I am a United Methodist.
That statement shouldn’t come as a shock to those who read my musings on a regular basis or know me personally. I am a candidate for ordained ministry in the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist. One would hope that if I am seeking ordination in a particular faith tradition that I would, at the very least, claim to be associated with that group, which, in this case, is the United Methodist Church.
For me, to claim to be a United Methodist goes much deeper than that. It even goes even deeper than the fact that I have spent the majority of my life in a United Methodist congregation. It’s not because of guaranteed appointment, a nice parsonage, or even our pension package.
So, why am I a United Methodist? To say that I am a United Methodist gets to the heart of my faith and how I understand and relate with God.
I am a United Methodist, because of our strong view of grace. Wesleyan theology, which finds its heritage in the thoughts and ministry of John Wesley, has a deep appreciation of God’s grace and presence in our lives. We do not see God as distant and away from the world, but truly present and active in our lives. Where we see this is in God’s grace. Wesleyans hold to three main views of grace – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us. It is the grace that is available to us, for instance, before we recognize who Christ is. Justifying grace is the grace of pardon. We believe we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that on the cross Jesus stood in our place and bore the punishment of our sin. In other words, Jesus died our deserved death. Sanctifying grace says we are not alone in this. It is the grace that goes with us. We are going to make mistakes, and sanctifying grace, through the Holy Spirit, brings us to a deeper sense of holiness and relationship with God.
I am a United Methodist, because we believe God’s grace is available to all. We do not believe God’s grace is only for a select few.Wesleyans maintain Christ died for all. Grace is a free gift available to all who would receive it. I have a hard time believing God would save one person and not the other. I do not believe this is true to Scripture. In sending Christ, God made a way for all to know the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is beautiful and characteristic of our loving God.
I am a United Methodist, because our view of free will. The fact humanity has a sense of free will in its relationship with God is important. It recognizes our decisions play a role in how we accept God’s grace. In fact, we believe someone can reject God’s grace. We see this in our lives when people sadly refuse, for whatever reason, to believe God loves them. I do not believe God lords grace over us, but instead offers it to us freely. As well, I believe it is important that we believe you can fall out of grace. It is hard to maintain “once saved, always saved,” when we see in Scripture how some, for instance Peter, sinned after accepting God’s grace. Redemption is a continual process of renouncing our sin and turning towards Christ. It is not a one-time act.
I am a United Methodist, because of our connectional nature. Finally, United Methodists recognize that we are not alone. We are in connection with one another throughout our denomination and the global church. Our connectional system brings us together and makes us accountable to one another. Our pastors are connected to other pastors for support and accountability. Our churches are connected to the district, conference, and jurisdiction, and general conference. No one is on an island to themselves. We are in ministry together and in communion with one another.
There are many aspects of the United Methodist Church I could also discuss, such as our heritage, our deep appreciation of the contributions of both the Eastern and Western wings of the church, and our love of potlucks. I love our church, warts and all. I am thankful for the United Methodist Church, and pray God will use me to be a loving presence of revival and renewal in the church for years to come.