Malleus Progressivorum chapter the third, what we believe in the UMC


There is not going to be much original here because well, there doesn’t need to be. It has occurred to me that there are some who think that the big tent of United Methodism means that anything goes so far as belief and that is simply not the case. To clear up any confusion about that and to make perfectly clear what the UMC claims to believe, I will post quotes from here:

Just as creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed summarize the belief of all Christians, the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church form a foundation of doctrine for United Methodists. They, along with Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, are “standards” of doctrine for United Methodists.

Sorry, but that sounds an awful lot like being firmly rooted in the creeds, so when I say that we should be, I am not being unfaithful to the UMC but rather being faithful to it. When I say that if you are operating outside of the Apostle’s (and other creeds) that you are not practicing Christianity, I am not being unfaithful to the UMC I am simply agreeing with the standard of faith that is provided. I am not kicking anyone out of the big tent, I am recognizing that the UMC said they were not under the big top to begin with and affirming that I agree.

When the Methodist movement in America became a church in 1784, John Wesley provided the American Methodists with a liturgy and a doctrinal statement, which contained twenty-four “Articles of Religion” or basic statements of belief. These Articles of Religion were taken from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England—the church out of which the Methodism movement began—and had been the standards for preaching within the Methodist movement. When these articles were voted on by the American conference, an additional article was added regarding the American context, bringing the total number of articles to 25.

These articles became the basic standards for Christian belief in the Methodist church in North America. First published in the church’s Book of Discipline in 1790, the Articles of Religion have continued to be part of the church’s official statement of belief.

The articles may be found here.

So briefly, yes we are Trinitarian, yes we believe in the virgin birth, yes we believe that the crucifixion was necessary for salvation (by whatever substitution model you would like and probably a combination of all of them), yes we believe in the canon and their authority, yes we believe that the scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation, yes we believe that right belief is the precursor to right action and not the other way around, yes, there is a standard. The confession of faith echos this and is also part of the standard of faith for the UMC.

There is a distinctly modern, and most probably western,  idea that everything has to be remade, reexamined, rethought, and redone. I suspect that all of us think that way about some things and while the need for reflection is real, it does not mean that we simply ignore and throw away everything that has come before.  That being said, the UMC adopted these things in 1968, so this is not some sort of orthodox hijacking of the church but rather the things that have been the standard since the UMC was founded. Yes, the world is different than it was in 1968, but I don’t believe it so different that the entire basis of our faith must be thrown out in favor of something that those who came before could not even recognize.

Now, unity is the hot button issue of the day in the UMC. We need to be unified. David Watson and Drew McIntyre have excellent pieces on the subject.

I agree, unity is and should be the goal of Christ’s church. In the UMC the above is how we express unity. There is a tremendous amount of room for variation of belief and discussion of specifics that exists in our statements of faith, and I find that good, but the fact remains that that there are statements of faith. Do those statements answer all of our questions? No, but they do provide the frame work that we can operate within to find the answers to those questions. When you operate outside those statements of belief you are not promoting unity in the UMC and when you operate outside of the creeds, you are not promoting unity in the Christian church as the UMC and most other protestant and Catholic faiths understand it.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (just because I like my Latin)  “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things” the phrase has been attributed to just about everyone, and we Methodists like to give it to Wesley so I will too. The question keeps coming up about what is a necessary thing and what is not, and I admit that there is wiggle room in the articles of religion and those things need to be and eventually will be (or not) hashed out within the framework of same said articles., but there are things that are plainly clear as essential to United Methodists, but also to Christianity as a whole. In our tradition, we reaffirmed those same essentials 40 years ago give or take, that is to say within the lifetime of many living United Methodists. In a historic perspective, that is barely enough time to say that it has even existed, yet already people clamor to change it.

There are many who clamor that orthodoxy is outdated and antiquated, that truth is subjective, that God changes, that question the identity of Christ, and more. They of course claim that those of us who follow orthodoxy are relics of a bygone era and need to get with the times.  To them I say that the faith delivered once and for all is as timeless as the Father, Son and Spirit it describes, that the God who inspired is still is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that truth does not change just because we label it subjective, and that those relics of a bygone era are still here and have weathered all this before and will weather it all again. Once the shine is off the new theological toys that come out, the new faith boxes are broken down and discarded and the great yard sale is finished, we’ll be here with the same faith we’ve always had ready to welcome you back like we have throughout the history of the church. Heresy is fun for a season,  but orthodoxy is true for eternity and as a resurrection people we understand that the long game is the only game worth playing.

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3 Replies to “Malleus Progressivorum chapter the third, what we believe in the UMC”

  1. Big tent? Small tent? It doesn’t much matter. Churches in America look like formerly fat people that suddenly lost an awful lot of weight!

  2. As I read this article I noticed one of the first things mentioned was the creed. Amen! Every statement in the creed can be verified in the Gospels that were written by people that had lived with Christ, yet our church today, in many parishes has dropped the use of the creed. Some UMC parishes do not use the Gloria as some members do not feel God is triune. Maybe it is time for the UMC to go back to the first century gospels and worship a God that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    1. I agree. The UMC gets knocked around for not having solid doctrine or statements of belief when we actually do, they just are allowed to be forgotten and ignored.

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