Monday, May 02, 2016

"One Holy Catholic and Apostolic" vs. "The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church"

“We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

With these words, the Nicene Creed describes the body of Christ in the world. Of course, each of those words is loaded with meaning. And each of these ancient words has a great contemporary relevance.

To say the church is “one” is to say that we are united in heart, though not in opinion. It is to say that we may love alike, even though we do not think alike.

To say the church is “holy” is definitely not to say that the church is better than anyone, rather that the church is “called out” and designated for a particular purpose.

To say the church is “catholic” is not a means of distinguishing one expression of Christianity from another, but rather is a way to say that the faith is both deep and wide, a global community of local communities.

And to say the church is “apostolic” is to say that the church is sent on a mission, like the apostles of the Bible whom Jesus sent into the world with a message of love and grace and hope.

I for one am profoundly excited about the new expressions of faith that are emerging in and around and through the church. There is a deep sense of unity that transcends our differences. There is a sense of calling to a higher purpose. There are such diverse local expressions of our one global body. And the church is reaching the world with a focus on mission unlike we’ve seen in several decades.

In other words, the church is still the church. No, it doesn’t look like it did a generation ago. And it doesn’t look now like it will a generation from today. And that’s a good thing. But I for one believe that the 21st century church is still one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church

With that said, there are very few petitions to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference that will have any impact whatsoever on any of that. At least of the ones I have read. And I mean no impact one way or the other; won’t help / won’t hurt. It’s a bit disheartening, to be honest, to read through petition after petition, redundant, irrelevant, inwardly focused, meddling with the minutiae.

As I’ve written before, the United Methodist Book of Discipline is too thick and unwieldy to be practical. It’s like slogging through a swamp to find anything of any usefulness. And every four years we complexify it further!

But here’s the thing. I believe Jesus when he says of the church that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” In fact, I’m pretty sure he was alluding to our beloved Book of Discipline directly when he said that! Somehow, the church will survive, and the Book of Discipline will not prevail against it!

I believe that with all my heart, because as Bishop Schnase is fond of saying, “Ministry happens at the margins.” How many of us here in Missouri have seen him drawing his famous concentric circles, pushing us to think outwardly, to local congregations, where the real action is? Yes, the church is the church at all levels, even the “middle circle” that is General Conference. But it’s at the edges where the Holy Spirit is most active, and that’s where our energy, our focus, and our resources ought to be directed.

Local congregations need to be unleashed for Christ’s sake, not burdened down with restrictive language about whom to marry and not marry, how precisely to structure a Pastor/Parish Relations Committee, what level of pastoral credentialing is necessary to be given authority to vote at Annual Conference, and other such navel gazing inanity.

As a denomination, do we still believe that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic body? And if we really do, can we start acting like it?

1 comment:

Ashley Quinn said...

When I was in HS, at Springfield Catholic, I noticed my soph yr religion teacher wouldn't say "he" for G-d in communal prayers, she would say G-d as a gender neutral term. It was the first time I'd considered not saying prayers exactly the way we were taught. I had been going through confirmation classes which seemed like a joke when I looked around at my classmates who I knew were going out drinking on Sat and showing up for confirmation class on Sunday. I was trying to make my faith more my own, and so I adopted my teacher's use of gender neutral terms for G-d, and I looked more closely at the words of our prayers I'd been reciting since I don't know, preschool? And this sentence was the first to go, I'd go along with the creed and fall silent when we got to "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." I looked around and I saw brokenness, dysfunction, fracture, not "one" church, and in its fracture it certainly didn't seem "holy" and I knew this was a little "c" "catholic", but it didn't seem universal. The church I attend now doesn't recite a creed, and if we did there might be a great many more phrases I let fall silent. But I might be recognizing our oneness simultaneous with our fracture. I've met a good number of people, myself included, who have been really hurt and damaged by the Church, and the fact that there are some who call themselves Christian who aren't that hateful is fairly inconsequential. When one person or congregation does harm in the name of G-d, it effects all of Christianity, and really fractures all of humanity a little bit further. We may try to distinguish amongst ourselves, but to the outside we're all lumped together as one group and we have a responsibility to behave like it. To make all of us accountable to one another, for all of us to care for one another, and the world. We may not see ourselves as one, but we are, and we should act accordingly. This goes for the Church and the world. We are all interconnected, and when we ignore that we do a disservice to us all.