And while the people in the class change, the results of the experiment never do.
Here it is. At the beginning of our third evening together, I ask the group, “what do Methodists believe?”
The answers are always some variation of the following:
They move their pastors a lot.
They have a method to their worship services.
I have no idea.
The churches pay money into a common pool.
They help people in need.
And they move their pastors a lot.
Do you notice the pattern? The question asks what Methodists believe and the answers revolve around what Methodists do.
So to the extent we are known, we are known more for our polity than for our doctrine.
What a shame.
It’s a shame because our polity is mostly a relic from mid-20th century organizational thinking with its high value on centralized authority and institutional preservation.
It’s a time bound system whose time has largely passed.
Our doctrine, however, is timeless. And I would add, glorious.
As Methodist Christians, we believe that . . .
- God gives people free will and genuinely wants all of us to come into a relationship with him. As I Timothy 2:3-4 words it: This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
- God pursues us long before we are aware of it. When we show little or no interest in him, he shows unending interest in us. That’s why he puts people, situations, and events in our path, all designed to draw us back home to him. We call it prevenient grace and we read about it in Luke 15.
- Once we come to faith, God grants us the assurance that salvation is indeed ours. That’s why Methodist believers can know that nothing in this life can diminish the joy that awaits them on the other side of death. The doctrine of assurance balances the good word of I John 5:13 — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life — with the warnings against “falling away” found throughout the book of Hebrews.
- God saves us not only from the penalty of sin in the next life (hell), but from the power of sin in this life. In other words, Methodists thankfully believe that salvation is not merely a matter of getting our heavenly ticket punched; it is instead entering into a living relationship with Jesus Christ in which He makes us more like Himself during our remaining days on earth. We are the original holiness denomination.
Perhaps if we keep teaching these truths at Good Shepherd, then one day the results of my Methodist experiment will surprise me.