The Church: Our and Us

The Church is the Body of Christ.  All members of the Church are needed to make up the Body – not just bishops or clergy, but every man, woman and child baptized into Christ becomes part of the priesthood of all believers.  All believers are to share in the total mission and ministries of the Church; some are particularly gifted by God to carry out specific ministries within the Church.   St. Paul mentions the gifts of the Spirit, as well as the ministries of those so called by God, and also the fruits which those possessing the Spirit will bring forth to the glory of God.

“The gifts of the Spirit are not given for their own sake as a reward of some sort, but for ministry in the Church, and they are given to those who already have drunk of the Spirit.”  (Nicholas Afanasiev, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, p 15)

The gifts of the Spirit and the ministries of the Spirit are given to the Church in its members to build up the body of Christ.   Individuals are not given the gifts of ministry to lord it over others, nor to start their own parishes and denominations, but rather to build up Christ’s Church.   They are gifted in so that they can be servants within the community rather than to be lords over the community.

“(St.) Paul believes that God’s justification means the creation of a community of Jews and Gentiles with a new heart, by virtue of internal rather than external circumcision (Rom 2:25-29), who, enabled by the Spirit, live faithfully toward God and lovingly toward others, thus fulfilling the  ‘just requirements of the law’ (Rom 8:3-4).  The very purpose of Christ’s incarnation and death was to create such a community (Gal 5:6,13-14; Rom 8:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21).  (Michael Gorman, INHABITING THE CRUCIFORM GOD, p 80)

We all as Christians are united in love to serve one another and our Lord.  As Orthodox we together as a whole must share in the evangelical, pastoral and apostolic work of the Church.  This is our work, not just the clergy’s.  It is up to us to go into the world with the Gospel, and it is up to us to witness to the Gospel through our lives.

For this discussion, I am using these three terms with a specific and essential understanding as a starting point. … By ‘pastoral’ I am referring to expression of ministry that ‘shepherd’ others’ journey in Christ in some manner.  The flock to be guided may be a family, a parish, or a monastic community.  The flock could also include spiritual sons and daughters who present themselves privately to their spiritual mother or spiritual father for direction in the conduct of their lives.  By ‘evangelical’, I am referring to expressions of ministry that in some way ‘share the good news’ with others.  This effort may take place within a small community of sisters and/or brothers, or be expressed by a mission on a much larger scale.  And, by ‘apostolic,’ I am referring to those who have been ‘sent out’ to establish and build the Church in a particular time and place.”   (Kyriaki FitzGerald, PERSONS IN  COMMUNION, p 82)  

FirtzGerald argues that all baptized Christians are called to be pastoral, evangelical and apostolic – not just the clergy.  This is the very mission of the membership of the Body of Christ to which we all belong.  Christ is the sole head of the Church, the bishops and clergy are members of the Body together with all the laity.  When we talk about “the Church”, we are talking about “us”  and “our” Church, not “them” and “their” Church.   We are all in the same Church working together for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.