What makes a United Methodist Christian different from other Christian believers?
It has been said that United Methodists are a people of grace. Not that we have a selfish, hoarding, stronghold on God’s grace, but that we tend to talk more about grace, live out of that grace, and gravitate more toward God’s grace than others. Grace, simply speaking, is understood as God’s undeserving gift to us. It is a gift that we did not earn, nor did we do anything to deserve, so that we are not tempted to boast about what God has done for us. It is like receiving an “I Love You” from someone just out of the blue. That gift, that “I Love You,” is God’s unmerited and unwavering love for us. It is best expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, but might also be felt and understood as acceptance, forgiveness, and mercy.
John Wesley, our founder, described grace in a triplet approach.
Wesley believed that before we ever knew about God, that God knew about us. Not only did God know about us, but God cared for us and wanted nothing less than to be in a relationship with us. Prevenient means, “coming before.” So, prevenient grace is that love that God had for us before we knew God. It is like the love we might feel for a child before that child is ever born or before that child knew to call us mom or dad. We take the initiative to love that child just like God takes the initiative to love us before we are aware of God.
One of the definitions of justifying is to declare someone innocent or not guilty. That said, one has to be guilty of something first before they might be justified or be found not guilty. Like it or not, we all have a tendency to mistreat our neighbors, to misplace our anger, to mistake things for God, or simply to misunderstand how we are in relationship with others in this world. Some would even say that we are born with this tendency and might call this sin or original sin. No matter how we try to avoid it, get rid of it, or deny it, it is present. Except that, God has already taken care of it. In the once and for all act of Jesus dying on the cross, the punishment of the sins of an entire world were declared not guilty. God’s justifying grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the gift that keeps on giving.
Being healthy is a lifetime of good eating, physical activity, and healthy choices. The same is said for being a Christian. It is not a one-time event, but a lifetime of choices and decisions. It is living for God every moment of every day as best we can with the help offered to us by God through the Holy Spirit. The process of sanctification is the process of being made holy. The key word is process. You might also call it a journey. Our journey towards being like Christ or God-like is a lifetime of decisions and choices. Our help in making these mature choices include prayer, meditation, Bible reading, small groups, worship, and on-going acts of love and kindness. The goal is maturity or what Wesley called perfection. He believed that with the help of the Holy Spirit and attention to prayer, meditation, Bible reading, etc… We could, in this lifetime, gain spiritual maturity. Sanctifying grace was process of being made spiritually perfect.
Here are a few other things that are unique to The United Methodist faith:
We believe in infant baptism, as well as, adult baptism as one of our two sacraments. With that said, we also DO NOT believe in rebaptism. Once you have been baptized into a Christian church, you do not have to be baptized again once you decide to join the church. We do, however, offer an opportunity to remember your baptism and rededicate your life to following Jesus Christ.
The other sacrament we observe is the Lord’s Supper or holy Communion. In The United Methodist Church, we celebrate an open communion table. This means that you do not have to be United Methodist to receive communion. You don’t have to have faith in God at all to receive the elements of communion. The sacrament of communion offers people the opportunity to experience the grace of God and the forgiving power of Jesus Christ and to begin their own journey of following Christ.
Our pastors itinerate. This means that they are moved by a Bishop from church to church every so often. John Wesley, our founder, rode horseback from church to church and town to town in order to preach and administer the sacraments. It is a tradition we continue today.
We are a connectional, not independent church. Our world-wide United Methodist connection is 12.1 million members and we are connected by our common beliefs and our system of governance.
We believe that faith and good-works go hand-in-hand and we live out this belief as we continue to reach into our communities and affect change in people’s lives. We understand that it is our calling to bring Christ into the world.
While we believe in faith and good-works, we are firmly committed to the understanding that salvation comes through faith and NOT by works. Faith is given to us a free gift and our response upon receiving this gift is to offer our lives to God by allowing God to use us a instruments to help others see Jesus in human skin.