What do Methodists believe?
Methodism began with John and Charles Wesley in England in the 1700s.
John Wesley started very disciplined small groups that met to study the Bible, pray, serve others and hold one another accountable in their Christian walk. Others laughed at how seriously these groups took their faith, calling them “Methodists” because they were so methodical and disciplined in the way they lived out their Christian convictions.
While "scriptural holiness" was of primary importance for John Wesley, he also emphasized what became known as the "Wesley Quadrilateral." The Wesley Quadrilateral expressed the importance firstly of Scripture, but also emphasized that we can know and experience God through a combination of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.
Wesley believed that our desire for transformation through Christ (‘holiness’) should be evident in our individual lives and hearts as well as in society. He believed our walk with Christ placed both personal and social responsibilities on us.
Personal holiness was deepened through reading of the scriptures and through the other “means of grace,” which included prayer, attending Church, taking Communion and fasting, among others. As part of Social holiness, John Wesley recognized that the church of his day was not addressing the needs of the people, particularly the poor and working classes. He took to preaching out of doors and met people where they were (in the streets, outside the mines, outside pubs). He was also outspoken about social problems such as alcoholism, gambling, poverty, lack of education, exploitation of workers, etc. He believed that every Christian had a responsibility to address these social problems because the problems negatively impacted on the spiritual well-being of individuals and of society – and were contrary to the building up of the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. The Methodists of today continue in the tradition of John Wesley by showing concern for the various social ills that affect our countries and the world.
The assurance of salvation was a critical part of John Wesley’s understanding of our relationship with Christ. He promoted what became known as “The 4 Alls”:
- All people need to be saved
- All people can be saved
- All people can know that they are saved
- All people can be saved to the uttermost
Assurance of salvation was also tied very closely to Wesley’s understanding of the enormity of God’s grace. He believed God’s grace operated in our lives in 4 ways:
- Prevenient grace: God’s grace is offered to us even before we know it
- Justifying grace: When we recognize our sin and turn to Christ, God accepts us and calls us His children even though we are not perfect
- Sanctifying grace: God’s grace continues to be offered to us throughout our lives as we seek to respond by being more and more like Christ
- Perfecting grace: God’s ultimate goal for us is to be transformed completely
Wesley believed that what Christ was calling us to in life was to “Do all the good you can, In all the ways you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as you ever can.” He knew that this high standard of Christian living was not easy to do on one’s own, so emphasized the importance of not only attending Church but also journeying with others in small groups in order to be accountable one to another in our Christian walk.
Methodism was introduced in South Africa in the early 1800s. Today the MCSA includes the countries of South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho.
The MCSA is considered to be a “Connexional Church”, which means each church does not stand on its own; together, Methodist churches are all accountable to:
- Conference: Conference meets once per year to make decisions about the running of the whole MCSA. It is made up of representatives who are elected from the various Districts and Departments.
- The Presiding Bishop: The Presiding Bishop is the chief spokesperson of the MCSA. Our current Presiding Bishop is Rev. Zipho Siwa.
- Bishops: The MCSA has 12 Districts (arranged geographically), each of which has a Bishop. The District that Prestbury Methodist belongs to is the Natal West District and our Bishop is Rev. Sandy Dickie.
- Synods: Each District has a yearly Synod (made up of clergy and lay people) which meets to make decisions.
- Circuits: Districts are made up of smaller units called Circuits, which are made up of Societies (Churches), a Superintendent and the Clergy who are responsible for the Societies in that Circuit. The Circuit that Prestbury Methodist is part of is the Pietermaritzburg Metro Circuit, which includes the Brentwood Society, Hilton Society, Howick Society, Metro Society, Mountain Rise/Woodlands Societies, Scottsville Society and Wesley Society. All Saints United is also considered to be part of our Circuit because one of their ministers is a Methodist minister. Although it is its own “circuit”, we are also blessed to have the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg where approximately 100 ministers-in-training study.