The theological meaning of koinonia is rich. Used nineteen times
in the New Testament, the term koinonia in its primary sense means
participation in the life of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Koinonia is the gift of the Holy Spirit we share in the "fellowship
of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor 13:14). Koinonia refers to a profound,
personal relationship between God and humanity (Acts 2:42 and
John 1:3). The Old Testament themes of inheritance and covenant
convey similar ideas4. Israel is the inheritance of the Lord (Ex
34:9) and a covenant exists between God and His people (Jer 24:7).
Koinonia rests on God's free choice to communicate himself to
us "We are called into the communion of His (God's) Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). Through baptism believers
are called into the fellowship of the Spirit. As a result we share
in the passion and consolation of Christ (2 Cor 1:7; Phil 3:10);
and we participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). For St
Paul the sharing of possessions and the financial help for needy
churches (koinonia in Rom 15:26 and 2 Cor 9:13) are signs of our
communion in the life of God.
Because it is the result of our union (koinonia) with God, the
Christian community can also be called koinonia. The koinonia
or bond of union between believers and God establishes a new relationship
among believers themselves. It is realized by participating in
the life of the Triune God through Word and Sacrament. The Church
is Koinonia precisely because of the fellowship that its members
have in the life of the Spirit5. Our vertical relationship with
God makes possible our horizontal unity with our fellow believers6.
Koinonia is a dynamic reality that binds us together within the
one Body of Christ. Our communion with the Triune God and with
one another develops throughout history and will never be completely
realized until we are ultimately united with God in glory. According
to Irenaeus, the history of salvation is a progressive introduction
of humanity into communion with God (Adversus haereses IV, 14,2).
Does communion relate only to the Church? Can it also extend to
the world and operate in society? Communion refers primarily to
the Church, since communion is based on participation in the life
of the Trinity. The absence of communion among churches affects
the world and society, because it is a negative sign of the Gospel
message of unite. But growing communion among the churches presents
even now a positive sign of Christian unity and an effective way
to encourage common Christians witness. Division among Christians
is a scandal, but the Church's mission to announce the gospel
to the world is strengthened as communion grows.
In a broader sense a notion of communion can also be related to
the whole of humanity All human beings are created in the image
of God and are thus called into communion with God. Because it
is God's plan of salvation to reconcile broken humanity and to
bring it to fulfilment in the kingdom of God, there is a dynamic
in history towards solidarity and constructive interdependence.
The Church is called by God to serve this movement of reconciliation
and to help break down barriers which prevent that renewed community
among human beings willed by God. "By her relationship with
Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign and instrument
of intimate' union with God and of the unity of all humanity"
(Lumen gentium, 1). "The Church is bold in speaking of itself
as the sign of the coming unity of mankind" (Uppsala Assembly
of the WCC, Section I).
The notion of the ecclesiology of communion has been found helpful
in various bilateral conversations. The Final Report of ARCIC-I
noted that koinonia is the term "that most aptly expresses
the mystery underlying the various New Testament images of the
Church"7. The Lutheran/Roman Catholic Commission described
the Church as "a communion subsisting in a network of local
churches"8. According to the Nairobi Report of the Joint
Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist
Council, koinonia "includes participation in God through
Christ in the Spirit by which believers become adopted children
of the same Father and members of the one Body of Christ sharing
in the same Spirit. And it 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"
(§ 23)9. The first Report of the Catholic/Orthodox Joint
Commission, issued at Munich in 1982 and entitled: "The Mystery
of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery
of the Holy Trinity.," spoke of the way in which "the
unfolding of the eucharistic celebration of the local church shows
how the koinonia takes shape in the Church celebrating the eucharist."
It went on to describe aspects of that koinonia, including that
"the koinonia is eschatological... kerygmatic... (and) at
once ministerial and pneumatological"10. The Reformed/ Catholic
dialogue spoke of the Church indicating that "... it comes
together for the purpose of adoration and paver, to receive ever
new instruction and consolation and to celebrate the presence
of Christ in the sacrament; around this center, and with the multiplicity
of gifts granted by the Spirit... it lives as a koinonia of those
who need and help each other" (The Presence of Christ in
Church and World, 1977)11.
Various Christian World Communions have also recognized the importance
of the ecclesiology of communion. Within the Roman Catholic Church,
for example, Cardinal Willebrands said that "the deepening...
of an ecclesiology of communion is... perhaps the greatest possibility
for tomorrow's ecumenism"12, and the 1985 Synod of Bishops
called by the Pope on the twentieth anniversary of the closing
of the Second Vatican Council recalled that "the ecclesiology
of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the Council's
documents"13. In its "Statement on the Self-Understanding
and task of the Lutheran World Federation," the Seventh Assembly
of the LWF (1984) stated that "We give witness and affirm
the communion in which the Lutheran churches of the whole world
are bound together"14. The ecclesiology of communion was
also a major consideration of the Anglican Communion within the
Lambeth Conference in 1988.
II. LOCAL AND UNIVERSAL COMMUNION IN ECUMENICAL PERSPECTIVE
Any discussion of the koinonia in the local and universal church
must be first placed in the broader context of the one holy catholic
and apostolic Church, the Una Sancta of the early Christian Creeds15.
The Una Sancta in the plan of God is God's creation an
eschatological reality existing throughout history from the earliest
days (Ecclesia ab Abel) to the return of Christ in glory. The
local and universal church are historical manifestations of the
Una Sancta, even though they should not be purely and simply identified
with it. They have their unity in the Una Sancta. There is only
one Church of God, whether it is expressed locally or universally.
The Local Church
The local church is truly Church. It has everything it needs to
be Church in its own situation: it confesses the apostolic faith
(with special reference to belief in the Trinity and the Lordship
of Jesus); it proclaims the Word of God in Scripture, baptizes
its members, celebrates the Eucharist and other sacraments; it
affirms and responds to the presence of the Holy Spirit and his
gifts, announces and looks forward to the Kingdom, and recognizes
the ministry of authority within the community. All these various
features must exist together in order for there to be a
local church within the communion of the Church of God. The local
church is not a free-standing self-sufficient reality. As part
of a network of communion, the local church maintains its reality
as Church by relating to other local churches. In the words of
Vatican II: "The Church of Christ is truly present (vere
adest) in all legitimate local congregations of the faithful which,
united with their pastors, are themselves called churches in the
New Testament" (Lumen gentium, 26)16.
The local church is not an administrative or juridical sub-section
or part of the universal Church. In the local church the one,
holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is truly present and active
(Christus Dominus, 11). The local church is the place where the
Church of God becomes concretely realized. It is a gathering of
believers that is seized by the Spirit of the Risen Christ and
becomes koinonia by participating in the life of God.
All Christian World Communions can, in general, agree with the
definition of the local church as a community of baptized believers
in which the Word of God is preached, the apostolic faith confessed,
the sacraments are celebrated, the redemptive work of Christ for
the world is witnessed to, and a ministry of episcopé exercised
by bishops or other ministers is serving the communist. Differences
between World Communions are connected with the role and place
of the bishop in relation to the local church.
For churches of the "Catholic" tradition the bishop
is essential for the understanding and structure of a local church.
Bishops, as successors of the Apostles, are "the visible
principle and foundation of unity in their own particular churches"
(Lumen gentium, 23). According to the first Report of the Catholic/Orthodox
Joint Commission (Munich, 1982), "the bishop stands at the
heart of the local church as minister of the Spirit to discern
the charisms, and take care that the are exercised in harmony,
for the good of all, in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition"
(II/3). The Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission defined
the local church as "the unity of local communities under
one bishop" (ARCIC-I, The Final Report, p. 92). Accordingly,
the Church is most fully revealed/realized when God's people are
united at the eucharistic assembly with the bishop. Consequently,
the local church in these traditions is primarily the diocese,
but it may also refer to several dioceses.
For churches of the Reformation and free church traditions, which
have developed a great variety of institutional structures and
forms of self-understanding, the term "local church"
is not so common and therefore also not defined by referring to
the office of the bishop. For these churches it is the local Christian
community (parish, congregation) for which the above definition
would apply and which could, therefore, be called a local church.
Yet in addition to the common elements mentioned above in §
15, there are also certain convergences concerning the differences
just mentioned. Within churches characterized by an "episcopal"
concept of the local church, the local congregation or parish
is recognized as the local expression of the diocese and the entire
Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 42). Such communities must,
however, be related to the local church, i.e. diocese, and be
in communion with it17. Reformation and Free Churches, on the
other hand, which put special emphasis on the local congregation,
have developed structures which serve a larger community of congregations
(e.g. districts, dioceses, circuits) and have developed ministries
(e.g. bishops, superintendents, regional pastors) which carry
special responsibilities (together with presbyteral-synodical
organs) for such larger units. In the past such larger geographical
structures were seen mainly under practical aspects. In the present,
however, such wider expressions of a local church are seen in
a number of churches also in pastoral and ecclesiological terms:
as communions of communities.
The Universal Church
The universal Church is the communion of all the local churches
united in faith and worship around the world. However, the universal
Church is not the sum, federation, or juxtaposition of the local
churches, but all together are the same Church of God present
and acting in this world. The issue here is fundamentally ecclesiological
and not organizational18. The communion of local churches gathered
by and around the celebration of Word and Sacrament manifests
the Church of God. The concept of the universal Church recognizes
the diversity of cultural and social conditions. "While preserving
unity in essentials," Christians have "a proper freedom
in the various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in the
variety of liturgical rites, and even in the theological elaborations
of revealed truth" (Unitatis redintegratio, 4). Catholicity
enters into the very concept of church and refers not simply to
geographic extension but also to the manifold variety of local
churches and their participation in the one koinonia. Each local
church contributes its unique gifts for the good of the whole
The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church understand themselves
as representing the Church universal. Reformation and Free Churches,
because they had to organize themselves on the national level,
often had difficulties in grasping and experiencing the universal
dimension of the Church. However, through their involvement in
the ecumenical movement and their experience within the Christian
World Communions and the fellowship of the World Council of Churches,
they have developed a stronger sense of the universal character
of Christ's Church which transcends their own reality as churches
organized on a national or regional level. This experience and
insight find expression also in the development of Christian World
Communions which, according to the WCC Assembly at Uppsala (1968),
provide "some real experience of universality"19. It
is the task of the ecumenical movement to lead the churches to
that unity which enables them to confess and express together
the universal communion of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Question of Priority
In the part, biblical scholars generally held that the term "ekklesia"
was first used to designate the local church of a city or region
and only later the universal Church. Contemporary biblical study,
however, raises questions about the earlier view of priority.
It presents evidence that suggests a more complex picture of the
early Christian community than that indicated by the axiom "first
particular, then universal"20.
One way of looking at the question of priority is by using an
eschatological and pneumatological ecclesiology. This approach
does not assign a priority exclusively to either the local or
the universal Church, but suggests a simultaneity of both. Both
are essential. Thus it must be said, on the one hand, that in
God's general plan of salvation the universal has an absolute
priority over the local. For Christ carne to gather together the
dispersed children of God; at Pentecost the Spirit of God was
poured out upon all flesh (cf. Acts 2:17). God created the Church
in the framework of universal reconciliation and unity. The Pentecostal
experience and the word and grace of Christ have continual and
universal relevance. The Gospel of salvation is addressed to humankind
as a whole without exception. In this sense the Universal has
priority and will keep it forever.
At the same time the Church began and came into existence at a
determined place. "When the day of Pentecost had come, they
were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1). From this place
the Apostles began to preach the Gospel to all the Nations (cf.
Matt 28:19). In the concrete historical situation of the foundation
of the Church, the local had priority and will keep it until the
second coming of Christ, because the Gospel is preached each time
in a determined place; the faithful receive baptism and celebrate
Eucharist in this determined place, even though it is always and
necessarily in communion with all the other local churches in
the world. There is no local church that is not centered on the
Gospel and not in communion with all other churches21.
Since Pentecost the Church celebrates the Eucharist as the one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The eucharistic celebration,
therefore, embraces the Church both in its local and universal
dimension. It thus affirms a mutual presence of all the churches
in Christ and in the Spirit22 for the salvation of the world.
III. THE ECCLESIAL ELEMENTS OF COMMUNION
The ecclesial elements required for full communion within a visibly
united church the goal of the ecumenical movement
are: communion in the fullness of the apostolic faith, in sacramental
life, in a truly one and mutually recognized ministry, in structures
of conciliar relations and decision-making, and in common witness
and service in the world. This goal is still to be achieved, and
on the way to this goal it is important to note how the notion
of ecclesial communion has been interpreted by the Roman Catholic
Church in the Second Vatican Council, and the way in which it
has been interpreted within the World Council of Churches.
Interpretations of Ecclesial Communion
The Second Vatican Council described two types of ecclesial communion.
The first is full and complete ecclesial communion in which the
ecclesial elements of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church
are integrally present. Accordingly, the Council taught that the
unique Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church,
"...although many elements of sanctification and of truth
can be found outside her visible structure" (Lumen gentium,
8). This leads to the second type which is partial and incomplete,
but nonetheless real ecclesial communion. The essential elements
are present in some way in other Christian churches: the written
Word of God; faith in Christ and in the Trinity; Baptism; the
sacraments; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity; the interior
gifts of the Holy Spirit; and prayer and other spiritual benefits
(Unitatis redintegratio, 3, 20-23, and Lumen gentium, 15). By
their nature these elements tend toward full realization of catholic
unity (Lumen gentium, 8, 15). Although a non-Catholic community
may not have the "institutional" fullness of the ecclesial
elements, this does not mean that it does not have an authentic
"pneumatic" response to the presence and grace, and
form a vital communion of faith, hope and charity23. The ecclesiology
of communion offers a promising way to explain and express the
incomplete but real communion that already exists between the
Catholic Church and the other churches. It allows us to speak
of a growing communion.
Vatican II, in its teaching on "subsists" and the presence
of ecclesial elements outside its visible boundaries, provided
round theological basis for genuine ecumenical commitment. Although
it did not resolve the problems, it nevertheless with courage
and consistency laid the foundation for further progress. The
ecumenical bilateral and multilateral conversations since the
Council have continued to examine in detail the thorny questions
connected with a common profession of faith, the sacramental life,
and the role of authority.
Elements of communion among the churches have been discussed and
clarified in the World Council of Churches in the perspective
of "the unite we seek." The results of these reflections
are formulated in statements of the 1961 New Delhi and 1975 Nairobi
Assemblies of the WCC.
The New Delhi statement said: "We believe that the unite
which is both God's will and his gift to his Church is being made
visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ
and confess him as Lord and Savior are brought by the Holy Spirit
into one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic
faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining
in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in
witness and service to all and who at the same time are united
with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages
in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and
that a11 can act and speak together as occasion requires for the
tasks to which God calls his people"24.
Taking up the report of a Faith & Order consultation in Salamanca,
the Nairobi Assembly stated its vision of unity in the following
way: "The one Church is to be envisioned as a conciliar fellowship
of local churches which are themselves truly united. In this conciliar
fellowship, each local-church possesses, in communion with the
others, the fullness of catholicity, witnesses to the same apostolic
faith, and therefore recognizes the others as belonging to the
same Church of Christ and guided by the same Spirit. As the New
Delhi Assembly pointed out, they are bound together because they
have received the same baptism and share in the same Eucharist;
they recognize each other's members and ministries. They are in
their common commitment to confess the gospel of Christ by proclamation
and service to the world. To this end, each church aims at maintaining
sustained and sustaining relationships with her sister churches,
expressed in conciliar gatherings, whenever required for the fulfilment
of their common calling"25.
The two statements from New Delhi and Nairobi refer to ecclesial
elements that are generally recognized as being indispensable
for any realization of visible church unite both on the local
and universal level. These include: the common confession of the
apostolic faith, mutual recognition of the apostolicity and catholicity
of the other churches and of each other's members, sacraments
and ministries; fellowship in the eucharist, in spiritual life
and in mission and service in the world; and the achievement of
mutual fellowship, also in conciliar meetings and decisions. Both
statements emphasize local unity but this is interrelated, especially
in the Nairobi statement, with the universal dimension of unity
in the form of a conciliar fellowship (or, as a Faith & Order
consultation in November 1988 stated: "conciliar communion
of common faith and life in the service of God's world").
The descriptions of New Delhi and Nairobi are not limited solely
to the goal of visible unity. They express at the same time basic
elements of the faith and life of the Church, both in its local
and universal dimensions.
It is obvious that the essential elements of communion or unity
stated in these two texts of the WCC correspond to the elements
mentioned earlier in this paper. The different Christian traditions
believe that these elements, in different forms, are present within
their traditions and that, accordingly, full ecclesial communion
exists within them. Also between member churches of the WCC different
degrees of communion have developed, including, for many, eucharistic
hospitality, interim eucharistic sharing, altar and pulpit fellowship
understood as full communion. The question then arises as to how
the communion can be described between churches which are not
yet able to enter into forms of eucharistic fellowship.
All churches which participate actively in the ecumenical movement
agree that even where eucharistic fellowship and full communion
are not yet achieved between churches, nevertheless forms of communion
do exist. The churches are no longer living in isolation from
each other. They have developed mutual understanding and respect.
They pray together and share in each other's spiritual experience
and theological insights. They collaborate in addressing the needs
of humanity. Through bilateral and multilateral dialogues they
have achieved remarkable convergences with regard to previously
divisive issues of doctrine and church order. They share, in different
degrees, in the basic elements of communion. It is, therefore,
possible to speak of an existing real though imperfect communion
among the churches with the understanding that the degrees
and expressions of such communion may vary according to the relationships
between individual churches.
This recognition of an already existing though imperfect communion
is a significant result of ecumenical efforts and a radically
new element in 20th century church history. It provides a basis
for renewal, common witness and service of the churches for the
sake of God's saving and reconciling activity for all humanity.
And it provides a basis and encouragement for further efforts
to overcome those barriers which still prevent the recognition
and implementation of full communion between the churches.
The Interdependence of Local and Universal in the Communion of
Elements of communion at the local level correspond to and interact
with their expression at the universal level, because the Holy
Spirit is the same source at both levels. Different churches,
however, may have different ways of manifesting the same ecclesial
elements. Ecclesial communion is lived and experienced in eucharistic
communion. The eucharistic synaxis celebrates both the communion
with the eternal life of the Triune God and the link with all
worshiping communities, as members of the one Body of Christ (cf.
1 Cor 10:17).
"The local church is wholly church, but it is not the whole
Church"26. This applies already in the case of existing World
Communions, even though they may understand "local church"
differently It will continue to apply when full unity among Christians
has been realized. The local church should never be seen in isolation
but always in a dynamic relationship with other local churches.
It has to express its faith in relation to other churches, and
in so doing it manifests communion. The catholicity of the Church
implies an interrelatedness and interdependence among local churches.
Once a local church turns in on itself and seeks to function completely
independently from other local churches, it distorts a primary
aspect of its ecclesial character. The local church is not a free-standing,
self-sufficient reality. As part of a network of communion, the
local church maintains its reality as Church by relating to other
local churches 27.
Mutual solicitude, support, recognition, and communication are
essential qualities among local churches. Even from earliest times,
the local churches felt themselves linked to one another. This
koinonia ,was expressed in a variety of ways: exchange of confessions
of faith; letters of communion as a kind of "ecclesiastical
passport"; hospitality; reciprocal visits; mutual material
help; councils; and svnods28.
Interrelatedness is now more evident among local churches of the
same World Communion. The unite we seek prompts us all to find
ways of restoring such koinonia at the local and universal levels
with Christian communities, from whom we are at present divided.
Ecumenism, in its local and universal expression, with its emphasis
on dialogue and mutual concern, has already opened up many avenues
of collaboration, spiritual and theological exchange and convergence
on essential issues of faith and order.
At the same time, however, the growth in the koinonia is especially
tested when, locally or universally, the churches are called upon
to act together on pressing social issues. Ethical issues can
become factors of division as witnessed in the on-going discussion
on abortion, birth control, divorce, and homosexuality. The old
slogan that "doctrine divides, service unites" is no
longer axiomatic. The impact of socio-cultural challenges and
the need for common responses to them is of immense importance
for the future of ecumenism.
Each Christian World Communion has to face specific challenges
regarding universality and particularity. The Protestant churches
have stressed the importance of the local church, but they face
the problem of concretely manifesting universality among their
own churches. Participation in the World Council of Churches has
heightened the experience of universality among the member churches.
In the Roman Catholic Church today dialectical tension between
local authority and central authority remains a critical issue29.
IV. THE STRUCTURING OF COMMUNION
The vere nature of the Church of God, the elements of ecclesial
community already discussed, and the lived experience of individual
Christian communities, all form the basis on which the canonical
expression of communion has to be developed. Here are meant questions
of polite, order, law, authority, and constitution which all refer
to the structure of the Church and of communion. What has been
said above about the nature of communion and its many qualities
is presupposed here. The canonical dimension of communion applies
to the local and universal framework of one particular tradition
as well as to the already partially existing communion among different
Communion, as we have seen, refers, to a dynamic, spiritual, objective
reality which is embodied in ecclesial structures. The gift of
communion from God is not an amorphous reality but an organic
unite that requires a canonical form of expression. The purpose
of such canonical structuring is to ensure that the local churches
(and their members), in their communion with each other, can live
in harmony and fidelity to "the Faith which has been once
and for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3).
In the Roman Catholic Church communion with the Bishop of Rome
is necessary. Vatican II referred on several occasions to "hierarchical
communion"30. It taught that one becomes a member of the
college of bishops through sacramental ordination and hierarchical
communion with the head and members of the college. At his ordination
a bishop receives the office (munus) of sanctifying, teaching,
and governing. But these tasks can be exercised only in hierarchical
communion with the head and members of the college of bishops.
Furthermore, although bishops possess the threefold munera through
their ordination, they cannot exercise them in a particular place
without a specific determination, a "canonical mission"
by the Pope. The college of bishops cannot act independently of
the Pope, since the collegial character of the body would be inoperative
without its head.
Despite certain differences in the life and the practice of Orthodox
Churches, they believe on the basis of a common canonical tradition
that episcopal ordination confers the functions of sanctifying,
teaching, and ruling. They have comparable practices dealing with
the designation and assignment of bishops. Moreover they agree
that the bishops must be in hierarchical communion with the head
of the svnod. In this context, Canon 34 of the "Apostolic
Canons" is an appropriate expression of the Orthodox understanding
The Reformation and Free churches have developed their canonical
structures of expressing and safeguarding communion within their
churches. According to their particular heritage they employ presbyterial
and synodical structures for this purpose and, in many cases,
integrate into them episcopal ministries under different titles,
including the office of bishop. In their respective Christian
World Communions these churches have also developed canonical
structures which enable consultation, cooperation, and common
witness, but which do not allow for decisions which are binding
for the individual member churches of that Communion. However,
there is a general tendency to strengthen ways in which these
communions can express their common faith, life and service on
a universal level.
The ministry of the Bishop of Rome as the minister of universal
unity is essential to Roman Catholicism. According to Catholic
faith Peter and his successors, the Bishops of Rome, have been
entrusted by God to confirm the brethren in the faith "which
has been once and for all entrusted to the saints" and in
the unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church (cf. Lumen
gentium 25; Christus Dominus 2).
The Bishop of Rome is seen as the sign and guarantee of the communion
of local churches with each other and with the church of Peter
and Paul. His ministry is multiple: to protect both unity and
legitimate diversity; to offer support and solicitude; to facilitate
communication between churches; and to arbitrate differences.
The office of the papacy remains a controversial issue in ecumenism,
but there are signs of better mutual understanding32. On the Orthodox
side the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, following a deliberation
and resolution of his Synod, and convinced that it expressed the
mind of the early Church, stated that the Bishop of Rome is marked
out as the one who has the presidency of charity and is the first
bishop in rank and honor in the whole Body of the Lord33.The Pope
can be called primus inter pares (first among equals), because
this apostolic see has exercised a primacy of love from earliest
times 34. In bilateral dialogues, Lutherans speak of the value
of the "Petrine function"35 and Anglicans have agreed
that "a universal primacy will be needed in a reunited church
and should appropriately be the primacy of the Bishop of Rome"36.
The Joint Roman Catholic/World Methodist Council Commission noted:
"Discernment of the various factors in Scripture and history
might contribute to an agreed perception of what functions the
see of Rome might properly exercise in a ministry of universal
unite, by what authority, and on what conditions" (§V
40)37. Despite these positive statements, the problems of ius
divinum (divine right), primacy of jurisdiction, infallibility
and the papal teaching authority remain subjects of intense ecumenical
The Shape of Future Unity
If all local churches are to be united to form one communio ecclesiarum
(communion of churches), there must be an acceptance of the basic
ecclesial elements of communion: common profession of the same
apostolic faith; proclamation of the Word of God; mutual recognition
of the sacraments, especially baptism and eucharist; and agreement
on the nature and exercise of pastoral leadership. Such agreements
and recognitions are necessary for the achievement of visible
unity in legitimate diversity.
Several models of structured Christian communion have been proposed
and critically analyzed within the ecumenical movement. Some of
the models of comprehensive union that have been suggested include
the following: organic union; corporate union; church fellowship
through agreement (concord); conciliar fellowship; communion of
communions; and unity in reconciled diversity38. Nevertheless,
the precise shape the united church of the future should take
and the forms of diversity it could embrace is an important but
still unresolved question for all Christian communities.
Furthermore, the different understandings of the Christian World
Communions concerning the relationship between the Church local
and universal clearly affect our approach toward future unity.
Questions are raised if ecumenical relations develop rapidly on
the local level between traditions which have not achieved full
communion on the universal level. For example, what degree of
communion can local churches of different traditions achieve in
these cases, without breaking communion with churches of their
In conclusion, it can be said that although canonical communion
does not yet exist among local churches of different traditions,
the churches are in communion in a profoundly spiritual way. Our
churches share the common Gospel in the Christian heritage. Because
ecclesial communion is a fellowship inspired by the indwelling
Spirit, we can say that the barriers of our divisions do not reach
to heaven. Christian unity is both a gift and a task. Christians
of all communities pray for the unity of all in each place and
look forward to that "one visible Church of God, truly universal
and sent forth to the whole world so that the world may be converted
to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God" (Unitatis
Service 74 (1990/III) 75-84]