Religious movements of the Protestant Reformation in 17th century Europe sought to rehabilitate certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Among the faiths formed from these movements, the Anglican faith is one that retained many Catholic traditions. But, in 1739, John and Charles Wesley, both priests in the Church of England, proposed that the Anglican faith itself needed methodical re-examination and rejuvenation. John Wesley’s teachings ultimately became the foundation of the Methodist faith. Although two steps removed from Catholicism, Methodism retains several of the Catholic Church’s fundamental premises including belief in the Holy Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Neither faith prescribes to predestination, a basic premise of the Calvinist Protestant faiths. However, the differences between Catholicism and Methodism -- such as the two faiths’ views on religious tradition and Papal authority -- are equally fundamental.
According to Catholic doctrine, Jesus Christ designated the apostle Peter to lead the Church after Christ’s death. Peter was the first bishop of Rome. Catholics believe the Roman bishops who followed Peter began apostolic succession that continues today with the Pope. Methodists do not feel apostolic succession is limited to those who directly followed Peter. They believe it continues through all ordained clergy who uphold the teachings of the apostles. When bishops, ministers or deacons pass the word of the apostles from one generation to the next, they are practicing apostolic succession. In addition, John Wesley did not believe ordination is limited to men, as does the Catholic Church. Wesley reluctantly approved the first female minister, Sarah Crosby, in 1761. However, women were not fully granted the same rights as male ministers until 1918 and not fully ordained until 1974.
Methodists follow the belief of John Wesley that the Bible is the only source to be relied upon for guidance and interpretation of God’s word. Catholics believe doctrine should be shaped equally by Scripture and religious tradition. Moreover, Catholics believe the Pope and the Church’s ecumenical council have the highest authority on interpretation of Scripture. Those interpretations are infallible and above challenge. Methodists do not support this view. They regard God as the highest authority and do not believe any human authority is infallible.
The Catholic Church recognizes seven Sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Last Rites. The Methodist faith recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. Both Methodists and Catholics subscribe to infant baptism and both believe that Baptism removes original sin from the soul. However, Methodists do not believe Baptism produces sanctifying grace but regard it more as a regeneration of faith. The Methodist sacrament of The Lord’s Supper involves sharing bread and wine much like the Catholic Eucharist. However, Methodists see this sacrament as a commemoration of Jesus turning the bread and wine into his body and blood while Catholics believe in transubstantiation - that the bread and wine are actually changed into the body and blood of Jesus .
There are two schools of thought within Methodism regarding Salvation. One supports the premise that faith alone is all that is necessary to get into heaven. A second school of thought professes that faith will prevent a follower from eternal damnation but not guarantee entry into heaven. In order to achieve complete salvation, or be justified, performance of good works is recommended. Catholic doctrine teaches that faith in God and the Church, regular participation in the sacraments, and performance of good works are essential to achieve salvation.
Mary and The Saints
Methodists revere Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ but do not believe Mary was born without original sin, a premise Catholics refer to as the Immaculate Conception. Methodists recognize saints and celebrate saint’s days but do not venerate the saints as Catholics do. John Wesley believed the saints of the early church were examples of Christianity to be upheld, but not worshiped or treated as intermediaries to God. The Methodist Church does not have a process for canonizing saints, as do Catholics, and holds forth that anyone who leads an exemplary Christian life is capable of achieving sainthood.
- Patheos.com: Religion Library: Methodists
- New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: Methodism: Doctrinal Position and Peculiarities
- Gloria Deo: Methodists and Apostolic Succession
- New Hope United Methodist Church: Frequently Asked Questions
- Catholic Truth Society Pamphlets: John Wesley and the Methodists
- Third Millenium Ministries: Methodists and Roman Catholics
- The People of the United Methodist Church: Do Methodists Believe in Saints?
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