Good Anglican that he was, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, believed that only the bishops of the church had the authority to ordain persons for priestly ministry. He also believed that only the ordained could preside over the sacraments. But as time went on and the Methodist movement grew in the United States, Mr. Wesley was presented with quite a dilemma.
During the American Revolution most of the clergy in the Church of England, as well as many itinerant Methodist lay preachers, returned to England just prior to the outbreak of hostilities; and good Tory that he was, Wesley supported the British during the war (which contributed to the suspicion of Methodists by the revolutionaries). And even though Francis Asbury remained in America during the war and began doing his part in reviving the Methodist movement in America, as a result of this exodus of clergy from the former colonies, there was a shortage of duly ordain priests to administer the sacraments and there was no bishop in America to ordain more clergy.
To remedy the situation, Wesley asked the Bishop of London to ordain more priests to send to America. He refused. Father John was now left with quite a dilemma. There were approximately 15,000 Methodists in America all needing the sacraments with too few clergy to see to their need. Wesley, being the pragmatist, sought a solution to the problem. But pragmatics were not sufficient enough in and of itself to find a solution. Wesley was also concerned with the theology of it all as well. The Methodists in America agreed with Wesley-- only ordained clergy could administer baptism and Holy Communion-- the dilemma for the Methodists was not around the necessity of ordination, but rather the question of who had the authority to ordain. From a New Testament point of view, Wesley wondered who could rightly be considered an episkopos (the Greek word for "bishop")?
It was the latter question that Wesley attempted to answer...