Did Jesus really intend to establish a church?


So I saw this news that the Bishop of Joliet, Bishop Conlon, recently gave a lecture at Elmhurst College:

Why is he, a bishop of the Church, saying that there is no absolute answer to this question. It pretty clearly states what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. When I saw this news, it really confused me and got me a little upset.


Sometimes journalists get things wrong, however.


I don’t want to comment on someone’s comments of a talk. I’d be surprised if that was actually the message.


This passage is basic to the Catholic understanding that he started a church:
Jesus said “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.” (Matthew 16:18)
When Catholic affirm that Jesus started the church, often they quote this passage.

The fact that Jesus started the Church is a fundamental Catholic belief. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states that “Christ instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal.” (no 874)


One would need to read the full lecture and see the context in which the question is found .


I’m not going to rush to judgment on the Bishop without seeing the full content of his talk, which may have been put in an incorrect light by whoever wrote the article.

However, mdgspencer is right. Both Scripture and the Catechism teach definitively that yes, Jesus intended to establish a Church - the Catholic Church.


Well, first off, I’m with the other posters who suggest that we can’t leap to conclusions without seeing the context of the bishop’s comments.

Here’s one thing to keep in mind, though: Elmhurst is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Therefore, the bishop’s comments would be expected to be in the context of ecumenism. So, in that context, we would have to ask ourselves what he meant by ‘Church’ in that context – especially whether he was talking about the Catholic Church exclusively, or about Christianity in general.

It’s not too unreasonable, then, to suggest that perhaps he was answering the question “did Jesus intend the proliferation of denominations that is present in the Church today?”, or any one of a number of questions that isn’t quite so cut-and-dried as a literal interpretation of the talk’s title might suggest…


I think what the bishop does is pastoration. Temporarly suspend a strict rule to get closer to people and let them see by themselves that Jesus wanted to create a church instead of just telling them so (preaching).


I have heard this defended with some logic, not using the scripture. If Christ did not live to found a Church but just to be killed for our sins Herod could have done that.


Assuming that one accepts the Gospels, as all Christian churches to my knowledge generally do, it seems clear that Christ had a mission of putting in place a new covenant between God and man that threw out some of the old rules.

I can see there being some disagreement between Catholics and non-Catholics as to whether Christ intended to found a specific church, or found “Christianity” generally (in other words, allowing for all kinds of churches and communities under that tent), or just make improvements on Judaism (which the Jewish people didn’t accept and Christ knew they wouldn’t, so that would seem to be a bit of a non-starter). But it seems quite clear that Jesus was on earth to teach people how to live better and pray better, not just to hurry up and die for our sins and have done with it.


Perhaps he meant that the institutional Church that exists today that is top heavy with bureaucracy and bureaucrats, isn’t necessary? We certainly know that the Apostles were recognised as a collegial leadership to whom reference could be made in matters of Christian faith. We have the account of Paul going to the Council of Jerusalem and referring to ‘the pillars’ there.


Thanks for the responses. I have been so curious as to the complete context of his lecture that I went ahead and emailed a polite, respectful email to his office asking for that full context. I’m hoping that I’ll get a response.


Right. It’s difficult to assert that Christ didn’t institute the Church on Peter and the Apostles. One could make an interesting claim, though: based on His acknowledgement that His teaching would divide people, Christ foresaw the proliferation of denominations, and therefore, it could be said that it was His will to allow that development. (Of course, you’d still have to contend with His prayer that “all might be one”…)


You have to wonder:
If Christ did not intent to start an institution with all the human elements, why then he come into human flesh?
We already had a book. We had all the instruction we needed.

But Christ came into the human condition in human flesh. And then didn’t start something real?
That doesn’t make much sense.


Not exactly. Up until the incarnation we only had half the story.


Not really. Herod dying on the cross does not demonstrate how deeply God loves us.


The Assembly of the faithful has been clearly established from the time of Moses. The word “church” means “assembly.” Gentiles were always welcome into the Assembly, but had to be initiated. The difference is that the New Covenant has called Gentiles into the Assembly on a scale unheard of in the Old Covenant. So while, in one sense, the Catholic Church was established at Pentecost, in other sense, it is the continuation of the Jewish faith of old.


I’m neither familiar with this Bishop, or with his remarks, but my educated guess is that he was speaking from a historical standpoint not a theological standpoint.

Theologically, the Catholic Church believes that Jesus is its founder. There is no question about that. Historically, the matter is far from settled, and there are many scholars, including Catholic historians, who argue that there is no historically reliable evidence that Jesus intended to found a new church. The reasons they argue this are diverse and extremely complex. Far too complex to meaningfully summarize in a forum post. The Church is perfectly ok with this line of historical reasoning, and Pope Benedict XVI even gave it very high praise some years ago. There are a few priests who make the same argument.

The key is this: they are saying that there is no convincing HISTORICAL evidence. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, just that an honest historian can’t prove it happened. Obviously, that won’t satisfy a theologian, but history doesn’t exist to satisfy agendas of any kind.

If this is something you are interested in following up on, send me a PM and I can send you a couple of books to look into. Draw your own conclusions, but recognize that this a matter of intense historical debate. That’s what I imagine the good Bishop was talking about.


The person meant Jesus could have died when Herod was seeking to kill him as a baby, not that Herod could have died on the cross for us himself.

In other words, if the only point of Jesus being here on earth as a human was to die for us, rather than start a church, then Jesus didn’t even have to live to grow up and have a public life as a rabbi.


Gotcha… thanks

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