The Catholic Church
Catholics believe that the church was founded by Jesus Christ as part of the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world. Christ’s proclamation and inauguration of the kingdom of God led to the gathering of disciples. His death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit definitively established the church, with which he promised to remain until the end of time (cf. Matt. 28:20). Jesus entrusted to this community the mission of preaching the gospel and of “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Because the church is, in God’s hands, a means of bringing about the communion of all those who, with the help of God’s grace, would accept the proclamation of the good news, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) taught that the church “is in the nature of a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, paragraph 1). This constitution goes on to affirm that the whole community has an active role to play in proclaiming and handing on God’s word, in worshipping and celebrating the sacraments and in serving the mission Jesus entrusted to it. As such, the church is a prophetic, priestly and kingly people (cf. Lumen gentium 9-13). Her source and summit are found in the celebration of the banquet of the kingdom, the eucharist (cf. Lumen gentium 10), which Jesus entrusted to his disciples at the last supper on the evening before his death. In the eucharist, through the power of the Holy Spirit the one sacrifice of Christ is made present, and the community is transformed into Christ’s Body and is enabled to continue his saving mission.
Thus while Catholics see the church as deeply rooted in the will and saving action of God, guided by the Holy Spirit and led by Jesus Christ her head, they also recognize that the community of the faithful is marked by shadows and failures, as is shown by the many efforts at reform which have regularly arisen in the history of the church. Reforms have been initiated by church leaders at various levels of ecclesial order, even at the highest levels, such as in ecumenical councils; they have also been inspired by charismatic individuals or groups whom the Holy Spirit raised up within the church to promote deeper conversion throughout the community as a whole.
The word “catholic” is one of the four qualities attributed to the church in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It suggests a certain “inclusiveness”, a holding together of communities, traits or ideas which need not and should not be separated because they are rooted in one and the same apostolic faith. Catholicity implies that diversity is not only to be tolerated but to be welcomed as a gift of God’s abundant goodness. One expression of this within the Catholic Church is the variety of states of life and vocations in which the baptized laity, the ordained ministers and those persons who have professed the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, all in their respective ways, are called to discipleship (cf. Lumen gentium 18-38 and 43-47). The call to holiness is universal and common to all; at the same time it can take innumerable forms within the specific conditions of each individual life (cf. Lumen gentium 39-42).
This impetus to embrace the whole characterizes too the church’s interaction with cultures; the languages, art and music of various peoples are considered ground into which the seed of the gospel is sown. The Catholic view of ecclesial communion maintains that, ultimately, no cultural, linguistic, historical, racial or other similar factor is of such importance that it should break the bonds of communion which hold together the body of Christ.
What are these bonds? They may be briefly summarized under the categories of faith, sacramental life and ministerial service. Faith is a defining element of Christian community, and the Catholic Church holds that the greatest care is needed not only in proclaiming the word of God which gives rise to faith (cf. Rom. 10:14-17) but in being watchful that the revealed truth is faithfully transmitted and that believers are informed about doctrinal or moral developments which are not in harmony with it. Catholics believe that the magisterium or teaching office of the church, exercised by the bishops in union with the bishop of Rome, is assisted by the Holy Spirit so that it will not fail to proclaim the truth handed down from the apostles and to guide the people of God with the authority of Christ. The magisterium is not above the word of God, but seeks to listen to it, conserve it, and understand it in greater depth and apply it to the existential questions which face contemporary human beings. In every age, the Catholic Church has seen the emergence of various “schools of theology”; outstanding thinkers have left an impressive heritage which provides fertile ground for continued theological reflection today on the sources of revealed truth as found in scripture and Tradition. Catholics believe that the whole prophetic people of God is graced with the anointing of the Spirit which gives believers a supernatural sense of the faith (sensus fidei), equipping them to understand the word of God and to apply it in life.
The Catholic Church has developed a rich liturgical and sacramental tradition. Seven sacraments – baptism, confirmation, eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, ordination and marriage – provide moments in which an intense experience of grace is unfailingly possible for the properly disposed recipient. Catholics believe that, while their form and practice have undergone development, the sacraments ultimately find their origin in the ministry and command of Jesus himself and derive their efficacy from the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. The celebration of the sacraments is intimately related to the overall spiritual life of the priestly people of God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9), called to mature in holiness after the image of Jesus by increasing in love for God and neighbour. In keeping with the faith and practice of the patristic period, Catholics see the essential apostolicity of ministry as conveyed through ordination by bishops whose own ordinations stand in a line of apostolic succession going back ultimately to the earliest Christian communities. Ordained ministry must be exercised as a service, a sacramental means by which Christ the prophet, priest and shepherd continues to guide his people. For Catholics, the selection of the twelve by Jesus himself and the special role played by Peter within that group, provide the point of departure for the development of the ministries of bishop and pope, which are considered essential and necessary for the church. From these roots, and by means of a process guided by the Holy Spirit, the ministry of bishops in succession to the apostles soon took the form which it fundamentally retains to the present day, with bishops leading the various local churches throughout the world and supporting one another in a way that has served the well-being not only of the communities assigned to each of them but also that of the “catholic” unity of the church as a whole.
Within this collegial and conciliar interaction between local churches and their bishops, the bishop of Rome, that city where Peter offered the final witness of his faith as a martyr, has a special duty to serve unity, in a way analogous to the role played by the apostle Peter in the New Testament. The contours of the “Petrine ministry” of the bishop of Rome, whom Catholics consider to be the successor of Peter, would develop in the course of time, but its specific purpose of serving the unity of the whole community is needed and willed by God not only for the first generation of the church’s life but for its entire history. This service to universal unity can and has taken various forms. In light of the improved relations between divided Christian communities and the common search for unity, Pope John Paul II asked Christians not presently in full communion with the Catholic Church to seek
– together, of course – the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, 95).
After decades of caution concerning the modern ecumenical movement, the Catholic Church, particularly through the Second Vatican Council, acknowledged that it is the Holy Spirit who has inspired contemporary efforts to arrive at greater Christian unity. The council set forth the ecclesiological basis for Catholic participation in the ecumenical movement by affirming that the many elements of sanctification and truth found in varying degrees in various Christian communities separated from one another constitute degrees of real, though imperfect, communion.
The Catholic Church sees the ecumenical movement as a multidimensional effort – through common prayer, witness, theological dialogue, promotion of the kingdom of God and any other suitable activities – to journey from that partial communion which now exists to the full communion which can one day be celebrated in a common eucharist. The council claimed that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, professed in the creed, “subsists in” the Catholic Church (Lumen gentium 8). By this phrase, the council wanted frankly to express the Catholic conviction that the fullness of the means of salvation with which Christ wished to endow his church can be found only in the Catholic Church. At the same time, by not simply equating Christ’s church with the Catholic Church, the council intended to recognize the ecclesial nature and quality of other Christian communities, which the Holy Spirit employs as means for salvation. Catholics believe that the current divisions between Christians do not correspond to the will of Jesus Christ and hamper the more fruitful carrying out of the mission he has entrusted to the church: to make disciples of all nations. Therefore, greater unity must be sought. Not to do so is to contradict the will of Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
According to the Vatican’s Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae of 2005, the Catholic Church numbered 1,085,557,000 persons, or 17.2 percent of the world’s population. Of these, 13.2 percent of Catholics live in Africa, 49.8 percent in North and South America; 10.5 percent in Asia, 25.7 percent in Europe and 0.8 percent in Oceania.
Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ
The family of churches known as Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ grew out of an early 19th century movement with origins in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The movement in the United Kingdom can be traced back to congregations formed in the second half of the 18th century, some of which were amongst those that came together in the first “cooperative” meeting of British Churches of Christ congregations in 1842. The movement in the United States focused around three major leaders, in particular Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Barton Stone was a Presbyterian minister who organized a revival in 1801 which is considered a significant milestone in the religious history of the USA. The experience led him to withdraw from the Presbyterian synod of Kentucky in 1803 and then in 1804 (reflecting the desire to be “simply Christian”) to establish the “Christian Church”.
Thomas Campbell, also a Presbyterian Minister, came to the United States in 1807 from Ireland. In 1809, because of what he saw as the scandal of Christian division, he formed the Christian Association of Washington (PA) and published a classic document on Christian unity – “The Declaration and Address”. His son Alexander Campbell became an advocate of these ideals and soon took the lead in the developing reform movement. Attempts to continue to work with the Presbyterians failed and the reformers reluctantly formed their congregation at Brush Run, Pennsylvania, into a separate church in 1811. An attempt to work with the Baptists over the next two decades also failed and by 1830 these “Disciples” were a separate group.
In 1824 Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell met. Their movements came together in 1832 and a period of definition and consolidation for this united movement followed. The 19th century was a time of significant growth, and the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) became the fifth largest denomination in the United States.
The early leaders of the two movements believed that Christian unity is essential to the proclamation of the gospel and to the integrity of the church’s witness in the world, and that its realization could be achieved through the restoration of the faith and order of the New Testament church. Their call was to return to the apostolic tradition of the earliest church, which they identified as the “ancient order of things”. On the basis of the NT witness, many of the characteristic beliefs and practices of the church took shape and continue today: weekly celebration of the Lord’s supper, baptism by immersion of believers confessing the faith, commitment to the priesthood of all believers in which lay and ordained share in the ministry of word and sacrament, self-governance of the congregation, and the proclamation of the gospel to the world.
The Disciples of Christ believe that the church is a sacramental community, a covenant fellowship brought into being by God’s initiative of grace and sustained in its life by the Holy Spirit. Baptism and the Lord’s supper are accepted as sacraments of the church, and are the primary elements in shaping the ethos and identity of the Disciples of Christ. Baptism marks entrance into membership in the church universal. Holy communion is the central act of each Sunday’s worship service; the invitation is always to an “open table”. Christ is present at each Lord’s supper both in the elements as they are received and in the life of the community itself.
The movement of the Disciples of Christ, marked by its message of freedom, diversity, simplicity of worship and a reasonable faith, has spread from North America to Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, where it met with other groups holding similar beliefs, usually called “Churches of Christ”. Through the missionary movement of the 19th century Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ communities have been established in several other parts of the world. Many of these have joined with other denominations to form united churches.
By 1906, congregations currently known in the United States as “Churches of Christ (a cappella)” had become a distinct group. Throughout the 20th century they have operated quite separately but there is currently a strong movement to embrace the wider church again. In the decades from the 1920s to the 1960s in the United States a further division occurred, culminating in the more ecumenical group restructuring as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with those not wishing to be a part of this denomination remaining as “independent” Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.
The Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ have two international bodies that serve different goals and that operate with different styles:
(1) In 1930 the first “World Convention of Churches of Christ (WCCC)” was held to provide this family with an informal gathering of individuals who would come together in an international convention (meeting every four years) for fellowship and sharing. Those attending a World Convention do not represent their churches in any official capacity, but come as individuals wishing to join other “family members” for fellowship, worship, understanding, and education. There are now more than 170 countries with congregations relating to its 19th century heritage and there is a vast network of links within the family.
(2) A second international body is the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council (DECC), founded in 1979, as a council of member churches throughout the world from the Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, together with United and Uniting Churches which Disciples have joined, who have taken official action to join the DECC in supporting its stated goals. The DECC was established to further and strengthen the common calling of Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ to visible unity and mission. It is not a legislative body, but is intended to enable the churches to consult with each other about matters of Christian faith, witness and unity. In particular the DECC seeks:
– to deepen the fellowship of Disciples with each other and with other churches on their way to the visible unity God wills for God’s people;
– to facilitate relationships between its member churches and regional and international ecumenical bodies;
– to encourage participation in the ecumenical movement through joint theological study, international bilateral dialogues, church union conversations and other forms of ecumenical engagement and programmes of joint action and witness;
– to gather, share and evaluate information about Disciples’ ecumenical activities in local, national and regional situations around the world, and to report on its own activities to member churches;
– to represent the worldwide fellowship of Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ in the wider ecumenical movement, including the appointment of official
representatives of Disciples, when invited to do so by ecumenical bodies such as the World Council of Churches, other Christian World Communions (including the Catholic Church), regional ecumenical bodies, etc.
The DECC pledges itself not to undertake work separately which can be better done together with other churches and Christian World Communions. The DECC has 19 member churches, representing 4.5 million Christians throughout the world. Ten of the member churches are also members of the WCC.
Member churches of the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council
Associated Churches of Christ in New Zealand
Associated Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe Association Christian Evangelical Churches (Disciples of Christ) Mexico
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada
Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico
Church of Christ in Congo – Community of the Disciples of Christ
Church of Christ in Malawi Church of Christ in the Philippines
Church of North India Churches of Christ in Australia
Churches of Christ in Vanuatu Disciples of Christ Church in Paraguay
Evangelical Church of the Disciples of Christ in Argentina
Fellowship of Churches of Christ in England Ghana United Churches of Christ
United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands United Congregational Church of Southern Africa United Reformed Church (UK)
Luther used the term “evangelical” for all Christians who accepted the doctrine of sola gratia, which he saw as the heart of the gospel (evangelion). By 1700 the term had become in Europe a simple synonym for “Protestant” or, in German-speaking areas, “Lutheran”. In Britain, however, the expression “evangelical revival” seems to have been used from around 1750 for the religious awakening led by the Wesleys, and later, advocates of revival called themselves evangelicals. While in the 18th century the characteristics were personal piety, moral earnestness, and philanthropy, the features shifted gradually to the personal experience of redemption in Christ, social concern, and confessional orthodoxy. By the end of the 19th century the personal evangelical experience of conversion became central to all evangelical thought and action. Within the main Protestant churches (Reformed, Methodist, etc.), especially in the Anglophone world, oppositions and divisions began to crystallize around categories such as “liberal”, “conservative”, “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” in the first decades of the 20th century. The liberals were open to modernity and promoted the social gospel. The evangelicals resisted the liberal secularizing of Christ, defended the inerrancy of the Bible, and increasingly sought shelter in the fortress of fundamentalism.
It took until the middle of the 1940s before a “new evangelicalism” began to emerge, which was able to criticize fundamentalism for its theological paranoia and its separatism. Doctrinally, the new evangelicals confessed the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, the personality and work of the Holy Spirit, and the second coming of Christ. These are the theological characteristics which are shared by the majority of Evangelical churches today in the world. The other distinctive feature is the missional zeal for evangelism and obedience to the great commission (Mtt. 28:18-19). The shift away from fundamentalism offered opportunities to overcome the divisions with traditional Protestantism, but these were soon overshadowed by the ideological climate of the cold war in which “evangelical” became synonymous with “conservative” and “ecumenical” was equated with “left wing” or “progressive” (depending on the personal bias of the observer). More recently, evangelicals have taken conservative positions on moral issues, e.g., sexuality, abortion, euthanasia. While these labels and emphases are still powerful, many evangelicals are seeking to be defined on other important issues, such as poverty, socio-economic and racial justice, gender and human rights.
Evangelical churches have grown exponentially in the second half of the 20th century and continue to show great vitality, especially in the global South. This resurgence may in part be explained by the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism and the emergence of the charismatic movement (see under Pentecostal Churches), which are closely associated with evangelicalism. However, there can be no doubt that the evangelical tradition “per se” has become one of the major components of world Christianity. Evangelicals also constitute sizeable minorities in the traditional Protestant and Anglican churches. In regions like Africa and Latin America, the boundaries between “evangelical” and “mainline” are rapidly changing and giving way to new ecclesial realities.
At the global level, the Evangelical churches, groups and individuals are represented through the World Evangelical Alliance, formerly World Evangelical Fellowship, which was founded in 1951 (a first Evangelical Alliance was formed as early as 1846; it ceased to function after World War I, i.e. in the period marked by the rise of fundamentalism). The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is made up of national and regional Evangelical Alliances or Fellowships, which exist in 123 countries in the world, and group together Evangelical churches, groups, organizations and sometimes individuals. The WEA understands itself as existing: “To foster Christian unity and to provide a worldwide identity, voice and platform to Evangelical Christians. Seeking empowerment by the Holy Spirit, they extend the Kingdom of God by proclamation of the Gospel to all nations and by Christ-centered transformation within society” (WEA Purpose Statement approved by the International Council, July, 2002). This purpose is carried out by: a) providing a framework to convene, catalyze, connect, and communicate an evangelical perspective on global issues in full obedience to both the great commandment and the great commission; b) establishing and strengthening regional and national evangelical movements; c) establishing commissions, and releasing the resources of member-bodies to address and meet the needs of the global church; and d) stimulating strategic partnerships in order to strengthen Christian witness and compassionate action in every nation.
The WEA Statement of Faith reads:
“We believe in the Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct… One God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit… Our Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, His virgin birth, His sinless human life, His divine miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His mediatorial work, and His Personal return in power and glory… The Salvation of lost and sinful man through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith apart from works, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit… The Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the believer is enabled to live a holy life, to witness and work for the Lord Jesus Christ… The Unity of the Spirit of all true believers, the Church, the Body of Christ… The Resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life, they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The highest governing body of the WEA is the general assembly. It appoints an international council representative of the geographic regions of the WEA. The secretariat is lodged in an international service centre and led by an international coor-dinator/chief executive officer, who is assisted by an international leadership team. The WEA has commissions on missions, theology, evangelical theological education, religious liberty, women, and youth.
The regional members of the WEA are: the Association of Evangelicals of Africa (AEA), the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia (EFA), the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean (EAC), the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA), the Latin American Evangelical Fellowship (FIDE), the North American Council, and the Evangelical Fellowship of the South Pacific (EFSP).
The precise number of national evangelical alliances which constitute the WEA was 123 in 2005; these are estimated to embrace nearly 3 million local churches and 380 million Christians.
National Member Fellowships of the World Evangelical Alliance
Evangelical Alliance of Angola Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Bénin Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Burkina Faso Association of Central African Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad Evangelical Federation of Ivory Coast Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia Evangelical Fellowship of the Gambia National Association of Evangelicals of Ghana Association of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Guinea Evangelical Church of Guinea-Bissau Evangelical Fellowship of Kenya Association of Evangelicals of Liberia Evangelical Fellowship of Malawi Fellowship of Christian Churches in Mauritius Association of Groupings of Protestant Evangelical Churches
and Missions in Mali Evangelical Association of Mozambique Namibia Evangelical Fellowship Nigeria Evangelical Fellowship Evangelical Alliance of Rwanda Evangelical Fellowship of Senegal Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa Sudan Evangelical Christian Association Swaziland Conference of Churches Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe Special members: Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Tanzania and Uganda
Australian Evangelical Alliance National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia Evangelical Fellowship of India Evangelical Fellowship of Indonesia Japan Evangelical Association Korea Evangelical Fellowship National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia Myanmar Evangelical Christian Fellowship National Churches Fellowship of Nepal Vision Network of New Zealand Evangelical Fellowship of Pakistan Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand
United Evangelical Association of Antigua & Barbuda Barbados Evangelical Association Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches Dominican Evangelical Fraternity (Dominican Republic) Guyana Evangelical Fellowship Council of Evangelical Churches of Haiti Jamaica Association of Evangelicals St Croix Evangelical Ministers Association St Kitts Evangelical Association Fellowship of Gospel Preaching Churches (St Lucia) Association of Evangelical Churches in St Vincent & the Grenadines Trinidad & Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches Caribbean Atlantic Regional Assembly of the Church of God Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies The Salvation Army Caribbean Territory
Albanian Evangelical Alliance Austrian Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance Flanders (Belgium) Francophone Evangelical Alliance of Belgium Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance Protestant Evangelical Council in Croatia Czech Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance of Denmark Estonian Evangelical Alliance Finnish Committee for World Evangelization French Evangelical Alliance Alliance of Protestant and Evangelical Churches (FYRO Macedonia) German Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance of Greece Hungarian Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance Ireland Italian Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance of Kazakhstan Latvian Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance of Luxemburg Evangelical Alliance of the Netherlands Evangelical Alliance of Norway Polish Evangelical Alliance Portuguese Evangelical Alliance Romanian Evangelical Alliance Evangelical Alliance Slovakia Spanish Evangelical Alliance Swedish Evangelical Alliance Swiss Evangelical Alliance (German speaking) Swiss Evangelical Alliance (French speaking) The Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom Serbian Evangelical Alliance
Argentine Alliance of Evangelical Churches National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia Brazil National Alliance Brazilian Evangelical Association Evangelical Fraternity of Chile Evangelical Confederation of Colombia Evangelical Alliance of Costa Rica Evangelical Fraternity of El Salvador Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala Evangelical Fraternity of Honduras Mexican Evangelical Fraternity Panamanian Evangelical Fraternity Association of Pastors of Paraguay Christian Association of Evangelical Churches of Uruguay Evangelical Council of Venezuela
Cyprus Evangelical Alliance The Fellowship of Evangelicals in Egypt United Christian Council in Israel
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada National Association of Evangelicals (USA)
Evangelical Fellowship of Fiji National Council of Evangelical Churches of Papua New Guinea Samoa Evangelical Fellowship South Sea Evangelical Church (Solomon Islands) Tonga Evangelical Union