What is the Church?

The church is created by God.  It is the people of God.  Christ Jesus is its Lord and Head. The Holy Spirit is its life and power.  It is both divine and human, heavenly and earthly, ideal and imperfect. It is an organism, not an unchanging institution.  It exists to fulfill the purposes of God in Christ.  It redemptively ministers to persons.

Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it that it should be holy and without blemish. The church is a fellowship of the redeemed and the redeeming, preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s instruction. The Free Methodist Church purposes to be representative of what the church of Jesus Christ should be on earth. It therefore requires specific commitment regarding the faith and life of its members. In its requirements it seeks to honor Christ and obey the written Word of God.

It is clear from Scripture that the church is of God and for people.  It is His creation.  Christ is its head.  The church is the people of God chosen for a purposeful partnership in accomplishing the will of God on earth.  More than eighty metaphors, word pictures, relating to the church appear in the New Testament.  Each portrays a more profound reality than does the picture it brings to mind.  The pictures together make clear the nature and mission of the church. Paul speaks of the church as “body,” “building,” and “bride.”  The most inclusive and perhaps the most significant metaphor is “body of Christ.” The redeemed are spoken of as “members of the body.”

What is the profound truth that the many word pictures convey? God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – takes a redeemed people into partnership to share in His activities and to realize His purposes.  The church is the organic, corporate instrument God has chosen to remake people and society. It has a mission of holy love.  The church exists to produce Christlikeness in all people and their institutions.  Thus our mission may be described as participation with God in bringing holiness and love to bear upon the sins, hurts, and needs of all people.  This description of our mission is both individual and social.  It points to a social relationship of all people to God and to each other described in Scripture as “the kingdom of God.”

The metaphors of the New Testament are made emphatic by the greatest portrait of all – the Incarnation, God made flesh.  The church, enlightened by the Incarnation, continues the teaching and the ministry of its Lord on earth.

When the church is acting under the headship of its Lord and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it continues the story begun in the book of Acts.  Many are its wonderful achievements since the first century, and many more may yet be realized in the unfolding drama of the acts of the Holy Spirit through redeemed people.

The New Testament reminds us that the church visible is not the church ideal.  Because the church is a divine-human partnership, sharing not only in the holy love of its founder but in the blemishes of its humanity, it is ever in need of renewal.  God takes the same risk with the church in redemption as He did when He granted people freedom in creation.  Just as God, the Holy Spirit, used the hands of the Apostle Paul in “special miracles” so He can use His church today. The results will be the same – the Word of the Lord will grow mightily and will prevail (Acts 19:11 and 20).

From the Free Methodist Book of Discipline, 2011.