The United Methodist Church: Smaller Methodist Denominations

Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church–Part 3

The United Methodist Church

Part 3

Smaller Methodist Denominations and the United Methodist Decline

Although we are focusing on the United Methodist Church in this series, it is helpful to examine the smaller departures from the original parent body.

Almost from the very beginning, a number of groups departed from the original Methodist Church as formed by Wesley, and then continued in America by Coke and Asbury.  Some of these denominations are small and others are somewhat larger but none of them approach the size of the United Methodist Church.  In the nineteenth century (the 1800s), the Holiness doctrine arose, based on John Wesley’s own teaching on “Christian Perfection” or “Perfect Love.” This doctrine is found in some of the smaller denominations with a Methodist background: The Free Methodist Church and The Wesleyan Church.  Other smaller denominations also have a Methodist origin but are more separated from Methodism, such as The Salvation Army, The Church of the Nazarene, and The Pilgrim Holiness Church[i]

As early as the 1830s, two sisters (Sarah A. Langford and Phoebe Palmer) began to stress the Wesleyan doctrine of holiness. The midcentury revivals in the United States emphasized perfectionism and in the 1860s the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness was begun. The Free Methodist Church was formed not only to combat slavery but also to promote holiness (in 1860). At first, Methodism’s stress on perfection or holiness included a change in society as well as personal, individual holiness.

As the movement gained impetus and influence in the 1880s, serious and persistent criticism arose more frequently. While earlier the movement aimed at strengthening faith within the denomination, the trend toward what was called “come-outism” increased; it was countered by a fiery brand of intolerance. As the battle focused on the meaning of entire sanctification, “entire” and “instantaneous” became the battle cry on one side, with “progressive” and “gradual” holiness on the other.

The result was the separation of a great number of small groups of people. Among them were the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), the Church of God (Holiness), the Holiness Church, and groups that eventually clustered in the Church of the Nazarene and the Pilgrim Holiness Church. In the last six years of the century at least ten bodies of predominantly Methodist background were established with entire sanctification as the cardinal doctrine.  The movement seemed to find the South and the Midwest as the most fertile for growth. The climax of the long quarrel with the Holiness movement coincided with Methodism’s belabored conversion to theological liberalism.[ii]

It would seem that the instantaneous “second work of grace” or “entire sanctification” views were championed by the more theologically conservative people who withdrew from the main Methodist body and formed their own smaller denominations. As the above quotation states, this left the main body of American Methodism in the liberal camp, with all that is suggested in the term liberal.

Therefore, Methodism suffered a change during the period from 1840 to 1890. Part of this came from the Holiness doctrine and part arose from the anti-Biblical theory of evolution as well as compromising philosophy.[iii] By the end of the nineteenth century, fewer references to Wesley were made in theological writings.  There were “theological responses to cultural forces such as ‘science and its evolutionary world view, the critical study of the Bible, and philosophy.”[iv] In 1916 the General Conference of the northern states dropped the requirement that the members had to subscribe to Wesley’s “Articles of Religion.” There was a “radical departure from previous study lists, and the liberal reconstruction of Methodist theology continued to pursue its course.”[v] This is background to understanding why the contemporary United Methodist Church is become so liberal in thinking and why it disbelieves large portions of the Bible.

As the Methodist Church succumbed to theological liberalism in the 1800s, more and more Methodist educational institutions (universities, seminaries, etc.) began to accept the faulty theory of evolution. More rejected the full inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. More rejected basic truths of Scripture, going so far as to reject the virgin birth of Christ, the sinlessness of the Savior, the historicity of Adam and Eve, the creation account, and even the resurrection. This led to splinter groups, such as the Evangelical Methodist Church, the Evangelical Congregational Church, and other Evangelical denominations.

Other defections were caused by the issue of slavery, with southern Methodists promoting the slavery option and northern Methodists opposing it.[vi]  There also arose the desire of blacks to have their own denominations.  Today there are black denominations in the United States, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.[vii] Some of the other contemporary Methodist denominations include the Congregational Methodist Church, the Evangelical Church of North America, Pillar of Fire, Primitive Methodist Church, USA, the Evangelical Methodist Church, and the Southern Methodist Church.[viii]

There are even more Methodist denominations, such as the Reformed Methodist Union Episcopal Church; the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church of the United States of America or Elsewhere, Incorporated; Union American Methodist Episcopal Church; Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church; New Congregational Methodist Church, Bible Protestant Church; The Evangelical Methodist Church; The Evangelical Methodist Church of America; The United Wesleyan Methodist Church of America; Free Christian Zion Church of Christ; and Cumberland Methodist Church.[ix]

You may also want to check this out:

The United Methodist Church – Part 1 (Methodist Church History and Background is Very Revealing)

The Untied Methodist Church – Part 2 (Recent Membership Trends)


[i] The Encyclopedia of American Religious History, Volume 2, p. 403. Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, pp. 216-217.

[ii] Piepkorn, pp. 576-577.

[iii] Piepkorn, p. 578.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., pp. 578-579.

[vi] Piepkorn, p. 575.

[vii] The Encyclopedia of American Religious History, Volume 2, p. 401. Before 1954, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was known as the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, p. 216).

[viii] Ron Rhodes, Ibid., pp. 391-392.

[ix] Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, Volume 2, pp. xi-xii, 533-628.

Comments are closed.