As we know from JS-H 1: 8, Joseph Smith had attended various religious meetings and (in his own words) “In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them.” So, what did Joseph Smith (as a future Mormon) see in Methodism, and what practices in our faith correspond with the brand of Methodism Joseph experienced?The Methodist movement originated in England in the late 1700s when John Wesley (an Anglican clergyman) formed a new revival of evangelical thought.
Some common practices in early Methodism may sound familiar to Mormons:
- Vigorous missionary work that helped spread Methodism around England and beyond. This is not unique to Methodism, but an enthusiasm for converts was a Methodist trait during Joseph Smith’s encounter with them.
- Appealing to all members of society, regardless of social or economic status, even criminals who were often outside of organized religion. This was one of the foundational principles of Methodism, that the church was for everyone. Early Methodism was considered a “poor man’s” religion.
- “Methodist,” like “Mormon” was a pejorative term ascribed to early adherents due to their focus on methodical Bible study and discussion. Students would meet together regularly to “methodically” read and discuss scriptures (early morning seminary parallel?).
- Regular fasting. This was not common in other Protestant faiths of the day.
- Weekly communion was held (our sacrament meeting equivalent) and baptism was the other holy rite of early Methodism.
- Regularly visiting the poor, the sick, and those in prison. I’m not sure they brought casseroles, but there seems to be a similar principle here.
- Abstaining from most forms of amusement and luxury. Refraining from alcohol was sometimes referred to as “turning Methodist.” One wonders if abstinence from amusement would have been a good match for Joseph Smith, who was said to have a boisterous temperament, but it has been observed on many Mormon posts that we don’t know how to have a good time and don’t really celebrate like other religions.
- Methodist ministers rebelled against the apathy they perceived in the Church of England. This seems to fit with our high expectations of church members to live the commandments. Methodists were often accused of fanaticism, and critics warned that the constant experiences with the Holy Spirit would prove unhealthy or make people go crazy.
- Although no longer a feature of Methodism, early members had testimony sharing meetings. So, next time it’s the first Sunday of the month, remember our Methodist friends.
- Methodists rejected the notion of predestination, instead believing in man’s free will and God’s grace.
- They believed that personal salvation required service to the world and a Christian mission. This is not necessarily being a missionary, but doing works of Christian service in the world.
There are differences to Mormonism as well, such as reliance on the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed. The key difference, one that was especially significance to the formation of the Mormon church and Joseph Smith’s experience, is Methodism’s reliance on tradition as the source of their authority and the means whereby doctrine is determined.
So, was Methodism the source for these practices in Mormonism, borrowed because Joseph found them compelling in his search for truth? Is Mormonism just an off-shoot of Methodism?
IMO, there’s much more to both Mormonism and Methodism; Mormonism was not merely a recreation of Methodism substituting revelation and angelic visitation for tradition. But the next time you’re on vacation and you can’t find a Mormon church, check out the local Methodist church. You might feel more at home than you would expect.