Interim update on the concept of ministry
The concept of ministry was one of the high priority topics of 2017—with a very special emphasis: the Chief Apostle himself gave an interim update on the ongoing efforts on this new doctrinal understanding. Following are some insights into the developments to date.
Whether with regard to its understanding of baptism or its conception of church, each time the New Apostolic Church has ever endeavoured to develop central doctrinal statements, it was generally only the end result that was published to everyone. But with the concept of ministry, everything has been different right from the start. “After the Catechism is before the [next edition of the] Catechism,” was the sentiment when the reference text was published in 2012. With regard to ministry, “some additional questions remain,” said Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber in 2013. And in 2014 his successor, Jean-Luc Schneider, reported that the work of finding answers to these questions had begun.
As of 2015 the District Apostle Meeting has been regularly debating and passing resolutions on the concept of ministry. And ever since then, nac.today has been following the progress. The year 2017 provided some preliminary highlights, namely the publication of two special editions of the periodical for ministers, the Divine Service Guide, and above all, an announcement by Chief Apostle Schneider following a divine service for ministers that was transmitted throughout Europe.
“The development of the concept of ministry is an extremely important matter for the global Church,” said the Church leader in his comments on 22 October 2017, before going on to outline some of the details: “Our intention is to clearly and understandably define the ministries, the ministerial structure, the various services, and the various leadership functions.”
Service and ministry, authority and mandate
The starting point for all of this was the term "service", which is defined as anything that people do for the church of Christ—that is, for the fellowship of all those who believe in Christ and are baptised in the name of the Trinity. Some services are of an organisational nature, while others—for example, teaching activities—have more of a spiritual emphasis. On the other hand, there are still other services that require special authority, blessing, and sanctification, and are thus bound to a ministry.
On the basis of the spiritual powers granted each level, a three-tier hierarchy has long since emerged with respect to ministry:
- Deacons have the authority to proclaim the word of God and bless the congregation.
- Priests, in addition to the above, are authorised to perform Holy Baptism with water, celebrate Holy Communion, and proclaim the absolution.
- Apostles, in addition to the above, are authorised to perform Holy Sealing and ordain ministers.
Both ministerial authority and a ministerial mandate—which establishes a specific framework that is both regionally and chronologically defined in accordance with canon law, or Church regulations—are necessary for the exercise of a ministry.
Ordination, appointment, assignment
At times ministers also perform services related to a ministerial hierarchy defined by Church law—for example, as a congregational rector or District Apostle. In order to make these distinctions clearer, the manner in which these services are entrusted to the individual ministers was redefined as follows:
- a ministry is bestowed by way of ordination: authority, blessing, and sanctification are imparted to the kneeling minister through the laying on of hands of an Apostle.
- a leadership function is bestowed by way of an appointment: blessing and sanctification are imparted to the kneeling minister through the laying on of hands of an Apostle or leading minister.
- other spiritual services are conferred by way of assignment, which is performed by a leading minister through a prayer for God’s blessing.
The following applies immediately for the apostolate: Apostles will be ordained, District Apostles will be appointed, and Chief Apostle Helpers and District Apostle Helpers will be assigned. “The distinction between spiritual ministry and leadership function will also have implications for the priestly ministry,” emphasised the Church leader. The question of which ones, and the timeframe in which they will begin to apply, will be discussed in the coming months.
“I can understand that there may be some impatience on this subject here and there. I am also aware that the expectations are very different,” acknowledged the Chief Apostle, “however, I insist that we be thorough in our efforts concerning this matter. Naturally, this will require some time, but this is indispensable for the unity of the Church.”