United Methodist Spirituality and Theology
Spiritual Practices: Means of Grace
United Methodists encourage spiritual growth. Our heritage begins with John Wesley, a clergyman of 18th century England and the founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley taught that Christian spirituality should include "the means of grace" or "works of piety". The means of grace included:
Centering in Prayer: Wesley encouraged daily private devotion, usually in both the morning and evening, as well as time for family or household devotions. He suggested that these prayers should include expressing: (1) love and gratitude to God, (2) regret for our failures to love and serve others, (3) telling our thoughts, feelings and requests to God, (4) intercessions for others' needs, and (5) simply listening for what God might want to say to guide or correct us.
Searching the Scriptures: Wesley encouraged daily reading of the Scriptures. He suggested that we read the Bible seriously (with prayer), systematically (reading entire books or through the Bible), carefully (with good commentaries and scholarship), and fruitfully (immediately putting into practice what we learn). We are also urged to medidate on what we read, and to take every opportunity we can find to hear the Bible read by others in worship or small groups. Wesley asked Christians to always keep a Bible with them so they could read whenever they had time available.
Confering with Others: Methodists welcome the opportunity to "confer" or converse individually and in small groups in order to encourage one another in the spiritual life, and to help each one to be accountable for responsible discipleship.
Worship and the Lord's Supper: Methodist Christians are encouraged to worship often, at least weekly, and to share in the Lord's Supper or Communion as often as possible, as a means of union with Christ and with other Christians.
Fasting: It's not a discipline that is familiar or popular these days, but in Wesley's era his Methodists were instructed to fast a day or so every week. The motives included: self-denial (how many of us could use a little humility today?), voluntary simplicity, giving our surplus of food or money to the needs of the poor, and as a measure for good health.
Spiritual Principles: The General Rules
The "General Rules" of United Methodist Christians includes three basic principles which guide our practice of the spiritual life. John Wesley first proposed these in the mid-1700s as he began a number of small group meetings (called classes or societies) to encourage, spiritually develop and support his new Methodists. The three principles, each with some detailed instructions, are condensed and paraphrased here from our book of theology and order, The United Methodist Discipline:
First: by doing no harm: avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced; such as...taking of the name of God in vain...profaning of the day of the Lord...Drunkenness...Slaveholding...Fighting, quarreling, brawling, returning evil for evil. Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation. Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us. Doing what we know is not for the glory of God. Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Second, by doing good: by being in every kind merciful after (our) power; as (we) have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as for as possible to all: to their bodies by giving food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison...to their souls, by instructing, reproving or exhorting all we (converse) with...to fellow Christians by the means we have available.
Third, by using the means of grace: public worship, listening to the Scriptures read, receiving the Lord's Supper, family and private prayer, searching the Scriptures (in private study), and Fasting or Abstinence.