Frequently Asked Questions about the Christian Faith and United Methodism
Whether you are exploring Christianity for the first time or have been a United Methodist for a long time, you may be wondering the answers to many of the questions below. If you would like to discuss any of these further, please contact us at the church and we will be happy to connect with you.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Christianity is not first and foremost membership in a denomination or a church. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ, through whom we experience what it means to be fully alive and part of God’s creation. Just like in any intimate relationship, being a Christian means spending a lifetime learning to trust, love, and serve this Jesus. The more we deepen our relationship with Christ, the more we discover our life’s purpose, make a difference in the world that will last, and begin to live the abundant life Jesus promised for us.
Because Christianity is in its essence relational, it also means being part of the greatest, grandest family you will ever know. You become linked with every person who has ever committed to a relationship with Christ – past, present, and future – local and global. You soon discover that being a follower of Jesus is not at all a solo journey! In fact, the best way to grow in your relationship to Christ is to do it with other people.
That’s why we believe that an important part of being a Christian is being in community. The Christian church was established by God to be the nurturing, dynamic activity of Jesus Christ in the world. It is through the church that we get to know Jesus, in the church that we grow in Jesus, and through the church that we serve this Jesus. That’s why we’re glad to invite you into an experience of Jesus Christ through New Way United Methodist Church. Whether or not you choose to visit us or even join this church as a member, we invite you to experience the love of God, become an active follower of Jesus Christ, and become equipped to care for others and serve the world.
Who was this Jesus and why should I care?
Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago as a Palestinian Jew in the province of Nazareth, to a young girl named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph. At roughly the age of thirty, he began a public ministry of teaching, healing, and miracle working, all in the context of his central message – God had arrived to usher a new possibility of life ruled and transformed by the love of God. He called it the “the kingdom of God” and said to everyone he met that it was “close at hand”.
After three years of ministry, Jesus had developed a following of converts – or, disciples – who would later bear witness to the story of Jesus. He died by crucifixion under a political and religious system that saw him as a threat to established order. Three days after his death, he rose from the dead, appeared again to his disciples, charging them with the task of continuing this movement of God by spreading this message throughout the world.
But that’s all history stuff. As an object of our worship and our faith, we believe that Jesus was the human embodiment of God, through whom we can have a new relationship with God. Because we believe that Jesus still lives today, we not only remember his stories; we live them and receive power through them. His life provides us a model for living a godly life today. His death reminds us of how we can put to death our own sinful ways. His resurrection offers us new hope and new possibilities for a life beyond our wildest dreams. He is the key to discovering life at its fullest.
What’s the first step in becoming a Christian?
There’s good news! God has already taken the first step! Before you even knew it, God began paving the way for you to come to know God’s love in a rich, transformative way. Church folks like to use a special word to describe the way that God actively works in every human being to draw them into an experience of God’s love and eventually a moment of commitment to Jesus Christ. That word is grace. It is all you need to become a Christian. And the best news of all is that it is free!
Regardless of your past, no matter how sinful, lonely, or unlovable you may feel, and no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to church (if ever!), God’s grace enables you to start a new, fresh relationship with Jesus Christ – right now! Congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step – thanks to God!
And it gets even better. Because of God’s grace, you can choose to enter into a journey of growth, maturity, and service that will enable you to have a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. That journey will include a regular pattern of prayer, time with the Bible, fellowship with other Christians, service to others through the church, and offering every part of your life over to God. Just think – once you commit yourself to Christ – you can become and be part of more than you ever dreamed or imagined.
There’s no magical formula, special prayer, or specific equation to follow in becoming a Christian. It is simply a matter of acknowledging the love of this God who has been working in your life all along and making the commitment to follow and serve Jesus Christ for the rest of your life. And once you do, hang on! You’re in for the ride of your life!
What are the differences between United Methodists and other denominations?
The United Methodist Church has much more in common with other Christian churches than there are differences. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, once wrote, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”, reminding us that there are indisputable components of our faith that link us to the global faith community. We affirm the centrality of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God and savior for the world. We believe in the authority of the Bible and its contents as all that is necessary for salvation.
Here is a sampling of the differences with some of the major denominations:
The Baptist Church: Methodists and Baptists differ on their view of the sacraments, particularly baptism. Baptists generally view baptism as necessarily coupled with a profession of faith in Christ, making it available only to adults. They also view communion as a commemorative act, rather than observing Christ’s presence in the elements in a real way.
The Presbyterian Church: The critical difference here is on the role of human free will in the process of salvation. In order to preserve God’s grace as all that is required for salvation, most Presbyterians give no role to human choice in determining a person’s salvation. Methodists affirm that humans have the power to choose for or against Jesus. But rather than step into the trap of making human choice a “work” necessary for salvation, Methodists believe in the comprehensive grace of God which operates in a person’s life prior to their acknowledgment and makes an eventual profession possible. Humans can choose, but only because of the grace of God.
The Episcopal Church: Episcopalians believe in apostolic succession, which considers every ordained clergy as part of a historical, unbroken chain of succession all the way back to Peter. Methodists only believe in a spiritual connection among ordained clergy throughout history. John Wesley, who never rose to the level of bishop in the Anglican church, ordained several preachers in the church.
The Lutheran Church: Lutherans hold strongly to the belief in sola scriptura, which means “scripture alone” is the final authority for all doctrinal matters. To interpret the scripture uniformly throughout its history, Lutherans are a creedal church, which means they maintain a strict adherence to one set of interpretations of the scripture. These confessions are collected in the Book of Concord, a work composed by Lutherans in the 16th Century. It serves as the standard for biblical interpretation. Methodists affirm the primary authority of scripture and emphasize the importance of church tradition, but allow for the role of contemporary experience and human reason in interpreting the scriptures.
The Pentecostal Church: It may be surprising to some that Methodists and Pentecostals have a strong historical link. The emphasis on holiness and sanctification that marked the early frontier movement of American Methodism eventually birthed the modern Pentcostal movement’s emphasis on the baptism and anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal church emphasizes the expression of the charisms (gifts) of the spirit, including speaking in tongues, as proof of one’s salvation. Emotional preaching, vivid reactions from the people, and dramatic post-conversion spiritual experiences are all marks of Pentecostalism. While many Methodist churches do not have such emphases, it is not uncommon to find a charismatic Methodist church.
The Roman Catholic Church: It is important to remember that there is much more in common between Methodists and Roman Catholics as there are differences. After all, three-fourths of church history are shared in common between Protestants and Catholics. Both affirm the work of Jesus Christ as central to salvation, and both affirm the Bible as containing the message of God’s love for the world.
Critical differences are in the areas of sacraments and authority. The Catholic church believes in seven sacraments (means to receiving God’s grace), while Methodists believe in only two (baptism and communion). The Catholic church has a strong sense of apostolic succession, which means that the authority of the pope is derived from a direct, historical line of succession from the apostle Peter. United Methodists have no single person that speaks on behalf of all its members. Major decisions and pronouncements are made by the General Conference, a representative gathering of approximately 1,000 lay and clergy delegates that meets every four years.
Frequently asked questions about the church and money:
1. Will I be expected to tithe?
Not when you are with us as a guest or when you are beginning your faith journey. We believe that tithing is a valuable spiritual discipline that can make a big difference in our lives and is a biblical expectation for committed disciples of Christ.
2. Who will pressure me for money?
No one. Because the Bible takes our relationship with money very seriously and because it costs money to offer the ministries of the church, we will lift up the opportunity for people to give, but no one is ever pressured to give. The decision is always between the individual person and God.
3. How much money will the church want from me?
We believe that financial stewardship is first and foremost a spiritual matter, and secondarily a matter of fund-raising and meeting budgets. We give our money ultimately to God, not to any institution. That money is then used in service to God and the world through the church.
How much should one give? We are grateful for whatever people give to God in service through the church. To help people see that putting our financial world in order is an act of service to God, we offer the “Good Sense” workshop as a practical way of helping people order their finances around their commitment to Christ.
4. When will the pressure begin?
There won’t be any. We believe that rather than motivating people out of guilt or pressure, God wants people to give out of freedom and joy, because “God loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
5. If I do not tithe, will I still be allowed to attend church functions?
Absolutely. No one is ever asked how much they give. Tithing is always a personal, spiritual discipline.
Is the Bible true?
Yes! The Bible is true! It is not simply a work of literature, poetry, or history; it is a work that contains the truth about God, about life, and about the relationship between God and all of creation.
We are fond of saying that to believe that the Bible is true does not mean taking the Bible literally; it means taking the Bible seriously. An analogy is to equate reading the Bible the way you would read the newspaper. We have all trained ourselves to interpret different sections of the newspaper appropriately. We read the front page differently from the way we read the editorials section, which is different from the way we read the comics, or the sports page, or the classifieds, and so on.
What we must never forget is that the Bible is a repository of a wide diversity of literary styles, each one true in their own way. The poetry of the psalms, the parables of the gospels, the letters of Paul, the tribal narratives of Genesis, the oracles of the prophets – each of these contain unique imagery and require a unique approach to determine its truth. We cannot assume every passage of the Bible needs to be interpreted historically, scientifically, or empirically. To do so would be to miss out on the power of the Scriptures to speak to us in its own way.
So how do we figure out what is what in the Bible? Certainly there are tools, commentaries, and traditions to help us. But the best gift we have is the gift of each other.
John Wesley urged all the people in his Methodist movement to be “people of the book.” The Bible is a book borne out of Christian community for the purposes of the church’s teaching and witness.
If you are interested in learning more about the Bible and discovering its truth for yourself and our times, do it in Christian community! Be part of a small group, a Sunday school class, or some other regular study group and discover what it means to be a person of the book!
How do you define God?
The formal answer to the question comes from the historic Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church:
We believe in the one true, holy and living God, Eternal Spirit, who is Creator, Sovereign and Preserver of all things visible and invisible. He is infinite in power, wisdom, justice, goodness and love, and rules with gracious regard for the well-being and salvation of (people), to the glory of his name. We believe the one God reveals himself as the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinct but inseparable, eternally one in essence and power.
We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. As ministering Servant he lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by him all (people) will be judged. (Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, Articles I –II)
Beyond the formal language, we believe in a God who is perfect both in power and love and is in relationship with all of creation. God did not simply create the world and let it be on its own devices. Nor is God to be found simply by observing the natural world around us. God is both a God of mystery and proximity. God is both greater than the world we see and in full relationship with the world we see.
The best thing we can say about God is that God chooses to be revealed to each one of us. While we have only limited capacities to experience and understand God, God has given us great tools to hear, learn, and respond to God. The tools of scripture, church tradition, personal experience, and intellectual reasoning combine to understand who this God revealed in Jesus is for us.
Why is the church necessary?
When a person makes a commitment to follow Jesus Christ, that person becomes part of the grand family of God, namely, the church. We believe that the best, most holistic spiritual growth happens in the context of Christian community. Christian discipleship is not unlike any journey you will take in life – it best undertaken and enjoyed with the companionship of others. By including others in your spiritual journey, you can learn from the insight and experience of others, widen your beliefs through those whose perceptions differ from yours, and be challenged to advance fruitfully and efficiently in every area of growth.
But the benefit of being a part of the church is not simply for you. We firmly believe that the local church is the greatest and best hope for the entire world. The Spirit of God has called and empowered the church to meet the very real needs of a broken, hurting world. We are uniquely equipped to meet the spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational needs of all creation – only through the efforts, commitment, and joyful obedience of people like you. We are the church – together! And together – through God’s grace – we can transform the world!
It may be possible that your experience with churches in the past has been hurtful, boring, or futile. You may have a bias against religious institutions and would prefer to have a more privatized, isolated spiritual life. We want you to know that this church is full of people who have rediscovered the value of Christian community and are living a life they never dreamed they could live – discovering their purpose in life and being used by God to transform the world just like Christ transformed them. It is an altogether exciting adventure that can only be experienced through Christian community!
Is it okay to doubt? Do I have to have everything figured out?
No, you don’t have to have everything figured out! We discourage people from coming to church “shifting their mind into neutral when they shift their cars into park.” We believe that reason and intellect are gifts from God to explore the world around us, investigate the mysteries of the faith, and deal with the complicated issues of our time.
In fact, reason is one of the essential resources we use in interpreting the Scriptures (along with our personal experience and the traditions of the church). It was mandated by Jesus, who said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
At times, reason brings us greater clarity about the complexities of the faith. At other times, doubts emerge that threaten to cloud our ability to believe. Either way, the use of reason is helpful in moving us along a lifelong journey of spiritual discovery.
Around here, we talk a lot about faith as a journey. We don’t believe that you have to come here as a finished product, having achieved the goal of a perfected ability to understand fully all that there is about Christianity. You may be quite surprised to know that even many long-time Christians struggle with serious matters of faith and doubt. But the bottom line is, we are all in this together. We pray together, worship together, wrestle together, and serve together, knowing that in the end the best and finest answers to our deepest questions will come in the context of shared community.
Is it okay to doubt? You bet! Will you ever have it all figured out? Maybe not. But including us in your journey and being part of a community give you the best chance at overcoming any uncertainties.