I’ve been working on preparation for recording my twenty part history of the church podcast. For those of you who might listen, I’ve decided it is so important that it will be free on the blog, and through other outlets, and not just for Donor Subscribers.

The podcast series will be called Triumphs and Tragedies – a Short History of the Catholic Church. During the first session today it occurred to me why and when the church goes wrong. It goes wrong when, for a whole range of reasons she takes her eye off the ball and forgets what the main reason for existence really is.

The Church is the Body of Christ so the Church does in the world today what Jesus did when he was here. What he did was very simple: He conquered evil. He did this in five ways. 1. He taught the truth of God and defeated the devil of lies. 2. He healed the sick and so defeated the devil of disease 3. He forgave sins and so defeated the devil of sin. 4. He cast out demons and so confronted the devil himself. 5. He suffered, died and rose again and so defeated the devil of death.

This is what he did, and as long as the church does those five things the church will continue to survive and thrive. As long as the church does those five things she will be filled with supernatural power to overcome evil. As long as the church does these five things she will prevail in the world and be triumphant no matter what is thrown at her.

However, as soon as she turns away from these five things and begins to do anything else–no matter how good it seems and no matter how sincere the Christians are who do it, then she begins to operate under her own steam and things are done according to the human nature and in man’s power not God’s power. It doesn’t matter whether the other things are sin and corruption, greed and graft and immorality or whether the other things are good deeds–the corporal works of mercy and making the world a better place–unless these things are done as part of Christ’s mission on earth, they are simply good works and are empty.

When the church turns away from the primary mission of Christ in the world, then things start to go adrift. When things are done in human power and not in the power of the Spirit, then pride creeps in. Greed creeps in. Ambition creeps in. Lust creeps in. Love of money creeps in. All the things which corrupt the church–all these things creep in.

When people turn from the truth of God heresy and false teaching creep in. When people turn from the healing and forgiving ministry of Christ and substitute good works and being kind, softness and complacency creep in. When people turn away from battling evil and justify wrong and say everyone will go to heaven one day, the devil takes over and sin begins to prosper and thrive. When people turn away from the sacrifice of fasting and prayer and martyrdom (by which we identify with the cross of Christ) the religion becomes one of therapeutic moralism

If you want to identify the health of a church of the sickness of a church look to these five things to see if they are doing the work of Christ in the world: 1. are they teaching the truth–the full gospel of the faith once delivered to the saints? 2. Are they reaching out to heal? 3. Are they forgiving in Christ’s name? 4. Are they battling against evil in their midst to the best of their ability? 5. Are they living lives of sacrifice and loving the Mass as a way to participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ in the world?

There you will find a healthy, spirit filled, dynamic and triumphant church. If not–even if it appears to be a happy place–you will find a church that is rotten.