What is the difference between the Methodist church and the "Free" Methodist church?
Both the United Methodist Church (commonly referred to as Methodist) and the Free Methodist Church share a common heritage, hearkening back to the Wesleyan revival in England during the middle 1700s. However, by the middle 1800s concern arose over the waning of several key expressions of the Wesleyan revival. So the Free Methodist Church began as an attempt to restore those vital "Wesleyan" convictions, such as the doctrine of entire sanctification, the concern for the poor, the vision to end discrimination and racism, and Christian growth through small groups. Since that time the Free Methodist church has proven itself capable of preserving a sound commitment to classic conservative Christian doctrines such as the infallibility of scripture, salvation by faith, and the deity of Jesus Christ.
What is a "connectional" church system?
The Free Methodist church government is a "hybrid" system blending features of hierarchical and congregational systems.Hierarchical church governments, such as Roman Catholic and Episcopal, govern local churches through "higher"archies which oversee and rule over the affairs of the local church. Pastors are appointed by overseeing bodies; they are not "called" by local congregations. This is one trait the Free Methodist church shares in common with hierarchical churches.Congregational forms of church government are purely local in scope. Each congregation is "autonomous" and any associations they have with other churches are purely voluntary. They write their own constitutions and administer their own local ministry independent of any overseeing body.In this regard local Free Methodist churches have a great deal of liberty to set their local mission and devise methods and ministries that fulfill that mission.However, the historic conviction of the Free Methodist church is that local churches are safeguarded from error and extremism through accountability to overseeing leaders and governing policies. In addition, there is the conviction that churches working together regionally and nationally can effect greater change and bear more fruit through combining resources and efforts. So for the sake of greater effectiveness and for preserving doctrinal integrity Free Methodist churches "connect" with one another in systems and structures of accountability. (The Free Methodist Book of Discipline contains the vital information about these systems and structures that govern and connect all Free Methodist churches.)
How big is the Free Methodist church? (based on statistics ending 12/31/2004) The Free Methodist church in the United States numbers 77,173 members with nearly 105,000 attenders in Sunday worship services. There are 1,032 churches in the U.S. and the average size congregation is 100 attenders. Interestingly, in the past 30 years the Free Methodist church around the world has increased by 500%. That growth has largely been seen in Africa, especially in war torn countries, such as the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. For example, Rwandan church grew by 250% even during the years of widespread violence and tribal genocide. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest FM conference worldwide with 139,755 members -- nearly two times the number of U.S. Free Methodists! The FMC in India has recently seen astonomical growth -- nearly 1200% in the past five years. The church in Brazil has also experienced significant growth in the last five years: 215%. The burgeoning FMC overseas is certainly related to the dedicated missionary emphasis of the North American church during the past century. The FMC is in 72 countries worldwide and the grand total world membership is 736,582.
When and why did the Free Methodist church begin?
The Free Methodist church began August 23, 1860, in Pekin, New York, in response to a growing desire for a church denomination that would stay true to the principles of the Wesleyan revival, particularly regarding, the work of the Holy Spirit, the way of holiness and the necessity of ministry to the poor. The founder, Benjamin Titus Roberts, was an outspoken critic of many current practices of the Methodist Episcopal church, including pew rental and other discriminatory practices that favored rich over the poor, the failure of the Methodist church to stand against slavery, and the increasing "formalism" in worship, including the hiring of professional musicians. In addition he joined a number of other exponents of the necessity of a "second work" of grace beyond salvation during which a believer was thoroughly sanctified, made holy, and set apart to serve God with a whole heart, mind and strength. This "radical optimism" concerning just how thoroughly transformed and how victorious over sin a person could be made by the power of God gave Roberts, though reluctant to start a new denomination, the motivation to do whatever was necessary to revive the message of entire sanctification. This message referred to as"scriptural holiness." When Roberts no longer had a way to influence the Methodist Episcopal church with this message, he gave his energies to the founding of the Free Methodist church with its central mission of spreading scriptural holiness across the land and ministering the gospel to the poor.
What do we mean when we say the Free Methodist Church is a part of the Holiness movement?
In the 19th century in America, the call to holiness as a distinct aspect of the experience of salvation spread through a wide variety of denominations -- the Free Methodist Church among them. This emphasis had been made earlier by John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in Great Britain during the 18th century (from 1738 until his death in 1791). Wesley preached that God not only wants His children to take seriously His call to be "justified by faith" (Romans 5:1-2) -- thus to be acquitted of their sins and given a whole new start -- but He also wants them to take seriously His call to be holy in heart and life (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). Christians are to be cleansed and empowered by the Holy Spirit so they can live a life of undivided love for God and neighbor. This emphasis became so broad in the 19th century that it was referred to as the Holiness movement. We hold that, with the moral defilement of modern life, the need for a renewal of the call to holiness is now even more urgent.
What is distinctive about the Free Methodist Church?
Every evangelical denomination shares certain doctrinal commitments with all other evangelical bodies. For instance, all believe that the Christian Scriptures are the Word of God, and are completely trustworthy in teaching what we must believe and how we must live. And, we share the belief that just as one must enter the human family by a human birth, so one must enter the kingdom of God by a second and spiritual birth. Moreover, we hold the conviction that God's people have a mandate to spread the gospel far and wide. Beyond such essential beliefs, however, denominations differ in their distinctive emphases: Evangelical Baptists tend to emphasize the believer's baptism by immersion; evangelical Presbyterians and other Reformed bodies speak much of the sovereignty of God; and the Christian and Missionary Alliance emphasizes the missionary task of the church. A distinctive of the Free Methodist Church is the call to holiness of heart and life resulting in a life of consecrated service to God and man (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 12:1-2). But, even beyond these, by the unfolding of history Christian bodies become marked by other distinctive features. For example, the Free Methodist Church, since its inception in 1860, has shown strong interest in liberal arts education from a Christian perspective. As a result the denomination has founded a chain of liberal arts colleges or affiliates across the United States. In addition, the denomination is distinctive for its large developments in missions around the world. On Aug. 23, 1860, fewer than 100 laymen and ministers gathered in western New York to found the Free Methodist Church. Today the denomination has workers in more than 60 countries.