Foundations of United Methodism

Statue of John Wesley outside Wesley Church in Melbourne, Australia

John Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illuminated by Tradition, verified in personal Experience and confirmed by Reason. Scripture is primary.

John Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. They placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as “practical divinity” has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today. We invite you to learn more about our rich theological heritage.

Scripture

The Bible is the unique testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life of Israel; in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and in the Spirit’s work in the early church.

Tradition

Between the New Testament age and our own era stand countless witnesses on whom we rely in our theological journey. Through their words in creed, hymn, discourse, and prayer, through their music and art, through their courageous deeds, we discover Christian insight by which our study of the Bible is illuminated.

Experience

We interpret the Bible in light of our cumulative experiences. We interpret our life’s experience in light of the biblical message.

Reason

We use reason in relating the Scripture and tradition to our experience and in organizing our theological witness in a way that’s internally coherent.


A Brief Story of the United Methodist Church

Below: a brief summary of what you’ll learn when you visit www.umc.org for a complete history of the United Methodist Church.

Roots (1736-1816)

The United Methodist Church shares a common history and heritage with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. The lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791) and of his brother, Charles (1707-1788), mark the origin of their common roots.

The Churches Grow (1817-1843)

The Second Great Awakening was the dominant religious development among Protestants in America in the first half of the nineteenth century. Through revivals and camp meetings sinners were brought to an experience of conversion. Circuit riding preachers and lay pastors knit them into a connection.

The Slavery Question and Civil War (1844-1865)

John Wesley was an ardent opponent of slavery. Many of the leaders of early American Methodism shared his hatred for this form of human bondage. As the nineteenth century progressed, it became apparent that tensions were deepening in Methodism over the slavery question.

Reconstruction, Prosperity, and New Issues (1866-1913)

The Civil War dealt an especially harsh blow to The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Its membership fell to two-thirds its pre-war strength. Many of its churches lay in ruins or were seriously damaged.

World War and More Change, (1914-1939)

In the years immediately prior to World War I, there was much sympathy in the churches for negotiation and arbitration as visible alternatives to international armed conflict. Many church members and clergy openly professed pacifism.

Movement Toward Union (1940-1967)

Although Methodists, Evangelicals, and United Brethren each had published strong statements condemning war and advocating peaceful reconciliation among the nations, the strength of their positions was largely lost with American involvement in the hostilities of World War II.

Developments and Changes (Since 1968)

When The United Methodist Church was created in 1968, it had approximately 11 million members, making it one of the largest Protestant churches in the world.

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