The Fullness of the Church

I want to broach a subject that I know is fraught with controversy. And I know it’s a subject that I am very inadequate to discuss. However, a comment in a recent post got me thinking about an area of Eastern Orthodoxy that was initially a major hang-up for me. It’s the idea that the Orthodox Church is the true Church. Anyone exploring Orthodoxy will bump up against this concept very quickly.

At this point, I don’t have much to offer to any theological debate about this topic other than my limited experience thus far in the Orthodox Church.

I had voiced my discomfort with Orthodoxy’s ecclesiological claims several months ago to an Orthodox friend while we were discussing my interest in exploring Orthodoxy. He advised me to view Orthodoxy’s ecclesiological claim as being the “fullness of the Church” rather than being “true Church,” a phrase that I kept hearing as “the only and only real Church.”

As I have been exploring Eastern Orthodoxy the last couple of months, I’ve discovered something. So far in my experience, Eastern Orthodoxy lacks nothing good, beautiful and true that I had known previously in my experience as a Protestant Charismatic Evangelical Christian and pastor. In fact, I believe Eastern Orthodoxy possesses a fuller version of all that I had previously experienced, plus abundantly more goodness, beauty and truth.

In other words, not only do I find a parallel commitment to biblical study and praxis, mission, sound theology, life in the Spirit, community and worship, but all of that is enhanced with deep historical connectedness, real communion of the saints, art, music, liturgy, prayers, icons, ascetic practices, spiritual direction, spiritual formation, sacramental life, and much more.

And the few aspects of Protestant Charismatic Evangelicalism that I miss are either stylistic preferences, areas of personal comfort or peripheral issues.

This makes the alternative of my past experience pale in comparison. For example, as a member of the Vineyard denomination, my church history only goes back about 30 years. As a Protestant, it goes back about 500 years. Even with my best intentions to be a missional community, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that when our house church gathered, we were completely disconnected historically. We were a small group that had splintered off of a larger splinter, which had come from a larger splinter, which came from a larger splinter. But in Orthodoxy, I am deeply connected to the wisdom, teaching, example and communion of the entire Church all the way back to its beginning.

Another example is my experience in worship. As a member of the Vineyard, corporate worship was practically experienced as 30 minutes of singing followed by a 45-60 minute sermon. Even our attempts at constructing a more liturgical worship in our house church ended up being disjointed and disconnected from anything historical. In Orthodoxy, I engage in full-sensory, liturgical worship that has been practiced for twenty centuries and rooted in the full life of the Church.

Is the Orthodox Church the “true” Church? All I can say is at this point in our journey east, the Orthodox Church certainly seems to be the fullest expression of the Church.

If you’re interested in exploring this a bit more, Father Stephen has a good podcast about this subject. You can listen to the podcast HERE.

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6 thoughts on “The Fullness of the Church

  1. I have appreciated your testimony on this subject. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, became a member of the Baptist church, got caught up in the charismatic movement, and have been exploring the Greek Orthodox church which is the church of my grandparents… Your words here have been one more encouragement…

  2. Hi Jason,
    I appreciate your humble and honest approach to learning the Orthodox faith. I feel like I’m vicariously participating in your journey. I so appreciate the vastness of the church that allows for different expressions of worship and approaches in relating to God.

    I agree with you that there is a permeating sense of disconnectedness in the churches. I think it partly has to do with the “snobbery” in the modern churches as well as in the society in general towards the past. This often leads to our neglecting of the wonderful and rich history of the church. That’s why I try to follow C.S. Lewis’ recommendation, regularly try to read authors who are not from your own generation because contemporary authors are often blind to the snobbery. I’ve definitely found the love of reading some great Christian heroes and Church Fathers.

    I guess the question is whether or not all this great tradition needs to be reflected in the worship. To the modern believers who are often disconnected with the rich history is not very meaningful while they can be most inspiring to some. I believe Jesus has abolished the traditional Jewish thinking of worship which was limited to location and forms to spiritual realm taking place in heart with the truth. With God’s missional focus in the NT times, God knew that His church had to take on many different forms or cultures of worship. But it’s refreshing to know that there are churches that keep the beautiful traditions alive in the worship. I’d love to experience it one of these days. Keep us informed. Sung

  3. Hi JD and Sung. Thanks to both of you for your comments on this post. Sung, before exploring Orthodoxy, I used to think of Church Tradition as merely an interesting historical footnote. But what I’m learning and experiencing in Orthodox worship is that the Church’s Tradition is the very life of Christ embodied in the life of the Church. The saints truly surround us, as represented by the icons, both interceding for us as well as encouraging us through their example. The ancient prayers, hymns and creeds teach us to pray and think in a way that grows us toward Christ’s likeness and that is virtually unavailable in the modern Western Church. All of this Tradition is not about mere historical connectedness, as great as that is. It is the very life of Christ as preserved in the life of the Church, and completely necessary for the journey toward Christ’s likeness. And I never would have understood that if I had not immersed myself in the life of a local parish.

  4. Hi Jason,
    When you say that “Church’s tradition is very life of Christ embodied,” what part of tradition are you referring to? We know that while certain traditions were indeed precious and valuable to the life of the Church, while others had led the Church astray which required Reformation to return to the essential aspects of Christianity, namely the Five Solas. How does the Scripture support this view that “the tradition itself is the very life of Christ?” Can you also help me to see in the Scripture how the saints intercede for us? I think you’re invoking Hebrews 12:1 when you say “the saints truly surround us” but I am not so sure how the Bible teaches that these saints are interceding? I know the author of Hebrews does teach that we ought to learn from the heros of faith. However, the icons have cause a great deal of problems for the church as people started to idolize it. But I am not someone who support throwing out the baby with the bath water just because there were problems in the past. However, I need more persuasion from the Scriptures that the Church tradition is the very life of Christ. We read even in the Scriptures that the churches during the biblical time were full of problems that Apostle Paul had to constantly correct their wrongful ways. When you say “church tradition,” it’s a mixed bag of right and wrong practices. Who is to judge which part of it is Christ embodied apart from the Scriptures?

    I hope you’ll bear my questions and understand my desire to clarify and be clarified. Thanks….Sung

  5. Hi Sung. These are great questions that I’ve had to deal with as well in my exploration of Eastern Orthodoxy. I’d love to give a thoughtful response and since I was going to post in the near future about some of these issue, I will dedicate my next blog post to answering the questions. I hope that’s okay with you. Then we can either continue dialoguing in the comments on that post or we can dialogue through email.

    Tell Nicole that I said “Hi.” I’ve been praying for you and your family.

    And I love the design of your blog. 😉

    Jason

  6. Thanks Jason. That would be great…I look forward to it.

    We appreciate your prayers. We’re now back in LA reconnecting back to the home church.

    I’m glad you like the blog. Great minds think alike, eh? 🙂

    In Christ

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