The Problem of Church


My title may sound a bit strange – for I do not mean to say “the Problem of the Church” – but simply the problem that something exists called “the Church” creates for modern Christianity. My thoughts are occasioned by a question posed to one of my recent posts. I assumed that the person posing the question was an evangelical or protestant of some sort – for the statements that were questioned centered around the problem of Church.

As I have been writing recently about boundaries, the one boundary I have avoided is the most obvious: what constitutes the boundary of the Church? The question can be answered in a variety of ways depending on the tradition from which it is viewed. It seems to me that most Christians would readily agree that there is a boundary to Church. This is the Church, this is not the Church. But, of course, how the question gets answered is indeed the problem.

I recall a few years back (and doubtless continuing), within Anglicanism the question was raised as to whether a person who is not Baptized should be admitted to communion. Within the Christian Church (the denomination that uses that title) this is common policy. This is radically “open communion.” Of course, when a Buddhist kneels at your altar rail and takes communion, what does it mean? What is in fact happening? What does the communion itself mean?

In conversations between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox the “problem” of the Church is much simpler even if it seems to prove constantly intractable. Both generally understand that the Church is a visible entity, not merely a “mystical Body of Christ” or “invisible Church.” This latter idea is a late invention of the Protestant Reformation in which the Church ceases to be a visible entity and becomes a group of people known only to God alone. It solves many problems for the pluriform nature of Protestantism (some 20,000 different groups now). It also has the convenience of being easily harmonized with the individualism of American culture which is gradually sweeping the globe. “I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, therefore I am in the Church.” This, of course, has the added benefit of not having to deal with the problem of other people.

Most of the problems in my life over the last 30 years or so have been in the context of Church. It is the location of my closest friends as well as my most aggravating companions. Hopefully all of them will forgive me. But were the Church to exist only in some mystical form, only as the invisible Church – frankly nothing would bother me. I could read the books I choose and my Bible and believe as I will or will not and me and Jesus will get along just fine.

Of course, all of that latter sentiment is delusion. It is only my imaginary relationship with Christ (if the Church is invisible it is little more than imaginary). It is the visible character of the Church, and the possibility of boundary (everything visible has some boundary) that creates the “problem.”

For if there is a boundary, then someone is not within the Church. If there is a boundary then you can be inside it or you can be outside of it. And there is the problem. Who says where the boundaries are to be set?

Many modern churches (Protestant) have side-stepped the issue and generally lowered or dropped the boundaries altogether. This of course makes those who believe in visible boundaries seem exclusivist or outlandish in their claims.

Thus the embarassment or rudeness one encounters when speaking with the Orthodox or with some Roman Catholics (I try to avoid being rude).  But there is such a thing as the historical Church. It can be identified with historical confidence. That the Eastern Orthodox Church is in direct succession of the Apostles and those whom they appointed is not a faith claim but a simple historical fact. The same has to be granted to Roman Catholicism, although the Orthodox generally would offer the criticism that Rome has departed in some important ways from the Tradition they were given (but this becomes a matter of discussion and debate between Rome and the Orthodox which is not my purpose here). I’m sure Rome would return the favor.

But there is a vast common ground in that conversation. Both agree that the Church is visible and recognize its historical life. The multiplicity of schisms that have created modern Protestantism is a creature of another sort. There, churches can be created by a single individual so long as they can convince some other individuals to join. Indeed, in the MegaChurch model, all denominational labeling is generally hidden. It’s just Church, or something like that.

I started this post with a title – the Problem of Church. I believe that an important milestone in the maturing of a Christian life is coming to grips with this problem. It is recognizing that the Church is God’s creation and not man’s; that the Church existed before I was born; that it may have boundaries; and that I might be outside the boundaries. This is like growing up and realizing the difference between marriage and dating (especially some of the bizarre forms that modern dating has taken).

When a Christian begins to read the Bible seriously (including the many passages on the Church) and to read even a few centuries of Church history, questions frequently begin to form and generally head in the direction of the historical Church. Many of the Protestants who come through the doors of my Orthodox Church are precisely in such a situation. The lack of boundaries in much of modern Protestantism will eventually dictate its extinction. That “such and such” a megachurch ever existed may not have any historical significance – or that it was this megachurch and not that megachurch may not have mattered. Many of the traditional Protestant denominations are quickly placing themselves in line for extinction as boundaries cease and meaning disappears.

I will restate the problem as a conclusion for this post. The Problem of the Church is that there is one. Whatever free associations man has created, there still exists a Church whose life is rooted in that first community in Jerusalem and stretches through the centuries into the present. It is not a problem to be solved – but it is a challenge to the fiction of invisible Churches and boundary-less associations.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





38 responses to “The Problem of Church”

  1. Meg Avatar

    This reminds me of a quote attributed to Billy Graham: “You can search and search for the Perfect Church, and the minute you join it — it’s not perfect anymore.” (Something quoted to me when I became Orthodox, BTW.) But the thing is — since it *is* Christ’s Church, it *is* already perfect. Its members may not be perfect, but the Church is more than the sum total of Her parts, no?

    As for inter-communion, that’s easy. You just stop believing in the fact that you’re receiving Christ’s Body and Blood, you water the whole Sacrament down to a symbol, and then anybody at all can be welcome at the Table. Sigh.

  2. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    I once quipped in a conversation (rather casually and without much deep thought about it) something to the effect that as long as Evangelical/Charismatic/Non-denominational Protestantism (my “denomination” for most of the past 30 years) makes the individual the locus of salvation, it can never develop a mature or defined ecclesiology. (Feel free to critique or comment on this perhaps flippant statement.)

  3. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    In my opinion this issue of ecclesiology is the last issue for the Reformation.

    When a Protestant begins to honestly struggle with ecclesiology, his choices become few indeed.

    Didn’t someone once say that to be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant?

  4. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    The quote (at the end of section 5.):


    Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends:—Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

    And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.


    And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: “So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that ‘when they rose in the morning’ her true seed ‘were all dead corpses’—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone. ‘The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.’ Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!—then the enemy was drowned, and ‘Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore.’ But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood ‘out of the serpent’s mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.’ Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.”

    – Introduction, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, by John Henry Newman

  5. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Newman – you’ll make my Catholic readers happy. I would agree with him in general with one important observation in addition. We’re not talking about a situation created by ourselves, but one which we all inherited. When I was a child I hardly knew anything existed other than the Baptist Church. As a teen I found historic Christianity and made my journey through that path.

    But for many, the questions are only forming, or are only in the process of forming. Ecclesiology is not a strong issue for Protestants – and this was not of the present generation’s making. Thus I always worry about coming off judgmental or uncharitable when I address the subject – though you cannot avoid the subject and say anything that is complete or full about the Christian faith. Christ founded a Church – it was His idea.

    But given the mess our sins have made of history we must be kind to one another and charitable while at the same time saying what we believe to be true.

    My confidence lies in a God who is good and loves mankind. Otherwise there could be only despair.

  6. Steven CC Avatar
    Steven CC

    A connection between your last two posts occurred to me, Father. Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious.

    It’s true that Christ, not man, created the Church. It’s also true that the Church is simply Israel, with children raised up for Abraham from stones, so to speak.

    The concept of Church shouldn’t be that surprising given the Old Testament, the priesthood of Aaron, the temple, etc. But perhaps, because many insist on reading the OT independently from the New Testament, this proposition escapes them.

  7. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    I agree with Barnabus Powell. History tells the story of the Church and its documents fill in the details. That’s why we must read the Church Fathers.

  8. ben Avatar

    Hmm, I was just corresponding with someone about this subject, my basic position:

    –The history of Protestantism seems to me to be a history of denying or diluting one “hypostatic union” after another: First by spiritualizing (or, say, ‘de-incarnating’) the concept of “the Church”, then most of the sacraments, then shortly thereafter the Eucharist (by most Protestants, anyway), and then, with liberal theology, Christ’s own divinity! Their history since then has been re-installing the “hypostatic unions” back into their theology: Barth et al banged home the unmitigated divinity of Christ, and it seems that since then Protestant thought has been engaged in a slow journey of rediscovering what was never forgotten by RCs and EOs. I expect the beginnings of a rediscovery of the doctrine of at least some kind of Real Presence in the Eucharist in the coming decade, preceeded by and coupled with a re-“real”ized sacramentality. Apostolic succession will be the last thing though–how to reclaim those lines once they’ve been so thoroughly erased? How to begin the search when those who actually objectively hold those lines have been a priori nixed from consideration?–

  9. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    Interesting comment on the “re-realizing” of Protestants.

    Father Stephen, your detailed explanation of the fact that identifying anything visible that you can point to requires identifying real boundaries–very well articulated. And so much to the point, in my opinion.

    I did not come to the Orthodox Church because of digging into history per se. I came because I saw, as you said, “churches can be created by a single individual so long as they can convince some other individuals to join.” Something about that was clearly wrong, and philosophically flawed. Apostolic succession is the rational choice, has more dignity, and includes values like respect and godly submission. But Martin Luther does make for a great American cowboy.

    I continue to be intrigued by my siblings and close friends (nearly all of them ordained) who don’t want anything to do with the idea of a visible church. I consider it near lunacy, but they can’t see that at all. They yearn for “experience” and “depth” and “fulness” and equate real boundaries with division, strife, and “a form of godliness but denying its power.”

    While some avoid any distinctions out of cowardice, I think my family/friends are willing to take a stand for the truth. That’s not the core issue. They just don’t believe there is such a thing as a true church to take a stand for. They never seen or experienced the concept.

    Trying to think of an analogy . . . it’s almost like a kid with absent or even abusive parents, who gives up hope for ever having good parents, ever having some good foster parents, and decides that there really, in fact, is no such thing as parents. He encourages society to create test tube babies and to stop denying every adult in the world the right to claim parenthood over all children. How exclusive and judgmental to say Mr. Jones can’t be Tommy T. Tube’s father!

  10. Trevor Avatar

    I agree with the substance of this post and much of the ensuing discussion, but there is one point that seems a bit unfair (at least in my limited experience). You write:

    “Most of the problems in my life over the last 30 years or so have been in the context of Church. It is the location of my closest friends as well as my most aggravating companions. Hopefully all of them will forgive me. But were the Church to exist only in some mystical form, only as the invisible Church – frankly nothing would bother me. I could read the books I choose and my Bible and believe as I will or will not and me and Jesus will get along just fine.”

    I suppose the point here is true, as far as it goes, but unless I’m misreading the argument, it implies something of Protestantism that often is not true. The way I learned Protestant ecclesiology, the Church (in the big sense) is invisible and fits your description; but there is also the local church, which is external and visible and includes all the messiness of human relationships. While the invisible, universal Church includes only true believers in Christ, the local church includes everyone present. (There is some fuzziness here, depending on how strong a sense of membership is embraced–does it include only those who have chosen to become members, or anyone and everyone who walks through the doors?) To the extent that the local church is embraced as a reality in the life of the Christian, all those bothersome things (and people) you talk about remain, and there is no excuse for taking a “me and Jesus” attitude.

    I’m not trying to justify Protestant ecclesiology–only pointing out that when it includes the local church as a concrete entity, it does not work very well as an exemption from interpersonal responsibility. And at least in some Protestant churches, there is a definite priority on living one’s faith in light of that responsibility.

    Of course, though, there is a loophole–if things get too rough, you can always pack up and move to a different local church. A good pastor will tell you why that’s a bad idea, but the hole is there nonetheless.

  11. Stephen Avatar

    I also agree that there is a problem with the “invisible” church concept, but I also think that by protraying it as something wholly individualistic, you aren’t quite accurate. At least, not all the time. There seems to be so many variations and differences, yet also broad groupings of Christians that any blanket statement is sure to be called a straw man.

    I grew up as an MK, and our mission’s policy on denominations was “major on the majors, minor on the minors.” So I have grown up going to all kinds of churches with different names but all essentially evangelical. And in my own searching over the past couple of years I have attended a lot of different churches, and I think there is more cohesion, at least among evangelical churches, than meets the eye. I mean, I have attended an evangelical Mennonite Brethern church, an evangelical Anglican church, evangelical independent churches and house churches, and in basic style and teaching they are all about the same, ie with a worship band and a expository sermon. These churches also have more in common with each other than with their particular denomination, if they are part of a denomination. So it seems to me that despite all the names, there is a movement in evangelicalism towards abolishing difference, and whether intentional or not a “evangelical” para-denomination is being formed, regardless of what the sign out front of the church actually says. Of course, all of this is still invisible, which is my problem with the whole thing because I don’t know where the lines are drawn. And it also seems to be very easy for the lines to shift so it is sometimes hard to know whether you are in the “in” crowd or not. And then there is the matter of what counts as a major different, and what is a minor different.

    I guess at the end of the day I am glad that evengalicals at least are moving away from labels and towards some sort of unity. I’m hoping that it will continue until concrete boundaries are established, and those boundaries will be within Orthodoxy. Because the current loose boundaries seem to me quite flimsy and too easy to break.

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dean Arnold says: “They yearn for “experience” and “depth” and “fulness” and equate real boundaries with division, strife, and “a form of godliness but denying its power.”

    Thus the Church is not just about one’s communion with Jesus Christ, it is about a perception of the Holy Spirit. For many the idea of visible boundaries limits the activity and the grace of the Holy Spirit to man-made categories, times and places. Protestantism is not the only place one finds such ideas as they are also found in the free-form religiousity of those who reject all forms of religion and seek only to “live in the spirit”.

    There is an incredible amount of evidence to refute such ideas, theological, philosophical, experiential, and empirical. Ultimately, people equate structure and hierarchy with tyranny unwilling and unable to distiguish genuine authority from simple power. The hard truth all of us must face and I do poorly is that obedience to God and therefore to the visible boundaries He has established, is freedom.

  13. reid Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, you have been gracious in presenting your thoughts and understanding from the Orthodox position. And I realize that my response is probably influenced by the feeling of being defensive after having read the post and comments. That being said, some of the comments suggest that all Protestants or Evangelicals have bought in completely to the many problems in Protestantism that flowed out of the Reformation, or that there is nothing good to be found outside of the OC. If only the Protestants and Evangelicals would read and understand HISTORY, everyone would become Orthodox, everyone would finally be on the right side.

    But it is exactly my personal history that has been the strongest influence on my being Protestant or Evangelical. Just reading and understanding Church history will not in itself change my history.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Reid, while I can’t speak for Fr. Stephen I can say that once some one identifies and participates in a group, any group, they begin to take on the beliefs and thought processes of that group, good and not so good. As an Orthodox believer, for instance, I am subject to the difficulties of the jurisdictional divisions, ethnic and otherwise even though I don’t “by into them completely”. When discussing such broad topics as ecclesiology, generalizations have to be made. I can actually understand how certain aspects of the history of the Church might repel some. However, my own conversion, as well as many I know personally and have read about, grew out of a longing for and an appreciation for the historical continuity of the Holy Spirit’s work through the Orthodox Church and a recognition of the significant historical discontinuity represented by both the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. Nothing in that diminishes my respect for those in both traditions who do their best to conform their lives to the Will of God and the Person of Jesus Christ.

  15. Matt Redard Avatar
    Matt Redard

    Father Stephen,

    Outstanding post. This is the reality that smacked me in the forehead several years ago as I started researching the history of the Church. I wanted to know what else there was besides the Bible, D.L. Moody and Billy Graham.

    Boy, was I in for a shocker . . .

  16. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    Matt Redard
    Mar 21st, 2007 at 11:42 am
    Father Stephen,

    Outstanding post. This is the reality that smacked me in the forehead several years ago as I started researching the history of the Church. I wanted to know what else there was besides the Bible, D.L. Moody and Billy Graham.

    Boy, was I in for a shocker . . .

    Are you the “Matt Redard” who lives in Plano, TX? If so, we’re nearly neighbors (as the crow flies).

  17. Matt Redard Avatar
    Matt Redard


    Yes, that’s me. Frisco, actually.

    Have we talked?

  18. ochlophobist Avatar

    Stephen is right about the homogeneity of Evangelicals. One might also find a homogeneity among mainline liberals. Humans tend toward the normalization and repetition of forms. The problem, if I may, with Evangelicalism, and I say this as a person who owes much to the movement, is that its forms morph and change, by ecclesiastical standards, at an astounding pace. Its worship and preaching styles today look very little like they did 50 years ago, and we might presume that 50 years from now they will look little like they do today. One need only read Christianity Today and Books & Culture to sense that Evangelicals may be moving, even if at a slower pace, on certain issues of doctrine, take woman’s ordination as one example. Evangelicalism seems to be tightly connected, even driven by, the “Christian marketplace” and its currents seem to be coerced by marketing style religious commercialism. Thus it might truly be called a popular religion and it seems that it will change with the general whim of its masses. There are certain built-in restraints, no doubt, but even those might be bought and sold given enough time. I love so much of Evangelicalism’s past (the missions movement, Keswick, greats like A.W. Tozer, the music of Rich Mullins), but I fear for its future.

  19. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    Matt Redard
    Mar 21st, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Yes, that’s me. Frisco, actually.

    Have we talked?

    No, but as fellow Orthodox catechumens (I think you said you were that on another blog – or are you just Ortho-friendly?) in the metroplex, I’d love to meet you. My email link is active at present at my Weblog. Send me a note via my profile email link so I know how to contact you, and I’ll reply.

    (Thanks, Fr. Stephen Freeman, for this use of your comment box.)

  20. Stephen Avatar

    I’ve also been thinking about that idea put out that if someone examines history, they will cease to be Prostestant. That’s true for me. But in general I think it only works for people who are already receptive to history, and who trust history. I talked to one pastor last year about church and the early church fathers and he basically told me that if I wanted to know what church was about then I should not read those writers because what they taught was clearly contrary to the bible. Instead, he gave me a mini sermon on what church was, and then gave me number of CD’s containing a series he had preached recently on the biblical view of church. I guess church was a pretty important issue for them, but they weren’t willing to listen to other ideas of what it could be.

  21. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    The cracks began forming in the foundation of my “Solo” Scriptura theology when I began examining the authority and the basis for me and all the charismatics/evangelicals I knew using the 27 books in our New Testaments that we used. I found I couldn’t untwine the historical church from the canon, as the canon didn’t come from heaven on two tablets, nor was it unearthed on golden plates. I could no longer blindly accept the canon without at least studying how the canon-ratifying Christians interpreted the Gospel and the Scriptures, and how the early Christians “did church.” The rest was inevitable.

  22. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    A primitive tribe on a Pacific island by chance comes across some copies of the Declaration of Independance and the U.S. Constitution, reads them, and decides that the entity that calls itself the United States of America does not adhere to these documents because their Legislative branch is or sale; their Executive is too large and out of control, and their Judicial branch is importing foreign philosophy and eisogeting into their judicial opinions.

    They decide to start a TRUE United States based on these documents and the original simplicity of the founding fathers of Philadelphia. They pray to John Locke for guidance, and proceed to set up states, congress, and an executive. They see the 1803 Marbury v. Madison as a perversion of the judiciary, and decide that each individual is free to interpret the Constitution for themselves according to the dictates of their conscience. In a short time they discover there really is no true United States that exists in a visible way, but the true United States is invisible. Each develops a personal relationship in which they commune with John Locke in their hearts.

    They earnestly await the rapture in which the true followers of Locke will unite with him in hyperspace, and all those whose exigesis of the Constitution is in error will be slaughtered.

    Absurd? Of course it is. How is it any different than somebody going to Wal-Mart, buying a Bible, and founding a “church” based on their uneducated interpretation? Or getting some grape juice and saltines and having private communion in your kitchen? It makes appointing yourself Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in your make believe country look trivial and less delusional by comparison.

  23. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    Our dear Ochlophobist;

    Take heart; Rich Mullins reposed as a Catholic.

  24. EYTYXOΣ Avatar

    Dan Bradley wrote:
    Our dear Ochlophobist;

    Take heart; Rich Mullins reposed as a Catholic.

    Very … interesting. I wonder if Brennan Manning (THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL) had anything to do with it?

    Re: your American history analogy – I had thoughts of similar analogies when trying to explain to myself and others why I was finding my Protestantism highly questionable, if not untenable.

  25. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I understand your thoughts and, again, I would emphasize that none of us created the situation we are in. One’s personal history is important, but in the larger scheme it’s very little for us to go on, except for the fact that you cannot live someone else’s history. But do not take the OC’s view of history and of itself as an attempt to make everything else of no use. That’s not the case, even though it does sound that way sometimes. May God bless you daily in your walk with him, and may time reading Orthodox blogs not be for your consternation or confusion. peace,

    Fr. Stephen

  26. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “But it is exactly my personal history that has been the strongest influence on my being Protestant or Evangelical. Just reading and understanding Church history will not in itself change my history.”

    Reid, I am the most argumentative person I know on the subject of Church history. I love to debate it and strain every gnat. You’re right; knowing Church history won’t in and of itself change you. I have friends with PhD’s in it that don’t agree with me. My most avid foe, and one of my best friends, is a Calvinist. So? I don’t think his soul is in peril because he’s not Orthodox; in fact exactly the opposite. A lot of non-Orthodox folks are going to heaven regardless of how St. Cyprian’s comments are misapplied.

    Orthodox people are just like everybody else; they try and win you to their point of view. Don’t get flustered when one of us lays a trip on you. Chew the cherries, spit out the pits. Take what you think is good and make use of it.

    I make use of Protestant phraseology all of the time, especially Luther and Calvin. There is plenty of good there, and some bad. Just like there are some dark spots in Orthodox history, past and present. All of us argue from our strengths, and characterize the opposition from their weaknesses. Don’t take it personal.

  27. […] Questions about Ecclesiology I have just discovered this terrific post on Glory to God for all Things (Orthodox priest’s blog), courtesy of All too Common. The cracks in the masonry of […]

  28. welkodox Avatar

    I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I do have a few thoughts.

    [i]The Eucharist is the assembly of the Church: it is the Church itself. The role of the Head and the people’s participation in the Eucharist is the norm of their interrelation, which must be preserved in every phase of Christian life, i.e. in the preservation of the Truth and in the governance of the Church.[/i]

    I think I essentially agree with this statement found in a review written by Fr. Meyendorff of Fr. Afanasieff. I’ve also read with interest the writings on ecclesiology of Metropolitan John of Pergamon. It seems to me where the Eucharist is present, the church is in its fullness, because there is Christ himself – the fullness of faith.

    [i]Who says where the boundaries are to be set?[/i]

    This is a good question, and I think our answer can at times be messy, though I think the one outlined above is really the real, real answer. Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote a very good essay on the limits of the church.

    My impression of what Fr. Florovsky says I think matches the issue for us. We accept the conclusions of Cyprian, but don’t put them in practice. I think this accounts for such things as the exercise and variance on the issue of baptismal economy and the reception of converts for instance. The easy answer to this, and one I’ve seen give, is the Cyprianic one. The church is a visible communion, and outside of it is a graceless wilderness. I don’t think it matches the reality of the life of the church which has suffered multiple breaks, schisms and fissures. I personally think the church is visible, but that circumstances have allowed for broken interrelations. That is not an excuse for complacency, because unity is an imperative, but I do believe it’s the reality. Personally I don’t doubt the standing of the Greek Old Calendar Church, the Old Rite Russian Church or frankly even the Armenians or Copts. The fact is it seems to me the Orthodox bishops were also within a hair’s length of forming some type of union with the Anglicans in the 20th century.

  29. welkodox Avatar

    Here’s the link to the Meyendorff article. Forgot that.

    I also messed up my tags. Whoops!

  30. Problem of Church

    Props to Josh for linking to this post from Fr Stephen on Communion and Church. It’s called “the problem of Church”, referring to the various issues of who is in and who is out. I want to allow upfront that a) this my post probably …

  31. reid Avatar

    “Don’t get flustered when one of us lays a trip on you”.

    Don, I appreciate your encouragement and honesty. Admittedly, I get frustrated and defensive when my point of view is challenged (just ask my wife). I want to stand firm in the Truth, not my truth. I want to be teachable.

    That is why I enjoy sites like this. Because of the nature of Truth, I believe other points of view will either strengthen the Truth that I have come to understand or bring correction where it is needed.

  32. The ex-Anglican Obsession

    It seems almost inevitable that Anglican priests who depart for Rome or Constantinople start to harp on ecclesiology. [….] But the claims of definite boundaries are self-evidently problematic.

  33. handmaidleah Avatar

    Only one thing to add, as someone who married a cowboy I can attest that Martin Luther is not, could not and does not make a good representation of one. Being that cowboys are mostly quiet types with little to say, who work hard and want just to spend time with their horses and cattle.
    I know that recently the term “cowboy” has been used in a derogative fashion; as in someone who independently goes his own way but this is an ill use of the term and disparraging to the historical, as well as the great American cowboy of today. My husband and son are both “cowboys”, one currently rodeos and the other ranches, so the cowboy is not a dead entity but a living and breathing class of human being that perhaps deserves some respect for what was accomplished in this country historically and perhaps a prayer of thanksgiving when you next eat a hamburger or a steak, when we break the Great Fast.
    For your consideration…
    In Christ,
    the handmaid,

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Well, at least in the sports world cowboys get respect. A couple of years ago when the Boston Red Sox were in the midst of their World Series run, one of the players commenting to a reporter on his injuries and playing with them said, it was time to “cowboy up” i.e, get tough for the sake of the team and do what needed to be done. I associate that attitude with mental and physical toughness as well as a desire to sacrifice for the good of the whole.

  35. Roland Avatar

    Another thought on cowboys. The Old Testament tends to see the herding life as the ideal. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Moses was keeping his father-in-law’s flock when he encountered the burning bush. The patriarchs were nomadic herdsmen. David was watching the sheep when Samuel came to anoint him. The Jews saw herding – caring for God’s creatures as God cared for them – as more natural and humble than imposing their will on the land through agriculture.

  36. Fatherstephen Avatar

    My daughter recently did the lighting for the school’s production of Oklahoma! Thus I sat through their rendition of “The farmer and the cowman should be friends.” Sorry, it’s just what came to mind as I meditated on herdsmen and agriculture. 🙂

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