THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN CHURCH AND WORLD
between the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for
Promoting Christian Unity: 1970-77
This report was put into its final form and approved in March, 1977,
by the joint commission responsible for it, and it was presented
to the authorities under whose auspices the dialogue took place.
The Executive Committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity have accepted
the proposal put forward in the letter accompanying the report,
signed by the co-Presidents of the Commission (see below), and have
arranged that the report be sent for study by the Episcopal Conferences
and by the Churches which are members of the World Alliance. For
that same purpose of study it is agreed that it may also be published.
The positions taken as a result of that study will be jointly evaluated
by a new mixed Commission that will be set up by mutual agreement.
Attention is drawn to the status of this document: at this stage
it remains exclusively the responsibility of the Commission which
prepared it and it does not constitute a document of the authorities
under whose auspices the dialogue took place.
To the sponsoring authorities of the Roman Catholic/Reformed Joint
Study Commission, The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
of the Roman Catholic Church and The World Alliance of Reformed
In writing this letter, we the co-chairmen of the Joint Study Commission
wish to set on record on behalf of all the members of the Commission
our deep sense of appreciation for the privilege of having shared
together in these years of study. Above all we wish to testify to
our sense of gratitude to our God, whom we seek to serve, for all
that has been given to us of his grace in this venture of learning
together in the things of the faith. While there are certainly remaining
differences of a substantial nature our work evidences a remarkable
series of convergences and agreements.
In submitting this official report of the Reformed/Roman Catholic
dialogue, we would respectfully request that the following matters
be considered by our appropriate authorities.
We believe it to be very important that:
1) After due reflection the respective authorities of the Roman
Catholic Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches submit
this report for the widest possible study, e.g., in episcopal conferences
of the Roman Catholic Church and in member churches of the World
Alliance of Reformed Churches and in theological seminaries and
faculties of both constituencies.
2) After a due period for study and reflection within the respective
constituencies reactions be requested by a mutually agreed date.
3) Consideration be given to the appointment of a new Joint Commission,
having some continuity with that whose work is now ending, which
new Commission would have the task of evaluating together the reactions
received from the partners in dialogue.
4) Many questions still require careful theological discussion which
a reading of the report will demonstrate. Along with these there
will be issues arising from the process of study and reaction to
the report. All this material along with the original theological
mandate proposed by the preliminary meeting in Vogelenzang (1969)
will help to clarify the agenda for the next phase of the dialogue.
5) As soon as this report has been received by the sponsoring bodies,
consideration be given to the eventual joint publication of this
report in book form, including a selected symposium of the position
papers presented throughout the dialogue.
With regard to those points mentioned above the undersigned indicate
their availability for consultation, if required.
We conclude this letter by emphasizing the strongly expressed belief
of the members of the Commission that the growth in understanding
registered in the years of dialogue behind us should be further
developed in continuing work. In the previous paragraphs we have
therefore outlined some of the steps which could serve as a part
of the next phase of theological conversations between the two partners.
behalf of the Joint Study Commission,
Presence of Christ in Church and World
between Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic
"The Presence of Christ in Church and World" is the topic
treated in the series of dialogues between representatives of the
World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting
Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church.
The choice of that topic and the enabling process for such a series
at the international level go back to informal conversations among
participants from both bodies who were present at the Uppsala Assembly
of the World Council of Churches. These proved sufficiently promising
for the Executive Committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
to meet in June, 1968, to "explore elements in the new situation
that may make the initiation of Reformed/Roman Catholic dialogue
wise at this time". The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II made
it clear that readiness for such dialogue existed also on the Roman
Catholic side. As a result, two preliminary meetings between staff
of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for
Promoting Christian Unity were held, one in Geneva in November of
1968, and one in Vogelenzang (Holland) in April of 1969. These two
preliminary meetings affirmed the desirability and feasibility of
proceeding with official Reformed/Roman Catholic conversations on
a world level.
In doing so, neither body wished to detract from the importance
of similar, more-or-less official conversations which had been going
on for some time at the national level in Holland, France, Switzerland,
the United States and other countries. Such national discussions
have the advantage of being able to focus on problems common to
the Church in the local situation. Since they are undertaken with
the aim of being responsible to their respective official sponsors
and of engaging them in the issues, these national dialogues deal
with matters of considerable consequence, such as the significance
of the mutual recognition of Baptism. Still, there are limitations
which restrict the full significance of national talks. In many
countries and areas dialogues are not occurring nor are likely to
occur soon-areas, for example, where Christians are persecuted or
where either Reformed or Roman Catholics are a restricted minority,
or in areas where both find themselves in a society which severely
discourages reconciling conversations among Christian bodies. Even
where there are national dialogues, they often are conducted independently
of other conversations going on between the same bodies in other
contexts, which leads to much unnecessary duplication. Moreover,
because of the worldwide implications of some of the issues under
discussion, and because of the need to influence the centers of
universal authority and coordination, it was felt that the international
dialogues were called for as ways of exploring new avenues in Reformed-Roman
Catholic relations and of making wider use of the results already
being obtained at the national level. It is therefore understood
that the dialogues at various levels are complementary.
In deciding to proceed with these official conversations at the
international level, both Roman Catholic and Reformed officials
were mindful of the utility of bilateral consultations with other
partners then underway. These would not be duplicated, though, since
there are tensions which are peculiar to the relations between these
two traditions. Both parties were convinced that by addressing the
other in these bi-lateral consultations they would be exercising
a responsibility each feels for the other and which both feel would
be mutually enriching. Both parties were strongly motivated by the
need to keep the discussions in the broader perspective of how these
would advance their common concern to manifest the relevance of
Christ in the world today.
The Geneva meeting in November of 1968 chose for the session in
Vogelenzang the theme "The Presence of Christ in Church and
World" "...because it seemed to have a bearing not only
on the ultimate salvation of man but also on his life and happiness
here and now. It was also expected that the discussion on the presence
of Christ in Church and World, especially the meaning of his saving
humanity, would tend to bring to light the differences between the
two communions and that an honest appraisal of these differences
could help the two traditions to overcome them and discover together
what they must do in order to become more credible in the eyes of
the world". (Joint Report, Vogelenzang, April 17-19, 1969).
The expectations for this theme were borne out. Its discussions
at Vogelenzang uncovered a need to attend to three traditional problems
related to the central one of understanding the Lordship of Christ
today: Christ ology, ecclesiology, and the attitude of the Christian
in the world. Though the problems are traditional ones, the Church
confronts them in a new form today: the historical conditions which
shaped their earlier formulations have radically changed, developments
in the secular world cry for urgent attention, and the findings
of the historical sciences and biblical exegesis demand new perspectives
on inherited positions. So fruitful and demanding were the results
of the initial exploration of this theme that it was mandated as
the theme for the subsequent official conversations which began
in Rome in April of 1970. The sub-topics of the series were: "Christ's
Relationship to the Church" (Rome, Spring, 1970), "The
Teaching Authority of the Church" (Cartigny, Switzerland, Spring,
1971), "The Presence of Christ in the World" (Bièvres,
France, Winter, 1972), "The Eucharist" (Woudschoten-Zeist,
the Netherlands, Winter, 1974) and "The Ministry" (Rome,
March, 1975). (For details of themes, subthemes, authors and participants
Each delegation to these meetings was comprised of five permanent
members, a staff person from each sponsoring office, and one consultant
from each communion, appointed for his special expertise in the
subject under consideration at a given session. The names of the
regular teams, the special consultants and the staff persons involved
are listed at the end of this report.
Each meeting lasted five days and followed a regular pattern. Four
position papers, two from each team, circulated in advance. Each
of these papers was discussed in plenary, and subcommittees were
appointed to bring to the plenary a report which summarized the
initial discussion of these position papers. The whole consultation
then went through these reports, discussed again the issues which
were raised by them, and then came to a common statement which summarized
the findings of that particular session.
The initial step in the conversations was a matter, on many issues,
of listening carefully to one another in order to discern what lies
behind the different terminologies to which we have grown accustomed.
It was not the purpose of these sessions consciously to work toward
specific recommendations on the topics assigned them. Rather, the
task was to locate the present convergences, continuing tensions,
and open questions which emerged from the process just described.
The several reports on each session were therefore more descriptive
than prescriptive. The discussions were based on position papers
which deliberately sought to break new ground on the topic under
consideration; while the discussions were notably marked by theological
perspectives which transcended predictable confessional alignments,
it was understood that whatever concrete recommendation might arise
from the final report would simply be the result of this process
of critical inquiry and discussion.
10. After each meeting a press release, the wording of which was
agreed to by both delegations, was issued, but it was decided that
it was best to wait until the final report, covering the whole series,
was the several discussions. At the conclusion of the draft of the
final report which was referred again to the permanent members of
the conversations, who met in Rome, 21-26 March 1977, and agreed
the final report, which with recommendations went to the World Alliance
of Reformed Churches and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian
The final report, presented here, deliberately refrained from any
attempt at a synthesis and offers instead the agreed revision of
the five separate reports with which each session was invariably
concluded. The official report in its final form represents the
common mind of those engaged in the various steps of its formulation
and acceptance. It cannot, however, reproduce all the diversity
of styles, plurality of theological method, heat of conviction and
novelty of insight which went into the position papers and their
It will be seen that during its working sessions the Commission's
method was determined, among other things, by the desire in the
case of each separate theme to produce a survey of the degree of
agreement, the value of these discussions does not lie only in their
necessarily provisional results'. What the authors of the
report hope, rather, is that the readers may let movement which
gripped us from our very first meetings and never ceased to do so.
The way was long and difficult and sometimes it seemed to be leading
nowhere. Even though the following pages occasionally may still
reveal certain inconsistencies, obstacles, reactions and surprises,
we felt it impossible to eliminate these realistic features completely.
But the name of Jesus, deepening trust, brotherly patience, scholarly
seriousness, will to persists, to continue to listen to each other,
not infrequently also a touch of hilarity these things were
all part and parcel of the experience which was given us with our
discoveries and which can be only imperfectly reflected in the record
of our discussions.
CHRIST'S RELATIONSHIP TO THE CHURCH
to Christ's Unifying Action
The starting point of these discussions was the recognition that,
in Jesus Christ, God has made joint cause with sinful humanity and
aims at the renewal of the world. Therefore all those who are connected
with the name of Jesus Christ have the joint task of bearing witness
to this Gospel.
The Riches of Christ and the Wealth of Witnesses
Since in Christ "the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied"
(Col 2:9), there is necessarily a wealth of witnesses - which is
what we actually find in the New Testament - in order that something
at least of "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8)
may be passed on. Thus the mission and task of Jesus, which are
authoritative for the Church of every age and culture, including
our own today, are reflected in a witness which has been characterized
by choice and variety since the apostolic beginnings.
of the Norms of the Church, according to the New Testament:
15. Norms for the belief and practice of the Church are not simply
to be found in isolated proof-texts or in clearly discernible primitive
patterns, but in the New Testament considered as a whole and as
testimony to the divine purpose and mission for Israel, for the
Church and for all humanity. In this respect, New Testament theology
reckons with the content of the promise contained in the history
of God's covenantal dealings with his people in the Old Testament.
There was complete agreement in presenting ecclesiology from a clear
christological and pneumatological perspective in which the Church
is the object of declared faith and cannot be completely embraced
by a historical and sociological description.
There was also agreement in presenting the Church as the "body
of Christ" (cf. 1 Cor 12:12 f. 27; Eph 5:30). The Apostle Paul's
description of the Church as the body of Christ presupposes knowledge
of the death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord. The Church
exists therefore as the body of Christ essentially by the Holy Spirit,
just as does the exalted Lord. Stress was laid, however, on the
complementary character of other images, particularly that of the
bride (cf. Eph 5:15-32), which warn us against any absolute identification.
Theological language is largely metaphorical because the metaphor
is an indispensable way by which to understand and speak about realities
which otherwise cannot be understood and expressed. A caveat was
entered against any suggestion that theological language is to be
understood exclusively as metaphorical language. The illegitimacy
of any absolute identification is shown by other passages which
interpret the body of Christ as a picture for the Church united
in Christ's name (Rom 12:5). It came as a surprise to us to observe
that the decisions we are faced with today did not always correspond
to our confessional boundaries.
Constantly Differing Form:
Apart from the essential characteristics just presented which are
de rigeur for every period and culture, the Church assumes different
forms depending on the historical heritage it carries with it and
the social and cultural situation in which it is set and in which
it grows. Traces of a certain development are already discernible
in the New Testament. It was fully agreed that the essential characteristics
of the one Church assume concrete form in a variety of patterns
already in the New Testament. It is correct to consult the Bible
for theologies of the nature of the Church which will serve as starting
points for inferring the broad outlines of a Church constitution
and for examining whether the present ecclesiastical structures
correspond to it. This applies, for example, to the meaning of "local
church". In New Testament times a local district was a quite
restricted geographical area, while in a highly technological society
what is meant by local is considerably broader. But both Roman Catholic
and Reformed agreed that the Church Catholic is really represented
and exists in the local Church.
When it comes to the correct use of the New Testament in material
for contemporary doctrines of the Church and ministry, it was further
recognized that difficulties are not to be easily overcome by taking
only some parts of the New Testament as normative while relegating
other parts to a secondary position. Christ discloses himself under
the conditions of historical relativity. Theology must undertake
the difficult task of seeking the normative within the relative,
and of applying what is thereby found to the concrete realization
of the Church in different historical situations.
Theology, whether Reformed or Roman Catholic, cannot rest content
with a gap between exegetical research and Church doctrine. No long-range
progress in any ecumenical dialogue can be expected which does not
deal with that gap. With respect, however, to such a question as
that of the relation between, on the one hand, the results of historical
criticism on the direct role of Jesus Christ in the origin of the
Church and, on the other hand, the acceptance of such a role by
believers, it was not agreed by all that the problem is only one
of a gap between exegetical research and Church doctrine. Some maintained
that, in this case, we have to do rather with a distinction between
using the New Testament as historical source and accepting the New
Testament as witness. This does not mean that for the faithful the
quest for the historical Jesus is made superfluous by a preoccupation
with a supposedly different Christ of faith; it means only that
the New Testament witness itself comprises a plurality of witnesses
and various interpretations of the one Christ event.
the Service of Christ for the World:
In the community of Christians all the members are personally bound
to Christ and therefore under obligation to serve Him. Office-bearers
(see chapter on "Ministry" below) are also members of
the body who at one and the same time serve the Lord and the community
in order to fulfil their mission in the world.
The Church does not keep aloof from the world. On the contrary,
it is part of the world. As such it attests the efficacy of its
Lord's word and work. At the same time it is an anticipatory announcement
of what Jesus has destined for all men. In this sense the Church
exists wholly for the world and even in its weakness is the salt
of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13).
We were all agreed that the ethical decisions which necessarily
follow from the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the believing acceptance
of this Gospel extend also to the realm of politics. In both confessions
there were those who inclined to place greater emphasis on the need
for a certain caution and those who stressed the need to derive
concrete political decisions from the New Testament message and
the possibility of doing so.
TEACHING AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH
We are agreed that the Church has its authority to the extent that
it listens to the Word Christ speaks to it ever afresh.
In the history of the Church, the difference between Catholics and
Reformed has always focused on the alternative : "Scripture
and Tradition" and "Scripture only". Catholics stressed
the need for and the authority of the Church's teaching office in
the interpretation of Scripture, whereas the Reformed declared that
Scripture interprets itself and, as God's Word, must be strictly
distinguished from all human tradition, desiring in this way to
do justice not only to the doctrine of justification but also to
the total witness of the Old and New Testaments.
Both on the Catholic and on the Reformed side today, the problem
is no longer presented in terms of the battle lines of post-Tridentine
Historical researches have shown not only how the New Testament
writings are themselves already the outcome of and witness to traditions,
but also how the canonization of the New Testament was part of the
development of tradition.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic teaching has stressed
the very close connection between Scripture and Tradition: "springing
from the same divine source, both so to speak coalesce and press
towards the same goal" (Dei Verbum, 9). Scripture and Tradition
thus constitute "the one holy treasure of the Word of God bequeathed
to the Church" (Dei Verbum, 10) with a special dignity attaching
to the Scriptures because in them apostolic preaching has been given
especially clear expression (cf. Dei Verbum, 8).
In the light of these facts, the customary distinction between Scripture
and Tradition as two different sources which operate as norms either
alternatively or in parallel has become impossible.
We are agreed that as creatura Verbi the Church together with its
Tradition stands under the living Word of God and that the preacher
and teacher of the Word is to be viewed as servant of the Word (cf.
Lk 1:2) and must teach only what the Holy Spirit permits him to
hear in the Scriptures. This hearing and teaching takes place in
a living combination with the faith, life and, above all, the worship
of the community of Christ.
We are agreed that the development of doctrine and the production
of confessions of faith is a dynamic process. In this process the
Word of God proves its own creative, critical and judging power.
Through the Word, therefore, the Holy Spirit guides the Church to
reflection, conversion and reform.
Since we approach our dealings with the Scriptures from our own
particular tradition, in each case, we tend to hear God's Word in
different ways: we understand even central affirmations from different
standpoints and emphasize them in different ways.
Since Scripture is clothed in the language and concepts of the ancient
world and is related only indirectly to our modern problems, all
churches must perforce go beyond the immediate letter of Scripture.
In addition there is the internal diversity of Holy Scripture with
which we are more closely familiar today.
For all these reasons the Church is compelled and obliged constantly
to reinterpret the biblical message.
In this area of interpretation different forms of tradition have
been developed, the legitimation of one's own particular practice
occasionally providing one of the motivating elements. On the whole
the Reformed sought a direct support for their doctrine in the apostolic
witness of Scripture, whereas the Roman Catholic Church perceived
the apostolic witness more strongly in the life of faith of the
whole Church, in the measure that it constantly strove in the course
of the centuries to apprehend the fulness of the divine truth (cf.
Dei Verbum, 8).
This difference in attitude may rest on a difference in pneumatology:
Catholic thought is primarily sustained by confidence in the continuing
presence of the Holy Spirit, whereas the Reformed Church experiences
the presence of the Spirit as a constantly renewed gift of the ascended
In the Reformed Churches, the so-called "Scripture principle",
i.e. the confidence that the Word of God constantly creates the
understanding of itself afresh, postulates in the life of the Church
a carefully maintained relationship between the theologically trained
servant of the Word and the theologically informed, responsible
The Catholic Church stresses within the community the special service
of those who with the aid of the Holy Spirit accept pastoral responsibility
and must also make provision, therefore, for the right interpretation
and proclamation of the Word of God.
The conviction of the Church is that it hears the voice of the living
Lord which also speaks today out of the writings of the apostles
and prophets. Since it is the same Holy Spirit who inspired the
authors of the sacred books and who enlightens the Church's readers
today, the Church has the promise of hearing God's Word from the
Bible even today and tomorrow.
32. The Scriptures were accepted by the ancient Church because these
writings attested the living tradition of the Gospel (summed up
in the so-called regula fidei) because they were written by the
apostles as eyewitnesses or by their disciples, handed down by the
Church which itself has an apostolic origin. In accordance with
both the Catholic and the Reformed tradition, the Church played
its part in the process whereby the canon was formed, even if we
cannot define this part more precisely.
In the light of this common understanding, the traditional controversy
as to whether canonization was the decision of a "possessing"
Church or the receiving recognition of an "obeying" Church
is out of date.
The ancient Church took the view that the different voices speaking
in the Canon can and should come to expression side by side in the
Church, since despite their differences, they all point to the same
center, namely to salvation in Jesus Christ.
The apostolic witness has primary significance therefore. It remains
a continuing task of both Churches to explicate and to ensure respect
for the not merely historical but also theological precedence of
the apostolic period.
Raising the question whether the establishment of the confession
of faith is for the Church a creative activity or an advance in
its perception of the fulness already given, we noted once again
that the dialogue was made more difficult by questions of terminology,
since the term "confession of faith" occupies a different
position in our two traditions and we recognized the importance
of remembering the different functions which confessions of faith
can have in the Church and in society.
We tried, nevertheless, to bring out certain points of convergence
and to identify, too, the different and opposing positions.
For its witness in the world, the Church must always express its
faith by confessions in which it interprets the Word of God in the
language of today, a task which is never completed. Such a confession
of faith is always the expression of an experience of salvation
as lived in the Church at a given moment of its history.
The history of Christian doctrine presents us with a process of
constant interpretative efforts with discontinuous stages of restructuring,
each of which represents the Church's effort to reformulate its
faith in a particular age and cultural environment. But this discontinuity
of structuring is not opposed to a homogeneity of meaning: the transcendence
of this meaning is thus emphasized in relation to these formulations.
In consequence none of the proposed formulations is definitive in
the sense that there will never be any need for a new interpretation
in a new social and cultural situation. The more so since the inexhaustible
riches of the revelation deposited in Scripture constantly compel
us to return to the foundation event to discover again and again
in it new aspects unsuspected by previous generations.
For the Catholics, the affirmations of the past are normative as
guides for subsequent reformulations. For the Reformed, they have
a real positive value which is nevertheless subordinate to the authority
So far as instruction is concerned, for the Reformed it is the community
as a whole which is responsible and which delegates qualified people;
whereas for the Catholics there is a distinctive responsibility
of the pastoral ministry: the latter is rooted in the believing
community but does not derive its authority from an act of delegation
on the part of the latter.
Practice, however, often differs somewhat from theoretical affirmations,
either because these are illegitimately hardened or because in fact
compensatory elements play a part. Among the Reformed there are
people, whether or not invested with official authority, who in
fact play a considerable role. Among the Catholics stress is laid
on the importance of the "sense of the faith", common
to the whole of the believers, by which they discern the Word of
God and adhere to it (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12), and which finds concrete
expression in, among other things, the actual "reception",
constantly renewed, of councils and the decisions of the teaching
Whereas the Reformed note that the expression "the infallibility
of the Church" is almost never used in their tradition, Catholics
note for their part that this word is relatively a recent one in
theological terminology and seems hardly a happy term because of
the maximizing interpretations to which it often gives rise. As
for the theology of infallibility, apart from the fact that too
often there has been a tendency to reduce the question of the infallibility
of the Church to the particular problem of the infallibility of
the Pope, and even to a certain manner of exercising this latter,
it should be stated that it has been developed into a onesidedly
juridical problem which makes it all the more irreconcilable with
Reformed thinking. We are nevertheless able to formulate a certain
viewpoint in common.
The promise made by God to the Church is this: God remains faithful
to his covenant and, despite the weaknesses and errors of Christians,
he makes his Word heard in the Church.
Catholics hold that God's faithfulness to his Church necessarily
means that when the People of God unanimously declares that a doctrine
has been revealed by God and therefore demands the assent of faith,
it cannot fall into error. And in particular that those who have
been specially charged with the teaching mission are protected by
a special charisma when it is a matter of presenting the revealed
message. "The bishops taken in isolation do not enjoy the prerogative
of infallibility; yet, even though dispersed throughout the world
and conserving the bond and communion between them and with the
successor of Peter, when in their authentic teaching concerning
questions of faith and morals they declare with full agreement that
it is necessary to support unhesitantly such and such a point of
doctrine, they then announce infallibly the teaching of Christ.
This is all the more evident when, assembled in an ecumenical council,
they teach and decide on questions of faith and morals for the whole
Church; and their definitions must be adhered to in the obedience
of faith"(Lumen Gentium, 25).
This is equally the case when the bishop of Rome, in the rare cases
specified by Vatican I, expresses himself ex cathedra. Nevertheless,
what has just been said does not imply that all the expressions
chosen are necessarily the best available nor again that the ecclesial
authorities enjoy this charisma in a permanent manner or that they
cannot be mistaken in a certain number of affirmations on which
they do not commit themselves fundamentally.
The Reformed rejection of any infallibility which is accorded to
men derives from a repugnance to bind God and the Church in this
way, in view of the sovereignty of Christ over the Church and of
the liberty of the Spirit, a repugnance strengthened by the experience
of frequent errors and resistances to the Word on the part of the
Church. In addition there is a fear lest confidence in the infallibility
of a formulation should distort the personal character of faith
in the living Christ; further, the fact that many Reformed take
the resistance of man to the Spirit of God so seriously today that
any assertion of the infallibility of the Church becomes impossible.
Apart from that, for Reformed sensibility, any claim to infallibility
in the modern world represents an obstacle to the credibility of
The misgivings concerning the idea of ecclesiastical infallibility
do not detract from the decisive though subordinate weight given
in the Reformed tradition to the ancient Ecumenical Councils in
the transmission and interpretation of the Gospel. For the Reformed,
however, what alone is infallible, properly speaking, is God's fidelity
to his covenant, whereby he corrects and preserves his Church by
the Spirit until the consummation of his reign.
PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD
God is present in the world as its Creator, Sustainer, Lord of history
who rules all things as Loving Father. Frequently in the history
of Christian thought and today the point of departure for speaking
of Christ's presence in the world is ecclesiological: Christ is
present in the Church and through his Lordship over the Church he
exercises his Lordship over the world. This position leads to the
conclusions that Christ's presence is limited to the presence the
Church mediates, that he acts only in the Church, that his lordship
over the world operates only through the Church's mission, and that
when the world and the Church are in conflict, Christ is always
on the side of the Church. Of course the Church is the beloved Bride
of Christ for whom he gave himself (cf. Eph 52:5 ff.) Nevertheless,
and for this reason above all, judgment begins at the house of God
(cf. 1 Pet 4:17).
Though it is true that there is a presence of Christ in the Church
which places her in special relationship to the world, an "ecclesiological
monopoly" on the presence of Christ and the conclusions which
follow from it are exegetically untenable. The presence of Christ
in the world is a consequence of the continuity of God's action
in creation and redemption. This continuity of God's acting in creation
and redemption is found in the covenant he made in the Old Testament
with Israel and renewed and transformed in the New Testament with
all humanity. The continuity laid emphasis on the political and
social implications of the saving work of Christ as well as on faith
as a personal engagement. In the New Testament "the new creation"
(cf. 2 Cor 5:17) is seen as the restoration and completion of the
purposes of the Creator. Christ is the redeemer of the whole world,
in Him God has reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19). The
universal dimensions of the Lordship of the one Christ (cf. Eph
1:21f), to which Holy Scripture witnesses, speak pointedly today
to a world deeply fragmented and in search of its unity.
It is through the Spirit that Christ is at work in creation and
redemption. As the presence in the world of the risen Lord, the
Spirit affirms and manifests the resurrection and effects the new
creation. Christ who is Lord of all and active in creation points
to God the Father who, in the Spirit, leads and guides history where
there is no unplanned development.
The Father is the absolutely primary principle for he is "source,
guide and goal of all that is" (Rom 11:36; cf. 1 Cor 8:6).
The reason why we have been elected and predestinated in Christ
is to "cause his glory to be praised" (Eph 1:12, 6). The
purpose of the mystery of Christ himself is to make known to the
rulers and authorities the infinite wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). After
the Fall, mankind became more and more alienated from the one God.
One of the fruits of the messianic era will be that every knee shall
bow to God (Isa 45:23), that all the peoples will worship him (Ps
22, 30). This is what the Gospel of John means when it says: "This
is my Father's glory, that you may bear fruit in plenty and so be
my disciples" (Jn 15:7).
In response to the revelation of this triune God, Christians affirm
that the purposefulness of history is the framework in which the
diverse realities of all human activities are to be understood.
On this ground we can also recognize that the process of secularization,
with its rejection of every clerical and theological qualification,
has given all aspects of life an autonomy whose validity theology
has come to recognize and this has stimulated us to seek for new
ways of expressing Christ's involvement in the world. This remains
true even if we do not agree with the rejection of transcendence
which has often accompanied this process and even if we detect here
the secularism which results from it as well as the adherence to
various religions or pseudo-religions.
We are agreed that there is a presence of the Spirit of Christ in
the world. How and where can we recognize this effective presence
? This problem presents us with a series of questions which arise
today for all churches. These questions may be formulated as follows:
We look for his presence in the plan or purpose which God is realizing
through all the complexities of history.
We look for his presence as Lord of history in those movements of
the human spirit which, with or without the assistance of the Church,
are achieving the ends of his Kingdom.
We look for his presence in those values and standards which owe
their origin to the Gospel, but now have become embedded in public
conscience and institutions.
But in these questions we keep before us the following convictions:
- In the Cross Christ identifies himself with men in their sin (cf.
Is 53:4f, 11f.; Jn 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21) and need in order that they
might be identified with him in the new victorious life of his resurrection
(cf. Rom 6:4 f ; Col 3:1-4). The first identification remains true
and effective even where it is not recognized. Christ is present
in the poor and helpless who cry for liberation.
- The challenge of the world to the Church and its appeal for help
may be at the same time a challenge and appeal from Christ, who
in this way judges his Church, demands obedience and calls it to
- The Christian who looks back on his own life will say that Christ
was active in it, leading him to repentance, conversion, and faith,
even before he was aware or made any conscious response. We are
therefore bound to claim that Christ is similarly active in the
lives of others for whom faith lies still in the future.
The Christian who recognizes the presence and activity of Christ
in these forms will rejoice in them and be willing to cooperate
with them. This is not to say that either the salvation of the individual
or the transformation of society is complete unless the work of
Christ is brought to conscious recognition through the power of
the Spirit to interpret and convince. People can be liberated from
the demonic dangers of absolute autonomy only by a firm recognition
of the creatureliness and transience of the world they are trying
to transform. To bring this world under the rule of God does not
mean that in it we are to have our abiding city (cf. Heb 13:14).
There is no dichotomy between the Christians' personal response
to the Christ they find in the Church and their corporate response
along with others, Christian and non-Christian alike, to the Christ
who confronts them with the world. To participate in the divine
life by grace is to participate in God's love for the world which
he has created and which, with the help of responsible and responsive
people, he is re-creating.
The Creator of the world does not want mankind to destroy itself
through lack of liberty, peace and justice (cf. Ez 18:32). Rather,
through the revelation of his will, he leads mankind onto the road
of salvation and in Jesus Christ offers it the gift of final redemption
from all ungodly ties and participation in His divine life and thus
in His freedom.
This movement towards freedom already begins with the election of
the old people of the covenant, a people that he continually calls
back to serve him freely.
In Jesus Christ there takes place the final reconciliation and with
it also the call to the whole of the world (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-21).
The Church that Christ has sent into the world has to carry this
message of liberation (cf. Lk 4:18f, 8:31-36; Rom 6:18-22) among
the peoples of the world, and with it also the call to that freedom
which is God's gift to people in grace, all with a view to the perfection
in which God will ultimately construct peace and liberty (cf. Rom
8:19-21). This statement already makes it clear that the fundamental
relationship between the Church and the world lies in Jesus Christ
who at one and the same time is the Head of the Church and the Lord
of the world (cf. Heb 1:2f, Rev 17:14; 19:15f).
The Church professes that Christ himself is the carrier of the message
of the rule of God and the liberation of mankind. If the Church
goes out into the world, if it brings the Gospel to men and endeavors
to realize more justice, more conciliation and more peace, then
in doing so it is only following its Lord into domains that, unbeknown
to men, already belong to him and where he is already anonymously
The Church was founded by Christ to share in the life which comes
from the Father and it is sent to lead the world to Jesus Christ,
to its full maturity for the glory and praise of the Father. It
is therefore called to be the visible witness and sign of the liberating
will of God, of the redemption granted in Jesus Christ, and of the
kingdom of peace that is to come. The Church carries out this task
by what it does and what it says, but also simply by being what
it is, since it belongs to the nature of the Church to proclaim
the word of judgement and grace, and to serve Christ in the poor,
the oppressed and the desperate (Mt 25:31-40). More particularly,
however, it comes together for the purpose of adoration and prayer,
to receive ever new instruction and consolation and to celebrate
the presence of Christ in the sacrament; around this center, and
with the multiplicity of the gifts granted by the Spirit (cf. 1
Cor 12:4-11, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4: 11) it lives as a koinonia
of those who need and help each other. We consequently believe in
a special presence of Christ in the Church by which it is placed
in a quite special position in relation to the world and we believe
that the Church stands under the special aid of the Holy Spirit,
above all in its ministry of preaching and sacraments (cf. Jn 14:16,
25f, 15:26, 16:7-14).
The Church can therefore correspond to its calling if its structure
and its life are fashioned by love and freedom. Accordingly the
Church does not seek to win human beings for a secular program of
salvation by propagandistic methods but to convert them to Christ
and in this way to serve them. In its proclamation of the Gospel
there is at the same time a powerful creative cultural dynamic.
As a communio structured in this way the Church contradicts the
structures of the various sectors of the life of modem secular society:
opposing exploitation, oppression, manipulation, intellectual and
political pressures of all kinds. The renewal of Christian congregations
as authentic life forms will also influence the wider social and
In addition, the Christian commitment of alert and responsible Christians
has often been organized in political parties, professional associations,
trade unions and suchlike, with or without guidance from the official
There is today a certain crisis in these activities. The solution
of specific problems facing them today requires much expertise.
In addition it sometimes happens that the claim of certain parties
and interest groups to represent a Christian position is an obstacle
to the Christian witness to all human beings. The decision on this
question in each case may differ according to country and circumstance;
but for us there is no specific confessional difference here.
The official church authorities, who are often regarded as representatives
of their communities, have to pay careful attention to whether and
in what respects they are obliged by their Lord to speak a prophetic
and pastoral word to the general public. Such an obligation will
arise especially when no one else speaks up against certain injustices
Along the road which the Church at any given time takes through
the world in the solidarity with human beings commanded by Christ,
it must not tie itself down to a program of its own but always remain
open for ever new directives of the Holy Spirit promised to it.
The Holy Spirit strengthens it in spite of all imperfectness and
provisionality of social, even Christian, fashioning of life in
fidelity to its redeemer and in obedience to the creator and upholder
of the world. The Spirit is himself the pledge (cf. Eph 1:14; 2
Cor 1:22) that its hope in the consummation of the recreation of
the world will not be disappointed (cf. Rom 8:11, 19-21; 2 Petr
The Church as the Effective Sign of Christ's Presence in the
The Church exposes its fundamental orientations and controlling
loyalties by the way it lives, no matter what it says to the contrary.
When the Church turns inward on itself and clings to outdated structures,
it gives the impression that Christ is its exclusive possession
rather than its Lord who goes before and leads. When the Church
is truly a pilgrim people on the way through the world (cf. Heb
13:14; Phil 3:20; Gal 4:26; 1 Petr 2:11), it bears witness that
Christ is the Lord over the world as well as the Church. Turning
the Church outward to bear witness to his presence in the world
is a function of Christ's converting presence with his Church. The
Church is a worshiping community whose prayers are inseparable from
its prophetic and diaconal service. In worship and witness the Church
celebrates the central fact of Christ's unity with his people. Being
united to Christ in his death and resurrection, the Church is empowered
with the Spirit to walk in newness of life and so to be a converted
and converting presence in Christ's world. By living as a new people
persuaded of God's acceptance in Christ, the Church is a persuasive
sign of God's love for all his creation and of his liberating purpose
for all men.
In a world undergoing a profound transformation, the Church cannot
become set in immobility on the plea that it is immutable, but must
above all be listening to the Word of God in which it will discern,
beyond all "conservatism" and all "progressivism",
the transformations required of it precisely in virtue of its fidelity
to this Word.
First, the localness and the catholicity of the Church are to be
kept in perspective. It is only by participating in the local community
that we share in the life of the universal Church, but the local
community without universality (in particular the small basic communities
but likewise the local Churches at regional level) runs the risk
of becoming a ghetto or of being arbitrarily dominated by individuals.
Second, practical changes must take account of the great variety
of situations confronting the Churches and these changes presuppose
both a decentralization of the Church and a larger participation
on all levels, quite especially on what is commonly (and perhaps
misleadingly) called the laity.
Participation is essential because it springs from the very nature
of the Christian vocation and also because a great many fields are
quite inaccessible to the Church except through its lay members
who live and work in them. Moreover this participation is important
because the Church's effective witness depends in very large measure
on expertise of the laity in diverse fields, expertise which the
clergy do not have, have not had, but too often have presumed to
have. However their participation in the life of the church is not
merely to be seen in terms of their professional expertise. They
also have the specific spiritual ministry, which they exercise through
all activities including their technical competence. The church
in all its members is ministerial.
Third, the Church must take great care not to act too prematurely
today, as it too often did in the past, to suppress disturbingly
novel expressions of spiritual life and spontaneous forms of community,
on the ground that they are merely expressions of the human spirit
and not also expressions of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, the Church's faithful mutation is to be seen as consistent
with the Church's historical character. This means that apostolic
continuity, perhaps quite diversely defined, is integral to the
Church's identity through change. It also means that when the Church
has been obediently changeable, it has always taken into account
the diverse socio-political and cultural contexts in which Christ's
presence was known and confessed. Here arises the question of what
belongs to the "establishment" of the Church and of what
emerges from the structures which Christ intended for His Church.
In incorporating these and other characteristics of change we discussed
how they will bear upon the new manifestation of the unity of the
Church which is now emerging. The slogan "unity in necessary
things" has been accepted but we have not yet specified what
is necessary. An "ecumenism of convergence" with its focus
on what is necessary will not demand uniformity nor the death of
Reflection on the celebration of the Eucharist must start from the
biblical sources, i.e.:
- from the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the primitive Church,
- from the celebration of the Last Supper of Jesus,
- from the Old Testament background, particularly the Jewish Passover.
When the Christian community assembled with glad and generous hearts
(Acts 2:46) it celebrated the memorial of the death and resurrection
of Jesus, experienced his presence as the exalted Lord in his Spirit
and looked forward longingly to his return in glory. It thus regarded
itself as the pilgrim People of God.
The traditional words of Jesus at the Last Supper, despite the differences
in their transmission, recall that his acceptance of death "for
many" inaugurates the new covenant of God with his People.
The cancellation of the old covenant does not mean the rejection
of Israel (cf. Rom 11:1f, 28f) but on the contrary the continuation
of God's promises which are operative in the new gift of salvation
in virtue of the reconciling fruits of the death of Jesus.
If this background is taken seriously, new possibilities of mitigating
the traditional confessional quarrels emerge from the understanding
of the New Testament accounts of the institution: for example,
- In the words of institution the emphasis is on the fact of the
personal presence of the living Lord in the event of the memorial
and fellowship meal, not on the question as to how this real presence
(the word "is") comes about and is to be explained. The
eating and drinking and the memorial character of the Passover meal,
with which the New Testament links Jesus' last meal, proclaim the
beginning of the new covenant.
- When Christ gives the apostles the commission Do this in
remembrance of me!' the word "remembrance" means more
than merely a mental act of "recalling".
- The term "body" means the whole person of Jesus, the
saving presence of which is experienced in the meal.
71. Reflection on the biblical sources along these lines can also
help to relativize certain traditional alternatives (influenced
by a dualistic anthropology and cosmology) which encumber the dialogue
between the confessions (as for example, realism/symbolism, sacramentalism/inwardness,
substance/form, subject/object). In relation to an objectification
which tends to rigidity, the original biblical way of thinking helps
us to a more profound understanding of the character of the Eucharist
as an event.
The glorified body of the Lord with which the New Testament community
had fellowship in the Supper is to be understood in accordance with
the description of the risen Jesus Christ as the second Adam, who
is both a body determined by the Spirit ( 1 Cor 15:44) and a life
creating Spirit ( 1 Cor 15:5).
The concept of koinonia stresses not only fellowship with the exalted
Lord Jesus Christ, but beyond this and precisely because of this
also the fellowship of all who partake of the meal and are called
together into the community of the Lord (1 Cor 10:17).
Reflection on the Supper of the primitive Christian community must
not contemplate the past in retrospect and seek to restore it; on
the contrary, it must liberate us for a new priestly ministry (1
Petr 2:9), which the Church has to perform in relation to the world
Paschal Mystery of Christ and the Eucharist:
Christ sends us into the world with the message of a new life and
a new common life in fellowship with him. In our speaking and acting
he bears witness to himself. His Gospel gathers, protects and maintains
the koinonia of his disciples as a sign and beginning of his kingdom.
He himself constantly calls this community to the memorial of his
death; he himself comes into its midst as the living One through
his word and causes this word to take shape in the celebration of
the Supper in which he deepens and seals (cf. Jn 15:4f, 6:56f, 1
Cor 10:16) his fellowship with us and in which the new life of fellowship
of Christendom is represented to the world (1 Jn 1:3). The presidence
of the commissioned church office bearer at the celebration of the
Meal effectively represents this unique role of Christ as the Lord
and Host. The commissioned office-bearer is there to show the assembled
community that it does not have disposal itself over the Eucharist
but simply carries out obediently what Christ has commissioned the
Church to do.
The fellowship and witness of the Church depend on it being filled
by God with his Spirit. (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8; Tit 3:6).
The way of the disciples through the world since his return to the
Father has been characterized by, his hiddenness (cf. 1 Jn 3:1f,
1 Cor 4:9-13 , Jn 15:18-21). They await his return (cf. Phil 3:20f,
Col 3:4; 1 Jn 2:28) and remain dependent on his promise never to
leave them or forsake them (cf. Jn 14:18f, Mt 28:20). In the eucharistic
meal they again and again experience his keeping of his promise.
This free, gracious presence of the Lord takes place in the Holy
Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 2:10-13 ; Jn 14:16-20; 16:13-15), i.e. He himself
lays the foundation for it, creates in itself and in us the possibility
of knowing him and receiving him and sanctifies the means by which
he imprints his presence in us, pours out on us his gifts and equips
us to serve him.
So the Lord himself comes to us in his Spirit (cf. Rom 8:9; Jn 7:38f)
through his word, attests himself in the holy signs and, giving
his Church spiritual food and drink, accompanies it towards the
future of the Kingdom in which the counsel of God finds its fulfilment.
The whole saving work of God has its basis, center and goal in the
person of the glorified Christ.
Christ himself did not seek his own glory but the glory of him who
sent him (cf. Jn 8:50, 7:18). Similarly he said: "It is meat
and drink for me to do the will of him who sent me until I have
finished his work" (Jn 4:34).
The One who is exalted to God's right hand lived among us and died
among us. He shared our spatial and temporal existence; despite
our sin he was our fellow human being. In his exaltation, he remains
what he was: the obedient son (cf. Heb 5:8f, Phil 2:8) and our brother.
In solidarity with the glorified One we live in the reality which
he opened up to us by his life and death.
This is experienced, confessed and portrayed by the Christian community
in its celebration of the Supper with him. United with Christ by
the Holy Spirit, incorporated in him by baptism (cf. 1 Cor 12:12f),
it constantly receives anew his humanity in which he lived, died
and was glorified for us, as the real bond with God himself (cf.
In his person, his life, his death and his resurrection, Christ
has established the new covenant.
In him person and work cannot be separated. What he did, derives
its saving power from what he is. He is our salvation because of
what he did.
Christ the mediator (cf. 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6, 9:15) is no hybrid.
He is himself personally the mediation. In him and through him God's
self offering to us as human beings is accomplished; in him and
through him humanity's surrender to God.
The sacrifice brought by Jesus Christ is his obedient life and death
(cf. Heb 10:5-10, Phil 2:8). His once for - all self-offering under
Pontius Pilate is continued by him for ever in the presence of the
Father in virtue of his resurrection. In this way he is our sole
advocate in heaven (cf. Heb 9:11f. 24, 10:13f. 19-21, 7:24f, 1 Jn
2:1; Rom 8:34). He sends us his Spirit so that we weak human beings,
too, may call upon the Father and can also make intercession for
the world (cf. Gal 4:5 ; Rom 8:15f. 26).
In its joyful prayer of thanksgiving, "in the Eucharist",
when the Church of Christ remembers his reconciling death for our
sins and for the sins of the whole world, Christ himself is present,
who "gave himself up on our behalf as an offering and sacrifice
whose fragrance is pleasing to God" (Eph 5:2). Sanctified by
his Spirit, the Church, through, with and in God's son, Jesus Christ,
offers itself to the Father. It thereby becomes a living sacrifice
of thanksgiving, through which God is publicly praised (cf. Rom
12:1; 1 Petr 2:5).
The validity, strength and effect of the Supper are rooted in the
cross of the Lord and in his living presence in the Holy Spirit.
Far from bypassing us, they are fulfilled in our faith, love and
The witness, celebration and fruits of the Eucharist are crystallization
of the Church's proclamation and fellowship. They are therefore
sustained by every movement in which the eternal Father for Christ's
sake and through him, accepts and recreates the lost world in the
Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper
As often as we come together in the Church to obey our Lord's command
to "do this in anamnesis of me", he is in our midst. This
is the presence of the Son of God who for us men and for our salvation
became man and was made flesh. Through the offering of his body
we have been sanctified and are made partakers of God. This is the
great mystery (Sacramentum) of Christ, in which he has incorporated
himself into our humanity, and in partaking of which the Church
is built up as the Body of Christ. This is the same mystery dispensed
to us in the eucharistic celebration, for when we bless the cup
it is the communion of the blood of Christ, and when we break the
bread it is the communion of the body of Christ (I Cor 10:16). The
realization of this presence of Christ to us and of our union and
incorporation with him is the proper work of the Holy Spirit, which
takes place in the eucharistic celebration as the Church calls upon
the Father to send down his Holy Spirit to sanctify both the worshiping
people and the bread and wine. How Christ is present in the Eucharist,
we may apprehend to a certain extent by looking at the work of the
same Holy Spirit, e.g. in the birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary
and in his resurrection in body from the grave - although as acts
of God they are explicable only from the side of God and not from
the side of man.
It is in this light that we may understand something of the specific
presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, which is at once sacramental
and personal. He comes to us clothed in his Gospel and saving passion,
so that our partaking of him is communion in his body and blood
(John 6:47-56; 1 Cor 10:17). This presence is sacramental in that
it is the concrete form which the mystery of Christ takes in the
eucharistic communion of his body and blood. It is also personal
presence because Jesus Christ in his own person is immediately present,
giving himself in his reality both as true God and true Man. In
the Eucharist he communicates himself to us in the whole reality
of his divinity and humanity - body, mind and will, and at the same
time he remains the Son who is in the Father as the Father is in
The Reformed and Roman Catholics are convinced of the centrality
of this common christological confession. The specific mode of Christ's
real presence in the Eucharist is thus to be interpreted as the
presence of the Son who is both consubstantial with us in our human
and bodily existence while being eternally consubstantial with the
Father and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead (Jn 17:21-23). It is important
to see that Calvin's Christ ology was mainly inspired by the theology
of St. Cyril of Alexandria and of St. Athanasius. It would be easy
to be misled by the term "extra Calvinisticum" which arose
out of early 17th century polemics among Protestants; and even the
Calvinist teaching then was that after the incarnation the eternal
Word, fully joined to the humanity in the hypostatic union, was
nevertheless not restricted to, or contained within the flesh, but
existed "etiam extra carnem". This doctrine, that the
logos is at the same time incarnate and present in the whole world,
is not a Calvinist speciality, but is common to the Christology
of pre-Chalcedonian as well as post-Chalcedonian orthodoxy, East
and West. What clearly matters is the fully trinitarian context
which is guarded by this doctrine and the Christological presuppositions
on which there are no fundamental disagreements between Roman Catholic
and Reformed traditions.
We celebrate the Eucharist with confidence because in Jesus Christ
we have the new and living way which he has opened for us through
his flesh (Heb 10:19-20). He is both Apostle from God and our High
Priest (cf. Heb 3:1) who has consecrated us together with him into
one, so that in his self-offering to the Father through the eternal
Spirit (cf. Heb 9:14), he offers us also in himself and so through
our union with him we share in that self-offering made on our behalf.
It is the same Spirit who cries "Abba, Father" (cf. Mk
14:36) in him who cries "Abba, Father" in us, as we in
the Eucharist take the Lord's Prayer into our own mouth (Rom 8:15f,
In this union of the Church on earth with the risen and ascended
Christ, which he continues to sustain through its eucharistic communion
with him, the Church is enabled by grace to participate in his reconciling
mission to the world. Christ and his Church share in this in different
ways. Christ vicariously as Mediator and Redeemer, the Church as
the community of the redeemed to whom he has entrusted the ministry
of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:18) and stewardship of the mysteries
(cf. 1 Cor 4:1). "As often as you eat this bread and drink
this cup you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" (1 Cor
11:26). Thus precisely because the mission of the Church is grounded
in, and sustained through eucharistic communion with Christ, it
is sent out by Christ into all nations and all ages in the service
of the Gospel, in reliance upon his promise that he will be present
to it always unto the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:18-20).
Eucharist and the Church: Christ, the Church and the Eucharist:
"This one accepts sinners and eats with them"(Lk 15:2),
is characteristic of Christ's work. The power and effect of his
death and resurrection confront and confound the power of death
and sin. The institution of the Eucharist constitutes the Church
as the community of love where the power of his death and resurrection
is mediated by the One intercessor between God and the sinner. For
the time between his first and second coming, our Lord instituted
the Eucharist as a sacrificial meal. Sinful men and women, rich
and poor, religious and secular people, united at the Lord's table,
are the first-fruits of that communion, peace and joy, which are
promised to all who hunger and thirst for righteousness (cf. Mt
Eucharist and the Renewal of the Church
The Eucharist is a source and criterion for the renewal of the Church.
The Church's renewed understanding of the Eucharist may lead to
a renewed way of celebrating the Eucharist, revealing the Church
more clearly as essentially "the Eucharistic community".
The renewal of the Church through the Eucharist includes a continuous
summons to church unity. The division of the churches at the precise
point where the Church should reveal its true nature as the one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church calls urgently for ecumenical
agreement on the meaning of the Eucharist and its relation to the
At the same time the Eucharist requires and inspires the Church's
sense of her vocation to bring the Gospel to the whole world in
proclaiming the good news of God's salvation and exercising the
work of reconciliation in its deeds. Since the Eucharist means "thanksgiving"
the members of the Church will show forth a life that is inspired
and sustained by this sense of gratitude. Renewal, unity and mission
are inseparable characteristics of the Church as it receives in
faith the gift of the Eucharist.
Liturgy and Dogma
The Eucharist is an expression of the Church's faith. That faith
is expressed in part in its liturgical life, according to the principle
"lex orandi, lex credendi". It is an essential function
of liturgy to hand on the Gospel in the formulations of its prayer,
and also in the forms of ritual practice.
In the course of history certain formulae have been taken up in
dogmatic and liturgical usage, primarily as protective devices to
safeguard the faith against misinterpretation. These formulae have
been usually developed from a context of controversy, from which
the passage of time has tended to detach them. Such formulations
need to be re-examined in order to see whether they are still adequate
as safeguards against misunderstanding, or have themselves become
sources of misunderstanding, especially in the ecumenical situation.
There is therefore a pastoral responsibility on the churches to
see that such formulae contribute to the genuine communication of
the Gospel to the contemporary world.
Eucharist and Church Organization
In the visible aspects of the Church, the Eucharist should reveal
to the world the authentic reality of the Church. Similarly, the
Eucharist should continually empower the Church to recall itself
to the vision of that reality. The Eucharist thus enables the Church
both to reveal its true nature to the world, and to shape itself
in conformity to that same reality.
As a community of men and women living in the world, the Church
organizes itself in varying ways in the course of history. This
organization of the Church's way of life should not obscure the
true face of the Church, but allow it to be seen in its true being.
It is the Eucharist which is the source of continuing scrutiny of
the organization and life of the Church.
In particular, the law of the Church should reflect Christ's law
of love and freedom. The Church's law is not an absolute, but always
serves a pilgrim people. One of the functions of that law is to
promote the constant renewal of the Church in its preaching of the
Gospel and in its service to mankind. The law of the Church must
be in harmony with the law of the Kingdom, revealed in the Eucharist.
While we are aware of the serious discrepancy between our claims
to common theological understanding and our actual practices, we
gratefully acknowledge the way our investigations and discussions
have resulted in a greater appreciation of the richness in our respective
eucharistic doctrines and practices. We believe we have reached
a common understanding of the meaning and purpose and basic doctrine
of the Eucharist, which is in agreement with the Word of God and
the universal tradition of the Church. We also believe that the
way is clearly opening out before us on which remaining misunderstandings
and disagreements about the Lord's Supper can be cleared up. The
terminology which arose in an earlier polemical context is not adequate
for taking account of the extent of common theological understanding
which exists in our respective churches. Thus we gratefully acknowledge
that both traditions, Reformed and Roman Catholic, hold to the belief
in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and both hold at
least that the Eucharist is, among other things:
(1) a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord;
(2) a source of loving communion with him in the power of the Spirit
(hence the epiclesis in the Liturgy), and
(3) a source of the eschatological hope for his coming again.
Our dialogue has convinced us of the urgent need to pursue the following
- the constitutive elements of a eucharistic service, especially
in view of its relation to certain forms of Christian fellowship,
called in some countries "agape-celebrations";
- the use of the Eucharist today which grows out of a faithful reflection
on the tradition and on the vast changes which typify life today;
- the urgent contemporary pastoral questions of mutual eucharistic
Study of these questions should take into account:
- the rich connotations of memorial (anamnesis);
- the biblical and patristic "non-dualist" categories;
- the false antinomies which can be corrected by a study of such
themes as "body, person, presence, spiritual";
- the question of the proper role of the ordained ministry in the
celebration of the Eucharist.
The Church bases its life on the sending of Christ into the world
and the sending of the Holy Spirit that men and women may be joined
to Christ in his service; its authority is inseparable from its
service in the world which is the object of God's creative and reconciling
love. As servants of their servant Lord, ministers of the Church
must serve the world with wisdom and patience. Without lively personal
discipleship, there can be no credible exercise of office. At the
same time, those who bear office in the Church must adhere to the
promise that the Lord determines to build up his community even
through imperfect servants. Our common effort at a deeper common
understanding of the nature of ministry in the Church has also to
be motivated by concern for the service of the Church in the world.
The whole Church is apostolic. To be an apostle means to be sent,
to have a particular mission. The notion of mission is essential
for understanding the ministry of the Church. As Christ is sent
by the Father, so the Church is sent by Christ. But this mission
of the Church has not simply a Christological reference. The sending
of Christ and the equipment of the Church in his service are also
works of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Holy Spirit belongs
to the constitution of the Church and her ministry, not merely to
their effective functioning. Too often, imbalances in theologies
of the ministry are the result and sign of an insufficiently trinitarian
theology. It is by the power of the Spirit that the Lord sustains
his people in their apostolic vocation. This power manifests itself
in a variety of ways which are charismata - gracious gifts of the
one Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff). Guided by and instrumental to the
work of God in this world, the Church has a charismatic character.
The Church is apostolic because it lives the faith of the original
apostles, continues the mission given by Christ to them, and remains
in the service and way of life testified to by those apostles. The
canonical scriptures are the normative expression of this apostolicity.
It is within the normative expression of this apostolicity contained
in the New Testament that a witness is given to the special ministry
given by Christ to the Twelve, and to Peter within that circle of
96. The extension of Christ's ministry, including his priestly office,
belongs to all members of his body (cf. 1 Petr 2:5-9). Each member
contributes to that total ministry in a different fashion; there
is a distribution of diverse gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11), and every
baptized believer exercises his or her share in the total priesthood
differently. This calling to the priesthood of all those who share
in the body of Christ by baptism does not mean that there are no
particular functions which are proper to the special ministry within
the body of Christ.
Within apostolicity in general there is a special ministry to which
the administration of Word and Sacrament is entrusted. That special
ministry is one of the charismata for the exercise of particular
services within the whole body. Ordination, or setting apart for
the exercise of these special services, takes place within the context
of the believing community. Hence consultation with that community,
profession of faith before that community, and liturgical participation
by that community belong to the process of ordination. This is important
to underline because we need to go beyond an understanding of ordination
which suggests that those consecrated to the special ministry are
given a potestas and derive a dignity from Christ without reference
to the believing community.
The liturgical validation at the time of the act of ordination includes
the invocation of the Holy Spirit ("epiclesis") with the
laying on of hands by other ordained ministers. The invocation of
the Holy Spirit is a reminder of the essential role which the doctrine
of the Trinity must fulfil in any balanced understanding of the
ministry. It gives proper weight both to Jesus Christ's historical
and present action and to the continual operation of the Holy Spirit.
The laying on of hands is an efficacious sign which initiates and
confirms the believer in the ministry conferred. It is not the community
which produces and authorizes the office but the living Christ who
bestows it on the community and incorporates this office into its
The continuity of this special ministry of Word and Sacrament is
integral to that dimension of Christ's sovereign and gracious presence
which is mediated through the Church. The forgiveness of sins and
call to repentance are the exercise of the power of the keys in
the unbuilding of the Church. This power Christ entrusted to the
apostles with the assurance of his continued presence to the end
of the age. The apostolic continuity depends not only on Christ's
original commission but also on his continual call and action.
There are several senses of "apostolic succession" ; but
when it is taken in its usual meaning to refer to the continuity
of the special ministry, clearly it occurs within the apostolicity
which belongs to the whole church. Reformed and Roman Catholic both
believe that there is an apostolic succession essential to the life
of the Church, though we locate that succession differently (see
below). We agree that no one assumes a special ministry solely on
personal initiative, but enters into the continuous special ministry
of Word and Sacrament through the calling of the community and the
act of ordination by other ministers.
Apostolic succession consists at least in continuity of apostolic
doctrine; but this is not in opposition to succession through continuity
of ordained ministry. The continuity of right doctrine is guarded
by the application of Holy Scripture and transmitted by the continuity
of the teaching function of the special ministry. As with all aspects
of the Church's ministry, so with the particular case of apostolic
succession: it requires at once a historical continuity with the
original apostles and a contemporary and graciously renewed action
of the Holy Spirit. The Church lives by the continuity of the free
gift of the Spirit according to Christ's promises, and this excludes
a ritualistic conception of succession, the conception of mechanical
continuity, a succession divorced from the historical community.
We agree that the basic structure of the Church and its ministry
is collegial. When one is consecrated to the special ministry, one
accepts the discipline of being introduced into a collegial function
which includes being subject to others in the Lord and drawing on
the comfort and admonition of fellow ministers.
This "collegiality" is expressed on the Reformed side
by the synodical polity, and, on the Roman Catholic side, by the
episcopal college, the understanding of which is in process of further
development. In the Reformed polity, the synod functions as a corporate
episcopacy, exercising oversight of pastors and congregations. We
consider it would be worth while to investigate in what ways the
diverse functions of the Reformed office of elder could be further
developed in a modern form and made fruitful in the life of the
We agree that the collegial structure must be expressed in different
ways in different times and we have to be sensitive to the pluriformity
of charismata. This principle of collegiality is not to be limited
to the level of the synods, and in the Roman Catholic Church not
to the episcopal college, neither to clergy only, but to be realized
at all levels of church life. The vision of "Sobornost"
may be a help here.
Emphases within Both Traditions
There are theological positions on the ministry which cut across
confessional loyalties; different emphases are present in both traditions
and are not as sharply to be sorted out along denominational lines
as has been commonly thought. Some emphasize the "over-againstness"
of the Spirit and structure; some emphasize the Spirit's work to
shape and animate structure. One position more or less deplores
the restriction of apostolic succession, for example, to institutionalization
by means of what it takes to be mere continuity of laying on of
hands. Another position more or less rejoices in that institutionalization
as another instance of Christ's mediating his gracious presence
through earthen vessels. Some locate apostolic continuity almost
entirely in the succession of apostolic proclamation, while others
locate it in an unbroken continuity which also indispensably includes
the laying on of hands.
Some Reformed see God's fidelity as known mainly through his overcoming
the Church's infidelity, and in this case tradition is seen as much
as betrayal as transmission. Others, including Reformed and Roman
Catholic, take a more confident view of the way the Church is able,
by God's fidelity, to sustain a faithful deliverance of that which
was once received. Some see in an application of the analogy of
the incarnation to ecclesiology a de-emphasis on the work of the
Spirit and the Lordship of Christ over the Church. Others see incarnational
analogies appropriately applied to the Church when set in a trinitarian
context which provides for the dynamic of Christ's work through
the Holy Spirit. This may mean that one point of convergence is
that no one wishes to speak of the Church as "extension of
Incarnation" but that real divergence occurs among us in the
way we use incarnational language about the Church.
Emphases between the Two Traditions
The divergences which do exist between Roman Catholic and Reformed
doctrines of the ministry often arise less from conceptions which
are objectively different than from differences of mentality which
lead them to accentuate differently elements which are part of a
common tradition. In any event, there are differences of doctrine
which lie behind the varied ways ministerial office is dealt with
in the Reformed and the Roman Catholic perspectives. We are not
to minimize the way the doctrinal differences have been shaped in
part by particular cultural, sociological, economic factors as well
as different nuances of spirituality.
Both Roman Catholic and Reformed theology are particularly aware
of the importance of the structure of the Church for the fulfilment
of its commission. The Roman Catholic Church, in this regard, has
derived a predominantly hierarchical ordering from the Lordship
of Christ, whereas, from the same Lordship of Christ, the Reformed
Church has decided for a predominantly presbyteral-synodal organization.
Today both sides are taking a fresh look at the sense of the Church
as it appears in images of the early Church.
There is a difference in the way each tradition approaches the question
of how far and in what way the existence of the community of believers
and its union with Christ and especially the celebration of the
Eucharist necessitates an ordained office bearer in the Church.
In how far does the institutional connection with the office of
Peter and the office of bishop belong to the regularly appointed
ministry in the Church? For Roman Catholics, connection with the
Bishop of Rome plays a decisive role in the experience of Catholicity.
For the Reformed, catholicity is most immediately experienced through
membership in the individual community. When it comes to the relations
between ministry and sacrament, the Roman Catholics find that the
Reformed minimize the extent to which God, in his plan for salvation,
has bound himself to the Church, the ministry and the sacraments.
The Reformed find that too often Roman Catholic theology minimizes
the way the Church, the ministry and the sacraments remain bound
to the freedom and the grace of the Holy Spirit.
As with our dialogue about the Eucharist so with our dialogue about
Ministry we have come to recognize some continuing questions which
we face in common. These questions confront both traditions and
we need each other in the future to come to an even fuller understanding
How essential are the distinctions of rank within the ministry ?
What theological significance is to be assigned to the distinction
between bishop, priest and deacon ? Can it be said that in many
cases the ordained pastor exercises the episcopal office?
What closer definition can we give to the tension between office
How are we to define more closely the relation between office and
priesthood which has traditionally been very differently understood
in the different churches?
Does the distinctive feature of the office consist in the role of
president, understanding this presidency not as a title of honor
but rather as a ministry for the unbuilding of the Church: as leadership,
proclamation, administration of the sacraments?
On the other hand, how do we view the tendency to make the task
of leadership and administration independent of the actual exercise
of preaching and administering the sacraments?
What place is there for a real theological understanding of the
ministry between the Western emphasis on legal organization and
the Eastern emphasis on the relationship to liturgy?
How are we to understand the principle of corporate leadership of
the congregation as developed in the Reformed tradition, and how
is the relation between pastors and elders to be ordered?
What is the meaning of the laying on of hands: mission, transfer
of a polestar, or incorporation into an order?
To what extent can the laying on of hands with an invocation of
the Holy Spirit be described as a "sacrament"?
What conditions (in substance and in form) are to be envisaged for
a mutual recognition of ministries?
What meaning is to be given to the term defeats? Can a ministry
be called in question or be nullified as such by a formal defeats
- or can the latter be compensated by reference to the faith of
To what extent can abuses in the Church's ministries be dealt with
by institutional measures? Examples of abuses: false doctrine of
the leader or the majority, triumphalism, mechanical conception
of ordination, church personality cults, dominance of the structure.
- Possibilities of correction in the direction of the collegiality
principle (reference of the one to the other - combination of the
hierarchical with the synodal pattern).
A particularly urgent question, it seems to us, is the extent to
which our reflections concerning the ministry are determined by
distinctive Western thought patterns and historical experiences.
To what extent is our concern with the past a hindrance rather than
a stimulation to the development of a new shape of ministry? How
can we be faithful at the same time to insights of the Christian
tradition and to new experiments of the people of God?
These questions aim at further clarifying the nature of the total
ministry which belongs to the whole people of God, and of the special
ministry within it. Such further clarification is necessary for
the continual reform and edification of the Church as a fit instrument
of Christ's service in the world.
Service 35 (1977/III-IV) 18-33]
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