Means of Grace, Servants of Christ
and His Church
and Roman Catholics affirm that the whole community of believers
is called together by God our Father, placed under the lordship
of the Risen Christ, united with Christ as his Body, and has the
Holy Spirit as the source of its unity of life, worship and witness.
In the Father's purpose for the Church, each and every believer
is to participate in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit,
bringing God's outgoing, all-embracing and transforming love to
all humanity. The Church is "a community both of worship and
It is a community of faith called to preach and proclaim to the
world the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "good news of a great joy
which will come to all the people" (Lk 2:10). Catholics and
Methodists are firmly united in the passionate conviction that the
Gospel is offered to all.47
The work of spreading the Gospel is impaired if believers are not
truly one in the Gospel of Christ, united in love and in truth.
Our connection and communion with one another serve our growth towards
holiness and our sharing in God's mission. Growth in unity is the
work of the Holy Spirit, who leads believers into all love and all
truth. As this Joint Commission affirmed in 1981, "To maintain
God's people in the truth is the loving work of the Spirit in the
Methodists and Catholics agree that Jesus promised his presence
and protection to the Church until the end of time. He continues
to endow his Church with the Spirit of truth and holiness. God's
faithfulness means that the powers of evil will never prevail against
the Church, as it engages in its mission for the salvation of the
world (cf. Mt 16:18).
and Agents of God
Church is totally dependent on the free gift of God's grace for
every aspect of its life and work. Apart from Christ we can do nothing
(cf. Jn 15:5). Methodists and Catholics agree, however, that God
works through people as servants, signs and instruments of his presence
and action. Although God is not limited to such ways of working,
we joyfully affirm together that God freely chooses to work through
the service of human communities and individuals, empowered by his
grace. The whole Church is called to be a channel of God's grace
to the world; within the Church individuals and institutions become
agents of the Lord and thus servants of their brothers and sisters.
Such ministries are a gift of God to his Church.
has always been a wide variety of service in the Church, carried
out by lay people and ordained ministers in partnership. The diverse
gifts in the Body of Christ are complementary, and serve together
the Church's communion and connection in love and in truth. Ephesians
4:11 bears witness to the ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists,
pastors and teachers. Romans 12:7-8 refers to ministry, teaching,
exhorting and leading, all as gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 makes clear
that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are integrated and to be exercised
in harmony. The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that their purpose
is to serve the whole Body of Christ, enabling the community of
believers to fulfil the mission in and for the world given to it
ministry of oversight (episcope) is of key importance among these
forms of service. Pastoral oversight has always included authoritative
teaching and preaching, for unity in love and unity in truth belong
together. Methodists and Catholics affirm together the place within
the community of believers of authoritative servants of communion
and connection in love and in truth, authorised agents of discerning
and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In the early Church, the
ministry of pastoral and doctrinal oversight was primarily exercised
by bishops. In the Catholic communion, the college of bishops united
with the Pope exercises supreme oversight. Among Methodists, it
is Conference which exercises oversight, with full authority within
the church for the formulation and interpretation of doctrine. Within
or alongside such structures of servant leadership, there have always
been charismatic individuals whose personal ministry has been vital
for the life of Christ's Church. John Wesley himself stands out
as such a person. Catholics and Methodists affirm together that
God chooses to use such individuals as well as visible structures
to touch the lives of his people.
Word was made flesh, and lived among us" (Jn 1:14). God's Son
entered human history as one of us, taking upon himself human life
and suffering. After the pattern of the Incarnation, God continues
to make visible the Invisible, and calls men and women to be signs
and channels of the divine presence. A key point of agreement between
Methodists and Roman Catholics is the need for graced, free and
active participation in God's saving work. "In the calling
of disciples and the giving of the Holy Spirit, God committed Himself
to working with his people (2 Cor 1:5-7, 6:1). The first Christians
knew that they were called to participate in God's mission and to
proclaim God's reign as Jesus had done (Lk 10:9, 11; Jn 20:20-3).
The Church's calling remains the same."49
This is true not only of God's working through the Church for the
salvation of all humanity, but also within the community of the
Church. God chooses to work with, through and in various ministers
and their ministries. Believers become God's co-workers (cf. 1 Cor
3:9), they working with God and God working in them (cf. 2 Cor 6:1).
In all of this they rely on the primacy of God's grace over all
human limitations and weaknesses, and on the invisible, active and
powerful presence of the Holy Spirit who blows where he wills.
and Roman Catholics agree that God uses means of grace which are
trustworthy channels. In this context, the Joint Commission has
recognized the need to explore together more deeply the meaning
of sacrament'. Its earlier report, Towards a Statement on
the Church, began to do so, specifically with reference to baptism
and Eucharist. Sacraments are "outward signs of inward grace
consisting of actions and words by which God encounters his people."50
Those actions of the Church which we call sacraments are effective
signs of grace because they are not merely human acts. By the
power of the Holy Spirit they bring into our lives the life-giving
action and even the self-giving of Christ himself. It is Christ's
action that is embodied and made manifest in the Church's actions
which, responded to in faith, amount to a real encounter with
the risen Jesus.51
Also, at the end of The Apostolic Tradition, reflecting on ordained
ministry, the Commission pointed to the need for "deeper common
reflection on the nature of sacrament."52
The Word of Life the discussion of the sacramental life begins with
Christ himself as the primary sacrament', "both the sign
of our salvation and the instrument by which it is achieved".
As incorporated into Christ, "the Church may analogously be
thought of in a sacramental way."53
Towards a Statement on the Church already described the Church as
"enabled to serve as sign, sacrament and harbinger of the Kingdom
of God in the time between the times" and also affirmed that
"Christ works through his Church."54
The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery
of the Eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon
the sacramental idea, i.e. the Church takes its shape from the
Incarnation from which it originated and the eucharistic action
by which its life is constantly being renewed.55
The Church's mission is "none other than a sharing in the continuing
mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit expressing the Father's love
for all humankind"; "such participation in the mission
of Christ is possible only because of the outpouring of the Holy
sacraments are seen as particular instances of the revelation of
the divine mystery. They "flow from the sacramental nature
of God's self-communication to us in Christ. They are specific ways
in which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Jesus makes
his saving presence and action effective in our midst."57
Christ addressed himself in signs, in actions and in words to those
who came to him in faith: "After Christ's passion, death and
resurrection, the Savior continues his words and actions among us
by means of sacramental signs."58
Roman Catholics understand seven rites, including ordination, as
sacraments in the full sense of the word, although they consider
baptism and the Eucharist as foundational. Methodists affirm the
full sacramental nature only of baptism and Eucharist (as directly
instituted by Christ), but they consider other practices also as
means of grace'.59
too distinguish sacraments' from other means of grace. A sacrament
is a guaranteed means of grace, rooted in God's covenant to be with
his people. Christ freely commits himself to be powerfully present
through these signs, although we grow in holiness only as we respond
with faith active in love. Christ covenants himself to work in these
particular ways so that all may benefit from his faithful love.
Catholics understand this commitment by the Risen Lord to be present
in the sacraments as a practical outworking of his promise to be
with his Church until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20). Confidence
in Christ's presence and action in the sacraments is grounded in
God's faithfulness to the people he has chosen. Catholics believe
that God also uses other rites and forms of ministry as means of
grace even if they do not regard them as sacraments.
this context Catholics distinguish sacraments from sacramentals'.
In the strict sense, sacramentals are signs, instituted by the Church
and rooted in the baptismal priesthood of all believers. They always
include a prayer, often accompanied by a gesture such as the laying-on
of hands, the sign of the cross or sprinkling with holy water. Sacramentals
do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the same way as sacraments,
but by the Church's prayer they are intended to help prepare believers
to receive and cooperate with God's free gift of grace. Sacramentals
include blessings of people and things. Certain blessings consecrate
people to God in a special way, or reserve objects and places for
sacred use. "Every baptized person is called to be a
blessing', and to bless."60
Methodists affirm only baptism and the Lord's Supper as sacraments
directly instituted by Christ, they affirm other practices of the
Christian life as instituted means of grace.' John Wesley
described such means as "ordinary channels"61
through which God conveys grace. He then used passages from Scripture
to show that Christ commanded that all Christians use these means
and thereby promised grace to be given through them. Such instituted'
means include prayer, studying the Scriptures, fasting and works
of mercy. By works of mercy' is meant doing good to our neighbor
in both body and soul through such actions as feeding the hungry,
clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, instructing and exhorting
those seeking God. Thus, along with baptism and the Lord's Supper,
all of these are instituted means of grace.
also recognize that other practices can be effectual channels of
God's grace if they are faithful to Scripture and a meeting with
Christ is experienced. John Wesley taught that we can trust that
God's grace is regularly found in such places. They are thus prudential
means of grace'. Celebrating the faith in hymnody and Christian
conference are two such practices that have characterized Methodist
ecclesial life since its beginning. By Christian conference',
Methodists understand not only the Conferences in which clergy and
laity discern the will of God and make decisions about doctrine
and discipline, but also other occasions when they gather for personal
discernment and to watch over one another in love. Thus, class meetings,
Sunday schools, and youth fellowship groups are all examples of
prudential means of grace, which are not binding on all Christians
everywhere at all times. A faithful community may or may not find
them to be effective channels at particular times and places. Further,
new means of grace may be discovered for new contexts as the church
lives in faithful obedience to the Spirit.
effect, Methodists treat ordination, prayer for healing, declaring
the forgiveness of sins, marriage and confirmation as prudential
means of grace that have a special status within this larger category.
They are not sacraments like baptism and the Lord's Supper, yet
they have a sacramental quality. They are distinct from other prudential
means in that they are grounded in the practices of the apostolic
Church as attested in Scripture. Thus they are properly given liturgical
expression in the life of the gathered community of faith. There
may be value in exploring further any similarity between the Catholic
categories of sacraments and sacramentals, and Wesley's categories
of instituted and prudential means of grace.
and Catholics find significant convergence of understanding about
the means of grace. We agree that God has promised to be with his
Church until the end of the age (cf. Mt 28:20), and that all of
the means of grace, whether sacraments or sacramentals, instituted
means or prudential means, are channels of God's faithfulness to
his promise. Methodists and Catholics affirm that baptism, confirmation
and ordination are unrepeatable acts whereby God's grace is conveyed
to the recipient in special ways. However, some of our remaining
differences center on whether and how a means of grace may be guaranteed'
or trustworthy'. Catholics ask Methodists how and by what
criteria they verify that a particular means is a trustworthy channel
of God's grace. Methodists ask Catholics whether the idea of the
guaranteed quality of a sacrament takes full account of the weakness,
limitations and sinfulness of the human beings called to be agents
of God's grace. We need to explore further together our understanding
of the guarantee or trustworthiness of God's working through the
means of grace in his Church. This has an important bearing on our
understanding of how God works through ordained ministers in their
authoritative discernment and proclamation of the truth of the Gospel.
Call to Serve
Christians, together and individually, are called to serve Christ
in the world to the glory of God. This is the setting for understanding
the particular roles of bodies such as the Methodist Conference
or the College of Catholic Bishops. Each is understood as a means
of grace within a community of faith which is itself the agent of
Christ's saving work in the world. All who minister, ordained and
lay, serve a community whose members are called to recognize and
serve Christ in others. Ministers of Christ meet their Lord in those
and Roman Catholics agree that by ordination a person is irrevocably
called and set apart by God for special service in the community
of believers, but this does not involve being separated from that
community. It is a special calling within the general calling given
to all. This dialogue has often returned to the question of what
ordination does. There is much that can be affirmed together. By
ordination a person becomes a minister of word and sacrament in
the Church of Christ. At the heart of all pastoral service by the
ordained lies a ministry of oversight for the sake of the connection
and communion of the Church (cf. 1 Pet 5:2,4).
Joint Commission's first report outlined key areas of agreement
on ordained ministry. After declaring that "the minister participates
in Christ's ministry, acts in Christ's name", the document
goes on to speak of the importance of the Holy Spirit in "calling
people into the ministry", the "connectional" character
of the ministry, the paramount authority of Christ himself in the
Church. Another significant area of agreement for the continuing
dialogue was "the understanding of the ministry as, in some
mysterious way, an extension of the incarnational and sacramental
principle when human beings (as ministers), through their souls
and bodies, become, by the power of the Holy Spirit, agents of Christ
for bringing God into the lives and conditions of men" and
The Commission's next report again understood ordained ministry
as "the ministry of Christ himself, whose representative the
Increasingly, both Catholics and Methodists understand the ordained
minister to represent both Christ and the Christian community. According
to that report, Roman Catholics and Methodists also agree that "by
ordination a new and permanent relationship with Christ and his
church is established"64:
this is the foundation of our common belief that ordination is irrevocable
and unrepeatable. In The Apostolic Tradition the Commission stated
that within the community of God's people, an authentic minister
"communicates Christ to persons"65:
"as an instrument in God's hands, the ordained minister imparts
the Word of God to God's people, both by speech and by the sacraments
of the Church."66
The report went on, however, to admit that there are remaining differences
over the sacramental nature of ordination.67
understand ordination as a sacrament singling out men within the
Church to be living signs and instruments of the continuing pastoral
oversight and leadership of Christ himself. It occurs through episcopal
laying-on of hands and prayer. Both bishop and presbyter are regarded
as "a sacramental representation"68
of Christ as head to his Body, of Christ as shepherd to his flock,
of Christ as high priest to his priestly people, of Christ the only
teacher to his community of faith. Through the ministry of bishops
and presbyters in particular, the living presence of Christ as head
of his Body and pastor of his people is made visible in the midst
of the Church. This understanding is the sacramental foundation
for Catholic doctrine on the teaching authority of the college of
bishops. The first task of bishops, especially when together as
the college of bishops, is to proclaim the Gospel in its integrity
to all. For Catholics, this ministry of authoritative preaching
is intimately linked with the ministry of governance and the central
liturgical ministry of presiding at the Eucharist. All true ministry
is pastoral at heart, serving to draw all people deeper into the
mystery of Christ the Shepherd, who gave his life in sacrificial
understand ordination as a gift from God to the Church. In it men
and women who are called by God to this form of ministry are accepted
by the Conference after examination. "They are then ordained
by prayer and the imposition of hands by the Bishop, or the President
of the Conference, and given the tasks of declaring the Gospel,
celebrating the sacraments and caring pastorally for Christ's flock."69
While Methodists do not understand ordination as a sacrament, it
is a liturgical action involving the community's prayer for the
gift of the Holy Spirit appropriate to the particular form of ministry.
Because this is a life-long and sacred commission, ordination is
never repeated. It is understood as entry into a covenant relationship
with all other ministers in the service of Christ. Thus, while ordination
is a liturgical action, it is normally accompanied closely by the
reception of the ordinand into connection with the Conference. Those
Methodist Churches which set apart or consecrate some ministers
as bishops do not consider this a further ordination.
and Methodists hold several aspects of their understandings of ordination
in common. Both Churches set apart ministers for the Church of Jesus
Christ. Both Churches understand this rite as a means of God's grace
whereby the minister is introduced into a covenant relationship
of permanent service in Christ's Church. This specific form of leadership
is always a service both to God and to God's people. It involves
administering the sacraments, preaching and teaching the Word, and
sharing in the ordering of the Church's life.
joyfully affirm together that the ministries and institutions of
our two communions are means of grace by which the Risen Christ
in person leads, guides, teaches and sanctifies his Church on its
pilgrim path. Such an affirmation can be made only within a community
of faith, relying on God's promise and grace: "All ministry
continues to depend entirely upon God's grace for its exercise.
The God who calls crowns his call with gifts for ministry."70
Catholics ask Methodists whether they might not use sacramental
language, such as has been used of the Church itself, of ordained
ministry in the Church, and of its authoritative discernment of
the truth of the Gospel. Methodists ask Catholics why, given human
weakness and fallibility, they understand ordained ministry not
only as a sign but also as a guarantee of the active presence of
Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, especially in particular
acts of authoritative discernment and proclamation. These questions
lie at the heart of ecumenical dialogue between our two communions.
Ministry of Preaching and Teaching
was recognized as the Rabbi or Master, who stood out from other
teachers because he spoke with authority (cf. Mk 1:22, 27; Lk 5:5,
8:24). At the center of Christ's ministry was the proclamation and
teaching of the Gospel. Soon after his baptism, Jesus began to proclaim
the good news of the reign of God (cf. Mk 1:14). He taught crowds
by the seashore, seeking to convey to them the nature of God's reign.
In his acts of healing and other deeds of compassion, there was
often a message for both recipient and audience. He constantly invited
people to believe in him and to recognize that the reign of God
was at hand.
by the Holy Spirit, the whole Church, lay people and ordained ministers
together, shares Christ's ministry of witnessing to the truth of
God's good news. Christ told his followers: "You will receive
power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends
of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Preaching and teaching in this broad
sense belong to the mission of all Christians as members of the
Church called by Christ to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt
28:19). Christ's Church is a community of interpreters and proclaimers.
Both lay people and ordained ministers have complementary gifts
of discerning the truth of the Gospel and of interpreting how it
should best be expressed in a particular cultural setting. Both
have the gift and responsibility of witnessing by word and deed
to all human beings, that they might be saved and given power to
become children of God (cf. Jn 1:12, 3:16).
and Catholics agree that the ministry of the apostles was essential
to the proclamation and spread of the good news during the first
century. It is clear from the New Testament that different functions
and offices were also recognized early in the Church as gifts from
God, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building
up the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). Scholars find the historical
record diverse, noting that episcopacy as an office developed gradually
in a variety of places. Roman Catholic teaching emphasizes that
there is nevertheless a collegial succession from the apostles to
the bishops. There is agreement between Catholics and Methodists
that the ministry of episcope (oversight) was always exercised in
the Church: "From apostolic times, certain ordained persons
have been entrusted with the particular tasks of superintendency"71;
"During the second and third centuries, a threefold pattern
of bishop, presbyter and deacon became established as the pattern
of ordained ministry throughout the Church".72
Both Roman Catholics and Methodists have retained something of that
threefold pattern, with (1) bishops or superintendents, (2) elders,
presbyters or priests, and (3) deacons.
the early Church, bishops became the normal celebrants and preachers
for their local churches. Pastoral need, however, led to the development
of the pattern of presbyters becoming the leaders of smaller communities,
always in communion of faith with their bishop. Preaching and teaching
were integral to the ministry of oversight in the early Church,
as they are today: "Central to the exercise of episcope is
the task of maintaining unity in the Truth."73
was no clear delineation between preaching and teaching in the early
Church. Preaching often involved the interaction of preacher and
congregation, and was integrally related to the rest of the liturgy,
particularly the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. It was also
a form of basic Christian education. The practice of the early Church
challenges the harmful separation often practiced today with regard
to preaching and the eucharistic liturgy on a Sunday. The ministry
of the word and the celebration of the sacrament belong together
as two means in which the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is given
to God's people.
Means of Teaching and Discernment
ministry of oversight (episcope) has been exercised among Methodists
in two main ways. Firstly, fundamental to Methodism is the Conference,
understood as the exercise of corporate episcope for the service
of the church. In all Methodist Churches, it is the Conference that
authoritatively discerns the truth of the Gospel for the church.
Even where Methodism has adopted either life-long or term episcopacy,
the Conference remains the instrument through which all matters
of faith are discerned and then proclaimed in official teaching:
"Conference is the final authority within the Church with regard
to its doctrines and all questions concerning the interpretation
of its doctrines."74
Conference exercises authority over preachers, and handles matters
of discipline. Secondly, for all Methodist Churches, a special ministry
of oversight or superintendency is exercised by individuals set
apart for either a specific term or a lifetime of service to God
in that office; some of these Churches have superintendents',
others have bishops'. The Methodist Church in Great Britain
has expressed its willingness to receive the historic episcopate
into its life and ministry as and when it is required for the unity
Catholics readily concur with the description of the teaching role
of bishops given in the United Methodist Book of Discipline: "To
guard, transmit, teach and proclaim, corporately and individually,
the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition,
and, as they are led and endowed by the Holy Spirit, to interpret
that faith evangelically and prophetically."75
For Catholics, authoritative discernment of truth and faithful teaching
are entrusted to the college of bishops united with the Pope, which
is understood to be endowed by the Holy Spirit with the gift of
discernment. The catholicity of the Church in both space and time
means that the substance of the Church's teaching must be the same
in all places and all times. Hence, in their role as guardians of
the Church's unity the bishops seek to ensure that the same faith
is being proclaimed now as was discerned by the Church in earlier
centuries and that the same faith is being taught in all parts of
the world today. Nevertheless, important differences in expression
and emphasis occur as the Gospel is lived and proclaimed in various
cultures at various times. Authoritative discernment by bishops
does not take place in isolation. They must listen not only to Scripture
and Tradition, but also to the whole Church community. Catholics
understand the gift of apostolicity, including the discernment of
divine truth, as belonging to the whole Church: this is served and
guaranteed by the apostolic ministry of the bishops.
Methodists and Roman Catholics have a strong sense of the corporate
nature of the ministry of oversight. This reflects their common
emphasis on the connection or communion of local communities of
faith with one another in their Christian life, worship and mission.
For each Methodist Church, Conference exercises a form of corporate
episcope. For Catholics, it is the college of bishops united with
the Bishop of Rome that exercises such a corporate episcope. The
unity of local Catholic communities with one another is constituted
and served by their communion with their bishop in a diocese, and
the unity of their bishops by communion with the Bishop of Rome.
Methodists and Catholics affirm together that true Christian faith
and discipleship always involve unity with one another in truth
and in love. This understanding of the Gospel is reflected in our
ecclesial structures, which seek to serve the unity of the whole
Church. Although growth into perfect holiness and love under God's
grace is always something deeply personal, it is never private.
Both our Churches make room for individual ministers who play special
roles of leadership and inspiration within the community, but these
are always bound together in collegial responsibility for the faith
and mission of believers.
of the Laity in Authoritative Teaching
and Methodists both understand that the whole Church must be involved
in discernment and teaching. Lay people and ordained ministers share
this responsibility, but in different ways. Methodists affirm with
Catholics that ordination establishes the minister in a new and
permanent relationship with the Risen Christ. Hence, both Churches
understand that while the gift of discernment belongs to the whole
Church, ordained ministers in the due exercise of their office play
a special role. Within local congregations and geographic areas
(dioceses, districts, annual conferences) ordained ministers take
a leading role in the functions of worship, preaching and teaching.
However, there are many lay people, such as local preachers, trained
theologians, catechists, bible study leaders and Sunday school teachers,
who also have a calling to teach in the church. Moreover, a vital
part is played by people of holy life who teach by their example
though they may hold no formal office.
remain differences between Methodists and Roman Catholics concerning
what part lay people have in the process of authoritative discernment
and proclamation of the Gospel. Catholics locate the authoritative
determination of teaching in the college of bishops with the Bishop
of Rome at its head. Methodists locate that same authority in Conference,
where lay people sit in significant numbers, with full rights of
participation and decision-making.
understand that teaching authority is a gift to the whole Church,
and suggest that excluding presbyters and lay people from the place
of final decision-making denies them the exercise of that gift,
thereby weakening the Church's ability to discern the faithful interpretation
of God's Word for a particular time and place. By having representatives
of the whole Church present in the decision-making body they can
hope to hear the variety of perspectives and understandings needed
to ensure the catholicity of the Church. Lay people do actively
participate and contribute in different ways in many areas of the
structures of the Roman Catholic Church, for example in pastoral
councils, diocesan synods, and meetings of the Synod of Bishops
in Rome. However, Methodists ask Catholics why lay people could
not be more formally involved in decision-making bodies, even when
authoritative discernment and teaching is concerned, sharing responsibility
in some way with the bishops who nevertheless retain their special
ministry of authoritative teaching.
understand that the episcopal teaching function is exercised as
a service to the whole Church. Bishops lead communities of faith
which are themselves bearers of the truth of the Gospel. They authoritatively
discern and proclaim the faith given to the whole people of God.
The task of authoritatively ensuring catholicity and apostolicity
is entrusted to the college of bishops. Methodists do have an ordained
ministry, and a superintendency that has teaching functions. However,
Catholics ask Methodists why, in their understanding and practice
of the Conference, they do not more formally distinguish the role
of ordained ministers, especially bishops and superintendents, particularly
where authoritative discernment and teaching are concerned.
Roman Catholics and Methodists affirm that in calling people to
be agents in discerning what is truly the Gospel, God is using them
as means of grace, trustworthy channels. All forms of ministry are
communal and collegial. They seek to preserve and strengthen the
whole community of faith in truth and in love, in worship and in
mission. In both Churches, oversight is exercised in a way which
includes pastoral care and authoritative preaching and teaching.
Methodists and Catholics can rejoice that the Holy Spirit uses the
ministries and structures of both Churches as means of grace to
lead people into the truth of the Gospel of Christ. The authority
which Jesus bestows is "the authority for mission", and
"the exercise of ministerial authority within the Church, not
least by those entrusted with the ministry of episcope, has a radically
This authority enables the whole Church
to embody the Gospel and to become the missionary and prophetic
servant of the Lord."76
has promised his presence and his Spirit to the Church, but the
implications of this for a fuller understanding of ordained ministry
and of authoritative teaching need further exploration together.
A significant point of divergence is the idea of a guaranteed or
covenanted' means of grace, and the grounding this gives to
the Roman Catholic understanding of the teaching authority of the
college of bishops united with the Pope. Methodists wonder whether
a doctrine of a guaranteed indefectibility of teaching takes full
account of human frailty and sinfulness, although Catholics and
Methodists agree that God uses mere earthen vessels as his agents,
working through human weaknesses and imperfections to proclaim his
word. Catholics wonder how, without such a covenanted' understanding,
Methodists can be sure that their preaching and teaching is truly
that of Christ and his Church. Methodists consider that they can
indeed be sure with regard to essentials, but Catholics and Methodists
do not yet agree what all those essentials are. Nor is there complete
agreement about the participation of lay people in the Church's
decision-making, especially with regard to authoritative discernment
and proclamation of the Gospel. Methodists and Catholics are fully
agreed, however, that the teaching of the Church must always be
tested against Scripture and Tradition.
Authority: God's Gift to the Church
and Catholics agree that teaching authority rightly exercised is
a gift of God to his Church, through which Christ exercises the
headship of his body by the power of the Holy Spirit.77
The Gospel challenges Christians to reconsider what is meant by
authority', and to exercise it always in the likeness of Christ
who came "not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life
as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). "The heart of Christian
ministry is Christ's ministry of outreaching love."78
This is especially true of any ministry of authoritative leadership
among Christians. John Wesley's use of the phrase "watching
over one another in love"79
challenges all individual ministers and collegial bodies, especially
those exercising the ministry of oversight. The ministry of authority
should always seek the growth of those over whom it is exercised.
Sadly, it has not always been exercised in this way, and all ministers
will always be in need of reformation and renewal. "It is clear
that only by the grace of God does the exercise of authority in
the communion of the Church bear the marks of Christ's own authority.
This authority is exercised by fragile Christians for the sake of
other fragile Christians."80
and Catholics are committed to holiness in living, to faithfulness
in teaching, and to participation in God's mission to the world.
Our ministries, both individual and collegial, are means of grace
which the Spirit of Christ uses as he wills to keep the Church one,
holy, catholic and apostolic in its life, faith and mission. In
our human frailty, we trust together in Christ's promise to keep
the Church faithful to himself. As Charles Wesley's hymn reminds
us, "Fortified by power divine, the Church can never fail."81
Methodist Conference Statement, Called to Love and Praise
Called to Love and Praise, 4.2.1.
of the Joint Commission (1981), § 34.
Methodist Conference Statement, Called to Love and Praise
a Statement on the Church (1986), § 13.
a Statement on the Church, § 16.
Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 89.
Word of Life (1996), §§ 95-96.
a Statement on the Church, §§ 8, 9.
a Statement on the Church, § 10.
Word of Life, §§ 73, 75.
Word of Life, § 98.
Word of Life, § 98.
The Word of Life, §§ 100-107.
of the Catholic Church, § 1669.
Means of Grace,' § II.1 (The Works of John Wesley,
Bicentennial Edition, 1:381).
of the Joint Commission (1971), §§ 89, 90, 94,
in Understanding (1976), § 79.
Growth in Understanding, § 98.
Apostolic Tradition, (1991), § 83.
Apostolic Tradition, § 84.
The Apostolic Tradition, §§ 88-91, 94.
John Paul II, Post-Synodal Exhortation on Priestly Formation,
Pastores dabo vobis (1992), § 15; cf. Catechism
of the Catholic Church, §§ 1548, 1549.
Apostolic Tradition, § 82.
Apostolic Tradition, § 82.
Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996),
Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982),
Ministry, § 19.
Commission, The Apostolic Tradition (1991), §
African Methodists' Book of Discipline, § 1.18
(cf. §§5.1, 5.4.3) 10th Edition, 2000.
Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996),
The Gift of Authority (1998), § 32.
The Gift of Authority, § 5.
Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996),
Nature, Design and General Rules of the United Society' (The
Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 9:69).
Gift of Authority (1998), § 48.
and Psalms, no. 438.