One Church Model as Yeast

The Nicene and Apostle's creed both have a line that affirms belief in the holy catholic church and if we read it too quickly then we overlook the mystery of that phrase. 

I was reminded not long ago in a meeting with church leaders the meanings of these words. 

  • holy - set apart 
  • catholic - throughout the whole
  • church - the body that comes together in order to be sent out

If the point of the church is to be sent out, then why would it come together to begin with? Some might even call this a paradox others might see this is really inefficient. If the point is to be sent out, then are we not going against the point when we come together? Many of us see the benefits of coming together in order to be sent out and are not hung up by this paradox. However, fewer of us are able to reconcile the paradox of something that is both set apart and throughout the whole. 

We like to think that we are able to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time and give them equal weight. We like to think that we do not privilege one side over the other. We like to think that we are able to hold the paradox, but more often than not we will place one position over the other. Despite our inability to hold paradoxes, we continue to try because we know that life is never one or the other, but full of contradictions and paradoxes. 

For instance, are you a parent or a child? What color is the dress? What do you hear? Maybe the most basic paradox - "this sentence is false."

The divisions in the church these days might be understood as our unwillingness to attempt to hold these tensions together. Some elevate the role of the church as holy (set apart and different) while others elevate the role of the church as catholic (though out the whole or sometimes understood as universal).

Photo by  Drew Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

You may recall that Jesus attempted to address this paradox of being set apart and through out the whole by speaking of yeast. Yeast is different form the whole and yet in order for yeast to function it has to be through out the whole batch. 

The UMC faces a number of decisions in February 2019 around how to include LGBTQIA+ people in the church. It seems to me that the option that is most like the church as yeast is what is called the "One Church Model." This model gives the decision about ordination and marriage to the most local body able to make the decision. Conferences decide who they are going to ordain as it is now, pastors decide who they are going to marry as it is now, and churches decide what types of ceremonies are allowed on church property now.

If we allow the the decision of how to include LGBTQIA+ persons to be spread through out the whole of the church then, paradoxically and mysteriously, the yeast retains its holiness. It seems clear to me that if the status quo remains or if there is a dramatic change in the current stance, then we move closer to being holy OR catholic. 

This is one more reason why I believe the "One Church model" not only is in line with the creeds, but is in line with our historical and Wesleyan tradition of affirming the holy, catholic church.

Reciting Creeds: Act of Humility and Justice

Creeds are interesting in that they serve several functions in the Christian tradition. For many they are seen as a litmus test for who is Christian and who is not. I would submit that this is a misuse of the creeds of our tradition and to distill their role as just a test we all sign off on cheapens the richness of the creeds. 

So what else are creeds? 

I would submit that reciting the creed in corporate worship is more an act of humility and justice rather than a way to decide who is in and who is out. The creeds stated in worship, for the most part, are older than the people speaking them today. And this highlights why recited creeds are an act of humility and justice. Because these words are not "our" words means that we must stop talking and speak the words of others. When we speak these words we are humbled with the reality that others might have something to teach us. 

Even more than that, when we give voice to the voiceless we participate in a act of justice. While the creeds are often written by those in power in their time, those people are no longer in power. Said another way, when we give voice to the powerless we recall all those who are powerless and voiceless. 

So when you say a creed, perhaps you do not believe all (or any) of the lines, that is okay. Say them anyway. Say them as a practice of humility and as an act of justice. Then go out into the world and continue works of humility so that justice may be made real for all. 

And perhaps, that is the greater goal of our creeds.