In the earliest days of the Christian faith, in an age where there were no printing presses or digital screens, the basics of the faith were passed from believer to believer via the use of hymns or creeds. Hymns (short statements about elements of the faith) stated what the church believed about Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, and other foundational concepts of the faith. It is believed by most biblical scholars that the earliest converts would spend a minimum of three years memorizing these hymns so that they would know the basics of their faith, and could pass them on if necessary.
The original hymns were then condensed into even simpler, more fundamental statements called creeds, designed to give the very essence of the faith as a whole. These were more general statements that could sum up the faith, simply and succinctly. The earliest creed we are aware of is the “Old Roman Creed,” which is thought to have originated during the first generation of the church’s existence. By 390 AD, this creed was re-worked and refined into what we now know as “The Apostles’ Creed.”
As a means of helping people define what teachings are orthodox (in agreement with the historic teachings of the first generation of church leaders, also known as Apostles), people could ask the question, “Is what I’m hearing in accordance with the Apostles’ Creed?” Community UMC is an orthodox church who affirms the classic creedal understanding of the faith. You can find our beliefs expounded upon in our denomination’s Book of Discipline under the section entitled “Articles of Religion.” The “Articles of Religion,” which list our beliefs about Christian fundamentals like Jesus, Holy Spirit, and the Resurrection, can never be changed. This keeps us aligned with the earliest understanding of what Jesus taught on these subjects.
Beyond The Basics: What Do We Believe?
Our founder, John Wesley, was an Anglican clergyman born in England in the mid-18th century. Because Wesley was rescued from a fire at a young age, his mother, Susanna, believed him destined to do world changing work for the Lord. John Wesley realized that over the course of the centuries, while the basics (creeds) of the faith had always remained, the understanding of other issues as they related to Christianity varied between the great writers and scholars of the early church. With this in mind, on the issue of beliefs that weren’t the basics, Wesley would quote the great 8th century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo, who said:
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Wesley understood that often, Christians will differ on issues of church practice, social concerns, and cultural issues. On all these matters, he encouraged his followers to use what we now call “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral”: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
Scripture is the fundamental tool we have to understand God’s will for our life. It is the word God inspired people to write, consisting of their successes and struggles in being faithful to Him, even as He remained faithful to us. We need to devote ourselves to understanding not only what the scripture says, but the world and context in which the scriptures were written in order to understand the full extent of their meaning.
Tradition the sum of all teachings and beliefs the church has affirmed over the centuries. Understanding the tradition we come out of and how it differs from others can give us keen insight into what the Lord wants for our lives.
Reason is our ability to think about the world we live in and what God wants from us in it. Because Wesley believed there was much about the world we did not know, he taught that we needed to use reason in order to grow in our understanding of the social and natural sciences as a means of helping others. This should be a tool we use daily to discern the Lord’s will for our life.
Experience is the sum total of what we have encountered and learned in our lives. Since we believe that God is speaking to us all of the time, we believe we are continually learning about His will through our everyday living.
The “Articles of Religion” in our denomination’s Book of Discipline can never be changed. However, the rest of the Book of Discipline, which speaks to all matters of social and cultural values, church polity (rules and guidelines), and other non-essential matters may be altered. This can happen every four years at what we call “General Conference,” which is a meeting of representatives from every corner in which the United Methodist Church exists. This includes the United States of America and parts of Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia
Because we believe freedom of will is a gift from God, and liberty for all people is a fundamental right for all, you will find differences of opinion among people sitting in our pews. We are aware there may be differences within our congregation regarding how the Scripture should be applied in various matters of faith, but we believe this is a necessary part of discerning, over time, what God wants for us as His people.
As we affirm the liberty and freedom of each believer to make up his or her own mind on matters of faith, we encourage everyone to embrace and live out the words of Paul:
31Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God. 32Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33That is the plan I follow, too. I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.
I Corinthians 10:31-33 NLT
In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity. Such are the words we live by as we determine what we believe about faith in this time and in this place.