There are many different ways to view church. Scripture, tradition and developing theology all contribute to the many images held up for our vision of church.
Church as the People of God
The word “church” derives from two words: qahal in Hebrew and ekklesia in Greek. Together these words translate as "a gathering of people." Repeatedly, we read in scripture that God wills to save people and to make them into a people who acknowledge and serve God and one another. First and foremost, the church is the people of God, as it says in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
Church as Sacrament
A sacrament is defined as an outward sign of an inward reality. Thus, the Church is seen as a sacrament because it is a noticeable indicator that the unseen God is at work in the community. And because of God’s presumed presence, it is a means by which God communicates with humanity and helps bring about God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit moves through the community breathing God’s inspiration among the people. The greatest sign to the world of our connection to God is how loving we are as a church.
Church as Mystery
God called the church together, Jesus activated it, and the Holy Spirit sustains it. This is a mystery that humanity does not completely understand. It is impossible to fully describe the church in only one way. There are many images used to illustrate church, mostly taken from scripture. These include sheepfold, family field, God’s temple, spouse of Christ, people of God, and Body of Christ. Each metaphor helps explain some aspect of the mystery of Church but no one image says it all.
Church as Communion (Body Of Christ)
The most powerful metaphor used to describe the church is the Body of Christ. Christ is the head of the church and we are members of the body. There is unity yet diversity within the Body, yet all are linked together by Christ’s love and grace.
The Church, as the body, is the assembly of people who have gathered together by Baptism and are sustained by the sacraments. This image of the Body of Christ is celebrated in the Eucharist and links us together as we are joined in communion with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and one another. In this communion, all are called to love God, others and self and so be a participant in the love of Christ. Jesus came to invite all people to participate in this loving communion.
The church institution provides a framework to promote the call to love and serve one another.
Church as Priestly People
By our baptism, all God’s people share in Christ’s work as priest, prophet and king. As spoken in 1 Peter 2:4-10, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” We, too, are empowered to play a very real, active part in the mission of the church. Each of us is given different spiritual gifts in order to serve the Church.
The common priesthood of the faithful differs from ministerial priesthood in that the former includes all the faithful giving witness to God. The ministerial priesthood exists in order to serve and build up the common priesthood of believers.
Church in the Creed
The final paragraph of the Nicene Creed, with the words, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” provide the framework for a concluding vision of church.
The church is one: brought together by Christ, formed by our baptism, a body unified by gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The church is holy: the church originates in God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. People grow in holiness by trying to live the Gospel values and becoming more like Jesus. This is a universal call- all are called by God and thus all are called to be holy. Love for others is how we respond to this call.
The church is catholic with a small “c”, which means universal. The church extends throughout the world within various cultures spoken in many different languages. There exists a special relationship with other Christians, as well as with the Jewish faith. The church is in dialogue with other religions.
The church is apostolic: it is built upon the foundation of the apostles, called by Christ. He gathered together a community of Christians who received the proclamation of the Gospels and went forth to live what they heard. We follow in their footsteps.
To Learn More
Scripture (Partial references)
- 2 Corinthians 6:16: Church as temple of God
- 1 Peter 2:4-10-Church as royal priesthood
- Revelation 7:9- Church as gathering all peoples
- Matthew 20:28-Share in Christ’s mission
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (Partial references):
- CCC #774-776- Church as sign and instrument of our communion with God
- CCC #806- Unity of the Body, with Christ as the head
- CCC#78- God has willed to make people holy
- CCC #781- Church is the people of God
- CCC #787-795- Church as the Body of Christ
- CCC #813. 948,959- Church as a communion
- CCC # 811- Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Documents of Vatican II: Lumen Gentium (Partial references)
- LG 1-8: Church as sacrament
- LG 1:5-7: Images of Church
- LG 30-38: Church as priest, prophet, and king
- LG 30-36: Mission of the church.
- LG 10:Common priesthood of faithful
- LG 12: Spiritual gifts
- LG 5- Universal call to holiness
Catholic Updates (Partial references)
Below is a list of Catholic Update articles found on this website: www.americancatholic.org
- Acts of the Apostles- Ronald Witherup
- Being Catholic Today- Fr. Robert Barron
- Eucharist- Understanding Christ’s Body- William H. Shannon
- Lay Ministry- Not just for a Chosen Few- Thomas Richstatter
- The Sacrament of Baptism: Celebrating the Embrace of God- Sandra DeGidio
- What does it mean to be Church? Greg Friedman
- The Universal Call to Holiness: Empowering the Laity- Kathy Coffey
- The Nicene Creed: What we Believe- Greg Friedman