What is a Methodist I

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I. What We Share with Others

Share and Share Alike

As human beings, we know something of who we are by where we came from. Many of us identify ourselves by both the place we were born and the family we were born into. Being a Jarrell from Marietta, Georgia is very different than being a Jarrell from Lancashire, England. Yet, there is a good chance we share a common ancestry at least in part and likely, some common physical traits – like hair color, eye color, height, build – as well.

But one thing that all of us who are of European or Asian ancestry all generally share is being genetically related to a group called homo neanderthalensis or Neanderthals. Neanderthals were very early humans who lived thousands of years ago in Europe and Western Asia. The precise way that modern humans and Neanderthals are related is still under study. Research has shown that modern humans overlapped with Neanderthal populations for a period, and that they had children together. As a result, many people living today have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in their genetic code.[1]

Knowing that we have DNA in common with Neanderthal or ancestors may be interesting, but really doesn’t tell us much about ourselves. Whether you have a lot or a little Neanderthal DNA, it doesn’t make you more intelligent, stronger, or anything else really. Knowing about certain genes a person inherited from Neanderthal ancestors provides only a little knowledge about a few physical traits like hair texture, height, sensitivity of the sense of smell, immune responses, adaptations to high altitude.[2]

Like I said, it’s just a matter of being an odd curiosity like saying you are related to Charlemagne or went to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But even that off curiosity is something that provides a link between yourself and the other person. It is something shared and shared things open the door to being connected to others. These connections allow us to find common ground with people who seem very different from us.

As Methodists, we have distinctives that make us, well – Methodists, things that are not Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or other denominations. But all of us as people attempting to follow Jesus share certain things in common. We have at the core of our beliefs certain things – certain spiritual DNA – that allow us to say we are one body and one Spirit…called to the one hope of our calling and having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. According to our Book of Discipline, there are five things we share with all Christians of the world.


Shared Faith

We hold in common with all Christians a faith in the mystery of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

For United Methodists and Christians around the world, the heart of the good news of God’s redemptive work is found in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. The very name Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, is often translated as ‘deliverer’ or ‘savior’.[3] The Hebrew word, to the best of my ability to understand it, means ‘the salvation of G-d,’[4] the name itself implying the intent of God and relating back to the idea of another Joshua whom God used to ‘deliver’ the Israelites to the land of Canaan.

Through our wanderings as a human race, we have found a need and desire for redemption, or as one man put it, “We can’t seem to help ourselves by ourselves.”[5] The Gospels bear witness to the redeeming love of God in the life, teachings, death, resurrection, presence in human history, triumph over evil and death, and promised return. Because we are loved despite our brokenness, God calls us to repent and offers restoration through the life-giving work and grace of Jesus, giving us hope through him of eternal life.[6]

We share the Christian belief that God’s redemptive love is realized in human life by the activity of the Holy Spirit, both in personal experience and in the community of believers.

At his baptism, the Holy Spirit fell on Jesus, preparing him for the ministry to come. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on his disciples, emboldening them to continue in the teachings that they had learned from Jesus, leading them to form what would eventually be known as the Church.

Through our trust in the redeeming love and Way of Jesus, we are reconciled to God and begin the process of being changed into the likeness of Jesus by the Spirit. This “Life of the Spirit” calls us to use the means of grace: prayer, fasting, attending the sacraments, and the inward searching of solitude. The Spirit also encompasses the life of the totality of church life our mission, worship, evangelism, social witness, and service.[7]

We understand ourselves to be part of Christ’s universal church when by adoration, proclamation, and service we become conformed to Christ.

Church is where we go to look up and to reach out beyond a preoccupation with ourselves and become part of a greater family, a place where we learn to call strangers ‘brother’ and ‘sister’.[8] At our baptism, we become a part of that community of faith and receive the promise of the Holy Spirit that will recreate and transform us into the image of Jesus. When we celebrate the Eucharist, communion, we take part in the risen presence of Jesus and are spiritually fed for faithful discipleship as part of that community. As we pray and work for the coming of God’s realm, both ‘here and now’ and ‘then and there’, we rejoice together as a body in the promise of life everlasting which overcomes death and evil int his world.[9]

With other Christians we recognize that the reign of God is both a present and future reality.

This reign and realm of God that we speak of is, again, a ‘here and now’ and a ‘then and there’ reality. We are called to be the people who demonstrate the reign and realm of God in the world as a witness and example. As people a being made into new creatures of Christ, as the gospel’s insights and resources are brought to bear on the life of the world, the Reign of God becomes an effective place of healing and renewing power.[10]

The work we do as a church is a sign that God is both coming and is here.[11] It is here in the work we do to feed and clothe the poor. It is here when we proclaim release and redemption to those bound by the brokenness in their lives. It is here when the Holy Spirit reveals the true Word of God in the person of Jesus to those who have lost hope and given up on their lives. It is here when we truly live into being the hands and feet of Jesus as we live into his life, ministry, death, and resurrection before those who need to see Him alive in us.

We share with many Christian communions a recognition of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, the confession that our justification as sinners is by grace through faith, and the sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal.

As followers of Jesus, we recognize that we are a part of the general ministry of all baptized Christians for the purpose of building up the Church and reaching out to the world in mission and service. We also recognize the essential oneness we have as part of the church in Christ Jesus, expressed through the historic creeds of the Church.[12]

While we do not always agree on how to interpret or understand the scriptures, but we all agree as Christians that scripture is the first place to start when seeking to understand our trust in God. In it, we find our need for reconciliation by grace through trust in God, for the purpose of reformation and renewal as a body.

The Biggest Tent

As United Methodist, we share with the ancient church – and with those who take part in its traditions, reason, and experience – a connection with God through the Holy Spirit. We recognize the shared history of seeking to understand what it means to live lives of trust in God and to seek God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the scriptures, and the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. IN living such lives, we seek to bring about the Kingdom of God that Creation itself would be a place where God is seen and known.

I encourage you to investigate these things not only from our Book of Discipline but from the pages of scripture, from the writings of church fathers and mothers, from the teachings, traditions, and experiences of those who have gone before us. Most importantly, I encourage you to begin the journey of faith, of trusting in God, through Jesus. I encourage you to seek the Holy Spirit that through the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit you may find the Way of Jesus and walk with us on that journey.


Brown, F., Driver, S., & Briggs, C. A. (2001). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Campbell, T. A. (2011). Methodist Doctrine. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Hamilton, A. (2016). Creed: What Christians Believe and Why. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

The United Methodist Church. (2016). The Book of Disciple of the United Methodist Church. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House.

Willimon, W. H. (2007). United Methodist Beliefs. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

[1] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/dtcgenetictesting/neanderthaldna

[2] ibid

[3] (Hamilton, 2016, p. 51)

[4] (Brown, Driver, & Briggs, 2001, pp. 446-448)

[5] (Willimon, 2007, p. 15)

[6] (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 49)

[7] (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 49)

[8] (Willimon, 2007, p. 44)

[9] (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 50)

[10] (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 50)

[11] (Willimon, 2007, p. 53)

[12] (The United Methodist Church, 2016, p. 50)