Chapter 5: The Christian Church
In the 3 or 4 years of Jesus’ public life he had gathered a small body of followers to carry on his mission. But they really did not quite get it, and were shattered at his violent execution in Jerusalem. They could not believe that God would allow that to happen.
It was only after his resurrection and in talking with the risen Jesus that they gained some understanding of Christ’s Act of Reconciliation between God and Humanity. Jesus could then leave them to get on with a new way of living and loving, having assured them that his Spirit would help them (the Holy Spirit). They would be the pioneers of a new kind of community life.
The community of followers which grew from that time is known as the Church. It welcomed anyone irrespective of their social position, level of wealth, race, religion, nationality, gender, language in their task of establishing what they called the Reign of God. It is also referred to as the Body of Christ because corporately it carries on the mission of Jesus through the ages, which is to reconcile humans to God, to persuade people to choose to recognise and turn towards God the Creator. The story of how the church community spread and grew beyond the limits of Palestine can be read in the New Testament.
A key figure in the early growth of the church was the apostle Paul, a Jew from Turkey who initially persecuted the church but was converted after an extraordinary experience in which the God-Man Jesus appeared to him. Paul was responsible for taking Christ’s mission beyond the Jewish community to non-Jewish peoples. By the time Paul died as a martyr the church community had already spread as far as Rome.
The rest is history, with the established Church and Society being closely connected for much of that time. Argument about the merits or otherwise of that connection is left to others, as it is not relevant here to describing the faith.
Since the time of the Reformation 500 years ago there has been a proliferation in church “denominations”, such as Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and so on. Each of these traditions proclaims the Christian faith with Jesus as the central focus, but does so with differences in theological understandings, emphases and forms of organisational governance and practice. Such differences are a natural reflection of the diversity of human understanding. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches originated long before the Reformation, and still continue of course.
Because humans fail morally from time to time the Church as an organisation has always likewise been subject to moral failures, and many such instances can be found throughout human history. This has been dramatically shown in recent times in our own society, and the Church needs to seek reconciliation with both God and those who have suffered from its failures.