A SHORT STATEMENT ABOUT THE METHODIST CHURCH AND ITS DOCTRINES
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 evangelisation 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. On this point, that the Church is the Body of Christ in the world, Robert Paul wrote:
Christ's body reveals to us what the Church is intended to be. That which our Lord's human frame was to Him in the world - the obedient and visible vehicle of His Spirit, the living embodiment of His redemptive service. This is what the Church is to be. (Robert Paul, Ministry, Eerdmans, p. 97.)
The "Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church", defines the Church in this way:
The Church is the company 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. (p. 19)
Late in his life, on September 28, 1785, John Wesley preached a sermon entitled, "Of the Church". The text he used is Ephesians 4: 1-6. Having explained the key terms in the text as constitutive of the character of members of the Church, he concluded:
Here, then, is a clear unexceptionable answer to the question, "What is the Church?". The catholic or universal Church is, all the persons in the universe whom God hath so called out of the world as to entitle them to the preceding character; as to be "one body", united by "one Spirit"; having "one faith, one hope, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all."
Here is a working definition of the Methodist Church:
The Methodist Church is that communion of Christian believers which has grown out of the Societies born of the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth and 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 and 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 constitution of MCCA.).
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 Scripture.
(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 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 membership are welcomed and confirmed in membership at their request…
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. In the "Short Guide to Church Membership" it is stated that every member is expected to belong to at least one "non-church" organization, which is working to alleviate human need.
(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 "Connexion" 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 serviced by four officers- (The President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer), 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 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:
a). The Congregational Council and Congregational Pastoral Council;
b). The Circuit Council and Circuit Pastoral Council;
c). The District Conference;
d). The Connexional Conference in Ministerial Session and Representative Session, the Connexional Council, the Judicial Council, the Ministerial 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 emphasizes 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 P. 31)
"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 leading. In that sense, an evangelical church is also a charismatic church, that is, a church which owes its origin to the work of the Holy Spirit, and is guided and energized by that same Spirit. The alternative to being evangelical is to be fundamentalist on the one hand, emphasizing emotionalism and ritual, or traditionalist on the other emphasizing institutionalism and tradition. Methodism avoids both of these extremes by remaining evangelical and by maintaining the right balance between the spiritual and the material, the personal and the social, the head and the heart; or as some would say, the mind and the Spirit.
The Doctrines which the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas holds and teaches are "The Doctrines of the Evangelical Faith which Methodism has held from the beginning". These doctrines are based on the Divine revelation recorded in the Holy Scriptures, which the Methodist Church acknowledges as the supreme rule of faith and practice. They are expounded in "Wesley's Notes on the New Testament and in the first four volumes of his sermons".
The notes and sermons are intended to "set up standards of preaching and belief" in order to secure loyalty to the fundamental truths of the Gospel of Redemption and to ensure the continuing witness of the Church to the realities of the Christian experience of salvation. While the doctrines themselves are "unalterable, whether by Conference or otherwise", the Connexional Conference is the final authority within the Church on all questions concerning the interpretation of its doctrines (Constitution p. 30).
Methodist preachers, both ministerial and lay are committed to the evangelical doctrines as contained in Wesley's Notes on the New Testament and in the first four volumes of his sermons, and it is their solemn duty to preach these doctrines and nothing contrary to them. John Wesley helps us to understand what a doctrine is: A Theological doctrine is a body of teaching on a particular subject, which is grounded in the Holy Scriptures.
The evangelical doctrines which are preached include the following:
- The Holy Trinity
- The Divine creation of the world
- The universality of sin and its consequences
- The Incarnation and Atonement of Christ
- The universality and completeness of Salvation in Christ
- The witness and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Believer and the Church Conversion and the New Birth
- Christian Justification and the Assurance of Salvation
- The doctrine of Sanctification or Perfect Love
- The Church as the Body of Christ
- The Sacraments as Means of Grace
- The Resurrection, Judgment and the After Life
- The Kingdom of God
In all its teachings, the Methodist Church emphasises that all Christian doctrines must be based on the Holy Scriptures. However, we place more emphasis on true Christian living and practice-" practical divinity" as some scholars call it, or "true religion" as Wesley himself preferred to call it. True religion is the religion of love, "The love of God and of all of mankind", which produces both faith and good works in the believer.
It begins with repentance and regeneration, is motivated by the Holy Spirit and is manifested in a life of sanctification and service.
The Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments:
(1) Baptism and (2) The Lord's Supper, also called Holy Communion. We accept these "as of Divine appointment and perpetual obligation", and we urge that it is the duty and privilege of all members of the Methodist Church to avail themselves of them. In his "Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church", John Wesley wrote, in "Article XVI"
Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of the Christian's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace and God's good-will toward us, by which He doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him. There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ…. Baptisms and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called sacraments…. Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel...because they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God. The Sacraments were...ordained that we should duly use them…
1) The Sacrament of Baptism, done by affusion or emersion is administered both to those who are not able to answer for themselves (infants) and to those who can (adults). It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into a covenant with God. It is not the new birth, but a sign of regeneration and a mark of Christian discipleship.
On the meaning and benefits of Baptism Wesley wrote:
Baptism is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God. It was instituted by Christ, who alone has power to institute a proper sacrament, a sign, seal, pledge and means of grace, perpetually obligatory on all Christians.
The matter of this sacrament is water; which as it has a natural power of cleansing, is more fit for this symbolic use. Baptism is performed by washing, dipping, or sprinkling the person in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
By Baptism we are admitted into the Church, and consequently made members of Christ, its Head.
As the Jews were admitted into the Church by circumcision, so are the Christians by Baptism.
By baptism, we who were "by nature children of wrath", are made the children of God...being grafted into the body of Christ's Church, we are made the children of God by adoption and grace". (Treatise on Baptism).
Baptism is not the new birth: They are not one and the same thing...and they do not constantly go together. (Sermon on "The New Birth").
On the whole, therefore, it is not only lawful and innocent, but meet, right and our bounden duty, in conformity to the uninterrupted practice of the whole Church of Christ from the earliest ages to consecrate our children to God by baptism, as the Jewish Church was commanded to do by circumcision. (Treatise on Baptism).
2) The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper: For Methodists, the Lord's Supper is a representation of our redemption, a memorial of the sufferings and death of Christ, and with one another." It is both a converting and confirming ordinance, administered in both kinds (that is, bread and wine) to all who sincerely desire to be saved from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ and who earnestly week to become His faithful disciples. In his Journal for Saturday 28, June 1740, John Wesley wrote:
I showed at large
(1) that the Lord's Supper was ordained by God as a means of conveying to men (and women) either preventing or justifying or sanctifying grace, according to their several necessities.
(2) that the persons for whom it was ordained are all those who know and feel that they want the grace of God, either to restrain them from sin, or to show their sins forgiven, or to renew their souls in the image of God.
(3) that in as much as we come to His table… to receive whatsoever He sees best for us, there is no previous preparation indispensably necessary, but a desire to receive whatsoever He pleases to give. And
(4) that no fitness is required at the time of receiving, but a sense of our state of our utter sinfulness and helplessness; everyone who knows he (or she) is fit for hell being just fit to come to Christ…
Methodists do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation since neither view is scripturally based.
We believe that those who rightly, worthily, and faithfully eat the bread and drink the wine do partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual manner. This view, sometimes called "spiritual presence", emphasises the enabling presence and power of Christ, which is available to the faithful communicant. Thus, it becomes a means of God's grace.
The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins and enables us to leave them...This is the food of our souls.
This gives strength to perform our duty and leads us to perfection. If therefore, we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord's Supper. (Sermon: "The Duty of Constant Communion").
Every Minister of MCCA is expected to be thoroughly grounded in the Scripture, and to have a firm grasp of the doctrines of the Christian faith in general and of Methodism in particular. This is essential. For Wesley, salvation is the end result of all that Methodists do, and he gave us this summary:
Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three, - that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these we account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next, the door, the third religion itself".