“Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”
-Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
What is the difference between a Christian and a United Methodist? Are all United Methodists Christians? These—and related questions—were raised as I met with hundreds of confirmation students over the course of my 40 years of ministry.
You might assume this reflects a shortcoming of the Church or its leadership and our serious commitment to teaching Christian discipleship. Instead, I embrace this question as a healthy one, along with questions we should continually ask ourselves.
Yes, United Methodists are Christians, as in followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ and believers in Jesus as the Son of God. If you were baptized as an infant, you may have become a member of The United Methodist Church (or its predecessor bodies) before you were able to profess your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. As part of confirmation and adult membership reception, we declare our faith openly as Christians with a commitment to live out our faith in personal and public ways.
When we talk about the Church, it can be a bit confusing. The United Methodist Church is a worldwide, Christian denomination. However, we can experience “church” as our local place of worship and a place where we are most energized to engage in mission and spiritual growth.
Church is also a reference to millions of people who are Christians scattered in cultures and communities exercising their faith as the “hands, feet, and love of Jesus Christ.”
My answers to the aforementioned questions have usually been accompanied by an invitation to further explore it with questions Jesus asked his disciples.
One of the questions Jesus asked was, “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:16) This question needs an answer from me all the time. Is Jesus just the main character in the New Testament, or do I invite Jesus into my life daily? Jesus desires a relationship with us, not merely a reference to him.
Think on the words recorded in Revelation 3:20 (NIV). “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Imagine Jesus knocking at the door of your heart as the sun rises in the morning. Will you let God in?
My wife and I focus our hearts each day with prayer and a declaration. We also take Proverbs 22:6 seriously and have invited our granddaughter to join in our morning mantra. “This is the day the Lord has made, and we SHALL rejoice and be glad in it…Again, I say rejoice!” -Psalm 118:24
I will rejoice! This day and every day. In the midst the acrimonious bumpiness of church disaffiliations. Even with a myriad of global problems and challenges.
Yes, I will rejoice because this is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice until I no longer have breath in my lungs and declare—as I have repeatedly—that “I am unapologetically Christian, and I am unashamedly United Methodist.”
May we invite God into all of our days. May we open the doors of our hearts as God knocks. And may God empower us to rejoice, regardless of our state.
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church