Boothsville United Methodist Charge

Open hearts, open minds, open doors--the people of the United Methodist Church

Introduction to The United Methodist Church

 

Introduction

    United Methodists come in all sizes, shapes, colors, dispositions, outlooks and life stories, but share a unique history and faith perspective. Our members speak many languages and live in many countries.

      No matter how or where they serve Jesus Christ, United Methodists do God’s work in a unique structure—referred to as “the connection." This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning. Connectionalism comes to life through our clergy appointment system, our mission and outreach, and through our collective giving. We live out our call to mission and ministry by engaging in ministry with the poor, combating diseases of poverty by improving health globally, creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations, and developing principled Christian leaders. No one congregation can do all these ministries, but together—through the power of our connection—we can make a tremendous difference. 

 

A Brief History 

     The Methodist branch of protestant religion traces its roots back to 1739 where it developed in England as a result of the teachings of John Wesley. While studying at Oxford, Wesley, his brother Charles, and several other students formed a group devoted to study, prayer and helping the underprivileged. They were labeled "Methodist" by their fellow students because of the way they used "rule" and "method" to go about their religious affairs.

     The beginning of Methodism as a popular movement began in 1738, when both of the Wesley brothers, influenced by contact with the Moravians, undertook evangelistic preaching with an emphasis on conversion and holiness. Though both Wesley brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England, they were barred from speaking in most of its pulpits because of their evangelistic methods. They preached in homes, farm houses, barns, open fields, and wherever they found an audience. 

     Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the "United Societies." Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion when the first conference was held in 1744. 

     Several divisions and schisms occurred throughout Methodism's American history. In 1939, the three branches of American Methodism (the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) came to an agreement to reunite under the name "The Methodist Church." This 7.7 million member church prospered on its own for the next twenty-nine years, as did the newly reunited Evangelical United Brethren Church. In 1968, bishops of the two churches took the necessary steps to combine their churches into what has become the second largest Protestant denomination in America, The United Methodist Church. 

 

Background  

     United Methodists often joke about the many organizational layers of church life, but, as members of other denominations have been heard to say: “If you want something done, get the Methodists to do it.” Followers of the Wesleys are indeed “methodical” about the ways they approach mission and ministry. 

     One reason United Methodists are able to accomplish great things is the church’s emphasis on “connectionalism.” It is common to hear United Methodist leaders speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning. 

     The United Methodist Church, which began as a movement and a loose network of local societies with a mission, has grown into one of the most carefully organized and largest denominations in the world. The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading Scriptural Holiness over the land. John Wesley recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” which was an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences. (UM Member’s Handbook, p 24) 

     No local church is the total body of Christ. Therefore, local United Methodist churches are bound together by a common mission and common governance that accomplish reaching out into the world. United Methodist churches and organizations join in mission with each other and with other denominations. 

     Connectionalism shows through the clergy appointment system, through the developing of mission and ministry that United Methodists do together, and through giving. 

     An example of connectionalism: Mission work around the world, whether it be a new university in Africa or bicycles for Cuban pastors, is the work of “the connection,” as opposed to the work of a single congregation.  

 

Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage 

     John Wesley 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--or 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.

     Because of this, Methodism enjoys a broad theological perspective in belief.  John Wesley is quoted as saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  At the same time, Wesley advocated that Methodists believe with the whole Church that which has been practiced and taught continuously from the beginning. 

Distinctive Emphasis    The early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God's grace and to grow in their knowledge and love og God through disicplined Christian living.  They placed primary emphasis on Christian lviing, 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. 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  

     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.” 

     John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, described God’s grace as threefold: 

          *prevenient grace  

          *justifying grace 

          *sanctifying grace

 

 

        Prevenient Grace

     Wesley understood grace as God's active presence in our lives.  This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response.  It is a gift--a gift that is always available, but that can be refused. 

     God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good…. 

     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 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. They point to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored. According to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, the image of God—which has been distorted by sin—is renewed within us through Christ’s death. 

     Again, this dimension of God’s grace is a gift. God’s grace alone brings us into relationship with God. There are no hoops through which we have to jump in order to please God and to be loved by God. God has acted in Jesus Christ. We need only to respond in faith.     

     Conversion  

     This process of salvation involves a change in us that we call conversion. Conversion is a turning around, leaving one orientation for another. It may be sudden and dramatic, or gradual and cumulative. But in any case, it’s a new beginning. Following Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “You must be born anew” (John 3:7 RSV), we speak of this conversion as rebirth, new life in Christ, or regeneration. 

     Following Paul and Luther, John Wesley called this process justification. 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. It’s a time when God’s “justifying grace” is experienced and accepted, a time of pardon and forgiveness, of new peace and joy and love. Indeed, we’re justified by God’s grace through faith. 

     Justification is also a time of repentance—turning away from behaviors rooted in 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).

     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. John Wesley described this dimension of God’s grace as sanctification, or holiness. 

     Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature 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 need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God. 

     We’re to press on, with God’s help, in the path of sanctification toward 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. We believe that Christian doctrine and Christian ethics are inseparable, that faith should inspire service. The integration of personal piety and social holiness has been a hallmark of our tradition. We affirm the biblical precept that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17). 

 

     Mission and Service  

     Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God through a life of service. As disciples, we become active participants in God’s activity in the world through mission and 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. 

     "From Wesley's time to the present, Methodism has sought to be both a nurturing community and a servant community. Members of Methodist Societies and class meetings met for personal nurture through giving to the poor, visiting the imprisoned, and working for justice and peace in the community. They sought not only to receive the fullness of God's grace for themselves; but...they saw themselves as existing 'to reform the nation...and to spread scriptural holiness over the land'"

 

Our Theological Journey

     Theology is thinking together about our faith and discipleship.  It's reflecting with others in the Christian community about the good news of God's love in Christ.

 

 

 

                                                           

 

Both laypeople and clergy are needed in “our theological task.” The laypeople bring understandings from their ongoing effort to live as Christians in the complexities of a secular world; clergy bring special tools and experience acquired through intensive biblical and theological study. We need one another. 

     But how shall we go about our theological task so that our beliefs are true to the gospel and helpful in our lives? In John Wesley’s balanced and rigorous ways for thinking through Christian doctrine, we find four major sources or criteria, each interrelated. These we often call our “theological guidelines”: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. (See The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2004, pp. 76-82.) Let’s look at each of these. 

 

     Scripture  

     In thinking about our faith, we put primary reliance on the Bible. It’s the unique testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life of Israel; in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and in the Spirit’s work in the early church. It’s our sacred canon and, thus, the decisive source of our Christian witness and the authoritative measure of the truth in our beliefs. 

     In our theological journey we study the Bible within the believing community. Even when we study it alone, we’re guided and corrected through dialogue with other Christians. We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole. We use concordances, commentaries, and other aids prepared by the scholars. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try to discern both the original intention of the text and its meaning for our own faith and life. 

 

     Tradition  

     Between the New Testament age and our own era stand countless witnesses on whom we rely in our theological journey. Through their words in creed, hymn, discourse, and prayer, through their music and art, through their courageous deeds, we discover Christian insight by which our study of the Bible is illuminated. This living tradition comes from many ages and many cultures. Even today Christians living in far different circumstances from our own—in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia—are helping us discover fresh understanding of the Gospel’s power. 

 

     Experience  

     A third source and criterion of our theology is our experience. By experience we mean especially the “new life in Christ,” which is ours as a gift of God’s grace; such rebirth and personal assurance gives us new eyes to see the living truth in Scripture. But we mean also the broader experience of all the life we live, its joys, its hurts, its yearnings. So we interpret the Bible in light of our cumulative experiences. We interpret our life’s experience in light of the biblical message. We do so not only for our experience individually but also for the experience of the whole human family.

 

     Reason  

     Finally, our own careful use of reason, though not exactly a direct source of Christian belief, is a necessary tool. We use our reason in reading and interpreting the Scripture. We use it in relating the Scripture and tradition to our experience and in organizing our theological witness in a way that’s internally coherent. We use our reason in relating our beliefs to the full range of human knowledge and in expressing our faith to others in clear and appealing ways.