I recently had the opportunity to write a guest blog on The Simple Catholic. The post is about three ways the newly baptized can live their vows going forward. You can read the post here. Lastly, check out and follow The Simple Catholic for great content. Matthew is doing great work over there.
Within Christendom Ecclesiology is looked at in a variety of different ways. Within Protestantism the church may be seen within a synod, a presbytery, or an autonomous unit. Within Catholicism Ecclesiology revolves round the sacrament of the Eucharist and those who are in union with the Bishop. This is what is known as communion ecclesiology. In this paper, the development of communion ecclesiology will be seen from sacred scripture, the church fathers, and councils.
From its humble beginnings, the church has taught the centrality of the Eucharist. There are those that say that this practice started later within the church’s history, but its roots can be found within the pages of sacred scripture. Saint Matthew, Saint uke, and Saint Paul both write about the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper. In Matthew 26:26 Matthew writes, “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body (Douay-Rheims).” Saint Luke’s account in Luke 22:19 we read very similar language, “And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me (Douay-Rheims).” In koine Greek, the language of the New Testament these inspired writers use the word esti. This one word is so significant because reiterates what we read in the english translations. According to Strong’s concordance this word is translated into English as is, are, consists, and come.
In short, this word contains the whole of communion ecclesiology. In the original language, our Lord said that the bread and wine are his body. He did not say that they are like his body, or are symbolic of his body. Saint Paul takes it a step further in 1 Corinthians to remove any doubt about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In chapter eleven of 1 Corinthians he writes that he received the words from Christ himself. The church at Corinth had been treating the Eucharist in a very irreverent manner. People were feasting, and there were some who were unable to participate. As if that were not bad enough, there was also a man who was having sexual relations with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1). By acting in this manner this individual broke communion and was no longer in union with the church.
The theme of communion ecclesiology is continued in the ministry of the early church fathers. The patristics have a lot to say about the centrality of the Eucharist and the authority of the bishop. Saint Ignatius of Antioch paragraph twenty of his letter to the Ephesians writes, “Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.” Also in his letter to the Philadelphians St. Ignatius states, “Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.”
St. Ignatius makes it clear that it is the Eucharist is of vital importance to the Christian faith. The Eucharist can only be consecrated by someone who is ordained in Apostolic Succession. He must be in communion with the bishop and hold that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. In regard to this Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “This explains the lively concerns which finds authoritative expression in the work of the Councils and the Popes (Ecclesia de Eucharista, 9).”
Throughout history we can see the role that communion ecclesiology has played in fighting heresy. In the second century, the Gnostics claimed to have secret teaching that they received directly from the apostles. The Gnostics believed all matter to be evil, and since the eucharist consisted of matter they opted to abstain. In his pivotal work, Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus outlined what became known as the rule of faith. St. Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith (Roberts 486).” To be validly part of the universal church, it was understood that one had to be under the authority of the bishops in apostolic succession. He goes on to say that although language vary, the traditions and teachings of the church remain the same.
As if this were not enough to deduce that the Gnostics were not in communion he goes to the Eucharist. Regarding the Eucharist St. Irenaeus writes, “But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit (ccel.org).” These are only a sampling of Irenaeus’s treatises, but they establish that the church had an understanding of what it meant to be in communion.
Throughout history there have been those who challenged this communion. As a result, they broke away and developed various ecclesiological systems that were vastly different from what has been passed down in the church. We are rapidly approaching the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This development caused a division in the church, and at the heart of this divide was authority.
As previously stated, one of the components of communion ecclesiology is the apostolic succession of the bishopric (CCC, para 1142). The church is visible institution with validly ordained clergy who administered the sacraments for the faithful. However, the concept of a visible church was one that did not sit well with the reformers. In their eyes, the church was an invisible entity and made visible only by the work of its members. In describing this concept Dr. Christopher McMahon writes, “Although Luther and Calvin, the two patriarchs of the Reformation, disagreed on many issues, including substantial ecclesiological issues, they both agreed with their predecessor, Jan Hus, on the theological emphasis on the primacy of an invisible church (McMahon, 63).
The Council of Trent set out to combat the teachings of the Reformation, and to address certain reforms within the church. As previously stated, the reformers grew to distrust the established institutional structures of the church. As a result, they said that the church was made up of believers who were truly converted. By all accounts to council was successful in its aims, and reiterated the historic teaching of a visible institutional church (McMahon, 66). One prominent figure during this era was Cardinal Bellarmine, and he addressed the topic of the visible church quite well. He wrote in his treatise De Controversiis, “Our view is that the church is only one reality, not two, and that this single and true reality is the group linked by profession of the same faith and by communion in the same sacraments (McMahon, 66).”
This concept of communion ecclesiology has been carried on into our own time. The second Vatican Council addressed this issue in a number of areas, and Saint Pope John Paul II addresses it at length in his great encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. In that document, the Holy Father discusses how our baptism is renewed whenever we partake of the Eucharist. By doing so we are entering into sacramental communion with each other (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, para 22).
In the second paragraph of the Council document titled, Unitatis Redintegration, the council fathers state, “In His Church He instituted the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist by which the unity of the Church is both signified and brought about (Decree on Eucumenism, para 2). This statement is strengthened by other council documents such as the decree on Ministry and Life of Priests. In article six of that document the council fathers discuss how no Christian community can be built unless the Eucharist is at the center of it.
Communion ecclesiology, as Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI states, “is in its inmost nature a Eucharistic Ecclesiology (Ratzinger, Kindle location 1634).” Throughout its history the church has rallied around the Eucharist as the pinnacle of Christian worship, and has taught that this same Eucharist can only be administered through those in communion with the Bishop. The Bishop in this case is the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome. Through this communion we can confidently know what has been taught by the apostles, and how to live the Christian life.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2 ed. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Print.
McMahon, Christopher. Called Together: An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2010. Print.
Pope John Paul II. Encyclical on the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church Ecclesia de Eucharistia
Ratzinger, Joseph. Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church As Communion. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005. Ebook.
Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Tanner, Norman ed. Vatican II: The Essential Texts. New York: Image Books, 2012. Print.
Aubrey Malphurs says “Disciple making does not end with a person’s conversion, however. It’s an ongoing process that encourages the believer to follow Christ and become more like Him.” With this taken into account we need to ask ourselves a question. What is the most effective way to make disciples? Do we get as many people in one room, and immerse them in biblical knowledge and theological thought? This has its place, but new believers run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle in this environment. Dr. Dempsey, states “Christianity is more caught than taught, and to make progress in the disciple-making process, we need good examples good example of people who the Apostle Paul’s paradigm.” Coincidently the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
To effectively do this in our churches we need to change the way we are doing things. The Sunday sermon is very important, but it is not the way in which disciples are built. There are some ministries in our churches that have turned into social clubs instead of ministry. It is time to rethink what we are doing, and align everything to the commandment of making disciples. According to Dr. Dempsey “The best context for cultivating this kind of environment is a small group within a local church. With the exception of the first three hundred years of the church, we have not done a good job of creating that structure.”
The small group allows for an intimate setting where the scriptures are taught. The people of the group grow together, encourage each other, and learn from each other. They hold each other accountable and check up on those members that they have not seen in a while. It is a different dynamic from the traditional way that the church has operated. From an evangelization standpoint it is less intimidating for the non-believer who may attend the group.
Dr. Putnam, states “Making disciples is the main reason why the church exists, so everything in a corporate body needs to be funnel people toward a relational small group in which discipleship can best happen.” It has been said many times, and it bears repeating. A small group is the primary means of making disciples who make disciples. There are three components to a successful small group and they are the following: Shepherding, teaching, and authenticity and accountability.
Throughout the scriptures we read of the Lord being a shepherd, and His followers as sheep. In a small group the leader attempts to create an environment where members are helping each other. We are people who deal with many stressors in our lives. In our small groups a member may be overwhelmed with something, or everything, that is going on in their lives. The leader will offer group prayer for this hurting member, and someone in the group may share an experience to help the member through. The member of the group is treated like a family member, and listening is key. In regard to this David Horton states, “Strong groups are led by those who build a strong sense of synergy, community, and solidarity.” Without this sense of community the shepherding process will not be effective. People will not share their experiences, or what is going on in their lives. At that point the whole disciple making process halts.
The second aspect of a small group it that of teaching. This is an environment where real teaching takes place. People are just not given a sermon and sent home. Teaching in the small group is also relational. The members are encouraged to ask questions, and the Bible is central for teaching. In short it is not just another Bible study. There is plenty of Bible study happening, but it goes deeper than that. When people think of a Bible study they think of one person doing most of the talking while everyone else sits back and listens.
In a small group the teacher is more of a facilitator. The leader helps the group participate in biblical discussions, ask questions, and share their own experiences. This is key for the leader to understand if the text is being understood. If it is not being understood then the goal of making disciples took a step backward. Always point back to Bible to show them where the answers are.
Lastly other keys to a small group are authenticity and accountability. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, states “Two are better than one because they have good return on their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls where there is not another to lift him up.” The KJV Biblical Commentary says about these verses, “A man alone who is about to be overcome by any onslaught may be kept from ruin through the helpful hand of his friend. Such companionship is of inestimable value and is certainly a profit to all those who possess it.” There are no free agents in Christianity. We are unable to go through this journey of faith alone. When we do the enemy sees us as lost sheep, and since we do not have the protection of the group, we will be easy prey for him. It is important for the leader to espouse empathy to the group, and let the group know that listening is best. It is human nature to want to fix another’s problems, but it is important to listen and share.
When struggles are brought up there is most likely someone in the group who has had a similar struggle. Leaders need to foster an environment of authentic sharing where hearts are being transformed. It is also an environment where accountability is fostered. How will the group help a member who is struggling with a particular sin? We cannot create disciples if there is a lingering sin that a person is dealing with. We need to help our members get over those.
In conclusion the small group is vital to the believer and the church. It is an environment where relationships are forged, lives are changed, disciples are made, and disciples are sent out. They are sent out to change the world with the Gospel of Christ. What else is there? The world around us is hurting, and morals are in decay. The small group exists to create disciples to be light to the world.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (New American Standard Version).
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible).
Horton, David. The Portable Seminary. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006.
King James Version Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005.
Malphurs, Aubrey. Strategic Disciple Making. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.
Putnam, Jim, and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman. Discipleshift. Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Strategic Disciple Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 34.
 Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013), 276.
 1 Corinthians 11:1 (New American Standard Bible).
 Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013), 59.
 Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman, Discipleshift (Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013), 184.
 David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006), 597.
 Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman, Discipleshift (Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013), 190.
 Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible).
 King James Version Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005), 742.
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I am sure we are all aware of those who do not go to church, but claim to be Christians. There are many reasons for them not doing so, and many are legitimate such as work obligations, a sickness, or being bedridden. However, there are many that are not.
Today we will look at some biblical examples of why it is important to gather in fellowship with other believers. It is indeed a biblical concept and should be taken seriously if one claims to be Christian. The church was established to nurture and develop disciples of Christ. This is done by sound preaching, scripture reading, and holding people accountable for what the Bible says.
Throughout the New Testament we see examples of believers gathering together regularly. The word church is used 82 times in the New Testament, and 21 of those times in the book of Acts. One such passage is Acts 9:31 which states, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Another verse is Acts 2:42, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” From these two passages we begin to see some basic developments in the life of the church. People are being built up in their knowledge of God and the Spirit-filled life. They are getting along and are being harmonious with one another. They are helping each other grow, and are making an impact on their communities. Early on in the church we see that Christianity is not about me, but it is relational. Christianity is about a thriving relationship with Christ, and that relationship gets even deeper, and thrives, when we are with other believers.
When we become Christians we ae all blessed with a Spiritual gift that is meant to be utilized with other believers. This gift cannot reach its full potential if it is kept in the closet. We see this in 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.” If we look carefully at these gifts, we see that they are to be used for the benefit of others within the body of Christ.
The Bible is deliberate in saying that we should not neglect meeting together. Take Hebrews 10:25 as a n example, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The bottom line is that without being relational, and meeting with other Christians our growth is stunted. Christianity is about relationship. Whenever Paul evangelized a new area ne started a church, and they gathered together not only to learn, but for support and encouragement.
As you read this you may think that I am beating up on you. Please believe me when I say that this is not my intention. There are those who have legitimate reasons as to why they cannot fellowship with other believers, but there are those who do not for selfish reasons. I myself fell into the latter category in my youth, but I found a church that teaches the scriptures, prays, and genuinely cares about the welfare of myself and family. They also hold me accountable which is a key, and sometimes not pleasant, piece in spiritual growth. The point is that Christianity is a team sport, and we are in this together. It is about relationship, and developing those relationships in such a way where we become disciples of Christ. Then we teach others to do the same. Soon that one relationship will have an impact on the church, then the community, and even the world.
1 Corinthians 12:28 (Revised Standard Version).
Acts 2:42 (New American Standard Bible).
Acts 9:31 (English Standard Version).
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making is. Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2013.
Hebrews 10:25 (King James Version).
 Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making is (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2013), 39.
 Acts 9:31 (English Standard Version).
 Acts 2:42 (New American Standard Bible).
 1 Corinthians 12:28 (Revised Standard Version).
 Hebrews 10:25 (King James Version).
“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”- James 1:22
Have you ever been confronted with an event or circumstance which was wrong, but you failed to speak up? We have all been in situations where our Christian witness would have perhaps made a difference, but we remained silent.
In today’s verse James points out a distinction between merely reading the word, and putting that word into action. He says we are deceiving ourselves if we don’t put it into action. We can say we are Christians, but what are we ding to show it to a hurting world. The world needs the Gospel, and by us doing what of God says will show the world what the Gospel looks like. True hearing of the words of scripture will lead to godly action. To many people actions speak louder than words. If that is the case then we must let our actions scream to the rooftops. Take some time this morning in prayer and ask the Lord what you can do to put your faith into action. Maybe you can volunteer at church, pray for someone you meet, or establish a regular prayer time. There is nothing too little in regard to godly action.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name o the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”- Matthew 28:19-20
We have all had someone close to us who has passed away. We often remember the last thing we heard them say, and hold it close to our hearts for the rest of our lives. Before Jesus ended his earthly sojourn He gave us one last command. He gave us what would become known as the “Great Commission” then He ascended to Heaven.
That last command is the mission of every church, and should be the mission of every Christian. How are we helping to fulfill this mission? There are any number of ways. You don’t need to be charismatic speaker, but we can pray for those who are. We can serve the community or volunteer at the church. The opportunities to assist the church in fulfilling this command of Christ are almost infinite. Are you doing your part r simply relying on someone else to do so? We are all equipped with spiritual gifts that will help our churches. No job is to small.
“For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”- Philippians 1:19
Earlier in this chapter we read about Paul saying that the Gospel is being spread because of the suffering he has endured. He is writing this letter from prison, and ended verse 18 with “Yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul rejoiced because his imprisonment has led to a further spread of the Gospel.
We are human and suffering have the very real potential to wear us down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Paul is asking his readers to pray for him so that he may have strength to endure what is going on. How often are we praying for our needs, and not those of others? It may not be intentional, but if you are like me it is something that is a regular occurrence. If someone asks you to pray for them lets make a commitment to do something revolutionary. Pray for them right then and there. Then resolve to write down their names so you will remember to pray for them. Prayer is vital, and is how we communicate with God. Why do we treat it like something we do if we have five extra seconds in the day?
“Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or grapevine produce figs? Neither can salt pond produce fresh water.”- James 3:12
In the third chapter of his letter, James is writing about taming the tongue. Words can be a great encouragement, describe love, but they can also destroy if not used properly. Today’s verse reminds us, that as Christians, we are unable to produce two kinds of fruit. Either our mouths produce blessings to God, or it curses others.
If we gossip, demean,or put down others to further our selfish ambitions and claim to be a Christian then there is a problem. The two do not mix. We would lack credibility, and not only discredit ourselves, but those who follow the faith. Words are powerful…use them wisely. Don’t get me wrong. There will be times when we mess up, but we should still be striving to make Christ known by our words ad lifestyle. Spend some time alone with the Lord this morning. Pray, and examine your interactions from yesterday. Do they fall into the context of today’s verse? Be the light of Jesus to those around you today! God bless.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves.”- Philippians 2:3
We like recognition. We want to be acknowledged for a job well done, for landing the big client, or for anything else. Nothing is wrong with recognition, but there is danger when it becomes all encompassing and that is all we seek. It transforms us, and to much of it can make us conceited and start to look down at others as inferior. The church is not immune to all this. We must remember to look to the ultimate example of humility, Jesus Christ, and follow his example.
Being self-seeking and vain will eventually destroy the unity of the church. As Christians we must remember that we should be seeking the approval of God, and not men. This does not mean that we should not listen to criticism. We must be corrected be our brothers and sisters if we are in need of correction. Leave conceit at the door. This will help us grow in many ways. Lastly we must maintain the Christlike spirit of humility. Put the needs of others ahead of the needs of your own.Check your conceit at the door, seek to do the will of God, and seek to have the same humility of Christ. This humility and servanthood will speak volumes to unbelievers who are looking at you and your church.