Kingdom, Church, and Communion

Jul 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

The Christian mind can hardly think of a more familiar set of concepts (Kingdom, Church, Communion) which is at the same time so difficult to communicate precisely.  But the simpler idea, and the one we’re really aiming at, is ‘the people of God.’  Who are they?  How do I become one of them?  The term instantly sends our thoughts to ancient Israel where these questions are easy to answer.   But in this post-Reformation era, it may seem like the questions aren’t so easy to answer anymore.  We should be aware at the outset though, that Christians from the beginning have considered the identity of God’s people no less obscure after Christ than before Him.  We must therefore look for the identity of God’s people in a body no less objectively defined than were the people of ancient Israel – God’s covenant family.

We at Called to Communion are producing a comprehensive case, one step at a time, for the unique identification of God’s people with the Catholic Church in communion with the See of St. Peter.   At this early stage in the discussion, we have reached a critical point where we would like to pause and reflect for a moment.  What follows is a brief re-cap of our arguments:

We started by showing that, given important qualifications, certain true principles of the Reformation are found in Catholic theology:

  1. Catholic theology does not detract glory due to God and therefore the principle of Soli Deo Gloria, with qualifications, is part of Catholic doctrine.
  2. Catholic soteriology insists on salvation by grace alone and therefore Sola Gratia is found in the Catholic Church.

Next we shifted our attention to the critical questions regarding God’s people which this blog post is presently discussing:

  1. God’s salvific covenant is fulfilled in and through the Catholic Church.
  2. Christ founded a visible Church.

The last mark is where we have reached the critical point of discussion.  To supplement this argument, I have personally argued that the ecclesiology of the early Church cannot be reconciled with an essentially invisible Church and later that our ecclesiology must be informed and centered around the doctrine of the Incarnation.  Bryan Cross briefly argued the Catholic Case for ecclesial authority, and Dr. Neal Judisch discussed Luther on the identify of the Church as existing wherever the true gospel is preached.

In the next several days, we will publish our final argument, for the near future, demonstrating that the Church is (A) Visible, (B) Indefectibly United, and (C) a Hierarchical Continuum.  Although A, B, and C entail the antithesis of every common Protestant ecclesiological system, we have not yet demonstrated the fullness of the Catholic ecclesiology (e.g. infallibility, necessity of union with the See of Peter).  That is to say, while even the ecclesiology of Federal Vision would fall short of A, B, and C, we need much more discussion before we can say that we’ve sufficiently argued the Catholic case.

Kingdom

Objections to co-identifying the Kingdom and Church together spring, no doubt, from a purely eschatological rendering of “Kingdom.”  It was always referred to eschatologically by Christ because while He was among us, it had not yet been fully manifested.  But in the Church we do indeed see the “beginning of the Kingdom” because it is “already present in mystery” through her.1 Now there is certainly an eschatological dimension of the Church as the Bride of Christ while she awaits her final purification for the Bridegroom, but nevertheless she retains her identity as Bride of Christ and mystically the Body of Christ right now as she sojourns this earth as the Church Militant.  For this reason, eschatological renderings of the Kingdom should not hinder our appreciation of the Kingdom of God as mystically present in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the Kingdom, in its present stage.

If this is so, and Christ Himself is the founder of the Kingdom, then the phrase “hierarchical continuum”, as applied to the Church, is supremely applicable. She is, as all Kingdoms are, a hierarchy and she shall continue in perpetuity.  The objections to this phrase are raised for reasons parallel to the Gnostic agenda – as the gospel made Christ too mundane, so this conception of Kingdom makes the Church hierarchy too mundane.  The kingdom, in their mind, is too involved in the space-time continuum; or more likely, involved in too dangerous of a way.

Those who would attack the Catholic Church are quite sure that she is one and the same, and therefore retains the ‘guilt’, as the aggressor in the Crusades and the Inquisition, but they are equally as certain that she is not the same, existing in continuity, as the Church who called the council of Nicaea and yet cannot offer a principled reason for this distinction.

As for the hierarchy: the individual Christian is directly connected to Christ spiritually, but sacramentally, he is connected to Christ only as a foot is connected to the head (through the hierarchy of the body) and not directly.  The believer cannot bypass the hierarchy of the Church in his connection to Christ any more than a foot can bypass the hierarchy of the body in its connection to the head.  It has been demonstrated here and in the links above, that Christ indeed founded a hierarchy which continues in perpetuity – one which cannot be broken and cannot, without penalty, be disobeyed.

Church & Communion

The divinely revealed marital analogy between Christ and the Church is helpful for developing a proper ecclesiolgy.  The Church must be one because, as Dr. Peter Kreeft says, when Christ returns for His bride, He shall not be found a polygamist.2 Unity is one of the four marks of the Church which we confess in the Nicene Creed.   The Apostles’ Creed also offers a helpful and trustworthy insight into identifying the true Church.  As the Apostle’s Creed shows, Christians have always confessed faith in “the Holy Catholic Church” and in the “Communion of Saints” as explicitly distinct concepts.

The very ordering of these phrases suggests not merely an explicit distinction, but also a certain procession.  We believe in the Church first because it is she who gave birth to the saints.  But Protestant ecclesiology regularly confuses the Church with the Communion of Saints and this is a discontinuum of the orthodox Christian faith.

After this final case regarding the Catholic ecclesiology, which will be published shortly, we shall turn our focus to the authority of the Scriptures.  We spoke of the Church first because it is she who holds them in her bosom and has delivered them faithfully to her children.  But before we discuss the authority of the Scriptures, we must agree on the ecclesiological foundation of our faith.

  1. CCC 669. []
  2. http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/03_ecumenism/ecumenism_transcription.htm []
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  1. I forgot to include this quote from St. Augustine which inspired me to write this post in the first place:

    Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. -The City of God 20:9:2

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