It was important to John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, that his movement of Christian devotion and spiritual transformation contain robust biblical theology. The doctrine of God, especially the Trinity, is central to biblical theology, so what does the Methodist denomination believe about it?
Methodism believes, teaches, and defends the doctrine of the Trinity with great conviction. Methodists believe there is one God who exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are each fully God. The second person of the Trinity, the Son, became a man at the incarnation who is called Jesus of Nazareth.
What exactly do Methodists believe about the Trinity? What is the biblical basis for their belief? Do all Methodists believe in the Trinity, including the United Methodist Church? Keep reading to learn more.
What do Methodists believe about the Trinity?
Methodists believe there is one God who exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, Methodists believe it’s an appropriate label to describe Scripture’s teaching on the triune nature of God.
This is similar to the word “communion,” as in the Lord’s Supper, which also doesn’t appear in Scripture, but that Christian churches accept and use to describe the Bible’s teaching. These theological terms come from Latin, not New Testament Greek, because Latin was the language of Christian theologians for centuries.
The core convictions that make up Methodism’s doctrine of the Trinity include,
- There is one God: Methodists aren’t polytheists. There believe there is one God, consistent with Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV), which Jesus affirms in Mark 12:29.
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God. There is one God who exists in three persons (Matt. 28:19). The Father is God (John 6:27), the Son is God (John 1:1, Heb. 1:8), and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). Like in other Christian traditions, the Father is often referred to as the “first person of the Trinity,” the Son as “the second person of the Trinity,” and the Holy Spirit as “the third person of the Trinity.”
- Each member of the Trinity is equal in essence, but have distinct roles: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in nature, will, and glory. The members of the Trinity aren’t different manifestations of the same person, meaning, the Father didn’t become the Son and the Son didn’t become the Holy Spirit. For example, Jesus, not the Father or the Holy Spirit, died on the cross as an atonement for sin.
While it’s common to refer to the Methodist “denomination,” the tradition is made up of several different denominations. The largest Methodist denomination is the United Methodist Church (UMC). The UMC’s belief in the Trinity is central, strong, and clear,
“When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an understanding of God as a Trinity—three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons. ‘God in three persons, blessed Trinity’ is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.” emphasis added
Did John Wesley believe in the Trinity?
Methodists trace their history to the Church of England and the Protestant Reformation. John Wesley wanted to reform the Church of England, not start a new denomination, but leadership resisted his efforts and he started a movement that became the Methodist tradition.
Despite their differences, Wesley and his followers maintained the primary beliefs of Christianity, and many of the Church of England, including the Trinity. The 39 Articles of Religion is the traditional belief statement of the Church of England. The statement espouses belief in the Trinity, which Methodists agree with,
“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” emphasis added
In a sermon title “On the Trinity,” Wesley spoke about the importance of the doctrine. He said,
“What God has been pleased to reveal upon this head, is far from being a point of indifference, is a truth of the last importance. It enters into the very heart of Christianity: It lies at the heart of all vital religion.”emphasis added
Wesley elaborated to say that there is no true, genuine, Christian faith without the Trinity: “The knowledge of the Three-One God is interwoven with all true Christian faith.”
What is the biblical basis for the Trinity?
In historic Christian theology, Methodist or otherwise, Matthew 28:19 supports the personhood of each member of the Trinity, while verses like Titus 2:13, and Acts 5:3-4 affirm the Godhead of each of the three persons. Interpreted together, along with many other verses, the reality that the nature of God is a Trinity emerges.
- “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19); Methodists see allusions to the Trinity in texts like this one.
- “while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13); Methodists believe Christ is referred to as God in texts like this one.
- “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.'” (Acts 5:3-4); Methodists see the Holy Spirit referred to as God in texts like this one.
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