Laudatur Iesus Christus.
Since the word “church” does not honestly apply to Protestant or “Evangelical” groups, it should not be used. It is misleading for everyone, including the separated brethren. Given this, the prohibition is: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” Ex 20:16; Dt 5:20. (The fact that the mis-usage is common is not a sufficient reason to adopt it; “Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the most part, to stray from the truth” Ex 23:2.)
The recent reminder from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might prompt a review and reconsideration of the meaning of the word “Ecclesia” and the ideas behind it. The treatments that try to reduce “Ecclesia” or its English equivalent, “Church,” it to “community” or “community of faith” do not seem fair. Outside of the Scriptures the word is often translated as “senate,” when referring to the “ecclesia” of a particular city. The definition in the Perseus dictionary is “assembly duly summoned, less general than “sullogos.” Within the Scriptures the word is used in the Old Testament (Septuagint translation) to refer to the assembled tribes of Israel marshaled by Moses (Dt 31:30).
These considerations make it clear that the import of the word “ecclesia” is inherently structured and is not equivalent to “assembly” or “community” in the loose senses. The word itself implies discipline and hierarchical, governmental structure.
Given this, the word “ecclesial” means “related to the Church.” Communities which form around an element or elements belonging to the Catholic Church, like those which form around the Bible – or parts of it – are therefore properly called “ecclesial communities” because they are groups formed around something that belongs to the Church. These communities or groups are not “churches,” because they do not have the authority or the structure to be “duly summoned” or “marshaled.” This is why Apostolic succession is necessary to a church.
The Holy Spirit, speaking with the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council referred to the Catholic Church as the “universal sacrament of salvation,” Lumen Gentium, 48; Ad Gentes, 1 & 5. If this is to be honored, we must be careful about the integrity of the sacrament, as it is needed to convey invisible grace (the very “life of God”) under visible signs. Without Apostolic succession, the minister needed to effect the sacrament is lacking – that is there is no validly ordained Bishop around which a church can be called.
To confuse an ontologically real church with a group of people who merely acts as though they were a church would be to allow materialistic or pragmatic standards to obscure the supernatural order. Ultimately, this would be to confuse what is done for Christ, or in imitation of Him, with things done by Him. This would easily lead to losing one’s grasp of who Christ Jesus is – which would be a tragedy for all who rely on the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, to save them; that is, it would be a tragedy for everyone who hopes to be saved at all.
If anyone outside of the Church has hope of being saved, it relies on the Church continuing to do her work in effecting Christ’s salvation of the world.
Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.