Are we really a church?
Over the years many people have asked us if we REALLY are a church. They ask this for a variety of different reasons. Some people find that our inclusive ministry, which accepts lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered folks in the same way that we accept heterosexuals, is so unusual that they wonder if we really are part of the Christian Church. Others wonder if we are a true Church because our way of doing things is different from what some other churches might do, or because we were founded in the 1960s.
A True Church?
Actually the question of what makes a group of Christians the Church has been asked time and time again in Christian history. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have said that there are four signs of the true Church: it is One, it is Holy, it is Catholic and it is Apostolic. MCC has all four of these characteristics.
The Church Is One
Christian thinking on this subject started many years ago in the 3rd Century when there was controversy about people who had, under threat of terrible persecution, left the Church in order to preserve their lives. Those who had stayed firm under persecution had sharp disagreements about how these people should be treated once the persecution was over. Should they be allowed back into the Church, after a suitable period of penance, or had they separated themselves, irrevocably, from the body of Christ? The dispute was never fully resolved and later persecutions by Roman emperors left the Church with similar problems.
The 16th Century Reformers also had to deal with this issue. How could they justify breaking away from the Church when, for 1400 years, the Church had taught that outside it there was no salvation? The Reformers had to justify how they could form breakaway churches when, in Europe at that time, there was only the Catholic Church. Even in the East there was just the Orthodox Church, not the variety of denominations that we are used to nowadays. The Reformers argued that the Western Church had become so corrupt that it was no longer the Church of Jesus, and they were reforming the Church so that it regained its original purpose, purity and sense of mission. History has shown more than once that the principle of separating from a parent ecclesiastical body over doctrine has led to an explosion of growth in different denominations.
Faced with this unfortunate contradiction between the Christian idea of “one Church” and the reality of many different churches, theologians have tried to find ways of saying what we mean when we talk of the Church’s unity. Some Christians see the Church in a biological way, seeing the different parts of the Church as being like different branches on one tree. This is based on the Biblical image of Jesus saying he was the vine and that we are the branches. This means that each individual denomination is a branch linked to the great trunk, Jesus. Other thinkers hold that the present, sad, situation is temporary and that the visible Church on earth, which is divided and which we can see is only a shadow of the invisible church stretched out through time and space and looks, to the Devil, as terrible as an army with banners. The Church is united and we will see its unity at the end of time. People in MCC hold both views, which are not contradictory. We are one in that we are united to Jesus, but this unity of the Church will only be fully seen at the end of time.
The Church is Holy
It is difficult to affirm that the Church is holy when so many Christians, now and in the past, are distinguished by their patent lack of holiness! In modern times the conflict between Catholic and Protestant in the North of Ireland has been a scandal to the nations. The country of Rwanda, in Central Africa, was one of the most Christian nations on earth where almost all the population went to Mass each Sunday – yet in the midst of that Christian nation the most terrible genocide took place.
The most radical attempts, in the history of the Church, for Christians to show their holiness has been to form sects which allow only the “holy” to join. This has been a recurrent theme through the ages - from the Donatists in Third Century North Africa to the modern day Amish in the United States. St Augustine argued against this view and held that the Church was not meant to be a society of saints, but a mixed body of both sinners and saints.
But if the Church contains sinners, in what way is it holy? For St Augustine the answer was in Jesus. The holiness of the Church is not, primarily, found in its members but in its head, Jesus. The Church is made holy by Jesus. As Christians, we seek to follow Jesus' way, we are renewed daily through prayer and we are nourished by the sacraments. However, this holiness will only be finalised and fully realised after the last judgement. MCC, therefore, believes that the Church is a mixed body of both sinners and saints. Sin is an inevitable part of the life of the Church, but Jesus makes us holy - though this may take a lifetime to achieve!
The Church is Catholic
The Creeds of the Church assert that it is Catholic. MCC upholds those creeds and, therefore, contends that it is part of the Catholic Church. In modern English the term "catholic" is often, wrongly, confused with Roman Catholic. We see this in the English phrase “catholic taste”; in other words one has a wide-ranging taste not a taste for things Roman Catholic. Because of this confusion many Protestant churches change the word in the Creed to “universal” - but the two words are interchangeable.
By saying we are Catholic, MCC means three things. First, that we are part of the universal Church of Jesus which is open to people of all groups and races throughout all time. Second, we are orthodox in our theology - we believe in the faith which has been handed down to us and which is believed by Christians all over the world. Finally, we are part of a Church which is all over the world - it is missionary as it seeks to open its doors to all people in all races and cultures.
The Church is Apostolic
The New Testament gives an interesting picture of what an Apostle was. In one sense they were the 11 disciples of Jesus who were present on the day of Pentecost and they had huge moral authority in the Early Church. In another sense they were people, like St Paul, who had an encounter with the Risen Jesus. However, other Apostles are mentioned in the New Testament, like Apollos and Barnabas, who did not have an experience of the Risen Lord but still were seen as Apostles.
Some churches, notably the Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, hold that being apostolic is about being linked to the original 11 apostles of Jesus. These men were commissioned by Jesus to preach the gospel and to have authority in the Church. They, in turn, commissioned others through prayer and the laying on of hands and these people came to be called Bishops. Over the years then, the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches held the apostolicity of the Church to mean that the Bishops had been consecrated by people who themselves had been consecrated by Bishops who were consecrated by the Apostles - a sort of hand-me-down theory of apostolicity. This is often called the "apostolic succession".
The Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, in the main, did away with Bishops. Churches like the Methodists, the United Reformed Church, the Baptists, and MCC, do not have bishops - although all these churches have some form of oversight and supervision of clergy and congregations.
For Christians from these traditions, and for MCC, to be "apostolic" is more about doing the same work as the apostles. It is seen as an idea stressing that the Church is founded on the strength of apostolic work and witness. We believe that being apostolic is a matter of doing the same work of the apostles, preaching the risen Jesus, welcoming people into the Church and being living witnesses to the truth that the Gospel is for all people. To be both evangelistic and missionary is to be apostolic. The apostolic work of MCC is around spreading the gospel and the news that God’s love and acceptance extends to all, even us!
Metropolitan Community Church - One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
MCC is part of the One Church of Jesus. The unity all Christians have - those living now and those who have died - will be seen at the end of time and will appear as a glorious gathering of people praising God and serving Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
MCC is holy in that our holiness is found in Jesus, our head. Jesus calls us to lives of holiness through personal prayer, obeying the will of God and being nourished by the sacraments he left us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we grow in holiness, but the holiness of the Church is always to be found in Jesus, our head.
MCC is Catholic in that we seek to work with all types of people and we teach orthodox Christian faith and doctrine.
MCC is apostolic in that we seek to do the evangelistic and missionary work of the apostles.