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What's a Methodist?

The United Methodist Church is a Protestant movement and traces its roots back to John Wesley, an Anglican priest in the Church of England in the 1700s. John and his brother, Charles, intended to revitalize the Church of England by forming societies of "Methodists"– so called because the members followed a daily routine of personal piety and social holiness.

Click here to learn more about Methodist history.

What's different or distinctive about being a United Methodist?

There are no exclusively United Methodist doctrines. Although we have distinctive emphases, we have no affirmations that are not also believed by other Christian groups. United Methodists have traditionally proclaimed the following emphases:

•The availability of God's grace for all;

•The essential unity of faith and works;

•Salvation as personal and social;

•The church as a community of Christ's disciples who seek to share in God's mission;

•The inseparability of knowledge (intellect) and vital piety (devotion to religious duties and practices) as components of faith;

•Seeking holiness of heart and life both as individuals and in our society;

•A cooperative ministry and mission in the world, often referred to as "connectionalism";

•The link between Christian doctrine and Christian living.

John Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. United Methodists today follow four main guidelines that help us understand our faith.

Scripture Tradition, Experience, & Reason:

Scripture - United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death.

Tradition - The story of the church reflects the most basic sense of tradition, the continuing activity of God's Spirit transforming human life. Tradition is the history of that continuing environment of grace in and by which all Christians live, God's self-giving love in Jesus Christ. As such, tradition transcends the story of particular traditions.

Reason - Although we recognize that God’s revelation and our experiences of God’s grace continually surpass the scope of human language and reason, we also believe that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason. By reason we read and interpret Scripture. By reason we determine whether our Christian witness is clear. By reason we ask questions of faith and seek to understand God’s action and will.

Experience - Some facets of human experience tax our theological understanding. Many of God's people live in terror, hunger, loneliness, and degradation. Everyday experiences of birth and death, of growth and life in the created world, and an awareness of wider social relations also belong to serious theological reflection. A new awareness of such experiences can inform our appropriation of scriptural truths and sharpen our appreciation of the good news of the kingdom of God.

How old is the United Methodist church?

The present denomination was created in 1968 with the merger of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Where did the church get its name?

John and Charles Wesley and a few other young men attending Oxford University met regularly in 1729 for intellectual and spiritual improvement and to help one another become better Christians. So systematic were their habits of religious duty and their rules of conduct that other students referred to them as “Methodists.” To learn more about John Wesley, click here.

The word “United” now in our name comes from The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church, when they joined The Methodist Church in 1968.

How many Methodist denominations are there in the United States?

There are at least 19 Wesleyan denominations. The largest of these, with 8.7 million members, is The United Methodist Church. It ranks as the second largest Protestant denomination behind the Southern Baptists.

How are official positions on social matters determined by the church?

Only the General Conference, a representative body of no more than 1,000 clergy and lay persons which meets every four years, officially determines church policy and speaks on social issues. Through a set of Social Principles, the General Conference speaks to human issues from a biblical and theological foundation. These principles are intended to be instructive and persuasive. Agreement is not required, but members are called to a “prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice.” Official resources of the church such as curriculum must reflect the official positions of the church.

Do lay people have much to say about what happens in the church?

Laity and clergy have equal voice in annual, jurisdictional and general conferences of the church. There are also guidelines that encourage fair representation of women, young adults and youth in decision making. Of course, at the local level, lay persons are deeply involved in every aspect of the church's mission and ministry.

How can I get more answers to my questions?

You find more information about The United Methodist Church here.

Information for these Methodist FAQ's is from Thomas S. McAnally's "Questions and Answers About The United Methodist Church", published by Abington Press, 1995.

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