We say that God speaks to us through the Bible, that it's God's Word. This authority derives from three sources:
We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired, that they were filled with God's Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.
We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life's present realities.
The Bible's authority is, therefore, nothing magical. For example, we do not open the text at random to discover God's will. The authority of Scripture derives from the movement of God's Spirit in times past and in our reading of it today.
We United Methodists put the Bible to work. In congregational worship we read from the Bible. Through preaching, we interpret its message for our lives. It forms the background of most of our hymns and liturgy. It's the foundation of our church school curriculum. Many of us use it in our individual devotional lives, praying through its implications day by day. However, we admit that there's still vast "biblical illiteracy" in our denomination. We need to help one another open the Bible and use it.
Faith is the basic orientation and commitment of our whole being—a matter of heart and soul. Christian faith is grounding our lives in the living God as revealed especially in Jesus Christ. It’s both a gift we receive within the Christian community and a choice we make. It’s trusting in God and relying on God as the source and destiny of our lives. Faith is believing in God, giving God our devoted loyalty and allegiance. Faith is following Jesus, answering the call to be his disciples in the world. Faith is hoping for God’s future, leaning into the coming kingdom that God has promised. Faith-as-belief is active; it involves trusting, believing, following, hoping.
Many have experienced a moment when the Spirit of God came upon them in a powerful way. For some, it happened on a retreat as a youth, or a mission trip later in life. Others had an experience during a Sunday morning worship service or a Wednesday night Bible study. Some have felt Christ especially present while praying from the top of a mountain or crying out over the sound of crashing waves while standing on a beach.
Whatever the circumstances, these moments can be life changing. We look back upon them as times of conversion, renewal, and revelation. We may feel called to do something, experience healing and wholeness, or receive peace about a decision.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, rather famously had a Holy Spirit moment often referred to as his “Aldersgate experience.” Wesley records in his journal what happened on May 24, 1738:
"In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
When read by itself, this one journal entry seems to suggest this God-moment happened unexpectedly. The same is true when we hear others report similar experiences. Most often, however, these special encounters with the Holy Spirit come to those who are seeking, those who have opened their hearts to receive something special from God.