PART TWO OF TWO
THE SIX MODELS
This chapter deals on how Dulles explains and discusses individual models of the church as part of an attempt to illuminate the mystery of the church.
THE CHURCH AS INSTITUTION
The image of the church as a ‘political society’ is that of the church as institution or organization, but in a rather extreme form. It is understood as a ‘perfect’ society, in that it is not subordinate to any other, and lacks nothing from an institutional point of view. This ‘political society’ model tends to highlight to excess the external and organizational features of the church by giving a one-sided emphasis to the church’s constitution or basic set-up, to its set of rules (canon law), to its governing body, and to the members of the church as subjects of the authority of its bishops, priests and deacons. While it makes much of the rights and powers of its officials, it tends to downplay the rights and entitlements of its other members.
This model dominated from the late Middle Ages until 1962, the start of the Second Vatican Council. An excessive focus on external structures, on the power and right of the few to command and on the duty of the many to obey, however, leads to ‘institutionalism’, ‘a system in which the institutional element is treated as primary’.( Dulles, 27) This is a type of ideology which draws lines of separation between the church that teaches and the church that is taught (overlooking the fact that the church that teaches must also be one that learns), between the church sanctifying and the church sanctified, between the church governing and the church governed. (Dulles, 30)
In the years and centuries during which this model was dominant, it served to give Catholics a strong sense of corporate identity and solidarity and a strong sense of institutional loyalty. (Dulles, 35)
Some features of this model are still important in a Catholic understanding of the church, such as the bonds of shared faith and beliefs, of shared prayer and sacraments, and of church leadership and government.
The weaknesses of this model include the following: It has little support in scripture and early church tradition, which suggest that the early church was anything but a single tightly-knit society and functioned in less authoritarian and more communitarian modes than this model suggests. (Dulles, 34)
Three defects flowing from it were identified at the Second Vatican Council. They are, first of all, clericalism, i.e. control, domination and even oppression by ordained persons, on the one hand, and passivity, blind obedience, and non-involvement of lay persons on the other.
Another defect identified is juridicism, i.e. an emphasis on law and order which tends to turn the gospel into laws and obligations with a corresponding lack of attention to relationships with God the Father, with Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, with fellow Christians and fellow human beings generally.
A third defect identified is triumphalism, i.e. lording it over others, and putting others down. Triumphalism places more importance on the prerogatives of authority stemming from valid institutional appointment, than on prayerful discernment in the appointees of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for ministry. An excessive emphasis on the hierarchy also tends to inhibit the role of theologians as the church’s think-tank. As a closed society, it is out of touch with the demands of the times. (Dulles, 37)
THE CHURCH AS A COMMUNION
Underlying this model is the conviction that the church is a community of interconnected persons. It therefore emphasizes relationships. Love, acceptance, forgiveness, commitment, and intimacy constitute the church’s very fabric. It is a community in which justice, peace and mutual love are realized and lived.
The strengths of this model include the following.
- It connects with the in-born need of every human being for sharing and intimacy.
- It is more democratic and less hierarchical than the previous one.
- It stresses the activity and gifts of the Spirit in all the members, and the dependence of all on the contributions of each.
- It is very ecumenical, since it accentuates the biblical images of the Body of Christ, the People of God, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, all of which are dear to the hearts of Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
- It harmonizes with the teachings of the great Doctors of the Church, Augustine and Aquinas, and of the Second Vatican Council, that the church is essentially a fellowship of the Holy Spirit, a shared communion (koinonia) of grace.
- It tends to revive Christian spirituality and the practice of prayer.42
- It is a reminder that the Holy Spirit both speaks to and inspires all kinds of persons in the church and not merely those ordained.
- It can and should challenge office-holders to discover, utilize and coordinate the many charisms among their people for the well-being of the whole community. As St Paul wrote: ‘Do not quench the Spirit…but test everything and hold fast to what is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).
- It is the ultimate basis of rich interpersonal relationships of love within warm, caring human communities. So much so that it represents ‘the fulfilment of the age-old dream of all humanity for union with God and fellow human beings in justice, peace, and joy’.
Weaknesses with this model of communion include the following:
- There is some obscurity about the relationship between the spiritual and the visible dimensions of the church.
- Secondly, with its strong focus on the connection of the church with the divine, it may give the impression that the church itself is as fully divine as Jesus, and be blind to the fact that across the board, the church is made up of human beings, who for that very reason are more or less weak, ignorant, sinful, inconsistent, unfaithful and unreliable.
- Thirdly, it does not provide any strong motivation for missionary work.
- Fourthly, there is some unresolved tension between the church as a network of friendly interpersonal relationships and the church as a communion of grace.
- Fifthly, to be wrapped up in the joy and blessing of Christian fellowship may mean forgetting the church’s mission as servant of the kingdom of God.
- Sixthly, members of close communities may feel at home only among themselves and regard others as outsiders and intruders.
THE CHURCH AS SACRAMENT
A sacrament is a sign, a particular kind of sign. A simple sign is merely a pointer to or an indicator of something else, usually of something absent. But a sacrament is a full sign, a sign of something or someone that is really present. So, in the first place, a sacrament is a sign of grace, i.e. a sign of the presence of Christ (acting in the Holy Spirit).
In order to bring together the external and internal aspects of the church into a satisfactory synthesis, many Catholic theologians have viewed the church as a sacrament. They reason that if Jesus Christ is the sacrament of God, the church is the sacrament of Christ. She represents him, not just because she continues his work on earth, but also because she is the continuation of his person. This is to say that the members of the church continue to be for others his body, mouth, eyes, ears, heart, hands and feet. Their responsibility is to bring people into contact with Christ and his Spirit.
As a sacrament itself, the church has both an outward and an inner aspect. The outward or structural aspect of the church is its external organization. That is essential, for without it the church would not be visible. (Dulles, 61) Its inner aspect is the presence of Christ (acting in the Spirit) within the faith, hope and love of the members of his body.
The strengths of this model include the following.
- It brings together the visible and the invisible dimensions of the church.
- It gives a boost to missionary work, by stressing that the community of the church is meant to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
- It can motivate its members to work together for God’s kingdom of unity, truth, love, integrity, justice, reconciliation, peace and joy.
Weaknesses with this model include difficulties in communicating it, at least at the popular level, and the fact that it has not been taken up much in Protestant life and thought. (Dulles, 67)
Another difficulty is that it does not offer concrete criteria for discerning, evaluating and judging the divine and the merely human features of the church. (Dulles, 67)
THE CHURCH AS HERALD
This model sees the church as gathered, formed and constituted by the proclamation of the word of God and its acceptance in faith. This model therefore sees the church as the herald of God’s word. It views the church as having received an official message and the commission to pass it on. ‘The basic image is that of the herald of a king who comes to proclaim a royal decree in a public square.’ (Dulles, 69)
Among the strengths of this model are the following:
- It is biblically-based in the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament63 and in the preaching in the New Testament of Peter, Paul and others.
- Secondly, it gives a clear sense of identity and mission to the church, and especially to the local church as a congregation heralding the good news of Jesus Christ. (Dulles, 76-77)
- Thirdly, it fosters a spirituality that emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the distance between God and human beings, (Dulles, 77) and God’s call in his word for repentance and reform of life.
A major weakness of this model includes the fact that it can be too wordy, and overlook or downplay the truth emphasized by Catholic Christians that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ,(Dulles, 77ff) and that he is still embodied in the church, his body on earth, and in its sacraments.
Another Catholic critique is that it focuses too exclusively on witness to the neglect of action. (Dulles, 79) It is too pessimistic in regard to human effort to cooperate with grace to build a better. human society (and even the kingdom of God on earth), and that it fails to recognise the duty of Christians to do so.
Lastly, it easily gives rise to biblical fundamentalism, one of the greatest threats to the gospel message today.
THE CHURCH AS SERVANT
The basic attitude that goes with this model is that the church is in the world, not over against the world, and that as part of the human family, it shares the concerns of other human beings. The image which best goes with this attitude is that of the church as servant.
- A particular strength of this model is that it saves the church from being turned in on itself, but rather turned out towards struggling and suffering human beings wherever they are.
- It sees the church as an agent of social change.
- It continues the activity of Jesus himself, whose heart was moved with compassion for all kinds of sick, broken and needy persons, and who frequently restored them to physical and mental health.
- It is backed by what Jesus says about works of mercy in his Parable of the Great Judgment (Mt 25: 31-46), ‘I was hungry…’
One suggested weakness is the inadequacy or ambiguity of the image of ‘servant’. It suggests work done under orders and not freely, work done for the good of others but not for oneself, and work that is humble and degrading. (Dulles, 91)
Another possible weakness is that in the NT the service (diakonia) mentioned is the service Christians give to one another.
THE COMMUNITY OF DISCIPLES MODEL
Dulles has added a chapter that he calls ‘The Church: Community of Disciples’. Implicitly, he appears to view this model as a kind of unifying thread running through the five previous models, and one that tends to bring them closer together.
This image and model is solidly grounded in scripture, in the action of Jesus in his public life of gathering around him a big group of followers, both men and women. (Dulles, 199 ff) Among those who followed in his footsteps were his chosen inner circle of close companions and co-workers, known as ‘the Twelve’. A new image has been born, one that emphasizes personal experience of Jesus Christ alive.
The discipleship model gives a real boost to evangelisation and service, the emphases of the fourth and fifth models.
Dulles stresses further that the discipleship model motivates the members of the church to imitate Jesus in their personal lives. (Dulles, 214)
He also suggests that the same qualities which make the church the sacrament of Christ also make it the community of disciples. Jesus Christ is really present in the community of disciples as in a sacrament.
But community of disciples is a somewhat better designation than sacrament, since the latter is somewhat impersonal and because it also suggests that the church is without defect.
Moreover, the idea of community of disciples has more support in Scripture than the church as sacrament. (Dulles, 215)
Like the other models, the community of disciples does have some weaknesses, ones which Dulles identifies, but at least partly refutes. (Dulles, 215ff) But it also has this strength that it calls attention to the radical break with worldly values that is required for fidelity to Jesus, and it does not conceal or play down the cost of following him, and of giving him first place in one’s life – above family, friends, property and personal ambition. (Dulles, 215-216) If this seems like ‘mission impossible’, the advice Dulles gives is particularly appropriate ‘Discipleship always depends upon a call or vocation from Christ, a demanding call that brings with it the grace needed for its own acceptance.’ (Dulles, 217)
Dulles continues: I repeat…that the community of disciples is only one perspective on the church. Other images and models, such as servant, sacrament, mystical body, and institution, are needed to remind us that the church is an organic and juridically organized community established by the Lord and animated by his Spirit. Through reflection on these models, we can continually enrich our understanding of discipleship itself. (Dulles, 226)
At the outset of this study, the researcher has a hypothesis in mind that there must be model or models that would best fit or apply into the present circumstances that the Church faces in her struggle to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the mystery of God relevant and significant. This idea of which model is relevant is conditioned by the circumstances that characterize and express the contemporary period like the surge of computer technology and cybernetics wherein people are drawn to the idea of making the whole world into a village, into a community. This new culture attracts more and more people to socialize even in an unreal way, in a virtual mode of interpersonal relationship.
But after evaluating and seeing all the models presented by Avery Dulles, the author still asks the question regarding the model or models which is/are the most relevant in this contemporary period. John Fuellenbach also asks the same question:
What image do we have of the church as the true bearer and carrier of Jesus’ own vision? Do we have an image of the church which can inspire people and provide them with an ideal with which they can identify and to which they can commit themselves with enthusiasm and lasting zeal?’ (John Fuellenbach, Church: Community for the Kingdom(Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 250-251)
But no answers to those questions will be adequate if we take into account the insistence of Dulles that no one model by itself is sufficient for an adequate understanding of the complex mystery of the church in all its dimensions. He has said: ‘In order to do justice to the various aspects of the church, as a complex reality, we must work simultaneously with different models. By a kind of mental juggling act, we have to keep several models in the air at once.’ (Dulles, 10) The different models must complement one another, and compensate for the deficiencies of each. (Dulles, 206) We cannot just select or choose one model’s salient and important features at the expense of other models’ salient and important features. This is for the main reason that
the models that have come into the fore…reflect the salient features of the Church of Christ as it exists at any time or place. Hence, by its very constitution, the Church is a communion of grace (Model 2) structured as a human society (Model 1). While sanctifying its own members, it offers praise and worship to God (Model 3). It is permanently charged with the responsibility of spreading the good news of the Gospel (Model 4) and of healing and consolidating the human community (Model 5). (Dulles, 204)
Benedict XVI.Light of the World: the Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times,translated byMichael Millerand AdrianWalker.California: Ignatius Press, 2010.
Gibbs, E. and Coffey,I., Church Next Quantum Changes in Christian Ministry. England: Inter- Varsity Press, 2001.
Dulles, Avery. Models of the Church.New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Fuellenbach,John. Church: Community for the Kingdom.Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2002