Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Brighton Rep. 2001 | CONT. > Part One

   Preface - select
Part One
      I -
      II - GOD'S PROPHETIC COMMUNITY, ... - select
  Part Two - select
  Conclusion - select


Part One

I. The Church as Communion
In Love and Truth

   Object and Source of Teaching

7   "Because God so loved the world, he sent his Son and the Holy Spirit to draw us into communion with himself. This sharing in God's life, which resulted from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, found expression in a visible koinonia [communion, community] of Christ's disciples, the Church."2 This description indicates both the central content or object of the Church's teaching and the ultimate source of the authority to teach. Since the central object of teaching is God revealed in Jesus Christ, who is also the ultimate source of authority, Christian doctrine is inseparably Christological and Trinitarian. Catholics and Methodists are able to make the following statements jointly, subject to the qualifications indicated along the way.


8   Given the way in which, according to the Scriptures, God has entered human history, the Church's doctrine is centered on Christ. It flows from the identification of Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior expected by Israel, the people of God whose story is told in the Bible. The life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the ensuing proclamation of the lordship of the Risen Christ were the central topic of teaching for the first generations of Christian believers, as is shown in the New Testament. They must remain so for all subsequent generations in the Church. Whenever we speak about Jesus Christ in our teaching, we follow the patristic councils in identifying him as the Second Person of the Trinity who has taken flesh.


9   In a perspective that aims at the ultimate reality which stands beyond and within all that is visible, the core of Christian doctrine is that the Godhead is three Persons who are distinct from one another, yet in such a way that the divine being is perfectly present in each. The one and only God who was proclaimed and manifested in the Old Testament is revealed in the New as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus is known as the Father's eternal Son, his creative Word who has now been made flesh; and their eternal Spirit is manifest as the one who spoke through the prophets, inspired the Scriptures, and is experienced as the divine presence acting in human life and throughout the universe.

   The Works of God

10   While seeing all God's acts as engaging all three Persons of the Trinity, Christian reflection guided by the Scriptures has connected the works of God with specific divine Persons. Thus the creating act is appropriated to the Father, the redemption of Adam's race to Christ the New Adam, the guidance of the Church and the sanctification of believers to the Holy Spirit. The faithful are taught to read, not only the ‘book of Scripture' as the inspired record of divine revelation, but also in its light the ‘book of nature', which shows traces of the creative power and presents images and analogies of the divine Persons, and the ‘book of the soul', the highest creaturely image of God on earth (imago Dei), that has been damaged by sin but restored in Christ. In this way Christians are led to contemplate the Godhead as the ultimate agent and the loving and compassionate providence that supports all things in being, and they look for God's direction in their life.

   The Creeds

11   The Christian Church professes the Apostles' and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, which are Christological and Trinitarian. They name the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and they place the life, death and resurrection of the Word incarnate at the center of the articles of faith. The creeds embody the biblical teaching about God and Christ. Their confession is incorporated in the Church's liturgies, notably the Apostles' Creed in the baptismal rite of Christian initiation and the Nicene Creed in the worship of the assembly. The creeds also function as a rule of faith (regula fidei), normative for conciliar and other official teaching.

   Marks of the Church

12   The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople calls the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church which Jesus founded is the gathered communion (koinonia) of all believers in Christ. It knows itself to be the redeemed people of God, the renewed Israel. It is by the same token one and holy. As the universal communion of the faithful ‘from the righteous Abel to the last of the elect', the Church is catholic, destined to embrace all of redeemed humanity. Because it was chiefly through the apostles of Jesus – the Twelve and St. Paul and other missionaries – that the Gentiles were grafted into the stem of Israel (cf. Rom 11) by the preaching of the Word, the Church is apostolic.

   The Church as Communion

13   The Church is designated in Holy Scripture by many images and metaphors which throw light on the Church as a communion.3 The biblical image of the Church as Body of Christ has been favored for several reasons. It was emphasized by St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 10:14-17; 12:12-30; Rom 12:4-6), and it is closely related to the eucharistic body of Christ and to the image of the Church as bride of God. Set at the heart of the Christian liturgy and piety, the Eucharist as communion with Christ substantiates the doctrine of the Church as communion. The image of the Church as bride of God renews the perspective of Israel as divine bride and anticipates the Church's eschatological fulfilment.

14   That the Church is a communion is indisputably rooted in the design of God, the Trinity, in whom unity and the plurality of three inseparably imply each other. This character of the Church is grounded in the creation itself, since humankind is, by the Creator's will, at the same time one and diverse. As communion, the Church relates all believers to God and to one another, on the model and by the grace of the three Persons who are One Eternal Being. The communion of the faithful in time and in space exists in the Word of God and is united by the bond of the Spirit. It is a communion in the holy things that are the sacraments of grace, and primarily in baptism and in the Eucharist.

15   The biblical images of the Church converge on one point: the Church issues from the self-communication of God, who in the incarnation comes to participate in the life of humankind and gives them a share in his own triune life. It thereby understands itself to be the domain of the Spirit, in keeping with the formula of the early baptismal creeds: "I believe... in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church... ." While the internal presence and the testimony of the Spirit in the hearts of Christians remain invisible, the whole life of the community lies publicly under the Word of God for guidance and for judgement; and it is destined to give glory to God the Father.

   Primacy of the Word

16   The Word has primacy in the Church. The Eternal Logos, through the incarnation, brought God's final revelation to humankind and became the redeemer of the world and the Lord of the Church. The Eternal Word made flesh is the ultimate norm of all the Church's life and doctrine, orienting all that is done and taught in the Church toward the praise and worship of God the Father, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. At the last day those who live in Christ will be raised into his Kingdom, which "will have no end".


17   The Word is present in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the initiation, education, and formation of believers. In proclamation and instruction the written Word in the Scriptures has primacy over all later formulations of divine revelation. It provides a permanent standard of belief, which is all the more necessary as missionary preaching of the Gospel in new nations and times requires that the message be communicated in fresh ways to the various cultures of the world. It is the point of reference for the normative decisions that have to be taken when debates and diverging interpretations of doctrine threaten the right formulation and the correct transmission of the Gospel.


18   The Word is present in Tradition as the communication of the Gospel to new generations of believers. Tradition is "the history of that continuing environment of grace in and by which all Christians live", it finds its "focal expression" in Scripture,4 and it will always be faithful to the biblical message. Since they preserve the proclamation of the news of salvation by the prophets and apostles, the Scriptures are at the same time the model and the heart of the Tradition. In this Tradition, by which the Word is transmitted from age to age, the Word is read, proclaimed, explained and celebrated. The Tradition acquires normative value as its fidelity to the biblical norm and to the Eternal Word is recognized. "Scripture was written within Tradition, yet Scripture is normative for Tradition. The one is only intelligible in terms of the other."5 That there is a harmony between Scripture, Tradition, and the Christian life of faith and worship is part of the self-understanding of the Church and integral to the manner in which the Church, in the Holy Spirit, transmits itself from generation to generation. There is a growing convergence between Methodists and Catholics on what Pope John Paul II has called "the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God."6

   Maintained in the Truth

19   In the history of the Church it became urgent to decide between divergent traditions and conflicting interpretations of the Gospel. A ministry serving such decision-making was present in apostolic times (cf. Acts 15) and given a particular shape in the early centuries, when at the local level pastoral care was entrusted to a college of presbyters under the presidency of a bishop, with the bishops themselves forming a college at the universal level, in which the Roman See presided "in charity" (en agapé).7 Bishops in the Catholic Church continue to fulfil this ministry as they preside over a particular church (diocese), which they administer, and lead in faith, worship, and witness. When gathered together in council, and when in their local churches they are seen to teach the same doctrines, they exercise a magisterial responsibility on behalf of the universal Church. In their own historical circumstances, John Wesley and the Methodists were aware of a similar responsibility when they developed a pattern whereby the supervision of teaching is exercised by the Conference and by the superintendent ministers acting in its name.

20   The truth of the Gospel and the doctrines that express it cannot be faithfully preserved without the assistance of the Spirit. Catholics and Methodists have been eager to invoke the Spirit and they trust in his unfailing grace. In the Catholic Church this concern for truth and fidelity has found a focus in a "charism of unfailing truth and faith" that is given to the bishops for the sake of the universal Church.8 This gift takes various forms, as when the ordinary teaching of all bishops is seen to be unanimous, or when, as occasionally though rarely happens, a doctrine is proclaimed "infallibly" by a council or by the Bishop of Rome in the conditions that were determined by the First Vatican Council for definitions ex cathedra. By virtue of this "charism of unfailing truth and faith" the Gospel is proclaimed indefectibly in spite of the sins and shortcomings of the Church's members and leaders. A living witness to this faith has been given over the centuries by saints and scholars as well as ordinary believers, some of whom are honored as ‘doctors of the Church'.

21   In their own concern for the truth of the Gospel, Methodists have found assurance in the guidance of the Spirit that has been manifest in godly individuals like John Wesley himself, in such providential events as the Reformation, and in gatherings like the early Councils and the Methodist Conferences. As they exercise their teaching office, these Conferences formulate doctrinal statements as needed, but do not ascribe to them guaranteed freedom from error. Methodists understand themselves to be under an obligation to accept as authoritative what can clearly be shown to be in agreement with the Scriptures.

   Teaching the Truth

22   Both Methodists and Catholics accept the Scriptures, the Creeds and the doctrinal decrees of the early ecumenical Councils. In the Catholic Church further development of doctrine has occurred through other conciliar decrees and constitutions, and through pronouncements made by synods of bishops and by the Bishop of Rome and the offices that assist him in his care of all the churches. In Methodism the Holy Scriptures are believed to contain all things necessary to salvation. At the same time, Methodists' reading of the Scriptures is guided by the early Creeds and Councils and certain standard texts, such as the Sermons of John Wesley, his Notes on the New Testament, and the Articles of Religion. The Methodist Conferences have the task of interpreting doctrine. Both Methodists and Catholics hold that all doctrine must remain under the Word of God, against which the value of its content should be tested.

23   "Since the heart of the Gospel and the core of the faith is the love of God revealed in redemption, then all our creedal statements must derive from faith in Christ who is our salvation and the foundation of our faith."9 For Catholics and Methodists there is an order among the doctrines of the faith based upon their relationship to this core. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council speaks of a "hierarchy of truths"10, and John Wesley of an "analogy of faith" or a "grand scheme of doctrine"11. Methodists and Catholics also distinguish between doctrines and theological opinions, though they sometimes differ on which teachings belong to each category.

24   An essential moment in the process of Tradition is the reception of doctrine by the people of God. As this Joint Commission has said, "one criterion by which new developments in Christian teaching or living may be judged consonant with the Gospel is their long-term reception by the wider Church."12 In Catholic teaching, the agreement of the faithful is not a condition of truth, but the Church's assent cannot fail to be given,13 not only to the Gospel daily preached and explained, but also to doctrinal definitions destined to ensure its integrity. There develops a mutual trust and a common recognition that the Holy Spirit is at work at all levels of the community. Nonetheless perfection of language is not guaranteed by the "charism of unfailing truth and faith." In Methodist practice, Conferences hold the final authority in the interpretation of doctrine within the framework of their doctrinal standards. Methodists expect that Conference teaching firmly rooted in the normative sources of doctrine will be accepted. Refinement and reformation of teaching is part of an ongoing process through Conferences. When the teaching of a particular meeting of Conference is seen by the church to need better formulation, the next session of Conference is expected to carry out that task. We both agree that the Church stands in need of constant renewal in its teaching as in its life.


25   Assent to the Gospel is entirely due to divine grace, and the ensuing faith engages the entirety of the persons who believe. It then becomes the starting point of reflection about the Gospel, as it is appropriated in diverse cultures. As the reception of doctrine takes place within the cultures of those who believe, it gives rise to a variety of orientations which eventually build up different theological systems. The ministry of theologians is to seek proper answers to the implicit or explicit questions asked about the Christian faith, to relate faith and culture in intellectually coherent ways, to explore the depths of doctrine, to organize the insights of the saints in satisfying syntheses, to educate the members of the Church in the contemplation of the divine mysteries, and to assist church leaders, both locally and when gathered in conciliar assembly, to formulate and preach the Gospel in fidelity to the Word of God written and transmitted. Thus theologians and church leaders are together called both to serve the unity of Christian faith and to promote the legitimate diversity in theology, liturgy, and law that illustrates the life and ethos of specific communities and enriches the Church's catholicity.

   The Rule of Prayer

26   The faith of the Christian koinonia is expressed in its worship. As the Wesleyan hymn puts it, the Lord's Supper is a privileged occasion for the Church to be realized as the Body of Christ:

Jesus, we thus obey
Thy last and kindest word;
Here, in thine own appointed way,
We come to meet thee, Lord

There the correlation between the sacramental body and the ecclesial body appears both necessary and indissoluble. In the liturgical assembly, the Gospel is preached, the sacraments are celebrated, the faithful are one in prayer, blessings are shared, spiritual gifts exchanged, insights communicated, pains and sufferings softened by compassion, hopes placed in common. As they go from worship into the world, the faithful are one not only in faith and belief, but also in love; the ‘rule of prayer', the faith that they have sung, remains with them as their rule of belief and their rule of life; and privileged connections grow from this, through mutual encouragement and emulation, in distinctive spiritualities and ways of discipleship, in religious societies following a common rule and devoted to a common purpose of prayer and good works, and in many forms of witness (apostolate, evangelism) that are needed in contemporary society.

   The Church as Mission

27   As at the moment of the Ascension, the Church is still sent today by the Savior to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). Through the Word made flesh the apostles and other disciples received this mission from God, for which they were empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From the apostles the mission has been handed on to the entire body of the Church; and the Spirit, who acts as ‘the soul of the Church', has been received by the faithful, confirming their baptism, making Christ present to them, leading them home to the Father. As they hear the Gospel preached, Christians realize that mission is not the exclusive calling of a few but of the entire community and of its members, lay and ordained, according to their gifts and abilities. All should live by the Gospel everywhere and at all times, in their homes and at their places of work and of leisure, so that the whole Christian Church may truly be seen as sent by God to humankind. Indeed, Jesus promised that if the disciples love one another the world will believe that they are his disciples (cf. Jn 13:35). To bring the Gospel effectively to all creatures the Church depends on divine grace. Moreover it is aware of its own inner contradiction when fulfilment of its mission is hampered by sin, lack of vision, disagreements, discouragement, or fear. God's grace will be given, for the Holy Spirit is ever at work, enabling the Church and the faithful to pursue their God-given callings.

   The Ecumenical Imperative

28   The ultimate aim of mission is to serve God's saving purpose for all of humankind. Just as the Church longs for the oneness of its members in love and prays for it in the liturgy, so it waits in hope for spiritual gifts that will lead it to a higher level of holiness, a more evident fullness of catholicity, and a greater fidelity in apostolicity. This striving after perfection in the God-given marks of the Church implies an ecumenical imperative. All Christian churches should pray and work toward an eventual restoration of organic unity. Visionary Methodists from John R. Mott onwards have been among the pioneers of the modern ecumenical movement, and Methodist Churches have wholeheartedly committed themselves to the recovery of the full visible unity of Christians. Likewise the Second Vatican Council committed the Catholic Church irrevocably to the same goal, a commitment which was reiterated with passion by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Ut unum sint (1995). Catholics and Methodists have thus begun to enjoy a "union in affection" on their way to that "entire external union"15 for which Wesley in his time hardly dared to hope.


  1. Towards a Statement on the Church, § 1.

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  2. The Church is described in the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, § 6 as the sheepfold, the cultivated field, house, and family of God, the temple of the Spirit, the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and the bride of God. In Lumen gentium, § 7 it is especially emphasized that the Church is the Body of Christ. In Trinitarian vein, the British Methodist Conference Statement Called to Love and Praise (1999) speaks of the Church as "the new people of God, the body of Christ, a communion in the Holy Spirit, a sacrament or sign of Christ's continuing presence in the world" (2.1.1). Many Christians, reflecting on the Church as the bride of God which nurtures the faithful, see it as their mother. As John Wesley said, "In some sense [the Church] is the mother of us all, who have been brought up therein" (‘Reasons Against Separation from the Church of England,' The Works of John Wesley, Jackson edition, 13:230).

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  3. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville (1996), 77.

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  4. Joint Commission, The Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 21.

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  5. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on Commitment to Ecumenism (1995), Ut unum sint, § 79.

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  6. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, Introduction, no. 10.

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  7. Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor aeternus, Chapter IV (DS 3071); Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, § 8.

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  8. Joint Commission, The Apostolic Tradition, § 36.

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  9. Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio, § 11.

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  10. J. Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, Romans 12:6.

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  11. The Word of Life (1996), § 59.

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  12. Cf. Lumen gentium, § 25.

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  13. Hymns and Psalms, no. 614.

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  14. J. Wesley, ‘Catholic Spirit', § 4 (The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 2:82).

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