Who are United Methodists?
Who are United Methodsits?
Thanks for dropping in on this website. We can only assume that you’re at least a little bit curious about the United Methodist faith. Consider these very basic points.
•At the risk of stating the obvious, we’re Christians.
•There are 8 million of us in the United States and another 3.5 million in countries around the world. You can help that number grow.
•Our congregations are deeply involved in their own communities and in outreach far from home.
•Both women and men are our clergy/pastors. We believe . Our decision-making bodies always include clergy and lay church members.
•We have two sacraments – baptism and communion – and our communion table is open to all. (Yes, that really means everyone.)
•We believe that many of the things that separate people from each other are more important to them than they are to God.
•Our name, Methodist, at first was a term meant to poke fun at our theological founder, John Wesley. (He’s an interesting character, and you’ll learn more about him if you keep asking questions.)
•We hope you’ll do exactly that – keep asking questions about United Methodism and about how you can grow spiritually and do good works in God’s name.
Where Did It All Begin?
Remember the “Do-Re-Me” song in “The Sound of Music”? Maria is teaching the Von Trapp kids to sing and advises them, “Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
Since United Methodism is Christian, that means we start with Judaism about 2,000 years ago. Register these basic points as you explore:
•Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, was born in what we now call the Middle East between 7 and 2 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). (Note: You probably recognize years “B.C.” and “A.D.,” but scholars now refer to years “Before the Common Era” and in the “Common Era.” Jesus’ time is the dividing line.)
•The human Jesus walked around ancient Israel preaching, teaching, healing and causing great consternation to the power structure.
•He invited everyone (that means women and children, too, in a male-dominated culture) to participate in the coming kingdom of God.
•He welcomed the social rejects and big sinners of his day.
•His challenge of the power structure led to his arrest by religious authorities – after his closest friends betrayed and abandoned him.
•Roman authorities crucified him (a horrible, but common, execution method) as a criminal sometime between 26-36 C.E.
•He forgave his enemies with his dying breath.
•After burial, he rose from the dead and appeared multiple times to his followers.
The Peculiar Idea of Trinity
To continue this story of how Christianity evolved – and how United Methodism entered the picture – you have to start grappling with the idea of the Trinity, a belief shared with other Christians.
The concept of the Trinity is that there is one God who is revealed to us in three forms:
•God, the loving father and creator of the universe
•Jesus Christ, God’s son and our redeemer, who was fully human and fully divine
•The Holy Spirit, God actually with us, awakening us to God’s will and helping us carry it out
The trick is that all three exist simultaneously. Don’t worry if it is hard to grasp. There are scholars who have made careers of trying to figure it out.
The Idea of Church Takes Root
The early Christian Church began when the Holy Spirit descended on the frightened followers of Jesus – men and women who had just seen their leader, teacher and healer brutally killed.
They had experienced God in the form of the human Jesus and now were experiencing God as the Holy Spirit.
There is much to the story of how Christianity took root, but here are some basic points on the timeline:
•The early apostles spread the “Good News” (a term you’ll hear often) throughout their world, baptizing others in the name of Jesus, breaking bread, sharing wine and building community.
•The story spread by word of mouth, and it wasn’t until perhaps 80 to 100 years after Jesus died that people starting recording the literature that has become the Bible.
•In the first century C.E., Christianity was an underground movement – persecuted by Jews and outlawed by the Roman Empire.
•Things started changing in 318 C.E. That’s when Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Churches were organized across the Roman Empire, with bishops over cities and geographic areas.
•Between 440-461 C.E., the bishop of Rome claimed authority over the Catholic Christian Church. (“Catholic” in this sense meant universal or worldwide.) He took the title of Pope Leo I.
The Protestant Reformation
You’ve probably heard of Protestants, but what were the original Protestants protesting? The answer is that they had many bones to pick with the operation of the Catholic Church.
•It began in 1517 with Martin Luther, a German priest/theologian.
•Other reformers in various European countries followed. They took somewhat different paths, and here are some of their issues:
•Correcting questionable practices of the church
•Challenging the authority of the pope
•Establishing the Bible as the only diving source of knowledge
•Making religion more accessible to ordinary people (for instance, replacing Latin in church and having Bibles in the languages of the people)
•Allowing priests (soon known as ministers) to marry
This Protestant Reformation ultimately led to Lutherans, Baptists, Huguenouts, Presbyterians and other denominations.
The Reformation Moves to England . . . and then America
Martin Luther emboldened many people, including King Henry VIII, who broke with the Roman Catholic Church (a great tale of marital and political intrigue, but that’s another story) to form the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church or the Episcopal Church. That was in the 1530s.
Skip ahead two centuries, and we’re finally ready to meet the Methodists.
•In 1729, brothers John and Charles Wesley, who were Anglican priests, joined others from Oxford College in England in a religious study group, literally the “Holy Club.”
•Members were so methodical in their practices, that outsiders mockingly called them “Methodists,” proving that taunts and bullying aren’t anything new.
•You can thank the American Revolution for United Methodism.
•When the revolution began, Anglican clergymen abandoned 15,000 church members in the colonies.
•Since the Bishop of London wouldn’t send clergy to the rebellious colonies, John Wesley ordained ministers on his own authority. (“Take that!” he may have said, but in a more formal 18th Century British manner as he channeled Martin Luther.)
•The Methodist Episcopal Church in America was established in 1784. (Lots of twists and turns over the next two centuries led us to today’s United Methodist Church, but explaining them is best left for another day.)
Some real basics about The United Methodist Church
Who can be baptized? People of any age, from infancy through adulthood, but once is sufficient because it is God’s act, not a denomination’s. (If you were baptized in another faith and later join a United Methodist church, you can “confirm” or “reaffirm” that baptism, but God got it right the first time.)
How is baptism done? Ordinary water and the hands of a minister are the tools. (Most people get sprinkled, but some prefer immersion – so, yes, you can get dunked.)
Just what is it? Communion is an act of worship that uses bread and wine (unfermented grape juice, actually) to open ourselves to God’s love, to remember Christ’s life and to be bound to a bigger community.
Who is it for? United Methodists have an “open table.” It’s not “our” table, but the family table to which Jesus welcomed everyone and a sacred time of inclusion. (You don’t have to be a member. You don’t have to be baptized. You don’t have to be an adult. It really is open to all.)
United Methodist can be women or men, single or married.
All are screened rigorously (background checks, psychological testing, the works). Ordination comes after years of full-time ministry. A church may have one or more ordained ministers others who are schooled in music, Christian education, youth ministry and other disciplines.
Joining the celebration in today’s world
A Sunday morning worship service is everyone’s initial concept of being part of a church. Indeed, Sunday service is a fixture, but John Wesley himself would tell you that worship happens every day – and in many ways.
Today’s United Methodists are “rethinking church” and affirming to everyone that a church has many doors – literal and figurative. Church might include:
•A daycare program
•A youth basketball league
•A Bible study class
•A “Habitat for Humanity” build team
•A mentoring program for at-risk teens
•A soup kitchen for the hungry
•A food bank
•A fund-raising project to end malaria
•A wintertime homeless shelter
•Any of thousands of ways people connect with others through the church
A basic concept is that Christianity is not practiced alone but in a community of believers who understand that “love” and “church” are both verbs. Jesus reminded the people of his time that the two great rules of life were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s good advice to live by today.
Poke your head in one of our many doors to find ways to do both things.
And now, a word from John Wesley
If nothing else, John Wesley was a never-give-up kind of guy. all of us should:
“Do all the good you can . . .
in all the ways you can . . .
in all the places you can . . .
to all the people you can . . .
as long as ever you can.”Originally Posted: Apr 27, 2011