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Methodism
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Definition:
Methodism is a Christian denomination which was started by John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) in England in the early 1700s. The name comes from the fact that Wesley sought to understand religion "by rule and method" and follow biblical teachings as interpreted by tradition and reason.

It was also used as an epithet by students at Oxford University who ridiculed the "Holy Club" founded by John and his brother Charles. Members of this group arranged for themselves a rigorous daily schedule which included specific hours for visiting the sick, teaching the poor, and observing religious services in church. In addition, they prayed out loud three times each day and stopped for a silent prayer every hour.

During the Revolutionary War, Wesley's followers in America lacked leadership and the Anglican church refused to ordain people to help him, so Wesley took the unusual step of ordaining some ministers on his own authority - this step was key in the creation of the Methodist church and the first Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Baltimore on December 24, 1784. During this "Christmas Conference," Methodist preachers officially established Methodism as an independent denomination with the purpose "To reform the continent, and spread scriptural holiness through these lands."

By the middle of the 20th century, Methodism was the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Today, the largest Methodist denomination in the US is the United Methodist Church. Methodism began not so much as an independent denomination but rather as a movement within other Christian churches. As a result, even down into modern times, there have been a number of Methodist churches - Methodist Episcopal churches, Methodist Protestant churches, etc. According to Methodists, their church is a "unique blend of New Testament Christianity, the Protestant Reformation and the influence of John Wesley."

One doctrine which has long been important in the traditions which Wesley was responsible for starting is that of sanctification. According to this, true Christians will inevitably lead lives which are marked by visible sanctity - always manifesting divine love through the way they act and the way they treat others. Such a Christian might even reach a state of moral perfection, although that should not expected very often.

During the 1870s and 1880s a division surfaced within Methodism over the doctrine of sanctification. Most continued to believe that sanctification was a gradual, life-long process, but a few argued that this "holiness" was an instantaneous event, described as a "second blessing" which a person received from God after conversion. Members of this developing "Holiness" movement separated themselves from those whom they regarded as more worldly and insufficiently holy. This movement eventually lead to the formation of the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and a number of other American denominations.

For Methodists today, the Bible is the primary source of theology and doctrine, with three others being tradition, reason and experience. Methodists do not pray to saints, do not hear confessions, do not believe in purgatory, and ordain women as ministers. Methodists also allow for more liberal or figurative interpretations of the doctrines regarding heaven and hell. They permit birth control, abortion and divorce, and their traditional positions against gambling and intemperance have softened a bit over the years - they are now no longer opposed to any forms of card playing and dancing.

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