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Book offers clarity on United Methodist doctrine (UMCom)

November 21, 2022

There is a struggle going on for the hearts and minds of United Methodist members and congregations, and it has gained intensity since the further postponement of General Conference and the founding of the Global Methodist Church.

Traditionalist caucus allies of the Global Methodist Church, namely the Wesleyan Covenant Association and Good News, have been trying to recruit congregations away from The United Methodist Church and into the new denomination.

An argument one hears from some traditionalists is that not all United Methodist leaders affirm key historical Christian doctrines. Another is that The United Methodist Church may soon change its doctrinal standards.

Changing the doctrinal standards is in fact very difficult under United Methodist polity, but will the standards just be ignored? That’s another doubt that has been raised. In fact, The United Methodist Church has never been uncertain about doctrine, and it isn’t about to be, despite what some may say.

But the debate will no doubt continue to swirl, and as it does, United Methodists should know about “Faith Working Through Love.” It’s a short, accessible, recently published book that’s all about the denomination’s doctrine and the application of that doctrine.

It’s important to note that “Faith Working Through Love” was not written to address present discussions about disaffiliation. It was a project of the Faith and Order Committee started in 2014 with the aim of providing a handbook on what The United Methodist Church believes and how our beliefs should shape our lives.

Using a question-and-answer format, it examines such key issues as how The United Methodist Church understands the triune God; what God is doing in Christ and through the Spirit; what it means to be human; how God acts to redeem and transform human beings; the nature and mission of the church; and how God includes us in God’s mission in the world.

The book does this by drawing on the resources of our tradition: the Articles of Religion, The Confession of Faith, the writings of John Wesley and the hymns of Charles Wesley.

It is not a dry book of theology aimed at satisfying intellectual curiosity. Rather, it seeks to provide spiritual resources that nourish our faith as we live and serve as Christians in the world.

The book is rooted in the Wesleyan idea that doctrine is intended to help us live our lives. While correct doctrine was important for Wesley, far more important was that people experienced God’s transforming power so that they became permeated by love for God and their fellow human beings.

Doctrine matters because faithful understanding of who God is and what God is doing facilitates personal transformation. This idea is expressed in the title “Faith Working Through Love.” The simple affirmation of correct doctrine is worthless and can be dangerous when it replaces a transforming faith in God. 

Rooted in this conviction, “Faith Working Through Love” addresses what is faithful doctrine. It is uniquely placed to do this as a project of the Faith and Order Committee of The United Methodist Church.

As the body that provides theological leadership to the denomination, the Faith and Order Committee is made up of people from across the connection, from different countries and representing a diversity of theological viewpoints.

The book is not the work of one person expressing her or his theological idiosyncrasies. It is the writing of a diverse team working together to discern what the core of United Methodist doctrine is and how that core can have a transforming effect on the life of individuals and the church.

Importantly, the book was commended to the church by the Council of Bishops and has forewords by episcopal leaders of different theological perspectives: Scott Jones, Karen Oliveto and Cynthia Fierro Harvey.

If people want to know how our denomination’s leaders understand United Methodist doctrine, this is the resource to go to. 

However, the book is not primarily for this purpose. Rather, it is for United Methodists to use in seeking to develop deep spiritual roots as they grow in love, grace and service to the world through Christ.

“Faith Working Through Love” can be used by individuals or groups. It can also be a resource for preparing young people for confirmation.

Those new in the faith will find help to deepen their understanding of God. People new to The United Methodist Church will gain insights into how United Methodists understand what it means to be a Christian.

“Faith Working Through Love” sets the record straight and offers a clear, concise, invaluable guide for understanding our doctrine and, more importantly, living it.

“Faith Working Through Love” is available from Cokesbury and other booksellers as a paperback or ebook.