What is the difference between Methodists and Baptists?
I am not an authority on either Baptist or Methodist doctrine. I will give you what I can based on my research and familiarity with friends and family who may be either. The things I will say also relate primarily to official doctrine. There may be individuals in each group that do not totally agree with what I will say.
The most recognizable differences between the two relate to the nature of baptism. Baptists insist that baptism be immersion, as it was in the Bible. Methodists allow people to be “baptized” by sprinkling or pouring water on them. Baptists say that every believer must be baptized as an outward sign of his belief in the saving power of the death of Jesus. Thus it is essential, but not as a means of salvation. Most Methodists say that baptism is desirable, but not absolutely essential, as an “act of initiation” into the Methodist Church. In recent years American Methodism is tending toward reestablishing baptism as a sacrament by which one receives the grace of God (though not necessary to salvation). Baptists insist that immersion should only be administered to adults and children who are capable of understanding the symbolism of the rite and capable of belief in God. This is based on every example of baptism in the New Testament having been for believing persons. Methodists practice infant baptism. Originally, John Wesley and his immediate followers considered infant baptism to be essential to take away original (or inherited) sin. As the Methodist Church later decided that the doctrine of original sin was not biblical, infant baptism eventually became a promise by the parents to raise the child as a Methodist Christian. It is seen as a means of applying the grace of God to the child. It requires that the child later go through a confirmation, an acceptance of the baptism on his own. As a result of this difference, Methodists will accept anyone as having been baptized if it was done in any church and at any age. Baptists generally will only accept another church’s baptism if it was immersion as an adult or child who had reached the age of reason.
Another difference between the two is that most Baptists hold the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, often expressed as “once saved, always saved.” Most Methodists maintain that, just as one can choose to be saved so one can also choose later to stop following God and thus lose his salvation. One who received God’s grace as an infant through baptism may lose that grace if he subsequently refuses to confirm that baptism.
A third difference, at least in name, is the government of the church. At least in America, the Methodist church is organized with individual congregations responsible to an area government, which is in turn responsible to the national governmental council. I know a man who pretty much got out of ministry in the Methodist Church because his area wanted to reassign him to a different church when thought he could be more effective continuing with the congregation where he was preaching. The official Baptist position is that each congregation is autonomous (independent from each other congregation). In practice, though, many congregations are subject to their state “convention” which is subject to a national convention. Each congregation may be independent in hiring preachers, choosing elders, and certain other functions, but is not independent in other areas.
These are significant differences. These are some very visible differences. My research, however, shows that outside these few areas there are more similarities than differences. Both accept the authority of the Bible, although they may differ on how to interpret it. Both emphasize Jesus as the sacrifice for sin, and the grace of God. Both emphasize doing good, although the Methodists have historically taken more of a lead in social issues, while the Baptists have had a greater emphasis on the spiritual.
I hope this is at least a partial answer to your question. For fuller detail I would recommend that you speak to preachers or members from each group.