Our Doctrinal Heritage

United Methodists profess the historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit. Living in a covenant of grace under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we participate in the first fruits of God's coming reign and pray in hope for its full realization on earth as in heaven.


Our heritage in doctrine and our present theological task focus upon a renewed grasp of the sovereignty of God and of God's love in Christ amid the continuing crises of human existence.

Our forebears in the faith reaffirmed the ancient Christian message as found in the apostolic witness even as they applied it anew in their own circumstances.

Their preaching and teaching were grounded in Scripture, informed by Christian tradition, enlivened in experience, and tested by reason.

Their labors inspire and inform our attempts to convey the saving gospel to our world with its needs and aspirations.

Our Doctrinal History

The pioneers in the traditions that flowed together into The United Methodist Church understood themselves as standing in the central stream of Christian spirituality and doctrine, loyal heirs of the authentic Christian tradition. In John Wesley's words, theirs was "the old religion, the religion of the Bible, the religion . . .of the whole church in the purest ages." Their gospel was grounded in the biblical message of God's self-giving love revealed in Jesus Christ.

Wesley's portrayal of the spiritual pilgrimage in terms of "the scripture way of salvation" provided their model for experiential Christianity. They assumed and insisted upon the integrity of basic Christian truth and emphasized its practical application in the lives of believers.

This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of "catholic spirit." While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley's familiar dictum was, "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."

But, even as they were fully committed to the principles of religious toleration and theological diversity, they were equally confident that there is a "marrow" of Christian truth that can be identified and that must be conserved. This living core, as they believed, stands revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal and corporate experience, and confirmed by reason. They were very much aware, of course, that God's eternal Word never has been, nor can be, exhaustively expressed in any single form of words.

They were also prepared, as a matter of course, to reaffirm the ancient creeds and confessions as valid summaries of Christian truth. But they were careful not to set them apart as absolute standards for doctrinal truth and error.

Beyond the essentials of vital religion, United Methodists respect the diversity of opinions held by conscientious persons of faith. Wesley followed a time-tested approach: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."

The spirit of charity takes into consideration the limits of human understanding. "To be ignorant of many things and to be mistaken in some," Wesley observed, "is the necessary condition of humanity." The crucial matter in religion is steadfast love for God and neighbor, empowered by the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.



Doctrinal Standards and General Rules

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.


Salvation means the restoration of wholeness in the life of human persons and communities, a regaining of the fullness which God intended and gave in creation but which we have lost through alienation from God and one another in a world infected by the "virus" of sin. This disease we understand affects not only our individual personal existence, but also exists in the realms of the spirit and human society, and its cure entails the work of divine grace extending to all three realms.

Basic Christian Affirmations

With Christians of all the major communions, we confess our faith in the triune God-known in the New Testament as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This confession embraces the biblical witness to God's activity in creation, encompasses God's gracious self-involvement in the dramas of history, and anticipates the consummation of God's reign.

The created order is designed for the well-being of all creatures and as the place of human dwelling in covenant with God. Humankind, however, has broken that covenant and become estranged from God. We have wounded ourselves and one another, and wreaked havoc throughout the natural order. We stand as sinners in need of redemption.

We hold in common with all Christians our faith in the mystery of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. At the heart of the gospel is God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth. Scripture attests to the redeeming love of God in Jesus' life and teachings, atoning death, resurrection, sovereign presence in history, triumph over the powers of evil and death, and promised return.

Because God truly loves us in spite of our damaged will and bondage to sin, God summons us through judgment to repentance. God's pardon and welcome are always available to us through the grace offered in Jesus Christ, through whom we may enter into abundant and eternal life.

We share the Christian belief that God's redemptive love is realized in human life by the activity of the Holy Spirit, both in our personal experience and in the beloved community of believers. This community is the church, which the Spirit has brought into existence for the healing of the nations. Through faith in Jesus Christ we gain all his blessings -the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and neighbor, and transformation through active love into God's people of the new covenant.

Life in the Spirit entails diligent use of the means of grace. In our tradition these include prayer, fasting, the sacraments, works of mercy and justice, and inward searching in solitude. It also encompasses the communal life of the church in worship, "Christian conferencing," sharing the good news through mission, evangelism, and works of mercy and justice.

We understand ourselves to be part of Christ's universal church when by adoration, proclamation, and service we become conformed to Christ. We are initiated and incorporated into this community of faith by Baptism, receiving the promise of the Spirit that re-creates and transforms us. Through regular participation in the Eucharist, Holy Communion, we participate in the risen presence of Jesus Christ and are nourished for faithful discipleship.

We pray and work for the coming in fullness and power of God's dominion in the world and rejoice in the promise of everlasting life that overcomes death and the forces of evil.

With other Christians, we recognize that the reign of God is both a present and future reality. The church is called to be that place where the first signs of the reign of God are identified and acknowledged in the world. Wherever persons are being made new creatures in Christ, wherever the insights and resources of the gospel are brought to bear on the life of the world, God's reign is already effective in its healing and renewing power.

We also look to an end time in which God's work will be fulfilled. This prospect gives us hope that our present actions as individuals and as the Church, even though they seem feeble or fail, will be vindicated. This expectation saves us from resignation and motivates our continuing witness and service.

With many Christian communions, we recognize the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, confess that our justification as sinners is by grace through faith, and share the sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal.

We affirm the general ministry of all baptized Christians, which is to say that all the baptized share responsibility for building up the church and reaching out in mission and service to the world and are called to employ the gifts with which God has endowed them to these ends.

With other Christians, we declare the essential oneness of the church in Christ Jesus. This rich heritage of shared Christian belief finds expression in our hymnody and liturgies. Our unity is affirmed in the historic creeds as we confess one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is also experienced in joint ventures of ministry and in various forms of ecumenical cooperation.

Nourished by common roots of this shared Christian heritage, the branches of Christ's church have developed diverse traditions that enlarge our store of shared understandings. Our avowed ecumenical commitment as United Methodists is to gather our own doctrinal emphases into the larger Christian unity, there to be made more meaningful in a richer whole.

In order to offer our best gifts to the common Christian treasury, we make a deliberate effort as a church to strive for critical self-understanding. It is as Christians involved in ecumenical partnership that we embrace and examine our distinctive heritage.

Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases

Although John Wesley shared with many other Christians a belief in grace, justification, assurance, and sanctification, he combined them in a powerful manner to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life. The Evangelical United Brethren tradition, particularly as expressed by Phillip William Otterbein with features from the Reformed tradition, gave similar distinctive emphases.

Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life. By grace we mean the undeserved, unmerited, and loving action of God in human existence through the ever-present Holy Spirit. The undivided grace of God precedes salvation as "prevenient grace," brings it to a decisive point in "justifying grace," and is carries it to fruitfulness and completion in "sanctifying grace."

We assert that God's grace is manifest throughout creation even though suffering, violence, and evil are everywhere present. The essential goodness of creation is fulfilled in human beings, when we enter into to covenant partnership with God. God has endowed us with the potential for dignity and freedom and summons us to responsibility for our lives and the life of the world.

In God's self-authentication, self-communication through Jesus Christ, we see the splendor of our true humanity. Even our sin, with its destructive consequences for all creation,does not alter God's intention for us-holiness and joy of heart. Nor does it diminish our accountability for the way we live.

Despite our brokenness, we remain creatures brought into being by a just and merciful God. The restoration of God's image and maturation of God's likeness in our lives entails the gracious action of God through the Holy Spirit, renewing our fallen nature, and making God's love real and effective in a redeemed world.

Adapted by the Rev. Richard E. Edwards from The Book of Discipline of The United
Methodist Church - 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House.


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