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?