Struggling with this "different definition of 'church'"

It’s kind of making my head spin.

I gave someone Steve Ray’s “Finding the Fullness of Faith,” and, sadly, that didn’t settle any issues. Here’s part of the response (I wish I could just post the whole response and get everyone’s help on it!)

We have a different definition of ‘church’. Not a religious organization, that is recreating the problem Jesus had with Judaism. The biblical definition of church, the body of Christ, is those who believe, repent, have been baptized, have the Holy Spirit. The church cannot be an organization. Even Christ rebukes the Churches in Revelations, but encourages individual believers.

Church discipline in Matthew 18 is in a local church. How big is a local church? Can be 2 or 3. The body of Christ compared to a local church. All the NT is written to local churches. Revelation 2-3 is written to local churches. Does Jesus tell us to listen to the ultimate authority of the church?

What do you think?

The Early Church was not a collection of autonomous and individual congregations.

The Epistles were written to the Churches BY THEIR BISHOPS. If each Christian community were intended to be self-governing there would be no need for Epistles in the first place.

But, suppose (hypothetically) that some idea came up that Jesus didn’t actually teach about. Let’s suppose the question concerns circumcision. The New Covenant supplants the Old Covenant, but is it necessary to first pass through the old before you can be Baptized into the new? After all, Jesus was circumcised, as were all the Apostles.

It’s a reasonable question, and Jesus didn’t address it (or give any other instructions for dealing with gentiles). It’s also an important question. If Baptism isn’t valid without prior circumcision then it fundamentally affects Baptism (and the uncircumcised who had been Baptized aren’t really Baptized after all). Furthermore, if circumcision is actually REQUIRED then Baptism would be unavailable for women (not just to uncircumcised men). So that’s a really big question.

Now, suppose that some Jewish Christians were going around telling the gentiles (well, guys anyway) that they had to be circumcised before they could receive Baptism. That might upset some folks.

How do you suppose those early Christians would have dealt with this situation if it had come up?

Acts 15 might offer some clues.

Here is a fantastic reply that I just read today on this exact issue, from Bryan Cross at the website calledtocommunion.com.

Jerry Walls (who teaches at Houston Baptist University) just wrote an article titled “What I Want From Catholics: Don’t Overreach.” There he critically addresses the claim that “Protestants have no honest or truthful interpretation of the phrase “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17).” Walls writes:

[quote] All this text requires is a larger body of believers who join together to enforce church discipline. There is nothing here even remotely decisive about any particular ecclesiology, let alone anything that supports the claim that the Church of Rome is the one true Church. The claim that Protestants cannot follow the directive or that their ecclesiology is somehow inconsistent with this passage is simply baffling.

I called a friend who is an internationally known New Testament scholar to see if I was overlooking something here. He commented that the word “church” here does not have the formal institutional meaning many want to give it, but refers simply to a gathering of believers. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).
It is undeniable that lots of Protestants have, and do, follow the directive of this text, and in fact, if we go by empirical evidence, they have been at least as good at church discipline as have Roman Catholics.

Setting aside the question-begging problem of presuming that the lexicon is the determinative way of resolving interpretive questions, Walls’s answer also presupposes that excommunication is only from the local church, or from a particular denomination, not from the universal Church. If, however, the Church to which the matter is told in Mt. 18 is the one Church Christ says in Mt. 16 He will found, and thus if excommunication is excommunication not merely from the local Church, but also from the universal Church, then not only must the local Church to whom the matter is told in Mt. 18 be part of the universal Church Christ refers to in Mt. 16, but the universal Church must necessarily have hierarchical unity, for reasons explained in Section II of our article above. Otherwise, the excommunicated person could just walk down the street to the next branch, or simply start his own branch.
[/quote]

We have a different definition of ‘church’. Not a religious organization, that is recreating the problem Jesus had with Judaism.

I think this depends on how he defines “religious organization.” Google defines an organization as “an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, [or] association.” And it defines organized as “arranged in a systematic way, especially on a large scale.”

Now, to me, the church Jesus started was that: it was a body of people, they had a common purpose, and there was a systematic arrangement among them. Since the definition matches up, at least in my mind, I think your friend must have a different definition of organization than Google does. That’s fine, but if we are using different definitions than we might save ourselves some trouble by finding that out. I recommend asking him if he agrees with Google’s definition. If he does, then ask which part of that definition isn’t in the church Jesus started.

If he says that the church Jesus started didn’t have a systematic arrangement, ask him if it had bishops. Point out verses like 1 Tim. 3:1, Titus 1:7, Philippians 1:1, and Acts 20:28. If some people in the church are bishops and other people are not, isn’t that a systematic arrangement?

The way the New Testament describes bishops, it seems like you couldn’t just say, “I’m a bishop,” and start being one. If you Could have done that, the term would have had no meaning. If you couldn’t just start being one, there had to be some process for making new bishops. The New Testament doesn’t indicate that each congregation hired and fired their own pastors like modern Baptist churches do. Galatians 2:9 talks about going to the Apostles to receive the right hand of fellowship. And 3 John 1:9-12 seems to show hierarchical authority: the Apostle John tells the church not to follow Diotrephes because he won’t accept John’s authority, and he apparently tells them to follow Demetrius instead. It’s not a congregationalist model, it’s a Catholic model.

One time I was talking with a Baptist about the church. I asked him why his church doesn’t have bishops. He answered: We don’t need them because we have Jesus. So I asked: But aren’t there bishops in the Bible? And he said: Yes, but sometimes God changes things. So I asked: How do you know what to change and what to keep? And he said: We use the Bible to figure that out. So I asked: Does the Bible say somewhere that we should stop having bishops? And he said: No, but we don’t need bishops because we have Jesus.

He then started explaining that liberty is the primary thing, and that’s why his church was called Liberty Baptist Church. Then he walked away. I think I planted a seed though: his church was clearly not following the biblical model, and he didn’t know why. The biblical church is a church with authority, structure, and organzational characteristics of an international scale. Baptist churches aren’t like that.

The biblical definition of church, the body of Christ, is those who believe, repent, have been baptized, have the Holy Spirit.

But aren’t they under bishops? And don’t those bishops need to be approved by somebody? The Bible verses I quoted earlier indicate that they do. The problem for Protestants is, their earliest leaders were not approved by the surviving Church authority, they did not even pretend to be – and things have not improved today.

Church discipline in Matthew 18 is in a local church.

I don’t think so. Here’s one reason why: if it was only a local church thing, then if you didn’t like the decision they gave, you could just go to the church down the street. That’s what happens in modern Protestant churches. If you don’t like the decisions at one church, you just leave it. Modern Protestants clearly don’t think they are bound to the authority of their current church. If this passage really taught that you had to listen to your local church, it would violate the Protestant churches’s fundamental doctrine: sola scriptura. It would replace the one magisterium Protestants object to with a million smaller ones. The fact is, this passage says you have to listen to somebody. If Sola Scriptura is true, that passage is false. This person is trying to get around that by saying you have to listen to your local congregation – but that only makes his problem worse.

I hope that helps. God bless!

You are right. The epistles were written to the Churches by their Bishop, not the bishop of a different church. That statement actually bolsters the argument that the church is local and smaller. Paul’s epistles were (mostly) directed to churches he founded (Romans being the only exception I can think of).

The argument would be made is the epistles were needed because Paul wouldn’t sit still. He wouldn’t have needed to write Corinthians if he had stayed in Corinth. But since he wanted to start other churches, he had to minister via the pen.

When you say “different church,” I have a question. I think you mean something quite biblical, but I would like clarification. In your view, there is a “universal church” that all local churches are part of, right? And does that universal church have people on earth in charge of it (or one person on earth)?

That statement actually bolsters the argument that the church is local and smaller. Paul’s epistles were (mostly) directed to churches he founded (Romans being the only exception I can think of).

Couldn’t he do that if he had authority over all the churches? If he could, wouldn’t that suggest that the Church is more bigger, not smaller?

By “different church” I was speaking mostly of geographical location; I didn’t mean to imply that they were of a different belief, necessarily.

I do believe in a universal church, but I don’t accept the apostolic succession that the Catholic church uses to trace themselves back to Peter. I believe Christ is the head of the Church.

On your other point, it is a possibility that he had universal authority, but it is arguable at best from most of the epistles. It would be a much better case made if, for example Peter had written an epistle to the church at Corinth.

That’s what I thought, I don’t think the Church has a problem with the belief that Paul wrote to those churches because he had founded them. And if another apostle had written to those churches, that might mean someone from “another church” (geographically) wrote to them, but in another sense you could say that someone from the Same church wrote to them (as in universal church). I hope I’m making sense. Does that sound right?

I do believe in a universal church, but I don’t accept the apostolic succession that the Catholic church uses to trace themselves back to Peter. I believe Christ is the head of the Church.

I think I understand your disagreement on this point. What do you think of the following paragraph:

The Bible shows us both local churches and a universal church. It also shows us that the universal church has people on earth in charge of it. It shows that local church leaders have to be approved by the universal church’s leaders. And it shows that the universal church’s leaders have direct authority over the local churches.

Do you think all of those sentences are true?

On your other point, it is a possibility that he had universal authority, but it is arguable at best from most of the epistles.

Have you researched both sides of that issue? I don’t think I have. However, when I think about it, a couple of thoughts come to mind that I’ve researched in some detail.

It would be a much better case made if, for example Peter had written an epistle to the church at Corinth.

If such a letter existed, I think it would be a good example of Peter’s far-reaching authority. I think that if someone has universal authority at all levels of an institution and in all branches, there are several ways that might show up. For example, if there was a “pope” of McDonalds Corp (which I doubt), he could theoretically write a letter to an individual branch and tell them what to do. That would be evidence of his universal authority in McDonalds. Or he could write a letter to all the regional officials telling them what to do. That would be another indicator. Or he could visit each region of the company. That might not prove his universal authority by itself, but it’s something you might expect from a McDonald’s pope that you wouldn’t expect from a man who had no authority in other regions. And if the founding documents of McDonalds itself spelled out that someone in the company should be able to make rules that all the branches have to follow, that would be a Very good indicator that McDonald’s was supposed to have a pope-like figure. Don’t you think?

I thought that some the epistles were written by Paul…and the rest are anonymous.

.

The churches founded by Paul in Galatia and at Ephesus, the capital of Asia, seem to be among the addressees of Peter’s first epistle:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappado′cia, Asia, and Bithyn′ia… (1 Peter 1:1).

Standalone independent churches don’t make sense if you look at Mat 18:17-18. If one is excommunicated in one church, then the idea of independent churches allows the excommunicated to simply jump to other churches to escape excommunication. Clearly the verse does not suggest that it is possible. Otherwise verse 18 would make no sense. If one can just change churches then verse 18 on binding/loosing on earth/heaven would be simply false. They could not be bound at all because one church may bind and the other unbind. Heaven would be in total chaos.

Secondly, First Council of Nicaea clearly states that :

  1. Concerning those, whether of the clergy or the laity, who have been
    excommunicated, the sentence is to be respected by the bishops of each province
    according to the canon which forbids those expelled by some to be admitted by
    others.

Thirdly, the Council of Constantinople canon 6 describes the escalatory process of solving problems initially through the provincial bishops and if failed, the bishops of the diocese.The idea of a church solving its own problems internally is just not supported.

The idea of a Church can be regarded this way:

  1. Christ built his Church on the Rock of Peter. One church, not many churches.
  2. Geographical churches. These are the physical representations of the one Church. Bishops take care of their own provinces. If they are independent, then they couldn’t be subjected to the Church Council’s rulings. But they are. So they can’t be independent churches answering to themselves only. Ecumenical Councils canons apply to all that profess that faith. If they are independent, then Arian churches would be happily doing their own thing, Nestorian churches, Montanist churches would all be operating without the constraint of Church Council’s condemnations. But history shows that Church Councils do have that authority to condemn churches not in agreement with orthodox Christianity. Hence the idea that there are churches operating in a silo is not supported by evidence.

For example, the church in Corinthian. In 1st Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, we see how the Church of Rome admonished those young rebels in the Church there. That letter had the effect of restoring the church leadership and the letter was read frequently as part of the church liturgy there over many years. And there are other letters out of the Church of Rome responding to appeals from far flung churches facing theological or pastoral difficulties over the centuries.

Protestants basically redefined the one, holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church of the Nicene Creed to mean an invisibly “connected” group of all believers. This contradicts Scripture and the Fathers of the Church so thoroughly that it’s indefensible. The Church is necessarily hierarchical and united by a central authority that maintains “one faith, one baptism…”. Similarity of kind (believing the gospel) does not actually make that group connected, so it’s illogical to call “all believers” the Catholic Church.

The first Papal Encyclical. :smiley:

I’m not sure I see anything in scripture that suggests Christ intended to abolish religious organization. In fact, he seems to go so far as to consecrate the Twelve as a new priesthood. While he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, he advises his followers to heed what they preach because they sit on the chair of Moses.

If so, He did a very poor job. He led the Apostles to believe they had authority, and that it was their task to feed and guide the flock. They were to be the arbiters of disputes among the believers, and He chose Paul, who set up an authorative heirarchical structure all over Rome, appointing bishops who he instructed to rule with “all authority”. He further failed to undermine the Catholic Church, which, if it were a man made institution, should have fallen into ruin centuries ago.

(Please forgive my delayed response. Had a bridal shower for my Fiancee yesterday, so lots of planning/prep work).

It does make sense.

I think I understand your disagreement on this point. What do you think of the following paragraph:

The Bible shows us both local churches and a universal church. It also shows us that the universal church has people on earth in charge of it. It shows that local church leaders have to be approved by the universal church’s leaders. And it shows that the universal church’s leaders have direct authority over the local churches.

Do you think all of those sentences are true? Have you researched both sides of that issue? I don’t think I have. However, when I think about it, a couple of thoughts come to mind that I’ve researched in some detail. If such a letter existed, I think it would be a good example of Peter’s far-reaching authority. I think that if someone has universal authority at all levels of an institution and in all branches, there are several ways that might show up. For example, if there was a “pope” of McDonalds Corp (which I doubt), he could theoretically write a letter to an individual branch and tell them what to do. That would be evidence of his universal authority in McDonalds. Or he could write a letter to all the regional officials telling them what to do. That would be another indicator. Or he could visit each region of the company. That might not prove his universal authority by itself, but it’s something you might expect from a McDonald’s pope that you wouldn’t expect from a man who had no authority in other regions. And if the founding documents of McDonalds itself spelled out that someone in the company should be able to make rules that all the branches have to follow, that would be a Very good indicator that McDonald’s was supposed to have a pope-like figure. Don’t you think?

I agree with the first statement, there is a local church and a universal church. I also agree that at first, the universal church had authority to establish the local churches. My main issue is I don’t see any point on the succession of this authority. Don’t want to say we are left blind, but we have the Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

If I’m getting your meaning, yes It is one Church in many locations with one message… It is always a belief that is universally the same, and universally accepted. It is NOT a small local message with only small local appeal, modified to suit each small community out there…

If I misunderstood please advise.

As an aside

Lest we forget. Paul came late to the party. Stephen the first martyr and deacon, died at the feet of Saul before he became Paul Acts 6:5 , Acts 7:58 , Acts 7:59 . Not to diminish Paul’s work after his conversion, in any way shape or form. For the first 3 years He went to Churches that were already established. 3 years after his conversion, Paul had been out there preaching and teaching, he sought Peter and stayed with him 15 days to see if he was maintaining the proper teaching.Galatians 1:18

Gal 1: 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cili′cia. 22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

The Church has never relied upon authorship. We actually have no idea who Luke and Mark were, and they wrote half the Gospels. Few Biblical scholars believe that the author of the Gospel of Matthew and the Apostle Matthew were the same guy (the name is considered a probable coincidence).

Names did not seem to be very unique in the Apostolic era. Among Our Lord’s twelve Apostles, HALF of them did not have a unique name (there were two Simons, two James, and two Judes). There were three women at the foot of the Cross, and they were ALL named Mary.

The authorship of Paul’s epistles is a subject of longstanding discussion. No modern Biblical scholar (of ANY faith) maintains that Hebrews and Romans were written by the same author (anyone is free to prove me wrong, but CITE it).

But it doesn’t matter (at least to Catholics). We don’t CARE who wrote this stuff. We ONLY care about what documents have been canonized.

Cool, I hope the bridal shower went well. :slight_smile: :thumbsup:

I agree with the first statement, there is a local church and a universal church. I also agree that at first, the universal church had authority to establish the local churches. My main issue is I don’t see any point on the succession of this authority. Don’t want to say we are left blind, but we have the Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

If I’m understanding you correctly, you don’t see why the higher-level authority should continue over the local churches. To me, a good reason that structure should continue is because that’s how the Church was set up in the New Testament. I don’t want to be like the Baptist I talked to, who said we don’t need bishops anymore. Even though they are in the New Testament, he said sometimes God changes things, and we don’t need them now because we have Jesus instead. Sounds like you are saying we don’t need people to have universal authority anymore because we have the Holy Spirit and the Bible now.

The Bible is either the final source of doctrine or it is not. If you really believe that the Church only had universal authority for the first one hundred years or so, then the Bible should tell you when the universal Church was supposed to lose that authority. If it’s not in the Bible, then you got that idea from somewhere else.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.