Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts About Church

I have been reading several books by an Orthodox Church apologist. He is as adamant that Orthodoxy is the only, true, right Church as any Fundamentalist I’ve ever come across claiming the exclusivity of “King James only.” I will grant the Orthodox writer has far better arguments than the Fundamentalist. Yet this champion of Orthodoxy dismisses John Paul II’s language of “both lungs” (East and West) of the Church. Again, his unequivocal position is that Orthodoxy is right and anything else is heresy.

This, of course, has had me thinking about the nature of the Church. I know the Catholic Church sees herself as being the Church called into being by Christ, but — neophyte that I am — it seems Catholicism is far more charitable to Orthodoxy than Orthodoxy is to Catholicism. As I assess both claims I find that each has strong and weak points in respect to the other. The historical arguments with details of Councils and the philosophical nuances attendant to each position is enough to make one’s head swim.

I come from years of ministry in an ecclesial community with roots in Anabaptism. I was initially attracted to the Anabaptists years ago because I saw Jesus in the lives of the evangelical Anabaptists of the 16th Century. When almost all the other Christian groups were persecuting those who were not like themselves, the Anabaptists would not retaliate. They would suffer for Jesus, but they would not revile in His name.

Before I make the point of this particular entry, I want to preface my “ruminations” with a couple of caveats. First, I believe there is Truth which has been committed to Christ’s Church, and all who belong to Christ are to seek and submit to that Truth. Second, I also believe that any individual believer’s perception of perfect Truth is limited by a variety of qualifiers in a broken (fallen) world — which means, practically, that no one’s salvation is dependant on living in response to a perfect understanding of theology (I don’t think we’ll be given a Theology 101 exam to get into heaven). Salvation is by grace, available on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection for all who hunger and thirst for God. Attitude is far more crucial than understanding. Because of God's grace that extends through Christ "far as the curse is found," heart trumps mind.

So, here is the focus of my recent thoughts: The apologetic material I’ve read in the area of ecclesiology is mostly consumed with history, biblical exegesis and philosophy. Hardly anywhere have I found a cogent discussion of the place for “fruit” — e.g., Jesus’s words about false prophets (by their fruit you will know them) and His characterization of His followers (All people will know you are my disciples if you love one another). The question I’ve been pondering is: In what “streams” of Christian tradition are the fruits of the Spirit most evident? What communities of faith have best modeled the love of our Lord? Doesn’t this have a major factor in how we understand the identity of the Church?

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