The United Methodist Church has a rich theological tradition that is rooted in salvation through Jesus Christ. We believe that salvation is the first step in a lifelong process of continual transformation into the likeness of Jesus. We call this sanctification. This pursuit of holiness is one of our definitive characteristics from the start of the Methodist movement. This is an exciting prospect for all people because God is making good on His promise to redeem the world to Himself, and he is doing it through a personal process that includes all of us.
The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.
This mission is our grace-filled response to the Reign of God in the world announced by Jesus. God’s grace is active everywhere, at all times, carrying out this purpose as revealed in the Bible. It is expressed in God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, and in the ministry of the prophets. It is fully embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is experienced in the ongoing creation of a new people by the Holy Spirit.
We make disciples as we:
- proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;
- lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
- nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;
- send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
- continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House
When we say the Apostles' Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an understanding of God as a Trinity—three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity" is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.
- God creates. In the beginning God created the universe, and the Creation is ongoing. From the whirling galaxies, to subatomic particles, to the unfathomable wonders of our own minds and bodies—we marvel at God's creative wisdom.
- God sustains. God continues to be active in creation, holding all in "the everlasting arms." In particular, we affirm that God is involved in our human history—past, present, and future.
- God loves. God loves all creation. In particular, God loves humankind, created in the divine image. This love is like that of a parent. We've followed Jesus in speaking of God as "our Father," while at times it seems that God nurtures us in a motherly way as well.
- God suffers. Since God is present in creation, God is hurt when any aspect of creation is hurt. God especially suffers when people are injured. In all violence, abuse, injustice, prejudice, hunger, poverty, or illness, the living God is suffering in our midst.
- God judges. All human behavior is measured by God's righteous standards—not only the behavior itself but also the motive or the intent. The Lord of life knows our sin—and judges it.
- God redeems. Out of infinite love for each of us, God forgives our own self-destruction and renews us within. God is reconciling the individuals, groups, races, and nations that have been rent apart. God is redeeming all creation.
- God reigns. God is the Lord of all creation and of all history. Though it may oftentimes seem that the "principalities and powers" of evil have the stronger hand, we affirm God's present and future reign.
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 72-73
In trying to find words to express their faith in Jesus, the New Testament writers gave him various names. Jesus was Master, Rabbi, Teacher. He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He was the Doorway to the sheepfold, the Light of the world, the Prince of Peace, and more. In the church's long tradition, scores of other names or titles have been given. Let's look at five of the most central biblical names for Jesus:
Son of God
We believe in Jesus as God's special child. We call this the Incarnation, meaning that God was in the world in the actual person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers explain this in different ways. In Mark, Jesus seems to be adopted as God's Son at his baptism. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. In John, Jesus is God's pre-existing Word who "became flesh and lived among us" (1:14). However this mystery occurred, we affirm that God is wholly present in Jesus Christ.
Son of man
Paradoxically, we also believe that Jesus was fully human. One of the church's first heresies claimed that Jesus only seemed to be human, that he was really a divine figure in disguise. But the early church rejected this. It affirmed that Jesus was a person in every sense that we are. He was tempted. He grew weary. He wept. He expressed his anger. In fact, Jesus is God's picture of what it means to be a mature human being.
We say "Jesus Christ" easily, almost as if "Christ" were Jesus' surname. Yet this name is another way of expressing who we believe Jesus to be. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means God's Anointed One. For years before Jesus' time the Jews had been expecting a new king, a descendant of the revered King David, who would restore the nation of Israel to glory. Like kings of old, this one would be anointed on the head with oil, signifying God's election; hence, the Chosen One = the Anointed One = the Messiah = the Christ. The early Jewish Christians proclaimed that Jesus was, indeed, this Chosen One. Thus, in calling him our Christ today, we affirm that he was and is the fulfillment of the ancient hope and God's Chosen One to bring salvation to all peoples, for all time.
We also proclaim Jesus as our Lord, the one to whom we give our devoted allegiance. The word Lord had a more powerful meaning for people of medieval times, because they actually lived under the authority of lords and monarchs. Today some of us may find it difficult to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives. We're used to being independent and self-sufficient. We have not bowed down to authority. To claim Jesus as Lord is to freely submit our will to his, to humbly profess that it is he who is in charge of this world.
Perhaps best of all, we believe in Jesus as Savior, as the one through whom God has freed us of our sin and has given us the gift of whole life, eternal life, and salvation. We speak of this gift as the atonement, our "at-oneness" or reconciliation with God. We believe that in ways we cannot fully explain, God has done this through the mystery of Jesus' self-giving sacrifice on the cross and his victory over sin and death in the Resurrection.
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 76-77
The Holy Spirit is God's present activity in our midst. When we sense God's leading, God's challenge, or God's support or comfort, we say that it's the Holy Spirit at work.
In Hebrew, the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are nearly the same. The same is true in Greek. In trying to describe God's activity among them, the ancients were saying that it was like God's breath, like a sacred wind. It could not be seen or held: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes" (John 3:8). But the effect of God's Spirit, like the wind, could be felt and known. Where do we find the evidence of the Spirit at work?
In the Bible
The Spirit is mentioned often throughout the Bible. In Genesis a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters," as if taking part in the Creation (1:2). Later in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), we often read of "the Spirit of the Lord."
In Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism, Jesus "saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him" (3:16) and he "was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted" (4:1). After his Resurrection Christ told his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). A few weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost, this came to pass: "And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind....All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:2, 4). As the Book of Acts and Paul's letters attest, from that time on, the early Christians were vividly aware of God's Spirit leading the new church.
In guidance, comfort, and strength
Today we continue to experience God's breath, God's Spirit. As one of our creeds puts it, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength" (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 884). We sense the Spirit in time alone—perhaps in prayer, in our study of the Scriptures, in reflection on a difficult decision, or in the memory of a loved one. The Spirit's touch is intensely personal.
Perhaps we're even more aware of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers—the congregation, the church school class or fellowship group, the soup kitchen, the planning committee, the prayer meeting, the family. Somehow the Spirit speaks through the thoughtful and loving interaction of God's people. The Holy Spirit, who brought the church into being, is still guiding and upholding it, if we will but listen.
In the gifts we receive
How does the Holy Spirit affect our lives? By changing us! By renewing us and by strengthening us for the work of ministry.
Fruits: Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). What sort of fruit? Paul asserts that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).
Gifts: Paul also writes that the Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on believers. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 he lists nine, which vary from one person to another: the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
These fruits and gifts are not of our own achievement. They and others are the outgrowth of the Spirit's work in us, by grace, through our faith in Jesus the Christ. And they are not given for personal gain. Through these fruits and gifts, the Holy Spirit empowers us for ministry in the world.
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 84-85
- 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 for the transformation of the world.
- 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.
We say that the Bible is vital to our faith and life, but what exactly is the Bible? Here are four ways to view it:
The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) and twenty-seven in the New Testament. These books were written over a one-thousand-year period in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), and Greek.
The books are of different lengths and different literary styles. In the Hebrew Bible we find legends, histories, liturgies for community worship, songs, proverbs, sermons, even a poetic drama (Job). In the New Testament are Gospels, a history, many letters, and an apocalypse (Revelation). Yet through it all the Bible is the story of the one God, who stands in a covenant relationship with the people of God.
In early times and over many generations, the sixty-six books were thoughtfully used by faithful people. In the process their merits were weighed, and the community of believers finally gave them special authority. Tested by faith, proven by experience, these books have become sacred; they've become our rule for faith and practice.
In Israel the Book of Deuteronomy was adopted as the Word of God about 621 B.C. The Torah, or Law (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), assumed authority around 400 B.C.; the Prophets about 200 B.C.; and the Writings about 100 B.C. After a struggle the Christians determined that the Hebrew Bible was Scripture for them as well. The New Testament as we know it was formed and adopted by church councils between A.D. 200 and A.D. 400.
We say that God speaks to us through the Bible, that it's God's Word. This authority derives from three sources:
We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired, that they were filled with God's Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.
We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life's present realities.
The Bible's authority is, therefore, nothing magical. For example, we do not open the text at random to discover God's will. The authority of Scripture derives from the movement of God's Spirit in times past and in our reading of it today.
A guide to faith and life
We United Methodists put the Bible to work. In congregational worship we read from the Bible. Through preaching, we interpret its message for our lives. It forms the background of most of our hymns and liturgy. It's the foundation of our church school curriculum. Many of us use it in our individual devotional lives, praying through its implications day by day. However, we admit that there's still vast "biblical illiteracy" in our denomination. We need to help one another open the Bible and use it.
Perhaps the Bible is best put to use when we seriously answer these four questions about a given text: (1) What did this passage mean to its original hearers? (2) What part does it play in the Bible's total witness? (3) What does God seem to be saying to my life, my community, my world, through this passage? and (4) What changes should I consider making as a result of my study?
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 80-81.
The foundation of Christian living is faith in Christ. Faith is the central loyalty that gives purpose and direction to our lives. Christian faith is grounding our lives in the living God as revealed especially in Jesus the Christ. This faith does not happen overnight. It’s a journey. From birth to death we’re growing in faith. There are ups and downs — and sometimes long flat stretches where we seem to be stalled in our journey. But little by little, most of us deepen our relationship with God.
In part, this growth in faith is a gift. Through our participation in the community of faith, through our openness to God’s love, we receive this marvelous treasure. But faith is also a choice we make, an often difficult decision to put God and God’s reign first in our lives, no matter what the cost.
The journey is complex, different for each traveler and involving at least four intertwined pathways:
First and foremost, faith is trusting. To be a person of faith is to rely on God, to know that “the Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23). It’s to rest confidently in the power and care of the living, loving Lord who’s revealed in the Bible and in our own experience. Faith is to give ourselves to the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives and in our times, not knowing where it will lead. ...
Faith is also believing in someone. In the Apostle’s Creed, for example, we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” This is not the same as saying, “I believe that God the Father Almighty exists.” Rather, we’re confessing our confidence in God, our devoted loyalty, and our allegiance. Such belief may involve going beyond what we’re sure of and taking a “leap of faith.”
There’s more to faith than trusting and believing. Faith is more active, a matter of doing as well as being. So Jesus said to his first disciples, “Follow me.” To be faithful is to follow Jesus the Christ. It is to be one of his disciples, seeking to understand his will and his way — and to do it. Such discipleship is not an easy matter. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25)....
Christian faith is also a matter of hoping, of leaning into the future that God has promised. It’s living with the assurance that God is bringing in the time of shalom, God’s reign here on earth. As Easter people, we have a hope born of the Resurrection: God has already conquered sin and death, and the kingdom of love, righteousness, peace and justice is even now breaking in. To abide in hope is to watch and pray for God’s future and to join in the ministries through which it will be realized.
Surrounded by the love and encouragement of the community of believers, we persevere on the journey of faith, ever trusting, believing, following and hoping.
Excerpted from The United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised and Expanded by George E. Koehler, pp. 62-63.