Podcasts 1 and 2 were uploaded June 3, 2010 by CanonWired, a ministry of Canon Press.
Gabe Rench: We have a question that came in regarding Eastern Orthodoxy. What is the Reformed response to Eastern Orthodoxy?
Doug Wilson: It’s really interesting when you look at Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics. They’re both part of the Western church, and they have a great deal in common so it’s possible for them to have an argument. It’s much more difficult for Westerners — not just Protestants — but for Westerners to get their minds around what’s going on in Eastern Orthodoxy.
To Protestants, Eastern Orthodoxy looks a lot like Roman Catholicism. Their worship is more ornate and that sort of thing. But despite these similarities, there are some very different emphases. I think the divide between East and West is about as deep as that between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. So it would be easy to fall into the trap of simplistic analysis.
I recommend the book by Robert Letham: Through Western Eyes. I got the book but I haven’t read the book yet. …. Letham is a Reformed Evangelical theologian. And in his book on the Trinity which I have read, his treatment of the Eastern theologians is superb. He understands what’s going on there. He very fair minded, even handed, and staunchly Reformed. So a good resource for someone dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy is Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes.
Gabe Rench: What would say to a family … to a wife whose husband has decided to go Eastern Orthodox?
Doug Wilson: There are different layers to what you should do ranging from: Should I go with him, should I join the Eastern Church with him just because of my responsibility to be a submissive wife to the other end divorcing him tomorrow because this was not what I signed up for. A husband falling into doctrinal sin — and that’s what it is, he’s backsliding, he’s falling away from the Reformed faith. If a husband does that that’s not grounds for divorce. Assuming everything else being equal, assuming that he’s not going on a bender in other areas. Sometimes when people make a lurch that’s just one small piece of the puzzle. So let’s say that’s the only thing and that in all other respect he’s a loving husband and father; he continues to provide and so forth. A Reformed wife ought not to even think about divorce under such circumstance. ….
Pastor Wilson has two responses to the question about Eastern Orthodoxy: (1) a theological/doctrinal response, and (2) a pastoral/practical response.
Podcast #1 is a theological response. He wisely points out the fact that the Reformed tradition, because it is rooted in the Western theological tradition, is much closer to Roman Catholicism than Eastern Orthodoxy. Rather than attempt to give an answer in the Q&A, Wilson instead refers his listeners to Through Western Eyes which he admits he has not read. He also refers his listeners to Letham’s The Holy Trinity which he has read. On one level his answer is disappointing because he doesn’t really answer the question, but on another level he wisely avoids giving a simplistic answer that caricatures Orthodoxy.
Podcast #2 is a pastoral response. Pastor Wilson notes that while converting to Eastern Orthodoxy constitutes “doctrinal sin” or “falling away from the Reformed faith,” that in itself is not sufficient grounds for divorce. He counsels the bewildered wife to continue loving her husband but to “respectfully, sweetly, and submissively” say “no.”
It is in the second podcast Pastor Wilson describes Eastern Orthodoxy as “doctrinal sin” even though he does not spell out what these are. Because he did not go into that in his first podcast, it is hoped that he has addressed the matter in some detail somewhere else.
But I have several questions for Doug Wilson.
One, You say that embracing Orthodox involves falling away from the Reformed faith, would you admit though that this does not involve falling away from the historic Christian faith? I would assert that those who hold to the classical Christology defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils are still within the historic Christian faith. It appears that Pastor Wilson is confining Christians only to those who hold to the Westminster Confession.
Two, On what basis and what authority do you define “doctrinal sin”? Doctrinal “sin” is a much graver matter than doctrinal “error.” Error implies differences in doctrinal opinion, whereas sin implies a breaking of a law. In Orthodoxy it takes a breach of Church canon law to make something a doctrinal sin (an anathema). For Orthodoxy, doctrinal teachings were defined by the Ecumenical Councils. The councils’ decisions reflected the consensus of the early Church and were binding upon all Christians.
Three, If you say that Eastern Orthodoxy is “doctrinal sin,” are you then saying that the early Church as a whole were in “doctrinal sin”? Since Orthodoxy holds to the Ecumenical Councils and Reformed theologians do not, who is in sin? It seems to me that if Reformed theologians are calling conversion to the Ancient Faith a sin, then that is a scare tactic, highly disrespectful and uncalled for.
What is interesting about Pastor Wilson’s answer is the assumption is that it is the male head of the household, the husband and father, who is embracing Orthodoxy. It has been noted elsewhere that there is something about Orthodoxy that men find appealing. Wilson also implies that husbands who have embraced Orthodoxy have been pressuring their wives to pray to icons. I haven’t heard of that happening and I hope that is not the case. The frequent counsel given to husbands who have embraced Orthodoxy in their heart is for them to be patient and loving with their wives and their family. Furthermore, Orthodoxy does not believe in coercion. The goal is for a family as whole to enter into Orthodoxy even if it means the head of the household delaying his entering into Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy like the Reformed tradition is concerned about the integrity and spiritual health of our families.
Coming Soon: Review of Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes.
Note: This is a rough transcription of Doug Wilson’s Q&A with Gabe Rench. I cleaned up Wilson’s spoken response and focused on the more pertinent points relating Reformed theology and Eastern Orthodoxy. Links to the YouTube podcasts will enable readers to hear Wilson’s actual spoken response:
Podcast #1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1rDCpGjb-k
Podcast #2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAe-F-pxTOM&NR=1