Methodism 107

In the 1760’s, the spread of the Wesleyan movement took on a different path as several Methodist lay preachers immigrated to the American colonies. The most renown of these preachers was Francis Asbury. Under Asbury the Methodist movement strived. 

However, there was a big problem with Asbury and the other methodist preachers. They were not ordained and therefore could not administer the sacraments – Baptism or Communion. Methodists seeking the sacraments could do so only by the hands of ministers from established Anglican churches. Unfortunately, as the winds of the American Revolution began blowing, most of the Anglican priests, who were loyal to the crown fled to England, New York or Canada. 

In the absence of Anglican ordination, a group of southern preachers ordained themselves. This caused a split between Asbury and the southern group. Asbury mediated the crisis by convincing the southern preachers to wait for Wesley’s response to the sacramental crisis. That response came in 1784.

Wesley for his part had come to believe that the Church of England’s tradition of allowing only a Bishop to ordain a preacher was not biblical. So, in 1784 Wesley ordained preachers for Scotland and England and America, with power to administer the sacraments.

At that time, Wesley sent Thomas Coke to America to form an independent American Methodist church. In December, of that year, Coke called the Methodist preachers to Baltimore, Maryland for a convening conference. The Baltimore Christmas Conference was the first gathering of Methodists in America. 

Th first order of business was to address the ordination of pastors. Wesley has instructed Coke to ordain Asbury as a joint superintendent of the new church. However, Asbury turned to the assembled conference and said he would not accept it unless the preachers voted him into that office. This was done, and from that moment forward, the general superintendents received their authority from the conference.

Later, Coke convinced the general conference that he and Asbury were bishops and added the title to the discipline. The first annual conference of the newly organized Methodist Episcopal Church was held in Franklin County North Carolina, on April 19, 1785. 

For well over 300 years, Methodists have faithfully followed a different path. They have preached, cared for the poor and sick, educated children, fought for freedom, and administered the sacraments.

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