(Note: This is the first article in a series on the history of Methodists in the nation, the south and Bulloch County.)
John Wesley distinguishes three periods that influenced the formation of the Methodist religion: the meetings he started of the ”Holy Club” at Oxford in 1729; his unfortunate experiences in the Colony of Georgia in 1735; and his spiritual awakening at Fetter Lane in 1738.
According to Wesley, the three main facets of Methodism were repentance, faith, and holiness. Rejecting the Calvinist concept of predestination (that God chooses an "elect" few for salvation), Methodists believe that redemption is available to anyone through a combination of faith and the "grace" of the Holy Spirit.
In November, 1729, four men at Oxford: John Wesley, a Fellow of Lincoln College; his brother Charles Wesley and a Mr. Morgan, members of Christ Church; and a Mr. Kirkham of Merton College, gathered regularly to study the Greek Testament. In 1732 several new members joined this group: Mr. Ingham of Queen's College, Mr. Broughton of Exeter, and Mr. Clayton of Brazen-nose.
In 1735, George Whitfield joined their group. They were referred to by locals as “the Reforming Club”, “the Godly Club”, “the Holy Club”, “Sacramentarians”, or “Bible Moths”. Wesley was dubbed the “Curator” or “Father” of the Holy Club. Because of the methodical way in which this new group approached their spiritual exercises and charitable works, they became known as Methodists.
In 1735 the Wesley brothers and Whitefield sailed to the colony of Georgia, where Charles Wesley served as secretary to James Edward Oglethorpe and as chaplain at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, while John Wesley served as Anglican rector to the colony. Whitefield became an itinerant evangelist.
Both men quickly left the colony after experiencing a series of misunderstandings with local women. Returning to London, John attended a meeting of the Moravian Fetter Lance Society on May 24, 1738. John later wrote in his journal, "I did trust in Christ, (and) Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins."
Thus began his Methodist teaching. In 1739, Wesley formed his first Methodist “Society” in Bristol. He then began holding open-air services in Upper Moorheads and Kensington Commons in London where he preached to crowds as large as fourteen thousand people.
Wesley’s organization was very much Presbyterian in nature: his use of "Superintendents'' and "Stewards", as well as his establishment of both “Quarterly Meetings" and “Annual Conferences", and the of the “Holy Trinity (God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit)” all paralleled the Presbyterian Church system.
Admission into Methodist societies required no doctrinal test. Wesley wrote the "Twenty-five Articles" that formally established Methodist doctrine: twenty-four of these articles were specifically written for American Methodists, who adopted them at the Baltimore Conference in 1784.
John Wesley could find no one individual that he felt was capable of succeeding him. Therefore, in his "Deed of Declaration" one hundred of his most able leaders (which he referred to the "Legal Hundred") were appointed by him to act as his legal successor. Thus began the Methodists rise as one of the largest Presbyterian religions.
*"A new history of Methodism” (1909)
Author: Townsend, W. J. (William John), 1835-1915; Workman, Herbert B. (Herbert Brook), b. 1862; Eayrs, George, b. 1864
Subject: Methodism -- History
Publisher: London : Hodder and Stoughton
“A Compendious History Of American Methodism” (1868)
Author: Abel Stevens
Publisher: Carlton & Porter
“The history of Georgia Methodism from 1786 to 1866” (1913)
Author: Smith, George Gilman, 1836-1913
Subject: Methodist Church -- Georgia
Publisher: Atlanta, Ga., A. B. Caldwell
“The colored man in the Methodist Episcopal Church” (1890)
Author: Hagood, L. M. (Lewis Marshall), 1853-1936
Subject: Methodist Episcopal Church; African American Methodists
Publisher: Cincinnati : Cranston & Stowe; New York, Hunt & Eaton.*
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger firstname.lastname@example.org