THE CHURCH WE CONFESS
AND OUR DIVISIONS IN HISTORY
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
3.2.1. The Church as "Creatura Verbi"
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.
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.
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
the Church continually depends upon the Word of God
for its inspiration, strength and renewal.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
3.3.1. God's Fidelity and Our Sinfulness
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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."
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.
the future, our dialogue will need to address such still often
divisive questions as the following:
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
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?
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?
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
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.
3.4.1. The Church: Visible and Invisible
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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?"
- 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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?