What does it mean to be a United Methodist? First and foremost being a United Methodist means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, in the tradition of John Wesley.
John Wesley started a renewal movement within the Anglican Church in England in the 1700’s based on devotion, evangelism, singing, and organization for ministry and discipleship. In 1738 he had an encounter with God in which he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” He wrote, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
God’s Grace was a big emphasis of Wesley. He identifies five “Means of Grace,” channels by which God’s grace is conveyed to us. Prayer, searching the Scriptures, Fasting, Holy Communion, and Christian Conferencing (conversation/fellowship).
Sacraments especially Holy Communion formed an important part of Wesley’s devotion to God. John Wesley started field preaching the Gospel to people who didn’t come to church. He organized the Methodists into small groups for accountability. He established schools, orphanages, hospitals, and gave most of his money to the poor.
The Methodist Church has historically extended two hands to the world. One offering ministry to human needs, the other offering salvation through faith in Christ. We understand that we cannot work our way to heaven or in any way earn our salvation. It is a free gift from God in response to our faith. But we believe Ephesians 2.10: we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Methodists have always sought to make a difference in their communities and their world through ministry to the poor, helpless, and needy. This ministry has at times gone beyond responding to needs by trying to effect social change (for example, the abolition of slavery).
So…what does it mean to be a Methodist? It means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the tradition of John Wesley. It means being committed to be a follower of Jesus Christ, cultivating discipleship through the means of grace, and offering salvation and ministry to human need both individually and through the church.
John Wesley – “A Methodist is…one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength.”
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Faith in Christ as Savior – Being a church member is different from being a member of a civic club. Being a church member should be based on faith in God through Jesus. There are two requirements for church membership: profess faith in Christ and be (or have been) baptized.
The Bible teaches in John 3.16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Also Romans 3.23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” and Romans 6.23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”
When you profess faith in Christ you are basically saying that you will not only make room for God in your life, but also that you will commit your life to Christ as your Savior and Lord, and that you will live your life in ways that honor and obey Christ. Being a Christian means more than being a church member. It’s all about faith in Christ. And it’s supposed to be the basis for church membership.
Baptism – We believe in baptism because Jesus was baptized and He instructed His disciples to… “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28.19)
There are two types and three modes of baptism. The two types are believer’s baptism and infant baptism. Believer’s baptism is done after a person makes a commitment to Christ. Infant baptism is done to claim a child for God and lead them to make a commitment to Christ when they are older. Oxford United Methodist Church practices both types of baptism. The three modes of baptism depend on how much water is used: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. Oxford United Methodist Church uses all three. Sprinkling is usually used for infants. Any of the three methods may be used for adults depending on circumstance and individual preference. (NOTE: Methodist churches do not re-baptize. The emphasis in baptism is on what God does, not how we feel about.)
Discipleship – Faith in Christ and baptism are the basis for Christian discipleship. The church is for those who have professed faith in Christ to live out their lives of worship, discipleship, service, and witness. The church is not really a building. The building is where the church meets.
Our Book of Discipline (the United Methodist church manual) says that a church “is a congregation of faithful people in which the pure Word is preached and the Sacraments duly administered according to God’s ordinance.” (BOD ¶103) As church members we are a part of a church to help us grow in our discipleship. Discipleship is defined as “one who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.” The church helps us to grow in our discipleship through worship, the sacraments, study, and opportunities for service/mission/ministry.
There are two requirements to join a United Methodist Church: faith in Christ and baptism.