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The views presented in the following papers are those of the Issues Group and are not necessarily representative of the people of St. Aloysius Parish nor the Roman Catholic Church.

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Catholic Issues: The Church Today

What did Jesus say about "Church?"

In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 16: 15-19, Christ asked the Apostles, "Who do you say I am?" It was Simon Peter who answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

 

The above passage is one of only two instances that Jesus even mentions the word church throughout the Gospels. The second instance is also found in Matthew. In chapter 18:17 in Jesus discourse to his disciples on handling a community member who has separated himself from the community and refuses to listen, Jesus said, " If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." The disciples are told in Chapter 18:18 that God will stand behind their decisions. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. And he further adds "Again I tell you, if two of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by my Father in heaven. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst."

In the first passage mentioned above, Jesus was speaking to Peter acknowledging his confession of faith and his leadership as head of the apostles. Further, it appears that Peter was single handedly granted extraordinary power. Indeed, this passage over the centuries, taken out of context, has been used and abused over and over again by the church hierarchy, most notably the papacy, as a justification for wielding incredible power over temporal rulers and people of the church. This will be covered further in the paper on "Papal Infallibility."

 

The traditional conservative Catholic point of view, held by most Catholics up until Vatican II, believed that in this passage, Jesus made Peter the head of the church, or Pope. Further, Jesus established the institutional church more or less as we know it, leaving behind instructions for a monarchical organization with the Pope as supreme head, a college of cardinals, a series of doctrines and liturgies, seven sacraments and a library of laws. In essence, the church was the institution, the hierarchy.

No one will ever know for certain what Jesus actually said, but it does not appear from reading the Christian Scriptures that he laid out in detail any type of new religious organization. If such were the case, we would see a uniform organizational structure in the infant New Testament church and there is none. In fact, establishing a new "elect" would probably have been detrimental to Jesus' work because it would have appeared that he was founding a separate synagogue, a sure way to minimize his following. Also, remember that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law - the perfect Jew. However, he did not address himself to a select group, but to all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus revealed who God is and who we are. He did not say that one must be a member in the company of his disciples in order to be saved; only that the one who does the will of his Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of God.

 

Some believe that Jesus did not intend a church because he expected that the Kingdom of God was imminent within his own lifetime. When this didn't materialize, he figured it would come shortly following his death. The disciples felt the second coming (parousia) was near and would occur during their lifetimes as well. When it became apparent that the second coming was not so near at hand, they then set about establishing some sort of an organization. Others believe that Jesus only taught a way of life and it was his followers who established the church following his death.

 

Regardless, somehow the church issued forth from Jesus and is identified with him. Jesus laid the foundation for a church. He gathered around him a group of disciples who participated in his healing power and teaching. Jesus anticipated a period of time would elapse between his death and his final coming and he did intend his disciples to carry on his work together. In his farewell to his disciples at the last supper, Jesus gave the Eucharist, the leadership of the twelve over the church, and the true meaning of Christian leadership as service (illustrated by washing the feet of his disciples) and not dominion.

 

Since we have been discussing "church," just what does this word mean as referred to in the Scriptures. Initially the word had no religious connotation at all. It comes from the Greek word Ekklesia which referred to the assembly of free, voting citizens in a city. When the Hebrew Scriptures were written in Greek, it was used to refer to the congregation of Israel. In the beginning the Christian community did not think of itself as separate from Judaism. It was only after the admittance of Gentiles to the community that the distinction between Judaism and the Ekklesia became sharpened and divisive.

 

The first Christian community was the Church of Jerusalem. As the early disciples evangelized, more and more communities sprang up in Samaria, Damascus, Antioch, Corinth and eventually on to Rome. All of the very early churches shared some basic, common elements; 1) Belief in Jesus, 2) Practice of baptism, 3) Celebration of the Eucharist, 4) Apostolic preaching and instruction, 5) Regard for love of community, 6) And expectation of the Kingdom of God. There was no uniform structure in the New Testament church, although there was some order. For example, there were leadership roles, and the churches looked to the church in Jerusalem for direction and as a model. We do not have any specific information that delineated what roles were taken by men and women. If anything, it would be indicated that leaderhip was assigned without gender concern to those who had such ability. All of the offices and ministries were for the sake of service (as portrayed by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples) and not for power and domination. Peter, mentioned more frequently than any other apostle except for Paul, was held in very high esteem and was apparently recognized as the head of the Church in Jerusalem.

The New Testament says nothing about the church as a political power getting involved in entangling alliances and things of the State. What we find is members living in the last days in faith, hope and love, in knowing themselves "with glad and generous hearts", to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Images that portray the early church in reality as well as in theory are 1) People of God, 2) Body of Christ, and 3) Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is with these images that we find the key to the church. More than likely, when we consider the history of the church, we think in terms of the institutional church with its succession of popes, grand councils, wars, heresies, battles for power,and so on. But the Church is much, much more than that. The Church is the People of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and includes both laity (called to be consecrated to a holy priesthood at baptism) and clergy equally.

 

At the Last Supper Jesus promised that when he left, the Holy Spirit would be sent to his disciples and would remain with them forever. This Spirit would reveal the truth about God. "When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you. ... When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you." (John 14:16-18,20) In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus told his disciples "... when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

We have done our best to credit our sources. Please forgive us if we have overlooked any.

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