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.).
Four Characteristics of the Methodist Church:
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.
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.
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:
- The Congregational Council and Congregational Pastoral Council
- The Circuit Council and Circuit Pastoral Council
- The District Conference
- The Connexional Conference in Ministerial Session and Representative Session, the Connexional Council, the Judicial Council, the Ministerial Council.
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.