What we Believe
John Wesley (1703-1791)
Our denomination is considered Protestant, though it did not emerge in the Protestant Reformation. It came out of the Church of England in a revival and reform movement in 1744. By the time it arrived in America in 1773, it was primarily a frontier revival movement that spread through the country calling all persons to a life of piety and prayer. Grounded in the Book of Common Prayer and a Discipline written by its founder, John Wesley, its theology focused on the basic tenets of Christian belief: a Trinitarian understanding of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the faith of the Old and New Testaments, and the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.
How it is distinguished from others
United Methodism recognizes the capacity for spiritual growth and is not bound by doctrines that restrict spiritual inquiry. John Wesley once stated that, beyond the basic beliefs in God, Christ, the Spirit, the Bible and the Church, “we think and let think.” The United Methodist Church is an inclusive church, an ecumenical body with a tolerant spirit toward spiritual, social and political diversity.
How it views theology
Our Church believes that there are four foundational pillars that support it — Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. Reason is the means to interpret scripture, tradition is the historical interpretation of scripture as it has emerged in the life of the Church, and experience is the individual’s developing relationship with God. These four are co-equal for United Methodists and form a balanced and healthy spiritual life. United Methodists also affirm God’s grace for all persons, the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and a desire for holiness in heart and life.
Why it is called United Methodist?
The word “Methodist” emerged in 1729 when John and Charles Wesley and their companions were ridiculed by others for being so methodical in their holy habits. When the movement came to America, the organization was called, The Methodist Episcopal Church, giving some indication of how it emerged from the Anglican Church. Through many historical splits, the church has taken various names. In 1939, however, some of its separate factions reunited and became known as, The Methodist Church. In 1968, when the denomination merged with The Evangelical United Brethren, the name was changed to The United Methodist Church.
Its position on social issues
Our denomination historically takes a position on numerous social issues. They are part of a social creed that is examined and adjusted every four years at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. While these are denominational statements, not all United Methodists agree with them. They constitute the collective thinking of the spiritual body of the Church at a given time and are recommended positions for its world membership.
Its position on divorce
Our church recognizes divorce as a regrettable occurrence in our society. However, we also affirm the right of divorced persons to remarry. Our church affirms marriage, responsible parenting and a loving and peaceful resolution to conflicts in all relationships.
Our Church affirms membership in the holy catholic church. In reciting the historic Apostle’s Creed, United Methodists affirm that they are part of the Church Universal. The word catholic is with the little “c” and means universal. It is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church.
The two sacraments recognized by United Methodists are baptism and Holy Communion. A sacrament is distinct in that it describes an initiative of God toward human beings and not a decision that human beings have made about God. God has made the initiative to accept persons as “His own,” and the symbol for that is baptism. God has made the initiative to love and relate to “His own,” more deeply through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. The symbol for that is Holy Communion. Other services in the church such as marriage have to do with decisions that human beings make and are called orders not sacraments.
A.) Baptism and Infant Baptism. In the United Methodist Church, the preferred method is sprinkling water on the heads of adults or infants, though the denomination recognizes any method of baptism. No authority is placed in water or its amount of application. The sacrament is a sign of God’s acceptance, whether it is in a river or in a sanctuary. Babies are baptized as a sign of God’s acceptance of them (before they are of the age to make a decision). In the service, parents usually commit to live worthy spiritual lives before children and agree to bring them up under the guidance and the influence of the church. Upon baptism, a baby or a child or an adult becomes a Christian. Any who are baptized are made members of the Christian Faith. The vow of church membership is separate from baptism.
B.) Holy Communion. Anyone, including children, may participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not dependent upon church membership, denomination or baptism. As in baptism, God makes the initiative. This initiative is to connect with human beings. All who love God are invited to respond.
The United Methodist Church accepts and affirms the baptism of a person by any Christian denomination. No one is rebaptized. Those who are unbaptized are asked to receive this sacrament. It includes repentance for sin and profession of one’s faith in God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It also asks for an affirmation of the faith as contained in the scriptures and a pledge by the individual to live a Christian life.
Persons who have already made this commitment in another church or denomination simply transfer their membership by taking the vow of church membership. It consists of one question: “Will you be loyal to the church and support it with your prayers, presence, gifts and service?” An affirmative answer to this question entitles one to all the rights and privileges of church membership.
Ours is a “connectional” church. The local church is part of a district (or cluster of churches). The district is part of a conference (a state or an area). The conference is part of a jurisdiction (region). The collective body of United Methodists in America is called the General Conference. The General Conference meets every four years and so do the Jurisdictional conferences. The state or area “conference” is called the Annual Conference. Local church meetings and district meetings occur many times during the year, though each church meets annually to assess its work in what is called its Charge Conference. Our church is a member of the LaGrange District of the North Georgia Annual Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the general church. We maintain representation in all of these bodies through delegates we elect who attend some or all of them.
Its book of rules
At the conclusion of each General Conference, The Book of Discipline is amended and approved. This Discipline (as it is called) contains the current doctrinal statements, general rules and social principles of the denomination. It is the organizational manual for all United Methodist churches on all subjects. All churches, in their operation and administration, conform to The Book of Discipline. This ‘law of the church’ is historically grounded in the first discipline of 1785 and continues to be the authority on church structure and polity.
Its local organization
While subject to the laws of the church as laid down in The Book of Discipline, the local church affirms connectionalism and accountability. All groups, committees and agencies within the local church are governed by the Church Council. Within the Church Council, the Board of Trustees constitutes the legal entity that represents the congregation. Notwithstanding, the Church Council serves as a clearing-house for most meeting activity and confirms all decision making by vote.
An annual event takes place for each local church called the Charge Conference. At that meeting, the District Superintendent presides and assesses the State of the Church. Church leaders are nominated for approval, and an annual budget may be adopted and approved.
Each local church elects delegates from its membership to serve at the meeting of the Annual Conference. Those persons collectively form the pool from which lay delegates are elected for the Jurisdictional and General conferences of the United Methodist Church.
Each year, a Committee on Lay Leadership, chaired by the pastors, examines all elected church positions and recommends the leadership and membership of these groups. Ordinarily, everyone who desires to participate in the structure of the church will be allowed to serve, provided they make their desires known.