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Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide.[1] The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's[2] evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism.[3][4][5] His younger brother Charles was instrumental in writing much of the hymnody of the Methodist Church.[6] George Whitefield, another significant leader in the movement, was known for his unorthodox ministry of itinerant open-air preaching.[7] The Methodist Church is known for its missionary work,[8] and its establishment of hospitals, universities, orphanages, soup kitchens, and schools to follow Jesus' command to spread the Good News and serve all people.[9]

Wesley, along with his brother founded the Holy Club while they were at Oxford, where John was a fellow and later a lecturer at Lincoln College.[10] The holy club met weekly and they systematically set about living a holy life. They were branded as "Methodist" by students at Oxford who derided the methodical way they ordered their lives. Wesley took the attempted mockery and turned it into a title of honour. Initially Whitefield and the Wesleys merely sought reform, by way of a return to the gospel, within the Church of England, but the movement spread with revival and soon a significant number of Anglican clergy became known as Methodists in the mid-18th century.[11] The movement did not form a separate denomination in England until after John Wesley's death in 1791. Although Wesley and the majority of his followers were decidedly Arminian in their theological outlook, George Whitefield, Howell Harris,[12] and Selina Hastings (the Countess of Huntingdon) were notable for being Calvinistic Methodists.

The influence of Whitefield and Lady Huntingdon on the Church of England was a factor in the founding of the Free Church of England in 1844. Through vigorous missionary activity Methodism spread throughout the British Empire and, mostly through Whitefield's preaching during what historians call the First Great Awakening, colonial America. After Whitefield's death in 1770, however, American Methodism entered a more lasting Wesleyan and Arminian phase of development.

Early Methodists were drawn from all levels of society, including the aristocracy,[1] but the Methodist preachers took the message to labourers and criminals who tended to be left outside of organized religion at that time.[13] Wesley himself thought it wrong to preach outside a church building until persuaded otherwise by Whitefield.[14]

Doctrinally, the branches of Methodism following the Wesleys are Arminian, while those following Harris and Whitefield are Calvinistic.[2] Wesley maintained the Arminian doctrines that were dominant in the 18th-century Church of England, while Whitefield adopted Calvinism through his contacts with Calvinists in Scotland and New England. This caused serious strains on the relationship between Whitefield and Wesley, with Wesley becoming quite hostile toward Whitefield in what had been previously very close relations. Whitefield consistently begged Wesley not to let these differences sever their friendship and, in time their friendship was restored, though this was seen by many of Whitefield's followers to be a doctrinal compromise.[15] As a final testimony of their friendship, John Wesley's sermon on Whitefield's death is full of praise and affection.[16]

Methodism has a wide variety of forms of worship, ranging from high church to low church in liturgical usage. Both Whitefield and the Wesleys themselves greatly valued the Anglican liturgy and tradition, and the Methodist worship in The Book of Offices was based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.[17]


  2. What We Believe – Founder of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay. Retrieved on 1 August 2007.
  3. What is Methodism?. Methodist Central Hall Westminster. Retrieved on 24 May 2011.
  4. American Holiness Movement. Finding Your Way, Inc. Retrieved on 31 December 2007.
  5. An introduction to world Methodism. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved on 31 December 2007. 
  6. A Collection of Hymns, for the use of the people called Methodists. T. Blanshard. Retrieved on 31 December 2007. 
  7. Arnold Dallimore. George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980.
  8. American Methodism. S.S. Scranton & Co.. Retrieved on 2007–10–18. “But the most noticeable feature of British Methodism is its missionary spirit, and its organized, effective missionary work. It takes the lead of all other churches in missionary movements. From its origin, Methodism has been characterized for its zeal in propagandism. It has always been missionary.” 
  9. Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Survival and Success in the Twenty-First Century. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Retrieved on 2007–10–18. “Wesleyan institutions, whether hospitals, orphanages, soup kitches, or schools, historically were begun with the spirit to serve all people and to transform society.” 
  10. Lincoln College, Oxford, Famous Alumni, John Wesley (1703 - 1791). Lincoln College, Oxford Univeristy. Retrieved on 24 May 2011.
  11. BBC History
  12. Richard Bennett, "Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival", (1909, Eng. tr. 1962), ISBN 1 85049 035 X
  13. Home of the 'first rise' of Methodism. The Methodist Recorder Online, a Methodist newspaper. Retrieved on 21 May 2011.
  14. John Wesley, Journal 31 March 1739
  15. Dallimore. George Whitefield.
  16. Wesley, "Sermons on Several Occasions", No. 53
  17. "The Book of Offices"
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