The United Methodist Church is a collection of associated congregations of Protestantism whose doctrine and beliefs are motivated by the spirit and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John Wesley's brother Charles Wesley were also significant early leaders in the movement. Early Methodists consisted of all levels of society, including the aristocracy, but the Methodist preachers brought the teachings to laborers and criminals who were likely left outside of organized religion at that time. In Britain, the Methodist Church had a considerable impact in the early decades of the developing working class.
The Methodist Church began as a reformation of the Church of England.
The Methodist movement started with a collection of men, including John Wesley and his younger brother Charles, as an act of reform within the Church of England in the 18th century. The Wesley brothers originated the "Holy Club" at the University of Oxford, where John was an associate and later an instructor at Lincoln College. The group met weekly and methodically set about living a holy life. They preferred to receive Communion every week, abstain from most forms of amusement and luxury and commonly visit the sick and the poor. The fellowship was stigmatized as "Methodist" by their fellow classmates because of the way they used "rule" and "method" to determine their religious convictions. John, who was the leader of the club, took the attempted mockery and turned it into a title of honor.
Wesley did not intend to split from the Church of England.
Initially, the Methodists simply sought reform within the Church of England. As Methodist congregations multiplied, and elements of a distinct theology were adopted, the rift between John Wesley and the Church of England steadily expanded.
In 1784, Wesley responded to the lack of priests in the colonies due to the American Revolutionary War by anointing preachers with authority to administer the sacraments. This was a significant reason for Methodism's eventual split from the Church of England after Wesley's death. This separation created a distinct group of church denominations. With regard to the occurrence of Methodism within Christianity, John Wesley once noted that "what God had achieved in the development of Methodism was no mere human endeavor but the work of God. As such it would be preserved by God so long as history remained."
Wesley taught four key points fundamental to the Methodist Church.
1) A person is free not only to reject salvation but also to accept it by an act of free will.
2) All people who are obedient to the gospel according to the measure of knowledge given them will be saved.
3) The Holy Spirit assures a Christian of their salvation directly, through an inner "experience" (assurance of salvation).
4) Christians in this life are capable of Christian perfection and are commanded by God to pursue it.
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