The Theology of the Church (AmericanCatholic)
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The nature of the church, that is its composition and the subsequent implications of that design, is a subject inherent to any discussion about the Christian faith. The church, in its broadest application, is a community, and taken together the Christian community is synonymous with the Christian Church. Thus, it is important to establish what constitutes "Christian" in order to differentiate between churches that claim to be Christian and churches which are in practice Christian. An understanding of the nature and functions of the church as described in the Bible will necessarily impose conditions upon what constitutes "Christian", as the Church cannot refer to the Christian community if that community is not in fact Christian. Thus the Church, however defined, is a component of the comprehensive Christian belief and any discussion of it in the Bible cannot be separated from the whole.
The Theology of the Church
1. Is there a Christian Church?
Claim: Everyone is a holy and royal priest (1 Peter 2.5, 2.9). Because everyone is their own priest, it would seem that there are only Christians but no Christian Church.
On the contrary, each priest is like a "living stone" being "built into a spiritual house". This "spiritual house" is the Christian Church. Therefore we see clearly that there is a particular Christian Church.
2. Did Christ establish the Christian Church?
Claim: Because the Christian Church consists of men, each of whom is a priest in the "spiritual house", it would seem that Christ did not establish the Church, but that men built it.
On the contrary, Christ declares to Peter that he will build the Church, and give him the "keys to the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 16.18-19). It is the will of God to establish the Church for that purpose (Lk 12:32). For this reason, Christ is the head of the Church (Col 1:18). Therefore, it is made clear that Christ established a Church with himself as its head.
3. Did Christ make the Christian Church holy?
Claim: The Christian Church consists of men, and all men fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Therefore it would seem that the Christian Church also falls short of the glory of God.
On the contrary, as Christ is the head of the Church, it is his body and the "fullness of him" (Eph 1.22-23). Christ surrendered himself for the Church, his body, "in order to make her holy" (Eph 5:25-26), so that the Church is "without a spot or wrinkle... holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27). Because the Church is the body of Christ, and thus holy, it works fundamentally through love (Eph 4.12). Thus, it is the case that the Church is holy and perfect by an act of Christ.
4. Does Christ remain with the Christian Church?
Claim: Christ is holy and perfect, but men are not. It would seem, therefore, that Christ has not remained with his Church since there has been a clear history of sin within it.
On the contrary, Christ is with his Church "always, and to the end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20). Christ remains with the Church because it is his body, so he does not hate it. He nourishes it (Eph 5.29). Sin originates from men, not from Christ. The Church is the body of Christ. Therefore, the Church does not sin, but men do. As we know that Christ died for his Church to make it holy, we also see that he remains with his Church despite the problems it may face on earth. Not even hell will over come it (Matthew 16.18).
5. Who are members of the Christian Church?
Claim: Not all who claim to be Christian will be saved (Matthew 7.21) and many Christians have different beliefs. Therefore, it would seem that not everyone who claims to be Christian is a part of the Christian Church.
On the contrary, those in every place who call on Christ are members of the Church (1 Cor 1.2). All Christians are members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12.12-31). All who obey God are brothers in Christ (Matthew 12.50). Even so, because the Church includes men, it likewise includes sinners (Acts 20.30). Every Christian, sinner or otherwise, is a member of the Church.
6. Is the Christian Church visible?
Claim: God built a spiritual house of Christians. Therefore, it would seem that there is no visible Christian Church established by Christ.
On the contrary, the Church is the "light of the world" and "cannot be hidden" (Matt 5.14). The light allows others to "see...good works" and "[gives] glory to [the] Father in Heaven" (Matt 5.16). The Church is clearly visible to the world by its own inherent nature, and can be further seen in its good works.
7. Can the Christian Church be identified?
Claim: Christ built a spiritual and physical Church, which is his body. But since Christ is perfect, he cannot be understood by imperfect men. Therefore, his Church cannot be identified.
On the contrary, the Church can be known by the love its members have for one another (John 13.34-35). Love is made visible through works.
8. Is there only one Christian Church?
Claim: Christians have a wide variety of beliefs and the association with one another based on those beliefs. Therefore, it seems as if there is more than one Christian Church.
On the contrary, Christians are to be one, just as Christ and the Father are one (Jn 17.21-22). As a consequence, the Church ought to be "perfectly united in mind and thought" (1 Cor 1.10). Christ aims to "bring [the children of God] together and make them one" (Jn 11:52). There will be "one flock and one shepherd" (Jn 10.16). There should be "no division" in the Church, as it is the body of Christ, and everyone is a part of it (1 Cor 12.25-27).
9. Are Christians separated from the visible Church saved?
Claim: Christ states that only through Him are men saved. Many Christians are separated from his body, the Church. It would seem they are not saved.
On the contrary, Christ states: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"(Jn 14.6). The Church is his body, of which all Christians are members. No one outside of his body is saved for these men, despite knowing righteousness, reject it (2 Peter 2.15, 20-21). That is, Christians separated from the visible Church may be saved given particular conditions regarding their faith and conduct.
10. Is the Church apostolic?
Claim: Christ appointed the Apostles directly, and no others, to lead his Church. Therefore, it would seem that the Church is not apostolic.
On the contrary, the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles" (Ephesians 2:19-20). The Church is devoted to the "apostles' teaching and fellowship" (Acts 2:42).
11. Is there a Church hierarchy?
Claim: Each man is a "holy" and "royal" priest. Thus, it seems as if there is no hierarchy in the Church.
Claim: Everyone is a sinner, and all fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, as no man is better than any other, there is no Church hierarchy.
On the contrary, God "appointed in the church" both apostles and teachers (1 Cor 12.28). Church leaders appointed new bishops and elders to follow them (Acts 14.23, Acts 1.20-26).
12. Is the Church responsible for doctrine?
Claim: God reveals the truth to all men, who are his priests. Therefore, it seems that the Church is not responsible for doctrine.
On the contrary, the truth is to be "[entrusted] to faithful men" who can "teach others" (2 Tim 2.2). This is because there are difficult things to understand in Scripture, which the "ignorant" may not fully grasp on their own (2 Peter 3.15-16). Without the Church, men invent their own doctrines (Eph 4.14, 2 Tim 4.3). Church leaders protect doctrine (Titus 1.9, Titus 2.1).
13. Is the Church infallible on doctrine?
Claim: The Church consists of imperfect men. Thus it appears that the Church cannot be infallible on doctrine.
On the contrary, the "wisdom of God" is made known through the Church (Eph 3.10),as it is the "pillar and bulwark of truth" (1 Tim 3.15). It would be absurd to claim that the wisdom of God is fallible.
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