The Methodist Society was begun in the middle of the eighteenth century by the Rev’d John Wesley MA, an Anglican priest and scholar, who lived from 1703 to 1791, in concert with several others, priests and lay people, as an outcome of the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century, as a means by which the Church of England might bring faith back into the centre of people’s lives. For a variety of reasons, after Wesley’s death in 1791, the Methodist Society separated from the Church of England and became the Methodist Church, with its own organisation and its own ordained ministers.
Unlike Whitfield, who was a Calvinist, the Wesleys and their supporters believed – as Methodists do still today – that the wholeness offered by Christ is freely available to all who turn to him. This belief that all people can be brought into God’s Kingdom is still a core tenet of the Methodist Church today, but it is at the heart of why the Wesleys and Whitfield went (amicably, it would seem) their separate ways.
John and Charles were believers not only in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but in the need for people – all people – to work out the demands of that gospel in their daily lives. For the Wesleys, a gospel which did not change the life of the believer, and give that believer the impetus to share that gospel with family, friends, and neighbours, so that in turn their lives might be changed, was no gospel at all.
This led to a strong emphasis on what is termed the ‘Social Gospel’, which is why Methodist Churches are just as likely to be located, still, in areas of great deprivation as well as in areas of affluence. We believe that the Kingdom of God is made real in the world in which we have been set only through reaching out to our friends and neighbours, whatever their faith or lack of it, in a non-judgmental, accepting, and loving way: whoever you are, and whatever you may have made of your life, we believe that you are a valued, cherished, and unique child of God, and it is upon that belief which the Methodist Church rests all its relationships both within and outside the Church.
We believe that ‘salvation’ – a concept which embraces wholeness of personhood, release from crippling guilt, forgiveness, acceptance, healing, and acknowledgement of each person’s unique relationship to the Creator of all things is God’s loving and complete life-gift to each and every one of his children who turns to him. We believe that in Jesus we may see God so truly and completely reflected that in his name we open our hearts in prayer to receive this gift, and in doing so become more like Jesus, whom we believe is God’s Son.
All this might be summed up in what is known in Methodism as ‘The Four Alls’:
- ALL need to be saved;
- ALL can be saved;
- ALL can know themselves to be saved;
- ALL can be saved to the uttermost.
Part of the joy of being part of the modern Methodist Church is that discovering what each of those statements means, both individually and collectively, is not just an academic exercise, but is the task of every member of the Methodist Church, both individually and collectively, and in that exploration we find ourselves and our communities enriched.
What has been written here is by no means exhaustive. If you want to discover more about what it means to be a Christian in the Methodist tradition, contact one of our ministers. We will be happy to discuss any aspect of belief and belonging.