THE CHURCH AND SALVATION

by V. Rev. Fr. Michael W. Stott

 

The following address was presented in a panel discussion entitled, “What is the Church,” before the student body of Muh­lenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with their annual Institute of Faith, February 21, 1961. Other participants on this panel represented the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Episcopal Church. Discussion followed the formal presentations.

 

I have been asked to address you this evening on “The Church and Salvation.”

Matthew the Evangelist tells us (16: 13) that when Jesus once came to the country of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” And they said, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” He said unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

That Christ established His Church is by his own words without question. But various beliefs concerning it arose almost immediately and of course exist in a great number today.

Tonight that we may better understand the doctrine of the Church and salvation, let us review the New Testament concept and a few characteristic writings of the early Church Fathers.

The ideal of the Church appears again and again in the New Testament and reflects the beliefs of the leaders of the primitive Christian Church. To these leaders the Church is to be inclusive and one; that all believers in Christ should be united as are he and the Father. More than once Paul speaks of the Church as the body of Christ. As he sees it, it is to be one, knit together, each member contributing to the whole. The Epistle to the Ephesians declares that Christ is the head of the Church and dreams of the Church as ultimately being without spot, wrinkle or blemish. The Christian fellowship is to be a new Israel, a chosen people, drawn from all mankind. In Christ both Jews and Gentiles are to be members of the “Household of God” growing into “An holy temple.” Not only is the Church to embrace both Jews and Gentiles, but in it there is also to be no distinction on the basis of race, gathered from every nation, and from all tribes, peoples, cultural status, servitude, freedom, or sex. It is to be and tongues. We can establish the necessity of belonging to the one fellowship for salvation on the basis of Our Lord’s words as recorded in Matthew. “If a man will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican,” that is regard him no longer as a Christian.

A more formalized doctrine of the Church followed the writings of the early Church Fathers.

According to Ignatius (140 AD.) the Bishop is to be the center of unity in the church. He regards the Bishop as the representative of Christ, or God, and the head of the organization, administration, discipline, and worship of each local Church. The Bishop and with him the body of presbyters and deacons are essential to the existence of a Church. Apart from them the Sacraments cannot be validly performed. The Bishop is, he argues, the center of each Church, as Jesus Christ is the center of the Catholic Church.

Ignatius insists on the need for a visible unity. He knows nothing of any distinction between a visible and an invisible church. Just as Christ is really God and man, so is the Church flesh and spirit.

Another point of view comes to us in the writings of Iranaeus. (140 AD.) He regards the Church as the treasure house of tradition, filled by the Apostles, from which anyone who wills may draw.

The teaching of the faith is a trust committed to the Church by God, to give life to all that share it.

He emphasizes that it is only in the Church that communion with Christ can be obtained and those who do not share in it are without the vital nourishment of their mother’s milk and the pure waters that flow from the Body of Christ. They are aliens from truth doomed to wander in all directions. They have no rock as their foundation, but only sand and stones.

The true Church is distinguished, says Iraeneus, by its unity. Though diffused through the whole inhabited world to the ends of the earth, it has one and the same faith everywhere, derived from the Apostles.

A further development of doctrine of the Church was worked out by Cyprian. (220-258 A.D.)

He declares that Christ’s Church is constituted by the people united to the Bishop and the flock clinging to its shepherd. The Bishop is in the Church and the Church in the Bishop. Anyone who is not with the Bishop is not in the Church. The Church is not rent and divided, but bound and linked together by the Bishops who form together with one another, a solid body. They are the successors of the apostles. All true members of the Church will obey them—opposition to the Bishop is opposition to God.

Cyprian declares that to have the one God for your Father you must have the Church for your Mother.

And to the point under discussion this evening, Cyprian asserts that No man can be saved except in the Church. Outside the Church there is no salvation.

The last of the Fathers we will consider is Cyril of Jerusalem. (315-386 A.D.) According to the teaching which Cyril gave his catechumens, the Church into which they were about to be admitted was a society and an institution of unrivalled excellences and powers.

The Church, he teaches, is spread throughout the whole of the inhabited world, from end to end of the earth; it teaches, without deficiency of any kind, all the doctrines which men ought to know, about things visible and invisible, celestial and terrestrial. It calls and collects together all, that they may hear the words of God and learn to fear Him and make confession to Him and praise His name.

Cyril states that other gatherings of men have had the same name, Church. But the catechumen must remember that this is the Church to which alone the name ‘One, Holy, Catholic’ belongs. It is to the Catholic Church he must always betake himself—the Holy Church, Mother of us all; the Bride of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so Cyril teaches that for all who are taught in this Catholic Church and lead good lives there is in store the kingdom of heaven and the inheritance of eternal life.

It is quite evident that from the beginning the Church was regarded as a new spiritual society, potentially world­wide, united by a common faith, enjoying a real spiritual union with Christ himself, permeated and sustained by the Holy Spirit and his various gifts of grace.

This new spiritual society was the visible organization to which baptism gave admission. The attempt to distinguish between the two, to recognize an invisible Church within the visible does not belong to the earliest thought. The authority of the Church was guaranteed ultimately by its connection with the Holy Spirit Himself; but the continuity of this authority was preserved through the Bishops the successors of the Apostles, the living representatives of Christ on earth. It was this unbroken succession that gave the assurance that the Church was still the society founded by Christ.

It was in and through this Society that all the benefits of the life and death of Christ were to be obtained. In this society were vested all the means of grace. It was this society to which were applied the four epithets:

One, holy, Catholic, Apostolic.

And this society, which was in existence from the beginning, to which the Creed refers as One Holy Catholic and Apostolic, is still in existence today, preserving unalloyed and undiminished the Catholic faith. This is the Church established by Christ against which the “gates of hell shall not prevail;” This is the church which “if a man will not hear. . . let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican;” This is the Church outside which Cyprian declares there is no salvation. This is the visible body of believers united to consecrated Bishops. This is the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

N.B. When the word “Catholic” is used it is the Catholic Church of the Creed which is referred to, The Church we now refer to as Orthodox-Catholic.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
September 1962
p. 7

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