IV. Koinonia in the Life of the Church
"Koinonia" in the Life of God
Pentecostals and Roman Catholics recognize that believers have
a share in the eternal life which is koinonia with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 John 1:2-3), and
a communion in the Holy Spirit whom God's Son, Jesus Christ,
has given to them (cf. 1 John 3:24; 2 Cor 13:14). This,
the deepest meaning of the koinonia, is actualized at various
levels. Those who believe and have been baptized into Christ's
death (cf. Mark 16:16; Rom 6:3-4) have koinonia
in his sufferings and become like him in his death and resurrection
(cf. Phil 3:10). The next step is the Eucharist or the
Lord's Supper. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is
it not a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break, is it not a participation [koinonia]
in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16) All believers, furthermore,
who have koinonia in the eternal life of Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, and who have koinonia in Christ's death and
resurrection are bound together in a koinonia too deep
for words. We look forward to the day when we will also have
koinonia in his body and blood (1 Cor 10:16).
While both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals teach the indwelling
of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in the believer (cf.
John 17:21; Rom 8:9), the emphasis on the indwelling of the
Trinity in believers is more explicitly articulated in the Roman
Catholic faith than in that of the Pentecostals. The nature
of the language used to describe it is in need of further exploration
Together with Roman Catholics, most Pentecostals have a strong
commitment to the trinitarian understanding of God. They believe,
for instance, that at baptism the trinitarian formula should
be used because of Jesus' mandate: "Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).9
The Pentecostals do, however, feel challenged by Roman Catholics
to develop all the implications for faith and piety which their
full trinitarian commitment implies.
Church as "koinonia"
The importance of an active response to the gifts of God in
the service of koinonia requires mutuality in its many
dimensions. Some of these dimensions are the assumption and
sharing of responsibility, and a fuller participation in the
life of the local congregation. When Church members of whatever
rank act arbitrarily, without taking into account this sharing,
their actions obscure the expressions of communion. For Roman
Catholics and Pentecostals koinonia in the Church is
a dynamic concept, implying a dialogical structure of both God-givenness
and human response. Mutuality has to exist on every level of
the Church, its source being the continuing presence of the
Roman Catholics must often confess to a lack of mutuality at
the local and universal levels, even though mutuality is recognized
as a criterion for fellowship. Difficulties surrounding lay
participation in decision making processes, and the lack of
sufficient involvement of women in leadership, were examples
cited by participants in this dialogue. Roman Catholics, however,
would insist that order and hierarchy do not in themselves imply
such a defect in mutuality.
At the same time Pentecostals acknowledge both the reluctance
that many of their members have in submitting to ecclesial authority
and the difficulty which their charismatic leaders have in working
through existing ecclesial institutional channels which could
protect them from acting irresponsibly or in an authoritarian
The difficulties of some Pentecostals with their ecclesial institutions
stem in part from frequent emphasis on their direct relation
to the Spirit. They forget that the Spirit is given not only
to individual Christians, but also to the whole community. An
individual Christian is not the only "temple of the Holy
Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). Roman Catholics have rightly challenged
Pentecostals to think of the whole community, too, as a "temple
of God" in which the Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16). If Pentecostals
were to take the indwelling of the Spirit in the community more
seriously they would be less inclined to follow the personal
"leadings of the Spirit" in disregard of the community.
Rather they would strive to imitate the Apostles who, at the
first church council, justified their decision with the following
words: "... it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to
us..." (Acts 15:28).
In their theology, both Pentecostals and Roman Catholics see
themselves standing in a dependent relationship to the Spirit.
They acknowledge the need to invoke the Holy Spirit. In accordance
with this invocation they believe in the presence of God whenever
two or three are gathered in Christ's name (cf. Mt 18:20).
recognize that while there is an emphasis on holiness in the
Roman Catholic Church, they observe that it seems possible for
some Roman Catholics to live continuously in a state of sin,
and yet be considered members in the Church. This seems to the
Pentecostals to undermine the concept of Christian discipleship.
Though they are mindful of John's words that if "we say
we have not sinned, we make him (God) a liar" (1 John 1:10),
Pentecostals want to take seriously the warning of the same
apostle concerning the unrepentant sinner, namely that "no
one who sins has either seen him [the Father] or known him"
(1 John 3:6).
Catholics wonder how Pentecostals deal with the sins of their
own members. Do they have an adequate tradition of bringing
those who have fallen into sin into a process of repentance
and a sense of God's forgiveness? Without such a tradition how
can they avoid harshness when a sinner fails to live up to the
congregation's ideal of holiness?
bodies would do well to recall the scriptural warnings that
we must try to see the log in our own eye rather than the speck
in our brother's or sister's eye (cf. Mt 7:4). We should
reflect too, on the Lord's caution against trying to have a
wheat field from which all tares have been removed (cf.
"Koinonia" Sacraments, and Church Order
Catholics hold that a basic aspect of koinonia between
local churches is expressed in the celebration of the sacraments
of initiation, namely, by the same baptism, the same confirmation,
the same Eucharist. Moreover, the celebration of these sacraments
requires ordained ministers to preside,10
ordination being also a sacrament, i.e., an act of Christ in
the Spirit celebrated in the communion and for the communion
of the Church. Furthermore, according to the Catholic tradition,
only ordained ministers, principally the bishop, can preside
over a local church or diocese.
to Catholic understanding, koinonia is rooted in the
bonds of faith and sacramental life shared by congregations
united in dioceses pastored by bishops. Through their bishops,
the local churches are in communion with one another by reason
of the common faith, the common sacramental life, and the common
episcopacy. Among the fellowship of bishops, the Bishop of Rome
is recognized as the successor of Peter and presides over the
whole Catholic communion. Through their day to day teaching,
and more specifically through local and universal councils,
bishops have responsibility to articulate clearly the faith
and discipline of the Church. Church order is thus grounded
in the koinonia of faith and the sacraments; church order
is at the same time an active expression of koinonia.
Catholics hold that some existing ecclesiastical structures
(such as the office of a bishop) are "God given" and
that they belong to the very essence of church order rather
than serving only its well being.
Pentecostals disagree among themselves concerning how the Church
should best be ordered (the views range from congregational
to episcopal), they accept the full ecclesial status of the
churches ordered in various ways. Observing the diversity of
the church structures in the New Testament, they believe that
the contemporary Church should not be narrower in its understanding
of the church order than the sacred Scriptures themselves.
Pentecostals do not limit celebration of the sacraments and
leadership in the Church to the ordained ministers, they do
recognize the need for and the value of ordination for the life
of the Church. Pentecostals do not consider ordination to be
a sacrament. Ordinarily Pentecostals recognize that a charism
of teacher/pastor is recognized or can be given to a person
at the laying on of hands, but they do not consider that at
ordination the power of the Holy Spirit is bestowed to the person
being ordained. Instead, ordination is a public acknowledgment
of a God-given charism which a person has received prior to
the act of ordination.
Pentecostals observe what appears to be a "mechanical"
or "magical" understanding of the sacraments, especially
among Roman Catholic laity, and do not accept the grace-conveying
role of the sacraments distinct from their function as a visible
Word of God. Roman Catholic theology, however, maintains that
the sacraments are not "mechanical" or "magical"
since they require openness and faith on the part of the recipient.
In Catholic understanding, the grace of the sacraments is not
bestowed automatically or unconditionally, irrespective of the
dispositions of the recipient. What Paul says in 1 Cor 11:27
("profaning the body and blood of the Lord") is common
teaching in the Roman Catholic Church. Sacramental actions can
produce "shriveled fruit" as Augustine describes it,
when the recipients are not in right relation to the Lord.11
Furthermore, the efficacy of the sacraments is not dependent
upon the personal piety of those who minister them, but rather,
is ultimately dependent upon the grace of God.
believe that church order demanded by koinonia is not
satisfactorily expressed in some important aspects of Roman
Catholic ecclesiology. Even within the context of collegiality,
examples which seem to bear this out include those passages
where it is stated that "the episcopal order is the subject
of the supreme and full power over the universal Church' and
even more importantly, when it is stated that "the Roman
Pontiff has full, supreme, and universal power over the Church"
which "he can always exercise... freely" (Lumen
gentium, §22). On the whole, Pentecostals propose that
presbyteral and/or congregational ecclesial models express better
the mutuality or reciprocity demanded by koinonia.
Catholics are more inclined to see the Spirit operating through
certain ecclesial structures, although Pentecostals, too, recognize
that the Spirit may work through ecclesial structures and processes.
Roman Catholics and Pentecostals are troubled by the discrepancy
between the theology and the practice of their own parishes
The Church and Salvation
According to Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the Church can be
considered both a sign and an instrument of God's
work in the world. This formulation from the nineteenth century
is still very useful for understanding the role of the Church
in the world.
Church is a sign of the presence of God's saving power in the
world. It is also a sign of the eschatological unity to which
all peoples are called by God. It is to be this sign both through
its individual members and its gathered communities. Insofar
as Christians are divided from one another, they are a counter
sign, a sign of contradiction to God's reconciling purpose in
Church is also an instrument of God for announcing the saving
news of grace and the coming of God's kingdom. The Church is
God's instrument in making disciples of all nations by preaching
the Good News of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and baptizing
them (cf. Mt 28:19).
recent years, Roman Catholics have come to describe the Church
as "a kind of a sacrament" (Lumen gentium,
§1). This new insight is consistent with its past understanding
of the sacraments as signs and instruments of God's saving power.
Pentecostals do not accept the Roman Catholic understanding
of sacraments and the Roman Catholic view of the Church as "a
kind of sacrament," in their own way they do affirm that
the Church is both a sign and an instrument of salvation. As
the new people of God, the Church is called both to reflect
the reality of God's eschatological kingdom in history and to
announce its coming into the world, insofar as people open their
lives to the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. In Pentecostal
understanding the Church as a community is an instrument of
salvation in the same sense in which each one of its members
is both a sign and instrument of salvation. In their own way,
both the community as a whole and the individual members that
comprise it, give witness to God's redeeming grace.
(Footnote 6: A segment of Pentecostals known as "Oneness"
or "Jesus Name" Pentecostals are opposed to the
trinitarian formulation of the faith. Their view of God tends
toward modalism and the baptismal formula which they pronounce
is "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) instead
of the traditional trinitarian appeal to Matthew 28:19. Most
Pentecostals, however, strongly disagree with this position.)
between church order and ordained ministry presiding over
a community is well illustrated in the celebration of water
baptism, although in cases of necessity every Christian is
requested to baptize. Until 1923 even the deacons were not
allowed to be the ordinary ministers of baptism. Presently
bishops retain for themselves the baptism of adults and parish
priests must have their bishop's permission to perform such
The later distinction
made between "fruitful" and "unfruitful"
sacraments is another way by which the Roman Catholic teaching
asserts the same understanding.