We are One Church. Sometimes it's tough to work through the issues when seeking a local Christian family to be part of.
Jesus said it well when concerning those who purport to convey God's Truths, when He said "by their fruit, ye shall know them." This is vital when seeking God's guidance for where and how you worship. The Fruit are contrasted with the Works of the Flesh here.
The word for "church" in the original Greek--ekklesia--means "called out." St. Paul defines that for us in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, when, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he instructs us "'come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord." “'And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' Says the Lord Almighty."
So, clearly, we are not to be part of the World, but are to form a family of God. This is the real meaning of "Church." In Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, we term the local expression of this unit as a "parish"--a Greek term meaning "family." But…family is family. And we don't get to choose who's in it. God does that. But we are in it, one way or another. Being in the Church is part of being a Christian.
The Latin phrase, "extra Ecclesiam null sales"--"outside the Church there is no salvation," stems from comes from the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop of the 3rd century and is axiomatic as shorthand for the doctrine that the Church is necessary for salvation.
It is a dogma in the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches but also held by numerous Protestants, though their ecclesiological conception of what constitutes the Church differs. That's the issue at hand here…what defines the Church.
The teaching rests on the beliefs that:
- Our Lord Jesus Christ personally established the One Church; and
- The Church serves as the means by which the graces won by Christ are communicated to believers.
We summarize this in the Four Notes of the Church:
- One: there is only One Church
- Holy: committed and sanctified to God--Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with Jesus as Lord and Head of the Church
- Catholic: A compound Greek term, meaning "according to, and down through the Whole"--a singular, united entity
- Apostolic: Continuing in the authority and teaching of the Apostles. In Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy, this includes the concept of "Apostolic Succession"--conveying the anointing and authority of Jesus, through the Apostles themselves, via the laying on of hands, in an unbroken line from the beginning. All of our ordinations adhere to this principle.
An English Eastern Orthodox bishop, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia captures this doctrine powerfully and adroitly:
"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.
All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church" (G. Florovsky,"Sobornost: the Catholicity of the Church," in The Church of God, p. 53).
"Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved. As [St] Augustine wisely remarked: "How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!" (Homilies on [St] John, 45, 12)
"While there is no division between a "visible" and an "invisible Church," yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say."
This underscores my point: the Church is for the Lord to define, not canon. And the best measure of the Church Militant is found in Holy Writ, that defines the Fruit that Jesus references. Look to Galatians 5.
And remember that God hates those who spread dissension among the brethren, so let's stop being guilty of that. Now would be good.
Please note: there is little mention of geography or ethnicity in relation to God's true Church. God is much more interested in heart than anything. If your denomination or congro is touting themselves as exclusive, you may wish to prayerfully consider another place to worship and fellowship, as these folks are, most likely, missing the Mark. Your Bible will teach you that whosever will may come…not whosever does the right liturgy or has the right label. The only true label is Christ. If we wear His mark, that's the ticket. Everything else simply comprises details to that intention. But…that's a decision we all have to make individually before God.
As much as I love and feel classical Anglican-Catholic practice is the most Scriptural and inhabited by the Holy Ghost, I completely understand--and affirm--that God honors all worship in Spirit and Truth from any Christian congro, regardless of their local canon or custom. My brothers are those who name and honor Christ as Lord, and build His Kingdom. Jesus made this distinction simple: for Him, or against Him. We can't improve on Jesus' Words.
Bottom line: if you're for Him, we are brethren--One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. It doesn't matter--especially to me--if you're a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, Baptist, Assemblies of God, Methodist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational, whatever…that's just the path you chose. It's between you and God. He will define if you're in--or out of His Church.
But there is only One Church. One.
And believe me, that's all there is in Iraq these days. We have got to wake up and unite. Jesus prayed--in Gethsemane, as He was facing the Cross, that His followers would all be one.
That's the mind of Christ. Cross the boundaries. Be one.
Posted on January 28, 2015
by Fr.Chip Harper filed under