The Web site of The United Methodist Church goes to great length to share what we, as United Methodists, believe. We have used that page to give a shorter synopsis about what our church believes. If you would like more information, please check out the Web site under "Basics of Our Faith."
We believe in one God, and only one God. But we believe there are three persons, or natures that are found in that one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another way to say that is God is one and indivisible, yet God reveals God's self in three distinct ways; it is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.
We believe God is transcendent (over and beyond all that is), yet at the same time immanent (present in everything). God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing). God is absolute, infinite, righteous, just, loving, merciful…and more. Because we cannot speak literally about God, we use metaphors: God is a Shepherd, a Bridegroom, a Judge. God is Love or Light or Truth.
We cannot describe God with total certainty, but we can know God as he revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ. If we have difficulty imagining God, we remember Jesus, is was the Son of the Living God and one person of the Trinity. Therefore, we can attempt to describe how we experience God and how God interacts with the world:
1. God creates. In the beginning God created the universe, and the Creation is ongoing.
2. God sustains. In particular, we affirm that God is involved in our human history—past, present, and future.
3. God loves. God loves all creation. In particular, God loves humankind, created in the divine image. This love is like that of a parent, being
both fatherly and motherly.
4. God suffers. God is hurt when any aspect of creation is hurt. In all violence, abuse, injustice, prejudice, hunger, poverty, or illness, the living God is suffering in our midst.
5. God judges. All human behavior is measured by God's righteous standards—not only the behavior itself but also the motive or the intent.
6. God redeems. Out of infinite love for each of us, God forgives our own self-destruction and renews us within. God is redeeming all creation.
7. God reigns. God is the Lord of all creation and of all history. 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 Scripture, Jesus is referred to in many ways, all of which are attempts to describe who he was or what he did. He is called Messiah; Christ; Master; Rabbi; Teacher; the Way, Truth and Life; the Sheep Gate; Light of the World; Prince of Peace; and more.
Son of God
We believe God was in the world in the actual person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is referred to as the Incarnation, and it is explained 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, a human being in every sense of the word. Jesus was tempted, grew tired, wept, and got angry. In fact, Jesus is God's picture of what it means to be a mature human being.
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.
Jesus is Lord, the Ruler, the one given 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.
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.
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. 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.
We see evidence of the Spirit in scripture. In Genesis a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters." Later in the Old Testament, "the Spirit of the Lord" is mentioned often.
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). Forty days later, on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit when it came upon them "...suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind..." (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.
We see evidence of the Spirit as he guides, strengthens and comforts us today. 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. But we also sense the Holy Spirit while in the community of believers. Somehow the Spirit speaks through the thoughtful and loving interaction of God's people. The Holy Spirit, who brought the church into being, still guides and upholds God's Church.
We also see evidence of the Holy Spirit as Spirit renews, strengthens and transforms up. It is from the Spirit that we receive gifts for ministry. Jesus said his followers will be known by their fruits. Paul asserts that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).
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. They are not given for personal gain. They are given to empower us for ministry in the world.
If we are in Jesus Christ and Christ is in us, we are not only saved, we are assured salvation; we have been found by God. Salvation is to know that after feeling worthless, we've been redeemed. It's to experience a reunion with God, others, the natural world, and our own best selves. It's a healing of the alienation—the estrangement—we've experienced. In salvation we become whole. Salvation happens to us both now and for the future. It's life that begins not at death, but in the present.
Salvation cannot be earned. There's no behavior, no matter how holy or righteous, by which we can achieve salvation. Rather, it's the gift of a gracious God. We are saved by grace through faith.
By grace we mean God's extraordinary unconditional love, understanding, and forgiveness all wrapped up in one package. We don't have to act a certain way to obtain approval from God. God's love, or grace, is given without any regard for our goodness. It's unmerited, unconditional, and unending.
As we come to accept this grace, to entrust ourselves to it, and to ground our lives in it, we discover the wholeness that God has promised. This trust, as we've seen, is called faith. God takes the initiative in grace; but only as we respond through faith is the change wrought in us.
We're saved by grace alone through faith alone. We're made whole and reconciled by the love of God as we receive it and trust in it.
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 either way, it marks a new beginning. In John 3:7 (RSV), Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born anew" (also translated "born from above," or "reborn). Being born anew is our regeneration, or our new life in Jesus Christ. .
Following Paul and Luther, John Wesley called this process justification. Justification is what happens when we, as Christians, abandon our vain attempts to justify ourselves as worthy before God, or to be seen as "just" in God's eyes. Wesley said at this time we experience God's justifying grace, and it is a time of pardon and forgiveness, as long as we accept the gift of grace God offers us.
Justification is also a time of repentance -- turning away from behaviors rooted in sin and turning toward actions that express God's love. 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).
Conversion is our beginning of a new life of wholeness in Christ. Wesley believed that it is through a grace that sanctifies us that helps us grow in Christ. It is sanctifying grace that moves us onward toward Christian perfection, with the goal of being perfected in love - to experience Gods pure love and love others in the same way; to experience and live a holiness of heart and life, as well as living a life free from sin. We're not there yet; but by God's grace, as we United Methodists say, "we're going on to perfection!"
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.
When we sin, we turn our backs on God and God's expectations for us; we break our relationship with God. Through God's grace, we are restored and reunited with God, with creation, and with the persons God intended us to be.
We believe that the Bible is God's Holy Word, and that scripture still speaks to us today. This authority derives from three sources:
1. We believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God's Holy Spirit, and wrote the truth as they understood it.
2. We believe that God was at work in the process of canonization, when the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
3. We believe the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate
the text 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. We believe scripture is infallible and gives us everything we need to know to be saved.
We try to consider these for questions when studying scripture:
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?
4. What changes should I consider making as a result of my study?
United Methodists recognize two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: baptism and Holy Communion.
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.
(from By Water and Spirit, the church's official statement concerning baptism.)
The Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, Eucharist)
The Lord's Supper is a holy meal of bread and fruit of the vine 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.
John Wesley believed Christians should take an active part in society. Ever since predecessor churches to United Methodism flourished in the United States, we have been known as a denomination involved with people's lives, with political and social struggles, having local to international mission implications. Such involvement is an expression of the personal change we experience in our baptism and conversion.
The United Methodist Church believes God's love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. We are to care enough about people's lives to risk interpreting God's love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to the flow of the rest of society.
(Information from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2012. Copyright © 2012.)
To help guide our thinking and acting about how we live in, and are in engaged in ministry in the world, The United Methodist Church has created statements to guide the church in its efforts to create a world of justice.
"Our Social Creed" is a basic statement of our convictions about the fundamental relationships between God, God's creation and humanity. This basic statement is expanded in a more lengthy statement called the "Social Principles." This statement explains more fully how United Methodists are called to live in the world. Part of our Book of Discipline, the "Social Principles," serve as a guide to official church action and our individual witness.
"The Social Principles" are a prayerful and thoughtful effort of the General Conference to speak to the issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation. In them, we affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging we may apply our faith differently in various cultural contexts as we live out the gospel. Below are some short statements from the Social Principles:
The Natural World: All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it.
The Nurturing Community: We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals.
The Social Community: We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God's sight. We reject discrimination and assert the rights of minority groups to equal opportunities.
The Economic Community: We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order.
The Political Community: We hold governments responsible for the protection of people’s basic freedoms. We believe that neither church nor state should attempt to dominate the other.
The World Community: God’s world is one world. We pledge ourselves to seek the meaning of the gospel in all issues that divide people and threaten the growth of world community.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
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THE HOLY SPIRIT
OUR SOCIAL CREED AND SOCIAL PRINCIPLES