Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Dublin Rep. 1976 | CONT. > sec. 7
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  section 3 (SPIRITUALITY) - select
  section 5 (MORAL QUESTIONS-EUTHANASIA) - select
  section 6 (THE EUCHARIST) - select
Ministry - sec. 7
  section 8 (AUTHORITY) - select
  section 9 (CHURCH UNION NEGOTIATIONS) - select


   75. The history of our work since Denver in this field follows very much the same pattern as with the Eucharist. The Anglican/Roman Catholic Agreed Statement on the Doctrine of Ministry, entitled "Ministry and Ordination", was completed at Canterbury in 1973 and published in 197435. Again the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Commission generously accepted our invitation to examine the Canterbury Statement together with section VI of the Denver Report, and draw up a fresh statement. This they were able to let us have in time for our Bristol meeting and with such emendations as we there made it is embodied in the present report.

   76. The Ministry: A Joint Roman Catholic-Methodist Statement

The discussion of eucharist inevitably involves a discussion of ministry, and the Denver Report recorded a number of areas of agreement on this theme, together with certain problems for further study36 Since then the subject has also been treated by the Anglican/ Roman Catholic International Commission in its report, Ministry and Ordination. We take up some of these questions afresh in what follows.

   77. Our Common Understanding

Despite obvious outward differences we have in large measure a common understanding of ministry. The fundamental ministry is Christ's own ministry, whose goal is to reconcile all people to God and to each other and to bring them into a new community in which they can grow together to their full freedom as children of God. This ministry was focused in Christ's life and death and resurrection. It did not end with his life on earth, but by the power of the Spirit continues now in and through his church. Christ still chooses and equips people for his ministry, just as he did in the beginning.

   78. In both our churches we affirm that sharing in Christ's ministry is a gift, for it depends entirely on God's initiative in calling and enabling and not on human choice and capacity. It is moreover a ministry exercised from within the church, which itself tests and confirms the call, prays for the gift of the Spirit, and sets apart the person called for this ministry.

   79. The person called by God and ordained by the church is commissioned to a lifelong ministry. It is a ministry to the church and to the world. In both directions it is the ministry of Christ himself, whose representative the minister is.

   80. The ordained minister, although his task may be different from that of others, does not work in isolation, but in cooperation with other ministries given to the church. Indeed all members of the church by their Christian vocation have a gift from God of ministry. They exercise this within the church and also in their life, their work, their family and all their relationships; and the Spirit bestows on them the gifts which are necessary for the fulfilment of this ministry. The nature of every Christian ministry is to serve and its goal is to build up in love.

   81. Apostolic Ministry

The ministry of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is continued in the power of the same Spirit in and by the ministry of the whole people of God. Within the ministry of the whole church we speak here primarily of the special ministry of those who are ordained, for whom both Methodists and Roman Catholics use the term minister. (For Methodists it is the usual term).

   82. The ordained ministry is given to the church by God, and the apostles were the first "ministers of the gospel". They were commissioned by Christ himself, and each ordained minister in his turn receives through the church at his ordination the commission of Christ. Thus this ministry has existed from New Testament times until now.

   83. Though the words bishop, presbyter and deacon are to be found in the New Testament, the New Testament nowhere speaks of a three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon. Gradually the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon developed. The details are obscure, but that it did develop in the sub-apostolic age is certain, and by the end of the second century the process of development was virtually complete through the church at large.

   84. We all agree that the church's apostolicity involves continuous faithfulness in doctrine, ministry, sacrament and life to the teaching of the New Testament. In considering the ordained ministry of another church we use this faithfulness as our criterion, but we differ in the account we give of apostolic succession.

   85. For Roman Catholics the graded three-fold ministry is derived from the teaching of the New Testament through the living tradition of the church. True succession in ministry is guaranteed only by episcopal laying-on of hands in historical succession and authentic transmission of the faith within the apostolic college.

   86. Methodists hold that the New Testament does not lay down any one form of ministry as binding for all times and places, and therefore the single form of ministry which British Methodists and other nonepiscopal churches have is at least as consonant with the presbyter-bishops of the New Testament as the three-fold ministry is. Methodists have no difficulty in accepting as true ministries those which emerged at the Reformation and in the eighteenth century, so long as they are faithful to New Testament ministry. They accept, however, the appropriateness of the three-fold ministry of other churches or for a united church. British Methodists affirmed it in the Churches of South India and North India and in the Anglican Methodist Scheme of Union. The United Methodist Church of the U.S.A. and most of the churches which stem from it indeed have the three-fold ministry37.

   87. Moreover Methodists, both British and American, preserve a form of ministerial succession in practice and can regard a succession of ordination from the earliest times as a valuable symbol of the church's continuity with the church of the New Testament, though they would not use it as a criterion.

   88. Roman Catholics and Methodists agree that episcope (pastoral care and oversight) belongs essentially to the ordained ministry. Such episcope is exercised in different ways in their churches, but in each case it is carefully ordered with the purpose of the building-up and discipline of the faithful, the training of the young, the maintenance of the unity and peace of the church, and in the planning and direction of mission and evangelism.

   89. The ministerial structures of the two churches differ, but in both of them the collegial and individual aspect of the ordained ministry are closely related. In the Roman Catholic Church with its three-fold ministry the bishop exercises the fullness of the ordained ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care. He alone has the power of ordaining and the overall responsibility of teaching and governing, but he is related to the whole church as a member of the college of bishops, of which the Pope is head, and as pastor of his own people shares the ministry with presbyters and deacons.

   90. Similarly in American Methodism, which also has a three-fold ministry, membership in the annual conference (as an ordained elder) is primary, and all ministers have full and equal ministerial status. The bishop, as a member of the Council of Bishops, has responsibility for general oversight of the life of the church and possesses the power to ordain, but in this and all other matters he acts in conjunction with the conference.

   91. In British Methodism, which has only one order of ministry and thus especially expresses the brotherhood of the ministry, each minister, equally with all his fellow-ministers, possesses the fullness of ministry; such functions as in many churches are exercised by bishops belong to the conference, which in part delegates them to the President of the Conference, the chairmen of the districts and the superintendents of the circuits.

   92. Priesthood

Our churches have used the word priesthood in different ways and this throws light on the difference of emphasis in our understanding of the Christian ministry. Methodists have used it most naturally of the priesthood of the whole church, Roman Catholics of the priesthood of the ordained ministry.

   93. This difference of emphasis obscures a great deal that is common in our thinking about priesthood. The New Testament uses the word priest of Christ, but never of ordained ministers. Moreover when the Letter to the Hebrews (e.g. 7, 26) speaks of Christ as the high priest (archiereus) it describes him as accomplishing for mankind something which the priesthood of the old covenant failed to accomplish and to which no human priesthood can add anything. In that sense Christ's priesthood is the end of all human priesthood.

   94. The New Testament also speaks of the church as a priesthood (e.g. 1 Peter 2, 5) and of all members of the Christian community as priests (e.g. Rev 1, 6). Christians offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and the sacrifice of their lives (Hebrews 13, 15-16) and they proclaim what God himself has done (IPeter 2, 9).

   95. Within the New Testament priestly language is also used of the exercise of a particular ministry, as when Paul describes his preaching as a priestly service (Rom 15, 16). But the few such references do not use the word priest (hiereus) of an individual ordained minister.

   96. By the end of the second century the term priest (hiereus) came to be used of ministers, although it was used first of bishops rather than presbyters. Gradually the ministry exercised was described more and more as a priesthood. In particular the eucharist was referred to as a sacrifice which the priest offered.

   97. We both see the central act of the ordained ministry as president at the eucharist in which the ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care is perfected. Roman Catholics affirm that in the way the ordained minister represents Christ to the body of the faithful he is a priest in a sense in which other Christians are not. The Second Vatican Council stated, however, that "Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated"38. Each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.

   98. Ordination

   Roman Catholics and Methodists agree that by ordination a new and permanent relationship with Christ and his church is established. The ordained minister is called and enabled by the Holy Spirit to be the representative person who focuses in his ministry the manifold ministries of the whole church. He is a sign of the gospel and of the oneness of Christ's church, both to the church and to the world; an ambassador of Christ who bids men to be reconciled to God and declares to them the forgiveness of sins; a priest who embodies the priesthood of all believers in which he shares, and by his ministry serves and sustains it.

   99. Roman Catholics affirm that orders are indelible. Through the sacrament of orders, the ordained minister is sealed by the Holy Spirit and configured to Christ the Priest; he receives a permanent gift which empowers him to preach the word of God with authority, to preside at the eucharist and to absolve sinners in the name of the church. In the Roman Catholic Church only those who are ordained to the priesthood are entitled to preside at the eucharist.

   100. Methodists do not normally speak of the indelibility of ordination. But in the Methodist Church, if a minister resigns from the exercise of his ministry in full connection39. with the conference, or is suspended or dismissed from it, and is later authorized to resume it, his ordination is not repeated, and his orders are in this sense irremovable.

   101. For Methodists also the rule is that it is ordained ministers who preside at the eucharist. "The eucharist, which sacramentally expresses the whole gospel, is the representative act of the whole Church, and it is fitting that the representative person should preside"40. But this does not imply that a eucharist is not valid unless an ordained minister presides, and the rule is therefore held to admit exceptions, when the conference recognizes a situation in which members of the church are in danger of being deprived of the eucharist, because there are no ordained ministers in their neighborhood, and consequently grants a dispensation to a layman (in a particular area for a definite period of time) to preside at the eucharist. This is of rare occurrence, and it is a practice which is constantly under review.

   102. The Roman Catholic Church, in keeping with her traditional practice, does not ordain women to the priesthood. Methodists can find no theological objection to the ordination of women. They hold that God has manifestly called women as well as men to the ministry of word and sacraments, therefore they ordain them.

103. Conclusion

   We have elsewhere welcomed An Agreed Statement of Eucharistic Doctrine by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and we are delighted now to welcome the statement on Ministry and Ordination. With much of it we are in agreement, as will be seen by what we ourselves have written. We especially appreciate the fine exposition of scripture and the way in which the ministry is set in the context of Christ's ministry and the ministry of the whole church. However, the place given to scripture and the understanding of the ministry lead Methodists to question the close parallel made between the formation of the canon of scripture and the emergence of the threefold ministry41 and to seek clarification of the statement that the Christian ministry "belongs to another realm of the gifts of the Spirit"42.

   104. Our conversations together and our joint statement indicate a number of differences between Methodists and Roman Catholics. Some of them are differences simply of form or emphasis or language. Thus we both affirm the need for oversight, but we embody it in different forms. We both speak of minister as apostolic, but we do it with a different emphasis. We both use the term ministry, but Roman Catholics commonly use the term priesthood. It remains to be seen whether at those points where the differences seem to be substantial they are indeed so. The crucial examples are the threefold ministry and the apostolic succession. Methodists are not in principle opposed to the ministry's being in the threefold form or in the historical succession. But they do not consider either of these to be necessary for the church or for the minister. (In fact all Methodists preserve a form of ministerial succession and most Methodists have a threefold form of ministry).

   105. We live in a time when members of both our churches have grown in mutual understanding and regard in common witness and service. We rejoice in this. We rejoice equally in the growing number of ways in which ministers have been able to work together in the proclamation of the gospel, in the care of Christian people, and in the struggle to create a more just and compassionate society. It is our hope that the call from God to serve in the ministry, which has been tested and confirmed by our churches in their separation, may find its fulfilment as they minister together both in the church and in the world.



  1. Ministry and Ordination: A Statement on the Doctrine of the Ministry Agreed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (London: SPCK, 1973). Hereafter cited as Ministry and Ordination.

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  2. Proceedings, §§ 87-98 pp. 58-60.

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  3. By American Methodism we refer both to the United Methodist Church of the United States of America and to the churches historically related to it. By British Methodism we refer to the British Methodist Church and to the churches derived from it, as well as to the Methodist Church in Ireland.

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  4. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 2, 10.

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  5. A Methodist minister is said to be "in full connection with the conference" or "a member of the annual conference" when he is in good standing as a minister and has the rights, privileges and responsibilities, and duties which that involves.

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  6. "Statement on Ordination", British Methodist Conference, 1974. Cf. "The central act of worship the Eucharist, is the memorial of that reconciliation and nourishes the church's life for the fulfilment of its mission". Hence it is right that he who has oversight in the church and is the focus of its unity should preside at the celebration of the Eucharist . (Ministry and Ordination, § 12.)

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  7. Ministry and Ordination, § 6.

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  8. Ibid., § 13.

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