It all began with John and Charles Wesley at Oxford sometime around 1728, when the two brothers, alarmed at the spread of deism on campus, organized meetings with students who were serious about their religion. In scorn the label "Methodists" stuck.
Wherever Wesley went, as he preached revival, little "societies" appeared all over England, Ireland, and Wales in his wake. These were not really congregations, most of them were members of the Anglican Church, and Wesley urged them to attend their parish churches for worship and Communion, but his converts found the center of their Christian experience in the Methodist societies where they confessed their sins to one another, submitted to the discipline of their leader, and joined in prayer and song.
John eventually began to divide his societies into smaller groups of twelve or so members called "classes" to encourage financial support, a penny a week for the work. The members of these classes eventually bound together for support, testimonies, prayer, and spiritual encouragement. As the work grew, Wesley decided to "employ" laymen from the societies and "classes" as preachers and personal assistants. He avoided calling them ministers and he refused them authority to administer the sacraments. They were simply his personal helpers responsible to him in their work, as he was responsible to the Anglican Church.
By 1744 he could no longer keep contact with all of these preachers. So he created the "Annual Conference", a gathering helping to shape the policy and doctrine of the movement. Thus, by 1748 the Methodists were a church within a church. By 1784, with the Christmas Conference meeting at Baltimore under the superintendency of Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, the Methodist Church had become a new, distinct denomination, at least in America. After Wesley’s death, the English Methodists followed their American brethren into separation from the Anglican Church.
[tags]BlogRodent, Charles-Wesley, church-history, ChurchRodent, Francis-Asbury, history, Methodist, Thomas[/tags]