A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Ligonier Ministries on Eastern Orthodoxy

J. Ligon Duncan III, John MacArthur, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, and Richard Phillips   Source

After years of obscurity on the American religious landscape, Eastern Orthodoxy is beginning to catch the attention to Evangelical leaders.  In 2004, Ligonier Ministries sponsored a national conference “A Portrait of God” which featured: J. Ligon Duncan III, R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur.  At one of the Q&A sessions, the moderator noted that he had received several questions about Eastern Orthodoxy.

It is unfortunate that these well known Reformed theologians made erroneous statements about Eastern Orthodoxy.  Some have derided their answers as “laughable” and as “maligning” Eastern Orthodoxy.  I feel that the more charitable response is not to use emotional words impugning the motives of these Reformed theologians, but rather to correct their erroneous statements with facts and reason.  As a former Calvinist who converted to Orthodoxy I feel it is incumbent to correct these erroneous remarks made by these well intentioned Christian leaders and to provide a well reasoned apologia in defense of Eastern Orthodoxy.  My hope is that Calvinists will become open minded about and interested in Eastern Orthodoxy.

Error #1 — Evangelical Salvation vs. Sacerdotal Salvation (Ligon Duncan)

There are two systems of salvation: the sacerdotal system and the evangelical system.

Sacerdotal doctrine of salvation is based upon the dispensation of sacraments by the church.

Evangelical system of salvation acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the sinner, drawing the sinner to Christ, uniting him to Christ by faith.

Its system of salvation similar to Roman Catholicism in terms of the function of the sacraments.  Eastern Orthodoxy clearly fits into the category of sacerdotalism.

My Response:

The key error here is the separation of the two key dimensions of our salvation in Christ: the sacraments and the inner response of faith.  The Orthodox Church believe that both are needed for our salvation in Christ.  The Orthodox Church teaches that the sacraments are efficacious because of the Holy Spirit’s presence and because the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts bringing forth a faith response.  God initiates and we respond to God’s mercy by faith.  We also believe that God works invisibly in our hearts as well as outwardly through material elements like bread, wine, water.

There was no such dichotomization of salvation in the early Church.  This dichotomization was the result of the controversy between Roman Catholic and the Protestant Reformers in the 1500s.  It has led Pastor Duncan into the trap of thinking either you are Roman Catholic or you must be Protestant Evangelical.  Orthodoxy is neither.  There is a strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Liturgy: (1) the priest prays for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the bread and the wine, and (2) the faithful before going up to receive Holy Communion prays: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that you are truly the Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the greatest.”

Error #2 — Theosis as a “Bizarre” and “Warped” teaching on the Bible (Ligon Duncan)

Some branches of Orthodoxy still stress the doctrine of theosis or deification.

In the fourteenth century some Orthodox theologians misread some fifth to eighth century Eastern Orthodox theologians on sanctification or glorification.

Response: Theosis has been one doctrine that usually gets the attention of Reformed Christians.  This Eastern Orthodox teaching is so radically at odds with the Reformed theological paradigm.  Where Calvinism assumes a transcendent deity who saves us by means of a legal transaction carried out by Christ’s death on the cross, the emphasis in Orthodox theology has been the Son of God taking on human nature and by his life, death, and resurrection he redeems and restores our fallen humanity.

The first point that needs to be made is that theosis is integral to the teachings of the Orthodox Church.  It is a mistake to say that it is held by some Orthodox, implying that it is not held by other branches of Orthodoxy.  All Orthodox Christians hold to the doctrine of theosis, but the core of the Orthodox teaching on salvation is Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God.

The second point is that the Orthodox teaching on theosis is biblical.  It is taught in II Peter 1:4:

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (NIV, emphasis added).

While II Peter may be the most widely used proof text to support the doctrine of theosis, it can also be found in other parts of the New Testament.  A similar line of thought can be found in I John 3:3:

But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall be see him as he is (NIV, emphasis added).

Paul likewise teach about our ultimate transformation into the likeness of Christ in Romans 8:29:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (NIV, emphasis added).

The fact that the apostles Peter, John, and Paul all taught theosis shows that this Orthodox teaching has a solid biblical basis.

Pastor Duncan is mistaken when he claims that theosis was the result of fourteenth century theologians misreading fifth to eighth century Church Fathers.  Athanasius the Great, respected by Evangelicals for his defense of the deity of Christ, taught the doctrine of theosis.  He was born in the third century and lived of his life in the fourth century, much earlier than Duncan implied.  In his theological classic On the Incarnation (§ 54), Athanasius wrote: He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.  Basil the Great described the human person as a creature who has received the order to “become a god.”  These teachings are based upon Genesis 1:26 which teaches that humanity was created in the image of God.  We do not become God by nature, rather we become like God by grace; we share in the life, love, and glory that the Son has with the Father (John 17).

R.C. Sproul adds:

Eastern Orthodoxy never had a Council of Trent.  It has been Olympian and aloof from the Protestant Reformation.

Eastern Orthodoxy did not anathematize justification by faith alone.

I’ve never seen a statement by an Eastern Orthodox person denying justification by faith alone.

Response: Actually, the above statements are wrong.  In the early 1600s, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris, was deposed for his Calvinist beliefs and a council was convened in Jerusalem which drafted a creed — the Confessions of Dositheus — which rejected the teachings of Calvinism.  See John Leith’s (ed.) Creeds of the Churches (pp. 485-517).  Decree XIII articulates the Orthodox Church’s position on the Protestant doctrine of sola fide:

We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which worketh through love, that is to say, through faith and works (emphasis added).

Thus, Orthodox Christians believe in justification through faith in Christ.  But it does not accept the idea of “faith alone.”  Faith in Christ is not abstract nor is it disembodied, but rather faith is expressed through our confession of faith in Christ and our participation in the sacraments established by Christ.  That Eastern Orthodoxy is evangelical in belief can be seen in Decree VIII of the Confessions of Dositheus:

We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be the only mediator, and that in giving Himself a ransom for all He hath through His own Blood made a reconciliation between God and man, and that Himself having a care for His own is advocate and propitiation for our sins.

Error #3 — Eastern Orthodoxy is not all that focused on, interested in doctrine.  The focus is more on the liturgy.  (R.C. Sproul)

There has been such a stripping of the aesthetic element from worship in Evangelicalism.  Beauty has been vanquished from our worship. That is why so many Evangelicals find Orthodoxy attractive.  So many people hunger and thirst for an aesthetic approach to the majesty of God which they find in Eastern Orthodox Churches.

John MacArthur adds:

I just happened to attend an Orthodox service in Moscow.  There was no sermon, no book table, no tracts table.  Nobody preached; there was chanting, and more chanting, and more chanting.  And walking in circles through doors behind back screens and going through and coming through.

No one said anything, no teaching, no preaching; which supports the idea that there’s essentially no theology.  This is sacerdotalism plus nothing!

Response: Oftentimes when we visit other cultures, we misunderstand them because we expect them to be like us.  Instead, we need to first seek to understand their practices on their own grounds and then compare it against ours before we can evaluate their beliefs and practices.

Let me say up front, that the complaint that there was no sermon is probably and sadly accurate.  All too often many Orthodox priests today will proceed directly to the second half of the Liturgy right after the reading of the Gospel.  The tradition of the Orthodox Church has been for the priest to preach right after the reading of the Gospel before moving on to prepare for Holy Communion.  However even if there is no sermon, every Liturgy has the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel.

The complaint that there was no book table or tracts table is ridiculous.  These are very recent and American Evangelical inventions.  It is not appropriate to expect to find these inventions in a church far removed from the USA.  Many Orthodox churches in the US do have a book table or tracts table.  The Orthodox church I attend has a tract rack by the entrance and a bookstore.

Pastor MacArthur’s complaint that there was only “chanting, and more chanting” and therefore no theology in the Orthodox Liturgy shows his ethnocentric imposing Protestant assumptions on Orthodox worship.  It assumes that doctrine is only found in the sermon and that singing is mostly emotional expression.  One of the tragic consequences of the Protestant Reformation has been splitting off of doctrine from worship.  Protestantism does theology in prose, not in song.  Orthodoxy like the early Church has kept together doctrine and worship.

Orthodox Liturgy is full of theology.  Every litany concludes with a prayer to the Trinity.  At every Sunday Liturgy is sung the ancient hymn, Only Begotten (Monogenes) which teaches Christ’s incarnation and his crucifixion for our salvation, and his being one of the Holy Trinity.  At every Liturgy the Nicene Creed is recited.  If that is not doctrinal, I don’t know what is!  And just before the priest recites Christ’s words of institution over the bread and the wine, the Orthodox priest recites a paraphrase of John 3:16: “You so loved Your world as to give Your only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Therefore, to say that there is no doctrine in the Orthodox Liturgy is just wrong.  As a first time visitor John MacArthur didn’t know what to look for in Orthodox worship.  Orthodox worship is so radically different from Evangelical worship because Evangelicalism has moved so far away from the historic Christian worship.


What happened at the 2004 Ligonier conference is significant.  Reformed Christians are becoming aware of and asking questions about Eastern Orthodoxy.  Reformed theologians are being forced to grapple with Orthodoxy.  It is unfortunate that the responses given here show that the leading Reformed theologians are at present ill equipped to answer questions about Orthodoxy.  Their answers reveal their ignorance or fundamental misunderstanding of Orthodoxy.  It is hoped that the answers given here will show the following:

One, the Orthodox understanding of salvation is far removed from the sacerdotalism of Roman Catholicism and has an evangelical emphasis on God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.  Salvation in the early Church was both sacramental and evangelical; faith in Christ was necessary in order for God’s grace to be received through the sacraments.  Where the Orthodox Church has retained this unity, Protestant churches have split them apart.  The Orthodox approach to salvation is based upon Christ’s Incarnation; Reformed theology has resulted in a disembodied gospel message that calls for a pure faith shorn of an external response.

Two, every Orthodox Liturgy is filled with references to fundamental doctrines: creation, the fall, our need for salvation, the Incarnation, Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation, his resurrection, justification, sanctification, the second coming, the final judgment, Trinity.  Where Calvinism does theology in prose, Orthodoxy does theology in prose and song.  Orthodox worship is holistic; we worship God with mind, heart, and body.

Three, the stripping of beauty from Reformed worship, the neglect of liturgy and the sacraments, and the reduction of faith into philosophical systems all reflect the price Calvinists have paid in their reaction to medieval Roman Catholicism.  Reformed Christians need not be afraid of Eastern Orthodoxy because it has retained the rich heritage of the early Church.  Once they clear away the misunderstandings and false assumptions Calvinists will discover that Eastern Orthodoxy is genuinely evangelical in its beliefs and worship.

Robert Arakaki

Source: Message 10, Questions and Answers #2; A Portrait of God: 2004 National Conference. http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/orlando_2004_national_conference/questions-and-answers-2-3919/

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  1. Rebecca

    “Reformed theology has resulted in a disembodied gospel message that calls for a pure faith shorn of an external response.”

    Having been in the reformed tradition prior to converting to Orthodox Christianity:
    They would like to think so…however, if there is no external response needed, how in the world can one be a “backslider”? Also, “good” Christians are identified by how many services and Bible studies are attended, the ability to extemporaneously pray a ‘powerful’ prayer, leadership positions in the community…I could go on.

    • JD Hettema

      Do you think maybe you are doing the exact same thing to Reformed Christians that they are doing to you? I am a Reformed and I appreciated Robert’s article. It seems that the Reformed church needs to learn more about the Orthodox Church. But comments like yours show me that the problem is not only with the Reformed Church, it is with both sides. For instance, you need to look into the doctrine of justification by faith. It does not mean that a person does not need works. It is a common statement among reformed circles that “faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone.” (For instance see, Kevin DeYoung’s article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/06/16/is-sanctification-by-faith-alone/ ) You are correct in that some pastors teach this “faith without works” doctrine, but you are out-of-bounds in applying your critique to all of the reformed faith.
      Furthermore, your statement about “good” Christians is totally baseless. Show me one reformed doctrine that argues for anything even resembling what you just said! The problem is… like Robert’s article, WE BOTH don’t know anything about each other. His hurt over what the pastors at Ligonier did to Orthodoxy is the same way I feel about what you did to the Reformed faith.

      • robertar

        JD Hettema,

        I appreciate your input to the conversation!


      • Prometheus

        I would remark that both Robert and Rebecca are onto something though. While Reformed (and Protestant in general) might say by faith alone, but faith is never alone, I think that you missed the point. Technically, what accompanies faith in Protestant speak is not required. It is a result of faith. From a Reformed perspective the result is inevitable (because of unconditional election). From some Arminian perspectives faith and repentance (including the works that flow from them), while gifts of God, are cooperative in nature. As far as I can tell, Orthodoxy is similar to the Arminian approach in that respect. From what I see of Orthodoxy is that because they have a different understanding of the nature of God’s “decrees” than the reformed, they inevitably don’t have as big a problem integrating works into the scheme of salvation. What I mean is, Calvinists will look to works as a sign of salvation, but they have to be very careful to add that those works do nothing in the process of salvation. Orthodoxy (in my understanding) doesn’t need to safeguard grace in quite the same way. This also is a result of the Orthodox understanding of original sin (or ancestral sin, if you prefer). So, in my view, Reformed Christians have a theology that preaches grace and faith “alone” in such a way that they are always (at least in the Puritan mindset) having to “worry” if they are elect, but can never ever attribute their cooperation to their own will (since there is no such thing as libertarian free will). From a non-Reformed view we can be sure we are elect if we are in Christ by faith (which involves libertarian free will). I think at this point I’m reaching my limit of my understanding of Orthodoxy, so I won’t speak for them on this issue. However, I don’t think that Robert or Rebecca are fundamentally misunderstanding Reformed theology. If I am understanding them rightly, I think they just tired of trying to make the contradictions of Reformed thought work – or at least trying to point them out. If that is not where they are coming from, it certainly is my position.

        • Jacob (formerly Outlaw Covenanter)

          ***. Technically, what accompanies faith in Protestant speak is not required. It is a result of faith.***

          It depends on how one is using the terms. Faith is alone in respect to instrumental and material causality, not final causality.

  2. Matthew N. Petersen

    The comment on the sacraments is risible, even from a Protestant perspective. You’d think at least he’d understand that “Sacramentalism” is not he same as “Sacerdotalism”, and that his condemnation of Sacerdotalism condemns Evangelical creeds, like, say Augsburg.

  3. Fr. John Whiteford

    Regarding John MacArthur’s comments about the lack of a sermon: most likely, he was not attending a Sunday morning liturgy, but some daily service. What most Protestants would not be aware of is that in larger cathedrals and in monasteries there is a full cycle of services that happen every day. It would be difficult to have someone preach at each service… difficult to find someone who could do it, plus these are the services that would be done in a usual day outside of lent:

    Small Compline
    The Midnight Office
    The First, Third, and Sixth hours.
    The Liturgy
    The Ninth Hour.

    Traditionally, a sermon would be given only at the Liturgy, and often sermons are only given on Sundays and major feast days. But even if the Church he attended did a daily sermon at the liturgy, chances are pretty good that this is not the service that John MacArthur happened to be at.

    And by the way, we see in the Book of Acts that the Apostles observed a daily cycle of services:

    “Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1).

    “The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour” (Acts 10:9).

    • robertar

      Father, Thank you for your knowledgable response!

    • Tim

      Also, in Russian churches the sermon very often comes not after the reading of the Holy Gospel but rather just before the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Pastor MacArthur may very well have left the church before that point. Most heterodox visitors to Orthodox churches in Russia do!

  4. David

    Let us be kind to one another. I commend Robert’s effort for this Blog to be a place of brotherly persuasion, without the ranchor, pot-shots, cheap-shots and name-calling that too often characterize theology blogs. Robert’s point (if I’m reading him rightly) is that if we disagree (and we will) let us do so as kindly and as generously as possible, as brothers bearing with one another in love. So I should seek to disagree with only the Best examples of Orthodox Worship & Practice — as well as the Best example of Reformed Worship and Practice — not an overstated caricature.

    Orthodoxy and the Reformed Faith both consider themselves the “Fullness” of the Christian Faith. Let’s be mindful that “Better” need not trash the “Good” — any more than the “Fullness” of the faith trashes true but lesser faith. (That I believe Bach superior to Mozart does not demand I think Mosart “Bad”.) Better that we win each other with the honey of good and kind arguments — rather than beat-up on each other as enemies.

    • robertar

      David gets what I’m trying to do. We should be kind to one another even if we disagree. I was a Reformed-Christian-on-the-way-to-Orthodoxy for a long time. I needed time to think through my questions and my beliefs. I want this blog to be a safe place for inquiring Calvinists to ask questions and raise concerns. I don’t want them to feel like they are going to be ganged up on. I get the sense that there are Calvinists in Orthodoxy but feeling apprehensive about it. We need to welcome them warmly. I envision this blog as an open table for friendly discussions.

      • c. j. alexander

        I followed my husband into Orthodoxy…out of a Protestant background. At first I enjoyed the lovely interiors & icons. But as time went on my joy was blunted…short insipid sermons…constant references to Theotokos (which felt like just another name for Mary) & VERY little reference to “doctrinal” thought or emphasis. When ” doctrine” is mentioned (citing the references you used) it is brief & repititious from week to week. The joy of my salvation returned when I returned to a Reform church. Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts.

        • robertar

          Dear C. J. Alexander,

          Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge and sharing your views. I’m sorry to hear that you did not find the Orthodox Church helpful. Can I ask you which particular jurisdiction you belonged to?


        • Robert. Srebrianski.

          Mrs C J Alexander. I loved what you said. Excellent.
          Reformed church is second to none for preaching,Doctrine. True doctrine. No liturgical shows etc.No pagan teachings as orthodoxy has, And i can prove this. The apostolic church was paganized very quickly. You can see this in orthodoxy, And in rc church.
          Iam former Russian orthodox member. You were correct to forsake the false doctrines of eastern orthodoxy. Now you are a loyal reformed church member. Three cheers for you Mam.
          Please excuse my english my dear sister.

          • Jason

            Ok, I’ll bite.

            “Prove” it.

            You can’t do it, I know, but now that you’ve posted that Orthodoxy is pagan, and that the Apostolic Church was corrupted early on, you’ve got to back up these ridiculous claims.

          • Canadian

            Robert S,
            You have asserted without basis that Christ’s promises to his apostolic church failed, the gates of hell prevailed and they fell into paganism. That would be ecclesial Deism. If you have embraced the Reformed sacramental view, that is Nestorianism. If you embrace Reformed anthropology, that is Pelagianism. If you embrace the depravity of nature and the loss of free will, that is Monotheletism. If you believe in monergistic regeneration, that is Monoenergism. If you think the true church is invisible, that is ecclesial Docetism. If you think with the Reformed that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, you are a true child of Rome. Much has been graciously written on this site and others about these Reformed doctrines. The pagans thought the church and her dogma were not aggreeable but detestable, especially her monotheism, eucharistic belief, veneration of relics, deification of the body etc, etc.
            Do you think the entire OT worship along with the synagogue and Temple worship of Jesus and the apostles was a liturgical show? You cannot show from scripture or history where God ceased sacramental and liturgical worship. You may have had a bad experience in Orthodoxy, many of us converts had similar bad experiences in the Reformed/evangelical world. None of that affects the truth. I wonder if you are peeking around an Orthodox site because you just may have some hidden uncertainty about your current position. Keep peeking. Honest dialogue invited.

          • Canadian

            I re-read my comment this morning. I think it may appear too much like machine gun fire.
            My apologies to Robert S and other Reformed readers.

          • Evan Lygeros

            pretty cheesy Robert S
            Forgive me if I’m taking what you said the wrong way but i’m pretty sure you were either being sarcastic or serious but overstating your case and adding waaaay too Macho Man.

  5. Yorgo

    Calvinists in Orthodoxy — how about Orthodox with calvinist-reform leanings?

    • robertar

      That’s an interesting combination to be! I’m sure you will bring an interesting perspective to our discussions.

  6. Yorgo

    quote: “Let me say up front, that the complaint that there was no sermon is probably and sadly accurate.”

    I agree. But there is no reason for them to do this. They are free to expound on the scriptures as many famous Byzantine bishops and priests did in the past. There is nothing in Orthodoxy that says they cannot give a sermon. The thing is the service is so long that adding a good sermon would make it reach late into the afternoon! I wouldn’t mind that (its Sunday afterall–no work) but I think (unfortunately) lots of people would.

    • robertar

      I have two thoughts about this: (1) there’s no reason why there can’t be a 10 or 15 minute homily and (2) I believe a sermon can be given following the Saturday evening Vespers. Where liturgical prayers can lead to a contemplative reflection of who God is, a good sermon can engage our intellects and get us thinking actively about our life in Christ.

  7. John

    If one were to do a “graph” of the spirituality for the “shape” of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, it would be slowly rising from: “Blessed is the Kingdom . . . ” to an early ‘peak’ in the Gospel Reading. It then faintly subsides to a level ‘plateau’ during the post-Gospel homily (where present), and then does another faint ‘descent’ to the “Let all catechumens depart”.

    At that point, after the catechumens (at least are supposed to) depart, it then recommences a ‘climb’ through the Cherubic Hymn to a point slightly higher than that of the Gospel Reading, where another extended ‘plateau’ continues, through the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, right through to the confession of unworthiness to receive the Sacrament.

    At the point of the priest (or Bishop, if they be present) emerging from the Royal Doors with the Eucharist, the Liturgy ‘climbs further’ and reaches its “summit” as we partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Chalice. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, when the priest finishes the “May Christ our true God . . .” and Choir sings: “Amen”, the whole congregation emerge from the Divine Liturgy at a point even ‘higher’ than that of the Gospel Reading!

    While the congregation hears ABOUT Christ in both the Gospel Reading and the Homily (Sermon to the Protestants), they encounter His very presence IN the Sacrament of the Altar. The former is merely meant to be the “curtain-raiser” for the latter.

    What Calvinists seem to miss in all of this is what a similar “graph”might look like in the Reformed tradition.

    For the majority of the Reformed Tradition, their Communion service is at most quarterly. Thus, there will be no similar “climb” through the Cherubic Hymn etc. The Creed (usually the Apostles), and the Lord’s Prayer, are shifted out of the Liturgy of the Faithful into the Liturgy of the Word, and before the Sermon.

    In a Service where the Communion is present, even in the more traditional forms of a Reformed liturgy, the place of the Creed remains before the Sermon, whereas the Lord’s Prayer can surface either before or after the Sermon – usually just before the “breaking of bread” prayers. Without the ‘elevating’ Cherubic Hymn, the Communion-partaking is at (or possibly even below) the level of the Sermon. Nowhere in this liturgy-sequence is there any apparent effort to “lift” the Communion-portion of the Service “above” that of the Sermon.

    I would humbly suggest that nowhere in Reformed liturgy is the Sermon allowed to be transcended – especially by a Communion-act. Thus, in terms of importance in a worship-service, not a single Reformed denomination will allow their “pinnacle” of a worship-service – namely the Sermon, be challenged in any way. Likewise, I would also humbly suggest that the Reformed tradition has forced a displacement of the Act of Communion by the Sermon.

    Without apparently realising it, in terms of Apostolic praxis, this Reformed worship-pattern is at the very least a “Heresy of Praxis”, in terms of inherent (but not explicit textual) Liturgical Theology. Also, the Eucharist is meant to be at least weekly, not quarterly.

    I would like to pose the following two “hypothetical” questions, not just for the Reformed tradition, but for almost all Protestant Evangelicalism, and give corresponding answers to them:

    Imagine there was an electricity-failure, all musical Instruments (including organs) were silenced, all pre-Sermon entertainment was abolished permanently, and Sermons of no more than 15 minutes in duration on the fifth Sunday of the Month only (December and January excepting) and on Christmas and Easter days . . .

    Q 1: What would happen in the Congregational Gathering most of the time?
    A1: It would quite literally fall apart as being a gathering with no real structure, focus or purpose. All that would remain would be a few, disconnected acapella songs, some free-prayer, and announcements of a general social nature. In addition, with the normative lack of the Eucharist, there would be nothing to distinguish it from a general community-gathering with a vaguely spiritual overtone.

    The Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican Anglo-Catholic answer would be:
    A1: Eastern Orthodox – no impact whatsoever!
    Anglican Anglo-Catholic – whilst the lack of an organ (and possibly other music instruments) would be most certainly noticed, it could carry on with relatively minor disruption, and – courtesy of the Liturgy – provide a competent, focussed, meaningful Worship-gathering – climaxing in the normative Eucharist.


    Imagine there was a total ban on Sermons (or any form of Talking-Head Teaching – including that for children) for the first four Sundays of the month, as well as on every other day of the year except Christmas and Easter days, with Sermons no more than 15 minutes in duration appearing on the fifth Sunday of the Month only (December and January excepting) . . .

    Q 2: Would the Congregation receive adequate instruction in the Faith?
    A2: NO WAY!!!
    There would be nothing of any consequence happening in the congregational gathering to provide them with any competent form of Teaching. Their Faith would quite literally fall apart in the absence of Sermon-based Teaching.

    The Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican Anglo-Catholic answer would be:
    A2: Whilst the lack of regular Sermon-Based Teaching in the Congregation would be most certainly noticed and be sadly missed, this lack would not be serious, as the basic Teaching provided in the Liturgy, the Lectionary and the Sacred Calendar, as well as in the normative Eucharist would be passably adequate to transmit and build them up the Faith*.

    * example of the effectiveness of the basic Teaching provided in the Liturgy and the Lectionary: Eastern Orthodoxy under Islam, and – Slavic (mostly Russian) Orthodoxy under Soviet oppression.

    What I would like to suggest in all this, is that while I herein do not intend to disparage the concept or place of a Sermon in every worship-service, in the Reformed, and thus the entire Protestant Evangelical tradition, the Sermon has an unwarrantably high position.

    Whether the Reformed realise it or not, and for the most part I suspect that they would be rightly horrified at the mere suggestion of this, they have created an “idol” of the Sermon – especially one of an exegetical, verse-by-verse variety! And that this “idol” MUST be worshipped every Sunday.

    There is rightly a place for exegetical, verse-by-verse Bible Studies – all Christians are expected to be Bible-literate, preferably highly so. But Sunday worship is not the place for them. To inflict exegetical, verse-by-verse Sermons onto a Sunday worship-exercise, whether the Reformed realise it or not, is yet another “Heresy-of-Praxis”, and is an abuse of this same Sunday worship-exercise!

    What has been said elswhere, and I would wish to add to it, the Orthodox teach in at least four ways: Liturgical Text (prose and song), and spiritual aesthetics (Icons and general Church beauty). The Reformed attempt to compress all of this into a Sermon (prose) and find that this vehicle simply cannot “carry” either song or aesthetics, and thus are unable to provide a full-orbed, wholistic teaching medium.

    In saying all of this, I do not mean to disparage any person, or their sincerity in the Reformed tradition – and I would hate to be interpreted in this manner. All I am doing is drawing their attention to certain aspects of their praxis which just might need attention – with special reference to the Sermon.

    • Paula

      Thank you for this clear and useful description.

    • Reformedreader

      Many Reformed churches maintain a liturgy that while not as long as the Orthodox liturgy it still contains all the elements and movements one would expect in a Christian service.

      Votum (or call to worship)
      Apostolic Greeting
      Assurance of Forgiveness
      Congregational prayers
      Offertory prayer
      *Communion (includes hymn. Usually once per month)

      • Robert Arakaki


        Thank you for sharing with us the outline of the Reformed worship service. As I looked over the outline you submitted, I was struck by the fact that Communion (Eucharist) is observed only once a month. This has given rise to the sermon-centered Sunday service so characteristic of Protestantism. Less obvious but very significant is the fact that the Reformed practice of celebrating the Communion service denies the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood. In the Reformed Communion service the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine without any transformation taking place. So while outwardly there are many things that the Reformed tradition shares with Orthodoxy, there is a significant discrepancy when it comes to the inner core of the Sunday worship. You want to read my more recent article “The Apostolic Failure of the Reformed Church.”


  8. Jonathan Bonomo

    Greetings, Robert,

    Thanks for this blog and this post. I’m a Calvinist along the lines of Robert Letham–critically appreciative of Eastern Orthodoxy, and in search of better understanding. Along those lines, I’m quite pleased to have found your blog.

    A brief note on this particular post, regarding theosis and sacraments: Would that more Calvinists would pay a closer attention to the teaching of Calvin, who wrote in his commentary on 2 Pet. 1.4:

    “We must take account whence it is that God raises us to such a peak of honour. We know how worthless is the condition of our nature, and the fact that God makes himself ours so that all His possessions become in a sense ours is a grace the magnitude of which our minds can never fully grasp. This thought alone ought to give us abundant cause to renounce the world entirely and be borne aloft to heaven. We should notice that it is the purpose of the Gospel to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.”

    And in his Last Reply to Tileman Heshusius:

    “The flesh of Christ becomes vivifying to us, inasmuch as Christ, by the incomprehensible virtue of his Spirit, transfuses his own proper life into us from the substance of his flesh, so that he himself lives in us, and his life is common to us.”

    Other citations to similiar effect could be multiplied…

    I suspect that a lot of what gives Reformed pause in the doctrine of theosis is due to the fact that they generally don’t understand, or else refuse to pay attention to, the distinction between divine essence and energies in Orthodox theology. But I do think that’s beginning to change somewhat. Michael Horton, in particular, has adopted the essence/energies language in his work on the Eucharist in “People and Place”, and elsewhere. In fact, in that work, Horton claims affinity between Calvinist Eucharistic theology and Orthodoxy, particularly as seen in the work of Schmemman (pp. 136-137).

    At any rate, as I said, I’m glad I came across your blog. I will plan to return from time to time.


    Jonathan Bonomo

    • robertar

      Hi Jonathan. It’s good to finally have met you. I was a silent visitor to your website http://evangelicalcatholicity.wordpress.com/ and enjoyed your numerous postings. Reading your postings reminded me of my journey from Calvinism to Orthodoxy. I read your book “Incarnation and Sacrament” not too long ago and hope to do a review on it sometime in the future.

      I look forward to hearing from you.

  9. David

    John said,

    “I would humbly suggest that nowhere in Reformed liturgy is the Sermon
    allowed to be transcended – especially by a Communion-act. Thus, in terms of
    importance in a worship-service, not a single Reformed denomination will allow
    their “pinnacle” of a worship-service – namely the Sermon, be challenged in any
    way. Likewise, I would also humbly suggest that the Reformed tradition has forced
    a displacement of the Act of Communion by the Sermon.”

    Hey John. For the most part you are absolutely right. Yet there are Pastors, especially in the CREC as well as others, who comming out of the Mercerberg theology and influenced by Alexander Schmemman (see johnathan’s comment above), who are challenging this “supremacy of the sermon”. See Jeff Myers book _The Lord’s Service_ that overtly seeks to make the Weekly communion (common in the CREC and increasingly so in other Reformed communions) at the end of morning worship THE apex and consumation (‘from the word preached/spoken — to the Word given/eatened’).

    This is not as broadly practiced as we might like, and there is yet the presence of that 30-50″ sermon/lecture for our cognitive/rational consumption. Nevertheless, more and more Pastors are moving in an essentially “early-Reformed/Calvin” direction that is far more Liturgical & Sacramental than has been the hisotric Scot/English puritan position. This will do doubt take time to reformulate the “integrated/multi-sensory rationale” as well as the practice. Now we can differ on if such a “slow-exposure-progress” back to early Reformed/Calvin’s Liturgy & Sacrament will not certainly open the gates to Orthodox conversions…???

  10. Jonathan Bonomo

    To pick up on David’s point about “cognitive/rational” preaching:

    It’s unfortunate that many Calvinists have fallen into the information-dispenser understanding of preaching. The reason Calvin elevated preaching was not because he thought the essence of true religion consisted in knowledge of information, but because he saw preaching itself as fundamentally *sacramental* in nature. Thus, the substance of all preaching, for Calvin, was to be Christ himself, held out for the faith of the congregation. And the sacrament seals this gospel promise precisely because it makes tangible and more profound that which is contained in the preached word: Christ with all his redemptive benefits.

    Word and Sacrament actually go hand in hand in Calvinist piety, and the substance of both is the risen Christ. This is why Calvin did advocate that the sacrament be celebrated every time the word was preached. The fact that many Calvinists have rejected this ideal is quite unfortunate–some might say tragic.

    • John

      Thanks for this Jonathon (and also David above). Can I give you some history behind this Sermon stuff?

      In the Western Church, it started with Thomas Aquinas – especially with his Summa Theologia. Whether scholars want to admit this or not, this was the effective start of the western Renaissance. De-facto, Aquinas “canonised” both Aristotle and Plato as “St” Aristotle and “St” Plato. This Hellenistic philosophical revival was taken a step further by John Colet, with Desiderius Erasmus completing the journey of fide quarens intellectum to parity with the Sacraments. All that remained for Calvin was to declare this “fide quarens intellectum” sacramental in nature, and thus was born the idea that “the Word” – more properly its preaching, was thus a “sacrament”.

      Thus, with the effective cleanout of the historic sacraments of the Church by the Protestant Reformers – who left only two: Baptism and Communion, there needed to be something to fill this Sacramental vacuum. Thus, the way was prepared for the “Preaching of the Word” to slide across, fill this vacuum, and become a “sacrament”.

      Whether most in the Protestant tradition, especially those of a Reformed persuasion want to admit this or not, the following structural and conceptual parallels are in place:

      # The pagan Greek philosopher in his chair = the Reformed pastor in his pulpit!
      # The importance of abstract philosophy to the pagan Greeks = the importance of intellectual, exegetical preaching to the Reformed congregation.
      # The pagan Greek philosopher in his philosopher’s robe = the Reformed pastor in his Geneva Gown – mortar-board and all.
      # Just as there was competition amongst the Greek Pagan Philosophers to be the best in both rhetoric and style, so too, there is an unofficial, but real “competition” amongst the Reformed pastors to be “top-dog” of the preaching-circuit. And to be an expository preaching “superstar”.

      After the smoke of the Protestant Reformation had cleared, the poor parishioner in the pew was more dependent on the Reformed pastor for his salvation than he ever was upon the medieval Roman priest. At least for the Papist in purgatory, there was some hope of escape at the end of it into heaven. From the torrent of intellectual, educated, moralising words, words, and yet more words that spewed forth in the Reformed Sermon, there was no escape.

      Whether the Reformed pastor wants to admit it or not, he has turned his congregation into a seminary class, with himself as the chief lecturer (preacher). Ask yourself this: what Reformed Sermon would be complete without the near-mandatory rustle of Bible-pages as the preacher jumps around in the Bible. And can you not also almost hear the movement of pen or pencil across paper as the congregation makes “Sermon Notes” in the bulletin space so helpfully provided by the pastor.

      Thus the Reformed pastor occupies the same place as the medieval Roman sacerdotus. And with less liturgy amongst which to hide, the Reformed pastor commands even more centralised attention than the Roman priest ever did.

      While the Bible-Study is most certainly necessary to Christian living, and for maturity into Christ, it has no place in a Worship Service, whose sole purpose is meant to be spiritual, not intellectual.

      I trust that this assists and clarifies.

      • Theodore


        Seriously? You split human reason — the highest gift from God that differentiates man from beast — from human spirit, declare that the “sole” purpose of church service is “meant” to be the latter, and trust that this clarifies something? And yet, in a prior posting you allege that “basic Teaching [is] provided in the Liturgy, the Lectionary and the Sacred Calendar, as well as in the normative Eucharist would be passably adequate to transmit and build them up the Faith.” What, pray tell, leads “them” to learn from and apply the lessons allegedly transmitted by these humanly invented rituals (frequently performed in a foreign language or mumbled and for all intents and purposes unintelligible) if not their reason? If God’s truth can be absorbed from a Roman ritual, what need have we for the Revealed Word? What a mess…

        Seriously? You attack Reformed minister’s gown, and, by implication, defend the jewel encrusted costumes and golden crowns of EOC and RCC princelings? Attack the Reformed minister’s pulpit and stand behind the pope’s gaudy throne? Allege “top-dog” competition among Reformed preachers and defend Rome’s purple councils pontificating from castles and palaces? Seriously!

        You, sir, are trapped in a false religion with eyes shut and ears closed so that you may not understand and turn and be healed. How very sad, but, then, our Lord told us that the way was narrow and few would find it. May it please His mercy to yet lead you to the truth…

        As for the Australian history mentioned in a subsequent posting: Unrepentant sinners always squirm when the Word of God is preached! It reminds them of what is awaiting for them in the hereafter… But to allege that Reformed sermonizing had any part in secularization of the early 1800s is to not only betray your ignorance of history (the first revivals in the early 19th C. were among orthodox Calvinists, followed by the lamentable and rock-ribbed UNreformed Charles Finny, who preached for hours on end), but a willful blindness as to what the true church is.

        Enough. Matthew 7:6.

        • Apophatic

          Where in the Bible does it say that human REASON is the highest gift of God that distinguishes man from beast? That sounds more like Renaissance humanism to me than anything Biblical or historically Christian.

          What distinguishes man from beast is that man was created in the image of God, and to share in personal fellowship with God. What is God’s greatest gift to man? God himself is! He poured himself out on us so that we might share eternity in His presence. We should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, not seek first Reason!

          Reason is a nice side gift too, and it’s one that we should be thankful for, but it’s not the “main event” or the highest gift from God by any means. To say that it is, is to make an idol of Reason–like the French Revolutionaries did when they erected that statue in Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s awfully “man-centered” of you guys to elevate Reason above God!

          • Robert. Srebrianski.

            CJ Alexander. You put it exactly as I would.
            Iam former orthodox , Russian. I prefer the simplicity
            And Truths of the reformed faith.
            Thank you dear sister.
            Robert. Srebrianski.

  11. Jonathan Bonomo


    Your “history” is nothing I haven’t heard before. I do think there are other ways to present the matter than what you’ve laid out. But I haven’t commented on this blog in order to debate. I don’t do that any longer.

    I’d just say that what you’ve disdainfully described as typical in Reformed churches is actually not what I have observed to be the norm. And the Reformed would not admit the spiritual/intellectual dichtomy with which you conclude. We would agree that the service of worship is to be entirely spiritual–and what makes it so is the presence of the risen Christ amidst the congregation by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we also hold that the preaching of the word, and the hearing with faith, are irreducibly spiritual activities, and grounded in apostolic practice. The sermon should not be an academic lecture, and it’s a shame that some reformed pastors have made it so. But, again, as I said, this isn’t what I’ve observed to be the norm.

  12. David

    While I overwhelmingly agree with Johathan above, and have shared much the same Reformed experience…I can also easily envision much John’s extreme in some reformed circles! Nevertheless, not all, and certainly not the strongest reformed communions embrace a form of abstract gnostic intellectualism. Indeed, the circle I’ve grown up in read Phillip Lee’s _Against The Protestant Gnostic_ over 25 years ago, embraced it…many becoming somewhat Agrarian in their embrace of God physical creation, incarnation and ressurection…yours truly included! 🙂

    So, we mush labor in our discussion on this blog to react to and sharpen ourselves against the best of both Traditions — not extreme caricatures. While some (many?) Orthodox parrishes do seem to suffer from weak or even absent preaching…some (many?) Reformed communions have elevated the doctrinal/academic ‘Preaching of the Word’ to where is swallows up all else. Again, arguing from “lessor-to-more-fullness of grace” does not demand we trash lessor-grace, as if God can not (indeed has not) graciously given real grace in the weakest of trinitarian Christian communions. (Bishop Ware is very good/gracious on this point.)

  13. John

    Jonathon and David,

    Thank you for your frank but charitable responses. Can I offer you something which might help you understand where I am coming from with respect to Sermons etc?

    Let me start with some general principles, and then move into some history.

    A “Sermon” taking the form of a light Midrash without any verse-by-verse exegesis in a worship-service, focussing on the spiritual aspects of the readings is most certainly a spiritual exercise as we would all agree. And that this Midrash taking up no more than 10% of the entire worship-service time certainly keeps in within “spiritual” parameters.

    However, the moment it (1) drifts into a verse-by-verse exegesis, and (2) occupies more than 10% of the worship-service time – especially reducing the time available for the Act of Communion*, it ceases to be a spiritual exercise and becomes something almost purely intellectual. And subversive of the spirituality of the Act of Communion*.

    *This is due to the “lets get it over and done-with so that we can go home” attitude of the congregation who, having bored witless by an interminably long Sermon, just want to get the Act of Communion over and done with so that they can get the hell outta there.

    You will have to understand that here I am not joking. . . Or being tendentiously and gratuitously sarcastic. I have Australian history on my side. . . . And I apologise in advance if this and what follows is confronting to some of you in North America. I sincerely wish it were otherwise.

    Mercifully whilst infrequent these days amongst US Reformed circles, lengthy, cerebral Sermons were de-rigeur amongst the Puritans of England and the US, and was THE major contributing factor in the accelerated-secularisation of Colonial Australia in the period 1788-1836 – the Chaplaincy Era.

    In Australia during this Chaplaincy Era, Anglican Evangelical (Reformed) clergy preached interminably long, entirely cerebral, moralising, verse-by-verse exegetical sermons, with the Anglican Sacrament (of Communion) often offered often no more than once or twice a year. And many of the convicts (especially if non-Anglican) interpreted these hellish, forced-upon-them, Reformed Sermons as part of their punishment!

    Presbyterian Sermonising during this era, whilst not an official part of the “establishment”, nevertheless was just as bad. As for the Papist side, when their time came, hell-fire Redemptorists only added to this sense of dread associated with the Sermon. And contributed to the early general community consensus in Australia that preachifying Sermons were a devilish contrivance – to be avoided at all costs. And much Australian folklore to this day has contemptuous reference to these “preachers”.

    Again, shocked American readers will have to understand – sadly, this is undisputable Australian Colonial history!

    When the Anglo-Catholics arrived in Australia, and commenced shorter, Midrash-sermons, and introduced weekly Eucharists, Australian Anglican congregations (other than the secular Evangelical Sydney “establishment” elites) responded warmly, and no longer regarded this shorter-form of sermon as a punishment, or a devilish contrivance. Indeed, under Anglo-Catholic influence, many for the first time in their lives saw that the Sermon, at least in this shorter, Midrash form, could have some positive, spiritual merit after all!

    As for the Australian Presbyterians after 1836, in the face of continued, relentless, lengthy, Reformed Sermonising, they only managed to maintain their numbers out of an entirely secular sense of “tribal-loyalty” – to their Scottish and Northern Irish roots. As well as (1) be an act of defiance against “Papism”, and (2) the fact that Presbyterians were, in some sense, part of the secular “establishment”.

    This continued through to 1977 when a slight majority of the Presbyterians, plus 90% of the Methodists, plus 95% of the Congregationalists formed the Uniting Church of Australia.

    The shock of this event propelled most Australian Presbyterians into the Reformed “mainstream” of both Scotland and North America where by now, in 2011 they reflect Scottish and North American trends in the relationship between Sermons and Communion, and see the Sermon – in its attenuated form, for the most part as a “spiritual” act.

    I trust that this assists. Americans by and large have not had all this ghastly, Convict-era, Reformed nightmare as a significant part of their heritage. And I strongly suspect that they would say: Thank God for that!

  14. David

    Hey John,

    Belive me when I tell you brother…I’ve sat through well over a thousand (50 x 2 x 32+ years) of 30″–1.5 hr sermons…and still do to this day. The Scot-Puritian “Tradition” of long verse-by-verse & some topical exegesis make it to the USA in good health! And I must say, by God’s grace, it has been mostly a great blessing and delight to me…not at all a labor mostly of endurance. I could was eloquent and grieve over in how many if not most of these sermons could have been 25-50% shorter and how they engendered a gnostic/cartisian/intellectual mood for worship a primarially a time to increase our knowledge…AND what we have missed per a more Liturgical-historic and Sacramental form of worship. Rather, I will mostly rejoice in this, despite it’s weaknesses and its departure from what is clearly (at least to me now) a better Liturgical/Sacramental balance and practice — even by Calvin and the early Refomers! 🙂 Again, I need not trash or demonize in any way that which is lessor to what I now belive is better. Let us rejoice that even in many Reformed circles the mood and the practice is changing for the better. “Thanks be to God.” As they say in the investment markets…”the trend is your friend!” 🙂

  15. John the second

    I apologize, I cannot recall who said that the homily needs to be short and “spiritual” to fit the Liturgy. I understand that what I just said is a paraphrase, but there’s so much to sift through. My question is this:

    If the sermons are not to be verse by verse exegesis, then what are we to make of St. John Chrysostom’s homilies that are often of that very nature? Perhaps he’s unique in how he delivered his sermons; an exception to the norm. I’m not familiar enough with the sermons of the Fathers to know if this is the case or not.

    Thanks for any input anyone may have.


  16. drake

    My desire is that the E. Orthodox would stop using these contemporary posers and confused Anglicans like Sproul, Westminster Seminary, and the PCA ites and deal with real Reformation groups, i.e. Greg price, Reg Barrow, Matthew McMahon, the Covenantors, The 17th Century Church of Scotland guys: Rutherford, Gellespie etc. THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE. THAT IS THE FOUNDING PRINCIPLE OF THE REFORMATION.

    John Calvin said,

    “If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz. a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church. pg. 13 (ed. H. Beveridge [Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844])

    • Apophatic

      John MacArthur, as well, is just a Jack Chick-style fundamentalist with TULIP grafted onto him. These days, it seems like anyone who sniffs the TULIP qualifies as “Reformed” even if they embrace dispensational apocalypticism (as does MacArthur) or semi-Pentecostalism (as do the C. J. Mahaney crowd). John Calvin probably wouldn’t recognize even 5% of contemporary self-identified “Calvinists” as genuine heirs of his. And all this is to say nothing of Mark Driscoll who says that guys should carry around pictures of their wives to masturbate to. Such is the state of contemporary “Reformed” theology. I doubt half the major Protestant groups will even survive the 21st century (the YRR fad notwithstanding). By the 22nd century, Calvinism might be totally extinct and viewed as an odd historical curiosity much like we now look back upon Donatism.

      • robertar


        Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thanks for joining the conversation.

        Won’t say anything more on this. 😉


        • Jacob (formerly Outlaw Covenanter)

          Apophatic has a point. And I would encourage you to look at Drake’s comment above it. The modern day reformed movement is quite anti-Reformed when compared to the hard-core guys. It’s sort of analogous to the liberal ecueminist Orthodox guys who have little in common with Tsar Lazar or Alfred the Great (who was a theonomist).

  17. Denny

    I would like to address something RC said, when He made reference to Orthodoxy not having any intrest in doctrine,but simply liturgy,what He doesn’t understand,which primarily stems from His focus on Scholasticism, is that doctrine flows from the Divine Liturgy is simply not encased in a Sermon or a lecture in a classroom.

    • robertar


      Thanks for joining the conversation at the OrthodoxBridge!

      • Denny

        You have some very intresting articles here, I am a former Reformed Presbyterian,looking into Orthodoxy,these are very informative.

  18. Theodore

    Granting that the Eastern Orthodox Church (“EOC”) has an ancient tradition, and, further, that its pretty rituals contain much sacred meaning, the fact remains that it is — by its own admission — semi-Pelagian, and, as such, teaches a false religion. Debates about the nature, duration, and content of the service are totally irrelevant when what is presented to the congregation is antithetical to Scripture.

    There are almost too many verses to count in support of Sola Fide, but a good place to start is Luke 18:26-27: “Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.'” What part of “impossible” is so hard to grasp? There’s no room for synergism here, and, by holding that ANY part of our salvation is the result of our own efforts fundamentally distorts the Gospel, invites the compounding of error, and injects lethal doses of doubt into what should be — in the elect — unshakable, persevering faith.

    In this regard, Mr. Arakaki states: “Salvation in the early Church was both sacramental and evangelical; faith in Christ was necessary in order for God’s grace to be received through the sacraments.” Here please note: 1. Faith comes first, before grace, and, 2. Sacraments — being performed by human beings — are unquestionably “works.”

    Thus, the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis is a sad and ancient error invented by men to satisfy their fallen pride, mistaking the post-justification process of the working out of our sanctification through good works for grace plus works leading to faith and justification, getting it precisely backwards:

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:8-10. Contrary to the EOC (as stated by Mr. Arakaki, above), here please note: Grace comes first, then faith, followed by GOOD works AFTER we are created in Jesus Christ.

    Whatever else the EOC may get right, such a profound doctrinal error cannot be embraced by a truly Christian church. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” Galatians 1:8.

    Those of you roaming about from denomination to denomination searching for something to make you feel better about yourselves need to grapple with the fact that all the golden robes, gaudy temples, jewel-encrusted icons, clouds of incense and humanly invented theater in the universe are not going to get you any nearer (let alone into!) heaven…

    “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” John 8:47.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Before I respond to your comments I would like to know your church background. Are you affiliated with a Reformed church or are you an Evangelical? What is your denominational affiliation? The way you phrased some of your statements makes me wonder if your theology is Calvinist. Thank you.


      • Theodore


        Thank you for your kind welcome.

        To be honest, your query gives me pause, if only because in some circles the very word “Calvinist” conjures up images of a dour, fun-hating, hyper-critical witch-burner — images of a messenger that obliterates the message. For example, I can’t count the number of times — when attempting a rational discussion of the work of John Calvin — I’ve had Servetus thrown in my face, as if that one incident was sufficient to dispose of the Protestant Reformation. Point out that the man had also been condemned to burn as a heretic by the RCC, or mention the 289 Protestant martyrs burnt by Bloody Mary, on the other hand, and one gets a shrug…

        More to the point: My daughter is married to a gentleman who was raised Episcopalian, but, after studying in Moscow, has been drawn toward the ROC, carrying her along with him to an as yet undetermined extent (she’s a classicist, so I guess it’s not all that surprising). This development is partially an accident of geography, but I believe most directly the consequence of the fundamental doctrinal incoherence and consequent collapse of Anglican theology (e.g. “consubstantiation”). In other words, they are looking for something… more? … than the modern Episcopalian “church” can give. It was through my effort to attempt to understand their attraction to Eastern Orthodoxy that I found your website…

        I won’t presume to tire you with the story of my salvation, but I must say this: Although I am indeed a member of a Reformed denomination, my “Calvinism,” is entirely post-deliverance, and began innocently enough when a Lutheran friend declined an invitation to visit our church because he could “never worship in a church that believed in predestination.” Curious, I began to research the subject, starting with Luther, back to St. Augustine, then progressing through Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, etc., to the “five points,” the Arminian heresy, the works, all the while sticking closely to Scripture.

        What I found, I found to be true, which is to say that “Calvinism” is not an “ism” at all. It is Christianity.

        Having decided to move from the Reformed church to the Eastern Orthodox, you are undoubtedly already familiar with their respective theologies, and have decided that Orthodoxy’s “got the goodies.” And I’ll admit, it has a great deal to offer, but allow me to suggest that — and here I’m drawing from what I have read on official Orthodox websites — that the EOC runs the VERY great risk, in its extreme veneration of tradition, of “teaching human precepts as doctrines,” “making void the word of God” in preference to “a human commandment learned by rote,” thereby turning “away from listening to the truth and wander[ing] away to myths.” (John 15:9 and 6, Isaiah 19:13, 2 Tim 4:4)

        Case in point: the EOC’s semi-Pelagianism.

        What’s so wrong with semi-Pelagianism? In a nutshell: nothing less than the denial of God’s absolute sovereignty in all things. (see, e.g. Isaiah 14:24-27) If fallen man, by dint of effort can earn his salvation to ANY extent, then God becomes the victim of man’s choices, and raises a whole host of thorny questions:

        –Was Christ predestined to the Cross? If so, why was He so less much than we mere mortals who allegedly possess “free-will?” And wasn’t Christ’s love perfect? How can this be? If His life and death was predestined, wasn’t he (in one of semi-Pelagians favorite rhetorical jabs) just a robot?

        Once you get past these (and I’ll bet you can’t and remain consistent with Orthodox theology), you have the issues of universalism, the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, why some are saved, others not, etc., etc., that will inevitably lead to the Big “D” — DOUBT, which invariably leads to unbelief. (Don’t take my word for it, just look at what it’s done to mainline Protestant denominations!)

        Not only is semi-Pelagianism manifestly unbiblical, it is a terrifying prospect. In order to assuage man’s mangled self-esteem, Orthodoxy has erected a doctrine that flatters human pride at the expense of God’s sovereignty — the very height of blasphemy. In this regard, the Synod of Dort got the theology exactly right.

        Anyway, I’m sure you will continue to disagree with Reformed doctrine, and will cite John 3:16, and 1 John 2:2, etc., etc., and I’ll respond with all the usual verses of the “I chose you, you didn’t choose me” variety, e.g. Isaiah 55:11, Jeremiah 31:33, Acts 10:41, 13:48, 18:10, Romans 3:28, Galatians 3:24-26, 1 Thess. 1:4, 2 Thess. 2:13-15, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 3:5-6, etc., etc., etc….

        All that I would ask of you is to consider this: Are you drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy because there is something in it that makes you feel better about yourself, or because you find therein God’s truth? If so, may I be so bold as to suggest that you are looking in the wrong place? Look to Scripture instead, and I guarantee you will not find the rituals and sacraments of the EOC… you will find “Calvinism.”

        Merry Christmas!


        • robertar


          Thank you for willingness to affirm your affiliation with a Reformed denomination. And thank you for the explication of your theological concerns about Eastern Orthodoxy. You’ve raised a number of good points that deserve a detailed response. I’ve identified two main issues in your comment: (1) semi-Pelagianism and (2) predestination. Right now I’m taking a slight break in my blogging. The purpose of the break is to give me and the readers a break from intensive blogging. May I ask that you wait for my reply in early or mid January? In the meantime feel free to browse around the OrthodoxBridge. You might be interested in my article: Calvin vs. the Icon. You also might find of interest my article: The Biblical Basis for Tradition.

          I’m sorry to hear that you were treated harshly for your Reformed beliefs. It is my hope that you will find a more open and rational forum for discussion here.

          As for why I was drawn to Orthodoxy, it was largely a matter of truth. I am quite familiar with Reformed theology having studied at a Reformed seminary. One major problem is the difference between Reformed Christianity and the early Church. The difference between the two was such that I was forced to choose between two quite different religious traditions. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the Protestant Reformation was not part of the historic Christian faith but later innovation. Well, I’ll stop here. Enjoy your Christmas time with your family. I look forward to interacting with you in 2012.


          • Theodore


            I am certainly very content to wait for a detailed response.

            Interesting. Your comment about choosing between competing traditions echos statements that my son-in-law has made…

            Allow me to observe, however — in due deference to your studies at a Reformed seminary (which raises a whole host of thorny issues vis-a-vis liberal and conservative institutions, etc.) — that, unlike the EOC/RCC, there is actually no such thing as a “Reformed tradition” per se. The confessions stand or fall on their own, and are not held out as something we should accept because they are in any way “traditional” and therefore authoritative, but because they are Scripturally sound.

            To put it bluntly: Traditions are not the issue, and neither is the “early church.” We have the revealed Word of God in Scripture. When read by eyes that see and heard by ears that hear, Scripture is all that is required to know God’s truth. (Luke 8:9-10, Mark 4:11-12, Matthew 13:13-17, John 12:38-43)

            In this regard, the doctrine of Sola Fide becomes critically important. Reprobate individuals (sometimes referred to as “seekers”) from whom the Kingdom of God has been hidden, cannot find it notwithstanding all their worldly wisdom and intelligence: “[N]o one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Matthew 11:27.

            The EOC and the RCC continue to struggle with the fact that they were created top-down in very large part (if not exclusively) to serve the state, as evidenced by the fact that they still self-identify by geography rather than doctrine. (Case in point: An interview of Bishop Kallistos (Ware) in “Christianity Today” wherein he excuses/condones the Russian Orthodox Church’s persecution of Protestant missionaries because the latter are trying to “steal” the ROC’s sheep!)

            As a direct consequence of their governmental role, both the EOC and the RCC were forced to invent/maintain procedures that included (and, when necessary, excluded) each individual member of the clan — hence the whole system of sacraments administered by duly approved “priests” in conjunction with a series of rituals theoretically available to all members of the group. Case in point: EOC and RCC churches still refuse communion to non-members.

            Thus, the EOC/RCC’s universalism isn’t precisely universalism because salvation is available only to the members of the clan via the clan’s hierarchy/rituals/sacraments. Needless to say, this is entirely unbiblical, and creates no end of doctrinal difficulties. (The RCC has attempted to “solve” this problem by officially stating that anybody trying to lead a good life within his/her own culture/faith can be saved even if they have never heard of or accepted Jesus Christ and Lord and Savior!)

            Reformed Christianity, on the other hand, was a bottom-up phenomenon — as was the early church. In this regard, the Reformed “tradition” (if there is such a thing) is a living reality in time and space moved and sustained by the Holy Spirit — exactly in the same manner as the early church.

            Thus, I believe, the Reformed church is, at the deepest and most spiritual level, closest to the early church, the true church, the invisible church with disciples in all nations…

            “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…” John 6:37

            Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year,


          • robertar


            I used the word “tradition” in the broad sense. There is a Reformed tradition that is distinct from the Lutheran and Anglican traditions. And the Reformed theological tradition is quite different from later Evangelicalism. This use of the word is a neutral one and can be used by social scientists. There is also a more restricted and theological sense of the word one that is incompatible with your theology. I recognize that, but don’t take offense when I use the word in the broad sense.

            But let me ask you this. Where do you stand with respect to Keith Mathison’s differentiation between the classic “sola scriptura” and the later “solo scriptura”? If you haven’t read it, you can read my review of the book here. I bring this up because you insist that tradition doesn’t matter, only Scripture. This sounds much like the solo scriptura position that Keith Mathison criticized strongly. The classic Reformation allows for extra-biblical traditions like creeds. Is there a particular confession that your church follows? If so, which one?

            Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.


        • Apophatic

          You do realize that it was the Early Church that formalized and handed down the canon of Scripture, right? You act like a Muslim or Mormon who believes the Bible just fell out of the sky into your hands. It ain’t so.

          By the way, the Protestant canon is truncated from the one the early Church used. John Calvin justified removing the Deuterocanon because he claimed the Holy Spirit was talking to him and telling him that it wasn’t “real” Scripture. How is that different from Joseph Smith adding books to the Canon because (he claimed) an angel was making him do it? Is Mormonism simply the logical conclusion of Protestantism? If you accept Calvin’s view of a “Great Apostasy” of the church, you are forced with one of two possibilities:

          1. That humans need, or needed, to “rebuild” or “reform” the church through their own efforts. That, however, is as prideful and hubristic an idea as anyone could possibly imagine. Luther quite rightly criticized the Calvinists for this sort of self-contradictory “works righteousness” which animated some of their more zealous reformation efforts.

          2. That God will eventually restore the Church through divine intervention, by sending a new Apostle or Prophet. Roger Williams (as staunch a Calvinist as anyone could find) believed this.

          Williams’ view was the logical end of his belief that a. The Church of Rome (and the Orthodox Church too, presumably) had fallen into error and b. that man, being utterly bound to sin, was helpless to rebuild the church once it had decayed. Only divine intervention could do that.

          Such sentiments were widespread throughout American history, and it’s no wonder Joseph Smith found such a ready and willing audience. If you accept the “Great Apostasy” view of church history, you are already 3/4 of the way to Salt Lake City.

          • Jacob

            That’s a highly simplistic reading of Calvin and the Reformed tradition. And calling Williams a staunch Calvinist is laughable. The Arminian scholard John Coffey wrote a book on Williams’ non-Calvinism.

            I would take umbrage at your “reading” of Calvin, but few people probably take the time to read medieval, and post-medieval, post-Reformation sources on epistemology and authority. Slogans are much easier.

  19. Theodore


    Fair enough.

    I’ve read both your book review and your article on Sola Scriptura, and they raise some fundamental problems:

    1. The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not deny either the existence or value of Christian oral and intellectual traditions. Holy Scripture, however, is the only true, perfect, complete, and sufficient God-breathed standard by which these traditions must be tested, as the Bereans did, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11. See, also, e.g. Deut. 6:6-9; Psalms 1, 19, and 119.).

    2. To maintain that Scripture can only be properly interpreted by and through an institutionalized oral/intellectual tradition endowed with some kind of mystical apostolic power that passes down from priest to priest sacrosanct and intact is unhistorical and unbiblical nonsense. In a number of instances, St. Paul exhorted his people to honor traditions that he preached directly to them — not any ‘ol ritual or practice subsequently invented by members of the early church. Furthermore, nothing in Scripture suggests that by so writing Paul meant to create some sort of “apostolic succession” that would somehow pass along his verbal preaching of God’s Word pure and unsullied in perpetuity.

    That’s the Bible’s job.

    3. As to the purity of the so-called Orthodox tradition: Which one would that be? The history of the Eastern Church is a veritable nightmare of schisms, conflicts, heresies, political intrigues, and murders, not to mention Ottoman/Muslim domination and manipulation. With a history like that, EOC adherents have a mighty mountain of proof to overcome to have any hope of showing that what exists today — other than in Scripture — bears any meaningful resemblance to the Church of the 1st century.

    4. As for the so-called Church Fathers: In the context of my spiritual progress, who is Irenaeus or Cyril of Jerusalem to me that I should trust their words to add to, subtract from, or interpret Holy Scripture? You may call them “father” or “saint,” but they were only men who lived as men among men, and, as such, their thoughts are only human, which is to say inherently fallible. Their writings are not God-breathed, and the so-called traditions they claimed to have mystically inherited — or invented outright — have no divine authority whatsoever. “Words, only words…”

    5. If early Christian apologists had useful spiritual insights, very well and good, but the ancients, no matter how intelligent and/or virtuous, did not have the power or authority to elevate their musings to semi-divine status, or to bind subsequent generations of Christians. Whatever they wrote is subject to testing by Scripture, and, where it is found lacking, must be dismissed as not only useless but potentially (by virtue of its alleged “authority”) doctrinally dangerous.

    Bottom line, the EOC/ROC position amounts to this: Since Jesus and the
    apostles preached the Gospel verbally, anything (claimed to have been) spoken by them has infallibly passed from priest to priest — given the performance of some intervening, mystical, yet unbiblical ritual and the assistance of the Holy Spirit — thereby endowing this oral “tradition” with the authority to add to, subtract from, and interpret Holy Scripture.

    That’s a neat tautological trick to be sure, but, sorry, I can’t buy it.

    “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” M.L.

    All the best,


    P.S. We’re rather partial to the Westminster Confession…

    • robertar


      You and I are speaking from two different traditions. You come from the Protestant tradition and that is clear from your theological language. Your church father is Martin Luther as evidenced by your quoting his famous ‘Here I Stand’ speech at the Diet of Worms. You criticized me for citing Irenaeus of Lyons and Cyril of Jerusalem but you are doing the same thing when you quoted Luther. Irenaeus is not just anybody. He studied under Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John; thus there’s a historical link to the early apostles and his writings sheds light on the meaning of the original Christian message. Luther and Calvin lived many centuries later and for all their learning lacked the historical link that Irenaeus and other early fathers had. The approach I’m taking here is based upon II Timothy 2:2 where Paul enjoins Timothy to pass on the apostolic message intact to future generations. If II Timothy 2:2 holds true then we can expect that a second generation Christian like Polycarp and a third generation Christian like Irenaeus to faithfully retain the apostolic message. So I’m puzzled when I read your sentence in #2 that Paul had no intention of setting up an apostolic succession that would maintain the apostolic preaching. Surely you would grant that II Timothy 2:2 teaches some form of apostolic succession.

      As far as the history of Eastern Orthodoxy as “veritable nightmare of schisms, conflicts, heresies etc.” I would note that the same can be said of Protestantism as well. Church history is not pretty but as Orthodox Christians we believe that God works through fallen human beings and we take Christ at his word when he declared that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. You asked in #3 which Orthodox tradition do I make reference to. My answer is: If you spend time with any of the canonical Orthodox churches (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Orthodox Church in America, Antiochian, Serbian, Bulgarian) you will find a strong unity in faith and a strong historical linkage. Their historical continuity can be seen in their using the ancient liturgies and their holding to the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I suspect that you have been spending too much reading history books and not enough time worshiping and fellowshipping with living breathing Orthodox Christians.

      Lastly, I would urge you to spend more time with Orthodox Christians and learn how we understand and speak about our faith tradition. Your simplistic language oftentimes verges on caricature that many Orthodox Christians would not recognize. It’s good you are presenting the Protestant view on this blog but I urge you to spend one-on-one time with an Orthodox priest getting to know how he understands Scripture and faith in Christ. In my journey I found it helpful to sit down with knowledgable Orthodox Christians, especially Orthodox priests, to find out about their faith. I used these conversations to balance out my readings. I did not want to make the mistake of imposing my preconceived notions on them and their theology. In closing, I urge you to be quick to ask questions but slow to criticize. This is especially important given your limited and distorted understanding of Orthodoxy. Please pardon my forceful language.


  20. Theodore


    Your reply is quite revealing.

    To start at the end: I have asked you many questions which remain unanswered apparently because you have taken them as criticism. Whether criticisms or questions, however, they raise important issues, and deserve answers from an Orthodox apologist.

    As for my alleged “caricature” of Orthodox doctrine: I don’t doubt that many Orthodox believers would not recognize it, inasmuch as they are not taught to think critically about the doctrines espoused by their priests. That aside, I believe that it accurately summarizes the Orthodox system which you set forth in your article on Sola Scriptura. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you to go back and reread your own words, and then tell me if I’ve missed anything essential…

    Back to the beginning: I have not cited Martin Luther in the same manner or for the same purpose as you have cited Irenaeus, i.e. as an authoritative “church father.” The thought expressed in the quote is what is important, not who said it. Put another way: Martin Luther is important because of what he thought, not because of who he was or when he lived, e.g. so-and-so’s pupil who was this-and-that’s student, etc., etc… You, on the other hand, in keeping with your tradition, cite such men because you believe that they had some special, mystical insight by virtue of their “historical link” to the early church. Very different.

    I said, “If early Christian apologists had useful spiritual insights, very well and good,” whereas the EOC claims that the content of their writings are authoritative and therefore binding. If, on the other hand, these men are merely an “historical link” to the early church as you now seem to suggest, I would be the last to deny that that fact, in and of itself, COULD be meaningful — but here I must go back to M.L.’s sage policy of following Scripture guided by conscience to determine just what that meaning and/or usefulness might be.

    As for 2 Timothy 2:2: Paul instructs Timothy to teach the Gospel and gives him the reason why — to spread the Gospel to “others.” There is absolutely nothing here to support the idea of a divinely ordained priesthood endowed with mystical powers of the type maintained by the EOC/RCC by way of alleged “apostolic succession.”

    As for the history of Protestantism: I would disagree that it has been anywhere nearly as bloody or tumultuous as that of either the EOC or RCC, but that is beside the point. The EOC claims that it is the true church on earth by virtue of its institutional links to the distant past. Protestantism does no such thing. Thus, the EOC has made its history an issue, not me, and it’s messiness is therefore a legitimate point of criticism.

    Finally, and most importantly, you close by stating that I need to “spend one-on-one time with an Orthodox priest getting to know how he understands Scripture and faith in Christ.” In other words, you believe that I have to go to an Orthodox priest to learn God’s Truth.

    Here is the crux of the problem: The EOC/RCC have gone astray to the point of apostasy by teaching that fallen men can only (i) learn God’s Truth, and (ii) earn (“merit”) salvation by way of other fallen men (“priests”) performing humanly invented rituals (“sacraments”). Born again Protestants, on the other hand, are (i) saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and (ii) find sanctifying Truth in Scripture alone. (Note the order!) What’s far more important, however, is that we actually posses eternal salvation and find the Truth. Why? Because God, in His mercy and by His grace, chose us Christians from before the foundation of the world to do precisely that:

    “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, ‘interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.’ The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but he himself is judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Cor. 2:12-16.

    The EOC/RCC’s embrace of human tradition and a priesthood of fallen men has created a false church espousing pride-generated errors of doctrine that are manifestly contrary to Scripture — a prime example being their denial of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide — thereby making themselves enemies of the Gospel.

    “Every word of God proves true;
    He is a shield to those who take
    refuge in Him.
    Do not add to His words,
    lest He rebuke you and you be
    found a liar.” Prov. 30:5-6.

    Dear Robert, until the Holy Spirit brings you to understand that salvation is given to the elect by grace alone, through faith alone, by Scripture alone, through Christ alone, to God’s glory alone, you will seek in vain for it among the ruins of the past…

    Wishing you All the Best,


    • robertar


      Oftentimes when Americans travel abroad they see cultural practices that are different from what they do at home and they criticize the locals for these practices. Your latest comments show that you haven’t quite understood Orthodoxy. For example, you seem to think for me because Irenaeus of Lyons is a church father anything that he writes is automatically authoritative and binding. That is not how Orthodoxy approach the church fathers. You wrote about Luther’s ‘Here I Stand’: “The thought expressed in the quote is what is important, not who said it.” That is very much how I approach Irenaeus and the other church fathers. Orthodoxy does not take a black and white approach to the church fathers but puts emphasis on the patristic consensus. One cannot just pick up a book by a church father and start putting together quotations and on that basis construct an Orthodox theology. So what you ended up doing was misunderstanding the nature of Orthodox theology.

      Many Protestants assume that because Orthodoxy is not Protestant, it is like Roman Catholicism. You lumped Eastern Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism when you asserted that both teach that men “…earn (“merit”) salvation by way of other fallen men (“priests”) performing humanly invented rituals (“sacraments”).” Eastern Orthodoxy does not teach that men earn “merit” salvation. Where did you learn that? What are your sources? The idea of merit is part of the Western theological tradition but is alien to the Orthodox tradition. Here you are projecting anti-Catholic polemic against Orthodoxy which is inappropriate. This makes me think that you are not familiar with Orthodoxy and that you need to study the matter further.

      When I recommended that you meet with an Orthodox priest one-on-one I made that recommendation for practical reasons. One cannot understand a religious tradition just from a few selected readings. It is good to do the basic readings but then one also needs to attend the worship services and talk with an official representative of the church. I object to your putting words into my mouth when you wrote: “…you believe that I have to go to an Orthodox priest to learn God’s Truth.” I did not say that and I did not intend that. God can speak to us in many different ways and not just exclusively through an Orthodox priest. I recommended that you spend time with a priest so you can hear it “straight from the horse’s mouth” as the saying goes. Orthodoxy and Protestantism are two different cultures. It’s okay to discuss these differences but first one must understand the language and perspectives of the other side. Let me close by saying that one thing I learned from my time in Evangelicalism was the importance of reading the Bible and the importance of Jesus’ death for the salvation of the world. I took these with me when I became Orthodox and I would like to say that people on the Orthodox side love Jesus too!


    • c. j. alexander

      Oh my friend…well said! Left orthodoxy to return HAPPILY to the reform church…my joy in Christ is back

      • robertar

        Dear C. J. Alexander,

        There’s a lot I appreciate about the Reformed tradition but for myself I can’t go back. My studies have shown Reformed theology to rest on a flawed understanding of what the Bible teaches. I wish that the sermons in Orthodox Churches went into the Bible more in depth and that is something we need to work on. It seems to me that you became Orthodox before you were ready. If you want to ask me some questions about Orthodox beliefs and how to square them with Scripture, please feel free to contact me.


  21. Laura

    I am an honest seeker trying to understand Orthodoxy and would love/need you to answer Theodore’s questions concerning salvation. This question is of the utmost importance and your evasiveness is VERY troubling. If you believe you have truth and are trying to help us understand it, it should be easy and a joy to articulate it.

    My husband and I are truly seeking to understand what is the exact belief of salvation of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Thank you for your time,
    Thank you for your time,

    • robertar

      Dear Laura,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I responded to Theodore’s question in the posting: “Response to Theodore – Semi-Pelagianism, Sola Fide, and Theosis.” If you do not find your questions answered, please feel free to write me again.

      If I appear to be evasive, it is because of the complexity of the doctrine of salvation especially with respect to the understanding of justification and imputed righteousness. I am also doing my best not to misrepresent the Orthodox Church or the Reformed churches. The Protestant Reformation reframed the doctrine of salvation in ways that are alien to the thinking of the early church and for that reason one must take care in how one frames the issues surrounding our salvation and the evidence in support of the church’s position. My goal is to address the Reformed understanding of salvation as presented in Calvin’s Institutes, the Westminster Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Synod of Dort. I want to give a fair and balanced critiques of these important confessional statements.

      But to answer your question about salvation. Basically, the Orthodox Church believes that Jesus Christ saves. Jesus saves us by his incarnation, his life, his death on the cross, his glorious resurrection, his ascension to heaven, and his coming again in glory. We are saved by trusting him to be our Savior, that is, we join our lives to Christ. Where Protestantism has the tendency to view faith in terms of intellectual assent to certain teachings, Orthodoxy understands faith in terms of intellectual assent that results in right actions and right worship. The Orthodox understanding of salvation in Christ is relational, that is, at baptism we renounce the Devil and we come under Christ’s lordship and join his army (the Church). This is a sketch of the Orthodox understanding of salvation. To sum up, it is not enough to believe in Christ (intellectual assent), one must also follow Christ (live out this faith in good works and right worship).

      In any event I urge you and your husband to voice your concerns and questions to an Orthodox priest. Keep in mind that a visit to a local Orthodox church is much more helpful than visiting a blog like this one. Thank you again for your questions. May our God and Savior bless you and guide you.


  22. Stephen Reid

    Loved the back anf forth between Theodore and Robert ! Is is ironic that the Protestant blogger is named after a Eastern Orthodox Saint and the Orthodox Blogger named after a Western, non greek name?! Just musing. Anyway, I am a Greek Orthodox Christian and Reformed Protestant ! Yes I am both. I am seeking to understand Messianic Judaism and I would say that I am a Gentile convert to Messianic Judaism ! Can’t wait for the bridge between Gentile Christians of East and West flavor to connect with Messianic Judaism! Sadly, Messianic Jews who follow Jesus Christ are truely outcasts from their cultural and “tribal” backgrounds and in Israel they are denied status as Jews !

    I went off on a tangetn, sorry. Anyway I am most interested in the first 100 years of the so-called primitive church. I believe that if the Church is to thrive we must some how take the truth and best from Western and Eastern Orthodoxy and combine it with the creeds, apolostolic traditions, early canon of scripture and add whatever aesthetic elements that will energize members and propel them towards the great commission and empower the tools of GOD’s dominion.

    IC XC NIKA / Hear O’Israel the Lord are GOD is One !!!
    Love to all my brothers and sisters in Lord Jesus Christ,
    Stephen, a most unworthy servant

    • robertar

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      You have a very diverse and interesting spiritual background! While Messianic Judaism has a lot of attractive features, one weakness is that it is a very recent denomination. I would encourage you to read the Old Testament history and the history of the church. And I would encourage you to read my blog posting “Orthodox Worship Versus Contemporary Worship” in which I argue that Orthodox worship is an extension of Old Testament worship.

      I’m not at all that familiar with Messianic Judaism so I would appreciate it if you could answer a few questions that I have. One, do the Messianic Jewish congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis and do they believe in the real presence? Two, do the Messianic Jewish congregations recognize as Scripture the entire Septuagint version of the Old Testament or do they hold to the Masoretic text? Three, where do they stand with respect to the use of incense in worship (cf. Malachi 1:11)? Thanks!


  23. JacquelineW

    I found this article to be very helpful. I am a Calvinist myself, but have been wondering about Eastern Orthodoxy as my knowledge of it has always been very vague and uncertain. I appreciate the author’s explanations here: they were written very clearly.

    • robertar

      Dear Jacqueline,

      Thank you very much. I have put much effort into making the presentation of Orthodoxy clear and accessible to our visitors. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask me. You might also want to check out the Resources page.


  24. Charismatic Covenanter

    A question about theosis: does an accurate account of theosis presuppose Palamas’ view on the divine energies? If this view would be incorrect, or at least incoherent–as Orthodox theologian David Hart maintains–what would that do to the doctrine of theosis?

    • Vincent Martini

      Theosis is based on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures, Tradition, the Liturgical life and experience of the Church for two thousand years, as well as in various doctrinal treatises (such as those by Gregory Palamas). One’s understanding or mis-understanding of Palamas bears no weight when it comes to whether or not “Theosis” is true or not. It is not a matter of deductions or extractions from this or that father’s writings, but the living continuity of tradition, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, in the Church of Christ.

      • Charismatic Covenanter

        Yet what if that theosis rests on a metaphysical distinction, pace Palamas, that doesn’t hold up to analysis (I know, evil western logic here)?

        Palamas says that simplicity (which denotes essence) is also an energy. So what we have here is that the essence is the energy. Rome’s absolute divine simplicity all over again.

        • robertar

          Charismatic Covenanter,

          Could you give us more specific details about your sources like the title of Palamas’ work and the page number or section numbering? It’s important if we are going to have a reasoned discussion.


          • Charismatic Covenanter

            Sure. I’ll give the specific pagination when I get home. Most of this can be found in Palamas’s Triads (and for the record, I agree with Palamas’ critique of absolut divine simplicity).

            However, the Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw has nicely distilled this in two different formats: one is an essay on his website (which I will provide the link to later) and the other is in his fine work, *Aristotle East and West,* most of which I highly recommend. I’ll give the specific page numbers later, but I’ll highlight another problem in neo-Palamite discussions.

            Neo Palamites (and that language, while seemingly perjorative, is from Orthodox theologians who edited *Orthodox Readings of Augustine*) rightly criticize Rome of making a person (the Holy Spirit) a product of the energy of Father and Son. Be that as it may, Gregory of Nyssa, as Bradshaw himself admits, denotes the Holy Spirit as an *energy* of the Trinity, which isn’t all that far from Rome.

            I’ll continue this discourse later.

  25. Charismatic Covenanter

    It will be a few days before I can develop the above thought further, but if any are interested, Bradshaw’s papers are available below:


  26. Brian

    “One of the tragic consequences of the Protestant Reformation has been splitting off of doctrine from worship.”

    I’m Reformed and I agree. This is tragic.

    • Robert Arakaki


      Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge. Please feel free to check out our other articles.


  27. Emmett

    As a Reformed Protestant, I’d like to thank you for your respectful handling of what seems to be a thoughtless response to Orthodoxy from Reformed spokesman. Some friends of ours recently became Orthodox, and I’m trying to do my part to become informed about the differences and disagreements so that I can represent my views accuratly.

    I’m grateful for your perspective!

    • Robert Arakaki


      Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge! Please continue to visit the site. If you have any issues you would like me to address, please use the “Contact” page.


  28. poppadeane

    It seems the early church had it right. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). 4 Elements: Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking/Bread (The Eucharist), Prayer. My, how man tends to complicate that which even a child is to understand.

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