God's Prophetic Community,
Anointed with the Spirit of Truth
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'!17
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.
in the Truth
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:
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
in the Truth
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
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.
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
in the Truth
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.
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
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
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.
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
in the Truth
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
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.41
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
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).
by the Truth
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
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.43
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.
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"
gentium, § 4.
and Psalms, no. 316.
Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.
an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit (1981), §
an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit, § 34.
Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 52; cf. § 31.
Apostolic Tradition, § 27.
Apostolic Tradition, § 27.
Word of Life (1996), § 63.
Word of Life (1996), § 63.
Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), The Gift of
Authority (1998), § 28.
Authority in the Church I (1976), § 18.
International Commission, Sharing in the Apostolic Communion
(1996), § 59.
Wesley, Catholic Spirit', § 4 (The Works of
John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 2:82).
Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen
gentium, § 35.
of the Catholic Church, § 91.
Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996),
Word of Life, § 113; cf. ARCIC, The Gift of Authority,
§§ 11-13, 23, 29.
Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee
(1978), § 4.
Authority Statement, § 28.
Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee
(1978), § 28.
Roman Missal, Roman Canon.
gentium, § 12 quoting St. Augustine.
Lumen gentium, § 25.
Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, § 8.
and Psalms, no. 469.
Vatican Council, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam
actuositatem, § 2.
Church of Great Britain, The Methodist Worship Book,
Word of Life (1996), § 96.
Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern
World, Evangelii nuntiandi (1975), § 21.