In many small towns across the United States you will find a Baptist Church on one side of the street, and a Methodist church located right across the street from it.
And the majority of the town’s Christians will belong to one or the other. So, what are the differences between these two traditions?
That is the question I have set out to answer, in a broad and general way, with this post. vs Methodist Beliefs: (10 Major Differences To Know)
What is a baptist?
Baptists, as their very name implies, adhere to baptism. But not just any baptism – Baptists are more specific on the issue. Baptist subscribe to credo baptism by immersion. That means that they believe in baptism of a confessing believer by immersion into water. They reject pedobaptism and other modes of baptism (sprinkling, pouring, etc.). This is one distinctive that holds true for nearly all Baptist denominations and churches. They are Baptists, after all!
There is some debate about the roots of Baptists as a denomination, or family of denominations. Some argue that Baptists can trace their roots right back to the famous cousin of Jesus – John the Baptist. While most others go back only as far as the Anabaptist movement in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.
Whatever the case, it is indisputable that Baptists have been a major branch of denominations since at least the 17th century. In America, the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island was founded in 1639. Today, Baptists comprise the largest Protestant family of denominations in the United States. The largest Baptist denomination is also the largest Protestant denomination. That honor goes to the Southern Baptist Convention.
What is a Methodist?
Methodism also can confidently claim roots that go back centuries; right back to John Wesley, who founded the movement in England, and later in North America. Wesley was unhappy with the “sleepy” faith of the Church of England and sought to bring renewal and revival and spirituality to the practice of Christians. He did this especially through open air preaching, and home meetings which soon formed into societies. By the end of the 18th century, Methodist societies were taking root in the American Colonies, and it soon spread across the continent.
Today, there are many different Methodist denominations, but they all hold similar views in several areas. They all follow Wesleyan (or Armenian) theology, emphasize practical life over doctrine, and hold to the Apostle’s Creed. Most Methodists groups reject that the Bible is inerrant and sufficient for life and godliness, and many groups are presently debating the moral standards of the Bible, especially as they relate to human sexuality, marriage, and gender.
Both Baptists and Methodist are trinitarian. Both hold that the Bible is the central text in faith and practice (though groups within both the families of denominations would dispute the Bible’s authority). Both Baptists and Methodists have historically affirmed the divinity of Christ, justification by faith alone, and the reality of heaven for those who die in Christ, and eternal torment in hell for those who die unbelieving.
Historically, both Methodists and Baptists have placed a heavy emphasis on evangelism and missions.
Methodists believe that baptism is a sign of regeneration and new birth. And they accept all modes of baptism (sprinkling, pouring, immersion, etc.) as valid. Methodists are open to baptism of both those who confess faith themselves, and those whose parents or sponsors confess faith.
In contrast, Baptists traditionally hold to only baptism by immersion and only for one who is confessing faith in Jesus Christ for themselves, and old enough to responsibly do so. They reject pedobaptism and other modes such as a sprinkling or pouring as unbiblical. Baptists normally insist upon baptism for membership in a local church.
Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church, and churches are most often governed by a form of congregationalism, or pastor-led congregationalism. In more recent years, however, many Baptist Churches have adopted an elder-led congregationalism as a preferred form of polity. Although there are many denominational alliances among churches, most Baptist local churches are entirely autonomous in governing their own affairs, choosing their pastors, purchasing and owning their own property, etc..
In contrast, Methodists are mostly hierarchical. Churches are led by conferences with increasing levels of authority. This begins at the local level, with a Local Church Conference, and progresses upward to a denomination-wide General Conference (or some variation of these categories, depending on the specific Methodist group). Most major Methodist denominations own the property of local churches and have a decisive say in assigning pastors to local churches.
Speaking of pastors, there are significant differences in how Methodists and Baptist choose their pastors too.
Baptists make this decision entirely at the local level. Local churches usually form search committees, invite and screen applicants, and then select one candidate to present to the church for vote. There are no denomination-wide standards for ordination in many larger Baptist denominations (such as the Southern Baptist Convention) or minimum education requirements for pastors, though most Baptist churches only hire pastors trained at the seminary level.
Major Methodist Bodies, such as the United Methodist Church, have outlined their requirements for ordination in the Book of Discipline, and ordination is governed by the denomination, not by local churches. Local church conferences confer with the district conference to select and hire new pastors.
Some Baptist groups – such as the Southern Baptist Convention – will only allow men to serve as pastors. Others – such as the American Baptists – allow both men and women.
Methodists allow both men and women to serve as pastors.
Most Baptists subscribe to two ordinances of the local church; baptism (as discussed earlier) and the Lord’s Supper. Baptists reject that either of these ordinances are salvific and most subscribe to a symbolic view of both. Baptism is symbolic of the work of Christ in a person’s heart and a profession of faith by the one being baptized, and the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of the atoning work of Jesus Christ and taken as a way to remember the work of Christ.
Methodists also subscribe to baptism and the Lord’s Supper and they similarly see both as signs, not as the substances, of God’s grace in Christ. Baptism is not a mere profession, however, but also a sign of regeneration. Similarly, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of a Christian’s redemption.
Famous pastors of each denomination
There are many famous pastors in both Methodism and Baptists. Famous Baptist pastors include Charles Spurgeon, John Gill, John Bunyan. Present-day famous pastors include preachers like John Piper, David Platt, and Mark Dever.
Famous Methodist pastors include John and Charles Wesley, Thomas Coke, Richard Allen, and George Whitfield. Present-day well-known Methodist pastors include Adam Hamilton, Adam Weber, and Jeff Harper.
Doctrinal Position on Calvinism vs. Arminianism
Baptists are traditionally mixed on the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. Few would call themselves true Arminians, and most Baptists would probably self-describe as modified (or moderate) Calvinists – or 4 point Calvinists, rejecting especially the doctrine of Limited Atonement. In contrast to Methodists, most all Baptists believe in the eternal security of a Christian, though many hold to a view of this that is very different from the Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.
There has been a resurgence of Reformed theology among Baptists recently, with some major Baptist seminaries teaching a more classic and robust Reformed theology. There are also many Reformed Baptist churches which would enthusiastically subscribe to Calvinism.
Methodism has traditionally align itself with Arminian doctrinal positions, with very few exceptions and very little debate. Most Methodists believe in prevenient grace, and reject predestination, perseverance of the saints, and so on.
As noted, most Baptist churches and church members hold enthusiastically to the doctrine of Eternal Security. The saying, once saved, always saved is popular today among Baptists. Methodists, on the other hand, believe that truly regenerate Christians can fall away into apostasy and be lost.
While there are some similarities to those two churches, each on one side of the street, there are many more differences. And that gulf of differences continues to widen as many Baptist churches continue to affirm a high view of Scripture and follow its teaching, while many Methodist congregations – especially in the United States – move away from that view of Scripture and emphasis on the Bible’s teaching.
For sure, there are some truly regenerate brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of the street. But there are also many, many differences. Some of those differences are very important.