Andrew Conard posted on his understanding of what a Methodist should believe. He included this list of essential beliefs:
- Belief in God
- Belief in Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection.
- Love of God with heart, soul, mind and strength
- Desire to do God’s will
- Service to others out as a result of one’s love of God.
- Love of one’s neighbor as oneself.
I like the answer John Wesley gave to this question in essays such as “The Character of a Methodist.”
We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist.
Even as he ends with “think and let think” Wesley’s list of particulars narrows the field quite a bit compared to many in the church. His strong reading of Scriptural inspiration, for instance, affirms many things that contemporary Christians question or even dismiss.
But these beliefs, Wesley would say, are not themselves the essential center of Christianity. They are in a way necessary because we cannot come into true heart-religion if our ideas about faith rule it out. But Wesley would have us be wrong in every opinion than wrong in the disposition of our hearts.
The Methodist is not identified by his or her ideas, but by his or her life.
A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”
And while he thus always exercises his love to God, by praying without ceasing, rejoicing evermore, and in everything giving thanks, this commandment is written in his heart, “That he who loveth God, love his brother also.” And he accordingly loves his neighbour as himself; he loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind, to every child of “the Father of the spirits of all flesh.” That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love; no, nor that he is known to be such as he approves not, that he repays hatred for his good-will. For he “loves his enemies;” yea, and the enemies of God, “the evil and the unthankful.” And if it be not in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” yet he ceases not to pray for them, though they continue to spurn his love, and still “despitefully use him and persecute him.”
But we should not be deceived into thinking we can adopt the outward behaviors described above and elsewhere and call ourselves Christian. First, such behaviors are difficult to maintain if the heart is not in it. Second, the heart being in it is the very thing that matters.
A Christian – and Methodism from the first has thought of itself as nothing other than true Christianity lived out – is one whose heart has been made new by God through faith in Jesus Christ.