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14 October 2012

Baptism and Christianity, Part V

The last entry: Part IV.

And the next:


Initiation into the Christian Community
            Christian life is not isolated, a religion practiced by individuals without reference to the whole community.  In fact, Christian communities do not exist independently of each other.  Baptism initiates the Christian into his local community as well as the universal Church.  Baptism serves as an entry point for ecclesiological discussions because it represents the baseline of Christian participation in their communities. True Christian ecclesiology emanates from the baptismal call to holiness.  This ecclesiology recognizes that the Church inherently possesses the ability to be a true sacrament, something by which the real presence of the God is made known.  If Christ has been called the Sacrament of God, the Church may be called (with eschatological hope) the Sacrament of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, §1).
Christian beliefs about the Church affect every entity in the life of the Church.  Questions over who may or may not serve in particular ministerial roles, the relationship of bishops and pastors to parishes and even the very relationship between God and his people center on what Christians believe about their membership in the Church.  Models for the Church abound: institution, mystical body, sacrament, servant, community of disciples, or a combination therein (Dulles, Models of the Church).  The goal of all of these models, however, is the same.  They all attempt to articulate how Christians relate to each other and to God.  Once again referring to baptism, a few general principles may be noted from which more specific positions could be extrapolated.  These principles are largely paradoxical: as the People of God are in a constant state of formation, so too is the Church.
            The Church exists for mission and evangelization (Ad Gentes).  Yet the Church does not measure its success based upon the number of its parishes, mission territories or priestly and religious vocations.  The Church is not for itself, but for Christ.  Ecclesiology is always linked to the sacramental economy, Christology and fundamental theology.  The ordering of the God’s People, the Church, flows logically from previous theological disciplines.  It does not exist for its own sake.  Forgetting this leads to failure to evangelize and hierarchical structures which serve themselves and not the People of God.  An orientation to mission, however, locates authority in the Church as a theological voice, rather than a juridical one.  Surely juridical power for an institution as large as the Church must exist and has existed, in one way or another, since the Apostles, but authority in the Church is warped when wielded primarily as coercive law.  Indeed, the use of authority and its subsistence in both hierarchical structures and the faithful as a whole is by its very nature “theological,” and “derive[d] from our responsibility to God” and not originating in juridical authority (Thiel, 54).  Thus, there exists the inherent ambiguity of authority vis-à-vis the Church and its members, because the individual members of this authority are also members of the Body of Christ (Thiel). 
            Ministry itself is also a constitutive part of the Church.  As stated above, the Church does not exist for its own sake, but rather for the world.  Moreover, the Church acts in official and semi-official ways, collectively called ministry.  Individuated charitable acts by Christians operating solely out of a sense of love for the Lord are praiseworthy and necessary, but corporate efforts undertaken by the Church are philosophically and actually different.  Again, the baptismal call to holiness provides an important point of contrast to be made between, quite literally, an “anonymous Christian” and the ecclesial minister.  The entirety of the baptized are called to holiness – to imitate Christ, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Faith, hope and love are universal obligations (1 Cor. 13:13).  However, ministerial roles within the Church are charisms of the Holy Spirit.  Note here the difference: all Christians are called to holiness, charity and prayer.  And all Christians possess further vocations by which they sanctify the world.  Within these calls there are some called to specifically act within the Church, building it up and relating to it in unique ways.
            Ecclesial ministers possess unique charisms for the governance of the Church, celebration of the sacraments and pastoral care of the faithful.  These charisms flow from baptism, but are given additionally by Holy Spirit.    Such ministers exercise specific authority and bear the burden of additional responsibility.  A further difference may be drawn between those who have been ordained and those who have not.  These differences are only now being understood, and many of these questions are still open discussions (Gaillardetz).  Ordained ministry takes on a variety of different forms; for Catholics, such distinctions are further fraught with nuance because of the Roman Catholicism’s prohibition of the ordination of women, as well the Latin Rite’s discipline of clerical celibacy. 
Ministry in the Church and the governance of these efforts take on a variety of forms, but all originate in the baptismal call.  Ministry within the Church takes place not for its own purpose; as soon as decisions made regarding ministry place temporal considerations over spiritual ones and juridical authority over spiritual growth, a dangerous line has been crossed.  All members of the Body of Christ are called to act with charity, spreading the message of Christ to all nations.  Some members, however, bear specific responsibilities because they have been called by God to do so.  All of these characteristics culminate in the love Christ has for the Church and its members.  The Church itself is called to be a sacrament, bringing its members and world at large into closer communion with Christ, and in doing so, with each other.

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