THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION
The theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council has now been going on for twenty-five years. The early years of this dialogue dealt with a wide range of issues, doctrinal, ethical and pastoral. In the last fifteen years, the dialogue has focused on a series of interrelated doctrinal issues which have also been the subject of attention in other ecumenical dialogues. In 1981 we produced report on The Holy Spirit and in 1986 Towards a Statement on the Church. To these documents we now add our text on The Apostolic Tradition. In it we seek to address some of the questions that are outstanding, following on previous studies.
It is important to note that this report has deliberately not addressed all the differences of doctrine or practice that exist between us in respect of the questions it deals with. For example, there is no detailed examination of the question of Apostolic Succession; we do not investigate the different ways in which Catholics and Methodists actually teach and hand on the faith. Nor do we evaluate the ecclesiological self-understanding that is specific to either Catholics or Methodists. Our concern, rather, has been to set out theological perspectives within which such more specific questions may be viewed. We propose these perspectives as consistent with the doctrinal positions of both churches but not as full expositions of them. What we hope is that a careful reading of this report may enable Catholics and Methodists to see their own and each other’s doctrine and practice in a wide theological and historical perspective, and to discern convergences between them.
This approach is consistent with our conviction that we already share a certain though, as yet, imperfect communion. It is a staging post at which we are aware of much that we hold in common and respect the gifts that have been bestowed on one another in our time of separation. But we are also “committed to a vision that includes the goal of full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life” (Towards a Statement on the Church, 20). The gradual realization of that vision requires us to explore critically and constructively the theological bases which underpin our present positions. This report is a contribution to that process.
This document was completed at a plenary meeting of the Commission which took place at the house of the “Filles du Cœur de Marie” at the Rue Notre Dame des Champs in Paris. The members of the Commission wish to express their appreciation of the hospitality they received from the Sisters there.
Bishop James W. Malone
Dr Geoffrey WAINWRIGHT
April 15, 1991
PARTICIPANTS IN THE DIALOGUE
Rt Revd James W. MALONE, Bishop of Youngstown, USA (Co-Chairman)
Rt Revd John BATHERSBY, Bishop of Cairns, Australia
Sister Mary CHARLES MURRAY, University of Nottingham, England
Revd Professor Francis FROST, Ecumenical Institute, Céligny, Switzerland
Rt Revd John ONAIYEKAN, Coadjutor Bishop of Abuja, Nigeria
Canon Michael RICHARDS, London, England
Fr George H. TAVARD, Brighton, Massachusetts, USA
Very Rev Msgr Kevin McDONALD, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City (Secretary)
Revd Professor Geoffrey WAINWRIGHT, University, Durham, North Carolina, USA (Co-Chairman)
Revd David BUTLER, The Queen’s College, Birmingham, England
Bishop William R. CANNON, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Revd Ireneu CUNHA, Oporto, Portugal (1988 meeting)
Revd Dr Ira GALLAWAY, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA
Mrs Gillian KINGSTON, Roscrea, Ireland
Revd Dr Luis F. PALOMO, San Jose, Costa Rica
Revd Professor Norman YOUNG, Queen’s College, Melbourne, Australia
Revd Dr Joe HALE, World Methodist Council, Lake
Junaluska, North Carolina, USA (Secretary)
Mrs Linda GREENE, World Methodist Council
Miss Josette KERSTERS, Vatican City
THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION
“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 o f the Son and the Holy Spirit, found expression in a visible koinonia [communion, community] of Christ’s disciples, the Church” (Report of the Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and World Methodist Council, 1982-1986, Fourth Series).
1. Jesus Christ was sent among us by God the Father to make known and to bring to completion the divine purpose of salvation, the “mystery of Christ “ hitherto hidden and “now revealed in the Spirit” (Col 1:26 and Eph 3:5). In the power of the Holy Spirit, this mission continues in and through the Church, the family Christ gathers together in common obedience to the Father’s will. As Christ’s servant, the Church proclaims to the world the message of his victory over sin and death, provides a living sign of that victory, and summons everyone to repent and believe the gospel and so receive the promised Spirit.
2. It is Christ’s will that his disciples should live at peace with one another; he binds them together through the gift of divine grace. The New Testament documents do not present us with an unattainable ideal but describe the actual life of a real society brought into being by Christ. This society is not a closed fellowship of perfect observance: its members have not already attained all that God intends, and it is open to all the world. It acknowledges that by his grace true followers of Christ may be found everywhere and welcomes them into its company as they affirm their Christian discipleship.
3. This Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue, and the whole movement for unity in the faith, follows the path Christ set for his Church in obedience to the mission he himself received from God the Father and transmitted to us (Mt 28:18-20). It is a movement that breaks down the barriers sin en Christians, drawing all believers into a single fellowship of praise and turning lifelong enemies into friends for eternity. Today as Catholics and Methodists we both face the urgent task of evangelizing a world deeply affected by superstition and secularism, by indifference and injustice; we must look together to the one Lord who sends the Spirit upon us all that we may go out and witness in his name. Doing this with credibility entails a common understanding of the Gospel and the ability to recognize in each other’s lives and confessions an authentic witness to the faith.
4. In order to build on previous work in the dialogue, the Commission pursued a theme which has proved increasingly important throughout the whole ecumenical movement, namely the Apostolic Tradition, understood as the teaching, transmission and reception of the apostolic faith. It is hoped that this approach may set the difficult problem of ministry in a new light, since this topic has hitherto been predominantly considered in its relationship to the administrative and sacramental life of the Church rather than in relation to its teaching.
5. In the overall title of this report, The Apostolic Tradition, the word “Tradition” signifies the living transmission of the Gospel of Christ, by manifold means, for the constant renewal of every generation. Christians do not order the life of the Church by the fixed repetition of rigid routine laid down in the past. Rather, by recalling and holding fast to the treasured memory of the events of our salvation, we receive light and strength for our present faith as, under God, we seek to meet the needs of our own time. It is Christian hope that makes possible our wholehearted and active contribution to the continued handing on of the transforming power contained in the Gospel.
6. Our knowledge of the past life of the people of God, witnessing to their experience of God’s action among them, enables us to recognize and to comprehend the risen Christ as he speaks to us today. We learn to express ourselves in his language in the midst of the people he has made; he sends the Spirit to us to open our understanding and to guide our words and actions in the service of his loving purpose for the extension and completion of God’s kingdom. We enter into his loving purpose as, by God’s grace, we receive in faith the benefits of Christ’s saving death on the Cross and with him, dying to self, are raised to new life (Rom 6:3-4). This is the mystery that constitutes the true life of every believer and gives meaning and effect to all preaching and teaching of the Church, to every practice, ministry and ordinance.
THE APOSTOLIC FAITH—ITS TEACHING, TRANSMISSION AND RECEPTION
7. In the New Testament description of the birth of the Church, a role is attributed to each of the three Persons of the Trinity, which is both distinct and inseparable from the role of the other two. To the Father is attributed the gracious purpose by which we were chosen for filial adoption in union with the Eternal Word before the foundation of the world. The actual work of founding the Church is attributed to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Son founds the Church by his act of Redemption. The Spirit is co-founder of the Church with the Son, by being the Church’s principle of sanctification. The two divine missions - the sending of the Son and of the Spirit by the Father are extensions in our world of time of the two eternal processions in the Trinity. The new relationship, both individual and corporate, which they bring about in human beings towards God, is none other than what the New Testament calls the Church.
8. The indivisible relationship between these two divine missions is everywhere present in the patterns which govern every aspect of the life of the Church: its confession of faith, the discipleship of its members and their communion with one another. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to confess the truth revealed in the Son, to be united to him in a relationship as adopted children of the Father and to live in charity in the one Body of Christ.
I. Word and Church
9. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our ancestors by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:1-2). The Church of God has been brought into being by the same creative and self-revealing activity of God. In the Son, God has spoken definitively to us: the Son who is so completely the expression of his heavenly Father that he is called God’s Word (Jn 1:1-18). He makes known God’s purpose and carries it out. For the Word of God, now made flesh, speech and action are intrinsically connected; his words take effect and his deeds have meaning.
10. It is the Cross and Resurrection of Christ that supremely reveal him to us, achieving his purpose and making him our Savior. When the apostles preached Christ, they proclaimed Christ crucified and risen. When the Church preaches Christ today, it is the same proclamation that is made. Christ, the Word of God incarnate, still has the same message for us and the same gifts of grace by which he saves us.
11. The apostolic mission, the charge laid on the apostles to transmit the message of Jesus Christ to their own and to all successive generations, is precisely the service of the Word. The person of Christ, his teaching and his work for us: it was to all this that the apostles bore witness, for all this is God’s Word.
12. As the Gospel was preached by the apostles, the Church was called together and built up. Service of the Word was their overriding responsibility (Acts 6:2-4), a service of Christ himself and of the community that by faith came to be identified with him (Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20).
13. A profound understanding of the Church must begin with a reflection on the Word of God, who brings the Church into being and continues to make the Church what it is. The Word spoken to us in Christ calls forth our response. Thus, the Church is sustained by a conversation, initiated by the Lord. God, who called all worlds into being by the power of his Word, speaks to us kindly and with sternness, gently and with thunderous warnings, with laws and with love, in proclamation to his people and heart-to-heart to each and every one. By calling together a messianic community in which the promises were fulfilled, Christ made himself known as Messiah. As he called his flock to follow him, he showed himself to be the Good Shepherd.
14. That which the Church was to become as a consequence of the apostolic mission is discernible in its first coming to birth, and to discern that coming to birth, one must be aware of the extent to which Christ by deed and by word engaged his followers in communication with himself.
15. Christ was content to speak with other audiences and with later generations through those who became his first disciples. Only this degree of confidence invested by Christ in his followers could match the free self-communication of God to the world and to those whom he has made in his own image. To draw all to himself, the Son died upon the Cross. He gave us his words and his very self, and waits patiently for us to understand. Any other way would have frustrated his own purpose: to draw us to love him. In order to fulfil this saving purpose, he called into being the Church where the Word’s recreating power is evident, remaking people into a community that could share his life and live in harmonious relationships with one another. Thus the Church is the place where the Word of God is spoken, heard, responded to, and confessed (Rom 10:8-17). The Law of God, so the prophets said, was to become a law not written externally on tablets of stone, but written on our hearts, taken in and made heart-knowledge: it was to be our second nature (Jer 31:31-34).
16. The Tradition received by the apostles itself continues an unbroken process of communication between God and human beings. Every possible human resource is employed to sustain and deepen this process: linguistic, ritual, artistic, social and constitutional. The written word of Scripture is its permanent norm. Through the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist the memory of the events whereby the Church came into being is preserved. The living Word has made a living community in which men and women converse with God and speak their faith to one another. Guided by its pastors and teachers, the Church continues to communicate with all generations, preserves its own identity and message, and is daily renewed in its obedience.
17. Through the living Word, recalling and renewing the acts of Christ’s life for us, his history becomes our history. We celebrate our new birth, we are forgiven, strengthened and healed, we are united with one another, we find our vocation for ministry, and we give thanks to God through the power of Christ’s death and living victory. In his life on earth, the Word confirmed his words by his actions for us; the same is true today.
18. The growth of the Church comes about through a continued hearing and assimilation of the Word of God. To be sure that we are hearing the Word, we maintain communion with those who have heard and obeyed the Word before us. But we will not be saved simply by repeating what other generations have said and done. We must express for ourselves, act for ourselves and ourselves be transformed through the renewal of our minds and hearts, if the living Tradition of Christ and his apostles is to be continued. The faith must be handed on.
19. In every time and in every place, the Church lives and moves by calling to mind all that it has seen and heard of the marvels of God’s Word in his created world and in the history he is making with us. But we do not live in the past. Memory enables us to recognize the Lord as he comes to us today. His presence in the events of our lives proves to us that his words are true. His deeds for us today make possible our own words of praise and our own acts of service by which God is glorified.
20. But the Word of God, with us today, does not tell us, any more than the apostles were told, what comes next in our story. Since the Gospel Tradition looks to the future, we live in hope. And Christian hope is the strength that enables us, claiming his promises, to be totally committed to the present. We know that we are traveling towards the One whose memory we cherish and whose presence we know. By confessing our faith in living words, we learn how to die with Christ, to hide our life in him, so that when he appears we too will be made known in glory.
21. In conclusion, we recall that the search for ecumenical reconciliation has revealed only too clearly the difficulty of reuniting Scripture and Tradition once they have been notionally separated. Scripture was written within Tradition, yet Scripture is normative for Tradition. The one is only intelligible in terms of the other. We do not claim to have resolved here all the ecumenical problems that arise in relation to this issue. What we have sought to do is to ask ourselves how the Christian of today can confess with Christians of all time the one true faith in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever separated. Scripture was written within Tradition, yet Scripture is normative for Tradition. The one is only intelligible in terms of the other. We do not claim to have resolved here all the ecumenical problems that arise in relation to this issue. What we have sought to do is to ask ourselves how the Christian of today can confess with Christians of all time the one true faith in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever.
II. Spirit and Church
22. In the New Testament the action of the sovereign and life-giving Spirit is closely related to the action of the Word. What God does through the Word is done in the Spirit, so that the same effect can often be attributed to the Word, or to the Spirit, or to both. It is God’s action that is perceived in all cases.
23. Thus the Spirit appears in the New Testament narrative as early as the Annunciation: the angel assures Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come” upon her and “the power of the Most High will overshadow” her (Lk 1:35). Therefore her Son will be called Son of the Most High and will be recognized by the prophet Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as the one through whom God has prepared his salvation (2:30).
24. As Jesus’ ministry begins at his baptism by John, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and leads him to the desert where he rejects the temptation from the Evil one to carry out this ministry in ways disobedient to the will of the Father (Mk 1:10, Mt 3:16). At Nazareth, Jesus affirms that the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...”) is now fulfilled in him (Lk 4:18-21). At the heart of Jesus’ ministry Luke places the promise of an outpouring of the Spirit (Lk 11:13).
25. The Gospel of John emphasizes particularly the promise and presence of the Spirit. The Baptist identifies Jesus as one who “baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (Jn 1:33). True worship will be “in Spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23). The promised Spirit is the Paraclete (Advocate), and the Spirit of truth (14:15-17; 15:26). This promise is fulfilled when Jesus is glorified on the Cross (7:37-39).
26. The outpouring of the Spirit is presented in several ways in the New Testament. For John, the Spirit is given by the risen Christ on the evening of the Resurrection and empowers the disciples to forgive and to retain sins (20:22-23). For Luke in Acts (2:1-11), the Spirit is given on the day of Pentecost, and the Spirit’s presence is manifested in extraordinary ways. In Acts, the manifestation of the Spirit is seen as a proof that baptism has been received: those who have been baptized must receive the Spirit (the sealing). The Spirit is received by all those who “hear the Word”, both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10:45). The Spirit leads Paul in his missionary journeys (Acts 13:2-5).
27. The Spirit distributes gifts to all for the good of the koinonia (1 Cor 12:1-11). The Spirit is the inner power of the new life in Christ. Because the faithful are in Christ and with Christ, they receive the Spirit and are in the Spirit. There is a diversity of gifts, yet these are united in their source, the one Spirit, and in their purpose, the koinonia. Ye the Spirit “blows where it wills”, and the faithful cannot put limits to the Spirit’s action in humankind.
28. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, acts, not as an impersonal force, but personally inspires and guides those who come to believe. The Spirit seeks the unbelievers and reaches them in ways that are often mysterious, transforming their hearts. The Holy Spirit prepares the way for the preaching of the Word to those who do not believe, enabling them to respond in faith and to know the saving grace of God. The Spirit thus creates and maintains the oneness of the Church, bringing the many into unity and joining to their Head the members of the Body of Christ. Believers recognize one another as members of the Body, share in one ministry of word and sacrament, and partake of the eucharistic meal, where, through and with Christ, in the Spirit, they offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father.
29. As the Spirit abides in the community where the faith is confessed in fidelity to Christ, the Spirit makes the faithful aware of the presence among them and within them of Christ and of the Father. God dwells in the faithful, and they dwell in God, in whom they “live and move and have their being”. This spiritual presence is pure, unmerited gift. It calls the faithful to holiness, brings them to and keeps them in the justice that is of Christ, sets them on the way to perfection and empowers them to act through the Spirit’s many gifts. As the faithful use their gifts of the Spirit for the good of the community and the spread of the Gospel, they also receive the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), which build up the life of the Church in peace and joy.
30. Yet the gifts can be neglected and abused. In their sinfulness, the believers can resist and grieve the Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is also the Paraclete or Advocate, who pleads for them, and brings about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
31. The Holy Spirit reminds the disciples of the message and words of the Lord, and enables them to participate in the saving events of the life, death and rising of Christ. The Holy Spirit is invoked in the Supper of the Lord; and, in preaching and proclamation, it is the Spirit, moving the hearts and minds of the hearers, who leads them into the fullness of truth. The Spirit’s abiding presence in the Church through the ages is enlivened by moments of abundant outpouring, times when the faithful have the impression of living through “a new Pentecost”. Thus the Spirit guides the Church in recognizing the Word in the Scriptures, so that they become the document and charter of its life. The Spirit enables the people of God and their ministers to understand and interpret the Word in the Scriptures, to transmit and explain it verbally, to hear it and receive it with faith. When it becomes necessary, the same Spirit leads the Church to self-criticism and so to reform and renewal, in greater fidelity to its memory of Christ. The Spirit thus writes the Gospel in the hearts of the faithful, and this Gospel in the heart inspires the members of the koinonia to let the Word which they believe give form to their prayer of praise and thanksgiving. In all these ways the Spirit continues to shape and enrich the memory of the community.
32. The power and presence of the Spirit lead the faithful from grace to grace. As the Holy Spirit leads them to reflect on their memory of Christ, to partake of his memorial, and to experience Christ as a present reality, they are opened to God’s purpose both for themselves and for the whole of creation. The Spirit inspires them to pray and strive for the welfare of all of God’s creatures, and so to protect and promote the habitat that God has given them. In ways that are known to God alone, the Spirit is also present and active among those who have not heard the Gospel or have not believed it. The Christian believers trust in God’s hidden action transforming the world according to God’s ultimate purpose. They seek to discern God’s saving power at work. The Spirit makes them eager to see the fulfilment of all of God’s promises and to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom. The same Spirit gives them the certainty that the obstacles and evils that are symbolized in “the world, the flesh, and the Devil” will be overcome by God’s power in God’s own time. But the Christian hope, that is nurtured by the Spirit, also looks further than this earth and the present life. It looks forward to the eternal Kingdom, where God reigns among the saints of all ages and nations and tongues. In this final transformation the Spirit will bring to an end the trials of the Church on earth, the sufferings of the saints, and will bring the elect into the glory that the Father has reserved for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
III. The Pattern of Christian Faith
33. In John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life”, and goes on to affirm that though he is to go away, he leaves his Spirit who will witness to him. The Spirit will convince us of sin and lead us into the truth. Since the truth is always Christ’s, there is a continuum of faith with the past. Thus the Holy Spirit has enabled the faith to confess Christ in every generation, and the Church continues in this communion of saints. It is this permanence in Christ and in the Spirit which gives the Church its identity and self-understanding and keeps it in the Gospel which it has to proclaim to the world.
34. In each generation the Church inherits a history in which earlier Christians have sought to express the truth of God in their own time and place, and in that history an important place is given to those theologians who provided the earliest elucidations of the faith. The Church also knows that God will provide witnesses to the faith in the future, but the present Church has its own particular responsibility to the Word and the Spirit now.
35. We know from past history and present experience that Christ’s Spirit of truth works in a dynamic of continuity and change. The Holy Spirit brings home to us the truth of the Gospel in a variety of ways. For while the Spirit never changes, the manner of the Spirit’s operation may vary with each group of believers. The Spirit moves in a gracious and positive manner, even when demanding costly discipleship. And we have the injunction laid on us not to grieve the Spirit; rather, we must cooperate with the Spirit.
36. What co-operation is thus demanded? Referring to the Holy Spirit’s role in binding us to Christ, St. Irenaeus maintained that through God alone can God be known. Developing the same theme, St. Athanasius asserts that the divine Word became human so that we, in some sense, might become divine. Thus we cooperate with the Spirit as we take to ourselves this self-giving of God in the mystery of the incarnation. This, according to biblical witness, is the way God has chosen from all eternity for the salvation of humankind. Therefore every ordered expression of the Gospel is an attempt to proclaim this mystery - the love of God who saves in Christ - and all our efforts to discern and describe Christian belief must find their focus here. Since the heart of the Gospel and the core of the faith is the love of God revealed in redemption, then all our credal statements must derive from faith. Thus, as Vatican II recognized, “there exists an order or ‘hierarchy’ of truths since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith” (Unitatis redintegratio, 11). Likewise Methodists, following Wesley, recognize an “analogy of faith” among the major doctrines of the Church.
37. The faith which is believed is believed within particular settings. The expression of the faith has been shaped by cultures before us, and we in turn seek to speak it in the language of our time and place. Inculturation conveys the faith authentically only when what is contextual, be it language or any other form of cultural expression, is itself transformed by the transcendent truth of the Gospel. It then in turn becomes an effective means of transforming the lives of those who belong to this culture. Affirmations about God made by the believing community are active symbols, calling for realization in the lives of its members. Therefore, when Christians recite the Creed within a liturgical setting, they do more than list a set of beliefs - they identify themselves with that great
company “whose lives are hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Because the Spirit provides in the Church such abundant gifts of perception and understanding, the recitation of the Creed engenders in every age a great diversity and richness of faith. We say “we believe” and the life of the Church is deepened and renewed.
38. The Nicene Creed, used by both Catholics and Methodists in their liturgy and teaching, is a comprehensive and authoritative statement of Christian faith. It was the text upon which John Wesley based his explication when, in his Letter to a Roman Catholic, he summarized “the faith of a true Protestant”. We include the text of the Creed, known as the Nicene Creed, since it constrains us to take very seriously the degree of communion that Catholics and Methodists already share. In a world deeply affected by superstition and by unbelief, our proclamation of this common faith must be an occasion for giving thanks and a stimulus to deepen our unity in Christ:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
IV. The Pattern of Christian Life
1. The Gift of New Life
39. Faith in Jesus Christ involves assent to the truths of the Gospel. In confessing these truths we likewise confess our new identity as sons and daughters of God. As our minds are filled with the truths of the Gospel, they are transformed, and that transformation brings about a new life. St. Paul tells his converts to be “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Rom 12:2). Through the hearing of and response to the Gospel a crucial change of both heart and mind takes place. So it is that Paul prays to God for his new converts “that you may be filled with knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in knowledge of God” (Col 1:9-10).
40. Through Christ’s death and resurrection the way is opened for reconciliation to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Baptism, the sacrament of faith, is the sign of that new life which the Father gives us through Christ in the Spirit. Christ’s death has put to death sin in our lives; it has freed us from the bondage of sin and death. The new life that replaces the old is a life of love: it is a sharing in the inner life of God that is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This love is pure gift, and in virtue of it we are drawn ever more deeply into the inner life of God and are able to cry “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6). It is other-centered and boundless in its range and scope, directed to the whole world. In particular, it pushes us out to the poor, the weak and the unloved. It is love without preference and without distinction since, because of the work of Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28).
2. The Challenge of New Life
41. This gift is also call and responsibility. Paul tells the Colossians that it is precisely because they have died and been raised to new life that they must put to death those features of their old way of life which still persist. They must put away their old garments and “put on the garment of God’s chosen people” (cf. Col 3:12). The obligation of Christians to change their lives is rooted and grounded in what God has done for them. For a few, the transformation comes quickly, as John Wesley noted in his “Plain Account of Christian Perfection”. But for most the putting-to-death of the old way of life and the taking on of the new involves Christians in a long and painful process of maturing in love. It is a costly journey and inevitably involves suffering since the pattern of Christian life will reflect the pattern of Christ’s dying and rising. It was the constant concern of Paul to foster and nurture this growth. Individuals, then, are changed by the saving action of God in Christ that is appropriated through the power of the Holy Spirit. But the bestowal of the gift of new life on individuals constitutes a new principle of unity. The baptised share together in the life of love, and this sharing is a vital dimension of the koinonia which is the Church.
3. The Communion of New Life
42. By allegiance to Christ the believer becomes part of the community in which Christ is remembered (anamnesis). Christ’s words to his disciples are relevant here. The Christian is brother, sister, mother to Christ in community with others (Mk 3:31-35, Mt 12:46-60; Lk 8:19-21).
43. The early Christian believers were part of a community where life was lived in common with others, the disunity of Babel being reversed by the events of and after Pentecost (Acts 2:44; 4:32). In Acts 2:42 we read of the four fundamental elements in their life together: hearing the teaching of the apostles; communion (koinonia); breaking of bread; and the prayers.
44. In their worship on the Lord’s day they experienced his presence and renewing grace as they celebrated the Eucharist together. In the service itself the profound nature of their relation to each other was manifested in the giving of the peace and, pre-eminently, in the Holy Communion: “The bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17). The Eucharist remains the focus where the pattern of life specific to Christians is shown forth.
45. It has been customary to state that Methodists regard the preaching of the Word as the central act of worship, while for Catholics the Eucharist is “the center and culmination” of Christian life (Vatican II, Presbyterium ordinis, 5). This contrast should not be put too strongly. In the beginnings of Methodism, the Wesleys encouraged and practice a much more frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper than was customary in the Anglican Church of the time, and in recent decades Methodists are increasingly appreciating the centrality of the Eucharist and Catholics the fundamental importance of the preaching of the Word.
4. The Source of New Life
46. By baptism we are received into the community of belief and are nurtured there as the faith is passed on to us (“traditioned” to us) through the family and the Church. Unless this “traditioning” takes place, we receive little of the Christian faith. Each generation and each person must claim for themselves the life of faith. We receive the faith in more explicit terms through hearing the preached Word, Sunday schools, catechism classes, first communion classes, confirmation classes, and Church-sponsored schools. Sustained growth in the Christian faith requires time spent in study of the Scriptures and in prayer based on the Scriptures. The faith is nourished in both our traditions by devotional life that plays a significant part in its growth. There are also many ways in which the spiritual life has been nurtured among us, e.g., Christian family life, Methodist class meetings, various lay apostolates and renewal movements in the Catholic Church, the practice of retreats, ecumenical house groups and marriage enrichment courses. In all these situations “heart speaks to heart” (cor ad cor loquitur).
5. The Practice of New Life
47. The Christian hope is that humanity will one day be gathered into Christ when the Gospel has been preached to all nations (Mt 24:14; 28:19). In the widest sense of the mission of the Church, there is the mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners, welcome the stranger (Mt 25:31-46). These “works of mercy” belong to the Christian mission in the widest sense and Catholic-Methodist cooperation has often been most successful in this area. In particular, both churches have tried to promote true Christian community without respect of race, sex or class. In places that are hostile to Christianity, missionary endeavor has been difficult, and fidelity to the Gospel has proved very costly. The picture in Hebrews of the saints who watch from heaven and encourage us is pertinent here (Heb 12:1).
48. The proclamation of the Gospel by words is an essential task for each generation of believers. Christians also bear witness when they seek to let their light shine before others so that their conduct as well as their words may bring others to glorify God (Mt 5:16; 1 Pt 2:12). Personal evangelism contributes to the corporate mission and is vitally important in making new believers.
V. The Pattern of Christian Community
49. The real relationships existing within the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are reflected within the ordered life of creation and, still more clearly revealed to the eye of faith, in the pattern they establish and make possible for the community life of God’s people.
50. Whenever the Word of God is truly heard, the Church shapes its life in due obedience; the pattern thus brought into being becomes in its turn a means of showing forth the Word. As individuals are healed and remade by Christ, so also are the relationships within which their life is brought to fulfilment. When, for example, the community of Christians at Philippi was told to have the mind of Christ, who emptied himself and took the form of a servant, this was not just an instruction to private individuals, but an exhortation for the benefit of their common life. Further still, it was not just for their own health and happiness as a community, but for a making known the Word to the world: it was a setting forth of the Word through an effective embodiment of the servanthood of the Incarnate One. One passage in the New Testament - 1 John 1:1-3 - dares to suggest that the life of the Christian community is a reflection of the life of the Godhead: thus the communal life of Christians has a vertical as well as a horizontal dimension. They do not merely enjoy fellowship with each other; their life together is a sharing in the life of the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
51. The Savior rescues us from loneliness and sets us within the infinitely diverse security of his friends. The images used in the Gospels and in the apostolic preaching give indications relating to the ordered life brought into being by Christ. The images are corporate as well as individual. They evoke the Bridegroom as well as the Bride, the Good Shepherd’s care, the growth and pruning of the Vine, the manifold activities and talents of the Body, family life in the Home, good stewardship, the tender care of the Samaritan, the touch of the Healer, the watchful love of the Father. In the light of the Lord’s Supper, the image of the Body has inspired profound insights and reflections on the Church as the Body of Christ.
52. It must also be remembered that in the New Testament, the actions that allow the Church to grow in strength and ordered life - the setting apart of new ministers, or corporate decisions and teaching, for example - are always accompanied by the action of the Holy Spirit, who makes it possible for us to live in communion and harmony with one another (Acts 13:2; 15:28; 16:6-7; 2 Tim 1:14). The Spirit is the invisible thread running through the work of the Church in the world, enabling our minds to hear and receive the Word, enlightening them to understand the Word, and giving us tongues to speak the Word (Jn 14:26; 16:13-14; Acts 4:31). Relating us to one another and to Christ our Head, the Holy Spirit gives coherent shape and variety to the people of God. Within that people as they are, and for that people as they shall be, the Holy Spirit invites us all to share in the service of the One who came to serve.
MINISTRY AND MINISTRIES: SERVING WITHIN THE APOSTOLIC TRADITION
53. The life of the Church, of the human race as it is gathered together and renewed by Christ, is a life of worship, by which believers share in the exchange of love that is the life of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With Christ our Head and in the power of his Spirit, we serve God in a variety of ways for God’s glory and for making known God’s loving purpose.
I. Service of the Word
54. As the Apostle sent by God (Heb 3:1), Christ shared his carrying-out of the Father’s will with others. These he sent into the world to serve the Gospel, just as he himself had been sent into the world to serve (Jn 20:21-23). They were given the formal title of apostle. Theirs was a ministry of ministries: they were sent out to make him known and to care for his people. The apostles, already joined together in the public ministry of Christ, continued after the Ascension to be his friends and servants, fully aware of their appointed responsibility to tell everyone of what God had done for them in Christ.
55. In the Book of Acts, the apostles are described as ‘servants of the Word’ (Acts 6:4; cf. Lk 1:2). This phrase holds a rich meaning, conveying all that is said in Scripture about God’s action through his Word in creation and in his saving purpose in history. What he says, he does. What he does, makes him known to us. There is a solidarity between word and deed. This complete interdependence of word and deed in God’s action for us culminates in the coming of the Person who, in his entire being, is the Word of God. ‘Service of the Word’ implies the service of a living Person, whose words are always fruitful and whose deeds make him known. Supremely in Christ, words and actions are one. Through the Spirit these deeds and words culminate in the living presence of Jesus in us. It is in this context that the sermon and the sacrament must be understood. In preaching, the Word of God himself addresses us through the preacher: “Whoever hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16). In the Eucharist, our Lord’s words, ‘This is My Body’, ‘This is My Blood’, convey both his meaning and the actual giving of himself.
56. The ‘servants of the Word’ are therefore those who bring the whole of this divine life into the world, enabling all of us, in our turn, to become servants, each one unique and different, but all gathered together in perfect harmony.
57. The present disharmony among Christians is crucially reflected in divisions of doctrine and practice concerning this service of the Word. An arrival at a common mind over Christ’s purpose for ministry would therefore have a far-reaching effect in the promotion of unity throughout the Christian Churches.
II. Gifts of The Spirit
58. The entire Christian community has the responsibility of spreading the Gospel and witnessing to the Lord’s work of salvation until he comes. This task has “its origins in the mission of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit according to the purpose of God the Father” (Vatican II, Ad gentes, 2).
59. Throughout the ages the Holy Spirit has poured out gifts on those who have been baptized in the name of Christ. These gifts are for the building up of the Church, which is charged with proclaiming the Good News for the salvation of the world, so that all people may come to faith and share in the worship of the Triune God (cf. Rom 15:7-16; 2 Cor 4:13-15). Thus, each charism that is given elicits a response that must be lived out in ministry and in service: “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:11-13). The gifts of the Spirit, therefore, are for communion (koinonia): for the drawing of humanity into communion with the Father and the Son, and for the building up and strengthening of communion among those who believe.
60. Among the gifts bestowed by the Spirit there is the specific charism received by those who are called to the ordained ministry. This charism is directed toward the ordering and harmony which must prevail in the exercise of all the gifts. Properly to understand the relationship between the ministries of the ordained and the non-ordained it is vital to see in both of them the activity of the Spirit who enlivens and unifies the Church through the gifts: “Now there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who activates them all in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4-7). The same Spirit operates among all the baptized and across all the generations.
61. The New Testament describes the Spirit filled life in the early Christian communities. The origins of the ordained ministry are found in the commission that Christ gave to his apostles (Mt 28:18-20). While there was at the beginning no single pattern, the ordained ministry was a gift to the Church for leadership in its corporate and worshiping life, for the maintenance and deepening of its order and structure, for the organization of its missionary witness and for discernment in understanding and applying the Gospel. As time passed, the Church was led by the Spirit to recognize the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon as normative; some other patterns of ministry that may be discerned in the New Testament became assimilated to the threefold one. While not all the many gifts of the Spirit for ministry have figured equally throughout the history of the Church, all have been bestowed afresh at times of crisis and opportunity. Yet the testimony of the New Testament must continue to throw light on the ways in which the ordained ministry has developed and to challenge the ways it functions in our different communions.
III. The Church, A Living Body
62. The community of the faithful is brought into existence by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit relates the faithful to one another, distributing gifts among them. Thus the community receives a living structure. Some of the New Testament images - a body, a household, a people, a vineyard - point to dynamics of growth and to a reality with many aspects and dimensions. Others - the bride, the flock - imply also that it has its own definite identity and is the center of God’s attention, called to share the divine love, and opened to the Holy Spirit in whom the faithful experience God’s love. As it spreads abroad the good news, the community calls all people to conversion and new life. Led by the Spirit, it extends throughout the many and varied cultures of the world, and is sustained through time from year to year, generation after generation. Through the centuries it is rejuvenated as the Gospel strikes the imagination and the Spirit stirs up the love of new and younger members. Like the sap of the vine that brings greenness to all branches and twigs, the Church is an overflowing source of life. From the human environment it receives new riches that nurture it and which it in turn transforms, opening up the many cultures of the world to intimations of the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit directs the course of the Christian community by bringing to it the harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-25). The community is a living organism, not a collection of individuals; it is a place of meeting where people exchange things old and new, not a museum where things are looked at. What is handed on by its Tradition in the form of memory acts as a leaven among those who receive it, who then enrich it as they cherish it and pass it on again to their successors. There are times, of course, when Christians do not respond as they ought to the Spirit’s guidance. They lack fidelity to Christ, they are lukewarm in the worship of God, they do not show love toward one another, they fail in missionary outreach. So, like all living organisms, Christian communities go through periods of dormancy and decline. But even then hope is held out for vigorous and healthy life because the Church is sustained by the Spirit of God who never leaves himself without witnesses.
1. The Community of Faith and Baptism
63. The Spirit calls people to this new life, as those who have heard the Word come to Christ, the only Savior and Mediator. Baptism is given in the midst of the community to new Christians who, at their baptism, confess the faith they have received. Symbolically they are plunged in the cleansing waters where they receive the Holy Spirit and are given the garment of faith “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. United to Christ in his dying and his rising, they bear witness that they are reborn in him. In the administration of baptism, the community testifies to its faith with the words of the traditional creed. For example, the Apostles’ Creed had its origin in the candidates’ confession of faith. Methodists and Catholics agree that Christians are baptized into the faith that has been received from the apostles and obediently preached by the community and its members. In both our traditions it has been the normal practice for the pastors of the community to preside over the entire process of Christian initiation. Both the Methodist and the Catholic Churches consider it right to baptize the infants born to believers. They encourage their members to take the opportunities presented to them to renew the vows that they made, or that were made for them, in baptism.
64. Those who confess their faith, endorsed by the community, are brought through the baptismal waters into the life of God that is communicated through Christ in the Holy Spirit. This life, being the very life of the divine Persons, is itself a life of communion and involves participating in the bond of love established by the Spirit between God and creation. The baptized become sisters and brothers in Christ. They are constituted as the family of God, sharing in its privileges and responsibilities.
65. By baptism, the community of the believers shares in the holiness of God, a holiness that is manifested in the Christian life of the faithful. The community feeds on the memory of the Lord, celebrates his abiding presence, and looks forward in hope to the continuing service of God and of neighbor until the end of time, thus affirming its trust in the ultimate victory of Christ over the power of evil. It is itself a sign and instrument of God’s kingdom.
66. Thus the baptized and believing community is a communion. Holding in common the faith in which they are baptized and all the things that are God’s gifts, they grow into a communion of the people who are made holy by God’s grace and power. While all the baptized thus make up “the communion of saints”, they also recognize the conspicuous presence of divine grace in specific persons -the Saints - whose lives and example testify, even to the shedding of their blood for Jesus, to the transforming action of the Spirit of God in every generation. The “cloud of witnesses” transcends denominational barriers.
2. The Community of Worship
67. The Christian community continues to flourish by virtue of the common baptism and faith of its members. But is also sustained and nurtured by the celebration of the memorial of the Lord, the service of thanksgiving in which it experiences, as the Spirit is invoked, the presence of the risen Christ. There the Word of God is heard in the Scriptures and the proclamation of the Gospel. Through the holy meal of the community, the faithful share “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all mankind” (British Methodist Service Book 1975). As they receive the sacrament of his body and blood offered for them, they become the body through which the risen Lord is present on earth in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 10:16-17). As they share his body and blood that have brought to the sinful world salvation and reconciliation, they proclaim today the past events of the Lord’s death and resurrection, and as they do so they present to the world their confidence and hope that Christ who “has died and is risen” will also “come again”.
68. This experience of the presence of the Lord in the setting of worship attunes the hearts and minds of the faithful to all other aspects of his presence. They return to him the love they have received from him, when they serve the poor and when they struggle for social justice. In the sick and suffering they see the sufferings of Christ. In their own pains and sorrows endured for the sake of the gospel they share in the passion of Christ. In all this the faithful experience the wonderful exchange by which, in Christ and the Holy Spirit, all is common to all. And they present to God all that they have and all that they are as their own sacrifice of praise.
69. In the worshiping fellowship the community confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, shares the peace which Christ gives, and so anticipates the heavenly kingdom where the risen Christ fills all things to the glory of God the Father. The community of the faithful is thus the proclaiming, celebrating and serving community which gives glory to God in the name of all creatures. By its gatherings on the Lord’s Day the community shapes the life of its members, helping them to make their weekly and daily tasks expressions of the royal priesthood of the believers gathered together under the high priesthood of the risen Lord. Thus the community provides for its members a pattern of life consecrated to God and directed towards fulfilment in the final manifestation of Christ.
3. The Ordained Minister in the Community
70. Ever since the time of the apostles, ministers have led the community in the worship of God, in proclaiming Christ and receiving him, in organizing the community’s life of service in the Spirit. Worship, witness and service join hands in word and sacrament: this has served as the central model for what Christian ministers must both be and do.
71. Chosen from among the people, the ordained ministers represent the people before God as they bring together the prayers of the community. Entrusted with the pastoral care of the community, they act in Christ’s name and person as they lead the people in prayer, proclaim and explain the Word, and administer the sacraments of faith.
72. In each place the pastor gathers the faithful into one, and as all the ministers relate to one another and transmit the same Gospel, they ensure a universality of conviction and communion among all the faithful. They transmit what they have received: the good news as taught from apostolic times, the sacraments as signs and instruments of the Lord’s saving presence and action, the call to holiness that the Holy Spirit addresses to all.
73. United around their minister in worship and in witness, and in the carrying out of their vocational tasks, the faithful know themselves to be gathered in Christ by the Holy Spirit. In the pastoral care that is extended to them the faithful perceive themselves to be led by the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.
74. As the community is renewed from one Lord’s Day to the next, it is nourished by the Tradition it has received, and responsibility for this is especially entrusted to those ministers who inherit the apostolic function of oversight in the community. The function of oversight entails on the part of the ministers solicitude for all the churches: they are charged to ensure that the community remain one, that it grow in holiness, that it preserve its catholicity, and that it be faithful to apostolic teaching and to the commission of evangelization given by Christ himself.
75. These four “marks” of the Christian community should be exemplified at each moment of its existence. They should also be effectively transmitted from one generation to the next. The saints who have passed into the fulness of the mystery of God’s grace are forever part of the community: the witness and examples of the past continue to be cherished; the saints in heaven are held as instances of Christ’s “closest love” and as present tokens of the ultimate fulfilment of all God’s promises.
76. The transmission of the Gospel is the work of the whole assembly of the faithful under the guidance and with the encouragement of their pastors. The living presence of the Lord among his people is the source of the Christian life. The pastors of the community are his servants as he provides grace and spiritual strength to his people and leads them to the goal of their earthly pilgrimage.
77. The transmission of the Gospel in word and sacraments is itself the work of the Spirit. As they urge the faithful to Christian perfection, the ordained ministers obey the call of Christ, and they help the community in its search for the forms of Christian holiness that are appropriate to different periods, ages and conditions of life. Catholics and Methodists are at one in seeing in a divinely empowered ministry the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are moving in the direction of greater shared understanding of the nature of ordination and of the structure of the ministry in regard to the responsibility to teach and to formulate the faith.
IV. The Ordained Ministry: Call and Empowerment
78. We consider now the call to the ordained ministry, ordination to the ministry, and continuance in it.
79. Both Methodists and Catholics recognize the power of God in the enabling of all ministry. During his earthly ministry the Lord Jesus himself in his sovereign freedom appointed twelve. The experience of Paul, who according to his own words received the call to be an apostle direct from the risen Christ, attests to the freedom and movement of the Holy Spirit to call persons at will into ministry. This call may be experienced in several ways: as an internal compulsion that we feel bound to obey; through the convergence of several external factors all of which indicate its possibility; through the influence of the Church and its people which exercises a claim upon us; or through the indication of a need and the ability under God to fulfill that need. Whichever way the call is experienced, it does not remain an inward compulsion but is tested by the Church and finally confirmed before the candidate is ordained. The different ways in which this judgment is made in the Catholic and Methodist contexts reflect the different understanding and experience of being churches that have developed during centuries of independent growth.
80. Both our traditions retain the practice, attested in the New Testament documents, of setting apart for ministry by the laying on of hands with prayer; prayer is made for the gift of the Holy Spirit appropriate to the particular form of ministry. Ordination takes place in an assembly of the Church in which the people give their assent to the candidates, appropriate scriptures are read, and candidates profess their adherence to the faith of the Church. Through the laying on of hands ordinands are incorporated into the existing body of ministers.
81. In the Catholic understanding and practice of apostolic succession, the bishops through the act of ordination share ministerially the high priesthood of Christ, in one degree or another, with other ministers (bishops, presbyters and deacons), who are their fellow workers in carrying out the apostolic duties entrusted to them (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum ordinis, 2).
82. In Methodist understanding and practice, including those Methodist churches that are episcopally ordered, candidates for ordination are accepted by the Conference after examination as to the genuineness of their call, their spiritual fitness and their capacity for ministry. They are then ordained by prayer and the imposition of hands by the Bishop, or by the President of the Conference, and given the tasks of declaring the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments and caring pastorally for Christ’s flock.
3. Continuance in the Ministry
83. Within the community of the people of God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an authentic ministry, of the ordained as of all the people of God, communicates Christ to persons, edifies them and builds them up in the faith. In one way or another it is shown by its fruits.
84. All ministry continues to depend entirely upon God’s grace for its exercise. The God who calls crowns his call with gifts for ministry. It is not only the use of the personal gifts of the minister which is at issue here. The minister lives constantly in the grace of God by means of prayer, study of the Scripture, and participation in the sacraments. As an instrument in God’s hands, the ordained minister imparts the Word of God to God’s people, both by speech and by the sacraments of the Church. Both Methodists and Catholics maintain the principle that while the preached Word and the acted Word call for holiness in the minister, it is not the ministers’ worthiness that makes them effective, but the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
85. The call of God is seen to be a stable and permanent one by both Catholics and Methodists. The ordained person is committed to a lifelong ministry; therefore, just as baptism and confirmation are not repeated, neither is ordination. Both communions are here faithful to the constant practice of the Church.
V. Convergences and Divergences
86. Previous paragraphs make it clear that Methodists and Catholics share a fundamentally important perspective on ministry, affirming that the ordained ministry is essentially pastoral in nature. Ordained ministers have the special responsibility of exercising and holding together the functions of proclaiming the Gospel, calling people to faith, feeding the flock with word and sacrament and making Christ known through the ministry of servanthood to the world. The ordained ministry is a representative one, in the sense expounded in paragraph 71 above.
87. Within this perspective there remain several unresolved issues related to ordained ministry which call for further examination.
88. For Catholics, ordination is a sacrament. Methodists are accustomed to reserve the term sacrament for baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They do, however, with Catholics, look upon ordination as an effective sign by which the grace of God is given to the recipient for the ministry of word and sacrament.
89. A way forward may lie in deeper common reflection on the nature of sacrament. Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), may be thought of as the primary sacrament, revealing God’s nature and purpose and enabling us to know and serve him. We may also discern within his action on our behalf certain gifts by which our lives are ordered, nourished and sustained. These have traditionally been classified by Catholics as sacraments in a more specific use of the word.
90. Both Methodists and Catholics see the Holy Spirit as the One who empowers all ministry, both ordained and lay. Further, both Methodists and Catholics would agree that all the people of God must be a sign of Christ in a real sense and that all ministry must be exemplary of Christ and the Gospel. Thus a life clearly in consonance with Christ is a vocation for all Christians.
91. At Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church referred to the Church in terms of a “sacrament of salvation” (Ad gentes, 5; cf. Lumen gentium, 1). Methodists would prefer the word “sign” to sacrament, but the meaning in each case is essentially the same, because the Church obeys the mandate of its Founder to preach to all nations the Gospel of salvation it has received.
92. Methodists and Catholics can acknowledge together the reality of episcopè (oversight) in the New Testament and can agree that an ordained ministry which exercises episcopè is vital for the life of the Church. Without the exercise of this gift of oversight, disorder and therefore disunity are inevitable. Koinonia and episcopè imply one another. In a Catholic perspective this mutual implication reaches its culmination when the bishop presides over liturgical worship, in which the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper weld together into unity the members of Christ’s Body.
93. Central to the exercise of episcopè is the task of maintaining unity in the Truth. Thus teaching is the principal part of the task of episcopè. In a Catholic understanding the Church is united through its unity in faith and sacramental communion. The teaching of a common faith by the college of bishops in union with the successor of Peter ensures unity in the Truth. The succession of bishops through the generations serves the continued unity of the Church in the faith handed on from the apostles. In the Methodist tradition, Wesley accepted and believed in the reality of episcopè within the Church of England of which he was a minister. In relation to the Methodist societies he exercised episcopè over the whole; all his followers were bound to be in connection with him. He expounded the main teachings of the Church by means of his Sermons, Notes on the New Testament and Conference Minutes, and made available to his people authorized abridgements of doctrinal and spiritual work. His appointment of Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to the superintendency in America was rooted in his belief that the Holy Spirit wished to bestow the gift of episcopè at that time and in that place for the sake of maintaining unity of faith with the Church of all ages. It was part of a fresh and extraordinary outpouring of the gift of the Spirit who never ceases to enliven and unify the Church.
94. As we continue to consider remaining differences over the sacramental nature of ordination and the forms of succession and oversight, we rejoice in the work of the Spirit who has already brought us this far together, recognizing that the ecumenical movement of which we are part is itself a grace of the Holy Spirit for the unity of Christians. When the time comes that Methodists and Catholics declare their readiness for that “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life” toward which they are working (Towards a Statement on the Church, 20), the mutual recognition of ministry will be achieved not only by their having reached doctrinal consensus but it will also depend upon a fresh creative act of reconciliation which acknowledges the manifold yet unified activity of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. It will involve a joint act of obedience to the sovereign Word of God.
3. Who may be ordained
95. In the New Testament record there is strong evidence that the pastoral ministry was exercised by both married and unmarried people. By long-standing tradition the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, seeing a positive congruence between celibacy and the ordained priesthood, requires that priests remain unmarried, although exceptions to this practice have been allowed. Methodists, in common with other Protestant churches, ordain both married and unmarried people, but no ultimate doctrinal obstacle divides Methodists and Catholics here.
96. Methodists ordain women because they believe that women also receive the call, evidenced by inward conviction and outward manifestation of the gifts and graces and confirmed by the gathering of the faithful.
97. Catholics do not ordain women, believing that they have no authority to change a practice that belongs to the sacrament of order as received in the Tradition of the Church.
98. Our general reflections on the nature of ordained ministry and our treatment of this particular question will need to be mutually illuminating. Further thought will be of benefit to both traditions.
99. Together Catholics and Methodists confess the Church as part of the Triune God’s eternal purpose for the salvation of humankind. The Church is the communion of those who have received, receive and will receive through faith the benefits of the redemptive work of God accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of the Word made flesh. In the Holy Spirit they acknowledge the lordship of Christ to the glory of the Father. Thus constituted and sustained by the Word and the Spirit, the Church is both a sign and an instrument of the Father’s good pleasure for the world: it is a sign, because it is the first fruits of God’s gracious purpose and work; it is an instrument because it has the task of further proclaiming the Gospel and doing the works that belong to God’s kingdom. By its own communal life it bears witness to that society of love in which the city of God will consist.
100. Catholic and Methodist formularies differ over the concrete location of the Church which they both confess. While Wesley and the early Methodists could recognize the presence of Christian faith in the lives of individual Roman Catholics, it is only more recently that Methodists have become more willing to recognize the Roman Catholic Church as an institution for the divine good of its members. For its part, the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II certainly includes Methodists among those who, by baptism and faith in Christ, enjoy “a certain though imperfect communion with the Catholic Church”; and it envisages Methodism among those ecclesial communities which are “not devoid of meaning and importance in the mystery of salvation (Unitatis redintegratio, 3).
101. In the quarter-century since its inception, the Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council has contributed to the degree of mutual recognition which now exists. It has done so by the clarification of Methodist and Catholic positions and traditions, especially as these impinge on each other. A large measure of common faith has been brought to light, so that the increase in shared life that has begun may confidently be expected to continue. The need now is to consolidate the measure of agreement so far attained and to press forward with work on those areas in which agreement is still lacking. Continuing doctrinal progress should both encourage and reflect the growth in mutual recognition and in sharing in the life of the Triune God.