For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:15-23).
One of the great tragedies of the constant reinvention of Christianity over the past several centuries has been the tendency to forget very important parts of Scripture and to simply substitute human and cultural models for the revealed knowledge given to us by God in Christ. Perhaps the most obvious of these has been the complete forgetfulness of what the Scripture has to say about the Church.
In the multiform, constant chimera that has become the norm for Protestant Christianity, it is difficult to have a serious doctrine of the Church – the Church having been wrenched into forms and shapes that bear no resemblance to that which was established by Christ and which abides to this day. Instead, there has been the need to create abstractions such as the “invisible Church” where theoretical notions are made to substitute for the very concrete reality described in Scripture. The “invisible” Church is a pure modern fiction without warrant in the Scripture existing largely to cover the deformation of the Church that has happened at modern hands.
That which St. Paul would describe as the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all,” is now spoken of as a “mere human institution” and such notions. Thus, “the Church,” like so many other realities of our faith, has by some been relegated to the “second storey,” a convenient place to store things that can be spoken of in ideal and abstract terms but which are preferred not to litter the landscape of the secularization of the first storey in which we live. (See my earlier articles on the “second storey“).
Thus the Church that inhabits this first storey is constantly being “reformed” in order to conform it closer to the theoretical model that mystically hovers above us. Thus such two-storey Christians never attend a real Church, only a human institution. All relationship with God is second-storey and theoretical.
Though certain events such as the Cross are recognized as historical, even they become removed to a second storey where they can be more conveniently discussed in abstract terms. Thus second storey Christians will sing about the “cross of Jesus,” but would shudder at the idea that there might still be relics of that true Cross among us. Indeed, if confronted by such a relic, they would gladly choose the abstract over the hard wood in front of them.
This second-storey Christianity is disincarnate. The scandal presented by the claims of the Orthodox Church are that it dares to speak of the Church in terms as concrete as the incarnation of Christ and assumes that our salvation is worked out in just such a concrete setting. Items such as candles, icons, incense, liturgies, doors, curtains, relics, vestments, water, wine, oil, etc., will all be dismissed as “empty ritual.” And yet nothing could be emptier than life in the first storey where everything of meaning has been relegated to the second floor.
Christ became man and dwelt among us. He took flesh of His mother, the Virgin Mary. He traveled with His family to Egypt to avoid a very real persecution. They returned later to a very dusty, quiet Nazareth. Before He began His ministry He went to see His cousin, John the Baptist, son of Zechariah the priest and Elizabeth. This same John had lept in the womb of his mother at the very sound of the voice of the Virgin Mother of God. Christ stood before His cousin and asked for Baptism – in water – wet and dripping – in the Jordan. There was a revelation of the Holy Trinity in that very event (not in the second storey but here). Christ continued his ministry, fasting for 40 days and being ministered to by angels at the fast’s completion. He called 12 men, with names and occupations, and made them into Apostles. One of them betrayed Him. Christ turned water into wine, healed the sick on the sabbath, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, cast out devils – all in the context of this first storey of our universe. Here he was vilified. Here he cleansed the Temple. Here he was arrested and tried and here He was crucified, dead and buried. In the mystery of the ages He descended into Hades and set at liberty those who were held in bondage, trampling down death by death – but His resurrected body bears testimony that even that event is within this first storey (not in some spiritual never-never land). He taught His apostles, who traveled and taught and were all martyred with the exception of St. John. They administered the sacraments He gave them, Baptizing, Communing, Healing, Ordaining, etc., all in this world. They appointed Bishops to head the local Churches and to carry on the work of the ministry. That Church, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all, is the only Church that has ever taught, preached or practiced the gospel. No theoretical “invisible Church” has shed its blood. The members of the Church who now reign with Christ and await the end of the age pray for this first-storey Church, surrounding it like a great cloud of witnesses. This Church has remained. It has seen its own betrayers as Christ saw his (though the betrayer did not suddenly render the faithful apostles into invisible apostles). But this Church has remained. It has resisted the blandishments of Emperors and the false claims of some Bishops. It has preserved what was delivered to it. If there are some who fail her now, may God have mercy on them and not hold it against them on the day of judgment.
But it is all here – not somewhere else. The fullness dwells among us. What else would the incarnation have done?