Just as creeds such as the Apostles' Creed summarize the belief of all Christians, the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church form a foundation of doctrine for United Methodists. They, along with Wesley's Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, are "standards" of doctrine for United Methodists.
When the Methodist movement in America became a church in 1784, John Wesley provided the American Methodists with a liturgy and a doctrinal statement, which contained twenty-four "Articles of Religion" or basic statements of belief. These Articles of Religion were taken from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England—the church out of which the Methodism movement began—and had been the standards for preaching within the Methodist movement. When these articles were voted on by the American conference, an additional article was added regarding the American context, bringing the total number of articles to 25.
These articles became the basic standards for Christian belief in the Methodist church in North America. First published in the church's Book of Discipline in 1790, the Articles of Religion have continued to be part of the church's official statement of belief.
The Confession of Faith is the statement of belief from The Evangelical United Brethren Church. Consisting of 16 articles, the current form of this statement of faith was presented and adopted by the 1962 General Conference.
When The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 from the union of several branches of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, both The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith were adopted as basic statements of the Christian faith.
Wesley's sermons contain his basic understanding of the Christian faith and his thinking about how we are to live out this faith both personally and corporately. His written sermons were intended to teach the basic beliefs of the faith as well as nurture and encourage his followers in their discipleship.
Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament provided his followers with tools for interpreting the Bible. These notes contained both Wesley's own ideas as well as insights borrowed from other interpreters and commentaries.
While the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are considered foundational documents, they are not legalistic or dogmatic creeds that do not allow for differing interpretations. They are guidelines that themselves require continuing reflection, interpretation and expansion in light of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.
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