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What is the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church?

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Question: "What is the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME)?"

The Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church is a Methodist church with episcopal leadership started by former slaves in 1870 in Jackson, Tennessee. The word episcopal refers to the church’s bishop-led form of governance. The Episcopal Church is the American iteration of the Anglican Church or Church of England. When John Wesley started Methodism, he was an Anglican minister, and Methodism was a movement within that church. In the American Colonies, the church was officially known as the Methodist Episcopal Church. After the Revolutionary War, the ties to England were weakened, and neither the Episcopal Church in the United States nor the Methodist Church answers to the Archbishop of Canterbury any more. In the centuries since, each church has developed distinctive doctrines and practices that have taken them far from their historical roots.

Prior to the Civil War, the Methodist Episcopal Church in the South was pro-slavery. After the Civil War, the church leadership decided that something must be done for the benefit of the “colored” membership. (The word colored is used in an historically accurate way on the CME official website, and CME originally stood for “Colored Methodist Episcopal” but was changed to “Christian Methodist Episcopal” in 1954.) Those members decided that they would like to separate into their own organization/denomination. The ME Church took the necessary steps to facilitate this, and in May 1870, 41 former slaves were elected to organize an independent church.

Today “the CME Church is organized into eleven Episcopal Districts, nine in the Continental United States and two on the continent of Africa. Each Episcopal District consists of geographical Regions presided over by a bishop elected by the General Conference. Several connectional departments under the authority of a General Secretary carry out the ministries of the church, such as Christian Education, discipleship, evangelism, and missions. Its theological school is Phillips School of Theology, which is a part of the Interdenominational Theological Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The CME Church sponsors four liberal arts colleges: Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee; Paine College, Augusta, Georgia; Miles College, Birmingham, Alabama and Texas College, Tyler, Texas. The Connectional Headquarters and publishing operations of the CME Church are located in Memphis, Tennessee” (https://thecmechurch.org/history, accessed 9/13/20). The CME Church currently has over 12 million members and is becoming increasingly multicultural and ethnically diverse.

The mission and vision of the church is also summarized on the official website (https://thecmechurch.org/mission-beliefs, accessed 9/13/20):

“Mission Statement: The mission of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is to be disciples of Jesus the Christ by serving individuals, communities and the world as the representative, loving presence of God and as witnesses to God’s salvation and grace.

“Vision Statement: The vision of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is to be a transforming church for Jesus the Christ within a changing world.”

The articles of faith are thoroughly evangelical regarding issues of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Scriptures and salvation by grace through faith. The CME Church allows for the ordination of women and for women to serve as lead pastors of churches. The CME Church has also explored unification with the two other historically black Methodist Episcopal Churches (AME and AMEZ). Currently, all three are in full fellowship with each other and with the United Methodist Church, which is not evangelical in doctrine or practice.

As with any denomination, the “flavor” and particular practices of individual churches may vary widely from each other and from the stated beliefs of the larger denomination.

Recommended Resource: Complete Guide to Christian Denominations: Understanding the History, Beliefs, and Differences by Ron Rhodes

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