BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (77) – If the Holy Spirit leads me, why do I need the Church?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

Saint Paul, in his letter to Timothy says that God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). For men “to come to the knowledge of the truth” they need to be taught and guided. They need a teacher and a shepherd so that “men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). 

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time” (I Timothy 2:4-6). 

This “one Mediator,” this Teacher and Shepherd, “called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). These twelve and their successors would continue the mission of the Messiah. They were appointed by the laying of the hands:  “they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). 

We have seen previously that this was part of God’s plan (cf “Did Jesus have a succession plan?” BST 11). It also involved the choice of Peter as the head of the apostles (cf BST 12, 13, 14): “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Simon becomes Kephas or Cephas (see also John 1:42. Kephas is the Hebrew word for “stone” or “rock”; Greek Petros, Latin Petrus, English Peter

The CCCC (no 149) tells us that Jesus did not do this plan by himself. The Blessed Trinity was involved in it. “The Church finds her origin and fulfillment in the eternal plan of God. She was prepared for in the Old Covenant with the election of Israel, the sign of the future gathering of all the nations.

“Founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, fulfilled by his redeeming death and Resurrection….

“The Church has been manifested as the mystery of salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth.”

Jesus founded only one Church – “my church” (Matthew 16:18). What do we mean by “church”?

CCC (no 751) explains: “The word ‘Church’ (Latin ‘ecclesia,’ from the Greek ‘ek-ka-lein,’ to ‘call out of’) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose (cf Acts 19:39). Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people (cf Exodus 19). By calling itself ‘Church,’ the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is ‘calling together’ his people from all the ends of the earth. The equivalent Greek term ‘Kyriake,’ from which the English word ‘Church’ and the German ‘Kirche’ are derived, means ‘what belongs to the Lord.’”

The Old Testament uses many images to speak about the ekklesia that the Mediator will convene, “images that are bound to the people of God. The New Testament offers images that are linked to Christ as the Head of this people which is his Body. Other images are drawn from pastoral life (sheepfold, flock, sheep), from agriculture (field, olive grove, vineyard), from construction (dwelling place, stone, temple), and from family life (spouse, mother, family)” (CCCC 148)

If the Holy Spirit leads us, why do we need the Church? The Holy Spirit leads us on our journey to the Father’s house through the Church that Christ founded and to which the Holy Spirit gives life.