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Christian Church and church (Greek kyriakon (κυριακόν), "thing belonging to the Lord"; also ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) (Latinized as ecclesia, "assembly") are used to denote both a Christian association of people and a place of worship. In the phenomenological sense there are many such associations of people that call themselves Christian churches. In the New Testament the term ἐκκλησία (church or assembly) is used for local communities and in a universal sense to mean all believers.
The English language word "church" is from the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic *kirika, which in turn comes from the Greek κυριακή kuriakē, meaning "of the Lord" (possessive form of κύριος kurios "ruler, lord"). Kuriakē in the sense of "church" is most likely a shortening of κυριακὴ οἰκία kuriakē oikia ("house of the Lord") or ἐκκλησία κυριακή ekklēsia kuriakē ("congregation of the Lord"). Christian churches were sometimes called κυριακόν kuriakon (adjective meaning "of the Lord") in Greek starting in the 4th century, but ekklēsia and βασιλική basilikē were more common.
The Greek word ekklēsia, literally "assembly, congregation, council", is the traditional term referring to the Christian Church. Most Romance and Celtic languages use derivations of this word, either inherited or borrowed from the Latin form ecclesia, which is used in English to denote either a particular local group, or the whole body of the faithful.
The word is one of many direct Greek-to-Germanic loans of Christian terminology, via the Goths. The Slavic terms for "church" (Old Church Slavonic црькꙑ [crĭky], Russian церковь [cerkov’]) are via the Old High German cognate chirihha.
The Christian Church originated in Roman Judea in the first century AD, founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who is believed by Christians to be the Son of God and Christ the Messiah. It is usually thought of as beginning with Jesus' Apostles. According to scripture Jesus commanded them to spread his teachings to all the world.
Springing out of the first century Jewish faith, from Christianity's earliest days, Christians accepted non-Jews (Gentiles) without requiring them to fully adopt Jewish customs (such as circumcision).
Some think that conflict with Jewish religious authorities quickly led to the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogues in Jerusalem. (See also Council of Jamnia and List of events in early Christianity.)
Christianity became a widely persecuted religion. It was condemned by the Jewish authorities as a heresy, see also Rejection of Jesus. The Roman authorities persecuted it because, like Judaism, its monotheistic teachings were fundamentally foreign to the polytheistic traditions of the ancient world and a challenge to the imperial cult. Other teachings of Christianity, such as the call to chastity and the prohibition on homosexual practise, also made it unpopular. Despite this the Church grew rapidly until finally legalized and then promoted by Emperors Galerius and Constantine in the fourth century. A major controversy as the Church was being formalized was the Arianism vs. Trinitarianism debate which occupied the Church during the fourth century.
After various Church councils (Nicaea, Tyre, Rimini, Seleucia, Constantinople, etc.), the matter was effectively settled under the Trinitarian Emperor Theodosius I who made Christianity the state religion (some Germanic tribes, though, remained Arian well into the Middle Ages). This period would begin the long-term persecution of pagans and "heretical" Christians in the Empire and the kingdoms that followed. See also Christendom.
The Church of the Roman Empire was divided into Patriarchal Sees with five holding particular prominence, one in the West (Rome), and the rest in the East (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria). The bishops of these five would become the Patriarchs of the Church. Even after the split of the Roman Empire the Church remained a relatively united institution (apart from Oriental Orthodoxy and some other groups which separated from the rest of the Church earlier). The Church came to be a central and defining institution of the Empire, especially in the East or Byzantine Empire. In particular, Constantinople would come to be seen as the center of the Christian world, owing in great part to its economic and political power.
Once the Western Empire fell to Germanic incursions in the 5th century, the (Roman) Church for centuries became the primary link to Roman civilization for Medieval Western Europe and an important channel of influence in the West for the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, emperors. While, in the West, Christianity struggled as the so-called orthodox (i.e., Roman) Church competed against the Arian Christian and pagan faiths of the Germanic rulers, the Eastern Romans spread Christianity to the pagan Slavs establishing the Church in what is now Russia, Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The reign of Charlemagne in Western Europe is particularly noted for bringing the last major Western tribes outside of the Church into communion with Rome, in part through conquest and forced conversion.
Starting in the 7th century the Islamic Caliphates rose and gradually began to conquer larger and larger areas of the Christian world. Excepting southern Spain and a few smaller areas, Northern and western Europe for centuries escaped largely unscathed by Islamic expansion in great part because Constantinople and its empire acted as a magnet for the onslaught. The challenge presented by the Muslims would help to solidify the religious identity of eastern Christians even as it gradually weakened the Eastern Empire.
Although there had long been frictions between the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Western Pope) and the other patriarchs, Rome's changing allegiance from Constantinople to the Frankish king Charlemagne set the Church on a course towards separation. The political and theological divisions would grow until Rome and the East excommunicated each other in the 11th century, ultimately leading to the division of the Church into the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (Eastern Orthodox) Churches.
As a result of the redevelopment of Western Europe, and the gradual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Arabs and Turks (helped by warfare against Eastern Christians). The final Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD resulted in Eastern scholars fleeing the Moslem hordes bringing ancient manuscripts to the West, which was a factor in the beginning of the period of the Western Renaissance there. Rome came to be seen by the Western Church as Christianity's heartland. Some Eastern churches even broke with Eastern Orthodoxy and entered into communion with Rome. The changes brought on by the Renaissance eventually led to the Protestant Reformation during which the Protestant Lutheran and the Reformed followers of Calvin, Hus, Zwingli, Melancthon, Knox, and others split from the Roman Catholic Church. At this time, a series of non-theological disputes also led to the English Reformation which led to the independence of the Anglican Communion. Then during the Age of Exploration and the Age of Imperialism, Western Europe spread the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant and Reformed Churches around the world, especially in the Americas. These developments in turn have led to Christianity's being the largest religion in the world today.
Orthodox Church and orthodox faith. These terms, with lower-case O, and thus distinguished from the term Orthodox Church, have been used to distinguish the true Church from heretical groups. The term became especially prominent in referring to the doctrine of the Nicene Creed and, in historical contexts, is often still used to distinguish this first "official" doctrine from others.
Visible and invisible Church. On this, see below.
Church Militant and Church Triummphant (Ecclesia Militans, Ecclesia Triumphans) These terms, taken together, are used to express the concept of a united Church that extends beyond the earthly realm into Heaven. The term Church Militant comprises all living Christians while Church Triumphant comprises those in Heaven.
Communion of Saints. This term expresses the idea of a union in faith and prayer that binds all Christians regardless of geographical distance or separation by death. In Roman Catholic theology it involves the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant, and also the Church Suffering.
The Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy each claim to be the original Christian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church bases its claim primarily on its assertion that it holds to traditions and beliefs of the original Christian Church. It also states that 4 out of the 5 sees of the Pentarchy (excluding Rome) are still a part of it.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches' claims are similar to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, excluding the claim to 4 of the 5 sees of the Pentarchy.
The importance of identity of tradition and belief with the original Christian Church can be seen as originating with the biblical proscriptions against false prophets. "Orthodoxy" means both "true glory" and "correct teaching", and this theological term is explicitly used by Orthodox Christians as a shorthand way to refer to themselves as "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, Orthodox and Orthoprax, Church of Jesus Christ and His saints." In the same manner, the Roman Catholic Church describes itself as orthodox, meaning having possession of the whole faith. Other Christian denominations, who do not accept the claims of this Church to be the sole orthodox Church refer to her as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
This concept of "orthodoxy" began to take on particular significance during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, the first to actively promote Christianity. Constantine convened the first Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicea, which attempted to provide the first universal creed of the Christian faith.
The major issue of this and other councils during the fourth century was the christological debate between Arianism and Trinitarianism. Trinitarianism is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and is strongly associated with the term "orthodoxy", although some modern non-trinitarian churches dispute this usage. Churches that subscribe to the Nicene Creed, the first official Trinitarian creed, are sometimes referred to as "orthodox"
The Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium declares that "the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, ... constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him". A 2007 declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that, in this passage, "'subsistence' means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth", and added:."It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the 'one' Church); and this 'one' Church subsists in the Catholic Church."
Since the Protestant Reformation, most Protestant denominations interpret "catholic", especially in its creedal context, as referring to the concept of the eternal church of Christ and the Elect, referenced in the Bible in phrases such as "body of Christ"
Anglicans generally understand their tradition as a branch of the historical Catholic Church and as a via media (middle way) between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Christianity on the one hand, and Protestantism on the other.
"Apostolic succession" is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Anglican Communion and others. The doctrine asserts that the bishops of the "true Church" enjoy the favor or grace of God as a result of legitimate and unbroken sacramental succession from Jesus' apostles. According to this doctrine, modern bishops, therefore, must be viewed as part of an unbroken line of leadership in succession from the original apostles: though they do not have the authority and powers granted uniquely to the apostles, they are the apostles' successors in governing the Church.
Like the churches mentioned above, Protestants see the authority given to the apostles as unique, proper to apostles alone, but they conclude from this that any doctrine of a succession to the apostles by bishops is to be rejected. The Protestant view of ecclesiastical authority differs accordingly.
Many Protestants believe that the Church, as described in the Bible, has a twofold character that can be described as the visible and invisible church.
In this view, the Church invisible consists of all those from every time and place who are vitally united to Christ through regeneration and salvation and who will be eternally united to Jesus Christ in eternal life. The universal, invisible church refers to the "invisible" body of the elect who are known only to God, and contrasts with the "visible church"—that is, the institutional body on earth which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. Every member of the invisible church is considered saved, while the visible church contains some individuals who are saved and others who are unsaved.
The Church visible, in this same view, consists of all those who visibly join themselves to a profession of faith and gathering together to know and serve the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. It exists globally in all who identify themselves as Christians and locally in particular places where believers gather for the worship of God. The visible church may also refer to an association of particular churches from multiple locations who unite themselves under a common charter and set of governmental principles. The church in the visible sense is often governed by office-bearers carrying titles such as minister, pastor, teacher, elder, and deacon.
For the Eastern Orthodox Church, making a real distinction between "the heavenly and invisible Church, alone true and absolute", and "the earthly Church (or rather 'the churches') imperfect and relative" is a "Nestorian ecclesiology"
Roman Catholic theology reacted against the Protestant concept of a purely invisible Church by stressing the visible aspect of the Church founded by Christ; but in the twentieth century the Catholic Church has placed more stress on the interior life of the Church as a supernatural organism. In an encyclical it identified the Church with the Mystical Body of Christ. This encyclical rejected two extreme views of the Church:
Although the juridical principles, on which the Church rests and is established, derive from the divine constitution given to it by Christ and contribute to the attaining of its supernatural end, nevertheless that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church.
Major forms of church government include hierarchical (Anglican, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic), presbyterian (rule by elders), and independent (Baptist, charismatic, other forms of in dependency). Before the Protestant Reformation clergy were universally understood to gain their authority through apostolic succession.
Christian scriptures use a wide range of metaphors to describe the Church. These include:
Today the churches that consider themselves to be Christian are numerous with a variety of different doctrines and traditions. There are many controversies among the denominations which exist today.
The phrase One, holy, catholic and apostolic Church' appears in the Nicene Creed (μίαν, ἁγίαν, καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν) and, in part, in the Apostles' Creed ("the holy catholic church", sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, which in Greek would be: ἁγίαν καθολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν). The phrase is intended to set forth the four marks, or identifying signs, of the Christian Church—unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity—and is based on the premise that all true Christians form a single united group founded by the apostles.
The word "catholic" is derived from the Greek adjective καθολικός pronounced katholikos, which means "general" or "universal". Applied to the Church, it implies a calling to spread the faith throughout the whole world and to all ages. It is also thought of as implying that the Church is endowed with all the means of salvation for its members. In this sense the Church is taken by Christian theology to refer to the single, universal community of faithful. Baptism and communion (Christianity signifies membership of the Church. Excommunication is not expulsion from the Church, and is a remedial denial of the sacraments to a baptized Christian that does not invalidate their baptism.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, the earliest known writer to use the phrase "the catholic church", excluded from the Church heterodox groups whose teaching and practice conflicted with those of the bishops of the Church, and considered that they were not really Christians. In keeping with this idea, many churches and communions consider that those whom they judge to be in a state of heresy or schism from their church or communion are not part of the catholic Church. This is the view of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church each regard themselves as the one true and unique church of Christ, and claim to be not just a Christian Church but the original Church founded by Christ, preserving unbroken the original teaching and sacraments. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that "the one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. Only through this Church can one obtain the fullness of the means of salvation since the Lord has entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone whose head is Peter." Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox Church believes it is "the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles. It is organically and historically the same Church that came fully into being at Pentecost." They see the members of other churches as linked in only an imperfect way with the one true Church, recognising Protestants not as churches but as ecclesial or specific faith believing communities.
Many other Christian groups take the view that all denominations are part of a symbolic and global Christian church which is a body bound by a common faith if not a common administration or tradition. Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and some others have always referred to themselves as the Catholic church. Oriental Orthodoxy shares this view, seeing the Churches of the Oriental Orthodox communion as constituting the one true Church. In the West the term Catholic has come to be most commonly associated with the Roman Catholic Church because of its size and influence in the West (although in formal contexts most other churches still reject this naming).
These Churches believe that the term one in the Nicene Creed describes and prescribes a visible institutional unity, not only geographically throughout the world, but also historically throughout history. They see unity as one of the four marks that the Creed attributes to the genuine Church, and the essence of a mark is that it be visible. A Church whose identity and belief varied from country to country and from age to age would not be "one" in their estimation.
In the New Testament, the word "Church" or "assembly"—(translations for ekklesia)—normally refers to believers on earth, and they conclude that the Creed's description "one" must be applicable to the Church on earth and must not be reserved for some eschatological reality. The only exception to the normal New Testament use of the word "ἐκκλησία" is the mention of the "ἐκκλησία of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."
Many Baptist and Congregationalist theologians accept the local sense as the only valid application of the term church. They strongly reject the notion of a universal (catholic) church. These denominations argue that all uses of the Greek word ekklesia in the New Testament are speaking of either a particular local group or of the notion of "church" in the abstract, and never of a single, worldwide church.
Many Anglicans, Lutherans, Old Catholics, and Independent Catholics view unity as a mark of catholicity, but see the institutional unity of the Catholic Church as manifested in the shared Apostolic Succession of their episcopacies, rather than a shared episcopal hierarchy or rites.
Reformed Christians hold that every person justified by faith in the Gospel committed to the Apostles is a member of "One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church". From this perspective, the real unity and holiness of the whole church established through the Apostles is yet to be revealed; and meanwhile, the extent and peace of the church on earth is imperfectly realized in a visible way.
Other debates include the following: