What do we believe?
First and foremost, San Jose First United Methodist Church is a Christian church. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. We are one of many different “brands” (or denominations) of Christian Churches, such as Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Presbyterian, “non-denominational”, and many more. All of these Christian churches share a common core faith. That core comes to us from the Bible and from Church traditions that date back to Jesus the Christ himself.
The Christian faith has been distilled into various “Creeds”, which are summaries of the components of the faith. These are often recited in services of the worship of God, and many Christians believe most or all of these statements. The most famous and ancient is the “Apostles Creed”. A modern Affirmation states:
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true Church, apostolic and universal, whose holy faith let us now declare:
We believe in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, power, and love, whose mercy is over all his works, and whose will is ever directed to his children’s good.
We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of man, the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, the ground of our hope, and the promise of our deliverance from sin and death.
We believe in the Holy Spirit as the divine presence in our lives, whereby we are kept in the perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.
We believe that this faith should manifest itself in the service of love as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth.
We, like other Christian churches, believe in the Trinity, meaning that God is three-in-one: A Creator/Parent, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This means that Jesus the Son is God “incarnate”, or in the flesh. Here is how the book of John describes Jesus:
“The Word (God) became flesh and made his dwelling with us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of Grace and Truth.” (John 1:12).
We also believe that Jesus is the Christ. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name — it is a title. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah or “God’s anointed savior”. So “Jesus Christ” means Jesus the Messiah or Savior.
We believe that because we are mortals full of needs and fears, we become separated from the perfect and immortal God. So we can come to know God and to experience God’s forgiveness for our brokenness and imperfections when we trust ourselves to Jesus, asking Him to forgive us and become the Lord of our life. We are “saved” from our brokenness by God’s love and action (called “grace”) through Jesus’ actions and relationship with God, not by what we do or say. We can not earn or deserve God’s love forgiveness; it is given by God as a great gift!
This is one way that Christians are different from some other religions that believe a person is saved by extraordinary acts of devotion, service, or sacrifice — making salvation available only for a few lucky or holy ones. Christianity believes that salvation is for many, for all the people who ask for it. It is by faith that we are saved — by believing or trusting God to save us. Paul expressed this idea in the Bible’s book of Ephesians:
But because of God’s great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — for by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly realm …, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gif of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 4-9).
What makes a United Methodist Church different from other churches?
The type of Christian church that we are is “United Methodist”. You can think of this as a brand (called “denomination”). Other denominations include Baptist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Catholic, for example. and many others. There are even different brands of Methodists! These different denominations or groups evolve over time because of history, politics, geography, or different beliefs about some aspect of Christianity. You can find detailed materials about the history and beliefs of the United Methodists at www.umc.org. However, here are some key beliefs that make United Methodists different from other denominations.
We believe that all people are children of God, loved by God and by Jesus the Christ. Therefore, anyone and everyone are welcome to come to worship with us, and should be treated with respect and grace. There is no “test” or rules that must be followed to make someone worthy to come in. This is especially important in our urban setting where there is great diversity — people of many different backgrounds, politics, cultures, races, social or economic experiences, and history, all living and working in the same community. All are welcome! And we work hard to try to express that welcome to everyone who comes to us.
Balance of Faith and Service
The United Methodists put an emphasis on balancing personal spiritual life and piety with social engagement and actions. This means that while we help people to grow in the knowledge of the Bible, in worship, and in prayer; we are also active in the world helping those in need and working for justice and peace. We believe that as followers of Jesus, we must be engaged in helping others, especially the poor. So you should always find worship, Bible studies, other classes as well as projects that help the world — both locally and around the world.
The United Methodists church teaches that we should develop answers to questions of life and faith by using four tools (or “pillars” of thought). These four tools were called the “quadrilateral” by John Wesley, one of the founders of our movement. They are:
- Scripture. We believe that the Bible is God-inspired, and it contains everything necessary for a life of Faith. It is not a scientific textbook, but it provides guidance, wisdom and inspiration for us as we struggle with questions of life. So in our search, we ask, “What does the Bible say about the question?” and we read and ponder the words of the Bible as it applies to our lives.
- Tradition. We ask, “What do other thoughtful and knowledgeable people say about this issue? What have other faithful Christians through the ages learned and believed about this? What do other traditions or cultures believe about it? We do not limit ourselves to American or “western” cultural perspectives. We learn by considering the wisdom of many others.
- Reason. We ask, “What makes logical sense? What can we learn from science, medicine, social sciences, history, etc?” We believe that God has given us intelligence and the ability to reason and observe; and these are good gifts that should not be minimized or ignored by people of faith.
- Experience. This is the final “pillar” of the quadrilateral for a reason. It is important for us to consider our personal experiences or the experiences of others when seeking God’s direction for our lives. But experience is the least reliable of our tools, because it is the tool most often influenced by wrong ideas, distorting events, or our own desires or justifications. So we do not discount Experience, but it comes after Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
How is this church organized?
This is probably the most common way that denominations differentiate among themselves: how they are organized and what management methods they have chosen. The United Methodists Church is organized in a fashion that is similar to the American government. This is not an accident: the first “organizing” conference of the Methodist Church met across the street from the US’s Constitutional Convention in 1789. There are key similarities.
We are a democratic church (i.e., we decide major things by voting) and similar in organization to the United States, in that it is a republican form (we elect representatives). Members of the local church gather to elect their leadership and vote on important issues in the life of the church. Each of the local congregations (like San Jose First) elects members to serve on the Board of Directors (called the “Vision & Leadership Team” by this congregation). This Board sets the priorities of the local church; and then works with the pastor to meet the needs of members and community and to implement the missions of the church. It also controls the congregation’s property and money and manages the responsibilities that the church has as a nonprofit corporation. The Pastor, who is appointed to the local church, serves as both a spiritual leader and a chief executive, working with the elected leaders and the members.
Each local church also elects representatives who serve as “members of Annual Conference” (which is analogous to the state legislature) along with all the pastors. The Annual Conference (both the elected representatives and the pastors) gathers once a year to set budgets, elect officers, and establish priorities for ministry on the statewide level. Our Annual Conference serves the churches in Northern California and Nevada. The Annual Conference also elects both pastors and non-pastor representatives to the “General Conference”.
The General Conference is a gathering of United Methodists from around the world every four years. It deals with matters of church-wide concern, defines the legislative guidelines (called the “Book of Discipline”) that all United Methodists follow, and it speaks for the worldwide United Methodist movement.
The General Conference (both pastors and non-pastor members) also elects Bishops, the executive branch of the governance of the church. A Bishop serves as spiritual leader and chief executive of the Annual Conference. The church even has a supreme court, which decides disputes on how the church should be run and holds Bishops and other leaders accountable to the Book of Discipline.