John Wesley will always be recognized as the founder of the Society of Methodist. John Wesley and his followers were first called “Methodist” because of their belief that only by living a life based on strong self-discipline could anyone find peace with God, resulting of course in peace for the soul. Even though Wesley later drifted away from this idea, the name “Methodist” became a permanent label of his followers.
John Wesley was born in 1703 and attended the University of Oxford to prepare for the ministry. It was not until Wesley was thirty-one years old that he actually experienced conversion. At this time he came to realize that salvation is only of a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and not of works. It was with this idea that Wesley started the Methodist movement.
Earlier I mentioned that his movement and his followers were first referred to as a society. Wesley made it quite clear that he did not consider his movement a protest against the church to which he and his followers belonged. This fact distinguishes this movement from the other large Protestant denominations, which had their origins based on protest against existing church bodies. Although many of his teachings seemed to be open criticism of the Church of England, Wesley and his followers believed them to be the genuine doctrines.
Although Wesley started his movement as missionary work within the church itself, it soon became clear that they would not remain with the Church of England. After being banned from first one church and then another he was finally compelled to hold his meetings in open fields. This was the start of the Methodist as a separate church, or as Wesley put it “a company of people associating together, to help each other work out their own salvation.”
Wesley describes a Methodist as one who believes that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, that the Word is the only and complete rule for Christian living, and that Christ is the eternal supreme God. As to opinions which do not strike at the roots of Christianity, whether right or wrong, they are not distinguishing marks of a Methodist.
In his later years Wesley claimed that the only requirement to enter into the Methodist society was the sincere desire to save souls. Although this is one of the main objectives of this movement it was certainly not the only rule. To act as guideline for everyday living, certain rules were drawn up and became known as the General Rules. These rules prohibit drinking, taking God’s name in vain, fighting and quarreling, unprofitable conversation, softness, needless indulgence, and laying up treasures upon earth. In general one should not use diversions that cannot be used to the glory of God.
The genius of Methodism is the fact that one does not have to hold so much to specific doctrines, but need only express a sincere desire to live a better Christian life.