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Models of the Church

Created by Michael Geelan. All rights reserved

Michael Geelan

on 24 August 2016

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Transcript of Models of the Church

The Body of Christ
The People of God
When trying to answer theological questions, humans are a lot like Michelangelo's Adam...
Our answers are close to grasping the ultimate, yet the ultimate always remains out of reach...
When answering the question, "What is the Church?" we run into the same difficulty
In the years following Vatican II, Cardinal Avery Dulles published a book entitled:
The book explores several of the underlying guiding concepts of “Church” found in Lumen Gentium
It was a groundbreaking text, for it made clear that Catholics have several legitimate starting points for thinking about the Church
Dulles identified six models:
Community of Disciples
Characterized by its emphasis on the visible elements of the Church (offices, doctrines, laws, ritual forms, etc. )
Dulles states that any of the models could be a good starting basis for one’s view of Church, except this one
"The one and true Church is the community of men brought together by profession of the same Christian faith and conjoined in the communion of the same sacraments, under the government of the legitimate pastors and especially the one vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman pontiff."
Exemplified the classic definition of the Church as defined in 1588:
He does add, though, that whatever one’s model of Church, one needs to incorporate and appreciate the institutional elements
Dominant from about 1600 through the mid-20th century
Tends to under-emphasize the “mystery” dimension of the Church: the life of faith; Christian communion of faith, hope, love; abiding presence of Christ; gifts and assistance of the Spirit
Necessary during and after the counter-reformation to establish Catholic identity
Many Catholics today - especially the alienated - still operate out of some version of the institution model
We must put our beliefs into action and work for change (Servant)
Places its emphasis on the people who make up the Church and their connectedness with each other and with God
Does not necessarily reject institutional elements, but places more stress upon spirituality, community, and fellowship
The Church in this view is something of a spiritual support group that aids people in their quest to live holy lives
There are two images associated with this model:
Stresses the activity and gifts of the Spirit in all members and the dependence of all on the contributions of each
The Body of Christ image is often used today to support a strong role for the hierarchy as the particular “member” that functions in the place of Christ as the “head” of the body
If overemphasized can lead to divinization of the Church
The People of God image tends to be favored by those who push for continuing reform in the Church by granting larger roles in ministry and decision-making to women and laypeople
If overemphasized, it can become anti-institutional
Focuses on the Church as the continuing presence of Christ in the world
A "sacrament" is understood as a way of making a sacred reality present and active
As Christ can be thought of as the sacrament of God, so the Church can be thought of as the sacrament of Christ
This model allows the believer to maintain a critical distance from the symbols themselves:
This is especially useful in that it reconciles elements that were in tension in the previous models:
The institution model often stressed the visible organization to the neglect of the spiritual
The mystical communion model can leave one wondering why a visible organization is necessary at all
While the sacraments make real the saving action of Christ, the forms and words are not the reality
In the same way, while the Church is the sacrament of Christ, the Church must also be clearly distinguished from Christ
This is the most theoretical of the models, and thus remains the most difficult one for non-theologians to understand
Emphasizes the primacy of the Bible
The Church consists of those who hear the word and are converted
The mission of the Church is to preach the word of God to the ends of the earth
This model is often linked to Protestant Christianity - especially Evangelical Christians
Sometimes called the "Pilgrim People," stresses a renewed sense in the Church of "sacred history", the gradual unfolding through history of God's plan to unite all people in Christ by means of a single people
This was a favorite image of Vatican II
Church no longer seen as an immobile, institution, unaffected by time, change and history
Church as historical community on a pilgrimage which still has a long way to travel
If overemphasized, can lose a sense how the word of God ought to be put into action
Emphasizes the need for the Church to be engaged in social transformation
As Christ came to serve, the Church must carry on his mission of service to the whole world
Members of the Church are seen as part of the larger human family
Stresses that God is known not simply through the Church but also through human experience and the things of this world
Culture and science are recognized as having their own legitimate autonomy apart from the Church
This model is highlighted more in Gaudium et Spes than in Lumen Gentium
The most striking contemporary example of this model today can be found in the liberation theology developed in Latin America
If overemphasized, one could lose a sense of how it is connected with the Gospel
Dulles believed that this model embraces and corrects the other five
Seeks to answer the question: "What does it mean to follow the Lord and to carry out the implications of this seriously in one’s life?"
This model is intended to illuminate the purposes of the institutional structures and the sacramental aspects of the Church, and to ground the missionary thrust present in the herald model with the call for social transformation in the servant model
Emphasis is on simple prayer groups, house-churches, Pentecostal gatherings
Stresses personal prayer life, personal relationship with God
If overemphasized:
Can become too local and not recognize the universal nature of Church
Can foster an “I only need God” attitude
Can become narcissistic – focus on us, not others
Can encourage little communes versus contributing to responsibility of developing human society as a whole
The models are intended to work together rather than only focus on one. All have importance and richness that build Church
Remember: Both/And
We recognize that we have elements of all of them in our lives. One or more might strike us more, which is good
All have benefits and all have limitations, which is why we need all of them to grow as a Church
A proposed starting point:
We are called to be community and to grow together (Mystical Communion: Body of Christ)
We are called to make Christ explicitly present in our world (Sacrament)
We are called to challenge one another and help each other be the best we can be (Mystical Communion: People of God)
We are called to codify our beliefs to keep us on the right track and honor our tradition and follow what Christ asked us to do (Institution)
We are called to proclaim the Gospel (Herald)
And we are called to nurture our personal relationship with God and minister to our coworkers in Christ (Community of Disciples)
The models should not be thought of as a linear progression (as if one naturally leads to and another that is more advanced
Think of them more as a spiral with optional starting points that lead us deeper into the mystery that is the Church
After all, the Church is ultimately defined as "mystery"
There is a danger of taking Scripture out of its historical context when applying it to 21st century situations ("prooftexting")
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