Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > R-RC > Final Report | CONT. > Cap. 3
  (INTRODUCTION) - selezionare
  Capitolo 2 - OUR COMMON CONFESSION OF FAITH - selez.
The Church We Confess and Our Divisions in History - Cap. 3
  Capitolo 4 - THE WAY FORWARD - selez.


3.1. Introduction

  1. The difficulties which still separate our communions arise largely from our different understandings of the relationship between that which we confess, on the one hand, concerning the origin and the vocation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in God's plan of salvation and, on the other hand, the forms of its historical existence. Our two communions regard themselves as belonging to the Una Sancta, but differ in their understanding of that belonging.

  2. In addressing this subject, we must move beyond comparative ecclesiology. Our method requires us both to say what we can together and to recognize without ambiguity that which cannot yet be the object of consensus.

  3. This implies a double challenge. There are, first, differences of perspective such that we find in the position of the partner a complementary point of view or a different accent on a single commonly held truth. In opening ourselves to the partners critique we can learn to express our own views in a more balanced way and perhaps find a common frame of reference for understanding each other.

  4. Secondly, however, some of our positions seem simply to diverge. They appear mutually incompatible or incommensurable. That leaves us, for the present at least, with no choice but to agree to disagree, while seeking clarity about the nature of our disagreements. We find, among other things, that we disagree about what issues are serious enough to be church-dividing. Questions which, from the Roman Catholic side, are obstacles to full communion are not necessarily so from the perspective of the Reformed, and vice-versa. This does not dispense us from the responsibility of searching for reconciliation across even the most apparently insurmountable barriers. In the meantime we respect each other, and we are grateful for the measure of community that is possible between us.

  5. In this Report we do not treat the whole range of ecclesiological issues. We prefer to highlight three particular arenas of discussion because of what is at stake in them and because of the light they can cast on the way to a fuller consensus. We shall deal, first, with two conceptions of the Church which, though different, we consider potentially complimentary. We then deal with two areas of apparent divergence or incompatibility: our views of continuity and discontinuity in Church history, and of the Church's visibility and ministerial order.

3.2. Two Conceptions of the Church

  1. We have already affirmed the ministerial and instrumental role of the Church in the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments (NN. 85-86). Word and sacrament alike are of the very nature of the Church. They also provide us with two different conceptions for understanding the Church and the way in which it fulfils its ministerial and instrumental role, the first, more "Reformed," the second, more "Roman Catholic."

    3.2.1. The Church as "Creatura Verbi"

  2. The Church existing as a community in history has been understood and described in the Reformed tradition as creatura verbi, as "the creation of the Word." God is eternally Word as well as Spirit; by God's Word and Spirit all things were created; reconciliation and renewal are the work of the same God, by the same Word and Spirit.

  3. God's Word in history has taken a threefold form. Primarily it is the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen. Then it is the Word as spoken in God's history with God's people and recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as testimony to Jesus Christ. Third, it is the Word as heard and proclaimed in the preaching, witness and action of the Church. The third form depends upon and is bound to the second, through which it has access to the first, the Word incarnate in Jesus Christ. This is why the Reformed tradition has insisted so emphatically that the preaching, teaching, and witness of the Church through the centuries - the Church's dogma and tradition are always to be subordinated to the testimony of the Bible, that Scripture rather than Tradition is "the word of God written" and "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." Scripture is the control by which the Church's proclamation must be governed if that proclamation is to witness authentically to God's Word in Jesus Christ and to be "the Word proclaimed." For the Word of God is one consistent word: The Word of judgement and mercy, the Gospel of reconciliation, the announcing of the Reign of God. It is a Word alive as Jesus Christ himself is alive: it is a Word calling to be heard, answered and reechoed; it is a Word claiming response, obedience and commitment as the Word of grate which evokes and empowers authentic faith.

  4. The Church depends upon this word the Word incarnate, the Word written, the Word preached
    — in at least three ways.
    — the Church is founded upon the Word of God
    — the Church is kept in being as the Church by the Word of God
    — the Church continually depends upon the Word of God for its inspiration, strength and renewal.
  5. In each of these aspects, the Word and Spirit of God work together, for it is the power of the Spirit that enables the hearing of the Word and the response of faith. The Word and Spirit of God together establish, preserve and guide the community of the Church in and through human history. The Church, like faith itself, is brought into being by the hearing of God's Word in the power of God's Spirit; it lives ex auditat, by hearing.

  6. This emphasis upon hearing the Word of God has been of central important in Reformed theology since the 16th century. This is why the Reformed have stressed "the true preaching of the Word" together with "the right dispensing of the sacraments according to the institution of Jesus Christ" as a decisive "mark of the true Church." Behind this emphasis lies a keen awareness of the way in which the Old Testament proclaimed "the Word of the Lord," of the New Testament recognition of Jesus Christ as "the Word who was in the beginning with God" and of the new sense in the 16th century that the Bible is a living, contemporary Word with which the Church's teaching and order, as these had come to develop, were by no means always in harmony. Against the appeal to continuity, custom and institution, the Reformed appealed to the living voice of the living God as the essential and decisive factor by which the Church must live, if it will live at all: the Church, as creatura verbi.

  7. Thus far, our exposition has been relatively traditional and familiar. But despite the intended organic relationship between Word and Church, the Reformed tradition has not always held it steadily in view. It has sometimes inclined to verbalism, to the reduction of the Gospel to doctrine, of the divine Word incarnate in Jesus Christ to theological theory. Proclamation of the Word has been seen simply as an external mark of the Church rather than intrinsic to it; the Church itself regarded more as the place where Scripture is interpreted than as a community living from the Word. Such understandings fall short of the full meaning of creatura verbi as describing the nature and calling of the Church.

  8. The Church is the creation of the Word because the Word itself is God's creative Word of grace by which we are justified and renewed. The Church is the human community shaped and ruled by that grace; it is the community of grace, called to let "this mind be among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..." (Phil 2:5). The community of faith is thus not merely the community in which the gospel is preached; by its hearing and responding to the Word of grace, the community itself becomes a medium of confession, its faith a "sign" or "token" to, the world; it is itself a part of the world transformed by being addressed and renewed by the Word of God.

    3.2.2. The Church as "Sacrament of Grace"

  9. Even before Vatican II, many Roman Catholic theologians described the Church as a "sacrament," because this term is associated with the biblical term "mystery." Such a sacramental description highlights the comparison between what the Church is and what is enacted in the celebration of the sacraments. The adoption of this term by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium I, 1) for speaking of the Church has made this usage almost a commonplace in Roman Catholic thought.

  10. The Second Vatican Council described the Church, because of its relationship with Christ, as "a kind of sacrament, or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind" (Lumen Gentium 1). The Church is described as the "universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium 48; Gaudium et Spes 45; Ad Gentes 1), the "visible sacrament of this saving unity" (Lumen Gentium 9), the "wondrous sacrament" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 5). In some cases the conciliar text indicates the deep roots of this conception of the Church in patristic thinking, by referring to some expressions of Cyprian who speaks of ecclesial unity as a sacrament (LG 9 and SC 26). It then directly applies these formulas to the Church in extending the dynamic of their meaning. At the same time, it refers to a prayer in the Roman Missal before the restoration of Holy Week, which affirms that "from the side of Christ on the cross there came forth the wondrous sacrament which is the whole Church" (SC 5).

  11. The application of the category "sacrament" to the Church is doubly analogical. On the one hand, it is analogical with regard to its application to Christ. Christ, indeed, is the primordial sacrament of God in that the Logos became flesh, assuming our humanity. Jesus is the full revelation of grace (cf. Jn 1:14) and "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), the one who has become "the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:9). That is why Paul proclaims "the mystery of Christ" (Col 4:3). Later on, Augustine, for whom the terms "mystery" and "sacrament " are practically equivalent, writes: "There is no other mystery of God than Christ"(P.L. 33, 845). For Saint Thomas the original sacraments of our salvation are the "mysteries of the flesh of Christ," in particular, the passion and the resurrection of Christ are sacraments by reason of their double character of being exemplary sign as well as instrumental and effective cause (cf. Comp. Theol. 239; S. Theol. III°, Q. 62, art. 5 and primum). Luther made his own this traditional interpretation of Christ: "The Holy Scriptures know only one sacrament, which in Christ the Lord himself" (Disputatio de fide infusa et acquisita de 1520, 18; Weimar edition, 6, p. 86). All language concerning the sacramentality of the Church, then, must respect the absolute Lordship of Christ over the Church and the sacraments. Christ is the unique foundational sacrament, that is to say, the active and original power of the whole economy of salvation visibly manifested in our world. The Church is a sacrament by the gift of Christ, because it is given to it to be the sign and instrument of Christ.

  12. In the New Testament the term "mystery" is not directly applied to the Church, although Ephesians 5:32 applies this term to Genesis 2:24 and relates that verse to the relationship between Christ and the Church (and the Latin Vulgate translated "mysterium" as "sacramentum"). The Church then is only a sacrament founded by Christ and entirely dependent on him. Its being and its sacramental acts are the fruit of a free gift received from Christ, a gift in relation to which he remains radically transcendent, but which, however, he commits to the salvation of humankind. That is why, according to the Second Vatican Council, "It is not a vain analogy to compare the Church with the mastery of the Word Incarnate," for its one complex reality is "constituted from both a human aspect and a divine aspect" (LG 8). This analogy should not make us forget the radical difference which remains between Christ and the Church. In particular, the Church is only the spouse and the body of Christ through the gift of the Spirit.

  13. On the other hand, the Church is called a sacrament by analogy to the liturgies of Baptism and the Eucharist, which the Greek fathers called "the mysteries," in a sense already analogous to the Pauline mysterion. The sacraments are the gestures and the words which Christ has confided to his Church and to which he has linked the promise of grace by the gift of his Spirit.

  14. In the Church as "sacrament," "a bridge is built between the visible face of creation and the design of God realised in the Covenant" (cf. Groupe des Dombes, L'Esprit Saint, l'Église et les Sacrements, 23). Or, in a slightly different register, one can also call the Church a "living sign." The terms "sacrament" and "sign" imply coherence and continuity between diverse moments of the economy of salvation; they designate the Church at once as the place of presence and the place of distance; and they depict the Church as instrument and ministry of the unique mediation of Christ. Of this unique mediation the Church is the servant, but never either its source or its mistress.

  15. As Christ's mediation was carried out visibly in the mystery of his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, so the Church - has also been established as visible sign and instrument of this unique mediation across time and space. The Church is an instrument in Christ's hands because it carries out, through the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments and the oversight of communities, a ministry entirely dependent on the Lord, just like a tool in the hand of a worker. So the New Testament describes the ministry of the Church as serving the ministry of Christ. Ministers are "God's fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9), "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4:1), "ministers of a new covenant" (2 Cor 3:6), "ministers of reconciliation" accomplished by Christ (Cf. 2 Cor 5:18) and, more generally "envoys" or "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor 5:20).

  16. The instrumental ministry of the Church is confided to sinful human beings. It can therefore be disfigured or atrophied, mishandled and exaggerated. But the reality of God's gift always transfigures human failure, and God's fidelity to the Church continually maintains it, according to the promise (Mt 28:20) which sustains it in its mission of salvation across the ages.

  17. The Church is thus constituted as a sacrament, an instrument of the unique mediation of Christ, a sign of the efficacious presence of that mediation. The Church is such in that it lives out of the Word, which has engendered it and which it proclaims, and to the extent that it is open and docile to the Spirit that dwells within it. The Paraclete maintains and continually renews the memory of Christ in the Church (Jn 14:26; 16:15) until the Savior comes again. This Paraclete accomplishes in the Church the ministry of liberty (2 Cor 3:17), of truth (Jn 16:13), of sanctification (Rom 8:12-13) and of transformation (2 Cor 3:18). In this way, the Church is the bearer of the tradition of the Word, that, is, the sacrament of the Word of God; and bearer of transmission of salvation, that is, the sacrament of Christ and of the Spirit.

  18. If the Church is seen in relation to its source, it may be described as the sacrament of God, of Christ, and of the Spirit - as a sacrament of grace. If it is seen in relation to its mission and calling, it may be called the sacrament of the kingdom, or the sacrament of salvation (Lumen Gentium 48): "like a sacrament, that is a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human species" (ibid. 1).

    3.2.3. Questions and Reflections

  19. We are agreed in recognizing the radical dependence of the Church in receiving the transcendent gift which God makes to it and we recognize that gift as the basis of its activity of service for the salvation of humanity. But we do not yet understand the nature of this salutary activity in the same way. The Reformed commonly allege that Catholics appropriate to the Church the role proper to Christ. Roman Catholics, for their part, commonly accuse the Reformed of holding the Church apart from the work of salvation and of giving up the assurance that Christ is truly present and acting in his Church. Both these views are caricatures, but they can help to focus attention on genuine underlying differences of perspective of which the themes of creatura verbi and sacramentum gratiae serve as symbols.

  20. The two conceptions, "the creation of the Word" and "sacrament of grace," can in fact be seen as expressing the same instrumental reality under different aspects, as complementary to each other or as two sides of the same coin. They can also become the poles of a creative tension between our churches. A particular point at which this tension becomes apparent is reached when it is asked how the questions of the continuity and order of the Church through the ages appear in the light of these two concepts.

3.3. The Continuity of the Church Throughout the Ages

  1. In what sense can it be said that the Church has remained one from generation to generation? This question is of immediate relevance for relations between the Reformed and Roman Catholic churches because the events leading to the Reformation and resulting in division seem to imply a discontinuity in the life of the one Church.

    3.3.1. God's Fidelity and Our Sinfulness

  2. Together we believe that God remains faithful to God's promise and never abandons the people he has called into being. "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). Such is the ground of our conviction that the Church continues through the ages to carry out the mission it has received until the end of time, because "the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). Through the Church, Christ who is present with us all days until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20), leads us indefectibly to salvation.

  3. The continuity of the Church has an origin: it is the sending-of the apostles on a mission by Christ, a sending which makes them "apostles"; it has a purpose - the mission, "apostle," to make disciples of all the nations (cf. Mt 28:19). This is why the Church is of its essence apostolic and its ministry is within an apostolic succession. As was said in our preceding document, this succession "requires at once a historical continuity with the original apostles and a contemporary and graciously renewed action of the Holy Spirit" (PCCW, 1O1). Apostolicity is then a living reality which simultaneously keeps the Church in communion with its living source and allows it to renew its youth continually so as to reach the Kingdom.

  4. God's fidelity is given to men and women who are part of a long history and who, moreover, are sinners. The Church's response to God's fidelity must be renewed to meet the challenges of various times and cultures. The Church is not worthy of its name if it is not a living and resourceful witness, concretely addressing people's needs. This is also why the Church's continuity demands that it recognizes itself as semper reformanda. The sinfulness of humanity which affects not only members of the Church but also its institutions, is opposed to fidelity to God. If human sinfulness does not put the Church in check, it can nevertheless do grave harm to the Church's mission and witness. The constant need for reform in the Church is recognized. "Christ summons the Church, as it goes on its pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which it always has need, insofar as it is an institution of human beings here one earth" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 6). The Church must then live within a constant dynamic of conversion.

    3.3.2. The Need for Reform and Renewal

  5. We acknowledge that at the time of the Reformation the Church was in urgent need of reform. We recognize that the various strivings for reform were in their profoundest inspiration signs of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the event of the Reformation, the Word of God played a role, that Word which is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit" (Heb 4:12). Not everything that happened can be attributed to the Word because in the division of the Western Church human sinfulness also played its part. Our common awareness of this summons us to "discern the spirits," i.e., to distinguish in this process the work of human sinfulness from the work of the Spirit. As Roman Catholics and Reformed, we should not seek to justify ourselves here. We must each assume responsibility for our own past and for that part of the sin which was our own.

  6. But that is not all If it is true that "in everything (even sin, one could say) God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose"(Rom 8:28), we must then recognize the mysterious design of God which moves toward its accomplishment in spite of our division. Our continual conversion to Christ should make us discover and understand the positive meaning of this event in the life of Christ's Church. It reminds us of the Church's dependence on Christ and the Spirit, who act in it and for it with sovereign liberty. It invites us to recognize new fruits of holiness. It involves us in a Christian striving that impels us to reconcile in our lives complementary aspects of the one Gospel. Reflection on the positive meaning of the Reformation, despite the division, concerns us all, because it is a major event in the history of the Church.<

    3.3.3. Questions and Reflections

  7. Nonetheless, as things are at present, divergences persist between us in our understanding of the continuity of the Church and its visibility. The Reformed churches give first consideration to continuity in the confession of faith and in the teaching of Gospel doctrine. It is in this sense that the Church remains apostolic and the ministers raised up in it by the Spirit form part of the apostolic succession. The Catholic Church, for its part, considers that this apostolicity of faith and preaching as well as that of the administration of the sacraments are linked to a certain number of visible signs through which the Spirit works, in particular to the apostolic succession of bishops.

  8. We both acknowledge the reality of tradition, but we do not give it the same weight. The Reformed see in Holy Scripture the sufficient witness of the Gospel message, a message that "constantly creates the understanding of itself afresh" (PCCW 29) and is the locus of the immediate communication of the truth. This does not imply disregard for tradition as an expression of faithful communion throughout the centuries. Catholics for their part regard Scripture as the norma normans of all doctrine of the faith, but they think that Scripture, the work of the living tradition of the apostolic generation, is in its turn read and interpreted in a living way in an act of uninterrupted transmission which constitutes the tradition of the Church throughout its history. The authority of this living tradition and of the magisterial decisions which mark it from time to time is founded on submission to the message of Scripture. In order to help the people of God be obedient to this message, the Church is led to make interpretative decisions about the meaning of the Gospel (cf. PCCW, 30, 32).

  9. Further, we differ in our understanding of the nature of sin in the Church. Undoubtedly we both recognize that, whatever the effect of sin on persons and institutions, the holiness of the preaching of the Word and of the administration of the sacraments endures, because the gift of God to the Church is irrevocable. In this sense the Church is holy, for it is the instrument of that gift of holiness which comes from God. But the Reformed think that God's fidelity is stronger than our infidelity, than the repeated "errors and resistances to the Word on the part of the Church" (PCCW, 42). Hence the Church can experience moments when despite the exemplary witness of individuals its true identity is obscured by sin beyond recognition. This does not mean that God abandons the Church, which, for the Reformed, continues in being always and until the end of time. On the Catholic side, it is thought that human sin, even if it goes so far as to mar greatly the signs and institutions of the Church, never nullifies its mission of grace and salvation and never falsifies essentially the proclamation of the truth, because God unfailingly guards the Church "which he has obtained with the blood of his own Son"(Acts 20:28). The times of the worst abuses were frequently times in which great sanctity flourished. In other words, we do not think in the same way about the relation of the Church to the Kingdom of God. The Reformed insist more on the promise of a "not-yet"; Catholics underline more the reality of a gift "already-there."

  10. Accordingly, our respective interpretations of the division in the sixteenth century are not the same. The Reformed consider that the Reformation was a rupture with the Catholic "establishment" of the period. This establishment had become greatly corrupted and incapable of responding to an appeal for reform in the sense of a return to the purity of the Gospel and the holiness of the early Church. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the resulting division was a substantial rupture in the continuity of the Church. For Catholics, however, this break struck at the continuity of the tradition derived from the apostles and lived through many centuries. Insofar as the Reformed had broken with the ministerial structure handed down by tradition, they had deeply wounded the apostolicity of their churches. The severity of this judgment is moderated today because ecumenical contacts have made Catholics more aware of the features of authentic Christian identity preserved in those churches.

  11. In the future, our dialogue will need to address such still often divisive questions as the following:
    1. Considering the interpretation of our positions given above, what can Reformed and Roman Catholics now say together about the reform movements of the sixteenth century the reasons behind them, the course they took, and the results that cane about?

    2. Recognizing (because of baptism and other ecclesial factors) that despite continuing divisions a real though imperfect communion already exists between Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians, what implications does this communion have for our understanding of the continuity of the Church?

    3. To what extent can we together proclaim the Gospel in an idiom intelligible to our contemporaries, even if we differ in some ways in our understanding of the Apostolic faith?

    4. How can we reconcile the freedom of the individual Christian in appropriating the Christian message with the responsibility of the Church for authoritatively teaching that message?

    In the past, we have usually answered such questions from our separate ecclesiological perspectives; in the future, we will need to work out a joint response in dialogue.

3.4. The Visibility and the Ministerial Order of the Church

  1. The Reformed and Roman Catholic communions differ in a third way with respect to their understanding of the relation between Gospel and Church. Our divergence here has to do with the role of visible structure, particularly in relation to mission and ministry We will look first at visibility and invisibility in the Church as such, and then at mission and ministerial order.

  2. 3.4.1. The Church: Visible and Invisible

  3. In the past, Reformed churches have sometimes displayed a tendency not only to distinguish, but also to separate the invisible church, known to God alone, and the visible church, manifest in the world as a community gathered by the Word and Sacrament. In fact, such a distinction is not part of genuine Reformed teaching. We can affirm together the indissoluble link between the invisible and the visible. There exists but one Church of God. It is called into being by the risen Christ, forms "one body," is summoned to "one hope," and acknowledges know ledges "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all..."(Eph 4:4-6). Christ, through his Spirit, has empowered this Church for a mission and a ministry in the world, and equipped it to call others to the same unity, hope and faith. From its earliest time, it has been provided through God's grace with ministerial means necessary and sufficient for the fulfilment of its mission.

  4. The invisible church is the hidden side of the visible, earthly church. The Church is manifest to the world where it is called to share in the Kingdom of God as God's chosen people. This visible/invisible Church is real as event and institution, wherever and whenever God calls men and women to service.

  5. This visible/invisible Church lives in the world as a structured community. Gathered around Word and Sacraments, it is enabled to proclaim God's Gospel of salvation to the world. Its visible structure is intended to enable the community to serve as an instrument of Christ for the salvation of the world. It thus bears witness to all human beings of the saving activity of God in Jesus Christ. This testimony of the visible/invisible Church often calls it to a confrontation with the world. In such testimony the Church sees itself summoned to praise and glorify God. In all its visible activity its goal is Soli Deo gloria, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

  6. We diverge, however, on the matter of the closer identification of the Church with its visible aspects and structure. Roman Catholics maintain that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Roman Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium 8), a formulation adopted at the Second Vatican Council to avoid the exclusive identification of Christ's Church with it. They admit likewise that many "elements" or "attributes" of great value by which the Church is constituted, are present in the "separated churches and communities" and that these last are "in no way devoid of significance and value in the mystery of salvation" (Unitatis Redintegratio 3). The question is, therefore, to what degree they can recognize that the Church of Christ also exists in the Reformed churches. The Reformed for their part do not understand the Church as reducible to this or that community, hierarchy or institution. They claim to belong to the Church and recognize that others also do. Their chief difficulty is not in extending this recognition to the Roman Catholic Church, but the view that the Roman Catholic Church has of its special relation to the Church of Jesus Christ.

    3.4.2. Mission and Ministerial Order

  7. Catholics and Reformed agree that the order of the Church originates in the Gospel which the risen Christ charged his disciples to proclaim. In this perspective, it is given first in Word and Sacrament: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age"(Mt 28:19-20; cf. Lk 24:47-48; Jn 20:21 b).

  8. For those who follow Christ, the Word of God contained in Scripture and proclaimed, lived and interpreted in the Church, is the fundamental and inalienable point of reference for the Church's order. Scripture bears the Word of salvation by which faith is born. Faith leads to Baptism and it is nourished by the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist.

  9. This mission which the risen Christ committed to the "eleven" (Mt 28:16) and from which the Church arose, implies that one should distinguish between those who announce the gospel ("you") and those to whom it is proclaimed ("make disciples"). It entails, moreover, a ministry of Word, Sacrament and oversight given by Christ to the Church to be carried out by some of its members for the good of all. This triple function of the ministry equips the Church for its mission in the world.

  10. This ministerial order manifests itself above all in the ministry of the Word, i.e. in the preaching of the Gospel, "the word of God which you heard from us"(I Thess 2:13; cf. 2 Cor 11:7), the announcing of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus (Lk 24:47-48), and the proclaiming of him as the one anointed with the Spirit "to preach good news to the poor... to set at liberty those who are oppressed"(Lk 4:18). He who was the preacher of God's Word par excellence has thus become the Preached One in the Word carried to the "ends of the earth"(Acts 1:8) by his chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41-42).

  11. The ministerial order also finds expression in the ecclesial rites, traditionally called Sacraments. We believe that in them Christ himself acts through the Spirit among his people. The Church is ordered through Baptism, in which all who believe in Christ are not only washed and signed by the Triune God, but are "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood" (I Pet 2:5). Similarly, in the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist, the community of faith, hope and love finds its rallying point: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10:17). Such rites along with the Word of God are fruitful means of grace for those who believe, and by them the whole people of God is built up and nurtured.

  12. This order is further manifest in the ministry of oversight (episkopé), exercised by Church members for the fidelity, unity, harmony, growth and discipline of the wayfaring people of God under Christ, who is "the Shepherd and Guardian (episkopos)" of all souls (I Pet 2:25). Various "gifts," "services," and "activities," are inspired by God's Spirit in the Church (I Cor 12:4-6), but all members are called upon to be concerned for that same unity, harmony, and unbuilding of the Church.

  13. Leadership in the New Testament took different forms at various times and places under diverse names (see e.g., Acts 1:20-25; 20:17; 28; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11-13; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 4:14; 5:3-22; Tit 1:5-9). Paul often refers to himself as "the servant/slave of Jesus Christ." (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1) and as such writes to churches that he has founded as one exercising authority in virtue of the Gospel that he preaches (I Thess 2:9, 13; cf. I Cor 15:11: "Whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed"). Though we have no direct indication that the communities founded by Paul were presbyterally organized, but only the affirmation of Acts 14:23, where Paul, according to Luke, appoints presbyters "in every Church," Paul was at least aware of a structure of leadership in some communities to which he wrote: I Thess 5:12: "respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you"; Phil 1:1, greetings are sent to "all the saints in ...Philippi, with the overseers and deacons" (syn episkopois kai diakonois). From the various forms of leadership mentioned in the Pastorals there emerged a pattern of episcopoi, presbyters and deacons, which became established by the of the second century.

  14. This pattern of leadership developed from some New Testament forms, while other (even earlier) New Testament forms did not develop. The spread and theological interpretation of ecclesial leadership in the immediate post New Testament period must be seen against the background of the wider development of the early Church and its articulation of the faith (see I Clem 40-44, especially 42, 1-2, 4; 44, 1-2; Ignatius of Antioch, Eph 2, 1-5; Magn 2; Hippolytus, Apost. Trad.). In the course of history some of the functions of such leaders underwent change; even so the ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons became in the ancient Church the universal pattern of church leadership.

3.5. The Mutual Challenge

  1. We have now explored and reflected upon three dimensions of the relation between Gospel and Church. Despite our agreements, there remain divergences between us which deserve further exploration and offer us new challenges.

  2. First, on the question of doctrinal authority in the Church, the previous report, The Presence of Christ in Church and World (24-42), described our agreement concerning the view that we in large measure share regarding Scripture and its canon. In this area, formerly contested matters have been substantially clarified. This document likewise has identified the core of what still separates us in the interpretation of Scripture, the authority of confessions of faith and of conciliar decisions, and the question of the infallibility of the Church. These divergences still remain to this day. Among the remaining divergences, the following are particularly important:
    - Both sides emphasize the indefectible character of Spirit guided preaching and teaching that mirrors the Gospel and Holy Scripture. Roman Catholics relate that preaching and teaching to a God-given authority vested in the Church, which, in service to the Word of God in Scripture and Tradition, has been entrusted with authentically interpreting it, and which in distinct cases is assisted by the Holy Spirit to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith and morals. Reformed Christians refer such preaching and teaching ultimately to the supreme authority of the Word of God in Scripture as illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Second, on the question of the Sacraments, in spite of growing convergence, there still exists between us not only a disagreement concerning their number, but also a divergence in our understanding of "Sacrament" and of the competence of the one who ministers. Roman Catholics recognize seven Sacraments, according to the Council of Trent (DS 1601), though they give a major importance to Baptism and Eucharist and recognize in the Eucharist the center of the sacramental life of the Church. The Reformed Churches recognize Baptism and the Lord's Supper as Sacraments in the ordinary sense, though also recognizing in the laying on of hands "an efficacious sign which initiates and confirms the believer in the ministry conferred" (PCCW, 98). Calvin himself did not object to calling ordination a Sacrament, but he did not count it on a level with Baptism and Eucharist because it was not intended for all Christians (Institutes IV: 19,28).

  4. Third, the earlier document (PCCW, 98) provides a common description of ordination, putting in relief its double reference to the "historical and present action" of Jesus Christ and to "the continual operation of the Holy Spirit." Nevertheless, the nature of ordination still causes difficulty between us. Is the laying-on of hands a sending on a mission, a passing on of a power, or an incorporation into an order? (cf. Ibid, 108). On the other hand, can a defect in form put in question or invalidate the ministry as such - or can such a defect be remedied "by reference to the faith of the Church?" (ibid.).
    - One further difference concerning the ordained ministry cannot be ignored, especially today. In the Reformed churches as in many other Protestant communions it has become increasingly common in recent decades to ordain women without restriction to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
  5. Fourth, on the question of how the authority of Christ must be exercised in the Church, we are in accord that the structure of the ministry is essentially collegial (Compare: PCCW, 102). We agree on the need for episkopè in the Church, on the local level (for pastoral care in each congregation), on the regional level (for the link of congregations among themselves), and on the universal level (for the guidance of the supranational communion of churches). There is disagreement between us about who is regarded as episkopos at these different levels and what is the function or role of the episkopos.
    a) Catholics insist that the ordained ministry is a gift of God given to persons "set apart" (cf. Rom 1:1) in the community By the sacrament of ordination the minister is united with Christ, the sole High Priest, in a new way which qualifies him to represent Christ in and for the community. The one ordained can act there "in persona Christi"; his ministry is an embassy in the name of Christ in the service of the Word of God (cf. 2 Cor 3:5). Ordination to the priesthood qualifies one to represent the Church before God, in its offering to the Father through Christ in the Spirit. All of these aspects of this ministry are especially realized in the eucharistic celebration. The ordained ministry thus places the Church in total and current dependence on its unique Lord.

    b) Likewise, for Catholics, at the heart of the ministry, ordained in the succession of the Apostles, stands the bishop who continues in the community the preaching of the apostolic faith and the celebration of the sacraments, either in his own right or through his collaborators, the priests and deacons. His role is also to develop a life of harmony within the community (homothymadon). The bishop also represents his church before other local churches in the bosom of the universal communion. Charged to maintain and deepen the communion of all the churches among themselves, the bishops, with the Bishop of Rome who presides over the universal communion, form a "college." This "college" is seen as the continuation of the "college" of the apostles among whom Peter was the first. The Bishop of Rome, understood as the successor of Peter, is the prime member of this college and has the authority necessary for the fulfilment of his service on behalf of the unite of the whole Church in apostolic faith and life.

    c) Reformed Churches also emphasize the importance of the ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament for the life of the Church (cf. Eph 4: 11-16). The Reformed understanding of the ministry is in general more "kerygmatic" than "priestly"; this corresponds to the awareness of the Word of God as the power by which the Church lives. Within this perspective, however, there is a valid sense in which the Reformed minister acts "in the person of Christ" - e.g. in preaching, in dispensing the sacraments, in pastoral care - and also represents the people, in articulating and leading their worship. For this reason Reformed churches approach the preparation and ordination of ministers with great care, emphasizing the need for a proper order and the laying-on of hands by duly ordained ministers.

    d) The Reformed stress the collegial exercise of episkopé. At the local level the responsibility lies with pastors, elders and/or deacons, with a very important role often played by the church meeting. At regional and national levels it is exercised collectively by synods. The same applies, in principle, to the universal level. The Reformed have never given up hope for a universal council based on the authority of the Scriptures. That hope has not yet materialized, though ecumenical world assemblies in our century are an important step towards its fulfillment.

    e) The Reformed hold that the sixteenth century brought into being a new form of Church order based on Scripture and a practice of the ancient Church, adapted to the needs of a new situation. Reformed churches today still maintain that pattern and believe it to be legitimate and serviceable in the life of the Church. This does not exclude the possibility of further development in the ecumenical future of the Church.

  6. Finally, we have begun to come to terms with the particularly difficult issue of the structure of ministry required for communion in the universal Church. The earlier report (PCCW) made allusion to it. Our discussion of the matter has shown how complex the issues involved are and how different the perspectives in which they are seen on both sides. As we pursue the dialogue on the Church's structure and ministry, this theme deserves closer attention.

  7. As a program for future dialogue we suggest the following questions:
    — Our interpretations of Scripture are inextricably bound up with our ecclesiological convictions. With what hermeneutical and doctrinal perspectives do we approach the New Testament in the search for guidance on the ordering of the Church in the ecumenical future?
    — What significance is there for the Church today in the role assigned to Peter in several central New Testament passages - and in the way in which that role was interpreted in the ancient Church?
    — What is the connection between the ministry of leadership described in the New Testament (presidents, leader, bishops, pastors) and in the ancient Church and (a) Roman Catholic bishops, (b) Reformed ministers of Word and Sacraments?


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