Methodists do not believe they are part of the best church or the only church; Methodists believe that all Christians are part of one family of God.
The basic beliefs of The United Methodist Church include:
- Triune God. God is one God in three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost). We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and look to Christ for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world.
- Scripture. The writings in the Old Testament and New Testament are the inspired word of God. The Scriptures are the primary means of our understanding God and who God is for us. We affirm the necessity of claiming both Testaments as authoritative for our lives.
- Sin. While human beings were intended to bear the image of God, all humans are sinners for whom that image is distorted. Sin estranges us from God and corrupts human nature such that we cannot heal or save ourselves.
- Salvation through Jesus Christ. God’s redeeming love is active to save sinners through Jesus’ incarnate life and teachings, through his atoning death, his resurrection, his sovereign presence through history, and his promised return.
- Sacraments. The UMC recognizes two sacraments: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Other rites such as Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony Funerals, and Anointing of the Sick are performed but are not considered sacraments.
In Holy Baptism, the Church believes that Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. Baptism is a sacrament in
which God initiates a covenant with individuals, people become a part of the Church, is not to be repeated, and is a means of grace. Baptism is the work of God, not a ritual of the church, it is administered to infants to symbolize to the whole church that God is already at work in this child,
and we may see in the child being baptized a reflection of God’s grace. The United Methodist Church generally practices Baptism by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion and recognizes Trinitarian formula baptisms from other Christian denominations in good standing.
The United Methodist Church affirms the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion, (the bread is an effectual sign of His body crucified on the cross and the cup is an effectual sign of His blood shed for humanity),
believes that the celebration is an anamnesis of Jesus’ death, believes the sacrament to be a means of grace and practices open communion.
We celebrate this gift of grace through the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist. We affirm that in the sacrament, there is a real, spiritual presence of Christ in our midst, although the bread and the cup are essentially the same. As United Methodists, we practice an open table for communion. Church membership or baptism is not a requirement. In that the grace of God is open to all, the great feast reminding us of that grace is also open.
At the United Methodist Church Holy communion is open to all including children, a practice that is not followed by some other denominations. The scriptures do not discriminate on age or whether a person has been confirmed in the church. Participation in the Lord’s Supper is an act of inclusion, where all children of God are invited to the feast. Some feel that children don’t understand, however, no one understands the mystery of the sacrament (the word sacrament actually means mystery) or the mystery of God’s grace.
- Witness. United Methodists believe that as Christians, we are called to be a witness to the world by word and deed. Mission is an essential part of being a United Methodist, as is speaking up in matters of injustice and oppression in whatever forms they might find themselves. While some feel that this is a meddling by the church into matters of public policy and government, it is actually in line with the prophetic message found in the Hebrew Scriptures, calling all people to act in a manner of love and consistent with God’s grace.
- Inclusivity. The UMC includes and welcomes people of all races, ethnicities, and ages. United Methodists believe that we are a connection. We do not exist as separate congregations or individual Christians. We are connected by the power of the Holy Spirit as one church under one Lord. As a connected people, we are like a family who seeks to listen and discern what it is that God intends for us to do. This is sometimes far more complicated than having a single person in charge who makes a decision from on high, however, the process works to bring people together as God intends. As a connected people, we seek to combine our resources and gifts for ministry so that all the world might know the power of Jesus Christ in their lives.
- Free will. The UMC believes that people, while corrupted by sin, are free to make their own choices because of God’s divine grace. As Christians, we believe in life eternal. No one knows exactly what heaven is like, but we affirm the resurrection
as a real and present part of our own journey in the Christian life. We are resurrection people, called to new life in Christ, who is our redeemer and Savior. We are truly in need of a Savior because we are people of free will who can willingly choose to follow, or not to follow, the ways of God. In that we become separated for God in our sin, it is in the life, death and resurrection of Christ that the broken bond is restored and we are made right. This is by God’s initiative, not through our human endeavors.
- Grace. The UMC believes that God gives unmerited favor freely to all people, though it may be resisted. One of the hallmarks of the thought of John Wesley is the concept known as prevenient grace. This is the grace of God that goes before us, that works through us even before we are aware of its presence, that prompts our first wishes to please God.
We also believe that though God’s grace goes before us, there is a time when we need to claim that grace for ourselves. Wesley used the term justification, or being made right with God. This is the Christian’s acknowledgement that God’s forgiveness of sin and God’s unconditional continuous love is a gift given to “me” and all the “me’s” who claim Christ as their savior. For some, this is a sudden conversion experience. For others, it is a gradual coming to understand in the power of God in their lives.
To grow in the grace of God is another essential part of the Christian faith for people called Methodism. Wesley called this sanctification, or being made holy. The scriptures call us “to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect.” Does this mean we will never make a mistake? Certainly not! It means that we, as Christians, are to commit ourselves to a process of seeking to walk closer and closer to God’s way, whereby our hearts are cleansed and we seek to make our motivations for all of life a motivation of love, which is the essence of God.
Continued study of the scriptures, prayer, service, and discernment of God’s will all work together to help the Christian to walk in the pathway of God. It is a journey that does not end on earth, but comes to completion in eternal life.