Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England. It’s beginnings are associated with the work of John and Charles Wesley, both of them Anglican clergymen who were so diligent and methodical in their religious life whilst students at Oxford University, that people called them mockingly “Methodists”.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society at Aldersgate Street, where one was reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. – John Wesley
Both men were soundly converted in May 1738 and soon they established themselves in the Foundery, a ruined ordnance factory on the edge of the City of London. John Wesley, at the instigation of his friend George Whitfield, had begun speaking in the open air. This brother was soon putting Methodist theology and spirituality into the form of hymns. Methodism was in the process of being born.
The simple and accessible way in which the Wesleys and their followers preached and exemplified the Christian life attracted thousands of followers. The doctrine which was preached from the pulpit and sung lustily by those early congregations centred upon the universality of God’s grace and the need for all believers to grow in love towards that perfection which is God’s goal for all people. This teaching was accompanied by practical action too – healthcare, micro-finance, a ragged school, prison visiting, and literacy.
When the Foundery lease ran out, the building now known as Wesley’s Chapel was constructed and opened in 1778. By then, there were Methodist meeting houses across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Charles Wesley died in 1788, his brother John three years later. By the end of the following century, Methodism was a major force on the British social and religious scene as well as having a global presence of some consequence.
The Methodist Church is the fourth largest Christian Church in Britain, after the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and the Church of Scotland. It has more than six thousand churches and a total membership of approximately 330,000 people. There are Methodist Churches in nearly every country in the world and global membership numbers some 70 million people.
The Methodist Church is traditionally known as non-conformist because it does not conform to the rules and authority of the established Church of England.
Our core beliefs reflect orthodox Christianity. Methodist teaching is sometimes summed up in four particular ideas known as the four alls.
- All need to be saved – the doctrine of original sin
- All can be saved – Universal Salvation
- All can know they are saved – Assurance
- All can be saved completely – Christian perfection