One of the critical aspects of the Christian religion is the nature of the Church. There have been many ways this could be understood and explained.
In this short summary taken from an article “Some Classic Views of the Church”in the Ashland Theological Journal, Owen H. Alderfer provides the a summary of the self-understanding of the Eastern Church:
The church is a means whereby the ideas and experiences of the divine realms—the real world—are communicated to men. Indeed, as the future concerns of the Eastern church would show, there must be concerns for truth—orthodoxy, the law of God, and clerical orders, but these are of value only as they contribute to experiencing the relation to Christ and the attainment of immortality through Him.
Such a view of the church resulted in the development of an extensive liturgy as an aid to the attainment of spiritual reality. Congar in his work After Nine Hundred Years shows that the Eastern church across the years has placed great value on “a line of descent from celestial realities to the midst of the sensible world,” so that there developed “a rather sumptuous liturgy, imbued with Holy Mysteries and the idea of ‘Heaven on Earth.’ It was a church essentially sacramental, a church of prayer with less attention to the exigencies of its militant and its itinerant state.”
First there is something important in this understanding of the church; something which is routinely absent in any self-understanding of the average American evangelical congregation: the church is an outpost of another age. It partakes and points forward to the age to come. The church is an outpost of heaven and the worship of the Church resounds in heaven.
The contemporary Church is too mundane; too immanent in all its concerns. The head of Church is ascended in high; we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; or we are blessed not at all.
If the Church does not express divine worship, it is not the Church of Christ:
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col3.1-4 (ESV)
But there is a danger in this self-understanding, particularly with an emphasis on sacrament and liturgy: while typical American worshipper can sing his contemporary songs which make him feel good; the practice of words and forms of precise character and order can become magic. The worship again becomes immanent: but here my behavior wrenches some sort response from heaven.
I believe it was Pelikan who wrote of worship being mystery but not magic.
We are such instantaneous and easy isolators that anything can be wrenched to bad end.
Another concern I have here is the apparent Platonism: where physical forms portray heavenly reality.
I see the physical form we have here being the Word of God, baptism and the Supper. But the ornate forms, the gold and incense were not prescribed for the worship of Christ. The temple forms pre-represented truths about Christ which became moot when Christ appeared.
The power of God is the Spirit of God working in the Word of God. The forms place too great a premium upon human ingenuity and cultural taste.