Friday, January 22, 2010

Fr. Farley on the Importance of the Church (Part One)

Fr. Lawrence Farley, Bible teacher extraordinaire

During my years in the Baptist Church, I was always taught that the Church was a "divine-human institution." Despite the fact that the word "divine" was always stated first, the reality was (and is) that most Baptists and other Evangelicals place more emphasis on the human factor. In other words, for Evangelicals, the Church is more of a "human-divine" institution. Of course their definition of who is part of the Church is very different from that of Orthodox Christians, but I this is a topic for another discussion. For now, I wish to focus on just how "divine" the Church is, and, by extension, just how important the Church is.

Recently, when I gave an interview on the differences between the Evangelical and Orthodox understanding of certain Christian doctrines and practices, I discussed (among many other things) the contrasting ideas of the Church. For some reason, my brain seemed to lock up during this section, and I ended up doing a lousy job of explaining just how divine the Church is seen to be in Orthodoxy. In Orthodoxy, we see much more emphasis on the Divine Presence in the Church than is apparent in any of the manifold branches of Protestantism. The Church, of course, is not to be identified with Christ; the Church is not Christ. But the Church is His presence on Earth, and when Christ works in the world, he generally does so through the Church.

On his wonderful podcast The Coffee Cup Commentaries, Fr. Lawrence Farley recently began a series on The Acts of the Apostles. In the second lesson in the new series, in which he comments on the first two verses of Chapter 1, Fr. Farley gives one of the best explanations of the Orthodox view of the Church that I have ever heard. It is concise and easy to understand (unlike most of the writings of the well-known Orthodox theologians). I wish I had heard this prior to my interview! Anyway, over the next couple of days, I am going to excerpt parts of Fr. Farley's lesson, the parts that deal most directly with the nature and importantance of the Church. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed listening to them.

If our Lord had not founded the Church, if our Lord had lived and taught and died and rose again and there was no Church, then you would not have the salvation that we have today. You would have, not the Church, but you would have Jesus’ words being simply a philosophy. It could take its place among the great philosophies of the world.

You have the philosophy of Socrates, of Plato, of Aristotle, of Buddha, of Confucius. And Jesus would take His place in this philosophical pantheon among all of them, which is to say, “Who cares?” Man doesn’t need philosophy. He doesn’t need to be told what’s right. Our problem is that even when we know what’s right, we can’t do it.

Our problem is not that we’re just uninformed. Our main problem is that we’re dead. Our main problem is that we’re enslaved. And as St. Paul says that even when know what’s right, we delight to do what’s right, we still do the evil that we hate. The problem is not that we’re students needing to be taught. It’s that we are slaves needing to be liberated. We’re dead men needing to be enlivened.

That’s what the Church is. The Church offers us, not a philosophy, but the life of Jesus. The Church offers us the very life that the Son of God had; that is infused into us. That’s what Baptism is about. That’s what Holy Communion is about. Our salvation is not a matter of having a course in miracles, or something like this or some sort of instructional program.

Our salvation consists of incorporation into the Church, because the Church is the
Soma Christou, the body of Christ. It is the very life of Jesus here and available for us. Christ came down and united humanity to His divinity in the womb of the Virgin, so that we could have access to that divinity, so that the life of God that is in the Incarnate Christ could flow into us as well. That’s what the Church is about.

The ministry of Jesus finds its fulfillment, if I may put it like this, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which is to say that it finds its fulfillment in the ongoing life of the Church. Because as someone has finally said, what is the Church? The Church is a continual Pentecost. It is the life of Jesus available to us dying children to make us alive, to make us the radiant sons and daughters of God.

(To be continued)


Roger said...

I don't believe there's anything here that a good, confessional protestant couldn't agree with, is there?

Clint said...

Hey Roger, I won't speak for Fr. James, but I think I can provide some small amount of an answer. Hopefully, Fr. James will elaborate in more detail (and more accurately).

I think that the answer to your question is that it depends upon how you define some of the words that were used.

Sure, protestants will agree that the Church is the body of Christ. But I don't know that they would agree with all the implications that come from that statement as taught by Orthodoxy.

As the body of Christ, we are being transformed into His likeness. OK, protestants might agree with that,too. But would they follow that through to its logical conclusion of theosis? How about that we are acheiving that aforementioned transformation via the Eucharist (since it is truly the body and blood of our Lord), amongst other things?

So I think that again, the post could be understood to be something that protestants could agree with, but probably not if the Orthodox definitions for those words are used.

I found that to be one of biggest obstacles to really understanding Orthodoxy (in fact, I still struggle with it). While Orthodox and Protestants (and Catholics, for that matter) use most of the same jargon, the definitions of many of those words are not the same. If we don't realize that, we end up talking past one another rather than having any meaningful conversation.

My two cents, anyway.

Roger said...

Thanks, Clint. That is helpful. I see what you mean. I'm protestant and agree with everything, but you're probably right that I would cease to agree if you were defining the words your way. Something to think about.

Fr. James Early said...


I didn't say anything about "good confessional Protestants." I was speaking specifically about Evangelicals. Of course, there are plenty of Protestants who wouldn't have a big problem (if any) with Fr. Farley's words. But I would argue that the overwhelming majority of EVANGELICAL Protestants would have a problem with much of what he said.

In particular, I think that most Evangelicals would disagree with the following parts of Fr. Farley's lesson:

"Our salvation consists of incorporation into the Church" - most Evangelicals would argue that our salvation consists only of placing our faith in Christ - incorporation into the Church is a noble, but hardly necessary, activity (though to be fair, most would say that when one places his faith in Christ, he automatically becomes part of the understanding of the Church very different than the Orthodox one).

"we could have access to that divinity"...most Evangelicals would at best be uncomfortable with the use of the word "divinity" here.

The Church "is the life of Jesus available to us dying children to make us alive" -- this ascribes too much power to the Church and overemphasizes the "divine" side of the equation for most Evangelicals, who would argue that the life of Jesus comes to us solely through our faith.

What Clint said is also totally correct.

I hope this helps.

Roger said...


Unfortunately the word "evangelical" has been pulled in so many directions that it means very little any more. I think you're right about today's "evangelical," but not about those who fit the traditional definition of the word.