Our Three Main Doctrines

Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three — that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these w account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next, the door; and the third, religion itself.

John Wesley, Principles of a Methodist Further Explained

With the exodus of a great bulk of traditionalist clergy from the United Methodist Church, we are in a season of people making claims about what it means to be Methodist and what the future of the United Methodist Church should be.

I write now as I did much when I began this blog, mostly for myself. There was a brief time during the height of my writing here when I had a fairly substantial audience — at least among blogs writing about Wesleyan theology and the United Methodist Church. But now most of my previous audience have taken their leave of the UMC.

But even though I expect little hearing for my words, I feel it is important for someone to share them.

When we speak about what makes Methodism different from every other tradition within Christianity, we cannot look to non-Methodist mystics, liberal academics, or the progeny of the Social Gospel movement. All these sources may have interesting and useful things to say to us, or at least may pose interesting questions for us, but none of them speak to what makes Methodism Methodist and what makes our tradition something to retain.

If we wish to know what it means to be a Methodist, we really need to go back to the beginning of the movement. We have to seek to understand what the Holy Spirit was doing in those early days in the 18th century when the Methodists stirred into existence. After all, there was plenty of Christianity around when John Wesley started preaching. If there was no need within the Church catholic for Methodism, the Spirit would have had no need of John and his brother.

I would submit that in this moment what Methodists need to be talking about is what Wesley meant when he wrote that our three main doctrines were repentance, faith, and holiness. What did those terms mean for the early Methodists? How do we speak of these things, teach and preach them, in the language of today? In what ways do these doctrines make us distinct from other traditions within Christianity? In what ways do we need a deeper commitment to these central elements of our tradition?

It has become increasingly awkward to call ourselves “United” Methodists in recent years. Fortunately, we have the resources available to us to still lay claim to the name “Methodist” if we will avail ourselves of them. We need to do so now more than ever.


2 thoughts on “Our Three Main Doctrines

  1. Since I serve Christ in an annual conference where the bishop is celebrated as a partnered homosexual, it’s hard to fathom what resources of repentance, faith, and holiness you are talking about. The conversation seems fantastic, inverted, drag.

    1. You are correct that what I am calling for is not going to be heard by most of the remaining UMC. There are evangelical United Methodists scattered throughout the American jurisdictions still. If we do not try to hold on to what makes us Methodist, who will?

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