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Our Beliefs

Our Doctrinal Heritage

United Methodists profess the historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit. Living in a covenant of grace under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we participate in the first fruits of God's coming reign and pray in hope for its full realization on earth as in heaven.

Our heritage in doctrine and our present theological task focus upon a renewed grasp of the sovereignty of God and of God's love in Christ amid the continuing crises of human existence.

Our forebears in the faith reaffirmed the ancient Christian message as found in the apostolic witness even as they applied it anew in their own circumstances.

Their preaching and teaching were grounded in Scripture, informed by Christian tradition, enlivened in experience, and tested by reason.

Their labors inspire and inform our attempts to convey the saving gospel to our world with its needs and aspirations.

Our Common Heritage as Christians

United Methodists share a common heritage with Christians of every age and nation.  This heritage is grounded in the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which is the source and measure of all valid Christian teaching.  

Basic Christian Affirmations

  • With Christians of other communions we confess belief in the triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  
  • We hold in common with all Christians a faith in the mystery of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.
  • We share the Christian belief that God's redemptive love is realized in human life by the activity of the Holy Spirit, both in personal experience and in the community of believers.
  • We understand ourselves to be part of Christ's universal church when by adoration, proclamation, and service we become conformed to Christ.  
  • With other Christians we recognize that the reign of God is both a present and future reality.
  • We share with many Christian communions a recognition of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, the confession that our justification as sinners is by grace through faith, and the sober realization that the chruch is in need of continual reformation and renewal.

Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases

  • Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life.  By grace we mean the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit, preceding salvation, continuing as justifying grace, and brought to fruition in sanctifying grace.
  • Prevenient grace is the divine love that surrounds humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses.  This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God's will, and our "first slight transient conviction" of having sinned against God.  It also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death and moves us toward repentance and faith.
  • Justification and Assurance.  We believe God reaches out to the repentant believer in justifying grace with acceptance and pardoning love.  Wesleyan theology stresses that a decisive change in the human heart can and does occur under the prompting of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  In Justification we are, through faith, forgiven our sin and restored to God's favor.  This righting of relationships by God through Christ calls forth our faith and trust as we experience regeneration, by which we are made new creatures in Christ.  This process is often referred to as conversion.  Such a change may be sudden and dramatic or gradual and cumulative.  Christian experience as personal transformation always expresses itself as faith working by love.  Our Wesleyan theology also embraces the scriptural promise that we can expect to receive assurance of our present salvation as the Spirit "bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."
  • Sanctification and perfection.  We hold that the wonder of God's acceptance and pardon does not end God's saving work, which continues to nurture our growth in grace.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.  New birth is the first step in this process of sanctification.  Sanctifying grace draws us toward the gift of Christian perfection, which Wesley described as a heart "habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor" and as "having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked."  This gracious gift of God's power and love, the hope and expectation of the faithful, is neither warranted by our efforts nor limited by our frailties.
  • Faith and Good works.  We see God's grace and human activity working together in the relationship of faith and good works.  God's grace calls forth human response and discipline.  Faith is the only response essential for salvation.  However, the General Rules remind us that salvation evidences itself in good works.  Both faith and good works belong within an all-encompassing theology of grace, since they stem from God's gracious love "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit."
  • Mission and Service.  We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world.  By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.  Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal of the life in the world.
  • Nature and Mission of the Church.  Finally, we emphasize the nurturing and serving function of Christian fellowship in the Church.  The personal experience of faith is nourished by the worshiping community.  For Wesley, there was no religion by social religion, no holiness but social holiness.  The communal forms of faith in the Wesleyan tradition not only promote personal growth, the also equip and mobilize us for mission and service to the world.  

 

Our Doctrinal History

The pioneers in the traditions that flowed together into The United Methodist Church understood themselves as standing in the central stream of Christian spirituality and doctrine, loyal heirs of the authentic Christian tradition. In John Wesley's words, theirs was "the old religion, the religion of the Bible, the religion . . .of the whole church in the purest ages." Their gospel was grounded in the biblical message of God's self-giving love revealed in Jesus Christ.

Wesley's portrayal of the spiritual pilgrimage in terms of "the scripture way of salvation" provided their model for experiential Christianity. They assumed and insisted upon the integrity of basic Christian truth and emphasized its practical application in the lives of believers.

This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of "catholic spirit." While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley's familiar dictum was, "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."

But, even as they were fully committed to the principles of religious toleration and theological diversity, they were equally confident that there is a "marrow" of Christian truth that can be identified and that must be conserved. This living core, as they believed, stands revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal and corporate experience, and confirmed by reason. They were very much aware, of course, that God's eternal Word never has been, nor can be, exhaustively expressed in any single form of words.

They were also prepared, as a matter of course, to reaffirm the ancient creeds and confessions as valid summaries of Christian truth. But they were careful not to set them apart as absolute standards for doctrinal truth and error.

Beyond the essentials of vital religion, United Methodists respect the diversity of opinions held by conscientious persons of faith. Wesley followed a time-tested approach: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."

The spirit of charity takes into consideration the limits of human understanding. "To be ignorant of many things and to be mistaken in some," Wesley observed, "is the necessary condition of humanity." The crucial matter in religion is steadfast love for God and neighbor, empowered by the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Doctrinal Standards and General Rules

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.