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I am Catholic. A Protestant told me that the people are the church, but I’m pretty sure that is not true. Can you help me? What is the Church?

Full Question

I am Catholic. A Protestant told me that the people are the church, but I’m pretty sure that is not true. Can you help me? What is the Church?

Answer

Your friend was correct as far as he went. The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, stated the Church is the people of God. Protestants see this as pretty much it. They understand church as a name for a structure-less body of people who follow Christ and believe in his divinity as the second Person of the Holy Trinity, revealed in the Bible alone.

Catholics, on the other hand, understand the Church also in terms of a hierarchical structure, with definite authority given to it by Jesus in the person of Peter and therefore to his successors. We see in Scripture much evidence that Jesus gave personal attention to the apostles, preparing them to minister after he was no longer with them. “Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16). There was no reason for him to prepare them for only their lifetime. The early Church Fathers verify this. The early Church does not fall into the Protestant vision of a structure-less, sacrament-less body of believers. It was hierarchically structured and sacramental. The canon of the New Testament, on which Protestants base all their faith, is the product of this Church. (See “The Problems with Primitivism,” This Rock, November-December 2010.)










19 comments

  1. Sylvia Crockett Reply

    I have issue with this question: I have a friend who do not believe in devils as think they do not exist. Also I have another question: Is it true that a person has a choice to kill someone or not to kill? As I thought evil tells them to do it? How can I explain to my friend about this.

  2. aymamibrockway Reply

    It is absolutely true that a person has a choice to commit sin. It’s called free will. Evil may tell you to commit sin but evil does not commit the sin, the person chooses to by listening to evil instead of God. You have evil (Satan) on one hand trying to get you to sin and God on the other hand asking you to not sin. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.

  3. nina Reply

    For us Catholics we have two kinds of CHURCH the LIVING and non-LIVING acts 3:1 where Peter & John went to the temple to pray at 3 oclock…so there really is a proper place to pray Non-Living Church. Just like we can eat anywhere and everywhere we want, but there is a proper place where we should have our meal right?? so as we can pray anywhere everywhere (bedroom) but there is a proper place to pray and Honor GOD thats the non-living church…

  4. Noel David Reply

    Upon this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH said the Lord …. And the Church is not a handful of Apostles, Diciples, bishops, priests and nuns but is built of ALL PEOPLE who believe in the Lord – and that is the LIVING CHURCH….. I am the VINE and you are the branches….. So we are all united to this VINE…. Without HIM the Church cannot survive even for a second…..

    The Church therefore consists of every baptised Christian and every human being who believes in Jesus Christ…. There will be ONE FLOCK and ONE TRUE SHEPHERD who will watch over all the sheep under His care…..

      1. David O'Brien Reply

        In the scripture it is written that though we are many parts we are meant to be one body. The laity are considered to be the body of the church but in OUR Roman Catholic Church the laity can be treated as fodder for the hierarchy, we are bottom of the hierarchical triangle. Priests though are meant to be servants of the servants of God. Currently Pope Francis is trying to turn that hierarchical triangle upside down.
        Since we are all sinners there is a danger of falling into the trap of ‘power & control’. Humility is close to holiness and even though we Catholics are part of an authoritarian church not a democracy- at least Pope Francis is trying to bring Vatican 2 back into play by elevating the laity. The Holy Spirit has already exposed parts of the magisterium.

      2. Margaret Reply

        I was with you til you said only baptized Christians. The thief on the cross was not baptized but promised heaven just for his belief. To get back to the original question, Protestants do have structure to their fellowship. The early church provided different people to do different things . Pastors, deacons, teachers etc. We all have our gift and need to find out what it is to serve the Lord as He would have us do.

  5. John Fernandez Reply

    Upon this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH (singular) said the Lord… In 1 Corinthians 1:10 “10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[d] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” The Catholic church has no problem with this because they are united and have the same teaching since 33AD up to now but then the Protestant since the reformation started in 16th century has currently 50,000 churches/denominations among them whom if one do not agree with another will continue to build their own church with their own interpretation… Sad!

    1. David O'Brien Reply

      I think part of the reason why the disillusion of the monasteries happened so easily is down to power and control of our hierarchical church. I have been brought up to hail the magisterium but The Holy Spirit has exposed them over the centuries. Yes Peter is the rock of our church but it’s God that builds it.
      Our church has been failing over the centuries – God installed Vatican 2 but much of it has been swept under the carpet. Pope Francis was definitely appointed by The Holy Spirit and he is helping OUR church ‘listen’ once more. He has a tough task because human beings are into power and control ….. Look at the Curia and the corruption with Peters pence.
      God said somewhere the church would be on its needs but He would rescue it.

  6. RC Believers Reply

    Your absolutely right Mr. John Fernandez Catholics consecrate themselves to Mary, we are in communion with all the saints, with all the blessed, with all the angels in heaven, with all the martyrs and with all the people/our loved one who have gone before us and inherit the reward of eternal life because though not visibly seen in the Church they are all members of the Church, we are one in unity with our Lord Jesus Christ which Protestant do not, they causes divisions among Christians.

  7. junslash azetnom Reply

    And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
    Revelation 12:7

    And prevailed not neither was their place found any more in heaven
    Revelation 12:8
    And the great dragon was cast out,that old serpent,called the devil,and Satan,which deceiveth the whole world:he was cast out into the earth ,and his angels was cast out With him.
    Revelation 12:9
    And I heard the voice from heaven, now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God,and the power of his christ:for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
    Revelation 12:10

    Brothers and sisters you should believe that there is devil who temp people to do bad.that verse I give to is from revelation of the bible in new testament you can read also in the bible of catholics.that verse is not yet happen that was written by the apostle Paul . revealed by God to him that will happen when Jesus coming back.

  8. Jose Fuliga Reply

    I am a Protestant but every Sunday we all in church confess, “We believe in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Catholic means “universal”. So we don’t confess that we are “Roman” Catholics as that would limit Catholicism to Romans.

    1. Bob Reply

      Hopefully you don’t say “THE” Holy, catholic and apostolic church. I suspect you say “ONE” Holy, catholic and apostolic church. The key word here is “ONE” not “30,000” (the estimated number of protestant churches). The irony is lost on protestants that while they are protesting against the Catholic Church, they also cite the apostle’s creed which was written by the Catholic Church. They claim that they are at once protesting against, yet “ONE” with the Catholic Church. Blessed John Henry Newman put it best, “to be deep in history is to cease to be protestant”.

    2. Gerry Kenny Reply

      Jose, sorry buddy but as Bob states it is “One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church and that means ‘The Catholic Church. All other ‘Christian churches have many different beliefs and different leaders and Pastors. The Catholic Church is led by The Vicar or Christ, the Pope. It was during the reformation that the church of england which was started by a man henry V111 started calling the real Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church. It is one and the same…The One True Church!!

  9. Jake Reply

    If your church was universal you wouldn’t have 3 different types of services. They would all be the same. You are letting certain people tell you what they want in a service. When you go from Portland Oregon to Miami Florida and have the same format of service then you are Universal.

  10. Paul Bolin Reply

    The question “What is the Church?” is timeless and there is no single definition for it. Many place the hierarchy in contrast to the laity, and this was somewhat vogue in the 1870s-1930s. However, to do so is to contrast the head to the body. They are co-dependent and they are part of the same entity. There’s an entire study (ecclesiology) that devotes itself to this philosophy. A good read is the book “Models of the Church” by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles. As can be expected, he doesn’t give a single definition, but rather describes six “models,” all of which have been in fashion or have predominated over the nearly 2,000 years of the Church’s history. Different theologians will emphasize different models.

  11. Joe Fuliga Reply

    Sorry, Gerry but there are a number of different Catholic churches or denominations. The Antiochene Church says they are the first church for the believers were first called Christians in Antioch. This church has a bishop in Australia and it has work in various parts of the world including the Philippines. In the book of Acts the followers of Christ were just called Christians and they were not Romans but Jewish Christians and their leader was St. James (Read Acts 15:5-21) who issued the decree concerning the Gentile converts. Roman Catholicism began only during the reign of Emperor Constantine who legalized in 313 Christianity. Even the title Roman Catholic Christians is a misnomer for most Catholic Christians in the world are not Romans.

    1. Bob Reply

      To get that James was the leader of the Church from that passage in Acts takes some serious eisegesic gymnastics. Especially in the light of Mathew 16:18 where Jesus Himself appoints Peter as the leader of His Church. Even in the verses of Acts that you cite, Peter says “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe”. “…God made His choice among you that through my mouth…”. Exegesis before eisegesis my brother.
      There are a number of different Catholic rites and they all recognize the pope as the authoritative leader of all in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

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