What is Church and then...where is it?
Clifton continues to wrestle with this question and has posted his newest essay in a series which address the topic in detail...they may be found via his blog linked previously. I am still reading through the latest essay (which is - typical of Clifton's writing - most excellent), but I thought I might post a few thoughts that keep popping into my mind in regards to the question - the one, which I know many of my friends out there are wrestling with to varying degrees. I certainly agree with Clifton, it is a very important question.
Well, everyone has an opinion on the matter as is evidenced by the many, many diverse postings one can find on weblogs and such that specifically address the question. Most of the proposed answers, at least in my admittedly limited experience, proceed from a seemingly mutually agreed upon affirmation, and using as a jumping platform, the basic protestant understanding of the ontology of the Church. From this, the question "What is the Church?" usually devolves into a completely different question which is: "What does the Church do?" OR "How does the Church function?"
Clifton's conclusions on "What is the Church?" (And mine as well) leads us into an entirely different direction AND to the title of his newest essay: "Where is the Church?" Which is a questions that is frankly nonsensical in the protestant paradigm. Typically for the protestant, the Church is a spiritual reality composed of all those who are truly following Christ and are saved by Him. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the Orthodox Church's self understanding can be so rebarbative to them. But in truth, I think our differing ecclesiologies cause us to talk past one another and thereby often cause scandal.
Anyway, I'm not terribly interested in all the different modern opinions about what the Church is, but I am very interested in what the Ancient and Earliest Church's self understanding was/is. And there is no better place to find this than in the writings of St. Ignatios, late 1st/very early 2nd century Bishop of Antioch. St. Ignatios' understanding of the Church is heavily linked with the Eucharist and with the office of the Bishop (which as I am sure you'll agree is quite a different starting place than what is found in evangelical circles today). Of course, St. Ignatios is not alone in this understanding as you'll also find similar themes running through the likes of St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaios of Lyon to name a couple.
I highly highly recommend The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatios of Antioch by Fr. John S. Romanides. In it he really details what the Early Church thought of itself, which I think is something of supreme importance to note.
The link between the Eucharist and the Church cannot be underplayed, and I think it is not coincidental that typically how a Christian approaches the Eucharist is often comparable to how they also approach the concept of the Church. In other words if we say that Communion is simply a memorial and that the elements are merely empty symbols, then usually we will also say something quite comparable in regards to the Church (i.e. invisible, spiritual, not material). For the Orthodox, the concept of the Eucharist and the Church (as indeed ALL of theology) is intimately tied to the Incarnation - the WORD becoming FLESH. This is the eternal and fleshly and material mystery which we celebrate during this wonderful Feast and indeed which we continue to celebrate each Sunday at the Eucharistic gathering of the Body surrounding her Bishop - almost as if St. Ignatios wrote his epistles yesterday.
Christ is Born!
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 12:19 PM [+]