Our Foundational Documents
- the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church
- the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church
- John Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament
- And the General Rules of The Methodist Church
Our Wesleyan Heritage
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, and the early Methodists did not seek to reformulate doctrine, but were more concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through personal and corporate disciplines of the Christian life. They placed primary emphasis on putting faith and love into action. Wesley referred to this as “practical divinity,” and it has continued to be a defining attribute of United Methodism today.
Another defining trait of our heritage is in our Wesleyan understanding of God’s saving grace. Although Wesley shared with many other Christians a belief in salvation by grace, he combined them in a powerful way to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life.
Grace is central to our understanding of Christian faith and life. As is stated in 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). Therefore, grace is that undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence. It is forever available, but we can also choose to refuse the gift. This grace, while undivided, can be described as prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace.
God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. Instead of us having to look for God, God seeks us and prompts us to want to please him. Through God’s prevenient grace, we are strengthened to respond to be in a relationship with God and helped to discern right from wrong.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 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” (Romans 5:8).
These verses demonstrate the justifying grace of God and direct our hearts to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored, renewing the divine image of God in us. Again, this dimension of God’s grace is a gift. It’s God’s grace alone that brings us into relationship with him. There is no list of things we need to do to be loved and forgiven by God. Our only response is that of faith.
The process of salvation involves a transformation in us…conversion. Conversion is a turning around, leaving one orientation for another. It may be sudden and dramatic, or gradual and cumulative. It’s a new beginning that can be called new birth, regeneration, new life in Christ, or rebirth.
Justification involves repentance, a turning away from behaviors rooted in sin (read more on sin) and toward actions that express God’s love. In this conversion 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).
Salvation is not a once and done event in our lives. It is an ongoing experience of God’s grace transforming us into the people God intends us to be. John Wesley described this dimension of God’s grace as sanctification, or holiness.
Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human needs, we strengthen our love toward our neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and bear witness union with God.
The goal of sanctification in Christian perfection. Wesley did not mean we would not be tempted or give in to those temptations, or that we would be free of error. Instead, he taught that this is a continual process of being made perfect in our love of God and one another and of seeking to rid ourselves of the desire to sin. See Matthew 1:21; John 17:17-19; Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 4:24; Hebrews 6:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16. Read John Wesley’s sermon on Christian perfection. Read more…
Faith and Good Works
We believe that faith and good works belong together. Our works do not save us, but our salvation should manifest itself in what Wesley called “fruits meet for repentance.” As James wrote “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
Mission and Service
In response to God’s saving action in Jesus Christ, we show our gratitude by offering our lives back to God through a life of mission and service. Love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated, and we strive to join our hearts and hands in working for 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 relationships. 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. Staying connected with other Christians strengthens our faith in God and enhances our witness in the world.
Read more about our distinctive Wesleyan heritage.