Avery Dulles on the Ministry

Thus far, I’ve thouroughly enjoyed Avery Cardinal Dulles’s Models of the Church.  If all Roman Catholics (and Protestants!) were as even-handed as he is, we might actually make some real progress towards reform and true catholicity.  I found his remarks on the ministry interesting:

“The New Testament usage cannot be decisive for our terminology today, if only because the structure of ministry seems to have been different in different communities … A curious fact about the New Testament is the absence of any precise indication as to whether there were officers specially designed for cultic functions.  The term ‘priest’ (hiereus) is not applied to any particular class of persons within the Christian community, though the entire Christian community is designated as a ‘priestly people’ (1 Pt. 2:9).  A historical study of the development of Christian ministry would probably show that the Church in every age has adjusted its structures and offices so as to operate more effectively in the social environment in which it finds itself,” (153).

What Dulles highlights is (1) the lack of crystal-clear governmental directives in the NT, (2) the variable nature of church government in history, (3) and, most interestingly, he stays away from “divine right” polemics. 

For me, as a “reformed Catholic,” the question is this: why do we accept and believe the Church’s decisions in determining the canon of Scripture, in the dogmatic decisions of at least the first four Ecumenical Councils, but not in the matter of church government?


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