Learn About United Methodism
The United Methodist Church is a Christian denomination that is both mainline Protestant and Evangelical. Founded in 1968 by the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the UMC traces its roots back to the revival movement of John and Charles Wesley within the Church of England. The church’s theological orientation is embraces both liturgical and evangelical elements.
The United Methodist Church seeks to create disciples for Christ through outreach, evangelism, and through seeking holiness, also called sanctification, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The flame in the church logo represents the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, and the two parts of the flame also represent the predecessor denominations, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, united at the base symbolizing the 1968 merger.
The United Methodist Church understands itself to be part of the holy universal church and it recognizes the historic ecumenical creeds,the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed; which are used frequently in services of worship.
The Book of Discipline also recognizes the importance of the Chalcedonian Creed of the Council of Chalcedon. It upholds the concept of the “visible and invisible Church,” meaning that all who are truly believers in every age belong to the holy Church invisible, while the United Methodist Church is a branch of the Church visible, to which all believers must be connected as it is the only institution wherein the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are administered. Some argue that The United Methodist Church can lay a claim on apostolic succession, as understood in the traditional sense.
As a result of the American Revolution, John Wesley was compelled in 1784 to break with standard practice and ordain two of his lay preachers as presbyters, Thomas Vasey and Richard Whatcoat. Dr. Thomas Coke, already an Anglican priest, assisted Wesley in this action. Coke was then “set apart” as a bishop by Wesley and dispatched with Vasey and Whatcoat to America to take charge of Methodist activities there. In defense of his action to ordain, Wesley himself cited an ancient opinion from the Church of Alexandria, which held that bishops and presbyters constituted one order and therefore, bishops are to be elected from and by the presbyterate. He knew that for two centuries the succession of bishops in the Church of Alexandria was preserved through ordination by presbyters alone and was considered valid by the ancient church. Methodists today who would argue for apostolic succession would do so on these grounds.
While many United Methodist congregations operate in the evangelical tradition, others reflect the mainline Protestant traditions. Although United Methodist practices and interpretation of beliefs have evolved over time, these practices and beliefs can be traced to the writings of the church’s founders, especially John Wesley and Charles Wesley (Anglicans), but also Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm, and Jacob Albright (Evangelical Association). With the formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968, theologian Albert C. Outler led the team which systematized denominational doctrine. Outler’s work proved pivotal in the work of union, and he is largely considered the first United Methodist theologian.