Methodists and Presbyterians are two of the largest Christian denominations in the West. Although they have some areas of commonality, being both Christians, they also have some significantly different teachings and practices, as exemplified by their different understandings of salvation or how they view social issues such as capital punishment. So, what are the differences between Presbyterian vs. Methodist beliefs?
Presbyterians and Methodists reject the Roman Catholic papacy’s supremacy and focus on God’s compassion for salvation. However, they have different roots and views on several matters, including salvation, church governance, doctrinal principles, the death penalty, and homosexuality.
Read on to find out additional information about the two denominations, including their differences, similarities, when they were founded, and even what Presbyterians think about the Methodists and if they can attend Methodist churches.
What is the difference between Methodist and Presbyterian?
Although the two denominations are seen as part of the larger Protestant Christian community, they have different roots that can be said to influence their practices. The Presbyterian Church is said to have originated in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.
The church was founded in Scotland in 1560 by John Knox, a Catholic priest. Knox is said to have been a student of French theological scholar John Calvin. It is not a wonder that Knox seems to have used many Calvinist doctrines to conceptualize the core Presbyterian beliefs. Teachings such as belief in the predestination of the soul persist to this day.
The Wesleyan philosophy, also known as Wesleyism, birthed the Methodist Church more than a century and a half later in England. It was founded by John Wesley, who was considered a religious vigilante. Wesley was formerly an Anglican Church clergyman who is said to have based parts of his teaching on Lutheranism, traces of which are evident in the Methodist Church. The belief that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ rather than through works is seen as one such belief.
It is said that the Methodists hold that everybody who believes in God will be saved as per John 3:16 (ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”Methodists thus believe that fallen men can turn to God and seek God’s grace to save themselves.
Presbyterians, on the other hand, believe that although men need God’s grace for their redemption, they cannot ask God for it by themselves. This belief is based on Bible verses such as Ephesians 1:5, 11, which reads, “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will”. According to them, it seems that God chooses who is saved and who is not.
The Presbyterian position is also known as the doctrine of predestination. In layman’s terms, John Calvin’s doctrine holds that only a select few are destined for salvation, while the rest are destined (or dedicated by God) to damnation. The acceptance or rejection of predestination salvation is thus a fundamental difference between Presbyterians (who accept) and Methodists (who reject).
In terms of church governance, both avoid Roman Catholic dogma but have their guidelines. For the Methodist Church, it is the “Directory of Worship.” On the other hand, the Presbyterian Church’s worship manual is the “Book of Discipline.”
Methodists seem to prefer a hierarchical system in which church leadership is hired and delegated at the local church conference. Presbyterian churches, on the other hand, govern through presbyteries. Presbyteries are groups of local churches that have a general assembly that includes all of the synods. The church’s constitution states that a group of elders (commonly known as “governing elders”) lead the church at the local level in line with presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly.
The two faiths handle church pastor choice and accountability differently at the church or congregational level. The Presbyterian faith “calls” or “hires” pastors to work with the local community. The church seems to practice the “priesthood of all believers,” where the laity has a say in how the church is run. The presbytery customarily ordains and chooses pastors for Presbyterian congregations, and appointments are usually made with congregational approval of the presbytery’s decision and the Holy Spirit’s direction.
On the other hand, Methodists have pastors on their rolls who can be assigned to different church locations by the bishop overseeing the district regions. The Methodist denomination is governed by ordination, not independent churches. Local church conferences work with the district convention to select and appoint new pastors. In addition, both men and women can serve as pastors in the church.
Another difference can be seen in what they teach concerning justification: how God moves a person from the position or state of sin (injustice) to the position or state of grace (justice). The Presbyterians are said to believe in grace-based justification with no human effort, as in Romans 8: 30 (ESV) “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
The Methodist Church, however, is said to regard people’s good deeds as a sign of the strength of their faith. The Methodists are therefore said to focus on actions rather than creeds. This belief seems to be based on several Bible verses, including James 2: 25-26 (ESV) “And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead”.
Their differences also stand out on two social issues: the death penalty and homosexuality. The Presbyterian Church openly condemns the death penalty for any crime. The Methodist Church believes that this punishment should only be imposed by law. Another issue on which the two churches are reported to disagree is homosexuality.
Although both are said to believe it is a sin, based on several Bible verses, including 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and Romans 1:26-27, they differ in terms of reach and application. The Methodists’ position seems to be that it is a sin in all cases without exception. In contrast, the Presbyterians seem to take a more measured stance and are quoted as saying that it is a delicate issue that is to be evaluated case by case.
The two denominations’ divergent doctrinal positions can be summarized as follows: The Methodist Church is said to have always adhered to Arminian doctrinal principles. Many Methodists reject predestination and the persistence of the saints in favor of anticipatory grace.
Presbyterianism is sometimes seen as a branch of Reformed Protestantism. The branch is said to have always asserted that God has total and complete authority over salvation and that men are incapable of saving themselves. Furthermore, Presbyterians believe that man cannot advance toward God because of sin and that people will reject God if left to their machinations.
What are the similarities between Methodist and Presbyterian?
The Pope and Mary
Both Methodists and Presbyterians reject the papacy’s supreme authority. They also do not believe in praying to saints who have died, including Mary, Jesus’ mother.
The transubstantiation of the communion bread and cup
They are both opposed to Catholic beliefs such as transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and cup served at communion change and transform into Christ’s flesh and blood.
For salvation, they both emphasize the trinity and God’s kindness based on numerous Bible verses such as 1 John 5:11-12, John 14:18, 26, and John 3:16.
It has also been observed that there are no significant differences in their beliefs and rites of baptism. They allow for sprinkling, pouring water, and immersion, and most baptize infants, youth, and adults.
Which came first between Methodist and Presbyterian?
According to history, the Presbyterians predated the Methodists by close to one hundred and eighty years. John Knox, an official Catholic priest, founded the Presbyterian Church in 1560. The teachings of French religious scholar John Calvin influenced Knox greatly. The first edition of the “Book of Discipline” was released in December 1560, outlining essential doctrinal issues while establishing church government regulations.
The Wesleyan philosophy, which became the Methodist movement, was founded in 1739 by John Wesley in England. Much like Knox, Wesley had been a clergyman, but with the Anglican Church.
The Presbyterians also arrived in North America before the Methodists. According to records, presbyterianism officially arrived in Colonial America in 1644, with the establishment of the Presbyterian Church Hempstead. However, there are reports that small groups could have already been active on the East Coast in the 1630s. A notable church was the Presbytery in Philadelphia, established in 1703. In time, the presbytery is said to have been joined by two others to form a synod in 1717, culminating in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1789.
John Wesley brought his evangelical type of methodical Anglicanism to the colonies in Georgia between 1735 and 1737. Records show that he went on to charter the first Methodist Church in the US on February 28, 1784.
What do Presbyterians think of Methodists?
Most Presbyterians find many practices in the Methodist church familiar and are comfortable attending their churches occasionally. However, many comment on the structure of the Methodist denomination, which they find restrictive as it is controlled from outside the congregation. Liberal Presbyterians find the Methodists’ barring of homosexuals from church leadership out of date.
Can Presbyterians attend Methodist churches?
Presbyterians can and do attend Methodist churches, especially if they find themselves in a location where no Presbyterian church exists. Some ministers are known to work for both at different times. From the similarities above, these churches can interact, and members can attend either church.
- Presbyterian church origins
- The History of Methodism
- Methodism’s arrival in the United States
- Do Methodists believe all can be saved?
- Doctrine of predestination
- Presbyterian Church governance
- Religious organizations and capital punishment
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