Recognizing the Church – Part 2 – AUTHORITY


A pilgrimage and discovery of the five marks of Christ’s Church…

So how do we find the church?  Or better yet, how do we know which one of the 20,000 plus denominations is really the Church?  Is it simply a matter of looking on-line for the one that is closest?  Or is it the one that has the “best music”, or the awesome “youth program” – or  the “amazing speaker”?  It is very clear to anyone who reads the Gospels, and the teachings of Jesus in them,  that He spoke of, and intended One Church to reflect His One body – a body that is one in essence and undivided – a Body that cannnot be broken.  Never does Jesus refer to His Church in the  plural (i.e “I will build my churches…”) it is always singular, and if the Church is His Body, then how can it be separated or divided  into thousands of denominations/variations?  And since the Church is His Body, and He is the second person of the Trinity, again, how can the Trinity be divided or broken?  Jesus prayed for His Church and said the gates of hades would not prevail against it – and His ardent prayer in John 17 is that “they be One as we are One…”  So how do we  know, or how can we recognize,  the real church from the 20,000+ variations?  And can we truly accept the idea that “all churches, basically believe the same things” when in fact a Lutheran, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and a Non-Denominational person, when asked “Is the Body and Blood of Jesus truly present and given in the Lord’s Supper?” would come to at least three (maybe more?) conclusions.

The answer to “Which one is the Church?” lies in the subject for today’s post.  The Church is known because of its obedience to “authority” – the teaching of Jesus given to the apostles, in turn given to the bishops from generation to generation, and then defended in the seven Ecumenical Councils.  The identity and unity of the Church,  is derived from the authority of the Church…

Mark #2  Authority

Second, the Church in its authority confronts me.  That strange authority to bind and to loose that our Lord bestowed on His disciples has not evaporated from he Church – or so the Church has believed from the beginning.  If you will read the story of those decades that followed Pentecost, and especially that followed upon the death of the apostles, you will discover that the unction (anointing) to teach and to preside in the Church that passed from the apostles to the bishops was understood to be an apostolic unction.  I, for example, could not start up out of the bulrushes and say, “Hi everybody!  The Lord has led me to be a bishop!  I’m starting me a church over here.”  The whole Christian community – bishops, priests, deacons and laity – would have looked solemnly at me and gone about their business.  The Holy Spirit, in those days, did not carry on private transactions with isolated souls, and then announce to the  Church that so-and-so had been anointed for this or that ministry.  The unction of the Holy Spirit, and the authority of the Church to ordain for ministry, were not two random enterprises.  The Holy Spirit worked in, and through, the Church’s ministry and voice. 

But the Church understands herself to be the appointed vessel for God’s working, just as the Incarnation was.  Her authority is not her own.  She arrogates nothing to herself.  Her bishops and patriarchs are the merest custodians, the merest passers-on, we might say, of the deposit of faith.  The Church has a given task to do – to pass on the teaching given by the apostles, and she has no warrant to change that.  She is not taking cues from the Nielsen ratings, or from a poll, or even from a sociological survey as to what people feel comfortable with nowadays.  Our Christian ancestors knew nothing of this sprightly individualism when it came to the teaching of the apostles, to the disciplines and of the spiritual life.  They fasted on Wednesdays and Friday, they went to church on Sundays, and some Roman Pope, or Bishop did not make these things up.  The beliefs and practices took place in the church very early, and nobody dreamed of cobbling up a private interpretation or spirituality…

Thus Church is here, in all of its authority, judging us…

One thought on “Recognizing the Church – Part 2 – AUTHORITY

  1. This is awesome, and exactly the kind of questions that modern American Christians need to ask themselves. Where is the Church. Not the church, but the Church.

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