Faith is the basic orientation and commitment of our whole being—a matter of heart and soul. Christian faith is grounding our lives in the living God as revealed especially in Jesus Christ. It’s both a gift we receive within the Christian community and a choice we make. It’s trusting in God and relying on God as the source and destiny of our lives. Faith is believing in God, giving God our devoted loyalty and allegiance. Faith is following Jesus, answering the call to be his disciples in the world. Faith is hoping for God’s future, leaning into the coming kingdom that God has promised. Faith-as-belief is active; it involves trusting, believing, following, hoping.
Theology is thinking together about our faith and discipleship. It’s reflecting with others in the Christian community about the good news of God’s love in Christ.
Both laypeople and clergy are needed in “our theological task.” The laypeople bring understandings from their ongoing effort to live as Christians in the complexities of a secular world;
clergy bring special tools and experience acquired through intensive biblical
and theological study. We need one another.
But how shall we go about our theological task so that our beliefs are true to the gospel and helpful in our lives? In John Wesley’s balanced and rigorous ways for thinking through Christian doctrine, we find four major sources or criteria, each interrelated. These we often call our “theological guidelines”: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. Let’s look at each of these.
In thinking about our faith, we put primary reliance on the Bible. It’s the unique testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life of Israel; in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and in the Spirit’s work in the early church. It’s our sacred canon and, thus, the decisive source of our Christian witness and the authoritative measure of the truth in our beliefs.
In our theological journey we study the Bible within the believing community. Even when we study it alone, we’re guided and corrected through dialogue with other Christians. We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole. We use concordances, commentaries, and other aids prepared by the scholars. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try to discern both the original intention of the text and its meaning for our own faith and life.
Between the New Testament age and our own era stand countless witnesses on whom we rely in our theological journey. Through their words in creed, hymn, discourse, and prayer, through their music and art, through their courageous deeds, we discover Christian insight by which our study of the Bible is illuminated. This living tradition comes from many ages and many cultures. Even today Christians living in far different circumstances from our own—in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia—are helping us discover fresh understanding of the Gospel’s power.
A third source and criterion of our theology is our experience. By experience we mean especially the “new life in Christ,” which is ours as a gift of God’s grace; such rebirth and personal assurance gives us new eyes to see the living truth in Scripture. But we mean also the broader experience of all the life we live, its joys, its hurts, its yearnings. So we interpret the Bible in light of our cumulative experiences. We interpret our life’s experience in light of the biblical message. We do so not only for our experience individually but also for the experience of the whole human family.
Finally, our own careful use of reason, though not exactly a direct source of Christian belief, is a necessary tool. We use our reason in reading and interpreting the Scripture. We use it in relating the Scripture and tradition to our experience and in organizing our theological witness in a way that’s internally coherent. We use our reason in relating our beliefs to the full range of human knowledge and in expressing our faith to others in clear and appealing ways.
Excerpted from "United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised," George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 61, 64-65.
To read more, visit: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/theological-guidelines
The United Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism marks the beginning of our lifelong journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Through baptism, we are joined with the Triune God, the whole of Christ’s church, and our local congregation.
The water and the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism convey God’s saving grace, the forgiveness of our sins, and new life in Jesus Christ.
Persons of any age may be baptized—infants, children, youth, and adults.
United Methodists baptize in a variety of ways—immersion, pouring, or sprinkling.
A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.
For further study:
By Water and Spirit, the church's official statement on baptism. (Download as PDF)
Renewing waters: How United Methodists understand baptism
This Is Your Baptismal Liturgy, a guide to the baptism ritual
A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism
The Lord’s Supper is another name for the Eucharist, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving the church offers to God for all God has done, is doing, and will do to
save us and renew all things in Christ.
Through offering ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, and through receiving the bread and cup—which the Spirit makes for us the body and blood of Christ—celebrating the Lord’s Supper together nourishes and sustains us in our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.
As we pray together and receive the body and blood of Christ together, we are united with Christ, with one another, and in ministry to all the world.
All who love Christ, earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another are invited to join us in offering our prayer of thanksgiving and receive the body and blood of Christ—regardless of age or church membership.
Congregations serve the elements of the Lord’s Supper several ways,
but always include both bread and cup.
The Lord's Supper is to be celebrated and received regularly—John Wesleysaid,
“as often as [one] can.”
For further study:
This Holy Mystery, the church's official statement on communion.
The Meaning of Holy Communion, a booklet based on the church’s official statement.
An open table: How United Methodists understand communion