Father Steve Dalber
If asked the question Why do you go to church? most Orthodox Christians would probably be seriously baffled. This isn’t a question that has been asked or pondered upon by most. The reason for this response -- or lack of response -- lies in the fact that most Orthodox Christians take their faith for granted. They rely on generations of being told to “believe and don’t question.” While grandparents deserve a great deal of credit for keeping children and grandchildren in the faith, to “believe and don’t question” is fundamentally not Orthodox thinking. Faith is not enough. As Disciples of Christ we are directed to a much higher calling. The Church was created by our Lord as a vessel of salvation. By accepting Christ we are brought into this vessel through baptism. We belong to the Church because we have chosen to be saved. We willingly accept the wonderful gift of eternal life. What has been forgotten though, is that this gift comes with responsibilities.
If we use the analogy of the Church as a sailing ship, we must understand that it is not a cruise ship where we come aboard and receive all the luxuries and benefits, while relaxing and patiently awaiting our destination. The Church is a working ship. By accepting passage on it we accept to be co-workers with the rest of the crew. Our Lord said to make disciples of all nations. Disciples are not tourists they are workers. Jesus Christ as the Captain has given His crew directions. This ship has a specific mission. Its purpose is not to simply wander aimlessly in the ocean being tossed and directed by the whims of the sea until His second coming. The responsibility of every Christian is to know and work towards this mission with all their talents and abilities. This mission has been given to the Church through the Apostles with very clear instructions. This mission is a non-negotiable order. It is not a suggestion. Those who have accepted salvation have accepted the task of continuing and working towards the fulfillment of our Lord’s ministry. They have accepted to be fellow workers towards this effort. They have been made stewards of not only the Church, but of its ministry as well.
When a young man asked “What must I do to be saved?” our Lord’s response was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt.2: 37-39)
A critical aspect of being members of the Church and expressing our love to God and to each other is through the frequent participation in the Eucharistic feast: the Divine Liturgy. But just showing up is not enough. We must receive communion. Our Lord has assembled us as a Eucharistic community first and foremost. We cannot be united in mission if we aren’t first united in body. We are the living body of Jesus Christ. He is the Head and we are its members. We are united for one purpose; that is to continue Christ’s ministry, in this world and throughout time.
(We are)” His body, which is the church… “( Col.1:24)
“And He is the head of the body…”( Col.1:18)
“This is my body which is given to you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks MY blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)
Salvation is the greatest gift ever offered by God to His creatures. Attaining salvation should be the first priority of every human being. This is our primary goal as Orthodox Christians. We strive to save ourselves because we love ourselves. If we are to love others as ourselves then shouldn’t we also strive for their salvation? Isn’t this in fact “The Good News” that we have been commissioned to proclaim? Isn’t this the reason that we are baptized and baptize others into the Church, so that we and they too can be saved?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20)
When Jesus ascended into the heavens he didn’t leave a “boss” of the Church. He left a team. He left many disciples not just one. He decentralized His own worldly authority and gave it to the Church the Body of believers beginning with the Apostles past and present. (The Bishops) They are selected to oversee the mission. They were not given authority to change the mission or even to modify the mission. The mission is non-negotiable for all Christians. Only those who work towards the fulfillment of His continuing ministry are given the authority and the blessing to do so. This authority is not given by men but by God Himself, not only to clergy but to laity as well. The Church must be a servant, just as Christ was a servant, a slave to all mankind in its effort to fulfill the Will of the Father; which is the salvation of all humanity. The Church was established to serve mankind, just as our Lord was incarnate to serve mankind and bring it to salvation. A servant is not greater than his master. The Church is not greater than its Creator. Nor can the Church’s ministry be anything different than the ministry of the One who created her. Our Lord has given us very specific instructions and these instructions are non-negotiable.
“And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44)
Ministry, Ministry, Ministry! Every Christian who has accepted salvation has also accepted the responsibility of working in the ministry of the Church. The clergy have been called apart and given the grace and blessing to perform the specific sacramental functions of the church, but all Christians, clergy and laity alike have been called to serve in our Lord’s ministry. If this is not what the Church is doing then we have entered into serious error. Everything that we do as a Church should be in direct support of Christ’s ministry of salvation. If we build buildings they should be to support ministry. Any event sponsored by the Church should be ministry or in support of ministry.
Ministry should not be limited by the budget. The budget should be driven by ministry.
Father Steve Dalber serves the parish of Saint Nektarios in Charlotte, North Carolina