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Westering Methodist Church

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09:00 - 13:00

Tel: 041 360 7171


Methodist History

A short history of the Methodist Church

The beginnings of Methodism are inseparably linked with the brothers John and Charles Wesley. Both were Anglican priests and while they were at Oxford University, they began meeting regularly with a small group of fellow-students to study the Bible, pray, help the poor, and visit people in prison. They practised a strict self-discipline and tried to be accountable to God for how they spent their money and their time. The other students gave them various nicknames, like “the Holy Club”, and “Methodists” because they were so methodical about their faith. And so, what was originally a nickname later became the name of a great Church, and its badge of honour.

 In the late 1730’s, John and Charles went as missionaries to Georgia, one of the new British colonies in America, but this was not a success, and, disillusioned, they returned home to England in 1738. On 24 May of that same year, John had a deep spiritual experience. As he opened his life fully to God in faith, he said, ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death’. It transformed him from a none-too-successful Anglican priest into the inspired leader of a movement of God which swept through England and brought about the great “Evangelical Revival” of the eighteenth century.
The message which Wesley and others went out to proclaim was simple; salvation is by faith alone; everyone needs it and no one is excluded; Christians may have an inner assurance that they are saved; God wants to rid our lives of all sin and to have perfect love for Him and for others. Through open-air preaching and extensive travelling, this message spread in a phenomenal way among the common people. New converts became members of “societies” and met once a week in “classes” (small groups) for fellowship, prayer, study and accountability to one another. Wesley had a special genius for organisation and this is why the movement continued to grow and expand even after his death in 1791. No church in history has made such effective use of its lay people. The local preachers, class leaders, Society Stewards and Circuit Stewards held the work together and strengthened it with a minimum number of ministers. People themselves learnt and grew. They read and studied their faith and the Bible. Many of the previously illiterate learned to read and write and improved their position in life. Methodism was responsible in no small way for eliminating some of the evils and improving social conditions in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Methodism was born in song. Charles Wesley and others wrote some of greatest hymns of the Christian faith and the words of these lovely hymns not only inspired worship, commitment and devotion, but also became a means of teaching for those who could not read. As they sang and worshipped, they learned the doctrines of the faith.
Wesley never intended Methodism to become a separate church. He saw it as a movement in the established church, ‘raised up by God to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land’. He and Charles lived and died Anglican priests. The final break with the Church of England came only after Wesley’s death, although the causes of the break had been there beforehand. The main reasons sprang from the outstanding growth of the movement. In the first place, there were so many converts, both in England and America, that Wesley was forced to train and ordain his own ministers to serve and care for them pastorally. He was convinced that he had acted correctly on both biblical and theological grounds, but the Anglicans believed that he had acted ‘unlawfully’ and this further alienated their acceptance of the movement. Secondly, the chapels and meeting halls which they built needed to be officially registered in the Name of a church body after his death. Therefore, not long after he died, the Methodist Church was formally established, with its own constitution and organisation and separated itself from Anglicanism.
Methodism has always been essentially missionary in character, both in England and oversees, and it continued to grow and spread throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today it is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with Methodists in almost every country on earth.
Methodism came to South Africa with the soldiers of the British garrison stationed at the Cape in the first years of the nineteenth Century. It became more firmly established with the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, many of whom were Methodists.
Our early Methodist Missionaries moved into the interior long before the Great Trek, and their work is a tribute to their personal courage, faith and self-sacrifice. In 1815, Rev Barnabas Shaw set out by ox wagon from Cape Town to Namaqualand, establishing the famous Lilyfountain mission on the Kamiesberg.
In the Eastern Cape from 1823 onwards, our missionaries, under the leadership of Rev William Shaw, moved north of Grahamstown. Chief Kama of the Ciskei was converted and the first of our mission stations, Wesleyville, was established near his kraal. Then followed Mount Coke (1824) where the New Testament was printed in Xhosa in 1846, and the whole Bible in 1859. Shaw’s dream of a chain of mission stations from Grahamstown to Natal finally came true with the establishment of Butterworth (1827), Morley (1829), Clarkebury (1830), Buntingville (approx. 1830), Shawbury (1839). Later still came Maclear (1864), Fletcherville and Tsitsana.
An equally impressive story was emerging in the Transvaal and Eastern Free State. In 1822, Rev Samuel Broadbent founded a mission at Makwasi just north of the Vaal river (near Klerksdorp) where work was done in putting the Tswana language into written form. In 1833, Chief Moroka, Rev. James Archbell, and Rev. John Edwards moved nearly 12 000 people of the Barolong tribe from the arid area north of Kimberley to more fertile land at Thaba ‘Nchu which was purchased from Moshoeshoe I of Lesotho. Five mission stations were established; at Thaba ‘Nchu (1833), Platberg (1833, near Ladybrand), Lishuane (1833), Mpukane (1833 near Clocolan) and Mpherane (1834 near Ficksburg). The printing press at Platberg was even used to print government notices for Moshoeshoe I.
Our Mission stations also spread northwards into the Transvaal and Natal, and later, in 1855, Methodist work was planted in Mozambique by Rev Robert Mashaba, who, despite persecution and six years’ imprisonment without trial in Cape Verde islands, returned to carry on the work among his people.
                                                                   Arthur Attwell, in “The Methodist Church”, adapted and printed in Faith and Light. Methodist Almanac. 1986.

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