Why a United Methodist? – Part 1 – Grace

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Many of you will be aware that my previous ministry has been in Baptist churches.  So the question does come up fairly regularly, “why are you becoming a United Methodist?”  I could try to answer the question in one post but there are several facets to my decision which include theology, polity, and practice.  So I’m going to write several posts about the distinctives of the UMC that attracted me to this great connexion of Christians!

The very first time I really thought about and heard about the different facets of grace as taught and understood by John Wesley was on my very first Emmaus Walk.  The Emmaus Walk is a program of the Upper Room of the United Methodist Church which is based on the Cursillo movement with the goal of strengthening Christian leaders.  It is an ecumenical program and churches of many different denominations are involved with Emmuas.

It was in the Emmaus Walk that I first heard about Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace from a Wesleyan perspective.  Baptists believe in grace too of course.  But in particular on that Walk I remember the emphasis on God’s Prevenient Grace.

Bishop William Willimon states in his book “Why I Am a United Methodist”,

“We believe from the beginning of life God is busy working in that person’s life.  The image of God is never completely erased in an individual, no matter how bad that individual is.  Prevenient Grace may precede any direct consciousness of God, any great awareness that one is being led by God, coaxed toward salvation.”

It was made clearer to me in the Emmaus Walk that Prevenient Grace meant that God loved me before I ever knew it, that God wanted me reconciled to him before I ever responded to him, and God was seeking to call me into his loving presence before I ever loved.  To quote John Wesley, “Grace for All, Grace for All!”

When I left the Walk I began looking for where this brilliant theological idea of God’s Prevenient Grace had been best conceived.  What I found was that it was best expressed in the preaching of the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley.

“Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!”  It was my first taste of Wesleyan theology.  And it is where I trace back the beginning of my journey to the United Methodist family.

More about grace in my next post.