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Ecclesiology is a branch of theology that deals with the doctrines pertaining to the Church itself as a community or organic entity, and with the understanding of what the "church" is: its role in salvation, its origin, its relationship to the historical Christ, its discipline, its destiny (see Eschatology) and its leadership. It is, therefore, the study of the Church as a thing in itself, and of the Church's self-understanding of its mission and role.

In addition to describing a broad discipline of theology, ecclesiology may be used in the specific sense of a particular church or denomination’s character, self-described or otherwise. This is the sense of the word in such phrases as Roman Catholic ecclesiology, Lutheran ecclesiology, and ecumenical ecclesiology.


Ecclesiology comes from the Greek ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), which comes into Latin as ecclesia, and which simply means a gathering or a meeting. It is a compound of the Greek preposition ek (ἐκ), which denotes origin and could be independently translated from, and kaleo (καλέω), meaning to call or bid—a calling out, as in a calling together. The most generic definition given by Thayer's Greek Lexicon is “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” While the term today is closely tied to the Christian church, its roots are therefore broader.

The Septuagint uses ekklesia to translate into Greek the Hebrew word qâhâl (קהל), meaning a congregation, assembly, company or other organized body (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions). These uses in the Hebrew Scriptures of ekklesia are not regarded by most Christian theologians as referring to the Church specifically (in context, they refer to a specific gathering for a partricular circumstance), even though many of these same theologians regard the Jewish people (as "The People of God," a community that understood itself to be defined by a unique covenant with God) to be a foreshadowing, a prototype or a sort of living prophecy of what would one day be the Christian Church.

The generic sense of the word is used several times in one passage of the New Testament (Acts 19:32, 39 & 41) in reference not to the church but to a group of Ephesian craftsmen, something like a guild, speaking out against the Apostle Paul and his companions.

Issues addressed by ecclesiology Edit

Ecclesiology asks the questions:

  • Who is the Church? Is it a visible or earthly corporation — a "church" in the sense of a specific denomination or institution, for instance? Or is it the body of all believing Christians regardless of their denominational differences and disunity? What is the relationship between living Christians and departed Christians — do they (those on Earth and those in Heaven) constitute together the Church?
  • Must one join a church? That is, what is the role of corporate worship in the spiritual lives of believers? Is it in fact necessary? Can salvation be found outside of formal membership in a given faith community, and what constitutes "membership?"
  • What is the authority of the Christian church? Is the institution itself, either in a single corporate body, or generally, an independent vehicle of revelation or of God's grace? Or is the Church's authority dependent on and derivative of a prior divine revelation, and individual institutions are the Church to the extent that they teach that message? Is, for instance, the Bible a written part of a wider revelation entrusted to the Church as faith community, and therefore to be interpreted within that context? Or is the Bible the revelation itself, and the Church is to be defined as a group of people claim adherence to it?
  • What does the Church do? What are the sacraments, in the context of the Church, and are they part of the Church's mission to preach the Gospel? Is the Eucharist the defining element of the rest of the sacramental system and the Church itself, or is it secondary to the act of preaching? Is the Church to be understood as the vehicle for salvation, or the salvific presence in the world, or as a community of those already "saved?"
  • How should the Church be governed? What was the mission and authority of the Apostles, and is this handed down through the sacraments today? What are the proper methods of choosing clergy such as bishops and priests, and what is their role within the context of the Church? Is an ordained clergy necessary?

See also Edit

Beliefs that define the Church Edit

Rituals that define the Church Edit

Topics in church government Edit

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