Methodist preaching is orthodox

I’m told the first point I want to make about the faith a Methodist preaches is no longer controversial.

Ten or twenty years ago, I’m told, yes. But not now.

There was a time when you did not struggle to find a Methodist preacher — or a bishop — who openly questioned foundational doctrines of the Christian church. It was not infrequent to hear a sermon on Easter that quibbled with whether it really mattered in the end if Jesus really rose from the grave.

I’m told those days are over, that the generation of clergy who questioned the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the divinity of Jesus are no longer among us. That such preaching ever happened from our pulpits still staggers my imagination.

And yet, I can start no other place than to say clearly that Methodist preaching, the faith we preach, is orthodox. It holds to and affirms the creedal formulations laid down in the early centuries of the church. It preaches the Trinitarian God. It preaches the resurrection. It looks forward to the return of Christ and the present work of the Holy Spirit.

Let me outline a couple of particular things this entails.

First, Methodists preach that there is one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other descriptions of God can be well meaning, but they are mistaken. They may not be vicious or malicious in their error, but they are in error. To argue that there is no Son or that the Holy Spirit is not fully God is to be wrong about who God is. To put it plainly: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, pagans of various stripes, and all who do not name God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fundamentally in error about God. Methodist preaching can be gracious toward other religions, but it cannot say that all ways of talking about God are equally true.

Second, Methodists preach that our salvation is necessary, that sin must be forgiven, and that there is a judgment coming. I will write more about this when I turn to discuss the ways in which Methodist preaching is evangelical, but it should be recognized that the importance of salvation, the problem of sin, and reality of judgment were not ideas invented in the Protestant and evangelical revivals. It is all plainly affirmed in the Bible and the creeds.

While you may struggle to find Methodist clergy who deny the resurrection, or carefully avoid affirming it, you still can find quite a few who hold to some form of universalism — a belief that either there is no Hell or that it will be empty. You can still find Methodist preachers who speak dismissively or not at all about our sin and our need for forgiveness. Such preachers at times will proudly assert that they are not evangelicals. What is really at question is whether they are even orthodox.

There is much more that can be said about what orthodoxy entails and what it does not. Even these two points bear much more discussion than is suitable in a blog post. But this, at least, is a starting point. The faith we preach as Methodists is orthodox. It is in keeping with the grand and central doctrines of the church handed down through the centuries. When preaching ceases to be orthodox, it ceases to be Methodist.

2 thoughts on “Methodist preaching is orthodox

  1. In 2018 when I became a certified lay speaker in the UMC, a sermon I’d preached was listened to by a small group of local ordained clergy and local pastors to approve me, or not. The message was based on Matthew 16:21-27, and I mentioned Satan but it was not the key focus. I was quite startled by the response to my sermon by the group. I was told that any talk of Satan should be avoided because it can make people nervous and many just think of Satan as a metaphor for evil. ONE person present (an elder) did stand up for me by saying that belief in Satan as a real and personal being was considered orthodox Christian belief. I was approved, thankfully, but I was very surprised by this particularly since I live in the Bible belt. I was also asked if the people at the church who heard my sermon had any comments for me afterwards, and I told them that I only had positive comments about my message. They seemed to think my message would have been received less than positively with my Satan talk.
    My sermon is here:
    And my experience led me to write this blog post where I am evasive about the “why” of my writing about Satan but I defend belief in Satan:

    1. Thank you for sharing you story and taking time to comment. Sorry I took so long to reply. I thought I had already, then I noticed I did not.

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