The Wesleyans are an evangelical Protestant church group who trace their heritage back to John Wesley. Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement, which came out of the Church of England in the mid-1700s. The name “Methodist” referred to the practice of several “methods” of personal discipline to live the Christian life. Generally speaking, the Wesleyan Church, as others of the Methodist movement, holds to an Arminian doctrine which emphasizes man’s free will in spiritual matters, and teaches that a person can lose salvation. A key doctrine of the church is “prevenient grace,” which refers to God’s grace working in an individual before his or her decision to trust Christ, and enabling him or her to receive God’s gift of salvation.
The modern American Wesleyan Church can be traced back to a split with the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843 over the issue of slavery. The leaders of the new Wesleyan Church saw a need to spread scriptural holiness over the land and secure justice for their fellow human beings. In addition to social causes like slavery, the church emphasized a deepening experience with God, resulting in purity of heart and ultimately leading to “entire sanctification,” or sinless perfection in this life. In 1966, the Wesleyan Church merged with the Alliance of Reformed Baptists of Canada. In 1968, the Pilgrim Holiness Church merged with the Wesleyans. According to church headquarters (in Fishers, Indiana), the church currently has over 400,000 members in about 4,000 churches.
In keeping with their heritage, the Wesleyan Church today emphasizes applying the Christian experience to social issues. Discrimination and prejudice are key topics of concern, whether applied to race, gender, age, or other areas of life. The foundation for their concern in this area is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Wesleyans have been at the forefront of the egalitarian debate, insisting that women are fully equal with men with regards to their position and function in the church.
John Maxwell and George Beverly Shea are two examples of Wesleyans who have attained national recognition.