Methodism was a movement within the church of England started by John and Charles Wesley. After the death of John Wesley it split from Anglicanism to become a separate denomination, and experienced rapid growth in the United States during the first, second, and third Great Awakening.
Methodism, growing alongside Baptists at this time, has influenced independent Baptist Churches. Methodists were the pioneers of circuit-riding preachers and holding camp meetings, in which revival was expected, a theme present in many Independent Baptist churches today.
Today, most Methodists in the United States are part of mainline churches, such as the United Methodist Church, and so differ from the Fundamentalist and Evangelical Independent Baptists in issues that have come to the forefront in the last century.
Currently, the United Methodist Church has the following official position:
The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.
But in May 2018, The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops announced that a majority of their body endorsed a plan called “the one church plan”, which says:
We agree that we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality. As we continue to faithfully explore issues of sexuality, we will honor the theological guidelines of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience, acknowledging that God’s revelation of truth and God’s extension of grace as expressed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) may cause persons of good conscience to interpret and decide issues of sexuality differently. We also acknowledge that the Church is called through Christ to unity even amidst complexity. We affirm those who continue to maintain that the Scriptural witness does not condone the practice of homosexuality. We believe that their conscience should be protected in the church and throughout society under basic principles of religious liberty. We also affirm those who believe the witness of Scripture calls us to reconsider the teaching of the church with respect to monogamous homosexual relationships.
Despite this statement, many Methodists still only accept heterosexual relationships, as you would find in Independent Baptist Churches. This rang true when the 2019 General conference elected to retain the wording disallowing homosexual marriage and calling homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. The general consensus is that international delegates to the convention, such as the more conservative ones from Africa, overrode the American delegates’ tendancy toward a liberalizing stance.
The United Methodist Church, unlike Fundamentalist or Evangelical Methodists, and unlike independent Baptists does not hold to the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy.
Most of the rest of this article will discuss general differences between Independent Baptists and Methodists as a group, not the differences between Evangelicals and Mainline Churches, although this is an important distinction between churches. You can read my article “what is a Mainline church” if you want to know more about that distinction.
One of the differences between Independent Baptists and Methodists is that Methodists do hold to some allowance for tradition as a stated authority, while Baptists hold to “sola scripture”, the scripture alone. Most Methodists accept what has been termed the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience as the guides of doctrine, and would claim “Prima Scriptura”, or “The scripture first” as their authority.
What has become a distinctive of Methodism, although it wasn’t completely at first, is their Arminian view of Salvation. They reject the reformed view of “Limited Atonement”, instead holding that God’s grace is universally available.
Most Independent Baptists are in agreement that the atonement isn’t limited, but some are Calvinistic. Both Calvinism and the Methodist Arminian position deny that humans have any free will on their own apart from God’s grace. Some Independent Baptists would disagree. Methodists believe in original sin, which Baptists have differing positions on.
As part of their Arminian view, Methodist believe that a person can lose their salvation, and reject eternal security. The majority of independent Baptists reject this view.
Methodists believe in infant Baptism, which Independent Baptists reject, holding to believer’s baptism only. Wesley taught that the new birth and justification took place at an infant’s baptism. Methodist churches hold differing views on this today. Most would say that baptism is connected to the regeneration or new birth, but not automatically. Others hold to Wesley’s position that those baptized, including infants, are justified and born again. Independent Baptists reject this, and believe that Baptism is simply an ordinance performed for a person to identify themselves with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, but plays no part in salvation.
Most Independent Baptists and Methodists agree that Baptism is the means by which a person becomes a member of their local church.
Methodist Churches practice baptism by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion, while Independent Baptists only recognize immersion as valid.
On the Lord’s Supper, Methodists may hold to a spiritual power or spiritual presence view of Christ in the elements, or even a Lutheran view of bodily presence. Baptists hold that the elements are simply symbolic with no presence at all. Methodists also mostly practice open communion today, though this has been different in the past, and a small number of churches still hold to a closed communion. Independent Baptists differ, with large numbers of churches holding to “closed” or “close” communion, and some “open” communion as well.
Many Methodists practice weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, following the guidance of John Wesley, who felt that refusal to administer communion when one was able to do so was effectively rejecting Christ. This hasn’t been consistent, but more Methodist churches are trending this way. Baptists vary widely on the frequency of observance.
Methodists consider Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be sacraments, that is, that they in some way convey divine grace, though the interpretation of this can vary. Baptists call them ordinances, and reject the idea of receiving divine grace through sacraments.
Methodist interpretation of scripture, based on Wesley’s teaching, views the moral component of the Old Testament as still in force –leading to the strong holiness emphasis in Methodism. Baptists differ, but especially dispensational Independent Baptists would reject that any of the Old Covenant is still binding on Christians today.
A further result of the holiness emphasis is the Methodist view that the goal of the Christian life is “entire sanctification”, also called “Christian perfection.” This view holds that a person can be morally perfect in this life. Independent Baptists reject this view. Methodist candidates for ordination are asked “do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” a question that John Wesley used as a qualifier for ministry.
Methodist churches believe in the doctrine of the Universal church, or little-c “catholic” church, while many Independent Baptists reject this, only believing that the word church refers to a visible local assembly.
In church government, Methodists hold to an Episcopal view, following the view of the Anglican church, but with some modification. The Anglican church holds that there are three offices, bishop, priest, and deacon. Bishops appoint elders, and determine where they perform their ministry. Priests manage the churches, and deacons assist.
In the Methodist church, the office of “priest” was changed in name to “elder”, and the bishop is viewed as just another type of elder, not a distinct office. This view still holds that bishops appoint elders to their position in the churches.
Independent Baptist churches hold to a form of congregational government. The congregation has the ultimate say in who the elder is (usually termed the “pastor” in Baptist churches.) The role of deacon in Methodist churches was historically a transitional role to that of elder, though now it often aligns closer to the Baptist view as a separate office without the implied future move of the officeholder to a higher rank.
Some Methodists, like the evangelical denomination “Primitive Methodist Church” do not ordain women as elders. However, most Methodists do. Independent Baptists do not.
Most Methodists including Primitive Methodists, allow women to serve as deaconesses, while most independent Baptists do not.
Many Methodist churches are more “high church” than you would find among Independent Baptists, with Liturgy, special clothing, and a calendar of observances.