Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Seoul Rep. 2006 | CONT. > Chapter 2
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Chapter Two


The Church – Visible and Invisible

45. What is the Church? And what is its purpose here on earth? People use the word ‘church’ in different ways: the building where we gather for worship, the local Christian community, a particular ‘denomination’ (e.g. Methodist or Catholic), the worldwide body of Christians, or even the collective leadership of the Christian community. There is something very visible and tangible about what ‘church’ means to most people. The Greek and Latin words for ‘church’ (ekklesia, ecclesia) involve the idea of being gathered and assembled. The Church is the assembly of God’s people, gathered to listen and respond to the Word of God. The English word ‘church’ comes from the Greek kyriake, meaning ‘what belongs to the Lord’. The Church is the people that God gathers both locally and across the world, the people that belongs to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Gathering together in a visible community, united in faith and in love, is central to what Church means to most Christians.

46. Dialogue between Catholics and Methodists is necessary because there is division among Christians, and this dividedness clouds our understanding of the Church. There is much about the Church, however, that we can say together as Methodists and Catholics, and there are many elements of the Church that we recognise in each other. This chapter presents key aspects of our common understanding of the nature and mission of the Church.

47. The Church of Christ cannot be defined in the way that we might describe any other international organisation. There is more to the Church than a visible community of people who share a particular view of the world, its origins and its destiny. The Church is indeed a visible reality; its visibility is essential to its nature and mission. But there is more to the Church than meets the eye, and only the eye of faith can discern its deepest reality, its invisible mystery.

48. The word ‘mystery’ is used throughout this chapter and appears often in previous reports of this Joint Commission. It is rooted in St Paul’s use of the Greek word mysterion to express God’s hidden plan of salvation now revealed in the incarnate Christ: in him, the invisible is now made visible. God has made known to us “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). St Paul was given grace “to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches in Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9). St Paul was deeply conscious of the intimate, nuptial bond between Christ and his bride, the Church. This in itself is “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32), and it is through the Church that the mystery of God’s saving grace is to be made known to the world. The Greek word mysterion was eventually rendered by sacramentum in Latin translations of the Bible and in Latin patristic writings. The Church, the creation of the Word of God, is “the ‘mystery’ or ‘sacrament’ of God’s love for the world”.23 The invisible and the visible come together, and the former is made known through the latter. This holding together of the invisible and the visible is essential to our understanding of the Church as Catholics and Methodists. It is rooted in Christ himself, the invisible Word made visible in the flesh, fully divine and fully human.

49. What then is the Church’s deepest and hidden reality, the mystery that lies at the heart of its nature and mission? It is the invisible presence of the Triune God, the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God who is Holy Love. As Pope Paul VI said, “The Church is a mystery. It is a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God”.24 The Church is a fruit of God’s grace, and its nature and mission cannot be understood apart from the mystery of God’s loving plan for the salvation of all humanity. God’s pilgrim people are “called to live by faith in the God whose undeserved generosity remains the alpha and omega of the Church’s very existence” (CLP, 5.6).

50. As Catholics and Methodists, we confess that the life and actions of the pilgrim Church have at times made it particularly difficult to look beyond its visibility to the invisible presence of God. The Church is a community of weak and vulnerable human beings who often fail and fall, alone and together. “In its pilgrimage on earth Christ summons the Church to continual reformation, of which it is always in need, in so far as it is an institution of humans beings here on earth” (UR §6). The Church is always in need of purification and renewal (cf. LG §8), and “there is much of which the Church needs to repent” (CLP, 2.2.7). There is a danger of presenting an idealised picture which bears little resemblance to the visible reality of the Church as it has journeyed and struggled through history. And yet we believe that God remains faithfully present to the Church, and calls us to holiness, whatever our human frailty and sinfulness. This belief is founded on the promise of the Risen Jesus: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Sharing the Life of the Trinity

51. The mystery of the Church is rooted in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and in the mystery of the saving life, death and resurrection of the Incarnate Word. The inner life of the Church is a sharing in the life of God, and the mission of the Church is a sharing in the mission of God’s Son and Spirit. “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 of Christ’s disciples, the Church.”25 Koinonia (or ‘communion’) lies at the very heart of the way Catholics and Methodists understand the nature of the Church.

52. The Church springs from an initiative by the Holy Trinity and belongs to the sphere of God’s grace. “The revelation of the Triune God is the source of the Church’s faith, the Church’s mission, and the Church’s sacramental life.”26 The Church did not create itself: “It originated in the redemptive act of God in Christ; and it lives in union with Christ’s death and resurrection, comforted, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit”.27 As members of Christ’s Church, and in communion with Christians throughout the ages, we believe that we continue even today to share in the life and paschal mystery of the incarnate Son, upheld by the Spirit of God.

53. The New Testament provides a great variety of images and models, many of them drawing on the Old Testament understanding of God’s chosen people, to express what it means to be the Church, although “none of these can express exclusively or even adequately what the Church is, the whole of its mystery”.28 Any theological attempt to describe the Church should reflect something of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Thus Methodists and Catholics affirm the Church as: the people and family of God the Father; the body and bride of Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate; and the living temple of God the Holy Spirit. The koinonia or communion of Christ’s disciples is a visible reflection of the eternal koinonia or communion of the Triune God who is the source, meaning, purpose and destiny of the Church. Indeed, “it is of the essence of the Church to be a sharing in this communion of love between the three Persons of the Trinity”.29

People and Family of God the Father

54. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The mystery of God is the mystery of God’s eternal love. The Father’s overflowing love created humanity for communion with himself, and that same creative love gathers together the followers of his Son into the visible community of the Church. By God’s free gift of the covenant, the people of Israel became God’s own royal, priestly and prophetic people, chosen to be a light to the nations. By the Father’s gift of the new and everlasting covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, those who are “in Christ” become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). By the unitive power of his Spirit of love, the Father draws us into a communion of life with his own beloved Son. In Christ, we become the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, members of his royal and consecrated family, the Church. All of this is the fruit of the outpouring of the Father’s creative and gathering love.

Body and Bride of Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate

55. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Catholics and Methodists affirm together their faith that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, of one being with the Father”.30 He is the eternal Logos or Word who is God from all eternity and who became flesh and lived among us (cf. John 1:1, 14). “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), it was by his Word that the Father created all that came to be (cf. John 1:3); and it was by his Incarnate Word that the Father began his work of new creation and gathered together the scattered children of God. It was by God’s speaking his Word in Christ that the Church came to be, and that Church is “the place where the Word of God is spoken, heard, responded to and confessed”.31 God’s Word is spoken to us through the words of Sacred Scripture, and it is Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who opens our minds to understand the Scriptures within the continuing life, worship and witness of the community of the Church through the ages (cf. Luke 24:45).

56. The origins of the Church lie in Christ himself: “Christianity arose because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus… As is shown by his gathering of those who walked with him and shared a common life with him, especially the Twelve, the ministry of Jesus created a community. After the resurrection this community shared the new life conferred by the Spirit, and very soon came to be called the Church. Baptized into the faith and proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the members were united to one another by the Spirit in a life marked by the apostolic teaching, common prayer, the breaking of bread and often by some community of goods; and those who were converted and drawn to them became part of this koinonia.”32 This life-bringing communion with the Risen Lord is so profound that we call the Church “the bride of Christ” and “the body of Christ”. Christ is the true vine, and we are his branches, bearing fruit because he lives in us and we live in him (cf. John 15:1-17).

With him the corner-stone
The living stones conjoin;
Christ and his church are one,
One body and one vine.

By keeping his commandment of love, we ourselves live in his love; through lives of Christ-like sacrificial love, Christ’s joy comes to us and our own joy is made complete. And so we are appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). This intimate union with Christ is God’s gift to the Church, maintained, deepened and renewed by the proclamation of the word and the breaking of the bread.

O Thou who this mysterious bread
Didst in Emmaus break,
Return, herewith our souls to feed,
And to thy followers speak.

Unseal the volume of thy grace,
Apply the gospel word,
Open our eyes to see thy face,
Our hearts to know the Lord.

For Methodists and Catholics, the call to holiness and the call to be the Church belong together, and spirituality and theology are inseparable.

57. As with the first community of Christ’s followers, and the community of the faithful throughout the ages, so the Church today is rooted in the Father’s speaking of the Word and the gathering power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is summoned by the personal call of the Risen Lord. He says to each of us: Come to me, Follow me, and Go in my name. We are transformed by the touch of his presence and become new people, ready and able to follow him and to live a new life in Christ. We are sent forth by him into the world to proclaim with joy the good news of God’s love for all humanity, and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus’ call to communion with his life (Come to me) is inseparable from his call to communion with his mission (Go in my name). Jesus knew he was sent by the Father. If we are truly united with Christ as his bride and his body, and as branches of the vine, we will also be drawn into his mission to bring God’s saving love to the world and to invite people to the feast of the kingdom.

Living Temple of God the Holy Spirit

58. None of this is possible for the Church apart from the vivifying, empowering and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. Methodists and Catholics affirm together their faith in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life”.35 In the beginning, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos to bring light and life, and was breathed into Adam, God’s human creation. The same Spirit inspired the prophets, promising a new beginning, a new creation, a new covenant. In that new beginning, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Church, bringing the new life promised by Christ, the new Adam. The Spirit is the invisible bond of communion (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:13), uniting individual Christians to Christ and to one another, and uniting local church communities with each other in the one Church of Christ. Within the Church, the Spirit is the bond of communion and connection across both space and time. The eternal Spirit is God’s great eschatological gift (cf. Joel 2:28-29), giving us even now a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and an anticipation of eventual full communion with the Holy Trinity.

59. Abiding in the Church, the Holy Spirit preserves the Church’s communion with the Apostles and with the faithful through the ages, as well as leading the Church forward into all truth. Unchanging from generation to generation, the Spirit is the living continuity of the Church, making possible that memorial of Christ by which we participate here and now in the life, death and rising of the Lord, and anticipate his return in glory. That same Spirit inspires the Church’s pilgrim journey: “The power and presence of the Spirit lead the faithful from grace to grace.”36 The Holy Spirit is also the power of God’s transforming love, calling all to holiness and working within the hearts of individual believers and their communities to bring the renewal and reformation of which they always have need. The Holy Spirit is the Witness to Christ in the world (John 15:26), anointing all believers for the work of witness and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gift of the Spirit to the Church brings many gifts to serve its unity and mission. “The Spirit is the invisible thread running through the work of the Church in the world, enabling our minds to hear and receive the Word, and giving us tongues to speak the Word (John 14:26; 16:13-14; Acts 4:31). Relating us to one another and to Christ our Head, the Holy Spirit gives coherent shape and variety to the people of God. Within that people as they are, and for that people as they shall be, the Holy Spirit invites us all to share in the service of the One who came to serve.”37

Visible Communion as Sign of Invisible Koinonia

60. The Church is by nature a “connectional society”, “a vital web of interactive relationships” (BD, pp. 128, 190). Both Methodists and Catholics have an essentially ‘connectional’ understanding of Christ’s call to discipleship, to holiness and to mission, always as God’s gift and rooted in our sharing in the invisible koinonia that is the life of the Holy Trinity. From the first call of Jesus to his Apostles, to be called is to be gathered – into local communities (churches) and into one universal communion (the Church). There can be no such thing as private and individualistic Christianity. To be Christian is to be joined together in Christ, to belong to the community gathered around the Risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Faith is always personal but never private, for faith incorporates the believing individual into the community of faith.”38 This connectional principle derives from the understanding of holiness common to Catholics and Methodists: holiness is never a private affair, but a call to perfect love of God and of one another. “And since love is the real test of holiness, such holiness finds its natural milieu in, and not apart from, Christian fellowship” (CLP, 4.3.9). Because our communion is grounded in the holy love of the living God, it is a sharing together in a life of holiness and mutual love. That life of communion includes “deep fellowship among participants, a fellowship which is both visible and invisible, finding expression in faith and order, in prayer and sacrament, in mission and service”.39

61. This dynamic of connection and communion belongs not only to local disciples gathered together in community, but also to the worldwide community of those local communities united together as one Church, the Body of Christ. The Church of Christ is truly present and effective in some way in all local congregations of the faithful who are gathered together by the preaching of the Gospel and for the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. LG §26). But to be truly ecclesial, each community must be open to communion with other such communities. Individual Christians and their communities are essentially linked together in a web of mutual and interdependent relationships. St Paul’s image of the Church as the Body of Christ powerfully expresses this fundamental connectedness: “Every organ or limb has its own distinctive function, but belongs to a living whole. Similarly, neither individual Christians nor individual churches function effectively in isolation, but are dependent on a larger whole. And what is true of individual Christians and churches is also true of regional and national churches. The Church of Christ is an interdependent whole, because ultimately there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:5-6)” (CLP, 4.6.3; cf. 4.4.2, 4.7.1, 4.7.4, 4.7.9). Baptism is the gateway to communion in Christ, and so to those relationships which constitute the Church of Christ. Such a connectional understanding of the Church means that both Catholics and Methodists recognise the need for effective pastoral ministries of unity and oversight (episcopé) within the one Church of Christ. Catholics and Methodists firmly believe that Christ wills one visibly united, universal Church, even though they may differently identify the structures needed for such full communion.

62. The Church is called to be an effective sign to the world of the saving and gathering purpose of God for all humanity, and a foretaste of our final gathering by God in heaven. Visible unity is essential, therefore, to the nature and mission of the Church. Any division is contrary to Christ’s will for his Church “that they may all be one ... that the world may believe” (John 17:21), and seriously impairs the mission of the Church. As Catholics and Methodists, we are committed to pursuing together the path towards full visible unity in faith, mission and sacramental life.40

Touched by the lodestone of thy love,
Let all our hearts agree,
And ever t’ward each other move,
And ever move t’ward thee.

Growing in Communion

63. Communion is much more than co-existence; it is a shared existence. Mutual sharing is at the heart of a life of holiness (CLP, 3.1.8). Communion involves holding in common the many gifts of God to the Church. The more of these gifts we hold together, the more in communion we are with each other. We are in full communion when we share together all those essential gifts of grace we believe to be entrusted by God to the Church. Methodists and Catholics are not yet fully agreed on what constitutes the essential gifts, in the areas of doctrine, sacraments and structures. We joyfully reaffirm together, however, the words of Pope John XXIII that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us”,42 and that our continuing dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas but in some way always an “exchange of gifts” (UUS §28).

64. We already share together in the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who is the source of our communion in Christ. Methodists and Catholics are already in a real, though imperfect, communion with one another (cf. UR §3). We rejoice in the many essential elements of the Church of Christ which we discover in each other’s communities. Our communion grows as we learn to recognise God’s gifts in each other.

Marked with Signs of the Holy Trinity

65. A visible community which is in koinonia with God cannot but be marked with visible signs, however imperfect, of the invisible presence of God the Holy Trinity. The mystery of the Church bears the marks of the mystery of God. Methodists and Catholics joyfully affirm together in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. These four traditional ‘marks’ or ‘notes’ of the Church derive from its creation by and its communion with the Triune God who is one in the communion of three Persons; perfect in holy love; comprehensive in his reconciling purpose; and utterly generous in the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit (CLP, 2.4).

66. Unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity are already gifts of God to his Church, marks of God’s continuing and faithful presence. But we are a pilgrim people, and those marks are both gifts and goals, already present but not yet fully realised. As we seek to place ourselves and our communities at the service of the divine mission, we seek also by God’s grace to grow towards entire sanctification: “Just as the Church longs for the oneness of its members in love and prays for it in its 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.”43

Marked with Signs of Christ’s Life, Cross and Resurrection

67. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, “determine the identity, constitute the message, and empower the mission of the Church” (CLP, 2.3.4). If the Church lives in union with Christ, it will bear visible signs of his saving mystery.

68. “The reign of God is both a present and future reality” (BD, p. 44). Christ proclaimed that the kingdom of his Father was near at hand. This proclamation was the heart of his message, and therefore lies at the heart of the mission of his Church. Christ worked miracles as signs of the inbreaking power of the kingdom of God, which he embodied. His Church announces the kingdom and is a living communal sign of God’s reign: “The church is called to be that place where the first signs of the reign of God are identified and acknowledged in the world” (BD, p. 44; cf. LG §5). The Church in Christ’s name and by the power of his Spirit serves the kingdom of God by working to heal and transform the world here and now.

69. As an essential aspect of this calling, Catholics and Methodists are committed to serve the poor and oppressed of our time, and they understand the Church as an instrument in bringing God’s peace and justice to all God’s people: “personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world” (BD, p. 47). As Christ reached out to touch and restore the lives of the outcasts of his society, so the Church is called to reach out in his name to touch and transform the lives of the untouchables and marginalised of our world. Christ called his disciples to be servants of all (Mark 9:35).

70. As a communal sign of the crucified Christ in our world, the Church is called to a life of self-giving love which seeks always to serve rather than be served; to a life of humble and self-emptying diakonia which involves washing the feet of those among whom we live; to sharing the sorrow of God’s people and suffering with them in communion with the Suffering Servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Through Baptism into Christ we have been “baptised into his death” (Romans 6:3). The Church is called to a communion in the death of Christ, dying with him, crucified with him. Like the Risen Lord when he appeared to his disciples, the Church will be marked with signs of crucifixion, as testimony to our doubting world of the living love of the Risen Lord (CLP, 2.3.12).

71. We have been “baptised into Christ’s death” so that we can share his resurrection and “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Methodists and Catholics joyfully affirm together the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the faith that “Christ is risen!” lies at the heart of all that they hold in common. The Church is called to be an Easter community, marked with the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord. Like Mary of Magdala and the Apostles, Christians today are told not to look for Christ among the dead, but to proclaim him to the world as risen and alive:

Haste then, ye souls that first believe,
Who dare the gospel word receive,
Your faith with joyful hearts confess,
Be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.

Go, tell the followers of your Lord
Their Jesus is to life restored;
He lives, that they his life may find;
He lives to quicken all mankind.

The Second Vatican Council summed up the mission of the whole Church in its description of the vocation of every individual: to be “a witness to the world of the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God” (LG §38).

Marked with Signs of Pentecost

72. The Apostles after the crucifixion were understandably afraid and shut themselves away in the upper room. The Church may be tempted to do the same in the face of societies and cultures whose attitudes can range from apathy towards the teaching and values of the Gospel to active persecution. The Risen Lord came to the Apostles with words of peace to dissolve their fear, and breathed his Spirit upon them. His call to them is also his call to the whole Church founded on them: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (John 20:21). Christians and their communities can all too easily focus entirely on their fellowship and worship, to the neglect of mission and witness. As happened at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes with power to enflame our hearts and minds with a zeal for Christ and his Gospel, and sends us out from our “upper rooms” into the world to proclaim the joyful news that Christ is Risen. Our teaching as Methodists and Catholics demands that each and every church community be marked with signs of Pentecost, signs of the Holy Spirit: “In that Spirit we are called to share in the mission of Christ. In that Spirit we shall indeed become the People of Pentecost, the apostles of our time”.45 We hear the Lord say afresh to us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In that way we truly become a community of faith and love, anticipating and journeying towards our final destiny with and in God.

Sharing the Divine Mission

73. Sharing the mission of the Son and of the Spirit in the world is central to our common understanding of the nature of the Church. The nature and mission of the Church are inseparable. The call to personal holiness, the call to communion and the call to mission intrinsically belong together: “Our connection and communion with one another serve our growth towards holiness and our sharing in God’s mission.”46 “Faith flows into mission”,47 and “Christian communion as koinonia necessarily includes communion in mission.”48

74. Methodists and Catholics affirm together a fundamentally Trinitarian teaching on the nature and mission of the Church, drawn by the Father, commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “The pilgrim Church is of its very nature missionary, since it draws its origin from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the plan of God the Father” (AG §2). The Church’s mission is a sharing in the continuing mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, expressing the Father’s love for all humanity.49 Communion with the Triune God is the very life of the Church; communion with the mission of God’s Son and Spirit is the very mission of the Church.

75. Catholics and Methodists hold this common understanding of the Father’s gift to the Church of a sharing in the mission of the Son and the Spirit. Such an understanding is rooted in our affirmation together of God’s free decision to allow us actively to participate in his saving work. This takes place under God’s grace which comes first as his free gift. “The church as the community of the new covenant has participated in Christ’s ministry of grace across the years and around the world” (BD, p. 89).

76. The Brighton Report affirmed our common understanding of graced “cooperation” and “participation” in God’s work which allows us with St Paul to call Christians “God’s co-workers” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9): “Methodists and Catholics agree … that God works through people as servants, signs and instruments of his presence and action. Although God is not limited to such ways of working, we joyfully affirm together that God freely chooses to work through the service of human communities and individuals, empowered by his grace. The whole Church is called to be a channel of God’s grace to the world; within the Church individuals and institutions become agents of the Lord and thus servants of their brothers and sisters.”50

77. This agreement between Catholics and Methodists on the need for “graced, free and active participation in God’s saving work”51 lies at the very heart of the possibility of our moving towards a common understanding of the nature and mission of the Church which makes use of concepts associated with ‘sacramentality’: “The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery of the Eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon the sacramental idea, i.e. the Church takes its shape from the Incarnation from which it originated and the eucharistic action by which its life is constantly being renewed.”52 Though some have hesitated to refer to the Church itself as a sacrament, various phases of our dialogue have focused on affirmation of the Church as a ‘means of grace’ as a point of agreement between Methodists and Catholics. Filled with the Spirit of God, the Church is empowered “to serve as a sign, sacrament and harbinger of the Kingdom of God in the time between the times”.53 The Risen Christ is present at the heart of the life of his Church, working in and through the Church which he unites with himself as a communal sign and instrument of his saving presence. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for the Church to be a sign or sacrament of the Risen Christ for our whole world.54 Methodists and Catholics agree that “in all situations, the underlying truth of the Church’s nature and purpose remains the same: by its life and witness the Church points towards, by its sharing and worship it anticipates, and through its mission it is an instrument of the ultimate reality of the Kingdom of God, actualised in Jesus Christ” (CLP, 2.3.19; emphasis added).

78. During our dialogues, we have each grown in our understanding and appreciation of the means of grace with which the other is so fruitfully endowed. We have yet to reach full agreement on the sacramental nature of those means of grace, but we have already found significant convergence: “We agree that God has promised to be with his Church until the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28:20), and that all the means of grace, whether sacraments or sacramentals, instituted means or prudential means, are channels of God’s faithfulness to his promise.”55 Catholics and Methodists give full recognition to each other’s celebration of the sacrament of Baptism. Our common Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is our sacramental bond of unity, the visible foundation of the deep communion which already exists between us and which impels us to ever deeper unity with each other and participation in the life and mission of Christ himself.

79. While we joyfully affirm the Church’s participation in the divine mission, we should be humbly conscious that in all of this we “rely on the primacy of God’s grace over all limitations and weaknesses, and on the invisible, active and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit who blows where he wills”.56 We give thanks together to the Father that the power of his Son can shine through our human weakness: “You choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”57

80. The innermost reality of the Church is its invisible communion with the Risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Son is ‘the Sent One’, and being drawn into the life of Christ will always involve being drawn into his mission from the Father. Communion with the person of Christ commits us to communion with the mission of Christ. This “participation in the mission of Christ is possible only because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit… In the Spirit, the proclaiming community itself becomes a living Gospel for all to hear.”58 The whole prophetic people of God, lay and ordained together, is empowered in this work of witness and mission, precisely by the Holy Spirit drawing us into a deep communion with Christ himself.

81. Sharing the mission of God’s Son and Holy Spirit can never be an optional extra for Christians and their communities: “There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world” (BD, p.90). Evangelisation, effectively proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, is “the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity”.59 This is the richest meaning of the word ‘Tradition’: the Church is to carry forward Christ’s once-for-all redemptive act in space and time, to all peoples and to all ages.60

In Communion with the Past and the Future

82. The past, present and future dimensions of God’s saving work must be held together. The Incarnate Word speaks through the Church, carrying forward and handing on his saving work from generation to generation. For this service of Christ, the dynamic communion, connection and continuity of the pilgrim Church today with the Church of the past and of the future is essential: “Communion means therefore also communion with the Church of those who preceded us in the faith throughout the ages.”61

Come, let us join our friends above
That have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love
To joys celestial rise:
Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In earth and heaven, are one.

One family we dwell in him,
One church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death:
One army of the living God,
To his command we bow;
Part of his host have crossed the flood,
And part are crossing now.

83. The Holy Spirit is the source of our communion with the Apostles and the Church through the ages, enabling the Church to hand on the apostolic faith afresh to the world of today and of the future. The Church does not live in the past, and we cannot simply repeat what past generations have said and done. The Spirit of Truth works in a dynamic of continuity and change, shaping and enriching the memory of the community, telling the Church of the things to come, and leading it into the future with hope.63 The Spirit is the power of living communion who makes possible our participation here and now in the saving events of the life, death and rising of Christ, in anticipation of his return: “It is this permanence in Christ and in the Spirit which gives the Church its identity and self-understanding, and keeps it in the Gospel which it has to proclaim to the world.”64

Led by the Spirit of Truth

84. Preserving the Apostolic Tradition has been at times a struggle for the Church. Catholics and Methodists differ in evaluating some of the past signs of faithfulness and perseverance, but “we certainly agree that God’s faithfulness has preserved his Church despite the faults, errors and shortcomings evident in its history”.65 The whole community of faith has been sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who “preserves within the Church the truth of the Gospel proclaimed by Christ and the apostles”.66 Because of the promised presence of the Spirit, the Church is “anointed with the truth”, “abides in the truth” and is “preserved in the truth”, so that Christians together can be “co-workers in the truth” under the leading power of the Spirit of Truth.67 With different emphases, Methodists and Catholics “affirm both the human frailty and the God-given indefectibility of Christ’s Church. The treasure of the mystery of Christ is held in the earthen vessel of the daily life of the pilgrim Church, a community always in need of purification and reform.”68

85. All true renewal and reformation in the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables the community of the faithful to hear the Word of God and to move forward together in life, faith and witness. We affirm together the essentially dynamic nature of the pilgrim Church, which is not only continually in need of renewal but also on a journey into holiness and truth, led by the unerring Spirit of Holiness and Truth.69 This process includes development in the Church’s understanding of its teachings, but it is more than that: “There must be growth in love to achieve more insightful knowledge of the riches of faith. In other words, there must be growth in holiness.”70

Gift and Gifts of the Spirit

86. Central to our common understanding of the Church as Methodists and Catholics is the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the transforming presence of the Spirit of Perfect Love. This ultimate Giftedness bears fruit in the plethora of gifts and graces entrusted by God to the Church, many of which we joyfully recognise and affirm in each other’s communities. Such mutual affirmation is a vital dimension of our desire “to give proper recognition to each other’s ecclesial or churchly character”:71 “Many different gifts have been developed in our traditions, even in separation. Although we already share some of our riches with one another, we look forward to a greater sharing as we come closer together in full unity”.72

87. All of these gifts together are elements and endowments which build up and give life to the Church (UR §3). They are for the service of the communion and mission of the Church. They comprise “the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements too” (UR §3). Among the visible elements are the means of grace so central to the life of both our traditions, especially Baptism and the Eucharist as well as other rites which could be said to have a sacramental nature.73 An essential gift is the apostolic ministry, including a specific ministry of ‘oversight’ (episcopé). For Catholics, these gifts of the Spirit include the episcopate in apostolic succession, and the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome. For Methodists, they include Christian conference.

88. The same Spirit is at work among all the baptised, across the generations and throughout the world. The whole community is anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such confidence in being gifted by the Spirit does not mean that we are blind to the failure of Christians, alone and together, to respond to his presence and make use of his gifts: “There are times, of course, when Christians do not respond as they ought to the Spirit’s guidance. They lack fidelity to Christ, they are lukewarm in the worship of God, they do not show love toward one another, they fail in missionary outreach.”74 But the Spirit of God remains with the Church, as its source of life and hope.

Ministry at the Service of Communion and Mission

89. Catholics and Methodists affirm together that within the apostolic service of the whole community, “there has been, from the beginning, a ministry uniquely called and empowered to build up the body of Christ in love”.75 Catholics and Methodists understand such ministry as a gift from God to the Church, a graced service of the Church’s living communion with Christ throughout the world and through the ages. “The Church is like a living cell with Christ as its centre; the community, as it grows and multiplies, retains its original pattern. Apostolic communities need people to do for their own time what the apostles did in theirs: to pastor, teach and minister under the authority of the Good Shepherd and Teacher, the Servant Lord.”76

90. During our dialogue, there has been considerable movement towards agreement on the ordained ministry as a means of grace through which Christ continues to lead and serve his disciples: “Together we recognise that Christ the Good Shepherd shares his pastoral care with others”;77 and “In the pastoral care that is extended to them the faithful perceive themselves to be led by the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.”78 Such language has opened up the possibility of a common sacramental understanding of ordained ministry as a graced participation in the continuing pastoral leadership of Christ himself.79

91. An ordained ministry thus understood is one of the ‘ecclesial elements’ that we each look for as we seek to affirm as fully as possible the churchly character of one another’s community of faith. Previous reports of this Joint Commission have dealt with the topic of ordained ministry and authoritative leadership. There is much that we agree upon and include among those elements of the Church which we recognise in each other: “We joyfully affirm together that the ministries and institutions of our two communions are means of grace by which the Risen Christ in person leads, guides, teaches and sanctifies his Church on its pilgrim path.”80 With specific reference to the ministry of teaching with authority, an authority for mission, we further agreed: “Both Roman Catholics and Methodists affirm that in calling people to be agents in discerning what is truly the Gospel, God is using them as means of grace, trustworthy channels. All forms of ministry are communal and collegial. They seek to preserve and strengthen the whole community of faith in truth and love, in worship and in mission. In both Churches, oversight is exercised in a way which includes pastoral care and authoritative preaching and teaching. Methodists and Catholics can rejoice that the Holy Spirit uses the ministries and structures of both Churches as means of grace to lead people into the truth of the Gospel of Christ.”81

92. Clearly our increasing mutual understanding and our growth in agreement on questions of ministry do not exclude the fact that there are areas of serious divergence which require further exploration and discussion. Central to Methodist teaching on the Church is the role of Christian conference in which lay people alongside ordained ministers authoritatively discern the will of God and the truth of the Gospel. There remain aspects of teaching and ecclesial elements which Catholics regard as essential to what we must hold in common in order to have full communion and to be fully the Church of Christ. These include a precise understanding of the sacramental nature of ordination, the magisterial role of the episcopate in apostolic succession, the assurance asserted of certain authoritative acts of teaching, and the place and role of the Petrine Ministry.

Recognised in the Breaking of Bread

93. The first Christian communities were characterised by their devotion to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Coming together for the Breaking of Bread (the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist or Mass) was then and is now for both our communions an essential sign and instrument, a sacrament, of what we are as the Church of Christ. It is there, at the Eucharist, doing what Christ instructed us to do as a memorial of him, that we celebrate the mystery of faith.

94. There remain major issues which need to be resolved before Catholics and Methodists can give full mutual recognition to each other’s celebration of the Eucharist. These include the nature and validity of the ministry of those who preside at the Eucharist, the precise meaning of the Eucharist as the sacramental ‘memorial’ of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, the particular way in which Christ is present in Holy Communion, and the link between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion. It is essential that these issues be further explored. Methodists and Catholics are already agreed, however, that when the Eucharist is celebrated, we hear afresh the Word of God spoken to us; we enter together more deeply into the saving mystery of Christ; we encounter Christ anew in a way which ensures the living presence of Christ at the heart of the Church; we are anointed by the transforming love which is God’s Holy Spirit and become more truly the Body of Christ; we are sent forth together in Christ to share more deeply in God’s work in our world; and we share together a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As we celebrate the Eucharist, called together by the Father, the Risen Lord makes us more fully what he wills his Church to be, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Together these affirmations already provide a rich foundation from which we can face the remaining issues in the hope that one day Catholics and Methodists will be able to gather together in full communion around the table of the Lord.

The Continuing Journey

95. The Church of Christ is a pilgrim community, journeying together from sinfulness to holiness as God in his grace leads us forward. Even though we are still a wandering people, always in need of repentance and renewal, yet we are confident of Christ’s promises and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. We place our trust in Christ who says to his Church: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

96. On their way to the fulness of the kingdom of God, Methodists and Catholics affirm their common conviction that “the whole community of believers is called together by God our Father, placed under the lordship of the Risen Christ, united with Christ as his Body, and has the Holy Spirit as the source of its unity of life, worship and witness. In the Father’s purpose for the Church, each and every believer is to participate in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing God’s outgoing, all-embracing and transforming love to all humanity."82



  1. British Methodist Conference, Called to Love and Praise: The Nature of the Christian Church in Methodist Experience and Practice (1999), hereafter CLP, 3.1.10.

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  2. Opening address to the second session of the Second Vatican Council, 29 September, 1963.

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  3. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §1.

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  4. The Word of Life, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §4.

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  5. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §3.

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  6. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §4; cf. The Apostolic Tradition, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Singapore, 1991), §51.

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  7. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §109.

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  8. Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

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  9. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §15.

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  10. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §2.

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  11. Charles Wesley, “See where our great High Priest” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 622).

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  12. Charles Wesley, “O Thou who this mysterious bread” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 621).

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  13. Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

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  14. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §32.

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  15. Ibid., §52.

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  16. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §113.

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  17. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §23.

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  18. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §20.

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  19. Charles Wesley, “Jesus, united by thy grace” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 773).

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  20. Quoted by Pope John Paul II in UUS §20.

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  21. Speaking the Truth in Love, Report of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue (Brighton, 2001), §28.

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  22. Charles Wesley, “All ye that seek the Lord who died” (Hymns & Psalms, no. 188).

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  23. Pope John Paul II, Homily to Confirmation Candidates at Coventry, England, 1982.

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  24. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §48.

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  25. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §9.

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  26. Ibid., §123.

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  27. Cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §73; The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §7.

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  28. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §49.

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  29. Ibid., §52.

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  30. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §10.

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  31. Ibid., §8; cf. LG §5; CLP, 3.1.10, 3.2.1.

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  32. Cf. the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (LG §48).

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  33. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §61.

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  34. Ibid., §52.

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  35. Roman Missal, Preface for Martyrs.

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  36. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §75.

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  37. Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), §14.

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  38. Cf. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §74.

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  39. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §126; cf. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §18.

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  40. Charles Wesley, “Come, let us join our friends above” (Hymns & Psalms, n. 812).

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  41. Cf. John 16:13; The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §§35, 31, 20.

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  42. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §33.

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  43. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §127.

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  44. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §118.

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  45. Cf. Ibid., §§30-45.

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  46. Ibid., §39.

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  47. Cf. Charles Wesley’s hymn “Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide”, affirming the Church as “By thine unerring Spirit led” (Hymns and Psalms, no. 62).

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  48. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §61.

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  49. Towards a Statement on the Church (Nairobi, 1986), §22.

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  50. Ibid., §23.

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  51. Cf. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §60.

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  52. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §62.

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  53. The Word of Life (Rio de Janeiro, 1996), §84.

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  54. Ibid., §86.

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  55. Ibid., §120.

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  56. The Apostolic Tradition (Singapore, 1991), §73.

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  57. Cf. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §§63-68. In Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (hereafter BEM), the “convergence text” unanimously adopted by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1982, ordination was characterized as a “sacramental sign” (“Ministry” §41) through which “God…enters sacramentally into contingent, historical forms of human relationship and uses them for his purpose” (“Ministry” §43).

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  58. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §68.

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  59. Ibid., §81.

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  60. Speaking the Truth in Love (Brighton, 2001), §48; cf. CLP, 2.1.12.

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