What do United Methodists affirm about basic Christian beliefs?
We believe that each person is called to work out his or her own theology based on the four primary authorities:
Scripture, religious experience, church tradition, and human reason.
Each of these poles of authority must be balanced by the others so that, for example, something experienced must fall within the boundaries of human reason, church tradition, and, most important of all, Scripture, which we revere as the ultimate authority.
Because of this fluid understanding of theology and doctrine, it is impossible to say precisely what any individual United Methodist believes about any single doctrine. However, some general statements can certainly be made.
God. The Article of Religion on God can be summarized as, “There is one true God, who has all power, wisdom, and goodness. God made and preserves all things. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, the Trinity.”
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, affirmed a God of infinite wisdom, power, and love whose boundless love and tender mercy are for all persons.
Grace. God loves every person and continually seeks to forgive our failure to live in a right relationship with God and the Lord's creation. This constant love and forgiveness is given freely. There is nothing we can do either to deserve or to earn it. This activity of God—God's constant loving and forgiving of every person—is God's grace. Unconditional love!
Christ. A God of total love and forgiveness is a difficult if not impossible concept for us to understand. Therefore, the great mystery we call God was fully revealed to us in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Both the words and actions of Jesus, as recorded in the Scriptures, help us to better understand the loving nature of God. Even his ultimate act of obedience—giving up his life— is a means of illustrating the extent of God's desire to reconcile all persons to God's unending love. Finally, God raised Christ from the dead and the ultimate power of God was illustrated for all time.
Justification by Faith. The ninth Article of Religion of The United Methodist Church expresses that “We are justified, or pardoned, not by good works but by faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This means that when we fully have faith that Christ's death opened the way to wholeness and love, we are justified. Justification is being brought into a proper relationship with God and neighbor, fully understanding God's purpose for us, being freed from our obsession and self-interest, released from guilt for our inability to be obedient to God, and rescued from our anxiety about meaninglessness and death.
The Holy Spirit. God continues to be revealed to us today in many different ways, most of which are identified through experience rather than knowledge. Both the experienced presence of God in our lives and the assumed activity of God in history are identified as the Holy Spirit. God is a mystery and when this mystery touches our lives in some way, we identify it as the activity of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2 shares the story of when Jesus ascended into heaven after he was raised from the dead by God. And then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come upon and live within the disciples, and all who would proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit sustains us in hard times, and inspires us to serve.