June 16, 2006 by Joseph Krohn
Troughout the last three hundred years the Methodist doctrine and denominations have penetrated the very heart of the North American continent and indeed the world, with its message of hope. John Wesley’s ministry that began in his own life in the midst of the Oxford Holy Club has grown to be an international movement, with many denominations and groups claiming genealogical descent from the first original working in John Wesley’s life on Aldersgate Street. In the early working of the Methodist in the British North American colonies, some of the most valuable elements that were taught and championed the movement for a century are: the educational emphasis of the Methodists, the missionary mentality of the Methodists, and the almost universal emphasis internationally on the doctrinal teaching of the Wesleyan Movement.
The early Methodists placed a tremendous amount of importance on the education of its clergy and layman. In the very beginning of the Wesley brothers work in the United Kingdom, John Wesley placed education close to the top of a minister/lay preacher’s obligation. He commanded his preachers on more than one occasion that they must study and learn to love to read. Many of the Methodist preachers learned theology, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin as the rode the mud soaked roads of Britain. This importance on education also crossed the Atlantic Ocean and became an emphasis in the North American circuits and societies. The Methodists in North America also started many colleges and Universities to train their young preachers in a more diligent manner, for as the Methodists wealth increased a desire for more education also increased. In the British North American colonies many such institutions were started. Most of the colleges and universities in what is now the Dominion of Canada, sprouted from four main groups: Roman Catholics (Quebec), Anglicans (mostly in the Maritimes), and the Methodist and Presbyterian schools (Ontario and Western Canada). An example of some of the universities that were started by the Methodists were: Victoria College, Queens University, University of Western Ontario and the University of Alberta. The Methodists emphasis on education also was extended into the publishing industry of society. An example of this in the British North American colonies was the creation of the ‘Methodist Book Concern in Canada’ which printed 160,000 different volumes in its first decade of operation.
The early Methodists also placed a strong missionary mentality in the outreach of the lost around them. Wesley began his early work in the mining district of Kingswood preaching in the fields. This missionary mind set also led Wesley to send men across the Atlantic Ocean to spread Christianity and Methodism. This missionary mentality was also observed in future superintendents of the Methodist movement. One such individual was Dr. Thomas Coke who even in his elderly years had a strong desire for missions, even volunteering to go himself as a Methodist itinerate in India. This missionary mind set was also what pushed the Methodist movement across the North American frontier. In the British North American colonies Methodist circuit riding and missionary work developed into the largest Christian work in Canada after just a century (1760-1860’s). Canadian Methodists ministered in the jails, in the streets, in the Indian camps, in the slums of the great cities, for one common purpose, to spread the goodnews of Jesus Christ. The missionary emphasis of the Methodist drove the circuit riders and still drives the current missionary endeavors today that claim succession from Wesley.
Another valuable and lasting impression that the Methodist left on the trails of time is their doctrinal emphasis. Wesley had determined that he would “teach no new doctrine,” and he did not, simply teaching that which the church father’s emphasized. The Wesleyan emphasis in their doctrine can be found in the four-fold summary of their beliefs. The four-fold summary is that: all need to be saved, all can be saved, all can know that they are saved, and all can be saved to the uttermost (entire sanctification). These doctrines that rang from Wesley’s heart and from the trails of the circuit riders were instrumental in the development of those early revivals. It was the teaching of holiness of heart and life that identified the Methodists as a movement separate from that of the Church of England. These revivals that skipped the ocean to the shores of North America establish revivals throughout the continent. In British North America great revivals by men like William Black in the Maritimes, Laurence Coughlan of Newfoundland, and William Losee in Upper Canada, entrenched the Methodist doctrines into those early movements that still exist to some extent today.
The Methodist experience in Canada, has failed to a certain extent. The pure Wesleyan movement is small and scattered, but still alive. The creation of the early Methodists can still be seen in Canada in the shape of the colleges, universities, publishing companies and social reforms that they had implemented. The most valuable impact the early Methodism had upon the world can be observed in education, missionary work, and in the doctrinal teachings of the Wesley’s. Methodism is a way of life, that not only was good for the individual in that he was now regenerated, but also for society, for the Methodists worked collectively together for the benefit of the society in which the lived. Methodism is not just a doctrine or a denomination, but a way of life.