Understand the term “church” from other’s perspective

From my perspective there seems to be a large misunderstanding when using the term “church” when in dialogue with my Protestant brothers. Inevitably in dialogue things begin to get out of hand and I am starting to see a pattern which seems to stem from the difference in usage in the term “church”

In hopes of improving dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, I would like to give my understand of the Protestant view of “church” and solicit correction where I may be wrong. In turn, I invite others to give their understandings, Protestant understanding on Catholic view of “church” and also other Catholics understanding of Protestant view of “church”.

adfs’ understanding of Protestant view of church:

The full invisible body of believers in Christ, “believers” used loosely by some and more strictly by others. This body can only be seen by God who only knows the sincerity of faith of the individual. This body is made universal and crosses all cultural, geographic, & ethnic lines through the same belief and faith.

Is there anything I should add to this for a more complete understanding of “church”?

Peace!!!

This would not exactly fit the Lutheran view. The confessions say

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Obviously, there has to be a visibility to the Church, visible by the presence of word and sacrament. But there is also “goats and sheep”.

Jon

If it helps. Quoting Protestant theologian Charles Hodge:

Protestants do not deny that there is a visible Church Catholic on earth, consisting of all those who profess the true religion, together with their children. But they are not all included in any one external society. They also admit that it is the duty of Christians to unite for the purpose of worship and mutual watch and care. They admit that to such associations and societies certain prerogatives and promises belong; that they have, or ought to have the officers whose qualifications and duties are prescribed in the Scriptures; that there always have been, and probably always will be, such Christian organizations, or visible churches. But they deny that any one of these societies, or all of them collectively, constitute the Church for which Christ died; in which He dwells by his Spirit; to which He has promised perpetuity, catholicity, unity, and divine guidance into the knowledge of the truth. Any one of them, or all of them, one after another, may apostatize from the faith, and all the promises of God to his Church be fulfilled. The Church did not fail, when God reserved to himself only seven thousand in all Israel who had not bowed the knee unto Baal.

HF can you summarize what you see the difference is in this and what I wrote and as stated in the OP give me your understanding of what “church” means when a Catholic uses this term? I would much appreciate your personal understanding, or a working understanding, as anyone can copy and past official definitions from the net.

Peace!!!

Hi Jon. can you also follow up with what I wrote to HF?

Peace!!!

My understanding (read: I am not claiming or accusing) is that a Catholic would say that, in short, the Universal Church is, because of the keys being given to St. Peter, those in communion with the Pope. Others outside communion with him are in imperfect communion with the Church by nature of their baptism.

Jon

In trying to understand things “protestant” one has to recognize that there is a broad spectrum of belief in the protestant world.
While the understanding you share in your OP is certainly one view you can already see that there are other views as well.

That said - I have had similar conversations with protestants over this issue and have come to the following.
We have to start with the correct term as used in the NT. “Ekklesia” - the Greek refers to a community called forth for some specific purpose. We sometimes refer to this in our prayer life as “a people set apart”.
We can all agree on this term and what it means…but where the problem comes from is in determining the various implications of this term in light of the rest of the NT and the early Ekklesia.

In discussions with protestants I will bring up Mt 18:15-18 and "tell it to the Church.
Such conversations will generally go well so long as we look at it in the “local” setting of the Ekklesia.
The disconnect comes in when we move from individuals having differences and move to various local communities having differences.

I begin trying to address the problem one local community reaching a different / contradictory conclusion from another local community on the same important issue. Each uses the bible - each has a different belief…and this should not be - it is not biblical…

So - the disconnect is less about being “one body” (the meaning of ekklesia) and more of an issue of structure, hierarchy and authority.

Peace
James

I think how you stated it in the OP is broadly correct. When we talk about the Church, capital C, it’s the sum of all true Christians. It’s a spiritual body. The Church is “the called of Jesus Christ,” the “beloved of God,” the “partakers of the heavenly calling”, “the children of God, joint heirs with Christ of a heavenly inheritance”, the “partakers of the like precious faith with the Apostles”, “those who are washed, and sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” and those who being dead in sin, have been “quickened and raised up and made to sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” And so on and so forth. These prerogatives and promises made in Scripture apply to true believers alone. So our definition of Church is abstract, but obviously true Christians gather together to in visible churches. I guess the premise behind the Protestant definition is that the Church, the body of Christ, to which the promise of Christ’s presence and salvation is made, cannot logically have unbelievers.

I see the Catholic definition of the Church for which Christ died not as an abstract, “invisible” concept at all. It’s more earth-bound. It’s the tangible, visible, organisation with the pope as the head. It’s sort of an administrative body that Christ left behind to teach and rule, like the apostles. Papal succession is essentially apostolic succession. The claim is that the authority to teach and rule that the apostles had was passed down through Peter, and hence the bishops of Rome must be treated with the same faith and obedience. And in this case the Church is an object of faith, which it isn’t for Protestants.

Good night and good luck. Getting late here in sunny SA.

I believe this to be sound theology and assesment. Trust me, I make attempts to find common ground. I enjoy the common communion and fellowship with genuine christians. But it ALWAYS ends up being a matter of authority. And I understand the good reason for fear of accepting false doctrine. But if the faithfull people of God believe in a “Catholic Church” , where does that authority ultimately rest? Where are the apostolic leaders?

Paul himself, though he was an Apostle, was humble enough to follow Church proceedure when dealing with stalemate issues! He laid before the highest authorities his case. He happen to be walking in righteousness each time, though he was compelled by the Lord to seek confirmation through those who were leaders of the Church.

John in his 3rd letter expresses frustration regarding just such an individual (Diotrephes) who would not submit to Apostolic authority! He put himself first. Even when Paul was completely confident in the Lord, he knew all authority did not rest on him. Protestant believers want so much to give all authority to the Apostolic authority in Scripture, yet do not acknowledge a living and continued life of this authority! I really have trouble understanding this sometimes.

Michael

Thanks HF

So is there a difference in “c” vs. “C” church and how do you distinguish between the two in verbal conversation? The reason I ask is in talking to Protestants and they make a statement like “…the early [c]hurch was totally wrong when…” or “the early [c]hurch left the true faith…”, this does not make sense to me. I can see where someone could say “some people in the church were totally wrong” or “a large portion of the church fell away from the faith” but not “the church that Jesus established was totally wrong”.

I see the Catholic definition of the Church for which Christ died not as an abstract, “invisible” concept at all. It’s more earth-bound. It’s the tangible, visible, organisation with the pope as the head. It’s sort of an administrative body that Christ left behind to teach and rule, like the apostles. Papal succession is essentially apostolic succession. The claim is that the authority to teach and rule that the apostles had was passed down through Peter, and hence the bishops of Rome must be treated with the same faith and obedience. And in this case the Church is an object of faith, which it isn’t for Protestants.

It is truly unfortunate and extremely sad you do not recognize the invisible, sacramental element or dimension to the CC. I hope and pray some day this becomes more -]visible/-] of an awareness to you. It is, after all, THE part of the CC in which we believe Christ established. And this would also be the reason for what I wrote above.

Good night and good luck. Getting late here in sunny SA.

And a good night you too.

Yes. There are at least four different things Protestants may mean by the word Church (actually it seems to me that the same thing is true of Catholicism, but that is perhaps a separate discussion):

  1. The universal invisible Church, as you describe it.

  2. The local visible church–a congregation of baptized people who gather to hear the Word and celebrate the sacraments. For congregationalist, “free church” Protestants (which includes most of the folks you are probably thinking of when you speak of Protestants) these are the only two proper meanings of the word.

  3. The universal visible Church–the entire body of professed believers throughout the world, confessing the essentials of orthodox Christianity and celebrating the sacraments. This is a view of the Church held by Lutheran and Reformed Christians, and others with a more “traditional” understanding.

  4. The term is also used for a “denomination”–an organized group of local churches with shared doctrine and polity. It seems to me that this is a non-theological use of the word, but many “mainline” Protestants seem to take it seriously, which frankly baffles me. The tacit or explicit endorsement of this understanding of the word “Church” by the Episcopal Church is, from my perspective, the most troubling outcome of the “gay controversy.”

I have left out Anglo-Catholic theories of Church because they are, in terms of theological pedigree, not Protestant.

Edwin

I find that alot of protestants have this huge misconception of Orthodox or Catholics or any sort of Christian that has an emphasis on ecclesiology. That they think these groups confuse church with a physical building. “The church is not a physical building.”

Thats quite annoying.

But that their authority actually continues is just empty assertion. You need to define “apostle”, and then argue how their successors inherited their powers. For example, for you unbroken succession to be true, you have to believe Alexander VI was an apostle - not just the good guys.

[quote=adf417]It is truly unfortunate and extremely sad you do not recognize the invisible, sacramental element or dimension to the CC.
[/quote]

Not at all. :slight_smile: You don’t believe RC doctrines originated in a vacuum do you? It’s all well and good to have an abstract concept of “Catholic faith” that now exists independently of the magisterium, but that’s forgetting that those dogmas were defined by the magisterium in the first place. You cannot in any sense say that the church founded on Peter, if that is true, is an “invisible” Church. “Sacramental” doesn’t seem to be relevant to the visible/invisible distinction in definitions of “Church”, but as a Catholic you believe the visible external RCC has the power to dispense salvation piecemeal, and that it does this through the sacraments. The Eucharist is the focus of Catholic services; the sermon is the focus of Protestant services. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Catholic salvation is mediated by the Church. (Old Testament law was a sacerdotal system because of the separation between God and man. But that ended with Jesus Christ, the perfect High Priest, who was the fulfillment of OT law.)

Quite true…and while I agree that it can be annoying, they are certainly not wrong in saying this.

However - it seems that most people, even within the Catholic Church herself, see the hierarchy in terms of “power” instead of “responsibility”.
Indeed “authority” does contain elements of both…but what Christ describes in the Gospels is “authority” that rests on service…and service means “responsibility” much more than it means power.

In such discussions we need to take many baby steps in trying to help the other person see that the unity Christ prayed for - and that the early Church sought to preserve and protect - does not come from something imposed from the outside or “from the top down” without input from the faithful. Rather, it comes from the desire of true disciples of our Lord to be one with Him and with Each other - and this based firmly in Scripture.

It’s this desire of the faithful to humbly come to Truth, that can lead to discussion, debate, even arguing - as a community - up and down the ranks until eventually the best understanding and teaching is reached.

The structure of the Catholic Church is intended to foster this - not to impose from the top - but to gather, research, pray on, coalesce, develop, try and purify the various thoughts and ideas on a given subject - of importance to the Ekklesia as a whole.
Then to codify this, protect it, promulgate it, and teach it universally.
It is, or should be, a hierarchy of service - not power…

Sorry if the above is disjointed…
Hope it helps some.

Peace
James

If by “in a vacuum” you mean, A single perfect truth given to us by Jesus, once and for all man, then sure. Absolutely. Nothing but. :thumbsup:

It’s all well and good to have an abstract concept of “Catholic faith” that now exists independently of the magisterium, but that’s forgetting that those dogmas were defined by the magisterium in the first place. You cannot in any sense say that the church founded on Peter, if that is true, is an “invisible” Church. “Sacramental” doesn’t seem to be relevant to the visible/invisible distinction in definitions of “Church”, but as a Catholic you believe the visible external RCC has the power to dispense salvation piecemeal, and that it does this through the sacraments. The Eucharist is the focus of Catholic services; the sermon is the focus of Protestant services. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Catholic salvation is mediated by the Church. (Old Testament law was a sacerdotal system because of the separation between God and man. But that ended with Jesus Christ, the perfect High Priest, who was the fulfillment of OT law

HF, I really didn’t expect this thread to turn into a debate but rather an informational seeking venture for comparison reasons and simply to show that our terms are not being used with the same meanings. I ask you if my understanding of your view of a word is correct and solicit correction in return and ask you for what your understanding of my view of the same word with a chance to clarify. In the end I suspect your meaning behind the word will be different than mine but at least we should begin to view the usage of the word in its context that the user is actually meaning as opposed to what the hearer thinks he means.

I really don’t think you should be telling me or anyone what their understanding or meaning of a word should be. This is like my JW family who insist on telling me what I worship as opposed to hearing me profess what I actually worship.

So yes, in a sense, “church” to Catholics is the “doctrines originated in a vacuum” as you stated and I clarified above.

As has been pointed out, there are multiple meanings so I will also say that “church” as in the visible structure, which you seem to only relate to, is set up, with flaws, to teach these perfect truths and administer the perfect sacraments to its members.

Does this help?

Peace!!!

You mean like Judas?

As far as I know, Alexander VI was a pope not an apostle.

catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-problems-with-primitivism

catholic.com/magazine/articles/stewards-of-the-kingdom

Re: Church

Protestants have one thing in common among themselves. No matter the stripe, they are all outside the Church.

Jesus founded the Church and he started with Peter whom he gave the “Key”. The church has to be visible - the Catholic Church. Her members however are both the visible and the invisible, the living and the departed, and they are in ‘communion’. Every Catholic is confident in saying this because they can see for themselves that this is not only true and scriptural but they are in the mysterious body that dates back to the first apostles, the legacy which the Church has in her possession until today. Thus the Gate of Hell does not prevail against her.

In the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Mass, both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are celebrated. They are to be celebrated as one thus the placing of the lectionary on the altar of the Eucharist before it is being proclaimed from the ambo denoting its equal importance. When the Gospel is read, the congregation would stand and everything else would stand still as it is believed that when the priest read it, the word is as if coming from Jesus himself - that’s how the word is reverenced during the mass. So both the Eucharist and the Word are the focus of the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Mass. As Protestant perhaps this is hard for you to take but that is what the Holy Eucharist is where both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are celebrated as one in a Sacrament. It can never get bigger than that.

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