The "Free"-ing of Methodism

A History of the Free Methodist Church

The U.S. was slipping into a bloody civil war when a conflict over spiritual truth and practice ignited within the established Methodist Episcopal Church. One of those connected to the conflict was an earnest young preacher named Benjamin Titus (B. T.) Roberts. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Converted to Christ in 1844 at age 21, Roberts changed his career path from law to Christian ministry. He enrolled in Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, where in the late 1840s, evangelistic meetings conducted by doctor/preacher John Wesley Redfield fueled revival among many, including Roberts. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Soon after his 1850 ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Roberts attended a camp meeting led by holiness teacher Phoebe Palmer. There he found a deeper level of surrender and consecration — what Methodism’s founder John Wesley termed “entire sanctification.” ;xNLx;;xNLx;Early on, Roberts spoke out against intemperance, slavery, extreme formalism in worship with hired musicians, membership in secret societies, and other marks of the church’s fall from holiness principles. He especially crusaded against the practice of selling or renting pews, which he felt discriminated against the poor. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Despite Roberts’ intelligence and spiritual depth, disgruntled church officials mostly assigned him to small or struggling congregations in western New York These churches subsequently experienced revival. But the pew issue loomed larger with his 1852 assignment to a fashionable-but-dying church in Buffalo with a rented-pew history. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Roberts’ criticism of Methodist Episcopal failings brought censure and his eventually expulsion in 1858. He continued to be an itinerant preacher and, in January 1860, started a revival journal named The Earnest Christian.* He and his wife, Ellen, sold their home to buy a downtown theater for a “free pew” church. The theater could seat nearly 800 and was soon packed with worshippers. ;xNLx;;xNLx;As Roberts’ passion for “free” churches spread, other “free pew” congregations were organized in St. Louis; St. Charles, Ill.; Albion, N.Y. (which boldly built its own church building across the street from the church it left); and Buffalo, N.Y. By late summer 1860, the Free Methodist Church was officially formed, with 37-year-old Roberts chosen general superintendent. ;xNLx;;xNLx;He remained superintendent until his death in 1893 at the age of 69. Seventeen years later, Methodist Episcopal officials formally admitted they had wronged Roberts and restored his original ministerial papers to his son, Benson Roberts. ;xNLx;;xNLx;By then, however, the new denomination had already set its distinctive course, defined in the “1866 Book of Discipline”: “All their churches are required to be as free as the grace they preach. They believe that their mission is two-fold — to maintain the Bible standard of Christianity and to preach the gospel to the poor.”

1860-08-23 00:00:00

Apple Orchard Decisions

Riddle: How many apples are in an apple?

1861-01-01 00:00:00

A Paper Chaplain

During the Civil War ...

1862-01-01 00:00:00

"Sacred" Saloon

Roberts established a mission church above a saloon in Buffalo’s notorious Five Points area. Some of the women converted there moved into the Roberts’ family home as a “safe zone” until they could live on their own.

1862-10-08 00:00:00

General Conferences

1866-01-01 00:00:00

First FM School

Chili Seminary (N.Y.) began on a ...

1868-01-09 07:10:52

Denominational Paper

The first issue of The Free Methodist was published January 9, 1868. (It became Light & Life Magazine in 1970 and is still published under that name.)

1873-01-01 07:10:52

Making Tracks

On a cold January day in the early 1860s, E.P. Hart, ...

1874-01-01 07:10:52

Over the Northern Border

Canadian readers of Roberts’ Earnest Christian expressed interest in Free Methodism. ...

1876-01-01 00:00:00

Nation's First Rescue Mission

Free Methodist Rachel Bradley offered ...

1880-01-01 00:00:00

FM Camp Culture

Rural camp meetings featuring itinerant preachers were part of ...

1880-01-01 07:10:52

Social Service Ministry Begins

Homes for needy children and the aged were established in New York, Illinois, then Kansas (1908). The first of many such facilities across the nation, they showed the hands-on compassion of Free Methodism.

1881-01-01 07:10:52

First Overseas Missionaries

When Pastor and Mrs. E. F. Ward sensed a call to pioneer mission ...

1883-01-01 00:00:00

Distinctive Music

The first FM hymnal was published. Congregations sang a capella because of the founders’ 1860 ban on instruments and choirs, originally intended to promote “freedom in worship” and to correct the Methodist Episcopal excesses of hired choirs and musicians.

1884-01-01 00:00:00

First FM School in the West

Orleans Seminary was founded in Nebraska. It moved in 1914 to McPherson, Kan., was renamed Central College, and is now Central Christian College of Kansas (McPherson).

1885-01-01 00:00:00

First to Africa

The General Missionary Board (today’s Free Methodist World Missions) ...

1886-01-01 00:00:00

Extra, Extra

A publishing house for FM literature began, printing valuable resources, such as “Arnold’s Commentary” (1894-1980), fully graded Sunday school curriculum, and the Aldersgate Biblical Series.

1886-01-01 11:48:52

The Gerry Difference

"The Orphanage and Home of The Free Methodist Church" was founded by Bishop Walter A. Sellew in 1886. His vision from God was to do

1886-01-01 16:15:04

The Hearthstone History

Free Methodist minister T. B. Arnold noticed orphans roaming the

1887-01-01 00:00:00

Higher Learning in Dakotas

Dakota Territory pioneers started Wessington Springs Seminary (later Junior College). Closed in the 1960s, its alumni records are held by Central Christian College of Kansas (McPherson).

1889-01-01 00:00:00

Dominican Republic

Self-supporting missionaries Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Mills pioneered work in the Dominican Republic. Today, there are some 25,000 members.

1890-01-01 00:00:00

Difficult Decisions

The general conference defeated Roberts’ proposal to ordain women, striking a hard blow to a cause close to his heart. ...

1891-01-01 00:00:00

Coast to Coast Institutions

Seattle Seminary (now Seattle Pacific University) was founded two years after Washington achieved statehood, using a five-acre donation from ...

1892-01-01 00:00:00

Greenville Sprouts in Illinois

Greenville College (Ill.) was founded with the gift of a farm from a devout Methodist Episcopal Church member who favored the teachings of Free Methodism. It later moved to the campus of a former Baptist women’s college.

1894-01-01 00:00:00

We Can Do It!

Women’s Foreign Missionary Society (now Women’s Ministries ...

1895-01-01 00:00:00

Have Feet, Will Walk

Masazi (“Paul”) Kakihara, converted to Christianity in Japan through a Congregational mission, was appointed ...

1897-01-01 00:00:00

News from the Fields

The Missionary Tidings began publishing reports of mission work. The name was changed in 1995 to World Mission People.

1900-01-01 00:00:00

Life is Precious

Free Methodist women opened a rescue home for “unfortunate girls” ...

1903-01-01 00:00:00

Education Options Widen

The donation of 100 city lots enabled the establishment of Los Angeles Pacific Seminary (later College). It merged in 1965 with Azusa College and became Azusa Pacific University in 1981.

1904-01-01 00:00:00

To China

Clara A. Leffingwell became the first FM missionary to China. ...

1911-01-01 00:00:00

Strides for Women

Women were first ordained as deacons. Roberts, a key proponent, died in 1893 without seeing this goal met.

1917-01-01 00:00:00

Over the Southern Border

FM outreach to Mexico began with revival in Los Angeles’s Mexican communities. Nella True became superintendent of the work, supported by $20 a month. Mexican law forbid foreign missionaries to pastor there, so Gonzalo Cisneros, a Mexican American, returned to his hometown in Sonora as a pastor, becoming the first official FM worker to Mexico. Today’s work in Mexico has a significant short-term volunteer presence. With an estimated membership of 3,500, Mexico has begun its own mission outreach to Central and South America.

1921-01-01 00:00:00

School Up A Holler

Elizabeth O’Connor opened a one-room elementary school for impoverished children in an Appalachian area only accessible on foot. It became Oakdale Christian Academy, an accredited boarding school. Although many FM schools would be established in America, this one is notable for serving a poor, isolated people group.

1928-01-01 22:58:28

Into South America

Japanese FMs released Pastor Daniel Nishizumi to serve the Japanese community in Sao Paulo. He supported himself as a teacher while establishing a church and organizing a Christian day school. In 1946, the General Missionary Board made Brazil an FM field and sent more workers, who arrived just before Nishizumi was struck and killed after exiting a streetcar. The work continued, with a seminary and schools founded. Today, including its Japanese sector, Brazil accounts for 63% of South America’s 21,000 Free Methodists.

1932-01-01 22:58:28

Where No Car Could Go

Central Africa beckoned the indomitable missionary J. W. Haley. ...

1935-01-01 22:58:28

A New Headquarters

The FM headquarters and publishing house moved from Chicago to Winona Lake, Ind.

1938-01-01 00:00:00

Zimbabwe

Free Methodism entered Zimbabwe in 1938. Current membership: 3,200.

1942-01-01 00:00:00

Freedoms Denied

U.S. war fears prompted moving Pacific Coast Japanese to inland internment camps, displacing Free Methodists

1944-01-01 00:00:00

A Signature Sound

The Light and Life Hour, one of the first denominationally sponsored ...

1946-01-01 00:00:00

Paraguay

Free Methodism entered Paraguay in 1946. Current membership: 1,800.

1947-01-01 00:00:00

Pastoral Training Assistance

John Wesley Seminary Foundation was established for training FM pastors through affiliate schools and seminaries.

1948-01-01 00:00:00

A Raider Returns

Famous Doolittle Raider Jacob DeShazer returned to Japan as a missionary. ...

1949-01-01 00:00:00

The Philippines

After World War II ended, Free Methodist work in Asia expanded to the Philippines.

1951-01-01 00:00:00

Hong Kong

Free Methodist work moves into Hong Kong.

1952-01-01 00:00:00

Taiwan

Free Methodist work began in Formosa/Taiwan. The conference soon founded what’s now Holy Light Theological Seminary (http://www.holylight.org.tw).

1955-01-01 00:00:00

Making More Music

The general conference lifted the 1860 ban on choirs in public worship. It also left the use of musical instruments up to a majority vote of the local church; in 1943, instruments were allowed with a two-thirds vote of the local church.

1959-01-01 00:00:00

Egypt

The Holiness Movement Church (HMC), with several hundred adherents in Canada and 5,000 in Egypt, merged with Free Methodism. Formed by a Canadian pastor in 1897, the HMC started Egyptian mission work two years later, at Asyut on the Nile. The Egypt FM church today (27,000 members in 2009) sees great fruit in children’s ministries and new church-planting efforts targeting unreached areas. The Wesley Bible College prepares pastors.

1959-01-01 00:00:00

Ireland

Free Methodism moved into Northern Ireland, building on an existing ministry.

1960-01-01 00:00:00

Stance on Alcohol

The general conference reiterated the church’s historical stance favoring total abstinence from alcohol for individuals, and prohibiting the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. This position opposed the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment (prohibition) in 1933. The FM church avoided official alignment with the Prohibition Party, even though Free Methodists had run for president on that platform: Claude Watson (1944, 1948) and Earle Harold Munn (1964, 1968, 1972).

1962-01-01 00:00:00

Parent to Partner

The Free Methodist World Fellowship was established with a vision of the global Free Methodist Church comprising independent general conferences; Japan and Egypt were recognized as the first FM general conferences outside North America. The fellowship, which recognized movement from the church being a “parent” to a “partner” in the global church, was ahead of its time. In 1974, the Lausanne World Congress on Evangelization called for an end to paternalism and implied imperialism in missions, and a greater emphasis on working within indigenous culture. In 1999, the fellowship became the Free Methodist World Conference, working under a common constitution and holding quadrennial meetings connecting world FM leaders for outreach strategies.

1963-01-01 00:00:00

Democratic Rep. of Congo

Free Methodism entered the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1963. Current membership: 150,000+.

The "Free"-ing of Methodism

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