The Relevance to our Time
Jesus and Church Structures
Most people assume that there was only one Church structure in the different early Christian communities. Or that Jesus handed over a blueprint to the Apostles between Easter and Pentecost. We have even have imagined that this single Church structure was not very different from the present-day structures of the Roman Catholic Church! The evidence of the New Testament shows we have to abandon such assumptions.
It is unlikely that Jesus left behind an outline of Church Structures. Otherwise there would surely not have been such diversity of practice throughout the early Christian communities. In any case, the earliest Christians saw themselves very much as part of the Jewish faith. They continued for decades to go to the Temple and take part in Jewish liturgy (Acts 2:46). Apart from the Eucharist, never once does Paul say a Church structure was handed on from Jesus. He certainly would have done so if he could, because that would have been a short cut to dealing with some of the many problems he had to deal with! Note, too, that Paul is careful to make a distinction between what he is teaching from his own authority and what he had received from the Lord (1 Cor 7:10-11).
The need for continuity
The six Christian communities we have been studying were dealing with a real problem. Being a follower of Jesus was felt as a positive experience. The members of these communities wanted to pass it on to those who would come after them. But how?
Perhaps we should ask ourselves the question: “Is this our problem too – today?”
Many of you can give many positive aspects of your personal experience of being a Catholic Christian. For example, “Following Jesus –
On the whole, Christianity has had a beneficial effect upon the course of history over the past 2000 years. It has contributed greatly to the fields of art, music, learning, law, ethics, human rights, and many others. By and large areas where Christianity has taken root have more advanced economies. Committed Christians want these positive personal and social experiences to be shared with those who come after us. But how?
The question is urgent! Our churches are emptying. Our clergy are getting fewer and older. Teenagers are participating in Mass less and less. Divorce rates among Catholics are increasing. How may we promote the continuity of the followers of Jesus? Should we adopt the approaches we have seen in the New Testament and –
- does me good
- gives meaning to my life
- makes me a member of a community
- helps me serve my neighbour
- promotes self-discipline
- stimulates my prayer life
- helps me cope with life.” Etc., etc.
The Christian Churches, at different times and places, and in response to different sets of circumstances, have adopted now one, now another of these various approaches. For example, the Pentecostalist Churches of the 19th. and 20th. centuries emphasised (3); the Second Vatican Council re-discovered the value of (4); the mediæval Church laid great emphasis on (6), etc.
- appoint strong leaders?
- promote the community spirit of Christ’s mystical body?
- be open to the Holy Spirit?
- underline the worth of the members of the People of God?
- emphasise personal union with Christ?
- enforce Church law?
To promote the continued existence of the Church, should we adopt all 6 approaches we have considered here?
Can we just say, “If it didn’t come from Jesus, we are free to change it!”?
Next: The Constitution on the Church in Vatican II