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The word denotes both a church building and the Christian community, local or universal. The origins of the Church as a sect within 1st-cent. Judaism lie in the Lord's choice of twelve disciples (called Apostles). Their mission was initially to Israel, but soon after the Resurrection Gentiles began to join the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians. St Paul's Gentile mission laid the foundations for the Gentile Christianity which became dominant after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 and the expulsion of Jewish Christians from synagogues in the 80s. From the outset the Church never considered itself a voluntary organization; it constituted the faithful remnant of God's people who had recognized the coming of the Messiah and it soon understood its mission in universal terms. After the deaths of St James (the Great), St Peter and Paul in the 60s, and the marginalization of Jewish Christianity, new structures were developed. The essence of the Church was later epitomized in the traditional ‘notes of the Church’, namely unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. As teaching the Apostles' doctrine and historically descended from them, the Church is apostolic. Its membership, its orders of ministers, and its unity are established by participation in visible sacraments, i.e. those of Baptism and Confirmation, of Holy Orders, and of the Eucharist, respectively. After the split between the E. and W., the RC and E. Orthodox Church each maintained the other was in schism (q.v.) and that itself was the historical manifestation of the visible Church. In addition to the visible Church on earth, there exists the invisible Church of the faithful departed.

The Reformation led to a reformulation of the idea of the Church. It sought to proclaim its being in terms of the Word of God rather than in sacramental relationships. Among Protestants, two doctrines gained wide acceptance: (1) that the Church is a visible body and in the Divine intention one throughout the world, but that in view of the errors and corruptions which have arisen it is justified within a particular nation in reforming itself, even if this involves a breach of visible unity; and(2) that the true Church is an invisible body of the saved whose membership is known only to God. Most holders of this view maintained that it was desirable that the Church should possess an outward organization, membership of which should correspond as far as possible with that of the invisible Church. Some Protestants held that visible unity should be secured in each nation by an ‘established religion’ determined by the ruler; others regarded unity of organization between Christian communities as unnecessary.In modern times among Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox there has been fresh interest in the theology of the Church. In the early part of the 20th cent. this vision of the Church focused on the Pauline notion of the Body of Christ; in the second half of the cent. increased stress was laid on the Church as sacramental, an idea emphasized by Orthodox theologians who see the community gathered to celebrate the Eucharist with its bishop as the primary manifestation of the Church. This has affinities with the concept of the Church as centred in each congregation that has characterized Congregational and other Protestant Churches. In the RC Church a less institutional and juridical view than had been normal in that communion found expression in the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (1965), in which the Church is seen primarily as the People of God.


Subjects: Christianity.

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