The question came out of the blue. “So, what do United Methodists believe?” The question both surprised and delighted me. Though we had known each other for two years and had talked about many subjects, this was the first time that my friend had asked me a doctrinal question. I took a deep breath and gave a succinct 5 minute version of “The United Methodist Way." My description included the North Alabama value that reads, “Movement of the Holy Spirit produces personal and social holiness.”
Movement of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit calls us into relationship with Jesus Christ and empowers us to live the Christian way. Increased personal and social holiness are signs of the movement of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.
Personal holiness: A growing relationship with Jesus Christ deepens personal holiness. This is because spending time in the presence of the living God transforms us. The regular practice of holy habits offers us a means to experience God often. Such habits include prayer, Scripture reading, fasting, worship, giving and serving.
Social holiness: Wesleyan scholars Dr. Andrew Thompson and Dr. Kevin Watson remind us that the phrase “social holiness” only appears in Wesley’s writings once.1 In that instance it refers to the significance of the role of the community in the spiritual formation of Christ-followers. This is in contrast to the contemporary application of social holiness as referring to social justice.
However, John Wesley practiced “social” holiness both as he defined it and also as it is typically understood in United Methodist circles today. He and the early Methodists emphasized involvement in class and society meetings as a means for growing in relationship with Christ. They were also known for their commitment to improving the lives of the poor and others on the fringes of society. They transformed their world.
Yes, a friend recently asked me a question about United Methodist doctrine. When my response included the concept of personal and social holiness her eyes lit up and she said, “Isn’t that what Christianity is supposed to be about?" She is right. This basic United Methodist belief is at the heart of Christian living. It is also one of our Conference’s core values. Movement of the Holy Spirit produces personal and social holiness.
As always it is a privilege to be your bishop.
North Alabama Conference
1. [See blog Wesley Didn’t Say It, “Personal and Social Holiness” - posted by Kevin Watson, Methodist History, Wesley, May 20, 2013]