Church Membership 2013
Thank you so much for attending this very concise course on church membership. There are three goals that I hope will be achieved over the next few weeks:
Firstly, that you, as a member of the church of Jesus Christ will have a fresh understanding of what it means to be a member of His church on earth in the year 2013, and that you will have a better understanding of what it means to a be a part of that part of our Lord’s church which calls itself Methodist.
Secondly, that you will have a fresh understanding of what it means to be baptized, in other words, the implications of your baptism (whenever it occurred) in your life now.
Thirdly, that as a baptized member of the church of Jesus Christ, you will have a Biblically informed and Holy Spirit guided response to some of the social issues facing us as we live in Alberton, Gauteng and in South Africa in the year 2013.
Throughout the course and in your preparation, please remember that we serve a God who speaks to us, and so be sensitive to what He might be speaking into your life at this time and pray for the will to go where He leads or calls you to.
I hope you enjoy this course. Visit the following Web pages for more information:
1. Alberton Methodist Church homepage – www.amc.org.za
2. Methodist Church of Southern Africa homepage – http://www.methodist.org.za/
Subjects looked at over this 3 week course include:
A Short History of the Christian Faith
The spread of the early church
The Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian in 313AD
The rise of Islam
The Reformation, The Counter-Reformation, The English Reformation
The Evangelical Revival
The spread of Methodism
The rise of Pentecostalism
Duties and Privileges of Church Membership
What Methodists Believe
What does my Baptism mean?
A Short History of the Christian Faith
· The spread of the early church. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the church in Jerusalem began to organize itself to take care of the new converts (Acts 2:42-47). They used the Temple for worship and met for fellowship and prayer in private homes. Jewish persecution broke out and Christians were forced to flee to other cities (Acts 9:1-2). They wasted no time in starting new congregations in these places, and so the Church began to spread. A loose form of church organization developed which we can trace quite clearly in the New Testament.
Then in obedience to Jesus the apostles and others also began to travel to new centre’s to preach the gospel (Mt 28:18-20), and soon new churches were started in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Greece, Italy, and as far as Spain. It also spread to Ethiopia (Acts 8:27), to Egypt, and across the whole of North Africa. Obviously only a small part of this work is recorded for us in Acts. Many others, whose names we do not know, also went out to spread the Good News. The Roman Empire had an excellent system of roads and shipping so that travel was relatively easy. There was also a commonly understood language and these factors greatly assisted the expansion of the Church.
· Persecution. In about 90AD the Emperor Domitian declared himself to be “divine” and ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to worship him as a god. Christians of course refused to do this and were persecuted most cruelly. Many thousands were imprisoned, killed in the arena, burnt or tortured. It became dangerous to be a Christian. They had to meet secretly. Yes the Church grew strong because people had to make very definite and courageous decisions about their faith. There were no half-hearted Christians. It called for total commitment.
· The Emperor Constantine became a Christian in 313AD. He made Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire and it came out into the open at last. However this actually had a negative effect on the Church. As it became more fashionable to be a Christian, people sometimes did so for the wrong reasons. The Church grew larger but it was no longer lean and strong. Constantine also moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul), the centre of the Eastern portion of the Empire. Tension developed between these two centres and eventually the Roman Empire in the West collapsed. The barbarian invaders from the north later accepted the Christian faith and the Pope, the bishop of Rome, later became the ruler of the Empire. The Holy Roman Empire in the West was for a time therefore governed by the Church.
· East-west split. In the first few centuries there were several schisms and divisions in the Church, mainly over doctrinal disputes. Arguments arose over such things as, exactly what nature Jesus had, whether He was human or divine, whether He was equal with the Father or less than the Father, etc.
Between the 6th and 9th centuries there was a growing division between the Eastern Churches, governed by Constantinople, and the Western Churches, governed by Rome. This led to the first major split in 1054AD, when the Eastern Orthodox Church, finally broke its ties with Rome.
· The rise of Islam. Another major event which affected the Church was the birth of Mohammed (570-623AD) in Mecca, in present day Saudi Arabia. He founded the Islamic religion, and it began to sweep through the Arab world. Armed with the doctrine of “holy war” their advancing armies wiped out the Christian Church in Palestine, the Middle East and Egypt. They swept across North Africa (approx 650AD) and Spain (approx 711AD). In the North they conquered Turkey (Asia Minor), Constantinople (717AD) and advanced into Europe as far as Hungary. These wars destroyed seven centuries of Christian work in a vast area, and what was left of the Church was concentrated mainly in Europe, Italy and Greece. In the 12th century some of the nations in Christian Europe sent armies of “Crusaders” to try and drive the Mohammedans out of Palestine. They never totally succeeded.
· The Reformation. By the early 16th century the Roman Catholic Church and the Sate were heavily intertwined. Money raised in the Church was being used to support kings and fight wars. A system of ‘indulgences’ was introduced whereby people could pay to have their sins forgiven, and have prayers said for the dead. Corruption and ignorance was rife. In Germany Martin Luther (148-1546) and many other religious leaders rebelled against the malpractices of the Catholic Church. They called for a return to the basic truths of the Christian faith. They taught that salvation is by faith alone, and that the Bible is the supreme guide in all matters related to the Church and theology. They also stressed the ‘priesthood of all believers’ and wanted the Bible to be made available to the common people in their own language. At that time it was written only in Latin and could only be read by a priest.
The Protestant Reformation led to the formation of at least three major Church groups, each with slightly different emphases in their teaching: a) The Lutherans under Martin Luther b) The Calvinists under John Calvin in Geneva who stressed the doctrine of election (predestination) c) The Anabaptists, who refused to allow their children to be baptized and revived the practice of adult, or Believers Baptism.
· The Counter-Reformation. Later in the 16th century the Catholic Church made a sincere attempt to reform itself. Under the leadership of primarily the Jesuits they set about renewing the clergy in order to renew the Church. Many important changes were made.
· The English Reformation was slightly different in character. In 1534 Henry V111 broke all ties with Rome and declared itself to be head of the Church of England. This was partly because the Catholic Church had refused to allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The Reformation of England accepted most of the theology of the European reformers but retained many of the outward forms of worship and organization of the Catholic Church. It therefore took a middle road between Luther and Rome.
· The Evangelical Revival, in which the Methodist Church was born, took place in the 1700’s. England was at the time going through the ‘Industrial Revolution’. Many country and small-town people were flocking to the cities and had to live in very inadequate slum conditions. The vast majority were poor and social problems were rife. The Church of England was by and large fast asleep, and had lost touch with the common people. In the midst of this ‘dead’ Church some began to rediscover the Reformation teaching of salvation by faith alone, and experienced the power of the risen Christ in their lives. John Wesley (1703-1791), an Anglican priest, had a deep conversion experience in 1738 and began to preach ‘salvation by faith.’ Many responded and found real life-changing faith.
The Anglican Church however rejected this movement, and preachers of the ‘new doctrine’ were soon banned from preaching in most Anglican churches. Wesley and his workers therefore turned to preaching in the open-air, to miners and to the common people.
Many thousands came to know Jesus Christ as Saviour. These new Christians were organized in ‘Societies’ and class-meetings to build them up in their faith. Wesley himself, however, always saw Methodism as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church and tried to avoid a split. But after he died the inevitable happened and Methodism became a separate Church.
· The spread of Methodism. It soon spread to the new colonies in America where it grew dramatically under the leadership of Rev. Francis Asbury. It became the Church of the frontier, with Methodist preachers moving in the interior alongside the pioneers. As a result the numbers grew phenomenally; to 43 00 in 1791, 9 million in 1927, and over 14 million today, the largest denomination in America. It also spread to other lands. Sometimes missionaries were deliberately sent out, but more often than not it took root with the Protestant denomination in the world with over 50 million Methodists in more than 90 countries.
· The rise of Pentecostalism. Early this century a number of Christians and Christian groups began to stress the importance of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and to experience in their personal lives the power and the gifts of the Spirit. This led to a great deal of ferment in the main-line denominations in the Church, and eventually to the establishment of several break-away Pentecostal Churches. At first there was much antagonism, but today there is a growing understanding of the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Christian Church. This new emphasis on the Spirit has been the source of great renewal in all the Churches.
Duties and Privileges of Church Membership
Aim of the lesson:
To look at what is involved in being full and responsible members of the Church.
2 Corinthians 9:6-12, Colossians 3:5-17, Hebrews 10:19-25, 13:1-7, 1 Peter 4:7-11
· Conditions of membership. Any club or organization has conditions of membership and duties which it lays down for its members. The Methodist Church is no different. It lays down three simple requirements for membership:
Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour
A sincere desire to be saved from sin
Involvement in the fellowship of the Church
· These three conditions are stated in our ‘Laws and Disciplines’ as follows:
‘Membership is based upon a personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought about by His Spirit… and upon a sharing of such personal gifts of grace with others seeking or enjoying a similar experience.
All persons are welcomed into membership who sincerely desire to be saved from their sins through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and show the same in life and conduct, and who seek to have fellowship with Christ himself and His people by taking up the duties and privileges of the Methodist Church.
As membership in the Church involves fellowship it is the duty of all members in the Church to seek to cultivate this in every possible way.’
· Duties of Church membership. The following eight things should be regarded as minimum goals for members of the Church:
1. To follow the example of Christ in home and daily life.
2. To bear personal witness to Jesus Christ.
3. To be regular in private prayer each day.
4. To read the Bible each day and seek to be obedient to God’s Word.
5. To attend worship every Sunday.
6. To receive Holy Communion regularly.
7. To give meaningful financial support to the work of the Church, locally and for the wider mission field.
8. To be involved in serving others in the Church and community.
As we grow in our faith and walk with the Lord we will understand these duties at a deeper and clearer level. We may add others to the list, but these will always remain a basic minimum for us.
Questions for discussion
1. Read through all the study passages carefully. What do they teach us about the conditions of membership in the early Church? Make a list.
2. What do you think of the three basic conditions of membership in the Methodist Church? Are they reasonable? Should there be others?
3. Go through the eight suggested duties one by one. What does each one mean? Are they too strict, not strict enough, or about right?
4. What should the Church do about people who want to be members, but don’t want to accept any of the responsibilities of membership?
5. As a group, make a list of some ways in which you could become more involved in the activities of your local church.
What Methodists Believe
Aim of the lesson:
To understand the essential teaching of the Methodist Church
Ephesians 2:1-10; Matthew 5:43-48
· The Methodist Church does not have a special creed which is different from other major Christian Churches. Like them we accept the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed as a basic expression of faith. We do however lay special stress on four important aspects of Christian teaching.
· Salvation is by faith alone. We are not saved by our ‘good works’ but by the free, underserved grace of God. We cannot earn it, we can only receive it by accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Once we have truly experienced the gift of salvation, ‘good works’ will be seen in our lives as evidence of the new life we have received.
· Everyone needs it and no one is excluded. In contrast to some Churches which teach that only some people, those who have been pre-destined, will be saved (eg. Calvanism), Methodism has steadfastly taught that all may turn to God and find full salvation. All have sinned, and all need to be reconciled with God through Christ (Romans 3:22-23). It is not just ‘bad’ people, but even those who seem to live good lives need the ‘rebirth’ experience of a living faith in Jesus and an acknowledgement of their sinfulness and separation from God.
· Assurance. Christians can know they are saved. God does not leave us in a state of doubt or fear regarding the reality of our salvation. The deep inner witness of the Holy Spirit, who has interior access to our lives ‘bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Romans 8:16). We can say with assurance, ‘I know I am saved’ (2 Tim 1:12).
· Christian Perfection. God wants us to be perfect in our spiritual life and our moral life and to rid ourselves of all sinfulness (Mt 5:48). John Wesley once described Christian Perfection as ‘perfect love’ toward God and our fellow person. This must be the aim of every disciple of Christ. This teaching, more than any other, distinguishes the Methodist Church and gives it a special message and mission among the other Christian denominations. Not only forgiveness but goodness, good moral behavior, if the gift and goal of God through Jesus Christ.
· The four all’s. Our teaching is often summarized in the ‘four all’s’:
1. All people need to be saved – because we all have sinned.
2. All people can be saved – no one is excluded.
3. All people can know that they are saved - the doctrine of assurance.
4. All people can be saved to the uttermost – our goal is perfection.
· Balance. In true Methodist tradition, theory and practice have always gone together. ‘There is no holiness but social holiness’ declared Wesley. Holiness exists not in a vacuum but in right relationships. Methodism has always upheld the need for a balance between deep spirituality on one hand and involvement in the real issues of society and the needs of people on the other. One without the other is a denial of the truth.
Questions for discussion:
1. Can a person be saved by their own good works? (Eph 2:8-9)
2. What is the meaning of Ephesians 2:10?
3. Is it arrogant to claim that we know we are saved? On what can we base that claim?
4. What does Christian Perfection mean for us in practical terms in our own personal lives and in our relationships with others?
For personal reflection:
1. What is the state of my faith right now?
2. Do I have assurance of my salvation?
3. What needs to change in my life right now on my journey towards Christian Perfection?
Write down some prayer thoughts that flow from your reflections.
What does my Baptism mean?
Aim of the lesson:
To understand the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism
Romans 6:1-14; Acts 19:1-6
· The Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion are ‘outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace’. God’s grace of course not limited to the moment of administration of the sacrament. It is at work throughout our lives, before we come to faith (pre-venient grace), in our conversation (justifying grace) and as we go on to live out the Christian life (sanctifying grace).
· Baptism marks our point of entry into the Christian community. It is administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by immersing the person fully or partially in water, or by sprinkling. It signifies at least four things for us:
1. Forgiveness and washing away of our sin (1 Pet 3:21; 1 Cor 6:11)
2. The death of our old self and our commitment to our new way of life in Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27)
3. Our incorporation into the Church, the Body of Christ, the Covenant of community of God (1 Cor 12:13)
4. That the Holy Spirit has been given and has begun His work of renewal and sanctification in us (Acts 19:5-6; Rom 8:2,9-11)
· Infant Baptism. The Methodist Church baptizes the children of Christian parents because we believe it is in harmony with scripture that children should have a place in the Christian community (Acts 2:39; 16:33; Mk 10:14; 1 Cor 7:14). This practice goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Here the sign of God’s grace is given before the person has come to personal faith, and the parents make a solemn undertaking to do everything in their power to see that their child will one day come to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. When this happens, the individual concerned confirms what was done those years ago and accepts responsibility for his/her own ongoing Christian life. This is signified in the Confirmation service.
· Believer’s Baptism is for those who have found faith and have not been baptized before. They enter at once into the fellowship and responsibilities of membership of the Church.
· Believer’s versus Infant Baptism? There should be no conflict here. Our Church practices both. In the main we have a strong infant baptism tradition, but we also freely baptize adults who have come to faith and have not been baptized before. We do not allow re-baptism because we believe baptism is an unrepeatable act (Eph 4:5). To re-baptize would also imply that the first baptism was invalid. We can be baptized only once. We do not get re-baptized every time we sin or backslide and return to faith. In both Believer’s and Infant Baptism the stress is on what God has done for the believer rather than on our response and our faith.
Questions for discussion:
1. What do our study passages teach us about the meaning of Baptism, either directly or indirectly? Examine them carefully. Share your thoughts as a group.
2. In the Acts passage, why do you think the Baptism of John the Baptist was not enough? What more does Christian Baptism offer?
3. Some parents want their children baptized for the wrong reasons. What are some of these wrong reasons? What are the right reasons?
4. What responsibilities and obligations do Christian parents undertake when they have children baptized?