Charles Wesley and the Struggle for Methodist Identity

By Gareth Lloyd | Go to book overview

1
The Epworth Experience

During his long life, Charles Wesley presented a series of seemingly contradictory faces to the world. At the start of his public ministry during the middle of the 1730s, he was an insecure conservative Oxford graduate, unsure in his ministerial vocation and even his faith. Five years later, he was a fervent Evangelical confidently facing down hostile crowds and critical archbishops, riding a tidal wave of revival. By middle age he had settled back into an apparently reactionary stance with regard to Methodism and the Church of England, fearful of developments in the movement that he had helped to create and yet unwilling or unable to turn his back completely on his brother and their followers.

Charles Wesley, Methodist leader and Church of England minister, defies easy categorization and this has bedevilled commentators since his own day. On the one hand, he always exhibited certain of the characteristics of a conservative High Church Anglican and on the other he was a charismatic Evangelical who to the end of his life thought little of contravening church discipline. Charles came to personify some of the ambiguities of the Methodist movement itself. Were the Wesley brothers and their followers Anglicans or Dissenters, or did they occupy a middle ground? Answers to these questions took many decades to emerge and well into the twentieth century unresolved areas were left behind. Charles represents a continuing puzzle, one that has implications for our understanding of the influences that shaped the Wesleyan branch of the Evangelical movement. The underlying factors that determined the peculiar twists and turns of Charles Wesley’s ministry can best be understood by first examining his childhood, for it is in his earliest years that some of the keys to

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