What type of Church has salvation?
The core of the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth was not the Church, but the Kingdom of God: a utopia of total revolution/reconciliation of the whole of creation. This is so true that the Gospels, with the exception of St. Matthew, never speak of the Church, but always of the Kingdom. With the rejection of the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth, the Kingdom was also gone. Instead, the Church appeared as a community of those who gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus and kept His legacy, trying to live it throughout history.
From the beginning, a bifurcation was established: the bulk of the faithful took Christianity as a spiritual path, in
dialogue with the cultural environment. Another, much smaller, group, under the control of the Emperor, took over the moral leadership of the severely decadent Roman Empire. In organizing the community of faith, this group copied the imperial juridical-political structures. This group, the hierarchy, structured itself as «sacred power» (sacred potestas). This was a very risky path, because if there is one thing that Jesus always rejected, it was power. To Him, the three expressions of power, as they appear in the temptation of the desert –prophetic, religious and political–, when they reflect domination rather than service, belong to the sphere of the diabolical. Nevertheless, this was the path followed by the Church -a hierarchical institution, modeled on an absolutist monarchy that refuses to allow the laity, the great majority of the faithful, to participate in that power. The Church thus comes down to us under a cloud of very deep distrust.
It so happens that love disappears when power predominates. In effect, the organizing principle of the hierarchical Church is bureaucratic, formal and often inflexible. In the hierarchical Church, everything has a price; nothing is either forgotten or forgiven. There is practically no space for mercy, or for a true understanding of the divorced and of the homo-affectionate. Its imposition of priestly celibacy, deeply-rooted anti-feminism, distrust of everything related to sexuality and pleasure, the cult for the personality of the pope, and its pretense of being the only true Church and the «unique guardian of the eternal, universal and immutable natural law established by God», brought it, in words of Benedict XVI, to «assume a directive function over the whole humanity». In 2000, then cardinal Ratzinger repeated in the document, Dominus Jesus, the medieval doctrine that «outside the Church there is no salvation» and that those who are outside «are in grave risk of damnation». This type of Church surely does not have salvation. It is slowly losing sustainability all over the world.
What would be a Church worthy of salvation? It would be one that humbly returns to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the simple and prophetic laborer, incarnated Son, imbued with the divine mission of announcing that God is here, with divine grace and mercy for all; a Church that recognizes other Churches as different expressions of the sacred inheritance of Jesus; that is open to dialogue with all religions and spiritual paths, seeing therein the action of the Spirit that always arrives before the missioner; one that is ready to learn from the accumulated wisdom of all of humanity; that renounces all power and spectacularizing of the faith, such that it is not a mere facade of a non-existent vitality; one that appears as «advocate and defender» of the oppressed of any class, that is willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom, as did her founder; where her pope would courageously renounce the pretense of juridical power over everyone and instead would be a symbol of reference and of unity of the Christian Proposal, with a pastoral mission of strengthening all in faith, hope and love.
Such a Church is in the range of our possibilities. We need only to immerse ourselves in the spirit of the Nazarene. Only then would it be the Church of humans, the Church of Jesus of Nazareth, of God, the corroboration of the truth of Jesus’ utopia of the Kingdom. It would be a place for realizing the Kingdom of the liberated, to which all of us are called.