August/September 2014 - Vol. 75

An Apologetic for Christian Community
By Bob Tedesco


The following essay in three parts presents a focused apologetic for Christian community today.

  1. A Scriptural perspective on Christian community
  2. A Protestant perspective
  3. A Catholic perspective 
The approaches are different. Taken together they represent and appeal to different kinds of authority that might be helpful to different readers. 

Part 1. A Scriptural Apologetic for Christian Community

Overview of  Part 1: Scripture has much to say about Christian community. This section includes a set of Scripture passages that can help people better understand, present, and defend the modern re-emergence of lay Christian communities. Also worth mentioning is the fact that some Scripture passages speak directly to the issue while others imply or suggest community as an expression of church. I would suggest that much of the New Testament seems to be addressing people (churches) whose way of life seems far different from the modern experience of church for most Christians.

One Question
At the core of much of this work is this question: “What level of relationship should members of a church expect and pursue?” There are also corresponding questions such as:

  1. What does the Lord expect the church to look like?
  2. How did we get to the modern approach?
  3. How can we recover what has been lost?
  4. How do families adjust to fit into a community-oriented church?
  5. What elements of the sodality are to be experienced at the level of the modality, the local church?”
The questions can be too numerous and overwhelming, but our hope here is to explore the area from a scriptural perspective, and dig into the issue of how deeply should we form Christian relationships.

My mother used to tell me, “Blood is thicker than water.” Occasionally, I would respond something like, “We are bound together by the blood of Christ which far surpasses any human family!” My mother never did join our Christian community, but she lived long enough to receive elder care far beyond anything that the family could (or would) do for her. While her mind was still working, she came to understand and expressed her appreciation for the community.

(Note: I do appreciate the role of immediate family in caring for aging or dying members; I appreciate the special bond of the immediate family as well.)



“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”John 14:23 

(Note: The Father and Jesus make their home with those who keep the word of Jesus. It starts here: the Father makes his home with us; his people are therefore his family and in family together.)

 “...for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:11

 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
 Matthew 12:50

 “Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as you would a father; treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.”1 Timothy 5:1-2 

(Note: “brothers,” “brethren,” and “sisters” are used 311 times in the New Testament referring to the Body of Christ).

Beyond Family
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Matthew 5:46
The high degree of common life of the church at Jerusalem does not seem to be replicated in other New Testament churches, but it is worth noticing it as a “reaching for heaven”. The classic descriptions of the first church are in Acts 2 and 4.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

“Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.” Acts 2:32-35

Trans-local Sharing
“...but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it was written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” 2 Corinthians 8:14-15
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”John 17:20-23

 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel...” Philippians 1:27

Connected in Relationship
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up builds itself in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16 

(Note: “joints” connect, support, and nurture—when each part is working properly.)

Committed, Loving Relationships
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:12-14

“This I command you, to love one another.” John 15:17

A People
“When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?”1 Corinthians 6:1-6 
(Notes: 1. If two men had a fender bender in the parking lot of a church, would they expect the pastor to resolve their present conflict? Any conflict? 
2. Most communities do not exercise this kind of responsibility. 
3. Something unusual is implied: that the body of Christ can have the wisdom and authority to resolve significant conflicts between members.)

 “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22:37-40 

(Note: When this was given, the word “neighbor” would not have included everyone in the sense of the whole world of gentiles and pagans; it would have referred to another Jew, one of God’s people.)

 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. 1 Peter 2:9

Love in “Real Time”

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”1 John 3:14-18

 “We love, because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” 1 John 4:19-21

Be Ready
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6
These and many other Scripture passages indicate that life in the Lord’s family is meant to be far more substantial than is the experience of most.

Part 2. A Protestant Apologetic for Community

At the 2006 North American Sword of the Spirit Summer Conference, we presented three workshops intending to lay out apologetic approaches and resources for Protestants, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. We drew from scripture, articles, papal encyclicals, and speeches and papers of respected church leaders. Here we will draw on resources by Paul C. Dinolfo, Ralph D. Winter, R. Pierce Beaver, Carl W. Wilson, and Sacred Scripture.

Difficulties Due to Range
The wide variations among Protestants present a challenge to creating an apologetic that would be helpful and accepted across the spectrum. 

The primary categories of Protestants are1:
1)  Mainline (or historic) vs. Evangelical
2)  Liturgical vs. Non-liturgical
3)  Presbyterian vs. Congregational

The church affiliations of Christians in the USA are1:
1) Catholics 24.5%
2) Baptists  16.3%
3) Methodist/Wesleyan  6.8%
4) Lutheran     4.6%
5) Presbyterian    2.7%
6) Pentecostal/Charismatic 2.6%
7) Episcopal     1.7%

The percentage of Americans who attend church during a given week are1:
1) Catholics  6.2%
2) Evangelicals 9.2%
3) Mainline  3.2%

Therefore our first contribution to an apologetic would be to again say, “Things are not working so well; maybe this would be a good time for someone or some set of people to try something else or something additional.” Secondly, it would be a good time to expect that the Holy Spirit would be at work addressing our needs, our concerns, our weaknesses, and our lack.

Scripture and History
Another approach would be to step back to take a broad look at the New Testament church and compare that to what has happened through the ages. It can easily be seen in the New Testament that the broad-based church had stable local churches and missionary groups that evangelized; explored new prospective locations; founded new churches; and served, refreshed, and renewed existing churches. That broad-based pattern has continued throughout Christian history in both Catholic and Protestant streams of Christianity.

Warp and Woof 
The church is often compared to a tapestry, which is first of all a cloth.  Ralph D. Winter and R. Pierce Beaver describe the “warp and woof”2 of Christianity with the warp being the stationary threads while the woof are the moving threads on the spindle. Both are needed: the stationary (local church) and the moving (renewal movements, communities, mission bands); both are needed for church maintenance and church growth.

Sociology Intersects Ecclesiology
In Ralph D Winters, “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”, he describes the stationary part (local church body) as the “modality.” The moving or missionary part of the New Testament church he describes as a “sodality.” A modality is the normal expression of a grouping, its commonly understood pattern. A sodality is a somewhat specialized grouping or association. It is voluntary, and might have a narrower mission or responsibility.2 Today’s renewal movements and new communities are presented as sodalities and not as modalities or replacements for the local church.

Wesley saw his movement as a sodality and did not intend to form a new church. He felt forced out of the Anglican Church and Methodism followed (a modality). This history points to the need for getting these distinctions clear: 1) sodalities, when welcomed and embraced, can bring evangelism, service, and refreshment to the local church; 2) when misunderstood or rejected, sodalities can result in division and separation, or, at the very least, disappointment and marginalization of gifted brothers and sisters.

Further Distinctions of Warp and Woof
As already mentioned, modalities are the stationary aspect of church. They handle the wearing task of everyday life; they care for the children; there is a sort of “structural” fellowship; and there is no distinction of age or gender. Sodalities are moving, responsive, nimble. They often have two purposes: 1) internal church renewal, and 2) outreach or mission. They may be limited by age, gender or marital status. They thrive on zeal and enthusiasm and are often more engaging of the young. They are “not your father’s Oldsmobile” (to use a marketing phrase). A “second decision” or additional commitment is required (beyond modality membership).2

A Historic Sketch
In overview we can see these structures present throughout Christian history, and there is some advantage to looking for their different expressions. It seems likely that the Holy Spirit has initiated, inspired, and influenced these different structures to meet the needs and challenges of the peoples and various periods of history.

New Testament Church
As the first Christians were Jews, their modality was the temple and all that was familiar to them. They met together in the temple, and had meals together in their homes (see Acts 2:46). Peter and John (after Pentecost) prayed in the temple (see Acts 3:1). 

In the shadow of Pentecost, new things began to happen: miracles (Acts 3:7), meals together, proclaiming God’s message with boldness (Acts 4:31), and sharing possessions (Acts 4:32). These were quickly followed by persecution (Acts 5:18) and martyrdom (Acts 7:58). This remarkable mix of spiritual events and inter-modal pressure and rejection was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the sodality that would develop. The new Christians were scattered far and wide (Acts 8:4). 

We then see the selection of Saul by the Lord himself (Acts 9:15). For his protection Saul was sent to Tarsus via Caesarea, and he later returned (Acts 12:25) with Barnabas and John Mark. In Acts 13:2, we see the Pauline mission sodality being prophetically initiated and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.” They traveled to Cyprus (Salamis), Perga, Antioch, and Iconium, preaching and teaching in synagogues along the way. “In each church they appointed elders and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23 Today’s English Version) 

By this time, the pattern, the work, and the effects of this missionary sodality are well established: it is in service to the local bodies that they are being established in each locale.

From Then Until Now
Both structures have continued to develop and adapt with the modality being more stable than the sodality, which has had many forms. Even after the Reformation, the modality for some Protestants had a diocesan structure. In his “Structures” paper, Winter points out that “the greatest error of the Reformation” was to reject the sodalities of their age: the religious orders. By the nineteenth century, however, Protestants were actively engaged in missions. 

All through the founding, settling, and evangelism of North America, we have seen the sodalities repeating the New Testament pattern: setting up local churches, establishing them, and then reaching out to new population centers. It is this last step (reaching out) that is so crucial to the ongoing growth, vitality and purpose of the modalities. 

It could be said that our modalities (parishes, congregations) would be much healthier if they saw themselves as “beachheads” from which further ground should be taken. It is the settled-in, coasting mentality that is so lethal to our faith. Our faith must be allowed to grow beyond its boarders or something starts to die. It cannot just be enjoyed; it must be employed, or deployed to use a military term.

In these times, we have multiple examples of sodalities impacting the Protestant world and local congregations: The Billy Graham organization, Alpha (Campus Crusade), Athletes in Action, Promise Keepers, InterVarsity Fellowship, the Charismatic Renewal, and the new communities (many of which are covenant communities). The new communities (and their networks) are probably more comparable to the sodalities that existed after the early church and up to the Reformation. They exist, not as in competition with, but as a support to the local congregations.  They offer some hope and some promise in extending our borders, spreading the gospel, and deepening our commitment to the Christian way of life. They are a part of us. They are a gift from God.

Part 3. A Catholic Apologetic for Community

Two Broad Structures of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church can be seen as divided into two types of membership—two expressions of life. The lay or diocesan structure is by far the largest and includes families and singles in local parishes under a bishop. The religious order side of things includes priests, brothers and sisters. The parallel to a bishop would be an Abbot, and an Abbess or Mother Superior would oversee the women’s orders.

Religious orders have certain similarities to the new communities: they take vows, we have covenants; they have novitiates, we have formation and discipleship; they have certain accountability and spiritual direction and we have pastoral care; they tend to have a very high degree of common life and we strive for a high degree of common life with families and singles maintaining a high degree of personal responsibility. (Note: several networks of communities have brotherhoods which are even more similar to religious orders). The similarities mentioned are notable but they do have distinct differences, especially with the degree of shared life.

The Witness of Canonizations
The largest number of canonized saints, (perhaps 10 or 20 to 1), come from the smallest structure (much smaller religious order side). So the Catholic measure of success would seem to say that vows (commitment), formation, accountability and common life have produced a high degree of recognizable holiness. Similarly, there is something about the community/formation model that works better for lay people, as a complement to parish life by orders of magnitude.

We could stop here! The witness of history for Catholics has overwhelming evidence for the community/formation model.

Quotes from Modern Documents and Presentations
We will draw quotes from two sources: “The Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements”2 (shown as TL in the footnotes and “On Ecclesial Movements and New Communities: the Response of the Holy Spirit to Today’s Challenge of Evangelization”1 (shown as “M” in the footnotes).

 “TL” is a paper by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), and”M” is by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (the largest part of the Catholic Church mentioned earlier. These two apply mainly to Catholic movements and new communities, but they have certain implications for ecumenical communities, especially for the Catholics involved in such movements and communities. The quotes have some phrases in italics or with underlining. These do not appear in the original text, but have been added to link them to the topic. Italicized text and added “**” are inserted to highlight or give emphasis to a point. They do not appear in the original text.

We’ll consider these papers in regard to some topics common to the new communities; some quotes apply to more than one area and may be repeated. I have not added much commentary since I believe that the quotes have more power if not obscured by extra reflection on my part. While most of the quotes are encouraging to communities and movements, it is worth mentioning that almost all of these kinds of addresses by church officials have some statements of caution and concern that enthusiasm and energy do not become divisive. Local church authority and membership are worthy of respect through the process of renewal.

Encounter with Christ and Baptism in the Spirit

  • “Only when the person is struck and opened up by Christ ...can true community grow.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “The Spirit cannot be correctly understood without Christ, but it is equally impossible to understand Christ without the Holy Spirit.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Thus, social service is always connected in one form or another with evangelization. All of this presupposes - and the source is usually the flame of the initial charism – a deep encounter with Christ. The formation and up-building of community does not exclude the personal element, but calls for it. Only when the person is struck and opened up by Christ in his inmost depth can the other also be inwardly touched, can there be reconciliation in the Holy Spirit, can true community grow.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...there is always a personal encounter with Christ.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “‘Come and see’...There is always a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in the lives of those who belong to ecclesial movements and communities. For some, the conversion of heart is often a gradual process which takes time. For others, the conversion is an unexpected and all-encompassing ‘lightning bolt’ experience.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “How many members of movements and new communities can repeat the words of convert Andre’ Fossard: ‘God exists, and I have experienced Him’.”1 Cardinal Rylko


  • “It is their task to bring the message of Christ ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8 RSV) and to make disciples of all men” (Mt. 28:19).2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Above all, communion must not be conceived as if the avoidance of conflict were the highest pastoral value. Faith is always a sword, too, and it can demand precisely conflict for the sake of truth and love.” (cf. Mt.10:34)2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • ** “Here the Pope notes two fundamental priorities of evangelization, of ‘making disciples’ of Jesus Christ today: a ‘solid and deep formation’ and a ‘strong testimony’. These two areas in which the new ecclesial movements and new communities are producing stupendous fruits for the life of the Church. These groups have become true ‘laboratories of faith’ and authentic schools of Christian life, holiness, and mission for thousands of Christians in every part of the world.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • ** “The first and greatest priority is, therefore, Christian formation.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • ** “The Christian family is no longer capable of passing on the faith to the next generation, and neither is the parish, even though it continues to be the indispensable structure for the Church’s pastoral mission in any given place.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “And what is the motivation behind the pedagogical strength? The ‘secret’, so to speak, is found in the charisms which have produced them and which constitute their very soul. It is the charism which produces the ‘spiritual affinity between individuals’ animating a community and movement.”1 Pope John Paul II
  • “The charism is also the source of the extraordinary educating power of the movements and new communities. Here I refer to a formation whose departure point is a deep conversion of heart. It is no accident that these new ecclesial realities include converts, people who ‘come from afar.’”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “...a distinct, specific pedagogical approach which is typically Christ-centered...It develops within Christian communities.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “...these new movements and communities are true schools for the formation of Christian ‘adults’.  As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote some years ago, they are ‘forceful ways of living the faith that stimulate individuals, giving them joy and vitality; their faith really means something for the world.’”1 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Movements know how to awaken a desire to ‘make disciples’ of Jesus Christ, a desire that often moves individuals, married couples, and even entire families to leave everything in order to embrace the communities are responding to one of the most urgent needs of the Church today, which is the catechesis of adults...”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “ is truly surprising to witness the missionary vision which the Holy Spirit has raised up today by means of these new charisms. The movements and new communities have become true missionary ‘schools’ for so many lay...”1 Cardinal Rylko


  • “...God continually stirs up prophetic men (they can be lay persons or religious, but also bishops and priests) who proclaim to it the right word that is not pronounced with sufficient force in the normal course of the ‘institution.’”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...his move...supplements the fatherhood of bishops and priests by the power of a wholly pneumatic life.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...movements generally come from a charismatic leader and they take shape in concrete communities that live the whole gospel anew from the origin and recognize the Church without hesitation as the ground of their life, without which they could not exist.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Above all, communion must not be conceived as if the avoidance of conflict were the highest pastoral value. Faith is always a sword, too, and it can demand precisely conflict for the sake of truth and love.” (cf. Mt.10:34)2 Pope Benedict XVI


  • “Only when the person is struck and opened by Christ...can true community grow.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “The same Gribomont sees the monastic community that Basil founded as a ‘small group for the vitalization of the whole’ and does not hesitate ‘to call (Basil) the patron...of the new communities without vows.’”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Augustine, for example, designed his whole rule ultimately on the basis of Acts 4:32: ‘they were one heart and soul.’”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...movements generally come from a charismatic leader and they take shape in concrete communities that live the whole gospel anew from the origin and recognize the Church without hesitation as the ground of their life, without which they could not exist.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Therefore, there is an urgent need for a strong testimony and a Christian formation. What great need there is of living Christian communities! This is where the ecclesial movements and new communities appear. They are the answer which has been raised up by the power of the Holy Spirit to this dramatic challenge at the end of the millennium. You are this providential answer.”1  Pope John Paul II
  • “And what is the motivation behind the pedagogical strength? The ‘secret’, so to speak, is found in the charisms which have produced them and which constitute their very soul. It is the charism which produces the ‘spiritual affinity between individuals’ animating a community and movement.”1 Pope John Paul II


  • ** “When these movements...are welcomed by bishops and priests...they represent a true gift of God... I therefore recommend that they be spread and that they be used to give fresh energy...”2  Pope John Paul II
  • “In situations of scarcity, the Church must create stopgap structures.... In general the Church must keep the number of self-created administrative structures as small as possible.  It must not over institutionalize itself, but must always remain open to the Lord’s unforeseen, unplanned calls.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...the Church is also criss-crossed by successive waves of new movements, which re-invigorate...also serve the spiritual vitality and truth of the local churches.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • * “Two of the constitutive elements of the reality of ‘movements’ clearly emerge from all this: 
    • a) The papacy did not create the movements, but it did become the principal reference-point in the structure of the Church, their ecclesial support...The Bishop of Rome...his apostolic character.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
    • ** “...from the second century on, when the universal ministries were coming to an end, the papal claim to exercise this aspect of apostolic mission begins to be heard more clearly.  It is no chance, then, that the movements, which go beyond the scope and structure of the local church, always go hand in hand with the papacy.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “There must also always, be in the Church, ministries and missions that are not tied to the local church alone, but serve universal mission and the spreading of the gospel. The pope has to rely on these ministries, they on him, and the collaboration between the two kinds of ministries completes the symphony for the Church’s life.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...I must say quite clearly here that the apostolic movements appear in ever new forms throughout history necessarily, because they are the Holy Spirit’s answer to the changing situations in which the Church lives.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “It is all the more true that movements cannot be organized and planned by authority. They must be given, and they are given. ...we must learn, using the gift of discernment, to accept what is right while overcoming what is unhelpful. One looking back at the history of the Church will be able to observe with gratitude that it has managed, time and again, in spite of all difficulties, to make room for the great new awakenings.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...they are a gift to, and in, the whole of the Church, and must submit themselves to the demands of this totality in order to be true to their own essence. But the local churches, too, even the bishops, must be reminded to avoid making an ideal of uniformity in pastoral organization and planning.2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Primacy and episcopacy, the local ecclesial system and movements need each other.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Thanks to the ecclesiology and the theology of the laity developed by the Council, many groups referred to today as ‘ecclesial movements’ or ‘new communities’ have appeared alongside the traditional associations.”1 Pope John Paul II
  • ** “One of the Spirit’s gifts to our time is truly the flourishing of the ecclesial movements which, from the beginning of my pontificate, I have seen and continue to see as a reason for the hope for the Church and for society”. The Pope was  deeply convinced that these ecclesial movements were a manifestation of a “new missionary advent”, of a great “Christian springtime...”1 Pope John Paul II
  • “Movements know how to awaken a desire to ‘make disciples’ of Jesus Christ, a desire that often moves individuals, married couples, and even entire families to leave everything in order to embrace the communities are responding to one of the most urgent needs of the Church today, which is the catechesis of adults...”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “As we have seen, the ecclesial movements and communities are truly a ‘providential gift’ of God to the Church, a gift that should be received with a living sense of gratitude and responsibility...”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “...the Holy Father insisted that Pastors, bishops and parish priests ought to welcome these groups ‘cordially,’ recognizing and respecting their particular charisms...”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “One notes that something new is beginning: Here Christianity appears as a new reality, and is perceived as a way to live - to be able to live - in today’s world by people who have often come from afar. Today there are ‘isolated’ Christians at the margins of our strange understanding of modernity who are willing to try new ways of living. While they may not get much attention from public opinion, their way undoubtedly points to the way of the future.”1 Pope Benedict XVI
  • ** “According to the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the ecclesial movements and new communities provide something new which makes them a type of prophecy for the future.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “The Church must value these realities while guiding them with pastoral wisdom, so that the Churches and the movements are not separate realities, but rather both constitute the living structure of the Church.”1 Pope John Paul II


  • “It is their task to bring the message of Christ ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8 RSV)…and to make disciples of all men” (Mt. 28:19)2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “...Francis of Assisi and Dominic...wanted simply renew the Church with the Gospel.  And the very fact of being evangelists made it necessary to go beyond the borders of Christendom, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “Apostolic life calls for apostolic activity: pride of place is given, again in different ways, to the proclamation of the gospel as a missionary element.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • “The greatest challenge facing the Church... evangelization.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “As we have seen, the ecclesial movements and communities are truly a ‘providential gift’ of God to the Church, a gift that should be received with a living sense of gratitude and responsibility...”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “We must reflect seriously on how we might carry out a true evangelization today...People don’t know God, they don’t know Christ...paganism is present.” 2 Pope Benedict XVI 
  • “The ecclesial movements and new communities contain a precious evangelizing potential urgently needed by the Church today. Yet their richness has not yet been fully recognized or valued.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “The movements and new communities respond to a second urgent need of great…importance, which is the need for ‘strong testimony.’ All Christian formation ought to have a missionary element...Missionary outreach helps baptized persons to discover the fullness of their own vocation; it helps them overcome the temptation of egoistic selfishness and the subtle danger of seeing the movement or community as a refuge or a way to flee the problems of the world in an environment of warm friendship.”1 Cardinal Rylko
  • “ the indisputable ability to awaken the apostolic enthusiasm and missionary courage of the laity. They know how to draw out the spiritual potential of the laity by helping them smash the barriers of timidity...”1 Cardinal Rylko

Other Comments

  • “...our question: How do we characterize the relationship between the permanent pattern of Church order and ever new charismatic eruptions?”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • ** “Basil, like today’s movements, was obliged to accept the fact that the movement to follow Christ radically cannot be completely merged with the local Church.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
  • ** “Christ lives, and He sends from the Father the Holy Spirit - that is the joyful and life-giving experience that is ours precisely in the encounter with the ecclesial  movements.”2 Pope Benedict XVI
These two papers reveal the high level of enthusiasm and expectations that the movements and new communities have generated in high places in the Catholic Church Three popes and quite a number of cardinals and bishops have spoken of the hope that these new works of the Spirit have generated. They have seen the chance for error, yet they have also seen the chance for new life, new responses of faith in the modern world.

First, we saw that the historical Catholic process of recognizing holiness has leaned heavily toward those who have lived their lives in more community-like environments.

Second, we saw that the very existence of the new communities and some of their important elements are approved and appreciated at the highest leadership levels.

Finally, many Catholics have as their own experience that of having been greatly trained, formed, and blest by some of those living within a religious order. Modern life, however, is not contributing many to the religious orders which are now, and have been for quite some time, in a state of declining membership.

It should not come as a major surprise, then, that the Holy Spirit is raising up lay communities, and that many Catholics have a predisposition to understand and respond to that initiative.

  1. 1 There are denominational differences about the “born again” experi-ence versus the salvation reality which some say takes place at baptism, others at accepting Christ. There are sacramental and experiential differ-ences and emphases.
  2. The Theological Locus of Ecclesial Movements (resource TL), Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1998; p. 1, para.1
  3. On Ecclesial Movements and New Communities (resource M), Cardinal Rylko, Zenit Weekly News Analysis, April 1, 2006; section 3, para. 6
  4. Ibid, section 1, para. 1
  5. Ibid, section 3, para. 7

[This article is excerpted from  Essays on Christian Community, copyright  © Bob Tedesco 2010, published by Tabor House. Used with permission.].
Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 40 years.

 (c) copyright 2014  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom