Methodist vs Baptist: What’s the Difference?


The Methodist and Baptists branches of Protestant Christianity have left indelible marks on the Western world. Not only have the traditions planted churches, but they have positively contributed to society and culture. The denominations and churches that comprise each tradition have many similarities, but important difference too.

Methodists and Baptists historically agree on doctrines like the Trinity and the authority of Scripture, but disagree about baptism and the extent of sanctification. The autonomy of each Christian and the local church have shaped the Baptist tradition. The pursuit of holiness has shaped the Methodist tradition.

What is the origin of each of these traditions? What do they agree about theologically? What do they disagree about? What are the largest denominations in each tradition today? Keep reading to learn more.

Methodist church sign
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17 (ESV)

Methodist and Baptist: Overview

While the Methodist and Baptist traditions trace their roots to 17th and 18th-century Europe, their religious and cultural influence in the United States of America can’t be overstated. The Revolutionary War challenged Methodist influence in the 18th century and the Civil War challenged Baptist influence in the 19th century, yet each movement survived and revived.

Church historians nicknamed the 1800’s “the Methodist century” in America because of the impact it had. The Baptist also had a significant impact, which is shown in the fact that it’s the largest Protestant tradition in America today. (Also see Can a Methodist Take Communion in a Baptist Church?)

MethodistBaptist
Origin and rootsBorn out of the 18th-century Pietist movement in the Anglican tradition (i.e. the Church of England); ignited under the leadership of brothers John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788).Born out of the 17th-century Puritan and Anabaptist traditions in England; early Baptists identified as Separatists or Congregationalists and championed individual responsibility in relation to baptism and church membership.
NameFrom the English word “method,” the name refers to what people at Oxford called the Wesley brothers and other like-minded believers who maintained a strict regimen of spiritual disciplines. The Methodist tradition is known for more than spiritual disciplines, however.The word “Baptist” comes from the practice of “Believer’s Baptism,” which is the conviction that only professing Christians should be baptized, not infants. The Baptist tradition, however, has other values and emphases in addition to Believer’s Baptism.
Branch of ChristianityThe Methodist tradition is Protestant, which is marked by significant disagreement with Roman Catholicism on a number of important issues (see below).The Baptist tradition is also Protestant (see below).
Early influencersIsaac Watts (1674-1748), William Wilberforce (1759-1833)John Smyth (1570-1612), Roger Williams (1603-1683)
Known forMinistering to the poor and suffering; the Holiness Movement within 19th century Methodism sparked the Pentecostal movement in the 21st century.Believer’s Baptism, congregational church government, and the separation of church and state.
Rural Methodist church
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Hebrews 13:12

Methodist and Baptist Beliefs Compared

The historic theological convictions of Methodists and Baptists are clear. However, in recent decades, disputes have occurred in each tradition over modern social issues, which have caused certain denominations and churches to minimize or mute their traditional beliefs. (Also see Do Methodists Drink Alcohol?)

The liberal-progressive side in these traditions argues that churches must change to be relevant to modern society. The conservative side believes that the church must maintain its historical convictions to serve as an anchor to an ever-changing society.

MethodistBaptist
AuthorityUnlike Catholicism, Scripture supersedes tradition as the Church’s ultimate authority in faith and practice.Same; the authority of Scripture is a Protestant conviction; tradition isn’t unimportant, it’s just not most important.
ChristJesus of Nazareth is God in human flesh; he is 100% God and 100% man; he is the eternal second person of Trinity.Same
SinDue to Adam’s sin, all people at birth are sinful and destined for eternal damnation.Same; some Baptist believe in “Total Depravity,” which states that sin effects every aspect of a human being.
GraceMethodism teaches “prevenient” grace, meaning a grace that “goes before” i.e. before conversion. Prevenient grace overcomes original sin and prompts people to seek God.Baptists with Arminian convictions may subscribe to prevenient grace, however, Believer’s Baptism stands in contrast to the Methodist understanding of baptism and the role prevenient grace plays in the sacrament (see below).
SalvationChrist’s death is for all people. Prevenient grace makes people aware of their sin and their need to repent. It also causes them to seek God and salvation in Christ.Baptists may hold to Limited Atonement (Christ death was for the elect) or Unlimited Atonement (Christ’s death was for all). Like Methodists, Baptists believe that salvation is by grace through faith, which is a core Protestant conviction.
SanctificationGrowing in Christlikeness is cooperative, yet Sprit-led. Some Methodists, like John Wesley, hold to the doctrine of perfectionism, which states that Christians can be free from sin in this life.Most Baptists believe sanctification isn’t perfected until death and reject the doctrine of perfectionism.
SacramentsThere are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper; unlike Catholicism, Methodists don’t believe sacraments are channels of grace.There are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper; unlike Catholicism, Methodists don’t believe sacraments are channels of grace.
BaptismTo many Methodists, infant baptism is an act of “prevenient grace,” embedding within them a desire to seek God and turn from sin.Sometimes referred to as “credobaptism” (credo = “I believe”), the sacrament is for professing believers who have trusted Christ for salvation. The doctrine is often called Believer’s Baptism.
The Lord’s SupperMethodists believe in the “Real Presence of Christ,” meaning Christ is truly present in the bread and cup, but partakers don’t literally consume his body and blood in contrast to Catholic teaching.Most Baptists believe consuming the bread and cup is a memorial of the atonement of Christ. They don’t believe Christ is physically present in the elements in any way.
Modern internal disputesPerfectionism (see above) or not; Pentecostal ism and Revivalism or not; conservative vs liberal on modern social issues.Race relations, integration, and diversity; conservative vs liberal on modern social issues.
In contrast to Roman CatholicismNo Methodist denomination or church recognizes the Pope as Vicar of Christ. Methodists believe the term “saints” (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:2) refers to Christians; they don’t venerate saints, including Mary. They reject transubstantiation.Same as Methodists.

Methodist and Baptist Denominations

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is the second largest denomination in the United States, trailing only the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) is one of the largest historically-black denominations in the U.S.

NameReported Membership
United Methodist Church7.6 million
African Methodist Episcopal Church2.5 million
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church301,000
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church290,000
Congregational Methodist Church15,500
Evangelical Church of North America15,000
Evangelical Methodist Church7,300

“I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.”

John Wesley

The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. The National Baptist Convention USA (NBC) is the largest historically-black denominations in America.

NameReported Membership
Southern Baptist Convention16 million
National Baptist Convention, USA5 million
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America2.5 million
Baptist General Conference of Texas2.4 million
American Baptist Churches in the USA1.2 million
Progressive National Baptist Convention1 million
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship1 million

“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”

Charles Spurgeon, 19th century English Baptist pastor

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