The Methodist Church

Earl Robertson
Moundsville, West Virginia

To make a study of the Methodist Church one must resort to historical data authored by man, in that the Bible says nothing about the Methodist Church. Of course the New Testament talks about a church, but the church of which it speaks is the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16). This is the one Jesus promised to build (Matt. 16: 18). He is the "foundation" and "head" of the church he called "mine" (1 Cor. 3:10, 11; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18, 24). Furthermore, he is the saviour of the church of Christ, his body (Eph. 5:23).

Origin and Founder

The Methodist Church did not start as an independent denominational body, but "had its origin within the Church of England." (1948 Discipline of the Methodist Church, p. 3). It was in 1729 at Oxford University after half a dozen young gentlemen began to read the New Testament in Greek, with the idea of trying to conform their ideas and their behavior to the teaching of the New Testament, that a young man of Christ Church College said: "Here is a new set of Methodists sprung up! " (The Story of Methodism, by A. B. Hyde, p. 17). The leader of these young men was John Wesley. Annie Maria Barnes says in Scenes in Pioneer Methodism, page 5 that the organization of the first Methodist Society in England was in 1729. Thus, the Methodist Church had its beginning in England in 1729. The founder was John Wesley, a preacher in the Church of England (1948 Discipline, p. 3). The Methodist Church had its beginning in assemblies "for religious conversation." (Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Vol. 23, p. 8399.)

The name Methodist was actually given to this movement begun by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield in derision. In 1739 John Wesley began to form his followers into "societies," and these societies were accepting the name Methodist. In fact, John Wesley, in signing official documents would usually use the designation "the people called Methodists" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 15, p. 357).

From this information one concludes that the Methodist church was started by a young man leading a group of other young men in religious activities in Oxford, England in 1729. This is a long way from Jerusalem and Pentecost (Acts 2). 1729 is much too late to be the right time for the beginning of the Lord's church. Jesus told some while he lived upon this earth that they would not die until they should see the kingdom come (Mark 9: 1). Those men died long before the year 1729, thus the church of the Lord was established before 1729 or the Lord did not tell the truth in Mark 9:1. 'This simply means the Methodist Church cannot be the church of which Jesus spake.

Its Growth

Even though it is said in the Discipline that Wesley did not intend to found a new church, a new church is the work of his labors nevertheless. This church was started with just a few but has grown to approximately twenty million members throughout the world (Britannica Book of the Year, 1965, p. 702). In its beginning Wesley divided it into groups, classes and societies. At that time there were no "ordained ministers" in it, but "local preachers." "Once a year he called them together for a conference, just as Methodist preachers meet in their Annual Conference sessions today" (Discipline, 1948, p. 4). Methodism sprang from England to Ireland and then to America. The first two men to preach Methodist doctrine in America were two Irishmen: Philip Embury in New York City in 1766, and about the same time Robert Strawbridge went to Fredrick County, Maryland.

Even at this time Wesley did not consider his people as constituting a church. His preachers were not ordained, and the members were "supposed to receive the sacraments in the Anglican Church." However, this was about impossible here in America because the Anglican Churches were few and far apart. Wesley knew something must be done, so in vain he tried to get the Bishop of London to ordain some of his preachers. This necessitated Wesley to ordain some himself, so he set Dr. Thomas Coke to be a superintendent"to preside over the flock of Christ" here in the United States (Discipline, 1948, p. 5.) From this struggle one addition after another was made from preacher to Bishop until now the Methodist Church has about as much organization and ecclesiastical machinery as any church on earth. All this in two hundred and thirty-six years!


While there have been a multiplicity of divisions in the Methodist Church which has brought about a number of different kinds of Methodist churches, perhaps the two outstanding splits were in 1828 and 1844. The 1828 split came on the "insistence on lay representation," which finally formed the Methodist Protestant Church; the 1844 split came over the slavery issue and "a constitutional issue over the powers of the General Conference versus the episcopacy'' (Discipline, 1948, p. 6). Problems and divisions have come from time to time into the Methodist church over other such political issues.

After nearly one hundred years of effort to get these three main groups back together, a plan of Union was made and agreed upon. On May 10, 1939, The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church South, and The Methodist Protestant Church united to form The Methodist Church. As you can see the plan was one of "union" and not unity. Jesus prayed that his people would be one (John 17:20, 21). Paul says " . . . speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you . . ." (1 Cor. 1:10).


The Methodist Church has an ecclesiastical form of government, something like the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops make decisions and these are imposed upon the Methodist Church, and they say "The Church cannot appeal from the decision of its own court." Laws are made by men as to who shall be members of the Methodist Church, and everything else peculiar to the Methodists is because of human laws created by the Bishops. Whereas the New Testament church has local government  each congregation autonomous (Phil. 1:1; 1 Peter 5:2). Never did a congregation in apostolic times create or legislate law, but rather they continued in the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). Jesus is the only lawgiver (James 4:12), and this is by virtue of his having all authority (Matt. 28: 18). This means that no man or group of men have the right to give any law to guide men religiously. Churches are guided religiously by laweither human or divine. It is admitted by Methodist authorities that the Methodist Church is guided by law created by men, but the church of the Lord must abide in the Lord's doctrine (2 John 9).


The doctrines of the Methodist Church change often. This could not be otherwise, inasmuch as said doctrines originate with fallible men. Men cannot see the end of a system at its beginning. God can (Isa. 46: 10). Men are unable to see the inconsistencies and inadequacy of their own system; thus the need for change as they see the need. One of the most glaring of doctrinal changes is the ministration of Baptism to infants. The 1894 Discipline says (pg. 200, and article 439), "Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin, and that our Saviour Christ saith, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God . . ." Fifty years later the ritual for the Methodist Church says on this same subject: "Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are heirs of life eternal and subjects of the saving grace of the Holy Spirit; and that our Saviour Christ saith, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God ...." (1944 Ritual, p. 448, Art. 1910).

No two statements could possibly be further apart than these two. These two statements are sufficient proof that Methodist doctrine cannot be New Testament truth. The word of God is not contradictory; but the above statements lifted from their official creed book are contradictory. The first one says babies are born in sin, whereas the second statement says they are born heirs of life. If the doctrine preached in 1894 is true, then what was preached in 1944 is not true; on the other hand if what is now preached is true, then what was preached by Methodist preachers in 1894 is not true. This is the danger and problem of following men instead of God; of following the doctrines of men instead of the doctrine of Christ (Matt. 15:9; 2 John 9).

More than one hundred years ago (1856) the Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee published a book, Immersionists Against the Bible, in which they take the position that the word "baptism" in the New Testament means effusion or sprinkling. In fact, the author, N. H. Lee, says on page 6, " . . . it would not be a tithe as absurd to make immersion mean effusion as to make baptism in the New Testament mean immersion." This was just another point in digression from the Bible, and it would cause them to be known more in the world. It gave them publicity. If the arguments were true it would be wrong to immerse anyone, thus making sprinkling the scriptural way. If his argument doesn't say this it says nothing at all. This work of Lee was a special effort against the Baptist and those he chose to call "Campbellites." The word "baptism" in the New Testament comes from the word "baptisma" and is defined by Thayer as "immersion, submersion" (Thayer's GreekEnglish Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 94).

Another obvious unscriptural doctrine preached by the Methodist Church is, "Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort" (1948 Discipline, p. 27, Art. 69). This excludes anything and everything else. If salvation is by faith on_7y, no repentance is necessary, no grace is required and on and on we could go listing other Biblical requirements. In fact, the Bible says, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2: 24). This verse teaches salvation is by faith, but not by faith alone. I cannot conceive the doctrine of justification by faith only as being most wholesome and full of comfort, when the word of God says the very opposite!

Our exhortation to you dear reader is like that of Paul: "Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord." (2 Cor. 6:17.) This to some sectarians may not be much of an appeal, for as Gilbert T. Rowe says in his book, The Meaning of Methodism, p. 2, concerning John Wesley's efforts to understand the Bible, "after many years of patient study and hard struggle he was able through experience to understand the gospel is preached by Jesus and interpreted by Paul" (Emphasis mine, EER). So, what Paul preached was just an "interpretation." Paul called the message of his preaching the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 2:2; Rom. 2:16). And this gospel does not change. Woe be unto the one who would dare pervert or change it in any way (Gal. 1:7-9).

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 1, pp. 11-12 October 1965