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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Necessity of the Church

I won't be baptized, and I will be a Christian. I'll be a Christian in my own way.

-- Clarence Day, Life With Father

Last Saturday, a very friendly couple in our neighborhood had a Halloween party, which I dutifully attended. I hadn't met the couple, and I don't know my neighbors very well, so it was an opportunity to become acquainted with some and reacquainted with others. They did a fantastic job, decorating their house and yard about as creatively and scarily as they could. Their generosity was something to be imitated, as they provided hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, numerous sides, desserts, and drinks, without asking a penny of compensation for it all.

One couple from the neighborhood who was there I find particularly interesting, in that they attend a local Greek Orthodox church. While recent years have shown an increase of Orthodox believers in the area, with a couple of new parishes from different dioceses starting up, Eastern Orthodoxy is still a strange bird in North Carolina.

I'm a convinced Protestant, and so there are definite areas in which I disagree with the Orthodox. Nonetheless, I find they often have insights, normally due to their strong understanding of tradition, that Protestants would do well to hear and, in some cases, recover from their Catholic roots. So I'm interested in what Orthodox people have to say, especially about the church.

In talking with the wife of this couple, we discussed what her kids were up to, and whether they had followed in her Orthodox footsteps. One of her sons, she told me, claims that he is Eastern Orthodox, though he never attends the worship services of the church. He says that he and his family pray at home, and that, he thinks, is good enough. But she responded as good Orthodox would, telling him, "If you don't go to church, you're not Orthodox." Her son, it seems, wasn't especially appreciative of her response, but I was. The statement reflected what it seems to me to be the Biblical view of what a Christian is.

I think one of the most devastating notions that pervades the American church today is the idea that one can be a Christian without ever attending church. It has often been called "Lone Ranger Christianity" (though some have wisely commented that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto). There have been those since the inception of the church that believe that the organized church is an unnecessary institution. But nothing could be farther from the truth. From its beginning in the Book of Acts, the church has been an organized group, with defined leadership, and regular corporate worship.

But then the question is raised as to whether one outside the church can be saved. The most famous statement in church history about this came from Cyprian of Carthage, who said, "Nullus salus extra ecclasiam", or, "There is no salvation outside of the church." This has been debated inside and out since, and various responses have been given to the question. One can even detect some differences within Reformed circles, between the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

As a Calvinist, I assert that God's hands are never tied in this matter. If He wants to save someone outside of the church, He can. But to think that one can live in defiance of God's requirement to join with the visible body of Christ and still be a Christian is a foolish presumption. The matter is simple: Christians go to church. Those who don't have reason to doubt their salvation.

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