Sunday, May 11, 2008

Models of the Church

In 1974, Fr Avery Dulles (now Cardinal Dulles) published his book Models of the Church in which he described 5 ways of understanding the Church. Later, after the publication of this book, he added a sixth model to this list:
  • Institution (including a hierarchy of ministries, to continue Christ’s mission, and reflecting a need for order, unity and consistency of teaching).
  • Mystical communion (including our mysterious and intimate spiritual union with God and each other through the Body of Christ).
  • Sacrament (including the responsibility to be, as sacraments are, the visible presence of God on earth).
  • Herald (including the mission of the People of God, the baptised, to proclaim God’s Word).
  • Servant (including dialogue with society and assisting persons in a variety of needs).
  • A Community of Disciples (including Catholics’ sense of always being learners, being formed by the scriptures, acting lovingly, sharing in Jesus’ mission and service, and being co-responsible for the Church’s mission and identity).
The list of models / images above is quoted from The Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn - Adult Faith Education.
When I taught a Church history course to senior high school students, I would use these models to help them perceive that various understandings of the nature and mission of the Church could exist side by side and that they were not necessarily contradictory or mutually exclusive. In fact, a too great insistence on one model at the expense of others impoverishes our understanding.
The Web site has a quiz that you can take online to determine which of the first 5 models of the Church proposed by Dulles in his book best describes your image of the Church. Like all such quizzes, this one is not strictly scientific, but it does help provide a general sense of ones tendencies. The quiz takes only a few minutes to complete and you are then provided with a description of the predominant model of the church reflected by your answers and an indication of how the other 4 models rank in your mindset. Below are the results I obtained :

Related online Resources:
On the Web site of the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn: a handout on the Church as the Body of Christ, and the branches of the vine (PDF).
On the Resources for Catholic Educators Web site - Lesson plans focusing on images of the Church:
On Cardinal Dulles:

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