corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.09.22
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Church (2)

Resource Toolbox

CHURCH.—It is proposed in this article to deal with the references to the Church in the Gospels, particularly as they bear upon Christ’s relation to the Church. The other books of the NT, and the beliefs and practices of the early ages of Christianity, will be referred to only as far as they appear to throw light upon the teaching and actions of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. It will be assumed that the accounts of the life and teaching of Christ contained in the four Gospels as well as the narrative of the Acts are substantially historical, and that the thirteen Epistles usually ascribed to St. Paul are genuine. Without this limitation the inquiry would be of quite a different character.

The historical society known as the Church has never claimed to have come into complete existence until the day of Pentecost, and its growth and organization were a gradual process. We shall not, therefore, on any theory, expect to find in the Gospels a complete and explicit account of the foundation and characteristics of the Church, and it will be a convenient method of procedure to take the chief elements of the conception of the Church which was generally accepted at a later date, when the community was fully constituted, and to inquire how far these can be traced back to the teaching of Christ Himself, and how far they may be regarded as later accretions, or the natural but not necessary development of ideas which existed before, if at all, only in germ. Now our knowledge of the first days of Christianity derived from the NT is but fragmentary, and the period immediately following is one of great obscurity; but from the middle of the 2nd cent. there is no doubt about the prevalent and almost universal belief of Christians with regard to the Church. It was believed that the Church, as it then existed, was a society founded by Christ as an integral part of His work for mankind. It was further believed that the Church possessed characteristics which were summed up under the words, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. And while it was believed that the Church stood in the most intimate spiritual relation to Christ, it was also held that its outward unity and continuity were secured by a definite organization and form of government, the essential features of which had been imposed upon the Church by the Apostles, acting under a commission given them by Christ Himself. The Church was further regarded as the instrument appointed by Christ for the completion of His work for mankind. The fact that these beliefs were generally held, at all events from the middle of the 2nd cent. onwards, suggests the following division of the subject. First, it will be asked whether the belief that it was Christ’s intention to found a visible society is borne out (1) by what we know of His own actions and teaching, and (2) by the records of the earliest days of Christian life. Secondly, the characteristics ascribed to the Church in the Christian creeds will be examined in the light of the NT writings.

i. Indications of a visible Church.

1. In the teaching and actions of Christ: (a) the Messianic claim and the Kingdom of God; (b) the body of disciples; (c) the institution of sacraments.

2. In the earliest period of Christian history.

ii. Characteristics of the Church.

1. Unity: (a) essential and transcendental; (b) taking outward expression; (c) imperfect.

2. Holiness.

3. Catholicity.

4. Apostolicity: (a) doctrine; (b) worship; (c) discipline.

Note.—The words ‘Church’ and ‘Ecclesia.’

Literature.

i. Indications of a visible Church.

1. In the Teaching and Actions of Christ.

(a) Relation of Christ to the Messianic Hope and the Kingdom of God.—The idea of a covenant relation between God and man is found in the earliest records of the Hebrew race. Covenants were at first made with individuals and families; but with the beginning of Jewish nationality there is a consciousness of a peculiar relation between the nation and Jehovah. The idea of a national God was, of course, shared by the Jews with all the nations with which they came into contact; but as their conception of the Deity advanced, and their religion developed through monolatry into a pure monotheism, the idea of Jehovah as a national God passed into the idea of the selection of Israel by the one God of all the earth for a special destiny and special privileges. Thus the Jewish religion was a religion of hope, and its Golden Age was in the future. This national hope became closely associated in thought with the kingdom,—at first the actual kingdom, and then the kingdom to be restored in the future. After the fall of the actual kingdom, the idea of the future kingdom became, to a great extent, idealized, and in close connexion with it there grew up the expectation of a personal Messiah. It is not necessary for the present purpose to inquire when this expectation first becomes apparent, or to trace the growth of the Messianic hope in detail. The important fact is that at the time of Christ’s birth Israel as a nation was looking for a kingdom of God and a Messianic King. With many, perhaps with most, the expectation may have been mainly that of an independent and powerful earthly kingdom; but the remains of Jewish literature in the last century before Christ show that the more spiritually minded Jews undoubtedly looked for a kingdom which would indeed have Jerusalem for its centre, and of which the faithful Jews would be the nucleus, but which would also be world-wide and spiritual in character. It must also be noticed that the doctrine of a Remnant, which had taken strong hold of the Jewish mind since the time of Isaiah, had accustomed them to think of a community of the faithful, within and growing out of the existing nation, who should in a special sense be the heirs of the promises.

The most conspicuous feature in the teaching of Christ, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, is undoubtedly His claim to be the Messiah, and His announcement of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In using these terms, He must have intended to appeal to, and to a great extent to sanction, the ideas and hopes of those whom He addressed. And yet it very soon became plain that the kingdom which He preached was something very different from anything that the most spiritual of the Jews had conceived. The old Jewish kings had led the people in war, they had judged them in peace, they had levied tribute; but these functions Christ expressly disclaimed. He would not allow His followers to think of appealing to force (Matthew 26:52), He repudiated the idea of being a ruler or a judge of ordinary contentions (Luke 12:14), He accepted the payment of tribute to an alien potentate as a thing indifferent (Mark 12:17). But, on the other hand, the great acts which Jehovah Himself had performed for the Jewish nation, in virtue of which He Himself had been regarded as their King, Christ performed for a new nation. Jehovah had called Abraham and the patriarchs, and had attached them to Himself by intimate ties and covenants, and out of their seed had formed a nation which He ruled; and, in the second place, He had given this nation His own law. So Christ called from among the Jews His own disciples, from whom He required an absolute personal devotion, and to them He delivered a new law to fulfil or supersede the old (Matthew 5:17). See, further, art. Kingdom of God.

What is the relation of the Kingdom of God to the Church?—The two things are not simply identical, and the predominant sense of the Kingdom in the NT appears to be rather that of a reign than of a realm. But these two ideas are complementary, and the one implies the other. Sometimes it is hardly possible to distinguish between them. It may be true that ‘by the words the Kingdom of God our Lord denotes not so much His disciples, whether individually or even as forming a collective body, as something which they receive—a state upon which they enter’ (Robertson, Regnum Dei); but at the same time the whole history of the growth of the idea of the Kingdom led, naturally, to the belief that the Kingdom of God about which Christ taught would be expressed and realized in a society. The teaching of Christ about the Kingdom of Heaven does not perhaps, taken by itself, prove that He was the Founder of the church; but if this is established by other evidence, it may at least be said that His Kingdom is visibly represented in His Church, and that ‘the Church is the Kingdom of Heaven in so far as it has already come, and it prepares for the Kingdom as it is to come in glory.’

(b) How far the line of action adopted by Christ during His ministry tended to the formation of a society.—Christ began from the first to attach to Himself a number of disciples. Their numbers varied, and they did not all stand in equally close relations to Him; they were indeed still a vague and indeterminate body at the time of His death, but they tended to define themselves more and more. There was a process of sifting (John 6:66), and immediately after the Ascension an expression is used which suggests some sort of list (Acts 1:15). As much as this, indeed, might be said of most religious and philosophical leaders, but Christ did more than create an unorganized mass of disciples. From an early period He formed an inner circle ‘that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth’ (Mark 3:14). The name ‘Apostles’ may have been given to the Twelve in the first instance with reference to a temporary mission, but subsequent events showed that this temporary mission was itself only part of a system of training to which Christ devoted more and more of His time. The Twelve became in a special sense ‘the disciples,’ and this is what they are usually called in the Fourth Gospel. The larger body are also disciples, but the Twelve are their leaders and representatives. Their representative character culminates at the Last Supper, where the Eucharist is given to them alone, but, as the event showed, in trust for the whole body.

Certain sayings recorded of Christ in connexion with the Apostles and their functions will be noticed later. For the present it is enough to call attention to the fact that, apart from any special saying or commission, the general course of Christ’s actions not only tended to produce a society, but provided what is a necessary condition of the effectiveness and permanence of a society—the nucleus of an organization; and that the greater part of His labours was directed towards the training of this inner circle for carrying on a work which He would not complete Himself.

(c) The significance of the institution of the sacraments.—A society, to be plainly visible and unmistakable, requires some outward act or sign of distinction by which all its members can be recognized. Circumcision had been such to the Jews. And in order to be both effective and permanent, a society further requires some definite corporate action, binding upon all its members, and relating to the object for which the society exists. The observance of the Law has been the corporate action of the Jews. No society has, as a matter of fact, succeeded in maintaining itself in existence for an indefinite period without such signs of distinction and corporate actions. Both requirements were supplied by Christ, if the Gospel narrative may be trusted, in the sacraments which He instituted. In Baptism He provided a definite means of incorporation, and in the Eucharist a corporate act and a visible bond of union. This is indeed only part of the significance of the sacraments, but when they are regarded from another point of view it becomes all the more striking that the means appointed to convey the grace of God to the individual should be necessarily social in their character. The general tendency of the teaching of Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, with regard to the Jewish Law and to the relation of the inward and outward, gives great significance to the fact that He should have ordered any external acts of the nature of sacraments, and makes it still more remarkable that He should have laid emphasis on their necessity as a condition of entrance into the Kingdom and to the possession of life (John 3:5; John 6:54). And he fact that these are necessarily social is of primary importance in considering the relation of the Church to Christ.

It thus appears from a general view of Christ’s ministry as recorded in the Gospels, without taking into consideration particular sayings ascribed to Him, that before the Ascension He had provided everything that was necessary for the existence of a society, for the development of an organization, and for its permanence and corporate action. The only thing wanting to the complete constitution of the Church was the fulfilment of the promise of the gift of the indwelling spirit, for which the disciples were bidden to wait (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4).

2. In the earliest period of Church history.—The conclusions to which the Gospels appear to point will be corroborated if there is evidence that a society actually did exist immediately after the events recorded in the Gospels. Of this early period the only existing record is that which is contained in the Acts. There is also contemporary evidence of the ideas of a somewhat later period in St. Paul’s Epistles. If the evidence of the Acts is accepted, there is no doubt of its general tendency. Immediately after the Ascension there appears a well defined body disciples, led by the Apostles (Acts 1:13-15). At the day of Pentecost this body is fully constituted for its mission, and receives a large accession of numbers. The mention of definite numbers (Acts 1:15; Acts 2:41; Acts Act_4:4) shows that there was no doubt who the persons were who belonged to the society. Nor is there any doubt, from the constant mention of baptism throughout the book, that this was the invariable means of acquiring membership. It is expressly mentioned even in the exceptional case recorded in Acts 10:47 f. Throughout the whole narrative the Apostles appear as the leaders and teachers of the whole community. Membership implies adherence to their teaching and fellowship, with ‘the breaking of bread’ and common prayer as a bond of union (Acts 2:42). The practice of community of goods is an evidence of the closeness of the bond, while the fact that this was voluntary shows that ‘neither the community was lost in the individuals, nor the individuals in the community’ (Hort, Christian Ecclesia, p. 48). The meetings of the Church must have been in houses, and none in Jerusalem can possibly have contained all the disciples; but no importance is attached to the place of meeting, nor are house congregations ever spoken of or alluded to as separate units of Church life. A theory has been formed that the Church as a society arose out of a federation of house assemblies, but there is absolutely no trace whatever of such a possibility in the Acts: the whole body of disciples is the only unit. The word ecclesia occurs for the first time in Acts 5:11, and there it is the whole body which is spoken of. In the course of time the increase in the number of adherents led to an advance in organization, the Apostles delegating some of their functions to a lower order of ministers, and soon afterwards persecution caused an extension of the Church to other parts of Palestine. But there is as yet no subdivision; questions which arise in Samaria and Joppa are dealt, with at Jerusalem (Acts 8:14; Acts 11:1 f.). This state of things, however, could not last. When the process of extension had gone further, it became impossible to administer all the affairs of the community from a single centre. And so when a body of Christians established themselves in Antioch, a new use of the word ecclesia appears (Acts 11:26). Hitherto it has meant the whole body of the brethren; now it is applied also to parts of the whole. Each centre is capable of separate action, and deals with local affairs, while remaining in close union with the whole. And so the step which was perhaps the most momentous of any that have been taken in Church history—the mission of Paul and Barnabas—was apparently the work of the Church in Antioch alone, without any reference to Jerusalem (Acts 13:1 ff.). This mission led to the foundation of a large number of local ecclesiœ, each of which was provided by the Apostle with a local ministry (Acts 14:23), while he exercised a continual supervision over them, and visited them as often as circumstances would allow. The difficult questions which arise out of this great extension of the Church are referred to the ‘Apostles and presbyters’ at Jerusalem. The precise relations between the authority of the whole body and the legitimate independence of the local communities are undefined, but the recognition of the unity of the whole Church and of the Apostolic authority is unmistakable. In the Epistles of St. Paul the term ecclesia is constantly used of the local communities, of which he had frequent occasion to speak; the church in a city (1 Corinthians 1:2) or even in a house (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15) is a familiar expression, and the churches of a region are spoken of (1 Corinthians 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:19) in a way that possibly suggests the beginnings of a provincial organization. But ‘the Church’ is the one undivided Church of which these several churches are only local divisions. It is in the Epistle to the Ephesians that his doctrine of ‘the Church’ culminates. It is particularly with reference to this teaching that a distinction has been drawn between the actual and the ideal Church. This distinction is a real one, if it means that the ideal of the Church has never yet been realized in fact. But neither St. Paul nor any other NT writer draws any distinction, or appears to be conscious of the need of any. The Church, like the individual Christian, is regarded as being that which it is becoming. As the individual Christian, in spite of his imperfections, is a saint, so the existing body of Christians whom he is addressing is the Body of Christ, which is to be presented a glorious Church, holy and without blemish (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:27). See Organization.

ii. The Characteristics of the Church.—Assuming now that the Church is a society founded by Christ to carry on His work for the redemption of mankind, the characteristic notes of the Church, as they have been embodied in the Creeds, may be considered with reference to the teaching contained in the Gospels. It is convenient to state at the outset what the principal passages in the Gospels are which bear upon the subject. In the first place, all the teaching relative to the Kingdom of God bears more or less directly on the Church. Some points with regard to this have already been noticed. Then there are the two passages in which the word ecclesia is used, Matthew 16:13-20; Matthew 18:15-20. In connexion with the former, the other two ‘Petrine’ texts, Luke 22:28-32 and John 21:15-17, may be considered. There are also the charges given to the Apostles in general, Matthew 10, Mark 3:13-15; Mark 6:7-13, Matthew 28:16-20, John 20:21-23, and the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist. And there is the long passage John 14-17, which specially bears upon the relations of Christ to the Church. The authenticity or credibility of some of these passages has been disputed on various grounds, but it will be assumed for the present purpose that they contain a credible record of the teaching of Christ. It will be convenient to consider this teaching under the heads of those notes of the Church which have been commonly ascribed to it from early times, and have been embodied in the Creeds.

1. Unity.—If the conclusion already reached about the origin of the Church is true, it is clear that it must be one society. The teaching of Christ on this point, as recorded in the Fourth Gospel, is very emphatic (John 17:21-23), and He bases the unity of the Church on the unity of God (cf. Ephesians 4:4-6). It is also to be a visible unity, for it is to be a sign to the world: ‘that the world may believe.’ It is, however, implied that it will be a progressive unity, not at once perfectly realized (John 17:23; John 10:10). This is illustrated by St. Paul, who speaks of unity as a thing to be gradually attained to (Ephesians 4:13). These three points may be taken in order.

(a) If the unity of the Church is based upon the unity of God, it follows that it is an essential and transcendental, and not an accidental unity; i.e. it is not a merely political or voluntary association of men combining together with a view to effect certain ends, nor is it merely occasioned by the social instincts of human nature. These lower kinds of unity are not, indeed, excluded by the higher, but they are by themselves an insufficient explanation. It has been maintained that the idea of the unity of the Church is an afterthought, caused by the strong tendency to religious associations which prevailed in the Empire in the early ages of Christianity. Abundant evidence already exists, and more is being accumulated, of the existence of this tendency; but even if it should be shown that non-Christian associations influenced the manner in which the Christian community framed its external life and that they assisted its growth, this would not in the least disprove the essential unity of the Church. As far, however, as investigation has gone at present, it seems that the Church owed remarkably little to heathen precedents. The fact that from the earliest times there were some who more or less separated themselves and stood aloof, has been alleged as a proof that unity was not regarded as essential. But imperfection, as has already been noted, is a condition of the earthly state of the Church; and the strong condemnation with which separation is invariably spoken of in the NT and by all early writers, is very strong evidence of the belief of the Church that unity is one of its essential marks. The existence from the first of the power of excommunication (1 Corinthians 5, etc.), is further evidence to the same effect.

The unity of the Church is, then, a theological unity, arising from the unity of God, from the fact that all members of the Church are members of Christ and abide in Him as the branches abide in the vine, and from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. From this flows a moral unity of thought and action among the members of the Church, who are bound together by the invisible bonds of faith, hope, and love.

(b) But this invisible unity will express itself, as far as regards that part of the Church which is on earth, in an outward form. There has not unnaturally been a good deal of conflict of opinion throughout the greater part of Church history as to the precise nature of the outward form which is necessary. Confining ourselves to the teaching of Christ upon the subject, the first thing to be noticed is that institution of the visible actions called sacraments which has been already spoken of. The necessity for performing certain outward actions at once distinguishes those persons who perform them, and these particular actions are social in their nature, and cannot be performed except in connexion with a visible society. In the next place, the administration of sacraments implies discipline, for a certain amount of organization is necessary in order to enable a society to act, and social actions cannot be performed in isolation. For this Christ provided by the institution of a ministry in the persons of the Apostles, to whom Ho expressly committed the sacraments. It follows that among the things which are necessary to their valid administration, the preservation of the order instituted by the Church under the direction of the Apostles must be reckoned. And while the Church has recognized all its members as valid ministers of Baptism in case of necessity, the administration of the Eucharist has been confined amongst most Christians to those who have received special Apostolic authority for the purpose.

It is further held by a very large number of Christians, that in addition to the external bonds of union formed by the sacraments and the Apostolic ministry, the Church on earth, being visible, must have a visible head, and that this headship was given by Christ to St. Peter, and by implication to his successors. Union with the earthly head of the Church is therefore necessary to avoid the guilt of schism. It is alleged that this is the natural sense of the passages which record the special charges given by Christ to St. Peter (Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 22:28-32, and John 20:21-23), and that this interpretation of His words is borne out by the claims made from the earliest times by the bishops of Rome, and allowed or acquiesced in by the Church at large. It is argued, on the other side, that the passages in question were not interpreted in this sense by early Church writers, and that the testimony of the Acts and Epistles and of early Church history shows that such a position was not actually held by St. Peter. The controversy is of such enormous proportions that it can only be alluded to here, but a few of the innumerable books that deal with the subject are mentioned in the list of Literature at the end.

(c) These inward and outward bonds of union give a real numerical unity to the Church, so that it will be one in any one place, one throughout the world, and one in all time. Nothing less than this can satisfy the conception of unity put before us in the NT. But it must be noted, in the third place, that unity may be real while it is still imperfect. The perfection of the Church, in respect of unity as well as of all other characteristics, is possible only when all its members are perfect, and therefore it cannot be fully realized in this life. Any loosening of those bonds which have been mentioned, whether inward or outward, must necessarily impair unity. It is not necessary that there should be an outward breach. A lack of charity, leading to party spirit, such as existed at Corinth, was regarded by St. Paul as impairing the unity of the Church although no visible severance had taken place. A want of faith, or errors concerning the faith, must have the same effect. A departure from the faith of the Church on fundamental matters is called ‘heresy,’ and any great want of either charity or faith on the part of a section of the Church commonly leads to a breach of the external conditions of union, which is called ‘schism.’ This again admits of different degrees, and is of two principal kinds. A suspension or refusal of communion between two parts of the Church undoubtedly amounts to a schism, even though both parts retain the due administration of the sacraments and the Apostolic ministry. Such a schism has arisen between the Churches of the East and the West, and it was the work of centuries of gradual estrangement, so that it is impossible to say at what precise moment the want of intercommunion became such as to amount to a formal schism. There is a breach of a very similar character between the Anglican Churches and those which adhere to the Roman obedience. There is also another kind of schism, which is caused when bodies of baptized persons form new associations which do not claim to be connected with the Apostolic Church, or which reject the sacraments. There is no other cause for such breaches of outward communion than the imperfection of the faith and charity of the members of the Church. But if such imperfection does not in itself destroy the unity of the Church, the external consequences which naturally result from it do not necessarily do so. Heresy and schism impair unity, but do not altogether destroy it, just as the spiritual life of the individual is not altogether destroyed even by grievous sins.

1. The Invisible Church.—So far only the unity of that part of the Church which is on earth has been spoken of. But members of the Body of Christ do not cease to be united to Him, and therefore to each other after death. That part of the Church which has passed away from earth is called the Invisible Church, in contrast to the Visible Church upon earth, but they are essentially one. With regard to the state of the departed, very little direct teaching is recorded to have been given by Christ Himself, and we must not presume to speculate too much where knowledge has been withheld. Perhaps little more can be said than that in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) Christ gave a general sanction to current Jewish beliefs as to the state of the departed, and that His words to the penitent thief (Luke 23:43) assure us that union with Himself is not impaired by death. If this is so, it is sufficient justification for the universal belief of early Christians, that the Invisible Church is united to the Visible by common worship.

2. Holiness.—The Church may be called holy because it is a Divine institution, of which Christ is the head, and the special sphere of the working of the Holy Spirit, or because its members, being united to Christ as the branches are to a vine or the limbs to a body, are called to a life of holiness, and have a real though imperfect holiness infused into them. Something has already been said on these first points, and it is hardly necessary to show at length that Christ required holiness from His followers (John 17:16-19, Matthew 5:48). It is no less evident that the holiness spoken of here and elsewhere is a progressive holiness.

One difficulty which has arisen with regard to this characteristic of the Church is that the want of holiness in many of those who have fulfilled the outward conditions of Church membership has often in Church history led to attempts to secure greater purity by a sacrifice of external unity. The Novatians, the Donatists, and many later bodies of separatists, have made such attempts. The persistency of this tendency in the face of such teaching of Christ as is contained in the parables of the Tares and the Draw-net is somewhat surprising, but at all events it testifies to a deep underlying conviction of the necessity of holiness. St. Paul emphasizes the holiness of any body of Christians which he addresses, by giving them the title of ‘saints,’ however imperfect many of the individuals might be (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2; cf. Acts 9:32). They are both individually and collectively a holy temple, and the habitation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:10-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 2:16-22). And, as has already been pointed out, he does not draw any sharp line of division between the imperfect society on earth and that which shall be perfected hereafter (Ephesians 5:25-27): he regards both the individual and the society as being already that which they are becoming.

‘As a whole the Church is holy in that it retains faithfully those means of sanctification which Christ gave her, holy Sacraments, holy laws, holy teaching, so that, amid whatever imperfections, her whole aim is that the tendency of her acts and her teaching shall be to promote holiness and the inward spiritual life.… An university is learned, or a city rich, which abounds in learning or riches, although there may be many unlearned or poor, and although the learned or rich may yet be short of the ideal of learning or wealth.’—Forbes, Nic. Creed, p. 278.

3. Catholicity.—The earliest extant use of the word ‘Catholic’ as applied to the Church is in Ignatius (ad Smyrn. viii. 2): ‘Wherever the bishop appears, there must the multitude be; just as wherever Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church.’ The natural sense of the word would appear to be that of the Church throughout all the world as opposed to that in one place; but this is not the sense in which the term has been commonly used. The Church has been called ‘Catholic’ not because it has actually extended throughout the world, for this it has never yet done, nor even simply because it is destined to be so extended, but rather as possessing characteristics which make it capable of being a universal religion, adapted to all classes of men in all parts of the world, and throughout all time. Even apart from particular words of Christ, such as those recorded in Matthew 28:19, nothing is more apparent in His teaching than that the religion which He taught was intended to be a universal religion, in special contrast to Judaism, which, like the religions of the ancient world generally, was a strictly national religion, and appealed only to a part of mankind. In spite of the many anticipations of universalism which are to be found in Jewish prophecy, the controversy which took place in the early Church about the observance of the Jewish law shows with what difficulty the idea was accepted by those who had been Jews. This quality, again, of universal applicability to all men at all times can belong only to a Divine revelation sufficient for the needs of all mankind. Such a revelation Christ professed to give, and the Catholicity of the Church must depend upon its faithfulness to the fulness of the truth revealed in Christ. And so, in addition to the idea of universal extension, the word Catholic has been used to convey the idea of orthodoxy in the communion of the Church. The well-known definition of Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat. xviii. 23) co-ordinates these two ideas. ‘The Church is called Catholic because it extends throughout the whole world … because it teaches completely all doctrines which men ought to know … because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of men … and because it treats and heals every sort of sins … and has in it every form of virtue.’ In this sense the Church was called Catholic when it was very far from being extended even over a considerable part of the world, and the term can be applied even to the Church in a particular place, as being in communion with and possessing the characteristics of the whole. So in the Martyrdom of Polycarp he is spoken of as ‘Bishop of the Catholic Church that is in Smyrna.’ The Church or any part of it approaches the ideal of Catholicity in proportion as it possesses all the qualities which are necessary to make it literally universal; and, on the other hand, ‘everything which hinders or lessens the capacity of the Church to be universal, everything which deprives it of part of the full truth or inserts in its teaching anything which does not belong to the truth, everything which cramps its power of getting rid of sin and increasing godliness, has a tendency to draw the Church away from the ideal of its Catholic life. To become such that it could not appeal to the whole world or to all classes of men, to deny essential parts of the revealed faith, to become in its accepted principles a necessary instrument of some sins or a necessary opponent of some virtues, would be, in proportion as this was wilful and deliberate and fully carried out, a sinking below the minimum which the note of Catholicity requires’ (Stone, The Church, p. 59).

4. Apostolicity.—It has already been pointed out that Christ selected twelve of His followers to stand in a specially close relation to Himself, and to be charged with a special mission. In what is probably the earliest account of their appointment (Mark 3:14), it is said they were to ‘be with him,’ and that He would ‘send them forth.’ Hence they were called Apostles (Luke 6:13). The nature of this relation and this mission must now be examined in order to ascertain the sense in which the Church may be called Apostolic. It may first be noticed that a sharp distinction has sometimes been drawn between the position of the Twelve as representative disciples, that is, as standing in a specially close relationship to Christ, of the same kind, however, as that of other disciples, and their position as Apostles, that is, as men sent forth on a special mission. No such sharp distinction is drawn in the NT, nor does it appear to be necessary. The two things are spoken of in the passage of St. Mark just referred to as two sides of the same fact, not as two separable things. The close discipleship was necessary to fit the Apostles for their mission, and it therefore formed part of it.

The nature of this Apostolic mission is stated in the most comprehensive terms in John 20:21. ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you’; that is to say, it was the task of carrying on upon earth the work of Christ Himself. It seems to be of little or no consequence to our estimate of the nature of the Apostolic functions whether others besides the Twelve were present upon the occasion when these particular words were spoken. The Twelve are frequently called ‘the disciples,’ especially in the Fourth Gospel. And the mission of the Apostles is not a separate thing from the mission of the Church. If, as St. Paul so constantly teaches, the Church is one body with many members, the acts of the organs of the body are the acts of the body itself. St. Paul insists equally strongly upon the unity of the whole and the differentiation of function within the whole. And so the point to be considered is not whether a separate mission was given to the Apostles apart from that of the whole Church, but rather what special functions of the Church were committed to the Apostles to be performed, by themselves or under their direction, on the Church’s behalf.

(a) One principal object with which the Apostles were sent out in the first instance was undoubtedly that they might teach (Mark 3:14). And it is equally clear that this was not merely a temporary, but a permanent function. Even the special directions given to them on their first sending out (Matthew 10) are not intelligible unless a continuance of the work of teaching be understood. And the Twelve were specially trained by close and continual intercourse with Christ for the work of being witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8), and it is clear that they considered this as one of their special functions (Acts 1:22, Acts 2:32, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:33 etc.). And although this personal witness to the actions and words of Christ was necessarily confined to those who had been with Him, the transmission of the witness and the function of teaching in general are permanent. The commission given by Christ to the Twelve to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20) is one which was not, and could not be, accomplished by themselves in person, and it implies the continuance of the teaching office of the Church until this end is accomplished. So it is recognized as one of the special duties of those who were appointed by the Apostles to take part in their work (1 Timothy 3:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:15 etc.). It is this teaching work of the Church which corresponds to the prophetical office of Christ Himself.

(b) The worship of the Church.—The Sacraments, which were especially committed to the Apostles, have been spoken of as social acts necessary to the existence and cohesion of the Church as a visible society. They are also means by which the relation of the Church to God is expressed, and channels by which the individual receives Divine grace. The worship of the Church centres and culminates in the Eucharist, the specially appointed action by which the Church takes part in the sacrifice offered by Christ. It makes a memorial of that part of His sacrificial work which has been accomplished in time (Luke 22:29, 1 Corinthians 11:26), and it unites itself with Him in His present mediatorial work of pleading that sacrifice in heaven (Hebrews 7:24-25). So the whole Church, as the Body of Christ, takes part in His priestly work (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:9-10), and this has always been emphasized by the language of all the liturgies. See artt. Lord’s Supper, Sacraments.

(c) Discipline.—A visible society could hardly exist, or at least continue to exist, without some form of discipline. Christ sanctioned for His followers (Matthew 18:15), not only individual remonstrance, which may be considered as the gentlest form in which discipline can be administered (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14), but also, in the case of the failure of this, the collective censure of the community (cf. 1 Timothy 5:20, Galatians 2:11), and in the last resort the exercise of the natural right of a society to expel one of its members (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-10). These last passages alone would suffice to show, what is certain enough, that the power of excommunication was recognized and practised in the Church from the earliest times.

A still more emphatic commission was given by Christ to St. Peter (Matthew 16:19), and to ‘the disciples’ (18:18). Whatever may be the exact meaning of these words, it is difficult to give them any interpretation which does not include the idea of jurisdiction. At all events the words in John 20:22-23 relate directly to discipline, and are of the most unqualified character. If the historical character of these passages is admitted, there can be no doubt that a disciplinary commission was given. There have been, however, differences of opinion as to the persons to whom it was given. The chief views held on this point may be roughly classed under four heads.

(α) It has been held that the position of St. Peter was different in kind from that of the other Apostles, and that jurisdiction was given directly to him alone, and to the other Apostles through him, and that the same holds good of his successors. (β) That jurisdiction was given directly to all the Apostles, and is inherent in their office and in that of their successors, but that it can be legitimately exercised only by those who preserve the unity of the Church by being in union with St. Peter and his successors. (γ) That jurisdiction was given equally to all the Apostles and their successors as the Divinely appointed organs of the Church, and that only a primacy of honour belonged to St. Peter or is due to his successors. ‘All the Apostles were equal in mission, equal in commission, equal in power, equal in honour, equal in all things, except priority of order, without which no society can well subsist’ (Bramhall). (δ) That the Apostles received no gift of jurisdiction from Christ Himself, and that any powers which they or their successors exercised were gradually conferred upon them by the act of the Church or of parts of it.

Closely connected with directly disciplinary functions are those general powers of direction and administration which must be exercised in a society by some persons appointed for the purpose. That they were used by the Apostles, even with regard to secular matters, is plain from the Acts and Epistles. The Apostolic background is everywhere present in the former book, and St. Paul assumes such powers throughout (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:34). It is by the exercise of such powers of discipline and government that the Church participates in the kingly office of Christ.

We may therefore conclude that the Church may be sailed Apostolic in so far as it has held fast to the teaching, worship, and discipline of the Church as intrusted by Christ to the Apostles, and according to the order established by them.

Note.—The words ‘church’ and ἐκκλησία.—The word ‘church’ is found in a great variety of forms in the Teutonic and Slavonic languages as the exact equivalent of ἐκκλησία, which has passed into Latin and all the Romanic and Celtic languages. There has been much dispute about its ultimate derivation. Suggested derivations from the Latin circus and from the Gothic are now set aside by philologists as impossible. The only derivation that will bear examination is from the Greek κυριακόν. This is used in the Apost. Const. (circa (about) a.d. 300?) and in the canons of several councils early in the 4th cent., and was afterwards fairly common in the East. It means ‘of the Lord,’ and is used of ‘the house of the Lord, δῶμκ being understood. The derivation of ‘church’ from κυριακον is not free from philological difficulties, and there is no sufficient historical explanation of the curious fact that a less common Greek word should have been adopted by the Teutonic languages in place of the usual ἐκκλησία. But there is no other even plausible explanation of the derivation of the word ‘church.’

The word ἐκκλησία is common in classical Greek in the sense of an assembly of the people—literally, the calling them out (ἑκκαλέω) by the voice of a herald or otherwise. It is used in the LXX Septuagint as the translation of the Hebrew word kâhâl, which has a similar derivation and meaning. Another word, ‘çdhâh, is commonly translated by συναγωγῆ, and means properly the congregation itself, whereas kâhâl means rather the assembly of the congregation; but there is no sharp distinction between the words, and in the later books of the OT ‘çdhâh almost disappears, and kâhâl or ἐκκλησία combines both shades of meaning. There is little or no evidence as to the precise contemporary ideas which would have been conveyed to a Jew of our Lord’s time by the use of these words, but they could not fail to recall the thought of Israel as the congregation of God, and to suggest the idea of a Divine society.

It has often been supposed that the word ἐκκλησία was intended to convey the idea of a people or a number of persons called out of the world for the special service of God. The idea of Israel as a chosen people and the idea of the special election and vocation of Christians occur constantly in the Scriptures, but they never appear to be connected with the words ἐκκλησία or kâhâl. In both these words the idea of the summons to the assembly, which is their original significance, practically disappears, and the words mean simply the assembly itself, or the people who meet in assembly. See artt. ‘Congregation’ and ‘Church’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible.

The fact that the word ἐκκλησία is found in the Gospels only in the two passages of St. Matthew already discussed, has led some to suppose that these passages are later insertions into the original narrative, made at a time when the idea of the Christian society had been developed, and when it was desired to add authority to the idea by a reference to the teaching of Christ. If, however, the view taken above of the general tendency of Christ’s work and teaching is correct, His connexion with the Church does not depend upon these two passages only, and there would be much difficulty in explaining the fact that this term and no other was universally applied to the Christian society from the time of the Apostles onwards, unless it were the natural equivalent of Aramaic terms used by Christ Himself.

Literature.—The number of books which deal with the subject of the Church from exactly the point of view taken in this article may not be very large, but the literature which bears more or less upon the original constitution and characteristics of the Church is of stupendous extent; and the most that can he done here is to mention a very few specimens of different classes of books which relate to different parts of the subject. In the first place, most commentaries on the NT deal with the exegesis of the passages which bear upon the Church, but it is not worth while to attempt a selection here. The writings of most of the early Fathers contain either contributions to the history of the growth of the Church, or information as to the opinions of the writers on the subject. A few specially important works are mentioned below. During the Middle Ages there was a great mass of literature dealing with the Papal authority and the relations of the Church to the State. From the time of Hildebrand onwards this aspect of the question was especially prominent. The Reformation period naturally produced abundant discussions in which the presuppositions of the Middle Ages were to a great extent laid aside. In modern times, and especially during the last fifty years, the early institutions of the Church have been investigated with great minuteness, especially by German writers, and there has been a great abundance of general Church Histories, which often contain discussions on the doctrine of the Church. This is also dealt with in all treatises on Christian doctrine to a greater or less extent, and from all points of view. The books mentioned below must be regarded merely as examples of the different kinds of works in which the subject may he studied.

Early Writers: Patres Apostolici (ed. Lightfoot); Irenaeus, circa (about) Haeres, iii. 1–9; Tertullian, de Praescr. Haeret.; Cyprian, de Unitate Eccles., de Lapsis; Augustine, de Baptismo, and circa (about) Donatistas.

General Church Histories: Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church (English translation (1851); Gieseler. Compendium of Eccles. Hist. (English translation 1846); Renan, Origines du Christianisme (1883); Schaff, History of the Apostolic Age (1886); Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age (English translation 1895); Ramsay, The Church in the Romon Empire (1893); Cheetham, History of the Christian Church (1894).

Church Organization: Ritschl, Die Entstehung der Alt. kath. Kirche (1857); Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry (1868); Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches (1880); Sohm, Kirchenrecht (1892); Gore, The Ministry of the Christian Church (1888); Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry (1902).

Doctrinal Books (General.): (Roman Catholic) Scheeben, Handbuch der Kath. Dogmatik (1878); Schouppe, Elementa Theologiae Dogmaticae (1861); Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (1895); (Lutheran) Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine (English translation 1880); Martensen, Christian Dogmatics (English translation 1866); (non-Catholic) Harnack, History of Dogma (English translation 1894); Seeberg, Dogmengesch. (1886); (Anglican) Forbes, Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles (1867), and Explanation of the Nicene Creed (1865); Mason, The Faith of the Gospel (1888); Gibson, The Thirty-nine Articles (1896); Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma (1900).

Books bearing more exclusively on the subject of this article: Lacordaire, Conférences de l’Église (1849); Seeley, Ecce Homo (1866); Gore, Roman Catholic Claims (1898); Hort, The Christian Ecclesia (1893); Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood (1897); Robertson, Regnum Dei (1902); Tyrrell Green, The Church of Christ (1902).

J. H. Maude.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Church (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/church-2.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Church
Next Entry
Church Government
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology