The Church of the Nazarene's eleventh Article of Faith deals with the denomination's view of the Church. Although it is Article XI, it was not adopted until 1989, over 80 years after the formation of the Church of the Nazarene! It states,
"We believe in the Church, the community that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, the covenant people of God made new in Christ, the Body of Christ called together by the Holy Spirit through the Word. God calls the Church to express its life in the unity and fellowship of the Spirit; in worship through the preaching of the Word, observance of the sacraments, and ministry in His name; by obedience to Christ, holy living, and mutual accountability. The mission of the Church in the world is to share in the redemptive and reconciling ministry of Christ in the power of the Spirit. The Church fulfills its mission by making disciples through evangelism, education, showing compassion, working for justice, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God. The Church is a historical reality that organizes itself in culturally conditioned forms, exists both as local congregations and as a universal body, and also sets apart persons called of God for specific ministries. God calls the Church to live under His rule in anticipation of the consummation at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."What is the Church?
This Article of Faith makes it clear that the Church universal is made up of believers. That is, you are not part of the Church universal simply because you attend a Church service on Sunday morning. You are not part of the Church universal simply because you have your name on a membership roll somewhere. You are a member of the Church universal by virtue of your profession of faith in Jesus Christ, having repented for your sins and turned to Christ in faith for salvation. If you have done that, then you are part of the Church universal. This does not make you a member of a particular church, but it does make you part of the Church universal.
Scripture makes clear that those who have repented for their sins and placed their trust in Christ are made new (2 Cor. 5:17). The old self has passed away. All members of the Church universal have been cleansed of their sins. The old person has been crucified with Christ, so it is no longer the individual who lives, but Christ who lives in the individual (Gal. 2:20).
The local churches serve as the place where groups of believers gather for worship, prayer, the reading and preaching of the Word, and the sacraments. Local churches should remember that they are not the Church by themselves. Rather, they are part of the Body of believers. Each individual is like a part of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27). We all have a different function in the Body of Christ, but we work together for the growth and edification of the whole body.
The Church is united in mutual faith in Christ. For this reason, anyone who professes Christ as their Savior and has repented of their sins is part of the Church universal. No one particular denomination makes up the Church universal. Despite our disagreements on peripheral matters, we remain united in our faith in Christ as God's only begotten Son, the God-Man, who died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day.
Marks of the Church
The Church is marked by the unity and fellowship of the Spirit. Having been brought into unity by the Spirit of God when we were born again, we remain united by His Spirit as we continue to mature as Christians. Our mutual faith in Jesus Christ encourages us and builds us up spiritually as we grow as a body of believers.
The Church is also marked by worship of God and the preaching of His Word. We believe that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and when Scripture is read, it is as though God Himself were speaking. We are marked by our obedience and submission to God's Word.
The Church is also marked by the observance of the Sacraments. The Church of the Nazarene recognizes two Sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist. In baptism, we proclaim our death with Christ, and our rising to new life in Him. In this, we are publicly identifying ourselves with Christ. In the Eucharist, we remember the Lord's sacrificial death until His return. Both baptism and the Eucharist are for believers only, since non-Christian participation in these events would make a mockery of their meaning.
The Church is also marked by ministry. We are marked by our roles in building the Church and proclaiming the message of the Gospel. As I have mentioned above, we are all part of a body. As such, we each have different gifts and different callings. Yet despite these differences, we are given these gifts and callings by the same Holy Spirit, who empowers us to carry out the ministry to which we are called.
We are marked by obedience to Christ. The world will not obey Him, because they are not His. However, when we accept Christ as Lord, we acknowledge His authority over us. When we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, we lay down the weapons that we used to rebel, and turn, by the grace of God, to serve Jesus Christ. Obedience is only possible by the grace of God. We cannot obey God on our own, nor can we acknowledge Christ as Lord without the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives (1 Cor. 12:3). The grace of God working in us enables us to live a life of obedience to Christ, and this is one of the marks that distinguishes the body of Christ from the world.
We are marked by holy living. To be holy is to be set apart. We are commanded to be holy, because God is holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:16). If we are commanded to be holy, we can trust that God's Holy Spirit will enable us to obey the command to be holy. This means that we should expect to live holy lives, separated by God, for God, and shown in the way in which we live. The process through which the Holy Spirit makes us holy is called sanctification.
Finally, the Church is marked by mutual accountability. We are called to spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). We are called to minister to one another. In short, as the body of Christ, we need each other (1 Cor. 12:12-27). We are marked by our commitment to exhort one another to faithfully follow Christ with their whole lives.
Mission of the Church
The mission of the Church is to share in Christ's redemptive and reconciling ministry to the world. One way to think about this is that we serve as Christ's hands and feet as He seeks to redeem a lost and sinful world. Christ is the Redeemer, but Christ graciously allows us to share in this ministry by empowering us to spread the Gospel. This Article of Faith recognizes that we cannot share in this ministry without the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this in our own effort. To do so would be futile.
The mission of the Church is fulfilled through the fulfillment of the Great Commission. That is, we fulfill this by making disciples. The Church of the Nazarene is committed to this mission of making Christlike disciples among the nations. This is fulfilled in various ways, such as evangelism and bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel.
Historical Reality of the Church
The Church universal is a reality that expresses itself in different cultures, languages, denominations, and so on. The Church is both a local and universal reality. It draws its life from Jesus Christ. In the words of Dr. Henry Spaulding,
"As Eve is formed from the sleeping Adam's side, so the Church was born from the pierced side of Christ hanging on the cross. The church exists to embody the continuing presence of God through the power of the Spirit and as such to be the community of the Incarnation."It is because of Christ, and for Christ, that the Church exists.
Recommended Resource: Essential Church: A Wesleyan Ecclesiology