Is Methodism Really Protestant?

Is Methodism Protestant?

This seems like a ridiculous question for a United Methodist clergyperson to ask the Internets, but someone asked and my answer was insufficient for them.  I ask now because I've always considered Methodism to not really be from the Protestant branch but closer to the Anglican Church, which does not consider itself to be Protestant.


  • John Wesley lived and died an Anglican clergyperson.
  • John Wesley started a revival within the Anglican church which then became the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The "Episcopal" moniker acknowledged its heritage with the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Church. 
  • The First General Conference defined the Methodist Church to be "an Episcopal Church."
  • Our Liturgy is closely patterned after the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Why is this important?  The Anglican Church doesn't consider itself to be Protestant! From Wikipedia:
The question often arises as to whether the Anglican Communion should be identified as a Protestant or Catholic church, or perhaps as a distinct branch of Christianity altogether. The official position of the Anglican Communion is that, like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, it is a full and distinct branch of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," created by Christ.
Although it had deep roots in the Pietist traditions that came out of the European Reformation, Methodism, it should not be forgotten, arose directly out of Anglicanism and expanded into those parts of the world where Anglicans and English speakers migrated.
page 204

Opposing considerations
  • Theologically, John Wesley was influenced heavily by Arminianism, which identifies itself from the Protestant Reformation
  • Through our mergers (especially with the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Protestant Church) we have much tradition in the Protestant Church in today's church.
  • While there is great diversity in United Methodist worship, the Protestant worship style and format is predominant in the South and the Midwest.
Your turn:

Forgive me if this is stupid, but it's a question of identifying between Protestant practices and Anglican DNA.
  • If the Anglican Communion considers itself a separate branch of Christianity from Protestantism, does Methodism do the same?  
  • Or does Protestant polity and practice outweigh its Anglican DNA?
  • Protestantism defined as "any non-Catholic church" is probably not helpful.  Why? From Wikipedia:
While the faiths and churches born directly or indirectly of the Protestant Reformation constitute Protestantism, in common usage, the term is often used in contradistinction to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.[3] This usage is imprecise, however, as there are non-Roman Catholic and non-Eastern Orthodox traditions that predate the Reformation (notably Oriental Orthodoxy). The Anglican tradition, although historically influenced by the Protestant Reformation in what is called the English Reformation, differs from many Reformation principles and understands itself to be a middle path—a via media—between Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines. Other groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, reject traditional Protestantism as another deviation from true Christianity, while perceiving themselves to be restorationists.

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pastorbecca July 15, 2008 at 9:51 AM  

Helpful or not, I usually use the term Protestant to mean not Catholic or Orthodox. Historically and theologically, yes, there is a difference, but most of the people with whom I'm defining the UMC are themselves Catholic, and so they get that I'm a 'protestant' (the discussion invariably arises when they see a woman who is clearly Not a Nun wearing a clerical collar).

Also, it should be noted, I'm an ex-Catholic. It may be in my DNA to view all non-Catholic denominations as Protestant.

Having said all that, I do think that our polity and lived theology are more important indicators of identity than our history. In that light, I think we can largely consider the UMC to be protestant because of the influence of the Arminians, the mergers with other protestant denominations, and the way we live out our theology, which has been shaped and tweaked by centuries of American protestant culture (even the global UMC has to a large extent been affected by this).

But to disagree with Dr. Hempton make me nervous...

Cecilieaux July 15, 2008 at 2:02 PM  

I'm with Pastor Becca. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck.

Most Methodist churches have a congregational model of governance, even though the denomination as a whole has an astounding authoritarian streak, in its Book of Discipline, the exercise of power by bishops and even its quasi-inquisitorial ecclesiastical trials (admittedly rare). That's the ecclesiology.

However, no one claims apostolic succession in Methodism, nor the universal validity of any tradition besides that explicitly approved by its conferences. Methodism itself is not one, but has flavors. One would be hard pressed to construct a definably Methodist systematic theological statement that did not bow to Luther's three solas.

In the Troeltsch church-sect type scale, Methodism is falls somewhere off center toward sect. As to Anglican roots, good luck with that. After Gafcon, Anglicanism may be on the verge of disintegration.

Now, perhaps, can I get Pastor Becca to persuade Rev. Smith to apologize for his outrageous and ill-informed post on the desecration of consecrated hosts?

Rev. Jeremy Smith July 15, 2008 at 2:35 PM  

Thank you both for the clarification. I'll certainly offer those responses to the person who asked me, and hopefully it will make the picture clearer. It certainly has for me!

Rev. J July 15, 2008 at 5:07 PM  

I have always told people we are two sneezes away from being Catholic. Many of my laity think we had more in common with other Protestant denominations than we do Catholic. Yet we do have some Anglican tendencies. With that said…I agree with Cecilieaux, quack, quack.

Nathan,  July 16, 2008 at 12:30 AM  

I wouldn't doubt our "protestant bona fides" because of our roots in the Anglican church (which had its own Reformation influenced by the Continental reformation under Cranmer and others), but I would doubt our "Protestantism" if you consider that we might actually be a covert Greek Orthodox mission to America. Ever heard of the Erasmian Consecration?
Read about it under United Methodism in the "Apostolic Succession Article"

HP July 16, 2008 at 6:30 AM  

Not an easy question....

There is a difference between "Big C" Catholic and "little c" catholic. Usually "Big C" is reserved to talk about the Roman Catholic Church, particularly here in the States. "little c" catholic is a simple affirmation of one of the four marks of the Church. The mark of catholicty generally has to do with the inclusivity or universality of the Church.

(You probably know this already.)

The UMC professes to be one, holy, catholic, apostolic church (the four classic Nicene marks of the church). We claim all the marks.

How the marks get interpreted (both within and without of United Methodism) constitutes the church's ecclesiology....and as we know in the UMC, that is no easy task.

Scholars have argued for quite some time as to the *true* nature of John Wesley's ecclesiology and while all admit his ecclesiology (and the inherited one in which we live) is at best a pastiche, the emphasis (Anglican, Catholic, Free Church, etc.) varies depending on the point of view, context and social location of the author. Particular emphases are important when trying to argue for a certain point or polity within the church. And, with Wesley's pragmatism, almost everyone can find a shred of evidence in his life and ministry to support their claims. Proof texting Wesley is no different than proof texting the Bible.

That said, the best (short) answer to the question is the UMC is not Roman Catholic, but exists in the long line of the historic, universal Church.

ShannonB July 16, 2008 at 4:06 PM  

Not sure how different my UMC church is, but we identify much, much more as catholic(with the little "c") than protestant, even though our congregation was orginally started a hundred years ago as a Methodist Protestant Church. We have two Catholic (big C) congregations that worship in our building, one is a Dignity congregation and the other is an ECC congregation which often worships with us on high holidays. If we are dyed as protestants now day, I would say that the roots are sure showing at my church both in practice and theology.

ultraguy July 21, 2008 at 12:20 PM  

Interesting question, begging other much harder ones, e.g., from now-former Anglican Bishop Jeffrey Steenson in a speech just ten days ago:

"Anglicanism has for the last quarter century proceeded quite intentionally from the principle that truth not only is discerned primarily in the experience of the Christian community but also that the community itself has priority over truth."

All eight pages here:

Anonymous,  July 28, 2008 at 3:15 PM  

Of course Methodism is Protestant.A little note of interest ,John Wesley's conversion was a result of reading Luther's preface to the book of Romans.Wesley appeared to grasp that salvation was imputed by Christ alone rather by his own efforts thus mirroring Luther's 16Century conversion experience.

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