What is the church (lite version)?

[To understand what this blog is, read this first.]

Hey Mom,

After that huge letter on Sola Scriptura I’m going to change gears. I don’t want to keep making huge emails of apologetic nature on every topic when I don’t think that’s going to do us any good. I could go in depth on many topics and really beat the subject down, but I’m going to just try to keep the rest smaller, more positive, less focused on Protestantism and more focused on Orthodoxy. I think that’ll be nicer for both of us. 🙂 It might feel like I’m dropping the ball a bit from my previous letter, but I’m just going to drop it unless you really want a deeper treatment of some particular issue. There’s a lot that could be said, but I’ll wait for you to request it.

The definition of the Church par excellance in Orthodoxy comes from the Nicene Creed. In the Nicene Creed, after detailing what we are to believe about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we see this: “In one holy catholic and apostolic church.” This establishes the guide rails for all Orthodox believers on what the Church is, and makes it a statement of the Faith on par with the preceding statements about God.

The Church is “one”. It is not separated into visible and invisible, spiritual and physical, but like Christ having two natures which are different but not separated or confused in one entity. The Orthodox Church holds strongly to a connection with all Christians who have lived for the last 2,000 years and are living now, and continues to see a strong connection with those that are dead and now in the presence of God. It also strongly resists divisions and denominations which would separate the Church into pieces.

It is “holy” because it is the Body of Christ and the Temple of God. The members of the Church as individually called out people, but more importantly the entire community as a whole is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Orthodox members are on a path of union with God that seeks to draw them into holy lives in imitation of Christ.

It is “catholic” because it is the fullness of the faith. Catholic means “wholeness” or “fullness”. It does not mean geographically universal, as the Roman Catholic Church generally holds today. Each local Church is the whole Church (which is hard to understand and harder to explain). It is the Body of Christ connected to Christ through the Eucharist making it whole.

My local parish priest said that when it comes to the relationship of the local parish to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church a very useful metaphor is the hologram (where holo- shares the same root as whole). This is a metaphor that originally comes from Father Laurent Cleenewerck in his book His Broken Body.
If you take a look at a piece of holographic film, it seems a jumbled mess; however, if you shine a laser light through it, you get a beautiful 3D image. If you cut the film in half, shining the laser through one half of the cut film does not result in half the image – the entire 3D image is still there, only smaller. It doesn’t matter how many times you cut the film, or how small a piece of film is, shining a laser light through it still produces the same, beautiful 3D image.
The same thing happens with the “catholicity” of the local parish.  The film is the local parish. The 3D image is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. The laser light is the presence of Christ in the eucharist.

It is “apostolic” in that it derives from and maintains the faith of the apostles, neither adding to or taking away from what was given. The totality of apostolic faith is maintained in a collegial fashion by the entirety of the Church. It is careful to conservatively maintain the revelation which was given. It does not innovate.

The Church is the community of people who are unified with Christ through baptism into his death and resurrection and who are now members of the Body of Christ. It is centered around the Eucharist and connected by it. It is led by a Bishop. It is the recipient of the various promises given by Jesus that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, that it would be given the Holy Spirit to guide it into all truth, that it would not be left an orphan until the end of the age, that it would have unity. It is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

Now here’s my little apologetic section. The Church is called the Body of Christ. The members of the Church that were there at the beginning have all died, but the succession they setup to pass on the traditions of Christ remains in place, and is claimed by the Orthodox. I think that has validity in the same way that the cells of your body are not the original, but are the successors by virtue of having shared DNA and a continuous association in such a way that the collection of cells that make up your body now, while being different than those you had when you were born, are still you. The members of the church have continued in unbroken tradition from the apostles, and that can be nicely spot checked by reading what those members wrote during various ages. Based on what I’ve read I see greatest consistency in the Orthodox Church.

I really love the stability and uniformity that Orthodoxy provides. The belief is unchanging because it is based on revelation from Jesus, who is the Truth, not on scholastic dissection of spiritual matters or abstract thinking. The worship is patterned after the Biblical visions describing heavenly worship and is unaffected by changing fashions here on earth. The connection to past generations in a community is awesome, and very inspiring. The practices of the church have 2,000 years of experience behind them and so have a stability and vitality that is different from the constant reinvention of Protestantism. Overall I think the stability of Orthodox thought, worship, and practice is one of its greatest strengths. I have been bothered for some time with the fragmentation I see in the Protestant culture.

So there you go. It’s not an exhaustive apologetic tome like my last letter, but it’s quicker to read! 🙂 That’s something. I want to really tread lightly on this topic so as not to cause offense or distress unnecessarily. I believe it will be enough for you to know that I have great reservations about the very ambiguous doctrine of Church and the practices prevalent in Protestantism without delving into a lot of specifics, but if I’ve mistaken your needs and you want a more thorough consideration and defense, as in my last letter, just ask and I’ll deliver.

I hope you were able to wade through the Sola Scriptura letter without falling asleep, and maybe have begun to read Ignatius and Frederica. Both are good reads but for very different reasons. If you start getting fed up with it all just let it go for a while. I’m curious to hear about your thinking as it progresses, and it’s ok to tell me even if you are getting some negative emotions built up. Probably talking about it would help. I’m around and ready to chat whenever. I’d love to hear how things are going.

Love you and Happy Thanksgiving,

What is the church (lite version)?

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