Our Common Heritage as Christians
As United Methodists, we share a common heritage of faith with Christians of every age and nation. This heritage is grounded in the Biblical witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which is the source and measure of all valid Christian teaching.
With Christians of other denominations, we confess belief in the triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the heart of the gospel of salvation is God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth. Scripture witnesses to the redeeming love of God in Jesus’ life and teachings, his atoning death, his resurrection, his sovereign presence in history, his triumph over the powers of evil and death, and his promised return. Because God truly loves us in spite of our willful sin, God judges us, summons us to repentance, pardons us, receives us by that grace given to us in Jesus Christ, and gives us hope of life eternal. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, reconciled to God, and transformed as people of the new covenant.
We United Methodists understand ourselves to be part of Christ’s universal church. We are incorporated into this world-wide community of faith by Baptism, receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit that re-creates and transforms us. Through the regular celebration of Holy Communion, we participate in the risen presence of Jesus Christ and are thereby nourished for faithful discipleship.
Our Distinctive Heritage as United Methodists
John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist movement, combined belief in grace, justification, assurance, and sanctification in a powerful manner to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life. The underlying energy of our Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon “practical divinity,” the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.
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.
Prevenient Grace – We acknowledge God’s Prevenient grace, the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our first hint of conviction of having sinned against God.
God’s grace also awakens in us an earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death, and moves us toward repentance and faith.
Justifying Grace – We believe God reaches out to the repentant believer with accepting and pardoning love.
In justification we are, through faith, forgiven our sin and restored to God’s favor. This righting of relationships by God through Christ calls forth our faith and trust as we experience regeneration, by which we are made new creatures in Christ. Our Wesleyan theology also embraces the scriptural promise that we can expect to receive assurance of our salvation as the Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Sanctifying Grace – We hold that the wonder of God’s acceptance and pardon does not end God’s saving work, which continues to nurture our growth in grace. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.
New birth is the first step in this process of sanctification. Sanctifying grace draws us toward the gift of Christian perfection, which Wesley described as a heart “habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor.”
Faith and Good Works – We see God’s grace and human activity working together in the relationship of faith and good works. God’s grace calls forth human response and discipline. While faith is the only response essential for salvation, Wesley believed that salvation evidences itself in works of piety and mercy.
Mission and Service – We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.