Ministry (13): Authority—with limits
Designated and ordained: the ordained minister is authorised to act and speak in the name of God. Nevertheless, these powers are anything but limitless.
The New Apostolic Church always understands ministry from the perspective of ministerial authority. And ministerial authority—so reads the official definition—“constitutes the right to act and speak in the name of the triune God, which is founded upon Jesus Christ and issued through the Apostle by way of ordination in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Not more than a share
This is based on the belief that Jesus Christ is sent by God and equipped with various powers, that the apostolate shares in the authority of Jesus Christ, and that the Apostles can likewise confer powers upon other ministers.
This already highlights the first limitation: the authority of the minister always exists in relationship to the one who authorises him. The authority bestowed can never be greater than the authority of the person bestowing it. Nor is this authorisation a sacrament that could not be reversed. Just as the authority can be conferred, it can also be withdrawn again.
The right to speak and act in the name of God incorporates various kinds of powers, namely the empowerment to preach God’s word, dispense the sacraments, proclaim forgiveness of sins, and dispense blessings. The differing measures of participation in these powers forms the basis of the ministerial structure of the New Apostolic Church.
The Bible is the standard
Upon ordination, the Deacon receives the authority to properly proclaim God’s word and to dispense the Trinitarian benediction, that is, to dispense blessing in the name of the triune God. The first power comprises the preaching of the gospel in divine service and the passing along of God’s word in pastoral visits. And the second power allows the Deacon to conduct a word service, which includes the invocation of the triune God at the start, and the Trinitarian benediction at the close.
The technical phrase “proper proclamation of the word” highlights a further limitation of ministerial authority. After all, the only “proper” preaching is that based on the words of Jesus Christ as attested in the New Testament. The sermon of the Apostles and all other ministers must therefore always be consistent with Holy Scripture. And in this context, all the essential aspects of the gospel are to be passed along. Above all, these include the death, resurrection, and return of the Lord.
Power and effect
The powers of the Deacon are also conferred upon the Priest. Here, however, the dispensation of blessing also extends to acts of blessing, such as confirmation or marriage. Beyond that, the Priest receives the authority to administer sacraments and proclaim the forgiveness of sins. The first of these involves Holy Communion and Holy Baptism with water, which includes the consecration of the elements—of bread and wine or water—as well as the actual dispensation of the sacraments. And the second power allows the Priest to proclaim the absolution by commission of the Apostle and in the name of Jesus Christ. After all, only God can actually forgive sins.
Using the example of Holy Communion, the Catechism reveals just how important this authority is: “Fully valid Holy Communion—the real presence of the body and blood of Christ—comes into being if it is supported by the power of the Holy Spirit and if the consecration of the elements of Holy Communion is performed on the basis of the authority issued by Apostles” (CNAC 220.127.116.11).
Neither always nor everywhere
All of these powers are also bestowed upon the Apostle at his ordination. In the process, the authority to dispense the sacraments is extended, as the Apostles not only dispense the sacraments to the living, but also the dead. Added to that, the Apostle also receives the authority to perform Holy Sealing, that is, the authority to dispense the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then there is also the authority to equip ministers—that is, the authority to ordain, whereby the Apostle passes along a portion of that which he himself has received.
Nevertheless, even here there are limits—after all, no minister can exercise his authority at all times and in all places. Why? That will be the focus of the next article in this series.
Sources for this article include the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church (long version as well as the Question-and-Answer version), a supplementary “Commentary to Chapter 7” of the CNAC, and Special Editions 03/2017, 04/2017, and 02/2019 of the Divine Service Guide, along with the training materials introducing the concept of ministry / Photo: antic - stock.adobe.com