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church, aggregation of Christian believers
church, building for Christian worship
- any body of people, social institutions and associated beliefs and practices, constituting a distinctive religious grouping, e.g. the Methodist Church.
- the Christian church as a whole.
(1) A special type of religious organization; an association of followers of any religious movement on the basis of common doctrine and rite. The chief distinguishing features of a church are the presence of a more or less elaborated dogmatic and ritual system, a hierarchical character and a centralized government, and the division of all members into professional ministers of the cult (clergy) and rank-and-file believers (laymen).
In all antagonistic social systems, the church is associated with the ruling classes and carries out important political, legal, and ideological functions, which support and sanctify exploiter relationships. In socialist countries, the church performs solely religious functions. Religious organizations, representing private associations of believers, have a single aim, namely, the joint exercise of religious rites; they are obliged to observe legislation governing cults. In the USSR and a majority of other socialist states, the church is separated from the state.
The church took final shape as an institution during the age of feudalism. In this period, it was especially.closely connected with the whole state and social structure, appearing, as F. Engels remarked, “as the most common synthesis and as the most common sanction of the existing feudal order” (in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, p. 361). The church parish was not only a religious unit but also a social one, a special type of neighborhood community. All the members of society belonged to the church; excommunication from the church was a punishment and all who left the church qualified as heretics. For rank-and-file parishioners (peasants, tradesmen), the church building was not only a place for the exercise of rituals, but also a political and social center. Membership in a given church in the age of feudalism was based mainly not on conscious choice but on family and national traditions. The church was opposed by sects, which consisted of people who had broken away, deserting the dominant religion and advocating, as a rule, a rejection of the existing order. The majority of sects, in contradistinction to the church, were formulated on the basis of individual, conscious entries into the group.
Under capitalism, the position of the church, as also that of other religious organizations, changed substantially. The church lost us monopoly in various fields of intellectual activity, and in a number of capitalist countries, for example France and the USA, it was separated from the state and lost its former legal position.
A “religious pluralism” has arisen, in which religious organizations that are equal before the law compete with one another; with regard to religion, the individual is presented with a certain freedom of choice, a situation that masks the association of religious organizations and, particularly, the church with the ruling class. Capitalist industrialization and urbanization are changing the face of the basic church community: the role of the parish has been changed by the separation between place of work and place of residence, the strengthening of the social and territorial mobility of the population, and the spread of religious indifferentism and free-thinking. The religious group under capitalism does not coincide with any other social community. Many believers perceive their church membership in only a formal way. The differences between the church and sects are disappearing. The church has in fact ceased to include the whole population. Many sects have become mass organizations, losing their former exclusive character; their condemnation of the existing world order has often been replaced by a full acceptance of it.
The largest Christian churches are the Orthodox Church (composed of autocephalous churches), the Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Protestant churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist). Within Protestantism, many sects have been transformed into churches (Methodists, Baptists, and Mennonites).
Within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Judaism, such a clearly expressed corporate, centralized church organization as in Christianity has not developed, although in some cases a hierarchy of clergy exists. At the foundation of these religions lies an emphasis on the identity of the civil and religious community and a rejection in principle of the very idea of their separate existence and therefore of an autonomous religious collective in the form of a church.
D. M. UGRINOVICH
(2) The building for divine services in the Christian religion. In the course of the centuries-long history of Christianity, different types of churches took form among the various peoples, consisting at least of an altar, oriented toward the east, and a place for the congregation adjoining. More often the church is a complex of many interdependent parts.
The chief Christian church of a city or monastery is called a cathedral. A Lutheran church is usually called a kirk or kurk; a Polish Catholic Church is called a kościót.
What does it mean when you dream about a church?
A dream of a church often represents something sacred to the dreamer or symbolizes that the dreamer’s prayers, or prayers by others are being answered. It may also represent a deep inner need for spiritual nourishment or atonement.