Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > L-RC > Joint Statement | CONTENTS > ch. 2
  chapter 1 (JUSTIFICATION AND THE CHURCH) - select
The Abiding Origin of the Church - ch. 2
  chapter 3 (THE CHURCH OF THE TRIUNE GOD) - select


2.1. Jesus Christ as the Only Foundation of the Church

  1. "No one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3:11 ). In all its trenchancy this statement is to be evaluated and heeded as the fundamental principle of ecclesiology. "The one and only foundation of the church is the saving work of God in Jesus Christ which has taken place once for all".5 Everything that is to be said on the origin, nature and purpose of the church must be understood as an explanation of this principle. As an essential mark of the church, its unity — which since the very beginning of church history has existed only as a unity under threat, challenged by fragmentation (cf. 1 Cor 1:10 ff.) — is to be understood solely in the light of this principle.

  2. "Jesus the Christ" or "Jesus is Lord" is the original form of the Christian confession of faith. The author of this confession, through which the church as community becomes heard in this world, is the Holy Spirit, in whose power Christ is known as the Lord (1 Cor 12:3), and God the Father, who by his revelation gives us faith in the Messiah and Son (cf. Mt 16:17). The church owes its origin "not to a single, isolated act by which it was established" but is "FOUNDED in the totality of the Christ-event... starting from the election of the people of God of the Old Testament, in the work of Jesus, in his proclamation of the kingdom and in the gathering of the disciples through his call to conversion and discipleship, ... in the institution of the Lord's Supper, in the cross and resurrection of Christ, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and in the fact that this whole path is directed towards eschatological consummation in the parousia of the Lord".6 In this comprehensive sense, the term "founding or institution of the church by Jesus Christ" is a meaningful explication of the ecclesiological principle in 1 Cor 3:11, which cannot be abandoned.

  3. Jesus' whole work is determined and permeated by the mystery of the Trinity. It was always in obedience to the Father who sent him (cf. Jn 5:19); it was also filled with the authority and power of the Holy Spirit through whom Jesus had his existence (cf. Lk 1:35), who showed him to be the Son of God from his baptism onwards (cf. Lk 3:22) and who revealed him with power by resurrection from the dead (cf. Rom 1:4). Thus the trinitarian confession was already included in the original form of the confession of Christ, as a doxology of the work of salvation which has taken place once for all.

    2.2. The Election of Israel as the Abiding Presupposition of the Church

  4. The church of the New Testament was always aware that the history of the people of God did not begin with itself. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same God who called Abraham to be the father of all who believe, who elected Israel from among all the nations to be bis treasured possession and who entered into an enduring covenant with it (cf. Rom 9:6). In salvation-history the church thus presupposes the history of Israel (cf. Acts 13:16 ff.; Heb 1:1 f.). "The Church ever keeps in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen, ‘who have the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenant and the legislation and the worship and the promises; who have the fathers, and from whom is Christ according to the flesh' (Rom 9:4-5), the son of the virgin Mary",7 conscious of the fact that "she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy deigned to establish the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (cf. Rom 11:17-24)".8

    2.2.1. God's Grace as the Continuum of Israel's History

  5. God communicated to Israel the mystery of his name and assured them "I am the Lord your God" (Ex 20:2). "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Am 3:2; cf. Deut 7:6). For that purpose God already called Abraham from his father's house and his homeland (cf. Gen 12:1) into a path of obedient faith in him who called him (cf. Gen 15:6; 17:1). Israel's faithfulness was not to be divided: "You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God" (Deut 18:13). Israel shall therefore not have any other gods but serve only the one and only true God (cf. Ex 20:3-5). "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut 6:4 f.). This was and is Israel's fundamental confession.

  6. God's choice of Israel from among all the nations as his own people is not based on its merits or outstanding achievements. "It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you — for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you... that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand" (Deut 7:7 f.). This love remains steadfast. Though Israel often broke its covenant faith with God, God remained open to its conversion. Where God might have rightly terminated the covenant or said to Israel, as to an adulterer, "You are not my people", he called them to himself with the loving words, "Children of the living God" (Hos 1:10; cf. Rom 9:25 f.). Thus the miracle of the forgiveness of sins belongs to the gifts of God's love for his people (cf. Is 44:2). From the start God's covenant faithfulness includes the forgiveness of sins. Many psalms testify to this, just as the prophets not only proclaim judgment but repeatedly testify also to grace and return. God's grace is the origin and foundation of the Old and the New Covenants and the basis for the expectation of eternal glory.

    2.2.2. The Election of Israel for the Nations

  7. Although God's saving concern was repeatedly rejected and the covenant broken, God himself preserved the continuity of his gracious care by ever-renewed saving initiatives. And just as the covenant with Noah established a new start in humanity's history with God, so too the election of Israel from the beginning aimed at the inclusion of all nations in God's salvation history.

  8. The blessing God promised Abraham is not limited to making his descendants a great nation but has its climax in the promise, "... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3; cf. Gal 3:8). The prophets see as the final act of salvation-history the nations of the earth moving to Jerusalem like a star-shaped pilgrimage from every direction, to receive a common salvation in God's universal kingdom of peace (cf. Is 2:1-5; Mic 4:1-4). Zion as the center of Israel is to become the center of the messianic kingdom of peace for the whole world of nations, and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel, is to be the king of peace ruling over all the nations (cf. Is 9:5 f.). As the chosen Servant of God, he himself will bring the justice of God to the peoples of the whole earth (cf. Is 42:1-12; 49:6).

    2.3. The Foundation of the Church in the Christ-Event

  9. "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:4-6). Jesus' mother was a Jewish woman. As the Messiah of Israel Jesus is descended from the family of David (cf. Lk 1:32 f.; Rom 1:3 f.). The God whose rule Jesus proclaimed is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was to the people of Israel that Jesus directed this proclamation (cf. Mt 15:24; 10:6). Jesus proclaimed God's love in an unheard-of radical way: "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Mk 2:17). In line with this he taught love for this God whose kingly rule is consummated in mercy and the love of one's neighbor, including enemies (cf. Mt 5:44). On these two fundamental commandments "hang" all the law and the prophets (Mt 22:40; cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18).

  10. That Jesus as Son of God is the Messiah and that in him the eschatological rule of God has dawned is the unique saving event which effects a definitive salvation for all the nations, going beyond all the saving gifts in the history of his people. All the promises of the prophets are fulfilled in him: he is the light that illumines all darkness; the life that overcomes all the power of death, the righteousness that cancels out all sin. According to the witness of the New Testament the "new covenant" (Jer 31:31-34) has been inaugurated in his "blood" (1 Cor 11:25; Lk 22:20), and his blood is the "blood of the covenant" (Ex 24:8) which was poured out for all "for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28; cf. Mk 14:24). In Jesus is perfected God's faithfulness to the covenant. From the beginning God has held fast to his will to save, against all human unfaithfulness: "... God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (Rom 11:32).

    2.3.1. The Proclamation of the Reign of God in Word and Deed

  11. What Jesus proclaimed was the dawn of the exclusive reign of God (cf. Ps 97), which was looked for by Israel, sung in the "new song" (Ps 96), but effected in an entirely unexpected way. In many parables Jesus speaks pointedly of its nearness in figures of speech. It is like a tiny seed out of which a great tree will grow (cf. Mt 13:31 f.). It is like a "treasure hidden in a field" or an incomparably beautiful pearl, which should be acquired here and now and for which one will spend no less than everything one has (Mt 13:44-46). It comes up and grows "of itself"; human effort can neither aid it in any way (Mk 4:26-29) nor prevent what it does (cf. Mt 13:24-26). It is God's action alone. But all those who accept it from Jesus' words and deeds must allow themselves to be wholly taken into service by it and must subordinate everything else to it (cf. Lk 9:57-62).

  12. The reign of God is present in Jesus' words and deeds. By virtue of "the Spirit of God" he expels demons (Mt 12:28) and frees human beings from their power (cf. Mk 5:1 ff.). It is the saving power of God's eschatological reign that Jesus promises to sinners (cf. Mk 2:10 ff.). "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Mk 2:17; cf. Lk 18:9 ff.). In common meals in which eschatological joy of salvation prevails, he celebrates the miracle of the presence of the kingdom of God with "tax collectors and sinners" (Mk 2:15 f.). These meals are also harbingers of the eucharistic community of the church after Easter.

  13. What Jesus proclaims as the power of God's reign is his justifying love which creates salvation: his unlimited mercy, with which he receives the lost into his Father's house and bestows rich gifts on them (cf. Lk 15:11 ff.), forgives sinners their guilt (cf. Mt 18:23 ff.), promises salvation to the poor, the hungry and the suffering (cf. Lk 6:20-23) and gives the last the same share in his salvation as the first (cf. Mt 20:1 ff.). Correspondingly, the unlimited love of one's neighbor is the real meaning of the righteousness that God calls for from his elect (cf. Lk 10:25-37). Thus in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus shows us the actual intention of God's law in its individual commandments. Just as the reign of God redeems the lost, so too it lays on those who are saved the duty of solidarity with the lost as "peacemakers" (Mt 5:9), and prepares them to accept persecutions, slanders and sufferings "for righteousness' sake" (Mt 5:10-12).

  14. Jesus called specific persons to follow him as his disciples. Thus they became personal witnesses to the nearness of the reign of God. That reign is to be accepted at once, without delay and apprehensiveness (cf. Lk 14:15 ff.; 17:28 ff.). The disciples are to leave everything (cf. Mk 1:16 ff.; 10:29 f.) in order to be fully with Jesus (cf. Mk 3:14) and follow him wherever he goes. Self-denial is as much a mark of citizenship in the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 18:3 f.) as following Jesus (cf. Mk 8:34).

  15. Jesus called twelve disciples as his particular followers. He sent them out and empowered them as his messengers (apostles) to proclaim his message of the kingdom of God to the whole people of Israel and, as a sign of its nearness, to heal the sick and free the possessed from the power of the demons just as he had done (cf. Mk 3:14 f.; 6:7; Mt 10:7 f.). That the apostles numbered twelve corresponds to the full complement of the tribes of Israel. Thus their minis- try has a meaning in terms of salvation-history: in the proclamation of Jesus the kingdom of God has definitively dawned, that kingdom which is the consummation of God's history with his chosen people, however much its ultimate manifestation on the last day is still pending. But at the same time the ministry of the twelve apostles also has a fundamental ecclesial significance. The apostles are to preach the gospel after Easter so that their witness is foundational and normative for the whole church. According to Luke 10:1 Jesus also sent out 70 (or 72) other disciples with the same mission. Their number matches that of "the elders of Israel" (Ex 24:1; Num 11:16 f.) and relates likewise to the people of Israel as a whole and to the full complement of the nations (cf. Gen 10).

  16. The kingdom of God is the eschatological saving reality that affects the whole world. In earthly terms it is unattainable. Nevertheless because it is there in Jesus, it is present among his disciples (cf. Lk 17:20 f.). The same is also true of the church: it is not identical with the kingdom of God, which even after Easter remains hidden in the eschatological future. The kingdom is entirely God's affair, not that of any human being nor is it at the disposal of anyone in the church. And yet its eschatological saving reality can already be experienced in the church in the "righteousness and peace and joy" which, imparted by word and sacrament, take effect in the common life of Christians "in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). In this sense it can be said that the church is the kingdom of God already present but "hidden"9 "in mystery".10

    2.3.2. Cross and Resurrection

  17. Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray for protection from eschatological sufferings (cf. Mt 6:13; Lk 11:4), who was aware of the provocation of his message (cf. Mt 10:34-36) and who proclaimed the reign of God in weakness (cf. Mt 11:12; Mk 4:30-32 par), was himself willing to accept the consequences arising from his preaching. He himself lived out the willingness to serve to the end and the readiness for martyrdom which he demanded from his disciples (cf. Lk 22:27; Mk 9:35 par; Mk 8:34 f.). When he journeyed up to Jerusalem, he knew what had befallen John the Baptist and was aware of the fate of the prophets (cf. Mk 6:14-29; 9:13; Mt 23:34-39). In regard to the aim of his mission he was able to say: "For the Son of Man carne not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45; cf. 1 Tim 2:5).11 In unwavering confidence that the reign of God was coming (cf. Mk 14:25), he voluntarily took upon himself (cf. Mt 26:39,42) his death on the cross as a necessity (cf. Mk 8:3 1; 9:3 1; 10:32 f.) laid upon him in accordance with God's saving will and suffered the distress of being forsaken by God (cf. Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). In this he fulfilled the prophecy of the Servant of God who "bore the sin of many" (Is 53:12): "But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed" (Is 53:5; cf. 1 Pet 2:24; Rom 4:25).

  18. In the night before his death, at supper together with the Twelve, Jesus "took a loaf of bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take, this is my body. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mk 14:22-24). Thus with effective signs Jesus gave his disciples an anticipatory share in the saving event of his atoning death as a once-for-all sacrifice, through which all who believe in him have been redeemed from sin (cf. Mt 26:28) and freed for life in the Spirit. According to the formulations in Mark and Matthew, that which happened for Israel in the action of the covenant made at Sinai (Ex 24:8) now happens "for many". According to the formulations in Luke and Paul (cf. 1 Cor 11:25) the prophetic promise of the New Covenant (cf. Jer 31:31-34) is realized. The meaning is the same: the eschatological miracle of a universal "eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12) takes place in Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross. With the command, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24f; Lk 22:19), Jesus promises his church that in every celebration of the Lord's Supper he himself will be present as the one who was sacrificed for us, in the same way as in this meal with the apostles on the Passover Eve before his death: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:2 6).

  19. For the disciples the story of Jesus' Passion becomes the story of their denial. They fell asleep while Jesus, in his prayer that night, struggled with the will of his heavenly Father (cf. Mk 14:37-41). Upon his arrest they all fled (cf. Mk 14:50). Even Simon, the "Rock", goes back on his word: having just been willing to share death and prison with his Master (cf. Lk 22:23), he denies him three times (cf. Mk 14:66 ff.). Only Jesus' prayer for him keeps him from falling into Satan's control and brings him back to faith, thereafter to strengthen his brothers (cf. Lk 22:31 ff.; Jn 21:15 ff.). Abandoned by everyone in Gethsemane, Jesus accepted his own death, surrendering in complete faith to his Father, so that "he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" as "a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:7-10). Thus in every act of worship Christ's congregation goes to that cross "outside the gate" that there they may bear his shame (Heb 13:10-12) and have that communion with the crucified which takes us beyond earthly time into the "city that is to come" (Heb 13:14).

  20. Jesus' mother stands below the cross with two other women and the "disciple whom he loved" (Jn 19:25-27). Jesus commends them to each other: the disciple to Mary as her son in his stead and Mary to the disciple as his mother. Thus in the form of these two a small community stands under Jesus' cross as archetype of the church whose permanent place is the cross of its Lord whence it has its life. After Jesus' death a soldier pierced his side "and at once blood and water carne out" (Jn 19:34) — a sign that the saving effect of his death would benefit his church through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper (cf. 1 Jn 5:5-8).

  21. In the early hours of Easter morning three women disciples find Jesus' grave empty, and a angel announces his resurrection (cf. Mk 16:1 ff .). The risen Christ himself "appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Cor 15:5) and frequently to still others, men and women. The resurrection of the crucified is God's central eschatological miracle, the break-through of the eschaton: Jesus is "the first fruits of those who have died", the first to experience resurrection (1 Cor 15:20; cf. Col 1:18): he is God's act of new creation, through which he has procured victory for the love with which bis Son gave himself to us (cf. 1 Cor 15:57; Rom 8:31-39; Col 2:13f.). By this act of God's power, the death of Christ has acquired saving power: as the justification of sinners (cf. Rom 4:25) and as reconciliation with God (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-21 1) as well as a new creation — life in the power of the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:9-11; Eph 2:5 f.; 1 Pet 1:2). In his exaltation above "every name" (Phil 2:9-11) the risen Lord has become" head of the body, the church" (Col 1:18) and has become lord over the entire universe, a lordship which will last till he hands over the universe — reconciled and at peace to his Father, and God becomes "all in all" (1 Cor 15:25-28).

  22. Before his exaltation to the Father, for his disciples Jesus opened up the understanding of Scripture as witness to Christ, its center being his suffering on the cross and his resurrection (cf. Lk 24:45 f.). He gave the apostles the commission and authority to preach the gospel of repentance for "the forgiveness of sins... to all nations" (Lk 24:47): "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that 1 have commanded you. And remember, 1 am with you always, to the end of the age" (Mt 28:19 f.). As a legacy he gave his church the Holy Spirit which was to "guide" them "into all the truth" (Jn 16:13), empower them to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20:23) and enable them to preach and bear witness among all the nations (cf. Acts 1:8). In the power of the Spirit of God the church was to abide in the love of Christ as he abides in his Father's love (cf. Jn 14:16 f.; 15:10) — "that they may all be one" so that the world may know that Jesus Christ is the Son sent by the Father who loves his own as the Father loves him (Jn 17:21-23).

    2.3.3. The Church as the People of God from all Nations

  23. The wonderful plan of God's salvation-history is that in Jesus' mission that purpose is also fulfilled which from the beginning God had linked to the election of Israel: the inclusion of all nations in the promised salvation and the foundation of the church as God's eschatological community of salvation. Just as at the beginning God recognized Abraham's righteousness without merit or worthiness but on the basis of faith alone (cf. Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3-8), so too he has made the same justification "by faith apart from works prescribed by the law" (Rom 3:28) the entrance into his church for everyone (cf. Rom 4:16 f.; Gal 3:6-9). Jesus Christ is the one Lord of the one church from among all the nations (cf. Acts 10:34-36), the one foundation and cornerstone of what God has built (cf. Eph 2:20 f.). Abraham's faith in the God who justifies sinners is fulfilled in the faith of Christians in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 4:3).

  24. In the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, God confirms that the assembly of those who believe in Jesus as the Christ is God's messianic people of the last days (cf. Acts 2; 1 Cor 12-14; Jn 14:15-31; 16:4-15; 20:19-23). Therefore the apostle's proclamation of the gospel "concerning his Son" (Rom 1:3) serves to "bring about the obedience of faith among all..." (Rom 1:5). Paul is not ashamed of the gospel which "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith'" (Rom 1:16 f.). In this way Paul unfolds the gospel concerning the Son, identifying it with the gospel of the righteousness of God.

    2.4. The Church as "Creature of the Gospel"

    2.4.1. The Proclamation of the Gospel as Foundation of the Church

  25. As on earth the Lord called and gathered people by the proclamation of the "good news of the kingdom" (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mk 1:14) so too after Pentecost the calling and the fresh gathering of God's people is continued by the proclamation of the "good news of Christ" (Rom 15:19; cf. 1:16; 1:1-9). For this purpose the risen Lord chooses his witnesses and sends them into the world (cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8; Jn 20:21). When they proclaim the gospel of "Jesus as the Messiah" (Acts 5:42) and people hear that gospel and accept it in faith as a promise of salvation, congregations are constituted from Jerusalem as far as Rome. The commission laid upon the apostles is "to proclaim the gospel" (Rom 1:15; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:16). This gospel, as "God's word" (1 Thess 2:13) or the "word of the Lord" calls people to be "imitators of ... the Lord" (1 Thess 1:5-8) and brings the church into being (cf. 1 Cor 15:1 f.).

  26. At the side of the audible word of gospel proclamation stand baptism and the Lord's Supper as visible means of God's saving acts and of the gathering of his people (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13). Just as a rescued Israel emerges out of the Red Sea, so the Christian community emerges out of baptism; as the manna was for Israel in the desert, so now the Lord's Supper is the pilgrim food for God's new people. Through baptism all are bound together with Christ (cf. Rom 6:3 ff.) and form the one "body of Christ" (1 Cor 12:27). The Lord's Supper is par excellence the visible and effectual expression of the congregation as a "sharing in the body of Christ" (1 Cor 10:16 f.).

  27. The sixteenth century Reformation highlighted with utmost emphasis the fact that the church lives on the basis of the proclamation of the gospel. It reproached the church of that time for not corresponding to that fundamental dependence on the gospel in its life and doctrine, and for having to a great extent withdrawn itself from subordination to the gospel. Consequently the main ecclesiological concern of the Reformation was perpetual dependence on the gospel and subordination to it. This was concentrated in the formula that the church is creatura evangelii.12 Already in 1517 the 62nd of Luther's 95 theses spoke of "the most holy gospel"13 as "the true treasure of the church"14 and one of the key principles of Lutheran ecclesiology takes this up: "The entire life and nature of the church is in the word of God".15 Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession corresponds to this, describing the church as "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel".16

  28. The conviction that the church lives out of the gospel also determines the Roman Catholic understanding of the church. In Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church we read, "... the gospel ... is for all time the source of all life for the Church";17 and the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity says that the "chief means of this implantation [i.e., of the church] is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ".18 The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World states, "The Church is born of the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the Twelve. ... Having been born consequently out of being sent, the Church in her turn is sent by Jesus. ... Having been sent and evangelized, the Church herself sends out evangelizers. [They are] to preach not their own selves or their personal ideas, but a Gospel of which neither she nor they are the absolute masters and owners, to dispose of it as they wish, but a Gospel of which they are the ministers, in order to pass it on with complete fidelity".19

  29. In the Malta Report Catholics and Lutherans together said that the church "as creatura et ministra verbi ... stands under the gospel and has the gospel as its superordinate criterion".20 There was agreement that "the authority of the church can only be service of the word and ... it is not master of the word of the Lord".21 This primacy of the gospel over the church was also attested jointly in regard to church order and the ministry.22

  30. For the Reformation it was self-evident that the proclamation of the gospel as the imparting of grace and salvation does not take place only in the preached word. Even when the Reformers were particularly stressing the importance of proclaiming the word, they held fast to the idea that the gospel is also communicated through the sacraments and that the preached word and administered sacraments belong together. The Smalcald Articles state that the "Gospel" is not proclaimed "in ... one way" but "through the spoken word", "through Baptism", "through the holy Sacrament of the Altar" and "through the power of the keys".23 The definition of the church as creatura Evangelii therefore means that the church lives on the basis of the gospel that is communicated in word and sacrament and accepted through faith.

  31. Imparting the gospel in word and sacrament implies the ministry of proclaiming the word and administering the sacraments. This corresponds to the biblical witness according to which the message of reconciliation implies the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18 ff.). Proclaiming the word and administering the sacraments are therefore not merely momentary acts but fundamental realities which permanently define the church. While all believers are to communicate the gospel in their own spheres of life, the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments as public acts are perpetually assigned to the ministry instituted by God. A basic agreement exists here between Catholic and Lutheran teaching, notwithstanding the existing differences in how this ministry is understood and organized. This has been repeated1y ascertained by the Catholic- Lutheran Dialogue: "By church we mean the communion of those whom God gathers together through Christ in the Holy Spirit, by the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments, and the ministry instituted by him for this purpose".24

    2.4.2. The Proclamation of the Gospel in the Holy Spirit

  32. We share the belief that the Holy Spirit creates the church as the communion of believers through faith in the gospel and works through this communion The proclamation of the gospel takes place in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8). It comes "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" and makes those who accept the word themselves messengers of the gospel (1 Thess 1:5-8). The Holy Spirit who is promised and given to those who bear witness to the gospel (cf. Jn 20:22) empowers them for their witness (cf. 2 Cor 4:13), keeps therm with Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26 f.) and gives therm the certainty of acting not in their own strength but "for Christ" (2 Cor 5:20) and with his authority (cf. Jn 20:23).

  33. The Holy Spirit who calls and empowers witnesses for gospel testimony also awakens and sustains the faith which responds to the proclaimed gospel, faith which accepts it as the promise of salvation (cf. 1 Thess 1:5f.; 1 Tim 1:14). It is the Spirit who enables those who hear the message to confess Christ as Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9 f.). In this "Spirit of adoption", they have access to God through Christ and call him "Father" (Rom 8:14-16; Eph 2:18).

  34. In awakening faith through the proclaimed gospel the Holy Spirit brings the church into being (cf. Acts 2), as congregations who are known and commended for their faith (cf. Rom 1:8; 1 Thess 1:8). Through the Spirit all are "baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13). In the variety of gifts the Spirit binds the individual believers together as living members (cf. 1 Cor 12:4 ff.). The unity of the Spirit is also the principle of the unity of this body that is the church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:3 f.), which as a whole is a "dwelling place for God" in the Spirit (Eph 2:22).

    2.4.3. The Proclamation of the Gospel by the Apostles

  35. That Jesus Christ is the church's "foundation" (1 Cor 3:11) and that the church lives on the basis of the gospel of Christ is concretized in the fact that the apostles called by Christ are also the church's "foundation" (Eph 2:20). This they are not of themselves but by the power of the gospel which they have received and to which they are primary witnesses — the gospel transmitted in word and sacrament that creates, sustains and governs the church. This has permanent eschatological validity. The twelve apostles of Jesus will "sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt 19:28 par), and the "twelve foundations" bear "the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev 21:14).

  36. In the ancient church appealing to the apostles and their testimony was the decisive defense against false doctrine. "We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those [i.e., the apostles] through whom the Gospel has come down to us".25 As the apostles received the revelation from Christ so too the church receives it through the apostles26 and the "rule of faith" acquires its binding nature through its faithful reflection of this apostolic tradition.27 Augustine sums up: "What the whole church believes is wholly rightly believed, even if it has not been directly decided by councils, but has been transmitted only on apostolic authority as belonging to the unquestioned substance of the faith".28 The title of the creed as the "Apostles Creed"29 expresses this conviction of the abiding, binding nature of the apostolic witness.

  37. This apostolic testimony — according to the common conviction of our churches — has its normative expression in the New Testament canon. All subsequent church proclamation, doctrine and tradition is interpretation. As apostolic writings the scriptures of the New Testament, together with those of the Old Testament are "the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged" say the Lutheran Confessions.30 The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of Vatican II states that the apostles had the commission to "preach to all men the gospel" as "the source of all saving truth and moral teaching".31 Hence "apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books" must be "preserved by a continuous succession of preachers until the end of time".32 Though Lutherans and Catholics think differently in many respects about the way in which the apostolic norm is safeguarded, the shared conviction nevertheless is that "apostolicity" is an essential attribute of the church and the criterion par excellence of its faith, its proclamation, its teaching and its life.

  38. In the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue to date this common conviction that the apostolic witness is the normative origin of the church has repeatedly been expressed and confirmed: The church stands for all time on the foundation of the apostles; it is in "all historical changes in its proclamation and structures... at all times referred back to its apostolic origin".33


    1. Kirchengemeinschaft in Wort und Sakrament. Bilaterale Arbeitsgruppe der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz und der Kirchenleitung der Vereinigten Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche Deutschlands, Paderborn/Hannover, 1984, 1 (hereafter: Kirchengerneinschaft).

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    2. Ibid. 2; cf. LG 3 f.

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    3. NA 4.

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    4. Ibid.

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    5. Apol 7, 17 f.; BC 171.

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    6. LG 3.

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    7. Kirchengemeinschaft, 2; LG 5.

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    8. WA 2,430.

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    9. WA 1, 236: sacrosanctum evangelium; LW 31, 3l.

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    10. Ibid.: Verus thesaurus ecclesie; ibid.

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    11. WA 7, 721.

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    12. CA 7, BC 32.

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    13. LG 20.

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    14. AG 6.

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    15. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975, 15.

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    16. Report of the Joint Lutheran-Roman Catholic Study Commission on The Gospel and the Church, 1972, 48 (hereafter: Malta Report), in Growth in Agreement, 168-189.

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    17. Ibid. 21.

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    18. Ibid. 33, 47, 48, 50; cf. 56.

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    19. SA 111, 4; BC 310.

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    20. All Under One Christ, 16.

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    21. IRENAEUS, "Against Heresies", III.1.1. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1967, 1, 414.

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    22. Cf. TERTULLIAN, De praescr. 6, 37.

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    23. Cf. TERTULLIAN, Adv. Marc. 1, 2l; 4, 5.

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    24. AUGUSTINUS, De bapt. 4, 3 1: "Quocl universa tenet ecclesia, nec conciliis institutum sed semper retentum est nonnisi auctoritate apostolica traditum rectissime creditur".

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    25. Cf. for instance RUFINUS, Expositio Symboli apostolorum n. 2; CCL 20, 134 f.

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    26. FC Ep 1, BC 464.

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    27. DV 7.

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    28. DV 8.

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    29. Malta Report, 57; cf. The Ministry in the Church, Roman Catholic/Lutheran Joint Commission, Geneva, 1982, 60, in Growth in Agreement, 248-275.

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