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Religion Library: Methodist

Schisms and Sects

Written by: Ted Vial

Race.John Wesley strongly condemned slavery, calling it "the sum of all villainies."Methodists were not allowed to buy or sell slaves.But the Methodist Episcopal Church in America did not, as an organization, strongly condemn slavery.As the abolitionist movement in the United States grew in the mid-1800s, pressure grew on the Church from both sides.Following the General Conferences of 1836 and 1849, when the issue was debated but the bishops decided not to take a stand, George Scott from New England broke away to form the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.

At the 1844 General Conference Francis Harding, a member of the Baltimore Annual Conference, lost his appeal to reverse his suspension for refusing to free slaves he had acquired in marriage.The Conference also voted to ask James O. Andrew, a bishop from Georgia whose wife owned several slaves, to suspend his exercise of episcopal functions.Shortly thereafter delegates from slave-holding states formed a Plan of Separation, and in 1845 formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

The Wesleyan Church of America, founded in 1843, and the Free Methodist Church, established in 1860, both rejected slavery and worked for abolition. They separated from the larger Methodist community over these issues and others, including a willingness to ordain women.

African Americans formed their own Methodist denominations in response to their treatment as second-class members in the Methodist Episcopal Church.Richard Allen, born into slavery, bought his freedom and became an important leader within the black community and the first black Methodist minister.With the help of businessman James Forten, he established the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816.Another black Methodist community, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was formed in 1820.In 1870 the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, formed a separate denomination for its black members, call the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church).

Holiness.Methodists have struggled over John Wesley's teachings on
Christian perfection.Wesley agreed with other Protestants that Christians were saved through justification, which is the forgiveness of sin.But he also argued (other Protestants disagreed) that Christians could stop sinning and live a perfectly sanctified, or holy, life.Exactly what he meant by this, and whether it was a gradual process toward perfection or a sudden outpouring of additional grace that gave the gift of sanctification all at once, has been controversial.There is general agreement, however, that perfection is always motivated by the love of God rather than any personal ambition and that even if it was attained, it was not necessarily a permanent achievement or ongoing state of the soul.

In general, as the members of Methodist churches became upwardly mobile economically, they tended to stress holiness less.The Church of the Nazarene was formed in 1908 by Methodists and Wesleyans who felt the need for a renewed interest in the pursuit of holiness.


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