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In what ways are Lutherans different from United Methodists?
There are many differences between the United Methodists and Lutherans. I will note some of the most basic.
Following the father of Methodism, John Wesley, United Methodist theology is basically Arminian. The United Methodists teach that unconverted people have free will in spiritual matters or the ability to accept or reject God's offer of salvation.
Lutherans teach that unconverted human beings are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5), hostile to God (Romans 8:6-8), and cannot accept the gospel message (1 Corinthians 2:14). Human beings play no part in their own conversion, but are purely passive.
The United Methodists teach that God's "prevenient grace" surrounds all humanity and "prompts our first wish to please God" and "our first glimmer of understanding of God's will." This grace surrounds everyone whether they have ever heard the gospel or not. Lutherans believe that God's grace comes to us only through the means of grace, the gospel in God's Word and the sacraments. There is no salvation apart from the means of grace (Romans 10:13-17).
Lutherans put the primary theological emphasis on justification and what God has done for us in sending his Son to live and die for us, forgiving all of our sins and giving us eternal life and salvation. Methodists put their primary theological emphasis on sanctification and what God does in us to lead us to do his will. Lutherans teach that every Christian is both sinner and saint at the same time and will remain so until we reach the perfection of heaven. Methodists teach the possibility of reaching Christian perfection in this life.
The United Methodists see Scripture as the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. They emphasize the importance of tradition, experience, and reason for Christian doctrine. Lutherans teach that the Bible is the sole source for Christian doctrine. The truths of Scripture do not need to be authenticated by tradition, human experience, or reason. Scripture is self authenticating and is true in and of itself.
The United Methodists believe that the church has a responsibility toward the structures of society and therefore commit themselves "to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities . . . collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress."
Lutherans believe that God has given the church the commission to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments so that people can be saved for eternity (Matthew 28:18-20). God has not called the church to reform society or to wield the law as a curb for societal ills. God has instituted the government for that purpose (Romans 13:1-7). As the church carries out its responsibility of proclaiming the gospel and there are more Christians in a country, society will be affected. For individual Christians as citizens will work to address the problems that they see and to improve society. The Christians are then carrying out their responsibility as citizens and are not carrying out the work of the church. We reject the social gospel, the belief that the church's responsibility is to change the structures of society through mass or group action.
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