Presbyterianism emerged in Scotland around the 16th century following the Reformation movement. Presbyterianism was founded on the teachings of John Knox who based his theology on the ideas of John Calvin. The church of Scotland (also known as the Scottish Presbyterian Church) was established in 1560 and it became the national church. From here, the Presbyterian church spread to other parts of the world through Scottish emigration and missionary work.
Methodism was also an offshoot of the Reformation movement but it emerged later than Presbyterianism. Methodism emerged from Anglicanism in the 18th Century. It was founded in England by John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley who worked with like-minded individuals in a group that was referred to as the “Holy Club.” John Wesley was an Anglican priest and his idea was to revive personal holiness, social justice, and Christian perfection in the Anglican church. However, the push for a “methodist way of life” gained a lot of momentum and eventually become a separate denomination.
Presbyterianism is based on Calvinism which emphasizes the doctrine of predestination. This doctrine teaches that God foreordained those who will be saved long before the earth was created. On the flip side, Methodism was founded on John Wesley’s theological perspective which denies the predestination concept of John Calvin. On the contrary, Methodism emphasizes salvation by grace through Faith and that everyone is a candidate for salvation. Apart from these main differences, the churches also differ in how they are governed.
Let’s look at these differences in more detail below.
Presbyterian Theological Perspectives
The following are the core beliefs of Presbyterianism that separate it from Methodism (or other denominations for that matter).
- Doctrine of Predestination: Presbyterian doctrine emphasizes the doctrine of predestination which says that God elected/chose certain individuals, before the foundations of the world, to be saved. This doctrine stems from John Calvin’s teaching on sovereignty and foreknowledge.
- Authority of scripture: Presebterians hold the Bible in high regard. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore the ultimate authority on matters of faith and Christian practice. They believe that Bible interpretation can not only be guided by the Holy Spirit but also by reason and tradition.
- The Sovereignty of God: Presbyterians emphasize the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life. They believe that God is in control of the universe and has a plan for humanity’s redemption. This belief is closely tied to the idea of God’s providence and the belief that God works through both natural and supernatural means to accomplish His purposes.
Methodist Theological Perspectives
- Free will: Methodist doctrine emphasizes the principle of free will which teaches that every person has the chance to respond to God’s grace and thereby attain salvation. They disagree with the Calvinist view of predestination and they argue that one can either accept or reject salvation.
- Emphasis on Grace: The doctrine of free will also ties in with their view on grace. Methedosim teaches that God’s grace is given freely to all mankind and that everyone qualifies for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They believe that salvation is a gift from God that can’t be purchased or earned through good deeds or any form of human effort.
- Social justice: Methodists are big on community involvement and social justice. They actively promote equality and are at the forefront of addressing societal issues. The emphasis on social equity and justice has also greatly influenced the doctrine of the church over the years. This theological approach is based on the idea that faith must be demonstrated through love and compassion.
The presbyterian church uses a form of church governance known as Presbyterian polity. It is a hierarchical structure of governance that is made of the following bodies:
- Session: the governing body in the local church is known as a session. A session comprises elected elders and they are typically in charge of administration, oversight, and decision-making in the local church.
- Presbytery: regions are governed by a body of ministers and elders from several congregations and these governing bodies are referred to as presbyteries. Presbyteries are tasked with the responsiblity of examining ministry candidates, ordaining ministers, and general oversight of the presbytery.
- Synod: Several presbyteries come together to form the synod which is an intermediate governing body that covers a larger geographical area. Synods help promote cooperation and communication between presbyteries and they also provide oversight of the presbyteries under them. They also help in dealing with broader issues affecting the regional church.
- General Assembly: The highest governing body in the Presbyterian system is the general assembly. It is made of commissioners who are elected from the various presbyteries. The general assembly makes church-wide decisions, interprets doctrine, establishes policies, and serves as the unifying body of the denomination.
The Methodist church uses a form of governance that is referred to as connectionism. It is based on the cooperation and interconnection of the various churches. The governance structure is made up of the following roles:
- Bishops: Bishops oversee the work of Methodist churches and also provide spiritual leadership. They are appointed via election in the different regions and they are the overseers of the various clergy under their jurisdiction.
- Pastors: Every Methodist church has local preachers or ministers who are also referred to as pastors. They offer pastoral care, administer sacraments, preach, and teach among other assignments that they may be given by the bishops.
- Itinerary ministers: Methodist governance structure recognizes the role of itinerary ministers. As such, the pastors are also itinerary ministers and are therefore appointed to serve church circuits. The appointment typically lasts for a limited term after which the Bishop may reassign them to a different location.
The structure of connectionism emphasizes a unified church structure. It encourages cooperation and mutual support in decision-making through the sense of shared mission achieved by the various local churches.
In summary, presbyterianism and Methodism may trace their origins to the Reformation era but they have some distinct differences. For the most part, they differ in how they govern the church as well as in their theological perspectives. The Presbyterian system is mostly influenced by John Calvin’s teachings while Methodism is based on the teachings of John Wesley.