My experience with a diversity of Christian denominations is fairly broad.  A friend recently asked me the difference between United Methodist (UM) and Southern Baptist (SB) traditions. Since I was raised in the United Methodist Church, and have planted a Baptist Church, I thought I’d put together a simple list of differences.

1. Historical

UM: The birth of the Methodist tradition is traced back to the English preacher John Wesley who in the 1700’s taught the need for personal holiness and service to others.  In large part, the Methodist tradition was born out of a desire for missional living. The legacy of early Methodism is a vibrant ministry to the poor, sick, and orphaned.

SB: The birth of the Baptists is traced back to the 1600’s when English Separatists rejected infant Baptism and instituted a system of believer’s baptism.  In large part, the Baptist tradition was born out of a desire for theological precision. The legacy of early Baptistic reformers is their evangelistic fervor.

2. Theological

The Sacraments

UM: Methodists believe that both Communion and Water Baptism are a means through which the Grace of God is given to the believer.  Neither sacrament can save the individual, but both are a way to experience the spiritual mystery of God.

SB: Baptists generally see both Communion and Water Baptism as symbolic acts of obedience to the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.  The “Sacraments” (a word Baptists avoid) are simply as outward signs of an inward reality.


UM: Methodists practice “Open” communion wherein everyone; believer and non-believer alike, are invited to partake of the bread and cup of Christ.

SB: Baptists practice a “Closed” communion where only the believer is invited to participate in the bread and cup of Christ.

Water Baptism

UM: Methodists baptize both infants and adults using any method from sprinkling, pouring or total immersion in water.

SB: Baptists only baptize adults (including older children) and only by total immersion in water.

Theological Discernment

UM: The Methodist tradition uses the “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral” as their guide.  This methodology goes back to John Wesley—the founder of the Methodist movement.

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

SB: Born out of the reformation, Baptists use the “5 Solos” as their guide.

  1. Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)
  2. Sola Fide (“by faith alone”)
  3. Sola Gratia (“by grace alone”)
  4. Solus Christus or Solo Christo (“Christ alone” or “through Christ alone”)
  5. Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

3. Ministerial


UM: Methodists ordain Pastors/Elders at a Denominational level (Episcopal) and accept both women and men equally into the role.  All Methodist pastors are given appointments to a church by a District Superintendant, Cabinet, and Bishop, who have the discretion to move pastors from one church to another.  The Methodists believe that an itinerate pastorate keep the Church less focused on human leaders and more focused on Christ as the head.  In smaller communities, some Methodist pastors are assigned to lead more than one church at the same time.

SB: Each Baptist church is considered independent and so it is left to the local church to form a search committee to find pastors (Congregational).  Since pastors are not appointed by denominational leaders, they can freely move from church to church at their discretion and/or can be removed by the congregation. The local church also has the authority to ordain its own pastors.  While Baptist value women in leadership, they also believe the role of Pastor/Elder is reserved for men only.


UM: The Deacon in the UM tradition must meet the same educational requirements as a pastor. Deacons are both men and women who serve in a variety of ministries of outreach, congregational care, lead worship and/or serve as  youth ministers.

SB: The role of a deacon in Baptist tradition can vary widely from church to church.  Deacons can be men or women (although some churches restrict the ministry to men only). Deacons are selected from the church’s membership and tasked with a practical ministry of service such as helping with a pastor search committee, overseeing the church property, heading up ministries of outreach or congregational care.

4. Denominational

UM: The United Methodist Church is a formal denomination and has authority over each local church.  The denomination owns the church property and buildings and can allocate its resources through the discretion of its denominational leaders.  The Book of Discipline governs the actions of all Pastors, Bishops, Superintendents and church life.

SB: The Southern Baptists are not a denomination, but are a network of independent churches who choose to affiliate with the “Convention” based on shared values and theology.  Each church; therefore, has its own policies, procedures, and is in full control of its own properties.

Did I miss something?  

I know my blog is read by folks from both traditions, so if you have some corrections or additions, please leave a comment and help improve the quality of this post.  Please also feel free to post links to other good articles or books that could be used for anyone wanting deeper study on anything in the post.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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