United Methodist Foundational Documents
Just as creeds such as the Apostles' Creed summarize the belief of all Christians, the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church form a foundation of doctrine for United Methodists. They, along with Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, are "standards" of doctrine for United Methodists.
The Articles of Religion
When the Methodist movement in America became a church in 1784, John Wesley provided the American Methodists with a liturgy and a doctrinal statement, which contained twenty-four "Articles of Religion" or basic statements of belief. These Articles of Religion were taken from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England—the church out of which the Methodism movement began—and had been the standards for preaching within the Methodist movement. When these articles were voted on by the American conference, an additional article was added regarding the American context, bringing the total number of articles to 25.
These articles became the basic standards for Christian belief in the Methodist church in North America. First published in the church's Book of Discipline in 1790, the Articles of Religion have continued to be part of the church's official statement of belief.
The Confession of Faith
The Confession of Faith is the statement of belief from The Evangelical United Brethren Church. Consisting of 16 articles, the current form of this statement of faith was presented and adopted by the 1962 General Conference.
When The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 from the union of several branches of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, both The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith were adopted as basic statements of the Christian faith.
The General Rules of the Methodist Church
Wesley knew how difficult it would be for his followers, particularly those recently converted, to live a holy life. To this end, he created structures and practices that would help foster faithful living in the members of the Methodist Societies. In 1743 he outlined these practices in the "General Rules," which functioned as a sort of contract by which group members held one another accountable.
These rules are organized into these three basic categories:
- Do no harm, "avoiding evil of all kinds";
- Do good, "of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all;"
- Practice "the ordinances of God," or engage in individual and communal spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, worship and the Lord's Supper.
Wesley's Sermons and Notes on the New Testament
Wesley's sermons contain his basic understanding of the Christian faith and his thinking about how we are to live out this faith both personally and corporately. His written sermons were intended to teach the basic beliefs of the faith as well as nurture and encourage his followers in their discipleship.
Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament provided his followers with tools for interpreting the Bible. These notes contained both Wesley's own ideas as well as insights borrowed from other interpreters and commentaries.
- Who Are We? Doctrine, Ministry and Mission of the United Methodist Church (Leader's Guide) by Kenneth L. Carder (Cokesbury, 1998), pp. 33-34, 36, 39.
- This We Believe: The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church (Student) by Norman P. Madsen (Cokesbury, 1987), pp. 5, 9; and 10.
- The 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012)