I Belong to the Church, It Does Not Belong To Me

I Belong to the Church, It Does Not Belong To Me

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Deuteronomy 10:14

When we join the Church, we join the Body of Christ.  The Church doesn’t join us, the Body does not join us.  This seems very basic, but it is a very important point.  Because we join the Church in order to become servants, not to become shareholders or owners.  I can’t tell you how many times in my years of ministry someone has said “I pay my dues so I have rights.”  It saddens me that some parishioners come on days when there are parish assembly meetings or on the day parish council members are elected but then stay away from the church most of the rest of the year.

There are two points I’d like to make in today’s reflection.  The first is that the most basic job of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission—to go, baptize, make disciples and teach.  This is a call for every person who is part of the church.  Thus, as I heard a hierarch of our church say recently, the most important work of the parishioner is to make disciples, not decisions.  If one only shows up to make decisions and never takes part in the spreading of the Gospel, that shows a level of understanding that the church belongs to us, rather than we belonging to it.

The second point is that the church is like a box.  When we join the church, we have to fit into the box.  We don’t redraw the box to fit us.  We can’t look at the box and say “I like three sides of the box, but let’s change this side and make it a semi-circle.”  Because then someone else will say, “I like the box with the semi-circle but can we change another side and make it a squiggly line.”  And someone else will say, “This looks interesting, but let’s change the third side and make the box have one straight side, the semi-circle, the squiggly line and let’s leave a space in the fourth side.”  You get the idea—make enough changes and eventually you can’t see what the original box even looks like.

There are now over 38,000 Christian denominations in the United States.  That’s not 38,000 churches, but 38,000 denominations, 38,000 different expressions of Christianity.  And while I’m positive that some expressions of Christianity can effectively help one attain salvation, I’m also positive that some expressions are so distorted, it would be hard to quantify what they believe.

Speaking now as an Orthodox Christian, who knows what the Orthodox believe, we believe that we belong to Christ and by virtue of our baptism, we belong to the Church.  The Church does not belong to us.  I remember when I was first ordained, a bishop said to me “You will be a priest for a finite amount of time on earth.  You have received the Church in which to do your priestly ministry.  It is not your right to edit and put your own spin on it.  Because you don’t own it.  It has been entrusted to you.  And at some point, you will turn it over to someone else.  Grow the Church.  But it is not your right to  make wholesale changes to it.”

We hold the Church as a trust.  We are not owners, but rather caretakers.  We take care of it for now and then we turn it over to someone else.  In Matthew 25: 14-30, we read the Parable of the Talents, in which a master “entrusted” property to three servants.  He then went away to a far country.  After a long time, the master returned to see what the servants had done with what he entrusted to them.  One of the servants who had received one talent, and who had buried it in the ground, said to the master, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.”  But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have now sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”(Matthew 25: 24-27)  Like the talent entrusted to the servants, the Church has been entrusted to us by God.  It is His Church, not ours.  And just as the master came back to reckon with the servants what they had done with his property, so also will God reckon with us what we did with His Church.  Because it is His Church, not ours.  We hold it in trust, we are supposed to be caretakers of it.  And when we say caretakers, we don’t mean only in the financial sense, or taking care of the buildings and grounds or balancing the budget.  We mean making disciples and spreading the Gospel.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved.  How long will you set upon a man to shatter him, all of you, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?  They only plan to thrust him down from his eminence.  They take pleasure in falsehood.  They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.  For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Men of low estate are but a breath, men of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.  Put no confidence in extortion, set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.  Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God; and that to Thee, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.  For Thou dost not requite a man according to his work. Psalm 62

We belong to the Church.  The Church does not belong to us.

We need to focus less on making decisions and more on making disciples.

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0