Theological Guidelines

Our Faith Journey

Jesus offered a simple invitation to his first disciples. “Follow me,” he said. When they accepted, they traveled with him as he taught, healed, and fed people. They were also with him when he was arrested, crucified and resurrected.

As they followed Jesus, both before and after his resurrection, the disciples learned about him, were shaped by his teaching, and grew in their relationship with him. 

We receive that same invitation from Jesus today. We learn and grow as we read the Bible, pray and worship, and care for and serve others.

John Wesley wrote that “Methodists [are] a people who pursue…holiness of heart and life.” United Methodists continue that tradition of following Jesus with our hearts and lives. We exhibit our faith through love of God and neighbor, by actively participating in God’s work in our lives and in the world today.

Our Theological Journey

When we think about and study our faith, we are doing theology. All of us, both clergy and laity, are to participate in this work as part of the Christian community.

To help us faithfully carry out this task, The United Methodist Church identifies four helpful tools we call our theological guidelines. They are Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. Let’s look at each of these.

Scripture

The Bible is our primary source for theological inquiry. The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church state that the Holy Scripture contains “all things necessary to salvation” (Book of Discipline ¶104.3). Wesley called early Methodists to “search the Scriptures,” what we more commonly call studying the Bible.

In our reading and searching of Scripture, we learn the story of God, creation and humanity. We meet Jesus through whose life, death and resurrection, we receive the forgiveness of our sins. We encounter the Holy Spirit guiding us in our lives today.

Read more about the authority of Scripture from the Book of Discipline.

Tradition

We understand that as Christians today, we are part of a long tradition of people who through the centuries have been in relationship with God. We take seriously the commentaries, creeds, hymns, worship, prayers, art, and actions of those who have gone before us in various times, places, and cultures. That long tradition informs us of who we are as the people of God and how God calls us to live in our time, place and culture. We do not read the Bible and perform our theological task in a vacuum, but as part of the Church through the ages and around the world.

Read more about the witness of tradition from the Book of Discipline.

Experience

United Methodists also understand that each of us has our own unique experience with the triune God. We recognize that we bring our whole selves to our faith, including corporate and personal experiences that have shaped us. As we think about experience as a source of theological understanding, however, we are not talking about individual, subjective experience, much less about such experiences or accounts of them as having any priority over scripture or tradition. Instead, we are talking about how our experiences function to confirm and bear witness to the working of God in our lives to save us from the power of sin and make us holy.  

Read more about the role of experience from the Book of Discipline.

Reason

While we acknowledge that much of our faith is beyond reason, we believe that using our God-given gifts for reason are a tool we are to bring to our faith. We do not discount our thinking as we read the Bible, share the Gospel, ask questions, and seek answers.

Read more about reason from the Book of Discipline.

4 tools working together

These four tools work in conjunction, with Scripture always being of primary importance. The Book of Discipline summarizes it, “In theological reflection, the resources of tradition, experience, and reason are integral to our study of Scripture without displacing Scripture’s primacy for faith and practice. These four sources—each making distinctive contributions, yet all finally working together—guide our quest as United Methodists for a vital and appropriate Christian witness” (¶105.4).