Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > PE-RC > Perspectives on Koinonia (part IV)


IV. Koinonia In The Life Of The Church
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IV. Koinonia in the Life of the Church

A) "Koinonia" in the Life of God

  1. Both Pentecostals and Roman Catholics recognize that believers have a share in the eternal life which is koinonia with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:2-3), and a communion in the Holy Spirit whom God's Son, Jesus Christ, has given to them (cf. 1 John 3:24; 2 Cor 13:14). This, the deepest meaning of the koinonia, is actualized at various levels. Those who believe and have been baptized into Christ's death (cf. Mark 16:16; Rom 6:3-4) have koinonia in his sufferings and become like him in his death and resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10). The next step is the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16) All believers, furthermore, who have koinonia in the eternal life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who have koinonia in Christ's death and resurrection are bound together in a koinonia too deep for words. We look forward to the day when we will also have koinonia in his body and blood (1 Cor 10:16).

  2. While both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals teach the indwelling of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in the believer (cf. John 17:21; Rom 8:9), the emphasis on the indwelling of the Trinity in believers is more explicitly articulated in the Roman Catholic faith than in that of the Pentecostals. The nature of the language used to describe it is in need of further exploration together.

  3. Together with Roman Catholics, most Pentecostals have a strong commitment to the trinitarian understanding of God. They believe, for instance, that at baptism the trinitarian formula should be used because of Jesus' mandate: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).9 The Pentecostals do, however, feel challenged by Roman Catholics to develop all the implications for faith and piety which their full trinitarian commitment implies.
B) Church as "koinonia"
  1. The importance of an active response to the gifts of God in the service of koinonia requires mutuality in its many dimensions. Some of these dimensions are the assumption and sharing of responsibility, and a fuller participation in the life of the local congregation. When Church members of whatever rank act arbitrarily, without taking into account this sharing, their actions obscure the expressions of communion. For Roman Catholics and Pentecostals koinonia in the Church is a dynamic concept, implying a dialogical structure of both God-givenness and human response. Mutuality has to exist on every level of the Church, its source being the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Roman Catholics must often confess to a lack of mutuality at the local and universal levels, even though mutuality is recognized as a criterion for fellowship. Difficulties surrounding lay participation in decision making processes, and the lack of sufficient involvement of women in leadership, were examples cited by participants in this dialogue. Roman Catholics, however, would insist that order and hierarchy do not in themselves imply such a defect in mutuality.

  3. At the same time Pentecostals acknowledge both the reluctance that many of their members have in submitting to ecclesial authority and the difficulty which their charismatic leaders have in working through existing ecclesial institutional channels which could protect them from acting irresponsibly or in an authoritarian manner.

  4. The difficulties of some Pentecostals with their ecclesial institutions stem in part from frequent emphasis on their direct relation to the Spirit. They forget that the Spirit is given not only to individual Christians, but also to the whole community. An individual Christian is not the only "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). Roman Catholics have rightly challenged Pentecostals to think of the whole community, too, as a "temple of God" in which the Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16). If Pentecostals were to take the indwelling of the Spirit in the community more seriously they would be less inclined to follow the personal "leadings of the Spirit" in disregard of the community. Rather they would strive to imitate the Apostles who, at the first church council, justified their decision with the following words: "... it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15:28).

  5. In their theology, both Pentecostals and Roman Catholics see themselves standing in a dependent relationship to the Spirit. They acknowledge the need to invoke the Holy Spirit. In accordance with this invocation they believe in the presence of God whenever two or three are gathered in Christ's name (cf. Mt 18:20).

  6. Pentecostals recognize that while there is an emphasis on holiness in the Roman Catholic Church, they observe that it seems possible for some Roman Catholics to live continuously in a state of sin, and yet be considered members in the Church. This seems to the Pentecostals to undermine the concept of Christian discipleship. Though they are mindful of John's words that if "we say we have not sinned, we make him (God) a liar" (1 John 1:10), Pentecostals want to take seriously the warning of the same apostle concerning the unrepentant sinner, namely that "no one who sins has either seen him [the Father] or known him" (1 John 3:6).

  7. Roman Catholics wonder how Pentecostals deal with the sins of their own members. Do they have an adequate tradition of bringing those who have fallen into sin into a process of repentance and a sense of God's forgiveness? Without such a tradition how can they avoid harshness when a sinner fails to live up to the congregation's ideal of holiness?

  8. Both bodies would do well to recall the scriptural warnings that we must try to see the log in our own eye rather than the speck in our brother's or sister's eye (cf. Mt 7:4). We should reflect too, on the Lord's caution against trying to have a wheat field from which all tares have been removed (cf. Mt 13:24ff).
C) "Koinonia" Sacraments, and Church Order
  1. Roman Catholics hold that a basic aspect of koinonia between local churches is expressed in the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, namely, by the same baptism, the same confirmation, the same Eucharist. Moreover, the celebration of these sacraments requires ordained ministers to preside,10 ordination being also a sacrament, i.e., an act of Christ in the Spirit celebrated in the communion and for the communion of the Church. Furthermore, according to the Catholic tradition, only ordained ministers, principally the bishop, can preside over a local church or diocese.

  2. According to Catholic understanding, koinonia is rooted in the bonds of faith and sacramental life shared by congregations united in dioceses pastored by bishops. Through their bishops, the local churches are in communion with one another by reason of the common faith, the common sacramental life, and the common episcopacy. Among the fellowship of bishops, the Bishop of Rome is recognized as the successor of Peter and presides over the whole Catholic communion. Through their day to day teaching, and more specifically through local and universal councils, bishops have responsibility to articulate clearly the faith and discipline of the Church. Church order is thus grounded in the koinonia of faith and the sacraments; church order is at the same time an active expression of koinonia.

  3. Roman Catholics hold that some existing ecclesiastical structures (such as the office of a bishop) are "God given" and that they belong to the very essence of church order rather than serving only its well being.

  4. While Pentecostals disagree among themselves concerning how the Church should best be ordered (the views range from congregational to episcopal), they accept the full ecclesial status of the churches ordered in various ways. Observing the diversity of the church structures in the New Testament, they believe that the contemporary Church should not be narrower in its understanding of the church order than the sacred Scriptures themselves.

  5. Although Pentecostals do not limit celebration of the sacraments and leadership in the Church to the ordained ministers, they do recognize the need for and the value of ordination for the life of the Church. Pentecostals do not consider ordination to be a sacrament. Ordinarily Pentecostals recognize that a charism of teacher/pastor is recognized or can be given to a person at the laying on of hands, but they do not consider that at ordination the power of the Holy Spirit is bestowed to the person being ordained. Instead, ordination is a public acknowledgment of a God-given charism which a person has received prior to the act of ordination.

  6. Some Pentecostals observe what appears to be a "mechanical" or "magical" understanding of the sacraments, especially among Roman Catholic laity, and do not accept the grace-conveying role of the sacraments distinct from their function as a visible Word of God. Roman Catholic theology, however, maintains that the sacraments are not "mechanical" or "magical" since they require openness and faith on the part of the recipient. In Catholic understanding, the grace of the sacraments is not bestowed automatically or unconditionally, irrespective of the dispositions of the recipient. What Paul says in 1 Cor 11:27 ("profaning the body and blood of the Lord") is common teaching in the Roman Catholic Church. Sacramental actions can produce "shriveled fruit" as Augustine describes it, when the recipients are not in right relation to the Lord.11 Furthermore, the efficacy of the sacraments is not dependent upon the personal piety of those who minister them, but rather, is ultimately dependent upon the grace of God.

  7. Pentecostals believe that church order demanded by koinonia is not satisfactorily expressed in some important aspects of Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Even within the context of collegiality, examples which seem to bear this out include those passages where it is stated that "the episcopal order is the subject of the supreme and full power over the universal Church' and even more importantly, when it is stated that "the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme, and universal power over the Church" which "he can always exercise... freely" (Lumen gentium, §22). On the whole, Pentecostals propose that presbyteral and/or congregational ecclesial models express better the mutuality or reciprocity demanded by koinonia.

  8. Roman Catholics are more inclined to see the Spirit operating through certain ecclesial structures, although Pentecostals, too, recognize that the Spirit may work through ecclesial structures and processes.

  9. Both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals are troubled by the discrepancy between the theology and the practice of their own parishes or congregations.
D) The Church and Salvation
  1. According to Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the Church can be considered both a sign and an instrument of God's work in the world. This formulation from the nineteenth century is still very useful for understanding the role of the Church in the world.

  2. The Church is a sign of the presence of God's saving power in the world. It is also a sign of the eschatological unity to which all peoples are called by God. It is to be this sign both through its individual members and its gathered communities. Insofar as Christians are divided from one another, they are a counter sign, a sign of contradiction to God's reconciling purpose in the world.

  3. The Church is also an instrument of God for announcing the saving news of grace and the coming of God's kingdom. The Church is God's instrument in making disciples of all nations by preaching the Good News of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and baptizing them (cf. Mt 28:19).

  4. In recent years, Roman Catholics have come to describe the Church as "a kind of a sacrament" (Lumen gentium, §1). This new insight is consistent with its past understanding of the sacraments as signs and instruments of God's saving power.

  5. Though Pentecostals do not accept the Roman Catholic understanding of sacraments and the Roman Catholic view of the Church as "a kind of sacrament," in their own way they do affirm that the Church is both a sign and an instrument of salvation. As the new people of God, the Church is called both to reflect the reality of God's eschatological kingdom in history and to announce its coming into the world, insofar as people open their lives to the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. In Pentecostal understanding the Church as a community is an instrument of salvation in the same sense in which each one of its members is both a sign and instrument of salvation. In their own way, both the community as a whole and the individual members that comprise it, give witness to God's redeeming grace.


  1. See footnote 6.
    (Footnote 6: A segment of Pentecostals known as "Oneness" or "Jesus Name" Pentecostals are opposed to the trinitarian formulation of the faith. Their view of God tends toward modalism and the baptismal formula which they pronounce is "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) instead of the traditional trinitarian appeal to Matthew 28:19. Most Pentecostals, however, strongly disagree with this position.)

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  2. This relationship between church order and ordained ministry presiding over a community is well illustrated in the celebration of water baptism, although in cases of necessity every Christian is requested to baptize. Until 1923 even the deacons were not allowed to be the ordinary ministers of baptism. Presently bishops retain for themselves the baptism of adults and parish priests must have their bishop's permission to perform such a baptism.

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  3. The later distinction made between "fruitful" and "unfruitful" sacraments is another way by which the Roman Catholic teaching asserts the same understanding.

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