Ecumenism VII

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

I’ve said this before, but I thought this might be a nice way to sum up my previous posts on ecumenism.

I would say that the first most important question a person can ask is “Who is the Christ?”

The second most important question is “Where is His Church?”

For there is no such thing as a Church-less Christian (which Ephesians 4, among other texts, nicely affirms).

But it is also manifestly true that not every church or group claiming to be, or be part of, the Church are telling the truth. This is not to say that they are intentionally lying; just that their claims are not consonant with ecclesial reality. For churches and groups fundamentally contradict one another on central issues such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the ordination of women, and human sexuality. And the Holy Spirit would not have led all these groups into these contradictions.

So we are left with two options:
1. Either we must deny that Christ left behind and indwells His Church on earth; or,
2. We must deny that knowing God’s will on important matters such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper really matters.

Neither option is true to Scripture. (Note by the way that option 2 does not necessarily mean we have to have exhaustive knowledge of God’s will. But surely we should be able to work out the major stuff.)

This leaves us with the following facts: Christ did, in fact, leave behind and indwells his Church on earth AND that knowing God’s will on important matters such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper really does matter.

Which leaves us with the second most important question: Where is His Church?

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.
Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II
Ecumenism III]
Ecumenism IV
Ecumenism V
Ecumenism VI]

3 thoughts on “Ecumenism VII

  1. Clifton, your recent posts state much of my own renewing mind re the Church. In simplest terms, I’ve come to know and love more fully both Christ and the Church, His Body. Though I lived decades as a serious Christian, my experience and knowledge of the Church was weak, distorted, indeed very problematic to myself and others. I had resigned myself to this as fact and reality. Having faithfully attended and contributed to various churches over many years(at times vigorously), Christ and his word have been real, faithful, and potent to me in various ways and times. But I did not know the Church as the reality described by you, much less by St John the Wonder Worker! How true and how beautiful it is–even only the small taste, the mere glimpse I see now. To come to know and to love the Church as Christ’s Body and Bride (the source of God’s power, life, and presence) even as we love Christ, sounds simple enough. Just ask and answer the right questions. Right? But knowing and loving the Church, is like knowing and loving Christ, its Head. It is a long, arduous journey of obedience fraught with many twists and turns, sins and dangers. A commenter, Max, asks, ‘Why have ARM (I add: other good, honest Christians and scholars) not availed themselves of the Orthodox Church (OC)?’ I am neither an ARMist, nor the son of an ARMist. I am, however, a brother and uncle of solid ARMists. The question is raised perhaps most poignantly and ironically by ARMist churches, but surely is not limited to them. Yes, “rank individualism” often saturates and colors Protestant experience and ecclesiology. But is that decisive? Why do thoughtful Protestants not embrace the OC? Because neither they, their churches, nor the OC for that matter always are ready (read: sufficiently humble, holy, wise, and loving) for union in Christ’s Body. Yes, we have various historical, cultural, ethnic, familial, political, and theological barriers to “the union of all” in Christ. I believe these are more ways or symptoms of our separation and too often occasions for sin, than they are the deepest cause. I knew a fair bit of history, Scripture, and theology prior to coming to the OC, surely enough to say that I should have known and done better concerning Christ’s Body. But it took more than these for me and my family to come to Christ in the OC. Although I agree with your posts, Clifton, I am not sanguine about the power of words and reasoning to unveil the Mystery that is the Church (Ephesians). Many humble acts of obedience will be required. This is not to say that one should not attempt to reason and explain as you do–and St Paul did (you do keep good company). But much more will be needed of us all. If we face in ourselves and our churches the considerable suffering and sin granted us in our freedom as bearers of the Image, if we read aright the NT (gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypse), and if we humbly ask, “Who will deliver us from this body of death?” we will find that most rare, precious coin. On its one side is inscribed the image of Christ, the slain Saviour and risen Lord, and on the other side that of His Church,the fellowship of the forgiven, the holy, transfigured, and soon-to-be glorified ones. We will then see both the Body and its Head, Christ Jesus the Lord, though we still see the Mystery by faith, through a glass darkly and not yet face to face. In the meantime take to hand and heart the apostolic ways: the love of Christ in the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26;1 Cor 13) and His truth known only in the Spirit. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)

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