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Ecclesiology: Avery Dulles’ Six Models of the Church

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1 Ecclesiology: Avery Dulles’ Six Models of the Church
McQuaid Jesuit This presentation is based almost entirely on:

2 Questions to Consider What is the Church? Who is the Church?
Who founded the Church? What is the purpose of the Church? Avery Dulles, S.J.

3 The Church as Institution
This model of Church emphasizes the structure and order of the Church. Jesus says to Peter, “You are ‘Rock’, and on this rock I will build my Church. This model emphasizes the hierarchy of the Church. Clerics (Pope, bishops, priests, deacons) responsible to the laity for teaching (doctrine), sanctifying (administering sacraments), and ruling. This model of Church is evident in the NT in the Council of Jerusalem, when the Gentile Question was raised. But not to the extent it is today.

4 The Church as Institution
A strength of this model is a clear understanding of right and wrong. There are clear roles and guidelines for living the faith. A weakness of this understanding is that it can lead to legalism, and an overemphasis on law. Moreover, it can lead to difficulty among believers to sort out a priority of laws, or an understanding of the relative importance of laws.

5 Church as Communion/Community
This model of Church emphasized the community nature of the Church. In Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, he refers to the Church as the Body of Christ. A worshiping community of believers who by their faith become a sign and instrument of the union of God and humanity. This model emphasizes the notion that a parish is a family. The Acts of the Apostles alludes to this model when it discusses the community of believers being of one mind and heart, and sharing possessions in common.

6 Church as Communion/Community
The strength of this model is the creation of a strong sense of belonging. The community is warm and welcoming. The weakness of this model is that the community can so lack structure there is no sense of purpose or direction. There can be too limited a sense of belief in a certain set of principles. Over-emphasis on community can make the group stifling. Conflicts can be avoided in the name of belonging.

7 Church as Sacrament The Church is seen first and foremost as a visible sign of the presence of Christ in the world. The Church becomes the visible way Christ works in the world. “Christ is at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God's love for humans.” Emphasizes the visible (human) and invisible (spiritual) sides of the Church.

8 Church as Sacrament The strength of this model is the clear connection with a “Catholic way of seeing the world” sacramentally in signs and symbols. The weakness of this model is that it requires a high level of catechesis and theological education, not always readily apparent.

9 Church as Herald/Messenger
The Church is primarily the messenger of the Gospel. The Church is the voice, the announcer, of the Kingdom of God. The Church proclaims a new reality of peace, and a reign of God that is both already there and not yet fully realized. The members of the Church then are called to be the heralds of this Church.

10 Church as Herald/Messenger
The strength of this model is the heavy emphasis and understanding of proclaiming the gospel as an important part of the Christian life. A weakness of this model is that it can lead to a cerebral understanding of faith. Also, it can de-emphasize the visible nature of the sacramental life.

11 Church as Servant John Mandabach This model sees the Church as having a primary commitment to the creation of social justice, which is at the heart of the gospel mission. This is the action which underscores the importance of Jesus’ message of peace, justice, love, and reconciliation. This is the aspect where the Church understands its need to underscore the words of the gospel with the need to put those words into action.

12 Church as Servant The strength of this model is that the Church is filled with believers who live authentically their faith. Believers work for a better worlds where all receive the things they deserve. The weakness is that there can be such an emphasis on action, that a faith dimension is lost. The community can simply be a collection of activists with no distinctive belief in God or Jesus.

13 Church as Disciples The Church is seen as a community of people who follow Jesus. Not simply admiring Jesus, but striving, in everything they do, to imitate Jesus both in word and action. Knowing that Jesus suffered for his beliefs, they too know that suffering may be a part of their lives too. This understanding also includes personal and communal accountability.

14 Church as Disciples The strength of this model is a stronger sense of connection to Jesus, his mission, and other who believe. A weakness of this model is that it might still become too local, without a strong emphasis on the universal nature of the Church.

15 Synthesis The Church as Sacrament: founded by Christ, combing visible (human) with invisible (divine) dimensions. Baptism, Eucharist and other sacraments combine these elements. This leads to… Church as Community. Strengthened and called together by the sacraments, a community is created. This leads to… The Church as Herald. The community feels compelled to share the good news with others. Which leads to…

16 Synthesis The Church as Institution. A need to codify the beliefs of the community, so that the essential parts of the message are preserved. Which leads to… The Church as Servant. A community of believers compelled to put their beliefs into action. Which leads to… The Church as a Community of Disciples. Founded by Jesus, this Church strives to imitate more and more clearly the life of its founder.

17 Synthesis Which calls the Church more clearly to be the visible and invisible reality of its founder. This is best understood not as a circle, but as a spiral, leading us deeper and deeper into the mystery of Christ.

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