Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Nkemba Ndjungu. Rev. Nkemba is a missionary with Global Ministries. He formerly served as the Mission Superintendent of the Cameroon Mission and currently serves in Belize. This post is part of a series on the UMC's new ecclesiology document, Sent in Love: A United Methodist Understanding of the Church, which will be presented to General Conference 2020 for review and adoption. It is the first of two posts by Rev. Nkemba.
I like the title of this document: Sent in Love. The church is God’s mission to the world. As members of the Universal Church in general, and the United Methodist Church in particular, we are God’s envoys. My comments will address the four Marks of The United Methodist Church, marks that we share with the Universal Church: 1) The United Methodist Church is called to be apostolic; 2) The United Methodist Church is called to be catholic; 3) The United Methodist Church is called to be holy; 4) The United Methodist Church is called to be one.
The United Methodist Church is called to be apostolic
This is our commitment for mission. The Church is God’s mission to the world. A Church without mission is dead. Three fourth of the works performed by our Lord Jesus Christ on earth were social. While helping people with their spiritual needs, the church must also care for their social needs. The Church does not exist for itself. It exists for others.
“The apostolic community exists not for its own sake, but as a means of grace for the whole world, an instrument of God’stransforming and redeeming love. Starting with the sent character of the church should guard against an inward-looking and self-protective stance for the church toward the world” (Sent in Love, p.18). As much as this statement is true, it is also right to say that the church should not embrace the practices of the world that compromise its faith. In his Priestly Prayer, the Lord Jesus made it clear that although the church is in the world, it is not of the world (John 17: 14-19). Making disciples of Jesus Christ is the ultimate mission of the Church.
To make disciples is the mission that Jesus entrusted to us: "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I prescribed you. And behold, I am with you every day until the end of the world" (Matthew 28: 19-20).
To be able to make disciples of Jesus Christ, churchgoers must be true disciples themselves. For more than twenty centuries, it has been proven that one must be a disciple of Jesus Christ to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When this condition is not fulfilled, we may make disciples, but they are the disciples of a man, a movement or a sect. This is what we see in many churches today. People follow a man, and when that man falls, they are scandalized, and they fall with him.
The second part of the Great Commission, which is also our duty, is training. We make disciples by speaking, proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. When someone becomes a disciple of Jesus it is not the end of the story. He must produce another disciple. A new disciple is someone who must be trained.
The disciple's duty is to make other disciples through training. This is what Jesus meant when he said: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus expects new disciples to be trained so that they do not remain babies in the faith, but that they grow up in faith. They must learn to do what Jesus commanded; and most importantly, they must make other disciples.
The only reason why we are in this world without being of it, is because our lives must reflect Jesus Christ; and we must be the image of our Master among the people that we are called to serve. To make disciples of all nations is to work with Jesus Christ who works in us, with us and through us, to meet, welcome, teach those whom he places on our way.
The United Methodist Church is called to be catholic
“When we as United Methodists affirm that the church of God is “catholic” we mean to affirm that God’s saving love has a universal intention, and wherever this saving intention draws people together in Christian fellowship, there the fullness of the church is present” (Sent in Love, p. 21). This is our commitment to universality, diversity and ecumenism. We are compelled to see beyond our walls in order to embrace people of different nations and faiths. To work with people of different cultures, traditions and denominations poses many challenges. That is why love must be our leading principle.
God is love, and all life revolves around love. Since God is love, the most important thing He wants us to learn on this earth is love; especially the love of the members of our spiritual family (See 1 Peter 2: 17b, Galatians 6:10). It is in loving that we resemble him the most. Love is the foundation of all the commandments he has given us. Paraphrasing the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul said, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, in this one, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Galatians 5:14). Many people who cause troubles in our societies are people who have not known the love of their parents. Love is the greatest testimony of our Christian life.
Therefore, because of the differences of views and opinions as we work with people different from us, we need to exercise “Universal Grace and a Catholic Spirit” (Sent in Love, p.21) by practicing two great principles: forgiveness and tolerance. Forgiveness is the act by which the Holy God decides not to hold human beings accountable for their sins. While the amnesty of men can be rigged, the forgiveness that God offers is sincere, true and irrevocable. That’s the kind of forgiveness believers must exercise.
Tolerance refers to the ability to accept what one disapproves of, that is, what one should normally refuse. In the moral sense, tolerance is the virtue of respecting what one would not accept spontaneously, for example when it goes against one's own convictions. It is also the virtue that leads to being vigilant both towards intolerance and towards the intolerable. Tolerance can allow unity to hold even in the midst of opposing views and beliefs.
The United Methodist Church is called to be holy
“Scriptural holiness has been understood to include the renewal of persons in the image of God, having the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and ultimately the perfect love of God and neighbor ruling in the heart” (Sent in Love, p.25). This is our call to spiritual and social transformation. God calls us all to be spiritually holy: “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11: 44). Because salvation has a double dimension, the “now and the yet to come,” as Karl Barth puts it, spiritual holiness will not be complete until we achieve social holiness. Through spiritual holiness, we are personally transformed to resemble the God who calls us; and through social holiness, we transform the world that we are called to serve. The means by which we transform the world is service, because we are “sent in love” to serve.
We have been saved and we are sent to serve. It is true that the service does not save, but it is the mirror of our spiritual life. Every Christian has been called to serve God. Vocation is not the privilege of pastors and lay preachers only. All ministries in a church have the same importance. Sometimes even the small hidden ministries make the biggest difference. Size does not matter really. For instance, the liver is smaller than the leg. If your leg is cut off, you can still live long; but if your liver stops, life stops immediately. The Church of God suffers because some people think that they are too “small” to do anything in the church.
Serving God by serving others is giving a part of ourselves; and we renew our own life when we give ourselves to others. We all know the difference between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The difference is that one receives water and gives it away, while the other receives without giving. The consequence is that there is life in the Sea of Galilee, but there is none in the Dead Sea.
At the end of our life, we will stand before God, and He will judge us according to the way we have served him by serving others on this earth. When our time arrives to stand before God, He will not ask us a question such as: How much money did you have in your bank account? Or what brand of car did you drive? No! Instead God will ask us this one fundamental question: How many people did you serve on my behalf? To live is to exercise a ministry.
Service is the path that leads to the true meaning of life. God wants to use each one of us to make a difference in this world. The most important thing is not the duration of our life, but its usefulness.