A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

Discipleship: Orthodox & Protestant

Icon - The Great Commission

by Robert Arakaki & ‘Nicodemus’


While it is true that compared to broader Evangelicalism, neither Orthodox nor Reformed traditions have been known to be champions for Discipleship programs, both are bound to the Great Commission mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So the subject of Discipleship offers an excellent opportunity to highlight some similarities and differences between the two traditions.

But what is a Disciple of Christ? What does he or she look like? How do they live and act?  And, what is his or her goal and vision for living a faithful Christian life? For example, if God’s purpose and the Christian’s focus is all wrapped up in saving as many souls from hell fire as possible – then we can expect a high priority to be put on mass evangelism and “getting people saved” from hell. In contrast, if our vision of the Christian life is focused more on living a disciplined and holy Christian life, then priorities beyond evangelism and salvation must be taken into consideration.

Here the difference in goal and vision of Orthodoxy and Reformed Protestantism is not so stark or pronounced as some might think. The glory of God and a zeal to see Him worshiped in all creation appear to be central to both. Or, perhaps better said, the vision and goals might be better revealed in the how or the doing of discipleship. Here the contrasts are a bit more stark.

Bleeding Scripture

Holy Bible

As is true of much of Evangelicalism, the central component to Reformed Discipleship is the word of God given in Holy Scripture. This is natural as one of the foundational, if not central tenets of all Protestantism is Sola Scriptura. Simply stated, the word of God, inscripturated in the written text of the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Note that this does not completely rule out other authorities, like the Church and Tradition. They can and certainly are very useful additional sources of instruction. Yet Scripture alone is the only infallible source of Truth, and thus naturally becomes dominant in all aspects of Reformed or Protestant discipleship.

Therefore, a new Christian must be continuously trained and exhorted to learn and know his Bible. Knowing and obeying the Scriptures as God’s infallible word to him is his primary task. And what is true of the disciple, is more especially true of the Pastor/Elder, who is called to become a master teacher and preacher of the text of Scripture. I remember one Pastor’s quip to me years ago after I had marveled at his recall of an Old Testament passage, saying, “My business is the Word of God, and I take my business very seriously.”

This premium upon the infallible Word naturally translates into a host of study guides, memorizations and catechisms so that the Christian Disciple is progressively, to use the words of another Pastor, “saturated with Bible.”  A great compliment said of more than one highly esteemed Pastor is:“He’s so saturated with the Scriptures that when you cut him, he bleeds Scripture!”

Yet we might ask IF the knowledge of Scripture is enough? Is a perfect score on any Bible exam enough? As impressive and proud one may be to attain such Bible mastery, it would be rare to find a Reformed or Evangelical Protestant Pastor who believed mere Bible mastery enough, or that all we want in a Christian Disciple is Bible knowledge. No, Bible saturation, as important as it is, is only a means to the higher ends of understanding Truth and living a holy life of repentance and worship. Worship and holiness are the ultimate goals, and Bible mastery, which leads to theological understanding is a critical prelude to these.

The Christian disciple is not merely one who knows and understands the word of God well. He is one who believes and thus obeys and practices what he knows to be true. He faithfully connects himself to a Church that champions the teaching, understanding and obedience to the Word of God. Thus, we see why so many Protestant Preacher become so skilled and exceptional, as the premium upon clear and effective teaching and preaching of the Word is so central. This could all, no doubt, be better said and fleshed out in more detail. But we must ask where the Orthodox finds himself in all this?

The Church & Tradition

Though there are many similarities we might point to in basic Christian beliefs,  Orthodoxy has a somewhat different vision for discipleship. First of all, in contrast to sola scriptura, the Orthodox find their focus upon The Church. As the Apostle Paul taught in I Timothy 3:15, the Church is the pillar and ground of Truth. And it is to this Church that the  Apostles entrusted the Faith, once and for all delivered to the saint as its guardian and protector (Jude v. 3). Thus, Her services, Liturgies, Prayers and Sacraments, Fasts, Confessions, Feast – The Tradition – are essential to Orthodox Discipleship.

The Orthodox convert sees himself a part of the Liturgical and Sacramental community of the Holy Spirit. Rather than changing or reforming her into a new-and-improved Church, the Orthodox disciple is changed by Her, in the ancient Liturgies and Traditions. Here, the ancient Church calendar is prominent as the life of the Christian is transformed in and by the practiced repetition of Her Divine Liturgies, prayers, Sacramental mysteries, sacred fasts and Holy Communion. By these, the world is changed (discipled) in union with the Church, as the cultivation of humility, submission leads to what Orthodoxy call Theosis – union with God.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  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.  (II Peter 1:3-4, NIV; emphasis added)

It is likely a strange notion for Protestants to imagine that a Liturgical and Sacrament life full or Ritual and repetition could by itself transform anything. Nevertheless, the Orthodox do not believe they are practicing or following mere human inventions. Indeed, they believe their Sacraments, Prayers, Liturgies and Traditions are all divinely received revelations from the Apostles, via the Holy Spirit who transcends them all. Thus, the praxis of Orthodoxy is a multi-layered sanctifying pedagogy, received from the Holy Spirit, via the Apostles and Fathers (much like Protestants assume the same about the New Testament).

Granted, there is certainly a danger should the sacred Tradition become cold and sterile ritual. Orthodox will admit that the Church has too often fallen into this.  The remedy for this is renewed fervor through repentance, not changing the service format. The Liturgy and Traditions demand the sincerity of heart, and prayer for the same Holy Spirit that gave them to the Church for Her sanctification and glory, will bless their use and practice in the Church. A similar danger can admitted to exist for Protestantism. Without the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit, all the learning of Scripture and knowledge can turn into a haughty pride, if not ugly arrogance.

For the Orthodox, this is the liturgical and sacramental Tradition that is essential not only for the life Church to grow and mature in, but in their pious practice there is increased understanding and strengthening grace for the life of the world. For it is in these sacred Traditions where the potent power of the Gospel really lies. Thus, we do not neutralize the Spiritual power in Baptism, Bread and Wine, Prayers – the Tradition delivered by the Apostles God has ordained to disciple the nations. Let us look at a few of these in particular.

Uniting With Christ Baptism

Orthodox Converts

Becoming Orthodox is often described as a journey.  Because of our sins we are far from God but we have this hunger for God, a desire to be reunited with God. Like Protestants, Orthodoxy teaches that we are saved through faith in Christ.  Yet it seems the two traditions often have different understandings of what it means to have faith in Christ. Some Protestants seem to understand faith in Christ in terms of intellectual assent to our sinful state and Christ dying on the Cross for our salvation.

The beginning point for discipleship in Orthodoxy is the sacrament of baptism.  In early Christianity salvation was understood not merely or even primarily as appeasing God’s anger against sin, but a radical transfer of allegiance from Satan to Christ.  In Orthodox baptism the candidate is called upon to repudiate Satan and to spit on him.  Then the candidate is asked three times: “Doest thou unite thyself unto Christ?”  Later the candidate is called on to bow down before the Trinity saying: “I bow down before the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in Essence and undivided.” For the Orthodox becoming a follower of Christ is much like acquiring a new citizenship.  One comes under the lordship of Jesus Christ and becomes a member of a new commonwealth, the Church.

Worship as Formation — The Divine Liturgy 

Orthodox worship differs from most Protestant churches. Protestant worship usually centered upon the sermon and creative expression.  Orthodoxy discipleship is overwhelmingly focused on formation over information, being over knowledge.

Liturgy at St. Seraphim Cathedral

The Liturgy is the core of Orthodox discipleship.  What may appear to first time visitors as elaborate rituals and ceremonies really functions as teaching tools for being Orthodox.  Traditionally, Orthodox Christians stand throughout the entire Liturgy.  Standing is symbolic of our being raised with Christ.  One sits for a lecture or watching a performance.  What do Orthodox Christians do when they stand?  We listen and pray the prayers in our hearts. Over time as we become familiar with the prayers, their words begin to shape our understanding of who God is.  We also respond either through spoken responses like: “Lord, Have mercy” or by making the sign of the cross.

Attending an Orthodox Liturgy on a regular basis one quickly acquires a sacred sense of mystery and holiness.  Making the ancient and historic sign of the cross, likely from the Apostolic era, one becomes conscious of how central the Trinity is to Orthodox worship.   Initially, Orthodox Liturgy might seem only an elaborate ritual full of ornate prayers all but an incomprehensible mess. But after several months one begins to perceive an underlying pattern and the biblical teachings behind ritual bodily actions.  The Small Entrance where the priest comes out carrying the Gospels symbolizes God sending forth his messengers, the prophets and apostles, to the human race.  The Great Entrance where the priest comes out carrying the bread and the wine is rich in symbolism.  The priest can be seen as symbolizing the humble donkey carrying Christ into Jerusalem and the congregation symbolizes the crowd of onlookers who shouted “Hosanna!” and some later crying “Crucify him!”  The Small Entrance symbolizes the coming of the inscripturated word of God and the Great Entrance the coming of the incarnated Word of God.

The altar area resembles the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament Tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant was located.  It also symbolizes heaven where the angels and the departed saints reside.  So when the priest celebrates the Eucharist and brings out the Body and Blood of Christ we are invited to partake in the Messianic Banquet foretold in the Old Testament.  It is as if the Old Testament prophecies and the Book of Revelation is played out for us in 3-D.

In most Reformed churches the high point of the Sunday service is the sermon or the Word preached.  But in the Orthodox Church the high point of worship is the Eucharist in which we receive, by eating and drinking, the body and blood of Christ.  Just before we go up to receive Communion, we say this ancient prayer:

I believe, Lord, and I confess, that You are truly the Christ, Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest.  I also believe that this is truly Your spotless Body, and that this is truly Your precious Blood.  Wherefore I pray You: have mercy on me and forgive my offenses, whether or not intended, whether committed in word or deed, knowingly or unwittingly; and count me worthy to share without judgment in Your pure Mysteries, for remission of sins and for everlasting life.  Amen.

Before going up for Communion the Orthodox disciple must prepare himself through fasting and confession.  To be unprepared to receive Communion can imperil our relationship with God.  But proper preparation can also enhance our receptivity to the spiritual benefits in the Eucharist.  The early Christians referred to the Eucharist as the “medicine of immortality.”

Discipleship and Spiritual Healing

Orthodoxy gives greater emphasis to understanding salvation as spiritual healing for life, in contrast to Western Christianity’s strong judicial emphasis.  While it is true that when we sin we violate God’s law, it is important to view sin as a form of spiritual injury.  Our failure to love God and our neighbors distorts the image of God within us.  Sin and the passions of the flesh also dull our awareness of God’s presence.  Unlike certain Protestant groups that seem to understand salvation as an instantaneous event, Orthodox views salvation as a gradual day by day journey like the Prodigal Son to the welcoming arms of his loving father.  As Christians we sin and fall down, then we get up again and take another step of faith.  The spiritual disciplines taught by the Orthodox Church are designed to help prepare us for life in the age to come.

Carrying the Cross

Just as Jesus Christ had a cross to carry so do we likewise have a cross to carry.  Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  (Luke 9:23-24, NIV)

Orthodox discipleship means that we follow Christ and like Christ we die to ourselves.  The underlying premise of Orthodoxy is not: If we follow Christ we will have a rich, happy, fulfilling life, but that: If we follow Christ we will become like him and that we will become sharers in his resurrection.

The Discipline of Prayer

Orthodox Prayer Rope

Orthodox Christians are called to live a life of prayer.  In addition to the Liturgy we are called to pray on a daily basis.   Many Protestants were taught a devotional practice called the “quiet time.”  This consists of reading the Bible, reflecting on the passage, and praying for others.    The Morning Prayers is liturgical in structure and format.  The benefit of the Orthodox Morning Prayers is that it is Trinitarian in focus and much of it is focused on giving glory to God and to seeking the kingdom of God on earth.

One well known Orthodox spiritual discipline is the Jesus Prayer and the prayer rope.  The prayer rope consists of a loop of thirty three, fifty or one hundred black woolen knots.  Each time one says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” one moves to the next knot.  After  a while the Jesus Prayer becomes ingrained in one’s memory and subconscious.  By this practice the Orthodox carry out Paul’s instruction in I Thessalonians 5:17: “pray continually.”

Confession and Spiritual Direction

Unlike Protestantism which believes in the instantaneous forgiveness of all sins when we believe in Christ, Orthodoxy believes that the forgiveness of sins is an incremental process.  God forgives all our sins but only those sins we actually committed; not future hypothetical sins.  The emphasis here is on our being with God in a love relationship rather than an abstract judicial one.  When we fall into sin we become like the Prodigal Son running away from the Father’s house.  When we repent we are making our way back home.  Orthodox discipleship is much like the Prodigal Son slowly making his way back home step by step.  There are times when he slips up but he gets up again and resumes his journey back home.

Confession is a sacrament of the church.  When we confess our sins we allow God’s light into the dark places of our souls.  When we confess our sins we are also renouncing Satan’s hold on us.  With the help of the priest we gain self awareness of who we are.  Confession can be approached superficially through the listing of the bad things we’ve done but it can become a powerful means of spiritual growth when we prepare for it by examining our lives for the good things we could have done but failed to do or by examining the underlying motives behind our sinful habits.  Confession is also a time when the priest gives us advice and counsel about how we can strengthen our spiritual life.

The Discipline of Obedience

There is a strong independent streak in Protestant Christianity.  In many instances the Protestant attitude is: Show me where it says so in the Bible first and if I agree with your interpretation I will do it.  In Orthodoxy when one becomes Orthodox comes under the authority of the Church and its leaders.  Submission to church leaders is taught in the Bible.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  (Hebrews 13:17, NIV)

One of the radical differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy is the role of submission to the authority of the bishop.  To become Orthodox is to come under the authority of the local bishop.  Lev Gillet said:

An Orthodox is one who accepts the Apostolic Tradition and who lives in communion with the bishops who are the appointed teachers of the Tradition (in Kallistos Ware’s The Inner Kingdom, p. 14; italics in original).

The authority of the bishop and the priest is not arbitrary but exercised within the context of Tradition.  Many times what the priest does is to remind his parishioners of their commitment to follow the spiritual disciplines like fasting and almsgiving.  Obedience is an important component in spiritual direction.  When the priest directs a parishioner to cease a sinful practice, he is acting very much like a doctor advising a diabetic to change his diet.

The Discipline of Fasting

When I was a Protestant Evangelical, I never heard about fasting during a Sunday sermon.  The one time I learned about fasting as a spiritual discipline was when my Sunday School class was going through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  In the Evangelical circles I was part of fasting was an exotic practice, not an essential part of discipleship.

Fasting is an integral part of being Orthodox.  In addition to Lent and the other fasting seasons, there were the weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts.  The rationale behind fasting is controlling one’s desires, saying no one’s self, i.e., self denial.  There is a tremendous healing power in fasting.  When one learns to control one’s physical appetite one will be in a better position to deal with other inner desires or demons like lust, pride, selfishness, covetousness etc.  The Orthodox discipline of fasting takes one back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve succumbed to their appetites and self centeredness resulting in sin.  It also helped me to identify with Christ who spent forty days in the wilderness fasting.  It also helped me relate to Christ’s instruction about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18).

Lent — A Spiritual Marathon

Every spring Orthodox Christians embark on a spiritual marathon known as “Great Lent.”  Great Lent has three major components: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  For more than a month Orthodox Christians become vegans giving up meat (beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs) and dairy products (milk, cheese, half and half for coffee, ice cream, yogurt, butter).  During Lent I become very aware of how many food commercials there are on television and how much the commercials appeal to our satisfying our bodily appetites.  Modern consumerism based on narcissism and hedonism is very often the antithesis the Orthodox world view.

During Lent, there are two or three additional services scheduled during the week.  The focus of these services is repentance, faith in Christ, and spiritual warfare.  Lent reaches a climax with Holy Week when there are church services everyday culminating in the Pascha (Easter) service.  At Pascha the entire Orthodox world celebrates Christ’s victory over death.  The intensity of attending these services has no parallel in Protestantism.  During Lent we die to ourselves in so many different ways and we experience spiritual growth in small ways.

Becoming Orthodox is much like becoming part of a family of athletes who work out on a regular basis and who do several marathons in the course of the year.  There is no place for spiritual couch potatoes in Orthodoxy!  If one skips the spiritual disciplines and lives a self indulgent lifestyle one is living in willful disobedience to the teachings of the Church.  A football player who skips the practices and workout sessions runs the risk of being kicked off the team by the coach.

There is much wisdom in the Lenten disciplines.  Fasting teaches us self control and strengthens our ability to say no to temptation and bodily passions.  Almsgiving is a way of combating materialism, consumerism, and covetousness.  The additional services during the week are especially hard for workaholics.  We like to squeeze whatever extra hours we can to get more done!  Because Lent is so demanding new converts are advised to incorporate the Lenten disciplines gradually over time.  Another important principle for Lent and the Orthodox approach to discipleship is that while Orthodoxy has a lot of rules it is not legalistic.  The purpose of the disciplines is to help us grow in our love for God and others.  If we do not grow in love and faith then the time and energy invested in the disciplines are wasted.

Icons of the Saints

Orthodox churches have icons of Christ and the saints in front on the icon screen (iconostasis) and on the walls.  The icons can be understood as Orthodoxy’s hall of fame.  The Church remembers the saints’ all out commitment to Christ and holds them up as models for us to emulate and as inspiration for when we face tough times.  Remembering the saints and seeking their intercessions can be an important spiritual discipline.

Desert Fathers and Monasteries

There is in Orthodoxy a strand of teaching that encourages us to go out into the desert to draw closer to God.  This strand of teaching can be found in the Desert Fathers.  This helps us from being seduced and overwhelmed by the comfort and affluence of material society.  Another way of growing in the faith is by visiting monasteries.  I’ve found it helpful to spend a few days at a monastery.  By going to a monastery I withdraw from the busyness of the world and enter into a place where life is centered around prayer and worship.  It is also a time when I can reassess where I am in my spiritual journey and discern what God is trying to say to me.

The quiet and prayer centeredness of the monastery stands in contrast to the Protestant camps and conferences that are jammed pack with activities, talks, and rousing worship services.  One can learn a lot at these conferences and come away feeling charged up but there is a unique value to learning to be centered in prayer in a monastic setting.

The Goal of Orthodox Discipleship — Theosis

The aim of the Orthodox life is theosis — becoming sharers in the divine nature.  All too often Protestants seem to present the goal of the Christian life as gaining entrance into a wonderful place called Heaven.  But the goal of the Christian life is more than a place but union with Jesus Christ the Son of God.  When we are joined with Christ, our personalities and our entire being will be transformed (see II Peter 1:3-4).

Icon - The Transfiguration

A good picture of our present state and our future state can be found in the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36).  The Transfiguration is a major feast day in the Orthodox Church.  The Transfiguration icon shows Jesus standing on the top of Mount Horeb surrounded by the mandorla — an almond-shaped area of light.  The disciples — Peter, James, and John — are shown in various postures indicating their spiritual immaturity.  They comprise the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples and yet they were in the state of sleepiness (Luke 10:32).  Moses and Elijah are shown standing and conversing with Christ.  They have entered into the state of perfection (maturity) being able to discuss with Christ the things of God.  This is the promise that while in this present life we are stumbling and fumbling like Peter and his companions, one day we will undergo a profound transformation like that experienced by Moses and Elijah.  The Apostle John wrote:

But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  (I John 3:2; NIV)

So while we struggle to be faithful disciples day in and day out, we persevere in the disciplines of the Orthodox Faith knowing that one day we will become transformed and transfigured beings bringing glory to God.

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  1. David

    Hey Robert,

    I know you want to highlight the possibility (probability?) that the whole Orthodox Liturgy and praxis results in a superior Christian Disciple, than Refomed Protestantism’s more scholastic methods. Yet the thought occurred to me admists the contrasts – why choose? Why not “Bible Saturation” within the broader context of Liturgy, Sacrament, Prayers, Fasts and Calendar? Might we not combine liturgical beauty and rhythm — with Biblical mastery? Are these really contrary to one another? Perhaps as many Orthodox Priests/Bishops love the Scriptures and bewail the lack of Bible mastery amongst their own Orthodox flocks – as a growing number of Reformed Anglicans and Presbyterians bewail the lost piety and mystery of Liturgy, Sacrament, Calendar…? Both-And…not either-or? (This is likely the way Reformed CREC men and many Anglicans would argue. Do you see real problems in trying this?)

    Secondly, in rightly minimizing differences in ultimate goals and visions, you might have noted that Calvin and several Reformers (Torrance?) tread close to Orthodox Theosis (partaking of the Divine Nature) in some of their writings. I heistate to bring this up because it could easily take us back to the Christology debate…(per the nature of human participation in the divine-nature). But it does reinforce my hint in the para above – some of the early (and now late) Reformers are not far removed from some Orthodox thinking as we Protestant & Orthodox have thought (or the early Refomers imagined?).


    Good Orthodox summary article on Theosis

    • robertar

      [Submitted on behalf of ‘Nicodemus’]


      First, any attempt to “merge” Orthodox and Protestant practices will result in the gradual death of Sola Scriptura. I suspect we already see it happening in Protestant Congregations who with “renewed catholicity” are trying this very thing. Any practical move away from a strict reading of the “regulative-principle” for what is done in worship, there will be a natural weakening of sola scriptura. Man cannot have two masters. The Scriptures CAN be rightly
      revered within the context of Holy Tradition. But Tradition cannot be rightly revered under a strick practice of the regulative-principle and sola scriptura. A consistent Protestant reaction to this “movement” will be a narrowing rejection of history and Tradition, and a severe Scot-Puritan anathematizing of all but a strick readings — which avoids all passages Protestant typical avoid and ignore.

      Secondly, all merger-friendly notions are born of a fundamental Hegelian-Notion…”the ancient Orthodox Faith (inherited from the Apostles and Fathers over the last 2K years) has a NEED for neo-Protestant improvements…it being deficient”. The Orthodox reject this silly notion. IF…those Protestants new to the ancient Liturgy and Sacramental understanding of worship and Life will humble themselves, enter the Orthodox Church, and within Her
      bosom seek to bolster the study of Scripture within the context of Orthodox Tradition…God will be pleased that they bear much fruit.

      Finally, why must Protestants assume they should reinvent the Liturgy, Calendar, Creeds, with their Hegelian anti-thesis spin? After all is said and done, I tell you it is largely the sin of PRIDE. Their great humility before Scripture….that is THEIR own forever-morphing interpretation of Scripture is a self-serving “humility” indeed. But there is little humility before the Church Fathers and history. Contrary to their false-offense, Mother Church does not demand their blind obedience, but rather as well informed and well-studied submission to Her gentle and conciliar Council. Pride is the great enemy. But there is hope. Many of her brightest sons are being
      given humility, and are swallowing their pride. In this they have not forfeited their brains, but are re-learning anew how to best apply their labors within the Holy Orthodox Church? Lord have mercy.”


      • Karen

        Nicodemus, forgive my inner obsessive editor coming out here, but I believe you meant to say “strict” not “strick.” 🙂

    • robertar


      Thank you for your interesting question. What you are suggesting — taking the best of both worlds: Orthodox and Protestant — is something that is been attempted by several groups. Robert Webber popularized this approach with his ancient-future worship. And then there is the convergence movement. I have reservations about this approach. One is who gets to decide what elements are appropriated and on what basis? If one does not operate from a definite tradition one is forced to rely on one’s own wisdom which is in essence Protestantism! I would also ask: How stable is this approach? I would hazard the guess that the current interest in ancient-future worship is just another Evangelical fad. As far as the Anglicans are concerned, it troubles me that there are numerous continuing Anglican churches. The problem I have with the Anglican Via Media (Middle Way) is that the center is constantly shifting in response to the extremes in the church. I must admit I don’t know much the CREC. Maybe you could enlighten me as to how the CREC (from what I know is Reformed) has incorporated elements of the liturgy and the creeds. Are they actually liturgical or do they just celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday? And where does the CREC stand with respect to the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist? Your answers will help me determine how close they are to the early church.

      I would like to point out that two such groups that tried this approach ended up entering into the Eastern Orthodox Church: the Evangelical Orthodox under the leadership of Peter Gillquist in 1987 and parts of the Charismatic Episcopal Church entered Orthodoxy in 2010.

      While there is a need for more in depth Bible knowledge among Orthodox Christians, the remedy is renewed fervor in the form of diligent prayer and diligent reading of Scripture within the Tradition of the Church. In light of the fact that there is now an Orthodox Study Bible there can be no excuse by Orthodox Christians about not reading the Bible. One of the greatest resources available to Orthodox Christians are the monasteries. Monasteries embody kingdom living in ways that the average Orthodox parish do not. I find it striking that the ancient-future movement and the convergent movement do not have much to say about the monastic lifestyle. The monasteries are examples of radical discipleship. I would be interested to learn if there are any signs of monasticism among Evangelicals and Reformed Christians. There is a great need for radical disciples in these times.

      • David

        Hey Robert,

        I enjoy most of this blog and the opportunity to interact with someone with grace on disagreeable issues. You say & asked:
        “I have reservations about this approach. One is, who gets to decide what elements are appropriated and on what basis? If one does not operate from a definite tradition one is forced to rely on one’s own wisdom which is in essence Protestantism! I would also ask: How stable is this approach?…I must admit I don’t know much the CREC. Maybe you could enlighten me as to how the CREC (from what I know is Reformed) has incorporated elements of the liturgy and the creeds. Are they actually liturgical or do they just celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday? And where does the CREC stand with respect to the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist? Your answers will help me determine how close they are to the early church.”

        Maybe a paraphrase of comments by highly revered Pastor Doug Wilson will help: “We decide (how to live, worship, obey…) in community, over time, with much prayer, with open Bibles as the Spirit leads us. We won’t always get it right, but then we must correct ourselves.” This open spirit of teachable Catholicity means we can learn from ALL the Fathers, be they Protestant, Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodoxy. Here the writings of Anglican Bishop Thomas Wright and Orthodox Bishop Alexander Schmemann have been very influential – only to get us (the CREC/Federal Vision group) in big trouble as various Reformed groups have anathematized and excoriated us for “leaving the Faith”…meaning of course, their view of the Reformed Faith.

        So, to your question “who gets to decide” I suppose the Secession of each Church. In this each Secession (council of Elders) seeks to be conciliar as they talk, write, argue and discuss the issues and options among each other and other Secessions. But there is not to my knowledge an “Authoritative” word or declaration to which ALL Secessions must submit or be disciplined. Most of the Churches will generally agree, yet have liberty to disagree on some specifics, and not be bound to an absolute conformity. This is our quest for Unity admits legitimate Diversity.

        How stable this is, of course, is debatable and time will tell. As an ecclesiastical Presbyterian/Anglican hybrid, it is far too soon to tell if stability rests too much upon the current leadership, the stability of the younger Pastors now being attracted to it, or if the system itself is stable for generations to come. We might also question just what “stability” means in this context. To the Orthodox it seems to means that not only will your great, great, great…grandchildren inherit a Church with a Liturgy and praxis you fully embrace, being essentially the same as a thousand if not two thousand years ago, and as you say, recognized to the Apostolic Fathers. Given the CREC/Federal Vision men’s commitment to progressive maturity in the Church, I suspect most would reject this vision for “stability”…andcall it a tragic and stunted stasis of non-growth. The Church envisioned is expected to have matured beyond, and look considerably different than the CREC does today, though still faithfully embracing the fundamentals of the Faith. Certainly more could be said here, and said better than my weak attempt.

        Robert also said: “…two such groups that tried this approach ended up entering into the Eastern Orthodox Church: the Evangelical Orthodox under the leadership of Peter Gillquist in 1987 and parts of the Charismatic Episcopal Church entered Orthodoxy in 2010.”

        I know nothing about the latter group. But the core Evangelical Orthodox leadership group included seven former Campus Crusade men:. Fr. Gordon Thomas Walker, the late Jack Sparks and Richard Ballew, Jon Braun, Ray Nethery, Ken Berven and also Peter Gilquist (see Becoming Orthodox above link). As courageous in one respect their conversion might be, there are differences between them and the CREC leadership. Though Gilquist was 50 in 1988 and Sparks was already a PhD when they join the Antiochian Orthodox Church, most of the CREC leadership are in their mid-late 50s and early 60s with decades of Pastoral labor within a far more doctrinally rigorous Reformed community than was likely with the EOC. Obviously, I cannot speak for, nor do I know the heart of every CREC Pastor, but I suspect it would take a miraculous change of heart and theology for such a thing to happen with the CREC as happened with the Evangelical Orthodox Church. I’ll close here knowing I’ve not commented on all you mentioned, particularly the monastery as an example of radical discipling, which must await another day. God keep you brother, and have mercy upon us all.

    • Jnorm


      I’m all for the Orthodox laity knowing the Bible better. And I’m also all for more and more protestant groups embracing as much as they can in the areas of church history, the ecumenical councils, the church fathers, the ancient liturgies…..etc.

      I know a little, but over all I don’t know that much about the C.R.E.C. and the whole federal vision / Auburn Ave movement. I was more into the Convergence Movement, the Oxford Movement, and the form of christian primitivism of Bercot. But the dream died for me. I was tired of it all.

  2. Karen

    Good point, David. I believe the Orthodox Fathers were/are pretty saturated in the study of, meditation on, and memorization of the Scriptures as well as in the liturgical life and other spiritual disciplines of the Church. I do think it’s a case of the optimal being both/and, although there is a kind of biblical saturation that also occurs *through* the prayers and liturgy of the Church, which are themselves full of Scripture and exposition of Scripture. There is also a regular schedule of Scripture readings for each day of the year that are supposed to form part of the Orthodox believer’s daily rule of prayer. Some Orthodox also read through the whole Bible in a year or portions of it (i.e., Psalms, Gospels) on a repeating and regular basis. Then there are the various other disciplines (confession/repentance, almsgiving, etc.) that are a regular formal disciplined approach to regular *practice* of the Scripture’s teachings, which I have found most helpful. The reality on the ground for many of us Orthodox, though, is that we struggle to maintain these various spiritual disciplines just as our Evangelical and Reformed brethren do, but I do find my corporate worship experience within the Orthodox Church much more reliably and consistently a saturation in prayer and the Scripture than was my Evangelical experience. Being human, I also have to admit I have a greater sense of real accountability and sobriety before God now I am Orthodox in how I conduct my personal and family life because of the necessity of regular confession of my sins in the presence of my priest and also because of what we believe about the nature of the Eucharist. It is a lot harder to appear more spiritual than I am in light of the regular exposure of those failings. Coming up with good sounding Scriptural “insights” or “right” Scripture answers in a weekly Evangelical Bible study discussion was way easier (especially after some 30+ years of practice)!

  3. Kevin D. Johnson


    These false dichotomies you draw between Protestant and Orthodox versions of discipleship simply cannot be maintained with any level of accuracy. The notion that Protestants are not at all concerned with a life of liturgy and sacrament compared to other Christian traditions is just wholly false. And, besides, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t pretend on the one hand that Dom Gregory Dix is some great liturgical authority sufficient to quote on this website in defense of Orthodox concerns without recognizing that he was a Protestant however utterly Anglo-Catholic his assertions of the liturgy were.

    A better approach might be to consider that since Protestants are Christian, they manifestly represent a Christian spirituality just as our Orthodox brothers do. Certain particularities regarding our views (and there are other differences such as culture that determine the matter as well) may find us practicing such discipleship differently on occasion but if we are united by the Blood of Jesus Christ and part of His Body then undoubtedly we will ultimately do “that which the Lord requires” (Micah 6:8).

    But, you speak as if one sort of approach to Christian discipleship is better than the other and it reminds me very much of the argument the disciples had concerning who would be first in the kingdom of heaven. I wouldn’t mind that so much if your caricature of Protestantism wasn’t so negative and almost wholly inaccurate on occasion.

    The Protestant emphasis on obedience for example is inaccurately portrayed by your comments regarding a so-called “independent streak”. In truth, real *biblical* obedience is obedience to the revealed law of God (‘if you love me, keep my commandments’) and obeying our leaders is only a part of such obedience. That is the sort of discipleship Protestants aspire to and not some Harley riding rebel flag wearing rebuke of authority. In the case that Protestants do rebel against their leaders, it usually has more to do with the resistance of tyranny, reform, and injustice more than anything else. And, that sort of action is also called for in the Scriptures as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego undoubtedly demonstrated for us via the fires of Nebuchadnezzar. In any case, the Christian discipline of obedience as seen in Protestant circles is not the rebellious thing you make it out to be and you further fail to note that huge sections of Protestantism even today still exist quite comfortably under the historic episcopate.

    Furthermore, I take issue even with your portrayal of Eastern practices as your presentation doesn’t even give the Eastern view its due. Christian obedience is doing what the Lord requires — ‘to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (again, cf. Micah 6:8) — and this is just as true in Orthodox circles or at least it ought to be. That is expressed of course in a life of submission to the church and through prayer and worship but ultimately it is a matter of obedience to the the revealed will of God written on our hearts and in Holy Writ.

    • Jnorm

      Rev. Kevin D Johnson,

      It’s obvious that the Orthodox have a different relationship with Anglo-Catholics (Dom Gregory Dix) than they do with other protestants(a good number of Anglo-Catholics don’t like seeing themselves as being protestant. And a good number of high-church Anglicans like to make a distinction between the high-church Anglican tradition and the Anglo-Catholic tradition).

      But this site isn’t about the Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics.
      In The Footsteps of Tikhon And Grafton

      It’s about the Orthodox and the Reformed protestant world in which in America the free church tradition seems to be predominate, and so the “independent streak” is not hard to see. If you lack a state church, and if you have a freedom of religion along with freedom of speech then it’s not hard to see why the independent streak magnified over the centuries.

      I know you want the Orthodox to see protestantism in the way you see protestantism, but in doing so you are asking the Orthodox to do something extremely difficult. For how are we suppose to view the ancient Arians, Nestorians, Novationists(especially these guys), Donatists, ……etc. if they were a whole lot closer to us in most areas than most low church modern protestant groups? How did they worship? Did they worship like us or like modern low church protestants? What were most of their customs like? Were they alot closer to us or closer to modern low church protestants?

      What I am trying to say is this, even-though the ancient heretical Arians, and Nestorians, differed from us in regards to who Jesus is, almost everything else about them was almost identical to us.

      And so you are asking an extremely difficult thing that would over-turn how Church History was viewed, not only by Ecumenical Councils, but also by a number of church fathers.

      I hope in saying this I didn’t upset you, but what you are asking for is extremely difficult. To embrace what you want us to embrace would ultimately distort our Christology and Ecclesiology. We would also have to ignore the authority and weight of Ecumenical councils. And so even-though you may think the Orthodox are being rude, nasty, and mean hearted. The truth is they are just trying to be faithful. They are just trying to protect what they always protected.

      If we said certain things about heretical and schismatic groups of the past, in whom in most areas were like us. Then how are we suppose to ignore that and pretend that nothing is wrong with the vast differences between us and alot of low church protestant groups of today? What you ask is extremely difficult.

    • robertar

      [This comment is posted on behalf of ‘Nicodemus.’]

      Kevin said, “The notion that Protestants are not at all concerned with a life of liturgy and sacrament compared to other Christian traditions is just wholly false.”

      Of course, neither Robert nor I said any such thing. We merely compared dominant styles of Christian discipleship. That the Orthodox style is overwhelmingly Liturgical & Sacramental – while Protestantism & Reformed’s style of discipleship is overwhelmingly Bible saturation is, frankly, self-evident. And, this is true despite Kevin’s little splinter group of Anglicans, a group he refuses to identify the nature of his submission to, if any. Does this imply there is no Liturgical or Sacramental element present in small Protestant microcosms whatsoever? Not at all, as we have repeatedly pointed out in joyfulness. It’s just that this new and budding presence of Liturgy and Sacrament in some small Reformed microcosms is not to be confused with what IS dominant in both Protestantism and the Reformed community. For Kevin to expect anyone to read his own micro-version of classical protestantism into mainstream discipleship practices is silly indeed. It would be about as credible as reading Drake’s micro-splintered views into the mainstream. Yet he persists in accusing Robert of caricatures! Is not the irony rich?

      Kevin said: “But, you speak as if one sort of approach to Christian discipleship is better than the other and it reminds me very much of the argument the disciples had concerning who would be first in the kingdom of heaven. I wouldn’t mind that so much if your caricature of Protestantism wasn’t so negative and almost wholly inaccurate on occasion.”

      Again, Robert and I said no such thing(s). We merely tried to lay out difference as clearly. Of course, being Orthodox does imply we think it a “better” inheritance. But has nothing whatsoever to do with Kevin’s conflating the disciples argument as to whom is better. And we shall leave it to our reader to consider just whom is most “negative” and guilty of “caricature”.

      Kevin said: “That is the sort of discipleship Protestants aspire to and not some Harley riding rebel flag wearing rebuke of authority. In the case that Protestants do rebel against their leaders, it usually has more to do with the resistance of tyranny, reform, and injustice more than anything else.”

      Note well from whose mouth the “Harley riding rebel flag wearing” caricature came from. Yet our blog article had scarcely a hint to say about spiritual rebellion. But since Kevin brought it up, are Protestants not (via their sola scriptura principle) independent of Church authority? Perhaps Kevin would list for us all the classical historic Protestant theologians who place the Scriptures, and their own interpretations of the Scriptures, under the historic authority of the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils? Brothers, in all this, I assure you there is no mean-spirited intent (at least on our part) to over-play the fact of Protestantism’s independence. We only seek historic accuracy in noting its presence, and the quite natural implications of it in Christian discipleship, to the end that we understand better how to talk seriously with each other.


      • Kevin D. Johnson

        And, this is true despite Kevin’s little splinter group of Anglicans, a group he refuses to identify the nature of his submission to, if any

        This is so rich with irony given you’re writing anonymously and under a pen name. And, I have no idea what you’re talking about here–why do you feel it necessary to make this stuff up?

        It’s just that this new and budding presence of Liturgy and Sacrament in some small Reformed microcosms is not to be confused with what IS dominant in both Protestantism and the Reformed community. For Kevin to expect anyone to read his own micro-version of classical protestantism into mainstream discipleship practices is silly indeed

        Wrong. Protestantism includes huge sectors that are self-consciously defined by their liturgical and sacramental character. The Lutherans and the Anglicans are merely two groups I can name with roots all the way back to the Reformation. Go read the old high churchmen and you will see what I mean. What you are saying is simply untrue and to paint all of this as some sort of concocted dream of mine without attention to the whole witness of Protestantism over the last five hundred years is the silly case being made here. The fact that some small Reformed denominations are paying more attention to their roots as classical Protestants does not outweigh the nature of the case. Furthermore, Protestantism and evangelicalism (as Tim points out below) are not necessarily the same thing though you and Robert seem to have little qualms about using the terms interchangeably as if we’re forced to resort to some sort of ecclesial communicatio idiomatium in understanding the nature of your claims concerning us.

        Yet our blog article had scarcely a hint to say about spiritual rebellion

        Your blog article had scarcely a hint to say anything about the actual discipline of obedience on the whole that both Protestants and the Orthodox have in common, namely obeying the commandments of the Lord within the context of the eucharistic community. This is yet another place where we could largely agree but you insist that somehow Orthodox devotion to clerical orders is a better example than what is available in Protestantism. In truth, such things are only part of the total picture of obedient discipleship and Protestants strive as much as any Orthodox believer to fulfill the dictates of our Lord in loving him by keeping the commandments.

    • robertar


      One cannot talk about discipleship apart from life in the church. You claim to speak for the Protestant tradition, but you have refused to identify which church group you belong to. I have questions about your claiming to be a Protestant. An unaffiliated Protestant is an oxymoron. The Protestant Reformer John Calvin taught we must be in the visible church to be a Christian (Institutes 4.1.4). If you are in fact unaffiliated, I urge you to find a church home rather than spend so much time on the Internet. If you are affiliated, it shouldn’t be that difficult to name your local church or its denomination.


      • Kevin D. Johnson


        Despite your unappreciated harangue here, my personal affiliation with any particular faith community has little to do with the actual issues we are discussing. I don’t respond well to heel-tapping “Papers, please!!” demands and even if I did provide you with the information you seek, you’re in no position to evaluate whether or not I’m Protestant or even Christian enough to bring the concerns I already have to the table.

        • Karen

          “. . . my personal affiliation with any particular faith community has little to do with the actual issues we are discussing.”

          Kevin, with respect, from an Orthodox perspective, theology and discipleship is always connected with an actual historic community’s praxis. This is why Robert and others ask you about your actual affiliation. You can continue to try to talk about all of this in an ideological and theoretical way, but Orthodox ecclesiology doesn’t allow us to discuss “Orthodoxy” in such an abstract ideological vacuum. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Robert et. al. questioning your own personal commitment to Christ or worthiness to “bring your concerns to the table,” (here I think you are missing the point of their inquiry), but they ask about affiliation because a commitment to a particular community tells us concretely where you are located on the “historic church communities map” and will allow Orthodox to express with better precision where you differ and where you will converge with Orthodox faith and practice. Your actual practice from an Orthodox perspective tells us more than your theoretical theological conjectures, questions, and assertions. This is just a difference between Orthodoxy which is concerned with ecclesiological concreteness and does not, like I’ve seen many Protestants do when it comes to this sort of discussion, try to address them in the theoretical abstract divorced from actual concrete expression (which is always in community of some sort). I hope this helps.

  4. Tim Enloe

    Overall, this is a good post. But reading through it, I am again struck by something that has teased at the edges of my mind for years, especially dealing extensively with Roman Catholic converts. That thing is that the word “Protestant” is nearly useless as a descriptor in arguments made by converts.

    Robert, you seem to use it interchangeably to describe “broader Evangelicalism,” which is largely composed of traditions that go back no earlier than the Second Great Awakening (c. 1800-1820) and its mutations ending in Fundamentalism, and various far more historic groups such as Lutherans, Anglicans, and Reformed. This is extremely problematic, for much of what passes as piety in broad Evangelicalism does not pass in the historic denominations – at least, if they are faithful to their own traditions rather than instead being co-opted (as many congregations are) by broad Evangelical tendencies.

    The problematic nature of using the word “Protestant” this way is seen in my own experience growing up. I grew up a “broad Evangelical” and had many of the same issues that you (Robert) testify to. I didn’t hear about fasting, Lent, spiritual obedience, or confession in the sense that high liturgies mean it. Piety for me growing up was basically learning lots about the Bible, praying a lot, and striving to avoid gross sins – all of which can be generally summed up as “mypersonalrelationshipwithJesus.” I’ve seen some of this in Reformed circles, but I’ve also seen much higher liturgical varieties there, too, that totally falsify much of your portrayal in this article.

    Now that I’m orbiting the Anglican experience, ironically, most of what you write here is a regular part of my experience. I already felt, in CREC circles, that I was part of the catholic church, bigger than me, myself, and my Bible, and that a lot more was going on in the services than just my own “personalrelationshipwithJesus.” In the Anglican services I attend 6 days a week, there’s an extremely high view of the Church, the creeds, the sacraments, and the historical liturgy, and so as a “Protestant” I don’t feel one bit of cognitive or spiritual dissonance as I read this post. I already have all of that here and now, so why would I entertain becoming Orthodox so I could have them? Now maybe Anglicanism isn’t “Protestant,” I don’t know, but if it is, and if the higher liturgical forms of Presbyterianism and Lutheranism are “Protestant,” then again, much of your critique simply doesn’t apply to a whole lot of “Protestants.”

    All that said, you should be very careful criticizing the reality of “bleeding Scripture.” Over and over again I see on this site remarks about how the Bible isn’t “enough,” because we have to have this Sacred Tradition passed down through the Orthodox Apostolic Successors in order to be REALLY godly. This is simply false, and makes you all sound like a clique of Gnostic elites rather than Christians. “Want Real Truth? Well, we’re the only ones who have it, and you can only get it for yourself if you learn our Secret Passwords and participate in our Special Rituals, passed down only by our Enlightened Group.” Is this really how you want to sound to others? Fasting, feasts, icons, monastic disciplines, and the rest – these may HELP your growth in grace, but they are not strictly speaking ESSENTIAL to it. I know many people in my life whose piety is essentially totally Bible-centered but who are, contra the impressions I get from comments on this blog, extremely holy people. They didn’t do the fasts and feasts and venerating of icons and monastic disciplines and the rest, but they are extremely holy people, the shoelaces of which I am unworthy to tie. How is this possible if we NEED all this Special Orthodox Tradition?

    Now, I’m not knocking the traditions as AIDS to growth in grace. I can see how serious fasting could seriously mortify the flesh, and how participating regularly in a high liturgical worship experience could change, in a positive way, one’s whole way of looking at the Christian life. What I’m denying is the assertion often made here that these Special Traditions are NECESSARY for growth in grace. This is one of those things that if repeated enough within a closed circle of belief comes to seem indubitably true, but if exposed to the complicated realities outside the closed circle, is readily shown to be a drastic oversimplification.

    Regarding a Bible-centered piety, the problem for your view on this blog is that the Bible is not just any old book. It’s not like other books; it is the Word of God, and its words are quick and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword, and can divide the soul and spirit, and do not return void. I’ve said it repeatedly: 2 Tim. 3:16 does not allow you to claim that the Scriptures aren’t “enough” for life and godliness, because it rather plainly says they are. So far, the best answer I’ve gotten is the answer, “You’re reading that verse out of context of the rest of Paul’s writings, which talk a lot about tradition.” Sorry, but Paul doesn’t say the feasts, fasts, special rites, and the rest are NECESSARY for godly living. He says the Scriptures are sufficient for this. I’m not reading the verse out of context; you guys simply aren’t reading properly because you’re a bunch of ex-Protestants whose felt need to justify your conversion pretty much overrides everything else and causes you to embrace extremes that are 180 degrees different from the ones you previously embraced.

    • Kevin D. Johnson

      Where is a like button when you need it? 🙂

    • Jnorm

      Tim Enloe,

      Socrates, the church historian was a Novationist. The Novationists were very strict and moral, but that didn’t change their official status as being schismatics. Did the Church have bad things to say about the Novationists? Sure, but she also had a special relationship with them for when one of them came back in communion, they weren’t re-baptized, and i could be wrong what I’m about to say next for it’s been a while since I read the canons, but if one of their bishops came in communion, they could be used as an auxillary bishop, and so depending on how close or how far away a group is, the Church takes all of that into consideration for at the end of the day, She will see how much vestiges of Her are left in the other group.

      Tim Enloe,

      You said “a clique of Gnostic elites rather than Christians”. “Want Real Truth? Well, we’re the only ones who have it, and you can only get it for yourself if you learn our Secret Passwords and participate in our Special Rituals, passed down only by our Enlightened Group.” Is this really how you want to sound to others?

      Will you say this about Saint Irenaeus? What did he say? Wasn’t he one of the main ones in the 2nd century to fight against gnosticism? Did he advocate your understanding of Ecclesiology? Did he believe that multiple independent bodies not in communion with eachother to be the One Church? Did he believe that? If not, then can you really call us gnostic? We believe the One Church to be visible. Did the gnostics believe that? You think we are gnostic for believing that we are the Church. If you really believe this then you will also have to call Saint Irenaeus a gnostic as well.

      Tim, you may not like the Orthodox stance in seeing itself as the Church. You also may not like Rome saying the samething about itself, but this view is actually the Christian Historic view. The Orthodox just didn’t start saying this about itself this year, nor last year. It’s been saying this about itself for a very very very very long time. Why should it change how it sees itself in the 21st century?

      In regards to what you said about Bible centered piety and what’s necessary in regards to christian growth. The point is that Paul doesn’t say Scripture alone is the only thing that’s necessary. You seem to be limiting everything that’s necessary to Scripture alone.

      Is Scripture Necessary? Yes! Is Scripture alone Necessary? No!

      2nd Tim 3:16
      “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

      We are reading the passage correctly.

      • Tim Enloe

        Are you reading that passage correctly? You highlight “useful,” but I’d highlight “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” What does “thoroughly” mean?

        I didn’t call you Gnostics. I asked if you want to sound like Gnostics. Guess what? Just because some Fathers, like Irenaeus, wrote against Gnosticism doesn’t mean Gnostic tendencies couldn’t have filter in. This is a serious intellectual weakness I see in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy: the simply gratuitous assumptions that A) the Fathers are always right, B) Our Group always gets the Fathers right, and C) if the Fathers said something, the opposite couldn’t have happened in real practice. At any rate, I didn’t say you are Gnostics. I asked if you want to sound like them, making out that True Christianity is a matter of knowing secret passwords and participating in Exclusive Rituals that only Your Group gets right. Think about it.

        • Jnorm

          Tim Enloe,

          Thoroughly to me means fully or completely. You seem to be saying that only Scripture is “……useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

          Our view doesn’t have the “only” attached to it. And so yes, we agree that Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

          The difference is the “only”.

          How are we sounding like gnostics?
          For us, it’s about communion. It’s not about our rituals being better. The existence of western rites in Orthodoxy shows that at the end of the day it’s about actual communion.
          So how are we sounding like gnostics? And what are these secret pass-words that you think we have?
          I won’t deny the possibility of those who fight against something embracing some ideas of the group they are fighting against. We can see this with Clement of Alexandria and the gnostics as well as with Origen. But we can actually see this by looking at their works and comparing it with various philosophical schools of thought and heretical christian groups. Where do you see this with Saint Irenaeus? How is his stress on Apostolic Succession gnostic? How is his view of the visible Church gnostic? If anything, we sound more like Saint Irenaeus against the gnostics.

          A.) Are the Fathers always right? (I re-arranged it)
          Right according to what? The Christian Faith? What is the Christian Faith? What do those words mean? Is it simply a principle or is it much more? If the Faith proves the person then what is The Faith that proves the person?

          How do we know what we know about who was right and who wasn’t? Why isn’t Clement of Alexandria called a saint in the Byzantine tradition? Why isn’t Tertullian called a saint? Why was Origenism and Origen condemned? And even when it comes to saints, is everything they believed accepted? No! We obviously don’t accept Gregory of Nyssa’s universalism. We obviously don’t accept a number of things from Saint Augustine as well and so no, we obviously don’t believe they were always right for it is the Faith that proves the person right.

          B) Does Our Group always gets the Fathers right? (I added the does)

          In comparison to what other group?

          C) if the Fathers said something, the opposite couldn’t have happened in real practice.

          I never denied the possibility of this. Even-though I don’t see Tertullian as a church father. As an early christian witness I already know from reading his works that a number of the ignorant laity in his region of North Africa didn’t always believe and behave in the way they were suppose to.

          • robertar


            I would like to add that Jnorm made a good point that just because a Christian theologian lived long ago does not necessarily make him a church father. Also, I would like to add that Orthodoxy emphasizes patristic consensus. Individual church fathers can err on certain points of doctrine (e.g. Irenaeus of Lyons eschatology) but taken collectively the church fathers bear powerful witness to the Christian Faith. This patristic consensus is not the result of academic research but the mindset of the Church as reflected in her liturgical life. Prior to becoming Orthodox I did a lot reading of books about the church fathers but after I became Orthodox I became aware of the fact that we learn about the church fathers through the liturgical texts especially in the Vespers and Matins services that precede the Divine Liturgy.


          • Tim Enloe

            Jnorm, if “thoroughly” means “fully” or “completely,” then perhaps you can avoid the scandal of mere words that seems to plague you by calling the proper view of Scripture (which you guys here certainly don’t hold, with your perpetual refrain about the NECESSITY of your special Orthodox traditions for REAL godliness) “Plena Scriptura” – “Scripture Fullness.” Avoid the troublesome word “sola” and instead use “plena.” That way you can clamp down on your convert tendency to swing the pendulum 180 degrees opposite of where you used to be by rhetorically devaluing Scripture’s primary and SUFFICIENT role in training for righteousness. That way you can take a more healthy view of your Orthodox traditions, and stop deceiving yourselves with a bunch of overblown rhetoric to the effect that observing special feasts and fasts and venerations of holy pictures can do things to your soul that a sober commitment to hearing and then DOING the very words of the Living God can’t do. Those other things can help you, but they are neither required nor indispensable.

          • Tim Enloe

            Well, there you go Robert, saying the very things I was referring to with phrases like “secret passwords” and “Gnostic elite.” Here we see again the reactionary dichotomy from an academic Protestant to the effect that REAL Christianity isn’t found in the serious use of the head, but in participating in special experiences that only one particular group has. To hear you speak, I can’t get a decent idea of what the Fathers were about from reading their works. No, no, I must enter the Orthodox Community – not any other community, ONLY the Orthodox community – and live its life for a while before I can really grasp “the mind of the Church.”

            I do understand that the Faith is more than words, and particularly more than words beamed from a preacher’s head into mine (a Presbyterian-ish error). I do understand that participating in rituals trains the heart by disciplining the body. And so I do understand that living a life, a real embodied life, with others is an indispensable part of being a Christian.

            But let’s not be extreme in our criticisms of errors. Let’s not swing the pendulum 180 degrees in the opposite direction from where we were before. Let’s not react to an overly-intellectual notion of the Faith, which many Protestants do indeed have, by embracing an overly-experiential one. The answer to rationalism is not mysticism – they’re just flipsides of the same coin.

            (I add that it’s a bit odd for you to advocate the superiority of mystical experiences by running a blog on which you write long academic papers defending your faith, only to respond to criticisms of your faith by retreating to mysticism.)

            The bottom line is that, no, Robert, patristic consensus is not SOLELY “the mindset of the Church as reflected in her liturgical life.” That is part of it, but not all of it. And contrary to your Orthodox pretensions (which are similar to the Catholic ones), it’s not just your special elite group that has a proper liturgical life. That belief of yours is the point at which I aimed the (mostly rhetorical) remarks about how you all sound like a bunch of Gnostics. The rest of us dupes just don’t get it because we aren’t part of The Real Community, like you are. That’s how you folks sound here, and it’s a real impediment to bridge building.

          • Karen


            Please help me understand you better (and also offer you a way to reframe some aspects of this discussion, if I may).

            1. How do you define the “sufficiency” of Scripture?

            2. What Orthodox traditions are you arguing are “special?”

            3. Why are you arguing that Robert’s pointing out that “experiential knowledge” is different than “academic/scholastic knowledge” (something common to all our human experience in one area or another, yours and ours) in the context of how we read the Fathers means he is claiming Orthodox have “secret” knowledge? You will surely also have had the experience of having your understanding of Scripture transformed when you began to experience the reality it describes or commands in a deeper way as you matured or became more experienced generally, especially as your insight into yourself and your own motives and your relationships with others has deepened/matured.

            Here is a truth that I have found is much deeper in an Orthodox mindset than in that of the Protestants I have encountered generally (I do not say that there is *no* awareness of this reality among Protestants by any means, but that it is not as coherently part of their stated theologies and practices): The “knowledge” of which the Fathers and the Scriptures speak is ultimately not factual or academic knowledge having to do with data, but “spiritual” (i.e., personal and relational, having to do with the meaning and nature of love, as defined in Christ), which is, by definition, attained in a meaningful sense only experientially. Consider my point #4.

            4. Many unbelievers study the Scriptures and/or the Fathers academically, and I suspect many have excellent academic understanding of both on many levels. Wouldn’t you say that such scholars’ understanding of what the Scriptures and the Fathers teach (especially in its implications for Christian life and worship) would be mightily transformed and deepened if they came into a true experiential knowledge of and commitment to Christ? Why is so offensive to you for Robert to suggest that the experience of Orthodox liturgy (and practice of her disciplines) experientially informs how one reads and understands the Fathers? This is not to suggest that it is an “all or *nothing*” situation with Orthodox vis-a-vis other Christian groups. We certainly believe that the “all” is available only through the Orthodox Church (in terms of their dogmatic and sacramental definitions and ecclesiological practices). We certainly do not mean to imply by this that all Orthodox Christians take advantage of this “all” by any means! Nor do we mean to imply that Christians outside the Orthodox communion who nevertheless hold and practice many things in common with Orthodox dogmatic and sacramental understandings (including their moral implications) in good faith do not benefit in any way from that, i.e., that they cannot grow in holiness and will have no spiritual advantage over nominal Orthodox. On the contrary, they certainly do in the sense that they are benefitting from the measure of Orthodoxy/orthodoxy they have by putting it into practice in their lives. As I understand him, Robert is drawing up a comparison for purposes of making some distinctions of tendency. This is not black and white in the sense that God’s thoroughly gracious Spirit is at work wherever and in whatever way people are willing for Him to work to bring about their salvation/sanctification (as Christ said, “The Spirit blows where He wills . . . “). That does not necessarily mean they are yet exactly where He would like to ultimately take them in terms of their relationship with Him and His Church (this can be as true in the personal holiness sense of those formally within the Orthodox Church as it is of those outside her visible boundaries).

            I would argue that Orthodox traditions are not “special,” they are thoroughly biblical (though biblical as interpreted by historic Councils of bishops during the period in which all orthodox* Christians were dogmatically and sacramentally united through their bishops (not, perhaps, by certain modern Protestant splinter group’s interpretation), and they are certainly not “secret.”

            *”Orthodox” (small o) by most conservative Christians’ definition–and certainly any Anglican or Lutheran definition.

            Anyway, hope this helps some.


      • Tim Enloe

        Is that the same Tertullian who, in Prescription Against the Heretics 3 said “We don’t prove the faith by the persons, but the persons by the Faith” – thus saying that the truth of a message is not determined by the people saying it (e.g., “Apostolic Successors”), but their truth by the message? What do you think of that?

        • Jnorm

          Tim Enloe,

          I am familiar with what you quoted. However, in order to know what Tertullian meant by the terms “rule of faith”, “the faith”…..etc. in his “Prescription against Heretics”, We will have to jump to chapters 20 through 42. I won’t quote all 22 chapters, but I will quote a handful for it is important to see the importance of the Visible Church in all of this, and the reliability of the transmission of the Faith from the first century up to Tertullians day. You see, the Faith is not just a message disconnected from the worldwide visible community in communion. And so when he talks about people leaving the faith for the otherside, he is mainly talking about people leaving the Church for the various heretical groups he is writing against.


          Quote: (from chapter 20)
          “they obtained the promised power of the Holy Ghost for the gift of miracles and of utterance; and after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judæa, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.”

          Quote: (from chapter 21)
          “Chapter 21. All Doctrine True Which Comes Through the Church from the Apostles, Who Were Taught by God Through Christ. All Opinion Which Has No Such Divine Origin and Apostolic Tradition to Show, is Ipso Facto False.
          From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for “no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach— that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached— in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them— can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”

          Quote: (from chapter 26)
          “Much less, when churches were advanced in the faith, would they have withdrawn from them anything for the purpose of committing it separately to some few others. Although, even supposing that among intimate friends, so to speak, they did hold certain discussions, yet it is incredible that these could have been such as to bring in some other rule of faith, differing from and contrary to that which they were proclaiming through the Catholic churches, — as if they spoke of one God in the Church, (and) another at home, and described one substance of Christ, publicly, (and) another secretly, and announced one hope of the resurrection before all men, (and) another before the few; although they themselves, in their epistles, besought men that they would all speak one and the same thing, and that there should be no divisions and dissensions in the church, 1 Corinthians 1:10 seeing that they, whether Paul or others, preached the same things. Moreover, they remembered (the words): “Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than this comes of evil;” Matthew 5:37 so that they were not to handle the gospel in a diversity of treatment.”

          From Chapters 27 and 29
          “Chapter 27. Granted that the Apostles Transmitted the Whole Doctrine of Truth, May Not the Churches Have Been Unfaithful in Handing It On? Inconceivable that This Can Have Been the Case.
          Since, therefore, it is incredible that the apostles were either ignorant of the whole scope of the message which they had to declare, or failed to make known to all men the entire rule of faith, let us see whether, while the apostles proclaimed it, perhaps, simply and fully, the churches, through their own fault, set it forth otherwise than the apostles had done. All these suggestions of distrust you may find put forward by the heretics. They bear in mind how the churches were rebuked by the apostle: “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1 and, “You did run so well; who has hindered you?” Galatians 5:7 and how the epistle actually begins: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him, who has called you as His own in grace, to another gospel.” Galatians 1:6 That they likewise (remember), what was written to the Corinthians, that they “were yet carnal,” who “required to be fed with milk,” being as yet “unable to bear strong meat;” who also “thought that they knew somewhat, whereas they knew not yet anything, as they ought to know.” 1 Corinthians 8:2 When they raise the objection that the churches were rebuked, let them suppose that they were also corrected; let them also remember those (churches), concerning whose faith and knowledge and conversation the apostle “rejoices and gives thanks to God,” which nevertheless even at this day, unite with those which were rebuked in the privileges of one and the same institution.

          Chapter 28. The One Tradition of the Faith, Which is Substantially Alike in the Churches Everywhere, a Good Proof that the Transmission Has Been True and Honest in the Main.
          Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, John 14:26 and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; John 15:26 grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles—is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?

          Chapter 29. The Truth Not Indebted to the Care of the Heretics; It Had Free Course Before They Appeared. Priority of the Church’s Doctrine a Mark of Its Truth.
          In whatever manner error came, it reigned of course only as long as there was an absence of heresies? Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free. During the interval the gospel was wrongly preached; men wrongly believed; so many thousands were wrongly baptized; so many works of faith were wrongly wrought; so many miraculous gifts, so many spiritual endowments, were wrongly set in operation; so many priestly functions, so many ministries, were wrongly executed; and, to sum up the whole, so many martyrs wrongly received their crowns! Else, if not wrongly done, and to no purpose, how comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? That there were Christians before Christ was found? That there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality. Absurd enough, however, is it, that heresy should be deemed to have preceded its own prior doctrine, even on this account, because it is that (doctrine) itself which foretold that there should be heresies against which men would have to guard! To a church which possessed this doctrine, it was written— yea, the doctrine itself writes to its own church— “Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.”

          Chapter 30. Comparative Lateness of Heresies.”


          That should be enough. Now if we go back to chapter Three we will see that “the faith” is not just a message, but it is also connected to the visible Church itself, and so when someone leaves the faith for the otherside, they are leaving the Church. And so the person doesn’t prove the faith right, it is the Christian Faith that proves the person right. This is one of the reasons why we wait when it comes to canonizing someone as a Saint. Why? Because it is the Faith that proves the person right.

          What is so sad is that Tertullian should of heeded his own advice for he ended up embracing Montanism.

          Chapter 3


          “Chapter III.—Weak People Fall an Easy Prey to Heresy, Which Derives Strength from the General Frailty of Mankind. Eminent Men Have Fallen from Faith; Saul, David, Solomon. The Constancy of Christ.

          It is usual, indeed, with persons of a weaker character, to be so built up (in confidence) by certain individuals who are caught by heresy, as to topple over into ruin themselves. How comes it to pass, (they ask), that this woman or that man, who were the most faithful, the most prudent, and the most approved. in the church, have gone over to the other side?

          Who that asks such a question does not in fact reply to it himself, to the effect that men whom heresies have been able to pervert
          ought never to have been esteemed prudent, or faithful, or approved? This again is, I suppose, an extraordinary thing, that one who has been approved should afterwards fall back? Saul, who was good beyond all others, is afterwards subverted by envy.

          David, a good man “after the Lord’s own heart,” is guilty afterwards of murder and adultery. Solomon, endowed by the Lord with all grace and wisdom, is led into idolatry, by women.
          For to the Son of God alone was it reserved to persevere to the last without sin. But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth?

          Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith? No one is wise, no one is faithful, no one excels in dignity, but the Christian; and no one is a Christian but he who perseveres even to the end.”

          Tim Enloe,

          The context of chapter 3 has to do with those who either left the faith for a heretical group or who fell into heresy while still in the Church. In this situation, Tertullian is saying that it is not the person who proves the faith true, as if their new found heresy is now the new rule of faith. No, it is the Faith that proves the person true and so it is vital for the person to persevere in the Faith to the end.

          Eastern Orthodoxy’s understanding of Apostolic Succession isn’t limited to the laying on of hands alone. No, it also includes what Tertullian was talking about in chapters 20 through 42 in his Prescription against Heretics.

          Nestorius was a bishop, yet he was declared heretical, and so we know that the laying on of hands alone isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to safe-guarding the faith. Unlike Rome, we don’t have infallible bishops. Our bishops can error.

          A good e-book to read when it comes to our understanding of Apostolic Succession is http://www.conciliarpress.com/apostolic-succession-pdf.html by Fr. Gregory Rogers

          from pages 32 – 34
          “”In Augustine’s mind, therefore, the Donatists were within the apostolic succession. Their bishops had been consecrated by bishops who had been validly consecrated, and because the sacrament confers an indelible grace, they retain valid orders. Further, the Donatist bishops retained the ability to pass on valid orders to those they ordained. A subtle shift has taken place in the concept of apostolic succession. In the earlier patristic view the Church itself, the eucharistic community, was the bearer of the succession. The individual bishop participated in and carried the succession because of his office as head of the apostolic community. For Augustine, each individual bishop carries within himself the indelible mark of apostolic succession and is able in and of himself to pass it on, whether or not he has remained in communion with the Catholic Church. Thus, apostolic succession becomes a matter of episcopal “pedigree,” of who ordained whom, rather than of integration into a community which is itself apostolic. Continuity was disconnected from community. If the validity of the apostolic succession resides in the individual bishop, whether or not he is connected to the community, some means needed to be developed to determine whether or not a particular bishop is within the succession. In the Western Church four criteria were developed to determine the validity of a consecration. Three are exoteric (exterior) criteria. The fourth is esoteric (interior).

          (1) Form: The consecration must be done in the context of the eucharistic liturgy to be valid. This emphasizes the connection of the ordination with the community. A consecration done secretly in the bishop’s study, for example, would not be a valid consecration.

          (2) Matter: There must be an actual laying on of hands by a bishop during the liturgy. Prayer is not sufficient in and of itself.

          (3) Minister: The one who performs the consecration must himself be a validly consecrated bishop within the apostolic succession.

          (4) Intention: The intent of the laying on of hands and the prayer within the liturgy must be to ordain or consecrate the person to holy orders. One could conceivably lay hands on someone during the liturgy for prayer for healing, for blessing, or for some other worthy purpose, without intent to ordain. This criterion removes the possibility of someone claiming to be a bishop or priest simply because he had received the “laying on of hands” in the liturgy. The intent must be to ordain.

          In modern Western Christian thinking, if these criteria were met in a consecration, a bishop is within the apostolic succession and may ordain others who are within the succession, whether or not he remains in communion with the Church. This has led to the proliferation of numerous groups, usually small, who claim to be in the apostolic succession but are in communion with no one. These bishops are called episcopi vagantes, wandering bishops. The Orthodox Church, following the earlier patristic tradition, holds that apostolic succession is carried by the community. To be within the succession, a bishop must be properly elected by the diocese he is to administrate, be approved by the legitimate governing synod to which he will be accountable, be consecrated by bishops within the Orthodox Church, and remain faithfully in communion with the Orthodox Church. Once a bishop leaves the Church in schism, the Church is not obligated to recognize any consecrations or ordinations he performs. Thus, for the Orthodox, the episcopi vagantes are not within the succession. Nor are the Anglicans or the Roman Catholics necessarily seen as fully in the succession, although in practice the Church has received Catholic priests without requiring them to be ordained in the Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox, to be a part of the eucharistic community of the unbroken One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is to be in the apostolic succession. To separate from it is to be outside the succession, no matter by whom one was ordained.”

          So as you can see, what we say is from both Saint Irenaeus, as well as from Tertullian.

          • robertar

            Whoa, JNorm! This is one long comment. I ran it through a word count and it came out close to 3,000 words. I’ve approved it but for the sake of our audience if the future try to keep your comments brief. My recent reply to Tim was close to thousand words. And I felt it was long but I also thought it was important to respond to Tim’s points. The main thing is to keep a discussion going on this website. One problem with the Internet is that long comment threads can be tedious and overwhelming. But I commend you for your zeal.


          • Jnorm


            Ok! I’ll try and keep it within five hundred words or less in the future.

            I’ll cut back on the actual quotes. I’ll just give a link next time and mention the page numbers or chapters or I will just do a better job in finding what’s really essential in a given quote.

            Sorry for the long post. It won’t happen again.

          • Tim Enloe

            I started reading this comment, but didn’t get far before I ran into a lecture about how “the Faith” is not a message disconnected from the visible community.

            Stop right there. The reason you think I have a problem with the message being tied to the visible community is simply because (1) you identify “the visible community” with the Orthodox Church and (2) you assume that Protestants have no visible community but only an “invisible church.” I doubt I can persuade you that (1) isn’t true, but you need desperately to dump (2) if you ever hope to grasp historic, classical Protestantism and properly distinguish it from its modern mutations that go by the same name.

            The idea of “the invisible church” is not what it used to be; like sola Scriptura and sola fide, it has been severely (and deleteriously) mutated in the American context. In classic Western thought, taken from Augustine’s City of God, “the invisible church” is just the body of all the elect. Only God knows who the elect are – hence, only God can see the invisible church until the end, when we will all see it by reason of the final separation of sheep and goats.

            In other words, the invisible church, classically speaking, is NOT the idea that the only thing that matters is the invisible elect, and all traditions, institutional structures, and other aspects of public Christian life are irrelevant and dispensable. To be sure, many people who today call themselves “Protestants” believe this, but if you know the history of the mutations of the broad stream of 16th century reform work (as I outlined in another comment to you below), you will not confuse this sort of drivel, how ever widespread it is, with real Protestant thought.

            I don’t need a lecture on the reality of the visible church. I don’t need a lecture on how the Faith is more than words being beamed from a preacher’s brain into mine. I don’t need a lecture on the usefulness of traditions and old institutional structures. I already had all of that before I began to orbit Anglicanism, for I was not part of radical, sectarian, free-spirit “Protestantism” that you all so frequently, and quite clumsily, mash all together with the principles of the Reformation of the 16th century.

    • robertar


      Thank you for your positive assessment of this post and your tough questions which help bring to light issues important to both sides.

      My usage of “Protestantism” in a broad sense reflects conventional scholarship. The entry for “Protestantism” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter Elwell) has the following:

      In its broadest sense Protestantism denotes the whole movement within Christianity that originated in the sixteenth century Reformation and later focused in the main traditions of Reformed church life– Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist/Presbyterian), and Anglican-Episcopalian (although Anglicanism par excellence claims to be both Catholic and Protestant)– at Speyer in 1529 in dissenting from a clamp- [???] tional, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, and many others, down to modern African Independent churches).

      Furthermore, the entry for “Protestantism” in The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by J.D.D. Douglas) defined it in terms of the core beliefs then lists: Lutheranism, Calvinism, Puritanism, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism as individual Protestant churches.

      Despite the apparent editorial glitch in Elwell’s dictionary entry, it is clear that the term Protestantism cannot be restricted to the sixteenth century form that you seem to be clinging to. I am following conventional usage with respect to the term “Protestantism,” whereas you are not.

      It must be recognized that Protestant Christianity is a very fluid movement. I have tried to sensitive to this fact through the use of phrases like “the magisterial Reformation” to denote the original Reformers and distinguish them from later Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Protestantism’s fluidity has made it a challenge to describe discipleship among Protestants. ‘Nicodemus’ and I have tried to paint a picture of Protestantism using broad strokes. Your journey from broad Evangelicalism to liturgical Anglicanism sounds to me much like a movement from the broad center of the canvas to one of its corner. High church Anglicanism may be part of the Protestant canvas but it’s not the main picture.

      I’m amused by your agnosticism over whether or not Anglicanism is Protestant. According to numerous sources Anglicanism is part of Protestantism. Your uncertainty also suggests a lack of a clear definition of Protestantism on your part.

      Your Protestant bias is very clear in your objections to the extra-biblical spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Church. The intent of the posting was primarily descriptive. We did not want to argue the superiority of one tradition over the other. We tried to keep polemics to a minimum in this post. But let me quote one of your objections to extra-biblical traditions. You write:

      How is this possible if we NEED all this Special Orthodox Tradition?


      What I’m denying is the assertion often made here that these Special Traditions are NECESSARY for growth in grace.  

      My impression is that you are taking the extra-biblical traditions out of context. For the Orthodox what is necessary for growth in grace is being united with Christ. We grow in grace through life in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Life in the Church means participating in its common worship and its spiritual disciplines. If one wants to join the Orthodox Church one must accept its doctrines, its worship, its leadership, as well as its spiritual practices. They are all part of the same package called Tradition.

      Let me boil it down very simply: (1) To be united to Christ we need to be in the true Church and (2) Belonging to the Orthodox Church (if it is the true Church) entails accepting its spiritual disciplines and the role of the priest to oversee your spiritual growth. One can attend catechism classes about Orthodoxy but until one is ready to accept its spiritual disciplines one is not ready to become Orthodox.

      So the real issue between you and me is not extra-biblical traditions but our ecclesiology. Your ecclesiology is a combination of the branch model and the invisible church both of which assumes that all that is necessary is faith in Christ and the Bible. Orthodox ecclesiology views the church as an eucharistic community presided over by the bishop the recipient of Apostolic Tradition. The Eucharist is the center of Orthodox piety and the extra-biblical disciplines are supplementary to the Eucharist. To give an example, if you were to visit the doctor would you object to having your skin wiped with alcohol prior to receiving an injection? It’s the injection that delivers the medication we need but the alcohol wipe down is a ‘necessary’ supplementary treatment. Many of the spiritual disciplines in Orthodoxy can promote spiritual growth and can help prepare one for receiving Holy Communion, but ultimately it is through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist our spiritual lives are sustained.

      For the Orthodox the Bible is very important for our spiritual growth. That is why the first half of the Liturgy is focused on the reading of Scripture. The Liturgy is pervaded by Scriptural references. Becoming Orthodox did not mean that I stopped reading the Bible or consider the Bible as divinely inspired and authoritative word of God. What happened is that I no longer read the Bible on my own but allowed my Scripture reading to be informed by the Church.

      We don’t have secret passwords as you alleged. Unlike the early Gnostics, the catechetical practices of Orthodoxy spells out what is entailed in becoming Orthodox. Unlike the early Gnostics, we don’t claim a secret knowledge conveyed through a mystical chain that goes back to the “true” teachings of Christ. Eastern Orthodoxy has been open about the historicity of its chain of apostolic succession. We cite the early church fathers as evidence for the antiquity of our spiritual practices. I’m sure there are many Protestants who are more devoted to prayer, who read the Bible more often, and who live exemplary lives that put many Orthodox Christians to shame. Nominalism is widespread in many Orthodox parishes and we can learn much from the examples set by Protestant Christians.

      You accuse Orthodox of sounding like “a clique of Gnostic elites rather than Christians.” That is very strong language. I suspect that you are offended because we don’t accept Protestants as a valid branch of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” confessed in the Nicene Creed. We don’t and we can’t because the branch theory of the church is a recent innovation. I recognize you as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ but I cannot accept your Anglican parish as part of the church confessed in the Nicene Creed. To hold to a branch theory of the church is very Anglican but has no backing by the early church fathers or the ecumenical councils. In this sense Anglicanism has introduced a significant doctrinal innovation that Orthodoxy cannot accept. If you believe that I am wrong please feel free to show me the evidence.

      Holding to the Orthodox position does not make one part of an “Enlightened Group.” If anything it makes one part of a long historic tradition. There is the danger of course that it could lead to the sin of spiritual pride; this is something that converts are especially vulnerable to. It is imperative that Orthodox Christians affirm that the Orthodox Church is the true Church with humility. But is it not possible that Protestants are vulnerable to the spirit of rebelliousness when they claim to be a valid branch of the church?

      But the question for me here is: Is the Orthodox Church the true Church? When I came to the conclusion that it was the true Church and that I needed to belong to that Church then it followed logically I would accept the spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Church. You could incorporate all the spiritual disciplines described in this posting but it still wouldn’t make you an Orthodox Christian. To be an Orthodox Christian is to accept the Tradition of the Church and to live under her bishops the guardians of Tradition.

      Sola Scriptura can take you in several directions. It can take you towards high church Anglicanism or to minimalist Puritanism. It can take you to Congregationalism or the Anglican tradition with its episcopacy. It can take you to the Zwinglian symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper or to the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. As a Protestant you are a free agent with respect to liturgy, church government, and spiritual discipline. Orthodoxy on the other hand in Holy Tradition presents an integrated paradigm of Christian discipleship that is fundamentally ecclesial and Eucharistic in approach. I’m sure that you and I would agree that the goal of the Christian life is union with Christ but how to get there is where we differ.

      • Kevin D. Johnson

        Ah. See. There’s an Internet rule somewhere that the one who uses a dictionary first to defend his use of words loses the argument–or at least there should be such a rule.

        Here’s the point–yes, we can speak of Protestantism broadly as the dictionaries do but you can’t relegate to all of Protestantism this lack of sacramental or liturgical character you’d like to charge it with. The point is that your conception of Protestantism is overly general and all too convenient for your point of view. Low church evangelicals might be indicted by your words, but Anglicans, Lutherans, and even many Presbyterians would likely say otherwise–to speak as if they’re all the same simply because they’re not Orthodox is a mistake of gigantic proportion. It ignores the diversity present within Protestantism and it’s one reason why you’ll see me use the term classical Protestant when I’m referring to principles or practices that are closer to the actual Reformation than what we might see in some circles today. And, the particular dictionary above is wrong to include Baptists and others who hail from more distinctly radical traditions than original classical Protestantism. Protestantism may be their source of origin historically but we cannot really call them faithful Protestants when they deny much if not most of what the Reformation was about in the first place.

        Liturgical Anglicanism as you call it is not one tiny corner of Protestantism but in many respects represents more of a center and that is especially true if our analysis of said groups is confined to English-speaking peoples and America and represents the historic identity of what it means to be Protestant hailing back to the Reformation. If anything, the evangelical faddishness you and others here decry is representative of radical corners that seem all too present in America but have had less play in the world. This is why you get critical reaction back from us–you’re just not playing fair by pretending that Protestantism is historically and presently something other than it is.

      • Tim Enloe

        Robert, just a couple of things.

        First, trying to trump my definition of “Protestant” with a dictionary is a little juvenile. If you want to play games with words, I would note something your dictionary didn’t: that the original derivation of the word “Protestant” is the 1529 Diet of Speyer, at which only the Lutherans were present – so if we want to be utterly picky, then we’re both wrong and only the Lutherans are “Protestants.” The reason I argue with you about your use of the word is precisely because you, like most converts, make the thing as big a net as possible so that you can scoop as many contradictory things as possible, only to then turn ’round and reduce all those things to the lowest common denominator that is useful for your critiques. I’m not saying you’re being dishonest in this; just imprecise. And it is in the imprecisions that much of the problem with your critiques lie.

        Second, my “agnosticism” about whether Anglicans are Protestants is only because I’m new to Anglicanism and don’t understand all the family relationships in it. I’ve seen Anglicans in the past deny that Anglicanism is “Protestant,” presumably because “Anglican” literally means “English Church” and they believe that that thing goes all the way back to the time of the Apostles – hence it is not “Protestant” if “Protestant” comes from the 16th century. I’ve seen other Anglicans, though, who don’t have trouble using the word “Protestant.” So be amused all you like. How familiar are YOU with Anglicanism? Any more than me? I’ll wager not.

        Third, I don’t know what you mean by “invisible church.” I know what it means historically and I know what it means since the proliferation of mutations of Reformation theology in America, but I need to know what YOU mean by it before I can agree that you’ve accurately characterized my ecclesiology as “a combination of the branch theory and the invisible church.”

        Fourth, point taken as to the Gnostics of history and their actually secret traditions. Mainly by saying that to Jnorm, I was trying to generate some thought on your parts about your combative rhetoric towards others. I’m rather weary of hearing about how you want to build bridges, only to then continually hear on the other hand about how NECESSARY Orthodox traditions are to REAL godliness, how we’re just poor redheaded stepchildren because we don’t have these special feast and fasts and icon veneration and the rest. It’s wearying, man. You either want to build bridges, which means you might personally have to make some compromises, or you want to use the velvet mailed glove approach to ultimately make converts. Maybe you need to decide which.

        • robertar


          There are three basic ways of approaching the issue of becoming part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church: (1) personal faith in Christ combined with right doctrine — Protestant, (2) submitting the authority of the Pope — Roman Catholic, or (3) entering into Eucharistic union with the Orthodox Church. The second and the third approaches are based upon a concrete visible structures. The first approach which is the Protestant approach does not identify the true Church with any particular structure or ecclesial community. It believes that where there are genuine regenerate believers there is the true Church. The priority given to personal faith and the minimal role played by definable structures or borders essentially points to the equating the true Church with the invisible church.

          I don’t deny that Protestantism in the broad sense has numerous visible local churches and denominations but I seriously doubt they comprise the true Church. When I was a Protestant I had a hard time equating Protestantism’s denominational jumble with the one holy catholic and apostolic church confessed in the Nicene Creed. I had accepted the Nicene Creed but my Evangelical home church never said it once! I once lead a bible study group at an Episcopalian Church and so became familiar with the Anglican tradition but I was also troubled by the pervasive liberal theology of its clergy. So, YES I am familiar with Anglicanism, its history, the BCP, the 39 Articles, and its liturgies. In my Protestant days I viewed the Congregationalist and Episcopal churches as part of the true Church because there were regenerate believers in those churches but I soon came to the realization that this was nonsensical and was a way of thinking alien to historic Christianity.

          So, to answer your question what do I mean by the invisible church model, my answer is that the invisible church model assumes that where there are individuals who have genuine faith in Christ and are gathered with other like minded individuals there is the Church. The logic of this model leads us to the position that the true Church can be found in the many denominational groups. The branch model assumes that the denominational boundaries don’t really matter or that they are negotiable; one can cross denominational boundaries and still be in the true Church. THAT is what I meant when I characterized your ecclesiology as a “combination of the branch theory and the invisible church.” Let me put forward a practical question: Where do you stand with regards to closed communion and denominational diversity? Do you hold to open communion irregardless of denominational affiliation? Or do you believed in closed communion?

          The branch theory is contrary to the ecclesiology of the early Church then and the Orthodox Church today. When I became Orthodox I had to renounce the branch theory. I still maintain close ties with many of my Evangelical friends and I admire their faith in Jesus Christ, but I now view their churches as voluntary Christian associations. When I became Orthodox I rejected the branch theory and came to recognize that the true Church is the visible Orthodox Church. In recent years there have been individuals, pastors, and even congregations that have entered into the Orthodox Church. In that sense the Orthodox Church is not exclusive but inclusive and welcoming to those who are willing to accept Holy Tradition.

          I admire your tenacious defense of Protestantism and your willingness to speak for Protestantism but please keep in mind that I started this site as an outreach for Reformed Christians and Evangelicals who are interested in Eastern Orthodoxy but have questions and concerns about Orthodoxy. You may not be part of my target audience but I believe that your tough questions and your attempt to be open and fair are doing a lot of good for the lurkers out there. For this I want to say ‘Thank you very much.’


  5. Jnorm

    Tertullian on rules and customs not mentioned in Scripture that christians observed.

    “This treatise, therefore, will not be for those who not in a proper condition for inquiry, but for those who, with the real desire of getting instruction, bring forward, not a question for debate, but a request for advice. For it is from this desire that a true inquiry always proceeds; and I praise the faith which has believed in the duty of complying with the rule, before it has learned the reason of it. An easy thing it is at once to demand where it is written that we should not be crowned. But is it written that we should be crowned? Indeed, in urgently demanding the warrant of Scripture in a different side from their own, men prejudge that the support of Scripture ought no less to appear on their part. For if it shall be said that it is lawful to be crowned on this ground, that Scripture does not forbid it, it will as validly be retorted that just on this ground is the crown unlawful, because the Scripture does not enjoin it. What shall discipline do? Shall it accept both things, as if neither were forbidden? Or shall it refuse both, as if neither were enjoined? But “the thing which is not forbidden is freely permitted.” I should rather say(2) that what has not been freely allowed is forbidden.

    CHAP. III.

    And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent. To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism.(3) When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up (as new-born children),(4) we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike.(5) As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on

    seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign.(1)

    CHAP. IV.

    “If, for these and other such rules, you insist
    upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be
    held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and
    faith as their observer.
    That reason will support tradition, and custom, and
    faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has.
    Meanwhile you will believe that there is some reason to which submission is

    Don’t forget what Paul said in Thessalonians about following not only his letters but his words as well.
    2 Thessalonians 2:15
    “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

    Also, don’t forget what Paul told the Corinthians and Philippians about following his example.
    1 Corinthians 11:1
    “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

    Philippians 3:17
    “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

    And so, not only do we have his church plants following his letters, and words for we have them also following his life example as a person as well.

    If what Tertullian said was true of his day, which was the late 2nd century to early 3rd century, and if in the mid 1st century Saint Paul told Timothy to follow his words as well as his letters, then this should mean that Paul never had in mind a Scripture alone idea in 2nd Tim 3:16

    2nd Tim 3:16
    “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Is Scripture primary? Yes! Is Scripture alone? No! Does the New Testament go into detail about how Christians worshiped? Isn’t gathering to worship God necessary for a Christian?

    • Tim Enloe

      Well, I just have to ask you what you mean by “Scripture alone.” The definition of sola Scriptura, classically speaking, is that Scripture is alone the infallible rule of faith, NOT, as it frequently is in Modern Protestant circles, that Scripture is alone the rule of faith. The former position has room for extra-biblical traditions; the latter does not. I don’t hold to the latter.

      • Jnorm


        Are you including Zwingly when you say Classical protestant? Drake Shelton showed me where Zwingly formed his view a year before Martin Luther:
        What Drake told me in the comment section
        “Zwingle had his distinctive Reformation principles hammered out and written down and preached them in 1516, a year before Luther’s Theses. See pg 213 of this book by Cunningham”

        I could be wrong, but it would seem as if the modern American evangelical protestant view of Sola Scriptura is a form of the Classical Protestant view of Zwingly for where did the later Anabaptists get their view from?

        If your view of Sola Scriptura is different then it’s probably more Lutheran in nature. But now that you’re becoming Anglican, the Prima Scriptura view of the Caroline Divines might be in your midst! Well, depending on what kind of Anglican group you are getting yourself into. For not all Anglicans are the same.

        • Tim Enloe

          I don’t know as much about Zwingli as I do about Luther and Calvin, but my impression is that Z. is more on the radical end of the multi-pronged reform work that was going on in the 16th century.

          As I see it, the Anabaptists got their view of Scripture from the “primitivist” trends that went all the way back into the early post-apostolic age – i.e., the anti-philosophy tirades of some of the early Fathers, who wanted Scripture to trump everything else in the sense that nothing else had any input into what Christians could believe. Throughout the Middle Ages in the West, there was what Gordon Leff has termed “the heresy of the free spirit.” This was essentially a Donatist-like view of purity combined with a Pelagian-like view of the intellect’s grasp of truth. This “free spirit” idea manifested itself repeatedly in little groups of self-identified “Pure Christians” splitting off from the main body of catholic Christians, which they took to be too impure to ever be reformed and against which they, as “free spirits,” protested.

          Thus the early Anabaptists met together in private homes, and, reading the Bible according to their own lights, concluded that infant baptism wasn’t “biblical” and so they all had to be rebaptized. This “free spirit” heresy got worse and worse as Anabaptism progressed, and it had cousins in the anti-Trinitarians like Servetus and the various rationalistic sects. Eventually the “free spirit” heresy migrated to America, through the Pilgrims mainly, and easily combined with post-Revolutionary War enthusiasm for “democracy” in the sense of rejection of outside authorities (i.e., “tradition,” educated clergy, commentaries on the Scriptures, etc.) to produce what Philip Schaff called “the host of sects” masquerading as Protestants.

          It is this “primitivist” and “free spirit” view of the Bible that most self-described “Protestants” hold today, even many in Reformed circles, and it’s that that you all are trying (rightly) to attack in your criticisms. From my seat, it looks like most of you fail to grasp the historical mutations that I outlined above, and so you ultimately fail to say much that is cogent to people like Kevin and I (who are by no means alone) who understand what “sola” Scriptura actually means.

          • Jnorm

            Tim said:
            I don’t know as much about Zwingli as I do about Luther and Calvin, but my impression is that Z. is more on the radical end of the multi-pronged reform work that was going on in the 16th century.

            Didn’t the Anabaptists come from Zwingli? Weren’t they influenced by him?

            Tim said:
            As I see it, the Anabaptists got their view of Scripture from the “primitivist” trends that went all the way back into the early post-apostolic age”

            Hmm, are you sure the trend goes back that far? What exactly did you have in mind? For I was only able to trace it(a primitivist tendency) back to the western Monastic Reformation movements. The 11th or 12th century on up.

            Tim said:
            “the anti-philosophy tirades of some of the early Fathers, who wanted Scripture to trump everything else in the sense that nothing else had any input into what Christians could believe. “

            Who did you have in mind? I already showed how Tertullian(I don’t consider him a father, but who did you have in mind) advocated traditions outside of Scripture. Also, even in the area of philosophy, Tertullian wasn’t that anti, for even he was influenced by philosophy and made use of certain philosophical schools of thought and tools. As seen here:
            “Life and Learning in the Great Christian Traditions” (watch parts 1 and 2)

            I’m real familiar with the Christianity of the first 4 to 5 centuries, so who did you have in mind?

            Tim said:
            “Throughout the Middle Ages in the West, there was what Gordon Leff has termed “the heresy of the free spirit.” This was essentially a Donatist-like view of purity combined with a Pelagian-like view of the intellect’s grasp of truth. This “free spirit” idea manifested itself repeatedly in little groups of self-identified “Pure Christians” splitting off from the main body of catholic Christians, which they took to be too impure to ever be reformed and against which they, as “free spirits,” protested.”

            I don’t know that much about the “free spirits”. Maybe they were known by another name or names by different authors? I don’t know, but I will look them up and read about them. Thanks for mentioning them.

            Tim said:
            “From my seat, it looks like most of you fail to grasp the historical mutations that I outlined above, and so you ultimately fail to say much that is cogent to people like Kevin and I (who are by no means alone) who understand what “sola” Scriptura actually means.”

            Your understanding of Sola Scriptura sometimes sound like Prima Scriptura when you say stuff like:
            “The former position has room for extra-biblical traditions; the latter does not.”

            But in going back and forth with you, I’ve noticed that this:
            “The definition of sola Scriptura, classically speaking, is that Scripture is alone the infallible rule of faith,”

            Can devolve into this:

            as it frequently is in Modern Protestant circles, that Scripture is alone the rule of faith.

            1.) If Scripture alone is the only infallible rule of faith then why go outside of it since it alone is the only source one can really trust?

            2.) If Scripture alone is the only infallible rule of faith then why go outside of it when it comes to the issue of what is necessary for Salvation?

            3.) If Scripture alone is the only infallible rule of faith then why go outside of it when it comes to Christology being essential?

            In our other conversation, you seemed to undermine the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. So are we really getting Sola Scriptura wrong? Yes, we know that you and Keven say “The former position has room for extra-biblical traditions;”, but if non of those extra-traditions are necessary and essential then it’s easy to see why your interpretation of Sola Scriptura can slide into the other interpretation of Sola Scriptura.

  6. robertar

    Tim & ALL,

    The introductory paragraph reveal the Blog’s intent to contrast Orthodox & Reformed approaches to Christian discipleship.

    “While it is true that compared to broader Evangelicalism, neither Orthodox nor Reformed traditions have been known to be champions for Discipleship programs, both are bound to the Great Commission mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). So the subject of Discipleship offers an excellent opportunity to highlight some similarities and differences between the two traditions.”

    Clearly, we had no intention to engage High Church Anglo-Catholicism found in Liberal Anglicanism. Also, Robert’s Orthodox-Reformed Bridge blog is a meeting place for open dialogue with Reformed communions, and secondarily, High-Church Lutheranism. Tim and Kevin can talk themselves into whatever “Protestant” fantasy land of their own creation. But Robert has no need to apologize for using Theological Dictionaries. Indeed, those rejecting historically accepted definitions for their own bizarre constructs bear the burden of proof. The Blog article pointed openly to differences in Evangelical and Reformed communities, though they hold some things in common – like Sola Scriptura, clearly defined in the fourth paragraph (see here). Is this not also characteristic of all Protestantism?

    “Bleeding Scripture”

    “As is true of much of Evangelicalism, the central component to Reformed Discipleship is the word of God given in Holy Scripture. This is natural as one of the foundational, if not central tenets of all Protestantism is Sola Scriptura. Simply stated, the word of God, inscripturated in the written text of the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Note that this does not completely rule out other authorities, like the Church and Tradition. They can and certainly are very useful additional sources of instruction. Yet Scripture alone is the only infallible source of Truth, and thus naturally becomes dominant in all aspects of Reformed or Protestant discipleship.”

    Odds are high Robert and I both knew what Sola Scriptura was before Tim finished high-school – as well as the other Protestant Solas, which High-Church Anglo-Catholicism (Tim’s new love) is hardly zealous to champion! Oh, and there is no hint whatsoever of our demeaning the mastery of Scripture. We rather commend it. It seems Tim has a strong propensity to read his own snarkiness, into the hearts of those he considers opponents. Shall Tim find a safe haven in present day Anglicanism, not the mythical one he dreams of? (The Lord alone knows what Ecclesiastical-planet Kevin has landed on?) Once upon a time, perhaps when Bucer was in England, Tim would have had a better (Non-Orthodox) option. But no one lives in the 16th century England today…particularly our children. Modern Anglicanism is simply a mess. High-Church groups tolerate but despise the Low-Church, and neither has a solution for various sexual-orientations amongst their Clergy, male and female. Not exactly what one would normally consider a Bible-believing Protestant’s safe haven of rest.

    Of course we will not pretend Orthodoxy problem or risk-free. There are no guarantees. We do not know the future. Nevertheless, there is good reason for placing good hope in Orthodoxy’s resilient devotion to preserving Apostolic Tradition as its guardian duty, and passing that Tradition on intact to their children. Nor have the Orthodox fallen for the notion that the Church is merely a human institution of this world. She is rather a sacramental communion of the Holy Spirit, and that same Spirit which has preserved Her these past two thousand years, will continue to offer mankind rest in Her as our true Mother.


  7. Justin

    Thanks again for another helpful article.

  8. Sui

    I’ve been learning Calvinism from some fairly conservative lines of the Reformed churches in the past few years, and it’s a little confusing and concerning that I don’t quite identify with some of what you define to be Protestant and Calvinistic takes on important things biblical. Maybe what you believe to be Calvinism is more Baptist or of other denomination that are Reformed? But I like your attempt at bridging these two groups (as your website title might suggest), and though I haven’t formed my opinions on either of them, I’d like to continue reading your materials. I find, based on my first reading of this article, Orthodoxy’s emphasis seem to be more hinging on subjective experiences of what we imperfect humans can imperfectly fathom to be the mystery of God that is Christ’s salvation. Which seem to be very spiritually enriching and to me seems appealing to learn more about. The pessimistic part of me is saying, as long as a good Orthodox like you don’t quite get the Reformed (or whatever you are trying to critique on) defined broadly correctly, I wonder if your attempt at “bridging” or guiding a Protestant to cross over nearly possible…. It’s a similar kind of reaction I have whenever I hear people on my side say things like Roman Catholics are not biblical or Christian, and of same type of a blanket unsubstantiated statement about the Orthodox. Maybe I wish that you might have a stronger evidence on your critiquing of Protestantism, maybe by quoting prominent authors or something like that, that might be helpful. I look forward to reading some more.

  9. Ben

    Wow. First time reader. I found the blog post very useful in understanding the Orthodox position in a clear way so thank you for that!

    However, after reading the comments section, I can honestly say that I feel for all sides. I think all sides would agree that faith and theology can be lived out and that the bible should not be limited to an academic understanding alone. Of course – the Word of God transforms people. Reading through this, I’m just reminded of the world that Jesus was born into:

    Jesus was born a Jew – a people under the Roman Empire; a people divided from “the world” and yet divided amongst themselves. Those Jews would constantly bicker amongst themselves about all sorts and yet they had mostly missed the point.

    What did Jesus say to these people? What did Jesus teach them to pray? Who did Jesus say can enter the Kingdom of Heaven? I would implore you all to revisit the scriptures and weigh them up against the content of this comments section.

    Our human tendency to construct groupings of people based on our differences happens again and again – the bible shows us that! Why then, are we still in this situation? Hasn’t the grace of God has saved us from such arguments?

    I will make sure to pray for this situation!

    Galatians 3:26-29

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