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English Speaking Protestantism


Doctrines Methodist doctrines follow Anglican ideas on the vital role of scripture, the sacraments of infant baptism and the Lord's supper, and the trinity. Methodists follow the Arminian doctrine that salvation is open to everyone, and not just a predestined elect as Calvin asserted. Furthermore each person is not inherently sinful and is completely free to reject or follow this chance of salvation. Methodism also tends towards accepting the possibility of Christian perfectionism, that Christians can experience a second moment of spiritual assurance after their conversion which enables them to live a life of true holiness. In general there is more emphasis on how to live a truly Christian life by following a set method of discipline and prayer in a communal atmosphere than on theological doctrines. Because of this Methodists have a powerful impetus to undertake evangelical and social work.

History John Wesley (1703-1791) was at first a devout member of the Anglican church whose desire for deeper religion lead him to form a society while he was at Oxford in 1729, devoted to systematic virtue, known as the "Holy Club". Still Wesley did not attain the spiritual peace he sought until he had a deep spiritual experience in an Aldersgate Street meeting in 1738. There Wesley received an inner assurance that Christ would forgive his sins and save him. This experience convinced Wesley that there was a need for an organised system based on communal prayer and discipline to successfully convert people. Wesley, his brother Charles, and others established a system of Methodist societies in 1739, whose members would continue to attend their local Anglican church on Sunday. Each society or class had about ten members following strict rules and encouraging each other to live a Christian life. The classes were later organised in a circuit which was under the supervision of an itinerant lay preacher or circuit rider, and the circuits were under the control of a regional conference.
The society and its preachers triggered the first modern style religious revival which began to rapidly convert ordinary people unattracted by the conventional Anglican church. The Methodist tactics, of using ordinary lay people as preachers, adoption of mass open air meetings and enthusiastic evangelism, while winning popular support also generated hostility from the church authorities. To Wesley's deep disappointment the Anglican church tried to distance itself from his movement, which encouraged him to let American Methodists form a proper church (see United Methodist Church). Soon after Wesley's death, the British Methodists in 1795 followed suit and became legally able to conduct marriages and perform the sacraments. Soon afterwards the church experienced a number of internal schisms.
In the nineteenth century Methodist style evangelism and moral piety became one of the hallmarks of respectable Victorian society and the church went from strength to strength. Methodists were prominent in missionary work, factory reform, social work and the campaigns against the slave trade and drinking. In Britain most churches were reunified in one Methodist Church in 1932. Today the offshoots of Methodism form one of the largest Protestant communions in the world and are particular prominent in promoting inter-church co-operation.

Symbols Tends towards Protestant austerity, but its strong links with Anglicanism also means that the sacraments are sometimes held in a slightly more ceremonious manner than other Protestant sects.

Adherents About 60 million world-wide and 408,107 in 1992 in the UK (Whitaker, 1995, 427). Some examples of national membership figures follow: Ivory Coast, 120,000; Fiji, 212,252; Ghana, 340,916; India, 473,000; Kenya, 300,000; Malaysia, 100,000; Nigeria, 483,500; South Africa, 758,178 (Europa Pub. Ltd. 1995, I:916, I:1144, I:1339, I:1490, II:1755, II:1993, II:2315, II:2782).

Main Centre
 Methodist Church, British General Conference Office, 25 Maylebone Road, London, NW1 5JR, UK