When John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke in 1784 and commissioned him to go to America to ordain Francis Asbury as well, he created the first Methodist Church to exist as an entity independent of the Church of England. Wesley believed this was a necessity in light of the Revolutionary War, and the only way that his message of salvation and holiness would spread in the New World. Centuries later, Wesley's followers have formed many separate denominations, the largest being the United Methodist Church. The Wesleyan Church -- a much smaller group, carries on Wesley's namesake.
Methodism in the United States has experienced many divisions since 1784. In the 1840s, many groups split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery, upset that the church's bishops wouldn't take an official stand on the issue. One of the bodies to arise at that time was the Wesleyan-Methodist Connection of America. At the onset of the civil war, the Methodist Episcopal Church split across North-South lines, just as most Protestant denominations split at the time. Then, in the 1880s, other groups split from the Methodist Episcopal Church over a concern that John Wesley's teachings on holiness weren't being emphasized enough by the larger body. One of those groups was the Pilgrim Holiness Church. Over time, the Methodist Episcopal Church North and South got back together, and merged with another denomination holding similar beliefs called the United Church of the Brethren to form the United Methodist Church. Several offshoot groups explored mergers, as well, with one of those mergers occurring between the Wesleyan-Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church to form the Wesleyan Church.
Both United Methodists and Wesleyans accept the basic tenants of Christianity, including the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, Christ's death and resurrection and the second coming. They accept Protestant ideas about the role of faith alone in salvation and emphasize God's grace in the lives of human beings. Both groups also carry on John Wesley's message that Christians should strive daily to live a holy life that's pleasing to God. Both found their beliefs on the Bible but understand those beliefs through the lenses of reason, tradition and experience. Yet, each has some distinct beliefs, as well. Wesleyans believe the Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts, while Methodists believe it's enough to say the Bible is God's word and authoritative in the church. Wesleyans teach Wesley's doctrine that Christians can experience a second "work of grace" after conversion, in which the heart is cleansed of its inclination to sin. Methodists don't include this experience as a necessary or normal part of their doctrinal system, although many individual Methodists do accept it.
The United Methodist Church has several layers of governance and organization. At the bottom is the local United Methodist Church. Churches in a relatively small geographic region are organized into districts. Districts make up an annual conference, which may include a state, part of a state, or parts of multiple states. There are 63 annual conferences in the United States, which are overseen by 50 bishops. Day-to-day decisions are made by the bishops and the general agencies, which oversee specific aspects of the church's activities. Every four years, United Methodist hold a General Conference to engage in dialogue and make decisions about the denomination's beliefs, rules and practices. The Wesleyan Church's organization is similar, but smaller in scope to suit its size. At the bottom layer is the local Wesleyan Church. These churches are organized into districts, which may include a state, part of a state or parts of multiple states. There are 33 districts in the United States, each of which is overseen by a district superintendent. Above the district level is a single general superintendent as well as several general agencies. Every four years, Wesleyans hold a General Conference to engage in dialogue and make decisions about the denomination's beliefs, rules and practices.
Size and Reach
As of 2012 the United Methodist Church had over 7.5 million adherents in the United States. In Contrast, the Wesleyan Church has approximately 220,000 members in the United States and Canada. There are dozens of universities and colleges affiliated with the Methodist Church, as well as five seminaries. There are five colleges affiliated with the Wesleyan Church and a single seminary. Both have active missionary presences around the world, as well. The United Methodist Church also has a "Committee on Relief" that's dedicated to disaster relief and crisis response.
- Christianity.com: Thomas Coke Landed with Secret Orders
- The United Methodist Church: Our History
- The Wesleyan Church: Our History
- The United Methodist Church: Structure & Organization
- The United Methodist Church: Beliefs
- The Wesleyan Church: Our Core Values and Beliefs
- Hartford Institue for Religion Research: Fast Facts about American Religion
- The United Methodist Church: United Methodist Church Affiliated Institutions
- The Wesleyan Church: Colleges
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