I. Group Profile

  1. Name: The United Methodist Church
  2. Founders: Although the United Methodist Church is actually the current result of several schisms and mergers within and among different churches, the United Methodist Church considers its founder to be John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.
  3. Date of Birth: John Wesley was born in 1703 in England. He died in 1791.
  4. Date/Place Founded: Wesley founded The Methodist Church in London in 1739. However, the church that we know today as the United Methodist Church was not founded until April 23, 1968 in Dallas, Texas as a result of the unification of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church.
  5. Sacred or Revered Texts: The Protestant Bible
  6. Other Important Texts: The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (first edition, 1972), as well as Wesley's Sermons , his Notes on the New Testament , the Twenty-five Articles of Religion, and the Minutes in Conference .
  7. Size of The United Methodist Church: The Church's latest reported numbers (from 1998) claim a total of approximately 9,752,303 members worldwide. Of these, 8,411,503 are members residing inside the United States. These figures represent both clergy and lay members, with lay members accounting for 9,705,250 of the total number.


II. History

    The United Methodist Church was founded on April 23, 1968, in Dallas, Texas. This new Protestant denomination was created when Lloyd C. Wicke, bishop of The Methodist Church, and Reuben H. Mueller, bishop of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, met at the constituting General Conference (sometimes referred to as the Uniting Conference of the United Methodist Church), and effectively combined their churches into one.

    The Early Years

    The United Methodist Church's history can be traced back through the origins of Methodism, a denomination founded by John Wesley in the middle of the eighteenth century. Wesley was born in 1703 to Samuel and Susana Wesley He later attended Oxford University and was ordained a minister of the Church of England. He and several other students at Oxford created a group devoted not only to scholarly goals, but also to prayer and to aiding the less fortunate. The members of this group were often referred to as "Methodists" by their classmates as a result of the methodical way they went about their religious business. 

    After graduation, Wesley traveled to America, where he unsuccessfully tried to convert the Native Americans in Georgia. It was at this time that Wesley was introduced to and became quite taken with the pious Moravian religion. Then, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced a religious conversion after attending a prayer meeting held on Aldersgate Street, London. This experience led him to found Methodism in England in 1739. Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the "United Societies." Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion, based on the General Rules, when the first conference was held in 1744. 

    Early American Methodism began when Methodist immigrants traveled to the North American colonies and took the initiative to organize the religion in their new homeland in the 1760's. Among these pioneers were Robert Strawbridge, Philip Embury, and Captain Thomas Webb. Once Methodism got on its feet in the New World, Wesley aided the colonists by dispatching four preachers (Richard Wright, Francis Asbury, Richard Boardman, and Joseph Pilmore) across the Atlantic. A few years later, in 1773, Francis Asbury led the Methodists and held their first conference during which they established groundwork for future church organization and agreed to continue to abide by John Wesley's teachings. Soon, Methodist churches calling themselves the "Methodist Epicopal Church" began to be officially established, first in Leesburg, Virginia, and later in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia

    Schisms in Methodism (Spin-off Denominations Originating in Wesleyan Tradition)

    After the American Revolution, Wesley appointed Dr. Thomas Coke as head of Methodism in America. Because of the United States' new political independence from Great Britain, Wesley felt it necessary to allow the Americans religious independence as well, and Coke's mission was to oversee the American Methodist movement separately from the English Methodist movement.

    From the time of the Revolution until the beginning of the Civil War, the Methodist movement was the most rapidly growing movement of its kind  Then, in 1828, a division occurred resulting in the formation of the "Methodist Protestant Church." Sixteen years later another split occurred between the northern Methodist Episcopal Churches and the southern Methodist Episcopal Churches due to unresolved disagreements on racial issues. This schism led to the southern churches renaming themselves the "Methodist Episcopal Church, South". Around the same time, other such schisms occurred. One of these happened when former slave Richard Allen separated and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. In 1821, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was started. And in 1830, yet another group broke away and started the Methodist Protestant Church.

    Soon, several schisms occurred as German-speaking members began to feel the need to establish their own groups. The first of these, the United Brethren in Christ, was founded by Philip William Otterbein, not as a new church, but as a way to renew the faith of German-speaking Methodist settlers in America. However, after the first official meeting in 1789, Otterbein's United Brethren did eventually become its own church with its own book of discipline (introduced in 1815) and constitution (written in 1841 and later amended in 1889). A small group originally belonging to the United Brethren split again, and formed the Republican United Brethren Church. This split was short-lived and the deviant group soon merged into the Christian Union.

    The Evangelical Church, on the other hand, was founded by Jacob Albright. The first meetings were held in 1803, and a book of discipline was introduced six years later. In 1816, the church took on the name "The Evangelical Association". Then in 1891, some members of the Evangelical Association left to form the "United Evangelical Church". Thirty-one years later the two groups reunited and renamed themselves "The Evangelical Church".

    After the Civil War, the dwindling population of African Americans in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South caused the remaining black members to defect to a new denomination, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (then called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church). 

    Other schisms in the Methodist church involved disagreements over episcopal/non-episcopal issues. The first to leave over these issues was a group led by James O'Kelley; they became known as the Republican Methodists. Later, the Republican Methodists united with the modern-day United Church of Christ. In the 1880's, the Congregational Methodists emerged out of discord with mainstream Methodist Episcopal policies, as did the Methodist Protestant Church in the 1920's, as well as the Bible Protestant Church (or Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Churches), the Southern Methodists, and the Evangelical Methodists

    Modern American Methodism

    In the early twentieth century, American Methodism was again on the rise. By 1913, the Methodist Episcopal Church alone claimed four million members. Additionally, denominations that had previously experienced traumatic schisms began to reunite. In 1922 the Evangelical Association merged with another Evangelical denomination to form the Evangelical Association. Similarly, "The Evangelical United Brethren Church" resulted from a union consummated in 1946 of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church.

    On May 10, 1939, the three branches of American Methodism (the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) reached an agreement to reunite under the name "The Methodist Church". This newly reunited 7.7 million member church prospered on its own for the next twenty-nine years, as did the then-newly reunited Evangelical United Brethren Church. Then, in 1968, bishops of the two churches consulted in the Uniting Conference, and took the necessary steps to combine their churches into what has become the second largest Protestant denomination in America -- The United Methodist Church.

III. Beliefs

    When John Wesley began the Methodist tradition, devout Godliness was both his prime motivation, and his ultimate goal. As outlined in the General Rules, his three basic precepts were:

    1. shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
    2. perform kind acts as much as possible, and
    3. abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father.

    This God is believed to be all-knowing, to possess infinite love and goodness, to be all-powerful, and to be the creator of all things. He has always existed and will always continue to exist, and He is said to consist of three persons in one, the Father, the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. It was not until late in the eighteenth century that Wesley published further doctrinal standards, including his Sermons , Notes on the New Testament , and Large Minutes of the Conference (which had been preceded by Minutes of the Conference).

    Later, the Twenty-five Articles of Religion (an amended form of a similar document in the Anglican Church) were added. These articles affirmed the Methodists' belief in many universally Christian ideas, as well as denied some ideas affiliated with certain specific Christian denominations.

    Among the beliefs Methodists uphold with other Christian groups is the previously mentioned belief in a triune God. This God is the master of all creation and humans are meant to live in a holy covenant with him. However, they also teach that humans have broken this covenant by their sins, and can only be forgiven if they truly have faith in the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ. Christians (including Methodists) believe that Jesus was God on Earth (the product of a virgin conception) in the form of a man who was crucified for the sins of all people, and who was physically resurrected to bring them the hope of eternal life.

    Other beliefs that the United Methodist Church shares with other Christian churches include: that the grace of God is perceived by people through the work of the Holy Spirit on their lives and in their world, that close adherence to the teachings of Scripture (found in The Holy Bible) is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God, and that they are part of a universal church and must work with all Christians to spread the love of God. 

    Additionally, the Church encourages its members' participation in two sacraments to symbolize and strengthen their dedication to God. The first of these is Baptism. Baptism, a sacrament shared with many Christian churches, is a ceremony in which a person is anointed with water to symbolize being brought into the community of faith. The second sacrament, also shared by many other Christian denominations, is Communion. In this sacrament, participants eat bread and drink juice to show that they continue to take part in Christ's redeeming resurrection by symbolically taking part in His body (the bread) and blood (the juice). Wesley taught his followers that Baptism and Communion are not only sacraments, but also sacrifices to God.

    Though United Methodists have many things in common with other Christian religions, there are some aspects of the religion that are distinctively Methodist . The most fundamental of these is the Methodist teaching that people must use logic and reason in all matters of faith. Also important is the acknowledgement of "pervenient," "justifying," and "sanctifying" graces. It is taught that people are blessed with these graces at different times through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pervenient grace is present before they are saved from the error of their ways. Justifying grace is given at the time of their contrition and forgiveness by God. And sanctifying grace is received when they have finally been saved from their sins and the sins of the world. Methodism teaches that people can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any other acts of redemption such as good deeds.

    Additionally, the Methodist Church puts a great emphasis on missionary work and other forms of spreading the Word of God and His love to others. Finally, Methodism isolates itself from religious beliefs in purgatory, predestination, and sacraments other than Communion and Baptism.

    Over the years, and particularly during the second half of the twentieth century, the United Methodist Church has strayed from the strict pious teachings of original Wesleyan tradition. Both seminary professors and clergy have found the original doctrines, rules, and laws to be open to broad interpretation, and have taken it upon themselves to do so. Evidence of this can be seen in many ways but one of the clearest manifestations is the growing willingness on the part of clergy to interpret Methodist doctrine as justifying, even mandating, liberal social action strategies.

    Despite much recent liberal influence in the United Methodist Church, not all of its members feel that liberal social doctrine and political advocacy is a good thing. This has resulted in the emergence of conservative groups within the UMC. The most notable group is called "Good News." It stands in opposition to liberalism within the Methodist Church and advocates "renewal" of John Wesley's vision of a devout, pious community whose mission is to strictly follow the Word of God without subjecting it to broad and unconventional interpretations.

IV. Organization of the Church

    The organizational structure of the United Methodist Church has been set up in the all- important Book of Discipline much as the American government was outlined in the Constitution. Both are made up of three branches: executive, legislature, and judicial. The United Methodist Church's version of these three are the Council of Bishops, the General Conference, and the Judicial Council. 

    The church is also organized in a hierarchical system. Beginning from the bottom, the smallest units in the UMC are its lay and pastoral members. The pastoral members are divided into two levels. The lower consists of ministers and pastors assigned to one church whose job it is to preach. The higher rank of clergy is made up of bishops, who are not assigned to a specific local church, but to a group of churches, and have the responsibility of ordaining clergy. 

    These clergy and lay people divide themselves into relatively small local churches. In the United States alone there are almost 37,000 local churches. Each of these churches has an annual "local church charge conference" to elect representatives and take care of other administrative business. 

    Churches are then grouped together along geographic boundaries to form districts of which there are 526 in America. The districts hold conferences, at which the main purpose is to pass on information from the higher conferences to the local churches.

    Districts are then assigned to one of sixty-eight annual conferences. At the annual conferences, an assigned bishop hands out ministerial assignments for the year. Votes are cast regarding amendments to church law and regarding delegates to be sent to the jurisdictional conference. All annual conference attendees have voting rights on these issues, but only ministers have voting rights on minister-specific matters. 

    The annual conferences are grouped into jurisdictions of which there are five in the United States. Then, at the top of this hierarchical chain is the General Conference. The General Conference meets once every four years, and is made up of lay people and clergy voted upon during annual conferences. Its main purpose is to vote on church law. If enacted by the General Conference, the proposed laws are published in The Book of Discipline .

SOURCE: Religious Movements
The information on this page was taken from the Religious Movements website & edited.  For the complete information click on the link above to Religious Movements.  We felt that this information is of such great importance that we made the decision to copy an edited format rather than chance losing it as a results of a broken link or a change of URL.





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