Methodism traces its roots to the teaching of an 18th-century Anglican priest named John Wesley. The movement, which focused on a methodical study of the Bible, personal holiness and social consciousness, spread within the Church of England before becoming a separate denomination shortly before Wesley's death in 1791. The Wesleyan Church is one of several branches of Methodism that parted ways with mainline Methodists in the mid-19th century, due to disagreements regarding the nature of sanctification -- the process by which people become more holy and Christ-like.

Disagreements about Holiness

In the mid-1800s, some Methodists came to believe that the church had become lax in its teachings about holiness. The new "Methodist-Holiness" movement taught that people could become completely perfected in love and holiness through a crisis experience known as "entire sanctification." These "holiness" groups first worked within Methodist churches, but later splintered off to form their own denominations. The Wesleyan Church was the first such denomination to formally declare belief in entire sanctification. The Wesleyan's Church's website defines sanctification as "God's work of making believers pure in heart, holy in character, and empowered with the Spirit of Jesus for witness and service."

Approach to the Bible

Bible study has always played an important role in all forms of Methodism. Most mainline Methodists -- including the two largest Methodist denominations, the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Great Britain -- believe that the Bible must be interpreted in light of tradition, human experience and reason. Wesleyans hold the Bible to be inerrant -- completely without error -- and to contain everything people need in order to be saved.

Theological Diversity

Both Wesleyan and Methodist churches consider themselves diverse. Wesleyan churches generally hold to an evangelical interpretation of biblical teachings. This leads them to be conservative on a number of theological and social issues. Mainline Methodists tend to be more diverse in their theology, spanning the full spectrum from liberal to conservative thought. In describing this range of thought, the United Methodist's statement of belief includes an oft-quoted maxim of John Wesley's: "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."

Ecumenical Movement

The ecumenical movement seeks to re-unify Christianity by improving relations between various denominations. The World Council of Churches is the largest expression of the ecumenical movement. Mainline Methodist denominations embrace the ecumenical movement and are affiliated with the World Council of Churches. The Methodist Church of Great Britain has signed agreements with the Anglican Communion to work towards this unity. The United Methodist Church's Ecumenical Commitments states that they have "entered into serious interfaith encounters and explorations between Christians and adherents of other living faiths of the world." The Wesleyan Church maintains ties with other Methodist churches through the World Methodist Council and with other evangelical denominations through the National Association of Evangelicals. Unlike mainline Methodist denominations, the Wesleyan Church is not a member of the World Council of Churches.