Catholics and Evangelicals: Similarities: Church
We are moving along to the sixth part of our series Catholics and Evangelicals based on the book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman Geisler. In this section we will discuss the doctrine of the Church. Like in previous sections I think you may be amazed with the similarities that there are between the two traditions.
There are of course some major differences between Catholics and evangelicals on the nature of the church, but there are also significant similarities. In this installment of our series we will delve into those similarities.
The Biblical Foundation
The People of God in the Old Testament
God called Abram to leave the country of his kinfolk and go to a new land. God was going to make a great nation out of Abram’s offspring. The nation would be called Israel. This relationship was a new and special covenant relationship.
In spite of God’s faithfulness in the covenant relationship, Israel continued to be unfaithful. The prophets continued to proclaim that only a portion of Israel or a remnant of the faithful would experience the blessings of God’s promise.
The prophets also foretold that there would be a new covenant. “I will place my law within them” pointing to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This new covenant is the genesis of the New Testament Church. All orthodox Christians believe that the Church is from the spiritual seed of Abraham, and those in the Church are there because of faith.
The Church of Christ in the New Testament
The legitimacy of the new covenant was announced by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That new Church was seen as separate from Judaism. After the ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit the gospel started to spread throughout the region of Jerusalem and Judea via the preaching of the apostles.
In the book of Acts, after the stoning of Stephen and dispersion of the Jewish Church we see the conversion of Paul and the beginning of his preaching to the gentiles. It is through much of the writing of Paul that we see the nature of the New Testament Church described.
Theological Development of the Doctrine of the Church
Again while there are differences here, are more similarities than most would think.
The Mystical Body of the Church of
The church is “the body of Christ”.
• This depicts the spiritual nature between Christ in his bride the Church.
• Christ is the head and the Church makes up its other parts.
The Foundation of the Christian Church
Christ is Founder of the Church.
Contrary to what many Protestants believe, Catholics also believe Christ founded the Church.
The Holy Spirit and Church
It has been said that whenever the person or work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored or undervalued, the Church has suffered. This neglect can affect either Catholic or Protestant Church. It is said, “the holy ghost is the soul of the church”.
The church fathers speak clearly of the importance of the Holy Spirit and the Church.
The Nature of the Church
The Church is made up of two parts, the physical and the spiritual. The physical is made up of all of Christ’s followers here on earth. The invisible is made up of the mystical body of Christ energized and directed by the Holy Spirit.
Biblical Images For the Church
• Christ is the shepherd – we are the sheep.
• Paul uses a field and a building- Jesus is the cornerstone of the building, we are the building blocks or Legos.
• The Church is the Bride of Christ.
The Constitution of the Church
The Church consists of all of the regenerate, but they do not all have that same role or gifts or authority. Generally speaking there is the laity of the “saints” and the ministers.
Laity means just the regular Joe(s) and Josephine(s) in the Church. That is not to belittle them because they have a very important role in the church also.
The ministers lead, teach and offer sacraments (or ordinances) in the Church.
Roman Catholics base their hierarchical structure on the premise of “apostolic succession”. Basically this means that at the leadership and authority given to Peter by Jesus has been passed down that the current state Bishops. Protestants do not hold to this doctrine (we will discuss this much more in a later part of this series).
Purpose of the Church
• The Church is to “represent the universal Church as perfectly as possible” to the lost world in order to be a signpost to Christ.
• To apply the fruits of the redemption to mankind
So the Church is Christ’s continuing to work on earth. John Paul II stated that the central purpose of the Church was to help the believer to “realize and fulfill his full human destiny in Christ” or as stated in the most recent of Catholic catechism “the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church”.
Areas of Catholic and Protestant Agreement
Remember from our earlier study that Catholics and evangelicals agree on the great creeds, The Apostles’, Nicene and Chalcedonian.
Historically, Protestant scholars have identified four marks of the true Church.
• The church is one.
• The church is holy.
• The church is “catholic”, this means identity plus universality.
• The church is apostolic.
I think it is obvious that Catholics and evangelicals have much in common when it comes to the Church.
While their are movements to bring these to traditions closer together these efforts are often met with heavy skepticism. Due to the significant differences that exist between these two churches often the skepticism is warranted. At the same time I think it is worthwhile to look at the strengths of each tradition and consider taking those strengths into the other tradition. This integration of strengths can certainly strengthen both traditions while at the same time not watering down or denying the significant doctrinal differences.
This concludes our study of Catholics and Evangelicals: Similarities, the Church. The next section will be on what our similarities are when it comes to Ethics.
If you have not gotten the book yet and you still want to participate in the conversation, it is not too late. Order your book today!