Church for the 21st Century:
Grasping onto the Essentials allows for Confident Contextualization
FMCIC Ecclesiology Commission
May 15-16, 2006, Toronto, Ontario
A Special Study Commission on Ecclesiology was established by the Board of Administration to look at alternative church planting movements and structures to support church development.
The Commission members re-affirmed commitment to the basic parameters of Free Methodist ecclesiology as expressed in our Articles of Religion which form part of the Constitution of The Free Methodist Church internationally.
Article XIV. 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. (Matt 16:15-18; 18:17; Acts 2:41-47; 9:31; 12:5; 14:23-26; 15:22; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 11:23; 12:28; 16:1; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:9-10; 5:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:14-15)
The Commission members re-affirmed commitment to the Core Value of The Free Methodist Church in Canada that addresses ecclesiology.
• The Christian community is the foundation for the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth.
• The Christian community is the primary context for developing believers.
• The Christian community is to minister in Jesus’ name to all people.
• The Christian community is to worship and serve God.
The Commission members re-affirmed commitment to the statement on The Biblical Concept of the Church as found in The Manual of The Free Methodist Church in Canada (Introduction, p. iii)
Biblical Concept of the Church
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 word pictures relating to the church appear in the New Testament.
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 Christ-likeness in humans 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 people. This description of our mission is both individual and social. It points to a social relationship of people to God and to each other described in Scripture as “the kingdom of God.”
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. Since the first century the church has experienced many wonderful achievements. Many more are yet to 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 humans freedom in creation.
In relation to the mandate given to the Commission by General Conference and the Board of Administration, the members affirmed the following statements that address particularly the missional contextualization of church forms and structures that enable ongoing engagement with our changing cultures.
We affirm that:
1. The church is the Body of Christ, the community of the Spirit, with Jesus Christ alone as source and head.
2. The church lives and grows on earth in a variety of social-structural forms which are largely the product of tradition, history, culture, and human invention.
3. The church is to live functionally as the Body of Christ within whatever forms it finds itself, and as much as possible adapt those forms so that they are functional for the church’s fidelity and mission in the world.
4. The Spirit and the Word provide all the essential resources for the church’s fidelity to Jesus Christ and its effective, transformative mission in the world.
5. The primary mission of the church is to love Jesus Christ and to be his Body in the world, continuing the work of the kingdom of God which he began.
6. As a community reflecting the life of the Holy Trinity, the church is called to be a community of love, mutual self-giving, and outreaching mission, worshipping God and constantly seeking to draw others to Jesus and his Body.
7. Since the primary visible expression of Jesus Christ in each place is the local Body of Christ, the church is called to continually reproduce itself through giving birth to new local churches (church planting). The primary advancement of the kingdom of God in the world is through the reproduction, multiplication, and organic networking of Christian communities that genuinely live and witness to the life of the kingdom; that are empowered by the Holy Spirit and look like Jesus Christ-transforming the world as a genuine Christian counterculture, rebuilding society’s microstructures and witnessing prophetically and redemptively to and within its macrostructures.
8. The church also exists as a broader community of regional, national and global networks. These practical connections with the larger church are both necessary and normative.
9. Solidarity with all humanity and the physical creation is a concern of Christian community and of gospel mission. As Christians we understand through the gospel the true nature of the relationship that exists between God, the whole human family, and the physical-social-spiritual environment. Through Jesus Christ we know the secret, the “mystery” of the plan of God for his whole creation.
In discussing how we relate to these affirmations, commission members suggested several images that are helpful.
We compared them to a high-tension line supported at both the beginning and the end by Jesus Christ. The high-tension line represents the foundational truths expressed in these statements. Whatever forms of Christian community (church) develop in response to our social/cultural contexts, we need to grasp onto these foundational truths about the nature and purpose of the church. To let go of these truths in the name of being more relevant would be detrimental to our health and well-being as a Christian community. But the wire provides a lot of space for different forms to find their place to grasp on. Tugs and pulls on the wire cause bouncing, jostling and re-adjustment to all as they continue to grasp the foundations.
We compared them to a table surrounded by chairs that are open and welcome to all who are prepared to sit at the table in fellowship. The table represents the foundational truths expressed in these statements. Differing forms of Christian community are welcome to join the common table. Dialogue, interaction and adjustment happen with all who are sitting at the table.
The commission affirmed that these basic statements are principled enough to allow for various practices and forms to emerge that represent faithful connection with biblical intentions and likewise authentic engagement with diverse segments of our distorted and fragmented societies.
The participants who affirmed the preceding statements are:
Bishop Keith Elford, Rev. Jared Siebert, Rev. Dan Sheffield, Rev. Alan Retzman, Rev. Dr. Howard Olver, Dr. Rad Zdero, Rev. Greg Pulham, Rev. Joseph Moreau, Mr.Jordon Cooper, Rev. Dan Jansen, Rev. David McLauren, Rev. John Vlainic, Rev. Nathan Umazekabiri, Mr. Rob Clements, Ms. Jennifer Anderson, Rev. Dr. Mary-Elsie Wolfe, Rev. Jason Johnston, Rev. Dennis Camplin, Rev. Bob Lay, Rev. Dr. Howard Snyder.