Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"We Know Where the Church Is ..."

"... but we do not know where the Church is not."

When I was a Lutheran, if there was one "party line" I hated hearing from the Orthodox, this was it.

And now that I'm Orthodox, I don't like it any better.

I spent much of the day yesterday checking in at a discussion going on here, summarized by an Orthodox blogger here. And this post serves to answer as best I can Anastasia's question to me in the comments of Reader Christopher's post.

I don't know quite what to say about all of it, except that I am sympathetic to Pr. Beane's confusion and frustration about the whole issue. "According to you Orthodox", he's basically asking, "are we Church or aren't we?" It's a reasonable question, especially when coming from a Lutheran pastor who seems to have great respect for Orthodoxy.

When I was a Lutheran, the answer, "we don't know" was simply not sufficient for me, either and I was truly offended by it, as it seems other Lutherans are. (Anastasia, this is what I understand - his frustration and the vagueness of such a response and what it might imply). It seemed to me then somehow arrogant and somehow provocative ... not to mention waffly. And really, for many years this very phrase was somewhat of a stumbling block for me.

So what to say? How to respond when posed with the question, "Are Christians who are not Orthodox Church or are they not?" I have taken my tip from the words of my priest in a recent sermon, which I posted some time ago.

"... the Word of God (and we talk about the Holy Spirit this way – it’s everywhere present and fills all things) does not belong to the Church or the confines of the Church. God's will, his intention for human beings, is poured out on the whole of creation. Therefore, we as Orthodox communicants, if we see it anywhere and do not recognize it for what it is then we have desecrated the Word of God." (emphasis mine)

All I'm saying is that in certain non-Orthodox Christian churches and in certain non-Orthodox Christians I can see it.

"We know where the Church is, but we do not know where the Church is not." However truthful this might be, I know from experience that these words can be hurtful (even if not ill-intended). And so I don't use this phrase - ever - when talking to Christians who are not Orthodox about their "status" as Church. In fact, I try not to address this topic at all.

It is really not for me to address.


William Weedon said...

Thank you for understanding.

From our perspective, Krauth said it best:

She [the Lutheran Church] unchurches none of other names, even though they may be unsound. It is not her business to do this. They have their own Master before whom they stand or fall. She protests against error; removes it by spiritual means from her own midst; but she judges not those who are without. God is her judge and theirs, and to Him she commits herself and them.

DebD said...

I'm confused. Are you asking whether people outside of the Orthodox Church are still Christian or are you asking if those Christian traditions that are not Orthodox (Lutherans, Episc, Baptist) "the Church"?

My understanding is that the original quote "We know where the Church is..." is speaking to the latter and not bringing into question whether someone is a Christian or not.

But when all is said and done, I agree with your final statement to not address the topic at all, because I know it is quickly mis-understood, much the same as closed communion is often misunderstood.

-C said...

Deb -
I am sorry to have to tell you that in order to get the context of the conversation, you should check the really, really, really long series of comments (which have now been shut off). About halfway through the comments on Lutheran Ordination vows begins a dialogue about, shall we say, Lutheran/Orthodox relations.

It was hard for me to read, and frustrating, too - but mostly sad.

Check back with me here if you want me to further clarify - or to get the abbreviated Reader's Digest version of the conversation - but this was written in response to the comments on Pr. Beane's post, which I referenced.

I told my priest in a recent conversation that I have told myself to shut up more times in the year and a half since I became Orthodox than I did in the total 46 years which preceded it. I hastened to add that I still don't shut up very much - but now at least I always tell myself to.

I was successfully able to shut up on Pastor Beane's blog - I didn't comment there ... but I wasn't totally successful I guess because I addressed it here.

Lord, have mercy.

Mimi said...

I've always really liked that quote, but while I had a church background, I wasn't in a/the church when I came into Orthodoxy. For me, the statement is something that I cling to, because I guess what I see in Orthodoxy is a concentration on me and my relationship with God and not on other's relationshop with God.

Anyway, it is some good food for thought, the comments summed up by Orr and your comments on it as well, and I do understand (probably only a bit) where you are coming from.

It also hits home a bit as my youngest son was telling me the other day that I don't have an open mind when it comes to other religions. Ouch on one hand, and true on another, as I believe "we have found the true faith"

Anytay, I guess I'm thinking outloud, and look forward to this dicussion continuing.

Hugs all around.

orrologion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
orrologion said...

Bravo. Wonderful reflection and exactly the kind of thing I was hoping someone could provide when the discussion was removed from the fray.

I am still uncomprehending at the level of anger and frustration the conversation (and others like it) raise. When I was a dyed in the wool Lutheran simply researching Orthodoxy (to prove how it was wrong), I had no such emotional responses. I sought out the most stark, English-speaking Orthodox I could find to hear the 'real', 'strict' line on what Orthodoxy taught, i.e., monastics, ROCOR, etc. and I was never offended.

But, I hadn't dedicated my life to serving the Lutheran church and I have spent the bulk of my adult life with people that hold opinions of God, religion, Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, etc. in far worse contempt - and I was still able to have meaningful, passionate yet not anger-filled conversations with them about our differing beliefs. Maybe 11 years in Manhattan has simply left me more comfortable with conflict and 'hard words' from friends and strangers than is ideal for 'ecumenical dialogue', especially with those kind, thin-skinned souls in 'fly over country'. :) (Don't jump down my throat; we're planning on moving back to the Midwest - it's a joke).


That sounds an awful lot like the "I don't know" that seemed to be driving Pr. Beane nuts. I think an Orthodox could very likely mouth the same words - and remain Orthodox. :)


The question over whether Orthodox consider Lutherans to be "Christians" was a leap that our friends (I hope) on the Lutheran side of the discussion. Perhaps it has to do with the definition of Church, Christian and salvation in Lutheranism that this was equated. I think I was clear that obsiously Lutherans are Christians, the question is, as you stated it, whether they are Orthodox, i.e., members of the Church. I think the Orthodox definition, as in so many things, is broader and quite different than the very particular definitions given to these terms in certain circles of the theological history of the West.

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

You know, Anastasia had the same reaction to the quote. She thought it was saying the same thing. I think it's saying something different. The difference is that Lutherans do not unchurch you - we know you ARE church - because in you the Word of God and the Spirit of God is at work, doing His faith-giving task, and enabling lives of repentance. You are right though - and Deb has observed this before - that we mean by Church something different than you mean, and so hear "we don't know if you're Church" as equalling "we don't know if you're Christians." I *know* this, and yet it still troubles and depresses me - even though I know you are not saying that we're consigned to hell. Yet, "Outside of the Church there is no salvation" - Lutherans take that seriously - but we understand the Church as the congregation (singular) of all believers - a reality that will be finally and fully manifest only at the glorious Appearing of our Lord.

In any case - I do love you guys and am thankful that you DON'T just walk away from conversations with us, from relations with us.

William Weedon said...

One way I've tried to express the difference before is that Lutherans have a dominical certainty about the Word and Sacraments which makes us certain of the Church among you; you have an ecclesiastical certainty about the Word and Sacraments which makes you uncertain about the Church among us. Lutherans secure the Church via the sacraments; Orthodox secure the sacraments via the Church.

Dixie said...

Ahhh...I think this is a first or maybe a second. -C and I disagree!

It is really not for me to address.

I honestly don't see how this is much different than "We know where the Church is..."

I will admit that when I was still Lutheran I was also bothered by the Orthodox saying they were Church and I wasn't. But in retrospect I honestly think it helped fuel a "good uneasiness" which played a role in bringing me to Holy Orthodoxy.

If "We know where the Church is..." causes a little discomfort...well, there may be a good reason for that. And I wouldn't want less than Orthodoxy for anyone.

orrologion said...

Thanks for your thoughts, William. We love you, too, and are glad you are willing to talk. I view these conversations similarly to how I imagine Thanksgivings must be like in the Hart family - one Orthodox theologian, an RC priest, and an Anglican priest (I think the parents might be Orthodox). They all love each other, and I am sure they discuss the faith, religion in general, and hope and pray that the others will convert to their own faith. Of that whole discussion with Pr. Beane, the only hurtful thing to me, personally, was the accusation that there is something diabolical and duplicitous going on beyond a Lutheran-Orthodox blogosphere version of a 'Hart Family Holiday'.

The "I don't know" of Anastasia is there exactly so that we don't 'unchurch' anyone. We don't really say where the Church isn't, we say where it is. In some ways that is akin to the single predestination of the Lutherans; there is no necessary assumption beyond what has been revealed - which has driven the Reformed nuts for years when dealing with the Lutherans. If one is found to be outside of those bounds, one needs to enter according to the tradition received with no real precedent being set as to what's going on 'outside'. A boy who had been sneaking into his girlfriend's bedroom for years (for hand holding and edifying conversation only, of course) must come in through the door to meet the parents - even though he'd been in the house plenty of times before. Then again, another boy would have come through the same front door to meet the same parents and never set foot inside, though he felt as if he knew it from the girl's description. One never really knows the difference until it is experienced, though, which is exactly the method practiced by the Church at the time of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (you experienced baptism, communion, chrismation, etc. you didn't ever see or hear about them before.)

I agree, Deb, that there is a "good uneasiness" that is associated with a serious conversion. One realizes the stakes, one understands and repents, but repentence unto the fullness and not from regret and hurt. I think there may be a little too much conversion to something less than Orthodoxy - my own family member included. At the same time, Fr. Gregory Jensen has a great quote from St. Gregory the Theologian (similar to the fact of baptism in St. Cyril's time) arguing against expecting one to have a 'full' knowledge before conversion: "Not to everyone, friends, does it belong to philosophize about God, not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low. And, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.' (or. 27.3; PG 36, 13 C-D.; http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2008/07/not-all-of-god-all-time-to-all.html)

orrologion said...

Orthodox secure the sacraments via the Church.

I have always thought about it less in term like this and more in terms of whether the words and actions of the sacrament are affected by who performs the rite and why. Let's set Orders to the side (otherwise, we're in Donatist territory). What if someone takes it upon themselves to simply copy the rite of baptism - either the more minimal form used by Lutherans or the full Orthodox rite with triple immersion - with no faith and no connection to a visible church body. Perhaps it is just my Old Actor, but it would seem to me that not just anyone should (or is) able to perform the sacrament of Holy Illumination. The words and actions themselves do not magically confer grace, forgiveness of sins, likeness to Christ's death and resurrection, etc., but the words and actions can be performed perfectly by anyone with the script and traditional blocking and props. 'Something' else is required (normally, that is; I will undermine my own point by noting there are examples of sainted actors converted to Christianity by participating in satirical, mock [full, Orthodox, triply immersed] baptisms who were then promptly martyred by their pagan audience - the exceptions [2] that prove the rule, in my mind.) The 'something' else that is missing points in the direction of a Church-ly requirement. The requirement, canonically, is the retention of the form of baptism and the other sacraments.

Of course, what minimal or maximal amount of the form must be retained to still be the Sacrament... well, how many notes can you drop from The Magic Flute before it ceases to be Mozart's?

DebD said...

-C, while I realize that I'm working in the dark a bit, I'd rather not get the details. It sounds like it was quite upsetting and perhaps not a very edifying "conversation".

Another way of looking at this: I find it interesting that those who seem to have less problem with that statement are those of us whose spouses are not Orthodox. We gave up a lot (some much more than others) to enter into the Church. If we say "we're all the Church" then really, our sacrifice was in vain and I should have stuck it out as a Charismatic or a Lutheran.

You said:
I told my priest in a recent conversation that I have told myself to shut up more times in the year and a half since I became Orthodox than I did in the total 46 years which preceded it.

This made me smile knowingly. There is a saying by one of the saints or desert Fathers, which I will try from memory: "I often have to ask God to forgive me for what I have said, but rarely have to ask Him to forgive me for what I have not said."

Yes - I'm right there with you. Often, I find it is best to remain silent, especially when dialogging about doctrine/theology/practices with non-Orthodox. I am no apologist for the faith, that is for sure.

DebD said...

William said:
Lutherans secure the Church via the sacraments

Then what does this say about Baptists and Presby? Are they the Church according to Lutheran teaching? I'm just concerned about this statement because it sounds like there is a double standard here. Am I missing something?

Christopher said:

Thanksgivings must be like in the Hart family - one Orthodox theologian, an RC priest, and an Anglican priest (I think the parents might be Orthodox). They all love each other,

I think you've hit an important point here. Being in a family with a mixed practice, like many of us here are, I doubt we operate the way I see things happening on the internet. I love and respect my husband, William, and my sister - why in the world would I put that relationship in jeopardy just to prove a point? In a family, there are things we say amongst ourselves that shouldn't be repeated outside the family. I suspect the same is true with our church family, it's just that the whole internet thing means a lot more people are looking in.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

I'm still puzzling through the whole Beane thread. Here are a few scattered and worthless thoughts:

1. We use the expression "We know where the Church is, we do not know where it isn't," to allow that some individuals who are not Orthodox may nonetheless be believers. Concerning the salvation of those outside the Church, no matter how far outside they might be (Roman, Protestant, even Buddhist) we simply say “We do not know.” There is, of course, more reason to hope in the case of those who maintain some connection with the life-giving word of God; but it is a basic principle of Orthodoxy that we do not judge any individual’s salvation. (One exception: when an Ecumenical council has spoken definitively on a given matter–right? E.g. Arius.)

2. When we say "We don't know where the Church isn't," we are *not* saying, e.g. "Who knows? Perhaps Lutheranism is Church after all." We can and *must* judge the bodies and institutions that are not Orthodox, and say of those bodies and institutions, "This is not Church." That's why Khomiakov's text is "On the western confessions of faith," and not "On the western churches." (In the case of Lutheranism, the task is made easier by its own confessional writings.)

3. In the Holy Scriptures, there are times when individuals outside the Church are seen as believers–e.g. Cornelius the Roman centurion. But those cases, in Scripture at least, are marked by the fact that they come to belong to the Church. In Cornelius’ case, for example, we can say “The Holy Spirit worked in his life before he was joined to the Church. The proof of that work is precisely that he became joined to the Church.” In the case, then, of those who become members of the Church, we can say definitively, “The Holy Spirit was at work in your life before you became Orthodox.” (Indeed, we can say of all people, 'The Holy Spirit is at work in your life,' because he constantly works to draw people to Christ and the Church. But we cannot say this in such a way that it offers any hope, or gives any impression, that the body to which they belong is Church. It is not. Period.)

4. Concerning those who have not joined the Church, Cornelius’ case gives us reason to hope–first of all because they may yet be joined to the Church, and second, because our fundamental conviction (founded on the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ) is that God is good and loves mankind, and third, because the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and fills all things” as the heavenly King and Comforter.

5. That hope should never be expressed in such a way that says, “All is well if you stay as you are.” For that, too, expresses a judgment–no less than saying, “You are not a believer.” We may offer hope, but we must not offer positive certainty. (We see an example of how to express things in Dostoyevsky, when Elder Zosima, speaking of the priests’ complaint that they are not paid enough, says, in effect, “What will you do if Lutherans and heretics come and take away your sheep?” When I was a Lutheran, those words both comforted and terrified me. Comforted, because it didn’t say “Lutheran heretics;” terrified, because Lutherans were linked with heretics. It struck the right balance.)

6. The mysteries involve a synergy between God and the Church. God is the actor in the mysteries, as we confess in both baptismal and eucharistic words ("The servant of God n. is baptised in the name..." "The servant of God n partakes of the precious and all-holy body and blood..."). But he carries out that work only in and through his Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all things. She speaks what he has given her to speak, and does what he has given her to do.

7. Strictly speaking, since the mysteries are words and acts of the Church, those bodies which are not Church do not have the mysteries.

8. Yet there is a distinction among mysteries, that in case of emergency a layman may baptise, outside the Temple; but a layman may never offer the holy gifts.

9. Hence the Church, through her bishops, may receive someone who was baptised outside the Church with the proper form by chrismation alone, as she did with St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. This reception is by oikonomia, not by strictness, because the act of receiving by chrismation is in no way intended to communicate any sort of recognition of the body in which the act was done. (Indeed, if someone coming to the Church would seek to say, by being received in chrismation, “The body I came from was Church too,” he probably should be received by Baptism.) It may be useful, as well, to have even those coming into the Church by chrismation to speak the renunciations found in Hapgood. I was perfectly willing to do so, but the Bishop and priest said it was not necessary.

10. As time goes on, and protestantism continues to fragment and decay, reception by Baptism will become the norm, not the exception.

11. When people are exploring the Orthodox Church, they should be encouraged to ask any and all questions, express doubts etc. without fear; for God is good and loves mankind.

12. The time comes, in that exploration, when some are convinced that the Orthodox Church is, indeed, the Church. At that point, they become more responsible for their subsequent actions, and they are obligated to sell all they have for the sake of the pearl of great price. Yet even here, they may wait for a time, longer or shorter, if that delay means the salvation of someone near to them (e.g. husband or wife). They should submit to the direction of a spiritual father at that point for how to proceed. In no case should they ever say anything against the Church any longer.

13. To sum up: We can and must judge bodies and groups outside the Orthodox Church, and say, “They are not Church.” We cannot and must not judge individuals outside the Orthodox Church, either for good or for ill. We may express hope, and entrust them to God, who is good and loves mankind.


Jason said...

I was first introduced to the phrase "We know where the Church is, but we do not know where the Church is not" by an Orthodox priest when enquiring about Orthodoxy. My initial reaction to the statement was not negative, but just the opposite: I thought it a humble admonition to allow God to be God and call sinners to Himself anyway He so chooses. I also think the quote from -C's wise priest is nothing but a rephrasing of this idea: "... the Word of God (and we talk about the Holy Spirit this way – it’s everywhere present and fills all things) does not belong to the Church or the confines of the Church."

Along similar lines, someone as Fr. Freeman the following question:

[Quote] Fr Stephen how would you respond to the non-Orthodox Christian who claims they have “all that” - the fullness you describe? At the heart it seems to boil down to Apostolic Succession and Authority, which they ultimately reject (by means of redefinition). So what, then, is the essence of the fullness, if one accepts the existence of non-Orthodox Christianity [End Quote]?

And Fr. Freeman replied wisely (as he always does):

[Quote] With silence. We cannot argue anyone into the Truth. If someone thinks they have the “fullness” outside of Orthodoxy there’s no way to tell them they don’t. And there is no need. We have to be told these things by God. He has to create the hunger that can be satisfied only by Him. There should be no compulsion on the part of the Orthodox to make others agree. Our compulsion should be to become truly Orthodox (which is a very hard thing in itself). When there is enough light, enough peace, then thousands around us will be saved. Remember, most people argued with Jesus. How do we stand a chance [End Quote]?

I truly agree with Fr. Freeman's admonition: There should be no compulsion on the part of the Orthodox to make others agree. Our compulsion should be to become truly Orthodox (which is a very hard thing in itself). May God grant me the mercy to stop trying to win arguments and start humbly following Christ.

-C said...

Jason -
I saw this comment yesterday and copied Fr. Stephen's response as fodder for another post some day - so insightful and so helpful. But I'm glad you posted it here, as it is germane in a less direct way to the post itself, but more directly to at least a couple of the comments (I still may use it as fodder for a future post someday...but really wish I'd seen it before Pr. Beane closed comments on that post. I didn't comment on there, but I'd have made reference to this as in the end it got a little dicey and for me, very uncomfortable).

That you found the phrase in question to be a humble commentary while I found it to be offensive is not surprising to me. I suspect that it has something to do with the difference in the traditions from which we came.

The quote from my wise priest (also your wise priest if you are the Jason I presume you are - you should really put at least something on your profile, so I know who I'm talking to here) is nuanced much differently than the party line, allowing not only the thought that The Word of God ("and we talk about the Holy Spirit in this way") MAY be found outside our particular tradition, but that in fact it DOES EXIST outside our tradition ... perhaps placing upon those of us who are Orthodox the burden of recognizing and acknowledging it for what it is?

I do not wish to put words in his mouth or to convey ideas from his words which were not part of his initial intent. I'm just saying that this is what I took away from it.

orrologion said...


The Holy Spirit is most definitely working outside of the Orthodox Church, but that is a very different than confessing that any other church body is the Church or that all will be saved.

-C said...

I don' t think anyone's talking about the assurance of anyone else's salvation here - not even my own.

But ultimately I think this is what it really boils down to. I suspect the turbulence is more about salvation than it is about Church.

Jason said...


I updated my profile...

Thanks for the thoughtful post(s).

-C said...

There you go, Jason - all I had to see was the photo and I knew eactly who you are!

DebD said...

Jason, thank you for sharing the quote from Fr. Stephen. I'm behind on reading his blog and rarely go to the comments section.

orrologion said...


Brilliant again. The spark in the conflagration is really about the certainty and assurance of salvation, not about ecclesiology directly.

You go to Holy Trinity, right? My sister was chrismated there, but was a parishioner at St. Elizabeth's Mission.

-C said...

Yes, I do go to Holy Trinity! I know your sister was chrismated there because when I first started reading your blog and you posted photos of her chrismation - I first recognized Fr. Marc in the photos (a son of the parish who now has a parish of his own), and thought he was doing this chrismation out east somewhere. Took me a couple of minutes before I realized that the photos were taken at Holy Trinity, where at that time only my husband and sons were members.

A small world!

Monica said...


That is very well said. Thank you for providing that quote.