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successively advanced from two to three and from three to five. No pastor can serve the same church or circuit in the Methodist Episcopal Church more than five years successively, nor can he be returned to it until after the expiration of another period of five years. (6) Presiding elders. In most American Methodist branches, each annual conference is divided into districts, two or more, and a presiding elder placed over each. His duty is to travel over his district, preside at quarterly conferences in each charge, report to the annual conference, and assist the presiding bishop in making out the list of appointments each year. His term of office is limited in the Methodist Episcopal Church to six years. (7) Bishops. The Episcopal branches have bishops, elected by the general conference for life. They ordain ministers, preside over the annual conferences and at the general conference, and station the ministers, with the advice of the presiding elders; they are itinerant and general, not diocesan, officers.
Methodism also has a system of conferences: (1) The quarterly conference is held four times a year in each church. It is composed of the pastor, local preachers, trustees, stewards, class leaders, and other church officers. (2) The annual conference consists of all the itinerant preachers (and in some branches of representatives of the churches) within its bounds. It examines the characters of the ministers, elects candidates to deacon's and elder's orders, and transacts various other business. (3) The general conference, composed of representatives, clerical and lay, from the various annual conferences, meets once in
It is the chief legislative and judicial court. It elects bishops and other general officers, creates new
conferences, changes conference boundaries, and controls the administration of the general and benevolent interests of the church. In some branches a district conference is also provided for. It is composed of the pastors and representatives of the churches of a district, the presiding elder being the chairman.
In theology, Methodism, excepting the Welsh branch, is Arminian. Most of the American branches have adopted as their doctrinal symbol “Articles of Religion,” twentyfive in number, prepared by John Wesley from the Thirtynine Articles of the Church of England. In common with other Arminian bodies, Methodists emphasize the doctrine of the freedom of the will and universal atonement, and deny the Calvinistic ideas of predestination and reprobation. Their more distinctive doctrines are those which Wesley revived, restated, and specially emphasized, namely: (1) present personal salvation by faith; (2) the witness of the Spirit; (3) sanctification. Upon the latter point Wesley taught that sanctification is obtainable instantaneously, between justification and death, and that it is not "sinless perfection,” but perfection in love, so that those who possess it "feel no sin, nothing but love."
There are seventeen branches of Methodism, as follows:
1. Methodist Episcopal,
9. Methodist Episcopal, South, 2. Union American Meth. Epis.) 10. Congregational, 3. African Meth. Epis.,
11. Congregational, Colored, 4. African Union Meth. Prot., 12. New Congregational, 5. African Meth. Epis. Zion, 13. Colored Meth. Epis., 6. Zion Union Apostolic, 14. Primitive, 7. Methodist Protestant,
15. Free, 8. Wesleyan Methodist,
16. Independent, 17. Evangelist Missionary.
1.-THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.
Though John and Charles Wesley crossed the ocean in 1735 and labored in Georgia, the latter about one year, the former two years, the beginnings of Methodism in this country are dated from 1766, in New York and Maryland. In that year a Wesleyan local preacher from Ireland, Philip Embury, gathered a few Methodists in the lower part of New York City for regular worship. Robert Strawbridge, likewise a Wesleyan local preacher and Irish immigrant, preached to a small number of people in Frederick County, Md., at about the same time. The first meetings in New York were held in Mr. Embury's house; then they were transferred to a sail-loft, and in 1768 an edifice was erected at a cost of $3000. This was the first Methodist church in the United States. Its site in John Street is still occupied by a Methodist edifice. Captain Thomas Webb of the British Army was an efficient colaborer with Mr. Embury. Mr. John Wesley sent over two missionaries in 1769, Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmoor, to assist in the work of establishing Methodism in this country. Seven others subsequently arrived. Two became Presbyterians, and only one, Francis Asbury, remained through the Revolutionary War.
The first annual conference was held in Philadelphia in 1773, Thomas Rankin, one of Wesley's missionaries, presiding. At the close of 1784 a general conference met in Baltimore, December 24th, and the Methodist Episcopal Church was formally organized. This was in accordance with the plan of John Wesley himself. The societies had increased, and the number of members had swelled from 1160 in 1773 to 14,988, notwithstanding the adverse influences of the Revolutionary War; and these societies were without an ordained ministry and consequently without the sacraments during the period of the war, the clergy of the Church of England, from whom baptism and the Lord's Supper had previously been received, having in many cases left their parishes. Representations being made to Mr. Wesley concerning the condition of the Methodist societies, he set apart Dr. Thomas Coke, a presbyter of the Church of England, to be superintendent of the societies, and sent with him to America Francis Asbury and two others, directing him to organize the societies into a separate ecclesiastical body, and to have Asbury associated with him in the office of superintendent.
When the conference was assembled in Baltimore a letter from Mr. Wesley was read, stating that he had " appointed Dr. Coke and Mr. Francis Asbury to be jointsuperintendents over our brethren in North America, as also Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey to act as elders among them by baptizing and ministering the Lord's Supper"; that he had prepared a liturgy to be used by the traveling preachers; and that as “our American brethren are now totally disentangled both from the State and from the English hierarchy,” he dared not“ entangle them again, either with the one or with the other. They are now," he added, “at full liberty simply to follow the Scriptures and the Primitive Church.”
The conference then proceeded to "form a Methodist Episcopal Church,” electing both Coke and Asbury as superintendents or bishops. Asbury was successively ordained deacon, elder, and bishop. The order of worship and Articles of Religion prepared by Mr. Wesley were adopted, his rules and discipline were revised and accepted, a number of preachers were ordained, and the work of the conference was completed. The constitution of the church is generally held to consist of the general rules of conduct prepared by Mr. Wesley, the Articles of Religion, and six Restrictive Rules, limiting the powers of the general conference, which is the supreme legislative body and the final court. The general conference elects bishops, who hold office for life or during good behavior, and who preside over its sessions, but have no vote or veto in its proceedings. They are not diocesan, but general and itinerant, visiting and presiding over the annual conferences successively, and appointing, with the aid and advice of the presiding elders, the preachers to the pastorates.
The progress of Methodism in the new and growing nation was extremely rapid. Bishop Asbury (Dr. Coke returned after a few years to England), who had large organizing and administrative power, was intensely active in extending the work as an evangelistic movement. He changed his preachers frequently, appointed them to large circuits including several appointments, and raised up a body of class leaders, exhorters, local and itinerant preachers, by whom the gospel was propagated with great suc
In 1800 Richard Whatcoat was elected to the bishopric, and in 1808 William McKendree also, the latter being the first native American to occupy that office. In the conference of 1808 a plan was adopted providing for a general conference to be composed of delegates elected by the annual conferences, and to meet once every four years.
. In 1812, when the first delegated general conference was held, there were upward of 195,000 communicants. In 1872 lay delegates appeared for the first time in the gen