This paper seeks to give a description of the nature and mission of the church as well as to highlight the primary tasks of the church today. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, nature is the basic or inherent features, character or qualities of something. The Oxford dictionary defines mission as a strongly felt aim, ambition or calling. In the same dictionary, task is defined as work to be done or undertaken. In this essay, these definitions will assist in describing the character or qualities, strongly felt aim and work to be done by the church today.
Oden T. (:61) argues that the Church is the global Body of Christ formed for the salvation of the world. He cites The United Methodist Book of Discipline which clearly highlights to us of the nature of the local church as a place of disciple-making, a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ, the redemptive fellowship where the Word of God is proclaimed, and the place where the sacraments are administered to the people of God. In our calling to fulfill: Wesleyan views of the church in mission by Meeks Douglas E (:97) it is cited from The United Methodist Book of Discipline which clearly spell out the primary tasks of the church as the maintenance of worship, edification of believers, and the redemption of the world. It is within this background that the writer will expand and describe what is required by the question.
The writer is tempted to check on what our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith say about the nature of the church. Article XIII—Of the Church” clearly affirms that, “The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men 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.” (The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church, Discipline, 66). This gives us the understanding that the Church is a congregation of the faithful in which the word of God is proclaimed. The church is also the correct place for sacraments to be celebrated though they can be administered in many other places like hospitals, homes and death beds.
The same declarations are also found and made in the Preamble to The Constitution of The United Methodist Church. “The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redeemed and redeeming fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church seeks to provide for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.” This then connects the nature of the Church to the primary task of the church which will be dealt with in this essay later on.
Heidinger J (:125) brings about an important aspect about the nature of the church. He draws our attention to the Apostles’creed. He argues that being the creature of God’s own Word and Spirit, the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The Church is one because God is the one creator and redeemer (Jn 17:11, Eph 4:1-6). The Church is holy because God is the holy one (Is 6:3; Lev 11:44-45). The Church is catholic because God is the fullness of life “who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), regardless of their sex, race or social position”. It is apostolic because the Word of God, sent by the Father, creates and sustains the Church. This word of God is made known to us through the Gospel primarily and normatively borne witness to by the apostles (Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14), making the communion of the faithful a community that lives in, and is responsible for, the succession of the apostolic truth expressed in faith and life throughout the ages.
According to ¶ 120 of The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. This is the mission of the church, to make disciples. This means that the church functions to help people to “accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God” as said by Langford T. A. (:133). All this is done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God working in and through the members of the local church. Ultimately, the church is seeking to transform the world by making disciples and spreading holiness. This is not meant to be done alone, and the local church provides the fellowship that is necessary for growth, the edification that is necessary for one to live a life as a disciple of Christ, and the base from which Christians move out into the world
According to The United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶ 121, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world.” This points to how the mission is to be fulfilled and it also picks he foundation or the source of the mission which is the bible itself in the gospel of St Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mtt 28:19-20)”
However, The United Methodist Book of Discipline proceeds to show that making disciples entails becoming and being disciples of Jesus Christ, with all the promises, provisions, expectations and hopes that discipleship entails. In Paragraph ¶ 122 The process for carrying out the mission is that we make disciples as we proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ; Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ; nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;
Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ. This then makes it easier to understand the mission required of the Church.
According to the Book of Discipline 104, Article V, the church does three things, “Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit the church seeks to provide for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.” First, the church provides for the maintenance of worship. It creates a space where the “real” world breaks into our broken, ordinary world. It points toward God with unusual rituals that do not make any sense: a piece of bread to little to nourish our bodies, a cup of juice, a few drops of water, a prayer, a place to give to people that have less, a place we call a stranger “sister” or “brother.” Worship is the place the church tells the broken world that it has not won. Worship is also the place where believers find nourishment, along with the ordinary means of grace, spiritual disciplines, and “other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing.”
Secondly, the church edifies believers. Sanctifying grace draws us toward the gift of Christian perfection and toward continued growth; throughout our lives, we learn how to love and be loved. The church, working with the Holy Spirit, is called to “encourage people to grow in the knowledge and love of God through the personal and corporate disciplines of the Christian life.” The church seeks to provide a place for people to grow in the love of Christ and neighbour.
The Church then, with the help of Holy Spirit seeks to redeem the world. The mission of The United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The edification of believers and personal salvation “always involves this Christian mission and service to the world”, according to Frank T. E. (:116). The church feeds people so they can feed others wherever they go. The church provides a place to see that God’s reality is surprising through worship; it grows people in love, by feeding the bodies, souls, and minds of all it comes in contact with; and it shows up in the darkness, wherever the darkness appears.
Worship keeps the church focused on God and provides an opportunity for the people of God to join in praise to God for all that God has done. It is also the place where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered, two things that every Christian needs to experience. Worship is the starting point for all that the church does. Discipleship involves helping people to “live lives worthy of the calling” they have received (Phil. 4:1). This involves growing in knowledge of God and applying that knowledge to their lives. The church is the place where they receive instruction, accountability, and are challenged to seek God in every area of the life. Evangelism involves reaching out to others to welcome them into the life of faith, then bringing them into the community through baptism so that they can begin the process of discipleship. Evangelism is also about taking the love of Christ to the world. It is broader than individual salvation, as it also includes a social concern that people experience redemption from oppression and social injustices such as poverty, racism, and prejudice.
All three of these tasks are constantly being done within the local church. As the church worships, they are growing together and they are being nurtured so that they can be sent into the world to carry the love of Christ. As the church disciples, people are encouraged to draw closer to God through worship and to carry their understanding of God into the world, spreading the love of Christ and calling others to join them on the journey of faith. Evangelism calls people into the life of the church, experiencing God in worship and growing through discipleship. In performing these tasks, the local church serves as a representative of the church universal, who is the body of Christ here on earth (Romans 12:5).
In conclusion, the Church is the global Body of Christ formed for the salvation of the world. The United Methodist Book of Discipline reminds us of the nature of the local church as a place of disciple-making, a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ, the redemptive fellowship where the Word of God is proclaimed, and the place where the sacraments are administered to the people of God. In nature the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Its mission is to make disciples and nurture them for the transformation of the world and its primary task is the maintenance of worship, edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.