The United Methodist Church has several Orders of Worship for Baptisms which recommend outlines of how baptisms can be conducted and administered. One of them, The Baptismal Covenant III of The Book of Worship (1992), contains the following to be spoken to the congregation as a “Introduction to the Service:”
The Church is of God,
and will be preserved to the end of time,
for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God’s Word and Sacraments,
the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline,
the edification of believers,
and the conversion of the world.
All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.
This proclamation identifies why the Church is so vital to Christianity. First, it is of God. It was created by God for God’s purposes, namely to fulfill God’s will for God’s people on Earth. Therefore, it will be preserved until the end of time, in some way, shape, or form. The Church will continue to exist, whether humanity desires it to or not, because God wills it to be. Secondly, the Church has a role, a job to fulfill. The Church is the proper environment for our worship, where we hear God’s Word, both scripture and sermon, and where we receive the sacraments of baptism and communion. The Church, not as a building, but as an institution, is the seat of authority and responsible to God’s people for providing these things. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is how we maintain our fellowship with other believers and where we learn to be disciplined disciples. The Church teaches us, shows us how to live authentically and how to bear fruit. It instructs us on Christ’s teachings and teaches us how to lives so that our sinfulness does not control us. The Church, in one of its founding purposes, is to convert the world. We do this in many different ways, but it emphasizes that conversion is vital and desired for this world, according to God.
I left something out. The Church is responsible for the edification of believers. What does that really mean? To edify means to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually. It also means to build up, or uplift. The Church is charged with teaching and using its teachings to uplift us, make us better people, better disciples. It’s not just to make us feel good about ourselves, but we can do that too. I feel better when I’m involved in missions that make a real difference. When I am in hands on ministry that provide tangible support for those who are suffering, hopeless, and in need. I have used my hands to rebuild a house that was destroyed. I have served food to the hungry. I have visited the outcast and the lost. I have been with those whose sickness scares others away making them pariahs. Each time, I am left with a pervading sense that I have some something good, something of which Christ can be proud, and I have done it it his name. I also feel this when I am able to share insight and shed light on God for children, when I teach and people discover something wonderful about God. I feel uplifted when I offer a prayer that leaves people in tears because the words could come right from their own hearts. I feel so good when I can share God’s love for others in my ministry through visitation, fellowship, and spiritual gifts. All of these things I have done because the Church has enable me to do so. I have opportunities and has my gifts revealed because of the Church. It has been the place where I, not only discovered my abilities and responsibilities, but I used them. The Church taught me what to do, how to do it, and showed me the times and places that I could, and so I did.
Here, in the realm of the Church, we are guided and formed, as Methodists say, perfected in love. I would love to be able to this on my own, but I know that I cannot. Neither all my training nor ministry experience make me capable of walking away from the Church, United Methodist or not, and finishing what Christ began in me here. There are facets of the Church that I need, that I cannot replicate as an individual. I need corporate worship, and God deserves it. I need to hear the word of God and I cannot be vain enough to think that I can do that all on my own. Those sacred texts were produced in community, preserved in community, and shall always be renewed in community. I cannot receive the sacraments on my own; I need the Body of Christ and the authority of its clergy, handed down through the ages by Jesus Christ himself, to bless and administer them. Finally, the charge from Christ, to make disciples, the conversion of the world is not an individual endeavor. We all play our part, but we do it as the Body of Christ universal. We do it as a community of faith. We will change this world as God commands, in many ways we already have, but we will do it together.
(Image courtesy of compassiondave.wordpress.com)