The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 when The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church joined together. However, the church traces its roots back to 1738 when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley’s heart “was strangely warmed” at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England. The more prominent United Methodist beliefs may be briefly stated as follows:
The Bible is the inspired and holy Word of God. The Bible is our textbook. The Bible is listed first because it is our chief source of knowledge about God and Christ and contains all the truth necessary for salvation.
God is infinite in wisdom, power, and love - the creator and sustainer of the universe. Every person on earth is someone God loves. God will hear the prayers of any and every person. One does not have to go through any intermediary to reach God. However, through worship, through fellowship with other people, through proclamation of the faith from the pulpit, through study in classes, and in other ways the church helps one learn about and commune with God.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). We believe Jesus Christ is uniquely God's Son, sent by God, to be born of Mary, to make the invisible God known in human form. In his expressions of loving mercy, in his teaching, in his miracles of compassion, in the absolutely holy life he lived, in the compassion of his ministry, and in the utter selflessness of his servanthood, we see God. "He who has seen me has seen the Father," Jesus said (John 14:9).
We believe Jesus Christ died upon a cross for us and our sins. His cross is an example of sacrifice, and it is a revelation of God's love, but it is more, much more. His death on the cross forever makes a difference in a person's relationship with God when they put their faith in Him. As Paul put it, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (II Corinthians 5:19). We find salvation through his shed blood.
We believe Christ rose from the dead, and his resurrection is our assurance that there is life for us beyond the grave. "Because I live," he said, "You will live also" (John 14:19).
The Holy Spirit is God's presence with us on earth today. The Holy Spirit came in a new and mighty way upon the Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2) and is present in the world today. We believe the Spirit bears witness to our spirits that we are in Jesus Christ and are the children of God (Romans 8:16). "The witness of the Spirit" is a doctrine often emphasized by John Wesley. In his sermon on the subject, he said, "By the witness of the Spirit I mean the inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given Himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out and I, even I, am reconciled to God."
This is at the very center of our faith. Sin is both in our nature and in our actions. It may be said that our actions are the expressions of the sin in our souls. If we are "heartily sorry for these our misdoings," as we pray in the prayer of confession, and put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are justified, saved, cleansed - not because we deserve it, but because of grace, the unmerited favor of God. "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
As the result of commitment to God through Christ, we grow in faith. Our love for God and for one another becomes more complete. Holiness of heart and life has always been emphasized by United Methodists. Actually, no one ever attains a literal sinlessness in life. As one grows in Christian faith, the intentions of the soul become more perfect. This is what we call sanctification. "For God knew his own before ever they were, and also ordained that they should be shaped to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29 NEB).
One becomes a Christian through the Christian experience of conversion. It may be a climactic experience such as came to Saul of Tarsus as he was on the way to Damascus. Suddenly he saw a light from heaven and heard the voice of Jesus (Acts 9, 22, 24). As long as he lived, that experience shaped his life.
There is also the experience of Timothy. He never had a climactic conversion. He could not refer to any one moment when he was converted to Christ. Writing to Timothy, Paul says, "From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15).
John Wesley as a child was carefully instructed in the Christian faith by his wonderful mother. Throughout his life, he never forgot his early teaching. It is argued by some that Wesley organized the very first Sunday schools. Methodism strongly emphasizes teaching children. The United Methodist Church also provides careful instruction in membership for children.
Zacchaeus experienced yet a different type of conversion - a great decision. As Zacchaeus and Jesus visited together in his home, he decided to make a change. Jesus told him, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9).
The United Methodist Church recognizes and acknowledges all other Christian churches. We have implanted in our hearts the words of Wesley, "If your heart beats with my heart in love and loyalty to Christ, give me your hand."
All Christians are welcome at the table of Holy Communion in every United Methodist Church. This is Methodism's invitation to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion,
United Methodism accepts both the baptism and vows of membership from any other Christian church. One coming from another Christian church is only asked, "Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"
Also, it has always been the custom of Methodist churches to cooperate with other Christian churches in every possible way. Methodism has never claimed to be the only church. It claims to be one of the Christian churches. It has been pointed out by many that the United Methodist Church recognizes "the Christians of other churches and the churches of other Christians."
Baptism is an outward sign of an inner commitment and a spiritual new birth. It is a rite of initiation into the body of which Christ is the head. It is believed that three modes of baptism were practiced by the early church: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. We know that these three modes continue to be practiced by Christians today. Being more concerned about the inner experience than the outward expressions, The United Methodist Church both practices and accepts any mode of baptism. However, sprinkling is the method most often used in United Methodist Churches.
Holy Communion was instituted by Christ in the Upper Room when he changed the Passover meal for his disciples into what we now know as Holy Communion. The bread and cup represent the body and blood of Christ and it is the belief of United Methodists that when Christians come to the Table of the Lord in faith and with a spirit of repentance, the real presence of God, the Holy Spirit, is there to touch the lives of those receiving communion with needed blessings from God. Thus Holy Communion is more than a symbolic act. It is a means of grace through which God blesses His people. Holy Communion is also a means of drawing each Christian's focus back to essentials of faith on a regular basis. United Methodists do not receive Holy Communion every Sunday in most churches, but it is observed regularly.
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.” 1
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, described God’s grace as threefold:
- prevenient grace
- justifying grace
- sanctifying grace
- prevenient grace