Where is the Church?

I generally do not comment on ecclesiology on social media. I believe that the Orthodox Church is the historic and eschatological Church of Jesus Christ in fullness of truth, beauty, life; but I also see beyond her bounds divided and separated Churches that are the homes of millions of believers. They too, in some way, come under the providence and plan of God. It’s an insolvable mess, yet I have to believe that God is in charge and is using this mess for the salvation of souls and world.

Always, when asked, I direct a person first to a nearby Orthodox Church. That is where I know one will find the apostolic faith and encounter the risen Christ in his eucharistic glory. After that, it’s in God’s hands, as it always has been.

And that is probably more I have said about ecclesiology in the past decade.

When one is in inquirer mode—as some of you, my readers, are—all one can do is investigate, study, pray, listen, obey. As Eli instructed Samuel:  “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, ‘Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

John Henry Newman gave this prayer to inquirers:

O my God, I confess that Thou canst enlighten my darkness–confess that Thou only canst. I wish my darkness to be enlightened. I do not know whether Thou wilt; but that Thou canst, and that I wish, are sufficient reasons for me to ask, what Thou at least hath not forbidden my asking. I hereby promise Thee that by Thy grace which I am seeking, I will embrace whatever I at length feel certain is the truth, if ever I come to be certain. And by thy grace I will guard against all self-deceit which may lead me to take what nature would have, rather than what reason approves.

May our Lord guide and protect us and keep us safe in his loving arms.

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12 Responses to Where is the Church?

  1. Andrew says:

    Discussion open on this topic? If so, I am wondering (as an Orthodox Christian who struggles with this question) on what basis you make this claim? Fidelity to the seven ecumenical councils? Authentic spirituality? Conciliarism? Monarchy? If you’d prefer not to discuss the matter further, understood. Thanks, Happy 4th!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    You ask, Andrew, on what basis I claim that the Orthodox Church is the historic and eschatological Church, and you mention various elements that might contribute to that claim. The elements, and others, no doubt contributed to my entry into Orthodoxy; but now that I’m inside I acknowledge and receive Orthodoxy’s self-consciousness that she is the Church. Orthodox debate precisely what this claim means, as do Catholics, who make a similar claim about their Church; but all Orthodox recognize that the Orthodox Church does not see herself as a denomination among denominations. Take a look at this article about denominationalism by George Weigel. Most of his arguments may also be invoked on behalf of Orthodoxy. Denominationalism is the default mindset here in America. I think it needs to be resisted, while at the same time maintaining ecumenical openness.

    I don’t know how to prove Orthodoxy’s ecclesial claim, anymore than I know how to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ. Both claims are scandalous and ultimately received by faith. Nor do I believe that the ecclesial claim entails the unchurching of other Christian churches, as if they do not possess evangelical truth and ecclesial reality. I suppose that makes me a liberal and progressive in the eyes of some. But when I compare the truth of what I receive and experience in the Divine Liturgy and offices, I find that Orthodoxy’s claim is repeatedly confirmed—confirmed despite the bad preaching of priests and the manifold sins and lukewarm faith of her members.

    Does that help?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew says:

      Yes it does help, Fr, and I thank you for your reply. I am not continuing this conversation in a spirit of controversy, at least I hope I’m not. I’m simply genuinely perplexed by my experience in the Orthodox Church the last fifteen years. If I knew then what I know now about what appears to be the obligatory understanding of the Church among the Orthodox I don’t know if in good conscience I could have converted. Of course denominationalism is rejected out of hand because it is un sacramental and the sacraments are the life of Church. I guess I don’t see how ecumenical openness can truly be held if the Orthodox understand themselves to be THE one, holy, apostolic Church as opposed to “part” of this Church or “participating” in this Church. Also, if one maintains that the seven councils are to be accepted wholeheartedly, complete, and without doubt as divinely inspired then I don’t see how one could avoid coming to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit inspires or sets His seal upon coercion and force. And there’s the bind. Accept the councils without question and you are left with divine sanction upon coercion. But there is no apparent alternative outside of eschatological/chiliastic/theocratic speculation (ie Bulgakov for the speculation, Zernov for understanding of coercion and the councils). In RC ecclesiology at least this smacks you in the face when considering for instance the case of Pope Vigilius. In the end the problem persists for both the OC and the RC in my opinion. Thanks for the link, I’ll take a look.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I beg to differ: The sacraments are not the life of the Church; Christ, the life-giving Spirit, is our life. While God certainly makes concession to one’s belief that the sacerdotal way is normative for that knowing of God, which is eonian life, it is my conviction, that such conviction hides a subconscious fear of intimacy with God. Ancient liturgy stands in such a sharp contrast to that simple communion the saints enjoyed in those early years following Pentecost, that I’m amazed that Orthodox Christians, familiar with The Book of Acts, do not notice that contrast.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Andrew, may I push you a bit on the question of dogma? You equate ecclesial dogma as an expression of divine coercion. I disagree and suggest a different way of looking at it—namely, as the Spirit’s guidance of the Church by the stipulation of grammatical rules for the interpretation of Scripture and the preaching of the gospel. Without this guidance, we would be stuck in some form of sola scriptura, with everyone battling over how to interpret the written text of the Scriptures. 14 years ago back when I was an Episcopalian, I wrote a series of articles on dogma on my now defunct and long-disappeared blog Pontifications. Fortunately, I saved these articles and made them available on a briefly revived Pontifications. You can find them under the section “Dogma.” Take a look and see if they help. Dogma, true dogma, is liberating, not coercion.

        Unfortunately, Orthodox theology has not spent much time reflecting on how dogmatic statements, which are always issued in history in response to very specific teachings, are to be interpreted and employed. Many treat them as divine oracles that simply fell from heaven. This is naive and simplistic, IMHO. Dogmatic statements must be interpreted within their historical context, and this task of interpretation inevitably involves disagreement and controversy—it’s inescapable. Also, take a look at my article “Dogma and Doctrine in the Orthodox Church.”

        So what does one do if one, in conscience, cannot accept a particular dogma of the Church. Roman Catholics have long struggled with this and perhaps we can learn from them how we should faithfully live out such disagreement, maintaining both conscience and respect for magisterial teaching.

        Feel free to contact me by email: tigana99@hotmail.com.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        It seems to me Andrew your struggle is with fundamentalism, that desire for unquestionable certainty, an pretender which neither requires faith nor allows for inquiry.

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  3. Art says:

    Timely post. If you are interested, take a look at my blog.

    In the midst of the weeds there you’ll find a thread of spiritual pursuit and longing that has taken me from nominal Presbyteriant to passive agnostic through eastern philosophy (primarily influenced by, even today, the Dao) to Oneness Pentecostal into a Trinitarian charismatic church loosely affiliated with Foursquare (Aimee Semple McPherson’s church not the business app) while in the mids tof a seven year study and pursuit of Islam to my current attendance at a non-denominational megachurch loosely tethered to the Church of Christ where I’ve been for the past fifteen years.

    Spiritually and intellectually the last few years of my path have taken me through the works of Olivier Clement, Vladimir Lossky, Dmitru Stanisloae, John Behr and the Church Fathers and has brought me to your doorstep here.

    Though I have inquired and did attend one Sunday service at a local Russian Orthodox church during my studies, I simply have not made the leap to attend a Saturday or Sunday service due mostly to family obligation both in a good way – grandchildren on Saturday night into Sunday – and in a more binding way – current church attendance, including the grandchildren.

    Not necessarily unhappy with the church (although we almost bolted after the last election when political fervor infiltrated it; truthfully, I may be forever tainted by that) but over the past few months the limits of its theological depth, especially its worship songs, has really begun to leave me longing for something more (though as a former addict I am always cautious when the ‘something more’ beckons).

    I would imagine this ‘something more’ is what leads to pursue, even convert to, Eastern Orthodoxy.

    I appreciate your site and its varieties of challenges and inspirations. It is remarkable and unique in both content and openness to exploration. Quite often when I pursue a particular question I end up right here. From a purist point of view I may not be all the way there but I trust in His grace, mercy and leading no matter where, or how, this ends up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bdanmo says:

      Hi Art! You have a fascinating story. After reading it, I thought that you may also want to follow Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog, “Glory to God for All Things.” Between this blog and that one, you can find articles written on almost any topic you can imagine!

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  4. I think I heard George Dragas once contend that Christ constitutes his church. Surely this doesn’t explain everything, but to borrow Luther, in beholding him we can know we belong to him. I’ve all but given up on trying to locate the truest or purest church, because as I see it all are fraught with almost irreconcilable inconsistencies – if not in doctrine then certainly in practice. As much as I love Orthodoxy and am enriched by its rich tradition and theology, I am not inclined to leave behind my Reformed heritage at this point because it is where I feel called (often ironically) to remain. But, this isn’t to say I do not find Orthodox ecclesiastical claims to be preposterous, on the contrary I take them quite seriously. All I can say at this point is that wherever people are gathered in Christ’s name, he is truly in their midst in spite of whatever defects are present in their gathering. But, thank you Fr. Kimel for the thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Grant says:

    I can certainly understand some of Andrew’s difficulties, as even once you come to accept and believe the view held by the ancient churches that there is one historic and eschatological Church of Jesus Christ in it’s fullness, the problem to an outsider is still which one is it? The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox or Assyrian Church as each has I believe this same self-consciousness, it can be difficult. And sadly I don’t believe there is truly such a thing as being able to in a unbiased assess the relative claims and evidence and arrive at a correct answer. We don’t exist in some independent objective vantage point from what we would research and interact with, we are products and effected by our environment, times, family and social circles, interests and inclinations, past histories, worldviews past and present, biases and presences, intellectual abilities and skills and many other complex things that effect us and how we view the world and things around us.

    Not that I don’t think we can anything but I think all fall prey to the view such things are just self evident when often they are not (two people can well arrive at very different conclusions in all faith and sincerity and from serious thought). Though Christian history itself reveals (not least in that such divided groups exist in the first place) that so we shouldn’t believe ourselves to be immune from such things and just believe that God’s grace works through such things and perhaps we can know to not be distressed by worry as we seek and reflect on such things (as I think it becomes absurd to see God thwarted just because some faithful followers came to a few erroneous conclusions, and of course we don’t see the full Church right now, that only is unveiled later, and for those of us who are universalists that ultimately includes all humanity).

    The only other problem might be getting to the church you believe to be the Church when such is not easily available to you, or possibly at all. Do you go to another that isn’t (say you think Eastern Orthodox is, but there isn’t a local congregation available) do you got to one that isn’t (say a Roman Catholic one in the previous example), and do you join, would it be right to partake of the Eucharist (it doesn’t seem that it would be). That of course can raise difficulties upon which you believe the true Church to lie.

    Things do usually seem to be very messy 🙂

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    • Paz says:

      Grant, the way I understand it, “Truth” is an evolving process which ultimately includes all humanity- Universal.

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  6. Jacob says:

    If one follows the principle of Apostolic Succession then I think its reasonable to direct someone to a Eastern Orthodox Church who is seeking. The Catholic Church recognises sacramental grace and validity of their orders and liturgy and have kept the liturgical life intact and the same since before the great schism.

    If ecumenical statements are anything to go by both Oriental and Assyrian Churches recognize the orthodoxy of the eastern churches christology and in turn the Catholic Churches.

    From there one can either progress to a positive (the Papacy) or a negative (Protestantism) if they are compelled in their search or calling, whatever you want to call it.

    Like

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