1968 UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
I. Group Profile
- Name: The United Methodist Church
- 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
- Date of Birth: John Wesley was born in 1703 in England. He
died in 1791.
- 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.
- Sacred or Revered Texts: The Protestant Bible
- 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 .
- 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.
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
Schisms in Methodism (Spin-off Denominations Originating in
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
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
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
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:
- shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
- perform kind acts as much as possible, and
- 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
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
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
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
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 .
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