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Why do We Need the Church?

Many truths that form the foundation of the Christian faith are incomprehensible for the human consciousness. When the human mind, proud but limited, attempts to handle them in the plane of its own notions, then it distorts these God-revealed truths, and heresy appears. This is how the truth about the Holy Trinity was distorted in the early centuries of Christianity, and the doctrine of the nature of the Savior from the third through the seventh century. The doctrine of the Church is being distorted even in this time.

"Just believe and you are saved!" this is the motto of Protestantism-based Christian denominations. But our Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples, the holy Apostles taught that salvation is a process of spiritual revival, where faith is the first step only. The Holy Scripture treats the teaching about salvation in a close, organic connection with the teaching about the Church, God's Kingdom amongst people, and it is impossible to separate one from another. That is why modern misconceptions of the Church are in their essence misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of salvation of man.

Modern misconceptions of the Church can be divided into two groups. The first group will include those Christians who believe that Church is not needed for salvation, that man is saved by the faith alone, with absolutely no regard to the Church. Out of this understanding arises the doctrine of the "invisible church," popular among sectarians. It says that all believers, irrespective of their confessions, are members of one invisible church. Of course, if church is invisible, and thus insensible and inactive, it cannot be a means of salvation, and then it is merely a result of the existence of the faithful. The second group will include those Christians who would agree that Church might be useful, but, failing to understand Her nature, they believe that church can be created through human efforts, collusion and compromise. This group covers the champions of so-called ecumenical movement. Both groups share the denial of one true visible Church, in spite of the Savior's clear words, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

Because wrong opinions about the Church are so widespread, we the Orthodox Christians must establish in our minds the correct understanding of the Church, Her significance and necessity for the salvation of our souls.

Evil, as well as sin, is a disintegrating, destructive power, although in this world it can struggle God in serried ranks. As opposed to evil, the Church is a miraculous realization of multi-unity, where things Divine, Spiritual and Heavenly join together with things human, material and worldly.

Unity is the principal feature of the Church. She is organically united per se, although She comprises many local churches and includes worldly and heavenly aspects. She is also united from outside, and there is no match for Her among heterodox confessions. Imaginatively speaking, She is one vineyard, one field, one tree, one vine, one mountain, one building, one flock, one family, one body. Jesus Christ gave the Church one teaching, one baptism, one Communion. The Church lives and becomes sanctified by one Spirit of God, She has one head, Christ. Unity of the Church was the subject of the High-Priest prayer of our Savior: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).

This unity of the Church is a reproduction of the tri-unity of the Persons in the Holy Trinity, and forms Her mysterious nature. That is why, when speaking about the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ often told parables, gave descriptive examples, in order to gradually reveal the diverse aspects of Her and the properties of this miraculous unity of numerous planes. We will use these images of the Gospel for the discussion of the nature of the Church.

The Church of Christ, although it exists in the world that lies in evil, has nothing in common with it. She has Her fence, or boundaries, that separate the sheep of Christ from the bad-tempered sheep and from the wolves. This is told in the parable of the Good Shepherd.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers... I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture... As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:1-5; 9, 15, 16). Clarity of Apostolic teaching, legislation, lineage of the apostolic succession, and the entire order of Church life comprise the obvious fence separating the Church from various religious groups.

The door of the parable is the Sacrament of Baptism, by the means of which the faithful become members of the Church. But there is also a door for the shepherds, which is the legitimate election and ordination. Usurpers of the shepherd's functions, who "climb up some other way" as it is put down in the parable, are thieves and robbers. The parable of the Good Shepherd stresses the idea of obedience for the sheep and self-sacrifice for the shepherds. Obedience is expressed through acceptance of the teaching of the Church, without critique and private opinion, and living Christian lives under the guidance of good shepherds.

The sin of sectarians is, first of all, in their disobedience to the Church, their insubordination and riot. Protestantism is a very characteristic generic term for sectarians.

The parable of the vine discloses the mysterious communion of the faithful with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Source of gifts of grace and spiritual revival.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:1, 4-5).

Whosoever arrogantly alienates oneself from the Church, becomes similar to a cut branch: not only it remains fruitless, but also it will undoubtedly dry up. The consciousness of unity with Christ in the Sacrament of communion should fill us with sense of utter gratitude. We draw our better intentions and powers from Him. He is the source of our spiritual life!

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