Crossfunction: August 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A democratic Church?

"But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican."
Matthew 18:15-17 Douay-Rheims Bible
"If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, is between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector."
Matthew 18:15-17 New Jerusalem Bible

I wonder why the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible decided to render the Greek word "ekklesia" (church, assembly) as "community"? Such a decision seems designed to avoid the implication that some types of dispute might be mediated or resolved by leaders of the Church. "Community" in this translation would seem to suggest a more democratic method of resolving a dispute: perhaps everyone goes down to the meetin' hall and votes on it.

...except the Bible presents an image of the Church that doesn't match this democratic model. Important questions and disputes were not decided by opinion polls of people "in the pews", but by the authority of the apostles.

The Church is a community, yes, but a community with an apostolic foundation and hierarchical structure, as Scripture plainly shows. It's not merely a group of people sharing a common faith, but rather a Body.

A body is composed of parts, but it's more than just a lifeless pile of disconnected body parts: a horrifying image. A living body's members are arranged in a harmonious structure, each member having its function and place, each vitally important, each serving the others, and through them the whole.

Similarly, the Church of the New Testament is not just a collection of believers. It's a body of members united to Christ, its cornerstone and supernatural Head, and with the apostles and their legitimate successors as the foundation upon which it stands. Apostolic authority is indispensable to the Church's ability to preserve and interpret the Gospel message, and for the Church to be able to apply that message to the situations that it encounters every day.

This is why the Catholic Church continues to have a pope, bishops, priests, and deacons, and carefully preserves and transmits apostolic authority through the imposition of hands. Jesus gave His Church such a structure, and nothing in His teachings indicates He ever wished that structure to change.