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Christian Church and the word church are used to denote both a Christian association of people and a place of worship. The word church is usually, but not exclusively, associated with Christianity. The term means something quite different for each religious institution that sees itself as belonging to the Christian traditions.
In the phenomenological sense there are many such associations of people. Today there is no single entity recognized by the secular world as the unique Christian Church.
By "Christian Church" is also understood the single entity that Christians refer to when they use the singular in the Apostles' Creed to speak of "the holy catholic Church", and when they speak in the Nicene Creed of "one holy catholic and apostolic Church".
Protestants in general make a clear distinction between an invisible and a visible Christian Church, considering neither of which to be identical with any one of the phenomenological associations of people that are known as churches. By the invisible Church they mean "that which is actually in God's presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world."
By the visible Church they mean all Christians taken jointly. In this sense "the name 'church' designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord's Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and for the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved. In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many ambitious, greedy, envious persons, evil speakers, and some of quite unclean life. Such are tolerated for a time either because they cannot be convicted by a competent tribunal or because a vigorous discipline does not always flourish as it ought. Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called 'church' in respect to men."
The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church reject this separation of a visible from an invisible Church. A theologian of the latter Church has described as a Nestorian ecclesiology "the error of those who would divide the Church into two distinct beings: on the one hand the heavenly and invisible Church, alone true and absolute; on the other, the earthly Church (or rather 'the churches') imperfect and relative".
Roman Catholic theology, reacting against the Protestant concept of a purely invisible Church, emphasized the visible aspect of the Church founded by Christ, but in the twentieth century placed more stress on the interior life of the Church as a supernatural organism, identifying the Church, as in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi of Pope Pius XII, with the Mystical Body of Christ.
This encyclical rejected two extreme views of the Church: (1) A rationalistic or purely sociological understanding of the Church, according to which she is merely a human organization with structures and activities. The visible Church and its structures do exist but the Church is more, she is guided by the Holy Spirit: "Although the juridical principles, on which the Church rests and is established, derive from the divine constitution given to it by Christ and contribute to the attaining of its supernatural end, nevertheless that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church". (2) An exclusively mystical understanding of the Church is mistaken as well, because a mystical "Christ in us" union would deify its members and mean that the acts of Christians are simultaneously the acts of Christ. The theological concept una mystica persona (one mystical person) refers not to an individual relation but to the unity of Christ with the Church and the unity of its members with him in her.
Etymology of church
The English language word "church" is from the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic *kirika, which in turn comes from the Greek kuriakē, meaning "of the Lord" (possessive form of kurios "ruler, lord"). Kuriakē in the sense of "church" is most likely a shortening of kuriakē oikia ("house of the Lord") or ekklēsia kuriakē ("congregation of the Lord"). The Greek word kuriakon (adjective meaning "of the lord") was used for houses of Christian worship since about 300, though it was less common in this sense than ekklēsia or basilikē.
The word is one of many direct Greek-to-Germanic loans of Christian terminology, via the Goths. The Slavic terms for "church" (Old Church Slavonic црькъі, Russian церковь) are via the Old High German cognate chirihha.
Throughout history there have been various terms that have been used to express the concept of a united Christian Church. This section discusses some of these.
The Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) or literally "assembly, congregation, council", is the traditional Roman Catholic/Orthodox term referring to the Christian Church. Most Romance languages use derivations of this word. The Latin form ecclesia is used in English to denote either a particular local group, or the whole body of the faithful.
The phrase One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church appears in the Nicene Creed (μίαν, ἁγίαν, καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν) and, in part, in the Apostles' Creed ("the holy catholic church", ἁγίαν καθολικὴν ἐκκλησίαν). The phrase is intended to set forth the four marks, or identifying signs, of the Christian Church — unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity — and is based on the premise that all true Christians form a single united group founded by the apostles. The word catholic in the phrase is a synonym for "universal" and is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church.
The terms orthodox Church and orthodox faith (not to be confused with the modern term "Eastern Orthodox" with a capital 'O') have been used to distinguish what is considered the true Church from groups considered heretical. The term became especially prominent in referring to the doctrine of the Nicene Creed and, in historical contexts, is often still used to distinguish this first "official" doctrine from others.
The term Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:27), also known as the Bride of Christ, is used to refer to the total community of Christians seen as interdependent in a single entity headed by Jesus Christ.
The phrase Church Militant and Church Triumphant (Ecclesia Militans, Ecclesia Triumphans) is used to express the concept of a united Church that extends beyond the earthly realm into Heaven. The term Church Militant comprises all living Christians while Church Triumphant comprises those in Heaven.
The Church Suffering, or Church Expectant, is a Roman Catholic concept encompassing those Christians in Purgatory. These Christians are not considered part of the Church Militant and Church Triumphant.
The term Communion of Saints expresses the idea of a shared faith which, through prayer, binds all Christians regardless of the physical separation or separation by death. In Roman Catholic theology this would be differentiated from the Church Militant and Church Triumphant alone because the Communion of Saints also includes the Church Suffering.
The term domestic church is sometimes used to refer to the Christian family, the most basic unit of church life.
In Catholic theology, The Church may be used to designate those who exercise the office of teaching and ruling the faithful, the Ecclesia Docens, or (more rarely) the governed as distinguished from their pastors, the Ecclesia Discens.
The Christian Church originated in Roman Judea in the first century AD, founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth believed by all Christians to be the Son of God, and the Messiah, or deliverer king, of the Jewish people. The precise start of the Church is considered to be at Pentecost, but it is usually thought of as originating with Jesus' Apostles. According to scripture Jesus commanded the Apostles to spread his teachings to all the world.
Although springing out of the first century Jewish faith, from its earliest days, as did Judaism (see proselyte and Noahide Laws), they accepted non-Jews (Gentiles) without requiring them to fully adopt Jewish customs (e.g. circumcision) Some think that conflict with Jewish religious authorities quickly led to the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogues in Jerusalem, see also Council of Jamnia and List of events in early Christianity.
The Church gradually spread through the Roman Empire and outside it gaining major establishments in cities such as Jerusalem, Antioch, and Edessa. Christianity became a widely persecuted religion, hated by the Jewish authorities as a heresy, and by the Roman authorities because, like Judaism, its monotheistic teachings were fundamentally foreign to the traditions of the ancient world, as well as a challenge to the imperial cult. Other teachings of Christianity, such as the call to chastity and the prohibition on homosexual practise, also made it unpopular. Despite this the Church grew rapidly until finally legalized and then promoted by Emperors Galerius and Constantine in the fourth century. A major controversy as the Church was being formalized was the Arianism vs. Trinitarianism debate which occupied the Church during the fourth century.
After various Church councils (Nicaea, Tyre, Rimini, Seleucia, Constantinople, etc.), the matter was effectively settled by the Trinitarian Emperor Theodosius I who made Christianity the state religion (some Germanic tribes, though, remained Arian well into the Middle Ages). This period would begin the long-term persecution of pagans and "heretical" Christians in the Empire and the kingdoms that followed. See also Christendom.
The Church of the Roman Empire was divided into Patriarchal Sees with five holding particular prominence, one in the West (Rome), and the rest in the East (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria). The bishops of these five would become the Patriarchs of the Church. Even after the split of the Roman Empire the Church remained a relatively united institution (excluding Oriental Orthodoxy and some other groups which separated from the rest of the Church earlier). The Church came to be a central and defining institution of the Empire, especially in the East. In particular, Constantinople would come to be seen as the center of the Christian world, owing in great part to its economic and political power.
Once the Western Empire fell to Germanic incursions in the 5th century, the (Roman) Church for centuries became the primary link to Roman civilization for Medieval Western Europe and an important channel of influence in the West for the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, emperors. While, in the West, Christianity struggled as the so-called orthodox (i.e. Roman) Church competed against the Arian Christian and pagan faiths of the Germanic rulers, the Eastern Romans spread Christianity to the pagan Slavs establishing the Church in what is now Russia, Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The reign of Charlemagne in Western Europe is particularly noted for bringing the last major Western tribes outside of the Church into communion with Rome, in part through conquest and forced conversion.
Starting in the 7th century the Islamic Caliphates rose and gradually began to conquer larger and larger areas of the Christian world. Excepting southern Spain and a few smaller areas, Northern and western Europe for centuries escaped largely unscathed by Islamic expansion in great part because Constantinople and its empire acted as a magnet for the onslaught. The challenge presented by the Muslims would help to solidify the religious identity of eastern Christians even as it gradually weakened the Eastern Empire.
Although there had long been frictions between the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Western Pope) and the other patriarchs, Rome's changing allegiance from Constantinople to the Frankish king Charlemagne set the Church on a course towards separation. The political and theological divisions would grow until Rome excommunicated the East in the 11th century, ultimately leading to the division of the Church into the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (Eastern Orthodox) Churches.
As a result of the redevelopment of Western Europe, and the gradual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Arabs and Turks (helped by warfare against Eastern Christians). The final Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD resulted in Eastern scholars fleeing the Moslem hordes bringing ancient manuscripts to the West, which was a factor in the beginning of the period of the Western Renaissance there. Rome came to be seen by the Western Church as Christianity's heartland. Some Eastern churches even broke with Eastern Orthodoxy and entered into communion with Rome. The changes brought on by the Renaissance eventually led to the Protestant Reformation during which the Protestant Lutheran and the Reformed followers of Calvin, Hus, Zwingli, Melancthon, Knox, and others split from the Roman Catholic Church. At this time, a series of non-theological disputes also led to the English Reformation which led to the independence of the Anglican Communion. Then during the Age of Exploration and the Age of Imperialism, Western Europe spread the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant and Reformed Churches around the world, especially in the Americas. These developments in turn have led to Christianity's being the largest religion in the world today.
The Greek term ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), which literally means a "gathering, selection, or assembly", was a governmental and political term used to denote a national assembly in ancient Athens. In the Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word ekklesia is employed 96 times to denote the congregation convoked by God, the Children of Israel. (Isaiah 41:8-9; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; Exodus 12:6; Numbers 14:5; 16:3; 1 Kings 8:14.22.55-56; 1 Chronicles 28:8; Psalms 22:23-26 etc.). The first Christians consciously applied that term to themselves, mostly to emphasize that the Church is the community of those convoked by God and the elected ones.
The word "church" is used as the translation for the 114 occurrences of the term ekklesia in the New Testament. In the New Testament, ekklesia is used to refer either to disciples of a single locality ("To the ekklesia of God in Corinth...", 1 Corinthians 1:2), or to the entire body of believers in Christ ("And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my ekklesia, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it", Matthew 16:18)
The notion goes back to Early Christianity. The pronunciation that outside of the Church, there is no salvation (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) goes back to Cyprian (d. 258), and is maintained by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to the present day. The doctrine of the universal Church was made explicit in the Apostles' Creed. The emphasis on the unity of the Church Universal is made in the Unam sanctam bull of 1302, an extreme statement of Papal supremacy.
The less common notion of the universal, invisible church refers to the "invisible" body of the elect who are known only to God, and contrasts with the "visible church" — that is, the institutional body on earth which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. Every member of the invisible church is saved, while the visible church contains some individuals who are saved and others who are unsaved. (Compare Matthew 7:21-24.) This concept has been attributed to St Augustine of Hippo as part of his refutation of the Donatist sect, but others question whether Augustine really held to some form of an "invisible true Church" concept.
"Catholic" appears in both the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed, statements of faith adhered to by almost all modern denominations. When the word "catholic" or "universal" is applied to the Church, it is generally intended to indicate that the institution is the uniquely legitimate Christian church intended for all of humanity.
In Christian theology the term is often used to imply a calling to spread the faith throughout the whole world and to all ages. It is also thought of as implying that the Church is endowed with all the means of salvation for its members.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, the earliest known writer to use the phrase "the Catholic church", excluded from it heterodox groups whose teaching and practice conflicted with those of the bishops of the Roman Catholic church. In keeping with this idea, many churches and communions see groups that it judges to be in a state of heresy or schism with their church or communion as not part of the catholic Church. E.g. the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches follow this doctri
The Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy each claim to be the original Christian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church bases its claim primarily on its assertion that it holds to traditions and beliefs of the original Christian Church. It also states that 4 out of the 5 sees of the Pentarchy (excluding Rome) are still a part of it.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches' claims are similar to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, excluding the claim to 4 of the 5 sees of the Pentarchy.
The importance of identity of tradition and belief with the original Christian Church can be seen as originating with the biblical proscriptions against false prophets. "Orthodoxy" means both "true glory" and "correct teaching", and this theological term is explicitly used by Orthodox Christians as a shorthand way to refer to themselves as "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, Orthodox and Orthoprax, Church of Jesus Christ and His saints." In the same manner, the Roman Catholic Church describes itself as orthodox, meaning having possession of the whole faith. Other Christian denominations, who do not accept the claims of this Church to be the sole orthodox Church refer to her as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
This concept of "orthodoxy" began to take on particular significance during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, the first to actively promote Christianity. Constantine convened the first Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicea, which attempted to provide the first universal creed of the Christian faith.
The major issue of this and other councils during the fourth century was the christological debate between Arianism and Trinitarianism. Trinitarianism is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and is strongly associated with the term "orthodoxy", although some modern non-trinitarian churches dispute this usage. Churches that subscribe to the Nicene Creed, the first official Trinitarian creed, are sometimes referred to as "orthodox"
Roman Catholic tradition
On June 29 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the presidency of William Cardinal Levada signed an official document called "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church". It was published July 10 2007. Benedict XVI, at an audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.
For the Roman Catholic Church, this document closes the argument about the identification of the Catholic Church with the Church of Christ. The Vatican was asked specifically: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church? The Vatican responded that Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community". The Roman Catholic Church from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic…"
Protestant and Anglican traditions
Others have, since the Protestant Reformation, used the word "catholic" to designate instead adherence to the doctrines and essential practices of the historical institutional Churches, in contrast to those propounded by the Reformers. In this sense indicated in this paragraph, "Catholic" tends to be written with an upper-case "C". The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches all see themselves as fully "catholic" in all the foregoing senses.
Most Protestant denominations interpret "catholic", especially in its creedal context, as referring to the concept of the eternal church of Christ and the Elect, referenced in the Bible in phrases such as "body of Christ" and "great cloud of witnesses". Expressed in the language of traditional Roman Catholicism this Protestant interpretation of the words "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" identifies the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" exclusively with the Church Triumphant - i.e. the church that exists "in heaven" or in eternity as opposed to the Church Militant which is the communion of the faithful here on Earth. They view this understanding of "catholic" as necessarily distinct from any concrete expression in an institutional Church. In this last sense, "catholic" tends to be written with a lower-case "c".
Anglicans generally understand their tradition as a branch of the historic Catholic Church and as a via media (middle way) between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
The doctrine of "apostolic succession" asserts that the bishops of the true Church enjoy the favor, or grace, of God as a result of legitimate and unbroken sacramental succession from Jesus' apostles. Modern bishops, therefore, must be viewed as an unbroken line of leadership from the original apostles. Note that this doctrine is distinct from that of Papal supremacy, which grants the Roman Catholic bishop of Rome special powers in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Anglican Communion and others interpret "apostolic" as referring not only to the Church's origin from Christ's Apostles and their teachings, but also to the Church's structure around bishops who have succeeded the apostles by unbroken succession transmitted by episcopal consecration (laying on of hands), which is traceable to the Apostles themselves.
It is a widely held belief among Christians that the Christian church is guided by the Holy Spirit and given spiritual authority by Christ.
According to Christian tradition the "authority" of Jesus Christ to preach, to teach, and to do all the things that He had done while on Earth came from God. Before Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven He had given His apostles and disciples the authority to preach (that may include teaching, exhorting, rebuking, correcti and to baptize. This "authority" was passed on by the apostles to the disciples, and was to be passed from one generation of disciples to the next until His second coming. The passing on of this authority had been conducted solely by the church. This passing on of authority was sometimes called the anointing or appointing of pastors or leaders of a church.
(Membership in the Christian church has traditionally been defined by baptism. The church administers Christianity's sacred acts: baptism, the Lord's supper, worship, etc.)
The visible and the invisible church
Many believe that the Church, as described in the Bible, has a twofold character that can be described as the visible and invisible church.
The Church invisible consists of all those from every time and place who are vitally united to Christ through regeneration and salvation and who will be eternally united to Jesus Christ in eternal life. The Church visible consists of all those who visibly join themselves to a profession of faith and gathering together to know and serve the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
The visible church exists globally in all who identify themselves as Christians and locally in particular places where believers gather for the worship of God. The visible church may also refer to an association of particular churches from multiple locations who unite themselves under a common charter and set of governmental principles. The church in the visible sense is often governed by office-bearers carrying titles such as minister, pastor, teacher, elder, and deacon.
Some say that no reference to the church is ever made in the Bible that is not referring to a local visible body, such as the church in someone's house or the church as Ephesus. They believe that the term is sometimes used in an institutional sense in which the term refers to all of a certain type, meaning all of the local visible churches.
Major forms of church government include hierarchical (Anglican, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic), presbyterian (rule by elders), and independent (Baptist, charismatic, other forms of in dependency). Before the Protestant Reformation clergy were understood to gain their authority through apostolic succession, as still affirmed by the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.