The Church


     In Christian theology the Church is recognized as the evolving, imperfect community of baptized people who are called to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ and, with God’s grace, to cooperate with each other in his extraordinary mission committed to the coming of the kingdom of God; the Church is God's people called together to worship God and to affirm their unity in acts of worship.

     In the Creeds the Church is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. In a very general and ideal sense the Church is "one," in that its members share a view of Jesus as "Lord and Christ." However, several interpretations among Christians of "Lord" and "Christ" and their various implications have created the many churches or denominations.

     The Church is "holy," in that it is sacred; it is the assembly of people called into being by the Creator, whose Spirit inspires, influences, empowers, and strengthens the church as a whole and its individual members. (This does not mean that the church is perfect, however, as we mentioned before in Unit 5; the church is not the Kingdom of God.)

     The Church is "catholic," in that it is the instrument through which the whole Faith is proclaimed to all people. The Creeds' use of "catholic" is in this sense of wholeness; the "Roman Catholic Church" is one particular Christian church whose name includes "catholic."

     In the words of the Prayer Book Catechism, "the Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ's mission to all people."

     Continuing , "The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. ...The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. ...The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members."

     Some individual Christian churches are convinced that they are the only true holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Such a church teaches (perhaps less vigorously today) that it is the "one true Church." While such phrases are still on the lips of many clergy and lay members, theologians of these churches are usually far more modest in their claims!

     Of particular importance is the view that the church is people, sometimes gathered together for worship and at other times dispersed in homes, jobs, recreation, and wherever life takes its individual members. All Christians are churchmen or churchwomen wherever they are, and their mission remains with them in all circumstances. Far from being a building or the chief clergy, the Church is the entire body of Christian people; the separate churches are particular groupings of that same body.

The Ministry

     The mission of the Christian Church is carried out by its ministers, that is, all of its people. However, ministry has been and continues to be organized or ordered in various ways.

     In some Christian churches leadership is provided by one or more inspired members of a congregation; responsibilities for worship, religious education, pastoral care, administration and any other areas of recognized Christian service are absorbed by those individuals who feel called to such.

     In other Christian churches ministry is ordered, such that persons set apart by ordination have particular leadership responsibilities; those not "ordained," that is, "laypeople (or the laity") have some different responsibilities for ministry.

     Episcopally ordered ministries, such as those found in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican (including "The Episcopal Church" in the United States) and some other churches include clergy of various responsibilities plus the laity. In these churches the ordained ministers are, for the most part, bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons. (In addition, there are some "minor" orders in some episcopal churches.) Even the Pope and various archbishops are basically bishops who have particularly extensive responsibilities. Priests and deacons are, in a sense, deputies of bishops with specified duties. (The "Outline" distinguishes among the three Orders in greater detail.)

     Obviously each type of ordered ministry (episcopal, congregational, etc.) believes it is most faithful to the intentions of Jesus Christ; each views itself as an authentic, if not THE authentic, ordering of ministry of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Historians today admit to some variety in the ordering of ministry from the apostolic age itself to the present. But the debate continues among the churches as to which ordered ministries are whole and valid and which are not, and therefore, who may worship and collaborate with whom and under what circumstances.

Prayer and Worship

     "I don't get anything out of it!" "It's boring!" "I don't need to go to church, in order to be a good person." "Those people who go to church! Look at the contrast between what they say in church and what they do the rest of the time. Hypocrites!" Such protests are common and to some extent may be legitimate.

     However, individuals cannot possibly "get anything out of it" unless they know what to expect from prayer and worship. And, it may indeed be boring, if the ingredients of the worship are not understood and/or if the styles of leadership are monotonous; but, in all fairness, we cannot expect worship (or even a family dinner) to provide the same eye and ear-catching movement of a stadium concert or of a multi-million dollar television production! People able to respond only to extravaganzas or entertainment need to broaden their capacities for other life events: a conversation with a friend, a relaxed hour with quiet music, a walk in the woods or a park, a meal among loved ones, and, yes, prayer and worship!

     We readily admit that a person can be good without going to church, if by "good" we mean living a decent life based on some interpretation of "love" or the Golden Rule. An atheist can be a moral individual, in this sense.

     We admit also that churchgoers fail to maintain the various standards lived and taught by Jesus; they confess this failure frequently as a part of their order of worship, as well as in private prayer! These failures are not hypocrisy, for few churchgoers would ever claim that their lives are perfect! A hypocrite is one who pretends to be perfect; hardly any worshippers joining in confessions of failures would be silly enough to pretend perfection!

     But, what is prayer and what is worship? In his book Praying Today theologian Norman Pittenger has written:

Prayer is the intentional opening of human lives to, the alignment of human wills with, and the direction of human desiring toward, the cosmic Love that is deepest and highest in the world because it is the main thrust or drive through the world toward sharing and participation in genuine good. - and hence toward the truest possible fulfillment of human personality as God wishes it to become. Public prayer or church worship is the way in which we unite with others in expressing dependence on this Love, opening ourselves to it, and willing cooperation with it as 'fellow-workers with God.' Private prayer is the way we do this in our own particular ways.

     In church worship Christians celebrate and affirm again and again their fundamental identity as children of God and their meaning of life (covenant living). With words (ritual) and ceremonies (actions), various forms of worship dramatize the participants' beliefs about and relationships with God and each other.

      Directed toward the one true God, adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, self-offering, and presentation of human needs are principal kinds of private and group prayer. Without such prayer and worship, truly personal relationships with God are diminished, if not lost altogether. And, one's fundamental Christian identity and purpose of living can give way to the many self-defeating alternatives found elsewhere.

     However, one may legitimately raise questions about some types of prayer. Is it appropriate to pray to win the lottery, pass an exam, or receive a promotion? Why pray for peace; isn’t it human responsibility to bring about peace? What do we really mean and expect when we say “Please pray for me” or “I’ll pray for you”? When there has been a disaster, what purpose does prayer have as our response; what are we praying for? What are the differences between reflection, meditation, relaxation, venting, and cerebral silence (such as a trance within which self-awareness is extinguished)? What is the difference between magical/wishful thinking and prayer?

     In no way compartmentalized from daily living, Christian worship is in one sense one's life in the New Covenant, in another sense specific private and public words and ceremonies, and in both senses a response to the Creator's search for human love.

Please read the following on this website:


Spirituality vs. God’s Word (which includes words of caution about some forms of spirituality and prayer groups.)


Gifts (which includes a biblically based chart that distinguishes between positive and negatives responses to spiritual gifts.)
Liturgical Evangelism
Passing the Peace


Appropriate and Inappropriate Prayer
Pastoral Prayer: Sacred or Profane?


The Church’s Changing Seasons
Function of the Prayer Book
Privacy and Public Prayer
Rubrics and Length of Services

To conclude this unit, please read the section below from “An Outline of the Faith.”

The Church

Q. What is the Church?
A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant.

Q. How is the Church described in the Bible?
A. The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.

Q. How is the Church described in the creeds?
A. The Church is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Q. Why is the Church described as one?
A. The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Q. Why is the Church described as holy?
A. The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God's work.

Q. Why is the Church described as catholic?
A. The Church is catholic, because it proclaims the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.

Q. Why is the Church described as apostolic?
A. The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ's mission to all people.

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

The Ministry

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

Q. What is the ministry of a bishop?
A. The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry.

Q. What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Q. What is the ministry of a deacon?
A. The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Prayer and Worship

Q. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.

Q. What is Christian Prayer?
A. Christian prayer is response of God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Q. What prayer did Christ teach us?
A. Our Lord gave us the example of prayer known as the Lord's Prayer.

Q. What are the principle kinds of prayer?
A. The principle kinds of prayer are adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

Q. What is adoration?
A. Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence.

Q. Why do we praise God?
A. We praise God, not to obtain anything, but because God's Being draws praise from us.

Q. For what do we offer thanksgiving?
A. Thanksgiving is offered to God for all the blessings of this life, for our redemption, and for whatever draws us closer to God.

Q. What is penitence?
A. In penitence, we confess our sins and make restitution where possible, with the intention to amend our lives.

Q. What is prayer of oblation?
A. Oblation is an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.

Q. What are intercession and petition?
A. Intercession brings before God the needs of others; in petition, we present our own needs, that God's will may be done.

Q. What is corporate worship?
A. In corporate worship, we unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God's Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments.