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English Speaking Protestantism

United Methodist Church

Doctrines The essential doctrines of the United Methodist Church are derived from the broader Methodist tradition from which it emerged. The Twenty Five Articles of Religion, adapted by John Wesley from the Anglican articles to emphasise Arminian doctrines, remain the foundations of American Methodist doctrine. They were to become the basis for the British Methodist churches as well. Today the church tends not to stress Wesley's ideas of Christian perfectionism and is dominated by liberal theology.

History (Also see African Methodist Episcopal Church.) Methodism arrived in America in the 1760s but its spread was interrupted by the outbreak of the American Revolution which made Methodist missionaries return to Britain. One remained behind, Francis Ashbury, who continued his work and supported the established 15,000 American Methodists. When the United States was formed John Wesley, in his first decisive break with the Anglican church, ordained Ashbury and Thomas Coke as superintendents, gave them a set of articles and rules, and declared the American Methodists free of any remaining Anglican connections. Therefore in 1784, at Baltimore, the Methodist Episcopal Church was established while British Methodists remained part of the Anglican Church. The church began to expand rapidly, growing to 200,000 by 1816, because its itinerant circuit riders, and the camp meetings it adopted, were ideally suited to frontier conditions while Methodism's practical and evangelical doctrines appealed to the ordinary American. Thus Methodism perhaps embodies the typical religious values of the ordinary middling American.
The success of Methodism was tempered by disagreements over church organisation. Ashbury, while extremely hardworking, was authoritarian and antagonised members who wanted a looser organisation. Thus in 1827 dissenters formed the Methodist Protestant Church and adopted a congregational organisation. A worse split was caused by the increasing commitment of Northern Methodists to the abolition of slavery, a institution which Southern Methodists regarded as essential and justified by scripture. Bitter arguments resulted in the formation the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1845. After the civil war the Methodist churches became increasingly formalised and conservative and this resulted in the formation of the "Holiness" movement which aimed at emphasising Wesley's ideas on Christian perfectionism. This lead to the division of the Methodists into holiness and antiholiness camps and to several schisms (see Pentecostalism).
By the turn of the century the "social gospel" movement was becoming powerful in the main Methodist churches. This emphasised the duty of the church to attempt to correct social ills, and meant Methodists were prominent in urban missions, prohibition , and campaigning for pro-labour laws. In 1939 the three main Methodist churches already mentioned were reunited in the United Methodist Church. The church has largely escaped the effects of the violent Modern/Fundamentalist controversy seen in other American churches (see American Baptist Churches). This is probably because more conservative Methodists are in a minority in a church which tends towards modern liberal theology. The church remains committed to social action, missionary activity and favours international church co-operation and union. Like most other well-established churches it has started to experience a drop in membership.

Symbols See Methodism.

Adherents In the USA 8,789,101 (World Almanac, 1995, 730).

Main Centre
 PO Box 320, Nashville, TN 37202, USA