Is the Phrase ‘We Are Church’ Biblical?

by David Gray, July 5, 2012

One thing hasn’t changed from my conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism; that inevitably when speaking to fellow Christians about the life of the Church and the value of attending Church, the phrase ‘We Are Church’ will seep into the conversation. There seems to be an understanding in some Protestant circles that whenever two or more Christians are gathered together – that that’s a Church, even though Scripture doesn’t actually say that. What the aforereferenced Scripture does says is that, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Matthew 18:20. It’s non-sequitor and non-Biblical to say where God is in the midst of us there is a Church.

‘We are Church’ I`ngst Christians, such as ‘I’m spiritual, not religious,’ and ‘the Church is not a Building – it’s us’, that are just as equally troubling to me. It seems that the objective of those that use the phrase ‘We are Church’ is to diminish the value of the institutional Church, for the sake of raising the value of the individual person over it. It’s an anti-authority and anti-institutional religion phrase, which is quite comfortably at home in Protestantism, but it is also a phrase that has wormed itself into Catholicism. I’ve even recently heard a priest proudly say during a weekday homily.

Is the phrase ‘We are Church’ Biblical? Well, yes, if you were to draw use of the phrase from 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it,” and ignore the rest of the Bible, I think you can most certainly say that ‘We are Church’ is 100% Biblical. In fact, the funny thing about this phrase is that the people who oftentimes use it are the same people who oftentimes don’t go to Church anyway. They use it as an excuse to stay away from the community even though Hebrews says, “We should not stay away from our community, as is the custom of some, but to encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Even if you were to keep reading onto 1 Corinthians 12:28 it clearly lets us know that the Church is a visible community that has organization, officers (apostles, prophets, teachers), and has visible evidence that distinguishes it as belonging to Christ Jesus (e.g. mighty deeds, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and variety of tongues). Therefore, whenever someone tries to tell me that ‘We are Church’ my first question is to ask them where is their organization, officers, and evidence of he/she and I ‘Being Church’.

Inasmuch as the phrase ‘We are Church’ could be Biblical, it isn’t Biblically SOUND, because it doesn’t embody the fullness of everything that Scripture says that the Church actually is. The Church as defined by sacred Scripture is a general assembly (ecclesia) – (Dt. 9:10, 18:16); it was established by Jesus the Christ to last forever – (Mt. 16:18); is catholic/universal – (Rev. 7:9-10); it is for general/local areas – (Acts 5:11; 1 Cor. 1:2, 16:1); it is a physical building – (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 11:18, 14:19, 28 34-35); it is a universal community of believers – (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:16); it is the Mystical Body of the Christ – (1 Cor. 12:1-31; Rom. 12:4-8); decisions of the Church are binding – (Mt. 18:47; Acts 15:28-29); the Church that Jesus established is necessary for Salvation – (Eph. 1:22-23); it is the household of God and pillar and foundation of truth – (1 Tim. 3:15).

Sacred Scripture is clear about the Church being a place that we can point people to. The phrase ‘We are Church’ contradicts that because, ‘We are Church’ suggests that if someone were to ask me where they could find a Church, I could simply point them to a group of Christians meandering around, because ‘We are Church’ after all right? Wrong!

Another perspective we can take to discuss the Biblical problems with the anti-authoritarian phrase ‘We are Church’ is to reconcile it against the Marks of the Church, which are also found in sacred Scripture. Historically, the Catholic Church has used Four Marks – (1) One; (2) Holy; (3) Catholic; and (4) Apostolic – to distinguish its uniqueness, but in the Introduction of my books on Cooperating with God, I penned Seven Marks of the Church, which are: (1) There was never a time when the Church (the Body of Christ) did not exist; (2) There was never a time when the Church (the Body of Christ) did not exist; (3) The Church came to exist in a fulfilled way amongst those who are related to Abraham through faith in the New Covenant; (4) The Church is one (like the Holy Trinity) and the Body of Christ Jesus; (5) The Church is Apostolic; (6) The Church is without error in regards to its doctorial teachings on faith and morals; (7) The Church is at the perpetual service of the Kingdom of God. Using either of these lists, it’s clear that the individual or a group of meandering Christians are not ‘Church’ or ‘The Church’.

Altogether the popular phrase ‘We are Church’ has no place in Christianity; simply because it is absolutely linear and fails to reflect or embody the total sum of teaching from Christ Jesus and the Apostles about what the Church actually is. While Protestants will continue to use this phrase against Catholicism (THE Church) as their mantra against authority and institution, we Catholics have to do our part to inform our separated Brothers and Sisters why this phrase is not truly Biblical, and by sharing a broader understanding of what Church actually is, we will go a long way in evangelizing the fullness of our faith.

“We are Church” (also known as Wir Sind Kirche) is also a dissident liberal movement which advocates changing moral teachings of the Roman Catholic

“Church” in Greek “ecclesia” comes from two other words, ‘ecc’ and ‘kaleo’ meaning “to call out from.””

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