Monday, November 22, 2010

What is the Church?

The Church, in a word, is Christ. She is His Body; she is Christ in all His fullness (Ephesians 1:23); that is, Christ filled up with all His members. Christians are members of Christ. Only in that secondary and derivative sense can it be said that we are the Church; but to put it that way is still misleading. The Church is not us, but Christ-containing-us, as it were.

Note that the inverse is not true. It doesn’t work to say Christ is the Church, for He is far more than the Church. But the Church is no more – and no less – than the body of Christ, sharing His flesh and His blood (Ephesians 5:30), animated by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The whole Church is the Body of Christ. That is, the Church is not some other body from the neck down, while the Head alone is Christ.  No, not merely her Head, but the whole Church is Christ.

Because the whole Church is Christ, and not only part of it is, the clergy are not a separate, privileged class within the Holy Orthodox Church. They do not stand in the place of the invisible Head; He Himself stands in that place.  They do not act in His Person; He acts in His own Person.  Rather, the clergy act jointly with Him, performing the visible counterpart of His invisible ministry.  When we say, "the Church" we are not using the word as a synonym for "the clergy" but we mean the entire Church. No bishop is the "head" of any Orthodox Church but her shepherd and minister. The Head, like the Whole, is Christ and only Christ. The priests and bishops and patriarchs are not infallible; only the whole Church is, in the consensus built over the span of her whole life and not at any given moment or era in her history. The clergy are not the only ones called to proclaim the Gospel. They are not the only ones to whom the Holy Spirit is given. (1 John 2:27) The clergy are not even necessarily our leaders. That is, we follow whoever manifests the life of Christ in his or her own flesh, whoever speaks in His Voice. We hope our clergy are among those, but it isn’t always so. Ordination is thought of more in functional terms than structural. Priesthood is a particular role, not a special status. If it were a status, it would be wrong to withhold that status from, say, women. But it is not; it is a very particular function, and one that needs a man, and a very particular sort of man. (If you want to acquire status among the Orthodox, humble yourself and strive to become more and more like Christ, allowing Him more and more to live His life in your flesh. Succeed in that and we will revere you and follow you, no matter who you are.)

Another biblical metaphor for the Church is the Vine and the branches. (John 15:5) You cannot separate or even rightly distinguish the two. And the destiny of Christians is to be so transfigured into the image of the Son (Romans 8:29-30) that it will be just as problematic to tell where Christ leaves off and we begin, or where we leave off and He begins.

A third biblical metaphor for the Church is marriage, the union between a husband and a wife. The Church, here, is called the Bride of Christ. Many non-Orthodox people misuse this metaphor to make a distinction between Christ and His Church, but the purpose of the metaphor is the opposite: to speak of the union, of becoming one flesh in the sweet bonds of love.

The Church is not, properly speaking, an institution. The Church has her institutions, and they are all human and suffer from the frailties attendant thereupon. Those institutions may even from time to time be found to be corrupt. But they are not the Church. The Church is the body of Christ and as such, is holy and pure. Even when her members sin, she is always the sinned-against, and not the sinner. The Church is Christ.

Because the Church is Christ, we Orthodox do not speak of Christ “gathering” His Church. Christ is not “gathered”. Rather, He gathers us into His Church; that is, into Himself. Christ, in baptism and chrismation (confirmation) simultaneously incorporates us into Himself and seals our own individuality.

Because the Church is Christ, we do not suppose her subservient to the Holy Scriptures. Christ is not subservient to them. Rather, from within her life in, with, and as Christ, the Church produces the writings; by comparing them with her life in, with, and as Christ, she discerns and proclaims which of the writings to regard as canonical and how to interpret them. The Holy Scriptures are more like an instrument in the hands of the Church than a weapon held over her. It is because of her life in, with, and as Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, that the Church, according to Scripture is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) The Church, having been given the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16), is the guarantor of Truth. The Scriptures bear witness to this Truth. By divine intent, even the angels in heaven learn the Truth “by the Church”. (Ephesians 3:10)

If your denomination doesn't experience itself in this way, it may not really be the true Church after all. 

I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.


GretchenJoanna said...

Thank you, Anastasia. I am reading Thomas Hopko's The Spirit of God right now, and being reminded of the same realities.

Michael Gormley said...

The Amputated Member...

Attention all non-Catholics who "claim" to follow the teaching of Holy Scripture!

Have you ever read 1Corinthians 12:1-31 before?

Have you understood the message written therein?

1. There is but one Body of Christ (vs 12).

2. The Body of Christ is the Church which He founded, Ephesians 1:22-23

3. Therefore the Church which Jesus Christ founded IS Christ.

4. Therefore those who reject His Church, reject Him. Matthew 12:30

5. Since there is but one Christ with one Body, so there must be but one Church. Psalms 127:1, Matthew 16:18

6. The Body (Church) consists of not one member, but many (vs 14).

7. The many members of the one (Church) Body are all part of the same Body but each with his own function (vs's 15-20).

8. The Body of Christ cannot be separated from His Head.

9. Since the Body consists of members, individual members of the Body can be separated from the Head.

10. GOD has said that there must be no discord within the Body (vs 25).

11. However, there was great discord within the one Body, and it was a clear violation of verse 25.

12. It is called the Protestant Revolt .

13. Leaders and members of the Protest ant Revolt Amputated themselves from the one Body (Church) (vs 21).

14. Each member of the Body has his own function, by analogy, an eye, ear, hand, foot (vs's 15-18).

15. Can a hand live by itself, disconnected (Amputated) from the Body, or can an eye, an ear, or a foot?

16. What happens to a member which is Amputated from the Body?

17. The soul does not go with the Amputated member, and thus the member dies.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Which head? Catholics claim two.

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Anastasia Theodoridis,

"For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Romans 12:4-5

These verses clearly do not leave room for Amputated members.

"Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." 1Corinthians 10:17

Show me where Amputated members partake of the "one bread"?

Here is a very interesting observation from Saint Augustine (354-430)...

"What the soul is to man's body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in all members of one body.

But see what you must beware of, see what you must take note of, see what you must fear. It happens that in the human body, or rather, off the body, some member, whether hand, finger, or foot, may be cut away.

And if a member be cut off, does the soul go with it? When the member was in the body, it lived; and off, its life is lost. So too, a Christian man is Catholic while he lives in the body; cut off, he is made a heretic; the Spirit does not follow an amputated member."
(Sermons, 267, 4, 391-430 A.D).


1. The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Body of Christ which is the one Church.

2. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in all members of the one Body.

3. When a member of the Body is Amputated, the soul does not go with it*, and thus the member dies.

4. The Amputated member, when cut off from the Body of Christ, is made a heretic.

5. The Holy Spirit does not follow an Amputated member (heretic).

6. Therefore the Holy Spirit , not following an Amputated member, is only guiding the one Church which Jesus Christ founded.

*Unlike the body which has many parts and can be divided, the soul has no parts and thus cannot be divided.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

The Body from which you think we are amputated, Michael, that Body has one Head, not two.