The Methodist Church believes and teaches that the Church is the company of all those who believe in the Lordship of Christ, who are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and who live in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is One, despite its divisions, Holy, despite its imperfections, Catholic (that is, Universal), embracing all human beings everywhere, despite its local character, and Apostolic, being a sent community and having been founded on the teaching and testimony of the Apostles. The Church is Christ’s Church. It is the Body of Christ, and He is its Head. From Him comes the church’s mission, power and authority.
The Church exists to fulfil the whole ministry of Christ. He has commanded the Church to “make disciples of all nations”. The mission of the Church is fulfilled as the Church worships, witnesses, fellowships, cares and serves. The local church, through its membership and the larger community, exercises the ministry of Christ where it is, and, at the same time, shares in the wider ministry of the Church in the world.
As the Body of Christ, the Church lives in the world, addressing it with the Gospel and continuing Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. As it does so, it participates in Christ’s suffering, and also in his power and victory. Thus, the Church constitutes a new humanity, and is the nucleus of a redeemed and transformed universe. The Church therefore seeks the evangelization and the renewal of the world. Its main task in the world is to bring people face to face with Christ so that they may acknowledge His Lordship.
“The Methodist Church is that communion of Christian believers which has grown out of the Societies born of the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth mid nineteenth centuries. It “claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ, It rejoices in the inheritance of the Apostolic Faith, and loyally accepts the fundamental principles of the historic Creeds of the Protestant Reformation. It ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread Scriptural holiness through the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith, and declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its Divinely appointed mission.”” (See Third Edition of the Constitution and Discipline of the MCCA, page 39.)
An examination of this statement, along with other statements, reveals the following four characteristics of the Methodist Church:
(i) It is a Christian Church – Its only true Head is Christ, and its membership is made up of persons who have committed themselves to Christ as His disciples. All its doctrines are based “upon the Divine revelation recorded in Holy Scriptures”, and whatever the Methodist Church proclaims and teaches as necessary for salvation is found in the Scriptures.
(ii) It is a catholic church – “Catholic” here refers to the universality of the Church. We are a part of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, participating in His mission to the world. As Jesus came to save the world, so Methodists are sent into the world with His Gospel of Redemption. This was most aptly put by John Wesley when he said, “The World is my Parish.” The word “Catholic” also refers to the inclusive nature of the Methodist Church. No difference is made on the basis of social status, race, class, gender or origin. Anyone can become a member of the Methodist Church. There is only one qualification for membership: the desire to be saved from sin through faith in Jesus Christ and to become His disciple. In our Church’s Constitution we read: “All persons who sincerely desire to be saved from their sins 6 through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who evidence the same in life and conduct and who seek to serve Christ in the life of the Church and the world by accepting the duties and privileges of confirmed membership having been baptised welcomed are confirmed in membership at their request….” (See Third Edition of the Constitution and Discipline of the MCCA, page 41.)
(ii) The word “Catholic” also means having a concern for the whole person and the whole of society. Methodists therefore avoid dividing people into body, mind and soul, and we avoid speaking of salvation only in “spiritualistic” terms. Salvation is for the total person and the total society. This means that the Methodist Church is concerned with the forgiveness of sins, but also with the food people eat; concerned about heaven and hell, but also with housing and health; concerned about eschatology, but also with education; concerned about justification by faith, but also with justice for all; concerned about the life of prayer, but also with the elimination of poverty. Whatever affects the lives of persons as individuals or as a community concerns Methodists, and calls us to witness to the Lordship of Christ.
The word “Catholic” also means having a concern for the whole person and the whole of society. Methodists therefore avoid dividing people into body, mind and soul, and we avoid speaking of salvation only in “spiritualistic” terms. Salvation is for the total person and the total society. This means that the Methodist Church is concerned with the forgiveness of sins, but also with the food people eat; concerned about heaven and hell, but also with housing and health; concerned about eschatology, but also with education; concerned about justification by faith, but also with justice for all; concerned about the life of prayer, but also with the elimination of poverty. Whatever affects the lives of persons as individuals or as a community concerns Methodists, and calls us to witness to the Lordship of Christ.
(iii) It is a Connexional Church. The term “Connexional” refers to the fact that the congregations, circuits and districts are interdependent. The stronger ones are therefore able to help the weaker ones so that the ministry of Christ can be more effectively performed. The essence of Connexionalism is the creative sharing and effective use of the resources of the Church in the interest of mission and evangelism. Related to this is the phenomenon of itinerancy. The essence of the Church is mission and evangelism, and itinerancy is only a strategy for effective ministry on the part of the Connexion.
The word “Connexional” highlights the form of Church Government adopted by Methodism. Each local church or congregation exercises its ministry and mission according to the needs of its context, but it is part of a Circuit, and carries out its work in co-operation with the other congregations in the Circuit. The Congregation is represented in the Congregational Council, which represents, locally, the Circuit Council, which is the decision-making body for the Circuit.
A number of Circuits are formed into a District and the District Conference is the decision-making body of the District. It meets annually. The supreme court of the MCCA is the Connexional Conference. The Connexional Conference is served by four officers – (The President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer of Connexional Funds), in addition to the Connexional Council and four commissions.
Unlike the congregational form of government which places the decision-making in the local congregation, or the Episcopal form of government which places the decision making in the hands of (the bishop or his/her 7 representative, the Connexional form of church government places the power of decision-making in the courts of the Church. The levels of decision making and the courts of the MCCA are:
• The Congregational Council and Congregational Pastoral Council,
• The Circuit Council, Circuit Pastoral Council and Preachers Meeting
• The District Conference,
• The Connexional Conference and Connexional Council.
(iv) It is an Evangelical Church – As Methodists, we always remember that Methodism was raised up by God through the human instruments of John Wesley and Charles Wesley “to spread Scriptural Holiness throughout the land by the proclamation of the Evangelical Faith”. The term “evangelical” does not refer to a particular style of preaching or type of Worship, but rather to the content and purpose of the preaching.
An evangelical church proclaims the Good News of the Gospel. The central concern of the truly evangelical church is Salvation from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the life of Christian holiness and discipleship. This has been our concern from the beginning, still is, and will always be. For this reason, the Methodist Church emphasises that the “desire to be saved from sins through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” is the basic requirement for membership. And having become a member, it is a basic expectation that members “engage in evangelism and other forms of Christian service, and to contribute to the funds of the church in proportion to their means” (Constitution and Discipline p. 41).
“Evangelical” also highlights the place given to the work of the Holy Spirit. Methodists recognize the central role the Holy Spirit plays in every aspect of the Church’s life; its ministry, mission, worship, fellowship and service, and in the life of each Christian. The Church is powerless without the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to Christ’s Church. The Christian community is not called to negotiate or to programme the Holy Spirit, but to receive the gift and become obedient to His lending.