The Cradle of Christianity

“The Cradle of Christianity”

By Archbishop Cyril Bustros

A presentation delivered at the 41st Annual Melkite Convention in Chicago, Illinois

July 21, 2005

Foundations of the Church

Introduction: Religion and Christianity

Every religion is a way of life in which human beings are related to God as source and final goal of their lives.

Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus is the Christ sent by God to be the “Only Mediator between God and mankind” (I Timothy 2:5). That is why He is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

Jesus has been recognized by the Apostles as the “Messiah” (a Hebrew word that means: “anointed by the Spirit of God”) predicted by the prophets in the Old Testament. The term “Christ” comes from “Christos” which is the translation of Messiah in Greek. We, Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, the “anointed by the Holy Spirit of God” to give this Holy Spirit to all human beings. The relation between God and human beings is thus realized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of the human beings.

1. The Kingdom of God and the Church: By proclaiming the Kingdom of God, Jesus laid the foundations of the Church

Jesus during his life proclaimed the Kingdom of God: With the coming of Jesus as Christ, as endowed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God was present in the world: “It is God’s Spirit who gives me the power to drive out demons, which proves that the Kingdom of God had already come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

Jesus also gathered disciples around him. They participated in his preaching of the Kingdom of God and in his healing power, which was the sign for Jesus that the Kingdom of God was breaking through: “He sent them forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal the afflicted” (Luke 9:2).

But the message of the Kingdom which Jesus preached and which he commissioned the Apostles to preach was a divisive one. They would be like “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will turn against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all on account of me” (Matthew 10: 21-22). Consequently, those Israelites who would accept this proclamation of the Kingdom would inevitably be distinguished from those who rejected it.

After the rejection of Jesus by the majority of the Jewish people, the community of disciples stayed together and continued to celebrate the memory of the Last Supper, in which Jesus gave them the sacrament of the sacrifice of his life, his body and blood, and told them: “Do this in memory of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

2. The Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost did not inaugurate the Church. It already existed with the Apostles. But Pentecost was the moment when the Church was specifically endowed with power from on high to preach the Kingdom of God to the whole world, as Jesus said to his Apostles at his last appearance to them after his Resurrection: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of he earth” (Acts of the Apostles 1:8). Since the Apostles had to continue the same mission of Jesus, this Holy Spirit who descended on them is the same divine power with which Jesus was endowed: “As the Father sent me, so I send you… Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21).

This Holy Spirit was not only given to the Apostles but also to all those who were baptized by them. After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, Peter proclaimed to the crowd the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he concluded by saying: “All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that it is this Jesus, whom you nailed to the cross, that God has made Lord and Messiah. When the people heard this, they were deeply moved and said to Peter and the other Apostles: What shall we do, brothers? Peter said to them: repent from your sins, each one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit” (Acts of the Apostles 2: 37-38).

The coming of the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s community the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), a spiritual building where true spiritual sacrifices are offered (1 Peter 2:5), and where true worship in spirit and in truth occurs (John 4:23-24). Through the Spirit all members of the Church have access to the Father and become fellow citizens of heaven with the saints (Ephesians 2:18-19).

The early Church, therefore, did not understand itself simply another sect within Judaism or even as another religious organization, but the Body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus the presence in this world of the Kingdom of God. The Church of the New Testament proclaimed the Gospel “in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Its message and preaching were given through “the convincing power of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It was a community transformed by the presence of the Spirit, the first fruits of the redemption (Romans 8:23), and sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). The Church is a community saved “through the baptism of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs, in hope, of eternal life” (Titus 3:5,7).

3. Apostolic Origins of the Church

3.1 The Original Jerusalem Community

The religious life of the original Jerusalem Church is summarized in the Acts of the Apostles: “Many miracles and wonders were done through the Apostles, and this caused everyone to be filled with awe. All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Every day they continued to meet as a group in the temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating the food with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved” (Acts of the Apostles 2: 43-47).

We find 1) apostolic activity, supported by healing and miracles, which, in turn, increased the membership of the community; 2) the sharing of goods among the members; and 3) a rich liturgical and prayer life both in a special meeting place in the Temple and in the houses of members themselves. 4) They gathered for the breaking of the bread, clearly the Eucharistic Meal (1 Corinthians 11:20) which was the central and common worship of all the Christian Churches.

3.2.The Church of Antioch in Syria

Antioch was at this time third-largest city in the Roman Empire. The Christian community here was a mixed group: former Jews and former pagans (“Greeks”) alike. The Antiochene Church was a model of harmony between Jews and gentiles, a fact indirectly confirmed by Paul in Galatians 2:1-14. Here, for the first time, the followers of Jesus Christ were called “Christians”. They had regular meetings at which the large congregation was “instructed” (Acts of the Apostles 11: 26). Prophets and teachers were active (13:1-13), and the gifts of the Spirit were evident (11:27; 15:32).

It was from this community that Paul and Barnabas were sent to carry the case against the Judaizers at the Council of Jerusalem (15:1-29). Both attested to the marvelous work of God among the Gentiles (15:12). The Council of Jerusalem resolved the crisis with a principle that has remained normative for the Church ever since: no burden is to be imposed “beyond that which is strictly necessary” (15:28).

3.3. The Church of Corinth

This was a Church of predominantly pagan origin whose life is disclosed through the two letters of Paul. There was a flourishing Church life at Corinth. The apostolic preaching and instruction were sounded in the assemblies (2 Corinthians 3:4-4:6). Worship occupied a central place (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Baptism and Eucharist were sources of deep religious experience (1 Corinthians 1:13-16; 6:11; 10:1-11, 16-22). They understood themselves as the Church of God which honors the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:2). It was a Church in fellowship with the Church of Jerusalem (for which the great collection was taken up) and with the other Churches (2 Corinthians 1:1).

3.4. Unity in Diversity

Despite all local differences among the Jewish-Christians, Jewish-Hellenistic, and Hellenistic-Gentile communities, common elements stood out clearly: faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord; the practice of Baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist; the apostolic preaching and instruction; the high regard for communal love; and the expectation of the coming Kingdom of God. Great freedom was allowed in all other matters – a freedom which, when exercised, manifested the limitations as well as the spiritual grandeur of God’s Church.

When we speak of the Church, we use either the singular or the plural. In singular we mean the Universal Church, as we say in the Creed: we believe “in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. The plural “Churches” means the local Churches: The Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, etc. That means the Universal Church present in Jerusalem, or in Antioch or in Corinth in other places.

The same concept applies to the Catholic and the Orthodox and the Protestant Churches. By baptism, one becomes Christian, and enters the one Church, the one Body of Christ, and the one temple of the Holy Spirit. This unity is the base of the ecumenical movement. We read in the Decree on Ecumenism in Vatican II: “Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are brought into a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church… All those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers in the Lord by the sons of the Catholic Church” (3).

Sometimes we hear people speaking of “the Catholic religion” as different from “the Orthodox religion” or from “the Protestant religion”. This way of speaking is not accurate. All Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants have one religion: the Christian religion, but are divided in different Churches, which are not in communion with each other. That is the aim of the ecumenical movement: to overcome the obstacles to the full communion between all the Christian Churches.

4. The Church and the Kingdom of God.

Just as Jesus’ message and mission are centered on, and framed by, the coming Kingdom of God, so, too, are the Church’s. It is indeed what Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for: “Your Kingdom come!” (Mathew 6:9). It is the reality signified in the many parables attributed to Jesus. But the Church lives “between the times”, that means between the decisive in breaking of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ and the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the end. As such, the Church is both a Church of glory and a Church of the cross.

It is a Church of Glory insofar as it has been sanctified from within: “He gave himself up for her to make her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word, to present to himself a glorious Church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort ” (Ephesians 5:25-27). “It was in one Spirit”, Paul writes elsewhere, “that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Indeed, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you” (Ephesians 4:4).

But the Church is also a Church of the cross. Although it is to the risen body of Christ that Christians are joined (Romans 7:4), within this age that body continues also to be a suffering body. “Continually we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed” (2 Corinthians 4:10). Being joined to the risen Lord means being baptized “into his death… If we had been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5). We share “in the blood of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16), and by our suffering, joined to his, we “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).

The glory that, in one sense, is already in the Church is not yet revealed. We are “heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). The tension between glory and suffering is clearly stated in Philippians: “I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead” (3:10-11). The process is ongoing: “We do not lose heart, because our inner body is renewed each day even though our body is destroyed at the same time. The present burden of our trial is light enough, and earns for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-17). “This means”, Paul continues, “that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new!” (5: 17).

As a Church both of glory and of the cross, the Church is both a sign and an instrument of the Kingdom of God. Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). He and the other Apostles are given the power of binding and loosing, of forgiving and of withholding forgiveness (Matthew 18:18), of sharing in Jesus’ own power (Mark 2: 10; John 20:23), even over the demons (Mark 3: is; 6:7). This is indeed the deepest meaning of Jesus’ authority: to break the rule of Satan (Luke 11:20; Matthew 12:28; Mark 11:28, 33) and thereby to establish the Kingdom of God. The Church understands itself as having been sent by Christ to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19). This is the grandeur and the burden of the Church. Not all who are called prove worthy of the call (Matthew 22:11-14). Nonetheless Jesus promises to be with the Church for all ages (Matthew 28:20). In the meantime, healings and other signs of renewal will show that the powers of the future age are already present in the Church (Luke 10:17,19; Mark 16:17).

Nowhere is the orientation of the Church toward the King­dom more explicitly revealed than in the Eucharist, which antici­pates the eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table in the Kingdom (Luke 22:30). “I solemnly assure you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25; see also Matthew 26:29).

5. How did the early Church understand its mission?

5.1. Proclamation of the Word

That the Church understood itself as having been commissioned to proclaim the Word of God is beyond any reasonable doubt. To evangelize, or to announce the good news of salvation, is a favorite word in Luke, occurring ten times in his Gospel and twenty-five times in the Acts of the Apostles. So, too, does it occur frequently (twenty-one times) in the Pauline material, where he speaks also (sixty times) of “the gospel”. The evangelist delivers not his own word but the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2: 13). It is a Gospel to be proclaimed throughout the world (Mark 13: 10). After Easter it becomes the message of salvation about Jesus crucified and risen (Acts 8:5; 9:20; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 15:12). The preaching itself shows forth “the glory of Christ, the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It has been announced “to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). It is “a message about God’s reign” (Matthew 13: 19).

The proclamation also takes the form of teaching (Acts of the Apostles 4:2,18; 5:21, 25, 28, 42; 11:26; 15:35; 18:11; 20:20; 28:31). It takes place publicly in the Temple and in houses (5:42; 20:20). The proclamation applies Sacred Scripture to the daily life of the community as a word of instruction, of encouragement, and of consolation (14:22; 15:30-32; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 14:3,31). It is sometimes prophetic (1 Corinthians 14). The prophets are listed even before the teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4: 11), and the faithful are said to be built on the founda­tion of the Apostles and the prophets (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). On the other hand, there were false prophets or pseudo-prophets against whom the Church had to act (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:1-3).

5.2. Worship and Sacraments

5.2.1. Baptism

There never was a time in the life of the Church when there was no Baptism. The testi­mony of Paul is particularly important. In the spring of 56 or 55 or perhaps even 54, he wrote from Ephesus to the Church of Corinth that “it was in one Spirit that all of us, Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This testi­mony takes us back biographically to about the year 33, just after Jesus’ death. Baptism has its roots, therefore, not in the later Hellenistic churches but in the Jewish-Christian Church, and the Gospels themselves point to the prototype, the baptism of John.

John’s baptism is characterized by eschatological expecta­tion; it involves a call to repentance; it is administered only once; and it does not introduce one into a sect but is demanded for the whole people. Jesus himself was baptized by John (Mark 1:9-11), and because of that the community was convinced that he approved “a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). The Church baptized not only in memory of John’s baptism but also in memory of Jesus.

Easter gave Baptism a completely new meaning. Jesus is now perceived as the risen Lord (Acts of the Apostles 2:36). Salvation is through his death and resurrection. Even though Baptism is still a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, repentance is seen as a turning to Christ, and the forgiveness of sins occurs on the authority of Christ and by his power. Baptism is administered “in the name of Jesus” (Acts of the Apostles 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 1 Corinthians 1:13-15; Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3). By being bap­tized in the “name” of Jesus, a person becomes subject to him and is committed to his rule and care. The word “name” is a legal concept, signifying authority and competence.

That Baptism is closely linked with the proclamation of the Word is evident in the meeting between the deacon Philip and the Ethiopian court official (Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40), where Bap­tism follows an instruction on the Scriptures. The content of that Word is the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism is a Baptism into his death and resurrection (Colossians 2:11-13; 3:1-4; Ephe­sians 2:5). And just as the Holy Spirit is released through the resurrection, so, too, is the Spirit given in a special way at Baptism (Acts of the Apostles 19:2-6; Titus 3:6). But the effect is not automatic. Baptism without faith is empty, and without openness to the Spirit there is no holiness (1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Hebrews 6:4-8; and all of 1 Peter).

To the Baptism another Sacrament is related: the Chrismation or Confirmation which is conferred through the anointing with chrism, and the formula “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”. These two sacraments constitute a unity, and both give the Holy Spirit: By baptism, the Holy Spirit renews the human being, who is born again and becomes a new “being”. By Chrismation, the Holy Spirit gives the new born Christian the power to act according to his new being, and therefore to do good and holy deeds: We read in the Constitution “Lumen Gentium” of Vatican II: “By the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (11).

The sacrament of Confirmation corresponds to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at the Pentecost. The Apostles were born again by the appearance to them of the risen Christ, and were confirmed at the Pentecost to be witnesses of the risen Lord to the whole world. In the same manner, the Christian is united, by baptism, to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and becomes, by Chrismation, witness to the risen Lord.

5.2.2. Eucharist

Baptism, Christmation and Eucharist together constitute the “sacraments of the Christian initiation”, whose unity must be safeguarded. That is why in the Byzantine Tradition, these three sacraments are given together.

Like Baptism, the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper (the term used in the oldest account in 1 Corinthians 11:20), is rooted in the very beginning of the Church. The Last Supper tradition is ancient and is given in four variant versions: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; and Luke 22: 15-20. The Pauline account dates from the years 54-56 and refers to the fact that Paul handed on this tradition to the Corinthians at the beginning of his missionary activity in Corinth (about 49). But Paul also states that this tradition comes directly from the Lord. Peter was still alive and could have repudiated Paul’s account if it were inaccurate. Paul himself lived for many years with members of the Jerusalem Church (Barnabas, Mark, Silas) and took part in the Lord’s Supper in various communities. His account must have agreed with those of eyewitnesses.

The more strongly Semitic flavor to Mark’s account has led some exegetes to conclude that his is even older than Paul’s. The differences between the two accounts are too great, in any event, to assume a common Greek source. On the other hand, the agree­ment between them in content is so great that we must assume a common Aramaic or Hebrew source.

The meal that Jesus shared with his Apostles was the last of a long series of daily meals he had with his disciples. For Orientals, shared meals have always signified peace, trust, and community. But Jesus also shared meals with sinners, outcasts, and tax collec­tors, as a sign that the reign of God had begun and was open to all and demanded love of all. The Last Supper, however, was a special meal. It was either a Passover meal or perhaps a farewell meal on the night before the Passover feast. Whichever it was, it was celebrated with a view to the coming Kingdom of God. Indeed, the Kingdom was the focus of everything Jesus did and said, not only at this meal but in his whole life and ministry.

The structure was obviously taken over from the Jewish ritual meal: the words over the bread, followed by its breaking and sharing, and the blessing over the wine. But now Jesus identifies himself with the bread and wine. It is his body which is broken and his blood which is poured out in atonement for sin and for the establishment of a new Covenant. All four texts agree on this. The Jews regarded every death, but particularly the death of an inno­cent one, as having the character of atonement. And so Jesus could have easily seen his own innocent suffering in this way, without necessarily tying it to the more fully developed theology of the post-resurrection Church.

By distributing the bread and wine as his flesh and blood, Jesus gave his disciples a share in the power of his death to make atonement and to establish a new Covenant. This, too, is a famil­iar Oriental idea: Eating and drinking communicated divine gifts.

After the resurrection the disciples gathered again and again for these shared meals, but now with the conviction that the risen Christ was in their midst as they gathered in his name (Matthew 18:20). There was joy in their new fellowship: joy over the pres­ence of Christ and joy over the approach of the Kingdom of God (Acts of the Apostles 2:46). It is important to note that the celebra­tion of the Lord’s Supper after the death and resurrection of Christ was not an arbitrary act on the part of the Church. The Church was convinced it was following the Lord’s own injunction, and indeed it referred to the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper as the pattern and authority for what it did.

The Eucharist, therefore, is a meal of remembrance and thanksgiving, of fellowship, and of anticipation. It looks at once to the past, the present, and the future. “Every time, then, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes!” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Through the Eucharist, therefore, the Church proclaims its faith in the Lordship of Jesus and in the coming of the Kingdom. Through the Eucharist the Church manifests and more fully rec­ognizes and deepens its unity in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Through the Eucharist the Church sets a pattern for its own ministry to those in need (1 Corinthians 11: 17 -34) and exposes itself thereby to judgment (11:34).

5.3. Jesus Christ sanctifies his Bride

We read in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her, to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless ” (5:25-26). Referring to this text, Vatican II says in the Constitution “Lumen Gentium”: “The Church… is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy’, loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God” (39). The Church, then, is “the holy People of God” (Lumen Gentium, 12), and her members are called “saints” (Acts of the Apostles 9:13; 1 Corinthians 6:1; 16:1).

Jesus Christ sanctifies his Bride by the Word and the Sacraments. In his farewell discourse to his Apostles, Jesus said to them: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. You have been made clean already by the word I have spoken to you. Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:1-4).

Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and he sanctifies those who listen to Him. Jesus is the Son of God, and he has the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and he can make holy those who, by the sacraments, and especially by the Eucharist, remain united to him. And when the Christians commit sins, they obtain pardon from God’s mercy through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. After his resurrection, Jesus gave to his apostles the power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain they are retained” (John 20:23). The work of our sanctification is a permanent work. St. Ephrem defines the Church as “the assembly of sinners who, through penance, proceed to the holiness”.

6. The mandate of Christ – Go forth and spread the “Good news”: Mission to All and for All

At his last appearance to his Apostles, Jesus told them: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, then, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28: 17-20)

The Church always understood itself as a missionary community. It reached out, first, to the whole people of Israel (Acts of the Apostles 3:11; 4:1; 5:25, 40, 42), even beyond Jerusalem (9:32-43; Galatians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 9:5), and then to the Gentiles (Mat­thew 8:11 = Luke 13:28). The transition, however, from the mission to the Jews to the mission to the Gentiles as well did not occur without difficulty. There was hesitation, to say the least, on the part of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, including the Apostles. Luke, on the other hand, gives a theological foundation for broadening the mission (Acts of the Apostles 28:25-28) and points to an intervention from God and the authority of Peter as factors in changing the situation (l0:1-11:8). The differences, however, were not irreconcilable. The Jerusalem Church still had very close ties with the Jews and Jewish ways of thought and customs (1:6; 10:14), and yet James, the leader of the Jerusalem community, declared himself in agree­ment with the Pauline approach, which dispensed with the abso­lute need of circumcision and with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts of the Apostles 15; Galatians 6:10). Previously, Barnabas, the representative of the Jerusalem Church, had approved the conversion of Greeks in Antioch and indeed had accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts of the Apostles 13-14).

On the other hand, Jerusalem’s privileged position is upheld. The mission to “the ends of the earth” begins from Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 1:8; Luke 24:47; Romans 9-11). Israel was to be given its last opportunity for repentance through the apostolic preaching (Acts of the Apostles 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; Mark 7:27; Romans 1: 16; 2:9). Historically, the Hellenistic Christians, who had a freer and more open attitude toward paganism, were proba­bly the first to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Paul sees the conversion of the Gentiles as a mystery of the history of redemption, after which all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25). That the Gentiles are co-heirs of Christ and sharers in the promise Paul sees as a matter of recent revelation in the Spirit (Ephesians 3:5-6). Through their incorporation into the Church, “God’s manifold wisdom is made known” (3:10).

7. What is the Church of the New Testament?

7.1. People of God

According to Hebrew ways of thinking, the people forms a whole, a corporate personality. The individual takes on meaning, impor­tance, and even destiny insofar as the individual is involved with the people. Israel understood itself as the people of God, by God’s own call (Exodus 19:5; 23:22; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18). “I will take you as my own people, and you shall have me as your God” (Exodus 6:7).

The early Church appropriated this image to itself: “you, however, are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works’ of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. . “(1 Peter 2:9-10). Undoubtedly, the passage intends to show that the Church is the new People of God pur­chased by the redemptive work of Christ.

This new People of God, formed out of the remnant of Israel and from many Gentiles, arises out of the love and grace of God: “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). But, again, it is a “purchased” people, “acquired at the price of his own blood” (Acts of the Apostles 20:28). God makes a new beginning for the human community in grace. The Church is itself the new People of God (Titus 2:14).

Nowhere is the Church spoken of explicitly as the “new” People of God, but there is explicit mention of the new Covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11 :25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8: 13; 9: 15; 12:24), and that Covenant is connected, at least implic­itly, to a new community (Hebrews 8:8-12 cites Jeremiah 31:31-34, where such a link is made). But it is no longer a covenant signed by circumcision, but by faith in Jesus Christ and the “circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2: 11), i.e., Baptism.

A tension between the old and new People of God remains, however, and it is most strongly portrayed in Paul, especially in Romans 9-11. Unbelieving Israel is “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10: 18), but believing Israel is “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). God calls us, Jew and Gentile alike. “There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, if you belong to Christ you are the descendants of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised” (Galatians 3:28-29).

But even in the New Testament the new People of God are not identical with the community of the elect. In other words, membership in the Church is no guarantee of participation in the Kingdom of God. There are false prophets in the Church who will be repudiated by the Lord at the end (Matthew 7:22-23). All evil­doers will be cast out {13:41-43). On the other side, many who did not belong to the Church will be acknowledged by the Son of Man as his brothers and sisters (25:31-46). “He will dispatch his angels and assemble his chosen from the four winds, from the farthest bounds of earth and sky” (Mark 13:27). The final test will be a just life. No one will enter the marriage feast without a wedding garment (Matthew 22:11-13).

7.2. Body of Christ

If the People-of-God image underlines the Church’s intimate con­nection with Israel and with God’s call to a covenant relationship, the Body-of-Christ image underlines the Church’s intimate con­nection with Jesus Christ and with God’s call to a communal relationship, one with another in Christ.

The image is, of course, distinctively Pauline, although it bears some affinity with the Johannine allegory of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). The Church in the New Testament is the People of God, but a people newly constituted in Christ and in relation to Christ. The two images, therefore, are not mutually opposed. The Church is the People of God insofar as it is the Body of Christ, and it is the Body of Christ insofar as it is the People of God. In principle, both images are rooted in the Old Testament idea of corporate personality.

The conception of the Church as Body of Christ is grounded in the union that exists between the Christian and the risen body of Christ. Just as the resurrection is central to New Testament Christology, so is it central to New Testament, and especially Pauline, ecclesiology. When the Christian shares in the bread of the Eucharist, he or she becomes one body with Christ (1 Corinthi­ans 10:16-17). Thus, the one who eats or drinks unworthily profanes the body of the Lord (11:27) and eats and drinks unto his or her own condemnation (11:29). It is in one body that Christ has reconciled us to the Father by his death (Ephesians 2:16-17; Colos­sians 1:22). The Church has become one body, his own, in which the Holy Spirit dwells (Ephesians 4:4). Christians are called one body (Colossians 3: 15).

The physical realism of the union between Christ and the Church lies behind the development from the notion of one body “in” Christ (Romans and 1 Corinthians) to one Body “of” Christ (Ephesians and Colossians). But it is a development. In Romans 12:4-21 and in 1 Corinthians 12:4-27, for example, the application of the image refers more to the union of Christians with each other than with Christ. It speaks of a diversity of charisms and offices which, despite their multiplicity, do not compromise the funda­mental unity of the Church. The members are one because they are baptized by one spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). They are called not one body “in” Christ but one body “of” Christ (12:27). The same identity is presupposed in 1 Corinthians 6:15: “Do you not see that your bodies are members of Christ?” Indeed, it is because the Christian is really a member of the body of Christ that he or she can also be called metaphorically a temple of the Holy Spirit (6: 19).

The ideas of these earlier letters are presupposed as the Body of Christ image is introduced, with seeming abruptness, in Ephe­sians 1 :23 and Colossians 1 :24. Christ is now called the head of his Body the Church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:19). As head of the Church, Christ is the principle of union and growth (Ephe­sians 4: 16; Colossians 2: 19). The Body of Christ is something that is to be built up (Ephesians 4:12,6).

With some measure of urgency, the Pauline author of Ephe­sians pleads with the community to “live a life worthy of the calling. . . (to) make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force. There is but one body and one Spirit” (4:1-4; see also Colossians 3: 12-15).

7.3. Temple of the Holy Spirit

Because the Church is the Body of Christ it can also be called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Here again the resurrection is central. The Spirit proceeds from the “Lord of the Spirit”, who through his resurrection has become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). There is, of course, a special outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, as the fruit of Christ’s saving action (Acts of the Apos­tles 1 :8; 2:3-4,38; 4:8,31; 6:8; 9: 17; 11 :24; 13:52; 19:2). This thought is particularly clear in John where it is asserted that the Spirit could not be given until the Lord had been glorified (7:39; 6:63). The risen and exalted Lord releases the Spirit and with the Spirit builds his Church. The Body of Christ “takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord. . . to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Jew and Gentile alike have “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18).

Just as Jesus identified himself with the Temple, so the Body of Christ is itself the new Temple (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). The Church is now the place of God’s dwelling. It is, in the theological sense of the word, a mystery, i.e., “a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God” (Pope Paul VI, at the opening of the second session of Vatican II, September 1963).

The Spirit is manifested in various ways, witnessing to the presence and activity of God in the Church (Acts of the Apostles 2:3-13; 10:47; 11: 17; 15:8). The Spirit teaches the disciples what to say (Luke 12: 12), reveals the mysteries of God (Luke 1 :41,67; Acts of the Apostles 11 :28; 13:9), inspires prophecy (2: 18), is the source of wisdom (6:3), faith (6:5; 2 Corinthians 4:13), encouragement (Acts of the Apostles 9:31), joy (13:52), hope (Romans 15: 13; 1 Corinthians 14:14-16; 2:4-5; Galatians 3:5), and love (Romans 5:5; Colossians 1:18; Galatians 5:13-36).

The Spirit directs the officers of the Church in important decisions (Acts of the Apostles 13:2; 15:28; 20:28). The Spirit is conferred upon all of the members at Baptism (19:2,6; 2:38-39; 15:8-9; 8: 16-18; 9:J.7; 10:44; 11: 16-17) and at the imposition of hands (8: 14-17; 19:6). The gifts of the Spirit are for the building up of the Church (1 Corinthians 14:12,26). By his or her union with the Spirit of the risen Christ, the Christian rises in a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:35-50). The Christian’s and the Church’s pres­ent possession of the Spirit is a foretaste (Romans 8:23) and a pledge (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5) of the salvation, i.e., of the King­dom of God, that is to come.

People of God the Father, body of the Son Jesus Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, the Church is thus constituted in a triple relation with God. We call the Trinity a “mystery”, not in the sense of a thing we do not understand, but in the meaning of a mysterious relation which we can never fully embrace. The more we are united to God in His three “hypostases”, the more we feel the need to be in closer union with them (The word “hypostasis” is the proper Greek word to the “person’ in the Trinity. It is better to use this term instead of “person”; the word “person” gives the impression that there are three Gods. In Arabic we use the term “aqanim” (which derives from the syriac “qnomo”, which comes from the Greek “gnome’, that means: specific characteristic). To reach the fullness of divinization, the Christians need this triple relation with its three specific characteristics: Only God can create; only God can save; only God can sanctify. God the Father is creator, the Son of God is Savior, the Holy Spirit of God is sanctifier. As people of God, we are related to God the father; as Body of Christ, we are related to the Son; and as temple of the Holy Spirit, we are related to the Holy Spirit.

Every religion is a way to be related to God. The Christian religion gives the human being the proper way to enter in full relation with God, and to reach thus the fullness of meaning of his life.

The Catholic Churches

We give here the list of the Catholic Churches with the approximate number of their members:

I- The Latin Rite:
1.The Roman Catholic Church
Membership: 1,100,000,000
II- The Armenian Rite:
2 .The Patriarchal Armenian Catholic Church
Membership: 368,923
III- The Coptic Rite:
3. The Patriarchal Coptic Catholic Church
Rite: Alexandrian
Membership: 250,000
IV- The Ethiopian Rite
4. The Ethiopian Catholic Church
Rite: Ge’ez
Membership: 196,853
V- The Syrian Rites:
5. The Patriarchal Antiochian Syrian Maronite Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian Maronite
Membership: 3,107,000
6. The Patriarchal Chaldean Catholic Church
Rite: East Syrian
Membership: 700,000
7. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Rite: East Syrian
Membership: 3,753,000
8. The Patriarchal Syrian Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian
Membership: 124,000
9. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Rite: West Syrian
Membership: 405,000
VI – The Byzantine Rite:
10. The Patriarchal Melkite Catholic Church
Membership: 1,400,000
11. The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
Membership: 61,000
12. The Ukrainian Catholic Church
Membership: 4,321,000
13. The Ruthenian Catholic Church
Membership: 498,000
14. The Byzantine Catholic Church USA (Rusyn – Ruthenian – Slovak)
Membership: 100,000
15. The Romanian Catholic Church
Membership: 746,000
16. The Greek Catholic Church in Greece
Membership: 2,400
17. The Greek Catholic Church in former Yugoslavia
Membership: 77,000
18. The Bulgarian Catholic Church
Membership: 10,000
19. The Slovak Catholic Church
Membership: 225,000
20. The Hungarian Catholic Church
Membership: 269,000
21. The Russian Catholic Church
Membership: 20 parishes worldwide
22. The Belarusian Catholic Church
Membership: 100,000
23. The Albanian Catholic Church
Membership: 3,000
24. The Georgian Catholic Church
Membership: 7,000

Conclusion: The Church as the global village of God

The mission of Jesus Christ is to gather all men and woman of the whole world in one community, in one family, the family of the children of God. He said: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep… And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).

The Second Vatican Council says in the document on missions:

“Since the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of god, this sacred Synod summons all to a deep interior renewal. Thus, from a vivid awareness of their own responsibility for spreading the gospel, they will do their share in missionary work among he nations.

As members of living Christ, all the faithful have been incorporated into him and made like unto Him through baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. Hence all are duty-bound to cooperate in he expansion and growth of His body, so that they can bring it to fullness as swiftly as possible.

Therefore all sons of the Church should have a lively awareness of their responsibility to the world. They should foster in themselves a truly catholic spirit. They should spend their energies I the work of evangelization. Yet let all realize that their first and most important obligation toward the spread of the faith is this: to lead a profoundly Christian life. For their fervor in the service of god and their charity toward others will cause new spiritual inspiration to sweep over the whole Church. Then she will appear as sign lifted up among the nations, “the light of the world”, and “the salt of the earth”.

“Finally, by means of the missionary activity, God is fully glorified, provided that men consciously and fully accept His work of salvation, which He has accomplished in Christ. Through this activity that plan of God is thus fulfilled to which Christ was obediently and lovingly devoted for the glory of the father who sent im. According to this plan, the whole human race is to form one people of God, coalesce into the one body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit. Since it concern brotherly concord, this design surely corresponds with the inmost wishes of all men.

And so the plan of the Creator, who formed man to His on image and likeness, will be realized at last, when all who share one human nature regenerated in Christ through the Holy Spirit and beholding together the glory of God, will be able to say “Our father”.