Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is The Church A Concrete Body On Earth?

Does the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church exist in a concrete body on earth? This question was faced by the reformation Protestants of the 15th and 16th century. After all, one thing was abundantly evident after the reformation; the western church would never again be united.  How then could Christians continue to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church, in light of the impending disunity? 

To answer this we must look at the new definitions created by the reformation communities.  Below is perhaps the most eloquent statement on the church according to the reformers.

The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 25:Of the Church.

This view of an invisible church was completely novel, and differed greatly from the view that was held to prior to the great schism between east and west. Below, Met. Zizioulas presents us with the view that existed from the time of the apostles, and he does so by pointing us to the apostolic scriptures.

From the book, “Bishop, Eucharist, Church” (scriptural quotations mine):

The ecclesiology of primitive Christianity was not abstract and theoretical but rather practical. As a result, not only is there no definition of the Church in the sources, but there is not even a theoretical description of her. Out of the eighty or so passages in which the term ekklesia occurs in the New Testament, fifty-seven at least have in view the Church as an assembly in a particular place. If we try to group these passages under different headings, we have the following picture:

(a) Those referring to the "Church" (singular) of a particular city;

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:

Colossians 4:16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(b) Those referring to the "Churches" (plural) of an area wider than a city, or without specifying a locality;

1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

2 Corinthians 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia:

(c) Those containing the term "Church" or "Church of God" without specifying a locality;

Matthew 16:18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

And (d) those containing the phrase "church in the household" (kat' oikon ekklesia).

Romans 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.

1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.

Out of these passages, only those of the third group can be connected with the Church in an abstract or theoretical sense. For most of these, however, this is merely a first impression. Passages such as 1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13 and Phil. 3:6, where Paul says that he persecuted the "Church of God," have in mind specifically the Church of Jerusalem, where there was a "great persecution" during which "Saul laid waste the Church."

In consequence, the term "Church" in these ancient texts normally describes the Church as a concrete reality in space.

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