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Should Baptism be Required for Membership in the MCC?

From early in the history of the Metropolitan Community Churches, the Bylaws have stated that in order to attain good standing as a member of an MCC congregation, one must be a baptized Christian.[1] Though other requirements have changed over time, Baptism has remained a constant. At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests that individual churches within the Fellowship have begun to dispense with this requirement, accepting members without Baptism, thus raising the question: should Baptism be required for membership in the MCC? I propose to approach this question as an issue of epistemology, ecclesiology and, more broadly, MCC corporate identity. My contention is that as long as the MCC identifies as a part of the Church universal, Baptism as a sign of profession of Christian faith is essential to church membership.

Though the MCC does not have an official set of doctrines beyond the Statement of Faith, our Bylaws cite the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds as bases for the principles of our faith (Metropolitan Community Churches 1). Further, our Statement of Faith indicates that we hold the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God (Metropolitan Community Churches, Bylaws 2). Thus our official documents claim both Church Tradition and Scripture as authorities in our faith and practice. [Instructor Comment:  Good deductive reasoning]  It is important to identify these two loci of authority, as a discussion without referents becomes extremely difficult. Indeed, much of the current controversy within the MCC stems from the implicit acceptance of other authorities that are not explicitly codified within our governing documents.

From the Nicene Creed we can derive an affirmation of "one holy catholic and apostolic church (ekklesia)" and an acknowledgement of "one baptism for the remission of sins" (Leith 33). Further, from the Scriptures, we claim that the church comprises those who are "called out" by God to form the Body of Christ in the world (1 Peter 2:9). These particular formulations are widely held within the Christian context. It is important to remember that the Church then is not a group of people who have chosen to assemble themselves, but rather a group of people who are called by God to provide witness to God’s work in the world. [Instructor Comment:  Moving directly into the issue of ecclesiology is a strong move and makes for a wise argument!]  Further, while we are members of the Body, Scripture also confirms that it is Jesus Christ who is Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23) – a metaphor that implies that we are at the bidding of Christ, who serves as the center of thought in our collective action.

Baptism itself has many varied meanings within the various denominations and movements of the Christian Church. However, for those who would call themselves Christians it is either (in the case of infant baptism) an outward sign of initiation into the Church or (with believer’s baptism) the first act of obedience in undertaking a life of discipleship within the Church. [Instructor Comment:  well articulated]  Whether viewed as a transformative sacrament or an outward sign of an inward change, the one Baptism serves as an initiation into the new life offered by Christ (Romans 6:4).

Lurking beneath the discussion of dispensing with Baptism within the MCC as a requirement for membership is not so much a desire to avoid being immersed or sprinkled with water per se. Rather, the larger question appears to be one of inviting non-Christians into the Fellowship as full members of our local gatherings. [Instructor Comment: This is a good and thoughtful move!]  Within our denomination, membership bestows the right to vote in church business meetings and the capacity to serve as a lay delegate at denominational gatherings or as a board member within a local church. All other rights and privileges are already open to "Friends of the Church" as designated in Section VI, Part B of the Bylaws (Metropolitan Community Churches, Bylaws 15). Further, it is our common custom to provide an Open Table, which has come to be commonly understood as issuing an invitation to all people to participate in Communion. Other rites of the MCC such as Holy Union/Holy Matrimony, Funeral or Memorial Services, the Laying on of Hands, and Blessing are also available to all without requirement of church membership.

Within the ecclesiology of the MCC there has always been a strong element of social justice. However, as the denomination has grown, it is now possible to speak of "ecclesiologies" in the plural. While most MCC members still acknowledge the role of social justice within our movement, for many this focus has shifted to the creation of a space that upholds not only marginalized peoples of various sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicities, races, socio-economic classes, and so on, but also embraces as equally valid various non-Christian religious traditions and spiritual movements. In the process the denomination appears to be shifting from an embrace of theological diversity within the Christian tradition to a religious relativism or inclusivism that acknowledges Christianity as one path among many that may be acknowledged within the Fellowship. Recent documents from MCC headquarters have emphasized the fact that Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans and other non-Christians regularly participate in Communion within the MCC while remaining within their own faith traditions (Metropolitan Community Churches, Call topic 2). It is presumably these same people to whom parts of the Fellowship wish to open church membership without the requirement of Baptism. This moves us to the final point of a broader corporate identity within MCC.

From its inception, the MCC was envisioned as a Christian movement. While greater emphasis has been placed on interfaith dialogue over the past several years, the core beliefs of the denomination as expressed in the Bylaws continue to support a Christian identity. While historically the MCC has been professed that the Church serves to bring people to God through Christ (Metropolitan Community Churches, Bylaws 2), the current trend towards incorporation of all faith traditions has created a tension between traditional ecclesiology and the perceived need to express hospitality through full inclusion in the administrative life of the local church. However, the Church is more than a local administrative body or social gathering. If we hold to the principle that Christ is the Head of the Body in which we participate, then profession of Christ follows as a necessary element of incorporation. To deny the special position of Christ within the framework of Creation and the drama of Salvation is antithetical to participation in the life of the Church.

Further, in most cases one might suppose that Friends of the Church of other faith traditions are drawn to MCC churches because of our ministry to the LGBTQ community. However, the MCC has long asserted that we are not a church organized around either homosexuality or the legitimization of a certain type of behavior (Wilson 3). Assuming that this is still the case, sexual orientation and/or gender identity are insufficient criteria for full membership within the local church. It would appear that our current tensions arise from a lack of emphasis on the local church as an expression of the Church universal, headed by Christ.  [Instructor Comment: Good point]

It is for these reasons that I take the position that Baptism should remain a requirement for membership in the MCC. Though the question has been formulated with the sacrament of Baptism at the fore, "Baptism" has become a handy euphemism for the deeper issue of whether one professes the Christian faith. Thus the true question is whether one must be a Christian in order to be a member of MCC. To this question I must also answer yes. While practically every activity within the Fellowship is open to Friends of the Church, full membership carries with it an ecclesiological responsibility to the Head of the Body of which we are members. Though we still acknowledge non-Christians as children of God and celebrate their relationship with the Divine, we cannot simply join others into the Body of Christ who have not made the decision for themselves to come to God through Christ. By identifying ourselves as a Christian church, we have adopted along with this designation the most fundamental understanding of having been called out by God into a faith that is headed by Jesus Christ.  [Instructor Comment:  excellent!]


[1] In the 2007 Bylaws this long-standing requirement is found in Article III, Part B, Point 2 (Metropolitan Community Churches 2).

Works Cited

Leith, John H., ed. Creeds of the Churches: a reader in Christian doctrine, from the Bible to the present. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

Metropolitan Community Churches. "A Call for Proposals for New Theologies Book Project." 19 July 2008. Metropolitan Community Churches. 25 May 2009 <http://mccchurch.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4711>.

—. "Bylaws07eng.pdf." 7 December 2007. Metropolitan Community Churches. 25 May 2009 <http://www.mccchurch.org/BylawsandGovernance/December07/Bylaws07eng.pdf>.

—. "General Conference 2007 Program Book." 10 October 2008. Scribd. 25 May 2009 <http://www.scribd.com/doc/6356693/General-Conference-2007-Program-Book>.

Wilson, Nancy. "MCC & NCC: the ecclesiology issue." 14 August 1987.Scribd. 25 May 2009 <http://www.scribd.com/doc/6339277/MCC-NCC-the-Ecclesiology-Issue>.

Instructors’ Comments

Bryce,

Your argument is direct, clear, reasoned and very well written.  You do a particularly good job in the first page of setting up appropriate boundaries for the discussion, and in the second page, you move your argument methodically and wisely into the subject of ecclesiology.

We find ourselves unable to offer much in the way of constructive criticism.  You clearly have a gift for theological argument.

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