7 Pietist–Methodist Family
By the end of the seventeenth century, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed churches of Europe were seen by many as having become rigid, lifeless, and impersonal. Some of their members yearned for a more intimate, personal, lively, and spontaneous expression of their religious feelings. This desire led to the movement called Pietism, and in turn gave rise to three new groups of churches—the Moravian churches, the Swedish Evangelical churches, and the Methodist (Wesleyan) churches. Piety, a term that refers directly to the practice of following religious “duties,” came to mean the adoption of spiritual disciplines that promote the individual’s personal religious life.
From its beginning, Pietism, by its very existence, challenged the Anglican, Lutheran, and Calvinist churches. While the movement was seen by supporters as an alternative to scholastic theology and a dry worship experience, many church leaders viewed any such informal alternative as primarily challenging the church’s hegemony over religious matters in society, and they tended to treat the Pietists with hostility and in some cases initiated actual persecutions. To accomplish their goals, the Pietists emphasized: (1) a Bible-centered faith; (2) the experienced Christian life (guilt, forgiveness, conversion, holiness, and love within community); and (3) free expression of faith in hymns, testimony, and evangelical zeal. The earliest representatives of the movement include Philipp Jacob Spener (1635–1705) and August Hermann Francke (1663–1727).
Spener is credited with originating the basic form taken by Pietists—the collegia pietatis (association of piety). In despair over the impossibility of reforming Lutheranism, he began to organize small groups that met in homes for Bible study, prayer, and discussion, leading to a deeper spiritual life. These groups spread throughout Europe and were known in England as religious societies.
Francke was Spener’s most famous disciple. Forced out of the University of Leipzig and later dismissed from the University of Erfurt, he became a teacher at the newly formed University of Halle and turned it into a Pietist center. During the three decades Francke taught there, Halle graduated more than 200 ministers per year. Besides the deeply experienced faith he taught at Halle, Francke encouraged missionary endeavors and began an orphan house in 1698. Knowledge of his work brought financial help and allowed the ministry to include a pauper school, a Bible institute, a Latin school, and other facilities to aid destitute children. Most early missionaries came from among Halle’s graduates.
From Halle, Pietism spread throughout the world. Correspondence between Francke and Cotton Mather (1663–1728) led to the establishment of religious societies in the Boston churches, and Pietistic literature lay directly behind the American revival movement of the 1730s and 1740s called the Great Awakening. In Germany, Pietism renewed the Moravian Church, which then began to spread its own version of Pietism. The Moravian Church carried the Pietist faith to England, where Pietism became a strong influence on John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of the Methodist movement. Moravians working in Sweden helped establish the Swedish Evangelical Church. Thus, three groups of churches emerged from the Pietist movement: the Moravian churches, the Swedish Evangelical churches, and the Methodist churches.
However, most of Pietism’s influence was absorbed by the Lutheran Church and the Calvinist groups (the Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Congregational Church). Although Pietism did lead to schism in some of the American churches, most of the schismatic churches eventually reunited with their parent bodies.
A note of contrast is that the Pietist churches are very different from the European free churches. The latter, discussed in chapter 10, include the Mennonites, the Amish, the Quakers, and the Brethren. The Pietists were distinct from the European free churches because the Pietists were open to traditional Christian practices and beliefs, and lacked hostility to their parent bodies. Instead of rejecting the forms of the past, as the European free churches did, the Pietists worked with the forms of the past and sought the life of the spirit within them. In general, the free churches of the past and the present have opposed infant baptism, traditional ideas of church and sacrament, and many liturgical practices. In contrast, Pietists accepted Reformation ideas of church and sacrament, have baptized infants, and have used simplified versions of liturgical forms. Whereas the European free churches sprang up as a protest to state churches (whether those were Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or Calvinist), Pietist groups began as societies within Protestant state churches and only later removed themselves from their parent churches and became independent entities.
|Pietist-Methodist Family Chronology|
|1675||Philipp Jacob Spener (1635–1705) publishes Pia desideria or Earnest Desires for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church calling for reviving church life through a new emphasis on Bible study, devotion, and heart-felt preaching.|
|1694||Spener influences Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, to fund the University of Halle, which becomes the center of the Pietist movement.|
|1722||Refugee Moravian families from Bohemia and Moravia settle on the estate of German Count Nicholaus von Zinzendorf and found the community of Herrnhut. Zinzendorf encourages them to spiritual renewal in the Pietist tradition leading to their launching a global missionary movement.|
|1738||Anglican minister John Wesley, partially based on interaction with Moravian missionaries, experiences a personal spiritual awakening described as feeling his “heart strangely warmed.” He subsequently begins to found several informal religious societies at which people may gather for prayer, singing, Bible study, and preaching.|
|1744||Wesley holds first conference of the preachers who are assisting him in his work. This meeting is considered the founding event of the new Methodist movement.|
|1763–65||Irish Methodist preacher Robert Strawbridge founds several Methodist classes (small groups that meet weekly for prayer and support in the spiritual life) in Maryland, the first Methodist organizations in the British American colonies. Barbara Heck leads in the founding of a similar class in New York in 1766. Each class includes both black and white members.|
|1869||Wesley send Joseph Pilmore and Richard Boardman as lay preachers to travel among the emerging movement in the colonies.|
|1784||Wesley appoints Thomas Coke to come to the new United States with authority to organize an autonomous American church. The preachers meet in conference during Christmas week, organize the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC), and select Francis Asbury (1745–1816) as their “bishop.”|
|1792||First African American Methodist congregation (now St. Paul United Methodist Church) is founded in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and Lunar Brown lead African American members out of St. George’s church in Philadelphia. This group will later create three congregations—the Bethel and Zoar Methodist churches and St. Thomas Episcopal Church.|
|1800||German Americans influenced by Methodism found Church of the United Brethren (led by William Philip Otterbein and Martin Boehm) and the Evangelical Association (later the Evangelical Church), under the leadership of Jacob Albright.|
|1813||African Methodists in Wilmington, Delaware, separate from the Methodist Episcopal Church and form the African Union Church, the first independent African American denomination, which continues to the present as the African Union First Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (UAMEC).|
|1816||Richard Allen leads in the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) centered on the Bethel congregation in Philadelphia. He is selected as the church’s first bishop.|
|1821||African Methodists in New York organize what will become the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) and select William Varick as their first bishop.|
|1828||Methodists who reject its Episcopal leadership leave the Methodist Episcopal Church and form the Methodist Protestant Church (MPC) and adopt a congregational polity.|
|1844–45||Now the largest church in America, the MEC splits into two jurisdictions over the slavery issue: the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MEC, S).|
|1870||Former slaves who had joined neither the AME nor AMEZ churches found the Colored (now Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church (CME).|
|1875||Pauline Williams Martindale is ordained as an elder (minister) in the Methodiost Protestant Church.|
|1880s||Many Methodist leave the MEC and MEC,S to form new Holiness churches.|
|1889||Ella Nismonger ordained as an elder in the Church of the United Brethren.|
|1926||Belle C. Harmon and Gertrude L. Apel are ordained as elders in the Methodist Episcopal Church.|
|1939||The MEC, MEC,S, and the MPC unite to form the Methodist Church.|
|1946||The Church of the United Brethren and the Evangelical Church unite to form the Evangelical United Brethren.|
|1968||The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren unite to form the United Methodist Church, now the third largest religious body in the United States. The new church voted to disband the Central Jurisdiction into which African American members had been segregated.|
|1980||Marjorie Matthews become first female minister elected to the bishopric.|
|2000||Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union formed to pursue closer relationships among the AME, AMEZ, CME, the UMC, and the UAMEC.|
The Moravian churches of today exist only because the Pietist movement gave life to an almost extinguished Moravian Church. Thus the Moravians are distinct among Pietists: The Moravians represent not so much a new church created by Pietism as a renewed church recreated by Pietism. That recreation occurred in 1727. The story of the Moravian churches, however, starts in the ninth century with the founding of the early Moravian Church.
Cyril (c. 827–869) and Methodius (c. 826–885), missionaries of the Greek Orthodox Church, arrived in the ninth century in Moravia, an area in what is now the Czech Republic. There they established a Greek-based Slavic church. At first, the Moravians were encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, but in later centuries Rome forced a Latin rite upon them. The Moravians considered this a repressive move. They became discontented with Catholicism, and their discontent was heightened by a young priest named John Hus (c. 1373–1415). From his pulpit in Prague, he began to throw challenges in the face of the Roman Church. He questioned the practice of selling indulgences, which were promises of the remission of punishment due for sins. Hus also questioned the denial of the cup to the laity in the Eucharist, and railed against the moral corruption of the papacy. Hus’s career coincided with the time when three men were claiming to be the pope, each having a segment of Europe behind him. In 1414, when the Council of Constance was called primarily to heal an internal schism within the Roman church, church authorities also invited Hus, with a safe-conduct promise, to state his case. Instead, after hearing and rejecting him, the church had him arrested and burned at the stake. The Hussite Wars followed, and eventually Hus’s followers, concluding that Hus’s ideas would never positively affect the Roman church, formed their own church—the Unitas Fratrum or “Unity of the Brethren.”
During its early years, the church existed as a Reformed Roman church, turning to Bishop Stephen of the Italian Waldensian Church for apostolic ordination. It published the Bible in the Czech vernacular—the Kralitz Bible, which affected the Czech-speaking people as strongly as Luther’s Bible affected Germany. A second round of religious wars in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries all but destroyed the once prosperous Unitas Fratrum. On June 21, 1621, fifteen Brethren leaders were beheaded in Prague. The persecutions brought an end to all visible manifestations of the Unitas Fratrum and reestablished Roman hegemony in Bohemia and Moravia.
In 1722 a few families from the former Unitas Fratrum made their way from Moravia to Saxony, a region in East Germany. Soon more than 300 exiles had settled in Saxony at Herrnhut, the estate of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760). The exiles conferred and drew up a “Brotherly Agreement.” Their bickering, though, led the fatherly Zinzendorf to invite as many as would come to a communion service at his manor church on August 13, 1727. This date is considered to be the birth of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum (or Moravian Church) as there occurred an amazing “outpouring of the power of God,” which Moravians compared to Pentecost. The wranglings and strife were over. Zinzendorf received a copy of the “discipline” of the old Unitas Fratrum and began to set the church in order. Ordination in the apostolic succession was secured from Daniel Ernest Jablonsky (1660–1741). A court preacher in Berlin, Jablonsky was one of the ordained bishops in the line of the old Unitas Fratrum. He ordained David Nitschmann (1696–1772) as the first bishop of the restored church.
The arrival of the Moravians on the estate of Zinzendorf largely determined the Moravian future. Zinzendorf was a Pietist, and he led the Moravians into placing great stress upon religious experience and the relation of the individual with God. Numerous forms were developed to foster this deep faith. Among them was the love feast, an informal service centering on holy communion but also including a light meal, singing, and a talk by the officiating minister. The litany, a lengthy prayer form for corporate and private devotions, was added to the Herrnhut services in 1731. Its present form is a modified Lutheran litany. The idea of small groups of dedicated Christians meeting together regularly for worship and exhortation and service was taken from the German Pietists and was used extensively, especially in the mission field. Moravian meetings were the model of early Methodist societies developed by John Wesley.
The Daily Texts was a book that grew from the need of the early Herrnhut settlers for a “watchword” from the scripture for daily use. They at first copied scriptural passages by hand on bits of paper to be drawn from a container each day. This practice evolved into an annual volume of texts. For each day there was a text from both the Old and New Testaments and a hymn stanza to amplify the text. This book has had an influence far beyond the membership of the church, as it circulates widely to nonmembers.
The most characteristic aspect of Moravian piety was its mission program. Zinzendorf, early in his life, became convinced that he was destined to do something about the neglected peoples of the world. In 1731 he traveled to Copenhagen, where he met Anthony Ulrich, an African slave from the Danish West Indies. Ulrich told Zinzendorf of his people’s plight. Back at Herrnhut, Zinzendorf related Ulrich’s story, preparing the way for the slave to arrive and tell it himself. The response was immediate, and David Nitschmann and Leonhard Dober (1706–1766) were chosen as the first missionaries to the oldest Moravian mission—St. Thomas. The Moravians then proceeded to initiate missions all over Europe. Zinzendorf, a Lutheran himself, gave strict orders for the Moravians not to encroach upon state-church prerogatives. They arrived in their mission territories as merely preachers of the Word and were thus welcomed in many Protestant lands. In England they moved into an established Anglican Church structure and set up “religious societies” for Bible study and prayer, never encouraging anyone to leave the state church. John Wesley was a member of one of these societies for a while.
In 1872 reentrance into Czechoslovakia was permitted with the Edict of Toleration, and the first congregation in Bohemia was established the same year. Other mission work occurred in British Guiana, Surinam, Southern Africa, Java, Nicaragua, Jordan, Alaska, and Labrador, all established before 1900. In 1735 the Moravians entered the American colonies.
MORAVIANS IN AMERICA
The settling of Moravians in America in 1735 had a twofold purpose: the securing of a settlement in the New World in case Germany again became intolerant, and a mission to the Indians. The first group of settlers in the New World was led by Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg (1704–1792). He traveled to Georgia on the same ship that brought John Wesley to the colony of James Oglethorpe (1696–1785). Wesley was impressed with Spangenberg and the Moravians, and he records a number of conversations with Spangenberg. Soon after settling in Savannah, the Moravians opened an Indian school. The Moravians were, however, caught in the war between the British (Georgia) and the Spanish (Florida). Their refusal to bear arms led to their being looked down upon by their neighbors. By 1740 the Moravians left Georgia for Pennsylvania. They established the town of Nazareth, and the following year Bishop Nitschmann arrived and began to settle Bethlehem. In December of 1741, Zinzendorf arrived, and on Christmas day he organized the Moravian Congregation in Bethlehem, the first in America.
Under Spangenberg’s leadership, a semicommunal arrangement was worked out in Bethlehem that soon made it a self-sufficient settlement, able to bear its own mission program to the Indians. Churches were soon organized in Nazareth and Lilitz in Pennsylvania, and in Hope, New Jersey.
In 1749 the British Parliament acknowledged the Moravian Church as “an Ancient Protestant Episcopal Church,” thus, in effect, giving the church an invitation to settle in other British colonies. The Moravians took advantage of Parliament’s recognition of their church and settled in North Carolina on property owned by Lord Granville. Rising persecution in Germany encouraged other Moravians to come to America.
Spangenberg and five others went to North Carolina in 1752 and had surveyors lay out what is now Forsyth County. The first settlers, 15 in all, arrived in 1753 and settled in Bethabara. In 1766 the permanent settlement of Salem was laid out. From this beginning, other churches and settlements developed.
Moravian settlements in Canada originated as an extension of their continued missions to convert the Indians. After an unsuccessful attempt in 1752 to establish a mission to the Indians along the Labrador coast, Moravian missionaries were able to find work in 1771 in Nain. By the early nineteenth century, four stations were activated along the rugged terrain across the Labrador Basin from New Herrnhut, the Moravian settlement in Greenland. A second thrust into Canada occurred in 1792 when, in an effort to escape a possible Indian war, missionaries moved into Canada along the Thames River and established Fairfield, Ontario. Though destroyed in the War of 1812, the center was rebuilt and became a stop along the underground railroad for slaves fleeing to Canada. A third field in Canada opened in 1894 when some German families who had moved to Alberta from Russia contacted the church headquarters in Pennsylvania and asked for affiliation. By encouraging the development of this colony and adding members who moved into the area from the eastern United States, the church grew and now has its own Canadian District to serve the congregations of western Canada.
Among Methodist historians there is wide disagreement about when Methodism began; however, organizational continuity in the Wesleyan movement dates to late 1739 when the first society was formed by John Wesley and 18 other persons “desiring to flee from the wrath to come—and be saved from their sins.” The number of societies grew and in 1744 the first Methodist conference was held as Wesley called his lay ministers together to confer with him. After discussions, Wesley made all the decisions and then assigned the preachers to their tasks.
Wesley, the son of an Anglican clergyman, had attended Oxford to study for the ministry. While at Oxford, he formed a religious society called the Holy Club by other students. To this group was first applied the derisive title Methodists, partly because of the group’s strict daily schedules.
Wesley left Oxford and became a missionary to the Indians in Georgia. This adventure ended in failure. However, while on the voyage to America he encountered the Moravians and was impressed with their simple piety and their leader, Spangenberg. In Georgia, he also encountered the writings of Scottish Pietist Thomas Halyburton (1674–1712), whose personal religious experience closely paralleled his own.
Arriving back in London, Wesley affiliated with the Moravians and in particular with Peter Böhler (1712–1775), who would soon be on his way to America as a missionary to the slaves. Activity with Böhler led Wesley to his own crisis experience, which occurred at the religious society at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738. Wesley described what happened in his journal:
In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a Society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which 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.
This experience became the turning point in Wesley’s life. During the next year he visited Germany and lived among the Moravians, but then broke with the Moravians over several points of practice, and began the United Societies. Innovations by Wesley included field preaching, the use of lay preachers (Wesley’s assistants), and the discipline of the societies.
The United Societies were originally groups of dedicated Christians within the Church of England. As with continental Pietism, doctrine was not at issue as much as the application of doctrine to life. Some doctrinal innovations did occur concerning the Christian life—Wesley’s emphasis on the witness of the spirit and Christian perfection. These doctrines often led to excesses and accusations of “enthusiasm,” the eighteenth-century euphemism for “fanaticism.”
Those who experienced this evangelical awakening were organized into societies, the basic document of which was the General Rules. Those in the society were expected to evidence their desire for salvation: first, by doing no harm, avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced; second, by doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible to all people; and third, by attending upon the ordinances of God. Wesley wrote that following the third rule involved the public worship of God, the ministry of the Word (either read or expounded), the Supper of the Lord, family and private prayer, searching the scriptures, and fasting and abstinence.
The society was to be thought of as a gathering of people, not as a place. Wherever the society met was where it held its regular worship services and, most importantly, the quarterly meeting. Once each quarter, Wesley visited each society. He inquired into the lives of the members relative to the General Rules and issued quarterly tickets. The tickets admitted members to the society for the next three months. Wesley served communion and usually a love feast was held, an informal service centering on holy communion but also including a light meal, singing, and a talk.
Wesley lived for almost the entire eighteenth century, and the issue of doctrinal standards for Methodism came to the fore late in his life. Early doctrinal concerns had been set in the Large Minutes of the Conference, but additional doctrinal questions were raised in 1777 by the predestinarian Calvinists and in the 1780s by the establishment of the Methodist
Episcopal Church in America. The Calvinist controversy set Methodism firmly against predestinarian doctrines. Wesley opposed the Calvinist idea of irresistible grace, the belief that if grace comes, you cannot refuse it; if it does not come, you cannot obtain it. Wesley said grace is freely given to each person, and each person can freely respond to the gospel. The formation of American Methodism caused Wesley to set doctrinal standards in his letter to the preachers in America: “Let all of you be determined to abide by the Methodist doctrine and discipline published in the four volumes of Sermons and the Notes on the New Testament, together with the Large Minutes of the Conference.”
To Wesley’s Sermons, the Notes on the New Testament, and the Large Minutes of the Conference, the Twenty-five Articles of Religion were added as a fourth source for determining the Methodist perspective on doctrine. The articles were derived from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, of which they are an abridgment. Wesley specifically excluded the Anglican articles on hell, creeds, predestination, bishops, excommunication, and the authority of the church, and he shortened others.
The remaining articles cover the major affirmation of traditional Christianity—the Trinity, Christ (including his virgin birth and physical resurrection), the sufficiency of the Bible, sin, and the salvation of humanity. The church is viewed as the place where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments duly administered. There are two sacraments—baptism (usually by sprinkling) and the Lord’s Supper.
A number of the items specifically refute Roman Catholic doctrines concerning the existence of voluntary works above and beyond the commandments of God, purgatory, other sacraments, mass as a sacrificial ceremony, celibate priests, and the uniformity of worship services. Methodists receive both elements (bread and wine) in the Lord’s Supper, rather than just bread. Methodists are also set apart from the free-church position of the Mennonites by their acknowledgment of the legitimacy of taking oaths in legal situations.
The Twenty-five Articles of Religion grounded Methodism in the traditional Christian doctrines as established during the conciliar era of united Christianity (fourth to eighth centuries) and the creeds promulgated by those councils, especially the Nicene and Chacedonian creeds. The Sermons, Notes, and Minutes stated Methodist opinion on current issues.
The Articles of Religion are also derivative of continental Reformed confessions, and place Methodism in a Reformed theological tradition. The Reformed tradition, based on the work of John Calvin (1509–1564), shows up most clearly in articles v, ix, xii, xiii, xvi, and in the anti-Roman Catholic articles x, xi, xiv, xv, xix, xx, and xxii. Methodists have always identified with Reformed theologian Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), whom they interpreted as rejecting the Calvinist emphasis on predestination. Wesley named the first Methodist periodical The Arminian Magazine. The Twenty-Five Articles of Religion are a common core of doctrinal agreement for all Methodists and are included in doctrinal statements by almost all Methodist bodies.
In England, Methodism remained as a society within the Anglican Church, and as such was spread throughout the British Commonwealth by the missionary vision and activity of the Reverend Thomas Coke (1747–1814). The British Wesleyans became independent of the Anglican Church in 1795.
WESLEYANISM IN AMERICA
Methodist history in the colonies began in the 1760s with the migration of Methodist laypeople and preachers. The first society on record was in Leesburg, Virginia, in 1766, and the second was in New York City. Methodism spread in the middle colonies and developed early centers in Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware.
The first crisis for American Methodists was the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Because of their attachment to the Church of England and Wesley’s antirevolutionary traits, the loyalty of American Methodists was suspect. After the war, because of the independence of the colonies from England, Wesley decided to allow the American Methodists to set up an independent church. In September 1784 he ordained Thomas Coke as a superintendent and sent him to America with instructions to set up the church and to ordain Francis Asbury (1745–1816). This organization was accomplished at the Christmas Conference held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore.
Asbury was second only to Wesley in molding American Methodism. He came to America in 1771 and during his first 13 years of service emerged as the unquestioned leader of the American brethren. After he was ordained bishop in 1784 (the American preachers preferred the term bishop to superintendent), he formed the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the time, neither the Roman Catholics nor the Anglicans had a bishop present in the former American colonies. His appointments of ministers to their congregations covered the United States, Nova Scotia, and Antigua.
As the Methodists grew in number, their organization became more sophisticated, but two features important for understanding Methodists and their schisms have remained constant: the conference and itineracy. The basic structure of Methodism is the conference, a name derived from Wesley’s practice of having regular meetings with his preachers to confer with them before deciding on issues. The local church charge conference, district conference, annual conference, and general conference form a hierarchy of authority. The local church charge conference is the annual business meeting of the local congregation. There the congregation elects officers and sets the budget. The district conference is primarily a funnel; it lets local congregations know the messages of bishops and annual conferences. The annual conference is a regional conference chaired by the bishop, whose duty it is to assign ministers to their churches (charges) each year, and to publish those assignments at the annual conference. The annual conference is the most important structure for developing the program mandated by the general conference. The general conference is made up of representatives of all the annual conferences in the country. The general conference meets quadrennially, is the church’s highest legislative and policy-making body, and writes the Discipline, the book of church order and organization.
The term annual conference has a meaning in addition to that described above. For a minister to belong to an annual conference means that he or she has contractual relationships with the church in that area. The minister gives up membership in any local church and is a “member” of the annual conference. The minister also agrees to be available for assignment, and the church guarantees that he or she will receive an assignment, termed an appointment, to a congregation (or other ministry task) and a salary. The term annual conference thus connotes an association of ministers, a fellowship, a sense of belonging.
Itineracy is the second important structural feature of Methodism. Ministers itinerate; that is, they travel to various congregations within their own region (usually part of a state) as they are assigned by the bishop and annual conference of that region. The assignments were traditionally for one year, but the length of the minister’s stay has steadily expanded. In addition to itinerant ministers, Methodists have both ordained and unordained local preachers who do not travel but belong to only one congregation. They are licensed by the church and they preach, assist the minister, and occasionally act as interim pastors.
During the nineteenth century, the itinerant, the circuit rider of folklore, would often be assigned to a charge with 20 or 30 preaching points on it. The circuit rider would travel his entire circuit every two, three, or four weeks. The effect of this type of organization was to cover the land, but it also put the ministers in many places on weekdays—not on Sundays. This became an issue in the nineteenth century as Methodism grew and stable congregations emerged that wanted to meet on Sundays instead of on weekdays.
During the first generation, Methodism in America spread among German-speaking people in the middle colonies, and independent German congregations and leaders emerged. Attempts to merge the English-speaking and German-speaking Methodist and Pietist groups in the early 1800s failed. A major factor in the failure was Bishop Asbury’s belief that there should be no perpetuation of German work since English would quickly be the only language in America. Asbury was essentially correct, but he failed to foresee the large German migrations through the 1800s. Eventually, the Methodist Episcopal Church had to organize its own German-speaking mission to cope with the demand for ministry.
Two separate Wesleyan churches developed among America’s German-speaking population: the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association. These two churches merged with each other and then with the United Methodist Church. Prior to these mergers, various schismatic churches formed from the two German-speaking churches.
One of the most interesting schismatic churches is now defunct: the Republican United Brethren Church. It was formed by members of the White River Conference of the United Brethren in Christ during the Mexican War (1846–1848). The church’s origin can be traced to an informal meeting of ministers and members of the White River Conference at Dowell Meeting House, Franklin Circuit, Indiana, on March 12, 1848. At the meeting, a resolution was passed protesting conference action concerning the Reverend P. C. Parker. (Parker had been expelled from the ministry for “immorality” because of his participation in the war.) This resolution was refused publication; therefore, an appeal was made to the general conference. The 1853 general conference, however, sustained Parker’s expulsion and passed a strong antiwar resolution. The convention also acted in support of a belief in “the doctrine of the natural, hereditary, and total depravity of man.” That doctrine refers to the sinfulness of human beings after the fall, by which sinfulness the will is in bondage and is unable to turn to God. The protest of the three actions of the general conference became the formal basis for withdrawal. At a meeting at Union Chapel, Decatur County, Indiana, on September 8–12, 1853, the new church was organized. The church was small (the first conference listed only two charges) and existed for only a short time. In the 1860s the church became part of the Christian Union.
Of the religiously affiliated African Americans, the second largest number belongs to Methodist churches. (The largest number belongs to Baptist churches.) African Americans were a part of Methodism almost from the beginning; Wesley first mentions the black servants of Nathaniel Gilbert (c. 1721–1774), the pioneer of Methodism in the West Indies, in his journal. African Americans were members of the earliest classes and societies, a few being named in the records, and through the 1770s they began to assume leadership positions as class leaders and preachers. By the time the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784, two preachers, Richard Allen (1760–1831) and Harry Hoosier (d. 1810), were making a name for themselves. Hoosier, one of the outstanding orators of the era, frequently traveled with Bishop Francis Asbury, and, in spite of the discrimination he often faced, was among the most popular speakers in the church. Allen emerged as a leader among Philadelphia’s black Methodist membership.
The Methodist Episcopal Church emerged as the only national church to systematically recruit African Americans into membership, and over the first decades it built a significant black constituency. While most of these members were slaves, by 1800 large free-black constituencies were present in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington, and Charleston.
Methodists emerged from their organizational meeting with a strong stance against slavery, but as church members in the South were heard from, that stance softened decade by decade. Without totally giving up its antislavery stance, the church slowly accommodated the institution, and structures reflecting the master-slave relationship were developed as more and more African Americans became church members. African members were segregated during Sunday worship, often in church galleries, and later, where membership allowed, into separate congregations. Rejection of practices that were derogatory toward African Americans became apparent first among the free black members in the northern urban centers, leading to the formation of several independent denominations. African-American church members in Wilmington, Delaware, formed a separate congregation in 1805, and the majority left in 1813 to found the African Union Church, the first all-black denomination, which soon had congregations throughout the northern states.
The most famous break came in 1791 to 1792 in Philadelphia, when the African-American members at St. George’s Church walked out and formed three congregations—St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, and Zoar Methodist Episcopal Church. The Bethel Church, under the leadership of Richard Allen, went on to become the largest black congregation in the city. Facing tension with the white leadership at St. George’s, in 1816 Allen led in the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now the largest African-American Methodist church body. Several years later, the African-American church members in New York City left to found what would become known as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
In the 1840s and 1850s, massive recruitment efforts brought several hundred thousand slaves into Methodism in the southern states. Even before the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865), former slaves began disserting the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the dominant Methodist group in the southern United States, and joining the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, with a lesser number adhering to the Methodist Episcopal Church (the northern white church). About a third of the black member of the southern white church remained after the war, and they, as a group, organized a new denomination, now known as the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
Over the next century and a half, the great majority of African-American Methodists would adhere to one of the three large independent African Methodist churches—the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. A lesser number stayed with the Methodist Episcopal Church and are now members of the United Methodist Church. The original African Union Church continues in two denominations: the African First Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. Through the first decade of the twenty-first century, ongoing conversations have been held between the various black churches and the United Methodist Church looking toward closer fellowship and cooperation and possible eventual union.
Apart from the race issue, no concern has led to the number of schisms within Methodism as has the periodic protest against the episcopal polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church and its successor bodies. The first group to depart over polity questions and to subsequently form a nonepiscopal church was the Republican Methodists led by James O’Kelley (c. 1757–1826). His small church eventually became a part of the Christian Church (a constituent part of the present-day United Church of Christ). More significant, however, was the Methodist Protestant schism in the 1820s. The Methodist Protestants created the first major alternative relative to polity to the Methodist Episcopal Church, though they finally merged with the two large Methodist Episcopal branches in 1939. The merger of the Methodist Protestant Church left many of its pastors and members dissatisfied and led to no less than six schisms. Members refused to move from the relatively small denominations into the 10-million-member Methodist Church (1939–1968), now the United Methodist Church. They also rejected the episcopal system and, in the South, feared the possibility of racial integration, which finally occurred in United Methodism in the 1960s. Such churches as the Methodist Protestant Church, headquartered in Mississippi, and the Bible Protestant Church (now known as the Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Churches) centered in New Jersey, originated from the merger of the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939.
Besides the schisms growing out of the Methodist Protestant Church, there have been other protests that included rejection of episcopal authority and led to the formation of new church bodies. Most notable was the Congregational Methodist movement in Georgia in the 1880s. More recently, the Southern Methodists and the Evangelical Methodists have followed that pattern. The Holiness movement (generally regarded as the only doctrinal schism in Methodism) can also be regarded as a polity schism caused by the inability of the bishops and district superintendents to control the numerous Holiness associations that had emerged to focus Holiness doctrinal concerns. In fact, most Holiness churches adopted a nonepiscopal form of government. The Holiness churches are discussed in chapter 8.
METHODISM IN BRITISH AMERICA
Methodism developed in Canada and the West Indies quite apart from its development in the United States. The first Methodist work in Canada began in 1765 under the direction of Lawrence Coughlan (d. 1785), an Irishman. However, Coughlan was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1867 and took his work in the Church of England in Canada with him. A more permanent Methodist presence occurred in 1772 when a group of settlers from Yorkshire in southwest Great Britain found their way to Nova Scotia. Among them were some Methodists, and among the Methodists was William Black (1760–1834). Converted in 1779, he began almost immediately to preach in the scattered settlements, especially spurred by the anti-Methodist remarks of Newlight (later Baptist) preacher, Henry Alline (1748–1784). Black sought assistance from England, and John Wesley placed him in contact with the Methodists in the American colonies.
As the arrival of numerous Loyalists in Nova Scotia swelled Black’s responsibilities, he finally journeyed to the United States in 1783 to seek help from the Methodist Episcopal Church. The work developed quickly, and as it grew he was appointed presiding elder for the Nova Scotia District. The relationship with the American church continued until 1800, when it was shifted to the British Wesleyan
Conference, by which time it had spread through the Maritime Provinces.
As the work was spreading through the Maritime Provinces, a second thrust into Canada developed when William Losee (1757–1832) was sent by Bishop Francis Asbury to check on the Methodists among the Loyalists (people who moved to Canada during and after the American Revolution) who had settled in the neighborhood of Kingston, Ontario. The new mission was initially placed under the care of the New York Conference, but the need to separate it from American control became evident, especially following the War of 1812. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding occurred in early negotiations with the British Wesleyans that prevented their being allowed to assume responsibility for the Ontario congregations, as they had in Nova Scotia. Thus, in 1824 the Canadian work was set apart as the independent Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada.
Still a third beginning for Methodism in Canada followed the formation of a Wesleyan Methodist mission in western Canada in 1840 when James Evans (1801–1846) was appointed as a missionary in Rupert’s Land (Manitoba). From his settlement at Norway House, north of present-day Winnipeg, he began a mission to the Indians, which led to his development of a new script for use with the Indian languages. His accomplishments opened the west to a vital Methodist presence.
During the nineteenth century, a variety of forms of Methodism, representatives of the different British splinter groups, entered Canada. Prior to 1884, the Canadian Methodists went through a process of merger that brought almost all of them into a single body, the Methodist Church, Canada. That body merged into the United Church of Canada in 1925 and now continues as a constituent part of that church (discussed in chapter 6).
Methodism in the West Indies started with the return of Nathaniel Gilbert his plantation on Antigua in 1760. During his just-completed trip to England, he had encountered John Wesley and been converted. He organized a class of more than 200, mostly African slaves who lived on the plantation, and it is from this class that Methodism spread throughout the islands. Work in the islands was given a significant boost by the visits of Thomas Coke, Wesley’s assistant, beginning in the winter of 1786 to 1787, and was picked up by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (in England) after Coke’s death in 1814. The work became independent as the autonomous Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas in 1967.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, West Indian Methodists migrated to the United States. Rather than affiliate with any of the Methodist churches they found, all of which had an episcopal polity, they organized to carry on the work much as they had been accustomed to on the island. Thus, the United Wesleyan Methodist Church of America came into existence. In more recent years, the United Methodist Church has developed a close working relationship with the West Indian Methodist Conference and has accepted some oversight of the United Wesleyans in the United States.
The Methodist tradition in America is presently carried largely by the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1968, it is the successor to the Methodist Episcopal Church, the larger major bodies that broke from it in the nineteenth century, and the several independent German Methodist organizations. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Methodism was initially embodied in eight denominational organizations. In 1939, three of these—the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church—merged to form the Methodist Church. In 1946 the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association, the two primary German Methodist associations, merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren. The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren merged in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is the third largest church in the United States (behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention) and is home to the majority of people who called themselves Methodists. The largest group of Methodists outside of United Methodism are in the three larger African-American churches.
Historical studies of the Moravian Church in America are focused at the archives of the two American provinces: Northern Province, 214 E. Center St., Nazareth, PA 18064; and Drawer M., Salem Station, Winston-Salem, NC 27108. The Moravian Historian (semiannual) comes from the Pennsylvania center.
Methodist studies are focused at the Historical Society of the United Methodist Church, the World Methodist Historical Society, and the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church, all of which are located on the campus of Drew University, Box 127, Madison, NJ 07940. The General Commission publishes the quarterly journal Methodist History.
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———. Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007. 276 pp.
Covenant Memories, 1885–1935. Chicago: Covenant Book Concern, 1935. 495 pp.
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———. A Family of Faith. Chicago: Covenant Press, 1975. 157 pp.
———. Into One Body—by the Cross. 2 vols. Chicago: Covenant Press, 1985–1986.
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The Wesleyan Tradition
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Albright, Raymond W. A History of the Evangelical Church. Harrisburg, PA: Evangelical Press, 1956. 501 pp.
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———. Understanding the United Methodist Church. 2nd ed. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1974. 176 pp.
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———. The Story of American Methodism: A History of the United Methodists and Their Relations. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1974. 448 pp.
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Andrews, Dee E. The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760–1800: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000. 367 pp.
Graham, J. H. Black United Methodists: Retrospect and Prospect. New York: Vantage Press, 1979. 162 pp.
Gregg, Howard D. History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nashville, TN: A.M.E. Church Publishing House, 1980. 523 pp.
Lakey, Othel Hawthorne. The History of the CME Church. Rev. ed. Memphis, TN: CME Publishing House, 1996. 956 pp.
Melton, J. Gordon. A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism. Lanham: MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. 315 pp.
Richardson, Harry V. Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as It Developed among Blacks in America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976. 324 pp.
Shockley, Grant S., Karen Y Collier, and William B McClain, eds. Heritage and Hope: The African-American Presence in United Methodism. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1991.
Sommerville, Raymond, Jr. An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the CME Church 1870–1970. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004. 260 pp.
Walls, William J. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black Church. Charlotte, NC: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974. 669 pp.