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.