Jesus the Founder

Even if Jesus did not speak of building 'my church' in response to Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi187 and even if he did talk of 'the church' twice in the context of discipline among his followers (Matt. 18: 17), one thing is quite clear: the present and future Kingdom of God constituted the heart of his proclamation. Over and over again Jesus announced by his

186 The English term 'church' comes from the Greek kyriakon doma ('the Lord's house').

187 Mark's Gospel, one of the two major sources apparently used by Matthew, does not include 'building of the church' in its shorter version of Peter's confession and Jesus' response (Mark 8: 27-30). At least part of the longer and more familiar version of the episode at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16: 13-20) may not have been simply fashioned by Matthew himself but have come from a source or sources he received. Nowadays more scholars, and not necessarily Catholic ones, argue that some or much of the interchange between Jesus and Peter is authentic—that is to say, derives from a historical event involving both of them; see C. S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999), 423-30. On the wider question of Peter in the early Church, see the interdenominational study by R. E. Brown et al., Peter in the New Testament (New York: Paulist Press, 1973).

words and deeds that through his presence (e.g. Luke 11: 20) the powerful rule of God had already come and would reach its consummation at the end of all human history. We must do justice to Jesus' message, and acknowledge that from the beginning the Church exists for the Kingdom. This is not to separate, let along oppose Church and Kingdom, but to insist on fidelity to Jesus' preaching: the universal Kingdom of God is the more encompassing reality. The Our Father does not mention the Church as such but prays 'Thy Kingdom come' and not 'Thy Church come'. When Christ appears in his glory at the end of all history, he will hand over the whole Kingdom, and not simply the Church, to God the Father (1 Cor. 15: 23—4). The famous last lines of Augustine's City of God describe the ultimate communion with God in terms of the Kingdom: 'We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Look what will be, in the end, without end. For what is our end but to reach that Kingdom which has no end?' The priority of the Kingdom leaves us with the question: did Jesus intend to found the Church?

One cannot reasonably argue that Jesus clearly and explicitly aimed at founding the Church with all the structural components with which we are familiar: for instance, the government of dioceses (or in the East eparchies) by bishops, the seven sacraments, and the erection of cathedrals and other church buildings. There is no hard evidence for claiming that during his ministry Jesus entertained, let alone proposed, such a blueprint which foresaw and planned in detail the various future developments of the Church. But, as Raymond Brown, Anthony Harvey, Ben Meyer, Tom Wright, and other biblical scholars have rightly concluded: Jesus intended to reform and restore the Jewish nation at its religious and political centre. His dramatic entry into Jerusalem, cleansing of theTemple (Mark 11: 1—11, 15—19), and statement about the rebuilding of the Temple (e.g. Mark 14: 58; 15: 29) indicated that intention. So too did his call and sending of twelve disciples. The choice of the Twelve, for which we summarized the evidence at the beginning of Ch. 1, expressed the desire to gather again the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 30). Nevertheless, while Jesus preached principally to his own people and saw them as the primary beneficiaries of God's final revelation and salvation, his vision was universal.

Jesus demanded a realistic love towards other human beings in need, a love ready to cross racial boundaries (Luke 10: 25—37). He called for a new brotherhood and sisterhood that denied any sacrosanct value to family or tribal bonds within Israel: 'Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother' (Mark 3: 35). There was the same kind of universal ring to the parable of the tax-collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18: 9—14). There Jesus asserted that the extent of God's generosity had been hitherto ignored: the divine pardon was offered to all. Hence Jesus' vision of Israel's future entailed 'many coming from the East and the West to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 8: 11). The restoration of Israel to be effected through Jesus' ministry would gather and bring salvation to the nations. The reformation of the twelve tribes would benefit the human race.

Thus evidence from the public life of Jesus supports two conclusions that involve some measure of continuity between his personal mission for the Kingdom of God and the subsequent rise of the Christian Church. The gathering of disciples, from whom twelve were called for some leadership role(s), represents at least a minimal organization. Second, in various ways Jesus showed that he was aware of the universal import of his mission. Hence not only in the historical sequence of events but also in his conscious intentions, some line led from Jesus' proclamation of the divine rule to the establishment of Christianity as a new religious movement.

This second conclusion can be confirmed by what we can glean about Jesus' intentions when faced with death. Material from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke back the view that Jesus anticipated his coming death and accepted it as an obedient service that would atone for the sins of others and in some way bring a new relationship between God and the human family. Jesus' death was not unrelated to his proclamation of the divine rule. The message of the Kingdom led more or less straight to the mystery of the passion. That message included and culminated in the suffering ordeal to come: a time of crisis and distress that was to move towards the final judgement, the restoration of Israel, the salvation of the nations. Thus his arrest, condemnation, crucifixion, and resurrection dramatized the very project that totally engaged Jesus: the final rule of God which, through a time of ordeal, was to come for all humankind.188

Hence we can follow the NT in its language about Jesus as the cornerstone or foundation-stone of the new Christian community (e.g. 1 Cor. 3: 11; Eph. 2: 20). The image of Jesus as the rejected stone that became the cornerstone or even 'the Living Stone' may well go back to his preaching (Mark 12: 10—11). In any case a number of NT books use that picture (e.g. Acts 4: 11; 1 Pet. 2: 4-8).

188 On this see G. O'Collins, Christology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 67-81.

The imagery links Christ as the (primary) Foundation-stone (in upper case) with the apostles as secondary foundation-stones (lower case) of Christianity (Rev. 21: 14; see Eph. 2: 19—22). Undoubtedly, events that went beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, above all the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, collaborated in the founding of the Church. Nevertheless, what Jesus preached, did, and endured should encourage Catholics to endorse the conviction expressed in the hymn by S. J. Stone (1830—1900): 'The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.'

In equivalent terms we may speak of Jesus as the Founder (upper case) of the Church and others as the founders (lower case). In the narrower sense the Twelve, Paul, and other apostles were the founders of the Church.189 In a wider sense all Christians of the first century can be considered to have been in a variety of ways the founding fathers and mothers of the Church. Let us summarize now something of their Church-founding work, and what ensued, through to the third century.

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