Models of the Church

Models of the Church

by Avery Dulles

Welcoming this as a sign of vitality, Avery Dulles has carefully studied the writings of contemporary Protestant and Catholic ecclesiologists and sifted out six major approaches, or "models," through which the Church's character can be understood: as Institution, Mystical Communion, Sacrament, Herald, Servant, and, in a recent addition to the book, as Community of Disciples.

"The method of models or types," observes Cardinal Dulles, "can have great value in helping people to get beyond the limitations of their own particular outlook and to enter into fruitful conversation with others...

  • Language: English
  • Category: Religion
  • Rating: 3.97
  • Pages: 304
  • Publish Date: August 1st 1991 by Image
  • Isbn10: 0385133685
  • Isbn13: 9780385133685

Read the Book "Models of the Church" Online

Richard Neibuhr in Christ and Culture in proposing five models for the church: institutional, communion, sacramental, herald, and servant.

His eminence examines Roman Catholic ecclesiology through five different models: Church as Institution, Mystical Communion, Sacrament, Herald, and Servant. A side note, Cardinal Dulles was a convert to Roman Catholicism.

Dulles presents 5 distinct models for understanding the Church: the Church as Institution, as Communion, as Sacrament, as Herald and as Servant. No good eccelsiologist is exclusively committed to a single model of the Church." Dulles uses the five models to get beyond the eccelsiological polarities that are commonly pointed out, such as "protestant vs. Being 'catholic', this Church must be open to all God's truth, no matter who utters it. I hope I have succeeded in being both." In Chapter One, "The Use of Models in Ecclesiology", Dulles begins with a classic Reformation-era quote from Robert Bellarmine: "The one true Church is the community of men brought together by the profession of the same Christian faith and conjoined in the communion of the same sacraments, under the government of the legitimate pastors and especially the one vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman pontiff." Dulles points out that Bellarmine's tripartite definition of the Church (true faith, communion in the sacraments and submission to legitimate pastors) is entirely in terms of visible elements. It is a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God. It lies, therefore, within the very nature of the Church to be always open to new and ever greater exploration." Dulles notes that rather than defining the Church, the Second Vatican Council emphasized instead the various Biblical images used to describe the Church: "the building raised up by Christ, the house of God, the temple and tabernacle of God, his people, his flock, his vine, his field, his city, the pillar of truth, and finally, the Bride of Christ, his Mystical Body." Dulles points out that images "convey a latent meaning that is apprehended in a nonconceptual, even a subliminal, way." Hence they can have the power of symbols, which "transform the horizon's of man's life, integrate his perception of reality, alter his scale of values, reorient his loyalties, attachments and aspirations, in a manner far exceeding the powers of abstract, conceptual thought." Dulles goes on to say "In order to win acceptance, images must resonate with the experience of the faithful. If they do so resonate, this is proof that there is some isomorphism between what the image depicts and the spiritual reality with which the faithful are in existential contact." Dulles quotes Paul Minear: "If an unauthentic image dominates the Church's consciousness, there will first be subtle signs of malaise, followed by more overt tokens of communal deterioration. Dulles points out that the use of models in theology follows their use in the physical sciences to provide a framework for understanding something that is beyond direct experience. A model is accepted if accounts for a large number of biblical and traditional data and accords with what history and experience tell us about the Christian life." On the other hand the exploratory use of models refers to "their capacity to lead to new theological insights. Where the result is inner turbulence, anger, discord, disgust, distraction and the like, the Church can judge that the Spirit of Christ is not a work. We assess models and theories, therefore, by living out the consequences to which they point." Dulles refers to the expression of this idea in Paul VI's first encyclical, Eccelsiam suam: "The mystery of the Church is not a mere object of theological knowledge; it is something to be lived, something that the faithful soul can have a kind of connatural experience of, even before arriving at a clear notion of it." Dulles expands on this in his own words, "The Church exists only as a dynamic reality achieving itself in history, and only through some kind of sharing in the Church's life can one understand at all sufficiently what the Church is." These quotes on verification draw me to reflect on my own experience of the Church, particularly on my decision to enter the Catholic Church. Dulles does not elaborate on how to discern when this sense of inner turbulence and discord is a sign that Christ is not at work in what one is being confronted with, versus when it is a sign that one's self is not being docile to the Spirit. I have been gratified to learn that most of the images of the Church that I reacted strongly against and became depressed over are aspects of the institutional model of the Church that Avery Dulles presents as unhelpful consequences of a model that has some positive aspects but that has been pushed beyond its useful limit. Even though one is not required today to renounce Protestant Christianity as heresy in order to enter the Catholic Church, the process of entry still is presented as one of making a distinct choice for Catholicism over Protestant Christianity. Given the lack of consensus among theological scholars on the "truth" of the Catholic versus Protestant views of Christianity, it seemed impossible to me that I would ever find some intellectual basis that had escaped the attention of scholars for choosing one church tradition over another. The only avenue accessible to me seemed to be to discern which church community would best facilitate my growth in faith, hope in charity, and my ability to grow in love of God and neighbor. Thus began another radical experiment with my life, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic mode of Christianity by "living out the consequences to which they point." Ok, getting back to Chapter 1 of Models of the Church: Dulles notes the period of rapid change in which we live and have lived for the past century or so. For several centuries after the Reformation, the Catholic Church "was so exclusively presented on the analogy of the secular state that this model became, for practical purposes, the only only one in Roman Catholic theological currency." This began to change in the 1940's with new emphasis on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Vatican II made ample use of the models of the Body of Christ and the Sacrament, but its dominant model was rather the People of God. This paradigm focused attention on the Church as a network of interpersonal relationships, on the Church as community. This model has increased the Catholic Christian's sense of solidarity with the whole human race in its struggles for peace, justice and prosperity." In commenting on the succession of new models that have arisen for the Church, Dulles notes that "the new paradigms have in fact cleared up certain problems not easily solved under the predecessors. The Servant model has become popular because it satisfies a certain hunger for involvement in the making of a better world-- a hunger that, although specifically Christian in motivation, establishes solidarity between the Church and the whole human family." Dulles also notes the difficulties presented by such rapid recent changes in perspectives on the Church.

Our views of and attitudes towards the church, especially within the evangelical quarter, are dismissive, overly casual, and not well informed.

Roman Catholic theologian Avery Dulles provides a helpful and easily comprehended system of models to help understand the churchs purpose and mission. Dulles carefully realizes the utility and the limitation of models, and within that careful limitation provides a five-point typology based on comprehensive scriptural, historical, and theological research. Using Dulles models as exploratory orientation points would, for example, go a long way toward explaining how conversations in the United Methodist and Mennonite churches over LGBTQ inclusion are really talking past each other about polity and ecclesiology.

Nevertheless, the book remains an important contribution to understanding operative assumptions in different Christian denominations views of the church and offers a helpful historical exposition of these key themes.

Dulles was born in Auburn, New York, the son of future U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (for whom Washington Dulles International Airport is named) and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles. Foster and great-uncle Robert Lansing also served as U.S. Secretary of State.