November | Global Connexions

Failed church - brilliant movement part 1

Failed church - brilliant movement part 2

A theologocial conundrum and a church disconnect

John Wesley's geometer missionaries

The Preacher's Art of Memory

The Break with the Church of England

 Keith Rowe writes

Very few reformers in the life of the church intended to create a new denomination. John Wesley certainly did not intend to found a new denomination, the Methodist Church. By temperament, upbringing and conviction he was a child of the Church of England which he regarded as “the best ordered church in Christendom”. He saw himself as the servant and eventually father of a revival movement within the established church. While he believed strongly that the leadership of the church had betrayed both gospel and people, he sought justification for each of his innovations within the tradition the church had inherited.

Wesley certainly had his share of conflict with bishops and church leaders - however he gave as good as he got and answered criticisms in a courteous but hard hitting manner. Many of the marks of the revival - outdoor preaching, lay preachers, class meetings, itinerant ministry - brought him into conflict with the church of his day. We should not think that Wesley was alone in his criticisms. There were others in his day who also sought renewal in the church and nation and who used some similar methods. It was not unknown for a local vicar to encourage a group of ‘bully boys’ to set upon Wesley and his people. Through it all John encouraged his converts to attend the parish church, to share its sacramental life and to respect its traditions. It was a hard thing to ask of people who felt the church had failed them and had forfeited any claim on their loyalty. There was also, no doubt, a fair bit of social antagonism mixed up in it . What self-respecting coal miner convert would want to be seen in the same church as the boss!

New converts clamoured to be allowed to receive the sacrament from the hands of local preachers who had told them of the love of God, but Wesley was adamant - only those properly ordained could do this and in most cases this meant receiving communion from the local vicar. At the first Methodist Conference in 1744 it was made clear that Methodists belonged within the Church of England. In 1763 John insisted that the word ‘church’ not be used of Methodism (until recently we still spoke of ‘societies’) and that no preacher take the title ‘Minister’.

Perhaps we should have remained an ‘order’ for evangelism and nurture within the established church much like the Fransiscans or Jesuits within the Catholic Church. It’s easy to be wise two centuries later but wisdom is hard to come by when you are in the midst of a revival.

Many of Wesley’s actions certainly looked divisive. He set up an annual conference of preachers, he certainly acted like a ‘bishop’ and Methodist ‘chapels’ like City Road, London certainly looked like a parish church with a programme like an active Anglican church. Brother Charles watched the growing split with increasing alarm. In 1784 Charles was really incensed. John took it upon himself to ordain two men, Whatcoat and Vasey, to exercise ministry in North America, and ordained Thomas Coke to be superintendent in the same place. Coke soon changed that to ‘Bishop’. John justified his actions on historical and theological and practical grounds: how else were the colonists to receive the sacraments? but Charles saw clearly that John had gone too far. He ordained others for work in Scotland and in England while still proclaiming he was a loyal man of the established church.

Following his death in 1791 the schism became increasingly formalised though some sought a reconciliation with the mother church till well into the 1800s. The break was regrettable but probably inevitable.

Our church government still betrays much of our Anglican background and in Church Union discussions we have often found ourselves valuing both ends of the spectrum: the Anglican Catholic tradition and the Reformed Presbyterian tradition.

Forum | All Things Methodist

Links to NZ Methodist history/theology resources

Go to the John Kinder Library online church newspapers out of print will also take you to the Outlook, the Methodist and Presbyterian newspaper in the colonial period.

The best freebie in New Zealand Methodism: a very high quality PDF reproduction of William Morley's History of New Zealand.

Go to Wesley Historical Society NZ

Go to Sung and Unsung Personalities by Rev Donald Phillipps, Rev Dr Susan thompson, Rev Dr David Bell

Go to Rev Dr James Stuart, video and associated resources, including links to the John Wesley Code Study Guide, PGPL