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What Is Unique About Church?

Bizzlebin

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The bigger question that I'd like to ask is deceptively simple: what is church? But, since that is very much "loaded"— there appear to be multiple ways that "church" is used throughout Scripture and the Fathers, plus such answers would likely lead to large blocks of narrative text which would describe the church but not identify it—such a question is next to impossible to answer as-is. So instead, I want to ask a question that is also difficult, but perhaps more approachable: what is unique about church? Put another way, what characteristic does church have that no other instance of anything can also claim as its own characteristic?

Remembering through the countless Fathers I've read and studying quite a few again for this question, I found lots of interesting distinctions—such as a distinction between Kingdom Of God and church (also present in Scripture—and Christ says next to nothing about church!) that I never noticed—but not very much when it comes to unique characteristics that distinguish church from not-church. For example, take the adjective "one". This is applied to everything from faith to baptism in St Paul (cf Ephesians 4.4–6), so while it may apply to church, too, it is therefore not a unique characteristic. Likewise, consider the adjective "holy". This can apply to everything from a believer to a sacred object. So this adjective, while also true, is not a unique characteristic, either.

Images and metaphors have similar problems with uniqueness. Perhaps the most common is "body of Christ". Yet that properly belongs to Christ's incarnate flesh, and by extension to His mother, the Theotokos. And by even further extension, it applies to all of humanity, a point made repeatedly by early fathers like St Athanasios. Interestingly, hearkening back to Ephesians 4—a verse we often think of as applying to church in modern Orthodoxy—most of the Fathers seem to say little about church here and apply the chapter to humanity as a whole (everyone from Origen to Ss Augustine, Gregory Of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, to name a few). So if St Paul uses the body image for the church, it is not clear that it is anything but a *functional* metaphor as opposed to an *ontological* metaphor, and in either case it is not unique to church.

So, any ideas? I'm thinking very widely here, contrasting church with everything from an individual to a [Christian] state. What is a characteristic that is *100% unique* to church? Thanks!
 

Ainnir

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Are you asking for a characteristic about church that doesn't also apply to Scripture, God, God's people, or the things of God, but only to church in and of itself? That's what I'm getting from your post.
 

Bizzlebin

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Are you asking for a characteristic about church that doesn't also apply to Scripture, God, God's people, or the things of God, but only to church in and of itself? That's what I'm getting from your post.
Correct. Something that cannot be confused with another person (or even Divine Person), institution, object, etc.
 

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Church is inclusive and cannot be described in exclusives.
 

Asteriktos

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Why do you think such a thing exists or is possible?
What use would it serve, or why would this be helpful?
 

Ainnir

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Correct. Something that cannot be confused with another person (or even Divine Person), institution, object, etc.
I’m still confused by this question. Are you asking what is unique about church in the way that the Persons of the Trinity are unique — they share Divine attributes but each is or does something the others aren’t/don’t, or are you asking for Church to basically be self-defined (where any common charateristics negate its necessity or validity)? Or am I missing your point completely?
 

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Don't know if it will help, but it could be funny to know that a bema can be called kīor — כִיּוֹר in Hebrew, at least it seems so from 2 Chronicles 6:12-13, which sounds a bit like choir, and even more like that word in other languages. But etymological dictionaries trace choir back to Latin chorus, meaning the place in a temple where the singers stand, and are reluctant to speculate further back. The Hebrew word was also used for 10 basins in the temple. Some etymologists are convinced that church can be traced to a Greek word like κυριακόν — 'of the Lord', others are skeptical. I'd say words often gain wider usage if they can be interpreted in many ways.
 

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Church is where we receive Eucharist.

Also, even if you like to hang around by yourself, as I usually do, there’s nothing like the comfort and energy you can get from worshipping with others.
 

Tzimis

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Church is a window into the future.
 

Bizzlebin

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Church is where we receive Eucharist.
This was one of my first ideas, IIRC, when I started really thinking through the question and its implications. A few roadblocks came up, though. First, what of Orthodox groups (lay, monastic, etc) and services (eg, the Hours) where the Eucharist is not celebrated in the overt sense? Second, what of the other mysteries? Third, what of canonically-normative situations such as deacons carrying Eucharist outside of the Liturgy for those unable to make it; how does this affect the "where"?
 

Bizzlebin

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I’m still confused by this question. Are you asking what is unique about church in the way that the Persons of the Trinity are unique — they share Divine attributes but each is or does something the others aren’t/don’t, or are you asking for Church to basically be self-defined (where any common charateristics negate its necessity or validity)? Or am I missing your point completely?
I'm unsure if there is something unique in the personal sense, as church is—as far as I understand—a unity of persons. And I'm also not sure what to make of your second question as regards my question: I'm not necessarily looking for a end-all boundary (though that would be quite the answer!), just a starting point: something that is definitively unique to church—inclusive of the conciliar and canonical systems that we observe historically.
 

Bizzlebin

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Don't know if it will help, but it could be funny to know that a bema can be called kīor — כִיּוֹר in Hebrew, at least it seems so from 2 Chronicles 6:12-13, which sounds a bit like choir, and even more like that word in other languages. But etymological dictionaries trace choir back to Latin chorus, meaning the place in a temple where the singers stand, and are reluctant to speculate further back. The Hebrew word was also used for 10 basins in the temple. Some etymologists are convinced that church can be traced to a Greek word like κυριακόν — 'of the Lord', others are skeptical. I'd say words often gain wider usage if they can be interpreted in many ways.
Linguistics is something I also tried, along with OT typology. Linking the church not just to Israel generally but the Levites specifically does resolve a few of the more obscure patristic passages on the subject. But then the question becomes: what is priesthood? On one hand, we have fairly restrictive definitions, none of which seem to account for councils and canons and such. On the other we have visions like that of Pr Alexander Schmemann, where priesthood is the duty of every human—so we're back outside of church, in the common use of the word, and talking about all of humanity via Christ's Incarnation again. Good points, though.
 

LizaSymonenko

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Bizzlebin... welcome back after over a decade! I hope you have been doing well.

As for the Church (Capital C) it is a place where we commune not only with others of the Faith, but, with God Himself. It is the establishment, the foundation of the world, the thing that keeps the world spinning on its axis.

The Church is God's instrument of salvation for us. Through this instrument, He provides us with the tools necessary for us to live our lives... to be Baptized, Married, Ordained, and buried... it is through the Church that we find relief from our sinful natures, confessing our shortcomings, and come back into Communion with God.

It is through the Church that we are supported, upheld, assisted, and encouraged by likeminded people surrounding us.

It is the Church that preserves all the unadulterated teachings of Christ, not morphing, not giving in to societal pressures. It is on the Church that we lean, that we depend, and to whom we refer society when it attacks us. It is our foundation, our rock, and no storm will wipe it away... and as long as we are safely within, we will be safe and grounded... but, the moment we exit... we lose our footing, we fall and bounce around... we lose our sense of direction.

The Church is like Noah's Arc.... traversing the storms of life... and being kept safe by the Grace of God... constantly heading towards safe harbor.
 

Bizzlebin

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The Holy Spirit lives in It, It is governed by Christ, and adopts believers to God the Father.
All those are true, but they also apply outside of church: the Holy Spirit is everywhere present and fills all things, Christ governs all (cf Kingdom Of God, which is seemingly used as a distinct entity from church), and Christ's assumption of human nature means we're all adopted by the Father in at least some manner. Good points, but nothing is unique to church.

One thing you touched on, that I did not mention, is the possibility that the unique characteristic will not be simple but compound: it may involve numerous sub-characteristics that must all simultaneously be true. I'm not sure if that is or is not the case, but it is something I have considered. If that is the case, it should go without saying that I'd like to find the smallest set of sub-characteristics possible.
 

Bizzlebin

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Bizzlebin... welcome back after over a decade! I hope you have been doing well.

...

The Church is like Noah's Arc.... traversing the storms of life... and being kept safe by the Grace of God... constantly heading towards safe harbor.
Thanks for the [re-]welcome! Between the pandemic, my godparents sending me here with this tough question, and everything else going on these days, I'm glad to be back. Hopefully the time in school and general life experience has done me some good in the meantime!

You've also made lots of good points and all of those things are true of church (and probably Church), but again it is hard to say that any are unique to church. The last point you have is interesting, mentioning the Ark. There is much typology in the OT regarding the Cross, of which that is a prime example (it means other things as well, to be sure). Martyrdom is a big deal, whereas under the OT it happened but wasn't really a clear goal. And there are many other elements in church which point to these same events of Christ's Death and Resurrection. Sure, Christ is the image of the Father so the Cross applies somehow to Him, as well—as a revelation of Who He Is. Yet perhaps there is something distinctive about the Cross vis a vis church that distinguishes its particular ministry from the obedience that all creation owes to God. The Cross is so intertwined in nature that I'm not able to pick out a way the church uses it that the rest of creation does not, but I have a feeling that it is heavily involved in the answer.
 

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but they also apply outside of church:
Then why was Pentecost necessary?
No. The world lies in evil, and Christ is the helmsman specifically of the Church.
No. We receive the sonship of God by grace, and grace is exclusively through Christ.
However, I feel that I have come to the limit of my competence, so do not hesitate to leave this comment unanswered )
 

Bizzlebin

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Then why was Pentecost necessary?
No. The world lies in evil, and Christ is the helmsman specifically of the Church.
No. We receive the sonship of God by grace, and grace is exclusively through Christ.
However, I feel that I have come to the limit of my competence, so do not hesitate to leave this comment unanswered )
No worries. It is a hard question. We are constantly told what church is—or at least we are told that we've been told. But that we cannot seem to get to an answer—and not because of argument or different positions—points to the possibility that it is not actually something we've been told, perhaps ever. Which is kind of surprising.

To clarify a little more, there are canons about a diocese appointing a treasurer, specifically someone apart from the bishop; this isn't just one or two saints but the most mainstream and necessary sort of decision you can get. Likewise, there are numerous canons (patristic as well as Ecumenical) talking about handing certain people over to "the civil authorities". In both cases, these other institutions are not seen as opposed to the church or opposed to Christ—far from it!—but as handling different matters within the Kingdom Of God. So whether we call it the church, institutional church, the purview of the clerical hierarchy, or something else—that is what I am trying to understand better. Why does the church itself regard that there is a distinction, and how does it know which is which? What [I assume obvious] characteristic allowed the Fathers to say that those things, while important for canonical church, are distinct from church? Thanks for giving it a try!
 

Tzimis

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No worries. It is a hard question. We are constantly told what church is—or at least we are told that we've been told. But that we cannot seem to get to an answer—and not because of argument or different positions—points to the possibility that it is not actually something we've been told, perhaps ever. Which is kind of surprising.

To clarify a little more, there are canons about a diocese appointing a treasurer, specifically someone apart from the bishop; this isn't just one or two saints but the most mainstream and necessary sort of decision you can get. Likewise, there are numerous canons (patristic as well as Ecumenical) talking about handing certain people over to "the civil authorities". In both cases, these other institutions are not seen as opposed to the church or opposed to Christ—far from it!—but as handling different matters within the Kingdom Of God. So whether we call it the church, institutional church, the purview of the clerical hierarchy, or something else—that is what I am trying to understand better. Why does the church itself regard that there is a distinction, and how does it know which is which? What [I assume obvious] characteristic allowed the Fathers to say that those things, while important for canonical church, are distinct from church? Thanks for giving it a try!
The church is two things on a cosmological level. Its a communion of saints and a time machine into eternity.
 

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Matthew 18:20
New King James Version



20 For where two or three are gathered (A)together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Church is where 2-3 Are gathered in His name in prayer. A building not made with hands, the chief Cornerstone is Jesus.

Nature itself teaches us of God's glory. We see His cross everywhere as a witness and testimony of His love.

Those in Noah's ark didn't stay in the ark forever. They landed and spread out. Multiplying. Growing. Reaching.

The Church is being in the prescence of God- whether in Divine Liturgy, in prayer with a brother and sister at a home, in nature witnessing the handiwork of God; she is ever growing, inviting all to join. The church is the light in this world, the salt, the Way, the Bride. Fruitful. In the world but not of the world.
...just some ramblings. Now your question makes me think all day on this subject.
 

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I'm not trying to go all protestant here!
 
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