By Blossom Matthews
It was my first theology class, and I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Having been raised non-denominational, dipping my toes in the waters of the religion department at a Southern Baptist university made for a life-changing experience. I was vaguely familiar with Calvinism and knew it wasn’t for me, but as we studied Calvinism, we also studied its counterpoint: Arminianism. Though the professor didn’t intend to affirm Arminianism, I realized I had finally put a name to my theological perspective.
As the Holy Spirit nudged me to embrace my call to ministry, it was only a hop, skip, and jump until I found my theological and spiritual home: United Methodism. With family members who had been Nazarene pastors, Methodist pastors, and even circuit riders, Wesleyanism was in my blood. As I settled into my new home, a few qualities of United Methodism stood out above the rest:
Women in Ministry
One aspect of United Methodism that I believe most warms the heart of God is our support of women in ministry. Consider the generations of women who were never allowed to live out their call to pastoral ministry. In God’s name, churches have accused and judged these women as misguided, at best, and rebellious, at worst.
Growing up non-denominational, I got a lot of mixed signals regarding women in ministry. Even churches that didn’t outright stand against women in ministry seemed to have the view that, “Yes, God can call women to preach and teach, and maybe pastor – depending on who you are and how famous you are. And as long as you are under the headship of a man.” Unless I married into ministry, it wasn’t going to happen.
Coming into a denomination in which women are respected and treated as equals was a breath of fresh air. In fact, it was more than that. The United Methodist Church became a liberating place to live out my faith and call. While it will take time to fully cultivate a church culture in which women are as eagerly received as men into the local church pastorate, clergywomen know that we are supported by bishops, district superintendents, and fellow clergymen who support us in answering God’s call. I give thanks for this safe place, The United Methodist Church, in which I can simply be the woman God has called me to be.
We are Open
One’s greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness; this is certainly true for The United Methodist Church. Those of us who support orthodox faith and practice are deeply concerned about the loss of theological clarity within our denomination. Being “open minded,” as our denominational slogan claims, has the potential of leading us down a path that contradicts the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We remember the warning found in Ephesians 4:14, that “we must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.” While the growing lack of conviction regarding foundational matters may concern us, let us not forget that our openness is also one of our greatest strengths.
Coming from a near-fundamentalist background, I appreciate the open nature of our denomination. Our willingness to think about new ideas, to embrace scholarship, to respect those with whom we disagree, and to open wide our doors and hearts to all who are spiritually hungry gives me hope that God can use our denomination to reach the least, the last, and the lost. While we are fully aware of the dangers and pitfalls of our surrounding culture, we have the ability to live in the world without being of it, to love the world without being formed by it. We can love our neighbor who thinks and acts differently than we do without compromising our faith and conscience. Our openness need not reflect moral weakness or theological confusion, but rather, the open heart of our risen Lord.
The best of Christendom
I love the fact that The United Methodist Church is a place where both Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists can feel somewhat comfortable. In our congregation, we may profess the Apostle’s Creed on the same Sunday that we have an altar call. United Methodists have the ability to bring liturgical, revival, and contemporary traditions together in celebration of God’s work through the Universal Church.
We also bring together doctrines that some would consider mutually exclusive. Do we believe we are saved by grace through faith? You bet! But what about good works? We believe in those, too! Well, do United Methodists believe in free will or in providence? Yes and yes. Our theology is rich and nuanced. We affirm and bring together seemingly contradictory beliefs to present a balanced, biblical view of God and life.
John Wesley taught the importance of both personal holiness and social holiness. As United Methodists, we have the potential of ministering to the whole person: spirit, soul, and body. Our evangelical experience of the heart strangely warmed calls us forward to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We are not an either/or church, but a both/and church, pulling together and holding in tension the great doctrines of the Universal Church.
From our open hearts and inclusive spirit to our rich theology, the United Methodist Church provides good soil in which God may raise up new disciples for Jesus Christ.
Blossom Matthews is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Pampa, Texas, where she co-pastors with her husband, Nick Matthews. She is the proud mother of Ruth, Josiah, and Malachi.