and development of bible methodism with
special attention to the alabama conference
June 6, 1967, representatives of twenty-eight Wesleyan Methodist churches met
at Camp Eden, Alabama, to organize themselves into The Bible Methodist
Connection of Churches.
Since no written history
exists which details either the events surrounding the secession from Wesleyan
Methodism and the formation of Bible Methodism
or its subsequent development,
this history is in many ways suggestive rather than exhaustive. The
thesis developed here is that Bible Methodism is essentially Wesleyan Methodism
reasons for the Bible Methodist secession parallel in many respects those of
the Wesleyan Methodists in their secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church
in 1843. This
history begins with a brief sketch of the beginnings of Methodism under John
Wesley and its subsequent planting in America. Next,
the secession of the Wesleyan Methodists from the Methodist Episcopal Church as
it provides a backdrop to Bible Methodism is discussed. The
third section surveys the secession of Bible Methodism from the Wesleyan
Methodist Church. In the fourth section, contemporary
Bible Methodism, particularly the Alabama Bible Methodist Conference , is examined, and the final section
offers an analysis and critique of some of the positive and negative elements
“no man is an island entire of itself,” the impress of some men’s lives spans
both their time and continent.
John Wesley is such a man. Educated
at Oxford University, Wesley vainly sought peace with God and assurance of
salvation through methodical practice of holy living. As
he labored to find soul satisfaction, God was seeking him. The
process of God’s providence may be seen in the several journeys which brought
Wesley through Georgia, over the Atlantic with Moravian Peter Böhler, and down
Aldersgate Street one spring evening in May of 1738 to saving faith in Christ
a flickering initial faith, God molded Wesley into an instrument for His
reviving of England. When Wesley died he had
imparted to the world the revived doctrine of the assurance of salvation, the
practical doctrine of Christian perfection, and a vibrant Wesleyan Methodism.
planting of Methodism in America took place through a few Methodist laymen
whose hearts were ablaze with a zeal for God and a passion for souls.
societies were established in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. By
1768, they were in need of experienced pastors to nurture and direct the new
works that had sprung to life. Wesley sent several ministers for this purpose
over the course of the next several years. Francis Asbury and Thomas Cokes
were two of the most significant leaders in the formation of American
1784, the Methodist Episcopal Church came into being, uniting the sundry
societies under the direction of Francis Asbury as general superintendent.
its name indicates, the church polity was episcopal. Wesley
felt very strongly that the responsibility for the oversight of the societies
lay upon the clergy and not the laity. He wrote in 1790, “As long as I
live the people shall have no share in choosing either stewards or leaders
among the Methodists. We have not and never had any
such custom. We are no republicans, and
never intend to be.”
American Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) grew rapidly in the years following
The revivals of the late 18th
and early 19th centuries resulted in a great swelling of Methodist ranks. However,
the thorny issue of slavery which was beginning to work its way into the nerves
of American society in general, became a rancorous issue within the ranks of
the American Methodist Episcopal Church.
the 1830’s there was a growing sentiment in the North against slavery.
strong abolitionist element became increasingly vocal within the AME through
the publication of Zion’s Watchman. The
official response of the AME Church was that neutrality on the issue was the
proper position. As
the abolitionists continued to raise their voices, sentiment actually turned
more and more toward a pro-slavery position. Abolitionists
were debarred from membership, censured, and sometimes expelled for their
outcry against slavery. Feeling that “the Bishops were
arbitrary in their methods of favoring pro-slavery resolutions and articles,
and in opposing and hindering any and all abolition resolutions,” they
announced their intention to withdraw from the AME Church in the first issue of
the True Wesleyan:
We wish it to be distinctly understood that we do not withdraw
from anything essential to pure Wesleyan Methodism.
only dissolve our connection with Episcopacy and Slavery. These
we believe to be anti-Scriptural, and well calculated to sustain each other.
So it was that in 1843, “while everybody was watching with
bated breath, hoping the unreconciled Southerners would not bolt and sunder the
church, [the abolitionists] marched out in the other direction.”
Scott and La Roy Sunderland along with a “small band of preachers and followers
withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church.” The
key issues driving this withdrawal were the social issue of slavery and
episcopal church polity. While
slavery was the dominant issue of the times, it was not actually the propulsive
reason for withdrawal. The unjust treatment of the
abolitionists which episcopal polity made possible was the effective cause. This
same social issue-church polity combination reemerges as the underlying cause
of Bible Methodism some 120 years later.
Wesleyan Methodist solution to this problem of polity is reflected in the name
of the new organization: The Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America.
Episcopal form of government inherited from Wesley and Anglicanism, was
replaced with a loose connection of societies or churches which characterized the
Methodist movement in its earliest days. Essentially, Wesleyan Methodism
established a congregational republican polity. The
primary differences between the Methodist Episcopal Discipline and the newly created
Wesleyan Methodist Discipline were “the form of the government and in its
attitude toward certain moral questions.”
subsequent history of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection is a long and rich one.
only those points which serve to elucidate the background of Bible Methodism
will be noted.
Wesleyan Methodists became progressively conservative both practically and theologically
throughout the 19th century.
doctrine of entire sanctification, so
intimately connected with Methodism, was further refined in the General
Conference of 1891, evidencing the influence of the burgeoning Holiness
Movement. Wesleyan Methodism was closely
associated with the Fundamentalist movement in the early part of the 20th
writing in the 1930’s, states “The Wesleyan Methodist doctrines are
distinctively allied with the group known as ‘Fundamentalists.’”
years following World War II were in many ways turbulent ones for the Wesleyan
Nicholson describes the
national attitude as one of “indifference toward spiritual values.” In
the face of a growing tendency toward independence on the part of the local
churches and the Annual Conferences, the General Conference began moving to
strengthen its supervision of both the Annual Conferences and the local
churches. In 1943 the General Conference
recommended the development of a stronger, “central supervisory authority to
oversee the work of our Church.” This
recommendation was adopted by the 1947 General Conference along with the change
of the name of the denomination from The Wesleyan Methodist Connection of
America to The Wesleyan Methodist Church of America. Although
these two changes were slow in coming, they reflect a monumental reversal of
the very ecclesiological and church polity principles which were at the heart
of the creation of The Wesleyan Methodist Connection.
foment which the [WM] Church experienced over the next twenty-one years revolved
about the quest for a proper balance between the rights and responsibilities of
the individual, the authority and the responsibility of the annual conference,
and the power of the General Conference.”
this movement toward greater centralization was a trend
away from the standards of separation from the world which had previously
characterized Wesleyan Methodism.
background factor in the process that lead to the creation of Bible Methodism
that is completely unrecognized by Nicholson is the influence The Inter-Church
Holiness Convention (IHC).
The IHC was created in 1952 as
a means of bringing together the conservative element of the Holiness movement
in one place for mutual edification and support. The
Convention was a tremendous success and was regularly attended by thousands of
holiness people. During the 1950’s and early
1960’s, Communism was thought to be the forerunner of the Anti-Christ, and an
indication of the imminent return of Christ. The
National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches were considered
by many to be front organizations for Communism. Much
of the preaching of this era communicated the belief that these
world-encompassing groups were soon to take over the world, that the believer
should guard against any encroachment of worldliness, and that he should
separate from those who were “going worldly.” This
focus gradually developed into a powerful emphasis on, in Trouten’s words,
issues which were crucial in the formation of Bible Methodism clearly emerge
from this period:
1) the question of merger,
first with the Free Methodist Church, and then with the Pilgrim Holiness
Church, 2) the continued strengthening of the General Conference’s authority
over the Annual Conferences, and 3) the growing concern over “worldliness,”
viz., the use of the Television, dress standards, and the wedding ring.
over an encroaching worldliness led the Ohio Conference to adopt a resolution
in 1951 which gave greater specificity to the Wesleyan Methodist Discipline’s
requirement of its members to have “left off the wearing of gold.”
resolution specified that the wedding band was included in this prohibition. In
the 1955 General Conference, the Conference President, Dr. Roy S. Nicholson,
ruled that such an interpretation was unconstitutional. His
ruling was appealed, and the Board of Review sustained his ruling. The
Tennessee Conference passed a similar resolution concerning TV, which, when
appealed by certain members of the Tennessee Conference, was overruled by the
1959 General Conference.
with these issues was the question of merger.
first merger attempt with the Free Methodist Church met great opposition
primarily because the Free Methodist Church was episcopal in government. A
96 to 62 vote defeated the merger proposal in 1955. The
second merger proposal concerned the Pilgrim Holiness Church. This
proposal was eventually adopted in 1966 despite strong opposition, and the
merger was scheduled for 1968. All of these issues together provided the
impetus for the secessions that followed the 1966 General Conference.
stated reasons for secession from the Wesleyan Methodist Church differ among
the conferences which seceded.
The Ohio Conference was the
first conference to withdraw. Rev. Edsel Trouten, the leader
and spokesman for the Ohio group, was adamantly opposed to the
purposeful shift within Wesleyan Methodism toward a more centralized church
government. “The primary issue was never
standards [worldliness]; it was always government.” Roy
Nicholson offers an insightful analysis of the underlying reasons for the
not without significance that some of the most active agitators in the
schismatic efforts were not originally members of The Wesleyan Methodist
Church. ...Also some had not been trained in Wesleyan Methodist principles and
polity by Wesleyan Methodist teachers in Wesleyan Methodist institutions.
Trouten was trained at God’s Bible School (GBS) in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WhileTrouten was at GBS, a
non-denominational holiness Bible college, the book which most profoundly
affected his understanding of ecclesiology was The Doctrine of the Church in these Times by Chester Tulga, a
Conservative Baptist fundamentalist. Thus it was Baptist fundamentalism
which provided the initial foundation for the polity of the man most
instrumental in articulating the reasons for the withdrawal. Trouten
authored The Manifesto and Constitution
of the Society for the Preservation of Primitive Wesleyan Methodism which
served as a rallying point for both the conservatives within the Ohio
Conference and the Alabama Conference. This Manifesto primarily focuses upon the opposition of the
conservatives to “the relentless move to a centralized and arbitrary character
of government, that in our own historical context was considered to be justifiable
grounds for separation from the parent body.” The stated purpose of the Manifesto was the creation of a society within the Wesleyan Methodist Church for
the preservation of Primitive Wesleyan Methodism. It was not originally intended to
be a statement of withdrawal. Once formed, the Society
resurrected the original organ of Wesleyan Methodism, The True Wesleyan, as a means to call the Wesleyan Methodist Church
back to its roots.
six months after the creation of this society, dialogue with Leslie D. Wilcox,
the Ohio Annual Conference President, revealed that the differences between the
purpose of the newly formed society and the direction of the Wesleyan Methodist
Church were irreconcilable.
On June 7, 1966, the pastors of
the Society who were withdrawing from the Wesleyan-Methodist Church met with
the Ohio Conference trustees to discuss the settlement of the church property
comments, “These men worked fairly and equitably with all the withdrawing churches.” On June 9th the society adopted
the name Wesleyan Connection of Churches and ratified a revised edition of the
Wesleyan Methodist constitution which Trouten had edited.
Alabama Conference waited until its official Annual Conference in 1967 to
withdraw from the WMC.
The issues cited in “A Brief
History of The Bible Methodist Connection of Churches,” a prologue to the Minutes of the First Annual Conference of
Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, were “(1) The wearing of the
wedding band by members of the church; (2) TV ownership and viewing by
ministers and laymen;” (3) “Worldly trends which were making inroads into our
area college [Central College];” (4) Opposition “to any connection whatever
with the National Council of Churches;” (5) Opposition “to the
increasing trend toward centralized government in the General Church [WMC].”
“These issues, however, climaxed in the issue of church merger.” The
approval of union with the Pilgrim Holiness Church by the 1966 Wesleyan
Methodist General Conference was the spark that lit the powder keg.
1968, while the Pilgrim Holiness Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church were
merging, the Ohio Wesleyan Connection of Churches was meeting with the Alabama
Bible Methodists to see if a union of these two like-minded groups could be
Eighteen months later, in May,
1970, the First General Conference of the Bible Methodist Connection of
Churches met on the campus of God’s Bible School to officially unite these two
groups as the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches with a total membership of
794 persons. The official Declaration of
Purpose reads as follows:
from past histories of holiness bodies that a decline in emphasis upon personal
holiness seems to coincide with the increase of emphasis upon organization,
centralization of authority and the machinery of church life, the Bible
Methodist Connection of Churches wishes to state that the whole and sole cause
and purpose of this connection of churches is to spread scriptural (second
blessing) holiness over the lands, building up a holy and separated people for
the first resurrection.
Articles of Faith of Bible Methodism
come directly from the 1959
Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Church which appears to be unaltered since
the 1891 General Conference. The theological perspective of
Bible Methodism is classic Wesleyan-Arminianism. It
is fundamentalist in character, though the very “connectional”
nature of its organization allows for a diversity in application of the
doctrine of separation. Its doctrinal distinctive is
primarily the belief that Christ’s atonement provided for salvation in this
life from both sin as a practice and sin as an inherited principle. The
Discipline defines Entire Sanctification
work of the Holy Spirit by which the child of God is cleansed from all inbred
sin through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is subsequent to
regeneration and is wrought when the believer presents himself a living
sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, and is thus enabled through grace to
love God with all the heart and to walk in His holy commandments blameless.
this is not teaching a sinless perfectionism is clearly seen in the statement
under the heading
“XII. Sin after Justification”:
have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into and
by the grace of God rise again to amend our lives.
Therefore, they are to be condemned who say
they can no more sin as along as they live here or deny the place of
forgiveness to such as repent [italics mine].
mode of baptism is not addressed the Discipline,
and, while immersion is the normal practice, the other modes of baptism are not
separation from the world continues to be a major emphasis of Bible Methodism.
Bible Methodism evidences a good balance between the twin truths of external
separation from the world and the absolute necessity for those standards to
come from a heart motivated to please God, rather than from conformity to a
standard for the sake of outward acceptability.
Methodism began with 794 members in 36 churches.
1993 total membership was 534, in 1994 the total membership was 578, and in
1995 the total membership was 623. Although the author does not
have a continuous record of membership totals, both oral interviews and
personal observation indicate that a sharp declension in member in the
first ten years following the withdrawal. This was, in many cases, the
loss of those who were children during the withdrawal and were disenchanted by the
withdrawal and the attitudes of certain participants in the withdrawal.
thirty years of history, this declension reached its nadir and beg
to be reversed. The reasons for this reversal
are not clear at present.
of the 3 major colleges of the Conservative
Holiness Movement, Hobe Sound Bible College, God’s Bible School, and Union
Bible College, are all members of the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches. There
is a renewed emphasis on the necessity of educational preparation for the
ministry. Young men are actively being
recruited to serve in pioneer works with in Bible Methodism.
and Secondary Christian education has a significant role in Bible Methodism.
of 1995, six Christian day schools are owned and operated by the Bible
Methodism lost its focus on aggressive lay evangelism in the process of the
This is a result largely of a
inadequate appropriation of its Wesleyan heritage. John
Wesley was a man of one passion: “I have nothing to do but save souls.” The
full implications of his statement include both an aggressive evangelism and a
clear call to living a holy life. The believer was to entire
sanctification pursue with methodical focus, and, if
attaining to this grace, was to continue seeking to grow in his love for God and
his fellow man. The theological development of
Wesleyanism since Wesley placed the emphasis on attaining entire sanctification. Throughout
the 19th century and well into the 20th century this dual emphasis continued to
be the rallying cry of conservative Methodism. However,
beginning in the 40’s the focus on external manifestations of holiness began
to choke the life out of the evangelistic part. When
Bible Methodism came out of Wesleyan Methodism, though for Trouten and those
first Ohio secessionists the primary motivation was polity concerns, for the
majority of the ministers and laity, the greater concern was worldliness. This
concern developed into a “hold the fort” mentality which created suspicion of
anyone or anything that might dilute the conservatism of Bible Methodism. Hence,
the churches turned inward and lost sight of the greater issues and needs of
Methodism lost a clear Biblical presentation of the doctrine of entire
sanctification, and consequently this doctrine has been largely unpreached,
particularly by the second generation.
Where it was preached, the lack
of clarity both in oral presentation and living representation generated more
confusion than clarity. The doctrine was not abandoned,
but was unpossessed by many of those who grew up within Bible Methodism. This
lack of clarity resulted to some degree from the leftover elements of
unbiblical terminology from the Holiness Movement which began in the last
Holiness Movement was dominated by godly, but uneducated preachers whose
colloquial expressions of their personal experience became the standard
terminology for theological definition and expression (e.g. second blessing holiness). The
terminology, while not Biblically wrong, is not Biblical in origin and has
tended to be both misdefined and misunderstood.
Methodism lost the personal accountability that was so characteristic of
Wesleyanism, and consequently lost the dynamic which had constantly propelled
Wesleyans on in their pursuit of holy living.
decline of the “class meeting” became most prominent during the years
1940-1960. By the late 60’s it was largely
a relic of a bygone era, practiced by few.
the tender green leaves of Spring, some positive trends are becoming increasingly
visible within Bible Methodism.
The primary areas of this
resurgence are in missions and church planting.
present Bible Methodism has more churches on mission fields than any of its
separate Annual Conferences have.
Its primary field is in the
Philippines where it has some 40 churches and a Bible College operating under national
leadership. The Philippine work is
organized with its own National Conference with four Annual Conferences. In
Mexico, the Bible Methodist Churches were organized into a National Conference
in 1992. There
the Latin American Bible Institute is operating, with intermittent struggles
from lack of faculty and non-cooperative Mexican authorities, on
the Mexico-Texas border to train Mexican laymen and pastors to do the work of
the ministry. In 1992, two men from South
Africa came to the United States seeking for a Methodist Church to affiliate
their pioneer work in that country. After traveling throughout the
States meeting with various denominations they found Bible Methodism, with its
conservative lifestyle and emphasis on holiness, to be the most compatible with
their own beliefs. Subsequently, they joined
Bible Methodism and become an arm of Bible Methodist missions
operating in South Africa.
Missions, or church planting, was a dead issue in Bible Methodism until the
last seven years.
The results of the ingrown
focus were isolation and stagnation. However, with the entrance of
aggressive leadership in this area, Bible Methodists are beginning to see the
potential for evangelizing their communities. Beyond
this, at least two new daughter churches are being pioneered, with the evident
blessing of God.
this history leaves many gaps in the history and development of Bible
Methodism, it is hoped that enough evidence has been presented to confirm the
general thesis that Bible Methodism is Wesleyan Methodism revived.
doctrine, polity, and standards of personal holiness distinctively mark it as a
child of Wesleyan Methodism