Looking for the true Church

Disclaimer: I do not know where the Holy Spirit isn’t, only where He is. It is not my place to say who is a Christian and who is not. I am only recounting my own journey to the Holy Orthodox Church.

When I was preparing to go to college, a pastor at my Baptist church grabbed my hand in the hallway after church one Wednesday night and asked me where I was going to school. I gave him the name of the ridiculously expensive, but academically solid Midwestern evangelical liberal arts college, to which he responded “I’ll pray for you.”

For some reason, I didn’t think he meant that in a general way, but rather specifically, since I was venturing outside the folds of conservative Baptist land. That comment rang the gong of my childhood curiosities about the other churches in my community. “Which one is right?” “Are we right?” “What happens to those people who go to other churches?”

While at that college, I talked with devout Catholics, Pentacostals, Presbyterians, etc, etc. It was like a Christian zoo–as many species as you could think of were represented in chapel every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I saw my first Advent candles. I started wearing a cross. And I really, really wanted to know where we came from. I found a few other students who had similar curiosities and we debated the issue for hours, talking about what it meant to be an authentic Christian, about how the earliest Christians must have done church. I didn’t have the answers, but I began to understand that you absolutely could not have Christianity without the Church. The institution itself mattered at the most basic levels.

The newest edition of Christianity Today has an article about this. It examines how this generation is OK with just spirituality, a more virulent form of “Jesus and Me” then we have probably seen in a long time. Take a good helping of American individualism, mix in some free-church Protestantism, and some Baby Boomer feel-good spirituality, and wha-la…

What’s interesting to me is the big, chain-rattling ghost in the CT article…the ghost of the “True Church”. The article says, for the most part, that Christianity cannot be done outside the confines of the church, that church matters, and it needs to be the right church. Herein enters the ghost (hear his chains rattling). He asks “Who decides what is the True Church?”

As I thought about and wrangled over this issue years ago, I got spooked by those echoes. Somebody has to decide. At the end of the day, there has to be an authentic measurement of what makes a church OK, and what makes it qualify as preaching “go-to-Hell” heresies. It’s the question too many don’t ask for real. Our culture does not want to really know where the boundaries are drawn. If they do, then maybe they’re not standing on the right side.

When God commanded Noah to build the ark, he said those inside would be saved. But Noah had to do it in the way he was told.

Why do we think Church is any different?


Author: Rebecca

Orthodox Christian. Journalist. SAR K9 handler. All three of those are deeply related.

5 thoughts on “Looking for the true Church”

  1. Remember that the early Christians were mostly Jewish (some Gentiles), so they most certainly did things differently. Somehow, I don’ think God cares much about rituals, customs, or other “humanisms”. It is all about our individual relationship with Him, not somebody’s procedure.



  2. Chris-
    Thanks for visiting my blog! Yep, you’re right. Many of the earliest Christians were Jews and coming from a tradition-rich background. But I would challenge your assumption that somehow that means we, as 21st Century “Gentiles” should do things differently. If God doesn’t care about the “rituals”, then why would He have initiated them for His first “chosen people”? There is nothing in my reading of Scriptures that indicates to me that ALL that matters is our personal relationship with Him. The Holy Gospels and the Epistles are full of references to the “corporate” nature of our faith in practice–love for our fellow man, fellowship of the believers, and in rough form, the workings of a Church. Am I saying that someone cannot be a Christian without being in the Church? No, I’m not. It’s not up to me. But what I am saying is that He outlined ways for us to do things. (The modern canonical Scriptures were not the only guides used for worship/governance within the early Church. It was that Church, with all its “humanisms” that gave all Christianity the canons of Scripture, and decided what true Christian theology is.)

    In an earlier post, I wrote about how He has ALWAYS used symbol to communicate His truth to mankind. And I think He does care about these things, because they help us to understand Him better. Orthodox Christians refer to our great God and Savior as the “Lover of Mankind”. Because He loves us, and is our Creator, I am sure He knows, and instituted, the best ways for us to communicate with Him, and for Him to communicate with us.

    Any thoughts?

  3. Let me also add, to complete the above thought, that those “rituals” are part of that individual relationship. They are the ways that my heart/mind/body (remember, we’re called to love Him with our entire being) understand and express my love and reverance for Him. They are also ways that He communicates to me, as an individual. Certainly, we are responsible for our own individual faith, but I guess I think, since that is the case, that faith and worship should be as “right” as it possibly can.

  4. You remind me much of my niece. She grew up in a conservative Episcopal church, but as the Episcopal church grew increasingly apostate, she moved into one of the Eastern Orthodox churches. She’s become enamoured with it, and gives herself wholly to it. She’s learning to chant, is learning bits of the language, etc.
    But, if I may, let me just share my concern. It has nothing to do with ritual. For myself, I’m an Anglican Christian, drawn by temperment and nature toward a high liturgy.
    But, as in any tradition, we can become so caught up in the traditions that they become our focus. We can hold so tightly to the distinctives of our own group, that we lose sight of the only thing that ultimately matters: our identification with Christ.
    Do I love my own local church? Very much! Do I wish that many more churches were like it? Sure! But I wouldn’t spend time encouraging others to become like us, beyond presenting ourselves humbly before Christ, and trusting in his grace.
    I have nothing against Orthodox Christians. One of my close friends has become an Orthodox priest, and another may soon. They are my brothers, just as my Baptist friends and Assemblies of God friends are. But the only true ground for our unity and relationship is in Christ himself.
    Peace and blessings to you.

  5. Clearly, non-Orthodox tend to notice those things that are most different from western Christian denominations. The “icons, robes, chanting and smoke” (oh my!) that have existed in our liturgical tradition for some 19 centuries hit the senses of protestants, post-Vactican II Catholics and others rather hard. (But then, I find the relative sterility of non-orthodox churches a tad depressing; their emptiness speaks for itself, I think.)

    It is extremely important for inquirers into Orthodoxy to force themselves to look beyond their first impressions. It is imperative to see not only the orthodoxy of the Spirit-inspired theology of Christ’s bride, the Church, but the wisdom and effectiveness of true Orthodox praxis on the lives of those who seek the kingdom of God. This goes far beyond mere tradition.

    The Orthodox church offers a deep, respectful approach to the mysteries of the Christian faith. It is not for those who wish to customize their own version of Christianity. Bec’s experience as a seeker looking for the authentic, ancient Christian church and finding Orthodoxy is becoming more common every day, and for good reason.

    After all, this is the church of Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp and Irenaeus; of Gregory, Chrysostom, Gregory, and Basil; of Anthony, Maximus, Isaac, Ephraim, and Climacus.

    Which is why, perhaps, so many are leaving their own denominations for the original Christian church of the Apostles. Once you are Orthodox, within this ancient Church, there is no place left to go. It can be said that the Eastern Orthodox Christian church is the true “non-denominational” faith; every other confession has either broken off from Orthodoxy or one that already did.

    As our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ said, “Come and see….”

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