Early Free Methodists were concerned about a number of issues in their historical setting that still have relevance today.
Formed in the early days of the American Civil War, these supporters of the anti-slavery movement believed in equality for all, regardless of racial background. They wanted a church “free” for all to attend.
The Methodist Church had a practice of renting seats in their churches as a way of collecting financial support from their members. Since this practice was seen as disenfranchising the poor, who could not afford the seats, Free Methodists wanted “free seats” for all, regardless of socio-economic status.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that all Christians could be “free from the domination of sin” in their daily lives through the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit and faithful adherence to spiritual disciplines. Free Methodists wanted to recover this expectation in their movement.
A lively spiritual refreshing was sweeping the United States in the mid 1800s, and the Free Methodists wanted this “freedom of the Spirit” in their worship services as well.
Finally, many members of Methodist churches were also members of secret societies that often divided their loyalties toward their Christian commitments. Free Methodists wanted all their members to be “free” from such binding involvements outside the fellowship of Christian believers.