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5. The Church And The Gospel
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5. The Church and the Gospel

      Evangelicals, because of their emphasis on the value of the individual, have traditionally neglect. ed the doctrine of the Church. The topic was not neglected in our dialogue, however. We found ourselves united in certain convictions about the Church, and in our commitment to it. We were able to agree on a four-fold relationship between the Church and the gospel.

1) The Church is a Part of the Gospel

      The redemptive purpose of God has been from the beginning to call out a people for himself. When he called Abraham, he promised to bless all nations through his posterity, and has kept his promise. For all those who are united to Christ, Gentiles as well as Jews, are Abraham's spiritual children and share in the promised blessing.
      This wonderful new thing, namely the abolition of the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles and the creation of a single new humanity, was at the heart of Paul's gospel (Eph 2:14, 15). He called it "the mystery of Christ" which, having been made known to him, he must make known to others (Eph 3:3-9).
      Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are conscious of past failure in their understanding of the Church. Roman Catholics used to concentrate on the Church as a hierarchical institution, but now (since Vatican II) see it in new perspective by stressing the important biblical images such as that of the People of God. Evangelicals have sometimes preached an excessively individualistic gospel, "Christ died for me." This is true (Gal 2:20), but it is far from the whole truth, which is that Christ gave himself for us "to purify for himself a people..." (Tit 2:14).
      Thus both Roman Catholics and Evangelicals agree that the Church as the Body of Christ is part of the gospel. That is to say, the good news includes God's purpose to create for himself through Christ a new, redeemed, united and international people of his own.

2) The Church is a Fruit of the Gospel

      The first clear proclamation of the good news in the power of the Holy Spirit resulted in the gathered community of God's people — the Church (Acts 2:39-42). This was to become the pattern for subsequent apostolic and missionary endeavors with the gospel. The condition for membership of the community is repentance (chiefly from the sin of unbelief and rejection of Christ), and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, witnessed to in submission to baptism in his name (Acts 2:38). The benefits of membership include the personal enjoyment of the forgiveness of sins, and participation in the new life of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor 12:13).
      From the beginning, the community of God's people was marked by a devotion to the apostolic teaching, to fellowship (a sharing which extended to practical loving care), to the breaking of bread (the Lord's Supper), and to the prayers or public worship (Acts 2:42). To this believing, worshiping, caring and witnessing community, "the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
      Evangelicals on the whole have tended to emphasize personal salvation almost to the point of losing sight of the central place of the Church. The multiplication of evangelistic organizations and agencies which are not church based has contributed to this distortion. There is however a growing desire to correct it. For wherever the gospel goes, it bears fruit in the spread and growth of the Church.

3) The Church is an Embodiment of the Gospel

      The very life of the Church as God's new community becomes itself a witness to the Gospel. "The life of the community only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News."
27 Thus the Church is the sign of the power and the presence of Jesus, the light of Christ shining out visibly to bring all men to that light.28
      As a fellowship of communities throughout the world the Church is to be "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Cyprian). This was why Jesus had come into the world and why the living communion of believers between themselves and the Lord of life, and between each other, is to be the proclamation that will move people's hearts to belief (John 13:34-35; 17:23).
      In every place the believing community speaks to the world by an authentically Christian life given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal (cf. 1 Pet 2:12).
      It is also the community of peace which makes Jew and Gentile one, in which by the power of the broken body of Christ the enmity which stood like a dividing wall between them has been broken down and a single new humanity brought into being (Eph 2:15-16). The Church cannot with integrity preach the gospel of reconciliation unless it is evidently a reconciled community itself.
      It is a community that makes present the obedient Lord who underwent death for us. It is founded upon him (Eph 2:20), he is its Lord (Eph 1:22), and its power to speak of him comes from the manner in which it reproduces in all its members and in its common life his obedience to the saving plan of God.
      This unity, holiness, love and obedience are the alternative sign that Christ is not an anonymous or remote Lord. They are the mark of the community given over to God, and they speak about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

4) The Church is an Agent of the Gospel

      That the Church must be an agent of the gospel overflows from its infernal life. The Church which receives the Word must also sound it forth (1 Thes 1:5-8). The Church which embodies its message visually must also declare it verbally.
      First, the Church continues and prolongs the very same mission of Christ.
      Secondly, the Church received Christ's command to be his witnesses in the power of the Spirit to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
      Thirdly, the Church proclaims the message with the authority of the Lord himself, who gave her the power of the Spirit. As to the qualified subjects of this authority, there are divergences between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. For Evangelicals the agent of the proclamation is the whole community of believers, who are equipped for this task by those appointed to the pastoral ministry (Eph 4:11-12). For Roman Catholics also the evangelistic task belongs to the whole people of God, but they believe bishops have a special role and responsibility both to order the life of the community for this task and, as successors to the ministry of apostolic times, to preach the good news of the Kingdom.
      To sum up, the Church and the gospel belong indissolubly together. We cannot think of either apart from the other. For God's purpose to create a new community through Christ is itself an important element in the good news. The Church is also both the fruit and the agent of the gospel, since it is through the gospel that the Church spreads and through the Church that the gospel spreads. Above all, unless the Church embodies the gospel, giving it visible flesh and blood, the gospel lacks credibility and the Church lacks effectiveness in witness.
      More and more Christians are recognizing this Jack of a fully credible, effective witness because of divisions among themselves. They believe that Christ has called all his disciples in every age to be witnesses to him and his gospel to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). Yet those who profess such discipleship differ about the meaning of the one gospel and go their different ways as if Christ himself were divided (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).
      To be sure, Christian separations and divisions have often been due to conscientiously held convictions, and Christian unity must not be sought at the expense of Christian truth. Nevertheless, the divisions and their causes contradict the will of Jesus Christ, who desires his people to be united in truth and love. They also hinder the proclamation of his good news of reconciliation. Therefore the gospel calls the Church to be renewed in truth, holiness and unity, in order that it may be effectively renewed for mission as well.


  1. E.g. Rom 4; Gal 3.

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  2. Evangelii nuntiandi.

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  3. Lumen gentium, chap. I.

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  4. John 20:21-22; cf. Mt 28:16-20; Luke 24:46-49.

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