Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Brighton Rep. 2001 | CONT. > Part One - II

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Part One

II. God's Prophetic Community,
Anointed with the Spirit of Truth

29   Methodists and Roman Catholics are united in the hope that the Holy Spirit will lead all believers to the truth, gathering them together into communion with Christ who is in person "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6). The Second Vatican Council re-emphasized Catholic teaching on the place of the Holy Spirit at the heart of the life, worship and mission of Christ's Church: "The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19), and he prays in them and bears witness to their adoption as children (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). He leads the Church into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13), and he makes it one in fellowship and ministry, instructing and directing it through a diversity of gifts both hierarchical and charismatic, and he adorns it with his fruits (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). Through the power of the Gospel he rejuvenates the Church, continually renewing it and leading it to perfect union with its spouse."16 The Wesleys affirmed the same truth:

Head of thy church, whose Spirit fills
And flows through every faithful soul,
Unites in mystic love, and seals
Them one, and sanctifies the whole: …
Pour out the promised gift on all,
Answer the universal ‘Come'!

This link between Spirit and Church has always been essential to the life of the Church; in the third century, for instance, those being baptized in Rome were asked: "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church?"18 This has particular implications for the discernment of truth among the followers of Jesus. It is the whole Church which is endowed with the Spirit of Truth, and it is the whole Church, in different ways and through different gifts, that the Spirit leads into all truth. Discerning the truth and discerning the will of God belong to the whole people of God, lay and ordained together, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

   Anointed in the Truth

30   In the Old Testament, God spoke through individual prophets, each inspired by his Spirit. Through the prophet Joel, God promised the Day of the Lord when he would pour out his Spirit on all humanity:

Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)

31   Peter understands the extraordinary events of the day of Pentecost as the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy (cf. Acts 2:14-21). The new community of believers in the Risen Christ, his Church, is anointed with the outpouring of the Spirit of Truth promised by Jesus (cf. Jn 14:16f; 15:26; 16:13). While there are still particular individuals within that Church who have special gifts of prophecy (cf. Acts 11:27, 15:32, and 21:10-11), the whole community is prophetic, just as the whole community is royal and priestly (cf. I Pet 2:9f). This is because the Church is the Body of Christ, so intimately united with him by the Spirit that believers can speak of themselves as being ‘in Christ'. Jesus is the master who teaches the people with authority (cf. Mk 1:22, 27; Lk 10:25). He is the anointed one, recognized as the long-expected prophet, sent by God the Father after a long line of prophets (cf. Mt 21:11; Lk 7:16; Jn 6:14, 7:40). By our incorporation into Christ through water and the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ, the ‘great prophet' and share in his prophetic role.

32   This Commission has already affirmed this understanding in previous documents: "The Spirit guides the development of the Church. In every age, as the Paraclete, he reminds us of all that Jesus said, leads us into all truth, and enables us to bear witness to salvation in Christ."19 Maintaining God's people in the truth is "the loving work of the Spirit in the Church."20 The Spirit is seen as "the invisible thread running through the work of the Church in the world, enabling our minds to hear and receive the Word, enlightening them to understand the Word, and giving us tongues to speak the Word."21 It is because the faithful are "in Christ and with Christ" that "they receive the Spirit and are in the Spirit."22 This Spirit provides in the Church "abundant gifts of perception and understanding."23 Under the leading power of God's love, "the discernment of God's will is the task of the whole people of God."24 Because of this powerful presence of the Spirit of Truth, "the proclaiming community itself becomes a living gospel for all to hear."25

33   Further aspects of this mutual understanding have been expressed in our respective dialogues with the Anglican Communion. The Holy Spirit keeps the Church under the lordship of Christ, who never abandons his people, despite the all-too-obvious human weaknesses of its members. The Church's mission to proclaim and safeguard the Gospel involves the whole people of God, lay people as well as ordained ministers: "The people of God as a whole is the bearer of the living Tradition. In changing situations producing fresh challenges to the Gospel, the discernment, actualisation and communication of the Word of God is the responsibility of the whole people of God. The Holy Spirit works through all members of the community, using the gifts he gives to each for the good of all."26 Some, however, "may rediscover or perceive more clearly than others certain aspects of saving truth."27 We need, therefore, to "create the necessary conditions to foster a prepared and committed laity and clergy, both being necessary for the life and mission of a faithful Church."28

34   The role of the lay faithful as essential witnesses to the Gospel is affirmed in each of our Churches. "All Christians are called to minister wherever Christ would have them serve and witness in deeds and words that heal and free."29 Christ continues to carry out his prophetic task not only through ordained ministers "but also through the laity whom he constitutes his witnesses and equips with an understanding of the faith and a grace of speech (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev 19:10), precisely so that the power of the Gospel may shine forth in the daily life of family and society."30

35   Several key points emerge. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the whole people of God in the work of witness and mission. The whole body of believers, lay and ordained together, is called to the task of proclamation of the Gospel. It is the whole Church which remains rooted in a communion of faith and life with the apostles themselves, faithful to their teaching and mission.

   Abiding in the Truth

36   Because Christ's faithful are incorporated into him through baptism, they share in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal office, together as a community of faith and individually each in their own way. "All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth."31 The "theological task is both individual and communal" and "requires the participation of all.... because the mission of the church is to be carried out by everyone who is called to discipleship."32

37   The Church's ‘abiding in the truth' is the fruit of the powerful and manifold presence of the Holy Spirit in and among those who believe in Jesus Christ. A God-given sense or instinct is aroused and sustained in each believer by the Spirit of Truth. This gift is an aspect of the gift of faith. It makes it possible for believers to recognize and respond to the Word of God, to discern truth from falsehood in matters of faith and morals, to gain deeper insights into what they believe and to apply that belief to daily life. The Spirit, however, does not guarantee each person's exercise of this ‘insight into the faith' (sensus fidei). Individuals and groups can fall away from the truth and from holiness of life; the pilgrim Church today is, as it always has been, a community of saints and sinners. Each person's "I believe" should participate fully in the communal "we believe" of Christ's Church: "Faith is always personal but never private, for faith incorporates the believing individual into the community of faith."33 It is the corporate belief of the whole people of God that is protected from error by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The ‘faithful' are those who, ideally, are full of God's gift of faith, a faith which is the faith of Christ's Church, his body anointed with the Spirit of Truth.

38   In its 1978 statement on Authority, the then English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee affirmed that Methodists and Catholics "agree that Jesus promised to the Church his presence and protection until the end of the age; to it he promised the Spirit of truth always; against it the powers of hell will never prevail."34 Catholics and Methodists teach that absolute authority belongs properly only to God who has revealed himself supremely in the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. We affirm together that this revelation is communicated to us by witnesses who, by God's call and gift, share in the divine authority. Their witness is found above all in the apostolic preaching, Scripture and various organs of the continuing Church.35

   Preserved in the Truth

39   Methodists and Catholics believe that the Spirit preserves in Christ's Church the revelation given for our salvation, although we are not yet completely agreed on what doctrines are essential. Both acknowledge the Scriptures as their primary and permanent norm, to be interpreted authoritatively by the living voice of Tradition. Together we also 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.

40   Methodists emphasize that because human beings as creatures and sinners are fallible, "human witnesses may never in principle be exempt from the possibility of error, and the authority of the witness is to that extent always open to question." Methodists trust, however, that "God always keeps witnesses sufficiently faithful to himself for saving knowledge of himself to be available. As they seek the truth of God, and his will for them in particular situations, Methodists believe that they are led by the Holy Spirit."36

41   Catholics emphasize that in order to preserve his Church in the purity of the apostolic faith, Christ shares his own gift of infallibility with his community, so that it adheres unfailingly to this faith and hands on from generation to generation what has been "handed down from the apostles."37 It is the whole community of believers, united with Christ by the Spirit, which is the recipient of the charism of infallibility (protection from error). When the community is united in belief "from the bishops to the last of the faithful", its faith cannot be in error.38 Both the First and Second Vatican Councils taught that when the bishops together with the Pope at their head, or the Pope as successor of St Peter and head of the college of bishops, authoritatively define a doctrine of faith, it is the Church's own charism of infallibility which is at work in them in a special way.39 All such protection from error is totally the gift of God to his Church, the Spirit of Truth being strong amid the weakness of believers. Its purpose is to ensure the Church's faithful service of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.

42   Catholics and Methodists believe that God alone is the absolute Truth. All members of the Church on earth are fallible creatures and sinners in need of the mercy of God. The Church is totally dependent on the active presence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of its life and teaching.

   Co-Workgroups in the Truth

43   The whole community of faith has been sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Spirit who both awakens each believer's ‘insight into the faith' and who guides and guards the official teachers of the Church. Taking account of the communal sense of all the faithful is integral to the process of authoritative discernment of the truth: this participation is something much richer than a mere opinion poll or referendum on matters of faith. All believers together are "co-workers with the truth" (3 Jn 8), with a co-responsibility for discerning and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, always under the leading power of the Spirit of Truth. Authoritative discernment and proclamation can never be understood properly in isolation from the anointing by the Spirit of all the baptized, individually and together.

44   ‘Abiding in the truth' is a dynamic process led by the Spirit. Every believer has a part to play, listening to and reflecting on the Word of God spoken afresh to each generation. The graced insights of individuals and groups of Christians can enrich the pilgrim Church in its deeper penetration into the truth of the Gospel: "This tradition which comes from the apostles progresses in the Church under the assistance of the Holy Spirit. There is growth in understanding of what is passed on, both the words and the realities they signify. This comes about through contemplation and study by believers, who ‘ponder these things in their hearts' (cf. Lk 2:19,51); through the intimate understanding of spiritual things which they experience; and through the preaching of those who, succeeding in the office of bishop, receive the sure charism of truth."40
Put more poetically,

Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,
Let us thine influence prove;
Source of the old prophetic fire,
Fountain of life and love.
God through himself we then shall know,
If thou within us shine;
And sound, with all thy saints below,
The depths of love divine.

45   Because of the anointing of the whole community of faith with the Spirit of Truth, every Christian shares in Christ's role as prophet and teacher, totally dependent upon him and needing to listen to his word of life. There should be no conflict within the prophetic people of God between the role of the laity and that of ordained ministers, for "in the Church there is diversity in ministry, but unity in mission."42 The diverse gifts bestowed by the Spirit serve the building up of the Body of Christ "until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph 4:13). The Roman Catholic and Methodist perspectives on this are presented in this Commission's last document, The Word of Life: "Wesley knew that, in the mind and the heart of the deeply convinced Christian believer, the Holy Spirit is ever at work, bonding the exercise of particular spiritual gifts into unity with the exercise of complementary gifts in all the other members of the body of Christ, the Church" (§57); "In the perspective of Vatican II, this action of the Spirit brings about an interdependence in communion between the spiritual instinct of the whole body of the faithful and those who are empowered to make normative acts of discernment of what is, or is not, faithful to the Christian tradition" (§58).

   Called by the Truth

46   The interaction between the Spirit-led community and the Spirit-filled individual begins at baptism, when the gathered community, making present the Body of Christ, invokes the Holy Spirit on the one to be baptized:

Pour out your Holy Spirit
that the one to be baptized in this water
may die to sin,
be raised with Christ,
and be born to new life in the family of your Church.

Similarly when Catholics are confirmed and Methodists received into full membership, the prayer of the community is that the candidate may be confirmed by the Holy Spirit and may continue as God's servant for ever. Thus all the faithful have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and are constantly renewed by that Spirit in partaking together in the Eucharist, as "the body of Christ and the community of the Holy Spirit."44 The Holy Spirit is also invoked in a particular way on those who are discerned to have been called for the task of ordained ministry.

47   All the faithful are called and anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. This proclamation will always require a clear and unequivocal proclamation of our faith that "Jesus is Lord". The Church's faith, its ‘abiding in the truth', is expressed in words but also proclaimed by witness in deeds (cf. 1 Pet 2:12). Through wordless witness, Christians can "stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live."45 This radiant witness is a silent, powerful and effective proclamation of the Good News, inspired and made possible by the Spirit of Truth. ‘Abiding in the truth' includes not only "speaking the truth in love" but also "doing the truth in love" (Eph 4:15).


  1. Lumen gentium, § 4.

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  2. Hymns and Psalms, no. 316.

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  3. Cf. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.

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  4. Towards an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit (1981), § 21.

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  5. Towards an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit, § 34.

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  6. The Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 52; cf. § 31.

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  7. The Apostolic Tradition, § 27.

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  8. The Apostolic Tradition, § 27.

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  9. The Word of Life (1996), § 63.

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  10. The Word of Life (1996), § 63.

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  11. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), The Gift of Authority (1998), § 28.

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  12. ARCIC, Authority in the Church I (1976), § 18.

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  13. Anglican-Methodist International Commission, Sharing in the Apostolic Communion (1996), § 59.

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  14. J. Wesley, ‘Catholic Spirit', § 4 (The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 2:82).

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  15. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, § 35.

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  16. Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 91.

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  17. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 63.

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  18. The Word of Life, § 113; cf. ARCIC, The Gift of Authority, §§ 11-13, 23, 29.

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  19. Authority Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee (1978), § 4.

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  20. Cf. Authority Statement, § 28.

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  21. Authority Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee (1978), § 28.

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  22. The Roman Missal, Roman Canon.

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  23. Lumen gentium, § 12 quoting St. Augustine.

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  24. Cf. Lumen gentium, § 25.

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  25. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, § 8.

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  26. Hymns and Psalms, no. 469.

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  27. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam actuositatem, § 2.

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  28. Methodist Church of Great Britain, The Methodist Worship Book, 79.

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  29. The Word of Life (1996), § 96.

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  30. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World, Evangelii nuntiandi (1975), § 21.

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