From the Introduction – Pg 9 –
Bishop Carder: Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England and did not originate in doctrinal debates and controversies. The basic faith tenets of the Anglican Church were accepted and often presumed by the early Methodists. Though there were and are distinctive emphases, the core doctrines of the Methodist family are held in common with the broader Christian community.
This is a key point – the focus as Methodism began was not on changing theology; early Methodists and John Wesley accepted entirely the basic beliefs of the Christian church and were quite orthodox. Methodism sought not to challenge the beliefs of the mother church, but to challenge the lack of living by those beliefs. The focus was on behavior becoming more holy, not upon changing doctrine that was incorrect. In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, Wesley embraced the Arminian doctrines that were dominant in the 18th-century Church of England … Throughout his life Wesley remained within the Established Church and insisted that his movement was well within the bounds of the Anglican tradition (Wikipedia).
Martin Luther, John Calvin and George Fox, founders of the Lutheran Church, the Reformed and Presbyterian Church, and the Quakers, did challenge the orthodox beliefs of the church. Methodist historical tradition does not call upon us to doubt or question our faith tradition, but to uphold it and practice it.
Bishop Carder echoes a theme from the 2012 Book of Discipline:
Our Distinctive Heritage as United Methodists
The underlying energy of the Wesleyan theological heritage stems from an emphasis upon practical divinity, the implementation of genuine Christianity in the lives of believers.
Methodism did not arise in response to a specific doctrinal dispute, though there was no lack of theological controversy. Early Methodists claimed to preach the scriptural doctrines of the Church of England as contained in the Articles of Religion, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer.
Their task was not to reformulate doctrine. Their tasks were to summon people to experience the justifying and sanctifying grace of God and encourage people to grow in the knowledge and love of God through the personal and corporate disciplines of the Christian life.
The thrust of the Wesleyan movement and of the United Brethren and Evangelical Association was “to reform the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
Wesley’s orientation toward the practical is evident in his focus upon the “scripture way of salvation.” He considered doctrinal matters primarily in terms of their significance for Christian discipleship.
The Wesleyan emphasis upon the Christian life—faith and love put into practice—has been the hallmark of those traditions now incorporated into The United Methodist Church. The distinctive shape of the Wesleyan theological heritage can be seen in a constellation of doctrinal emphases that display the creating, redeeming, and sanctifying activity of God.
What difference does this make, in your opinion, that Methodist is focused not on a dispute of doctrine but instead on living it fully?
Where is the focus in your congregation? On what we believe, on how we should live, or both?
The initial quote in italics above is from Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, by Kenneth Carder (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2009), 9. This book is available from Cokesbury.com, Amazon.com and other sources.
The quote from Wikipedia in italics above comes from the article “John Wesley” and can be viewed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley
The quote in italics from the 2012 Book of Discipline is from Part III, DOCTRINAL STANDARDS AND OUR THEOLOGICAL TASK, ¶ 102. SECTION 1—OUR DOCTRINAL HERITAGE.