What's a Methodist? ...continued...

By Steve Manskar

In my previous post I attempted to answer the question, "What's a Methodist?" My reply, given to a visitor to the United Methodist congregation with which I am affiliated, was:

"A Methodist is a Christian who is training to love God with all his or her heart, soul, and mind and love his or her neighbor as himself or herself."

I believe this statement fairly reflects the teaching of John and Charles Wesley. That being said, I think it needs some to be fleshed out.

This is the first of three posts that are my attempt to go a little deeper into what I mean in the above statement. If the young woman who asked the question was willing to engage in further conversation, the following is what I would say to her.

The following is my attempt to explain the first part of the statement:

"A Methodist is a Christian..."

A Methodist is a Christian first and foremost. We are initiated into Christ's holy church and baptized in the Triune name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Methodists believe Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is God with us. His life, death, and resurrection are the salvation and hope of the world.

Like all Christians, Methodists renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject the evil powers of this world and repent of our sin. We believe that sin is a universal problem. It touches all of life: social and personal. Sin begins with alienation from God. It is a broken relationship with the one who created all that is and who seeks reconciliation with his creation, especially his beloved children. Suffering, injustice, and oppression are the symptoms of sin. God supplies the grace we need to awaken us to our sinful condition. His grace gives us the ability to turn away from the way that is slavery and death and turn towards the way that is freedom and life.

Like all Christians, Methodists accept the freedom and power God gives to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Grace is another word for the freedom and power God gives. Methodists believe grace sets us free from the powers of sin and death. Grace sets them free to love as God loves (John 8:31b-32; Galatians 5:13-14). When we accept the freedom to love we receive power to “become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of men, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

Like all Christians, Methodists confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church. Methodists are witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world. We know his life, death, and resurrection save us from the death-dealing power of sin that twists, distorts, and destroys life and love. Jesus is God with us and God for us. His love heals our brokenness and makes us whole. As we obey his teachings and serve Jesus as Lord we become more and more fully the persons God created us to be, in the image of Christ. The more we serve with our Lord, the more we become like him. We become what we love.

Finally, like all Christians, Methodists confess and serve Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in the community of church. The church is “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Ephesians 4:1-16). Being a Christian is deeply personal, but it is not private. God gives each person gifts and the responsibility to use our gifts for the good of the body. We are baptized to serve with Christ, not to be served. He calls us to “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). One of the ways we love one another is to “watch over one another in love” in small groups that meet weekly for prayer and mutual accountability for practicing and growing discipleship. The purpose of the small groups is to obey Jesus’ command to love one another. The Apostle Paul believed that Christians grow in faith, hope, and love when they strive to build one another up in love. He described the process in Ephesians 4:15-17,

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Part 2 will deal with "A Methodist is ... in training to love God with all her or his heart, soul, and mind ..."