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It was started by John Wesley, his younger brother Charles and George Whitefield as a movement within the Church of England in the 18th century, focused on Bible study, and a methodical approach to scriptures. The term "Methodist" was a college nickname bestowed upon a small society of students at Oxford, who met together between 1729 and 1735 for the purpose of mutual improvement. They were accustomed to communicate every week, to fast regularly and to abstain from most forms of amusement and luxury. They also frequently visited poor and sick persons and prisoners in the gaol.
The early Methodists reacted against the apathy of the Church of England, became open-air preachers and established Methodist societies wherever they went. They were notorious for their enthusiastic sermons and often accused of fanaticism. In those days, members of the established church feared that the powerful new doctrines promulgated by the Methodists, such as the necessity to salvation of a New Birth[?], of Justification by Faith[?], and of the constant and sustained action of the Holy Spirit upon the believer's soul, would produce ill effects upon weak minds. Theophilus Evans, an early critic of the movement, even wrote that it was "the natural Tendency of their Behaviour, in Voice and Gesture and horrid Expressions, to make People mad." In one of his prints, William Hogarth likewise attacked Methodists as "enthusiasts" full of "Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism (http://www.haleysteele.com/hogarth/plates/credulity)." But the Methodists resisted the many attacks against their movement. (See John Wesley and George Whitefield for a much more complete discussion of early Methodism.)
John Wesley came under the influence of the Moravians while Whitefield adopted Calvinistic views. Consequently, their followers separated, those of Whitefield becoming Calvinistic Methodists. Wesley originally had no intention of separating from the Church of England. However, following the American Revolution, the Church of England cut off those of its members who were Americans, and Wesley and the other early leaders formed the Methodist Church as a separate body partly in response to those events. (See also the Episcopal Church.) Wesley charted the first Methodist Church on February 28, 1784.
The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 as a result of a merger between the Evangelical United Brethren[?] and the Methodist Church which were themselves the results of mergers. The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 as the result of a merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. It is the largest branch, with approximately 9 million members as of the late 1990s.
Traditionally, Methodism has believed in free will as opposed to predestination. This distinguishes it, historically, from Calvinist traditions such as Presbyterianism. However, more recent theological debates have often cut across denominational lines, so that theologically liberal Methodist and Presbyterian churches have more in common with each other than with more conservative members of their own denominations.
United Methodism follows the traditional and near-universal Christian belief in the triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In devotional terms, this confession is said to embrace the biblical witness to God's activity in creation, encompass God's gracious self-involvement in the dramas of history, and anticipate the consummation of God's reign. For them, there are two Sacraments ordained of Christ: Baptism and Communion (Supper of the Lord).
It is a traditional position of the church that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason. By reason, it is said, they read and interpret Scripture. By reason they determine whether their Christian witness is clear. By reason their ask questions of faith and seek to understand God?s action and will.
This church insists that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
American Methodist churches are generally organized on a unique connectional model, in which ministers are assigned to churches by bishops, distinguishing it from presbyterian government. Methodist denominations typically give lay[?] members representation at regional and national meetings (conferences) at which the business of the church is conducted, making it different from episcopalian government. This connectional organizational model differs further from the congregational model, for example of Baptist, and Congregationalist Churches, among others.
In addition to the United Methodist Church, there are over 40 other denominations that descend from John Wesley's Methodist movement. Some, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church[?] and the Free Methodists are explicitly Methodist. Others do not call themselves Methodist, but are related to varying degrees. The Salvation Army was founded by William Booth, a former Methodist. It derives some of its theology from Methodism. Another related denomination is the Church of the Nazarene. Jesus is sometimes referred to as a Nazarene because of his hometown of Nazareth.