What is Ecclesiology and Why is It So Important Today?

090714Many troubles today within the Church, and also among Christians in general, come down to a problem of mistaken or false ecclesiology. “Ecclesiology” refers to the nature of the Church. What is the Church? What is the fundamental mission of the Church? How essential is the Church in the life of every believer? What authority does the Church have in our life? Who has the authority in the Church to speak for Jesus Christ and teach in His name? What is the Church’s relationship to Holy Scripture and the sacred deposit of faith?  Is there but one Church, or many? And so forth. These are questions dealt with in the branch of sacred theology known as ecclesiology.

Many people today, including many Catholics, have come to accept a badly flawed ecclesiology. Many see the Church simply as a human institution. The kind of cynicism and scorn commonly directed in our culture toward institutions is therefore also aimed at the Church. But while the Church does have institutional elements and human members, the Church is not a mere human institution.

The Catholic Church is the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the world—it is the Body of Christ. And this is not just a figurative way of speaking about the Church. Sacred Scripture gives this description a real, quite literal though mystical (i.e., beyond our full sight) sense. The Catholic Church is both visible and spiritual. It is structured hierarchically, like any body, yet is Spirit-led. It has human members yet is also the divine presence of Christ in the world today. The Church, as the Body of Christ, teaches in His name, sanctifies with His grace and Sacraments, and leads with His authority. Jesus still walks this earth, preaches, heals, teaches, forgives, feeds, and summons us.

Because the Church is the Body of Christ—we His members, He the Head of the Body—there cannot be many “Churches” any more than there can be many “Christs.” Jesus has one Body. The Church is not some ethereal, invisible reality. Rather, like any body, it is visible and has identifying marks and attributes. As with a body that has parts, organs, and “members” with different functions, the Church has members. But not all members have the same function or role.

These descriptions set aside many popular misconceptions about the Church.

The Church is not a club made up of people who gather for some specific goal or purpose of their own. Such clubs are fine in their own way, and often have a noble purpose, but the Church exists to bring forth Jesus’ stated goals and purposes, to proclaim His vision, His way, and His truth.

The Church is not a political party. Political parties reflect human preferences and opinion, and are organized to carry forth human goals and projects. This is all well and good, but the Church transcends passing political views and goals, and cannot simply fit into the self-defined boxes of political parties and movements. The Body of Christ cannot be reduced to or perfectly defined by any specific political philosophy or party.

The Church exists to proclaim what Christ has taught, whether it is popular or not.

Now this point is critical and too easily forgotten today by many who issue insistent demands that the Church “update” her teachings and conform to current notions and mores. Many cry out, for example, “Doesn’t the Church leadership know that most Catholics reject its teaching on contraception, or the priesthood?”

Many, because of a flawed ecclesiology think that our failure to conform to modern notions is not only odd, but downright unjust, wrong, or even sinful. This is because of the mistaken idea that the Church is supposed to reflect the views of its members and represent them and what they think.

But the Church does not exist to reflect the views of its members, but rather the views and teachings of its head and founder, Jesus Christ. It is His teachings that are to unite the members of the body and be the principle of our unity. Jesus entrusted His teachings to His apostles, who handed them down to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

On this point we must be clear. The defined doctrines, to include the moral teachings of the Church, are not going to change despite even the strident protests of the world. Because of the highly sexualized culture in which we live, most of the demands that we change center around issues of sexuality and the family. But no matter how many secular news reports you have read in the past year or so speculating that “a change in doctrine is being signaled” (whether about divorce and remarriage (as we approach the Synod on the Family in October), or homosexual acts, or sexual intercourse outside of marriage, or abortion, or women being priests, or euthanasia), be assured that these teachings cannot change. There are just some things that the Church cannot do, no matter how heavy the pressure to do so. These doctrinal teachings are not going to change because Jesus, who spoke through his apostles, is not going to change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings (Heb 13:8-9).

Opinion polls are not the source of our teaching, Jesus is. And just as Jesus was rejected by many of His time, the Catholic Church, His body, is often destined to be a sign of contradiction in the world. The same gospel must be preached, in season or out of season.

A proper ecclesiology can save us from needless fears and also from the mistaken notion that the faith revealed by Christ can ever fundamentally change. Courage, the Cross, consistency,  clarity, and charity—in all things, Christ! At the end of the day, even with the likes of me and you, that’s what the Church is: Christ. And though crucified, He rose and His truth will prevail.

13 Replies to “What is Ecclesiology and Why is It So Important Today?”

  1. Is the Church the building structure? Is the Church the echelon structure from the laity, to the deacon, priest, bishop, cardinals up to the Pope? Is the Church the people of GOD who keep the WORD and live it and propagate IT? Yes, all of the above and even more, for the Church is the picture of the Love of GOD for all HIS children, however indifferent, arrogant, stupid, funny and dumb we are. GOD had gone nuts loving us (in a worldly sense) and overwhelming us with Grace so that we can realize there is more to life that this earthly life, not for HIS sake but for our sake. Where can you find in the whole world, in all time, in all circumstances an institution that continuous to thrive in spite of the foibles and faults of man? HOLY SPIRIT guide our Church, JESUS inebriate our Church, GOD The FATHER Bless our Church.

  2. The first thing institutional elements will notice about your body of Christ at the beginning of the article is that it lacks cultural diversity. They can’t perceive a mystical experience but rather define institutional concepts as power point presentations. Marketing and manipulation make a community organizer’s day and that is what the Church is being assaulted by. Radical socialized consumerism versus Catholicism. The promise of hope and change in the present kingdom over One that is not of this world. The Church has lost it’s mystical appeal to those trying to fit into a world consumed with experiencing the pleasure of comfort rather than experiencing the mystery of faith. Then you have the other extreme of radical religion trying to convert or annihilate any institutions or concepts adverse to it’s fundamental mission. Either way there will be hell to pay for those who oppose the teachings of Christ at the expense of the faithful.

  3. Cardinal George in our Diocese paper wrote beautifully on the Church too. Here are my favorite lines

    In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered sinful. Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger….

    The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to “swim against the tide,” as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer’s World Youth Day.

    How does the tale end? We don’t know. The actual situation is, of course, far more complex than a story plot, and there are many actors and characters, even among the ruling class, who do not want their beloved country to transform itself into a fake church. It would be wrong to lose hope, since there are so many good and faithful people.

    Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the Church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him. There is no such divine guarantee for any country, culture or society of this or any age.

  4. Excellent. I am saving this post in my “favorites”.
    May God bless and keep you always.

  5. Unfortunately, we know how theologians, the media and others twisted and deformed Vatican II to implement a secularist agenda. The same might be done regarding the Synod on the Family in October. There will be so much wishy-wash that the faithful will come away scratching their heads as to what the Church is actually saying.

    1. Frank, I hope you are wrong, but you may be right. We , the lay faithful need clear language from this synod, please leave no room for ambiguity your Excellencies!

  6. Having read about a near death exeperience on hell and discussing same with practicing Catholics, was surprised to hear about the denial of the reality of same , even implying that same is a myth that is used by those in authority to keep people in control ! .

    The deep underlying fear about the goodness of God , that was damaged by the lie in The Garden , that The Father is not all that good , could be what persons are struggling against and thus, do not want to add to same by thinking that God created hell ;


    the above on how demons ‘boast’ on how hell is their creation

    This is the article on the near death experience of hell , as troublesome as it might sound –


    Yet , we have to remember that Bl.Mother showed little children what hell is like , only to help us to know what the real potential of life is ; what is rather striking in the above article is how it describes a reverse process of going from glory to glory ;

    thus , Mother Church tries to guide us in ways of truth and holiness , to help to maximise what life and thus love can be about , by helping through deliverance , from ways and powers of evil, not just ourselves but others, so that persons can be caught up more , into the joyful events of life, such as today , on what heaven would have experienced , along with the parents and the near and dear of the parents of bl.Mother , on her birth ; that , in turn , hopefully to help may to be delivered from the fear and hatred against life itself , that the enemy has tried so hard to instill into hearts !

    May our prayers with the Holy Father , on behalf of all in our lives and ancestry , through the intercession of the Mother of Mercy , help to deliver and strenghen us , as she was , through holy parents , by the
    Holy Spirit !

  7. “THE CHURCH EXISTS TO PROCLAIM WHAT CHRIST HAS TAUGHT—-POPULAR OR NOT!” That sums it up, but so many ignore that fact. They want ‘gay marriages’ to be blessed, divorce allowed, remarriage approved, a married clergy and on and on. THEY WANT WHAT “MAN” WANTS–NOT OUR LORD. The gospel mentioned that recently.. seek what God wants, not man.

  8. I forgot to mention–they do not want to hear about Hell–although Christ mentioned it a t least 17 times.

  9. Bravo, Monsignor! Don’t hesitate to keep preaching the Truth, even if it gets you in trouble

  10. Never met you, but love you and your ministry. We read everything you write and publish. Your words reach far and wide, and are infused with the grace of Jesus Christ. Thank you and keep on keepin on!

  11. Thank you for proclaiming the truth. I forward many of your articles. May you be kept safe in God’s almighty hands.

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