One of the textbooks I’m reading for my upcoming class is Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials by Ted Campbell, and I thought Doctrine might be a good place to start. In addition to his role as professor of church history at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, he is an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church and a speaker and author of books, articles, and other works on Christian history, especially the history of Wesleyan and Methodist Christian communities and the history of ecumenical consensus in Christian teachings and practices.
In his book, Dr. Campbell takes Methodist doctrine to be “that which Methodists have agreed to teach” and identifies nine “essential” doctrines based on consensus between four major Methodist denominations: the African Methodist Episcopal or AME Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion or AME Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal or CME Church, and the United Methodist Church or UMC.
John Wesley distinguished the difference between essential doctrines for which agreement, or consensus, is critical and opinions about theology or church practices on which disagreement should be allowed. In his writings, Wesley identifies two different types of essential doctrines.
The first type is doctrines that define broad ecumenical, or “catholic” (little c), heritage of Christian faith meaning doctrines that were shared broadly across many Christian denominations and/or all of Christianity. Examples of such doctrines would be a belief in the Trinity – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the nature of Christ, the human need for grace, and doctrines about the church and its sacraments and ministries.
The second type Wesley noted were doctrines that were particular to the spirituality and teachings of the Methodist movement. Examples of these doctrines are things like the Methodist doctrine on “The Way of Salvation” which includes prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
In other words, Wesley had a sense for what is commonly Christian no matter where in the world you go and what type of Christian church you attend, and what is distinctly Methodist.
Below is a list of what Campbell has identified as the nine essential doctrines of Methodists. If the text of each doctrine is available online, there is also a link to that text. All nine of these doctrines have either constitutional force meaning they are protected by the constitutions of their denominations, or disciplinary force meaning they are specified in a published Discipline in the Methodist denominations.
To summarize, doctrines are those beliefs that Methodists have agreed to teach to the Methodist people. And that’s this week’s Methodist Moment!
MAJOR DOCTRINES OF METHODISM
Texts of the following are available at https://www.umc.org/en/content/foundational-documents
- The Twenty-five Articles of Religion (1784; AME, AME Zion, CME, UMC).
- The General Rules (1740s; AME, AME Zion, CME, UMC).
- Catechism on Faith (based on the Wesleyan “Doctrinal Minutes”; AME).
- Statement on “Apostolic Succession” and “Religious Formalism” (1884; AME).
- Confession of Faith (from United Brethren; 1816 and revised many times thereafter; UMC).
- John Wesley’s Standard Sermons (1700s; UMC; constitutional status in other churches is unclear).
- John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (1700s; UMC; constitutional status in other churches is unclear).
- The Methodist Social Creed (originally 1908 with many revisions since; CME and UMC in differing versions).
- Statement of “Our Theological Task” (1972, revised 1988; UMC).
Source – Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, Revised Edition, Ted A. Campbell, Abingdon Press, ISBN-13: 978-1-4267-2701-6