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.”