Free Methodist Church

Free Methodist Church
Emblem of the Free Methodist Church
Classification Protestant
Orientation Holiness
Polity Modified episcopacy
Associations Christian Holiness Partnership;
Christian Churches Together;
National Association of Evangelicals;
Wesleyan Holiness Consortium;
World Methodist Council
Region Worldwide: divided into 13 General Conferences
Founder Benjamin Titus Roberts
Origin 1860
Pekin, New York
Separated from Methodist Episcopal Church

1955 - United Holiness Church (now the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches)[1]

1963 - Evangelical Wesleyan Church[1]
Congregations 957 in the United States (average congregation size: 77)
Members 1,000,000 (77,000 in the United States)[2]
Official website

The Free Methodist Church is a Methodist Christian denomination within the holiness movement. It is evangelical in nature and is Wesleyan-Arminian in theology.[3]

The Free Methodist Church has 77,000 members in the United States and 1,055,000 members worldwide[4] in 82 nations. The Light & Life Magazine is their official publication.[5] The Free Methodist Church World Ministries Center is in Indianapolis, Indiana.


The Free Methodist Church was organized at Pekin, New York, in 1860. The founders had been members of the Methodist Episcopal Church but were excluded from its membership for too earnestly advocating what they saw as the doctrines and usages of authentic Wesleyan Methodism. Under the leadership of the Rev. Benjamin Titus (B. T.) Roberts, a graduate of Wesleyan University and an able and eloquent preacher, the movement spread rapidly. Societies were organized, churches built and the work established.

At the 1910 session of the General Conference of the Methodist Church at Rochester, New York, a full acknowledgement was made of the wrong done to Roberts fifty years before, and the credentials unjustly taken from him were restored in a public meeting to his son, Rev. Benson Roberts.[6]

Before the founding of the church, Roberts began publication of a monthly journal, The Earnest Christian. In 1868, The Free Methodist (now Light & Life) was begun. A publishing house was established in 1886 to produce books, periodicals and Sunday school curriculum and literature.[7]

The name "Methodist" was retained for the newly organized church because the founders felt that their misfortunes (expulsion from the Methodist Episcopal Church) had come to them because of their adherence to doctrines and standards of Methodism. The word "Free" was suggested and adopted because the new church was anti-slavery. Next, pews were to be free to all rather than sold or rented (as was common), so as to provide full access to the poor. The new church hoped for the freedom of worship in the Holy Spirit, as opposed to a stifling formality.[8] A fourth principle was "freedom" from secret and oath-bound societies (in particular the Masonic Lodge), so has to have full loyalty to Christ. Fifth was "freedom" from the abuse of ecclesiastical authority (due to the bishop's action in allowing expulsion of 120 clergy and lay). Finally was "freedom" to experience transformation in sanctification via the Holy Spirit due to personal consecration and faith versus just 'sin-management' or gradual growth following justification.

Holiness Conservatives within the Free Methodist Church left to form the United Holiness Church in 1955 (which itself joined the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches in 1994) and also the Evangelical Wesleyan Church in 1963.[1][9]

Recent history

Free Methodist headquarters were located in Winona Lake, Indiana, until 1990 when the denomination moved its headquarters to Indianapolis.[10] The church has about 77,000 members[11] in the United States and an average attendance of 107,000[12] at its Sunday services. Worldwide its membership is over 1,055,000 [4] with large segments of membership in East Central Africa (Rwanda, Burundi, D.R. of Congo) and India. {2016 Yearbook}

Beliefs and practices

In doctrine, Free Methodists’ beliefs are the standard beliefs of Wesleyan-Arminian Protestantism, with distinctive emphasis on the teaching of entire sanctification as held by John Wesley, to whom the Free Methodist Church traces its origins.[13]

The Free Methodist Church, along with the United Methodist Church, shares a common heritage linked to the Methodist revival in England during the 18th century. The Free Methodist Church itself arose within the context of holiness movement within 19th century Methodism.[14]

While some clergy in the Free Methodist Church wear the pulpit robe, others do not wear vestments of any sort during worship.

The first general superintendent, B. T. Roberts, was in favor of ordaining women, but never saw it take place in his lifetime. Out of his own conviction he wrote Ordaining Women: Biblical and Historical Insights. The impact of his writings eventually prevailed in the church. The Free Methodist Church affirmed the ordination of women in 1911.[15] As of June 2008, out of 2,011 ordained clergy, 216 were women (11 percent). Twenty-six percent of all ministerial candidates are women.[14]

Free Methodists recognize and license unordained persons for particular ministries. They mandate lay representation in numbers equal to clergy in the councils of the church.[16]

As a reaction to paid musicians in the Methodist Episcopal Church, early Free Methodists enjoyed a capella congregational hymns during worship. However, the General Conference of 1943 voted to allow each Conference to vote on whether or not their churches could have instrumental music.[17] As a result, pianos and organs became common across most conferences. Currently, many churches have worship teams composed of vocalists, drums, keyboards, guitars, and other instruments.


The Free Methodist Church's highest governing body is the World Conference,[18] which is composed of representatives, both lay and clergy, from all countries with a Free Methodist General Conference. As the church in each country develops, its status progresses from Mission District to Annual Conference to General Conference. There are currently 13 General Conferences in the world, which are linked together through the articles of religion and common constitution of the first two chapters of the Book of Discipline, the World Conference, and the Council of Bishops.[19] The USA branch of the Free Methodist Church is currently led by three bishops: Bishop David Kendall (since 2005), Bishop Matthew Thomas (since 2007), and Bishop David Roller (since 2007).

World missions

International Child Care Ministries (ICCM), a child sponsorship initiative serves more than 21 000 children in 29 countries around the world. Through education, meals and medical care, children in need are given an opportunity for a better life. Each sponsored child is connected to a Free Methodist congregation or ministry at a local level.

Sustainable Empowerment through Economic Development (Seed), a micro-enterprise and livelihood ministry of Free Methodist World Missions, facilitates self-sustaining businesses, training in business skills and Christian discipleship. Focused on economically vulnerable members of the Free Methodist world family, it provides an international market for products produced by Free Methodist artisans.

Volunteers in Service Abroad (Visa) connects volunteers from the Free Methodist Church in the US and UK with Free Methodist World Missions for hands-on ministry internationally.

The church currently has ministry in 82 countries around the world.[20] These include:

AfricaAsiaEuropeLatin AmericaMiddle EastNorth America
BeninCambodiaBulgariaArgentinaIraqUnited States
BotswanaHong KongFranceBahamasJordan
Democratic Republic of CongoMalaysiaItalyChile
GabonNepalRomaniaCosta Rica
GhanaPhilippinesSpainDominican Republic
KenyaSouth KoreaUkraineEcuador
LiberiaSri LankaUnited KingdomEl Salvador
MalawiTaiwanFrench Guiana
Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)Honduras
South AfricaNicaragua
UgandaPuerto Rico

Higher education

B. T. Roberts began what is now Roberts Wesleyan College in 1866. Spring Arbor College followed in 1873, Seattle Pacific University in 1891 and Greenville College (renamed Greenville University in 2017) in 1892. Central College began in 1914, a continuation of Orleans Seminary begun in 1884. Azusa Pacific University was formed by a merger with Los Angeles Pacific College and other small denominational colleges.[7]

The following educational institutions are a part of the Association of Free Methodist Educational Institutions. The schools are not owned by the denomination but meet a set of requirements to maintain this relationship.

In addition, the Free Methodist Church is one of several denominations supporting Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, CA). Wessington Springs College is a former, now closed institution which was located in South Dakota. Internationally, there is Osaka Christian College of the Japanese Free Methodist Church, Hope Africa University,[21] a recently founded school in Bujumbura, Burundi, Haiti Providence University, and the Faculdade de Teologia Metodista Livre, São Paulo, Brazil.

Through the John Wesley Seminary Foundation (JWSF) graduate students who are preparing for full-time ministry in the Free Methodist Church are provided a grant or loan at the following affiliated schools:[22]


Like John Wesley before him, B. T. Roberts recognized the Christian’s responsibility for publishing.

Before the founding of the church in 1860, B. T. Roberts began publication of a monthly journal, The Earnest Christian. In 1868 The Free Methodist (now Light & Life Magazine) began. A publishing house was established in 1886 to produce books, periodicals and Sunday school curriculum and literature.[7]


Early leaders, T. B. Arnold and B. T. Roberts privately financed and produced several publications.

The official publishing institution was established by the church at the 1886 General Conference. The church purchased the publishing business built by Rev. T. B. Arnold for $8,000. Arnold was named first publisher and B. T. Roberts was elected editor of The Free Methodist. The Free Methodist Publishing House is recognized under its trade name Light and Life Press.

Growth and development

The Free Methodist Publishing House operated at three locations in Chicago, Illinois. In February 1935, it moved along with Free Methodist Headquarters to Winona Lake, Indiana.

During its history, the Free Methodist Publishing House built up a plant and accumulated property worth several hundred thousand dollars. It also contributed thousands of dollars out of its profits to other activities of the church.[24]

Over the years, as the ministry of the Free Methodist Church expanded, various departments of the general church gradually moved into Free Methodist Publishing House accommodations. This was provided at vast cost and without the investment of any capital by the general church.

In 1960, the Free Methodist Publishing House board issued a deed in favor of the general church, whereby the church became the owner of the old property, plus nearly eight acres of land. For this the general church paid nothing, but agreed to make payments of $5,000 per year over a ten-year period to the Free Methodist Publishing House.


Arnold’s Commentary was published from 1894–1980. In the late 1950s and early 60s the church pioneered fully graded church school materials. In 1960 the Aldersgate Biblical Series was developed as the only inductive curriculum of its time.[25]

A fully equipped printing area consisting of letterpresses, offset press, cutters, folders, bindery, linotypes etc. contributed toward making the church independent of commercial printers for the production for its printing needs at that time.

Acting on the recommendation of its executive committee, the board voted in 1988 to phase out printing operations.[26] This decision and the 1989 General Conference decision to move the Press and Headquarters from Winona Lake to Indianapolis in 1990 shifted the focus of the Press. Where formerly, the Press produced and published Sunday school curriculum, this venture is now carried on in cooperation with other holiness denominations.

Beginning in 2008, the Wesleyan Publishing House, publishing arm of the Wesleyan Church, began serving the distribution and customer service needs of Light and Life Press.

Mission statement

Light & Life Communications [LLCOMM], the official publishing aim of the Free Methodist Church, is a not-for-profit corporation that exists to serve in partnership with its parent body, the Free Methodist Church. Its primary purpose is to publish and distribute materials that enable the church to fulfill its stated mission. Light & Life Communications also offers its services and materials to all who seek to make Christ known.[27]


Free Methodist Communications is the publishing division of the Free Methodist Church. Publications may also be printed or distributed under the name Light & Life Communications.

Light & Life Magazine [LLM] is the official magazine of the Free Methodist Church in the United States and is also available online. The magazine has a monthly circulation of 53,000 English copies. Each issue is also translated into Spanish and published concurrently as Revista Luz y Vida, which has a monthly circulation of 6,000 copies. Jeff Finley is the magazine's managing editor.[28]

Free Methodist World Mission People is a quarterly magazine about world missions offered free of charge upon request.[29]

Free Methodist Conversations is an online resource for discussing important values and issues.


  1. 1 2 3 "Glenn Griffith Movement". Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions. 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  2. Bloomington Free Methodist Church Website
  3. 2003 Book of Discipline (PDF). Free Methodist Church. 2003. p. 9.
  4. 1 2 2016 Yearbook
  5. Light & Life Magazine [LLM]
  6. Editorial, Free Methodist, May 1941.
  7. 1 2 3 Light & Life Magazine, July 1995.
  8. A Brief Story of Our Church, C. L. Howland, Winona Lake, IN.
  9. Kostlevy, William (2010). The A to Z of the Holiness Movement. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 19. ISBN 9780810875913.
  10. Marston Historical Center
  12. Free Methodist Statistics
  13. "Who are Free Methodists?". Free Methodist Church. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  14. 1 2 Free Methodist Church of North America
  15. The Female Pastor: Is There Room for She in Shepherd
  16. 2007 Book of Discipline, Free Methodist Church of North America
  17. "Free Methodists to Have Church Music. The Daily Times Beaver and Rochester (NY), June 19, 1943, p. 2". Retrieved 2011-12-30.
  18. World Conference
  19. membership Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Free Methodist World Missions.
  21. Hope Africa University
  22. The Pastor as Administrator
  24. B. H. Gaddis, publisher, 1933–1954
  25. Snapshots, Donald E. Demaray, 1985, 229–230
  26. Light & Life Magazine, January 1989
  27. Light & Life Communications, 1993
  28. Light & Life Magazine
  29. World Mission People
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