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Methodist FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

METHODIST FAQs

 

1) What are the main differences between the Methodist and Lutheran denominations? This is a difficult question to answer in the abstract, for several reasons:         

 

1) There are dozens of denominations of "Methodist" background and character,  which differ greatly from each other in theology and practice, from "holiness"  churches to "Pentecostal" churches to "mainline" Methodist churches;         

2) Even Methodist churches of the same denomination often differ to some degree in  their theology and practice, since Methodist churches, as a rule, tend to be more concerned with "deeds" then "creeds." Therefore, one might say that the most  fundamental difference between Lutheran and many Methodist churches is that the   Lutheran church is a confessional church (i.e., it binds itself and its member  congregations to a specific, formal confession of faith) while the Methodist church, in  its varied forms, tends not be as concerned with formal "confessions" of faith to  which its congregations must subscribe. The primary differences between Lutheranism and "classical" Methodism rooted in the theology of John Wesley center in Wesley's doctrine of salvation. Wesley taught, contrary to Lutheran theology, that

1) man is free not only to reject salvation but also to accept it (free salvation) by an act of human will;

2) all people who are obedient to the Gospel according to the measure of knowledge given them will be saved (universal salvation);

3) the Holy Spirit assures man of his salvation directly, through an inner "experience" (sure salvation);

4) Christians in this life are capable of Christian perfection and are commanded by God to pursue it (full salvation). Wesley also held to a "symbolic" view of the sacraments in contrast to the Lutheran view of the sacraments as real and powerful means of grace.

2) What's different or distinctive about being a United Methodist? here are no exclusively United Methodist doctrines. Although we have distinctive emphases, we have no affirmations that are not also believed by other Christian groups. United Methodists have traditionally proclaimed the following emphases: The availability of God's grace for all; The essential unity of faith and works; Salvation as personal and social; The church as a community of Christ's disciples who seek to share in God's mission; The inseparability of knowledge (intellect) and vital piety (devotion to religious duties and practices) as components of faith; Seeking holiness of heart and life both as individuals and in our society; A cooperative ministry and mission in the world, often referred to as "connectionalism"; The link between Christian doctrine and Christian living.

3) Where did the church get its name? John and Charles Wesley and a few other young men attending Oxford University met regularly in 1729 for intellectual and spiritual improvement and to help one another become better Christians. So systematic were their habits of religious duty and their rules of conduct that other students referred to them as "Methodists". The word "United" now in our name comes from The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church, which united with The Methodist Church in 1968.

4) How many Methodist denominations are there in the United States? There are at least 19 Wesleyan denominations ... largest of these, with 8.7 million members, is The United Methodist Church. It ranks as the second largest Protestant denomination behind the Southern Baptists.

5) How are official positions on social matter determined by the church? Only the General Conference, a representative body of no more than 1000 clergy and lay persons which meets every four years, officially determines church policy and speaks on social issues. Through a set of Social Principles, the General Conference speaks to human issues from a biblical and theological foundation. These principles are intended to be instructive and persuasive. Agreement is not required, but members are called to a "prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice". Official resources of the church such as curriculum must reflect the official positions of the church.

6) Do lay people have much to say about what happens in the church? Laity and clergy have equal voice in annual, jurisdictional, and general conferences of the church. There are also guidelines that encourage fair representation of women, young adults, and youth in decision-making. Of course, at the local level, lay persons are deeply involved in every aspect of the church's mission and ministry.

7) What is the difference between the Methodist church and the "Free" Methodist church? In a nutshell, the Free Methodist church differs from the United Methodist church in that it continues to provide a more uniform expression consistent with historic Methodism. Both the United Methodist Church (commonly referred to as Methodist) and the Free Methodist Church share a common heritage, hearkening back to the Wesleyan revival in England during the middle 1700s. However, by the middle 1800s concern arose over the waning of several key expressions of the Wesleyan revival. So the Free Methodist Church began as an attempt to restore those vital "Wesleyan" convictions, such as the doctrine of entire sanctification, the concern for the poor, the vision to end discrimination and racism, and Christian growth through small groups. Since that time the Free Methodist church has proven itself capable of preserving a sound commitment to classic conservative Christian doctrines such as the infallibility of scripture, salvation by faith, and the deity of Jesus Christ.

8) What is a "connectional" church system? The Free Methodist church government is a "hybrid" system blending valuable features of hierarchical and congregational systems. Hierarchical church governments, such as Roman Catholic and Episcopal, govern local churches through "higher"-archies which oversee and rule over the affairs of the local church. Pastors are appointed by overseeing bodies; they are not "called" by local congregations. This is one trait the Free Methodist church shares in common with hierarchical churches. Congregational forms of church government are purely local in scope. Each congregation is "autonomous" and any associations they have with other churches is purely voluntary. They write their own constitutions and administrate their own local ministry independent of any overseeing body. In this regard local Free Methodist churches have a great deal of liberty to set their local mission and devise methods and ministries that fulfill that mission. However, the historic conviction of the Free Methodist church is that local churches are safeguarded from error and extremism through accountability to overseeing leaders and governing policies. In addition, there is the conviction that churches working together regionally and nationally can effect greater change and bear more fruit through combining resources and efforts. So for the sake of greater effectiveness and for preserving doctrinal integrity Free Methodist churches "connect" with one another in systems and structures of accountability. (The Free Methodist Book of Discipline contains the vital information about these systems and structures that govern and connect all Free Methodist churches.)

9) How big is the Free Methodist church? (based on statistics ending 12/31/1999) The Free Methodist church in the United States numbers 74,170 members with over 90,000 attendees in Sunday worship services. There are 900 churches in the US and the average size congregation is 100 attendees. Interestingly, in the past 25 years the Free Methodist church around the world has increased by 350%. That growth has largely been seen in Africa, especially in war torn countries, such as the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. For example, Rwandan church grew by 250% even during the years of widespread violence and tribal genocide. The growth of the church overseas is certainly related to the dedicated missionary emphasis of the North American church during the past 100 years.

10) When and why did the Free Methodist church begin? The Free Methodist church began August 23, 1860 in Pekin, New York, in response to a growing desire for a church denomination that would stay true to the principles of the Wesleyan revival, particularly regarding, the work of the Holy Spirit, the way of holiness and the necessity of ministry to the poor. The founder, Benjamin Titus Roberts, was an outspoken critic of many current practices of the Methodist Episcopal church, including pew rental and other discriminatory practices that favored rich over the poor, the failure of the Methodist church to stand against slavery, and the increasing "formalism" in worship, including the hiring of professional musicians. In addition he joined a number of other exponents of the necessity of a "second work" of grace beyond salvation during which a believer was thoroughly sanctified, made holy, and set apart to serve God with a whole heart, mind and strength. This "radical optimism" concerning just how thoroughly transformed and how victorious over sin a person could be made by the power of God gave Roberts, though reluctant to start a new denomination, the motivation to do whatever was necessary to revive the message of entire sanctification. This message referred to as "scriptural holiness." When Roberts no longer had a way to influence the Methodist Episcopal church with this message, he gave his energies to the founding of the Free Methodist church with its central mission of spreading scriptural holiness across the land and ministering the gospel to the poor.

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