For Meth-heads

January 29, 2010

The following is an excerpt from a note I sent a friend about what Methodists are all about. I wrote it quickly then thought, “Hey, that’s not bad!” You may or may not find it helpful.

As for what I believe… What do you think I believe? I’m Methodist, in the very middle of the mainstream of orthodox Christian thought. God enacted a rescue plan in this good world that he created, which culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe we are but one tiny part of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church that Christ established. The Methodist Articles of Religion are mostly the same as the Church of England’s, minus some stuff about the monarch, etc. Methodists claim the Bible as their primary source of authority, although we recognize that our understanding of it is mediated through Christian tradition, reason, and experience. The Holy Spirit is at work through it all.

In fact, we have a rich pneumatology: We place a strong emphasis on God’s “prevenient grace” (not an original idea with Methodists), which is another way of saying that the Spirit is at work in the lives of everyone, revealing God in Christ. As I said earlier, the Spirit, we believe, is constitutive of our being—at the center of our lives. We strongly emphasize sanctifying grace. The Christian life, like salvation itself, is a process of being perfected in love. We believe that saving faith implies both justification and a real inward change wrought by the Spirit in new birth.

The goal of the Christian life is not saving faith but saving love: we are saved in order to love—God, our neighbor, and ourselves. That love ought to express itself through service, which is another means of grace. The result of this process of sanctification is that the image of God, tarnished as it was through sin, is renewed within us. We are not finally saved until the other side of resurrection.

We believe that Christ is “really present” in the bread and wine of Communion, but we don’t presume to say how. We baptize infants but believe that salvation depends on affirming our faith, not once at confirmation, but throughout our lives.

If we Wesleyan Christians have a reputation for being lax in the doctrinal department, it’s because, unlike Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans, we weren’t born out of theological or doctrinal conflict. We didn’t have to define ourselves over against some other religious body. We came around 100 years after the worst killing between Catholics and Protestants happened. Methodism was simply a reform movement confined mostly to the Church of England aimed at fostering holy living. Methodists only grudgingly became a separate church because of exigencies brought about by the Revolutionary War. Wesley and his brother Charles died happily as Anglican priests.

I went on to say that we Methodists, as an institution, often fail  to live up to our ideals and principles. Fortunately, it isn’t up to us to bring God’s kingdom on earth; God will do that.

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