All this talk about Eastern Orthodoxy vs. Lutheranism in the blogosphere of late has got me thinking about the crux of locating the Church. The Orthodox call into question the existence of the Church among Lutherans, even though the same Scriptures, Sacrament, and Baptism are administered in Lutheran parishes as in Orthodox parishes. Our ministry is invalid, so some claim, because ordination of Lutheran clergy is not received from Orthodox bishops. For Lutherans the ministry is perpetual wherever Christ gives apostles, evangelists, pastor-teachers (Eph. 4). For the Orthodox (and anyone can correct me if I am wrong) there must be a clerical pedigree, so to speak. We do believe that the Holy Ministry is passed on from the clergy to other clergy. But whether or not I could trace my own clerical lineage to an Apostle, I do not know. I was ordained by David Petersen, who was ordained by another pastor, etc. etc. It is doubtful, in my mind, that any of those pastors were ever consecrated by a layman. At least the Reformers never practiced such a thing.
The point of all this rambling is this–Wherever Jesus is, there is His Holy Church. For where the head is, there the Body is also. Jesus is in His Word. He is in Baptism. He is in the Sacrament. He is the carcass. And where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather. It seems to me that we Lutherans have never doubted that we are the Body of Christ for we too hear the Word of God; we too receive Holy Baptism as it was instituted. We too feast on Christ’s Body and Blood. There is only One holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And it is present in its fullness around the font, the pulpit, and the altar. The Key is Christ. If we have Him, then we are the Church. And if we are the Church, then we have Christ. Surely Christ is no less present among the people of my parish when the Word is proclaimed and the Sacrament administered than He is among an Orthodox parish when the Word is taught and proclaimed there.
While I lament the loss of various clergypersons to the Orthodox church (three of whom were my very close friends from seminary, thankfully before they were ever ordained and given parishes), and while I find certain teachings and practices of the Orthodox church to be lacking in Scriptural foundation, I cannot, I will not say that the Church does not exist among the Orthodox Christians where the same Scriptures are heard and the Sacrament is given. I simply refuse to go there. Neither will I defend or laud the departure of said clergypersons from the Lutheran Church to the Orthodox Church.
One thing I know–Christianity, though its mysteries are deep enough that they will never be fully grasped in this life (or even perhaps the life to come), is simple enough for the most common lay person to grasp, whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit, and in whose heart there is a child-like faith. You do not have to have a Th D. to be a Christian. In fact, such knowledge may very well be a hindrance to faith.