The Seven Last Words: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do

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Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:32-34

I desire mercy not sacrifice, God says to the prophet Hosea. The final words of Christ begin with mercy. Yet it is an odd kind of mercy. 'They do not know what they are doing', he says. The people who crucify Jesus are surely conscious of their actions. In what way do they not know what they do?


Broadly speaking, Christ's first word on the cross is a description of us all when we sin. All of our sins, all of our actions against the peace of God, against the Shalom of God, all of the ways we hurt our neighbors and ourselves we do without really knowing what we do. We may, from time to time, deceive and realize that we are deceiving, but the magnitude of our action is never apparent.

In our sin, we put Christ on the cross because Christ takes away our slavery to deception. Christ's freedom means we don't have to just think of our selves and our own pleasure, yet sometimes we want to. Sometimes we are tired of being good and we just desire our own self fulfillment. 

God is not angry with us for God only ever loves us. God wishes to take away our lust for power. To take away our pride. That is the mercy of Christ on the cross.

Christ's first word is to us. Even though we don't know what we do, Christ still shows us mercy. Even when we think we know what we do, Christ still shows us mercy. When we deserve curses and damnation, we are given mercy.


The Social Creed: The Triumph of God

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In the last 50 years, the Social Creed has been mostly sidelined by more conservative UMC congregations or promoted by more liberal congregations. These petty caricatures guide many people’s expectations of a church but they should not guide our understanding of statements of faith like the Social Creed.

The final word on all our social relationships does not come from anthropology or sociology or any other field, it comes from God. When we speak of creation or human rights or or the rights of workers, ultimately this comes from who God is and who God has revealed Godself to be through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. As Tisha Rajenda says, "the whole Bible, rather than just a handful of texts, supplies a moral vision for the Christian life" (Migrants and Citizens, 95). How Christians relate to others and to the Lord begins with who God is. We try to live out what God has done, is doing, and will do. We try to participate in the inbreaking Kingdom of God by being the hands and feet of Jesus. This means announcing Good News to the captives, but also manifesting life in the world.

How can we be a community that manifests life? I think that that is the ultimate call of the Social Creed. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a far off thing. It is a right here thing, and we show this kingdom in how we act and love. Are we people of the light? Do we treat our neighbor as if Jesus is Lord or as if we are? Do we treat our world as if Jesus is Lord or if we are? Do we treat our workers or co-workers as if Jesus is Lord or as if we are?

May our final word in all that we do be Jesus is Lord. Therefore let us live into that reality today by treating others justly and working towards the liberation and freedom of all people, working towards an end to all forms of oppression and healing for all of creation.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

The Social Creed: We are called to peace


“Peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.” (John 14:27) “I did not come to bring peace but  a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

How are we supposed to align these two statements of Jesus? On the one hand he says he gives peace, on the other hand he says he does not. What we must remember is that there are more than one kinds of peace. The peace of Jesus’s day was the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome bought through the blood spilled by the Roman Legions. 

In the Matthew passage, we remember that Jesus does not bring the peace of Rome. This is not a peace where the blood is on other people’s hands. That, in fact, is no peace. Jesus does not come to support the status quo or to replace the Romans with Jews and still win that victory on the blood of the barbarians. 

The peace Jesus leaves with us is tied to God’s justice. God doesn’t call us to wash our hands so others will dirty theirs. Instead we are called to be a people of shalom. This is not a statement about the military or those serving or who have served around the world. What kind of people are we called to be and do we believe God has the power to make that possible?

It is an act of faith to be a people striving for peace, striving for justice, and freedom. These are words that are continually hollowed out by the ways many governments are run. They sound good but the decisions and actions necessary to make them last are hard. And ultimately, the Christian faith is not in our ability as peacemakers but God’s sovereignty over all creation. We are called to be witnesses to the victory Christ has won. 

One of my teachers, a famous pacifist, was asked in class where is peace to be found in this world of violence. His answer was only slightly tongue-in-cheek: a baseball game. At a baseball game, people aren’t killing each other. May we be a church that is at least as peaceful as a baseball game, that is dedicated to peace and promoting reconciliation in our own neighborhoods and around the world. Another teacher who runs a gang rehabilitation ministry once described what he did as breaking up fights. 

May we be a church that breaks up fights, that stands between people and points to the ultimate peacemaker, the one who sought peace so much he gave his life for us all that we may have hope. 

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

The Social Creed: Workers and Ownership

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We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

The original social creed of the Methodist Churches was originally put together during a period of deep societal unrest, especially between the working classes and the owning classes. Since then, there have been hundreds of labor laws put into effect in the United States which addresses many of the concerns of the first social creed: child labor, 40 hour work week, right to collectively bargain, etc..

Because there have been advances in labor rights over the last 100 years does not mean that we as a church should cease to believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others. The church should not be passive in this, though often times we are.

What does Jesus have to do with where I work and how I treat my employees? A lot, actually. Being a faithful Christian, treating employees and workers fairly and kindly does not contradict good business practices. If your business model is based on exploiting others, then it would be hard to cohere that practice with the Christian faith. Our lives and labor is not neutral. We have to practice belief that each person is created in the image of God.

Does this mean that the church should be on the front lines of every strike? No. However, strikes should not be dismissed flippantly. You may not agree with the demands of a worker’s grievance. You may wish people were more grateful. And yet we must believe in the agency and humanity of all people, and especially all workers who are so easily exploited in our day.

The social creed frames these ideas around worker rights in the context of God’s gift of property to us all. What we own is held in trust from God. The people who work for us and work in society are not owned by their employers. They are not property to be disposed with or abused at will. To believe that each person is created in the image of Christ means that sometimes they will act and behave and make demands that I don’t like, but this does not make them lose their humanity.

That is the heart of the matter. We cannot just love people on Sundays and then try to exploit them the rest of the week. Nor should we rest with just our own behavior but hope and work for a society beyond exploitation, where all people regardless of what they do or where they are from, can be treated with respect and given space for glorifying God through how they work and live and save and give. 

The Social Creed: We Commit to Human Rights

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The church is not just for the people in the church. This may seem obvious but it is an important notion to articulate. We do not exist solely to perpetuate our continual existence.

As well, the mission of the church, the Good News of Jesus Christ does not mean that we must choose between evangelism and social justice. Jesus never distinguishes between his preaching, teaching, and healing. The Good News of Jesus Christ is eternal life AND the Good News of Jesus Christ is that we can live into the Kingdom of God now. Right now. A myriad of scriptures, from James to Matthew to Isaiah, point to this reality. As Methodists, the Social Creed help us to remember our holistic duty in following Jesus towards all people, whether they are going to convert or not. 

God is the one who transforms hearts. At our best, we are vessels of God's action in this world. We are the manos y pies, the hands and feet of Christ. The UMC Social Creed commits us to the rights of all individuals.

"We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons."

In this, the church commits to being an intergenerational body. We cannot be satisfied if our sanctuaries are only filled with the young or the not-so-young. And we cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences of our actions, as individuals or as a church, for the rights of others. The dignity of every person is based on the theological concept of the imago dei, the image of God. Each person is created in God's image and his of intrinsic value and sacred worth.  

Rights language itself is rather modern and connected more to the nation-state than the Church, yet the idea is as old as Torah. Are we a church committed to the rights of all people? Are we a church that interrogates the consequences of our actions on others? Are we a church that works towards the improvement of the lives of all people? No person, no matter where they are from or what they do, is worth more than another. We are all God's children. Thanks be to God.

The Social Creed: The Blessings of Community

We do not create ourselves. One of the great modern myths is that I can be anything I want to be. In Classical Mythology, this idea was called hubris and it always ended poorly. Icarus tried to fly too close to the sun. His wings melted and fell to the earth and died. Prometheus stole the fire of the Gods and was sentenced to eternal punishment. 

The blessings in life that come to us, each of these we receive, we do not create. We are not passive in them, we participate. The Social Creed states: “We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.”

Here we have four sources of social blessings: community, sexuality, marriage, and the family. These categories do not need to be seen as distinct, nor do must they be understood as only taking place within the Christian community. The blessings of community take both inside and outside of the church. It is good to see the blessings of a healthy work environment, of a community group, of a garden club, of a neighborhood, each as springing forth from God’s abundant goodness. 

The same is true with sexuality, marriage, and the family. The goodness and blessings that can be found in each need not be explicitly described as Christian in order to come from God. As well, it is important to note that each of these (as well as community) can be locations of severe abuse by people. The social does not state that community et al., in and of itself is a blessing, but that blessings arise out of community et al. and those blessings come from God. 

When we acknowledge that the blessings we receive from the relationships in our lives come from God, we remain in a spirit of thankfulness. As well, it helps us to work towards stability of community, marriage, and family. The UMC Social Principles from the Book of Discipline are quite explicit in this

The community provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity. We believe we have a responsibility to innovate, sponsor, and evaluate new forms of community that will encourage development of the fullest potential in individuals. Primary for us is the gospel understanding that all persons are important—because they are human beings created by God and loved through and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance. We therefore support social climates in which human communities are maintained and strengthened for the sake of all persons and their growth.

As a church, we believe that we should work to support our communities, individuals, and families in the aim of flourishing as children of God in all that we do.

The Social Creed: We Affirm the Natural World


We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

The Social Creed begins with who God is as Trinity. We cannot know who we are unless we know who God is. The next stanza looks at the creation brought about through God’s good action. Where are we? This seems like a moot and obvious question. ‘I am right where I am standing?’ 

And where is that? ‘Inside my house or office.’

And what is that on? ‘The ground.’

Who made the ground? Who made everything and sustains everything as an unnecessary gift. ‘Well, God, I guess…’

YES! God made everything when God did not need to make anything. All of creation is a beautiful gift out of the loving being of God. 

When you give someone a gift, it hurts if they abuse it. How we treat the gifts we receive reflect back on how we view the one who gave us the gifts. This is how we should see the natural world. It is a gift offered by God and so it should not be spurned or abused or used for momentary benefit. We should ‘dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.’ 

That human part is important. We are a part of creation. 

For the past 200 years, people have argued that there are too many people on earth and the way to solve any environmental issues is to depopulate the planet. Thomas Malthus, a 18th century British Priest and economist argued that because resources grow arithmetically and people grow exponentially, there are going to be too many people on the planet.

This is both wrong and dangerous. Wrong because it assumes resources are currently being used efficiently (which they are not). Dangerous because it leeds to population control. When drought hit India in the 1870s, some leaders did nothing because they thought there were too many Indians any way and a few had to die. Population Control always reverts to racism or classism, it is about getting rid of people that don’t look like you.

The environmental dangers that are present now are not because of too many people but because of total indifference to the environment. For too long, people ignored the consequences of their actions.

The Social Creed reminds us that in saying God created everything, we cannot ignore the consequences of how we live. We should strive towards balance, renewal, and stewardship of the gifts of God. This is not secular environmentalism creeping into the church. Instead, this is living into a Genesis mindset. If we think Jesus is Lord and has saved us from our sins and is making all things new, we should not forsake the gift of creation. This is earth is not a temporary home before we get to heaven. As the Book of Revelation shows, the new Jerusalem will descend to us. Creation will be renewed not left. 

Let us live into God’s new creation now!

The Social Creed: We Believe in God

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Whenever the word social is used in church contexts, the connotation is something not as a serious. A church social would not be an event one would expect to include deep theological reflection. The social Gospel has often been characterized by more conservative Christians as a watered down Gospel that doesn’t have the teeth of real faith. Social Justice Warrior is now a pejorative epithet used in many online conversations. 

If I were to ask a hundred Methodists what the first clause of the UMC Social Creed would be, I have no idea what they would say. I would probably get a hundred different answers, none of which coming close to the actual first clause and grounding of the social creed. 

The word ‘social’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘socius’, which means friend. Friendship is a concept integral to the Scriptures. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that there is no greater love than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friend. To say something is social is not to say that it is practical or non-doctrinal. One way to understand this is by analogy with the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” The Apostles Creed was originally a baptismal creed to be recited by those who are about to be baptized. It is a set of assertions about who God is as Trinity. Each assertion is a faith claim. Instead of the first person pronoun, the social creed begins with a ‘we’ and also begins with God as Trinity.

We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

Christians cannot act in the world in a way that is not grounded in the life of God. Social justice is the life of God lived out. This does not mean that good is not done in the world for reasons beyond God. Instead, Christians should understood that all good works come out of the fruit of grace in our lives. Grace can work in anyone’s life without them even knowing it. 

God is the creator of all and the giver of life. Yet we, as humans, have not always received God’s gifts rightly. We have abused creation, we have abused our fellow people. We should not stand in a posture of arrogance with humanity and creation. Instead, by looking at who God is we can learn who to relate to our neighbors and to our world out of humility. We must repent to the ways we fall short of kingdom life. Repentance is not a mushy claim or an online epithet but an act of faith. We can only repent if we believe in the God who forgives. If we don’t believe in the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, repentance itself is idolatrous. 

To be Christian in the world begins in the humility of acknowledging our creator and acknowledging that we are created. From that, we can begin our attempts at ordering rightly our way in the world through grace by faith.

The Social Creed: History

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The early 20th Century was a tumultuous time in the life of the Methodist Church. The Church had split decades before the Civil War over the issue of slavery. In the late 19th Century, populist and labor movements were springing up around the country in response to the Gilded Age. Anti-liquor activists and women’s suffragists were active in and out of the Church. 

Methodists experienced the largest growth in their history during the period of manifest destiny, as the country expanded continually westward. yet by the end of that century, Methodists had gone from being a frontier church to a downtown church. Different denominations had split off over the last 50 years, from the Free Methodists to the Wesleyans to the Nazarenes. 

What does it mean to be faithful to God in this period of World History? How can we be silent to injustice in this world? It is from this milieu that the social creed was born.

As Donald Gorrell writes,

In an era of unscrupulous business leaders and unprotected laborers, of political corruption and insurance scandals exposed by muckracking journalists and progressive reformers,4 the Methodist Federation for Social Service was created at Washington, DC, on December 3-4, 1907. Through the leaders and strategy of this organization the Social Creed had its birth. 

Five months later, the first Social Creed was written and adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Soon after that, the National Council of Churches adopted it. 

What the first Social Creed put into words is that belief in Jesus Christ is not just about what you do on Sunday morning between 11am-12noon. Faith without works is dead. A church that ignores grave injustice is not a church of Jesus Christ. When we look at the original creed, we can see that many of the planks have been addressed by policy in this country. As well, most concern labor issues.

  • For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
  • For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
  • For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery occupational diseases, 
  • injuries and mortality.
  • For the abolition of child labor.
  • For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the 
  • physical and moral health of the community.
  • For the suppression of the 'sweating system.
  • For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life. 
  • For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
  • For a living wage in every industry.
  • For the highest wage that each industry can afford and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
  • For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills. 
  • Since 1908, the text has formed the basis of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, but a creed has always remained.

Over the next several weeks I will look at a section of the current social creed each week (as time permits) in order 

The current Social Creed is as follows:

  • We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
  • We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
  • We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
  • We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
  • We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
  • We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
  • We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of a Christian's Oath

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I grew up saying ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag, etc.’, as well as the pledge to the Texas flag. This would have horrified Christians in the 15th and 16th centuries and for the centuries before. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, ‘But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne;’ (Matthew 5:34). In James, the Apostle writes, ‘But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.’ (James 5:12)

Pledge has a different etymology but the same meaning as oath or swearing. It is a solemn promise. What allows Anglicans who follow the 39 Articles and Methodists who follow the Articles of Religion to say a pledge is the interpretation of the those two verses cited above by the 25th article, which I will quote in full here.

Article XXV - Of a Christian Man's Oath

As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ and James his apostle, so we judge that the Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet's teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth.

Cranmer and the leaders of the English Reformation clearly thought (and John Wesley agreed with them) that Jesus and James were speaking of vain or rash oaths or swearing or promises. Since the Victorian era, Protestants have used these verses to condemn cuss words, but that has literally nothing to do with what James or Jesus are talking about. 

Are you a citizen of heaven? Who is your Lord? That is the question with which Jesus is concerned. We should give to Caesar what is caesar’s. We should not be treasonous to the places wherein we reside. We should see the legitimate government’s of our land as authoritative, but they cannot save us. They cannot make our word good or feed us the bread of life. This is the point of Jesus and James and the point of the 25th Article. 

Without it, Christians would be hard pressed to close on a mortgage. How many documents did you sign? Notary publics would be pointless. Presidents and judges couldn’t be sworn in to office. All of these would be morally repugnant according to one interpretation of these verses. Instead, Article 25 shows how we must hold all our oaths and pledges and promise ‘according to the prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth.’

May they be a lesson for all our actions. May you live ‘according to the prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgment, and truth.’

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Christian Peoples' Goods


The Articles of Religion begin with the Holy Trinity, with the reality of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created everything, redeemed and is redeeming the brokenness of sin in the world, and who sustains the present and coming Kingdom of God until all will be made well in life with God in the New Creation.

Wow! That is some amazing stuff. That is what gets me up in the morning for ministry. Yet our faith is not simply that God exists but that we have a life to live here and now. There are some nitty gritty mundane aspects of life that can also be articles of faith. Article 24 concerns private property. It seems moot today but has not been throughout the history of the church. There are two main points to the article. The first concerns private property. Christians retain title to their property. Property is not automatically shared in common with one another.

But it goes on, compelling us that “every person ought, of such things as he or she possesses, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his or her ability” (updated for modern language). It is an article of faith to give to the poor. How this plays out is decided by the individual Christian and the faith community of which they are apart, but this is important.

Alms or charity gifts are not transactions. Nor should they be hoarded so as to make certain they are honestly used. Article 24 does not say that the Christian should discern between the righteous poor and the unrighteous poor. It says “liberally to give alms to the poor.”

This should be done out of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 states, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” We are called to give out of faith in the God who saves us. We have been saved by grace through faith and it is not through works alone. Yet when see the hungry and feed them, and the poor and give to them, and the naked and clothe them, we give to our savior by faith. Not by logic or political instinct or by an attempt to save the world, but by faith in the Triune God who has saved the world. 

Now, we are called to do this “according to our ability”, but we are still called to do it by faith. We are called to be stewards of our property by faith. So let us care for what is ours by faith. May we, in the words of John Wesley, earn all we can, save all we can, so we can give all we can.

Article XXIV - Of Christian Men's Goods

The riches and goods of Christians are not common as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as some do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Rulers of the United States of America


The head of the Church of England is not the Archbishop of Canterbury but the monarch of England. The relevant article in the 39 Articles is about the sovereignty of the King or Queen. When the American Revolution ended and the Monarch was no longer sovereign over the colonies, John Wesley did not scrap the article. Instead, he changed it for our context.

Instead of a king, we have a President, instead of parliament, we have Congress, etc..

But what is the point? Why does it matter who the rulers are? Can’t the church be the church wherever it is regardless of the rulers in power?

We have bodies. We were created with bodies. This may seem a minor and assumed point but it is important to state with theological fervor. We have bodies created by God. God became human in a body like our bodies in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

The church is located in a specific place with a specific organization of bodies. This is politics. How are people organized together? Politics is not simply voting or parties but it is how we exist as a society and the church is a part of that fabric. In the United States, we do not have an established church anymore (though multiple states kept established churches even after the adoption of the Bill of Rights). 

Since we, as United Methodists, are not in open revolt of the leaders of the land, even when we disagree vehemently with them, we should acknowledge their authority. Even more so when we love them. Bill Clinton used to say that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. The President is the President, but he or she is not more than that. The governor is the governor and has certain responsibilities, but he or she is not more than that. By naming and including the leaders of the land in the Articles of Religion, I believe that, in some way, their power is limited. Yes, the President is the president. He has a job. I don’t have to love him or like him. In fact, I should not love him. I know a lot of people who loved Obama and I know some who love Trump. I think Article 23 should be a check on that passion. The government has authority, yes, but they are not our gods. As well, as a democracy, we have checks on the powers. We can vote someone else to office. We can participate in organized rally’s and sit-in. We can call our representatives to share our positions. We can prayerfully discern whether some laws are unjust and work to have those laws changed for the common good. 

We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, we give to God what is God’s. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We are citizens of heavenly kingdom but we participate as we can in an earthly one

Article XXIII — Of the Rulers of the United States of America

The President, the Congress, the general assemblies, the governors, and the councils of state, as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States and by the constitutions of their respective states. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches

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We do not pray in Latin or Greek or Syriac. We worship in the language with which we are familiar. There are many in the congregation who speak other languages but worship in English or Spanish out of a choice. That is, because they find that they are closer to God in this language.

When we were in Hungary a few years ago, Alina and I worshipped at a small, Methodist church in Budapest. The service was entirely in Hungarian, a language that I do not speak but Alina’s heritage language. She was able to pray and worship in the language of her family and it was beautiful. They had not become Christians until moving to the states and so English was the language of her faith up until that point. 

Article 22 of the Articles of Religion guides us liturgically as a Church. It says that liturgy need not be identical but that we have a standard of the Word of God. As well, it says that changing the liturgy is not up to individuals but up to the church itself. 

The point of worship is not to please everybody but to praise God. It is finding the balance between comfort and tradition, between the vernacular and the historic.

Worship has a goal and a purpose and every aspect of worship should be aimed at that purpose. As it says in the article, “Every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification.” Are we being edified in worship or confused? Are we obfuscating or making clear. 

As a preacher, I have to consider whether I talk about the Greek or Hebrew in order to edify or in order to puff myself up. Our bible is translated from languages quite different from English. Something is always lost in translation but that is not reason enough to worship in a language most do not understand. 

But all of this means that as a church, we should be continually looking at how we worship to see whether we are being edifying or not. Whether we are doing things because they bring people closer to God, or because we’ve always done them and haven’t had time to think about a change. 

If you lift your arms in praise or if you do not, God is present in our worship and we glorify God in that time by making worship as meaningful as possible to everyone. 

Article XXII — Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches

It is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the rites and ceremonies of the church to which he belongs, which are not repugnant to the Word of God, and are ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like, as one that offendeth against the common order of the church, and woundeth the consciences of weak brethren.

Every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Marriage of Ministers

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Catholic priests don’t marry, everyone knows that. Some think it has always been this way, yet it was not until 1139 at the Second Lateran Council that this position was officially codified. Before 1139, most priests did not marry, but some did, and they had a roughly similar policy to Eastern Orthodox. That is, if you are married before you are ordained, you can be married. If you try to marry after you are ordained, you cannot. There are some married Eastern Rite Catholic priests who are still in communion with Rome, as well as former Lutheran or Episcopal priests who become Catholic, but it is important to remember that this was not an ancient policy when it was challenged during the Reformation. When Martin Luther married Katerina, he was not upending 1500 years of teaching but only a little over 300.

Theologically, the marriedness or singleness of ministers comes down to how we interpret 1 Corinthians 7. In 2 Timothy and other passages, a bishop is said to be husband of one wife, so there is some precedent. Yet in 1 Corinthians, Paul says that it is best to not be married so as to more dedicated to God, but if you must, marriage is good. 

For Rome, priests were to be held up to the highest standard, that is also why ordination is a special sacrament on its own.

For Protestants, it is the individual and not the institution that decides on marriage. Ordination is not a sacrament akin to Communion or Baptism. It is a blessing and a setting apart for a specific mission of Word, Table, Order, and Service. Immediately after the Reformation, every Anglican priest did not marry. Most early Methodist circuit riders were not married. 

Today, though, the tides have turned. There is an assumption that the preacher be married, or if not, they would love to be with someone's granddaughter or grandson. I have a number of colleagues who are struggling in ministry because of these assumptions. I know a lot of churches who think a pastor's spouse is automatically another pastor who will do whatever anyone wants.

Marriage does not bring salvation. Our spouse is not our savior. Our future is not unidirectional. We are not less human single or widowed. We find our hope, our future, our life in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. Marriage is not restricted from Clergy, nor is it required. Just like marriage is not required of our children or grandchildren. They don't need to marry to be happy. They can find joy in the Lord. 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. - Psalm 121:1-2

Article XXI — Of the Marriage of Ministers

The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God's law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the One Offering of Christ, Finished upon the Cross

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Does Jesus save us or does Jesus and the priest or how does all this work? This is the question addressed by Article 20, though before we get to the interesting bits, we need to address the unfortunate anti-Catholic Elephant that quickly saunters into the room. 

As I have mentioned multiple times while remarking upon the Articles of Religion, at their conception in the mid 16th century, the authorities of the Church of England were deeply anti-Catholic. John Wesley cut out a number of articles (14 to be exact) but he left many of the supposedly anti-Catholic ones when he edited the Book of Common Prayer into the Sunday Service for the Methodists in the new country of the United States of America. 

Article 20 is different from the others in that it speaks to a distortion of Catholic dogma, not to its faithful practice. In short, the article declares that Christ’s offering on the cross was perfect and total for the satisfaction and saving of all the sins of the world. It then goes on to say “wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.” John Henry Newman, in the final Tracts of the Times, articulates quite clearly how this article is not speaking of Catholic doctrine (Newman actually quotes the Council of Trent to the same effect).

Okay, that is pretty deep church nerdy and if I’m losing you, don’t worry, we’re about to change directions.

The importance of this article is not found in the anti-Catholic part but in the declaration about the satisfaction of the offering of Christ. Jesus saves. Priests don’t. Pastors don’t. Parents don’t. Friends don’t. Rich Aunts don’t. Jesus saves and his offering has already been made and accepted. Theologically, this is called the Atonement of Christ. Christ offered himself for us, for all of us, for all the sins of the world. We are saved only by Christ. Not by our worship or works but by the faith of Jesus Christ, as Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians. The cross is not a sign of morbid fascination but a mark of victory over death. Death no longer rules this world and our Lord went to the depths of hell to win the victory!

This is Good News. Jesus Christ makes whole the brokenness of the world. We see but a foretaste for now we look through a glass darkly, but soon we shall see Him face to face. Thanks be to God!

Article XX - Of the One Oblation of Christ, Finished upon the Cross
The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Both Kinds of Communion

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Back before the reformation, when communion was served, the priests would receive the body and the blood while the people would only receive the body. Article 19, of both kinds, directly addresses this practice. A practice that is currently anachronistic in Catholic circles, but still is something of interest to discuss due to the common reality of people with gluten allergies or intolerances.

Most Methodist churches currently serve communion by intinction. That means you are given a piece of the bread and dip it in the cup. Most Catholic and Episcopalian churches you are served the wafer and drink from the common cup together so that there is no dipping and fewer chances of crumbs. 

A central aspect of Eucharistic theology is that both the cup and the bread function as communion so if you did only have the juice or the bread, it would still ‘work’. There is no deficiency to this. Article 19 encourages that the bread and the wine should be distributed to everyone and not reserved for some people and not others. 

Okay, a lot of this may seem pretty convoluted and I am sorry for that. If you are still with me, awesome. One of the limits of intinction is that the method makes it very difficult to only have the cup since you need something to dip. There was a recent ruling by the Vatican about the production of communion wafers that is apropos. The Pope said that communion must have gluten. Now, there is a company in Missouri (I think) that produces communion wafers with .000001% gluten in it that is indistinguishable from other wafers. Yet, this avoids the major issue about why that ruling was not really a big deal. If you are allergic to gluten and you are Catholic, you just take the wine. 

If you are allergic to gluten and you are Methodist, we have separate gluten free wafers. This is not ideal to have two separate loves. I have made gluten free communion bread before and after weeks of testing recipes, it turned out pretty good, but had to be baked fresh every morning before it was used. One of the lines in the liturgy which I can’t say anymore is that because there is one loaf, we who are many are one. I would much rather have all communion be a gluten free wafer or loaf than have two types, but this is where we are today.

Most of these blog posts have functioned to explain or elaborate on the various doctrines of the church. This is mostly a big question that there is little guidance or help from the church but for which the Articles of Religion can give a lodestar. We are to be a body which serves all and excludes none. Communion is not just a metaphor or a memory but Jesus for us, with us, in us, transforming us. Theology is not just answers. Theology is the questions we don’t know the answers to yet and the process of discerning together with Scripture how best to address them. That is hopeful. We are a part of what the future of the church will be. In the basic and central practice of sharing communion, we can seek a place of serving all in our midst, of being one body. We can also look to how we are not quite there and what it is going to take to truly be one. 

Article XIX - Of Both Kinds

The cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both the parts of the Lord's Supper, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be administered to all Christians alike.

What do Methodists Believe?: On the Lord's Supper

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I like imagining a martian coming down and secretly observing us. What would he/she/it say about what they see? If they see me walking my dog, who would they think is the master? If they hear what we say on Sunday morning, what would they think about the way we live the rest of the week. If they watch us during communion, what would they think that we are doing?

This is the body of Christ, broken for you.
This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Would they think us cannibals? What are they supposed to think goes on at communion? 

One way to start is to think about what other churches say communion means. Catholics, most famously, believe in transubstantiation. That means they believe that the substance of bread becomes the body of Christ even while it looks like bread. The wine becomes the blood of Christ even though it looks like wine. Part of this comes from the Aristotelian categories of substance and accidence, but it also comes from the Gospel of John 6:53-56

 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the view of communion as a memorial. In sharing communion, we remember Christ’s sacrifice. It is a sign, but that is all that it is. 

Between transubstantiation and a memorial lies the Methodist view of communion. It is a sign but also a sacrament, mysterious instrument of grace. For their to be violin music, one needs a violin, but one also needs a violinist. A violinist cannot make music without a violin. A violin cannot make music without a violinist. In communion, the violinist is God, the violin is the elements of bread and wine, and the music is the grace for us who receive.

The article on communion says of transubstantiation is ‘repugnant to the plain words of scripture’, but we must remember the anti-Catholic sentiment present in the 16th and 18th centuries. The Methodist position is much closer to the Roman Catholic one than the low church memorial. We simply do not use the categories of Aristotelian metaphysics. 

At communion, not only do we remember Jesus, we receive Jesus. It is a foretaste of our heavenly banquet when we will all be fully present with God. Taste and see that Lord is good!

Article XVIII - Of the Lord's Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death; insomuch that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped.

What do Methodists Believe?: On Baptism


What is the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist cupcake? The Methodist has sprinkles on top, the Baptist one is totally submerged in icing.

Okay, so this is not a very good joke. That is not the point. Any joke that highlights different denominations is going to be inherently bad. Just like any aggie jokes or t-sipper jokes. They are not funny in themselves but only funny due to preconceptions. 

Jokes, funny or not, point to preconceptions and assumptions. The assumption with Methodists is that baptism is just a sprinkling affair whereas Baptists have full-immersion baptistries in the churches themselves. Well, what do Methodists believe about Baptism?

We should start with how Methodists practice. We baptize infants, children, adults. Anyone who has not been previously baptized is up for baptism. If you have been previously baptized, well, tough for you, but you can get your pastor defrocked if they baptize you again (Not that this has happened in a hundred years, but it could. The defrocking part, that is. The re-baptizing happens more than I’m comfortable with...c’est la vie).


Why do we baptize infants?

There are two major theological reasons for this. The first is that we see baptism as primarily an act of God and not an action of the person being baptized. Baptism is something you receive. It is a sacrament, a revealed grace of God to cleanse you of original sin and to mark entrance into God’s holy body, the church. Baptism is a grace that need not be withheld. There is no scriptural moment of waiting to be baptized. In fact, when Philip explains the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Ethiopian eunich in the book of Acts, the Ethiopian asks, “Why should I not be baptized?” Philip then proceeds to take the Ethiopian to be baptized. 

The second major reason to baptize infants is because there are a number of instances in the New Testament of entire families were baptized, like in Acts 16:

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Baptism is a gift that is offered and should be accepted. It is also a step in the life of faith and not the end result. Christianity isn’t over when you are baptized. That is when it literally begins. 

People can be baptized as infants and fall away from faith. People can be baptized as adults and fall away. God gives us freedom to draw closer or to pull away, yet even when we pull away, God seeks us out. 

Article XVII - Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The Baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Sacraments


Translation has been a central issue of Christianity since the time of Jesus. One of the most unique aspects of the religion is its universality: God became human in Jesus Christ so that all may be forgiven and reconciled with God, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they have done with their life. 

The latin word, sacramentum, is a translation of the Greek word, mysterion. The word, mysterion, may make you think about TV mysteries or books with detectives and murders and problems to solve. Mysterion does not mean something unknown. Instead, it points to a solution that has been revealed. A gift. 

Much of Article 16 of the Articles of Religion is concerned with what is not a sacrament. Like Article 14, there is a definite anti-Catholic bias to this that today should be read generously with an eye to the broader church Universal. It is important to remember that John Wesley did not write the articles, he adapted those that were adopted by the Church of England some 200 years prior. My own reading and understanding of sacrament in the United Methodist Church is framed by Wesley's work on the Means of Grace, which are articulated most clearly in his sermon of the same name. They can be summarized in the following way:

Works of Piety

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Wesley frames the sacraments into the wholistic life of the Christian seeking God and seeking to be perfected in holiness so that all that remains is love. 

Communion is not a badge or a token. Baptism is not a badge or a token. God acts through these means. God acts through other means, as well, and so we should seek God wherever God is to be find. We should seek grace, especially at the table, especially at the mercy of the baptismal font by introducing others to the mercy of Christ and the purpose of life in friendship with God.

Article XVI - Of the Sacraments

Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God's good will toward us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called sacraments, that is to say, confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel; being such as have partly grown out of the corrupt following of the apostles, and partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not the like nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, because they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves condemnation, as St. Paul saith.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Speaking in tongues without a translator

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The Methodist movement began in the 18th century as an open-air revival, peak low church, led by an Anglican professor at Oxford (assumptively peak high church). Low church and high church refer to liturgical styles or styles of worship. A high church service has all the smells and bells, incense, sitting and standing and recitation of texts. Usually the worship leaders are dressed in special garbs for the occasion (with fun words like 'chaucible').

Low church, in contrast, is exemplified by the tent revival, with extemporaneous prayers and sermons and speaking in tongues. Informality reigns supreme. In Article XIV, we see the church positioned against the Church in Rome. That article should be read from an ecumenical with an understanding of the anti-Catholic sentiments that were to be found in the 16th and 18th centuries in England. Likewise, We should understand article 15 against the speaking in tongues without a translator as not referring to any practice analogous to modern day Pentecostalism or charismatic churches. Article 15, instead, points to 1 Corinthians 14 and Paul's extended reflection on prophecy and the speaking of tongues. What Paul emphasizes is that all spiritual gifts must be for the upbuilding of the community. If they are solely for individuals, they are no longer truly spiritual. This is why it is important to have translators to speaking in tongues so that any spiritual insight is not limited to any one individual but to the whole church.

For us today, whether we practice speaking in tongues or not, the lesson of 1 Corinthians 14 (and of Article 15) is that our gifts of the Spirit must be used for the upbuilding of others. They cannot be hoarded. It is like the parable of the talents. To those who use many, much will be given, to those who bury their talents out of fear that they will have even those taken away from them. 

Or as the old children song goes,

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

We must let our gifts shine, whatever they may be. When we hide them or only use them in ways we understand, we have already received our reward. 

Article XV — Of Speaking in the Congregation in Such a Tongue as the People Understand

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the primitive church, to have public prayer in the church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understood by the people.