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.
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.
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 Twelve.
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.
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
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 life.
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.
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.
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 Church.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 of Ministry.
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?
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 the Church?
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).
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]