Friday, September 09, 2005

ordination paperwork: question #8

a) Theology
8) Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?

“The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful [persons] in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”[1] Such is the nature of the church according to the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church. This statement highlights the communal nature of the church, which Wesley himself described with the strongest words, saying “Christianity is essentially a social religion, and . . . to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.” He continues, “When I say, This is essentially a social religion, I mean not only that it cannot subsist so well, but that it cannot subsist at all, without society, -- without living and conversing with other[s].”[2] The essential oneness of the Church, the identity of the Church as the Body of Christ, church universal is a critical and defining aspect of the Church’s nature. Despite the many denominations and traditions of Church that exist today, most Christian communities affirm that Christ’s body, the Church, is in essence one. The Church is a community of faith, a community of worshippers, a community of disciples and disciple-makers.
The primary task and mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. From our Discipline we read, we “proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ.” It is the task of the Church today to share the message of God’s love with all people, and invite others into the community of faith. We “lead [people] to commit their lives to God through baptism and profession of faith in Jesus Christ.” Our task is disciple-making. The Church does this by the care of those who are already part of the community of faith, and by seeking to draw others into this community. Discipleship is a life-long task, and in community as church is where we can draw our strength for our journey. So often, we get distracted in the Church from our mission. We get so busy “doing Church things” that we forget to ask the question – “is the purpose of what we are doing making disciples?” If our ministries and missions, events and programs are not tied to disciple-making, we are in danger of being off-course and without our direction.
The United Methodist Church has a proud heritage of mission and outreach to those who are oppressed. From Wesley’s General Rules, which encourage doing all the good we can, to the Social Principles in today’s Discipline, which outline our priorities in the social issues we confront today, we seek to live lovingly and justly. How can people be made disciples if they have nothing, or if they are excluded from society, or if they are otherwise kept separate from the community? Our social justice focus in the church is another way we seek to make disciples, as we work in service.
The Church proclaims the gospel, and hopes to share God’s love through the gospel message. We invite people to join the community of faith, and together we share in worship and sacraments. We seek to live humbly, kindly, and justly together, employing the means of grace, acting out in support of peace and justice as we are able. These are the tasks of the Church, and we seek to be faithful to these tasks as we are accountable to one another and to God.
[1] Article of Religion of the Methodist Church, Article XIII.
[2] Wesley, John. “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse IV.”
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