressed his preaching to them, and drew great crowds in the street or on hillsides.
He also trusted them with responsibilities. In building the local Methodist groups or ‘societies’, he trained many lay people who then maintained the meetings and gave pastoral care and challenge to the members. He also trained preachers, who led worship locally, rather than travelling the country like himself.