New UMC: We Believe!

As the new UMC emerges, I look forward to being part of a denomination that conjoins belief and practice, faith and form, message and method to “serve the present age” in a mission that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

John Wesley summed it up in two words, living faith. He compared it with dead orthodoxy, and made it clear that the Methodist movement would unite knowledge and vital piety by spreading scriptural holiness across the land with a vision to reach the marginalized, renew the church and reform the nation.

We are heirs of living faith, and the United Methodist Book of Discipline is written to reflect it. Part III sets forth our doctrinal standards (beliefs) and our theological task (practices), doing so in ways that incarnate the Gospel and reflect our Wesleyan heritage. Putting this together, the new UMC will say to itself and to the world, “We believe!” We have a threefold declaration…

First, we declare what we believe. The doctrinal standards section of Part III spells it out. We believe in,

The historic creeds
The Trinity
Salvation in and through Jesus Christ
The work of the Spirit in us and in all of creation
Our place in the universal Church
The reign of God
The inspiration and authority of Scripture

These things, and more, are then viewed through the lens of our Wesleyan heritage, showing how they have been in our theological DNA from the beginning, and continue to be.

The next section of Part III roots all of this in the Methodist Articles of Religion (which cannot be changed) and the EUB Confession of Faith, which comes alongside the Articles to confirm why we use the word ‘United’ in our name. These two documents affirm the topics above, and go on to affirm additional things…

The Resurrection of Christ
The role of the Old Testament
Original Sin
Free Will
Justification by Faith
Sanctification
The place of good works
Going beyond minimalism via works of supererogation
Sin in believers and the need for ongoing repentance
The Church and the centrality of worship
Ministering in the language of the people
The Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper
The atonement and reconciliation through Christ
Married clergy
Variety in rites and ceremonies (contextualizatiin)
Support of the Government and Civil Authority
Stewardship of our possessions for the common good

Standing on this theological foundation, we exclaim, “We believe!”

Second, we declare how we believe. Part III captures it in three ways: by aligning with the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, by using Wesley’s ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament,’ and by conducting our lives in congruence with the ‘General Rules’ that the Wesleys established for the first Methodists, grounding them in commitments to do no harm, do good, and to practice the means of grace individually and collectively. These things help us turn our beliefs into practices

With this content and these commitments in place, Part III of the Book of Discipline moves to the third declaration of our faith: why we believe. We believe in order to live as God intends, and to help others do the same. We call this “Our Theological Task,” and it is described in terms of its nature, its guidelines (the Wesleyan quadrilateral), its challenges and opportunities, and our ecumenical intention to be a denomination that enriches the entire Church.

With respect to the what, how, and why of our theology we declare our faith. It is faith that is biblical, orthodox, and Wesleyan. No one need leave the UMC to find these things. It is the faith of the historic UMC, and it is the faith that will found and fuel the faith of the new UMC. We believe!

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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