Black on white: our concept of ministry is unfolding

The concept of ministry of the New Apostolic Church is becoming more and more concrete. This is reflected in the publication which the ministers of the Church around the world will be receiving over the next few days. This is not a revolution, but certainly an evolution.

A completely new concept? No, but for the first time ever, a uniform concept of ministry has been set forth. Until now, a uniform concept has never been formulated. Everything we do have in writing is fragmentary. With the Special Edition of the Divine Service Guide No. 3/2017 this will change. The 24-page publication includes explanations by the Chief Apostle and resolutions passed by the District Apostle Meeting.

Ministry and duties

The mission of the ministers is of course governed by the mission of the Church. In the past, the New Apostolic Church saw its primary purpose in sealing souls and protecting the believers from the influence of the outside world, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider explains. “Today we have a different understanding,” he points out. To start with, it is the mission of the Church to go to all people and teach the gospel and dispense the sacraments to them. Above all, the Church must make it possible for people to experience the love of God.

“Practising Christian love does not require a ministry,” the Chief Apostle makes clear. And the District Apostle Meeting formulated the following: all things that are done for the church through faith in Jesus Christ are a service in the church of Christ—that is, the community of all the baptised who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

Ministry and authority

Yet there are duties and functions in the church that are bound to a ministry and which incorporate specific spiritual powers. These range from the preaching of the gospel to acts of blessing to the administration of the sacraments and ordination. These functions, along with the requisite spiritual authority, are allocated to each of the three ministerial levels—Deacon, Priest, and Apostle—as has been done to date.

The status of the Deacon has been reinforced. Deacons not only have the authority to proclaim the word of God in pastoral care visits or to assist in divine services. They are also given the concrete ministerial authority to conduct a word service—that is, without Holy Communion—which begins with the invocation of the Trinity and concludes with the closing benediction.

Ministerial authority and ministerial mandate

As the “right to act and speak in the name of the triune God” ministerial authority is of a purely theological nature. In addition to this there is the ministerial mandate. It is primarily of a canonical nature and confers rights and obligations upon the minister which apply to a concrete area of activity. A “ministry is not a personal possession, but is always oriented to people, the congregation”.

If a minister moves outside the area for which his mandate applies, or if he retires, the ministerial mandate ends, but the ministerial authority does not. The minister can be reinstated in his new working area. A retired minister can be mandated to perform certain tasks such as celebrating Holy Communion with the sick and the aged. In the case of a resignation or dismissal, both the ministerial authority and the ministerial mandate expire.

Mandate and hierarchy

The Church of course also needs functions to lead and administer congregations, districts, and District Churches. “Even if these functions are entrusted to ordained ministers, they are not associated with their ministerial authority as such,” the Chief Apostle says.

Those who make organisational or financial decisions are therefore not acting in “the name of Jesus Christ and with the authority of Jesus Christ. However, every leader, on all levels of the Church, must decide and act in the mind and spirit of Christ!”

The relationship between ministry, character, and gifts

The Special Edition clearly rejects the notion that every ministry lends its bearer special characteristics upon ordination which he did not possess before. It should never be assumed that an ordination is the beginning of a kind of automatic process whereby someone who was not rhetorically talented suddenly becomes a brilliant speaker or whereby someone with little empathy suddenly develops a high degree of sensitivity.

These ideas have their roots in the doctrine of fourfold ministry (Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors). However, a binding ministerial hierarchy cannot be derived from this, it says in the explanations to the resolutions by the District Apostle Meeting. “If one looks at the overall testimony of the New Testament, it becomes apparent that Jesus—even while He was on earth—only instituted the Apostle ministry.”

The current publication is a first step. Many questions are still open. In the meantime, the District Apostle Meeting has made further decisions, which still need to be consolidated and processed. Further publications are planned.

Photo: Oliver Rütten

Article info