(Nairobi 1986)



Over the past twenty years, successive Joint Commissions between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council have reported to their respective churches at five-year intervals through the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Methodist Council. A significant body of material has been considered by Methodists and Roman Catholics meeting annually since the commencement of these bilateral discussions in 1967.

The first report issued by a joint commission was known as The Denver Report (so named for the city where the World Methodist Council met in 1971). Covering the period 1967-1970, the report addressed the following subjects: Christianity and the contemporary world, spirituality, Christian home and family, eucharist, ministry and authority.

As will be readily understood, some of these areas were only examined in a cursory way and were taken up by The Dublin Report (1972-1975). Taking the Denver document as a point of departure, the Commission advanced joint exploration in the areas of spirituality and some moral issues, while pressing on to consider in greater depth the doctrines of the eucharist and the ordained ministry.

During the next quinquennium, a significant agreed statement on The Holy Spirit was issued in The Honolulu Report (1977-1981). This was written in a more popular style. It was during this time that another change was introduced the periodic publication of parts of the report, for study and comment, as they were developed in the course of the five years. Sections on Christian experience and Christian moral decisions covered new ground and discussions begun on authority were reported as requiring fuller development.

The text of The Nairobi Report, which follows, represents the work of the present 1982-1985 Joint Commission, which met on four occasions. The first session at Reuti-Hasliberg, Switzerland in 1982 established The Nature of the Church as the theme for the quinquennium. Building upon a careful outline, preparations were made for research and the writing of papers to explore the various sub-themes. Subsequent meetings in Milan, Lake Junaluska, and Venice explored the nature of the Church, sacraments, episcopacy and “ways of being one Church”, Peter in the New Testament and the Petrine ministry; and authority in the Church, under the heads of jurisdiction and the teaching office. In the light of the work done at the final meeting in Venice, a proposal at the conclusion of the text suggests that the next Commission proceed to address the general theme of The Apostolic Tradition.

In Venice tribute was paid to the late Monsignor Richard Stewart for his faithful and effective service as the Roman Catholic co-secretary of the Commission for the past seven years. Monsignor Stewart died unexpectedly at age 58 in July of 1985, while on holiday in England. He was for seven years a member of the Vatican Secretariat. The Joint Commission, recognizing his theological acumen, his careful concern for every detail of the work, his boundless energy and profound commitment to the cause of Christian unity, wishes to dedicate this report to him.

The Nairobi Report deals with some of the most difficult questions Roman Catholics and Methodists have faced together. Although there are similarities in the order and structure of the two churches, Methodists and Catholics at present differ in their doctrine of the ministry and of the teaching office. The Commission has started to address these divergences, exploring their origins in history and seeking perspectives for agreement. It has reaffirmed those things already held in common with regard to the role of leadership in the Church and the quest for Christian unity.

We now make this report available in the hope that it will stimulate wide study, discussion and reactions among both Catholics and Methodists. Such discussion and reaction at this stage of our dialogue will be invaluable for our continued progress on the path towards that fulness of fellowship and communion which is our aim and objective.


Bishop WILLIAM R. CANNON                       Bishop J. FRANCIS STAFFORD

World Methodist Council                                  Roman Catholic Church



Participants in the Dialogue


Bishop William R. CANNON, Atlanta, GA, USA, Chairman, World Methodist Council (Co-Chairman)
Sister Cynthia A. CLARE, United Theological College of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica
Rev. Dr Ira GALLAWAY, First United Methodist Church, Peoria, IL, USA
Rev. A. Raymond GEORGE, Bristol, England
Dr Thomas HOYT, Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT, USA (1982 meeting)
Rev. Professor Geoffrey WAINWRIGHT, Duke University, Durham, N.C., USA
Rev. Professor Norman YOUNG, Queen’s College, Melbourne, Australia
Rev. Dr Joe HALE, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council (Secretary)


Most Rev. J. Francis STAFFORD, Bishop of Memphis, USA (Co-Chairman)
Rt. Rev. Peter CULLINANE, Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand
Most Rev. John ONAIYEKAN, Bishop of Ilorin, Nigeria
Rev. Professor Raymond E. BROWN, Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA
Rev. Basil MEEKING, Under-Secretary, Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (1985 meeting)
Rev. Dr Cuthbert RAND, Ushaw College, Durham, England
Rev. George TAVARD, A.A., Methodist Theological School, Delaware, Ohio, USA
Very Rev. Mgr Richard STEWART, Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (Secretary 1982-1984)
Rev. Kevin MCDONALD, Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (Secretary, 1985)





1. Because God so loved the world, he sent his Son and the Holy Spirit to draw us into communion with himself. This sharing in God’s life, which resulted from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, found expression in a visible koinonia1 of Christ’s disciples, the Church.


I. The Nature of the Church

2. Christianity arose because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Although it is possible to speak of a “people of God” from the time of Abraham, the expression “Christian Church” designates the assembly of the Christian faithful. The ministry of Jesus himself was addressed to a people, so that the first persons who heard and accepted the proclamation of the Kingdom were already oriented to one another by their relationship within Israel. As is shown by this gathering of those who walked with him and shared a common life with him, especially the Twelve, the ministry of Jesus created a community. After the resurrection this community shared the new life conferred by the Spirit, and very soon came to be called the Church. Baptized into the faith and proclaiming the crucified and risen Lord, the members were united to one another by the Spirit in a life marked by the apostolic teaching, common prayer, the breaking of bread and often by some community of goods; and those who were converted and drawn to them became part of this koinonia.

3. As the assembly of God’s people gathered in Christ by the Holy Spirit, the Church is not a self-appointed, self-initiated community. It originated in the redemptive act of God in Christ; and it lives in union with Christ’s death and resurrection, comforted, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit (see further in the Honolulu Report, 1981, nn. 19-21, “The Holy Spirit in the Christian Community”) .

4. The Church is a complex reality. The New Testament provides a great variety of images for the Church (body of Christ, people of God, bride of Christ, temple, flock or sheepfold, royal priesthood, etc.- many of these reflecting Old Testament imagery), and theologians have offered other images and models. None of these can express exhaustively or even adequately exactly what the Church is, the whole of its mystery. Nevertheless each has purpose, since different images illustrate different aspects of the Church. For instance, as the Second Vatican Council exemplifies, it is easier to think of reform, chance and repentance if one speaks of the Church as the People of God (cf. Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, III), because this connotes among other things a pilgrim people still full of imperfections and liable to sin. Notwithstanding our sinfulness, the Risen Christ unites us with himself as his body, and some of the other images we have listed illustrate the holiness of the Church as the people he has made his own.

5. In the New Testament period, diversity of time, place and circumstances produced diversity among groups of believers-diversity of community structures, diverse formulations of the faith, diverse traditions shaped by different histories and problems, diverse house meeting places within the same city, diverse Christian centers. Nevertheless, passages in the New Testament, such as the account in Acts 15 of the Council of Jerusalem, attest to koinonia among such diversities, and to a sense of the Church to which all Christians belong. There are also passages, such as 1 Jn 2:19, that suggest the breaking of the koinonia because certain diversities were deemed intolerable distortions of what was from the beginning.

6. Just as the Old Testament represents the tradition of the people of Israel, so the New Testament Scriptures, which have become normative and corrective for all Christian traditions in every age, themselves arose from the life and tradition of the apostolic and early Church. They should be read with reverence and prayer. Yet an important task of scholarship in all Christian Churches is to examine critically the biblical material in order to hear the Scriptures in their own terms and to help the Church discern the word of God for its life today (see also Honolulu Report, no. 34).

7. The Church is judged, transformed and empowered for mission by the word of God as appropriated through the Spirit. The reforming power of the word is evident in such instances as some of the medieval reforms (monastic, papal, mendicant), the Reformation and the Catholic renewal of the 16th and 17th centuries, the evangelical revival of the 18th century, the ecumenical movement of the 20th, and many other movements of renewal.

8. The Church lives between the times of the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ and his future coming in glory. The Spirit fills the Church, empowering it to preach the word, celebrate the eucharist, experience fellowship and prayer, and carry out its mission to the world: thus the Church is enabled to serve as sign, sacrament and harbinger of the Kingdom of God in the time between the times.

9. Christ works through his Church, and it is for this reason that Vatican II speaks of the Church as a kind of sacrament, both as an outward manifestation of God’s grace among us and as signifying in some way the grace and call to salvation addressed by God to the whole human race (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, I, 1). This is a perspective that many Methodists also find helpful.

10. The Mystery of the Word made flesh and the sacramental mystery of the eucharist point towards a view of the Church based upon the sacramental idea, i.e. the Church takes its shape from the Incarnation from which it originated and the eucharistic action by which its life is constantly being renewed.


II. Church and Sacraments

11. Being a Christian has necessarily both a personal and a communal aspect. It is a vital relationship to God in and through Jesus Christ in which faith, conversion of life, and membership in the Church are essential. Individual believers are joined in a family of disciples, so that belonging to Christ means also belonging to the Church which is his body.

12. Both the personal and communal aspects of the Christian life are present in the two sacraments that Methodists and Roman Catholics consider basic. Baptism initiates the individual into the koinonia of the Church; in the eucharist Christ is really present to the believer (cf. Dublin Report, 1976, no. 54), who is thus bound together in koinonia both with the Lord and with others who share the sacramental meal2.

13. It is by divine institution that the Church has received baptism and the eucharist, outward signs of inward grace consisting of actions and words by which God encounters his people; these signs are recognized as sacraments by both Churches. The Church has authority to institute other rites and ordinances which are valued as sacred actions and signs of God’s redeeming love in Christ (cf. Honolulu Report, no. 49 concerning Marriage). Some of these the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as sacraments since it sees them as ultimately derived from the will of Christ. Methodists, while using the term “sacrament” only of the two rites for which the Gospels explicitly record Christ’s institution, do not thereby deny sacramental character to other rites.

14. Sacraments are to be seen in the wider context of God’s action in salvation history, in the Church, and in individual human lives. The grace which comes through the sacraments is the grace of Christ, the visible image of the unseen God, in whom divine and human natures are united in one person; the Church proclaims the action of the same Christ at work within us; and the individual sacraments likewise convey the reality of his action into our lives.

15. The sacraments are effective signs by which God gives grace through faith. Their efficacy should not be conceived in any merely mechanical way. God works through his Spirit in a mysterious way beyond human comprehension, but he invites a full and free human response.

16. Salvation is ultimately a matter of our reconciliation and communion with God - a sharing in God’s life which is effected through real union with Christ. Those actions of the Church which we call sacraments are effective signs of grace because they are not merely human acts. By the power of the Holy Spirit they bring into our lives the life-giving action and even the self-giving of Christ himself. It is Christ’s action that is embodied and made manifest in the Church’s actions which, responded to in faith, amount to a real encounter with the risen Jesus. And so, when the Church baptizes it is Christ who baptizes Likewise it is Christ who says: “This is my body ... this is my blood” and who truly gives himself to us. The fruit of such encounters is our sanctification, and the building up of the body of Christ.


III. Called to Unity

17. Already in the New Testament the term ekklesia is used for the community of those who accepted Jesus. proclamation of the Kingdom, transmitted by apostles and disciples. In this Church their response of faith was sealed in baptism, as they confessed their sins and were forgiven, received the Holy Spirit, and were joined together in Christ.

18. More specifically, ekklesia or Church is applied in the New Testament to Christians meeting together in a house or living in the same city. We also find the term “the Church” used in a more universal way for the body of Christ which is the fulness of Him who fills all in all, the communion of the saints on earth and in heaven.

19. All these usages of the word “Church” have continued throughout - Christian tradition. In addition, as a result of further factors, geographical and historical, the term came to be used in other ways. Some of these usages arose because of diversities of language or rite, such as Syrian Church, Coptic Church or Latin Church. Others came about because of fundamental differences in doctrine, faith or ecclesial polity, such as Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, or Roman Catholic Church.

20. As Methodists and Roman Catholics we recognize that the divisions underlying this last usage are contrary to the unity Christ wills for his Church. In obedience to Him who will bring about this unity we are committed to a vision that includes the goal of full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life.

21. Such communion, which is the gift of the Spirit, must be expressed visibly. This visible unity need not imply uniformity, nor the suppression of the gifts with which God has graced each of our communities.


IV. Ways Of Being One Church

22. As we reflect on a reunited Church we cannot expect to find an ecclesiology shaped in a time of division to be entirely satisfactory. Our explorations towards a more adequate ecclesiology have begun and are helping us to give proper recognition to each other’s ecclesial or churchly character. They will also assist in overcoming our present state of division.

23. We have found that koinonia, both as a concept and an experience, is more important than any particular model of Church union that we are yet able to propose. Koinonia is so rich a term that it is better to keep its original Greek form than bring together several English words to convey its meaning. For believers it involves both communion and community. It includes participation in God through Christ in the Spirit by which believers become adopted children of the same Father and members of the one Body of Christ sharing in the same Spirit. And it includes deep fellowship among participants, a fellowship which is both visible and invisible, finding expression in faith and order, in prayer and sacrament, in mission and service. Many different gifts have been developed in our traditions, even in separation. Although we already share some of our riches with one another, we look forward to a greater sharing as we come closer together in full unity (cf. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, 4).

24. In our discussion we found that the following, each in its own way, offered elements for a model of organic unity in the koinonia of the one Body of Christ:

a) considerable value was found in the notion of what have come to be called typoi. This implies that within the one Church in which there is basic agreement in faith, doctrine, and structure essential for mission, there is room for various “ecclesial traditions”, each characterized by a particular style of theology, worship, spirituality and discipline;

b) from one perspective the history of John Wesley has suggested an analogy between his movement and the religious orders within the one Church. Figures such as Benedict of Norcia and Francis of Assisi, whose divine calling was similarly to a spiritual reform, gave rise to religious orders characterized by special forms of life and prayer, work, evangelization and their own internal organization. The different religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church, while fully in communion with the Pope and the bishops, relate in different ways to the authority of Pope and bishops. Such relative autonomy has a recognized place within the unity of the Church;

c) a third train of ideas is suggested by the term “sister churches”. In its original usage, the expression contained a strong geographical component (e.g. Church of Rome, Church of Constantinople). But more recent usage, as when Paul VI looked forward to the Roman Catholic Church embracing “the Anglican Church” as an “ever beloved sister”, hints that it may be possible to envisage reunion among divided traditions as a family reconciliation (cf. Pope Paul VI letter to Patriarch Athenagoras, Anno ineunte, July 25, 1967. In Tomos Agapis [1958-82], English Translation, E. J. Stormon, S.J. [New York: Paulist Press, 1986], no. 176);

d) the relations between Churches of the Roman (Latin) rite and those of various oriental rites also in communion with the Bishop of Rome, afford a further possible model for the retention of different styles of devotion and Church life within a single communion.

25. In trying to take these ideas further, we began to explore the acceptable range of variety and uniformity in the Church.

26. Christians, sharing the same faith, relate to God in a great variety of ways, often helped by spiritual traditions which have developed, under the providence of God, in the course of history. Some of these traditions are embodied in and furthered by religious societies, renewal movements, and pious associations or institutes. The Church should protect legitimate variety both by ensuring room for its free development and by directly promoting new forms of it.

27. We broached the question whether such varying needs can be provided for within the framework of the local congregation and how far a particular tradition or form of prayer and worship may require special provisions (parishes, ministries, other organizations). How far would the pastoral) care of such groups require separate, possibly overlapping jurisdictions, or could it be provided by one, single, local form of episkope (supervision or oversight)?

28. There have to be limits to variety; some arise from the need to promote cohesion and cooperation, but the basic structures of the Church also set limits that exclude whatever would disrupt communion in faith, order and sacramental) life.


V. Structures of Ministry

29. We have reflected on the structure of ministry in the Church. An examination of the New Testament evidence and of subsequent history shows that the Church has always needed a God-given ministry. From the written data alone it cannot be ascertained with certainty whether the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter, deacon, which developed from the New Testament (cf. Dublin Report, no. 83) was established in the first century. It is acknowledged that it became generally established in the second and third centuries and was clearly universal in the same post-New Testament period in which the Scriptural canon was established and the classical creeds were formed. Roman Catholics and some Methodists would see a similarity in these three developments under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But we are not agreed on how far this development of the ministry is now unchangeable and how far loyalty to the Holy Spirit requires us to recognize other forms of oversight and leadership that have developed, often at times of crisis or new opportunity in Christian history. Practically, however, the majority of Methodists already accept the office of bishop, and some Methodist Churches that do not have expressed their willingness to accept this for the sake of unity.

30. A stable pattern of ordained ministry (e.g. the threefold one) has never prevented a variation of the ways pastoral care has actively been exercised, and there is no reason to suppose that such flexibility will cease when Methodists and Catholics are united in faith, mission and sacramental) life.

31. Unity in faith, mission and sacramental life can be achieved only on an apostolic basis. As the Dublin report already recognized, “We all agree that the Church’s apostolicity involves continuous faithfulness in doctrine, ministry, sacrament and life to the teaching of the New Testament” (84). At present, however, we differ in the account we give of the apostolic succession. For Roman Catholics the graded threefold ministry is derived from the teaching of the New Testament through the living tradition of the Church. The succession in ministry is guaranteed by episcopal laying-on of hands in historical succession and authentic transmission of the whole faith within the apostolic college and the communion of the whole Church (cf. Dublin Report, no. 85). “Methodists ... preserve a form of ministerial succession in practice and can regard a succession of ordination from the earliest times as a valuable symbol of the church’s continuity with the church of the New Testament, though they would not use it as a criterion” (Dublin Report, no. 87).

32. In Roman Catholic teaching (see Vatican II, Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 18-29), bishops are ordained to the fulness of the Sacrament of Order for a pastoral and priestly ministry which is responsible for the authentic teaching of the truths of salvation, and for the rule of the Churches entrusted to them. Therefore, as successors of the apostles, they preach the Gospel and preside at the celebration of the Sacraments, fostering the unity of the People of God in a given place, that the Church may increase to the glory of God. In collegial communion with fellow bishops and with the Bishop of Rome they cement and express the bond of the universal fellowship.

33. Broadly speaking, there are in World Methodism two basic patterns of church government, one deriving from North America, and one from Britain. From its inception American Methodism has been episcopal in constitution, not claiming apostolic succession in the sense of the Roman Catholic Church but laying stress on the teaching, preaching, pastoral, sacramental and governing aspects of the episcopal office. British Methodism has a single order of ordained ministry and in those churches which have followed the British pattern episkope (pastoral oversight) is exercised through the Conference and, by authority of the Conference, is shared among chairmen of districts and superintendent ministers. The British Methodist Church did not in its origin reject episcopacy, but developed without it because of the historical circumstances of its origin. In recent years it has expressed the willingness in principle to embrace episcopacy, for it has done so in certain reunion schemes outside Britain and was willing to do so in England in certain schemes which did not eventually succeed.

34. Both Roman Catholics and Methodists believe that episkope of the churches is a divinely given function. The Roman Catholic Church and many Methodist Churches express episkope through bishops. It is the belief of the Roman Catholic Church and these Methodist Churches that for the exercise of their ministry the bishops receive special gifts from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying-on of hands.

35. Methodist Churches which have an ordained ministry but do not have bishops, believing them not to be essential to a Church, have considered adopting them as an enrichment of their own life and to promote the unity of Christians; such bishops would be a focus of unity and a sign of the historic continuity of the Church.

36. It is Roman Catholic teaching that “to ensure the indivisible unity of the episcopate, [Jesus Christ] set St Peter over the other apostles” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 18) as a “fundamental principle of unity of faith and communion” (ibid.). This is basic to Catholic belief in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This primacy is exercised in a collegial relation with the other bishops of the Church and finds a privileged expression in Councils of the Church.

37. For Methodists the concept of primacy is unfamiliar, even if historically John Wesley exercised a kind of primacy in the origins of the Methodist Church. In his day this was carried out in the context of his Conference of preachers; today’s Conference continues to embody certain elements of this function.

38. Since Catholics and Methodists have committed themselves to seeking full unity in faith, mission and sacramental life, we now have to turn to questions of the Petrine office and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.


VI. The Petrine Office

39. We begin with the New Testament, in which the Twelve, and also Paul and other apostles, fulfilled important functions. But in the light of the questions which subsequently arose, we naturally concentrate on Peter even though we do not wish to isolate him from the other apostles, seeking to give a factual account of the relevant New Testament material.

40. With this background in mind, we shall then turn to consider subsequent history by starting from the nature of leadership and primacy in the Church. Discernment of the various factors in Scripture and history might contribute to an agreed perception of what functions the see of Rome might properly exercise in a ministry of universal unity, by what authority, and on what conditions.

a) Peter in the New Testament

41. Simon Peter had a special position among the twelve: he is named first in the lists and is called “first” (Mt 10:2); he is described as among the first called; he is among the three or four associated with Jesus on special occasions; at times he is portrayed as spokesman for the others, either answering or asking questions; he is named as the first of the apostolic witnesses to the risen Jesus; he is remembered as having confessed Jesus during the ministry (even if the Gospels differ in their presentation of that confession); he is renamed by Jesus. However, his misunderstanding of Jesus, his failure to heed warnings, and his denials are also narrated.

42. Special sayings in the Gospels point to a distinctive church-oriented role for Peter (Mt 1.6:18-19; Lk 22:31-32; Jn 21:15-17). In Acts, chapters 1-15, after the resurrection, Peter exercises a certain leadership in the affairs of the early church. In the scene of Acts 10 it is revealed to him that the church must be open to the Gentiles, a position he had to defend in Jerusalem (Acts 11:2ff.). Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows Peter as an important figure at Jerusalem, as having an apostolate to the circumcised, and as agreeing with Paul that Gentile converts need not be compelled to conform to Jewish circumcision. However, it also shows Peter as yielding to the “men who came from James” on the issue of not eating with the Gentiles-a concession that Paul describes as not being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel (2:14).

43. Acts 15 shows Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James as all speaking to the issue of the admission of Gentile converts without circumcision, but indicates that James insisted on their observance of specific purity laws. Gal 2 and Acts 15 have led many to suspect that Peter’s position in relation to Judaism stood in between that of James on the one side and of Paul on the other. Some would regard the failure to mention Peter in the second half of the book of Acts as a sign that his authority had declined; others would regard the fact that Luke concentrates on Peter first and then on Paul as reflecting the author’s purpose to show how Christianity gradually moved from Jerusalem and the mission to the Jews, towards Rome and the Gentile mission.

44. I Corinthians shows a party loyal to Peter (Cephas) in a Greek city in the 50s (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22); it also raises the possibility that Peter’s activities had brought him to Corinth (9:5). After mentioning the appearances of the risen Jesus to Peter and to others (1 Cor 15:5-8), Paul says, “Whether then it was I or they so we preach and so you believed”. This is seen as an indication of basic elements shared by Peter’s and Paul’s preaching, in spite of the disagreement described in Gal 2:14.

45. I Peter portrays Peter as an apostle writing from Babylon (by which is meant Rome) instructing Christians in Asia Minor, and as a presbyter exhorting fellow presbyters to be good shepherds (5:1-3). II Pt 3:15-16 portrays Peter as advising people how to interpret the letters of “our beloved brother Paul”.

46. Many scholars think the Petrine letters were written after Peter’s lifetime; some or all of the special Gospel sayings about Peter referred to in no. 42 may also have been committed to writing after Peter’s death. Therefore an evaluation of the New Testament evidence concerning Peter must take into account not only Peter’s relationship to Jesus before the resurrection, and Peter’s career in the early church but also how Peter was regarded after his death.

47. The New Testament depicts Peter in a plurality of images and roles: missionary fisherman (Lk 5, Jn 21); pastoral shepherd (Jn 21, Lk 22:32; 1 Pt 5); witness and martyr (1 Cor 15:5; cf. Jn 21:15-17; 1Pt 5:1); recipient of special revelation (Mt 16:17; Acts 10: 9-11; 2 Pt 1:16-17) the “rock” named by Jesus (Mt 16:18; Jn 1:42; Mk 1:42); recipient of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:18); confessor and preacher of the true faith (Mt 16:16; Acts 2); guardian against false teaching (2 Pt 1:20-21, 3:15-16; Acts 8: 20-23); and weak human being and repentant sinner, rebuked by Christ and withstood by Paul (Mk 8:33; Mt 16:23; Mk 14:31, 66-72; Jn 21:15-17; Gal 2:5). Most of these images persist through two or more strands of the New Testament tradition and several recur in subsequent Church history.

b) Primacy and the Petrine Ministry

48. In looking at the question of universal primacy one may begin with the desirability of unity focused around leadership.

49. All local churches need a ministry of leadership. In early church development such leadership came to be exercised by the bishop who was a focus of unity. Eventually churches were grouped in provinces, regions and patriarchates, in which archbishops, primates and patriarchs exercised a similar unifying role in service to the koinonia.

50. Analogously the question arises whether the whole Church needs a leader to exercise a similar unifying role in service to the worldwide koinonia.

51. Given this context, one then has to face the claim that the Roman see already exercises such a ministry of universal unity. As the Roman claim was essentially complete by the fifth century, it may be helpful to examine the lines of development which led in that direction. The special position and role of the Roman see in the early Church depended on the convergence of several factors. Some of these factors had to do with the particular city in which the church was located, some with the development of the episcopate (cf. no. 29) and others with the relation of the Bishop of Rome to Peter and Paul. For Roman Catholics the decisive factor for the special position and role of the Roman See is the relation of the Bishop of Rome to Peter.

52. As the capital city of the Empire, Rome’s strategic importance for the worldwide mission of Christianity was recognized already in New Testament times (cf. Acts). Paul looked for the support of the Roman church in his preaching of the Gospel, and Peter, as we have seen, is portrayed as writing from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor. In the second century Rome was already recognized as an apostolic church. Both I Clement, written from Rome, and Ignatius, writing to Rome, mention Peter and Paul. Irenaeus of Lyons acknowledged the outstanding force of Rome’s testimony to the apostolic tradition on account of its dual foundation (fundata et constituta) upon Peter and Paul (cf. Adv. Haereses III, iii). That both of them suffered martyrdom there no doubt gave Rome an advantage over Antioch or Corinth, churches which also rejoiced in the same twofold apostolic connection. By the latter half of the second century, the lists of the bishops of Rome mention Peter first, although from I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas it is not clear precisely when a sole bishop was recognized as a figure distinct from the other presbyters.

53. By the middle of the third century (cf. Cyprian, De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, no. 4), “Petrine” texts from the gospels had begun to be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the bishop of Rome. The fact that Peter’s ministry in the life of the Church is emphasized even in New Testament passages written after his death indicates that images of Peter had continued importance for the Church. The application of the Petrine texts in the third century could be seen as reflecting this ongoing importance. Luke 22 has Jesus, with his own death in view, charging Peter to strengthen the brethren. In John 21, the risen Lord commands Peter to tend and feed the flock. In Matthew 16, Peter, who confessed his faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, is named the rock on which Christ will build his Church, and he is given the power to bind and loose, and the very keys of the kingdom. In Acts. Peter at Pentecost correspondingly takes the lead in proclaiming the Lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus. Peter’s mediating position in New Testament controversies between the positions of Paul and James (cf. no. 43) made him a figure for fostering unity in the essentials of the faith. The Petrine role of enunciating the faith, sometimes at points of conflict, was illustrated at the Council of Chalcedon when the bishops approved the doctrine of Leo I of Rome: “This is the faith of the fathers; this is the faith of the apostles; this is the faith of us all; Peter has spoken through Leo”3.

54. In the early centuries many had been willing, more or less spontaneously, to accord to the Roman church a respect of the kind reflected in the phrase of Ignatius of Antioch, “presiding in love” (Ad Rom, Introd.). In the second century Rome’s repudiation of Marcion and Valentinus helped to establish orthodoxy for the whole Church. On the other hand, Roman involvement in controversies was not always appreciated nor the Roman solution accepted (e.g. the response of the Asian Churches to Victor over the date of Easter). In the fourth and fifth centuries, with Christianity established as the religion of the Empire, the popes began to make more frequent use of the language of Roman law in their interventions, supported by the bishops in closest geographical proximity (i.e. within the Western patriarchate). This more juridical turn sharpened the issue of authority. On the one hand the authority of the Roman Church promoted missionary activity, monastic life and doctrinal and liturgical cohesiveness, and after the collapse of the Western Empire helped to preserve and shape European civilization. On the other hand increasingly developed formulation and application of the Roman claims and more vigorous resistance to them, alike contributed to the origin and continuation of divisions in Christianity, first in the East and eventually in the West.

55. From this survey it will be seen that the primacy of the bishop of Rome is not established from the Scriptures in isolation from the living tradition. When an institution cannot be established from scripture alone, Methodists, in common with other churches which stem from the Reformation, consider it on its intrinsic merits, as indeed do Roman Catholics; but Methodists give less doctrinal weight than Roman Catholics to long and widespread tradition.

56. The Roman Catholic members are agreed that being in communion with the see of Rome has served as the touchstone of belonging to the Church in its fullest sense. This Commission is agreed that not being in communion with the Bishop of Rome does not necessarily disqualify a Christian community from belonging to the Church of God (cf. “The Roman Catholic Church has continued to recognize the Orthodox Churches as Churches in spite of divisions concerning the primacy”, Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Authority II, no. 12). Likewise, Methodist members are agreed that Catholic acceptance of the Roman primacy is not an impediment to churchly character.

57. The positions stated in the previous paragraph, however, do not justify acquiescence in our present division. For Roman Catholics reconciliation with the see of Rome is a necessary step towards the restoration of -Christian unity. Others see the claim of the Bishop of Rome as an obstacle to Christian unity. It is now necessary to re-examine these claims in the hope of furthering unity. In a period when Christians of all communions frequently meet and co-operate and are often highly critical of divisions in the Church, such an examination has fresh urgency.

58. Methodists accept that whatever is properly required for the unity of the whole of Christ’s Church must by that very fact be God’s will for his Church. A universal primacy might well serve as focus of and ministry for the unity of the whole Church.

59. From history it can be shown that some of the current functions carried out by the bishop of Rome pertain to his diocesan see or to his office as Patriarch of the Latin Church and do not pertain to the essence of his universal ministry of unity. A clearer recognition of this today would make it easier for Methodists to reconsider whether the bishop of Rome might yet exercise this ministry for other Christians as well as for those who already accept it.

60. In considering the possible exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome among Christians who do not at present accept it, questions about jurisdiction and infallibility are both understood by Roman Catholics as aspects of the primacy which the Bishop of Rome has among other bishops in virtue of his special relation to Peter and the special position of the Church in Rome deriving from the witness of Peter and Paul.

c) Jurisdiction 4

61. It is within an understanding of the episcopal office, as outlined above (nno. 31-38), that Roman Catholics see the special role of the Bishop of Rome. Just as each bishop is a focus of unity in his own diocese, so the bishop of Rome is such a focus in the communion of dioceses of the whole Church. In regard to the diocese of Rome, the Pope has the authority or jurisdiction that the bishops have in their dioceses. Roman Catholics believe that he also has ordinary jurisdiction throughout the Church in the sense that he acts by virtue of his office and not by delegation. This is an immediate episcopal jurisdiction in all dioceses, in the exercise of which he is required to respect each local church and the authority of each bishop. Catholics recognize that theological exploration of the relation between the authority of the Pope and that of the local bishop remains unfinished. The authority of the Pope should not in any case, they say, be described exclusively or primarily in jurisdictional terms. Just as many images are used of Peter in the New Testament (see no. 47), so a variety of images may be used of the Pope. It may be said that he is called to be an effective symbol of the unity of the Church in faith and life. He is a reminder of the Apostles witnessing to the resurrection, of Paul preaching to the Gentiles and of Peter professing faith in Christ and being sent to feed the sheep. In a particular way the Pope is a sign of Peter. “Vicar of Peter” is an ancient title that indicates that Peter, a saint in heaven, is present in the Church on earth and is as it were made visible in the Pope. As the Papal legate said at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431), “Peter ... lives, presides and judges ... in his successors”5.

62. It would not be inconceivable that at some future date in a restored unity, Roman Catholic and Methodist bishops might be linked in one episcopal college and that the whole body would recognize some kind of effective leadership and primacy in the bishop of Rome. In that case Methodists might justify such an acceptance on different grounds from those that now prevail in the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, as said above, some of the current functions carried out by the bishop of Rome pertain to his diocesan see or to his office as Patriarch of the Latin Church rather than to his universal ministry of unity. Further joint study would need to be done on the nature of episcopacy and on the precise nature and extent of the authority which properly belongs to the Pope’s universal ministry.

d) Authoritative Teaching

63. Because God wills the salvation of all men and women, he enables the Church, by the Holy Spirit, so to declare the truth of the divine Revelation in Jesus Christ that his people may know the way of salvation.

64. The Scriptures bear permanent witness to the divine revelation in Christ and are normative for all subsequent tradition.

65.At different moments of history it is sometimes necessary to clarify the contents of Christian Faith, and even to define the limits of orthodoxy. For this reason the Christian Church convenes in councils, whose purpose it is to bring into sharper focus various aspects of Christian belief. Properly understood the decisions of the ecumenical councils which met in the first centuries command assent throughout the whole Church, and there is no reason to think that at the end of the patristic era God stopped enabling his Church to speak in such a way. Other occasions have called, and may still call for such authoritative guidance.

66. According to Catholic belief, the authority of such councils derives from the charisms of teaching and discernment which the Spirit gives for the building up of the body. The episcopal college exercises this teaching ministry through discerning the faith of Christians, present and past, and always with reference to the supreme norm of the Scriptures. To the extent that the Church in any era teaches the truths of salvation that were originally taught in the Scriptures, that teaching is binding. To definitions of a council “the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the action of the Holy Spirit, by which the universal flock of Christ is kept and makes progress in the oneness of faith” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 25).

67. It is acknowledged that a general council would take on new and greater significance if convened in a situation in which all Christians were united and represented. It is also acknowledged that many councils of the early Church were not recognized as genuine councils and their teaching did not have the guarantee of truth (e.g. Robber Synod of Ephesus in 449).

68. Roman Catholics believe that the bishops of the Church enjoy the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, when, by a collegial act with the Bishop of Rome in an ecumenical council, they define doctrine to be held irrevocably.

69. As understood by Roman Catholics, papal infallibility is another embodiment of the infallibility with which the Church has been endowed. Christ’s promise of sure guidance and the gift of the Spirit were to the whole Church, and result in the Church’s capacity to formulate the faith in a manner that is beyond doubt. In carefully defined and limited circumstances, the Pope exercises this capacity in and for the whole Church.

70. Catholics understand that he does this when, as teacher and pastor of all the faithful, he is to be understood as teaching that some particular matter of faith or morals is part of divine Revelation requiring the assent of believers. In this case reception of the doctrine by the assent of the faithful cannot be lacking.

71. When the Pope teaches infallibly, infallibility is, properly speaking, not attributed to the Pope, nor to the teaching, but rather to this particular act of teaching. It means that he has been prevented by God from teaching error on matters relating to salvation. It does not mean that a particular teaching has been presented in the best possible way, nor does it mean that every time he teaches he does so infallibly.

72. Methodists have problems with this Roman Catholic understanding of infallibility, especially as it seems to imply a discernment of truth which exceeds the capacity of sinful human beings. Methodists are accustomed to see the guidance of the Holy Spirit in more general ways: through reformers, prophetic figures, Church leaders and Methodist Conferences for example, as well as through general Councils. Methodist Conferences, exercising their teaching office, formulate doctrinal statements as they are needed, but do not ascribe to them guaranteed freedom from error. Nevertheless Methodists always accept what can clearly be shown to be in agreement with the Scriptures. The final judge of this agreement must be the assent of the whole People of God, and therefore Methodists, in considering the claims made for Councils and for the Pope, welcome the attention which Roman Catholic theologians are giving to the understanding of the reception of doctrine.

73. Methodists have further difficulty with the idea that the Bishop of Rome can act in this process on behalf of the whole Church. We have not yet discussed together the content of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary but from the Methodist point of view, whether they are true or not, they are not regarded as essential to the faith. It therefore seems to Methodists that these dogmas lack assent and reception by all Christian people. In any case, it can be expected that further study on the reception of doctrine will throw more light on the subject of infallibility.

74. An approach towards convergence in thinking about infallibility may perhaps be reached by considering the Methodist doctrine of assurance. It is the typical Methodist teaching that believers can receive from the Holy Spirit an assurance of their redemption through the atoning death of Christ and can be guided by the Spirit who enables them to cry “Abba, Father” in the way of holiness to future glory.

75. Starting from Wesley’s claim that the evidence for what God has done and is doing for our salvation, as described above, can be “heightened to exclude all doubt”, Methodists might ask whether the Church, like individuals, might by the working of the Holy Spirit receive as a gift from God in its living, teaching, preaching and mission, an assurance concerning its grasp of the fundamental doctrines of the faith such as to exclude all doubt, and whether the teaching ministry of the Church has a special and divinely guided part to play in this. In any case Catholics and Methodists are agreed on the need for an authoritative way of being sure, beyond doubt, concerning God’s action insofar as it is crucial for our salvation.


Proposals for Future Work

76. In light of the work done so far we make the following proposal for the topics of the next quiquennium. Grouped under the general heading The Apostolic Tradition, they could include: the apostolic faith, its teaching, transmission and reception; the sacramental ministry, ordination and apostolic succession; Mary and the Church.

[Information Service 62 (1986/IV) 206-216]



1. For an attempt to capture the nuances of this New Testament term, see no. 23.

2. Our discussions revealed that we must still examine and resolve persisting differences concerning the efficacy of baptism, particularly of infants. Neither of us believes that a non-baptized person is by that very fact excluded from salvation, nor that baptism automatically ensures perseverance unto salvation. Both in this paragraph and the succeeding one the references to the eucharist emphasize only certain communal and personal aspects which are immediately relevant to this discussion of the Church. In the Dublin Report, nn. 47-74, the Commission has given a much fuller account of the present areas of agreement and of remaining disagreement concerning this sacrament.

3. See E. SCHWARTZ (ed.), Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, II/I, ii, 81 [277]; cf. Leo, Epistle 98 (Migne PL 54, 951).

4. For an explanation of this term. cf. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Authority II, no. 16.

5. See E. SCHWARTZ (ed.), Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum, I/I, iii, 60.