Ministry (31): The authority to establish order in the Church

The Bible does not give a clear answer regarding the question of the ordination of women. Therefore the apostolate must decide. Can they just go ahead and decide something like this? The Bible has clear answers to this.

Different aspects, same result. After detailed study of the gospels, the District Apostle Meeting determined: “From the words and deeds of Jesus it cannot be clearly inferred whether or not it is possible to ordain women.” And for Acts as well as the New Testament epistles the finding is: “The biblical testimony is therefore ambiguous with respect to the role of women in the church.”

The conclusion is: “The decision is up to the apostolate which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is responsible for the order of the Church.” In other words: “Consequently, the apostolate—which is endowed with teaching authority and charged with establishing the order of the Church—has a decision to make.”

But where does this authority and mandate come from?

Conceiving a modern life of faith

This question was answered by a teaching document on the topic of the ordination of women in a special edition of the Divine Service Guide (3/2022): “The Apostles are stewards of the mysteries of God,” the publication says with reference to 1 Corinthians 4: 1. This means that the apostolate not only has the duty to see to the proper proclamation of the gospel and the proper dispensation of the sacraments, but also has to ensure the order within the congregation.

“It is incumbent on the apostolate, led by the Chief Apostle, to inquire into the current order within the congregations and, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, find sound responses consistent with the Bible,” the document says further. “Especially when it comes to issues for which there is no clear biblical answer, it is up to the apostolate to arrive at sound decisions with the help of the Holy Spirit and reason. This is the only way to ensure that the life of the Church and the congregations is shaped and developed in a manner appropriate to the time.”

The teaching letter thus refers to section 7.4.1 in the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church: “Paul speaks of the Apostles as ‘stewards’ (1 Corinthians 4: 1). A steward is responsible for the household, namely the church.” And: “Apostle Paul uses the term ‘steward’ in connection with the ‘mysteries of God’.” This includes, for example, the first major doctrinal change in the history of Christianity, namely that those who are not Jewish can also become Christians (Ephesians 3: 3–6).

The authority to loose and bind

The Catechism also speaks of the authority of the Apostles to loose and bind, which Christ gives them in Matthew 18: 18: “This formulation speaks to the fact that the Apostles, together with the Chief Apostle, comprise the spiritual leadership of the Church and that they decide on the ordinances of congregational life,” CNAC 7.6.2 explains.

This is about the power to declare something binding or non-binding, in other words establishing order in congregational life. How the first Apostles used this authority early on is reported in Acts chapter 6.

In order to be able to devote themselves fully to the proclamation of the gospel, the Apostles instructed the early Jerusalem congregation to elect seven men to take over the responsibility of helping the poor. The ministry was conferred with the laying on of hands and prayer. Even though the term is not used here, this appointment is generally regarded as the origin of the office of Deacon.

Unlocking new insights

And finally, the Catechism is also aware of the authority of the keys of the Chief Apostle. This authority refers to Matthew 16: 19: “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“The office of the Chief Apostle functions to keep the doctrine pure while developing it further, opening up new insights, and uniformly spreading the testimony of faith,” CNAC 7.6.6 says, thus explaining what the authority of the keys consists of. “The Chief Apostle also lays down the order within the church.”

The Apostles as stewards of the mysteries of God, their authority to loose and bind, and the authority of the keys of the Chief Apostle: it is biblically established, and repeatedly so, that the apostolate has the mandate and the authority to lay down the order of the congregation and the church.

If the Apostles are to define the appropriate order for each period, then the question immediately arises, how has this been handled in the past? And why? We will explore these aspects in the upcoming parts of this series. And there will be a few surprises.

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Andreas Rother
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