Who Asked for Your “Two Cents”?

The Church did! We’ve all heard the expression, “When I want your two cents, I’ll ask for it.” This of course is referring to our opinion. That is, exactly what the early Church wanted during the New Testament times. Well, not “exactly” because Christian communities always consulted those who followed Jesus which implied that the disciples were relying on more than their own opinion but rather on the Spirit to inspire them with the wisdom of God. Their “sense of faith” or Sensus Fidei was needed for input and decision making much like the Church uses synods of bishops and councils to help with doctrines, creeds, and worship rituals and norms. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” It’s obvious from that passage that everyone had input into the Church’s administration of ministries and duties in conjunction with “The Way of Jesus”.

Another example concerns the early Church dispute about whether or not to mandate the circumcision of the gentiles who were becoming followers of Jesus. Paul and Barnabus wanted help with their ministry in Antioch to address this issue.  “Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” Acts 15: 22

In the first five centuries, the characterization of a local church as “apostolic” pointed to its whole life: its Scriptures, sacraments and liturgy, authorized leaders, moral norms, ecclesiastical discipline and polity, interaction with pagan culture, socialization of its members, and its explicit beliefs. Historically, the common teaching in the Church saw an active role of all the faithful in determining Christian belief. The whole community attested to the apostolicity of the faith. Though the bishops increasingly taught with authority and defined the emerging orthodox synthesis at synods and general councils, the concrete life of the community was always considered and the faithful were routinely consulted.

Two theological terms have come to express the understanding that all believers participate in elaborating Christian truth: sensus fidei and sensus fidelium. The first refers to the Christian’s possession of the fundamental truth of his faith. The second refers to his role in actively defending and elaborating that faith.

So, yes, the Church wants your “two cents” or wants to get a “sense” of what you believe in accordance to the Spirit’s inspiration based on the Word of God. It is NOT your opinion but your faith- your confidence in the guidance of the Spirit.

The belief of the faithful proved decisive in determining the canon of Scripture, the full and unquestioned divinity of Christ, Mary’s virginity and her title of Mother of God, baptismal theory and practice, the necessity of grace, the veneration of the saints, etc. The faithful played no minor role in helping to decide doctrines as well as matters of praxis.

The current authoritarian, patriarchal structure of clericalism in the Church, with deacons, priests, and bishops, all males, as the clergy and adding honorary positions or titles of monsignor, or “cardinal” wasn’t exactly what Jesus or the early Church intended.

Let’s review the actual structure of the early Church communities of the disciples of Jesus. First, we go the Acts 2 to understand the communal aspect of the Church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Acts 2: 42-47

Jerusalem had an early Christian community, which was led by James the Just, Peter, and John. According to Acts 11:26, Antioch was where the followers were first called Christians. Peter was later martyred in the Church of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. Then, as now, there were disputes about the leadership in the Church and Paul went to Corinth to address such a debate.

“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1Cor 12  “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human” (1 Cor 3:5), because “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1 Cor 3:6)? Paul’s conclusion is that we are nothing but vessels that God uses to bring people to Christ, or as Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6).

The influence of the faithful was somewhat diminished in the Latin Church after the fall of the Roman empire in the West, but it continued to exercise an active role in the Church’s life. By then, Church had adopted the structure of the Roman Empire to avoid any incrimination that it was reactionary or a part of any outside group that chose to oppose Rome. The early Church reflected, or ‘mimicked’, the organization of the Empire, with the ecclesiastical structure being headed by Constantine, who appointed the bishops. Historically, the church changed its governance structures to match changes in civil society.  

If we go back to the New Testament times and search the scriptures we can conclude that: the writers of the New Testament never referred to anyone as a “priest” except for Jesus, There was mention of a priesthood but it pertained to the whole community which was the Body of Christ. For Peter wrote: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1Pt 2:9

There were various positions or ministries that each community or Church needed and therefore appointed members to meet those needs: “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.”1Cor 12:28 and again in Ephesians 4:11- “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”.

There were two titles or positions that the early Church created. One was the presbyter or elder and the other was the episkopos or overseer. The former position was filled by each community choosing one and the latter was usually designated by elders from various representative communities. Today, we might call them pastors, and bishops in that order. 

Though the influence of the faithful was somewhat diminished in the Latin Church after the fall of the Roman empire in the West, it continued to exercise an active role in the Church’s life. However, the struggle to eradicate the practice of lay investiture, the reforms of Gregory VII, and a general tendency toward viewing social reality in more juridical categories and to impose more institutional forms on the life in the Church resulted in a depreciation of the gifts and contributions of the laity.

Martin Luther posts the Ninety-five Theses, propositions for debate concerned with the question of indulgences

By the Reformation, the clergy were so powerful and authoritarian that many protested and Protestantism was born. With the exception of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches, most denominations rely on the elders of the Church to recruit and appoint pastors and bishops. In the Catholic Church, the laity has no input or contributing say in the process.

The second Vatican council’s focus on what the Church itself was and how it related to the larger world necessarily involved a deeper appreciation of all believers in the Church. The laity in particular needed to be reminded of their inherent dignity and of their contribution to the building up of God’s kingdom. The council spoke of all the faithful participating in the offices of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. Baptism into Christ means that each believer can claim to exercise these offices. The council also spoke of the Holy Spirit imparting the gift of faith and bestowing charisms on each Christian. A positive, active, and dynamic understanding of the believer emerged. The teaching of the sensus fidelium in particular helped clarify the prophetic duty of the believer to proclaim the word of God. The laity was challenged to deepen their understanding of the faith by prayer, study, discussion, and committed action. The ambit of their intellectual penetration is not restricted solely to secular matters, though in those matters, obviously the laity have an especial contribution to make and in such matters they speak with particular authority. On matters of faith and morals, too, they are called to fulfill their prophetic task in communion with their leaders.

In October, Pope Francis will open a three-year synodal journey with three phases (diocesan, continental, universal) of consultations and discernment, culminating with the assembly in October 2023 in Rome. “One listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit.” says  Salvatore Cernuzio,from the Vatican News Office. “Each particular Church of the five continents, following a three-year itinerary divided into three phases: diocesan, continental and universal and 

Scheduled for October 2023 in Rome.

Each bishop, before October 2021, will appoint a diocesan representative as a point of reference and liaison with the Bishops’ Conference; the Conference, in turn, will appoint a representative or team to coordinate with the General Secretariat of the Synod”. ”The diocesan discernment will culminate in a “Pre-Synodal Meeting.” The contributions will be sent to their own Episcopal Conference. The bishops, gathered in assembly for a period of discernment, will make a synthesis which they will send to the General Secretariat of the Synod. This first stage will be completed by April 2022. 

Thus, the first year of the three-year Synod will be complete. “The next phase will focus on the Church dioceses in each Continent. The aim is to engage in a dialogue on the Instrumentum laboris. At the end of their discussions, each continental grouping will draft a final document, which they will send to the General Secretariat in March 2023.” The Secretariat will then draft a second Instrumentum laboris, based on the responses. The publication is planned for June 2023, the Universal phase will be held by the bishops of the world in Rome and the synodal journey will culminate in October 2023 with the celebration of the Assembly of Bishops in Rome.

The Pope has appointed a woman as an undersecretary to the Synod of Bishops for the first time. Sister Nathalie Becquart, who is from France, will have voting rights in the body, which advises the pontiff and debates some of the most controversial issues in the Roman Catholic Church. Sr. Becquart has worked with the synod as a consultant since 2019. The body’s secretary-general, Cardinal Mario Grech, said the appointment showed that “a door has opened”.

“If we find ourselves alienated from the sensus fidei as it has been understood through the centuries, there is surely work to be done. But, not all the work rests with the hierarchy. This accessible document from The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an important document that helps us understand our work as lay faithful and the first task, surely, is to make sure that we are, literally, faithful, full of faith.” writes Michael Sean Winters in the NCR Jun 30, 2014







Chapter One: The sensus fidei in Scripture and Tradition

1. Biblical teaching

a) Faith as response to the Word of God

b) The personal and ecclesial dimensions of faith

c) The capacity of believers to know and witness to the truth

2. The development of the idea, and its place in the history of the Church

a) Patristic period

b) Medieval period

c) Reformation and post-Reformation period

d) 19th century

e) 20th century

Chapter Two: The sensus fidei fidelis in the personal life of the believer

1. The sensus fidei as an instinct of faith

2. Manifestations of the sensus fidei in the personal life of believers

Chapter Three: The sensus fidei fidelium in the life of the Church

1. The sensus fidei and the development of Christian doctrine and practice

a) Retrospective and prospective aspects of the sensus fidei

b) The contribution of the laity to the sensus fidelium

2. The sensus fidei and the magisterium

a) The magisterium listens to the sensus fidelium

b) The magisterium nurtures, discerns and judges the sensus fidelium

c) Reception

3. The sensus fidei and theology

a) Theologians depend on the sensus fidelium

b) Theologians reflect on the sensus fidelium

4. Ecumenical aspects of the sensus fidei

Chapter Four: How to discern authentic manifestations of the sensus fidei

1. Dispositions needed for authentic participation in the sensus fidei

a) Participation in the life of the Church

b) Listening to the word of God

c) Openness to reason

d) Adherence to the magisterium

e) Holiness – humility, freedom and joy

f) Seeking the edification of the Church

2. Applications

a) The sensus fidei and popular religiosity

b) The sensus fidei and public opinion

c) Ways of consulting the faithful


123. Problems arise when the majority of the faithful remain indifferent to doctrinal or moral decisions taken by the magisterium or when they positively reject them. This lack of reception may indicate a weakness or a lack of faith on the part of the people of God, caused by an insufficiently critical embrace of contemporary culture. But in some cases, it may indicate that certain decisions have been taken by those in authority without due consideration of the experience and the sensus fidei of the faithful, or without sufficient consultation of the faithful by the magisterium.[137]

Let your pastor, your bishop and even the Pope @Pontifex know your “sense of faith” that you have prayed over in consultation with your reflection on the Word of God.

The Early Church
The Church in the 21st Century

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
This entry was posted in Church History, Discipleship, Ecclesiology. Bookmark the permalink.

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