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DEC

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Our Beliefs

Our Christian Roots

United Methodists share a common heritage with all Christians. According to our foundational statement of beliefs in The Book of Discipline, we share the following basic affirmations in common with all Christian communities:

Trinity

We describe God in three persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are commonly used to refer to the threefold nature of God. Sometimes we use other terms, such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 13.

God

  • We believe in one God, who created the world and all that is in it.
  • We believe that God is sovereign; that is, God is the ruler of the universe.
  • We believe that God is loving. We can experience God’s love and grace.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 13.

Read more about our belief in God

Jesus

  • We believe that Jesus was human. He lived as a man and died when he was crucified.
  • We believe that Jesus is divine. He is the Son of God.
  • We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the risen Christ lives today. (Christ and messiah mean the same thing—God’s anointed.)
  • We believe that Jesus is our Savior. In Christ we receive abundant life and forgiveness of sins.
  • We believe that Jesus is our Lord and that we are called to pattern our lives after his.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 13-14.

Read more about our belief in Jesus Christ

Read more about our beliefs about salvation

The Holy Spirit

  • We believe that the Holy Spirit is God with us.
  • We believe that the Holy Spirit comforts us when we are in need and convicts us when we stray from God.
  • We believe that the Holy Spirit awakens us to God’s will and empowers us to live obediently.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 14.

Read more about our belief in the Holy Spirit

Human Beings

  • We believe that God created human beings in God’s image.
  • We believe that humans can choose to accept or reject a relationship with God.
  • We believe that all humans need to be in relationship with God in order to be fully human.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 14.

Read more about confessions of sin

Read more about our beliefs about salvation

The Church

  • We believe that the church is the body of Christ, an extension of Christ’s life and ministry in the world today.
  • We believe that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • We believe that the church is “the communion of saints,” a community made up of all past, present, and future disciples of Christ.
  • We believe that the church is called to worship God and to support those who participate in its life as they grow in faith.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 14.

The Bible

  • We believe that the Bible is God’s Word.
  • We believe that the Bible is the primary authority for our faith and practice.
  • We believe that Christians need to know and study the Old Testament and the New Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures).

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 15.

Read more about our belief in the Bible

The Reign of God

  • We believe that the kingdom or reign of God is both a present reality and future hope.
  • We believe that wherever God's will is done, the kingdom or reign of God is present. It was present in Jesus' ministry, and it is also present in our world whenever persons and communities experience reconciliation, restoration, and healing.
  • We believe that although the fulfillment of God's kingdom--the complete restoration of creation--is still to come.
  • We believe that the church is called to be both witness to the vision of what God's kingdom will be like and a participant in helping to bring it to completion.
  • We believe that the reign of God is both personal and social. Personally, we display the kingdom of God as our hearts and minds are transformed and we become more Christ-like. Socially, God's vision for the kingdom includes the restoration and transformation of all of creation.

Adapted from Who Are We? Leader's Guide, p. 28.

Read more about our belief and trust in the Lord of the future

Sacraments

With many other Protestants, we recognize the two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Baptism

  • Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere.
  • Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God's love and forgiveness of our sins.
  • Persons of any age can be baptized.
  • We baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring.
  • A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.

Read By Water and Spirit, the church's official statement on Baptism

Read about baptism in the MethoPedia

The Lord's Supper (Communion, Eucharist)

  • The Lord's Supper is a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ.
  • The Lord's Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the members of God's family.
  • By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ's sacrifice and are nourished and empowered to go into the world in mission and ministry.
  • We practice "open Communion," welcoming all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.

Read This Holy Mystery, the church's official statement on Communion

Questions and answers about communion

Read more about communion in the MethoPedia
 

Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage

Distinctive Emphases

Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. They placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as "practical divinity" has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.

The distinctive shape of our theological heritage can be seen not only in this emphasis on Christian living, but also in Wesley's distinctive understanding of God's saving grace. Although Wesley shared with many other Christians a belief in salvation by grace, he combined them in a powerful way to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life.

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Grace

Grace is central to our understanding of Christian faith and life.

Grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. We read in the Letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Our United Methodist heritage is rooted in a deep and profound understanding of God’s grace. This incredible grace flows from God’s great love for us. Did you have to memorize John 3:16 in Sunday school when you were a child? There was a good reason. This one verse summarizes the gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The ability to call to mind God’s love and God’s gift of Jesus Christ is a rich resource for theology and faith.”

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, described God’s grace as threefold:

  • prevenient grace
  • justifying grace
  • sanctifying grace

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology, 29-33. Used by permission.

Prevenient Grace

Wesley understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift—a gift that is always available, but that can be refused.

God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good….

God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology, p. 31. Used by permission.

Justifying Grace

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul wrote: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

These verses demonstrate the justifying grace of God. They point to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored. According to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, the image of God—which has been distorted by sin—is renewed within us through Christ’s death.

Again, this dimension of God’s grace is a gift. God’s grace alone brings us into relationship with God. There are no hoops through which we have to jump in order to please God and to be loved by God. God has acted in Jesus Christ. We need only to respond in faith.

Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology, p. 31-32.

Conversion

This process of salvation involves a change in us that we call conversion. Conversion is a turning around, leaving one orientation for another. It may be sudden and dramatic, or gradual and cumulative. But in any case, it’s a new beginning. Following Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “You must be born anew” (John 3:7 RSV), we speak of this conversion as rebirth, new life in Christ, or regeneration.

Following Paul and Luther, John Wesley called this process justification. Justification is what happens when Christians abandon all those vain attempts to justify themselves before God, to be seen as “just” in God’s eyes through religious and moral practices. It’s a time when God’s “justifying grace” is experienced and accepted, a time of pardon and forgiveness, of new peace and joy and love. Indeed, we’re justified by God’s grace through faith.

Justification is also a time of repentance—turning away from behaviors rooted in sin and toward actions that express God’s love. In this conversion we can expect to receive assurance of our present salvation through the Holy Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Excerpt from The United Methodist Member's Handbook, p. 78-79.

Sanctifying Grace

Salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be. John Wesley described this dimension of God’s grace as sanctification, or holiness. (Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology, p. 32-33)

Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God. (Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology, p. 32-33)

We’re to press on, with God’s help, in the path of sanctification toward perfection. By perfection, Wesley did not mean that we would not make mistakes or have weaknesses. Rather, he understood it to be a continual process of being made perfect in our love of God and each other and of removing our desire to sin. (Adapted from Who Are We? : Doctrine, Ministry, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church, Revised: Leader's Guide by Kenneth L. Carder, Cokesbury, p. 46.)

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Read more about Grace

Read John Wesley's sermon, "Christian Perfection"

Faith and Good Works

United Methodists insist that faith and good works belong together. What we believe must be confirmed by what we do. Personal salvation must be expressed in ministry and mission in the world. We believe that Christian doctrine and Christian ethics are inseparable, that faith should inspire service. The integration of personal piety and social holiness has been a hallmark of our tradition. We affirm the biblical precept that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17).

Excerpt from The United Methodist Primer, 2005 Revised Edition by Chester E. Custer (Discipleship Resources, 2005); p. 59.

Mission and Service

Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God through a life of service. As disciples, we become active participants in God’s activity in the world through mission and service. Love of God is always linked to love of neighbor and to a passionate commitment to seeking justice and renewal in the world.

Nurture and Mission of the Church

For Wesley, there was no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness. In other words, faith always includes a social dimension. One cannot be a solitary Christian. As we grow in faith through our participation in the church community, we are also nourished and equipped for mission and service to the world.

"From Wesley's time to the present, Methodism has sought to be both a nurturing community and a servant community. Members of Methodist Societies and class meetings met for personal nurture through giving to the poor, visiting the imprisoned, and working for justice and peace in the community. They sought not only to receive the fullness of God's grace for themselves; but...they saw themselves as existing 'to reform the nation...and to spread scriptural holiness over the land'"

Excerpt from Who Are We? : Doctrine, Ministry, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church, Revised: Leader's Guide by Kenneth L. Carder, (Cokesbury), p. 55.

Reflecting on Our Faith

There are two kinds of believing, and both are essential for Christian life. They’re closely related and influence each other, but they’re different. One is belief and the other, beliefs. One is faith and the other, doctrine or theology.

Faith

Faith is the basic orientation and commitment of our whole being—a matter of heart and soul. Christian faith is grounding our lives in the living God as revealed especially in Jesus Christ. It’s both a gift we receive within the Christian community and a choice we make. It’s trusting in God and relying on God as the source and destiny of our lives. Faith is believing in God, giving God our devoted loyalty and allegiance. Faith is following Jesus, answering the call to be his disciples in the world. Faith is hoping for God’s future, leaning into the coming kingdom that God has promised. Faith-as-belief is active; it involves trusting, believing, following, hoping.

Theology

Theology or doctrine is more a matter of the head. It’s thinking together in the community of believers about faith and discipleship. It’s reflecting on the gospel. It’s examining the various beliefs we hold as a church. Some may say that theology is only for professional theologians. This is not true. All of us, young and old, lay and clergy, need to work at this theological task so that our beliefs will actually guide our day-by-day actions and so that we can communicate our belief to an unbelieving world.

Excerpt from United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 61.

Our Theological Journey

Theology is thinking together about our faith and discipleship. It’s reflecting with others in the Christian community about the good news of God’s love in Christ.

Both laypeople and clergy are needed in “our theological task.” The laypeople bring understandings from their ongoing effort to live as Christians in the complexities of a secular world; clergy bring special tools and experience acquired through intensive biblical and theological study. We need one another.

But how shall we go about our theological task so that our beliefs are true to the gospel and helpful in our lives? In John Wesley’s balanced and rigorous ways for thinking through Christian doctrine, we find four major sources or criteria, each interrelated. These we often call our “theological guidelines”: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. (See The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, pp. 76-83.) Let’s look at each of these.

Scripture

In thinking about our faith, we put primary reliance on the Bible. It’s the unique testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life of Israel; in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and in the Spirit’s work in the early church. It’s our sacred canon and, thus, the decisive source of our Christian witness and the authoritative measure of the truth in our beliefs.

In our theological journey we study the Bible within the believing community. Even when we study it alone, we’re guided and corrected through dialogue with other Christians. We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole. We use concordances, commentaries, and other aids prepared by the scholars. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try to discern both the original intention of the text and its meaning for our own faith and life.

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Tradition

Between the New Testament age and our own era stand countless witnesses on whom we rely in our theological journey. Through their words in creed, hymn, discourse, and prayer, through their music and art, through their courageous deeds, we discover Christian insight by which our study of the Bible is illuminated. This living tradition comes from many ages and many cultures. Even today Christians living in far different circumstances from our own—in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia—are helping us discover fresh understanding of the Gospel’s power.

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Experience

A third source and criterion of our theology is our experience. By experience we mean especially the “new life in Christ,” which is ours as a gift of God’s grace; such rebirth and personal assurance gives us new eyes to see the living truth in Scripture. But we mean also the broader experience of all the life we live, its joys, its hurts, its yearnings. So we interpret the Bible in light of our cumulative experiences. We interpret our life’s experience in light of the biblical message. We do so not only for our experience individually but also for the experience of the whole human family.

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Reason

Finally, our own careful use of reason, though not exactly a direct source of Christian belief, is a necessary tool. We use our reason in reading and interpreting the Scripture. We use it in relating the Scripture and tradition to our experience and in organizing our theological witness in a way that’s internally coherent. We use our reason in relating our beliefs to the full range of human knowledge and in expressing our faith to others in clear and appealing ways.

Read more from the Book of Discipline

Excerpt from United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 64-65.