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Church

Church as a word means those called as a par­tic­u­lar peo­ple to per­form a par­tic­u­lar task. The Chris­t­ian Church is the assem­bly of God’s cho­sen peo­ple called to keep his word and to do his will and his work in the world and in the heav­en­ly king­dom.

In the Scrip­tures the Church is called the Body of Christ (Rom 12; 1 Cor 10, 12; Col 1) and the Bride of Christ (Eph 5; Rev 21). It is likened as well to God’s liv­ing Tem­ple (Eph 2; 1 Pet 2) and is called “the pil­lar and bul­wark of Truth” (1 Tim 3:15).


One Church

The Church is one because God is one, and because Christ and the Holy Spir­it are one. There can only be one Church and not many. And this one Church, because its uni­ty depends on God, Christ, and the Spir­it, may nev­er be bro­ken. Thus, accord­ing to Ortho­dox doc­trine, the Church is indi­vis­i­ble; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.

Accord­ing to Ortho­dox teach­ing, the uni­ty of the Church is man’s free uni­ty in the truth and love of God. Such uni­ty is not brought about or estab­lished by any human author­i­ty or juridi­cal pow­er, but by God alone. To the extent that men are in the truth and love of God, they are mem­bers of His Church.

Ortho­dox Chris­tians believe that in the his­tor­i­cal Ortho­dox Church there exists the full pos­si­bil­i­ty of par­tic­i­pat­ing total­ly in the Church of God, and that only sins and false human choic­es (here­sies) put men out­side of this uni­ty. In non-Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian groups the Ortho­dox claim that there are cer­tain for­mal obsta­cles, vary­ing in dif­fer­ent groups, which, if accept­ed and fol­lowed by men, will pre­vent their per­fect uni­ty with God and will thus destroy the gen­uine uni­ty of the Church (e.g., the papa­cy in the Roman Church).

With­in the uni­ty of the Church man is what he is cre­at­ed to be and can grow for eter­ni­ty in divine life in com­mu­nion with God through Christ in the Holy Spir­it. The uni­ty of the Church is not bro­ken by time or space and is not lim­it­ed mere­ly to those alive upon the earth. The uni­ty of the Church is the uni­ty of the Blessed Trin­i­ty and of all of those who live with God: the holy angels, the right­eous dead, and those who live upon the earth accord­ing to the com­mand­ments of Christ and the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it.


Holy Church

The Church is holy because God is holy, and because Christ and the Holy Spir­it are holy. The holi­ness of the Church comes from God. The mem­bers of the Church are holy to the extent that they live in com­mu­nion with God.

With­in the earth­ly Church, peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in God’s holi­ness. Sin and error sep­a­rate them from this divine holi­ness as it does from the divine uni­ty. Thus, the earth­ly mem­bers and insti­tu­tions of the Church can­not be iden­ti­fied as such with the Church as holy.

The faith and life of the Church on earth is expressed in its doc­trines, sacra­ments, scrip­tures, ser­vices, and saints which main­tain the Church’s essen­tial uni­ty, and which can cer­tain­ly be affirmed as “holy” because of God’s pres­ence and action in them.


Catholic Church

The Church is also catholic because of its rela­tion to God, Christ, and the Holy Spir­it. The word catholic means full, com­plete, whole, with noth­ing lack­ing. God alone is full and total real­i­ty; in God alone is there noth­ing lack­ing.

Some­times the catholic­i­ty of the Church is under­stood in terms of the Church’s uni­ver­sal­i­ty through­out time and space. While it is true that the Church is universal—for all men at all times and in all places—this uni­ver­sal­i­ty is not the real mean­ing of the term “catholic” when it is used to define the Church. The term “catholic” as orig­i­nal­ly used to define the Church (as ear­ly as the first decades of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry) was a def­i­n­i­tion of qual­i­ty rather than quan­ti­ty. Call­ing the Church catholic means to define how it is, name­ly, full and com­plete, all-embrac­ing, and with noth­ing lack­ing.

Even before the Church was spread over the world, it was defined as catholic. The orig­i­nal Jerusalem Church of the apos­tles, or the ear­ly city-church­es of Anti­och, Eph­esus, Corinth, or Rome, were catholic. These church­es were catholic—as is each and every Ortho­dox church today—because noth­ing essen­tial was lack­ing for them to be the gen­uine Church of Christ. God Him­self is ful­ly revealed and present in each church through Christ and the Holy Spir­it, act­ing in the local com­mu­ni­ty of believ­ers with its apos­tolic doc­trine, min­istry (hier­ar­chy), and sacra­ments, thus requir­ing noth­ing to be added to it in order for it to par­tic­i­pate ful­ly in the King­dom of God.

To believe in the Church as catholic, there­fore, is to express the con­vic­tion that the full­ness of God is present in the Church and that noth­ing of the “abun­dant life” that Christ gives to the world in the Spir­it is lack­ing to it (Jn 10:10). It is to con­fess exact­ly that the Church is indeed “the full­ness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23; also Col 2:10).


Apostolic Church

The word apos­tolic describes that which has a mis­sion, that which has “been sent” to accom­plish a task.

Christ and the Holy Spir­it are both “apos­tolic” because both have been sent by the Father to the World. It is not only repeat­ed in the Scrip­ture on numer­ous occa­sions how Christ has been sent by the Father, and the Spir­it sent through Christ from the Father, but it also has been record­ed explic­it­ly that Christ is “the apos­tle… of our con­fes­sion” (Heb 3:1).

As Christ was sent from God, so Christ Him­self chose and sent His apos­tles. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you… receive ye the Holy Spir­it,” the risen Christ says to His dis­ci­ples. Thus, the apos­tles go out to the world, becom­ing the first foun­da­tion of the Chris­t­ian Church.

In this sense, then, the Church is called apos­tolic: first, as it is built upon Christ and the Holy Spir­it sent from God and upon those apos­tles who were sent by Christ, filled with the Holy Spir­it; and sec­ond­ly, as the Church in its earth­ly mem­bers is itself sent by God to bear wit­ness to His King­dom, to keep His word and to do His will and His works in this world.

Ortho­dox Chris­tians believe in the Church as they believe in God and Christ and the Holy Spir­it. Faith in the Church is part of the creedal state­ment of Chris­t­ian believ­ers. The Church is her­self an object of faith as the divine real­i­ty of the King­dom of God giv­en to men by Christ and the Holy Spir­it; the divine com­mu­ni­ty found­ed by Christ against which “the gates of hell shall not pre­vail” (Mt 16:18).

The Church, and faith in the Church, is an essen­tial ele­ment of Chris­t­ian doc­trine and life. With­out the Church as a divine, mys­ti­cal, sacra­men­tal, and spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty, in the midst of the fall­en and sin­ful world there can be no full and per­fect com­mu­nion with God. The Church is God’s gift to the world. It is the gift of sal­va­tion, of knowl­edge and enlight­en­ment, of the for­give­ness of sins, of the vic­to­ry over dark­ness and death. It is the gift of com­mu­nion with God through Christ and the Holy Spir­it. This gift is giv­en total­ly, once and for all, with no reser­va­tions on God’s part. It remains for­ev­er, until the close of the ages: invin­ci­ble and inde­struc­tible. Men may sin and fight against the Church, believ­ers may fall away and be sep­a­rat­ed from the Church, but the Church itself, the “pil­lar and bul­wark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) remains for­ev­er.

… [God] has put all things under His [Christ’s] feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the full­ness of Him who fills all in all.

… for through Him we… have access in one Spir­it, to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourn­ers, but you are fel­low-cit­i­zens with the saints and mem­bers of the house­hold of God, built upon the foun­da­tion of the apos­tles and prophets, Christ Jesus Him­self being the cor­ner­stone, in whom the whole struc­ture is joined togeth­er and grows into a holy tem­ple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spir­it.

… Christ loved the Church and gave Him­self up for her, that he might sanc­ti­fy her by the wash­ing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Him­self in splen­dor, with­out spot or wrin­kle or any such thing, that she might be holy and with­out blem­ish… This is a Great Mys­tery… Christ and the Church… (Eph 1:21–23; 2:19–22; 5:25–32).