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full connection, for any critical occasion. The preachers so summoned, met and chose a chairman and could make decisions that were final until the following Conference. Nothing, however, could be done contrary to a previous ruling of Conference. 59 In each district there were to be not less than three, nor more than eight circuits.60 The Conference of 1791 authorized a committee, composed of one member elected by every district in the three kingdoms, and this committee was to provide a plan for stationing the preachers. 61 Those whom Wesley had authorized in his will to preach and appoint preachers for the New Chapel in City Road, and King Street Chapel in Bath, signed an agreement that they would work in an entire subservience to the Confer
Thus far was the program and reorganization of the work carried in peace.
But so great was the confusion, so varied the ideas of what ought to be done, so strong the contention, that no further progress was made without turmoil and strife. Those who wished to remain within the Established Church were shocked at the suggestions made in the various pamphlets. Those who wished to be free from the restraints and oversights of the Church, stood for greater changes than had taken place or were suggested.
SECTION V. PARTY STRUGGLE AND THE SACRAMENT
There were two parties at work with their programs in Methodism. The radical party advocated that Conference should not only ordain, but have a definite rule about it. It accused Conference of avoiding this entire question of ordina
This party felt that Conference had the entirely wrong view of the matter of the sacrament. The decision of the Conference of 1793 was attacked; because it made a minister go out to his people and urge them not to take the sacrament, but if the people insisted they could receive it from their preachers. This
Minutes, vol. i, p. 241.
Myles : p. 211.
Paul and Silas : Earnest Address
attitude of the Conference encouraged the people to go without the sacrament.64 But when Conference decided by lot, whether it would permit its preachers to use the sacrament for one year, the wrath of this party knew no bounds. “After much wrangling and debate, God Almighty suffered the Conference to enter into a temptation, which will disgrace Methodism to the end of the world.
One of the best men we have in our connection out of zeal for peace, tempted the Conference to decide by lot, what was self evident. Lots ought never to be used, but where it is impossible to do without them.” One Isaac Brown ran out of Conference crying shame when this was done. Many of the Conference would not vote at all; yet the minutes read: "All were satisfied. All submitted.” They insisted that the minutes contained what was not true and that this was no statesmanlike way of settling such a question.65
The radicals were also opposed to the domination of the trustees over the worship of the Methodists. The people should worship as they saw fit and not be controlled by a minority of trustees. “The Conference had better allow the people this privilege freely, as have it extorted from them.” The trustees should be treated with respect; but they should not be allowed to hinder the people from worshiping as they saw fit.66 Furthermore, to follow Wesley, was not to stay in the Church regardless of any result. To follow Wesley's plan would mean: to ordain; to wear gowns and bands if necessary; to have services in Church hours if found useful; to make an avowed separation if good people required it; in fact this party cared for no manner of compromise. 67
To offset this party and balk it in its work, there was the conservative group. This party worked hard to steer a middle course and stated: “The Methodists as a community are not, and with propriety cannot be strictly either Church people or Dissenters; but a society 'whose only bond of unity is piety,' and that admits indiscriminately Churchmen, Dissenters, or what
“ Ibid., p. 8.
else, provided they give Scriptural proofs; desire to flee from the wrath to come. We have no rule which requires our people to belong either to the Church or to the Dissenters."68] These conservatives saw clearly that Methodism was at a crisis. They conscientiously sought to steer the via media, and yet to lean toward a strong power on Conference, feeling in this crisis that it would not be well for the people to have too much power, for this would lead to temptation and corruption. Conference was not put in the way of this temptation, whereas the people were, therefore the conservatives would pay no attention to Kilham, and worked for a strong centralization of power in Conference. 69 This party had much influence with the Conference inasmuch as it proposed granting large powers to that body, and under its influence the Conference of 1792 dealt with the matters of Church hours, the checking of enthusiasm, etc., in a compromising manner. It ruled that "no ordination shall take place in the Methodist connection without the consent of the Conference first obtained,” and anyone who broke this rule was thereby automatically excluded from the Conference.70 This action was taken in the face of requests that the Conference give greater liberties to ordain. The Conference of 1793 also showed the influence of this party. It ruled “that no gowns, cassocks, bands, surplices, shall be worn by any of the preachers.” Even the title “Reverend” was not to be used by any of the preachers. Yet the distinction between ordained and unordained preachers was to be dropped."1 This action, taken in 1793, was reaffirmed in the Conference of the following year. Conference ruled that it still did not desire the use of the title “Reverend”; preaching in Church hours was not permitted only for special reasons, and then “when it will not cause a division among the people”; the preachers were “not to baptize only when it was to promote peace and concord.”72 This shows that this conservative party was strong and that it had much influence with the Conference
68 Crowther: Crisis of Methodism, p. 6.
in putting its policies into effect. The struggle within Methodism over the matter of the sacraments, was actually a struggle taking place between the radicals and the conservatives.
Stevens said that Wesley had been dead no longer than two months before the question of the sacrament came to the front. Laymen of Hull, Birmingham, and Sheffield, issued a protest against it in print." The reason given for this was that "a large proportion of Methodists had been Dissenters, and were whether conscientiously or whimsically unwilling to resort to the national Church for the sacraments."74 This does explain one of the real causes for the disturbance within Methodism over the question of the sacraments; but the underlying reason for the rise of this question was the fact that it had never been definitely settled while Wesley was alive. In 1792 the uneasiness respecting this matter increased throughout Methodism, for the people missed the sacraments which John Wesley was wont to administer to them when he preached. Some preachers wished to furnish this need, others thought it unwise; so the question was brought into the foreground. 75
Every Methodist knew that separation from the Church was an actual fact in theory and practice as soon as the Methodists could freely have the sacrament in their own meeting houses. The Conference of 1792 therefore decided : "The Lord's Supper shall not be administered by any person among our societies in England and Ireland; for the ensuing year, on any consideration whatsoever."76 There was so little unity about this matter, that the above decision was reached only by drawing the above mentioned lot. Adam Clarke sought thereby to settle the matter, but it was merely a poor attempt to compromise.77 As a result of this, the Conference of 1793 was obliged to say frankly that it faced a dilemma. Some wished to keep the sacrament out of the chapels in accord with the ruling of the previous Conference, others threatened to leave the Methodists if they
75 Myles : p. 219.
did not have these sacraments. To meet this situation the Conference again sought a compromise by moving : “that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper shall not be administered by the preachers in any part of our connection, except where the whole society is unanimous for it, and will not be content without it; and even in those few exempt societies, it shall be administered as far as practical, in the evening only, and according to the form of the Church of England. For we could not bear that the sacrament which was instituted by our Lord as a bond of peace and union should become a bone of contention.”78 Conference was evidently being forced by some of the churches, yet tried to make it appear that the minority of Methodists were forcing it to make this concession. But minorities do not force legislative bodies alone; they can do so only with the help of the majority. The people, in fact, had become used to having 1 the sacraments, and they did not like the action of the previous Conference taking them away from them. Conference at this time frankly said, “it is the people . . . who have forced us
into this deviation from our union with the Church of Eng| land."79 This “deviation” was a conscious separation.
The Conference of 1793 was a compromise as well as the one before it; hence one is not surprised to see that the practice of administering the communion was reported to have extended to 48 circuits and 108 chapels in the Conference of 1794.80 Many had availed themselves of the provisions granted by the Conference of 1793. In 1795, Sutcliffe, a member of the liberal party, came out with a strong argument for a greater liberty in this matter. He brought forward the old argument of the dissipation, debauchery, fraud, and revelings of the clergy as a reason for non-attendance upon the sacrament.81 He said: "Yet after the nicest calculation, I question whether more than 5,000 of 60,000 English Methodists regularly receive communion in the Established Church ... there are more than 50,000 who live almost in neglect of this sacred and solemn institution”
78 Minutes, vol. i, pp. 279-280.