There is more than one 'official' Methodist Cross symbol. Here are a few:
Methodism began in Oxford, England, in the 18th century and was led chiefly by John Wesley and his brother Charles. As the Church spread and evolved, schisms led to the formation of several separate Methodist denominations including the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christians and the United Methodists. In 1932, most of these denominations came together to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain which today has a distinctive symbol of a white cross within a red orb.
In Western Christianity red is the colour of martyrdom. It is a colour for the last week of Lent, along with purple and rose, and also the day of Pentecost. Although the symbol closely resembles the Sun Cross, the orb symbolizes the world and is coloured (blood) red for the promise of salvation.
The cross is coloured white for Christ who gives that salvation. (The New Testament many times uses white when describing angels and the Resurrection. The cross arms are slightly pattee giving a radiating effect and symbolizing the Glory of Christ risen.
(See also Triumphant and Orb Cross)
The symbol used by the Free Methodist Church shows a flame spreading across the world. The church is headquartered in Indianapolis, USA, and the symbol was adopted in the late 1980's.
There is no question about the honourable intentions of this church - they surely do not mean to irk their European brothers, but unlike the symbol (shown above) of their British counterpart, the Free Methodist Church logo shows the cross centred over the USA and spreading the evangelical flame across the rest of the world. Interestingly, the flame first hits Europe, the source of Methodism, and then the Middle East, the source of Christianity. This is another example of the "Our Jesus Is Better Than Your Jesus" audacity we seem to have difficulty in overcoming. (See also Old Glory Cross.)
But back to the Free Methodist Church... The name "Free" is derived from several issues that concerned the American founders of this church:
- First, they opposed all forms of slavery. It seems incredible now, but at that time, some slaves were owned by bishops and the Free Methodist Church had an uphill struggle in many quarters. (It seems incredible now, but slavery still exists today and so the church's work is not yet done.)
- Secondly, in Victorian times people would purchase or rent a pew in a church. This didn't make attendance impossible for the poor, but it did make them feel less worthy in the eyes of the church. The Free Methodists charged no fee and welcomed all. They still focus on encouraging the poor to attend church and although they suggest tithing, in essence membership and attendance is free.
- Thirdly, they provided a much less stuffy atmosphere in their church services, offering a free form of worship.
The Free Methodists were not the only church with such ideas (the Salvation Army was founded on similar principles at about the same time in England) but generally their approach was quite radical and the wild flame on their symbol is fitting.
In contrast, the symbol used by the United Methodist Church has a much less lively flame. Their Cross and Flame symbol has been the official insignia of The United Methodist Church since 1968, when the Evangelical United Brethren joined the Methodist Church. The two tongues of the flame represent the union of these two denominations and this church is currently the third largest Christian denomination in the United States.
The design is based on two biblical premises: The cross is a simple Protestant Cross, symbolising Christ's Crucifixion. After Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, his apostles waited in a house in Jerusalem for the appearance of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had promised. On the Jewish festival day of Shavuot (Pentecost), there was the sound of great wind and the Holy Spirit descended upon them. "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire".