What is the difference between the Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Church?


I know that the Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley (actually after his death–he actually never intended to start a new church and was a priest in the Church of England.). There is also a Wesleyan Church, but I am not familiar with it, since I do not know anybody who is Wesleyan. I do have Methodist family members and friends, but they are not familiar with the Wesleyan Church either. Does anybody here know about the Wesleyan Church? How it is different from the Methodist Church? What are the similarities between the Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Church?


AFAIK the self-styled Wesleyan churches are independent of the United Methodists, but otherwise believe the same things and practices are the same.

The United Methodists are the result of several mergers of smaller Wesleyan and Evangelical groups. They cannot really claim to be the “True Wesleyans” (to the exclusion of others) or anything like that and I don’t believe they try to make such a claim. They happen to be the largest organization.

Actually, any preacher properly trained in the theology and methods of the Wesleyans could theoretically set up is own ‘Wesleyan’ church with as much authority as John and Charles Wesley had.



I thought they were one and the same, Methodist being a more modern name for Weslian

Thanks for the information


So is the only difference the fact that the Methodist Church has bishops, districts, and an organizational structure whereas the Wesleyan Churches are all independent?


What about other Methodists besides United Methodist (i.e. African Methodist Episcopal, First Congregational Methodist, or Christian Methodist Episcopal)?


AME, AME Zion, and CME, along with the UMC, are all Pan-Methodists and members of the World Methodist Council. I suspect in several years, they will merge together. No difference in polity or doctrine.


Thanks! By the way, what is a Pan-Methodist?:confused:


I’ve got so much out of these forums but it is still confusing me for trying to understand all different Churches. :smiley: :thumbsup:


“PAN-METHODIST - a commission made up of representatives from the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches.”


It is fair to say the Wesleyan Churches tend to be more conservative.
The are not all independent in a strict sense. They do have superintendents and are divided into districts and so forth.


I was raised United Methodist. The UMC has no real connection to the Weslyan churches other than Wesley himself. In retrospect, all these factions are silly…:rolleyes:



That latter part is true, but during his lifetime he did organize the Methodist “societies” and eventually registered their meeting-places as if they were nonconformist churches (because otherwise their activities would be illegal). The Methodists were careful to meet at times that did not conflict with the services of the Church of England (actually they pioneered evening services using the new technology of gas lighting), and Wesley strongly encouraged his followers to attend their parish church as well as the meetings of the Methodist “society.” In fact, this practice continued for some time after Wesley’s death–only gradually did English Methodists come to see themselves as a wholly independent church.

However, the situation was very different in America. There Anglicanism had largely collapsed after the Revolution, and had never reached large areas. In fact many people at this time were completely unchurched (one of the great myths of American history is that 18th-century America was a devout, church-going society and has become more secular with the passage of time). So Wesley decided to sanction the establishment of an independent “Methodist Episcopal Church” in America.

From the beginning, though, not all American Methodists were comfortable under this umbrella. First of all, black Methodists were discriminated against and formed two separate denominations (African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal, Zion) with the blessing of the white denomination. (A third black Methodist denomination, the Colored [later changed to “Christian”] Methodist Episcopal Church, was formed in the South after the Civil War.)

In the 19th century, several more groups split away from the Methodist Episcopal Church, mostly because they thought it was too authoritarian (many objected to bishops, though not all did) and did not allow enough freedom both in organization and in worship. They also thought that Methodists were becoming too worldly and respectable and were watering down the doctrine of holiness. These groups tended to be more socially radical–they were more open to the ordination of women and they were outspoken opponents of slavery. The Wesleyan Church is, as far as I know, the oldest such denomination still existing (it was founded in 1843, and merged in 1966 with the Pilgrim Holiness Church, a smaller “holiness” denomination founded in the early 20th century).

The MEC also split into Northern and Southern factions in 1844–as you’d expect, this split was caused by the fact that the MEC as a whole was opposed to slavery, though not as completely abolitionist as the Wesleyans and other splitoff groups.
The northern and southern groups reunited in 1939, also uniting with one of the 19th-century splits (Methodist Protestants). Some of the Southerners formed a new denomination instead, the Southern Methodist Church (a few of the Methodist Protestants also stayed out and as far as I can tell are independent fundamentalists today). In 1968, the Methodist Church (i.e., the church formed by the union of 1939) merged in turn with the Evangelical United Brethren, itself the merger of two German-speaking denominations historically related to the Methodists (again, there are smaller groups from this tradition that remain independent–the college where I teach is run by one such denomination, the United Brethren in Christ). This new denomination was called the United Methodist Church. Both in terms of size and of historic continuity, it can claim to be the primary representative of Methodism in the United States, although the AME and AMEZ would both dispute this.

The short version of this long story is that in the U.S. the United Methodist Church is the largest and most historically central Methodist denomination (at least of the “white churches”), but there are a number of other historically Methodist denominations, of which the Wesleyan Church is one of the oldest.

In Britain, on the other hand, where there were also a number of Methodist splits, the “Wesleyan Methodists” were the largest and most mainstream group (like the “Methodist Episcopal Church” in the U.S.). Other denominations included the New Connexion, the Bible Christians, etc. Most of the Methodist churches in Britain reunited about the same time the Americans did, and this reunited denomination is simply called the “Methodist Church.”

So “Wesleyan” means something very different in Britain than in the U.S., though I believe there is a “Wesleyan Holiness” denomination active in Britain these days.



Thanks to everyone for clarifying my questions. Edwin, your post was particularly insightful.


Yes thank you Edwin. A detailed but very readable account.
Snowman, I think the UMC is a uniter, and in 50 years we will have more of us combine. At least that is my prayer. In an era of increasing division, if we can keep the differing factions together, I think we have a good chance on uniting with historically African-American Methodist denominations. In the city I live in, we have two vibrant African American UMC churches, I do not know if that is unusual or not!


The Wesleyans are very similar to the Free Methodist Chursh of my childhood…
Both are more conservative than most Methodists. The Free Methodist Church was formed by Benjamin Titus Roberts, who was read out of meeting at Methodist conference.
The name “Free Methodist” & a starting date of ca. 1860 has often led to the erroneous conclusion that the denomination was formed over the issue of slavery. The truth is that, B T Roberts strongly disapproved of the extant custom of the time, of collecting a fee from wealthier families as rental on their own pew. The churches built by his followers had signs nailed up on them: “**free **Methodists”.
(No, I am not kidding:D !!)


That is fascinating. I believe the part about the pew rental because I’ve actually seen numbers on the sides of pews in some older churches, including Catholic ones.



You’re right that that was one of the issues, but I’m pretty sure antislavery was another one.



According to Wikipedia, “The Free Methodist Church is a denomination of Methodism, which is a branch of Protestantism. It was founded in 1860 in New York’s Burned-over district by a group, led by B. T. Roberts, who was defrocked in the Methodist Episcopal Church for criticisms of the spiritual laxness of the church hierarchy. The Free Methodists are so named because they believed it was improper to charge for better seats in pews closer to the pulpit. They also opposed slavery and supported freedom for all slaves in the United States, while many Methodists in the South at that time did not actively oppose slavery. Beyond that, they advocated ‘freedom’ from secret societies such as the Free Masons which had allegedly undermined parts of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Methodist_Church. Opposing slavery and Freemasons are listed as other issues, but opposing a fee for better seats is the reason given for the denomination’s name.


Can anyone tell me what Methodists believe? How does it differ from Anglican and Presbyterian? I’d be interested to know out of curiostiy as I don’t know what the differences are.

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