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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.”

Comments

Anonymous said…
Elizabeth,

This was an excellent answer to this question. I am so happy to see this answer. It appears to me that so many of our leadership folks in the UMC are so concerned with social issues, they are so concerned with foreign missions, they are so concerned with political issues, they are so worried about the works and welfare of the UMC in general. All of these are noble causes and I am not opposed to any of them in particular. However, what many Methodists such as myself worry about is that the UMC appears to put more emphasis on these particular issues and pet projects than the do the mission of the catholic Christian Church. You hit the nail square on the head. Christ's own words to us..." Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. " Mk 16:15-16

All of the peripheral things ("church things" as you called it) are necessary. They are important Christian works. They are crucial. You cannot tell an infidel to concentrate on the fact that Christ is the Bread of Life, if he is more concerned with the fact that he and his family have no bread in their empty stomachs. I sincerely believe that. My concern is that we have many in the UMC that think these things ARE the WORK of the CHURCH. In reality, they should be classified as the *workS of the church*.

The Church has the same exact same mission today that old testament saints like Noah had. To tell people to flee the "wrath to come". We have to warn people what happens to folks who die without the covering of the Blood of Christ. In the above scripture, we always focus on Christ's words concerning those "that believeth", we seem to forget the equally important warning to those who "believeth not". Are good works an important function of the Christian Church, absolutely. Are we commanded by Christ to do them, absolutely. Are they the single most important mission of the catholic Church? I don't think so. I think your answer to this question was excellent and very correct. We are to rescue the lost and perishing. We are care for the dying. Not only the physically lost and dying which we have to do, but more importantly the spiritually lost and dying. We do that by spreading the Good News and making them Disciples of Christ. I only wish that more laypersons in the United Methodist Church took this mission seriously and I wish that I heard serious sermons about this subject from our clergy more that once or twice every 3 or 4 years. Your answer gives me hope.

Keith

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