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.
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.26
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.29
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
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
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
E.g. Rom 4;
cf. Mt 28:16-20; Luke 24:46-49.