A Brief History
Though the United Methodist Church is less than a century old, the Methodist Church and the Methodist movement in more than two hundred and seventy-five years old. It began with two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, who were studying to be priests in the Church of England in the early 1700’s. God used a series of events and circumstances to help John and Charles understand that they were loved and forgiven by God through Jesus Christ, not by their own merits and goodness, but because of God’s great love for them. This realization lit a fire of new life and passion within the Wesley brothers.
John, who was a much better preacher began preaching that salvation comes by faith through God’s grace, and not through our own god works. (He actually got that from the great leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther). But, since this was not the official teaching of the Church of England at the time, John was kicked out of every Anglican Church in England. So, he began to preach in fields and at the entrances to coal mines – wherever the people were. Through John Wesley’s preaching, people came to know God in a new way, as a loving and gracious Father.
Charles, who was much more interested in music and the arts, wrote hymns to help people learn and remember what John taught and preached. In fact, Charles wrote more than six thousand hymns. Many of them you may know even if you never went to a Methodist Church – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, for example.
As more and more people came to know God in a new way through the teachings of John and Charles Wesley, Methodism began to be a movement. John Wesley thought it would be helpful to organize the Methodists into neighborhood groups and small groups to help each other grow as Christ’s disciples. Methodists were still expected to attend worship in the Church of England, but they also attended their neighborhood and small groups to help them grow in their understanding of the Bible and in their love for God and their service to others. Methodism would not become a church until 1784; that is when a group of Methodist preachers came together in Baltimore, Maryland to form the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Since then, the Methodist Church has had its ups and downs. Many of those down moments gave birth to other denominations: the Nazarene Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church.
Though the United Methodist Church looks different from what we did in the 1700’s, we have always emphasized making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.