With most other Christian denominations, our most foundational document is the Bible. Scripture “reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation,” explains our Confession of Faith (see below). The statements of faith by the early church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, are also recognized as statements of our faith.
See “Our Christian Beliefs” for more details on that which we share with other Christian denominations.
The United Methodist Church also looks to the faith statements of our predecessor bodies as foundational for our doctrine. The Evangelical United Brethren Church’s Confession of Faith and the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Articles of Religion help us understand what we believe as United Methodists.
The writings of Methodism’s founder also continue to guide us. John Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions, his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament and the General Rules of the Methodist Church continue to inform our faith and practice.
Let’s look at each of these documents.
The Confession of Faith from The Evangelical United Brethren Church contains 16 articles. They address things like the nature of God, what we believe about the sacraments, and the place of good works. Others are statements about the need for variety in worship, how we should treat our property, and how we believe a person of faith should relate to the governments of the world.
The Articles of Religion
The 25 articles of faith outlined by the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Articles of Religion are similar, addressing many of the same topics. These include statements about the Holy Ghost, free will, and swearing an oath.
The Articles of Religion were edited and adapted by John Wesley and the first Methodists from the Articles of Religion of the Church of England, of which Wesley was a priest and many of the first Methodists were members.
As The United Methodist Church formed in 1968, we adopted both the Confession of Faith and the Articles of Religion as part of our official statement of belief. They are both printed in their entirety in The Book of Discipline.
The General Rules of the Methodist Church
Also printed in the Book of Discipline are The General Rules of the Methodist Church, which began as Wesley’s General Rules for Our United Societies. These rules organized and encouraged early Methodists as they gathered in small groups called societies, before Methodism became a church.
There are just three rules, under each Wesley gives a variety of examples. The rules are (1) to do no harm, (2) to do good and (3) to attend upon “all the ordinances of God,” which are things like worship, prayer and the sacraments. These help us understand what it means to live as a United Methodist Christian.
Wesley's Sermons and Notes on the New Testament
In his day, John Wesley was a popular preacher. He often published sermons in inexpensive tracts, many of which were quite popular. He also published collections of sermons he titled Sermons on Several Occasions. Much of what we know of Wesley’s theology is contained in these sermons.
His Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament are a verse by verse tool to help us interpret the Bible. They alert us to Wesley’s deep understanding of Scripture, including his knowledge of the original languages and the thinking of early church writers.