Who Needs the Church? You might as well ask,”Who needs Jesus?”


I was asked to go to a neighboring parish and address some fundamental questions related to the necessity of the Church. Many today question the need for a church or The Church and claim they can have Jesus without the Church. And thus the fundamental question “Who needs the Church?” ought to be addressed.

I propose here a rather more doctrinal answer to the question and hope tomorrow to offer a more personal answer. But, the fundamental answer I offer to “Who needs the Church?” is that everyone does, because the Church is the Body of Christ.

To the related questions “Why do I need to come to Church?” and “How can the Church possibly be relevant to me?” the fundamental answer is because it is in the Church that Jesus is first and foremost to be found.

I. To those who reject that anything special is to be found in the Church that cannot be found elsewhere Jesus says,

  1. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt 18:20) And thus we see that Jesus is present in the gathering we call the Church in a more perfect way than he is in my private prayer, or on some mountaintop. He says, THERE am I in the MIDST of THEM.
  2. [Jesus said to the disciples] The one who hears you hears me Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me. (Luke 10:16) And thus Jesus speaks and teaches in and through his Church in a personal manner that he does not elsewhere, such that to hear his voice in the proclamation of the Church is to hear him in a more perfect way than “in my heart,” or in creation, or in any other person or place outside the Church
  3. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you. (Jn 6:53) And thus the liturgy of the Church is an essential source of true life for us since apart from Holy Communion that Jesus offers in the Mass we “have no life” in us.

II. To those who say, “I can have Jesus without the Church,”  I say “no can do.” For the Church is the body of Christ and it pertains to the head of a living Body to be found with his body, not apart from it. That the Church is the Body of Christ is clear in many Scriptures such as

  1. Jesus is the head of the body the Church (Col 1:8)
  2. Now you are the body of Christ, each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor 12:27)
  3. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ (Rom 12:4-6)

Hence, Christ the Head cannot be had or found apart from his Body the Church.

III. To those who say, “I can read my Bible alone,” it must be said that there would be no Bible if it were not for the Church. Jesus didn’t write a book. He founded a community he called “My Church” (Matt 16) and sent them to “Teach all that I have commanded” (Matt 28:20).

Of course it would be silly to have things depend solely on a book in the ancient world when almost no one could read, and even those who could, could scarcely afford books, which all had to be hand-copied prior to the invention of the printing press.

Further, the Bible is a Church book and is meant to be read in the context of Church life. Scripture itself warns: Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16). In effect Peter goes on to warn them to read Scripture in conformity with the Church.

IV. To those who say “I can watch Church on TV,”  I say “Yes, but you can’t get Holy Communion on TV!” which as we saw above is essential if we are to have life in us.

Neither can we be in that place “wherever two or three are gathered” and thus be there where Jesus says he is, by sitting at home in front of a TV.

Neither can we have real fellowship, as Scripture admonishes us to do, by watching at home. And let us consider how to spur one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Nor can we fulfill most of the vision of the life of the early Christians, who, as Scripture says, devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers (Acts 2:42)

V. To those who say, “I like Jesus but I can’t stand the Church, with all those hypocrites,” but Jesus was found in strange places, among sinners. So much so that he scandalized the Pharisees. Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners and unsavory characters. Even his best followers, the apostles, had great character defects.

The fact is, if you reject the company of sinners you’re going to have a hard time finding Jesus who is found among sinners, sinners that he loves and calls his brethren, As Scripture says, For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Heb 2:11-12)

So Jesus is found in the assembly of sinners and loves them. It is a strange disconnect to say to Jesus, “I love you but I hate the people you love and call your brethren; I just refuse to consort with them.”

Considering too that sinners are joined to Christ as members of his body, think of the strange logic in going to someone and saying, “I love and respect you, but I can’t stand your body. It is ugly and awful. I want to be with you, but I hate your body, I just can’t endure it. I will relate to you, but not your body.” This sort of talk is absurd and disrespectful.

VI. To those who say “It’s the institution of the Church I object to, not the Body of Christ,” sorry, but bodies are not abstractions. They have parts and functions. They require a head with executive functions as well as other parts and members with other functions. Neither is the Body of Christ an abstraction. It must have headship and governance along with other members and parts having various roles and functions.

Further, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles all talk a LOT about “institutional aspects” such as offices and structures:

1. There are offices like apostles, bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, administrators, etc.
2. There are Councils that issue binding documents and interpretations considered authoritative (e.g., the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15).
3. There is an insistence by the apostles as to their authority on numerous occasions.
4. Each local Church is overseen by a priest or bishop (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).
5. There are disciplinary functions such as excommunication, disciplining of the clergy and faithful, etc. (1 Cor 5; Matt 18:17).
6. There are sacraments being celebrated and certain norms associated with them (e.g., 1 Cor 11).
7. There are liturgical norms being promulgated (e.g., 1 Cor 14).

All of these “institutional” aspects are necessary and biblical. They are not some medieval addition, or “tradition of men.” They are right there at the beginning as the Scriptures attest.

VI. To those who say that the Church is irrelevant, outdated, and arrogant because it does not reflect the modern age or most of its members, it must be pointed out that the Church does not exist to reflect the views of its members, but to articulate the views and truths of her head and founder, Jesus Christ. Her mandate from Jesus is to make disciples from all the nations teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Mat 28:20).

And the Holy Spirit admonishes every Bishop through St. Paul: I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim 4:1-5)

Therefore the Catholic Church is the enduring, visible presence of Jesus Christ in the World. It is the Body of Christ who still walks this earth preaching, teaching, healing, forgiving, feeding, admonishing sinners, consoling the repentant, being loved but also hated, being appreciated but also persecuted. The Church is not an institution; it is the Body of Christ, and also his Beautiful Bride; for in marriage the two become one. You cannot have Christ without the Church.  You cannot have the groom without his Bride. You cannot have the head without his Body. You cannot love the one and despise or be indifferent to the other. Jesus is first and foremost to be found with his Body, the Church.

Yes, the Church is the enduring, visible yet spiritual, structured yet Spirit-led, human yet divine presence of Jesus Christ in the World today. To the scoffers who set up false dichotomies Jesus says, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?!”

Who needs the Church? You might as well ask, “Who needs Jesus?”

22 Replies to “Who Needs the Church? You might as well ask,”Who needs Jesus?””

      1. Monsignor, it’s not an “odd little video”. It’s beating the drums for the Crimea Anschluss, and it’s a repeat of the same line of thinking that led to Auschwitz.

        1. I don’t think it is beating the drums for whatever is happening between Russia and Ukraine, and I don’t quite get the Jewish connection but it obviously has nothing to do with the Christian (even Orthodox) faith, the padre mentions the Jews in socio-political terms, it is still up to people of faith and reason to oppose this individual’s trajectory. Anyways, what’s its relationship with the topic?

  1. There is a famous painting of Jesus in His suffering, showing pictures of faces of people. Do have knowledge of who did the original, but it came to my mine when I saw the picture of the risen Jesus.

  2. Dear Msgr. Charles Pope,
    You have done a great job in stating that Church is essential. But, I am a bit confused about what you said about Bible. You said Bible is a Church book, So does that mean Bible is relative? Does it mean that Bible has to be interpreted according to the changing scenario of the world/church for example, including homosexuality and all…? This article has really confused me on this topic. Kindly clarify this to me.


  3. Could it have something to do with the Church’s continued oppression of Women and Gays and the lack of accountability in dealing with pedophile Priests!

    1. Could what have something to do with what? I wonder why you think the Church is “oppressing” these categories? Do you think we have that power? Further, the “pedophile” thing is really old at this point and sounds like a broken record, as if nothing has been done, when a lot has been done. If you are really concerned about children and the pedophile problem go talk to your public school officials where the problem is epidemic, unaddressed and where there is a six-month statute of limitations to bring charges. If you think I exaggerate Google “pedophile arrest public school” and watch the thousands of articles that pop up.

      1. “Google “pedophile arrest public school” and watch… ”
        A very interesting; in a macabre sort of way; research. Among the main group of those who have, varying degrees of, unsupervised authourity over young people (especially children) there will be abusers who have somehow managed to get in. Also, within each group, one will find them. The motives may vary from such things as manifesting their particular form of the spiritual affliction which besets us all as a result of original sin. Or, there may be combinations of the motives which dominate to varying degrees and priorities.
        When this is discovered, and there is a decision to address and do away with the negative impact on forming minds then, probably we should look at it all – maybe one at a time in segments. However, there may be a temptation to avoid looking within, at our own imprefections, and point outwards to someone or somewhere else. Ignoring the discomfort of seeing the four fingers that pointing back at me by looking at the one finger that points elsewhere. Singling out one group who is different from the, seemingly, all important “us” can help a lot in this reality escaping distortion. Even though I’ve recently done a lot of work to better face reality I still find temptations to look only at other people to avoid taking responsablity to myself respect.
        So, who are the most different? Over there .. that group is celibate and are forbidden from expressing certain natural desires within a marriage or, more so these days, within a common law relationship or even casual encounters. Never mind that a significant group of Protestants where implicated in the Canadian residential school scandal involving first nation children in the Twentieth Century, even though such cases raise questions about motive besides that of being inspired by enforced repression of a general desire.
        However, as observers induce and are induced to look only at one place; aren’t the perpetrators granted a measure of protection from the consequences of their actions and, therefore, an empowerment to carry on?
        If the ones, who have the alternative expression in the marriage bed allowed by the organizations to which they belong, are heavily involved in child abuse, isn’t there something which society (especially those who have a responsability to protect children) should be looking at? Isn’t the narrow focus on those who are “different” blocking some very necessary preventative approach by shutting out an extremely important set of facts?
        Harping on “priests priests priests” (even after the authourities of the priests diligently cleaned their side of the street) can quite possibly have turned the ones, who enhanced focus on the ones who are different, into a passive sort of accessory to the actions of the teachers described in all these articles? Sort of like a popular saying that, “all it takes for evil to prevail is for righteous people to do nothing” A false sort of doing one part of the job and calling the un-done part accomplished?
        Try switching the focus around. If celibacy is alleged to have caused the problem then there shouldn’t there be no problem with adult authourities who are allowed to have sex with other adults. In these days it’s becoming quite popular to accept a desire for same gender engagements in the context of “consenting adults in public”? However this doesn’t work when scrutinized but, scrutiny has been distracted to those who are different from “us”.
        Once, not so long ago, negative focus was directed at people who were darker skinned than “us” until we realized that the impact on their culture of a long term of slavery had built up resentments and, when society addressed the issues, these darker skinned people became the worthy members of society whom they were meant to be.
        However; when seeing the uproar of outraged people (mainly parents) who form groups and exert a growing amount of political pressure; the issues of some misbehaving teachers and those who aggressively “do nothing” this may soon come to an end.
        But, if it does come to an end, will it be suddenly be over and all parts of the problem be suddenly solved? What about the twisted thinking and dysfunction that trauma has brought about in the victims? Will these health issues be addressed?
        What I fear is that they may be addressed but, in a manner that is a continuation of the original. A sort of switching tactics.
        Will traumatized children be helped by cleansing therapies? Will they have opportunities to communicate (in confidence) with older persons who have experienced the same thing, and risen above the negative consequences, so that there can be a soul to soul compassion? Would they learn to be free from false guilt feelings? Perhaps, and I think that we would do well to desire and encourage such.
        On an aside, I recall how, almost eleven years ago, I spoke briefly at a large group of members at a Twelve Step group on having been sexually molested as a very young child. Strangers many were but compassionate.
        Immediately afterward three senior male members spoke up about having experienced the same horror and that they had risen above it. Putting their masculinity on the line to help me as they kicked the foundations out from under walls of evil that had trapped me within my sickened, and sickening, isolation.To paraphrase the song, The walls fell down, all the way to hell, back to where they belong.
        But, will the traumatized be directed toward so called therapies that teach to suppress the pain and bury it to where it sickens and seeps poison into the soul as it builds the foundations of new walls of isolation? Will they learn to memorize morality in a superficial way of employing it, instead of being encouraged to grow it? Will “plan a” give way to a (maybe pre-planned) “plan b”? S’pose it could happen that way if tax dollar funded bureacracies are heavily linked together on some negative conspiracy.
        Oops, just mentioned conspiracy. Usually disputed by derision instead of facts.
        Let us pray for the injured souls of the victims.

    2. One can’t charge the Church with oppressing women on one hand and then criticize her for having pews full of women on the other hand! Which isn’t true either. The Church doesn’t force me to do anything.

    3. With regards to the pedo priests, maybe you should check out point 5 my friend!

  4. Thanks for the article, Msgr;
    I anticipate the follow-up with definite hope.
    It seems strange to me that as many times as facts in the article that you summarize have been presented, e.g., by G.K.Chesterton among others, that the same old chestnuts keep reappearing. This comes of students buying what some teachers & professors teach, without the background to question the teaching properly.
    Again, thank you.

  5. Matthew 16:18 “So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it.” New Jerusalem Bible
    “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”NIV
    “And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it;” Young’s Literal Translation.
    It would seem (admittedly in my perception) that Christ, The Annointed One, Himself is telling us that we need the church.

  6. “It is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church; to listen to Christ, but not the Church; to be with Christ at the margins of the Church,” he said. “One cannot do this. It is an absurd dichotomy.” – Pope Francis

    Jesus and His Church, the Catholic Church, are One and the Same. What is interesting is the many liberal Catholics who object to this. Of course the real reason many leave the Church is because of a doctrine that they do not agree with and we are all familiar with the term ‘cafeteria catholics’. They of course want the Church to conform to their political ideology. So what to do? Well they need to separate Jesus from His Church much like the protestants. That was the aim of the ‘spirit’ of VII crowd and we still see it today. They have to ignore some pretty specific Scripture to do it but by golly they are going to have their way.

  7. Another wonderfully thoughtful post, Monsignor. Just one point: Our understanding of what the Church is and why we need it is rooted in the kerygma: the preaching of the Apostles, who taught the earliest Christians that the Holy Spirit, in the Church, over it and guiding it, maintains the Church. This preaching belongs to the Tradition of the Church, which stands alongside Scripture as the twin manifestations of the Word of God. It may be true that arguments for the necessity of the Church and the Sacraments should be based on Scripture, especially for an American public which is so biblicist, so biblically fundamentalist despite its growing religious indifferentism. But as Catholics we live by Scripture-and-Tradition.

  8. Who is the dear soul left sitting as they all processed out? So pure of heart.

  9. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I left the Church years ago for many reasons, some out of lack of understanding, some because my belief of things got distorted. Now I am coming back and I find that the Church I go to is filled with the distorted thinking and belief (women priest is an accepted idea, no cross in the church, talking loud before mass, fifteen minute confession time slot only on Saturdays and more). When I see Pope Frances and the Mass in it beauty to God, Christ and The Holy Spirit, I am part of something special and Holy. When I go to the local gathering hall called St. Frances Church, I can’t seem to find Christ. There is nothing there, just give us money so we can build a bigger better function hall/church even though we are 5million in the hole and oh yes, to help the homeless. The other thing that drives me out the door is it feels more like a Baptist revival than a Catholic mass. Something got lost along the way as I was lost and now coming home is harder than ever. So I guess I should go Church shopping or just stay home pray and watch on the internet a place in time where God is more real there than in my heathen City where money and politics are King even in my local church.

  10. Typo alert: Jesus is the head of the body the Church (Col 1:8) SHOULD READ: Jesus is the head of the body the Church (Col 1:18)

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