I was in a discussion on Facebook concerning the nature of the church. I am holding this discussion with a couple of Orthodox church members. One of them provided a bunch of quotes on the church from the “church fathers.”
Some ideas came from that …
- I really like a couple of the quotes, so I’m going to share them in this post.
- I realized that “church fathers” is a mysterious term to most Protestants. To most of us, they are people in ecclesiastical robes, belonging to an unspecified era a long time ago and belonging to churches we don’t understand, but that were probably Roman Catholic. So I’m going to share a timeline of church history starting tomorrow, then drill down on it bit by bit over a few posts.
Early Church Fathers on the Spirit and the Church
These are not the church fathers that I normally quote. Tomorrow, I’ll begin explaining why I quote from the “pre-Nicene” or “ante-Nicene” fathers and almost never quote post-Nicene fathers. That will be the “Learn All of Church History in One Week” series. You won’t know any details, but you’ll have a framework of all of church history that you can plug the details into. Basically, we will be building a set of shelves in which you can organize and retain everything you know and will know about Christian history.
Anyway, here’s the quotes:
“What is the unity of the Spirit?” asks Saint John Chrysostom, and he answers, “Just as the spirit, in the body, controls all and communicates some sort of unity to the diversity which arises from the various bodily members, so it is here. But the Spirit is also given in order to unite people who are diverse among themselves in descent and in their way of thinking.” (from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/christchurchilarion.htm)
Blessed Theodoret says, “You are all considered worthy of a common Spirit; you compose one body.” Blessed Jerome describes: “One body in the sense of the body of Christ, which is the Church; and one Holy Spirit, one single dispenser and sanctifier of all.” (ibid.)
Blessed Paul Pavao would like to say he really likes these quotes.
Hey, those guys were probably more obedient to King Jesus than I am. They were probably better servants to our Master. However, there’s no way they were more blessed than me. Our Father has been very gracious to me, a sinner, as I am sure he has been to you if you have given any effort to following him.
Anyway, back to the point …
Throughout the post I linked after that first quote, there is this emphasis on the Spirit as the source of our unity. I can’t say I followed the point of the whole post because I got lost in my own points after I read the quotes.
There are those who are unified by the Spirit despite their various descents and ways of thinking. There are those who are being sanctified by the Spirit. There are those who want to please Jesus above everything else in their life, and no matter how good or bad they are at pleasing Jesus, they are the ones who will find the Holy Spirit uniting and transforming them.
That is the church. Everything that gets in the way of our acting that spiritual unity out is at best a distraction and at worst evil. We are called to diligently maintain the unity of the Spirit.
“Maintain” means that we already have it.
Acts 5:32 says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those that obey him.* If the Holy Spirit is in us, he will unite us. I think most of us have experienced that feeling. We have met people that we just knew were Christians. There was a draw to them, and they felt the same toward us.
That unity is to be diligently maintained.
What About Important Doctrines?
There are important doctrines. No one denies that. I think most of us agree, however, that God doesn’t give the Holy Spirit to people who deny the basics of the Christian faith.
What are those basics?
There are things that all of us agree are important. The Apostles Creed is a good example. To boil the Apostles Creed down to its basic meaning, we are to believe that God the Father created everything with no exceptions. He created all these things through King Jesus, our Lord, the Son of God, who was born of God before time began, one in substance from the Father (God from God), and that all the things we read about him in the Gospels really happened. He really was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, rose again bodily, and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. We also believe in the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles Creed adds that we believe in one church and in one baptism for the remission of sins, but the interpretation of those terms is extremely varied in our day.
Okay, given that these things are important, all debate about anything else needs to be done keeping in mind that if we have unity of Spirit with people, we have to diligently maintain it.
I’m not going to tell you how to maintain it. I saw a discussion on Facebook about whether to fellowship with other Christians if they did not agree with you on head coverings (re: 1 Cor. 11). It’s important that the church discuss these things and draw conclusions. A person who breaks fellowship with a church over such an issue, however, has forgotten that we are to diligently maintain the unity of the Spirit.
How would things be different if that were our attitude? If we could say, “I have my convictions, my Bible interpretations, and my strong opinions. I don’t want to see them dismissed, but if you are my brother or sister, united to me in Spirit, I will diligently maintain that unity until I absolutely cannot. Even then, when I can no longer maintain that unity, I will honestly examine myself to see if there is any change I can make in myself for the sake of the unity of God’s flock.”
After all, if we are able to believe that another person has the Spirit of God, then are we not believing that God has fellowship with that person? And if God does, shouldn’t we?