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Posted February 13, 2008

Book: A Guide to the Church: Its Origin and Nature, Its Mission and Ministries
Author: Lawrence B. Porter
Alba House. N.Y. 2007. Pp. 442

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In 28 concise chapters and 2 appendices, this book acquaints the reader with such basis concepts as biblical images of the Church, contemporary models of the Church, the classical “marks” of the Church, etc. here too, ware explanations of the mission of the Church., its origin and aim, and the peculiar dynamics of the home and foreign missions. The origin and development of the Church’s historic ministries of bishop, priest, deacon, religious orders and lay ministry are set forth. There are also chapters on the history and theology of Church/State relations, the Church’s relationship to the kingdom of God and other religions, the concept of the Church as a communion, and such disputed questions as the origin of the Church, and the history of women and ministry among others. Each chapter concludes with suggestions for further reading. The author, a Catholic priest and theologian, is sensitive to the ecumenical dimension of these themes, and thus considers the witness of the entire Christian tradition, Protestant and Orthodox as well as Catholic.

An Excerpt from the Book:

A Biblical Image of the Church: Jesus’ Sheep with Shepherd

This chapter is given over to our consideration of one particular image of the Church, an image of the Church that has its origin in the preaching and teaching of Jesus himself. The image I refer to is that of “Sheep with Shepherd.” My choice of this image needs little defense. I chose this image for two reasons, both because of its indisputable historical importance and its current problematic status. “Sheep with Shepherd” is possibly the most abundant image of the Church in the New Testament. It is found not only in all four Gospels but also in Acts, several of the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, 1 Peter and the Book of Revelation. Moreover, from the beginning of the Christian movement this image of sheep with shepherd has shaped the very character of the Church, the Christian assembly, as not merely a casual and amorphous gathering of people, a crowd, but an organized indeed strategic and disciplined assembly (the strategic character of the Christian assembly will be treated in the section on mission). And thus it is no aesthetic caprice or theatrical indulgence that long ago it became traditional for the principal pastoral leaders in the Catholic Church, bishops, to carry a shepherd’s staff as a symbol of their office. Moreover, in almost all Christian assemblies today we can observe the distinction between “pastor” and “congregation,” English words that are derived from Latin and Greek originals meaning, shepherd and flock.

But, despite its venerable antiquity, today, “Sheep with Shepherd” is a highly problematic image. This is due to its ability to both attract and repulse: attract some and repulse others. I cannot help but think most people are deeply offended at the suggestion that as followers of Christ they are a herd of dumb animals who must be led, even corralled. This reaction is especially so for members of modern democratic societies wherein general education has achieved a high level. On the other hand, I feel equally certain that even in modern democratic societies there is yet a small but appreciable number of Christians who find this image rather attractive. Some probably take a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure from this image because they see in it a precise depiction of their own talents and objectives, that is, they are convinced they themselves would make good leaders and they know precisely the direction in which the “flock” should be going. I hope to show that while there is some measure of truth in these two opposing reactions, both of these responses are little more than superficial reactions to the image of Sheep with Shepherd, reactions that can only be tempered by a deeper understanding of this image.

. . .Sheep have a measure of intelligence: for example, sheep have a well-developed sense of weather; in bad weather they naturally seek shelter, and in hot weather they readily hunt for shade. Also they forage easily for themselves, that is, they recognize good pasturage and will readily go to it. And this should serve as a warning to pastors: while one sheep might occasionally get distracted and wander off, if many wander off it is probably a sign of poor pasturage — inane homilies, insipid music, indifferent liturgies.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: The Church: Its Origin and Nature

1. The church as a form of community

2. The church as sacred assembly

3. The origin of the church

4. The church and the kingdom of God

5. Models of the church

6. A biblical image of the church: Jesus’ sheep with shepherd

7. More biblical images of the church: people of God and Body of Christ

8. An image of the church from three North African theologians

9. Introduction to the essential attributes of the church

10. The unity of the church

11. The holiness of the church

12. The Church’s Catholic character

13. A church that is apostolic

14. The church is a communion

Part II: The Church: Its Mission and Ministries

15. The mission of the church: its origin and content

16. The home mission: biblical portraits

17. The foreign mission: Paul’s inculturation of the gospel

18. The church and other religions

19. Church and state

20. Introduction to the concept of ministry

21. The ordering of Christian ministries

22. Promotion to ministry

23. Priestly ministry

24. Diaconal ministry

25. The Petrine ministry

26. The teaching ministry

27. Women and ministry

28. The ministry of a consecrated life