“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?