In the November 9 issue of CT, three articles considered the state of evangelicalism in the United Methodist Church. But what of the other Wesleyan denominations? Where did they arise, and how do evangelicals fare in them?
Two hundred years ago this month 60 American preachers who considered themselves followers of John Wesley, the British Methodist reformer, gathered in Baltimore. Their purpose: to form the first autonomous church in the new nation. Their resources: some 80 preachers, about 15,000 adherents, a great evangelistic passion, and a theological position distinctive in colonial America. Their impact on us today is much larger than most Americans know.
In 1784 the American Wesleyans were a shining example of unity. They had little choice. John Wesley ruled them doctrinally, and their new bishop, Francis Asbury, more or less dictated on practical matters. The intervening centuries, though, have seen the same story of schism that has afflicted the rest of Protestant America. In the end, Methodism in the U.S. was not a single group; it was dozens of independent denominations.
When reminded of Methodism, the typical American tends to think of the giant and troubled United Methodist Church. With its current membership of 9.4 million, it is the second-largest Protestant denomination in America. Yet the reality is that there are more direct lineal descendents of the 1784 founding band who are outside the United Methodist Church than there are members of all the Presbyterian churches in this country.
More surprising yet, some of these groups are among the more innovative and evangelistic churches in America. The newest figures show a combined membership of non-United Methodist churches with a strong Wesleyan heritage of more ...1
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