The mission of the Free Methodist Church is to make known to all people everywhere God's call to wholeness through forgiveness and holiness in Jesus Christ, and to invite into membership and to equip for ministry all who respond in faith.
The Methodist Revival
In the 18th century a revival broke out in the Church of England through the unorthodox preaching and methods of two pastors John Wesley and George Whitfield. Whitfield began preaching outside the church buildings in fields and anywhere people would gather. As the Spirit began to move and crowds came to hear the Gospel preached to the common people where they lived, Whitfield invited Wesley to join him. As the movement grew and organized, and began to spread into the American colonies, Wesley was kicked out of the Church of England for these unauthorized methods of preaching. As a result of John Wesley's organizational abilities, the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed and flourished through the 19th century and grew so fast in the American colonies that at one point it was the largest denomination in the colonies.
Is there a difference between 'Methodist' and 'Free Methodist'? Yes. In the middle to late 1800's the Methodist Episcopal Church began, like many denominations, to lose its focus on Jesus and the gospel and began to splinter. One early splinter in the church happened in 1860 when a pastor named B.T. Roberts arrived at his New York annual conference with the backing of a few other pastors and lay leaders to argue for the correction of a few practices in the church. Rather than hear the debate over these issues of faith and practice, Roberts and his backers were expelled from the church (much as John Wesley himself was for not adhering to established practices). This group of pastors and lay people organized, on August 23, 1860, a new Methodist church, the Free Methodist church. (As a side note, another splinter called the United Brethren followed later and in 1968 this group reconnected to what remained of the Methodist Episcopal church to form the United Methodist Church, which is the denomination most think of when someone simply says 'Methodist')
4 'Free' Principals
Free Methodists were called 'Free' because of 4 primary practices they tried to correct the church, and were expelled for.
1) Slavery in America.
These Free Methodists stood out by their strong opposition to slavery even as many churches (including the Methodist Episcopal church) either ignored or refused to take a stand against slavery for fear of losing attenders. They believed in the right of all people to freedom.
2) Preferred Seating in Church.
At the time, many churches were collecting payment for seats in church (perhaps an alternative to collecting tithes) which segregated the attenders by social class. Only the rich and prominent people could afford to sit near the front of the sanctuary. There was usually a free bench in the back of a church for the poor, but this only highlighted their status. Free Methodists believed all should be free to worship without this social segregation, and the size of tithes and offerings should not determine a persons voice and position in the church.
3) Formalism and Stifled Worship.
The Free Methodists believed we should not quench the Holy Spirit. They believed church services should allow a freedom for the Spirit to move if He so chose, and so proper, corporate, use of the Gifts of the Spirit were encouraged. They also believed that people should come to worship dressed as they would dress for work rather than needing to wear their 'Sunday best', because some simply couldn't afford the 'best' that was expected. Worship was then inclusive and expressive and designed for participants rather than spectators.
4) Leadership for Women in the Church.
The Free Methodists believed that God is allowed call whoever He wants to lead His churches regardless of gender. They rejected the dominant theology (which was very heavily influenced by Aristotle's philosophy of woman) that said a woman man not hold any position of leadership over men in the church. So while it was rare until more recent times, the Free Methodists have always ordained women for pastoral ministry after they have been tested (as all men had always been) for the Calling to vocational ministry by God.
What Free Methodists are like
We are proud of our history but an important question for present day is, "What does it mean to be a Free Methodist now? What are Free Methodists like?" Free Methodists are:
Devoted to Christ
Free Methodists are among those who have experienced spiritual birth through faith in Jesus Christ, as explained by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:1-17. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described his own conversion by saying that when Christ came into his life, "My heart was strangely warmed." The life-changing miracle of spiritual birth makes a Free Methodist, or any other believer, "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). A personal relationship with Jesus Christ and an obedient walk with Him characterize Free Methodist Christians.
Students of the Bible
The inspired, authoritative Word of God is the basis of faith for Free Methodists. They endeavor to live their lives according to its teachings (James 1:22-25). Their churches offer Bible classes for all ages, preschool through adults, so that all may grow in grace and faith
Seeking to Live Holy Lives
As a people, Free Methodists seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and live disciplined lives in accord with the Bible's teachings. The Bible speaks of being "Sanctified," which has two meanings: set apart and cleansed. Being set apart into Christ and cleansed and filled by the Holy Spirit is more than a goal. It is a way of life taught in the Scriptures.
Free Methodists seek to worship God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23). From church to church, and in multiple services of some local congregations, varieties of worship styles may be found. Yet, the heart of worship is to glorify God and receive biblical instruction
The goal of Free Methodists is to represent Jesus Christ in their daily living. They do this both through the way they live and in sharing the gospel's good news with others. Not known to be "hard sell" in their witness, they seek to be humble and winsome in showing Christ through their lives and lips.
Year after year, Free Methodists are at or near the top in per capita giving of tithes and offerings. Because of their love for the Lord, they follow His example in caring and in generosity. Their track record of compassionate outreach to those in need is seen not only in local congregations, but also in institutional ministries for those with needs Christians can help to meet.
Taking seriously the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), Free Methodists have gone across the street, into the inner city and around the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Local churches, followed by the denomination's Christian colleges, universities and seminary programs, train and equip men and women for Christian ministry at home and abroad.
A Belonging People
Free Methodists have planted the church and its Christian witness across the North American continent and around the world in nearly 50 countries. As a Christian denomination, Free Methodists belong to the Lord and to each other, even though they speak many world languages. They also belong to various evangelical interdenominational associations.