Statement of Faith of St. Mark United Methodist Church:
As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church ’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.
The United Methodist Church is an 11-million-strong global church that opens hearts, opens doors and opens minds through active engagement with our world.
John Wesley and the early Methodists placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as "practical divinity" has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.
CHURCH AND SOCIETY
We Act in Society
Taking an active stance in society is nothing new for followers of John Wesley. He set the example for us to combine personal and social piety. Ever since predecessor churches to United Methodism flourished in the United States, we have been known as a denomination involved with people's lives, with political and social struggles, having local to international mission implications. Such involvement is an expression of the personal change we experience in our baptism and conversion.
The United Methodist Church believes God's love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people's lives to risk interpreting God's love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other "mind-makers-up" that exist in our society.
Excerpt from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.
To help guide our thinking and acting about how we live in and are in engaged in ministry in the world, The United Methodist Church has created statements to guide the church in its efforts to create a world of justice.
"Our Social Creed" is a basic statement of our convictions about the fundamental relationships between God, God's creation and humanity. This basic statement is expanded in a more lengthy statement called the "Social Principles." This statement explains more fully how United Methodists are called to live in the world. Part of our Book of Discipline , the "Social Principles" serve as a guide to official church action and our individual witness.
- The Social Principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.
- We, the people called United Methodists, affirm our faith in God our Creator and Father, in Jesus Christ our Savior, and in the Holy Spirit, our Guide and Guard.
- The Natural World
- We affirm that we're responsible for the way we use the Lord's creation. We support social policies that promote the wise use of water, air, soil, minerals, and plants. We support the conservation of energy and oppose energy-using technologies that threaten human health. We're concerned for the humane treatment of animals and the respectful use of space.
- The Nurturing Community
- We affirm the family and work to strengthen its relationships. We affirm the sanctity of marriage and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We recognize divorce as regrettable and intend to minister to the members of divorced families. We affirm the integrity of single persons. We recognize that sexuality is a good gift of God and that sex between a man and woman is only to be clearly affirmed in the marriage bond. We recognize the tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion and urge prayerful consideration by all parties involved. We assert the right of every person to die with dignity.
- The Social Community
- We affirm all persons as equally valuable in God's sight. We reject racism and assert the rights of racial minorities to equal opportunities in employment, education, voting, housing, and leadership. We urge social practices that will uphold the rights of religious minorities, of children, youth, young adults, and the aging, of women, and of disabled persons. We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol and illegal drugs, and we support the rehabilitation of drug-dependent persons.
- The Economic Community
- All economic systems are under the judgment of God. We believe the private ownership of property is a trusteeship under God and must be responsibly managed. We support the right of employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining. We affirm the right of safe and meaningful work and creative leisure. We support efforts to ensure truth in pricing, packaging, lending, and advertising; and we urge people to evaluate their consumption of goods in the light of the quality of life. We call on Christians to abstain from gambling and to be in ministry with persons who are the victims of this societal menace.
- The Political Community
- We hold governments responsible for the protection of people's basic freedoms. We believe that neither church nor state should attempt to dominate the other. We call for freedom of information and quality education. We defend the right of individuals to practice conscientious, non-violent civil disobedience. We support government measures to reduce crimes consistent with the basic freedoms of persons; and we urge the creation of new systems of rehabilitation.
- The World Community
- God's world is one world. We hold nations accountable for unjust treatment of their citizens. We affirm the right of people in developing nations to shape their own destiny; and we applaud efforts to establish a more just international economic order. We believe war is incompatible with the teachings of Christ, and we claim that it is the primary moral duty of every nation to resolve disputes peacefully. We endorse the United Nations and commend all who pursue world peace through law.
A Theology of Discipleship
Theology is not just about God. It is also about us. We live out of our understanding of who we are in relationship to God, to one another, and to the world. The Christian faith is grounded in the love and grace of God, experienced through Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is our response to God’s love and grace.
The church calls our response to God Christian discipleship. Discipleship focuses on actively following in the footsteps of Jesus. As Christian disciples, we are not passive spectators but energetic participants in God’s activity in the world. Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God. We order our lives in ways that embody Christ’s ministry in our families, workplaces, communities, and the world.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, his response was: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38. See Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:25-28.)
Discipleship is about loving God….It is more than an acknowledgement of God’s existence or a statement of belief regarding God. It is total devotion, head-over-heals-in-love-with adoration. It is the deep desire to know God, to be one with God, and to worship God.
There are a variety of ways that we can develop our knowledge of and love of God. These include
- Bible study
- Conversation with other Christians
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called these practices means of grace. They are means for developing our relationship with God and for experiencing God’s presence in our lives. These practices help us spend time with God, a significant factor in loving God.
Jesus responded to questions about the most important commandment by quoting the Hebrew Scripture’s admonition to love God with our whole being. (See Deut. 6:4-9 as well as gospel passages listed in the above section.) Then immediately he broadened the meaning of this admonition: “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).
These verses about loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves are known as the Great Commandment. Again and again, the Bible teaches us that loving God and loving neighbor are two sides of the same coin. We cannot do one without the other. Check out some of these passages for a glimpse at how prevalent this understanding of Christian discipleship is:
- Matthew 5:43-48
- Matthew 25:31-46
- Luke 10:25-37
- John 15:12-17
- Romans 12:9-18
- 1 Corinthians 13
- 1 John 4:19-21
From these passages and others we can draw several conclusions about what it means to love our neighbors. First of all, loving our neighbors means responding to specific needs—hunger, illness, imprisonment, loneliness, and so forth. Love is more than a feeling; it is behavior. It is practical and concrete.
Secondly, our neighbors include many people. Within the context of the Christian community, our neighbors are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Neighbors may also refer to the contemporary understanding of those who live near us. However, from a biblical perspective, neighbors often include people whom we might not normally consider:
- people who mistreat us (who are our enemies);
- people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds;
- people from different religious traditions;
- people who irritate us and push the boundaries of our patience.
Therefore, loving our neighbors requires attention and sacrifice. We have to pay attention to what is happening around us in order to see our neighbors and to recognize their needs. We must also consider their needs to be as important as our own in order to live faithfully. Loving neighbor is more than random acts of kindness. It takes time, energy, and commitment. It is a lifestyle carefully cultivated in response to God.
Finally, these passages emphasize that loving our neighbors is not optional; it is mandatory. It is what Christians do and what Christians are. Our lives are a testimony to our love—our love for God and our love for neighbor.