Opponents of the institutional Church claim that the basic movements of proclamation and gathering have nothing to do with the Church. They, rather, invoke the dictum of Loisy, a French theologian and priest, which states, “Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God; what arrived was the Church.” Regardless of Loisy’s original meaning, this phrase has been taken up in order to promote the belief that there is some opposition between the Kingdom of God and the Church.
This position is particularly relevant today. The Church is undertaking a massive effort to re-evangelize the world, but more importantly, those fallen away Catholics and those within Her walls who fail to understand Her teachings.
The New Evangelization faces the primary obstacle presented by both modern secular-humanism and Protestantism, which profess individualism as the basis for human interaction. Protestantism emphasizes individualism in relation to God whereas secular humanism emphasizes individualism in relation to each other and the civil order.
If the New Evangelization is going to gain any traction, it must first lay groundwork for a proper understanding of Christ’s kingdom. Otherwise, any sort of evangelization will continue to be lived out according to the overwhelmingly popular theory that I can workout my own salvation without recourse to the Church.
Dispelling the Myth:
What opposition if any exists between the Kingdom of God and the Church can only be determined based on Christ’s activity as recorded in the New Testament. We could ask, quite simply, do Christ’s actions of proclamation and gathering show any intention of Christ instituting the Church?
Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God is best summed up in the words, “the kingdom of God is at hand…” (Mk 1:15). The original Greek word used in this text for kingdom, “basileia (βασιλεια)” can also be translated as kingship or reign (cf. CCC 2816). The most accurate way to understand the text is to try to roll all these definitions into one. The Kingdom of God is God’s kingship, his reign, and the people over whom he reigns.
Christ is the very action of God. So, when Christ claims that the reign of God is at hand, we can say, “God is near.” Extending his kingdom is only a matter of accepting His kingship. By accepting His kingship we can say, “God is here.”
By drawing people to Himself, Christ gathers them in a sort of dynamic unification. The closer they are drawn toward God, the closer the unity that they share among each other. Moreover, this unity finds itself converging in a Person, namely Christ. The acceptance of His call is the very place that unity is formed.
Christ calls twelve men in particular into a deeper relationship than the others. They are simply referred to as ‘the twelve’ until after the resurrection when they become known as ‘the Apostles.’ Another ‘seventy’ (or seventy-two in some texts) exists in another relationship with Christ that is not quite as close as the twelve.
- First, the numbers themselves carry a numerological significance that would have been understood by all the Jews at that time to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel, which gathered around the Tabernacle of God when called out of Egypt. The seventy (or seventy-two) would have been understood to represent the seventy known peoples outside of Israel, the non-Jewish peoples. These two numbers called around Christ represent Christ calling all nations and kingdoms to Himself, both Jew and Gentile alike.
- Second, the concentricity of these numbers follow the same structure to that of the Jewish Temple. With God’s dwelling place at the very heart of the Temple, the Holy of Holies was surround by the Court of Israel and the Court of the Gentiles. Christ’s gathering, therefore, symbolizes a new worship which replaces the old Temple with Himself. He is the very place of worship
- Third, the kingdom of God, forming around Christ, is made up of an intentional structure. This structure is not lost after Christ’s resurrection. In fact, the Apostles see these numbers as so important that they find it necessary to appoint someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot. This hierarchy that Christ institutes becomes the basis for the hierarchy of the Church today. Thus, there is a direct line of continuity drawn between Christ’s gathering and the institutional Church.>
Almost immediately after the evangelists depict Christ gathering a people to Himself, the same people ask Him how to pray. They seek a common way of prayer. This common worship is what forms them as a single religious body. It becomes a sign of their unity. In the gospel according to Matthew, this prayer is received after Christ delivers His sermon on the mount.
The sermon lays out a new law. The beatitudes become the rule by which the disciples of Christ are to live. This new law forms them as more than just a religious body, but as a nation, a kingdom. This kingdom is not simply an interior kingdom in which God reigns in our hearts. It is made up of people, a people who accepted Christ’s kingship. The kingdom, then is twofold. It is body of people, arranged according to a necessary hierarchical structure, and a reign of God in the heart of each individual.
The Church is that by which the faithful are called into a relationship with God. The reign of God is dependent on the faithful’s relation to Christ’s Church and Christ Himself. The two become inseparably tied. The dynamism of unification is rooted in Christ’s identification with His people (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). It is, therefore, erroneous to think that the Church can be dismissed as some unnecessary vestige of the early Church.
The individualism of secular humanism and Protestantism that influences religious life can only be corrected by a proper understanding of the balance between the reciprocal nature of the individual and the Church. For that reason, I say, “Christ came proclaiming the Kingdom of God; what arrived was God’s perduring presence in His people and in His Church, which we call the Kingdom of God.”