|The History of the Free Methodist Church
The Free Methodist Church is best understood within the framework of the biblical concept of the church and the
perspective provided by its historical heritage.
1. Biblical Concept of the Church
It is clear from Scripture that the church is of God and for people. It is His creation. Christ is its head. The church is
the people of God chosen for a purposeful partnership in accomplishing the will of God on earth. More than eighty
word pictures relating to the church appear in the New Testament.
What is the profound truth that the many word pictures convey? God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—takes a
redeemed people into partnership to share in His activities and to realize His purposes. The church is the organic,
corporate instrument God has chosen to remake people and society. It has a mission of holy love. The church
exists to produce Christ-likeness in humans and their institutions. Thus our mission may be described as
participation with God in bringing holiness and love to bear upon the sins, hurts, and needs of people. This
description of our mission is both individual and social. It points to a social relationship of people to God and to
each other described in Scripture as “the kingdom of God.”
When the church is acting under the headship of its Lord and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it continues the
story begun in the book of Acts. Since the first century the church has experienced many wonderful
achievements. Many more are yet to be realized in the unfolding drama of the acts of the Holy Spirit through
The New Testament reminds us that the church visible is not the church ideal. Because the church is a divine
human partnership, sharing not only in the holy love of its founder but in the blemishes of its humanity, it is ever in
need of renewal. God takes the same risk with the church in redemption as He did when He granted humans
freedom in creation.
2. Historical Heritage and Perspective
Free Methodists consider the story of the church in the book of Acts and the other New Testament writings as their
primary heritage. Generation after generation derives from this record their main source of direction and renewal.
Followers of God have wrestled with issues both old and new throughout the centuries just as they do now. The
entire history of the church is instructive for us.
Free Methodists claim a line of evangelical descent spelled out in large terms as follows: they trace their spiritual
heritage through men and women of deep personal piety in all ages who have shown that it is possible to maintain
the glow of spiritual fervour in the midst of paganism, apostasy, and the periods of corruption in the established
The lineage of The Free Methodist Church begins with the people of God in the Old and New Testaments. It is
continued in the great Councils and Patristic writings and teachings of the early Church Fathers. It also includes
influences and contributions from the multitude of renewal movements in western Christianity: Wycliffe and the
German Moravians (from whom Wesley learned the concept of “the witness of the Spirit”); the sixteenth century
Reformation with its many counterbalancing renewal movements, not the least of which were the Arminian
correctives (which taught that Christ’s salvation was for all mankind without limit, but that it must be freely chosen);
the Catholic Anglican tradition; the English Puritan influence; the Methodist tradition; and the nineteenth century
holiness movement. God has used these and others across the ages to make the unchanging Christian gospel
known more clearly. In summary, Free Methodists identify with the flow of history of the Christian church while
maintaining distinctive evangelical and spiritual emphases.
The contributions from church history may be detailed as follows:
The Free Methodist Church reflects historic Christian orthodoxy in that its roots are solidly fastened to the time
tested statements put forth in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Formula of Chalcedon, the Thirty-nine
Articles of Religion in the Church of England; and the Twenty-five Articles of the Methodist Episcopal Church of
The Reformation heritage is reflected in the commitment to the Bible as the supreme rule of faith and life and to
salvation by grace through faith. Desire for church order and appreciation for liturgical form reveals the Catholic
Anglican influence. The emphasis on the essentials of the faith allows for openness towards differing views on
such subjects as modes of baptism and the millennium.
The Methodist heritage is shown in theological, ecclesiastical and social concerns articulated by the Reverend
John Wesley and his associates in the eighteenth century and reaffirmed through the holiness movement of the
Theologically, The Free Methodist Church is committed to the Wesleyan Arminian affirmation of the saving love of
God in Christ. Through prevenient grace He seeks to bring every individual to Himself but grants to each the
responsibility of accepting or rejecting that salvation. Salvation is a living relationship with God in Jesus Christ,
giving the believer a legal position of righteousness, and therefore affirming the security of all who continue in
fellowship with Him. Along with the Arminian emphasis on the universal offer of salvation, John Wesley
rediscovered the principle of assurance through the witness of the Holy Spirit. He declared a scriptural confidence
in a God who is able to cleanse the hearts of believers from sin here and now by faith, fill them with the Holy Spirit,
and empower them for carrying out His mission in the world.
Ecclesiastically, the Methodist heritage is continued in Free Methodist organization. There are lines of
responsibility connecting local, conference, and denominational ministries. Small groups of believers are
accountable to one another for growth in Christian life and service. Free Methodists are concerned for the whole
church, not just the local congregation. They value the leadership of bishops, superintendents, pastors, and lay
leaders who provide counsel and direction to the church.
Born at a time when representative government was being developed by free societies, The Free Methodist
founders reaffirmed the biblical principle of lay ministry. Free Methodists recognize and license unordained
persons for particular ministries. They mandate lay representation in numbers equal to clergy in the councils of the
Socially, from their early days, Free Methodists displayed an awakened conscience characteristic of the early
Wesleyan movement. Their outspoken action against the institution of slavery and the class distinction inherent in
the rental of pews to the wealthy demonstrated the spirit of true Methodism. Although issues change, the sensitive
social conscience remains, evidenced by continuing active participation in the social concerns of the day.
During the nineteenth century, the holiness movement, arising in American Methodism but spreading through other
nations and de¬nominations, called Christians to deeper levels of relationship with God and greater concern for
the needs of hurting humanity. Within this context, the Reverend Benjamin T. Roberts and other ministers and
laypersons in the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Church in western New York, raised a protest against
theological liberalism, unhealthy compromise on pressing social issues, and loss of spiritual fervour.
Between 1858 and 1860, a number of these leaders were excluded from the Methodist Episcopal Church on
various charges and allegations. In reality, the primary issue was their proclamation of the basic principles of
Methodism, especially the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification. Appeals made to the General
Conference of May 1860 were denied. On August 23 of that year, they met in an apple orchard in Sanborn, New
York, to form The Free Methodist Church. Today, Centenary Park marks the approximate location of that historic
“Free” was chosen as an adjective in the name to signify their belief that slaves should go free, pews should be
free of rent to any who wished to attend church, members should be free from oaths of secrecy in secret societies,
and the freedom of the Spirit should be acknowledged in public worship. The body that began inauspiciously in an
orchard in western New York is now at work in 50 countries of the world, one of which is Canada.
3. Methodism in Canada
Prior to the emergence of The Free Methodist Church in Canada, Methodism had already had a long history in
Canadian society. Methodism came to Canada through the influence of Paul and Barbara Heck. Originating in
Germany, the Hecks had emigrated first to Ireland, where Barbara was converted at the age of 28 under Methodist
preaching, possibly that of John Wesley himself. In the early sixties of the 18th century, they sailed for New York,
along with Barbara’s cousin Philip Embury and his family. During the time of the American Revolution, Paul and
Barbara Heck and Philip Embury’s widow, Mary, and their son, fled to the Prescott area of Upper Canada.
Remembering gratefully the protection they had received under the British Crown when they had fled from
Germany to Ireland, they now joined the movement into Canada of thousands of United Empire Loyalists whose
loyalties to Britain would not allow them to join the rebel cause in the colonies. So it was that Paul Heck was
present when the first Canadian Methodist circuit was organized in 1791, the year of John Wesley’s death.
The Methodist cause spread rapidly in Canada. Within ninety years, and after two mergers, there were five
different non ethnic branches: The Methodist Church of Canada, Methodist Episcopal Church, Primitive Methodist
Church, Bible Christian Church and the infant Free Methodist Church. The first four merged into one Methodist
body in 1883. This body later merged with Congregationalists and a significant number of Presbyterians to become
the United Church of Canada in 1925.
4. Free Methodism in Canada
In the fall of 1873 and winter of 1874 General Superintendent, B. T. Roberts visited the area just north and east of
the city of Toronto, now Scarborough, on the invitation of Robert Loveless, a Primitive Methodist layman. Later, in
1876 while presiding over the very young North Michigan Conference, he read conference appointments that
assigned C.H. Sage his field of labour—Canada!
Reluctantly, Sage came to southwestern Ontario. He was well received by disaffected Methodists, unhappy with the
direction in which the larger Methodist bodies were moving. He preached a gospel calling men and women to
conversion and the unconverted responded in encouraging numbers. His preaching took him as far north as the
Muskoka region. By 1880, the Canada Conference consisted of two districts, 11 societies, 13 preaching points and
In the early years, the work grew rapidly. Churches were formed in eastern Ontario. By the early twentieth century
it had spread to the prairies of western Canada. By 1920, there was an impetus to consolidate as a distinctly
Canadian body. The result was the All Canada Conference—a gathering of western and eastern leaders in
Sarnia, Ontario. It was a landmark event of praying, planning and dreaming. Out of that meeting came such results
as the formation of a Canadian Executive Board to manage distinctly Canadian matters, the launching of the
Canadian Free Methodist Herald, and the establishment of Lorne Park College in Port Credit, Ontario. The passing
of a Federal Act of Incorporation in 1927 was also largely traceable to the All Canada Conference in Sarnia. In
1940, Aldersgate College was founded in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, another result of the vision generated at the
All Canada Conference.
The Free Methodist Church in Canada was further strengthened in 1959 by a merger with the Holiness Movement
Church. This latter denomination was the product of revivals in the Methodist churches of the Ottawa Valley under
Ralph Horner during the waning years of the nineteenth century. This union, brought about by the labour of strong
leaders in both bodies enlarged the world vision of the Canadian church by adding missionary concerns in Egypt,
Brazil and Northern Ireland, fields the Holiness Movement Church had established.
In the early nineteen-seventies Canadian Free Methodist leaders applied to the Free Methodist Church of North
America requesting authorization for the Canadian Church to become a general conference in its own right.
Consultation resulted in the establishment of a Canadian Jurisdictional Conference, a halfway step, which came
into being in August of 1974. At the General Conference of 1989, held in Seattle, Washington, the Canadian
Jurisdictional Conference was authorized to form as a General Conference. On August 6, 1990, the Canadian
General Conference was inaugurated in Mississauga, Ontario. At the Second General Conference of The Free
Methodist Church in Canada, held in 1993, the British Columbia District of the Pacific Northwest Conference
became a part of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.
Taken from the Manual of The Free Methodist Church in Canada