Having spoken last time about the Presbyterians, we will now continue our look at the various Christian denominations with a look at the Methodists. Of the 29 million Methodists in the world, just over have of them are in the United States, many of them members of it’s largest branch, the United Methodist Church. Methodism traces its roots back to the Anglican or Episcopalian Church. It began with an Anglican priest by the name of John Wesley who, in 1738, sought reform. While Wesley is considered along with Martin Luther and John Calvin as being one of the big three Protestant reformers, he is unique in that his reform was not so much against Catholics, but other Protestants. He was not so interested in spelling out a clearly defined doctrine as much as he was interested in activism – performing good works, prayer and devotion, fasting and abstinence – i.e., one’s “method” in living the Christian life.
With regard to doing good works, Wesley certainly parted company with Luther. He also believed strongly in free will, rejecting the doctrine of predestination and thereby parting company with Calvin. Unlike both Luther and Calvin, Wesley believed that man could attain perfection while still in this life. He also believed one could be sure of getting to heaven, following a personal conversion experience. Coming from the Anglican Church, Wesley eventually traded in his belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and apostolic succession for a more symbolic understanding.
Methodist preachers came to America leading up to the time of the American Revolution. Many of them actually supported the British. In spite of this, however, the faith still spread and formally broke with the Anglican Church in 1874. With an emphasis on activism, over the years, Methodists have founded 100 colleges and 72 hospitals in the United States, as well as Goodwill Industries.
Even though Methodism originates from “high church” Anglicanism, which would closely resemble Catholicism in structure and worship, it would eventually adopt a largely Protestant theology. Major differences between Catholics and Methodists would center on interpretation of the Scriptures, authority in the Church, and belief about the Eucharist. There would also be some disagreement on various social and moral issues, such as abortion. However, like some of the other Protestant denominations we just spoke of, we share in common a belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Trinity, the Creed, as well as infant baptism and performing good works. May we continue to share and explain our Catholic faith and pray for the restoration of unity among us.