Methodist and Wesleyan Churches

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St. George's Church in Philadelphia, PA, USA: oldest continuously used building of a Methodist church

Methodist and Wesleyan churches are churches whose theology and church constitution are based on the Methodist tradition founded by John Wesley . In the case of John Wesley, the main emphasis of his theology is not on opinions and teachings, but on attitudes and conduct . The Methodist Churches were co-founded by John's brother Charles Wesley and George Whitefield .

The Churches of the Methodist and Wesleyan tradition are organized in the World Council of Methodist Churches (WMC), which is one of the major Protestant church federations. Member churches of the WMC that are represented in the German-speaking area are the United Methodist Church and the Church of the Nazarene . The Salvation Army also comes from a Methodist tradition, but is not a member of the WMC.

Special features of the Wesleyan tradition

At the time of their origins, the Methodists differed less from other Protestant churches in their teaching than in their stricter, more methodical way of life based on biblical principles. The churches of the Wesleyan tradition, in contrast to most other churches, did not come into being because of a doctrinal difference to another church: Both the emergence of the first Episcopal Methodist Church and later the emergence of different Methodist churches was primarily due to political, linguistic or cultural circumstances Differences conditional.

This explains why the churches of the Wesleyan tradition not only separate, but often also reunite, and that they are open to ecumenical cooperation.


John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley did not develop a theology of its own . The Methodist and Wesleyan churches theologically agree with the conservative evangelical mainstream on most points , but there are many progressive Methodists. In general, Methodists do not try to differentiate themselves from other churches through their theology. Some of Wesley's theological views are shared by most Methodists today:

  • Advancing grace - in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination , Methodists assume that God's grace applies to all people. God offers salvation to all people - but this also depends on the answer of the person. The grace of God is an advance grace in that it enables people to hear the gospel and thus enables faith. Faith is therefore both God's work in man and man's decision.
  • the Wesleyan view of sanctification , which goes far beyond the concept of redemption and includes a renewal of the whole person in the image of God. Complete salvation, according to Wesley, is not only what God "did for us" through Christ , but also what God "does in us" through Christ. According to Wesley, biblical Christianity finds its highest expression in the practical action and ethical attitude of the individual Christian as well as the church and only secondarily in theological doctrine .
  • the Wesleyan "Quadrilateral" of four criteria that "contribute to the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures", namely the Bible (ie the consideration of other biblical passages, ultimately the dogmatic image obtained from previous Bible reading), the tradition (ie the previous interpretation of Christianity as it is reflected, for example, in Bible commentaries) and (life) experience; the participation of reason as an aid in "processing" affects all of these factors.


Even if the theological dogmatics of Methodism does not differ significantly from that of other evangelical faiths, the piety of those who profess Methodism has some characteristic traits in the past and present. It is influenced by the traditions of Puritanism and Pietism , both of which played an essential role in Wesley's biography. According to this, the idea of ​​individual conversion as a specific experience that, in tradition, often has to be specified with day and hour (as Wesley himself testifies) plays a central role in Methodist piety . In addition to conversion, perfection, as the relationship with Christ, through which man does not have to remain permanently attached to sin, personal sanctification based on the life-changing experience of God's grace, and growth in love are essential . Hence both the strong emphasis on diakonia and the skeptical view of pleasures declared as secular (gambling, theater, dance, alcohol consumption, etc.).

Church structure

The churches of the Wesleyan tradition have a distinctive church structure that contains elements of congregationalism , Presbyterianism and episcopalism . A special feature is its network system in which all units regionally and internationally support each other both financially and spiritually .

The supreme decision-making power over the creed and church order usually rests in a general conference , which is composed equally of clergy and elected lay people . The resolutions of the general conference are binding for all bishops, pastors (in Germany: pastors ) and congregations. Under the general conference there are also regional and local conferences with equal representation.

There is a spiritual hierarchy of bishops , ordained elders , also known as pastors, preachers, with theological studies and lay people without theological studies with preaching and / or leadership tasks (lay preachers).

In most Wesleyan churches, women can assume any office. The lay workers can be of great importance.

A member of a Methodist church is only someone who, as an adult, consciously decides to join this Methodist church and actively participate in community life. When accepting members, which usually takes place in the context of a church service, a personal commitment to the Christian faith based on the Bible is expected. Membership in a Methodist church is not considered necessary for salvation and therefore no pressure is exerted to become a member.

The fellowship in the local church is very important to the Methodists. Methodist churches do not close themselves off from the outside; Everyone is welcome both in church services and in community life. In every Methodist church there are also more or less numerous friends who are not official members but who also take part in the life of the community.


Wesleyan Churches know as sacraments , the baptism and the Lord's Supper .

Infant baptism is the norm in many churches, but does not automatically lead to membership. Those who are not baptized are baptized on the occasion of their acceptance into the Church. The churches of the Wesleyan tradition recognize all Trinitarian baptisms of other churches ( see also: Magdeburg Declaration ).

The Lord's Supper is a liturgical celebration in the Methodist and Wesleyan churches , presided over by an ordained clergyman. The liturgy has its roots in the Anglican tradition.

At the Lord's Supper, the Methodist churches assume the real, personal, and living presence of Jesus Christ in the Lord's Supper, without wanting to fully explain it. Both the pure commemoration and the doctrine of transubstantiation are rejected. The Lord's Supper is sacrament, Eucharist (thanks), communion of the (comprehensive) Church, remembrance and means of grace . It is also a sacrifice , though not as a repetition of Christ's sacrifice, but as a re-representation, whereby the church presents itself as a sacrifice in union with Christ (Romans 12: 1).

For Methodists, the Lord's Supper is a celebration of the whole Church - all Christians are welcome, including those who are not baptized, who want to partake in faith. Nobody may be rejected because of age or lack of understanding.

The Methodist churches in the United States were an active part of the abstinence movement in the 19th century , and many of them still use grape juice instead of wine as a result of this tradition. In some German communities that used the communion wine in earlier years, it has since been abandoned. The reason is that the Lord's Supper is also celebrated with children and that “dry” alcoholics should not be denied access to the Lord's Supper.

social commitment

Since John Wesley, social engagement for Methodists and Methodist churches has been an essential part of being a Christian and of the church. Methodist churches often have local social services for which they take personal and financial responsibility, and in the Methodist network, social services or social projects of local churches are supported internationally where necessary.

As early as 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted a social commitment in which it committed itself to social engagement:

The Methodist Episcopal Church enters ...
  • for equal rights and complete justice for all people at all stages of their lives,
  • for the principle of advice and arbitration in the event of disagreement in the industry,
  • for the protection of workers from dangerous machines, from occupational diseases, injuries and deaths,
  • for the abolition of child labor,
  • for a regulation of working conditions for women that ensures the physical and moral health of society,
  • for the abolition of the system of exploitation,
  • for the gradual, reasonable reduction of working hours to the lowest practicable point, combined with work for all, which is necessary for a truly human life,
  • for one day off a week,
  • for a living wage in all branches of industry,
  • for the highest possible wage in the respective branch of industry and for the most attainable distribution of industrial products,
  • for the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the highest law in society and as a sure cure for all social diseases. "

This was followed by further confessions to this day, which dealt with and deal with current social issues. ( See also: Social commitment of the UMC )

Methodists were and are often active in interdenominational social projects such as abolitionism , the abstinence movement, environmental protection or the peace movement .


Statue of John Wesley

Methodism has its roots in 18th century England. A group of religious students in Oxford stood out for their systematic timing and attitude towards life. The students of this "Holy Club" were therefore derisively referred to as "Methodists".

The brothers John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield founded an enthusiastic revival movement within the Anglican Church between 1729 and 1735 after a personal conversion , which absorbed the influences of Puritanism , Pietism and the Moravian Church .

According to the Methodists, it was not the church ritual of the Anglican Church that constituted the true Christian faith, but conscious inner conversion ( repentance ) and rebirth based on justification through Jesus Christ , through which a personal assurance of salvation arises. Because of the relationship with Jesus Christ, man does not have to remain a being bound by sin . For Methodists, sanctification is not a state of attainment, but a goal, understood as a continued growth in love for God and for others (for Methodists there is no one without the other). Evangelism , like diakonia, is a natural consequence of this growing love, and for Methodists the two are inseparable.

The early Methodists traveled as traveling preachers through the whole of Great Britain and later also through the American colonies with the aim of converting people, especially those with lower levels of education who were neglected by the Anglican Church, to the faith and to a sacred Christian life through revival sermons to lead. Because of their unusual, un conventional appearance and their missionary zeal they became the butt of jokes and often had to face harsh criticism of the official Church. In 1788 there were about 75,000 Methodists in England.

Essential characteristics of the early Methodists were a personal, committed faith, lay preaching, organization in small local groups (classes) with Bible study and mutual accountability, the ideal of a holy Christian life, and social work . John Wesley e.g. B. was a preacher who founded pharmacies for the poor and loan offices, wrote books on folk medicine , and campaigned for prison reforms and against slavery .

Methodist camp meeting 1819

In the 19th century, the Methodists became the largest religious group in the United States. During this time, developed in the United States, two German-speaking branches of the Methodist, Church of the United Brethren in Christ (United Brethren in Christ), the resulting first in the United States denomination applies, and the Evangelical Association (Evangelical Association) and various of African Americans supported churches such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church , the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church .

In Great Britain, the Methodists grew rapidly after John Wesley's death; thus the various Methodist churches that arose in a series of splits had around 215,000 members in 1821, around 513,000 members in 1861 and around 800,000 members in 1906. Due to organizational and political conflicts, a large number of splits from the Original Connexion occurred from 1797 onwards , from which, for example, the New Connexion and the Primitive Methodists emerged. In 1932, the majority of British Methodists united to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain .

In 1817, English merchants made the first efforts in Hamburg to found a Methodist congregation in Germany. Following an objection from the Anglican Church, these activities were banned by the Hamburg Senate after about two years. The Methodist teachings first became known among Protestant Christians in Germany through Friedrich Adolph Krummacher , who published a German translation of the two-volume work by Robert Southey John Wesley's Life, The Origin and Spread of Methodism, in Hamburg in 1828 and 1841 . It was the first comprehensive presentation of Methodism in the German language. Three of his songs were included in the Methodist Church's hymn book for the congregations in Germany (1926).

Methodism finally gained a foothold in Germany through the missionary work of returnees who had become Methodists in England and the USA. The first of these returnees was Christoph Gottlob Müller , who worked in Württemberg from around 1830 on behalf of the British Wesleyan Methodism. From 1849 members of the Episcopal Methodist Church worked in Bremen , from 1850 members of the Evangelical Community in Stuttgart and from 1869 members of the Church of the United Brothers in Christ in Naila bei Hof .

Well-known Methodists


The English Premier League football clubs Everton FC and Aston Villa are founded by Methodist churches.

The oldest church building that has been used by Methodists (since 1960) is the Aegidia Church in Erfurt , built in 1324 .

The Chicago Temple has the highest steeple in the world at 173 m above street level . The building was built between 1922 and 1923 on behalf of a congregation of the Methodist Church (now the Methodist Church ) and today it houses the oldest church in Chicago .


  • Ted A. Campbell: Methodist Doctrine. The essentials . Abingdon Press, Nashville TN 1999, ISBN 0-687-03475-2 .
  • Kenneth Cracknell, Susan J. White: An Introduction to World Methodism . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge u. a. 2005, ISBN 0-521-52170-X (Introduction to Religion)
  • Nolan B. Harmon: The Encyclopedia of World Methodism . United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville TN 1974, ISBN 0-687-11784-4 .
  • Richard P. Heitzenrater: John Wesley and early Methodism. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-7675-7076-4 (publications of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany) .
  • David Hempton: Methodism. Empire of the Spirit . Yale University Press, New Haven CT et al. a. 2005, ISBN 0-300-10614-9 .
  • David Hempton: Methodism and Politics in British Society, 1750-1850 . Stanford University Press, Stanford CT 1984, ISBN 0-8047-1269-7 .
  • John Kent: Wesley and the Wesleyans . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge u. a. 2002, ISBN 0-521-45532-4 .
  • James E. Kirby, Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe: The Methodists . Student edition. Praeger, Westport CT et al. a. 1998, ISBN 0-275-96439-6 .
  • Walter Klaiber , Manfred Marquardt : Lived grace. Outline of a theology of the United Methodist Church . 2nd revised edition. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-7675-9497-8 (publications of the Evangelical Methodist Church) .
  • Walter Klaiber (ed.): Methodist churches . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-525-87202-4 ( The churches of the present 2., Bensheimer Hefte 111).
  • Friedrich Adolph Krummacher (ed.): John Wesley's life, the emergence and spread of Methodism . Based on the English of Robert Southey . 2 volumes. New cheap edition. Herold, Hamburg 1841 (1828 edition online at Google Books [1] [2] ).
  • Harald Lindström: Wesley and sanctification . With a foreword by Carl Ernst Sommer , translated by Strobel. 2nd Edition. Christian publishing house, Stuttgart 1982 ( contributions to the history of the Evangelical Methodist Church 13, ZDB -ID 844206-x ).
  • Christoph Raedel: Live by God's grace and shape the world. Contributions to Methodist Theology , Edition Ruprecht , Göttingen 2018, ISBN 978-3-8469-0304-9 (Reutlinger Theologische Studien 10)
  • Christoph Raedel (ed.): Methodism and charismatic movement. Historical, theological and hymnological contributions. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-7675-7090-0 ( Reutlinger Theologische Studien  2).
  • Christoph Raedel: Methodist Spirituality . In: Peter Zimmerling (Hrsg.): Handbook Evangelical Spirituality , Vol. 1: History . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-525-56719-7 , pp. 461-484.
  • Karl Steckel, Carl Ernst summer (ed.): History of the Evangelical Methodist Church. Path, nature and mission of Methodism with special consideration of the German-speaking countries of Europe . 3. Edition. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-7675-7496-0 (publications of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany) .
  • Patrick Ph. Streiff : Methodism in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries . Media work of the Evangelical Methodist Church, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-89725-029-2 ( EmK history monographs 50).
  • J. Warner Wellman: The Wesleyan Movement in the Industrial Revolution . Longmans, London 1930.
  • Michel Weyer: Sanctification Movement and Methodism in the German-Speaking Area. Christian publishing house, Stuttgart 1991.

See also

Web links

Notes / individual evidence

  1. See Harald Lindström: Wesley und die Heiligung , p. 9.
  2. As presented in the introduction brochure of the Methodist Church in Austria: Living in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Vienna 1982, p. 25f.
  3. Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer in the preface: Why Christians have different opinions on Peter Streitenberger: The five points of Calvinism from a biblical perspective. VTR, Nuremberg 2011, pp. 7-10. There, the psychological disposition (e.g. tendency to fear) of the Bible reader is mentioned as a further criterion.
  4. Georg Schmid , [? ed. with Georg Otto Schmid: Churches, sects, religions  ?] p. 98.
  5. Handbook of Religious Communities and World Views. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, p. 108.
  6. Voigt suspects that John Thyson began preaching here as a Methodist in 1793. Compare: Karl Heinz Voigt: The beginnings of Methodist diakonia in Hamburg. Lecture… in the Bethanien nursing home on September 9, 2006, ed. September 2007 from Diakoniewerk Schwesternheim Bethanien, p. 3.