UM CHURCH 101
UM Church 101 – What makes us Methodist? - October 2013 newsletter
We affirm core Christian doctrines such as the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), both in personal experience and in the community of believers; salvation by grace through faith in Christ as Savior; the reign of God as both a present and future reality; the authority of Scripture. While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involves the tradition of the church, personal experience and the ability to reason for ourselves.
Historically, Methodism has had an “itinerant” clergy, meaning that all clergy of the annual conference are subject to annual appointment by a bishop. Being part of the itinerancy means that a clergy person is willing to go where sent. This system assures every pastor a church and every church a pastor, hopefully matching (as much as possible) the gifts and graces of an individual with the needs of a particular church or area of service.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in the 18th century, 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.
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. John Wesley described God’s grace as threefold:
• Prevenient grace
• Justifying grace
• Sanctifying grace
Prevenient grace: Prevenient is an ol’ fashioned word which means “that which comes before.” God is active in our lives before we are even aware of it. 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!
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 Cor. 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.” (Ro. 5:8) These verses demonstrate the justifying grace of God. They point to
reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. 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. Justification is also a time of repentance – turning away from behaviors rooted in sin and toward actions that express God’s love.
Conversion: Conversion is a turning around, leaving one orientation or another. It may be sudden and dramatic, or gradual and cumulative.
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. Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.
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.
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.
Mission and Service: Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God through a life of 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.
Other United Methodist Emphases:
Our congregations are not autonomous. We are part of a connection: UM churches are part of a Charge Conference (with our cluster churches. We are part of the Mishawaka’s Finest cluster – I know the name sounds a little arrogant, doesn’t it?), linked to a district (we are in the North District) and the Conference (Indiana) and Annual Conference (yearly gathering of clergy and lay delegates.)
The United Methodist Church recognizes only baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion) as sacraments ordained by Christ. A sacrament (from the Latin sacramentum, “oath”) is an outward sign instituted by God to convey an inward or spiritual grace. Sacraments are liturgical practices of churches. Roman Catholicism recognizes seven sacraments; Protestants two. Other events, such as confirmation, marriage and funeral services are obviously significant and important but are not considered sacraments in the UM churches.
There are a lot of resources out there on the United Methodist Church. For simplicity sake, I recommend “United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction” by William H. Willimon. ISBN 978-0-664-23040-1.
For more information on the United Methodist Church, go to: www.umc.org (national website) and www.inumc.org (Indiana Conference website.) Also don’t forget that Albright UMC has a wonderful website.