A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Big is the United Methodist Theological Umbrella?

The United Methodist Church is known as a denomination of open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Words like pluralism and inclusiveness are frequently used in describing the UMC. I have always appreciated this aspect of United Methodism.

Compared to some other denominations and churches, the UMC prides itself in being open minded about various interpretations of the scriptures and theological perspectives. In other words, we can learn from one another because we all bring our unique backgrounds and understandings to the table.

The Wesleyan quadrilateral which consists of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience is the tool that United Methodists use to explore their faith. We believe that an appreciation of church tradition (how the church has interpreted scripture/social issues over the centuries), rational thinking (reason), and experience (our unique individual understandings) help us to have a wholistic understanding of the scriptures.

For example, I am extremely grateful, that my faith understanding isn't the same as when I started seminary almost thirty years ago. Thanks to an exposure to a wide array of biblical scholarship, a deeper understanding of church history, theological studies and conversations with pastors and friends, and pastoral experiences, my theological understandings have been enriched.

While allowing for a lot of theological perspectives can be a good thing, we also need to be aware of the core beliefs of our faith. Several years ago, I came across this statement of faith of the United Methodist Church. I changed the wording from the plural "we" to the more personal "I."

Do you agree with these core beliefs of our Christian faith? For example, the popular "Left Behind/Rapture" theology is very different from the United Methodist perspective under the "Reign of God" section that God will one day restore all of creation. That's just one example.

So what do you think? Do these central theological beliefs provide you with enough space for your personal theological understandings? How big is the United Methodist theological umbrella?

Central Theological Beliefs
The Trinity:
I believe in one God, who created the world and all that is in it.
I believe that God is sovereign; that is, God is the ruler of the universe.
I believe that God is loving. I can experience God’s love and grace.
I believe that Jesus was human. He lived as a man and died when he was crucified.
I believe that Jesus is divine. He is the Son of God.
I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the risen Christ lives today. 
I believe that Jesus is our Savior. In Christ we receive abundant life and forgiveness of sins.
I believe that Jesus is our Lord and that we are called to pattern our lives after his.
The Holy Spirit
I believe that the Holy Spirit is God with us.
I believe that the Holy Spirit comforts us when we are in need and convicts us when we stray from God.
I believe that the Holy Spirit awakens us to God’s will and implores us to live obediently.

Human Beings:
I believe that God created human beings in God’s image.
I believe that humans can choose to accept or reject a relationship with God.
I believe that all humans need to be in relationship with God in order to be fully human.

The Church:
I believe that the church is the body of Christ, an extension of Christ’s life and ministry in the world today.
I believe that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the church is “the communion of saints,” a community made up of all past, present, and future disciples of Christ.
I believe that the church is called to worship God and to support those who participate in its life as they grow in faith.

The Bible:
I believe that the Bible is God’s Word.
I believe that the Bible is the primary authority for our faith and practice.
I believe that Christians need to know and study the Old Testament and the New Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures).

The Reign of God:
I believe that the kingdom or reign of God is both a present reality and future hope.
I believe that wherever God's will is done, the kingdom or reign of God is present. It was present in Jesus' ministry, and it is also present in our world whenever persons and communities experience reconciliation, restoration, and healing.
I believe that the fulfillment of God's kingdom--the complete restoration of creation--is still to come.
I believe that the church is called to be both witness to the vision of what God's kingdom will be like and a participant in helping to bring it to completion.
I believe that the reign of God is both personal and social. Personally, I display the kingdom of God as our hearts and minds are transformed and I become more Christ-like. Socially, God's vision for the kingdom includes the restoration and transformation of all of creation.

The Sacraments:
Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere.
                        Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God's love and forgiveness of our sins.
                        Persons of any age can be baptized.
                        I baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring.
                        A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.
        The Lord's Supper (Communion, Eucharist)
                        The Lord's Supper is a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ.
                        The Lord's Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the   
                        members of God's family.
                        By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ's sacrifice and we are nourished and implored to go 
                        into the world in mission and ministry.

                        I practice "open Communion;" I welcome all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in 
                        peace with one another.

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