Why United Methodist?
Every year we get an opportunity to navigate our way through the Michigan Annual Conference as United Methodists. And at times at Annual Conference I wonder why I am a United Methodist. I did not inherit this faith. I did have an opportunity to grow up in “the church” but not as a “United Methodist”. So, for me, being United Methodist was and is a choice. There are some specific reasons I embraced the United Methodist Way of being Christian. My intent is to write the first of three Pastor’s Ponderings to you in this month’s newsletter. In this, the first addressing, I want to give you a few reasons why I am United Methodist. My second writing for July will be a continuation of why I chose the United Methodist Church. And for August my intent is to write about some of those things that, from our 2018 Annual Conference, continue to engage me as a United Methodist. As I share some of these reasons to be a United Methodist I encourage you to engage me in a conversation as to why you have chosen to be a United Methodist. I will be presenting these reasons why I am United Methodist in no particular order.
Religion should be a matter of head and heart. Since the beginning, people called Methodists have used the best of the resources available from Scripture, reason, tradition and personal experience in the practice of their faith. I will unpack some elements by starting with, as Methodist, we take a serious approach to the witness of Scripture rather than a literal approach. We consider what this message of the Bible said to the people who originally heard it and we discern how it still speaks today to the people living in very different circumstances than those who first heard the Word. As we do that, however, we seek to remain open to all of Scripture which speaks to us and commands that we witness to Scripture.
We, as United Methodists, are not required or allowed to check our brain at the door. We use our God-given abilities, including powers of reason, to discern what is necessary, right and good. We believe that God wants thinking Christians, not sheep who are disengaged.
People called Methodists also value being part of “that great cloud of witnesses,” which is the most vital part of the tradition of the Christian church. We believe the faithful examples and practices of our forerunners in the faith have much to teach us about how we might become better disciples. In lifting up tradition we make an important distinction between tradition and traditionalism. Traditionalism is a form of idolatry that perseveres the practices of the past at the expense, or perhaps even exclusion, of the church’s mission in the present age. Tradition is practicing the essentials of our faith in a way that engages us today with the vital message of the gospel. In all we do we strive to be on the living edge of Christian faith.
We believe God still speaks to people today. The Methodist movement began with an experience of one individual, John Wesley our founder, who had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that left his heart on fire for God. For years now, one of the questions asked of Methodist pastors are: where did they and how are they currently experiencing Christ as their Lord and Savior? When Methodist gather in small groups or engage one another we are to inquire, “How is it with your soul?” This should be done as a way of inviting each person to share their personal experience with God. We believe that such experiences make all the difference. From generation to generation the people called Methodists have believed that an individual encounter with God in Jesus Christ has the power to transform a person’s life. The experience opens them to new understandings of the Bible, offering new ideas about their place in God’s creation and prompts them to consider new ways of practicing their faith in the world.
Next month I plan to write about what United Methodists believe about salvation, which makes a huge difference in how we experience and share, “Being in Christ,” which can influence us to engage the world. Many of the best gifts of our Bible witness, the reasons guiding our light, and living as Christians in a tradition and a personal experience of God saving grace direct our journey and satisfy our soul.
(Thoughts take from “Wesleyan Beliefs by Ted Campbell”)