“Methodism was founded by John Wesley, an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Wesley lived and died an Episcopalian and had no intention of organizing a new church. The Methodist Episcopal Church came into existence in this manner: John and Charles Wesley, with Whitefield and about a dozen other students at Oxford formed themselves into a society for the purpose of overcoming the formalism and ritualism of the Episcopal Church and to stimulate piety and spirituality among its members. Other societies were organized and because of their methodical manner of life they were called Methodists. The appellation obtained currency and upon the death of Wesley these societies banded together under a conference and became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church, although they for a time considered themselves a part of the Episcopal Church.” Churches of Today (p.57)
At the time of L.G. Tomlinson, the author of Churches of Today, there were nine English divisions of the Methodist church and fifteen different Methodist churches in America. The aspect that changed each church is not described, neither is it applied to the text of Churches of Today. When reading it I thought, there really needs to be a chart comparing the branches of Methodist churches and what they believe, but that was probably an impractical task for a book writer to do in the 1920’s. I am left scratching my head not knowing which issues are to be associated with which church. There’s a question that the Methodists answer: does it matter to God that churches separate and disjoin and branch away in their own independent communities? I think the Methodists are people who believe that God dwells across denominations and their churches are one of the many among the elect. Let us explore some of the issues presented by Tomlinson, along with commandments in the Bible itself, and discover if the Methodists adhere to these teachings:
Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or The Eucharist in other divisions)
On page 65, Churches of Today states, “That it is not necessary to observe the Lord’s Supper each week. The Methodists commune once each quarter”. Tomlinson argues that the Methodists are wrong for not recognizing communion every week. It does not seem they do. I would recommend a person go to the Methodist churches in his or her area to judge the common practice of the individual body. The Free Methodists and the United Methodists, two separate bodies of Methodists, have their own teachings which are laid out in exhaustive texts, each known as the Book of Discipline. The instructions in their books lay out the style in which they perform the Lord’s Supper, and according to the 2011 edition of the Book of Discipline for The Free Methodist Church (USA):
“The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves. Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.”
They perform the ritual of communion in the Methodists’ known “methodical manner”, having the partakers reciting in unison a prayer led by an ordained pastor or elder before partaking of the eating of bread and wine/juice (some Methodists have wine, while others have grape juice. Did you know that Welch’s grape juice was originally made for Methodists who were uncomfortable with wine?)
Another point Churches of Today argues is the fact that in the Methodist church, there must be a 6 month probation of a new member before he or she can gain full membership status, and that is wrong. I noticed in my research, it appears the Free Methodist Church’s 2011 Constitution has no mention of a timeframe of how long members must be tested. That probably means they have updated their rules since Tomlinson wrote his book, which is a common practice for the church leaders to gather once every four years and make corrections to the Book of Discipline. It may be that the older arguments against the church are outdated because of the fact Methodists are always progressive about their ideals. Therefore, the Churches of Today book is not an updated view on modern day Methodists on their requirements for membership.
Baptism of Unbelievers
The Free Methodist church states, “Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.” Following it states, “They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.” It is true the Free Methodists themselves believe that infants are incapable of knowing they are members. But in the Methodist tradition, baptism is a reassurance for the parents who have anxiety for the child’s discipleship or acceptance into the church. It is almost like a rite of passage which children are not denied from entering. It seems the Methodists still have the value that the church can baptize unbelievers, at least when it comes to infants, which on the Methodists’ behalf are not unbelievers, just like they are not believers either, because they are infants who have not yet decided. There is room for debate on this subject though since it’s so important.
As I study it appears that legalism is the base of the Methodist church. Legalism is a word that is thrown around a lot by churches and many times it is used as a negative reason not to attend that church. Even the church I was raised in is known to be legalistic, and members leave as a result of the strict adherence of rules. The Methodist church may also fall in this trap, due to their dependence on liturgy and formal rituals. However, there are many points where Methodists are right, and they have successfully carried out the Great Commission for hundreds of years, as they are still surviving today. Their lampstand continues to burn, like in Revelation 2:1-7 to the church of Ephesus, Jesus Christ the star holder says:
“This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:
“I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lampstands. Listen to what I say.
“I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won’t put up with anyone who is evil. When some people pretended to be apostles, you tested them and found out that they were liars. You have endured and gone through hard times because of me, and you have not given up.
“But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don’t have as much love as you used to. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first. If you don’t turn back, I will come and take away your lampstand. But there is one thing you are doing right. You hate what the Nicolaitans are doing, and so do I.
“If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will let everyone who wins the victory eat from the life-giving tree in God’s wonderful garden.” (CEV)
Reconciliation with God
Churches of Today states an argument I believe is essential in our spiritual walk, otherwise we will choose to fall from God because of our misunderstanding:
“XXIII. That Christ was in the world to reconcile His Father to us. (Art. 2, Book of Discipline)
The exact opposite is true. Christ was in the world to reconcile the world to God (II Cor. 5:18.19; Rom. 5:10).”
“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”
Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.
“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
Repenting of one’s sins and entering into heaven while on the deathbed is a universal debate. Pro debate argues God’s love and grace is willing to redeem one when dying. The anti debate argues Jesus strictly stated that “unless a person submits to…” the spirit and baptism, they cannot enter the kingdom of God, and that strict statement is final; there is nothing a sinner can do on his deathbed while preparing for his last breath to ensure he goes to heaven except wake up from his death, ask for water, and be baptized. It is a debate that continues. Who am I to have an opinion on such a grave matter? Therefore, I leave the debate to continue, while sharing the truth of John with you. If you don’t understand the above passage, I recommend finding other versions besides The Message. I simply chose it today because The Message is always approachable and interesting.
There are so many other debates that Christians can have. I merely touched on a few. But I sincerely hope it has done something for you. Strengthening the churches is my mission. Releasing the tension in our talk, I believe, will help us walk the walk. At least that is my prayer.