THE GRACE GIVEN YOU IN CHRIST
CATHOLICS AND METHODISTS REFLECT FURTHER ON THE CHURCH
The Status of this Document
The Report published here is the work of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission. Commission members were appointed by the World Methodist Council and the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The authorities who appointed the Commission have now allowed the statement to be published so that it may be widely discussed. It is a joint statement of the Commission, not an authoritative declaration by the Roman Catholic Church or by the World Methodist Council, which will study the document in due course.
1 CORINTHIANS 1: 1 –10
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
1. Listening to God’s Word has accompanied the deliberations and discussions of our Joint Commission through the years. In this eighth round of our Joint Commission, our attention was caught from the beginning by the introductory sentences of St Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, which resonates with our experience.
2. Written to a community that was beset with dissension, conflicts and division, the introductory verses of Paul’s letter sketch his vision of the Church, in reference to which he exhorts the Corinthian Christians to put an end to the division and dissension among them. The Church, wherever it is found, is called by God to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, is made holy, and is endowed with spiritual gifts for a life of unity and communion.
3. Paul addresses his letter to the church in Corinth. But before he greets the Corinthians, invoking God’s grace and peace on them (verse 3), he reveals that the Corinthian community does not exhaust the reality of the Church. The Corinthian church is not alone in the worship of Jesus as Lord. There are others in other places who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 2b).
4. However, while it is possible for Paul to invoke the “grace and peace from God and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 3) on all such churches, Methodists and Catholics regrettably have not historically always been able to greet one another with “grace and peace”, as Chapters One and Three of this report show. The fact that we are different churches is not simply a matter of “calling on the name of Jesus in different places” (cf. verse 2b). Rather it is an instance of diversity without unity and the result of a division and a separation, as again Chapter One illustrates. Instead of “grace and peace”, our churches have used infelicitous and even harsh language about each other in the past.
5. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that the Church is called to be holy (verse 2a); and it is called into the fellowship of Jesus the Son of God (verse 9). We believe, with Paul, that God has called us into the fellowship of his Son and made us holy in him. These divine callings, which underlie the reality of the Church, also characterize its life deeply. Thus, both Methodists and Catholics hold holiness and communion to be essential features of the Church. Methodists believe that holiness is the basis of the Church’s unity and communion. Catholics, in line with the Apostles’ Creed, follow their profession of faith in the holiness of the Church with that of the communion of saints1. These and other features of the Church are explored in Chapter Two of this report.
6. Divisions and separations, brought about by events of history and consequent confessional definitions, have obscured these features of the Church.
7. But, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Through the previous rounds of dialogue, Methodist and Catholic members of the Joint Commission have increasingly come to recognise authentic elements of the Church in the dialogue partner. Against the background of agreements and understandings which, under the guidance of the Spirit, the Joint Commission has set forth in those previous rounds, it is now possible to see through and beyond the veil of separation, and:
(1) to consider how we, both on our own and together, constitute the Church; and
(2) to discover the spiritual gifts with which each church is adorned.
8. This is what our Joint Commission seeks to do in Chapters Three and Four of the present report. Catholics discover and name gifts God has given to Methodists. They go further, to express an openness to sharing in them. Methodists do likewise with regard to Catholics. The discovery of this has warmed our hearts and disposed us to say with Paul: “We give thanks to our God for you, because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus” (verse 4).
9. This newly cultivated capacity to respect each other’s ecclesial identity and to rejoice at each other’s endowments (and even to share in them), is certainly the fruit of the ecumenical movement and the dialogue of our Joint Commission. More importantly, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit’s power, the Church is not only strengthened to confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3); it also, in the power of the same Spirit, finds and lives a life of communion. This is the deepest vocation of the Church; and it is the common future towards which our sharing of gifts leads us.
10. As a final note, it is significant that Paul relates this common future to being made one “in the same mind and the same purpose” (verse 10). Fundamental unity in faith and in its profession is necessary for the Church’s life of communion and for its witness before the world.