BECOME the CHURCH
How do we “become the Church“? What a seemingly strange statement, or at least it would have been to my younger self. Growing up Protestant, my conception of Church is much different than it is today. In my youth, “the Church” was a building, something that you “went to,” usually on Sundays.
What brings this up today? I recently responded to what was a seemingly simple question; “What is the aim of the Church.” However, before we can answer that question, there is another, more fundamental question that must be answered…
WHAT is the CHURCH?
Secular Dictionaries and the general public will tell you that the Church is nothing more than a building, or a “house of worship.” IMHO, this is systemic of the failure of language. A more apt concept or definition of “the Church” revolves around the “People of God.” In particular, the Church is comprised of those individuals who accept the historic teachings regarding Jesus, the Christ.
- 1. a building used for public Christian worship.“we usually go to church down the street”
synonyms: house of God, the Lord’s house, house of prayer; “a village church”
In a Catholic, or traditional sense, we view the Church as the “Mystical Body of Christ;” those Christians of all ages. In a mysterious way, Christians of very age or generation, past, present and future, comprise the Body of Christ, The Church.
- The members of the Church are bound together by a supernatural life communicated to them by Christ through the sacraments (John 15:5). Christ is the centre and source of life to Whom all are united, and Who endows each one with gifts fitting him for his position in the body (John 15:7-12). These graces, through which each is equipped for his work, form it into an organized whole, whose parts are knit together as though by a system of ligaments and joints (John 15:16; Colossians 2:19).
- Through them, too, the Church has its growth and increase, growing in extension as it spreads through the world, and intensively as the individual Christian develops in himself the likeness of Christ (John 15:13-15).
- In virtue of this union the Church is the fulness or complement (pleroma) of Christ (Ephesians 1:23). It forms one whole with Him; and the Apostle even speaks of the Church as “Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
- This union between head and members is conserved and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. Through this sacrament our incorporation into the Body of Christ is alike outwardly symbolized and inwardly actualized; “We being many are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Early Christians had no buildings to speak of, at least not in the sense of what we would consider church buildings today. First century Christians were often persecuted and, as a result, often met in secret usually in homes. As the influence of Christianity spread, eventually buildings dedicated to worship were established and became what we know today as churches. In this sense, then, the church consists of people not buildings. Fellowship, worship and ministry are all conducted by the People of God, not buildings. Our Church structures facilitate the role of God’s people, but they do not fulfill it.
Catholics, like virtually every other group of people, appreciate symbolism. Art is just one such symbol — used to convey feelings, emotions or evoke memories. In this sense, Church as a building can represent just one visible image of Christ’s people on this earth — not the actual church itself. As a seascape painting is not the ocean, a physical Church structure is not the literal Church.
In the image at the top of this article is pictured a “three legged stool.” The Catholic Church is much more than a building. One analogy is that the Church resembles a three legged stool, with the people of God perched on top. Remove one leg and the whole thing comes tumbling down.
This imagery has been utilized for years as being an analogy of the Church. However, I’ve never seen one like this, with “Christians” as the “seat.” This is an important observation, because the primary focus of “The Church” should be people focused, rather than emphasizing an institutional model.
In the above model we see that the function of the institutional Church is to support the body of believers, the actual Church. The three legs of the stool consist of:
The Teaching Magisterium,
Holy Scripture, and
Yes, for Catholic Christians, Bible is still the fundamental leg of our stool. Of course, Holy Scripture is and always has been the primary source of authentic Catholic Doctrine. However the multiple tens of thousand Christian Denominations, speaks loudly that “Sola Scriptura,” or relying on the Bible Alone for doctrinal development falls woefully short.
Why is this? Why so many divergent teachings among the “Body of Christ”? The root cause of this discrepancy can be linked to the fact that other institutional churches do not rely on a “Teaching Magisterium,” who view scripture through our ancient deposit of faith.
Protestantism and their offshoot churches, predominately base their theology from the 16th century reformers. Catholic institutional churches started developing their doctrine and teachings in 33a.d.
The Teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church does not merely make up doctrine and dogma out of whole cloth. We rely on, and stand on the shoulders of the giants of the faith who have preceded us into eternity.
What the institutional Catholic Church teaches is taken from the universally accepted teachings found in Holy Tradition. You’ll often hear or read that I also refer to this the “Historic Deposit of faith.”
Everyone, I don’t care who you are; it does not matter what denominational church you attend or nation in which you reside has a particular set of filters with which they utilize to interpret scripture. Catholic filters were handed down to us by the earliest Christians — now, the Church Triumphant, in heaven.
From the earliest epoch of Church history, the Catholic Church has been both interpreting scripture, defining, and defending the Christian faith against the encroachment of error. The Fathers of the Church, were those saints of old who were closest to the time when Jesus walked and taught. Many of these men were actually disciples of the Apostles themselves. In the accepted writings of these fathers, we discover how the earliest Christians interpreted the teachings of Christ and His Apostles.
Years later, leaders of the Church gathered in Councils to discuss how they should respond to erroneous, or heretical ideologies that were conflicting with traditional doctrinal understandings.
The Fathers and Councils of the Church provided for us a concise understanding of the nature of God, the unique Deity and humanity of Jesus, the sacraments, liturgy, and so much more.
A Teaching Magisterium that is faithful to teaching truth based upon both scripture and Holy Tradition acts like the glue that holds together the structural integrity of the institutional Church, which supports the growth and integrity of the Body of Christ, the actual Church.
The Four Marks
Those three legs not only support the People of God, the Church, they also emphasize the Four Marks of the of the Catholic Church, without which we would cease to be authentically Catholic, crumbling into the dunghill of secularism. The marks consist of us being:
- One: We are “ONE” in unity with Christ via our common baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Our oneness is also articulated via our understanding the importance of Holy Tradition.
- Holy: the Church is “Holy, in that we strive to “do the will of the Father.” In that understanding we must focus all of our teachings and actions in a manner that give Glory to God, not seeking self aggrandizement or power– refusing to enforce as theological law, the teachings of men. Our commitment to holiness also underlies our commitment to traditional moral values.
- Catholic: Contrary to popular belief, Catholic has more to do with the a concept known as the “fullness of faith” than universal and all encompassing. Saint Vincent of Lerins tells us, the that the essence of Catholicism is found in holding to [all] that which has been taught and believed since the very beginning — from the time of Christ and the Apostles. Once again, this includes and is primarily reliant on Holy Scripture as the source of our doctrine, as witnessed to by the early Church. Our Catholicity may also be witnessed to by our adherence to the sacramental theology, and liturgical style of worship.
- Apostolic: Since the time when the Apostles drew lots to replace Judas as one of the “Twelve,” the Church has been perpetuating Apostolic Succession. This is the Holy Tradition that Apostolic authority has been flowing through the Church from the very beginning, from apostles to bishops and so on for nearly two thousand years. History shows us that Virtually all of the Apostles passed on their individual apostolic authority, laying hands on men all over the known world , anointing bishops to lead the People of God under their care. No where in the early church record do we find that Sait Peter was the only apostle authorized to consecrate bishops.
As a particular Church, or People of God, the International Catholic Confederation is committed to maintaining fidelity to an orthodox understanding of what it means to be the Church. this brings to mind a quote from St Vincent of Lerins “If God allows new doctrines, whether erroneous or heretical, to be taught by distinguished men, as for example Tertullian, Origen, Nestorius, Apollinaris, etc., it is but to test us.” In our time, we have priests such as Fr. James Martin , S.J. perpetuating erroneous views on human sexuality, and even the pope changing church teachings on the death penalty and other issues.
There have always been more than one, authentically Catholic jurisdiction. As I pointed out above, each of the Apostles exercised Apostolic Authority. The institutional Churches of Orthodoxy did not abdicate their catholicity after the Great schism, nor did the Church of Utrecht abandon the Four Marks after they were unjustly persecuted.
As a unique people of God, we must continue preaching and teaching Authentic Christian doctrine. We must BE the CHURCH! In all that we say and do, we must give glory to God the Father almighty, submit to His will, and be faithful to the historic deposit of faith. Our bishops and clergy MUST remain committed to teaching orthodoxy and encourage orthopraxy. Otherwise our institutional churches will fall like houses of cards, and the people of God will be left with false teachers — wolves in sheep’s clothing.