Friday, December 3, 2010

What Methodists believe: Our Doctrinal Distinctive

As Methodist pastor in two small Oklahoma towns that are very Baptist dominated I often hear the question, “What does the Methodist religion believe.” At first, I’m always shocked that these, most likely Baptist and Pentecostal something’s, see Methodism as a separate religion from their own. At that moment I would love to be able to point them to pages 43 and 44 of the current United Methodist Discipline and enlighten them to the fact that we, though we are not Baptist, are Christian too. I was actually asked one time if we were “like those Ja-hovahs (miss spelled to emphasis accent) Witnesses”. I’m not sure how that person arrived at such a conclusion, but obviously there is some confusion about what a Methodist is and what a Methodist is not. I also get asked, “are ya’ll like them Catholics?” Which I really don’t mind being held in that light and I often say “sort of” to a question like that, but with all the confusion and questions I began to offer a course on “What We Believe” at both my little church. At one church I use Bishop Job’s “Three Simple Rules” and at the other church I use Bishop Willimon’s “What We Believe”. Both are great resources by the way. One document I use at both churches is the Book of Discipline, because nothing better articulates the distinctiveness of a Methodist than our Discipline.

If I were to have perspective member ask, “What’s different about Methodist”, which I have had happen…a lot! I would to discuss the emphases that we have on grace and the three stages, or degrees of grace believers go through. I would explain that Methodist believe in God’s preventing grace which is afforded to all and allows us to say and believe that Jesus is Lord. Preventing grace is “the divine love that surrounds all humanity and that proceeds any and all of our conscious impulses”.[1] This is grace that prompts our first desire to please God almighty. Next I would have to explain our belief in God's justifying grace. I would explain that Methodist believes that “God reaches out to the repentant believer in justifying grace with acceptance and pardoning love.”[2] This grace is what allows us to be restored to right relationship with God and humanity. Next I believe it would be essential to discuss and explain the most distinct of our beliefs, which is the final degree of grace, entire sanctification and perfection. It’s important that the perspective member understand that “we hold that the wonder of God’s acceptance and pardon does not end God’s saving work, but continues to nurture our growth in grace. “[3] Methodist believe that through grace we can be made perfect, that we can have such an understanding of God’s love for us and others that our hearts can be habitually filled with love towards God and neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). Now this only scratches the surface of what we believe, but I also consider this view of grace to be the most distinctive belief and doctrine our church holds. Of course I would follow this up with our emphasis on faith and good works as well as our emphasis on mission and service, but what well meaning Christian Church would not affirm those things as important parts of our faith. Methodist are unique because we believe that grace is ultimately what saves us, not works, not even faith, but grace, the grace received through the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008), 46

[2] BOD 2008, 46

[3] BOD 2008, 47

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