Starting Points

The Church has never ceased to be. There is unbroken continuity, historically and ontologically, between the one holy Church of the New Testament and the present Church. One characteristic of that undying Church is that it is fully the Body of Christ.

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23 NASB).

Another is that the Church is apostolic. This includes, in part, that the Church hold to and practice all that the Apostles taught and practiced.

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NASB)

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NASB)

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42 NASB)

And the Church is “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15 NASB)

So, in a very truncated form, I am arguing that departure from the Apostles’ teaching, practice, and tradition, is tantamount to a departure from the Church, in whom the fulness of Christ dwells, which is the Body of Christ. Or, as the Church Fathers call it, a theandric (lit., “divine-human”) entity.

The Task at Hand

In the disagreement over women’s ordination is highlighted the very problems involved in the conversation: presuppositions. Tripp and I start out in this dialogue from completely different points. In some ways these points are in diametric opposition (e. g., he allows that the world can/should reform the Church, I adamantly oppose that). In other ways, they may be similar starting points but one or the other of us absolutizes them (e. g., I agree with Tripp that God cannot be completely known, but part company with him when he concludes, therefore “God the Father” is an understanding of God that is merely cultural and can be jettisoned). Tripp sees adherence to Tradition as something like “groupthink.” I see adherence to current cultural mores in the same terms.

So, until we can come to some agreement on starting points, we will continue to talk past one another, misunderstand one another, and, of course, disagree. In short, we cannot begin to discuss points of controversy (abortion, women’s ordination, sexuality) until we come to terms on our presuppositions. Which means, arguing for our competing worldviews.

This, as I see it, is the task at hand. [Note: Doxos has a good post on this very thing.]

At least, in terms of our conversation.

My own task is rather more difficult. Reading the latest issue of The Orthodox Word, which is a celebration of the life and ministry of Fr. Seraphim Rose, and coupled with my recent completion of the 1000-page biography by Hieromonk Damascene, I was struck by Fr. Seraphim’s life. He turned away from what might have been for him a brilliant academic career in eastern philosophy to focus all his life and energy on immersing himself in the life and thought of the Church. At the beginning of his more public ministry, he fought hard and indefatigably for the Faith of the Church, but as his ministry (and he) matured, he turned more from holy polemics to godly praxis. For an academic like myself, his conversion rings bells and strums chords throughout my whole self. For me, who am surely one of the most immature Christians you could meet, his turn from argument to action also hits the center of my heart. Like Fr. Seraphim, my task is not to preach, but to pray and to do.

Maybe my blog should be like this one.

Fr. Seraphim, and all my blogging partners, pray for me a sinner.