the past five years the Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic
Church and the World Methodist Council has studied the exercise
of teaching authority within and by the Church. In doing so, it
has taken further the understanding recorded in previous statements
of the Joint Commission, The Word of Life (1996) and, before that,
The Apostolic Tradition (1991). The themes of the Holy Spirit and
the Church, studied in previous phases of this dialogue, have now
led to the more precise question of how the faith which comes from
the apostles is transmitted from generation to generation in such
a way that all the faithful continue to adhere to the revelation
that has come in Christ Jesus. The teaching ministry in the Church
is a particular means for this transmission and for ensuring faithfulness
not only in believing but also in what is believed. This latest
statement contributes one more piece to a mosaic which has been
slowly developed, illustrating the various interlocking elements
which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, contribute to the life
of the Church as a faithful bearer of the revelation of Jesus Christ
to succeeding generations.
A word may
be helpful about the general structure of the present report, which
deviates a little from the pattern customary in bilateral dialogues.
The introduction indicates the biblical dynamic which energized
the work of the Commission during this quinquennium. Then the bulk
of the document consists of two parts that differ from each other
in nature. The first part states in systematic form what the Commission
believes it possible for Catholics and Methodists to agree on in
the matter of authoritative teaching, noting along the way such
divergences as remain and some questions which each side would wish
to put to the other. The second part describes the current understandings
and practices internal to Methodism and Catholicism respectively,
though in a style intended to be more readily intelligible by the
partner and by others. Ideally, the reader approaching the report
with little knowledge of one or both partners will read this second,
descriptive part of the report first and will then return to it
in order to see what achievements and challenges the first, systematic
part of the report represents. The general conclusion of the report,
in fact, synthesizes the recognizable commonalities between Catholicism
and Methodism and formulates the outstanding differences in terms
of work still to be done.
both continuity and changes in membership from previous rounds,
the Joint Commission has enjoyed excellent working relationships
and once more developed the mutual trust that comes from devotion
to a common Lord and to a common goal, namely, the attainment between
our churches of "full communion in faith, mission, and sacramental
life." We have thought together, written together, prayed together,
and reverently attended each other's eucharistic gatherings.
document is the work of a Joint Commission whose members are officially
appointed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
and by the World Methodist Council. We respectfully offer this report
to our sponsors and ask for their evaluation of it.
of Christian Theology, Duke University
The Status of this Document
published here is the work of the Joint Commission for Dialogue
between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council.
It is a statement from the Commission. The authorities who appointed
the Commission have allowed the report to be published so that it
may be widely discussed. It is not an authoritative declaration
by the Roman Catholic Church or by the World Methodist Council,
who will evaluate the document in order to take a position on it
in due time.
the prisoner in the Lord,
beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond
There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's
Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity
he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended,"
what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower
He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the
so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he
gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the
until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge
the Son of God,
to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
We must no
longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every
wind of doctrine,
by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into
is the head,
into Christ, from whom the whole body,
joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped,
as each part is working properly,
promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
1 The Letter
to the Ephesians celebrates the working out of the gracious divine
purpose finally to bring all things together under the sovereignty
of Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God the Father. The
word of truth, which is the gospel of salvation, is now being preached,
and those who receive it in faith are included in Christ and already
made to sit with him in the heavenly places. As long as the consummation
is awaited, however, the Apostle finds it necessary to exhort the
believers to hold fast to what has been given them by the Holy Spirit
in anticipation of the End. What was apostolically recommended to
the Ephesian Christians under the threat of disunity may be pertinent
to later generations seeking to remedy the divisions which have
in fact regrettably occurred. Expectantly, the Joint Commission
turned in particular to the fourth chapter of the Letter to the
Ephesians for scriptural guidance in its effort to resolve differences
between Methodists and Catholics over the matter of teaching authority
in the Church.
to Ephesians 4:4-6, the unity of the Christian community is founded
on the sevenfold unity that is recognized within the Church and
upon which it depends for its existence. The Church as the body
of Christ is a unity in diversity that is enlivened by one Spirit,
responding to the one hope and submitting to the one Lord and head,
Jesus Christ, through the faith that is celebrated in the one rite
of baptism to the glory of the One God and Father of all. Thus the
major topics of Christian doctrine appear as features of a living
organism of beliefs. Correspondingly, the opening chapter of the
Commission's report articulates the basic Trinitarian and Christological
faith shared by Catholics and Methodists, that is grounded in the
Scriptures, confessed together in the ecumenical creeds, embodied
in the respective liturgies of the churches, and proclaimed to the
world as the Gospel of its salvation.
3 In the second
chapter of its present report, the Commission attends especially
to the Holy Spirit as the agent of unity (Eph 4:3) and thereby highlights
the pneumatological dimension that has marked its work from the
1981 report onwards. Now the Church is viewed as God's prophetic
community, anointed with the Spirit of Truth. Sealed by the Holy
Spirit, the Church is preserved in one and the same truth in such
a way that all Christians can actively respond to the vocation of
bearing witness to the Gospel which brings to humankind the hope
4 The common
vocation of Christians by no means excludes a diversity of compatible
gifts and functions in the Church. Ephesians 4:7-11 in fact details
a variety of charisms bestowed on the Church by the exalted Christ
for the establishment of particular ministries to build up the Body
and equip all God's people for mission in the world. The Epistle's
list comprises chiefly offices having to do with the proclamation
and teaching of the Word. Correspondingly, the Commission's report
next includes a chapter in which Methodists and Catholics try to
develop a common understanding on the historically controversial
questions concerning the manners and modes by which, in ever changing
circumstances, accurate discernment of the truth of the Gospel is
attained and its authoritative proclamation accomplished.
4:12-14 states that the purpose of the teaching offices is to promote
that "unity in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God"
which indicates maturity in the life of believers. Such maturity
is revealed by certainty and stability with respect to matters of
belief, and by the ability to distinguish between right and wrong
teachings. Agreement in the truth of the Gospel is a fundamental
component in the stated aim of the dialogue between Catholics and
Methodists: "full communion in faith, mission and sacramental
the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) is the title of the Commission's
report: it captures both the spirit in which the dialogue has proceeded
and the result that is hoped for from it. The Apostle urges believers
to rid themselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander,
and malice (4:31) and to cultivate rather the virtues of humility,
gentleness, and patience (4:2). Because Christ incarnates the love
and truth of God, love is integral to truth, and truth to love.
The continuing pursuit of both in tandem should strengthen the credibility
of common Christian witness to the loving purpose of God, who in
the Word and the Spirit gave and still gives himself to humankind.
This is the truth of the Gospel.
The Church as Communion
In Love and Truth
Source of Teaching
God so loved the world, he sent his Son and the Holy Spirit to draw
us into communion with himself. This sharing in God's life, which
resulted from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, found
expression in a visible koinonia [communion, community] of Christ's
disciples, the Church."2 This description indicates both the
central content or object of the Church's teaching and the ultimate
source of the authority to teach. Since the central object of teaching
is God revealed in Jesus Christ, who is also the ultimate source
of authority, Christian doctrine is inseparably Christological and
Trinitarian. Catholics and Methodists are able to make the following
statements jointly, subject to the qualifications indicated along
8 Given the
way in which, according to the Scriptures, God has entered human
history, the Church's doctrine is centered on Christ. It flows from
the identification of Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior expected by
Israel, the people of God whose story is told in the Bible. The
life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the ensuing
proclamation of the lordship of the Risen Christ were the central
topic of teaching for the first generations of Christian believers,
as is shown in the New Testament. They must remain so for all subsequent
generations in the Church. Whenever we speak about Jesus Christ
in our teaching, we follow the patristic councils in identifying
him as the Second Person of the Trinity who has taken flesh.
9 In a perspective
that aims at the ultimate reality which stands beyond and within
all that is visible, the core of Christian doctrine is that the
Godhead is three Persons who are distinct from one another, yet
in such a way that the divine being is perfectly present in each.
The one and only God who was proclaimed and manifested in the Old
Testament is revealed in the New as the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ; Jesus is known as the Father's eternal Son, his creative
Word who has now been made flesh; and their eternal Spirit is manifest
as the one who spoke through the prophets, inspired the Scriptures,
and is experienced as the divine presence acting in human life and
throughout the universe.
10 While seeing
all God's acts as engaging all three Persons of the Trinity, Christian
reflection guided by the Scriptures has connected the works of God
with specific divine Persons. Thus the creating act is appropriated
to the Father, the redemption of Adam's race to Christ the New Adam,
the guidance of the Church and the sanctification of believers to
the Holy Spirit. The faithful are taught to read, not only the book
of Scripture' as the inspired record of divine revelation, but also
in its light the book of nature', which shows traces of the
creative power and presents images and analogies of the divine Persons,
and the book of the soul', the highest creaturely image of
God on earth (imago Dei), that has been damaged by sin but restored
in Christ. In this way Christians are led to contemplate the Godhead
as the ultimate agent and the loving and compassionate providence
that supports all things in being, and they look for God's direction
in their life.
11 The Christian
Church professes the Apostles' and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
Creeds, which are Christological and Trinitarian. They name the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and they place the life, death
and resurrection of the Word incarnate at the center of the articles
of faith. The creeds embody the biblical teaching about God and
Christ. Their confession is incorporated in the Church's liturgies,
notably the Apostles' Creed in the baptismal rite of Christian initiation
and the Nicene Creed in the worship of the assembly. The creeds
also function as a rule of faith (regula fidei), normative for conciliar
and other official teaching.
12 The Creed
of Nicaea-Constantinople calls the Church one, holy, catholic, and
apostolic. The Church which Jesus founded is the gathered communion
(koinonia) of all believers in Christ. It knows itself to be the
redeemed people of God, the renewed Israel. It is by the same token
one and holy. As the universal communion of the faithful from
the righteous Abel to the last of the elect', the Church is catholic,
destined to embrace all of redeemed humanity. Because it was chiefly
through the apostles of Jesus the Twelve and St. Paul and
other missionaries that the Gentiles were grafted into the
stem of Israel (cf. Rom 11) by the preaching of the Word, the Church
13 The Church
is designated in Holy Scripture by many images and metaphors which
throw light on the Church as a communion.3 The biblical image of
the Church as Body of Christ has been favored for several reasons.
It was emphasized by St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor 10:14-17; 12:12-30; Rom
12:4-6), and it is closely related to the eucharistic body of Christ
and to the image of the Church as bride of God. Set at the heart
of the Christian liturgy and piety, the Eucharist as communion with
Christ substantiates the doctrine of the Church as communion. The
image of the Church as bride of God renews the perspective of Israel
as divine bride and anticipates the Church's eschatological fulfilment.
14 That the
Church is a communion is indisputably rooted in the design of God,
the Trinity, in whom unity and the plurality of three inseparably
imply each other. This character of the Church is grounded in the
creation itself, since humankind is, by the Creator's will, at the
same time one and diverse. As communion, the Church relates all
believers to God and to one another, on the model and by the grace
of the three Persons who are One Eternal Being. The communion of
the faithful in time and in space exists in the Word of God and
is united by the bond of the Spirit. It is a communion in the holy
things that are the sacraments of grace, and primarily in baptism
and in the Eucharist.
15 The biblical
images of the Church converge on one point: the Church issues from
the self-communication of God, who in the incarnation comes to participate
in the life of humankind and gives them a share in his own triune
life. It thereby understands itself to be the domain of the Spirit,
in keeping with the formula of the early baptismal creeds: "I
believe... in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church... ." While
the internal presence and the testimony of the Spirit in the hearts
of Christians remain invisible, the whole life of the community
lies publicly under the Word of God for guidance and for judgement;
and it is destined to give glory to God the Father.
16 The Word
has primacy in the Church. The Eternal Logos, through the incarnation,
brought God's final revelation to humankind and became the redeemer
of the world and the Lord of the Church. The Eternal Word made flesh
is the ultimate norm of all the Church's life and doctrine, orienting
all that is done and taught in the Church toward the praise and
worship of God the Father, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
At the last day those who live in Christ will be raised into his
Kingdom, which "will have no end".
17 The Word
is present in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the initiation,
education, and formation of believers. In proclamation and instruction
the written Word in the Scriptures has primacy over all later formulations
of divine revelation. It provides a permanent standard of belief,
which is all the more necessary as missionary preaching of the Gospel
in new nations and times requires that the message be communicated
in fresh ways to the various cultures of the world. It is the point
of reference for the normative decisions that have to be taken when
debates and diverging interpretations of doctrine threaten the right
formulation and the correct transmission of the Gospel.
18 The Word
is present in Tradition as the communication of the Gospel to new
generations of believers. Tradition is "the history of that
continuing environment of grace in and by which all Christians live",
it finds its "focal expression" in Scripture,4 and it
will always be faithful to the biblical message. Since they preserve
the proclamation of the news of salvation by the prophets and apostles,
the Scriptures are at the same time the model and the heart of the
Tradition. In this Tradition, by which the Word is transmitted from
age to age, the Word is read, proclaimed, explained and celebrated.
The Tradition acquires normative value as its fidelity to the biblical
norm and to the Eternal Word is recognized. "Scripture was
written within Tradition, yet Scripture is normative for Tradition.
The one is only intelligible in terms of the other."5 That
there is a harmony between Scripture, Tradition, and the Christian
life of faith and worship is part of the self-understanding of the
Church and integral to the manner in which the Church, in the Holy
Spirit, transmits itself from generation to generation. There is
a growing convergence between Methodists and Catholics on what Pope
John Paul II has called "the relationship between Sacred Scripture,
as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition,
as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God."6
in the Truth
19 In the history
of the Church it became urgent to decide between divergent traditions
and conflicting interpretations of the Gospel. A ministry serving
such decision-making was present in apostolic times (cf. Acts 15)
and given a particular shape in the early centuries, when at the
local level pastoral care was entrusted to a college of presbyters
under the presidency of a bishop, with the bishops themselves forming
a college at the universal level, in which the Roman See presided
"in charity" (en agapé).7 Bishops in the Catholic
Church continue to fulfil this ministry as they preside over a particular
church (diocese), which they administer, and lead in faith, worship,
and witness. When gathered together in council, and when in their
local churches they are seen to teach the same doctrines, they exercise
a magisterial responsibility on behalf of the universal Church.
In their own historical circumstances, John Wesley and the Methodists
were aware of a similar responsibility when they developed a pattern
whereby the supervision of teaching is exercised by the Conference
and by the superintendent ministers acting in its name.
20 The truth
of the Gospel and the doctrines that express it cannot be faithfully
preserved without the assistance of the Spirit. Catholics and Methodists
have been eager to invoke the Spirit and they trust in his unfailing
grace. In the Catholic Church this concern for truth and fidelity
has found a focus in a "charism of unfailing truth and faith"
that is given to the bishops for the sake of the universal Church.8
This gift takes various forms, as when the ordinary teaching of
all bishops is seen to be unanimous, or when, as occasionally though
rarely happens, a doctrine is proclaimed "infallibly"
by a council or by the Bishop of Rome in the conditions that were
determined by the First Vatican Council for definitions ex cathedra.
By virtue of this "charism of unfailing truth and faith"
the Gospel is proclaimed indefectibly in spite of the sins and shortcomings
of the Church's members and leaders. A living witness to this faith
has been given over the centuries by saints and scholars as well
as ordinary believers, some of whom are honored as doctors
of the Church'.
21 In their
own concern for the truth of the Gospel, Methodists have found assurance
in the guidance of the Spirit that has been manifest in godly individuals
like John Wesley himself, in such providential events as the Reformation,
and in gatherings like the early Councils and the Methodist Conferences.
As they exercise their teaching office, these Conferences formulate
doctrinal statements as needed, but do not ascribe to them guaranteed
freedom from error. Methodists understand themselves to be under
an obligation to accept as authoritative what can clearly be shown
to be in agreement with the Scriptures.
22 Both Methodists
and Catholics accept the Scriptures, the Creeds and the doctrinal
decrees of the early ecumenical Councils. In the Catholic Church
further development of doctrine has occurred through other conciliar
decrees and constitutions, and through pronouncements made by synods
of bishops and by the Bishop of Rome and the offices that assist
him in his care of all the churches. In Methodism the Holy Scriptures
are believed to contain all things necessary to salvation. At the
same time, Methodists' reading of the Scriptures is guided by the
early Creeds and Councils and certain standard texts, such as the
Sermons of John Wesley, his Notes on the New Testament, and the
Articles of Religion. The Methodist Conferences have the task of
interpreting doctrine. Both Methodists and Catholics hold that all
doctrine must remain under the Word of God, against which the value
of its content should be tested.
the heart of the Gospel and the core of the faith is the love of
God revealed in redemption, then all our creedal statements must
derive from faith in Christ who is our salvation and the foundation
of our faith."9 For Catholics and Methodists there is an order
among the doctrines of the faith based upon their relationship to
this core. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council
speaks of a "hierarchy of truths"10, and John Wesley of
an "analogy of faith" or a "grand scheme of doctrine"11.
Methodists and Catholics also distinguish between doctrines and
theological opinions, though they sometimes differ on which teachings
belong to each category.
24 An essential
moment in the process of Tradition is the reception of doctrine
by the people of God. As this Joint Commission has said, "one
criterion by which new developments in Christian teaching or living
may be judged consonant with the Gospel is their long-term reception
by the wider Church."12 In Catholic teaching, the agreement
of the faithful is not a condition of truth, but the Church's assent
cannot fail to be given,13 not only to the Gospel daily preached
and explained, but also to doctrinal definitions destined to ensure
its integrity. There develops a mutual trust and a common recognition
that the Holy Spirit is at work at all levels of the community.
Nonetheless perfection of language is not guaranteed by the "charism
of unfailing truth and faith." In Methodist practice, Conferences
hold the final authority in the interpretation of doctrine within
the framework of their doctrinal standards. Methodists expect that
Conference teaching firmly rooted in the normative sources of doctrine
will be accepted. Refinement and reformation of teaching is part
of an ongoing process through Conferences. When the teaching of
a particular meeting of Conference is seen by the church to need
better formulation, the next session of Conference is expected to
carry out that task. We both agree that the Church stands in need
of constant renewal in its teaching as in its life.
25 Assent to
the Gospel is entirely due to divine grace, and the ensuing faith
engages the entirety of the persons who believe. It then becomes
the starting point of reflection about the Gospel, as it is appropriated
in diverse cultures. As the reception of doctrine takes place within
the cultures of those who believe, it gives rise to a variety of
orientations which eventually build up different theological systems.
The ministry of theologians is to seek proper answers to the implicit
or explicit questions asked about the Christian faith, to relate
faith and culture in intellectually coherent ways, to explore the
depths of doctrine, to organize the insights of the saints in satisfying
syntheses, to educate the members of the Church in the contemplation
of the divine mysteries, and to assist church leaders, both locally
and when gathered in conciliar assembly, to formulate and preach
the Gospel in fidelity to the Word of God written and transmitted.
Thus theologians and church leaders are together called both to
serve the unity of Christian faith and to promote the legitimate
diversity in theology, liturgy, and law that illustrates the life
and ethos of specific communities and enriches the Church's catholicity.
26 The faith
of the Christian koinonia is expressed in its worship. As the Wesleyan
hymn puts it, the Lord's Supper is a privileged occasion for the
Church to be realized as the Body of Christ:
Thy last and kindest word;
Here, in thine own appointed way,
We come to meet thee, Lord14.
correlation between the sacramental body and the ecclesial body
appears both necessary and indissoluble. In the liturgical assembly,
the Gospel is preached, the sacraments are celebrated, the faithful
are one in prayer, blessings are shared, spiritual gifts exchanged,
insights communicated, pains and sufferings softened by compassion,
hopes placed in common. As they go from worship into the world,
the faithful are one not only in faith and belief, but also in love;
the rule of prayer', the faith that they have sung, remains
with them as their rule of belief and their rule of life; and privileged
connections grow from this, through mutual encouragement and emulation,
in distinctive spiritualities and ways of discipleship, in religious
societies following a common rule and devoted to a common purpose
of prayer and good works, and in many forms of witness (apostolate,
evangelism) that are needed in contemporary society.
27 As at the
moment of the Ascension, the Church is still sent today by the Savior
to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). Through
the Word made flesh the apostles and other disciples received this
mission from God, for which they were empowered by the Holy Spirit
at Pentecost. From the apostles the mission has been handed on to
the entire body of the Church; and the Spirit, who acts as the
soul of the Church', has been received by the faithful, confirming
their baptism, making Christ present to them, leading them home
to the Father. As they hear the Gospel preached, Christians realize
that mission is not the exclusive calling of a few but of the entire
community and of its members, lay and ordained, according to their
gifts and abilities. All should live by the Gospel everywhere and
at all times, in their homes and at their places of work and of
leisure, so that the whole Christian Church may truly be seen as
sent by God to humankind. Indeed, Jesus promised that if the disciples
love one another the world will believe that they are his disciples
(cf. Jn 13:35). To bring the Gospel effectively to all creatures
the Church depends on divine grace. Moreover it is aware of its
own inner contradiction when fulfilment of its mission is hampered
by sin, lack of vision, disagreements, discouragement, or fear.
God's grace will be given, for the Holy Spirit is ever at work,
enabling the Church and the faithful to pursue their God-given callings.
28 The ultimate
aim of mission is to serve God's saving purpose for all of humankind.
Just as the Church longs for the oneness of its members in love
and prays for it in the liturgy, so it waits in hope for spiritual
gifts that will lead it to a higher level of holiness, a more evident
fullness of catholicity, and a greater fidelity in apostolicity.
This striving after perfection in the God-given marks of the Church
implies an ecumenical imperative. All Christian churches should
pray and work toward an eventual restoration of organic unity. Visionary
Methodists from John R. Mott onwards have been among the pioneers
of the modern ecumenical movement, and Methodist Churches have wholeheartedly
committed themselves to the recovery of the full visible unity of
Christians. Likewise the Second Vatican Council committed the Catholic
Church irrevocably to the same goal, a commitment which was reiterated
with passion by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Ut unum
sint (1995). Catholics and Methodists have thus begun to enjoy a
"union in affection" on their way to that "entire
external union"15 for which Wesley in his time hardly dared
II. 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
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.
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:
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
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
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
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 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
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 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.
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
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
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,
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
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"
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
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
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).
III. 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
of mission."46 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 Church."48 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
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.
50 There 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
51 The 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
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
54 In 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
55 The 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.
57 In 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
58 While 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.
60 In 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.
62 All 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 they serve.
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).
64 The 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
women.62 The Commission's next report again understood ordained
ministry as "the ministry of Christ himself, whose representative
the minister is."63 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 love.
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.
68 We 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.
of Preaching and Teaching
69 Jesus 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.
70 Led 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.
72 In 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
73 There 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
74 The 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
75 Roman 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.
76 Both 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.
78 There 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.
81 Both 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 missionary dimension.
authority enables the whole Church to embody the Gospel and to become
the missionary and prophetic servant of the Lord."76
82 Christ 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.
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
85 Part One
of this report has explored both common understandings and distinct
interpretations of the means of grace' in Christ's Church,
especially regarding authoritative discernment and proclamation
of the truth of the Gospel. In this second part, Methodists and
Catholics present in more detail how they respectively do this and
why. These accounts are offered primarily to enable each tradition
better to understand the other. Although these practices are distinctive
there are many points of convergence between them.
I. Methodist Understanding and Practice
86 For Methodists,
their agents of discernment are shaped by the historical origins
of the movement in eighteenth century England. They inherited the
basic doctrines and structures of the Christian Church as mediated
through the English Reformation of the sixteenth century. They believe
that John Wesley and the people called Methodist were raised up
by God in a particular situation for a particular task, that is,
"to reform the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread
scriptural holiness over the land."82 Doctrinally, the early
Methodists held to the teaching of the Church of England. Wesley
emphasized the Anglican doctrinal formularies specifically the thirty-nine
Articles of Religion, the Homilies, and especially the Book of Common
Prayer. For the Anglicans of his day, it was the Book of Common
Prayer that was the continuing vehicle of Reformation faith in the
weekly and daily life of the parishes. Wesley remained true to this
expression of the faith throughout his ministry. In addition, Wesley
brought to bear his reading of the early Church Fathers.
87 From the
point of view of organization, Methodists believe the Holy Spirit
was actively guiding the development of the Methodist movement.
Most features of Methodist practice were not planned in advance
but discovered as a providential means for accomplishing the mission.
"Methodism came down from heaven, as it was wanted, piece
by piece', cried one of the Preachers in 1836 with exuberant but
pardonable exaggeration."83 Charles Wesley saw clear parallels
with the Exodus story:
Israel's host, and guide
of all who seek the land above...
By thine unerring Spirit led,
we shall not in the desert stray;
we shall not full direction need,
nor miss our providential way;
as far from danger as from fear,
while love, almighty love, is near.84
88 The early
Methodists understood their movement as a revival of genuine Christianity.
They sought to bring the truth of the Gospel once again to the minds
of the people, and share the life-changing love of God with those
who did not know it in their hearts. For them, the truth of the
Gospel was the message of God's love for all and God's demand that
people love God and neighbor in return. Theirs was a prophetic ministry,
proclaiming salvation, both individual and social, to their contemporaries.
89 Given the
situation in eighteenth-century England, certain themes needed to
be highlighted. In particular, Wesley focused most of his preaching
and teaching on the doctrines dealing most directly with salvation:
original sin, justification and sanctification. He saw here the
general tenor of Scripture' which he understood to be the
analogy of faith', that is, the sense of the whole message
of Scripture which serves as the key for interpreting individual
passages. In view of the relatively low level of spiritual life
in England at his time and the difficulties that the church had
in reaching new areas of population, this focus on soteriology was
the best way in which to accomplish the mission which had been set
before him. However, Wesley saw his societies as existing within
the Church of England. His Anglican inheritance, including his acceptance
of the ancient creeds and his study of patristic sources, joined
him to the Church catholic. Several times he indicated that Methodism
was nothing new; rather it was "the old religion, the religion
of the Bible, the religion of the primitive church, the religion
of the Church of England."85 In his publications he sought
to teach his preachers and indeed all of the Methodist people what
the whole of the Christian faith had to offer. The fifty volumes
of his Christian Library include authors from the Early Church,
later Catholicism, the Reformation, Puritan Dissenters and the Anglican
Divines. The hymns of his brother, Charles Wesley, were a powerful
vehicle for teaching the Christian faith to the common people.
90 The goal
was to spread scriptural holiness, and this mission led to the recruitment
of lay and ordained preachers. Often in the face of official opposition
and popular scorn, they traveled widely, preaching the Gospel to
the disinherited, gathering people into societies and exercising
pastoral oversight of them. The preachers met in Conference for
the first time in 1744 for the purpose of guiding the revival. There
were precedents in the Church of England. For example, other privately
organized societies were developing which governed their work through
meetings of their leaders, and at the most official level, the constitution
of the Church of England allowed for Convocations. Thus, a conciliar
approach to discern the will of God for their movement appeared
to them as the most appropriate way to proceed.
91 For early
Methodists, the Conference exemplified the social character of Christianity.
It had several functions. First, it determined the practical doctrine
of the Methodist preachers ("what to teach"). Second,
it was a place of education and encouragement ("how to teach").
Third, it supervised the mission of the church and the deployment
of ministers ("what to do").86 Fourth, it was an occasion
for holding the preachers accountable for what they preached and
how they lived. While it is true that Wesley had final control of
the decisions of Conference, he was influenced by the conferring.
For both Britain and Ireland, a decision was made in 1784 that the
Conference would exist after Wesley's death. A legal deed was executed
providing for the corporate continuation of Methodism. In effect,
the Conference was regarded as the living Wesley'. Thus, the
functions of determining doctrine, exercising discipline, and stationing
the preachers for the sake of mission were all lodged in the Conference.
92 The American
situation was somewhat different. In light of the political independence
and the great need for pastoral care, Wesley took steps to provide
for American Methodism a liturgy, an ordained ministry and a general
superintendency. The last was received by the Americans on condition
that the Conference of preachers would elect superintendents, soon
called bishops, in the Methodist Episcopal Church. While the Conference
exercised the authority for doctrinal decisions, the bishops were
its leaders and had sole authority in stationing the preachers.
93 From 1816,
the bishops had responsibility for supervising the course of study,
an educational program for the preachers. The bishops themselves
were itinerant, as they said in their notes to the 1798 Book of
Discipline: "Our grand plan, in all its parts, leads to an
itinerant ministry. Our bishops are traveling bishops. All the different
orders which compose our conferences are employed in the traveling
line. Every thing is kept moving as far as possible."87 In
many ways, they exercised informal teaching authority. Francis Asbury
and Thomas Coke functioned as teachers of the church through their
preaching and their editing of the Doctrines and Discipline. Nevertheless,
the final authority in doctrinal matters rested with what became
the General Conference. In 1830 a group of Methodist laity and clergy
formed the Methodist Protestant Church, and for the first time added
an equal number of lay persons to the membership of the Conference.
Other branches added a significant lay representation at later dates,
and the practice is now universal.
94 Wesley reckoned
Christian conference' among the prudential means of grace,
found to be trustworthy channels used by God to help shape the lives
of God's people. The Methodist Conference is a gathering of lay
and ministerial leaders for worship, discernment of God's will,
and deciding how best to follow faithfully the Spirit's leading.
Bringing together the diversities of the people of God whether
of race, gender, nationality, theological opinion, or moral judgement
they seek to "speak the truth in love" to each
other as they discern the truth of the Gospel for their age and
place. As the Spirit directs, they seek to proclaim that truth apostolically
and prophetically to the whole world in the name of God.
the inclusion of lay persons in Conference was part of a wider cultural
trend which held that ultimate authority under God was given to
the entire community. In the political sphere, this trend gave the
right to vote to the adult population of many countries. Theologically,
Methodists regard all Christians as a ministerial and priestly people.
Various gifts of authority whether in doctrinal, financial,
disciplinary or organizational matters are given to both
ordained and lay. This is the theological foundation for including
both in Conference.
96 Today, a
Methodist Conference is the organizing center of ecclesial life
and has at least six functions:
- It is the
gathering point and chief instrument of connection. There is a family
feeling of reunion when Conference meets.
- It exercises
corporate episcope and oversees the whole life of the church, including
doctrine and discipline for the sake of mission.
- It has final
authority over doctrine. Methodist Conferences have always accepted
the Scriptures as the supreme rule of faith and practice, and have
been guided in their reading of them by Wesley's Sermons and Explanatory
Notes Upon the New Testament. In understanding these authorities,
the Conference is the final interpreter.
- It exercises
its authority also by approving service books and hymn books to
communicate doctrinal matters to the people. Through these the faith
is taught and maintained by the local congregations.
- It provides
for the orderly transmission of ministry by authorizing ordination.
Even where there are bishops, the decision to ordain is the prerogative
of the Conference. Ordination takes place during the Conference
by prayer and the laying on of hands, invoking the Holy Spirit.
- It elects
its bishops and presidents. For most Methodist Churches they serve
for a limited term. Some Churches elect their bishops (who serve
as Presidents of their Annual Conferences) for life.
within Contemporary Methodism
97 In some
parts of Methodism that historically have not had bishops, those
exercising oversight, such as district chairpersons, are sometimes
being given the title bishop'. Some Methodist Churches have
formally stated that their bishops should exercise a teaching office,
with responsibility "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
Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically."88
in the Oecumenical Methodist Conference of 1881, the World Methodist
Council has been developing closer ties and a stronger teaching
function for the world-wide family of Methodist Churches. It is
developing structures for consultation, teaching, and common action
for mission. Its recent publication of Wesleyan Essentials of Christian
Faith (1996) and its role in ecumenical dialogues have strengthened
its function in these areas. Also, wherever Conference is held for
an entire Church, official representatives from other Methodist
Churches are invited. In addition, official letters are exchanged
and other relationships between Conferences are developing. Regional
associations of bishops from different Methodist Churches have been
formed to further common witness. During the nineteenth century
the Methodists split into many different denominations. The twentieth
century has seen a trend toward unity both through different Churches
merging and through closer ties of cooperation between existing
Churches. As a rule where Methodists have entered into United Churches,
such Churches have become members of the World Methodist Council
and by their commitment to Christian unity have made a significant
contribution to World Methodism. Given the growth of Methodism in
Asia, Africa and Latin America, its Churches are becoming increasingly
diverse and yet simultaneously more unified.
II. Catholic Understanding and Practice
99 The Catholic
Church is a communion of Eastern and Latin Churches, in each of
which the Church of Christ is truly present.89 Invisible communion
with Christ is experienced in the Church's visible communion in
love and truth. The Church is united in a way that is enriched by
and transcends geographical and cultural diversity. It stands in
living communion with the Church of the past while at the same time
looking to the Church of the future. Its communion through time
extends back to the apostles themselves (cf. Rev 21:14), who remain
the foundations of the Church in its life and mission, and who continue
now to guide it. Christ himself leads the Church through Peter and
the other apostles, and through those who share and continue their
ministry today, the Pope and the rest of the college of bishops.
unity involves holding in common all the doctrines of the Church.
There is room in this Catholic unity for diversity of theological
insight and expression, plurality of liturgical rites and canonical
discipline. It allows for debate and discussion, but not for disunity
in matters of faith. There have been times in the history of the
Catholic Church when the tension between unity in truth and diversity
of perspectives has not always been healthy and harmonious.
101 Among various
ministries and charisms exercised in the Church from earliest times,
the primary service from the beginning is that of the bishop. Catholics
understand the college of bishops as continuing the care of the
apostles for all the churches. Bishops, assisted by presbyters and
deacons, are called to lead into holiness, serving the Church's
unity with Christ by Word and Sacrament. The Second Vatican Council
taught that the fullness of the sacrament of orders is given by
ordination to the episcopate. At the heart of the bishop's ministry
is pastoral service of the unity of the Church in love and in truth.
To be effective instruments in this service, bishops must have the
authority necessary to ensure the unity so essential to the Church's
life and mission.
102 As unity
in love and unity in truth belong together, so do pastoral leadership
and teaching authority, both focused above all in the celebration
of the Eucharist. Apostolic communities need people to proclaim
the Gospel with authority, themselves under the authority of Christ
himself. There is "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."90 This
is the specific teaching role of the bishops in the Church: "The
task of authentic interpretation of God's Word in Scripture and
Tradition has been entrusted only to the Church's living teaching
office, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."91
103 The Church's
teaching office (magisterium) is not above God's Word, but serves
the Word. It teaches only what has been received. As teachers, bishops
should first listen to the Word, then ponder it in their hearts,
with awe before the mystery of divine revelation, and then put it
forward in purity.92
are members of the faithful entrusted with a special service in
the name of Christ. The Church is a community under the authority
of the Risen Lord. It is Christ who is the overseer of the Church,
exercising an invisible episcope over its faith and life, its worship
and mission (cf. 1 Pet 2:25).
understand the invisible leadership of Christ as pastor and teacher
to be exercised in many ways, especially through the college of
bishops. Bishops are signs and instruments of Christ as head and
shepherd of his Church, and so share in the authority by which Christ
himself builds up, teaches and sanctifies his Body. This understanding
of the ministry of bishops is essential to a Catholic presentation
of their teaching authority, exercised in Christ's name but always
as a service to the communion of the churches in love and in truth.
among the duties of a bishop is the proclamation of the Gospel.93
Bishops serve as heralds of the faith and teachers who share in
Christ's gift of authority. Christ himself wills to work through
them to preserve the Church unfailingly in the truth. There are
many ways in which a bishop may teach with authority: in pastoral
letters to his diocese; at diocesan gatherings; through involvement
in national and international commissions and assemblies; through
homilies in his cathedral or parishes; in celebrating the Eucharist
which is the source of the holy communion' of the churches
in Christ. The bishop is the teacher of the local church and, with
his brother bishops, of the universal Church. He proclaims with
authority a faith already lived in the church he serves. With love
he both listens to and speaks to the Church which is led by the
Spirit of Truth. The teaching of any individual bishop in itself
is not guaranteed to be preserved from error by the Holy Spirit,
and there have been and can be bishops whose teaching and way of
life are contrary to the Gospel entrusted to them. A bishop's teaching
is always more fruitful when he speaks the truth in love, bearing
witness to that truth not only by his words but also by a life of
107 The authority
of a bishop as chief pastor and teacher of a diocese is both territorial
and personal. As territorial it extends to all the baptized in the
diocese. As personal it implies particular care for priests and
deacons, especially those of his diocesan clergy, and for the religious
communities located in the diocese. In both instances the exercise
of episcopal responsibility requires frequent consultation with
priests and people. Each diocese is mandated to develop consultative
structures. On the one hand, priests and deacons authorised by a
bishop share in the liturgical, teaching, and pastoral ministry,
and priests must be consulted by means of a presbyteral council.
On the other hand lay people also collaborate with bishops and priests
in liturgical, teaching and pastoral ministry and they are consulted
in many ways, especially through parish councils, pastoral councils,
and diocesan synods. Lay people have specific responsibilities in
catechetics, education and communication, in ecumenical and interreligious
dialogue, and in the missionary outreach of the Church. In these
and many other ways, they contribute to the teaching ministry of
108 By its
very nature as a service to the communion of the Church, the ministry
of the bishop is properly exercised in communion with his fellow
bishops. The bishop can only teach and lead in an authoritative
way if he is united in communion of mind and heart with the bishops
across the world and through the ages. The catholic unity of bishops
with the faith of the Church from the apostles is expressed through
ordination in apostolic succession: the college of bishops today,
in continuity with the college of apostles, receives new members
through prayer and the laying-on of hands. One way in which this
is signified is the requirement that under ordinary circumstances
at least three bishops must be involved in the ordination of another
bishop. The catholic unity of bishops with the universal Church
today is expressed in and served by their living communion with
the Bishop of Rome. United with him, the bishops together are the
supreme authority in the Church. Their service of teaching with
authority is exercised above all at an ecumenical council. They
can also teach in other gatherings (e.g., the Synod of Bishops,
Episcopal Conferences and Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches) and
each teaches in his own diocese.
109 When bishops
exercise their supreme teaching authority, the Holy Spirit guides
and protects their discerning and proclaiming of the truth of the
Gospel. Those who are successors of the apostles have received from
the Lord the spiritual gift of authoritatively proclaiming the true
faith. This is a gift (charism) from the Lord, and like all charismata
(cf. 1 Corinthians 12-13) must be exercised in love. The sure charism
of truth is given to all the bishops in apostolic succession, not
so as to reveal new doctrines but to ensure the faithfulness of
the Church to the Word of God.
110 At an ecumenical
council, the bishops, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, may
solemnly proclaim by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith
or morals. Catholics believe that when they do so, the bishops are
preserved from error by the Holy Spirit, so that "the whole
flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith."94
This preservation from error is what is meant by the "infallibility"
of their proclamation of doctrine. In definitions of doctrine the
truth of faith is unfailing, but that does not imply that the manner
in which they are formulated, promulgated, or presented could not
be improved. In a living tradition, there is always room for further
theological reflection and exploration of doctrine. This is part
of the process of reception of the teaching and its appropriation
in the faith-life of the community. A doctrine can only be defined
if it coheres with other doctrines. Such statements do not add to
the truth of the Gospel, but serve to clarify the Church's developing
understanding of it, and help to discern what is and is not in conformity
with the Apostolic Tradition. Definitions of doctrine are intended
to light the pilgrim path of faith and make it secure. Bishops also
teach the truth of the Gospel infallibly whenever, even though dispersed
throughout the world, they are in agreement in authoritatively teaching
a matter of faith to be definitively held, while maintaining their
communion among themselves and with the Bishop of Rome.
111 As each
local church (diocese) has a focus for its unity in love and in
truth, so also do the local churches of the world in the communion
of the universal Church.95 The local church of Rome has a primacy
in love among the churches, and its bishop is the visible head of
the college of bishops.
find a biblical basis for this service of primacy exercised by the
Bishop of Rome in Jesus' words to Simon Peter, "You are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:19), read in
the light of the last instructions to Peter, "Feed my lambs...
feed my sheep... follow me" (Jn 21:15, 17, 22). The prolongation
of the Petrine primacy in the Roman primacy is supported by the
commissioning of Peter to strengthen his brothers (cf. Lk 22:32).
Catholics recognize that the special position and role of the local
church of Rome, and the distinctive ministry of its bishop, developed
gradually in the early Church, and the manner of its exercise continues
to evolve. The Joint Commission has explored this in some depth
in its report Towards a Statement on the Church.96
113 The Pope's
ministry to all his brother bishops and their churches is a pastoral
service of the universal Church's unity in love and truth. He is
"the first servant of unity."97 In order that this ministry
may be effective, the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome is "universal",
"ordinary" and "immediate". His primatial authority
is "universal" because it is at the service of the communion
of all the churches. It is "ordinary" in that it belongs
to him in virtue of his office, rather than as delegated by others.
It is "immediate" in order to enable him, when necessary
for the good of the universal Church, and in faithfulness to the
Gospel, to act anywhere in order to preserve the Church's unity
in truth and in love. This authority is truly episcopal. As a fellow
bishop, with a ministry of headship among them and for them, the
Pope serves the unity of the bishops that they in turn may serve
the unity of their churches. The Pope serves from within the college
of bishops, as servant of the servants of God. As confirmed by the
First Vatican Council and by Pope Pius IX, the primacy of the Roman
pontiff is there not to undermine the bishops but to support and
sustain them in their ministry as vicars of Christ.98
114 This universal
primacy of the Pope is a primacy of love, and his teaching authority
is a central dimension of that primacy. The universal Church can
remain united in love only if it is united in faith. In service
of the catholicity and apostolicity of the Church's faith, and of
the bishops' collegial responsibility for authentic discernment
and proclamation of that faith, the Pope is understood to be given,
when needed, the charism of infallibly proclaiming true doctrine.
When he makes a definition in this way, he is pronouncing judgement
not as a private person but as the head of the college of bishops
and chief pastor and teacher of the Church, in whom the charism
of the infallibility of the Church itself is individually present.99
believe that St. Peter's role of serving the unity of the community
of faith "must continue in the Church so that under her sole
Head, who is Jesus Christ, she may be visibly present in the world
as the communion of all his disciples."100 Because of his special
ministry within the Catholic Church, the Bishop of Rome also has
a particular duty to foster the unity in faith and love of all Christians.
116 To say
that the bishops in union with the Pope teach and shepherd in the
name of Christ is not to claim divine authority for all they say
and do. Like Peter and the other apostles, the Bishop of Rome and
his fellow bishops are aware of their human weakness and their special
need for continuing transformation of heart and life. The faithful
exercise of their ministry in the Church derives from grace and
depends totally upon grace, just as the whole Church is "founded
upon the infinite power of grace."101
117 Both Methodists
and Catholics trust the unfailing presence and grace of the Holy
Spirit to preserve them in faithfulness and to protect the truth
of the Gospel they preach and teach. The Catholic Church recognizes
this presence of the Spirit especially in the charism of unfailing
truth and faith which is given to bishops in the Church. The exercise
of the ministry of teaching by bishops takes many forms and includes
the special ministry of the Bishop of Rome in proclaiming the faith
of all the bishops and of the whole Church. Methodists recognize
the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Methodist Conferences though
they do not ascribe to them a guaranteed freedom from error. At
the same time, they accept their teaching as authoritative when
it is clearly shown to be in agreement with the Scriptures. Conference
is the final authority for the interpretation of doctrine.
118 Both Catholics
and Methodists recognize that it is the whole Church which abides
in the truth because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the community
of believers. Both recognize that all believers have a gift for
recognizing, discerning and responding to the truth of the Gospel,
and so play a part in the formulation and interpretation of the
Church's faith. Most fundamentally, both Methodists and Catholics
believe that it is the Spirit who preserves within the Church the
truth of the Gospel proclaimed by Christ and the apostles, though
there is not complete agreement on what constitute the essential
components of that Gospel.
119 The corporate
belief of Christ's faithful must be taken into consideration by
those who teach authoritatively within the Church. Their ministry
can never be exercised in isolation from the faith of the whole
Church. Methodists and Catholics, however, differ in the ways in
which this collaboration occurs. Both recognize the role of the
laity in the development of the faith through living it, preaching
and teaching it, and meditating upon it. In Methodism lay people
participate as members of Conference in the authoritative determination
of the precise content of the Church's faith. The Catholic Church,
on the other hand, maintains that the authoritative determination
of the precise content of the Church's faith is properly the ministry
of bishops. The reasons why Methodists and Catholics interpret differently
the roles of the laity and of ordained ministers, particularly in
regard to authoritative teaching, is a matter warranting further
120 One reason
for this variation in practice is a different interpretation of
the effect of the rite of ordination, which is linked to the Catholic
understanding of the sacramentality of that rite. Moreover, there
is a further fundamental difference in the understanding of the
degree to which one can attribute a guaranteed reliability to any
human instrumentality exercising a ministry of teaching within the
Church, even given the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit. The
relationship between ordination, authoritative teaching and the
sure guidance of the Holy Spirit remains a topic for further discussion
between Methodists and Catholics.103
121 At the
same time, while this report acknowledges obvious differences in
ministerial structure for authoritative teaching and in theological
interpretation of the reliability of these ministerial structures,
there remains a common fundamental belief in the presence of the
Holy Spirit and the use by the Holy Spirit of recognized bodies
for teaching authoritatively to ensure the truth of the Gospel which
is believed by both Methodists and Catholics. Moreover, the differing
language used to describe the experience of authoritative teaching
does not negate the fact that both, in practice, depend upon the
sure guidance of the Holy Spirit for this ministry of authoritative
teaching. The experience of ordinary Methodists and Catholics and
their confidence in their respective understandings of the apostolic
faith indicate that these perspectives may be much closer than the
differing language might sometimes indicate.
122 As Methodists
and Catholics seek to move together towards full unity in love and
in truth, they are committed here and now to "speak the truth
in love" to each other and to all the people of the world.
in the Dialogue
Reverend Michael Putney, Bishop of Townsville, Australia
Reverend Monsignor Timothy Galligan, Vatican City
Alexander Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle, WA, USA
Sister Mary Charles-Murray, Oxford, England
Reverend Canon Michael Evans, Tunbridge Wells, England
Reverend Professor Francis Frost, Ars, France
Reverend Professor George Tavard, Boston, MA, USA
Most Reverend Peter Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana
Professor Geoffrey Wainwright, Duke University, Durham, NC,
Reverend Dr Joe Hale, World Methodist Council, Lake Junaluska,
Daniel C. Arichea Jr., Baguio City, Philippines
Bishop Mvume Dandala, Braamfontein, South Africa
Dr Scott J. Jones, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX,
Mrs Gillian Kingston, Dublin, Ireland
Bishop Richard C. Looney, Macon, GA, USA
Reverend Dr John Newton, Bristol, England
Service 107 (2001/II/III) 94-117]
 Joint Commission
for Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist
Council, Towards a Statement on the Church (1986), 20.
a Statement on the Church, § 1.
 The Church
is described in the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church Lumen gentium, § 6 as the sheepfold, the cultivated
field, house, and family of God, the temple of the Spirit, the Holy
City, the New Jerusalem, and the bride of God. In Lumen gentium,
§ 7 it is especially emphasized that the Church is the Body
of Christ. In Trinitarian vein, the British Methodist Conference
Statement Called to Love and Praise (1999) speaks of the Church
as "the new people of God, the body of Christ, a communion
in the Holy Spirit, a sacrament or sign of Christ's continuing presence
in the world" (2.1.1). Many Christians, reflecting on the Church
as the bride of God which nurtures the faithful, see it as their
mother. As John Wesley said, "In some sense [the Church] is
the mother of us all, who have been brought up therein" (Reasons
Against Separation from the Church of England,' The Works of John
Wesley, Jackson edition, 13:230).
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, United Methodist Publishing
House, Nashville (1996), 77.
 Joint Commission,
The Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 21.
 Pope John
Paul II, Encyclical Letter on Commitment to Ecumenism (1995), Ut
unum sint, § 79.
of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, Introduction, no. 10.
 Cf. First
Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ,
Pastor aeternus, Chapter IV (DS 3071); Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, § 8.
 Joint Commission,
The Apostolic Tradition, § 36.
Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio, §
 J. Wesley,
Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, Romans 12:6.
 The Word
of Life (1996), § 59.
 Cf. Lumen
gentium, § 25.
and Psalms, no. 614.
 J. Wesley,
Catholic Spirit', § 4 (The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial
gentium, § 4.
and Psalms, no. 316.
 Cf. Hippolytus,
Apostolic Tradition, 21.
an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit (1981), § 21.
an Agreed Statement on the Holy Spirit, § 34.
 The Apostolic
Tradition (1991), § 52; cf. § 31.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, § 27.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, § 37.
 The Word
of Life (1996), § 63.
 The Word
of Life, § 75.
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),
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 105.
Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium,
of the Catholic Church, § 91.
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 63.
 The Word
of Life, § 113; cf. ARCIC, The Gift of Authority, §§
11-13, 23, 29.
Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee (1978),
 Cf. Authority
Statement, § 28.
Statement of the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee (1978),
 The Roman
Missal, Roman Canon.
gentium, § 12 quoting St. Augustine.
 Cf. 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, 79.
 The Word
of Life (1996), § 96.
 Pope Paul
VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World,
Evangelii nuntiandi (1975), § 21.
Methodist Conference Statement, Called to Love and Praise (1999),
 Cf. Called
to Love and Praise, 4.2.1.
of the Joint Commission (1981), § 34.
Methodist Conference Statement, Called to Love and Praise (1999),
a Statement on the Church (1986), § 13.
a Statement on the Church, § 16.
 The Apostolic
Tradition (1991), § 89.
 The Word
of Life (1996), §§ 95-96.
a Statement on the Church, §§ 8, 9.
a Statement on the Church, § 10.
 The Word
of Life, §§ 73, 75.
 The Word
of Life, § 98.
 The Word
of Life, § 98.
 Cf. The
Word of Life, §§ 100-107.
of the Catholic Church, § 1669.
Means of Grace,' § II.1 (The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial
of the Joint Commission (1971), §§ 89, 90, 94, 108, 92.
in Understanding (1976), § 79.
in Understanding, § 98.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, (1991), § 83.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, § 84.
 Cf. The
Apostolic Tradition, §§ 88-91, 94.
 Pope John
Paul II, Post-Synodal Exhortation on Priestly Formation, Pastores
dabo vobis (1992), § 15; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
§§ 1548, 1549.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, § 82.
 The Apostolic
Tradition, § 84.
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 401.
Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982), Ministry,
Commission, The Apostolic Tradition (1991), § 93.
African Methodists' Book of Discipline, § 1.18 (cf. §§5.1,
5.4.3) 10th Edition, 2000.
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 414.3.
The Gift of Authority (1998), § 32.
 Cf. The
Gift of Authority, § 5.
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 104.
Nature, Design and General Rules of the United Society' (The Works
of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 9:69).
 The Gift
of Authority (1998), § 48.
and Psalms, no. 438.
Minutes' (The Works of John Wesley, Jackson Edition, 8:299).
Rupp, Thomas Jackson: Methodist Patriarch (1954), 41.
and Psalms, no. 62.
Laying the Foundation of the New Chapel', §11.1 (The Works
of John Wesley, Bicentennial Edition, 3:585).
 Cf. Minutes,
1744' (The Works of John Wesley, Jackson Edition, 8:275).
Asbury and Thomas Coke, notes in The Doctrines and Disciplines of
the Methodist Episcopal Church, 10th Edition, Philadelphia (1798),
 The Book
of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (1996), § 414.3.
 Cf. Second
Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, § 26.
Commission, The Word of Life (1996), § 58; cf. 86.
Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, § 10.
 Cf. Dei
Verbum, § 10.
 Cf. Second
Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, § 25.
gentium, § 25.
gentium, § 18.
a Statement on the Church (1986), §§39-73.
 Pope John
Paul II, Ut unum sint, § 94; cf. § 88.
 Cf. First
Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus; Second Vatican Council, Lumen
gentium, § 27.
 Cf. Lumen
gentium, § 25.
John Paul II, Ut unum sint, § 97.
 Ut unum
sint, § 91.
 See above,
 See above,
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