Methodist vs Presbyterian: The Hymnbook War

Discover the fascinating differences in beliefs between Methodists and Presbyterians. Uncover surprising insights and better understand these two influential Christian denominations.

Last Updated:
December 25, 2023
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Article Summary

The most significant difference in beliefs between Methodists and Presbyterians is found in the way they each view authority. Presbyterians adhere to a hierarchical system of church governance, while Methodists believe in a more decentralized form of authority. This difference can be seen through the different ways that each denomination handles local church decisions, church finances, and appointment of ministers.

Additionally, there are some differences in how Methodists and Presbyterians view sacraments. Presbyterians hold to the belief of infant baptism and believe that the sacrament is a sign of God's grace. Meanwhile, Methodists have traditionally practiced baptism by immersion and see it as an act of commitment to Christ and his teachings.

What is a Methodist?

Methodists are followers of the Methodist movement, a Protestant denomination that originated in the 18th-century.

The Methodist church traces its origins back to the work of John Wesley, an Anglican priest, and his brother Charles Wesley, a renowned hymn writer. John Wesley's teachings led to the establishment of Methodist societies that focused on communal worship, Bible study, and acts of charity.

The main characteristics of Methodism include an emphasis on personal salvation and holiness, a rejection of formal dogma, and a belief in the possibility of people experiencing a transformative relationship with God.

Methodists prioritize personal salvation, believing individuals can have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and choose to follow him. They strongly emphasize faith, grace, and the belief that people can experience a deep sense of inner transformation through the Holy Spirit.

Unlike other Christian denominations, Methodists do not strictly adhere to formal dogma. They interpret Scripture more flexibly, emphasizing the role of reason, experience, and tradition in shaping their beliefs. This openness allows for a diversity of theological perspectives within the Methodist community.

In terms of governance, Methodists organize themselves through a connectional structure. They have an episcopal system with bishops overseeing regional areas, and decisions are made collectively at an annual conference.

Methodists hold varying views on social issues. While they share a commitment to social justice and often engage in community service, individual churches may have different stances on specific issues such as the death penalty or homosexuality. These differences reflect the diverse perspectives within the denomination.

What is a Presbyterian?

The Presbyterian Church is a Protestant denomination that traces its roots back to the teachings of John Calvin, a prominent figure in the Reformation. The denomination takes its name from the Greek word "presbyteros," meaning "elder", which emphasizes its commitment to a representative form of church governance.

Presbyterian beliefs and teachings are heavily influenced by Calvinism, which emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the total depravity of humanity. Presbyterians believe in the absolute authority of Scripture and hold to the doctrine of predestination, which teaches that God has chosen certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world.

According to the Presbyterian understanding, Salvation is a result of God's grace alone. Human beings cannot earn their salvation through good works or personal merit. Instead, it is through faith in Jesus Christ that individuals are justified and reconciled with God.

Worship in the Presbyterian tradition is characterized by reverence and order. The Book of Discipline serves as a guide for worship practices, including the use of psalms, hymns, and Scripture readings. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper hold a central place in Presbyterian worship.

In terms of church governance, Presbyterians follow a system of governance called Presbyterian polity. This means that a representative body makes decisions of elders, known as the Session, and pastors are elected by the congregation. This democratic approach to church governance is seen as a way to ensure accountability and shared leadership within the church.

Similarities between the Presbyterian and Methodist Church

The Presbyterian and Methodist Church share several similarities in their beliefs and practices. Firstly, both denominations reject the papacy’s authority and do not pray to saints, including Mary. Instead, they focus on Christ as the head of the church and the sole mediator between God and humanity.

Presbyterian and Methodist Church are Trinitarian in their theology, affirming the belief in God as Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit. They emphasize the kindness and grace of God as the means of salvation, rather than relying on personal merit or good works.

Furthermore, both denominations strongly emphasize the importance of Scripture in shaping their faith and practice. They believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God and use it as a guide for doctrine and moral living.

In terms of worship, both the Presbyterian and Methodist Church value traditional forms of worship, including hymns, prayers, and preaching the Word. They place significance on the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, considering them as acts of remembrance and participation in the redemptive work of Christ.

The Difference Between Methodist and Presbyterian

Methodist and Presbyterian are two distinct Christian denominations with differing beliefs and practices.

Methodism originated from the teachings of John Wesley, an Anglican priest in the 18th century England. Wesley emphasized personal faith and the pursuit of holiness through a process known as "entire sanctification". The Methodist Church places great importance on individual spiritual growth and the personal experience of God's grace. They believe in the possibility of a Christian achieving perfection in this life, where sin is completely eradicated through the work of the Holy Spirit. Methodists are known for their commitment to social justice issues and their active involvement in serving the community.

On the other hand, Presbyterianism traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The teachings of John Calvin and John Knox strongly influenced it. Presbyterian churches emphasize the sovereignty of God and the belief in predestination, meaning that God has predetermined who will be saved. Presbyterians believe in justification by faith alone, where salvation is received through faith in Jesus Christ. They focus on the corporate nature of the church and value the importance of church governance by elected elders.

Key Distinctions between Methodist and Presbyterian Beliefs

While Methodism and Presbyterianism are Protestant Christian denominations, they have distinct beliefs and practices that set them apart. Understanding these key distinctions can provide insight into the theological differences between these two traditions and help foster a greater appreciation for the diversity within the Christian faith.

Different Views on Baptism

Baptism is an important sacrament in Methodist and Presbyterian traditions, although the two denominations have slightly different views on its significance.

Methodists see baptism as a symbol of new life and regeneration in Christ. It is a visible sign of inward grace, representing the cleansing of sin and entry into the community of believers. Methodists believe baptism is an act of faith, but it does not necessarily guarantee salvation. It responds to God's grace and serves as a public declaration of one's commitment to follow Jesus.

On the other hand, Presbyterians view baptism as more than just a symbol. They see it as a covenantal act and a mandate to live as Christ's disciples. Presbyterians believe that through baptism, individuals are initiated into the church and become part of the universal Christian community. They emphasize the importance of God's grace as expressed through baptism, while recognizing that salvation is ultimately a personal faith journey.

Both Methodists and Presbyterians practice infant baptism and baptism of adults who have come to faith later in life. They recognize the validity of different forms of baptism, such as immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. In essence, while Methodists emphasize the symbolism of baptism as a new life in Christ, Presbyterians focus on the covenant relationship with God and the call to discipleship.

Attitudes Toward Authority Structures

The Methodist and Presbyterian churches have different attitudes toward authority structures, with distinctive approaches that shape their governance and decision-making processes.

Methodist churches typically have a more flexible and decentralized approach to authority. Decision-making often occurs at the local level, with a focus on congregational participation and consensus building. While the denomination provides a general framework, individual churches can govern themselves and decide based on their specific context and needs. This emphasis on local autonomy allows for adaptability and responsiveness to local circumstances.

In contrast, Presbyterian churches have a hierarchical structure centered around authority resting in the hands of presbyters and higher governing bodies. The Presbyterian system is based on representative governance, where decisions are made collectively by elders and ministers. Presbyterians adhere to a system of church courts, with authority flowing from the local session to the presbytery, synod, and finally, the general assembly. This hierarchical structure ensures that decisions are made systematically and accountable, with checks and balances in place.

Views on Social Justice Issues

Both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches are committed to promoting social justice and advocating for those who are marginalized or oppressed. However, their specific views on certain social justice issues may differ.

Regarding the ordination of women, the Presbyterian Church has been a leader in this area, allowing for the ordination of women as ministers, elders, and deacons. They believe in gender equality and recognize the value and calling of women in all church leadership roles.

In contrast, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has varying views on the ordination of women within its global denomination. While many local churches and regions within the UMC allow for the ordination of women, there are still pockets where this practice is not embraced.

On the topic of acceptance of same-sex couples and transgender individuals, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has made significant strides in becoming more inclusive. In 2011, they voted to allow for the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers and in 2015, they voted to recognize and bless same-sex unions. The Presbyterian Church (USA) affirms the full inclusion and dignity of LGBTQ+ individuals in the church’s life.

On the other hand, the United Methodist Church holds a traditional view on homosexuality, considering it incompatible with Christian teaching. The UMC currently prohibits the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy and does not allow for the blessing of same-sex unions.

Regarding attitudes towards the death penalty, both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches have been involved in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty. While individual members may hold differing personal views, these denominations have historically spoken out against capital punishment due to their belief in the sanctity of human life and the possibility for redemption and reconciliation.


The Methodist and Presbyterian denominations recognize and observe sacraments within their worship practices. However, there are some differences in their understanding and significance.

The sacraments hold great importance for Methodists as visible signs of God's grace. They recognize baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion). Baptism is seen as a sacrament of initiation into the Christian community, symbolizing cleansing and rebirth through water, and the individual's incorporation into the body of Christ. The Lord's Supper, or communion, is considered a nourishment and spiritual sustenance sacrament. Methodists believe in Christ’s real, spiritual presence in the elements (bread and wine/grape juice) but do not adhere to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Presbyterians, on the other hand, have a broader understanding of sacraments. They recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper, but they also view additional acts such as confession and ordination as sacramental. Presbyterians hold to the belief of transubstantiation, which suggests that the elements of bread and wine become Christ’s literal body and blood during communion. This belief is based on the teachings of John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

In terms of communion practices, both Methodists and Presbyterians typically administer the sacrament to their congregations during worship services. The frequency may vary, with some churches offering communion every Sunday and others monthly or quarterly. Both denominations emphasize the communal nature of the sacrament, highlighting its significance in fostering unity among believers.

Practice of Methodists vs Presbyterians

Methodists and Presbyterians have distinct practices in their worship and religious ceremonies. Methodists follow a more traditional approach to preaching and actively engage in missionary work, while Presbyterians believe in predestination and reject the concept of unlimited salvation.

Methodists have a structured worship service that includes hymns, prayers, Scripture readings, and a sermon. They emphasize preaching the Word, aiming to inspire and challenge their congregation through biblically-based sermons. Methodists also actively participate in missionary work, seeking to spread the Christian message and assist those in need.

In contrast, Presbyterians have a more formalized worship service with a liturgical structure. Their services often feature prayers, Scripture readings, and traditional liturgy elements. Preaching is also important, but a greater emphasis typically accompanies it on theological reflection and understanding.

Regarding theology, Methodists believe in free will and unlimited salvation, suggesting that individuals can choose or reject God's grace. Presbyterians, however, subscribe to the doctrine of predestination, which asserts that God has predetermined who will receive salvation. They also emphasize the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life.

The church government in Methodism is episcopal, with pastors being assigned and accountable to bishops. Presbyteriansm is presbyterian, with pastors being selected and governed by a body of elders known as a session. This session, along with regional presbyteries and the General Assembly, provide oversight and accountability for ministers.

Famous pastors of each denomination

Methodist and Presbyterian denominations have been blessed with remarkable pastors throughout history. In the Methodist tradition, we cannot overlook the contributions of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and his brother Charles Wesley, renowned for his prolific hymn writing. Others who have left their mark include Thomas Coke, who played a pivotal role in establishing Methodism in America, and Richard Allen, a prominent African-American minister and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In more recent times, pastors like Adam Hamilton, Adam Weber, and Jeff Harper have continued to inspire and lead Methodist congregations with their dedication and passion.

On the other hand, the Presbyterian tradition also boasts an impressive roster of influential pastors. Perhaps the most iconic figure is John Knox, a leading figure in the Scottish Reformation and a driving force behind establishing the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Charles Finney, an ordained Presbyterian minister, played a significant role in the Second Great Awakening and profoundly impacted American revivalism. Other notable Presbyterian pastors include Peter Marshall, James Kennedy, R.C. Sproul, and Tim Keller, all of whom have left indelible marks on the Presbyterian faith through their powerful preaching and theological insights.

Frequently asked Questions

What is the historical background of the Methodist and Presbyterian denominations?

  • The Methodist and Presbyterian denominations have a rich history of influencing Christian beliefs.
  • John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, emphasized the importance of seeking God's grace for salvation.
  • John Calvin, a major influence on Presbyterian beliefs, promoted the concept of predestination.
  • Both denominations hold unique perspectives and make important contributions to the Christian faith.
  • A deeper understanding of the historical background of Methodism and Presbyterianism can help us appreciate their beliefs and practices.

How do Methodists and Presbyterians differ in their views on social issues?

  • Methodists and Presbyterians have different views on social issues.
  • Methodists typically advocate for a woman's right to choose and support LGBTQ+ rights, while Presbyterians are more likely to oppose abortion and have varying opinions on LGBTQ+ rights.
  • Despite their differences, both denominations are devoted to the teachings of Christ and strive to spread love, compassion, and justice.
  • Methodists are often more progressive socially, while Presbyterians are more conservative.

Methodists and Presbyterians seek to build a more just and equitable world.

What is the significance of the hierarchical system of church leadership in Methodism?

  • The hierarchical system of church leadership in Methodism is an important part of its structure.
  • It provides a clear chain of command and guidance to the Methodist community.
  • Pastors are assigned by bishops, creating a strong sense of authority.
  • This structure enables efficient decision-making and the implementation of church policies.
  • It promotes unity and accountability, helping Methodists to effectively spread the love and teachings of Jesus Christ.

How do Methodists and Presbyterians differ in their understanding of justification?

  • Methodists and Presbyterians hold distinct understandings of justification, with Methodists emphasizing the role of actions as evidence of faith and Presbyterians placing greater emphasis on grace-based justification.
  • Methodists believe salvation is sought through God's grace, while Presbyterians believe in predestination.
  • These contrasting perspectives on the journey towards salvation bring vibrant discussions and a deeper exploration of God's love and mercy.
  • Methodists focus on individual action as a sign of faith, while Presbyterians prioritize believing in grace.
  • These theological differences create a diversity within the Christian faith, offering an avenue for growth and understanding.

Can a Presbyterian attend a Methodist church and vice versa?

  • Presbyterians and Methodists can both attend each other's churches.
  • Both denominations share similar beliefs about salvation and the trinity.
  • Presbyterians can explore a Methodist church and Methodists can explore a Presbyterian congregation.
  • This allows for a diverse and enriching experience of the body of Christ.
  • All are welcome to experience the beauty of different denominations.

Which came first between Methodist and Presbyterian?

The Methodist and Presbyterian churches have deep historical roots, but the Presbyterian Church predates the Methodist Church by almost 180 years. The Presbyterian Church can trace its origins back to the 16th century when John Knox founded the church in Scotland in 1560. Knox played a significant role in shaping the Presbyterian tradition and establishing its core beliefs.

On the other hand, the Methodist Church emerged in the 18th century, with the foundation of the Methodist movement by John Wesley in 1739. Wesley and his brother Charles emphasised the need for personal faith and experience of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Their teachings and practices eventually led to the establishment of the Methodist denomination.

What do Presbyterians think of Methodists?

Presbyterians generally view Methodists favorably, particularly regarding their shared Protestant faith and Christian tradition. While there may be some differences in practices and church structure, Presbyterians are familiar with Methodist worship styles and are often comfortable attending Methodist churches.

Presbyterians appreciate Methodists’ strong emphasis on personal faith and experience, as it aligns with their beliefs about the importance of individual relationship with Jesus Christ. They also recognize the Methodist denomination's commitment to social justice and their efforts to find common ground with other Christian denominations.

However, there may be some differences in opinions regarding the Methodist denomination's structure. Some Presbyterians may view the Methodist episcopal governance system as less familiar than the Presbyterian system of representative governance. Additionally, there may be varying opinions on issues such as homosexuality, where the Methodist Church has differing views within its denomination.

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Christian Pure Team
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