STRUCTURES OF MINISTRY
29. We have reflected on the structure of ministry in the Church. An examination of the New Testament evidence and of subsequent history shows that the Church has always needed a God-given ministry. From the written data alone it cannot be ascertained with certainty whether the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter, deacon, which developed from the New Testament (cf. Dublin Report, no. 83) was established in the first century. It is acknowledged that it became generally established in the second and third centuries and was clearly universal in the same post-New Testament period in which the Scriptural canon was established and the classical creeds were formed. Roman Catholics and some Methodists would see a similarity in these three developments under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But we are not agreed on how far this development of the ministry is now unchangeable and how far loyalty to the Holy Spirit requires us to recognize other forms of oversight and leadership that have developed, often at times of crisis or new opportunity in Christian history. Practically, however, the majority of Methodists already accept the office of bishop, and some Methodist Churches that do not have expressed their willingness to accept this for the sake of unity.
30. A stable pattern of ordained ministry (e.g. the threefold one) has never prevented a variation of the ways pastoral care has actively been exercised, and there is no reason to suppose that such flexibility will cease when Methodists and Catholics are united in faith, mission and sacramental) life.
31. Unity in faith, mission and sacramental life can be achieved only on an apostolic basis. As the Dublin report already recognized, "We all agree that the Church's apostolicity involves continuous faithfulness in doctrine, ministry, sacrament and life to the teaching of the New Testament" (84). At present, however, we differ in the account we give of the apostolic succession. For Roman Catholics the graded threefold ministry is derived from the teaching of the New Testament through the living tradition of the Church. The succession in ministry is guaranteed by episcopal laying-on of hands in historical succession and authentic transmission of the whole faith within the apostolic college and the communion of the whole Church (cf. Dublin Report, no. 85). "Methodists ... preserve a form of ministerial succession in practice and can regard a succession of ordination from the earliest times as a valuable symbol of the church's continuity with the church of the New Testament, though they would not use it as a criterion" (Dublin Report, no. 87).
32. In Roman Catholic teaching (see Vatican II, Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 18-29), bishops are ordained to the fulness of the Sacrament of Order for a pastoral and priestly ministry which is responsible for the authentic teaching of the truths of salvation, and for the rule of the Churches entrusted to them. Therefore, as successors of the apostles, they preach the Gospel and preside at the celebration of the Sacraments, fostering the unity of the People of God in a given place, that the Church may increase to the glory of God. In collegial communion with fellow bishops and with the Bishop of Rome they cement and express the bond of the universal fellowship.
33. Broadly speaking, there are in World Methodism two basic patterns of church government, one deriving from North America, and one from Britain. From its inception American Methodism has been episcopal in constitution, not claiming apostolic succession in the sense of the Roman Catholic Church but laying stress on the teaching, preaching, pastoral, sacramental and governing aspects of the episcopal office. British Methodism has a single order of ordained ministry and in those churches which have followed the British pattern episkope (pastoral oversight) is exercised through the Conference and, by authority of the Conference, is shared among chairmen of districts and superintendent ministers. The British Methodist Church did not in its origin reject episcopacy, but developed without it because of the historical circumstances of its origin. In recent years it has expressed the willingness in principle to embrace episcopacy, for it has done so in certain reunion schemes outside Britain and was willing to do so in England in certain schemes which did not eventually succeed.
34. Both Roman Catholics and Methodists believe that episkope of the churches is a divinely given function. The Roman Catholic Church and many Methodist Churches express episkope through bishops. It is the belief of the Roman Catholic Church and these Methodist Churches that for the exercise of their ministry the bishops receive special gifts from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying-on of hands.
35. Methodist Churches which have an ordained ministry but do not have bishops, believing them not to be essential to a Church, have considered adopting them as an enrichment of their own life and to promote the unity of Christians; such bishops would be a focus of unity and a sign of the historic continuity of the Church.
36. It is Roman Catholic teaching that "to ensure the indivisible unity of the episcopate, [Jesus Christ] set St Peter over the other apostles" (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 18) as a "fundamental principle of unity of faith and communion" (ibid.). This is basic to Catholic belief in the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This primacy is exercised in a collegial relation with the other bishops of the Church and finds a privileged expression in Councils of the Church.
37. For Methodists the concept of primacy is unfamiliar, even if historically John Wesley exercised a kind of primacy in the origins of the Methodist Church. In his day this was carried out in the context of his Conference of preachers; today's Conference continues to embody certain elements of this function.
38. Since Catholics and Methodists have committed themselves to seeking full unity in faith, mission and sacramental life, we now have to turn to questions of the Petrine office and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.