John Wesley

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John Wesley
BirthplaceEpworth, Lincolnshire, England
Cleric, author, theologian
EducationChrist Church, Oxford

Wesley, John,

1703–91, English evangelical preacher, founder of MethodismMethodism,
the doctrines, polity, and worship of those Protestant Christian denominations that have developed from the movement started in England by the teaching of John Wesley.
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, b. Epworth, Lincolnshire.

Early Life

Wesley was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1725, elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726, and ordained a priest in 1728. At Oxford he took the lead (1729) in a group of students that included his younger brother, Charles WesleyWesley, Charles,
1707–88, English Methodist preacher and hymn writer. As a student at Oxford he devoted himself to systematic study and to the regular practice of religious duties; he and companions whom he persuaded to adopt the same orderly course were taunted as
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, and George WhitefieldWhitefield, George,
1714–70, English evangelistic preacher, leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. At Oxford, which he entered in 1732, he joined the Methodist group led by John Wesley and Charles Wesley.
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. They were derisively called "methodists" for their methodical devotion to study and religious duties.

In 1735, the Wesleys accompanied James OglethorpeOglethorpe, James Edward
, 1696–1785, English general and philanthropist, founder of the American colony of Georgia. He had some military experience before being elected (1722) to the House of Commons, where he held a seat for 32 years.
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 to Georgia, John to serve there as a missionary and Charles to act as secretary to Oglethorpe. During John Wesley's two-year stay in the colony he was deeply influenced by Moravian missionaries; upon his return to England he made many Moravian friends. On May 24, 1738, at a meeting of a small religious society in Aldersgate St., London, Wesley experienced a religious conversion while listening to a reading of Martin LutherLuther, Martin,
1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders. Early Life and Spiritual Crisis

Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ.
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's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. This experience of salvation through faith in Christ alone was the burden of his message for the rest of his life.

Evangelist and Founder of Methodism

After his conversion, Wesley became involved in evangelistic work, in the course of which he is said to have preached 40,000 sermons and to have traveled 250,000 mi (400,000 km). On the advice of Whitefield, Wesley undertook open-air, or field, preaching, first in Bristol, then elsewhere. In 1739 a group in London requested him to aid them in forming a society and to act as their leader. An old foundry at Moorfields was purchased; it remained until 1778 the center of Methodist work in London. Because of his Arminianism (see under Arminius, JacobusArminius, Jacobus
, 1560–1609, Dutch Reformed theologian, whose original name was Jacob Harmensen. He studied at Leiden, Marburg, Geneva, and Basel and in 1588 became a pastor at Amsterdam.
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) and belief in Christian perfection, Wesley repudiated (c.1740) the Calvinist doctrine of election. This led to a break with Whitefield, although the personal friendship of the two Methodist leaders remained firm.

In 1784, Wesley executed the deed of declaration by which the Methodist societies became legally constituted; it was in essence the charter of the Wesleyan Methodists. In the same year he became convinced that he must ordain a superintendent to administer sacraments and to serve the Methodist societies in America, although he had long hesitated to assume the authority of ordination. Wesley ordained Dr. Thomas CokeCoke, Thomas
, 1747–1814, English clergyman and early bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. After taking orders (1777) in the Church of England, he openly allied himself with the Methodists.
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 to this office; Francis AsburyAsbury, Francis
, 1745–1816, Methodist bishop in America, b. England. The Wesleyan conference in London sent him in 1771 as a missionary to America, where he promoted the growth of the circuit rider system that proved so eminently suited to frontier conditions.
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 was to serve as associate superintendent.

It was not Wesley's intention to found a separate church, but toward the end of his life the Methodist Episcopal Church had already come into existence in America, and it became apparent that in England the Methodists could not work within the Anglican Church. He therefore made plans for his societies to go on independently after his death, although both Wesleys remained clergymen of the Church of England to the end of their lives. During John Wesley's later years admiration for his abilities largely replaced the rejection he had endured in earlier days.


See John Wesley's letters (ed. by J. Telford, 8 vol., 1831); the standard edition of his journal (ed. by N. Curnock, 4 vol., 1909–16); biographies by D. Bonamy (1933, repr. 1974), V. H. Green (1964, repr. 1987), and D. Marshall (1965); studies by F. Baker (1970), W. J. Warner (1930, repr. 1967), and G. C. Cell (1983); R. L. Maddox and J. E. Vickers, ed., The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (2009).

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Methodism arose in the Church of England as a largely oral movement, featuring hymn-singing as "a new outburst of energy." For most of his adult life John Wesley collected, edited, and published hymns written by his younger brother Charles.
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This celebration will take place at John Wesley United Methodist Church beginning at noon.