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Baptismal Evangelism

As I’m nearing a decision to join the Orthodox Church, two issues have bothered me for quite a while: Evangelism and Nominalism. Why does there seem to be so many Nominal Christians? How does evangelism look like in a Orthodox context? In fact how does Evangelism look like in a sacramental context? It’s slightly different than a more Evangelical approach. Which is Baptist in nature. There it seems that much of spirituality is confined to the mind. Baptism is seen as a representation or sign of an inner reality that has already taken place. Which one can only take it if a conscious decision to accept Christ has been made. Here, the Lord’s Supper is for people to remember what Christ did. The bread and wine have no intrinsic sanctifying spiritual reality. But only serve as a token for an external teaching and reminder. So why should infants partake? And so on. The closest tangible thing to being Divine are the scriptures themselves. And since it works primarily through mental faculties, salvation also comes primarily by them. Thus, there are no salvific sacraments that need to be taken either once or regularly. Rather one is told quite often to believe certain things, say a prayer and then they are declared saved. Or in another fashion, they are told to believe certain things/trust in Jesus and repent of their sins. And if they truly do so, they’ll know they’re saved. Sacramental baptism which initiates one in to the body, is now replaced by either a prayer or conversion experience.

This seems to make evangelism much easier for the Evangelicals than it does the more sacramental churches. Due to the fact that salvation is depicted as instant and personal. Plus the individual retains a more substantial amount of autonomy. Since at the very least, they are to follow the Bible, while other people’s interpretations are at best strong opinions. This is due to the two pillars of the Reformation. The first being an immediate transaction that takes place at the moment of faith. The believer is credited all of Christ’s righteousness and thus able to stand free from condemnation before God. Because Christ had already been credited with their guilt and condemned in their place. Salvation is seen as something to “get” at some point. Thus a greater emphasis on it having taken place in the past. A one time, forensic event, with the rest of the Christian life being but an outworking of this moment. A moment involving nothing or no one other than the individual and Christ. This is the doctrine of “Sola Fide.”

The second being the idea that scripture alone is the only infallible rule of faith. However, the scriptures must be interpreted. Thus no external authority can give a normative/binding interpretation or rule of faith. Leaving the conscious of the individual, subject only to what they personally are convinced of as being in compliance with scripture. The doctrine of “Sola Scriptura.”

Contrast this to the Orthodox Church. Salvation is not seen primarily as instantaneous. Christ is not one considered guilty and condemned by being made liable for the crimes of others. Rather Christ is the remedy to the corruptions of sin in the soul, and it’s result of death in the body. Salvation then is for one’s entire human nature to be glorified like Christ’s (both material and immaterial). By partaking of the divine life. Bodily resurrection will happen in an instant. But the soul must be conformed to mirror Christ over time. This only comes by one’s willing co-operation with God’s grace, the inner working of God. The normal means of receiving grace will then be in the Church. Especially via the sacraments. Thus salvation is *process* intrinsically tied up with the Church, as the locus and normative setting of God’s saving power. Initial faith in Jesus followed by baptism is but the beginning of a life long process. A beginning which means little if one quits before the end. Much like someone who gives up making a cake halfway, is not better off simply because they started. This emphasis then, on salvation being future **and** conditional, repudiates the doctrine of Sola Fide. Not to mention that since you can’t baptize yourself, and baptism is the sacrament of initiation, the very beginning of your salvation process is not simply “You and Jesus.” Rather Christ is working, through the active participation of members his body, to birth individuals into His family. Here the term “spiritual Father’s” takes on a whole new meaning than the purely relational sense. Of course to be fair, in Sola Fide there is the parallel of Christ working through the individual to bring the saving message. But this could just as easily occur without the personal agent present. While again, baptism cannot. Thus from the outset there a necessarily intrinsic self giving and humble dependency created. To which we arrive at the second pillar of the Reformation; Sola Scriptura.

In Orthodoxy, Scripture is not seen as the *only* infallible rule of faith. Rather the Church, from which God revealed what counts as scripture, is inspired and led by the same God to rightly interpret scripture and preserve the faith. Thus repudiating Sola Scriptura. We see now that salvation and the Church become intrinsically connected. Requiring a commitment and loss of autonomy over one’s life from the moment of conversion. Which naturally (or culturally) speaking is “harder to package and sell”. Especially in sound bites. Rather it calls for one to come and live in the sacramental life of the Church until death. With the first step being a death to one’s own living for self in Baptism. One then loses their autonomy is not only to Christ. But to other members of the Church who are entrusted by God to keep charge over his flock.

At the very least, even if one does not believe that Baptism regenerates, it is still commanded that a believer must partake. Our calling people to faith in Jesus can’t exclude Baptism as a must, regardless of what we believe it does.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

So then when we evangelize, what do we tell people is the purpose of Baptism? How do we incorporate the the call to be baptized in our declaration of the good news? Well, I don’t wish to prescribe a method. Nor would I say I’m perfect (this being a very new idea idea to myself). But I think there is something that can be done to give us a more consistent and sacramental mindset when evangelizing:

Recognizing what God is saying to us in Baptism about the material world.

1) God’s power in baptism is a foretaste of our future bodily resurrection. Salvation is not escape from the body. Our physicality is not less important or subordinate. We are only ourselves, when our body and souls flourish. This ought not be taken for granted. Often times in the Hellenistic culture in which Christianity found itself, the material world was seen as subordinate or evil. With salvation being a return to pure spirit. Baptism tells us that God is just as interested in our bodies as he is our souls. That our physicality isn’t a shell or accidental to our identity (with the “real you” being immaterial), but an indispensable part of it. And our Saviour isn’t ethereal and inaccessible either. But God became flesh and blood. He really walked this earth. This is shown by the fact that he died and was buried. Baptism is the picture of his burial. And it truly unites us to him, taking part in his own death. So that just as He was raised back to life, so too we are brought back to life in our souls now, from under the water. And we demonstrate a hope in our future bodily resurrection then, at Christ’s second coming. Baptism teaches that God now shares with us a physicality He will never shed off. And from the moment of his ascension, a human being now sits at the highest throne of heaven forever. Baptism says that the material world is good and that the soul and body work as one in the worship of a God who took on flesh. This co-existence of matter and spirit is then key to the next thing that Baptism does.

2) God’s power in baptism gives a foretaste of creation’s future redemption. So often salvation is depicted as having a better afterlife. As being primarily concerned with the realm of the spirit. “If you don’t want to go to hell or rather if you want to be saved and go to Heaven when you die, here is what you need to do”, is often the context of countless Gospel presentations. There comes about a mindset of “we are trying to get out of here and take as many people with us as we can.” But that is not the Gospel. The Gospel is about God’s kingdom breaking into history, consummating in the redemption of all creation. About the recreation of this fallen and broken world, not just at the end, but continually. His kingdom may not have borders, but it’s no less real. God already own’s the world and everyone in it. But He wants their hearts. And he will progressively bring about his kingdom as man cultivates the world and makes it a mirror of heaven on earth.

This mission involves culture and bringing God’s love and presence to the world. Cultivation and rulership was God’s intent for Mankind in the beginning. And this process [there’s that word again] which was halted when the first Adam fell, is started back up again by the Second Adam; Jesus Christ. But the future world won’t just be this natural creation running smoothly. It will be matter defied by God’s power and presence (known in Orthooxy as the uncreated energies of God). In other words, God’s glory will literally fill all creation. The physical and spiritual realities will merge, each retaining its fundamental identity, but operating together in a new way. The sacraments of the Church are thus this new future reality, being brought forward and manifest into the present. Because Christ is the beginning of this new creation, this new humanity. So being untited to Christ in baptism and being renewed by partaking of his flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we are participating in this new creation reality. And are by virtue of this mystical union, one with Christ, and one with each other. And thus one body. Baptism, is where a physical element is used by God to bring about a spiritual good, because in the future, nature and spirit will always work as one.

This also hast he implication that all who remain in communion, by partaking in the sacraments constitute the visible church. What one has to keep in mind is the idea that Church is the Body of Christ. How the second Person of the Trinity related to His body at the incarnation reflects how he relates to the Church as his Body now. For Paul too it seems that the unity of the church, the Eucharist, the Church as Christ’s Body and the nature of Christ’s physical body to all be consistent with one another. They all reflect each other and what is said about one, is true about the other in a significant way.

“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas ”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13 NIV)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 NIV)”

The Orthodox hold that the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is visible. The idea is that Christ established his Church in such a fashion that it can be known and recognised without divine revelation. Since Christ’s body itself was knoweable and recogniseable to both his enemies and his friends.

The opposite to this would be to say that the true Church is invisible. What this would mean is that while the local congregation can be called church, only God knows which of those members actually belong to “the Church.” The Church is a spiritual component with no physical element. It may be present with the visible local congregation, but it is not the local congregation. Or it could be that everyone there is the Church, but there is no way of knowing. The Church is synonymous with “true believers” and can have no room to include anyone else. For only a true believer would be a participant in the spiritual reality. No longer is divine power mediated through matter, but the physical is bypassed completely. The sacraments are a completely subjective, and are only for those with faith. And since we can’t see people’s hearts, we can’t know who has faith and to whom the sacraments are speaking to. And hence we can’t know where the Church is or who is in it. The problem is, that this Ecclessiology reflects the Christology of Doecetism. Not the incarnation.

Docetism was a heresy which came up pretty early in Church history. Doecetism was a branch of Gnostic philosophy. Gnosticism taught that the material world was evil or worthless, and only the spiritual was valuable. Salvation then was freedom from the physical. One needed to be part of the few who received the secret knowledge needed in order to be saved. In fact, that it was where the word Gnostic comes from, the Greek for knowledge, “Gnosis.” Salvation is by the mind, to escape the body. Now think, if you were trying to mesh Gnosticism with Christianity, what would be one of your biggest problems? The incarnation of course. How could the divine take on human flesh? Matter is evil or worthless, not fitting of the divine! So then, it must be that Christ didn’t really incarnate. He didn’t have a physical body, what was visible only looked like a body wasn’t. One can say that “this is Christ” but it isn’t really. The reality of Christ is purely spiritual. That is the heresy of Docetism.

If Christology and Ecclessiology are related, and if Docetism is correct, then what would the Ecclessiology look like? –> The local Church looks like the body of Christ but it isn’t really. One may call it the Body, but the reality of the Church is purely spiritual. What is visible is a toke which represents the spiritual presence.

Given these gnostic tendencies, it is no wonder historically, many non-sacramental Churches demphasise grand Cathedrals or aesthetics in their local congregations. Why? Because what really matters isn’t matter. Creating a faith which bypasses the physical and goes straight to the spirit. As long as they have the Word, the physical setting is irrelevant or not important.

This connection of Gnosticism with the denial of sacraments was present in the early Church, as Ignatius a student of the Apostle John and third Bishop of Antioch wrote  “Take note of those who hold heterodox [speaking of the Doecetists] opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).”

In fact it has long been held that John wrote his first Epistle in order to counter these gnostic heresies that were spreading. Look how he opens it up:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1 John 1:1-2 NIV)”

Or

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3 NIV).”

It wouldn’t get very far as a Christian heresy if it denied that Jesus existed. Rather it denied an aspect of his incarnation, namely that it actually happened. It was an incomplete Christology. What then does it say if ones Ecclessiology seems to resonate with an incomplete Christology?

There is a legitimate concern that a sacramental theology encourages people to have a nominal faith. “After all, if I take part in the liturgy and sacraments, I’m all good?” “I was baptized as a baby so I’m going to heaven right?” This is more a deficiency in either the teaching received, or how the receiver interprets it. Orthodoxy is synergistic and requires the co-operation of its adherents. More than just going through the motions while at the same time ignoring the teachings of the faith. I know how discouraging it can be to see nominalism take root. In Ireland a great number of people are Catholic in name only. Every year, thousands have their holy communion or confirmation, not knowing or caring for what it’s about. Evangelicals then come and confront the nominalism, and God uses it to bring people to a true living faith in Him. Which is good. However nominalism is just as much a problem when any faith becomes dominant in a certain area. Even Protestantism historically in Europe or America. That doesn’t mean the Churches aren’t somewhat responsible, but nominalism doesn’t falsify the belief. In Orthodoxy, grace is given and provided to all whom come. But what one does with it is another question. Scripture also gives warnings about those who receive grace and squander it. The problem isn’t that Orthodoxy or Catholicism are more “traditional” and “ritualistic”, the problem is simply human nature. Nominalism will always occur as the church gets bigger, but we want the church bigger not smaller. A kingdom culture. God isn’t escaping the world but redeeming it. Wider church influence is the goal but it brings difficult challenges of its own.

And sure, one’s “modern” congregation/denomination may be vibrant, biblical (according to their standards). For now. But with no external normative power, can you keep it that way in 50 years? Can you make sure that your great grand children will be taught the same doctrines as yourself? That’s the problem with the Protestant notion of Semper Reformanda. Due to sola scriptura, no teaching can be seen as normative or binding unless the individual comes to agree with it. And yet if one deviates from the accepted norm, even under the name of Semper Reformanda (always reforming), they are said to go into heresy or compromising the Gospel. The Federal Vision controversy comes to mind.

Jesus himself said there would be good and bad, true and false in the Church. The parable of the sower has three out of four soils being bad. Could we even dream of a 1/4 faithful? The parable of the harvest has both weath and tares growing up together. Only being sorted out at the end. The Day of Judgement. It does worry me about being in a nominal congregation. However, it is also also an opportunity to serve and be light to those around you. Calling them to be faithful to the teachings of the church. The mission field can be amongst our own too.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end (Hebrews 3:12-14).”

Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that there was ever some Christian golden age. One only needs to read the epistles or Christ’s letters to the seven Churches to see otherwise. Just read Church history. It’s messy and many times, downs right ugly. But what else would we expect, since the Church is a hospital of sinners? Aren’t we the one’s our Great Physician came to save?

The thing is that in a more modern, non-sacramental Churches, nominals in order to be convincing need to at very least “talk the talk.” Or be active in Church activities in order to be seen as members of the church. Giving an “our nominals look better than your nominals” situation. Plus it is far more likely that in a small congregation of a non mainstream faith, its adherents would be devout. So of course an Evangelical on fire for God, in a small congregation, living in a primarily Catholic or Orthoox country will think they posses more of the true light compared to the others. It doesn’t help that Evangelicalism has inherited a bad taste and suspicion towards sacraments and “tradition” from the Reformation. Making relationships awkward, as Catholics and Orthodox Christians are themselves viewed by many as a mission field. But even nominals in Evangelical settings have ways of assuring themselves of salvation while taking the back seat. “I said a prayer when I was eight.” “I go to Church on Sunday. ” “I read my Bible and pay tithes. ” “I pray all the time. I don’t even need to go to Church.”

On the other hand, the way Orthodoxy views outsiders has a different tone. Those not part of the visible church and yet receptive to God’s grace are Christians but not part of the visible undivided body. They are connected to the visible body but not in communion with it.  The Church does not judge or comment on their status other than say that God’s grace can work outside normative means. So are they connected to Christ? Yes as individuals. They may be in congregations that are grace filled. But that *association* does not constitute a second body. It is a human organisation of grace filled members (think of Christians getting together to start a business, God may bless and work through you but the permanence and protection from corruption is not promised to your organisation). As opposed to the visible Church which is a divine institution, guaranteed never to fail as the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). This idea of how those outside the Church relate to it, as well as Orthodoxy’s sacramentalism, is rooted in Christology. And in the importance of making the distinction between nature and person.

We see scripture tell us that Christ is they cause, sustainer and end (telos/design) of all things (Colossians 1:16-20). And the end which all things were to find in Christ was determined by God to be incarnational (Ephesians 1:9-11).

So Orthodoxy teaches that creation and all of mankind is redeemed precisely by Christ becoming man and by virtue of creation being united to Christ, in this union of the Logos with human nature. In other words, all creation is connected the body of Christ. That is how all mankind is rescued from death and brought to the final resurrection.

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NIV)”

Paul is saying that in Adam all people die, in Christ all are raised, but then he goes on to emphasise the salvation of the Church. Because salvation takes parts on two levels, on the level of nature, and on the level of person. All are raised by the work of Christ and given immortality (their nature is preserved). But not all synergetically co-operate with the grace now available to them, bringing their person in right relationship to God (personal salvation).

Everyone is in a sense united to Christ’s body. Otherwise they would not be preserved. And yet Christ still offers us His body to partake of in the Eucharist. And his glorified human body is still a visible and real body. So the question of salvation here is now about ones personal orientation to God. Which requires synergetic response and co-operation with grace. The fullness of which is concentrated in the Church. Christ’s body.

Now, translate this over to Ecclessiology. The Church is visible and united. With Her are found the means of grace; given in baptism, the word and general sacramental life, by which one is transformed and aided in their transformation to become like Christ. Those outside the visible manifestation still participate in the grace available to it when they conform to the truth therein. Such as affirming the deity of Christ and his death and resurrection. They are still being orientated towards God. And that’s what he wants, the personal salvation of the individual. What about the sacraments performed outside the Church? We can only say that grace is truly given in those sacraments done by the Church. But God is not bound and can extend that same grace somewhere other than when it’s concentrated. And in a sense, all participate in the grace of God to a degree via union to Christ’s body. But we cannot presume on the degree to which it is occurring. Other than in the normative setting of the Church. So not being part of the visible body doesn’t necessitate that God won’t grant grace and re-orientate those outside to Himself. But safety is found in the Church and it is there that the normal means of grace are guaranteed. Eg, a child raised in a faithful home has more exposure God’s grace and truth in a way that one born outside a family of faith may not have. Doesn’t mean that the other child receives no grace and truth, but there is a real difference.

Think of it as Bible interpretation. Just because one may not be part of the visible Church, doesn’t mean that they will never conclude the same things as the Church. But they are not guaranteed from error. To the degree that their interpretation is in conformity to the Churches, they are correct. God may still protect them given the truth they do have, but there is no certain normativity. And some theological errors could lead one away from God and ultimately to perdition.

To the degree that one conforms to the visible body, they are safe, even if not actually part of it. So it is a matter of caution that one remain in the Church. God is after the heart.

The visible body is the were salvation on the level of nature is concentrated. But whether in or out, salvation on the level of person is required. But is facilitated by being in the Church. When salvation is seen as more relational than, through the juridical lens where things are more black and white, these issues for the most part disappear. Hence why even if I become Orthodox, I will consider true believers (those personally oriented to God) as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Last but not least, Baptism and the sacraments don’t discourage faith and the mind. Just the opposite. Liturgy challenges me not to believe my eyes. To believe that there is more going on that I can’t see. That I’m engaging with a powerful spiritual reality, partaking in the heavenly worship of God, surrounded by myriads of Saints and Angels. At the same time one is assured that while they may struggle with doubt and sin, those same sacraments bring with them the cure. So there is both an objective partaking and subjective benefit for those who take it seriously. And the beauty of it all is that one need not be a great intellectual or have much learning and understanding in order for the liturgy to be meaningful. All that is required is child like faith that Christ is present and inviting them to Himself. This is why children are not separated in from the adults in a Orthodox liturgy. And often times they are free to move about, mimicking when they want or playing when they want. Because as fellow baptized members, they too participate in the divine life. And Christ’s sanctifying presence is there with them too in the service. Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. And God’s family contains people from every stage of life.

This is the wholistic Gospel of the Kingdom, that a sacramental and Baptismal evangelism should be oriented towards.

St. Irenaeus

“He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

St. John Chrysostom

“You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).

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10 comments on “Baptismal Evangelism

  1. Benjamin Scott
    August 8, 2015

    <<>>

    What about Matt. 16:17? Our recognition of Christ in a material way is not really the issue, is it? Many people make Him an idol of their own choosing, rather than worshiping Him as the Holy Spirit reveals Him. Jesus said that we would be known by our fruit and our love. So your concern that these things are lacking in Orthodoxy is quite valid despite it’s “visibility.” And your concern over the state of Protestantism is equally valid. I would argue that this makes both groups actually “invisible”, to those with eyes to see. Where is the witness of either group? Is that not your struggle? If Orthodoxy is so true then why does it look “invisible” to you like Protestantism does? So you have to rationalize it and talk your way through the ideas. Well every false group survives by this characteristic rhetoric! Kierkegaard has it right that “The crowd is the untruth.” Always has been and always will be.

    Yes the church is visible but apparently not visibly unified as a human institution. It always has unity just as you and I have with each other, without really even knowing each other. All I have to do is sample your blog a little and I love and recognize you as a brother. I wouldn’t divide with you over many issues if you are loyal to Christ, but if you become Orthodox you’ll have to divide with me on some significant level over questions of mysticism and my lack of acceptance of it. I won’t care on my side but I will confront as I am now. How is there any real meaning to this unless the journey can continue and you are not stuck in the mud? Because for me, separation from Orthodoxy is something I maintain presently out of loyalty to Christ. I wish it were more simple than this but honestly it isn’t. I have often wished to become Orthodox over the last decade, as a means to end my labors in relative isolation, but in truth there is too much that I have learned which increase my labors and do not press me into the conformity of the Orthodox crowd.

    I am writing you to play devil’s advocate because I’m in a similar position to you in life and have searched long and hard coming out from Protestantism as to whether I would become Orthodox or not. I am not as convinced as you appear to be about Orthodoxy but I am content that the basic theology is thoroughly Biblical compared to Protestantism. Note that I am thinking as a Protestant and the irony does not escape me. But in some sense these are questions of luxury for people with internet access and mobility. Following Christ in the meantime is more important, ironically…, again, and I for one don’t know what church I will end up in, if I live long enough to end up anywhere in a place that people call, “church.” Since you are not yet Orthodox, I know that your post is a certain mode of your thinking and not the whole thing.

    So let me raise a few points before you take the plunge.

    Sacramental theology in eucharist, etc…, seems to me to be a replacement and counterfeit for the grace acted out in “walking by The Spirit”, which we are called to in Christ. It is a replacement of true grace and real life transformation in a similar way to the modern evangelical sacrament of “worship service music experience.” In either case, God supposedly “comes to people” in the service, in the experience, and not in the outworking of the fruit He actually produces through life’s challenges. Yes I know there are technical differences, even huge ones. And music may be less material than wine is. But the effects are the same since it is all sensual indulgence in the name of the delivery of grace. The lack of fruit that comes through each experience seems similar. The theology is different but the counterfeit remains in replacing the work of grace for the feeling of it that comes through sensuality. The rare and precious presence of true worship expressed in truly being Christ’s disciple in the Holy Spirit is a far cry from either experience. And for those who exhibit this discipleship to any degree, yourself included, there is a deep questioning of indulging in its replacement and what that means. Is this not something you are asking yourself? For to drink and eat Christ is to drink and eat as Jesus did in Jn. 4, in doing the Father’s will, not as the disciples were urging Him to do in the same chapter in partaking of physical food. So whether blessed by the Priest or not, this remains true and the offense of Christ’s commandments are nullified otherwise. The physicality of spirituality is expressed by the physicality of our own crucified lives as a continual sacrament of Christ’s sufferings, and a means of completing every individual person complete in Christ. See Paul’s rejoicing in Phil. 1-4 and his words in Col. 1:24-29. The physical body is sacrificed in favor of the spiritual man not because the physical is evil but because it’s available to sacrifice for the sake of the eternal. The reality of this is expressed in the Lord’s Supper, but it is not sacramental but memorial and participationist as something that points us to this reality rather than being a replacement for it.

    Sacramental theology roots the dispensing of grace into a human institution with predictably corrupt human power structures. It gives God power to the bosses. You may object to my calling the Orthodox Church in this way, but unless it is willing to do the works of God in the world with this supposed grace, then this is exactly what it is proves to be, whether graceless or otherwise. If I can know by love and fruit who is true, then like you Orthodoxy has me uneasy. I am not seeking to condemn it but I am inquiring seriously as a Chrsitian. As a thoroughly disillusioned Protestant Evangelical, the last thing I can easily do is trust another crowd or another human institution with my soul. I note in passing that 5 of the 7 churches in Rev. 2-3 had serious problems. The church, as a visible institution, as you are calling it, if it has a mind, has a mind which may be 5/7th’s corrupt by John’s sampling. To erect higher authority structures than the local church to solve this problem just focuses it into a higher level. John’s Apocalypse pleads for repentance but it doen’t guarantee results through John’s authority, or even the authority of Christ, since that is up to individual Christians to make it happen. The possibility of having their lampstands removed was real, regardless as to what group they were a part of, Orthodox or otherwise. A corrupt church remains corrupt whether or not John’s around to call a spade a spade or not, or whether the authority structure will do so either. In the end this institution and all of its wealth seem to me to look very unlike The Founder, who had no place to lay His head, and who was anti-establishment to His core, Matt. 20:25-28. He chased crowds away with His hard words, and divided families. Luke 12:51-53 and 14:25-35 It seems that in Orthodoxy the offense of Christ in the cost of discipleship is made null, just as it is in evangelicalism. It is replaced with asceticism, mysticism and the grace dispensary or the apostolic succession of priests.

    Am I to accept the authority of the lineage of leaders in the church when the Apostle Paul wouldn’t absolutely do so with the “pillars”? See, Gal. 2:6. What is the benefit of being a missionary in my own Orthodox church instead of in my own Protestant church? At least in Protestantism I can reform myself away from the nonsense and keep seeking for light through conforming my beliefs to the leading of God’s Spirit and the study of the Scriptures. In Orthodoxy I am stuck with my choice to submit to authority forever, since the “mind of the church” goes against me, whatever that really means I have no solid idea or way to judge or critique. My spiritual gifts are made void and I am stuck in the static sound of 2k years of slow movement. Only the Desert Fathers and some others were allowed to have real impacts and cause cataclysms and upheavals. I am a nobody. Yet somehow I have to explain to people that the way they are living matters more to God than what they are eating and drinking, when their own theology and longstanding practice allows them the later, Rom. 14:17 (out of context of course).

    If they want to go beyond this then their extra faithfulness is tied to the calendar and asceticism rather than to love. This reminds me of Torah more than Christ. Love may be the supposed goal of all of this grace dispensing and ascetical practice, but as a Christ seeker who doesn’t know where to go, I can express love without all these means of grace and all the better without them as distractions. Paul’s radical dispensing with Jewish law was not a call to replace it with Christian law, but rather with Christ Himself. The real problem for Orthodoxy and for you, if you try to be missional in an Orthodox church as Orthodox, is that correct emphasis is undergirded by correct theology. They are not as separate as they appear. This is something I’ve learned the long and hard way in Protestantism. Protestant theology undercuts the best Protestant emphasis. The same thing is happening in Orthodoxy but from another angle I think. Incorrect theology is not something Orthodoxy can admit to, despite the nominalism it lives with that testifies otherwise. Sacramental mystical theology undercuts the gospel, despite much other good features and emphasis preserved within Orthodoxy. That bottom line reality of both mysticism and sacramentalism, runs counter to the Bible, to true discipleship to Christ and to the work of God in the world. Only when we accept the unpopularity of the truth about what it means to follow Christ and take up our own crosses, can we realize why it never finds roots in any group but rather between them. The church “scattered abroad.” Trying to find a crowd who embraces the truth is almost like trying to find a square triangle. The church has never been something easy to hold together, and heresy was predicted from early on. The concerns of the Apostles were real and the battle we still wage is real. Whole churches went astray. There is not some featherbed we can rest in called “Orthodoxy,” which is safer than other places, even relatively so, in this battle to follow Christ.

    If the New Testament’s core doctrine is transparently the actual identification of ourselves with the cross and Christ in the way we live, to bring our lives into a state of worship and imitation of Christ by the power provided by God’s Spirit, then anything which replaces this is a counterfeit and potentially anti-Christ. I judge theology by how it conforms to this message. Evangelicalism fails miserably, having taken the cross and turned it into a psychological guilt crushing tool that absolves us of moral or relational responsibility towards God. Orthodoxy has turned it into a mystical and institutionally dispensed meal of “grace.” Submission is to The Church more than to Christ as the result. In either case replacement to any degree, more or less, is dangerous and obscures what would otherwise be the clear meaning of clear texts. But wherever something is real and precious, counterfeits are a given.

    The life in the Spirit as an imitation of the cross in real daily affairs is replaced by mysticism in prayer as well in a withdrawing from the world. The gospel of “my church” really isn’t that exciting, you have to admit. The gospel of mystical technique even less so. Especially when those in the far East have easier access to the mystical spiritual realm through mediation than the Orthodox do through hesychasm. This is a practice which cuts across the pattern of prayer and life found in the Bible, which is based on the intelligence of honest humble relationship with God through faith, and not mechanical and repetitive statements assumed in various postures which are dehumanizing and ridiculously technical. To say that hesychasm doesn’t contradict Jesus’ words about prayer in Matt. 6:7-8 is a real hurdle to take on. Asceticism is not the same as being spiritually minded, as Col. 2-3 clearly points out to us. Neo-Platonism is not a Biblical basis for Christian theology, and the mysticism which was imported as a part of it into Eastern Christianity is an occult replacement for the theology of the New Testament which is unjustified. Plotinus is not Paul. You and I both know how the Via Moderna and midevil philosophy impacted Luther’s ideas. Should we feel any more comfortable with Plato? They are decidedly different in outlook and I do not believe that the Dionysius or Pseudo-Dionysius or whoever he really was, really represented the union with Christ I find written about in the New Testament. I see the creation of a counterfeit occurring, via occult mysticism, which can offer powerful arguments to its validity, but is corrupt in its unwillingness to submit itself to Christ. It prefers instead mechanical means that don’t have to struggle through the real stories and valid ups and downs of human life, but provides fantasy escapism from it through mystical occult practices. I am serious about my concerns of the early occult influence on Eastern Orthodoxy. If the West struggled with Aristotle, it seems the East didn’t with Plato. It gave him a big fat kiss and called it good.

    To be sure, following Christ in all of this obscurity and isolation from those of common faith, is very difficult. But do you really succeed or fail because of short term goals and hopes such as joining Orthodoxy? This journey is a symptom of a larger one that may take you here or there. The following of Christ and seeking for His people anywhere is what is paramount. In the very admission that they are somewhat outside of Orthodoxy, and somewhat not inside Orthodoxy, then fellowship is necessarily extended among all of us who are seeking. I wondered where “the visible church” at for many years myself. But then I realized that my state of “not finding the church” was not because of disobedience but the opposite. The only question that remained was how obedient I would be? The church wasn’t to be found in any other way. So now I seek obedience wherever it leads, and regardless if I really understand the theology which undergirds it or in the end what obedience means. I would join Orthodoxy if I didn’t think it was just another form of disobedience. And if, hypothetically my thinking is right, then there is not visible church and we are stuck with this mess of division, then is my faith still in Christ in spite of this? Or was I only ever really willing to follow the crowd in one form or another? It seems to me that following Christ without the crowd is more true than following Him with it. And following Him of course means I’m loyal to people like you not as an adversary but as a friend you didn’t know you had. I’m short on a lot of things, time, intelligence, memory, and dignity…, but long on devotion to Christ.

    I think Christ and the Scriptures ultimately reflect us and we define what we are going to be as we look to Him intently. That choice is important to Him and to us. As we move from one theory to another, we change in the process, and like children learning one skill at a time, it’s not only the goal but the relationship with the Father we have in the process, which is most essential of all. Growing up is always tuff, and especially when “up” is so high! If God’s concern is to bring everyone into Orthodoxy, then Orthodoxy is sure shying away from helping Him out with that process! I would have been Orthodox a long time ago if I saw Christ more there than where I am at. Instead they are casual and don’t look on the fields
    white for harvest.” Such a big church and so few workers. Something’s wrong with this picture. Profoundly wrong. And I mean this in no way as a cut on any individual person within the Orthodox church in leadership or otherwise. I am stereotyping for the sake of stupid argument, but my stupid arguments are genuinely formulated, and I would love to hear answers to my arguments from someone who cares, anyone! Not so I can become Orthodox but so I can at least ask more complex questions if they need to be asked.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 8, 2015

      Thank you for your thorough response Brother! I appreciate that you took time to read what I wrote. Here then are what I have to say about it.

      //What about Matt. 16:17? Our recognition of Christ in a material way is not really the issue, is it? Many people make Him an idol of their own choosing, rather than worshiping Him as the Holy Spirit reveals Him//

      Anyone can claim that the Holy Spirit revealed Christ to them. And it could be a very different Christ than he really is in scripture. The question then is about normativity. In other words, how do we know what ought to be the correct view of Christ in order to not fall into idolatry? That’s what the ecumenical councils were about. Following Acts 15, the Church gathers to be led by the Spirit and establish what is already accepted and denounce what is heretical. So no one is denying the role of the Spirit. The question is in what way does the Spirit make known his truth in a way the Body can recognise it. Ironically, if Sola Scriptura is correct, then all one really has is their own choosing, since no external power can be normative. And no external decree/interpretation is binding. Matt 16:17, has Peter receiving special revelation, and its validity confirmed by Christ Himself. So though the Spirit did reveal it to Peter, he had an external authority confirming the revelation. Also, the scriptures tell us that no one can confess Jesus except by the power of the Holy Spirit. So He must bring one to recognise this truth. Yet to avoid the messy situation of everyone going around claiming they have revealed truth, the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth, for people to measure their claims by.

      //Jesus said that we would be known by our fruit and our love. So your concern that these things are lacking in Orthodoxy is quite valid despite it’s “visibility.” And your concern over the state of Protestantism is equally valid. I would argue that this makes both groups actually “invisible”, to those with eyes to see. Where is the witness of either group? Is that not your struggle? If Orthodoxy is so true then why does it look “invisible” to you like Protestantism does? So you have to rationalize it and talk your way through the ideas. Well every false group survives by this characteristic rhetoric! Kierkegaard has it right that “The crowd is the untruth.” Always has been and always will be.//

      I never said that I’m concerned that love is lacking in Orthodoxy. That would be a sweeping generalisation and from my limited experience, simply untrue. My issue was with nominalism. Which in and of itself does not invalidate a belief. As I’ve given theological and social reasons why it occurs. And visibility here is not based on behaviour. That is a non-sacramentalist Protestant notion. Why? Because the sacraments here do not mean that one is actually part of the Church. So as I mentioned in the post, one then can only display their being part of it by behaviour and speech. Hence why nominals there may be able to hide better than nominal here. Our notion of visibility is concrete. In that those people who participate in the Eucharist of a Bishop, constitute the visible Church. And are in communion with the Bishops that their Bishop is in communion with and those under him. The church is not called to be a group of independent congregations, that may disagree on a lot and not share the same practice and yet still agree on certain fundamentals (Baptists/Presbyterians/Lutherans). We see a real authority given to the Apostles, who went on to organise their Church, implementing offices. Delegating and ordering authority. Paul for example giving Timothy the right to appoint elders in various congregations etc. It was not a free for all and this certainly didn’t die out with the last Apostle. Christianity followed form and structure when the Apostles were around and it did not quit when they died. To deny this form of ecclesiology as valid is to say that pretty much everyone who knew the Apostles and were taught by them messed up big time. Or as someone I know even says, the Apostles *themselves* messed up and instituted structure. While Jesus apparently did not (false).

      And in regards to loving one another. It is far too simplistic to say that Jesus was saying the only thing Christians needed as a sign of unity was to be loving to each other. Though they may disagree on serious issues. That Arians and Trinitarians both constitute the Church, so long as they show love. Jesus in that very same passage, says “sanctify them by the Truth, your Word is Truth.” Yet even the heretics used the scriptures. Heck even Satan did when trying to tempt Christ. One couldn’t be part of the visible Church and defy the Apostles’ judgement in Acts 15 and still be okay, so long as they were loving. Rather, Jesus is saying that the body of believers, who follow His faith as taught by the Apostles, that the witness of *this* Gospel and *this* truth, would be perfected by love.

      //Yes the church is visible but apparently not visibly unified as a human institution.//

      It’s not a human institution, it was instituted by Christ. It’s the body of Christ, which included both a divine/human aspect. Since it is a body and since it is human, it will have human organisation. One can’t even read acts and escape this. The structure of the small house Church at the beginning, grows to one with more offices to help run it, grows to a centralised Church in Jerusalem to which the others look to and where the apostles remain with Peter as head, grows to a more global organisation, where James is given headship of Jerusalem which loses centrality as the Apostles travel out to establish other places, etc etc.

      And I would say that the Church is visible unified. If one is Orthodox or Catholic, they are claiming to be part of *the* visible institution that is the Church. What you’re really saying is that there are people from every denomination that know Christ, and are part of his Church, thus no one group can claim to be the Church. Again, it comes down to ecclesiology. As you probably know I do not accept sola scriptura, and hold to a visible Church ecclesiology. So the Church is that visible group founded by Christ, built through the Apostles and guided by the Spirit to be the pillar and foundation of Truth. So while there may be believers outside of it, they are united to Christ on an *individual* basis, but their own institution is not promised the infallible guidance of the Spirit. Just because there are dissenting voices and opinions, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a true voice. Just because many people disagree and yet may be true believers, doesn’t mean a particular Body isn’t the normative way of the faith.

      //It always has unity just as you and I have with each other, without really even knowing each other. All I have to do is sample your blog a little and I love and recognize you as a brother.//

      It just so happens that we hold to many of the same fundamentals and thus you see me as a brother. And say we are in unity. But again, who is to say, given Sola Scriptura, that our fundamentals, which we inherited from tradition are normative? Also, the unity here is a weaker form of unity than what we are espousing. One could claim that people of all faiths are really in unity because of certain shared moral principles. But that is just *one* form of unity. Protestantism, due to Sola Scriptura, has to be appeal to a lowest common denominator type unity. And even then, who is to say that those denominators should be normative? Hence the issue with semper reformanda as pointed out. [Btw, as far as I can tell, I do see you as brother as well 🙂 ]

      //I wouldn’t divide with you over many issues if you are loyal to Christ, but if you become Orthodox you’ll have to divide with me on some significant level over questions of mysticism and my lack of acceptance of it.//
      Again which Christ? And by seeing my dividing line as incorrect, you are establishing your own criteria as correct. Everyone has a dividing line. To say that the main issue is that we want mysticism and you don’t is simplistic. Also, the concept of mystical as used here is not identical to mystical in the Eastern religions.

      //I won’t care on my side but I will confront as I am now. How is there any real meaning to this unless the journey can continue and you are not stuck in the mud?//

      Hence the issue of Semper Reformanda. Always reforming, but nowhere to go. The statement is quite postmodern too, always searching for truth but if anyone claims to have found it, they have missed the way. I don’t reach Orthodoxy and say “now I now it all”. Rather one says “here is the truth, now for the journey of understanding it.” You’re simply on the journey to look for truth, the other is on the journey to understand *found* truth.

      //Because for me, separation from Orthodoxy is something I maintain presently out of loyalty to Christ. I wish it were more simple than this but honestly it isn’t. I have often wished to become Orthodox over the last decade, as a means to end my labors in relative isolation, but in truth there is too much that I have learned which increase my labors and do not press me into the conformity of the Orthodox crowd.//

      I commend that you wish to be loyal to Christ. In fact, I’ve written a piece called “Why I chose the Orthodox Church, in which I posit many of your same sentiments. It’s not available yet, but here is an excerpt:

      “This is why it’s not enough for me to be told “Just love Jesus”, “read your Bible” “go to Church.” It assumes already a certain idea of Jesus. It assumes already a certain way of reading the Bible. Not to mention which kind of Bible (Catholics have more books in their Bible than Baptists, Mormons have more books than the Bible, and Islam says the Bible has been corrupted). And of course what I believe about the first two will determine which community (if any) that I participate in. Or the community I participate in will determine what I believe about the other two…. First, my primary goal is Christ. My loyalty is to Him. And no matter the hardship that follows, I can’t turn back. I’m by no means perfect. Or better than most. But if you doubt the direction I’m going, see my Christian walk. If I’m growing in sanctification then take it that I’m either going the right way or God’s grace has been particularly strong to preserve me in my errors. Either way, your prayers are much appreciated.”

      I express the tension of knowing I’ve come to know Christ, and yet not being epistemically unaware of the tradition from which I received Christ. And if I was being consistent in what I choose to accept and reject.

      //I am writing you to play devil’s advocate because I’m in a similar position to you in life and have searched long and hard coming out from Protestantism as to whether I would become Orthodox or not. I am not as convinced as you appear to be about Orthodoxy but I am content that the basic theology is thoroughly Biblical compared to Protestantism. Note that I am thinking as a Protestant and the irony does not escape me. But in some sense these are questions of luxury for people with internet access and mobility.//

      That last sentence is one more reason I don’t accept Sola Scriptura. If true, it leaves hanging the average layman, as well as most Christians who have ever lived. Everyone would have to come to decide what part of tradition they’ll accept and reject for themselves. Including, the much overlooked issue that the canon itself is a tradition. Why would Sola Scriptura be how Christ wanted the Church to be governed given that most Christians would not have access to their own personal copy of the scriptures? Or the fact that many were illiterate? Or the obvious issue of dissenting voices leading to constant schisms, if there is no external normative power? Look how much Luther’s movement split in his own lifetime, let alone the past 500 years. God did not institute the Church, so that sheep would have to shepherd themselves. Both the laity and the clergy have a role in preserving the faith. But the church was not set up so that my dear Babuschka has to be an expert on Christological controversies so that she can decide for herself which group of countless many to belong to.

      //Sacramental theology in eucharist, etc…, seems to me to be a replacement and counterfeit for the grace acted out in “walking by The Spirit”, which we are called to in Christ.//

      Not if one realises that sacramental theology is synergistic. I’m sure you’re aware about the concept of participating in Christ’s work/energies. It his grace that allows this and makes this possible. The working of God which we must co-operate with, in order to walk in the Spirit.

      //It is a replacement of true grace and real life transformation in a similar way to the modern evangelical sacrament of “worship service music experience.” In either case, God supposedly “comes to people” in the service, in the experience, and not in the outworking of the fruit He actually produces through life’s challenges.//

      It’s not either/or. God comes to his people in worship, because the earthly liturgy is a participation of the heavenly liturgy. The Temple worship and style of the Old Testament is as Paul said a copy of that which is in heaven. And reading Revelation, the book is a liturgy, with John being caught up “on the Lord’s day”, and seeing the worship of God, repetition, prayer, singing, incesnce etc etc. And as scripture says “the Lord inhabits the praise of his people”. So God does come to us in our worship and empowers us to live out the rest the week in Him.

      //Yes I know there are technical differences, even huge ones. And music may be less material than wine is. But the effects are the same since it is all sensual indulgence in the name of the delivery of grace.//

      This is fairly gnostic. Human nature involves both soul and body. One is not a human without their body. The human worship of God therefore those not exclude the body. Sacramental theology isn’t about doing all of these things because “they’re pretty”. But because we worship God with all that we are. And he engages our entire being. What you’re calling sensual indulgence, I’m calling wholistic. And it betrays on your part a gnostic suspicion of the material. Of course, I can understand that from a baptistic Sola Scriptura position, the closest one has to something visibly divine are the Scriptures, which come to the individual immaterially through the mind.

      //The lack of fruit that comes through each experience seems similar. The theology is different but the counterfeit remains in replacing the work of grace for the feeling of it that comes through sensuality.//

      These are generalisations and a misunderstanding of theology. Do you think we are equating grace to some kind of feeling or emotion or sensuality that comes from receiving sacraments? Though one may have an experience as it were, that is not essential to receiving grace. Sometimes it can be plain boring and feel really ordinary. On the contrary, sacramental theology goes beyond the sensual experience, because it is claiming that the sacraments are participating in a reality that is nonsensual. The physical only mediates this. When I face the sacraments, I am constantly being challenged to look beyond them and believe their testimony of the divine. The point is though that as a human, I’m not a plain spirit. I have a body and thus God in his goodness has instituted that I worship him in a manner fitting my nature. He created it and so physical worship was always and is always going to be the plan. How else would people of flesh worship a God who became Flesh? Let us not forget that now and for all eternity, a human, the Man Christ Jesus, sits on the throne of God.

      //The rare and precious presence of true worship expressed in truly being Christ’s disciple in the Holy Spirit is a far cry from either experience.//

      Not either or. Sacraments are synergistic providing the grace for other parts of life including discipleship. Grace =/= some sensual or emotional high. Sacraments =/= a replacement for discipleship.

      //And for those who exhibit this discipleship to any degree, yourself included, there is a deep questioning of indulging in its replacement and what that means. Is this not something you are asking yourself?//

      Nope 🙂

      //For to drink and eat Christ is to drink and eat as Jesus did in Jn. 4, in doing the Father’s will, not as the disciples were urging Him to do in the same chapter in partaking of physical food.//

      And the will of the Father as revealed in Christ is to participate in the Eucharist. Which is more than just physical food. But a participation in spiritual reality. You mention that sacraments a lot, stressing their physicality while ironically missing their spiritual purpose and dimension.

      //So whether blessed by the Priest or not, this remains true and the offense of Christ’s commandments are nullified otherwise.//

      I disagree.

      //The physicality of spirituality is expressed by the physicality of our own crucified lives as a continual sacrament of Christ’s sufferings, and a means of completing every individual person complete in Christ.//

      Even Gnosticism which was about escaping the body, had physical implications and practices which did not make it pro-physical. Or not gnostic. And again, you seem to think the sacraments replace the work needed for one personal walk, as if they were magic. Forgetting the main point of them, to be a synergistic reality.

      //See Paul’s rejoicing in Phil. 1-4 and his words in Col. 1:24-29. The physical body is sacrificed in favor of the spiritual man not because the physical is evil but because it’s available to sacrifice for the sake of the eternal. The reality of this is expressed in the Lord’s Supper, but it is not sacramental but memorial and participationist as something that points us to this reality rather than being a replacement for it.//

      I think the Father’s would disagree with you on the sacraments being just a memorial. I think it’s clear from Paul too (and from pretty much all early Christian writing) that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, which does not re-do the work of Christ, but participate in it. Just as baptism (or for you one sake, regeneration) applies the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection 2000 years ago, to you today.

      //Sacramental theology roots the dispensing of grace into a human institution with predictably corrupt human power structures. It gives God power to the bosses.//

      Well yes, the sacraments are meant to bring healing to a sick and broken world of broken people. Which God uses to administer his grace. We are no less vessels of grace because we are broken? Paul even says that God puts his treasures in us earthen vessels. Jesus gave an awful lot of authority to his sinful Apostles. To bind and loose, make doctrine and teaching normative, forgive sin, heal the sick, power over the demons etc etc. God has always given his power to sinful human beings. He has no one else to work with! And it’s not so much Him *giving* away power, as it is the individuals in ordained roles, participating in God’s divine activities which work through them. Also the Church is not a human institution, it is a divine institution with a human element. Just as at the incarnation, Christ is a divine person with a human nature. The head of the Church is still the divine Christ, and he works synergistically through his body. Do they mess up? Sure. But let’s not confuse infallibility with impeccability. Though the Apostles and their Churches held the full truth, it did not mean that the people were perfect. Just read the Epistles. Though the Spirit prevents the visible Church from wholesale apostasy and keeps it to be the Pillar and Foundation of Truth (God’s Word and Truth, thus the interpretation thereof), He still has us knuckleheads to deal with. And call us to be consistent with our faith.

      //If I can know by love and fruit who is true, then like you Orthodoxy has me uneasy.//

      That’s not what I was saying at all. And love, though a necessary condition of the true Church, is not a *sufficient* condition, to tell you which is true. If Presbyterianism was pure Christianity would that mean that Baptists don’t really have the love of Christ in their hearts? And as I mentioned before, my issue was not with Orthodoxy per se, but with nominalism in Orthodoxy and how it handles it. As pointed out, there is just as much Nominalism in traditional protestant countries. Even in places where people may pull a great face of being Christian, like in the US.

      //I am not seeking to condemn it but I am inquiring seriously as a Chrsitian. As a thoroughly disillusioned Protestant Evangelical, the last thing I can easily do is trust another crowd or another human institution with my soul. I note in passing that 5 of the 7 churches in Rev. 2-3 had serious problems. The church, as a visible institution, as you are calling it, if it has a mind, has a mind which may be 5/7th’s corrupt by John’s sampling. To erect higher authority structures than the local church to solve this problem just focuses it into a higher level. John’s Apocalypse pleads for repentance but it doesn’t guarantee results through John’s authority, or even the authority of Christ, since that is up to individual Christians to make it happen.//

      I understand the disillusionment. But you’re putting the cart before the horse. Nobody is saying that having structure will solve all problems. But rather, a structured and organised visible Church is the order that Christ put in place, and that it is superior to the freelance model inherent to sola scriptura. And that it is true such a Church, that Christ will guard his truth and provide the normative means of grace. Each individual still must participate and work with grace. But whether they squander, ignore or use it, the grace is still there and available. You are not trusting a human institution. You are trusting the Church founded on the rock, over which the gates of hell will not prevail. Because it is the Body of Christ and ultimately, by trusting the Church, you are trusting Christ. Just as you are trusting Christ by believing what His the Scriptures say. The question then becomes one of ecclesiology, if you hold to sola scriptura, then you cannot trust in any institution to be infallible. But if you do hold to sola scriptura, you’ll have your own worldview issues to deal with. And I personally do not think SS holds up.

      //The possibility of having their lampstands removed was real, regardless as to what group they were a part of, Orthodox or otherwise.//

      Yes Orthodoxy does not deny that individual congregations can apostasies or be excommunicated. But the Faith itself will never be lost in the world. And the Visible Ecclesia as whole, acting in unity cannot err.

      //A corrupt church remains corrupt whether or not John’s around to call a spade a spade or not, or whether the authority structure will do so either. In the end this institution and all of its wealth seem to me to look very unlike The Founder, who had no place to lay His head, and who was anti-establishment to His core, Matt. 20:25-28.//

      That logic does not follow. Jesus had a very particular mission, and he had to live a certain way. Certainly we are not all called to live as travelling preachers, with nowhere to lay our heads. And Jesus is not against authority, for He himself holds all authority in heaven and earth. Per revelation 20, the saints rule with Him over the Church age. He gives his disciples real power and authority over the Church, and promises them the guidance of the Spirit. The same Apostles who worked in a very structured way. Also the whole argument of wealth is not a good one. The question is always what one does with wealth. The Roman Catholic Church, has a lot of money, sure, but it has countless social programmes, educating and feeding people as well as running the world’s largest global institution, which obviously is not going to be cheap to run. People have a far too simplistic reading of Jesus. If we only assume that he’s to be found in the Gospels. That’s why some people try and divorce Him from the Old Testament, not realising that the same Lord who smote Egypt with plagues, died on the Cross for our sins.

      //He chased crowds away with His hard words, and divided families. Luke 12:51-53 and 14:25-35 It seems that in Orthodoxy the offense of Christ in the cost of discipleship is made null, just as it is in evangelicalism. It is replaced with asceticism, mysticism and the grace dispensary or the apostolic succession of priests.//

      Not replaced. They all go hand in hand. Pretty much how the church functioned during the time of the Apostles and for 1500 years, before the Reformation.

      //Am I to accept the authority of the lineage of leaders in the church when the Apostle Paul wouldn’t absolutely do so with the “pillars”? See, Gal. 2:6.//

      I think we should be careful as if to try and make that passage say that Paul is disregarding Church authority or the offices found therein. And the Church as whole is the pillar and foundation of truth. And those individual Churches, in so far as they remain in communion with those holding the deposit of faith, are the pillars in their locality. Since where the bishop and Eucharist are present, a valid local communion are established.

      //What is the benefit of being a missionary in my own Orthodox church instead of in my own Protestant church? At least in Protestantism I can reform myself away from the nonsense and keep seeking for light through conforming my beliefs to the leading of God’s Spirit and the study of the Scriptures.//

      Again, Semper Reformanda; always moving but nowhere to go. You may believe now that you are led by the Spirit in your Bible reading. Until that is, you come to disagree with yourself later. And if you are the final arbiter on of how you ought interpret scripture, how will you know that you are currently not in error or that you are being led by the Spirit?

      //In Orthodoxy I am stuck with my choice to submit to authority forever, since the “mind of the church” goes against me, whatever that really means I have no solid idea or way to judge or critique.//

      It means that God didn’t leave the faith up for you to decided what it is.

      //My spiritual gifts are made void and I am stuck in the static sound of 2k years of slow movement. Only the Desert Fathers and some others were allowed to have real impacts and cause cataclysms and upheavals. I am a nobody.//

      As explained before, there is a difference between the journeys of looking for truth and of having found truth and trying to understand it. You’re not a nobody. The Church is alive and so is its tradition. There is still much work to do. But you recognise your place and realise that the most defining aspects of the faith are not up to you. You were not born during the time of Nicea, so you don’t get to go back and debate in the councils. Why would that mean your spiritual gifts are diminished? Teaching, serving, faith, giving, witnessing etc etc. I don’t see why anything is null and void here. You’re simply asking for a particular autonomy which only works on Sola Scriptura. If you want Sola Scriptura, you can have it. And try to make a church that resembles Orthodoxy in it’s Biblical teaching without, the Church structure. But don’t expect Orthodoxy to hold to the same foundation of Sola Scriptura, that you’re trying to empose. If you’re satisfied in that the worldview of SS works, then you should simply disregard Orthodoxy as an option.

      //If they want to go beyond this then their extra faithfulness is tied to the calendar and asceticism rather than to love. This reminds me of Torah more than Christ.//

      I’m pretty sure that an Old Testament saint would disagree with you on the false dichotomy you’re trying to introduce here between feast days and loving God. And I think again, you’re missing the point of asceticism, as it is to keep the passions under control, so that one may better live in virtue and holiness “without which no one will see God.”

      //Love may be the supposed goal of all of this grace dispensing and ascetical practice, but as a Christ seeker who doesn’t know where to go, I can express love without all these means of grace and all the better without them as distractions.//
      Or you misunderstand acesticism and are striving to practice virtues just as they are. And I’m not sure what you’re using as measure of “better” or what examples you have in mind that you’re contrasting yourself too. Here now the issue is not so much the practice, but how an individual uses it. Can someone come to church and just see it’s pratices and sacrarments as ritual and tradition? Sure. Can they come to church and see it as real communion with God and worship? Sure. Can someone go and listen to a sermon every week because it’s the good religious thing to do? Sure. Can someone go and listen to a sermon every week because they want to be fed the word of God? Sure.

      //Paul’s radical dispensing with Jewish law was not a call to replace it with Christian law, but rather with Christ Himself.//

      I have posts on Sola Fide and what Paul was getting at when he was dealing with Jewish law. And the specific theological statement which practicing certain things would make; namely the denial that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Saying that Paul wasn’t trying to bring “Christian Law” as you call it, simply goes against what we see in Acts, the Epistles and the historical testimony of the Early Church. As well as Paul’s statement that believers ought to hold fast to the traditions of the Apostles either by word or letter. Not to mention Jesus own edict in Matthew 28 that the Apostles were to make disciples who would obey all that he taught them. Which is more than what’s recorded in the Gospels as John himself says. And he gave them extra teaching about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven after he was resurrected.

      //The real problem for Orthodoxy and for you, if you try to be missional in an Orthodox church as Orthodox, is that correct emphasis is undergirded by correct theology. They are not as separate as they appear. This is something I’ve learned the long and hard way in Protestantism. Protestant theology undercuts the best Protestant emphasis. The same thing is happening in Orthodoxy but from another angle I think.//

      I think the issue is not with the truth of Orthodoxy. Rather it is twofold, that 1) Orthodoxy is new to me, so in many ways my post may have been premature. So I need to adjust from how things are done in Evangelicalism, to how things are done in Orthodoxy. 2) Though Orthodoxy may hold the truth, people are not always consistent with said truth. And that’s just something I’ll find anywhere I go, and is more an existential issue. My article is more about expressing existential concern and why they are present given my belief in the veracity of the Orthodox Church.

      //Incorrect theology is not something Orthodoxy can admit to, despite the nominalism it lives with that testifies otherwise.//
      Nominalism does not falsify a belief. It’s present everywhere and for various factors. Even Christ himself predicted it.

      //Sacramental mystical theology undercuts the gospel, despite much other good features and emphasis preserved within Orthodoxy.//

      Depends on what you’re calling “the Gospel.”

      //That bottom line reality of both mysticism and sacramentalism, runs counter to
      the Bible, to true discipleship to Christ and to the work of God in the world.//

      The bottom line is that your understanding of what you call mysticism and sacramentalism runs counter to your interpretation of the Bible and how you perceive true discipleship and the nature of God’s work in the world. Which for one who claims to still be on a journey and in no man’s land, is quite a bold statement to make no?

      //Only when we accept the unpopularity of the truth about what it means to follow Christ and take up our own crosses, can we realize why it never finds roots in any group but rather between them.//

      The truth you still say you’re looking for?

      //The church “scattered abroad.” Trying to find a crowd who embraces the truth is almost like trying to find a square triangle.//

      In which case, if, I agreed with you, we’d make a crowd of two and can be assured we do not have the truth. So for the sake of making my having truth possible, I’ll disagree with you. Unless not even as an individual can I be sure to ever embrace truth?

      //The church has never been something easy to hold together, and heresy was predicted from early on.//

      Heresy presupposes as normative standard from which one deviates. In the early church and since then, this standard has always been the common rule faith that the churches in communion held to. So what exactly on your view, since no institution is safe, is the normative standard from which one ought not to deviate?

      //The concerns of the Apostles were real and the battle we still wage is real. Whole churches went astray. There is not some featherbed we can rest in called “Orthodoxy,” which is safer than other places, even relatively so, in this battle to follow Christ.//

      That will have to be shown not asserted. Churches agreed on the faith and thus held communion. If a serious disagreement came about, councils were called, dissenters excommunicated. It’s one of the benefits of having a closed communion. Your denial of a so called featherbed, is exactly the type of postmodern, relativism and individualism which your sola scriptura worldview leads you to and has likely had a role to play in the disillusionment you say you’ve had? Contrast such to the strong words of Christ about building his Church on the Rock. And the Church as the pillar and foundation of faith. You think what they really meant was the agnosticism and arbitrary foundation of semper reformanda? You’re right, we don’t have featherbeds. We have pillars and rocks. A living tradition and Church which continually speaks the same faith in substance, that it always had.

      //If the New Testament’s core doctrine is transparently the actual identification of ourselves with the cross and Christ in the way we live, to bring our lives into a state of worship and imitation of Christ by the power provided by God’s Spirit, then anything which replaces this is a counterfeit and potentially anti-Christ.//

      Which is pretty much what Eastern Orthodoxy is.

      //I judge theology by how it conforms to this message. Evangelicalism fails miserably, having taken the cross and turned it into a psychological guilt crushing tool that absolves us of moral or relational responsibility towards God. Orthodoxy has turned it into a mystical and institutionally dispensed meal of “grace.”//

      Again, missing the points of the sacraments. Grace also is not a substance. It is God’s divine energy/activity at work in the individual. And it comes to them in many ways, the sacraments being one of them. Mystical here is not in the sense of being against reason. But rather it realises that God is not a set of propositions. More than just someone to be read about, He is a person to be known by direct encounter. Not just by having thoughts in ones head *about* God.

      //Submission is to The Church more than to Christ as the result.//

      Or we see that as a false dichotomy? If the Church is the body promised to be infallibly guided by Christ, then submission to the Church is submission to Christ? The principle of representation is clear. He who rejects the Son, rejects the Father. Or as Christ told his Apostles, the one who receives them, receives the one who sent them. But of course, you don’t hold to our ecclesiology so that is why you see the dichotomy.

      //In either case replacement to any degree, more or less, is dangerous and obscures what would otherwise be the clear meaning of clear texts.//

      Clear according to who?

      //The life in the Spirit as an imitation of the cross in real daily affairs is replaced by mysticism in prayer as well in a withdrawing from the world. The gospel of “my church” really isn’t that exciting, you have to admit. The gospel of mystical technique even less so. Especially when those in the far East have easier access to the mystical spiritual realm through mediation than the Orthodox do through hesychasm. This is a practice which cuts across the pattern of prayer and life found in the Bible, which is based on the intelligence of honest humble relationship with God through faith, and not mechanical and repetitive statements assumed in various postures which are dehumanizing and ridiculously technical. To say that hesychasm doesn’t contradict Jesus’ words about prayer in Matt. 6:7-8 is a real hurdle to take on. Asceticism is not the same as being spiritually minded, as Col. 2-3 clearly points out to us.//

      I think there are others who would be better to answer those parts than I.

      //Neo-Platonism is not a Biblical basis for Christian theology,//

      No interpretation is free of philosophical implications. The Bible may present God’s truth but how it is orgnaised and the implications thereof on metaphysics are another question. I don’t think you’d be so quick to reject the Trinity and the ideas and terminology that it implies? And if you want to talk Triadology and Christology, I’d happy to discuss it. Don’t assume you’re so “philosophy free” yourself.

      // and the mysticism which was imported as a part of it into Eastern Christianity is an occult replacement for the theology of the New Testament which is unjustified.//

      That’s an assertion. For the most part based on your one theological assumptions.

      //Plotinus is not Paul.//

      And?

      //You and I both know how the Via Moderna and midevil philosophy impacted Luther’s ideas. Should we feel any more comfortable with Plato? They are decidedly different in outlook and I do not believe that the Dionysius or Pseudo-Dionysius or whoever he really was, really represented the union with Christ I find written about in the New Testament. I see the creation of a counterfeit occurring, via occult mysticism, which can offer powerful arguments to its validity, but is corrupt in its unwillingness to submit itself to Christ. It prefers instead mechanical means that don’t have to struggle through the real stories and valid ups and downs of human life, but provides fantasy escapism from it through mystical occult practices. I am serious about my concerns of the early occult influence on Eastern Orthodoxy. If the West struggled with Aristotle, it seems the East didn’t with Plato. It gave him a big fat kiss and called it good.//

      I think you are making a lot of assumptions and not taking to granted so much of theology that you hold as “clear and obvious, sans philosophy”. Even if you do not claim to hold to any philosophical school, your theology will still have philosophical implications. I wonder even, are you Trinitarian?

      //To be sure, following Christ in all of this obscurity and isolation from those of common faith, is very difficult. But do you really succeed or fail because of short term goals and hopes such as joining Orthodoxy? This journey is a symptom of a larger one that may take you here or there. The following of Christ and seeking for His people anywhere is what is paramount. In the very admission that they are somewhat outside of Orthodoxy, and somewhat not inside Orthodoxy, then fellowship is necessarily extended among all of us who are seeking. I wondered where “the visible church” at for many years myself. But then I realized that my state of “not finding the church” was not because of disobedience but the opposite. The only question that remained was how obedient I would be?//

      Actually, you have also defaulted on the worldview of Sola Scriptura, which makes your idea of living the freelance and isolation acceptable. Plus you have a non-sequitor about Visible Church theology, which is perfectly capable of explaining true believers outside its walls, without diminishing the fact that there is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

      //The church wasn’t to be found in any other way.//

      According to who? Do you realise how many dogmatic statements you’ve made, though claiming to still be on the search for Truth? Everyone works with assumptions, to be sure, but have you really tested whether the running assumptions of your current worldview are justified? I don’t mean to be insulting but it seems to me that Sola Scritpura, truly replaces one Pope for many.

      // So now I seek obedience wherever it leads, and regardless if I really understand the theology which undergirds it or in the end what obedience means. I would join Orthodoxy if I didn’t think it was just another form of disobedience.//

      And what exactly is the normative standard of obedience? Your form of theology which did not exist amongst any apostolic churches for 1500 years? Or even Luther who started your reformation is impugned due to your own views?

      //And if, hypothetically my thinking is right, then there is not visible church and we are stuck with this mess of division, then is my faith still in Christ in spite of this?//

      Better question would be, is your division and mess that you’re espousing, the fruit of the Spirit? The way that the God of order wanted the Church to be established? The unity that Christ speaks of? The unity and order displayed throughout Acts? What Paul calls for when he asks that we have agreement in all things? The very type of division in 1 Corinthians that he espouses? Really think about that for one moment.

      //Or was I only ever really willing to follow the crowd in one form or another? It seems to me that following Christ without the crowd is more true than following Him with it.//

      It seems to me that an individualistic, relativist and agnostic faith inherently leading to division is not anywhere near what Christ taught. Your admission to following Christ without the so called “crowd” is a testament to how shallow any reductionist, any notion of unity you’re trying to posit really is. And to try and say that this is God’s preferred way of doing things?

      //I think Christ and the Scriptures ultimately reflect us and we define what we are going to be as we look to Him intently. That choice is important to Him and to us. As we move from one theory to another, we change in the process, and like children learning one skill at a time, it’s not only the goal but the relationship with the Father we have in the process, which is most essential of all.//

      Change and process can go from good to bad too you know. Doesn’t Paul talk about constantly being shifted by every wind of doctrine? The idea the Church set on a foundation seems to imply stability does it not? I would not confuse zeal and love for God, with correct theology. If God works in that you grow and become like Christ then praise God. But to espouse a chaotic system where there is no normative standard of truth, all in the name of process and change, as being the way in which God wanted to establish his Church, is another thing.

      //Growing up is always tuff, and especially when “up” is so high! If God’s concern is to bring everyone into Orthodoxy, then Orthodoxy is sure shying away from helping Him out with that process!//

      That is your assessment. Also, Orthodoxy doesn’t do anything. People do. That doesn’t speak to whether their belief system endorses everything you think they may or may not do. And one thing I’ve learned is that unless we put ourselves in a mission setting and mindset and start doing it with likeminded people, we’ll get the impression that nothing is being done. Because we aren’t even in the game, as it were. So unless you’re growing and participating in the life of the Orthodox Church, or doing much groundwork related investigation, I don’t think you’re in much of a position to know the goings on of that world and judge on where they’re lacking. As I myself have said that I wrote my article as an outsider looking.

      //I would have been Orthodox a long time ago if I saw Christ more there than where I am at. Instead they are casual and don’t look on the fields white for harvest.” Such a big church and so few workers. Something’s wrong with this picture. Profoundly wrong.//

      Yeah, pretty much the same in every evangelical church I’ve been too. Some congregations as a whole may be more missional. Others will only have a few members doing so. But really much of what God is doing is not at the forefront where we can all see. Not everyone is called to street work and mission trips etc. Not to mention I can point the finger to myself and see that I have much to do.

      //And I mean this in no way as a cut on any individual person within the Orthodox church in leadership or otherwise. I am stereotyping for the sake of stupid argument, but my stupid arguments are genuinely formulated, and I would love to hear answers to my arguments from someone who cares, anyone!//

      I think you’ve almost half answered your own question there 😛 I commend that you are looking for answers and your concerns about how you’re seeing things are genuine. I don’t know what steps you’ve taken in trying to understand Orthodoxy, but the best way would be in real life and not online. If you go the “Orthodox and Non-Orthodox Christian Discussion Group” on facebook, you’ll find some good people (and bad ones) to answer your questions. I frequent that page and know some good people on it that have become friends of mine. You could equally message the FB page for my blogpost and I can find and add you on Facebook if you wanted. All in all, I’ll remember to keep you in prayer, Benjamin. I still have struggles and I know someone much like yourself who is in “no man’s land.” I hope I was able to answer some of your questions. I’m not really here to debate (it takes a lot of time). But shorter or single points are easier to discuss and get clarity on.

  2. Rudy Carrera
    August 10, 2015

    As an Orthodox Christian going on 20 years, I want to wish you success on your journey. It is a totally different world going back to the faith of the Fathers. Many like you are coming home, and you will be welcomed with open arms.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 16, 2015

      Thank you brother! I would appreciate your prayers as I wrestle through this journey.

  3. Benjamin Scott
    August 10, 2015

    Hey thanks for your lengthy reply and reaching out to me. I appreciate that your time is limited and I just wanted to clarify a few things. Reply only to what interests you. I will be following your blog and will post comments as they arise for me, trying to be more specific and not so all over the place as I was this first time. This is not characteristic of me and I was vulnerable to you because I trust you.

    <<>>

    Sola Scriptura is a hard WV to deal with but in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and the person of Christ in history, we have a responsibility to be faithful. I don’t like my position in all of this, as I have honestly expressed to you, but in the end we all come to God as individuals or not at all, whether any of us choose to become Orthodox or Protestant or whatever. I have faith in Christ and my discomfort with Orthodoxy keeps me in this state of tension. I appreciate your understanding the difficulty of this tension. My bold statements of faith while in this state of tension are a testament to my faith overcoming the difficulty. I cannot yet become Orthodox but I won’t say I never can. That’s why I am dialoging with you. Your kindness to me and answers to some, not all of my questions, helps my comfort a lot. Life as a whole is not easy for myself or my small family and I am careful with any decision I make. My wife has severe fragrance allergies that keep her out of church and public life in general. This is not the controlling factor in my absence from church, but it is a real challenge. The best we can manage is a bible study.

    <<>>

    Well that depends on who I am. But I think I should define mysticism and be honest that maybe I don’t yet understand it. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life Of The World is on my reading list. I am also preparing to pursue the issue of Sacraments from the other perspective as well, but my study thus far has not been direct and intense on this subject in the Scriptures themselves. And of course I am pursing this from the Sola Scriptura angle. I don’t trust much else just by default, in spite of my respect for tradition and study of the early church. And yes I am Trinitarian.

    <<>>

    I understand that. But just the same it makes me very uncomfortable and particularly hesychasm. I am not comfortable with the more mystical aspects of Orthodoxy. I have studied the occult and I don’t like an experiential mindset. To me mysticism goes hand in hand with that desire for experience. I appreciate that I don’t fully understand the subject from Orthodoxy but sometimes it seems that it’s defined away instead of defined at all. The difficulty in my approach is the deep skepticism I have towards things like this, the deep aversion I have towards mystical experience, and the question of its usefulness as a ground for faith. My own “experiences” have often proven to be theological frauds. At least during my evangelical upbringing. I don’t base my faith on experience. Am I mischaracterizing mysticism in Orthodoxy?

    <<>>

    That is beautiful and I appreciate you sharing it with me. I agree completely with this and this is why you are my brother.

    <<>>

    The questions can also continue however. How about those outside Orthodox lands places where there is no Orthodox churches? In some sense none of this matters to me. In the end I trust in the God who you and I both witness to the existence and grace of. He does His work with much or little. How I respond is more important and that’s what reflects who I am and who He’s making me. Am I willing to follow Christ into Orthodoxy if I know that’s where He’s taking me? You bet ya! But I am looking for people who talk as you just talked. My experience so far with Orthodoxy has not been so. Maybe it’s as Jesus said. The workers are few? But its usually the former evangelical converts who have all the energy. A few years back I watched Frank Schaeffer’s talks on why he became Orthodox, then I watched what he turned into afterwards. That was really weird.

    <<>>

    I appreciate that answer. One thing that you’ve probably noted is that I am really tuff on anything that allows someone to change emphasis from what’s important to what’s not. I see how this has worked spiritually in people’s lives in Protestantism. If you give people one inch of explanation about anything in theology which is subtle or has a range of meaning, they walk all over it with whatever they want it to be. I tend to really feel suspicious of the Sacraments in that way, just as I can observe that worship service music in evangelicalism is a replacement for the fruit of The Spirit. Are my suspicious and fears valid? Possibly not. They are learned from experience but may not apply to this case. But how many people sit in Orthodox churches and go through the motions and believe that is all there is to it? Yes of course evangelicalism is the same way. But nobody sits near me for long to discuss the Bible without being shown that the Bible’s central focus is discipleship. I won’t let them escape this fact not just as an emphasis but as a need for salvation.

    <<>>

    It’s not your fault you are misunderstanding me in this. I can see where you get the gnostic thing. I was being hyperbolic. My imagination is captured by the material as well, but I see it frequently not taken as an analogy to the spiritual as it is in Scripture but as a replacement for the spiritual. Jn. 4 is a good example, as brought up previously. I am coming at it from this angle, not as a denial of the material.

    <<>>

    I guess what I am saying, ignorantly or not, is that grace becomes quickly very abstract and nontransformative when I am expecting it to happen by magic through a meal or a prayer technique. I am coming at it from my experience in Protestantism and applying it to Orthodoxy, unfairly or not. I am being honestly skeptical before you, not arguing to win. I need a sounding board and few people offer this service at all.

    If grace “comes” to me in the Eucharist, then what does this mean? Grace seems to me to be something operating the moment I choose by faith to be obedient. That’s when I personally “experience” the power of God in my life. But I don’t rely upon this experience but remain faithful regardless as to whether I “feel” it or not. Because I am able to accept that He may have other plans than I think He does, which only in time will I discover.

    But sitting in an evangelical church and engaging in or even being around worship activity makes my heart deeply heavy. I feel the emptiness of it and find it’s better for me to not participate than to be brought in by the crowd into the belief that their faith is mine when it is not. I am not Protestant Evangelical in my beliefs about the gospel and would feel much much more comfortable theologically in an Orthodox church. But my skepticism of the worship service remains the same. Whatever grace might mean in the sacraments, it is something that scares me because I can’t rely upon it but must immediately act upon it. This is one angle on my objections but not the entire story, as you are aware.

    <<>>

    Amen, and don’t think by my comments that I doubt that fact. You’ve been really kind to me. I gave you so much material to hurt me with and you didn’t, which shows your heart.

    <<>>

    The synergism point is huge for me and I very much thank you for pointing this out to me. I can definitely see the sacraments as helpful in that way. But let me qualify that when we say that grace comes through them in some special way that extends beyond their being symbols that we respond to as pointers to realities, then this becomes something I can’t yet even really apprehend in a way that makes me comfortable. I appreciate that there is a reality behind a symbol and that grace is delivered synergistically in this way. But beyond that I am at a loss.

    <<>>

    I understand this journey well and take your point. At the same time, there is somewhere to go and that’s the image of Christ as testified to in the Scriptures. I have very little trust in being Spirit lead in my Bible reading other than as the message proclaims Christ as salvation and God the Son, and exalts Him in my life and the lives of others. This is similar to what you said above. I test things by Scripture and find the Scriptures pretty clear on most points. The sacramental stuff seems to cut across the Scriptures to me and hence another layer of my skepticism of it. But I am still studying on this.

    <<>>

    Yeah but when the truth is a group who holds to ideas that I feel I’ve found to be false then I struggle to accept the group.

    <<>>

    You’re right on that in one way but then the Old Testament Jews in general could keep the feast days without loving God whatsoever. That’s why I see the law as so nontransformative and any expression of its continuance in the NT period as the same type of thing.

    <<>>

    Col. 2-3 point out that asceticism and rules don’t control the passions but rather it’s the focus on “things above” which do. This is true in my experience and my dealings with others. I am not antinomian but I see that in the NT, those who walk by the Spirit are not under the law. Those who’s lives are characterized by the fruit of the Spirit are not in violation of any law. These concepts seem pretty clear to me in the NT. The law is for the unrighteous, including all who claim to be Christians and who don’t walk by the Spirit, thus indulging the flesh and being condemned by the law.

    <<>>

    But someone cannot love from the wrong motives. In the end, false love fails and true love does not. For love never fails. Ascetics come when love takes sacrifice. I believe that in the case of your spending your time with me, you’ve shown love in this way. There are beatings of your heart that you cannot retrive because you spent time interacting with me and my thoughts. Thank-you! Love is defined in the attitude of Christ towards us and this captures us, whether in Eucharist or in the story we read of Him. Christ is our salvation and so much replaces Him with the things He’s done or the church He founded. This is how it seems to me.

    <<>>

    I will mainly respond over there. I agree that we are under the law of Christ. It’s a manner of speaking I was using to make it clear that the Mosaic Covenant stands and falls as a whole since it is completely fulfilled in Christ. That is not to say that this fulfillment doesn’t involve our fulfillment of it through obedience as well. But by the Spirit we look to Christ, not the law. And the commandments in the NT of which there are over 1k, are mainly prefaced with “Let us” not, “Thou Shalt.” The issue is that Christ transforms us of He doesn’t and the specifics of that can be guided and dictated but the freedom in it is for greater obedience, not greater disobedience.

    <<>>

    Sure. So how good a case do you personally think can be made from the Bible for a sacramental and mystical understanding of discipleship and of our lives in Christ? I appreciate that you are not Sola Scriptura but in order to reach out to those who are, do you have any recommendations?

    <<>>

    I am not looking for the truth in that sense. I believe the Truth is a person, Jesus Christ, Jn. 14:6. My explanation of the crowd/group is as “the broad road,” not as an absolute exclusion to fellowship. That is, I believe that the crowd tends to be only a step below a mob, hiding behind each other and affirming each other’s heresy. We approach Christ as individuals, whether or not we are Orthodox or this individual approach brings us to become Orthodox. On judgment day we won’t be judged as a group but as individuals. I’m looking for truth in that I am always growing further into His image. And in that I am on a journey in which there are decisions and turns yet ahead. And also in that I am seeking to move more and more out of my isolation. My faith alienates me from others not because I’m divisive. I am very accepting of people who have very different beliefs. I look for fellowship around one issue and that is the centrality of Christ as our salvation. By that I mean the message of the New Testament that our salvation is in following Him by His grace and the power of the Spirit in obedience and worship. Many people in Protestantism replace this message with penal substitution, with the law, with human perfectibility and self exultation. With commandments and standards. They create cultures and exclude others. I see Christianity as being an anti culture. It transcends all cultures and standards for the purpose of love and worship. Worship to me is centrally defined in Rom. 12:2.

    <<>>

    Yeah yeah yeah. I have suffered my way into these concepts but Kierkegaard gave me the terminology I’m using here. Enjoy this article by him. I have only started reading Kierkegaard in the last month so although I like him, he’s not the definer of my theology by any means. I find him a kindred soul however, as I do you also. I was first brought to interest in Orthodoxy by Dostoevsky. Reading Brother Karamazov saved me from agnosticism after my disillusionment with evangelicalism. That was many years ago now.

    http://www.ccel.org/k/kierkegaard/untruth/untruth.htm

    <<>>

    My issue here is that I see Christ as the normative standard and even recognizing the easy replacement of anti-Christ, I think that this reflects the followers of anti-Christ and not the shakiness of the standard. To those who hear Christ’s voice, the following does happen as well. I guess honestly I would like to say that I could believe in something easier than what I have found but my own isolation. Even if I became Orthodox, the journey towards it being a decade long and mainly cultural and intellectual, is quite difficult. It’s primarily not an issue of obedience that keeps me away from Orthodoxy but which makes me skeptical of it. This to me doesn’t sit right. I see people accept and reject Jesus all the time when presented with Him. The issue is the sin in their hearts. I find it ironic how clearly someone can be presented with the message about Christ and reject Him in favor of either the law, or sin, or some fatalistic notion of Calvinistic monergism. In any of these cases I see sin as being the core problem. But in my struggle with Orthodoxy I am afraid that accepting Orthodoxy will squelch the faith which I have fought hard and long to finally win. It has taken a lot before I have been able to hold onto my faith against the crowd. What you observe as boldness is hard won because I am an extreme skeptic of myself and of the crowd. Take my word for it because what I am now is a development that has come out of a journey, and not an essence of myself. I am redefined in Christ and I have every reason to believe that it’s real because it’s bearing fruit in my lives and those around me. And in some I am just an aroma of death to death as well. But regardless, in this I wish I could escape from the world I live in, in which the vast majority of people cannot accept the gospel but prefer instead some falsified version of it. The confrontation I see is real and then on the other side, I see Orthodoxy which comes to me proclaiming itself and its tradition and somehow in there I again feel like Christ, though admittedly central, isn’t as central there as He is for me. I could be completely wrong. But the signs and language comes off wrong to me and I’m skeptical. Thanks for your continued patience.

    <<>>

    Sign me up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I could find communion with more than a few people who actually Do pursue the above, then I would be in heaven before I die, my friend. Does such a place truly exist? I reached out to a nearby monastery a few years back and kind of got the runaround. I’m not saying it was blatant. Then I drove by and this old man with a beard was in a golf cart and drove by with a nun. His eyes were as piercing and dead as someone in a photograph from 130 years ago. I get the iby jeebies from this stuff. I want someone to approach me as you are. I feel I shouldn’t have to look so hard. You have to understand that I have spent my life reaching out to those around me with anything I knew of Christ, as hard as I could. The response is minimal but my outreach is always meant to save and I really mean this. I want to see the church I join be minimally similar to this. It seems to me to be basic and Biblical. I’m not saying that I am expecting door to door evangelism. I haven’t done a whole lot of that either. But I have done some. And life to me is the constant risking of relationships over the issue of Christ and presenting His message of love and transformation. It’s difficult but He’s worth it. I’m being very candid with you for a public blog post but then I don’t really have anything to loose from truth.

    <<>>

    I agree about direct encounter but that direct encounter for me is described in Phil. 3. To know Him, being conformed to His sufferings and death. I die daily and in this He is with me. I certainly honor His death in this same way. But to me the delivery of His death through something as “easy” as eucharist seems somehow in conflict with what I’m saying. Again maybe I need to study more and I thank you for your patience.

    <<>>

    I am Trinitarian and I am fairly well read in philosophy. I like Neo-Platonism in some ways so don’t get me wrong. I am saying that it seems to me that the mystical aspects of it have come into Eastern Christianity in an unwarranted way. The occult ties in with this and it freaks me out regardless as to whether my suspicions are warranted.

    <<>>

    Sure. I know the person of Truth as do you, and we can be dogmatic about Him being that. My statements have been loose and undisciplined due to necessity and mood. I am overworked and underpaid if you want to put it that way. My quest after Truth has cost my whole life and I live in a world that doesn’t make my pontificating easy. I am usually a very precise person but with you I chose to be the opposite. I am playing a dialectic against you because I consider you good to play tennis with. I hope in the end we can both learn and maybe me more from you than you from me. But in either case I am being undignified on purpose.

    <<>>

    I’m not even so Sola Scriptura. I have a lot of skepticism about knowledge and I take it as I find it. To me the evidence that I have truth in some measure is my love and obedience and my seeking after further love and obedience in correspondence with the knowledge of the love of Christ which undergirds it makes me attached to the Bible but not on any single passage. In my view the Bible is a fairly simple unity and states the same basic things from many angles and facets. Protestant theology runs the opposite. They specialize in cut and paste puzzle piece type thinking and everything is separated in them. You know what I’m talking about. My theology has been heavily influenced by Orthodoxy. It’s just that certain things don’t sit so well with me and other things seem to need obvious but slight adjustments to fit with what I’m hearing in the NT. Regardless, if my Bible were thrown away, I would hold to Christ and keep telling His story and demonstrating His life by the Spirit. Not perfectly, but as best as I could by His grace.

    <<>>

    The free and worshipful imitation of Christ and His cross in a person’s life. That is the outreach of love, grace and truth to others from God, through me, at the cost of my suffering as needed.

    <<>>

    I can’t escape the accusation of being Protestant entirely, but I don’t like it. I was born into the matrix and found light in the Scriptures that Protestantism gave me. I found Satan in the theology of the Protestants. The Bible does not teach Protestant theology or lifestyle, but I don’t hear it fully teaching sacramental mysticism and church hierarchical government either. So I am merely where I am and being in process doesn’t make me deny that Christ is Truth, although it has taken me a lot to get through this standing on my feet.

    <<>>

    I hear you. All I can say is that I am less prone to division than Orthodoxy is in terms of doctrine. Though my doctrine is basically orthodox, I reach out to any and let the issues begin to bite as they become relevant for the sake of fruit and worship, not as issues in themselves. So I am inherently nondivisive. But what I find is that people aren’t willing to follow Christ. And keep in mind that I am accusable of being anti-nomian as well! So this is ironic because I am not someone telling people that they must not watch TV or must wear a veil in church or must not eat meat sacrificed to idols. I am only drawing the lines with very clear sin and the message itself is repulsive. Divisions occur around Christ for me, from my perspective. You and others may think this is crazy but for me, I know nothing else. To put my faith in Orthodoxy would just change the normative standard to something that more people agree upon is how it seems to me. But even then the fellowship within the body would bring divided relationships, even if we still partake of the same cup. And those who are comfortable as cultural Orthodox but who don’t exhibit love would not be comfortable around me, regardless as to how kind I was seeking to be. My honesty and perspective would be confrontational to them as it is to those outside of Orthodoxy. So I fail to grasp something which to you seems more central. To me it sounds theoretical. I am possibly just dense to different ideas than those I have experience with. People are that way.

    <<>>

    I don’t mean to assert it’s His preferred way. At this point in my life it’s my explanation that it’s people’s preferred way and that when Jesus talked about the few, He meant it. Ironically I had a guy tell me today that the few meant less than 5! I think he might be crazy or something but you encounter strange people in life.

    <<>>

    I don’t think that God wants the church to be what it is, but the tragedy of the splits which have occurred testify that this is not a flawless process. And the reality of faith in the few people among all these groups and denominations shows that He’s still working in spite. The agony of the Apostle Paul over the savage wolves who would come in and not spare the flock, and the prophecies about apostasy in the last days can be taken to have a range of meaning. I guess my limited experience has indicated to me that it all boils down to the few and that unity therefore is largely invisible on the surface though visible through love. I don’t like or feel comfortable with this view by any means. But it sure as heck beats the alternative of believing that the church is dead. And if you tell me that Orthodoxy is the other alternative then my response is that I will keep an open mind about that but I am concerned this may not be true and if it’s not, in the meantime I have to keep my faith in Christ, so I will go on believing in Him against the crowd.

    I’ll reply to the other post another day. I need to get to bed. Don’t feel the need to reply to all of this. You use your discernment to decide what is important to dialog with, if any of it, Mr. Irish With A Tan.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 10, 2015

      I really like your heart Benjamin! Hopefully tomorrow when I have time I’ll try and answer some of these issues. Which I’m still wrestling with myself. You remind me not to forget why I’m doing all of this. Ultimately as believers we all want to do right by the Lord. And I admire your courage to follow him no matter the cost. And I sympathise with how careful you’re being, keeping your family in mind. I’ll be praying for you bother. Please remember me in your prayers too. I have made known your queries and situation on my fb which has this post linked. I would recommend that you join the “Orthodox and Non Orthodox: Christian Discussion Group” on Facebook. It’s a closed group and there some of my friends and people more equipped could answer some of these. And point to helpful resources. They sure helped me a lot. In Christ, Mr. Irish With A Tan

  4. Benjamin Scott
    August 16, 2015

    Thank-you so much for your prayers. I am seeking to reciprocate that for you as well. I’ve been pretty busy and try to stay offline as many days as possible to keep my life in balance, so sorry for not replying sooner. I don’t have a Facebook account, (one of those rare people), but I appreciate the invite and if you would do me the favor of sending me anything on there in reply to me that stands out to you as helpful, then I’ll appreciate it. You decide and do it as it’s on your heart or not. That’s how I roll at this point in my life. Blessings, Benjamin

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 17, 2015

      Thanks for your patience and kind words! I hope this helps you in some way.

      You mention the person of Christ in history which is interesting due to the implications. I’ve coming to believe that the issue of inspiration is a matter of special revelation. In other words, asking “What book counts as inspired text” isn’t going to be determined merely by checking the reliability of a text. Coming at it from a purely historical perspective, we cannot assume inspired text or revelation. In which case we look at what is considered “the New Testament” as well as a plurality of other early church text as a witness to the faith and history of its people. From that alone, if you came to the conclusion that Jesus did indeed exist, and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, that he is indeed the Christ, a few more things will follow. Bar a claim to having direct, special revelation, you still could not based on historical data alone, claim to know which texts, or portions of text are inspired. At least I don’t see how. For all intents and purposes, you have a large body of witnesses testifying to how the faith is to be understood. You know that the Apostles wrote to various churches. These churches were in communion with each other. And unless contrary evidence is given, it would be assumed that they shared a largely common faith. The more universal, common and old a belief, the more likely it is of Apostolic deposit. Especially in Churches that have strong evidence of being directly founded by one of the Apostles, or having received their guidance for quite some time. The stronger the case for such, the harder it is to make the claim for corruption. Sure there may not be perfect unanimity on all things, but that’s quite different than laying a charge to the deposit of faith. At best any major distinctions found in one church, especially if it’s novel, could be passed off as local anomaly. However, any claim to corruption or discontinuity from the Apostles of the common articles of faith, would have to claim that somehow everyone apostatised or misunderstood the Apostles in the same way.

      This would then throw into suspicion the various deposit or Rule of Faith that is commonly held. But based on what would some come along and claim that X or Y, parts of the faith are in error, whilst A and B are not? It would have to be their own interpretation of what they think the faith is. But how likely is it that the deposit of faith is in error? That those who knew the Apostles or were discipled by them or knew those who did are greatly deficient in their understanding of the faith compared to us? For what reason would I claim the guidance of the Spirit on me and my various tradition, if even so early on (and depending on how radical one wishes to go) and for so long He did not prevent error? I’ve now made myself and my beliefs the normative standard faith. Then considering I come to disagree with myself, and change my mind, that I’m not so much a rule, as opposed to a fluctuating opinion. The only thing I have left to justify any belief in an inspired text or interpretation will be an appeal to special revelation of some sorts. And Christianity becomes now primarily a subjective faith where everyone is a prophet. And cannot be told by any other. In principle, nothing is to stop Bob from claiming special revelation on more or less books than yourself. Why should it? Certainly nothing is to stop Bob from disagreeing with your most foundationally held beliefs. In other words no one is a heretic.

      So Sola scriptura is more than just saying that everyone gets to try their best to be faithful in reading the Bible by being led by the Spirit. It’s a stronger claim that Jesus intended to set up the faith in such a fashion that no individual is answerable to any authority bar their own. That’s a crude way of putting it but it essentially boils down to that. I see in this no principle of unity. It’s the definition of anarchy. If this idea does not have historical support, but is rather an innovation, then to claim faith in the historical Jesus on the one hand, whilst holding this on the other, seems kind of arbitrary? And in regards to wanting to have faith in a Jesus grounded in history, it touches on another subject that you’re dealing with; the sacraments. Whatever interpretive framework you’re dealing with, if it can be shown that without question, the early church and the majority of Christianity since was sacramental, then again, how seriously can one seek to disagree with that and claim to have a faith grounded in history? In regards to the canon then, I take a view of the Church preceding it. So I look for the historical church, and I affirm what they affirm through the deposit of faith. And reject what they reject. Just as one can historically come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead and then take a step of faith to take him seriously in regards to his claims. So too I seek the church of antiquity, and having no other place to turn I take a step of faith, trusting the Holy Spirit’s guidance of his Church. And thus trust the canon that they accept. That God has inspired his Church to get it right. So both my worldview and sola scriptura have assumptions. And both must receive the canon as special revelation and thus a matter of faith. But it seems to me that one position is more reasonable than the other for its consistency, grounding in history and for having a more effective principle of unity.

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      In regards to mysticism, I take it the same way that I take the word “superstition.” It’s a relative concept. A superstition I take to mean, believing in relations or realities that are not warranted by ones worldview. Thus belief in the power of prayer is superstition to the metaphysical naturalist. Belief then in the power of sacraments is superstition to the Baptist and so on. Mysticism then too is relative. First thing that needs to be done is to understand how the specific group you’re looking into understands the mysticism. Mysticism could mean anything from outright rejecting the legitimacy of logic and reason, to putting certain limits on what can be known. Or what can be known without experience. I don’t think Orthodoxy teaches the first, and I’m sure you don’t believe it does either. The objection then cannot simply be that Orthodoxy is too mystical. What you’ll have to do is examine the running assumptions of why it seems that way. And the assumptions you’re bringing as to why you’re rejecting what you think you’re seeing. I think as you and I both agree that persons are not reducible to nature, and thus are known primarily through experience, that a principle can be found. That God is a person and is supremely known not by text, but by direct contact. That doesn’t mean that one puts a false dichotomy and says scripture and reason aren’t important. But in principle, propositional knowledge isn’t the intimacy and height of this eternal life that we are called to. And while you and many would likely not find that controversial, the question then comes in regards the degree of this experiential relationship on this side of heaven. And the manner in which we experience it. And those two questions will be answered by the running assumptions that one has. I would recommend reading “The Triads” by Gregory Palamas, as he deals both with the Hesychasm controversy and the essence/energy distinction. I admit that I still have issues here to work out, but so far it’s made sense to me in light of Orthodoxy’s teaching as highlighted by Palamas.

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/uu7pya7kpif1kfm/%5BGregory_Palamas%5D_Gregory_Palamas_The_Triads_%28Cla%28BookFi.org%29.pdf?dl=0

      In regards to the Occult, keep in mind that Satan, as scripture teaches is the great counterfeiter. The Church doesn’t teach that people are to seek spiritual experiences. But that there are normative means for them to meet God spiritually, and that is through the life of the Church. And if one conforms to the churches teaching and stay within its borders, they are being safe.

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      In regards to what about countries with no Orthodox Churches, I’d ask, what about places that don’t have the Gospel at all? It’s the same issue. Also, I’m willing to think that I’m looking at most of these issues of nominalism and zeal, as an outsider looking in. Zeal too is no determiner that a tradition or belief is true. And some show quite a lot more zeal than us Christians! I know my own failings and I want to do more for the Lord. At the same time, I think many observations that are made about Orthodoxy in general, could be made of other Church groups in general too. And you mention Frank Schaeffer, why not look at some of their better examples like Richard Swineburne? But I do share your concern. Evangelism is very important to me and I do see God’s grace at work tremendously with the Evangelical groups I’ve grown up in. I would like to see that in Orthodoxy too. And there will always be a problem of nominals. In regards to the sacraments and liturgy, just because people abuse a good thing or don’t make the most of it, doesn’t mean that it’s not good. There will always be people going through the motions. If they don’t believe or take the belief spiritually then there can be a fault with how the local body is teaching or not teaching its members. At the same time people do have free will. And they can just as much go through the motions in a Baptist Church as much as High Church Anglican service. The responsibility of parents too cannot be ignored. The Church should form a community of grace and support, but the majority of the work has to be done at home and beyond Sunday morning.

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      In regards to John 4, many have pointed out that when Jesus is speaking figuratively, he will explain it to the crowd or disciples. Or John will give commentary. But in regards to John 3 with water or John 6, with the bread, I don’t see that. There are good posts about this online. And I try and give a few reasons why I don’t take John 3 to mean anything other than water when it says water and spirit.

      http://shamelesspopery.com/how-do-we-know-jesus-isnt-speaking-figuratively-about-the-eucharist-in-john-6/

      http://shamelesspopery.com/why-we-should-take-john-6-literally-about-transubstantation/

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      Grace is anything but abstract if one understands the notion of divine energies. It’s spiritual and thus when you think about it, you can’t help but think in abstract manners. God works in you, but you can’t exactly see that. How exactly does it look like when God’s power comes and rests on someone? That’s all grace is. There is no reason to think that God’s power can’t work through matter. On the contrary we have plenty of reasons otherwise. Just consider God’s glory which caused Moses’ face to shine. Either this was just a created material effect, in which case Moses didn’t really see God’s glory. Or it is a spiritual and divine reality that can co-exist with the material world but seen only when our spiritual eyes are opened. Like Jesus and the disciples on the mount of Tabor and when Elisha prayed that the soldier would see God’s angelic army etc. Understanding the essence/energies distinction is quite important in understanding this. Gregory Palamas and the Triads are an invaluable source here. Also, grace is not a feeling. Sure, God’s power can bring sensations to us, but for the most part, I believe it is at work sans feeling it. It’s not really “magic” which does all the work for you. Remember, Orthodoxy is all about synergy. You must co-operate with grace. And scripture does warn about showing disdain for God’s kindness and grace. So no one is getting a free meal here is at were. One of the prayers said before receiving the Eucharist, include the phrase “let this not be to my condemnation but salvation.” It’s not a joke. And it’s not a get out jail free card. At the same time, it is grace. The Church as a community of grace exists to provide God’s presence and mercy and goodness to all around it and it. What they do with it, is between them and God.

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      I would take the passages on asceticism the same way I take the passages on reasoning and philosophy. There is that which is after Christ and that which is not. No one is doing such to appease God as it were, but it’s about spiritual training. Fasting is a form of ascetism. It’s a spiritual discipline. And again, the soul and body form one nature. And share in each other’s virtues and vices. I’m reading Augustine’s City of God and he has this interesting passage: Suppose a virgin violates the oath she has sworn to God, and goes to meet her seducer with the intention of yielding to him, shall we say that as she goes she is possessed even of bodily sanctity, when already she has lost and destroyed that sanctity of soul which sanctifies the body? Far be it from us to so misapply words. Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the body is violated, the sanctity of the body is not lost; and that, in like manner, the sanctity of the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remains intact.

      Or here is Tertullian on Baptismal Regeneration: But as sins do not show themselves in our flesh (inasmuch as no one carries on his skin the spot of idolatry, or fornication, or fraud), so persons of that kind are foul in the spirit, which is the author of the sin; for the spirit is lord, the flesh servant. Yet they each mutually share the guilt: the spirit, on the ground of command; the flesh, of subservience. Therefore, after the waters have been in a manner endued with medicinal virtue through the intervention of the angel, the spirit is corporeally washed in the waters, and the flesh is in the same spiritually cleansed.”

      Given too that Orthodoxy is not Sola Scriptura, the Church has the right to put feasts and such in place. It’s part of the binding and loosing we see active in Acts 15. We see that in early Christianity with regular corporate fasts (see the Didache). And also changing the day of gathering to Sunday. We are no longer under the Old Covenant, but the Church is a kingdom. And a very human one at that which embraces the fullness of humanity. It will not be a completely soulish endeavour, but contain things like feasts and organisation. It grows and develops. The house church of Acts 2 is not the same as the Church in Acts 15 and the Church at the end of the book. If you took a Sola Scriptura approach then I could see how one would interpret Paul saying we are not under the Old Covenant to lead to the sort of freedom you’re talking about. However since I do not hold to sola scriptura (which is primarily a question of authority, not interpretation), the Church can bind and loose, and one such things it has done is made feasts and fasts normative. And since it is the same Spirit that guides the Church and inspires Paul, they are not going to be at odds. Our interpretive framework allows for both to make sense.

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      True we will be judged individually, but we are called to live as a collective body. I just think that this collective body is guided and guarded by Christ to keep the faith. I don’t put authority as individualistic but as coming from Christ, collectively through his body. This also is a principle and internal mechanism of unity. So Christ is truth, and the primary way he makes his truth known is true his body. Thus trusting Christ and trusting his body are one and the same thing. To the degree that you are in line with the body you are safe. God’s grace still helps us inspite of our errors, but one ought not to test God. The alternative is to say that one will live the life of faith by trusting their own understanding as having Christ’s truth mediated to it. No matter how open you are, you become a Church of one. Since there is no external principle binding you to someone else. No matter how open you may be to various beliefs. Either you have no borders in which you have no country, unless you wish claim all views as having equal footing (which I doubt you do). Or you have borders, in which case the buck stops with you. Just remember that even postmodernists can get together and from a group. It just has no foundation bar the individual members. In practice the Church together has no reality continuity or reality greater than the sum of its parts. That seems quite nominalist to me.

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      In regards to the problems existentially with Orthodoxy, I hear you. I struggle with that as I’m trying to get used to it. But I must keep in mind that these problems do not falsify the faith. I can’t not go there because there are problems in the way people use the faith, if in principle I affirm the faith. But these are not easy issues. I don’t know how settled I’ll be with them or if I ever will be. But I see no good reason in regards to the faith itself as to not join. In regards to dampening your personal faith. I think it is true that we all need to go somewhere where we are being spiritually fed. At the same time we have a real important responsibility to guard and mature our own faith.

      <>

      True God does not want the Church to split. And there are wolves as it were that infiltrate and hurt the sheep. But it is two different things to say that the Church will face attacks, than saying the gates of hell will prevail. There is a difference between saying apostasy will occur and saying the truth won’t remain. Or be distinguishable. If people fall *away* from the true faith, the faithful still haven’t moved. If the Church is visible and not Sola Scriptura, then in principle it cannot fail, without Christ’s promise being invalid. The claim of Orthodoxy is simply that this One, Holy, Catholic and *Apostolic* Faith, did exist, is existing, and will exist. And that there is no discontinuity. Any differences are accidental not substantial.

  5. Benjamin Scott
    August 23, 2015

    Thanks again for your well thought out and thorough reply to me. I will print it out and read it again, because I want to really digest it, and you put your time into it.

    On some level I’m so close to where you’re at. I recognize the dynamic position I’m in, so to speak, but at the same time, I am in God’s hands as are we all. And I’m really glad to be able to be in His hands, dynamic as it has been as He’s moved me along. When I came out of agnosticism I recognized that faith was, as I put it at that time, “believing in God’s heart without seeing His face.” That is, whether or not I had enough evidence for God to overcome my skepticism against the crowd, nonsense and disillusionment I had experienced up till that point, I still knew God was there and I willed faith as something which had no less hold on truth then skepticism did. I have later come to understand my philosophy more fully, but at that time it meant being faithful to God against the offense of His silence. This meant that I had to make the choice about my life and who it belonged to. I couldn’t “play safe”. That’s the same position I’m in now and that both you and I are in now in regards to Orthodoxy. If accepting it by faith is the same as accepting Christ by faith, then so be it. But if there’s a contradiction between the two then which shall we choose when He’s brought us this far? That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying I know there’s a contradiction.

    There was something real there which pulled me out of the Calvinism I was brought up with, into the Oswald Chamber styled Arminianism I espoused up until I fell into agnosticism, and then out the other end through Dostoevsky and intense study of the Scriptures on the subject of soteriology, and to a place where I am open to Orthodoxy but following the Lord either way.

    One can say that my conception of “God’s heart” is subjective, and so it is, but it is also an objective reality which has brought me here, even though I approach Him subjectively. I can recognize that I’m isolated and in a tenuous position, but like you, I’m guarded because I don’t want to loose what I do have, which in my life is actually real. And I can say that as someone who turned agnostic when it wasn’t. I’ve had a remarkably fun philosophical and theological journey through life. When I’m an old man I’ll look back at it and smile. I’m not trying to find salvation, but to keep working it out as He wants me to, wherever that leads. For that reason, at this point I am very patient and slow to move, but quick to listen to where I ought to move too. So you are showing love to me, and I’m sorry to keep mentioning it but it does mean a lot.

    But even if I were to be baptized into Orthodoxy, the journey of an intellectual with all the baggage of my deeply formed convictions that have kept me ticking through all of this nonsense of Protestantism, is something which I would struggle to let go of and just “accept things” again, whatever I mean by that. I believe I am more mature now and would approach things differently, but I guess a huge part of my identity is my mind and my desire to reform what I see as wrong. Like you, I would enter with concerns. How do we make a difference within? What does that even mean? Is it our calling even? I have a lot of idealism in me. I don’t believe in sinless perfectionism or putting on a show, but I want to see the Christianity of Christ making a difference. I know you are the same way. Love is something real and I know it abides in you through Him. I’m afraid to find it missing in my priest or most of my fellow Orthodox church attendees. I am so afraid of this that I feel the need to prepare myself for it. I prefer to think about Orthodoxy intellectually than to face it personally. I don’t feel ready for surrender to others. To Christ, yes, because at least in me there is something I can give to others. But what am I to think of something I must join but can’t change in the way that God has given for me to change and help others? I guess I’m afraid of the boogieman and you will point that out to me. I’m not sure it’s my real problem. I’m just ranting stupidly without dignity.

    I didn’t know that Swinburne was Orthodox? Really!? That’s cool.

    I don’t think I’m really “Sola Scriptura” as a final, stand, so much as I am looking for what seems contradictory between the Bible and Orthodoxy since I have learned to do exegesis well enough to let the Bible push me directly towards Orthodoxy. I look for contradictions between the two and whether I know exactly what the Bible is or not, I know that life’s a journey in which all of us with open hearts are being transformed by God. Certainty is not something that factors very largely in my philosophy of life, Mr. Tanned Irishman. I have spent some time with the Ante-Nicene Fathers, as you have, but I sometimes find myself liking their focus and sometimes uncomfortable. It’s been a while since I’ve read them. Orthodoxy hits me the same way. It’s like a different culture. My expression of “authenticity” is not distinctly evangelical, but it isn’t Orthodox either. It’s a cultural thing maybe, but then…, I’ve learned to suspect cultures I suspect. I mean I am open minded but have been proven right many times. I like you. Maybe it’s just easier to identify with people who are in a similar place in life. I will print out and read the Triad.

    I need to read this article again too, on the other side. Here’s a link. It is one thing I came up with when studying these issues in the past. Let me know what you think of this, if you have time.

    http://personal.stthomas.edu/plgavrilyuk/Articles/Dionysius%20in%20Orthodox%20Theology%20moth_495.pdf

    I guess intellectually, if I boil it down, I have been really uncomfortable with Hesychasm and the deep asceticism aspects of Orthodoxy more than any other issues. If I had to nail it down it would be that. Most everything else makes good enough sense to me. I like how you are putting asceticism. My life is that way by nature. But there’s some intense obsession with asceticism in some parts of Orthodoxy that makes me feel uncomfortable. I grew up around really conservative Christian people, like the Duggar family, who were trying to prove how godly they were in one way or another and developing their own character. I was frequently judged as an outsider because I was honest and real, and didn’t play those empty games with “serving God”, or going through the modern rituals, whatever that meant. I saw through it as did my family. Now so many of those same people have turned to the world long since. I think evangelism offers all the asceticism that one could ever want to encounter and then some! Not the Protestant gospel, per se, but the one about discipleship. I am NOT trying to deny the efficacy of prayer. I’m sorry to be so random.

    I wish I had more time to study. I’m overworked and trade sleep for study on a consistent basis.

    Ben

  6. Pingback: Original Sin | Irish With A Tan

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2015 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , .
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