Brandon Andress has a post on what he perceives as being the direction the Church is heading in. To a Catholic, his words simply do not make sense. He notes that people are leaving organized institutional churches. This is true. He does not see this as a weakening of the Church, but rather a rebirth and strengthening of the Church into a new form. The institutional Church will be crucified and with Christ will be raised up to something new, something that is not institutional, something through which Jesus Christ will be definitively known, a true witness of the love of our Lord and God. The world will look and perceive that truly Jesus is the Son of God. There are multiple problems with this, but here I would like to limit myself to one: our Lord Jesus established the Church Himself and did so with an organized institutional structure. Christ and the Church cannot be separated. To reject the Church is to reject Him. How can I profess to love the very one that I hate. And it is hate! If I choose myself then I am turning my back on Him. The acknowledgement of Jesus being Lord makes no difference here for there are many on that great and terrible day who will say “Lord, Lord” and Jesus will reply, “Truly, I do not know you.” We do not get to determine who Christ is, how He operates, or what His relationship to the Church is. He has revealed these things, and it is up to us to accept His revelation in humble submission, even if we do not understand it.
There are many approaches that can be taken in how we see and speak of the Church. There are so many aspects to Her. None of these approaches, however, are mutually exclusive, and to emphasize one (such as the mystical union of the Body of Christ) over against another (such as an institutional hierarchy of any kind) is to stunt not only our perception of the Church, but also our perception of Christ. If Jesus and the Church are inseparable than what we believe of one affects what we believe about the other. It is clear from the Holy Scriptures that the Church was established and from the beginning has functioned with an organized hierarchical structure. It is an aspect of the Church here on Earth that cannot be negated. It is also interesting to note that every single movement in the Church’s history that has reared its ugly head proclaiming a pure Church that has ascended its institutional structure either does not now exist or is wholly insignificant. Through it all the Church with Her hierarchy and institutions has persisted with strength. When Christ says that He will not leave the Church and the gates of hell will not prevail, what do we look to: the various spiritualist movements that have come and gone, or the true Church with all its vibrancy? What substantial evidence is there that this movement among some Protestant communities today is any different from the various movements of the past?
So where is our Lord in all of this? Where do we encounter Him? In all that Mr. Andress identifies in his post. We encounter Him in “Christians married to political, national, and ideological persuasions over and above their allegiance to Christ.” We encounter Him in “the days of the misguided and ill-informed health and wealth gospel,” in “this period of consumer Christianity,” and in “Church pews lined with habitual hypocrites, judgmental legalists, and blind and hateful zealots.” This is the true challenge of Jesus Christ and the mystery of our union with Him, a challenge and mystery that those like Mr. Andress run from (please, do not!): We are one body in Christ. There is no getting away from the hypocrites, legalists, zealots, et. al. In Christ, we are bound to them. Mr. Andress speaks of organized, institutional churches needing to be crucified (and done away with), but in truth it is he and me, and all of us who must be crucified with Christ for the sake of the salvation of our brothers and sisters who have turned so far from Him while remaining in their pews. Like Christ we must come down from the mountain of glory and enter into the mire of sin and walk with these people, all the while remembering and recognizing our own failings and sins and absolute need for our Saviour.
The Catholic Church teaches that She continually walks a path of penance and renewal. This applies to the whole Church throughout the world, to the Church present in various countries and regions of the world, to each individual diocese, vicariate (deanery), parish, and to each individual Christian. This path of penance and renewal is a path that is walked daily, but it is not one that can be walked on its own. The Church’s history is filled with people who have sought to renew the Church. Some of those people attempted (and failed) to do so by breaking from Her visible structure and institutions. Others attempted and succeeded by remaining part of Her visible structure. The latter group also quite often suffered much in doing so. Through their crucifixion they were co-redeemers with Christ and were instrumental in renewing the Church in their time. Do you (do I) have the courage, faith, hope, and charity to do this today?