Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Equipping the People of God for Christian Witness - a Roman Catholic Account

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Equipping the People of God for Christian Witness - a Roman Catholic Account

Article excerpt

In their Message to Humanity, the participants of the Second Vatican Council gave the reason for their gathering: "We wish to inquire how we ought to renew ourselves, so that we may be found increasingly faithful to the Gospel of Christ" (Abbot 1966:3-4). Pope John XXIII, in his speeches preceding the council, spoke of letting fresh air into the church. He prayed for the Holy Spirit to cleanse the church of antiquated and un-gospel-like practices. He agonized lest the church remain irrelevant to the world and the problems of daily life. This issue of relevance has remained with the Roman Catholic Church (and what other church can excuse itself from the question?) ever since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Roman Catholics have to ask themselves continually whether the sixteen documents produced by the council have remained on a bookshelf or whether they have been translated into a different kind of church. To put it more concretely, if church life for the average parishioner has not changed, has not become more gospel-like and more related to humanity, then the council has not achieved its purpose.

True personal renewal is inspired and brought about by God's Word. If a church is to be renewed, this conversion experience needs to be reflected in changed structures at parochial level. Vatican II produced a renewed ecclesiology that is missiological in perspective. This gave rise to an enthusiastic acceptance by most Roman Catholics. The church's liturgies were rewritten, partnership with other churches became a regular occurrence and commitment to serving the needs of humanity became commonplace. This "phase of exuberance" (Kasper 1989:166f) has been followed by a time of disappointment when it seems to many that ecclesiastical authorities are talking of "business as usual" rather than engaging in the task of moving beyond the council. Indeed, many feel that the Vatican authorities are engaged in a deliberate move backwards to a monopolistic style of church leadership, thus negating the reforms of the council. In this article I shall reflect on one of the major changes in the Roman Catholic ecclesiology of the council, recall the implications of this for a renewed church and then describe a Southern African(1) effort at incarnating that vision in local church structures.

The people of God

Hans Kung (1967:107-260) has described how the council's ecclesiology is based on the three scriptural images: the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian foundation gives rise to a church of equals who are collectively responsible to Christ for the living out of their faith. The term laos was used in the Septuagint to refer to the whole people of Israel, who recognized that their existence was due to their election by God. In the New Testament laos is used for the church as well, insofar as it is seen as the new Israel. A problem enters when the word is translated as laity, who are then seen in contradistinction to the clergy. While there are different gifts and roles within the people of God, the use of the word laos in both Old and New Testaments "indicates rather the fellowship of all in a single community" (Kung 1967:116). In devoting an entire chapter in its document on the church to this image, the bishops of Vatican II were ushering in a new era for the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of beginning with a hierarchical description of the church, all the baptized are invited to see themselves first as one and equal.

The body of Christ

Those who believe and have been baptized are all "one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28) and are made by Christ "into his own body" (Flannery 1988:355). They are invited to partake of the Lord's supper, through which they enter into an intimate relationship with Christ and one another: "The church must be a meal-fellowship, a koinonia or communio; [it] must be a fellowship with Christ and with Christians, or it is not the Church of Christ" (Kung 1967:223). …

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