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Orthodox Worship Versus Contemporary Worship


Willow Creek Church

Willow Creek Church

Recently, a new form of worship has become widely popular among Christians.  Where before people would sing hymns accompanied by an organ then listen to a sermon, in this new worship there are praise bands that use rock band instruments, short catchy praise songs, sophisticated Powerpoint presentations, and the pastor giving uplifting practical teachings about having a fulfilling life as a Christian.  This new kind of worship is so popular that people come to these services by the thousands.  They go because the services are fun, exciting, easy to understand, and easy to relate to.  This new style of worship is light years away from the more traditional and liturgical Orthodox style of worship.  How does an Orthodox Christian respond to this new worship?  Is it acceptable or is it contrary to Orthodoxy?  How should an Orthodox Christian respond to an invitation to attend these contemporary Christian services?


According to the Pattern

First we need to ask: Is there a guiding principle for right worship?  St. Stephen, the first martyr, gave a sermon about the history of the Jewish nation.  In this sermon he notes that Old Testament worship was “according to the pattern.”

Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert.  It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. (Acts 7:44 NIV, italics added).  

This phrase comes up again in the book of Hebrews.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.  This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  (Hebrews 8:5 NIV, italics added)

Jewish Tabernacle

Jewish Tabernacle

The phrase is a reference to Exodus 24:15-18 when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and spent forty days and forty nights up there.  On Mt. Sinai Moses was in the direct presence of God receiving instructions about how to order the life of the new Jewish nation.  Thus, the guiding principle for Old Testament worship was not creative improvisation nor adapting to contemporary culture but imitation of the heavenly prototype.

Altar of Incense

The next question is: What is the biblical pattern for worship?  In Exodus 25 to 31, Moses received instruction concerning the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the lamp stand, the altar for burnt offerings, the altar for incense, the anointing oil, the vestments for the priests, and the consecration of the priests.  The principle of “according to the pattern” was repeated several times in the design specifications for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8, 25:40, 26:30, 27:8).  This was the template for the spiritual identity of the Jewish people.  To be a faithful Jew meant that one offered to Yahweh the proper sacrifices in the prescribed manner.

Despite the clearly laid out instructions in Exodus and Leviticus, the Israelites struggled to keep to the biblical pattern of worship.  The struggle to maintain the right worship of Yahweh in the face of temptations to follow the idolatrous ways of the non-Jewish nations is a theme running through Old Testament history.  The sin of the golden calf in Exodus 32 was not the sin of heresy (wrong doctrine), but the sin of false worship.  When the northern tribes broke from Judah, Jeroboam did not create a new theology, instead he had two golden calves made and appointed non-Levites to be priests as a way of consolidating his rule (II Kings 12:25-33).  II Chronicles is a history of the struggle to maintain fidelity to Yahweh by holding to the biblical worship.  II Chronicles 21 to 24 relates how a bad king — Jehoram — led the Israelites astray through Ba’al worship and a good king — Josiah — brought them back through the restoration of the Passover sacrifice.  Apostasy in Old Testament times meant abandoning Yahweh for other gods and the chief means was the sin of idolatry (wrong worship).  The lesson here is that right worship was critical for a right relationship with God.

Thus, orthodoxy — right worship — in the Old Testament meant keeping to the pattern of worship that Yahweh revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Right worship was also key to Israel’s covenant identity.  This suggests that right worship is key to our Christian identity.  By studying how worship was defined in the Old Testament and comparing it with the Orthodox liturgy we can better understand why Orthodox worship is the way it is and how contemporary worship has strayed far from biblical worship.


Where Does Orthodox Worship Come From?

Worship in the Orthodox Church is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  Typically, an Orthodox church has three main areas: the narthex (entry hall), the nave (the central part), and the altar area.  This is similar to the Old Testament Tabernacle which consisted of the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:30-37, 27:9-19; I Kings 6:14-36; II Chronicles 3 and 4).  The layout of Orthodox churches may seem strange to those who attend contemporary services, but it is patterned after the Old Testament Temple.  As a matter of fact, Orthodox church buildings are often referred to as temples.

When we enter into an Orthodox Church we are entering into sacred space much like the Old Testament Tabernacle.  When I go to an Orthodox church on Sunday, I enter into the narthex, a small entry room.  I light a candle in front of the sacred image of Jesus Christ and commit my life to Christ in preparation for worship.  The short time I spend in the narthex helps me to shift my mind from the world outside to the heavenly worship inside.

Orthodox Church Interior

Then I enter into the nave, the large central part of the church building where the congregation gathers for worship.  All around me I see sacred images of Christ, the saints, and the angels.  This is patterned after the Jewish Temple which had images of angels, trees, and flowers carved on the walls (I Kings 6:29; II Chronicles 3:5-7).  Up in the front is a wall of sacred images (the iconostasis).  In the middle of this wall is a door with a gate across it.  This wall of images is patterned after the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jewish Temple (Exodus 26:31-33; I Kings 6:31-35).  Behind this is the altar area where the Eucharist is celebrated.  Just as the Jewish high priests offered sacrifices in the Most Holy Place at the Jerusalem Temple, the Orthodox priests offer up the spiritual sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood at the altar.  The altar area also symbolizes Paradise, the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve enjoyed deep communion with God before the Fall.  We receive Holy Communion in front of the altar reminding us that we have been restored to communion with God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Orthodox worship is also patterned after the worship in heaven.  At the start of the second half of the Divine Liturgy the church sings:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  

This is a participation of the heavenly worship described in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.  For the Orthodox Church this point of the Divine Liturgy is not so much an imitation as a participation in the heavenly worship.

Another way Orthodox worship is patterned after the heavenly worship is the use of incense.  Incense was very much a part of the heavenly worship.  In his vision of God, Isaiah describes how as the angels sang: “Holy, Holy, Holy” the doors shook and the temple in heaven was filled with incense (Isaiah 6:4).  The Apostle John in Revelation describes how the angels in heaven held bowls full of incense and how the heavenly Temple was filled with incense smoke (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 15:8).

The vestments worn by Orthodox priests are patterned after the Old Testament and the heavenly prototype.  The entire chapter 28 in Exodus contains instruction on the making of priestly vestments.  In heaven, Christ and the angels wear the priestly vestments (Revelation 1:13, 15:6).  The vestments are more than pretty decorations, rather they are meant to manifest the dignity and the beauty of holiness that adorns God’s house.


Old Testament Prophecies of Orthodox Worship

Orthodox worship is more than an imitation of Old Testament worship.  It is also a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  The Old Testament prophets besides describing the coming Messiah also described worship in the Messianic Age.  Within the book of Malachi is a very interesting prophecy:

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun.  In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord. (Malachi 1:11)

The phrase “from the rising to the setting of the sun” is a poetic way of saying from east to west — everywhere.  Here we have a prophecy that the worship of God which was formerly confined to Jerusalem would in the future become universal.  This was confirmed by Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  In response to her question whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim was the proper place for worship (John 4:19), Jesus answered that in the Messianic Age true worship would not depend on location but on worship of the Trinity.  His statement about worshiping the Father in spirit (Holy Spirit) and truth (Jesus Christ) (John 4:23-24) is a teaching that true worship is worship of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Incense and Icon of Christ

What is striking about Malachi’s prophecy is the reference to incense.  Where before incense was offered in the Jerusalem Temple, in the Messianic Age incense would be offered by the non-Jews.  One of the most vivid memories many first time visitors have of Orthodox worship is the smell of incense.  Incense is burned at every Orthodox service.  In the Roman Catholic Church incense is used in the high Mass but not in most services.  Most Evangelical and Pentecostal churches do not use incense at all.  Thus, whenever an Orthodox priest swings the censer and the sweet fragrance fills the church one experiences a direct fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.  Protestants may complain about how strange incense is, but they should realize that the use of incense was an integral part of Old Testament worship and is one of the key markers of authentic biblical worship in the Messianic Age.


Orthodox Eucharist

Orthodox Eucharist

Malachi’s prophecy about “pure offerings” is a reference to the Eucharist.  The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah comes all sacrifices would be abolished with the exception of one, the Todah or Thanksgiving sacrifice.  This was fulfilled in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that is, the last supper Christ had with his followers when he gave thanks over the bread and the wine (Luke 22:17-20).  The word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word ευχαριστειν,”to give thanks.”  Jesus’ statement about the cup of the new covenant meant that he was about to inaugurate the Messianic Age.  The Eucharist is a remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross as well as a participation in Christ’s body and blood (I Corinthians 10:16-17).  Thus, the Eucharist — the pure offerings — is another key sign of right worship in the Messianic Age.

In the last chapter of Hebrews is a strange verse that many Evangelicals and Protestants skip over:

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (Hebrews 13:10; italics added).

What the author is asserting here is that the priests and Levites working at the Jerusalem Temple have no access to the Christian Eucharist.  The Eucharist is only for those who confess Jesus as the promised Messiah and his death on the cross as the ultimate Passover sacrifice.  The reference to the altar tells us the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist on real altars and that they had priests.

Protestants today have the habit of calling the platform area altars and spiritual songs as sacrifice. This involves a significant spiritualizing of the meaning of Hebrews 13:10.  Furthermore, if we take this spiritualizing approach the phrase “have no right to eat” would not make sense.  In the early Church if one did not confess Jesus as Christ, one could not receive the Eucharist.  Contemporary Protestant worship on the other hand welcomes everybody and makes no distinction between believers and nonbelievers in its worship.  In short, the early Church’s worship style was radically different from Protestant churches that have dispensed with the altar and the idea of the Eucharist as a spiritual sacrifice.  To those who advocate contemporary worship, the Orthodox Christian can reply: We have an altar, where is yours?

An Evangelical or Charismatic visiting an Orthodox service might object to the Eucharist on the grounds that it is a re-presenting of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice.  First of all, this argument comes from the Protestant debate against Roman Catholicism.  Orthodoxy is not the same as Roman Catholicism.  Second, the idea of the Eucharist as a re-presenting of Christ’s blood is contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. In the Liturgy, the priest prays: “Once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood….” (Kezios p. 25; italics added)

For the Apostle Paul the Eucharist was just as important as the Gospel message.  As he went about planting churches across the Roman Empire, Paul taught them the Good News of Jesus Christ and how to celebrate the Eucharist.  This can be seen in Paul’s formal phrasing: “For I received from the Lord what I also pass on to you….” in I Corinthians 11:23 for the Eucharist and in I Corinthians 15:3 for the Good News (Gospel).  Paul’s phrase: “What I received from the Lord….” parallels that in Exodus 25:9: “exactly like the pattern I will show you.”  The infrequent celebration of the Eucharist in Evangelical and Pentecostal worship shows how far they have moved from historic Christian worship.

Another prophetic sign of worship in the Messianic Age is the priesthood.  The last chapter of Isaiah contains a prophecy about the time when knowledge of Yahweh would become universal among the Gentiles and God would make priests of non-Jews.

And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites, says the Lord.  (Isaiah 66:21 NIV; italics added)

Part of this great ingathering would be the consecration of Gentiles to the priesthood.  This was fulfilled when Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostles (Matthew 28:19-20).  Paul understood his work of evangelism as a “priestly duty” (Romans 15:16).  In Isaiah is another prophecy about the important role that the Gentiles would play in the rebuilding of Israel, that of the establishment of the New Israel, the Church.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins

and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

that have been devastated for generations.

Aliens will shepherd your flocks;

foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.

And you will be called priests of the Lord,

you will be named ministers of our God.  (Isaiah 61:4-6 NIV; italics added)

Isaiah’s prophecy could be understood to refer to the Jews’ return from Babylon in 538 BC, but the fact that non-Jews would be part of the rebuilding process is an indication that the prophecy points to the coming of Christ.  At the first Church council, St. James, the Lord’s stepbrother, quotes from the prophet Amos in defense of admitting non-Jews into the Church:

After this I will return

and rebuild David’s fallen tent,

Its ruins I will rebuild,

and I will restore it,

that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,

and all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things

that have been known for ages.  (Acts 15:16-17 NIV; Amos 9:11-12)

The key to understanding Isaiah’s prophecy about the priesthood is that a priest does not stand alone but in a certain context: temple, altar, and sacrifice.  This pattern of priesthood, temple, and sacrifice can be found in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV).

The Apostle Peter reiterates the teaching that the Church is a “royal priesthood” in I Peter 2:9.  This can be seen in the fact that the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist regularly on the first day of the week, Sunday.  The early Christians understood the Eucharist to be a spiritual sacrifice and had priests to lead them in worship.  Today, two thousand years later, the Orthodox Church still has priests standing at the altar offering the eucharistic sacrifice.  Contemporary worship has none of these.  Thus, Isaiah 61:6 finds its fulfillment in Orthodox worship, not contemporary worship.

Protestants may object to the Orthodox Church having priests on the grounds that because of Christ we have no need for a man to serve as a mediator with God.  This objection is based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of Orthodox worship and the office of the priest.  Basically, the priest’s role is to lead the congregation in worship.  If one listens carefully to the litanies one finds the priest addressing the congregation, For … let us pray to the Lord, and the congregation responding with, Lord have mercy.  In other words, the congregation prays with the priest, not through the priest.  As a matter of fact, in Orthodoxy the priest cannot begin the Divine Liturgy unless the laity is present.  This is based on the Orthodox Church’s understanding that the priesthood resides in the whole church, not just in the ordained clergy.  The participation of the laity is just as critical for right worship as the clergy.  This can be seen in the fact that “liturgy” comes from the Greek λειτουργεια, “leitourgeia,” which means worship and also the “work of the people.”  Jesus Christ is our Mediator and he exercises that ministry through his office as the great High Priest.  This means it is imperative that we be part of the Divine Liturgy and not off doing our own thing.

Protestants cite I Peter 2:5 as a repudiation of the priesthood.  This reading of I Peter 2:5 relies on the illogical reasoning that since we are all priests, no one is a priest.  The Protestant reading of I Peter 2:5 has resulted in churches without priests and no altars.  Historically the Christian Church has recognized the offices of deacons, priests, and bishops.  The practice of an ordained clergy has roots in the New Testament Church.  We read in Acts 1:20, “Let another take his office” (NKJV, italics added; see also I Timothy 5:17-22, II Timothy 2:2). Where for over a thousand years Christianity had priests celebrating the Eucharist on altars, after 1500 there emerged a new form of Christian worship that disavowed the priesthood and removed the altar from the sanctuary.

Anyone who compares Orthodox worship with contemporary worship will be struck by how biblical Orthodox worship is and how far contemporary worship has moved away from the Old Testament pattern.  When we take into consideration the Old Testament prophecies, the significance of liturgical worship in Orthodoxy becomes even more compelling. Orthodox worship follows the pattern of Old Testament worship and is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  This is the worship God wants in this day and age.


Was Old Testament Worship Abolished?

The Evangelical approach to worship seems to be based on the assumption that Jesus abolished the Old Testament.  Because of this Evangelicals ignore the Old Testament teaching on Tabernacle worship and focus on the New Testament for instruction on how to worship God.  The paucity of New Testament passages on worship has been taken as grounds for an anything goes approach to worship.  But, this assumption is wrong.  Jesus made it clear he did not come to abolish the old covenant but rather to fulfill it:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).  

An examination of the gospels shows Jesus’ adherence to the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Jesus was in the habit of attending the synagogue services (Mark 1:21; Mark 3:1; Mark 6:2).  Likewise, he observed the great Jewish festivals at the Temple: Passover (Luke 2:41), Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-13), and Passover (Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:7-11).  Like Jews throughout history, Jesus considered the Passover meal the highlight of the year.  Jesus told his followers: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)

In the healing of the leper we find an affirmation of Jewish Temple worship.  After healing a leper, Jesus orders him:

But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them (Mark 1:44; Matthew 8:4).

Here we find Jesus affirming: (1) the Mosaic Law, (2) the Aaronic priesthood, and (3) the offering of sacrifices at the Temple.  Nowhere do we find Jesus or his apostles disregarding the Jerusalem Temple or the Jewish forms of worship; rather we find indications they affirmed the Jewish form of worship.

Likewise, we find Jesus’ apostles continuning the Old Testament pattern of worship.  Following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the first Christians met at the Temple courts (Acts 2:36).  The Temple court was a focal point for the early Christians (Acts 5:20).  The apostles preached the Good News in hope that the Jews would accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Just as significant we find them relying on the ritual prayers used by Jews.  This can be seen in the fact that a literal translation of Greek in Acts 2:42 would be “the prayers.”  We find that Paul, like Jesus, attended the synagogue (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 19:8).  Even when Paul had become a Christian he continued to make it his habit to attend the synagogue services: As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue…. (Acts 17:2)

The Apostles of Christ showed a similar respect to the Jerusalem Temple. We read in Acts 3:1 that Peter and John attended the prayer services at the Jerusalem Temple.  In his testimony to the Jews Paul recounts how God spoke to him while he was at the Jerusalem Temple praying (Acts 22:17).  The positive regard Paul and the other Apostles had to the Jerusalem Temple can be seen in: (1) Paul’s eagerness to attend the Pentecost services in Jerusalem (Acts 20:16), (2) the Jerusalem Apostles advising Paul to take part in the purification rituals to show their loyalty to the Torah (21:22-25), and (3) Paul’s participation in the Temple rituals (Acts 21:26).

Where Evangelicals assume a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, the Orthodox Church sees a strong continuity between the two.  The Evangelicals’ assumption of a sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments has led them to ignore the Old Testament teachings on worship.  This disregard for the Old Testament is much like the early heresy of Marcionism.  Orthodox Christian worship is based upon a radical continuity.  As the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ took the Jewish forms of worship and filled them with new content and meanings.  Orthodox worship took the Jewish synagogue and Temple worship and made them Christocentric.


Where Does Contemporary Worship Come From?

The classic shape of Christian worship consists of two parts: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of Holy Communion. This was the way all Christians worshiped until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s when Martin Luther and his followers rebelled against the Roman Catholic Papacy.  It should be kept in mind that over the years the Pope had introduced changes like the Filioque clause and the dogma of transubstantiation with the result that the Roman Catholic worship diverged from that of the early Church.  The Protestant Reformers sought to reform the church but the result was not a return to the historic pattern of worship.  The Protestant teaching “the Bible alone” resulted in the sermon becoming the center of worship.  Priests were replaced by Bible expositors, and the altar was replaced by the podium.  This marked a decisive break from the historic form of Christian worship.

But the break from historic worship did not end there.  In the early 1800s a more emotional and expressive form of worship became popular on the American frontier.  Then, in the early 1900s Pentecostalism emerged with its emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other charismatic manifestations.  Where mainstream Protestantism stressed sober singing and the rational reading of the Bible, Pentecostalism stressed ecstatic worship and experiencing the Holy Spirit.  For a long time Pentecostals were relegated to the margins of Protestantism and were derided as “holy rollers.”  Then in the 1950s Pentecostalism began make inroads among mainline Protestants, and in the 1960s among Roman Catholics.  Less demonstrative and theologically more sophisticated, this movement came to be known as the charismatic renewal.

Pentecostalism was just one of three movements that would radically transform American Protestantism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Just as influential on Protestant worship was pop music popularized by music groups like the Beatles.  The pop culture of the 1960s shaped in profound ways the values and outlooks of the baby boomer generation.  A cultural gap widened between the more traditional church services that relied on organs or pianos and had traditional hymns, and the more contemporary church services that used guitars and sang simpler and catchier praise songs.  Many churches were split as a result “worship wars” — hymns and organs versus praise bands and praise songs.

The third influential movement was the church growth movement.  Though less visible to the public eye, it influenced the way many pastors understood and ran the church.  The church growth movement brought market analysis and business techniques to the way the church was run.  With the introduction of the concept of the seeker friendly church, church worship moved away from edification of the faithful to evangelizing outsiders.  Numerical growth was seen as proof of God’s blessing.  This is exemplified by mega churches packed with thousands of enthusiastic worshipers.  However, despite its good intentions the church growth movement introduced several serious distortions.  Worship of God often became spiritual entertainment.  The sermon shifted from an exposition of Scripture to selecting Bible verses to support teachings on how to live a fulfilling life.  In seeking to tailor the Christian message to non-Christians many pastors have dumbed down their message with the result that many of their members know very little of the core doctrines.  Just as troubling is the fact that many churches have become spiritual machines that rely more organizational techniques, high tech electronics, and social psychology than the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In short, Protestant Christianity has undergone a major uprooting as a result of the influence of Pentecostalism, contemporary Christian worship, and the church growth movement.  As a result of this massive uprooting, Evangelicalism has become rootless.  The uprooting of Evangelical worship has created an opening for many new teachings and new styles of worship.  There have emerged fringe groups with strange worship practices like being slain in the Spirit, holy laughter, word of faith teachings, prayer walks, etc.  Some may believe these new forms of worship may presage a great spiritual revival that will sweep the world but it could also be a sign of a spiritual collapse of Protestant Christianity.


What Would the Apostle Paul Think?

If the Apostle Paul were to walk into an Orthodox liturgy, he would immediately recognize where he was — in a Christian church.  The key give away would be the Eucharist.  This is because the Eucharist was central to Christian worship.  In the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the early Christians met in homes and celebrated “the breaking of bread” (the Eucharist).  Paul received his missionary calling during the celebration of the liturgy (Acts 13:2 NKJV).  He made the celebration of the Eucharist a key part of his message to the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 11:23 ff.).

If Paul were to walk into a traditional Protestant service with the hymn singing, the reading of Scripture and the lengthy sermon he might think he was in a religious service much like the Jewish synagogue.  He may not have much trouble accepting it as a kind of Christian worship service, although he might question their understanding of the Eucharist.  However, if the Apostle Paul were to walk into a mega church with its praise bands and elaborate worship routine, he would likely think he was at some Greek play and seriously doubt he was at a Christian worship service.  If the Apostle Paul were to walk into a Pentecostal service he would probably think he had walked into a pagan mystery cult that had no resemblance at all to Christian worship.


Why Orthodox Worship?

A non-Orthodox might ask: What difference does it make to God how we worship?  The better question would be: What does the Bible teach about worship?  Does the Bible teach it makes a difference how we worship God?  The answer is God does care about the worship we offer Him.  We read in I Peter 2:5:

…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (NIV, italics added).

This concern for proper worship goes all the way back to Leviticus 22:29:

When you sacrifice a thank offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf (see also Leviticus 19:5) (NIV, italics added).  

If we are instructed to offer “acceptable” sacrifices, this implies we can offer improper worship that will be rejected by God.  We see this in Genesis 4:3-5 where Abel and Cain offered sacrifices to Yahweh, and one was accepted and the other rejected.  It can also be seen in Leviticus 10:1-3 where Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, died because they offered unauthorized fire to Yahweh.  In I Chronicles 13:8-10, Uzzah, a non-Levite, died because he touched the Ark of the Covenant that only Levites were allowed to handle (I Chronicles 15:11-15, Numbers 4:15). In II Chronicles 26:16-20, King Uzziah sought to offer incense to Yahewh, something only the priests could do, and suffered divine punishment.  Thus, there are consequences for not offering right worship.  In this day and age the consequence of wrong worship are less dramatic.  To offer wrong worship is to be outside the Orthodox Church and unable to receive the Eucharist.

If salvation is about a right relationship with God then worship plays an important part in having a right relationship with God.  Before the Fall Adam and Eve enjoyed unbroken communion with God; after the Fall they became alienated from God and mankind has suffered as a result.  God has been at work throughout human history working to bring us back into fellowship with him.  This work of restoration reached its climax with the coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).  The author of Hebrews stresses that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant (5:7-10; 9:9-14) and as a result of His death on the cross we are able to enter into the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19-25) and take our place in the heavenly worship (Hebrews 12:22-24).  In Revelation 7 is a description of the great ingathering of the Jews and the Gentiles in worship at the throne of God.

Our ultimate destiny is not to be Bible experts but to have communion with God.  This can be seen in a strange verse in Exodus 24:7: “…they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  In ancient times, after a covenant was ratified, the ruler and his subjects would sit down for a common meal.  Eating together was a sign of fellowship and their common life together.  This verse finds its fulfillment in the Liturgy when we feed upon Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist (John 6:53-56).  The heavenly worship described in Revelation is not in some far off future but can be experienced in the Sunday liturgy in an Orthodox church.  In Revelation 22:3 we read:

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads (NKJV).

St. Seraphim Cathedral – Dallas, Texas

The Greek word “serve” (λατρευειν) can also be translated “worship.” As we stand in worship facing the altar we behold the throne of God; this is because the altar, like theArk of the Covenant, is where God’s presence dwells.  The phrase we shall see God “face to face” finds its fulfillment when we face the altar looking at the icon of Christ the Pantocrator (the All Ruling One).  The icon is more than a religious picture, it is also a window into heaven.  Lastly, “His name shall be on their foreheads” is fulfilled in the Orthodox sacrament of chrismation where the priest anoints the foreheads of converts with sacred oil forming the sign of the cross.  Every Orthodox Christian has this spiritual seal on their forehead as a sign of their belonging to Christ.

Thus, it is not Orthodox worship that is so strange and different but contemporary worship.  Orthodox worship only seems to be strange because it is not of this world.  It is part of the worship of the eternal kingdom.  We as Orthodox Christians need to appreciate what a precious gift God has given us in the Divine Liturgy.  We should become fervent in our prayers and our commitment to following our God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We need to recognize that much of the attraction of contemporary worship comes from the fact it has taken the best the world has to offer but in so doing it has abandoned the orthodox, or right worship, God wants from us.  The best response an Orthodox Christian can make to an invitation to visit a contemporary worship service is: “Come and see!” Many people today don’t know about the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and are hungry for a real worship experience.  They need someone to invite them and be ready to explain how the Orthodox liturgy is the true worship taught in the Bible.

Robert Arakaki


  1. Lurker


    I don’t know who is mistaken, though I’m betting it’s me. You mentioned above that the Eucharist is not a re-presentation of the sacrifice. I know that Christ is not re-sacrificed on the altar but is re-presented. I’m struggling with your explanation of the sacrifice on the altar because I have heard it as a re-presentation of the crucified Christ (again, He is not re-sacrificed, i.e. no blood). Could you elaborate a bit more and help me clear this up? Something isn’t clicking for me. I’m sure it’s my own misunderstanding though.

    Other than that, well done. I hope to show this post to some friends in the future.


    • robertar


      Thanks for your positive feedback on this posting.

      Regarding your confusion, there’s always a risk in getting bogged down when we attempt to explain what is happening in the Eucharist which is why Orthodoxy prefers to say: “It’s a mystery.”

      I agree with you that Christ is not re-sacrificed on the altar. You and I are probably thinking of different things when we read the word “re-present.” My understanding is that the Last Supper was more than a simple historical event that occurred among Jesus and his disciples in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem in AD 33. As the promised Jewish Messiah, Jesus summed up all of the Old Testament Israel and its worship; as the Second Adam, Jesus represented all of humanity; and as the divine Son of God he mediated the New Covenant that would bring about our reconciliation with God the Father. In Jesus Christ the historical event of the Last Supper became the eternal Messianic Banquet. During the Liturgy the congregation gets taken up into heaven where the angels are and are brought to the heavenly altar. The Liturgy also mystically unites the congregation with the Last Supper of AD 33. It also unites us with with all other Eucharistic celebrations throughout history. As an Orthodox Christian I am in Eucharistic union with the Apostles, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius of Alexandria, Mary of Egypt, Gregory Palamas, the Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion etc.

      The point I wanted to make in my statement about the re-presenting in the Eucharist is that an Evangelical or Charismatic when they hear of Orthodoxy’s belief in the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist might infer that this means some kind of repetition of the once-and-for-all-time sacrifice Christ made on the Cross. The word “repetition” best sums up the meaning I had in mind when I used “re-present” in this blog posting. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that when I made reference to the Evangelicals and Charismatics, I left out the mainline Protestants like the Lutherans and Reformed Christians. Their historic confessions allow for some recognition of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper.

      When we look at the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we find various prayers that refer to the sacrifice of Christ. Just before the Epiclesis the priest prays silently: “Once again we offer You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.” Then before the Lord’s Prayer the priest prays for the consecrated elements: “That our loving God, having accepted them at His holy and mystical altar in heaven as an offering of spiritual fragrance, will in turn send down upon us divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray.” And before Holy Communion the priest says another silent prayer: “The Lamb of God is broken and shared, broken but not divided; forever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake of Him.” These prayers point to the awesome mystery we become part of when we receive Holy Communion.

      Wishing you a blessed Lent!

    • Margaret Mueller

      “The King James Version of Hebrews 10:12 and 10:14 reads as follows:

      ‘But He when He had offered on sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.’

      ‘For by one offering He hd perfected forever themthat are sanctified.’

      The Greek word here translated in teh KJV as well as otehr English versions ofthe Bible as ‘forever’ is the word “duhnekes”, which denotes someting to be ‘continuous’ or ‘perpetual’. In fact, never does the word dihnekes mean ‘forever’. Hence, the pssages above are mistranslated in English versions of the New Testament, including Roman Catholic translations.”

      Protestant translators have mistranslated this passage to fit their soteriology. That the one sacrifice of Christ onteh Cross is sufficient without need of partaking of the Eucharist, which they believe is largely symbolic? Orthodox Christians believe what Holy Scripture teaches, that the sacrifice offered onceont eh Cross by the Lamb of God is continuously repeated on the sacrificial altars of Orthodox Churches through the mystery of the transformation of the bread (Greek word, prosforo means ‘sacrifice’), and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ. This is why John tells us, ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and Drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ The Greek in this sentence implies a continuous action. This illuminates Hebrews 1:14 as well, which should say, “For by one offering He hath perfected them continuously that are sanctified.” In other words, the sanctification due to the sacrifice on the Cross is continued by the repeated sacrifice that takes place through the sacrament of the Eucharist.” (from Classical Christianity, July 15, 2012)

      Christ is not ‘resacrificed,’ he is continuously sacrificed in the Divine Liturgies that continue in every time zone in the world around the clock, in monestaries and parishes, as well as in the eternal Liturgy that takes place before the throne of God.

      • robertar


        Thank you for sharing this insight.


    • Ken

      Thank you very much for providing this wonderful article. I was once asked by my children, “Can you be saved in other Churches?” I replied with of course you can. God will save anyone calls upon him. Then they asked, “Then does it matter what Church I go to?”.

      I was not very well equipped at the time to give an excellent response. I really had to think about this. I wanted yes it matter but I couldn’t answer as to why. With this article,I now have a much better response.

      Thank You Very Much!

  2. david


    Few Reformed, Lutherans and Anglicans (the presummed target-niche of this Blog) would argue argue with of what you’ve said about how most modern-day Evangelical worship has departed from any form of historic Liturgical worship. Since they’d agree we might wonder at your point here. Nor is there much dispute to my knowledge that worship in the Old Covenant provides us a beginning model or pattern for worship after the Incarnation, Cross and Ressurection. The question that really begs to be answered here is: “Is there enough inference from Scritpture, and clear history that should persuade the Protestant communions above that Orthodox worship is as the Apostles instructed the early Church, thus compelling them to conform their own Liturgy?” Not sure you’ve done that yet.

    • robertar


      I wrote this paper in response to a friend’s request about a year ago. I posted it on LocalOrthodox.com site but decided to post it here because he complained that it was hard to download my paper on that site.

      The intended audience for this paper are the Evangelicals and Charismatics. While the primary audience for this blog is the Reformed circle, I may from time to time speak to those who identify themselves as Evangelicals. Just over the OrthodoxBridge banner is the secondary heading: “A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians.” I trust that my Reformed visitors will be able to tell when I am speaking to them about Reformed distinctives and when I am speaking to Evangelicals. This blog posting is needed because so many people have been impacted by mega churches and their contemporary worship services. While an important audience, the Reformed Christians are a much smaller in numbers. In case you are wondering if I am planning a shift in focus for the blog, the answer is ‘no.’ I still intend to write about Reformed topics. As a matter of fact I am working on responses to Michael Horton and Steven Wedgeworth.

      To answer your question as to whether this blog posting makes a strong enough case for mainstream Protestants to conform their liturgical practices with Orthodoxy, my answer is that this is not the purpose of this blog. Nor is this the issue I would raise with mainstream Protestants. Contemporary Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have moved quite a distance from historic Protestant beliefs and practices that they can be called “Protestant” in the broadest sense of the word, not the more historic and technical sense of the word. In any event, the key disagreement between Orthodoxy and historic Protestantism is not liturgy but authority. Those who follow Mercersburg Theology can have a pattern of worship that is liturgical and eucharistic much like the Anglicans while still remaining faithful to the teachings of Calvin and the other early Reformers. One can be a Reformed Christian while eschewing the extremes of 17th century English Puritanism. One can even be a Reformed Christian and embrace high church Anglicanism. I’ve heard of a number of Reformed folks taking that route.

      The key difference between Orthodoxy and high church Protestantism is the authority of capital “T” Tradition. Anglicanism with its Via Media and historic Protestantism with its position that Scripture is the sole supreme authority over other sources have rejected the binding authority of Tradition. This gives them a certain amount of latitude in designing their worship. For example, many have incorporated the Nicene Creed into their worship because of its antiquity and its utility. But what they have not done is accept the authority of the Council of Nicea nor the Church behind that Council. This lackadaisical attitude can be seen in the widespread acceptance of the Filioque clause. For Orthodoxy no one has the authority to unilaterally alter the Nicene Creed, only an Ecumenical Council. Furthermore, the decisions made by an Ecumenical Council is binding on all Christians. The Orthodox Church can trace a direct lineage to the Church of the Seven Councils, high church Protestantism cannot. Furthermore, Protestantism has rejected the other Ecumenical Councils as well, for example, honoring Mary as the Theotokos as taught in the Council of Ephesus and the venerating of icons as taught in the Seventh Ecumenical Council. They may like history and tradition, but they have not yet submitted to the authority of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. If one wishes to accept Tradition and come under the authority of the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils one must accept the Tradition preserved by the Orthodox Church. For me that meant renouncing sola scriptura, not just the modern Evangelical version, but also the historic Protestant version. Ultimately, accepting Tradition comes down to being in Eucharistic union with the Orthodox Church. The issue here is not whether or not your Sunday service is liturgical but on what authority does your pastor conduct the Sunday service?

      David, I’ve given your short question a rather lengthy answer because you raised a very important point. I hope my answer helps you.


  3. david

    “would NOT argue” above… Also sorry if my comment came across snippy. Not my intent. It’s a good blog post I enjoyed it much. Just not sure most Reformed, Anglicans and Lutherans would feel much of a sting…maybe some for the incense & alter points. Pastor Jeff Myers’ (PCA) book, _The Lord’s Service_ overtly tries to do what you’ve hinted at in using Old Testament worship as a model.

    • Russ Warren

      Being Reformed, one of the things I noticed is that Robert is here presenting a form of a “Regulative Principle of Worship” albeit significantly different than the various ones on offer in the Reformed world (contrary to popular belief, even among the Reformed, there are various ‘regulative principles’). The role of Tradition seems to be the linchpin difference.

      Much here to think about, at least in my view.


      • robertar

        Russ, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Just wondering, have the Reformed churches taken a strong stand against contemporary seeker friendly worship or has the response been mixed?


        • Russ Warren


          Part of the problem is defining what exactly “Reformed” is. Some churches in that tradition have — but those that take strong stands on anything usually take a strong stand against everything: there is a heavily ironic legalism that pervades the ultra-Reformed (which border on and often bleed into the hyper-Calvinist). At the college I teach at, one of the Bible professors was very excited about the Willow Creek model combined with Evangelism Explosion, so much so that he taught a class on evangelism using that hybrid. Over the years, though, that has cooled: evangelism without discipleship turns out, interestingly enough, to not be a good combination for Christian maturity.

          One of the questions that I have been pursuing is: what is worship for? In other words, what do we Reformed believe is the point of worship, both God-wise and man-wise. Is it pedagogical (that is the common stereotype that may or may not be true: a sermon-centered existence)? Is it practical? Is it sacramental (I read Leithart/Wilson/Jordan tending in that direction)? These questions say a lot about how an individual church or denomination will respond to “seeker” sensitivity.

          At any rate, I guess that is a longer-winded way of saying, “I don’t know; it depends.”


    • robertar


      Don’t worry. I did not take offense at your questions. You did ask some tough questions that anyone who follows this particular blog regularly might ask. Your questions forced me to think more in depth about the differences between the Reformed and the Orthodox traditions. I hope that those in the Reformed and Anglican traditions will interact with what I wrote in response to your question.


      • david

        Nice answer, on both counts Robert. I agree that the Authority in the capital “T” of Tradition is one of the central issues or stumbling blocks of thoughtful Reformed folk becoming Orthodox. (And why your article(s) on Calvin vrs Icons was so arresting to me.) I also agree with Russ that your ‘Tradition’ for Orthodox worship sets forth a different ‘Regulative Principle’ than do the Reformed (Jeff Myers’ attempt mentioned above is largely excoriated in many Reformed circles, as ‘departing’ from Reformed standards ( Puritan-Scott-TRADITION!)).

        I guess what I was hinting for in my 1st post was more of a historic survey as to “how” the Apostolic Father actually connected-the-dots of their ‘Tradition’…to the Old Testament pattern of worship from which they lived and breathed? This sort of historic connectedness would make a stronger case for Orthodox Tradition…and it seems I read some of this very sort somewhere 18 mths ago when I first started reading. But I don’t recall where. But, of course, you have the right to expose the ahistoric folly that much of our wilder evangelical brother have fallen into in their emotional, seeker-friendly ‘worship’. I merely wished to point out the obvious…this has little to do with most Reformed, Anglicans and Lutheran worship.

        • robertar

          David, Thank you for bringing to my attention the Rev. Jeff Meyer’s book, “The Lord’s Service.” Sounds like a book I should read and review.


          • david

            it’s an excellent book…read it in community w/about 6-8 other men in the Church. gotta admit i did think & mention (in our Tuesday night discussions over good wine at my friend Gordon Shaiebly’s!) “wonder why the early Christians didn’t think about doing what he was doing regarding the budding Christian worship?” nowadays i suspect maybe some of them did! 🙂

  4. Ed Unneland

    We speak of music with instrumental groups as opposed to organs as if that is new. One interesting bit of the English reformation is that the Puritans removed organs from parish churches of the Church of England in the 17th century. Later on, there developed church bands, like that at Swalcliffe described at .

    If I remember correctly, during Queen Victoria’s reign, it was thought that having musicians coming to their later Sunday morning gig directly from their Saturday night/early Sunday morning gig at the public house just wouldn’t do, and reinstated the organ.

    • robertar

      Dear Ed,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thanks for that interesting information.


  5. Kevin D. Johnson

    I really do not enjoy knocking down the house of cards which you’ve built up here about the worship of the Eastern Orthodox and that of the early church in contradistinction to much of evangelical worship that exists in places like middle-class America. Honestly, we may very well share some common assumptions in critiquing evangelical worship but there are other things here which you claim that are either historically inaccurate or not exactly a fair read of what the Bible presents.

    First, the passage in Malachi regarding incense is problematic for your view. While I personally have absolutely no problem with incense in worship per se, saying that worship must contain incense in order for it to really be worship is akin to saying Gentile Christians must be circumcised. If we take the passage as woodenly as you suppose and pretend that incense must be offered in Christian worship for it to be authentic worship (whether you explicitly state this or merely imply it), we are left with having to wrangle the rest of the passage because it states that *pure worship* with incense as such will be offered everywhere and in every place. So far, Orthodoxy has not achieved that and likely will not achieve global or universality in terms of all Christians everywhere offering Orthodox worship, incense included. Why do you get to take one half of the passage literally and leave the rest up for whatever else it might mean? Even with the minor global footprint Orthodoxy enjoys (really, we should speak of Orthodoxy as an Eastern or regional branch of the church if we are being honest), there is no question that the pure worship you call for has not found itself in and among all places everywhere.

    A more sensible view of Malachi 1:11 is to understand the word “incense” as referring to the reality which it symbolized and that is the prayers of the people (Rev. 5:8). Is it okay for us to use incense as symbolic of prayer? Certainly. Is it required? Not according to this passage. This passage surely refers to the reality of what is being symbolized by the use of incense and isn’t even prescriptive in commanding it. The passage is just simply exemplary. Given that in large part there are and have been many Christian worship services without incense–we know that something more here is intended than the symbol mentioned. And, in large part, this very prophecy has already been fulfilled by the spread of the gospel and corresponding worship of God not only to the known world of the ancients but also throughout our entire planet. There’s no need to be as wooden as you claim here.

    Secondly, early Christian worship more likely represented synagogue worship rather than temple worship. I realize there is some amount of debate attached to that statement but at the very least you have to admit that your claim is not universal or uncontested regarding the worship of the early church when comparing it to the ‘Old Testament’ temple-like nature of Orthodox worship . You ought to at least have the sagacity and humility to make clear for your readers that the entire subject as far as the early church is concerned is up for debate.

    Regardless, the book of Hebrews makes clear that our worship in terms of the Temple was completed and continues in Christ. Yet the pattern of local synagogue worship we see evidence of in the New Testament and the life of the early Church–partially by way of necessity and partially because it would be only natural for converted Jews and some Gentiles outside of Jerusalem to follow what they had been doing all their lives. The fact that Jerusalem Christians and namely the Apostles early on spent time in prayer at the Temple does not make your point–it only means that they continued on as they knew to do until God made it clear that they were to move beyond and away from the Temple. If God wanted to continue Temple-like worship, it would have been a strange thing to push the church out of Jerusalem via dispersion/persecution and then have the Temple destroyed some forty years later by the Romans.

    The Eucharist then is not a re-presentation of the Day of Atonement per se but instead a memorial and remembrance of what Christ has done–in saying that I’m not claiming it’s an empty sign but instead clarifying its main use in the church according to Paul. This here, then, is not a debate about Real Presence (which I would affirm via Daniel Waterland/Calvin) or a catholic understanding of the Eucharist. Furthermore, it’s not immediately clear that the Eucharist was celebrated every week in every local church going forward. While we might share the idea that this is ideal and even originally purposeful, there is no “how-to” guide of Christian worship present in the New Testament church. Practices did vary both in terms of the frequency of communion and the ability of the church to practice the same. But, for you to speak so glibly as if current Orthodox practice is exactly aligned with early church practice goes beyond what you can prove.

    There were Reformers that saw some advantage to remembering aspects of temple worship and including it in their own liturgical formulations, but they did so within a context that more appropriately maintained the word, work, and presence of God at the center instead of attempting to pattern everything after the temple services and sacrifices that we have present in the Old Testament.

    While it is fashionable for apostolic succession advocates on the Catholic/Orthodox side to say that three offices existed, “deacon, priest, and bishop” — in reality, Beckwith and Lightfoot both demonstrate that the term priest is actually short form for “presbyter” (the actual word in the NT when speaking of elders) and that “presbyter” and “bishop” were virtually interchangeable terms and only gradually developed into the episcopal and/or sacerdotal model which you outline. So, originally there were only deacons and the presbyter/bishop. In fact, this is so much the case that some scholars doubt the office of deacon and see the passage in Acts and elsewhere establishing nothing more than an informal service-oriented position and not an office-holding position as others have reasonably maintained.

    That said, the other problem with identifying the need for “priests” is the fact that the New Testament word for “priest” is manifestly different than “presbyter” or elder (and I’m guessing you know that even though you make no mention of it). When the Bible speaks of all Christians as priests in Peter’s letter, it is undoubtedly arguing for a priesthood of all believers and there is no evidence of a sacerdotal or other priestly office as you argue. But, that priesthood is not a priesthood which offers liturgical sacrifice of worship as we see in Orthodox services but instead we as believers offer our lives as a sacrifice of well-doing and obedience to the commandments.

    All this I point out to make one further point. These issues are very complex and providing merely one side to your readers in such a dogmatic fashion is a bit over the top though I can appreciate the sort of rhetorical flair it brings to the table. Your readers (whether Orthodox, Reformed, or even mildly evangelical) ought to be made aware that there are significant differences among scholars (to say nothing of long-standing differences between competing communions) pertaining to all these issues, that the history of the early church is not so crystal clear as you present, that just because a church father or someone else advocated a position historically speaking does not mean its relevant or necessary to believe as part of the regula fidei today, and further, that over-simplifying these issues risks errors in faith and practice previously unseen in the history of the church.

    Finally, I ask, really–what does the Lord require? Micah 6:8 would have us remember to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”. Indeed, we do worship in spirit and in truth and to argue that the only way for those who believe in Christ to properly do that is through membership in the Orthodox Church is just denying the status of Christian to the majority of those around the world who name him as their Lord and Savior. Such a thing is unreasonable in the main no matter how nicely it’s put in a blog post.

    • robertar


      Rather than going negative, you should take a more positive approach and tell us what you consider to be acceptable worship. In all the exchanges so far on this site you have refused to come out and say which particular church tradition you belong to. This leaves me thinking that you are a Protestant in the abstract but not concretely. That’s a dangerous state to be in spiritually. Tell me what church you belong to and what pattern of worship they follow, then you and I can have a dialogue about the Orthodox approach to worship.


      • Kevin D. Johnson


        I’m not here to present what we have in common because for one thing this blog isn’t about commonality but about attracting Reformed and other Christians to the Orthodox faith.

        I’ve pointed out substantial issues with your presentation of Orthodox worship. You’re welcome to address the issues or ignore them. Either way, they present difficulties you have yet to really get into and as a result your case is hardly anything other than one-sided.

        Making the conversation personal by carelessly suspecting I’m “Protestant in the abstract but not concretely” (whatever that means) is certainly not a discussion I welcome or would participate in and has nothing to do with the topic being discussed in the main.

        • Jnorm


          What’s the point of your critique if what you really advocate doesn’t really exist? If all you have is an abstract theory then it’s an abstract theory. But what does that have to do with every day reality? Also our worship is a combination of both Synagogue and Temple worship. Thus it’s not just Temple worship alone or Synagogue worship alone, but a combination of both.

          This is our reality, and it’s not just some make believe abstract modern academic theory that might change tomorrow or next month! If you don’t belong to an actual local gathering then all you are arguing for is some non-existent wish or dream.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            I belong to a ‘local gathering’ and implying otherwise on your part is just flat offensive and unnecessary. What I have advocated here and in the past does in fact exist and is not an abstract summation of mere viewpoints. However, even still, your comments also don’t deal with what I’ve pointed out in the main in terms of problems with Robert’s post. Why you all can’t take the time to deal with the actual subject at hand and instead must make things personal is beyond me.

          • robertar


            It’s good to hear that you belong to a ‘local gathering.’ Does this ‘local gathering’ adhere to a Reformed confession? If so, which one?


          • robertar


            You have a good point here. Protestantism is not a set of ideas but an attempt to be a reformed church. Therefore, anyone who lives independently of the church, i.e., does not belong to a local church, becomes a Protestant in the abstract. A renegade “Protestant” cannot speak for Protestantism or the Reformed community if he or she cannot claim a church home. That is why I have repeatedly pressed Kevin on this issue. If one looks at Calvin’s Institutes Book 4 chapter 1 one finds that Calvin held to a high view of the church. Similarly, if one looks at the Reformed confessions one finds a high view of the church. As an Orthodox Christian I may disagree with certain points of their ecclesiology, but we have more in common than those who take the independent Christianity route. I can dialogue with those who are rooted in the Reformed tradition or some other recognized tradition, it becomes more problematic with those with no church home.


          • Kevin D. Johnson

            There is no independent Christian route I’m taking here. That’s just simply absurd. Go ahead. Ignore what I’ve written. That’s fine. It likely demonstrates you don’t even have a real answer.

    • Lorinda

      “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” John 17:21

      Hi, Kevin,

      I was at a gathering of Reformed and Orthodox Christians who were in dialogue discussing the commonalities and distinctions between the two and what really stuck out to me was something the Orthodox priest said. Speaking on unity, he said that a man and woman don’t become one by getting married then going to live in separate homes living separate lives. What kind of marriage would that be? No, they become one by living together under the same roof, sharing everything in common, doing the stuff of life TOGETHER. The same with the members of the Body of Christ. We ought to be one in our doctrine, theology, practice, and worship if we are to make unity a reality. How are we to attain the unity which our Lord Himself prayed for when we find ourselves in the fractured state of Christendom with its multiplicity of denominations?

      God bless,

  6. Jnorm

    Kevin said,
    “Indeed, we do worship in spirit and in truth and to argue that the only way for those who believe in Christ to properly do that is through membership in the Orthodox Church is just denying the status of Christian to the majority of those around the world who name him as their Lord and Savior. Such a thing is unreasonable in the main no matter how nicely it’s put in a blog post.”

    Why do you keep talking about Jesus as if He never was Incarnate? Either that, or you seem to be saying Jesus is multiple persons.

    • Kevin D. Johnson


      You lost me there. I have no idea what you are saying or how you could possibly pull your assertion from what I’ve written. Perhaps you could expand further and clarify.

      • Jnorm


        I am saying what I’m saying because you seem to have a problem with our exclusive claims. Why does it bother you?

        • Kevin D. Johnson

          LOL. Why write a post on evangelical worship then as if it’s Christian worship at all and just say the real truth of what you’re saying, “We’re the true Christians, and you’re not. We’re the ones who worship God rightly and you don’t.”?

          What a bunch of garbage.

          • robertar


            Please be careful about your language. If I were a Protestant, I would be deeply ashamed by the offensive language in your response to Jnorm. It is important that we be civil in our conversation even when we disagree.


          • Kevin D. Johnson


            Civility in dialog was lost when Jnorm decided to question my understanding of christology quite without basis and also when you decided to make the matter personal by questioning my denominational affiliation. Both of you are acting inappropriately and I’ve merely responded in kind. The truth here is that neither of you feel that evangelical worship really qualifies as worship at all and further that your communion is the only communion that can really be called Christian. But, saying that so explicitly would undoubtedly result in strong language from others so instead you mask it via a long post about how inappropriate modern worship is. Jnorm made this quite clear and it’s why I feel quite right in calling a spade a spade here much like the Reformers were never afraid to do.

            But, I also love being accused of taking an independent route to evangelical Christianity by ‘converts’ who’ve picked up and left everything they know in pursuit of their new “catholic” religion. Pot, meet kettle. You might take up the beam in your own eye, Robert. You too, Jnorm. Then we can talk about whatever faults I have if we must continue taking things personal instead of dealing with the actual subject and matter of the blog post in question.

  7. Sabrina

    I’ve experience both, and I much more prefer the Orthodox traditional style of worship. To me, it’s just more meaningful and focuses more on God and less on our emotions and ‘feelings.’ To me the contemporary worship is just too closely akin to some of the secular rock concerts and sporting events I’ve attended in the past. After experiencing a Divine Liturgy, they just seem so shallow and passive and in many cases, I hate to say it very, very fake! I’ll never forget my first time at a Divine Liturgy, it was love at first Liturgy. I could see the reverence for what is holy…and that’s something that seems to go missing in so much of the other religions where I’ve gone to the services. It’s consistent and timeless, the same but never, ever, ever dull. In the book “Living In Christ” Mother Raphaela speaks of a current generation that demands to be constantly entertained, and that is what too many churches seek to do rather than actually do what they’re supposed to do encourage a sense of reverence, awe and respect for God. JMO.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thank you for sharing.


    • Kevin D. Johnson


      LOL. Look at what you’re saying. Modern evangelical worship is about emotion and feeling and yet you *felt* the Orthodox liturgy was right. Both of your evaluations, frankly, are subjective in nature and while I sympathize with some critique of modern worship it’s just not about how comfortable you feel or how much you think you’re in love with the liturgy. Rather, the call is “What does the Lord require?”. There is no hint of Eastern Orthodoxy in Micah 6:8.

      • Baroque Norseman

        ***There is no hint of Eastern Orthodoxy in Micah 6:8.***

        Given those standards, there is no hint of 99.9% of Christian traditions out there. In other words, someone can take the same argumentative structure and insert a, b,…z and get the same (non) argument.

        • Kevin D. Johnson

          That’s not what I meant and you know it. The point is that the worship of Eastern Orthodoxy goes well beyond what is required as far as the Bible is concerned and holding Christians to that strict of a standard is simply unnecessary in order to worship in spirit and in truth.

          • Baroque Norseman

            But if we take your response in that the only true worship is what is specifically delineated in Micah 6:8, then most “Christian” traditions, assuming the practicioners have the basics of human decency, would apply as “true worship of God:” Moonies, JWs, Mormons (the South Park episode on Mormonism is actually a very pertinent point in regards to your comment).

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            No. That’s not true and you’re just continuing to take my comments too far to press your point.

            As always, any worship of spirit and of truth–or if you like the definitions of justice and what it means to walk humbly with God–are set in the context of creedal and/or biblical fidelity. Mormons, JW’s and other cults are by definition outside that boundary. While Orthodoxy retains its creedal identity with the rest of Christianity, the notion that every communion must worship as the East does is going well beyond what the Bible outlines as worship.

          • anon

            One key problem is that the Bible doesn’t in the least pretend to be a manual for liturgy/worship – this was received practice and essentially left undiscussed by the Biblical authors. The closest we have to that in the Scriptures is Revelation 4ff, which many scholars believe is based on the Jerusalem Liturgy. Theologically, we have Hebrews. Otherwise, we have what we have through the transmission of the Church. We have some commentary from Paul concerning the assembly and its Eucharistic orientation, notably the scolding of the Corinthians. But thinking of the Bible as if its purpose or function is to describe how Christians should worship is just a misconception of the Church and of the Scriptures.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            I realize that the Bible is not a how-to manual in terms of defining the way liturgy proceeds–I don’t know why you and others want to put words in my mouth in that regard.

            But, the Word of God does proceed to define general principles of worship that are laid out for us to examine and that help the church to determine how to proceed in worship. We do know that the simple services of the early church never really resembled the complexities of later accretions even if the later services followed a similar outline. But, again, the point here is that the Bible does not require us to worship in a certain way as a church unless it’s defined principally speaking in the Scriptures. That doesn’t make the Bible a how-to guide. Rather, its use makes possible a grand variety of worship over the ages for the people of God to engage in as the need arises. It is not true as you claim that tradition (“through the transmission of the Church”) is responsible solely for what we have in worship as all worship is ultimately bound up in the character and work of God, through Jesus Christ, and by his Holy Spirit as we find him described in the revelation of himself to all mankind *in the Scriptures*.

          • anon

            For some reason the reply option doesn’t come up for this comment:

            “I realize that the Bible is not a how-to manual in terms of defining the way liturgy proceeds–I don’t know why you and others want to put words in my mouth in that regard.

            But, the Word of God does proceed to define general principles of worship that are laid out for us to examine and that help the church to determine how to proceed in worship. We do know that the simple services of the early church never really resembled the complexities of later accretions even if the later services followed a similar outline. But, again, the point here is that the Bible does not require us to worship in a certain way as a church unless it’s defined principally speaking in the Scriptures. That doesn’t make the Bible a how-to guide. Rather, its use makes possible a grand variety of worship over the ages for the people of God to engage in as the need arises. It is not true as you claim that tradition (“through the transmission of the Church”) is responsible solely for what we have in worship as all worship is ultimately bound up in the character and work of God, through Jesus Christ, and by his Holy Spirit as we find him described in the revelation of himself to all mankind *in the Scriptures*.

            I guess the best I can say is I simply don’t agree with this. I don’t think it is ‘c’atholic nor do I think it is consistent with what is described in Scripture. Worship is meant to be a participation in Christ’s eternal Liturgy (Hebrews). That is the only Biblical understanding.

            On the other hand, the idea that unless one follows the Byzantine rite as understood in the 21st century, one is not worshiping God in “spirit and in truth” seems completely absurd to me. And candidly, even the Orthodox churches are, by the acts of their Bishops, showing this to be untrue: even the most conservative Orthodox like ROCOR have Western Liturgies in use.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            I guess the best I can say is I simply don’t agree with this. I don’t think it is ‘c’atholic nor do I think it is consistent with what is described in Scripture. Worship is meant to be a participation in Christ’s eternal Liturgy (Hebrews). That is the only Biblical understanding.

            No. Worship is meant to be a participation in Christ’s eternal liturgy but it is not only that. Truly, Scripture points us to many different things in terms of what worship is and what it means. Colossians 3:16-17 is just one simple example where we find out that worship to God is a matter of the Word dwelling richly in our hearts whereby we encourage one another in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. 1 Corinthians 14 provides direction in terms of different aspects of assembling together in Christ’s name for worship and the proclamation of God’s Word. 1 Corinthians 12 of course tells us of the Supper and the previous chapters also regulate and define what Christians are doing in worship as well as general principles about how to worship and live as the assembled community of the faithful.

            On the other hand, the idea that unless one follows the Byzantine rite as understood in the 21st century, one is not worshiping God in “spirit and in truth” seems completely absurd to me. And candidly, even the Orthodox churches are, by the acts of their Bishops, showing this to be untrue: even the most conservative Orthodox like ROCOR have Western Liturgies in use.

            I’m frankly glad to hear this as the impression left by those with convertitis is that it is only through a life of Orthodoxy that one can truly be Christian. Some state it rather mildly and do say that you can be a Christian outside of Orthodox church membership, but others are not so careful. The practical truth is that whatever Orthodoxy does bring to the table, the name of Christ is lifted up in several other communions to God’s glory and for his sake. To be so exclusive is just not in accordance with the facts even if we were for the sake of argument going to grant that Orthodoxy retains the fullest expression of what it means to be Christian. Of course, I don’t agree that it does, but I’m happy to call those who do brothers in Christ if they merely return the favor.

      • An orthodox believer

        There is no problem if one “feels” something attending an Orthodox liturgy. Why should it be? Nobody said a christian must not feel anything when inward worshiping God together with his brothers and sisters, since alive humans are feeling something all the time. The question is if that feeling when worshipping God is the real sacred feeling of the Holy Spirit and not just an ordinary feeling of some earthly emotions, which might make one interpret it as a true spiritual feeling, because those emotions are “good”: love, peace, happiness, morality, friendship, secureness and others alike. All these can be experienced in the secular life, outside of what has to be a mystical worship of God, which must make a person FEEL or taste another kind of world, the other one of the heavenly Father or of the Kingdom of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. And there will surely always be a much greater degree of subjectivity in the inward worship of the protestants, becasue of their churches’ so many outward kinds of worships, than in that of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, which can prove the root and continuity of its outward worship, practiced by the community of the Saints, not just of those believers finding themsleves on the path towards the sainthood, but of those who already reached closer to God in the afterlife, confessing and practicing the same faith.

        • robertar

          Dear Orthodox Believer, Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge and thank you for your insightful comment!

  8. Baroque Norseman

    ***Civility in dialog was lost when Jnorm decided to question my understanding of christology quite without basis and also when you decided to make the matter personal by questioning my denominational affiliation.***

    I vaguely remember that discussion. I don’t remember Jnorm saying mean things to you (I suspect, however, that you yourself aren’t universally loved for your tone on Reformed and evangelical sites), but the larger point was that you are in a theological tradition that affirms the Person of the mediator is formed by a union of the two prosopa. Read Reformed authors like McCormack or Muller.

  9. Baroque Norseman

    I meant to say, read McCormack and Muller for similar points. McCormack even says that Calvinists can’t affirm Chalcedon as it stands.

    • Kevin D. Johnson

      You can find scholars who’ll say anything, that doesn’t in and of itself make a case for anything. Furthermore, McCormack and Muller don’t necessarily agree as you imply. You also fail to realize that within the scope of Reformed writing on a subject like Chalcedon, there are a number of viewpoints and traditions at work. What McCormack is busy responding to is actually a sidepoint on the Peter Enns debate connected to Westminster and not some grand point about Christology taken outside that context. His words certainly shouldn’t be taken as representative of an overall Reformed opinion on the matter as if the tradition has always spoken his way.

      • Baroque Norseman

        I understand that McCormack is responding to the Enns debate, but his comments do not imply any less than what he said.

        True, Muller is a bit more muted in his take than McCormack, but even Muller praises Calvin for distancing himself from “Chalcedonian” and patristic speculations on Christology (cf. Christ and the Decree. I have the actual page numbers referenced on my blog somewhere. I might find them later).

        • Kevin D. Johnson

          McCormack’s view is just one view and the same for Muller. I take McCormack’s report as a bit of a snarky reply to those who are using the Westminster Confession like it’s some kind of interpretive grid reminiscent of Roman efforts. I’m not sure he really even means what he says and the notion that Chalcedon ought to be interpreted in light of the Reformed confessions is not really a mainline take on Chalcedon among the Reformed anyway.

          Muller is not only milder than McCormack, he also makes it quite clear that Calvin was not teaching Nestorianism and that Calvin also didn’t believe he was. Furthermore, his comments about Chalcedon in general are not completely out of line given that Chalcedon has its own historical context and the set of debates and the requisite vocabulary stem from at least the two main schools involved (Antioch and Alexandria). To have us constantly speak of Christology within the limited context of Chalcedon is perhaps a mistake many tied to history may make. That’s not to say that Chalcedon was in error but instead that the whole field of christology is often dealing with more than the original formulation of Chalcedon in the fifth century. So, Muller’s defense of Calvin is not necessarily the sort of distancing from Chalcedon that would involve denying something important about the person of Christ.

          • Baroque Norseman

            ***Muller is not only milder than McCormack, he also makes it quite clear that Calvin was not teaching Nestorianism and that Calvin also didn’t believe he was.***

            Calvin said natures “act.” Yet Cyrillian Christology, which the Fathers at Chalcedon said was the only acceptable framework for interpreting Leo’s tome, says that persons act. If you have two acting principles, ala Calvin’s Comm. on John 14, then you end up with two persons. that Calvin didn’t want that is irrelevant. It’s the logical force of the position.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            My point is not to enter the debate about Calvin only that you’re not really representing Reformed authors with any sort of accuracy. To say that the Chalcedon Fathers would only accept the Cyrillian framework as valid in regards to Calvin is anachronistic given that they neither had access to Calvin nor lived during his day. You can’t prove logical necessities from anachronisms. Regardless, my point stands–you’re misrepresenting the Reformed authors you mention.

  10. Nicodemus


    If surmising you to be an arm-chair ‘independent-protestant-theoretician’ renegade from any sort of Christian Church offends you – just clear it up with one gracious, transparent sentence. Why don’t you do it? Being coy about your Ecclesiastical status gains you nothing, but perhaps disrespect. Nor, (to state once again) do the Orthodox embrace the Roman Catholic rigidity of Trent. Bishop Kallistos Ware and others have openly said those in other Christian communions do indeed possess a measure of the grace of God that might indeed prove salvific – just not the Fullness of the Faith found only in the Orthodox Church. Most any Protestant Church (especially Reformed) might argue similarly in the language of “faithfulness” to Scripture – code-language for “closest adherence to our take on the Reformed Tradition.” To sharpen the point, Orthodoxy rarely questions Protestant Trinitarian baptism. Historically, the question has not so much been baptism – but submission to a Bishop…with whom you Commune, and from whom you receive the Holy Mysteries. So, who is your Bishop Kevin?

    Your handling of the Malachi passage is faulty on several levels. First, neither Malachi nor Robert said or implied incense an absolute must, but simply that…it would be prominently present in future worship of God’s people, Christendom. Well, is it? If not why not? Nor is this in any way, as you say “akin to saying Gentile Christian must be circumcised”. No, since circumcision is akin to baptism per Colossians 2:11-12, one would expect most professing Christians to be baptized. Your mixing or conflating circumcision with incense is…bizarre. Also, “everywhere and in every place” is merely a poetic hyperbolic way of saying “where there is Christian worship”. Of course, your turning of incense into prayers (sometimes valid) does not solve your imaginary problem either, since there are not “Christian Prayers” ascending into heaven in every place on “the planet”…much less the “footprint” of protestant prayers! In all this I suspect, since we all know few if any Protestant worship liturgies include incense – ever – you feel compelled to obfuscate this by making spurious and silly arguments out of nothing. Perhaps this is one reason Robert refused to “engage” such arguments?

    Robert starts with the “pattern” of the Tabernacle, then moves on the the Temple, seeing patterns for dress and practice in both. This is not completely unlike some Reformers who’ve also tried to “follow the pattern” of Old Testament worship. There is not the slightest inference of pitting the Temple against the Synagogue in Robert’s article as your response does.

    Your Eucharist objection seem altogether disingenuous. Even if it were merely a memorial or remembrance (you state then immediately repudiate?), what is being remembered – if not Christ crucified, thus supplanting the Day of atonement? Are your seriously going to argue that weekly Communion is not ‘the pattern’ strongly implied by Scripture and practiced the early Church? Exceptions to the rule existed and there’s no quest for ‘exactitude’ in Robert’s survey of the early Church “following the pattern.” But exceptions merely validate the rule rather than abolish it. Your ‘arguments’ here again, seems disingenuous, contrived – straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

    Sadly, despite their best intentions, the Reformers’ reactionary attitude to Rome (very understandable for many reasons) failed to study the Orthodox Liturgies or grasp the rationales carefully laid out in the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Granted, their access to these was limited. But the fact is, in their repudiation of Roman superstitions and practices, they failed to comprehend and grasp the historic Tradition of Orthodoxy – and supplanted the Eucharistic center of the Liturgy with long, tedious, Preaching/Sermons which are foreign to all historic Liturgies of the Christian Church. Thus, Reformed Churches became more and more to resemble austere academic lecture halls for the disposition of Knowledge. (Preferred, perhaps to the wild entertainment of modern Protestant extravaganzas!) Both of these, however, are far removed from the beautiful and creational-ornateness found in Liturgical and Sacramental Tabernacle/Temple worship God proscribed – or the Church of historic Christendom – where visual beauty and incense bespeaks a sweet aroma more completely to the whole man.

    The problem with Beckwith and Lightfoot’s ‘exegetical-scholarship’ is, it’s divorced from the historic understanding and practice of the early Church fathers – some who knew the Apostles. Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of the Apostle John (thought to be the child placed on the knee of Christ Jesus in Matthew 19/Luke 18) somehow fell for the idea of Bishops, Priests and Deacons! How can this be? How did he get his exegetical scholarship so wrong? Did not Christ promise the Holy Spirit to lead them into all Truth (John 14:25,26)? In light of these promise of Christ, what are we to expect from the Holy Spirit? Seriously, are the people of God now to dismiss the historic understanding of the Scriptures for 1,500 years – to now embrace new, heretofore unrealized scholarship? Really?? Hear 1st Century Bishop Ignatius, who personally knew the Apostles, writing en route to his martyrdom: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-roberts.html

    “As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.”

    “Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union beth fleshly and spiritual.”

    Swallow your pride Kevin, and submit your head and heart, body and soul, to the one Holy Apostolic Church. It will be awkward and strange at first. But with humble perseverance, you will revel in the glory of Holy Orthodoxy – which is the fullness of grace as Christ’s Bride and Body.


    • Kevin D. Johnson

      LOL. Calls for personal transparency from someone posting anonymously. So rich in contradiction.

      • Lurker

        He’s calling for transparency in denominational affiliation only which he himself has admitted to. Nothing more.

        • Kevin D. Johnson

          LOL. I’ve indicated I’m Protestant and that I am a member of a local church. But, that’s not enough for some. It will have to do, however and that’s the last time I’ll speak to it.

          As for Mr. Anonymous–please. It’s just flat hypocritical and you know it.

    • anon

      I think its quite clear that Hebrews frames the Eucharist in terms of the Atonement sacrifice as the primary OT referent, and not the Passover, there’s no question about that. Nor is there any question that the Temple provides the pattern for the Divine Liturgy in the understanding of the Hebrews author – clearly he argues that our entrance with Christ into the heavenly Tabernacle is the realization of what was shown as a pattern in the first Temple. Whatever problems some of her analysis may contain, Margaret Barker is correct is drawing attention to the fact that only in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is this connection maintained in such a blatantly obvious way.

      On the other hand, this certainly doesn’t preclude contributions from the Synagogue in early Christian Liturgies – the scholarship is somewhat contradictory on this point. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter all that much, which is the puzzling thing about this thread. The Scriptures, what we know about history and present practice all line up quite nicely.

      With respect to the idea that the priests were interchangeable with bishops, a useful discussion on this topic that is very up to date can be found for free in the Eastern Orthodox Bible (http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/eob/download.asp) – appendix on Bishops. The answer for the immediate period of the NT writings lies in neither extreme (full fledged monoepiscopate or no concept of protopresbyter), but I can’t actually see why this is terribly important if one believes in the active work of the Holy Spirit.

      • Kevin D. Johnson

        The heavenly work and sacrifice of Christ that Hebrews portrays is eternal worship to God that at once makes earthly temple worship of little to no use. And, the early Christians recognized this and that’s one reason why very early on we see worship revolving around a transformed synagogue. But, you’re right, scholars line up on all sides and the matter is quite heavily debated and continues to be. But, you don’t get any sense of that sort of scholarly debate from Robert’s original post–only the assertion that Orthodox worship represents the fullest expression of Christian worship in line with the Temple and the Old Testament. It’s just not accurate to say such things without necessary qualifications.

        I would encourage interested readers to check Beckwith and Lightfoot out in terms of what they wrote on the subject — at the very least it wouldn’t hurt to expose yourself to more than just the standard Orthodox/Catholic line on these subjects — popular in combox threads on the Internet but not found in much actual scholarship out there. I’m happy to grant that eventually the episcopal model developed but it would be a mistake on anyone’s part to automatically and uncritically equate that with “the active work of the Holy Spirit” when other informed scholarly voices see the facts differently.

        • anon

          I agree with you to a point. However, the Orthodox claim is not what you are reading from convert apologists – the claim isn’t that Orthodox worship is inline with the Temple per se, but that it is a participation in Heavenly worship – ie, it is the Divine Liturgy referenced in Hebrews: after all Christ is described as receiving a “Liturgy” over which he presides as High Priest. The Temple merely anticipates this. It’s also not clear to me that this requires one ipso facto to become Orthodox in and of itself: I don’t see any serious defects in the worship of the Latin Church or for that matter in the early Lutheran and Anglican Liturgies. Theology is another matter.

          I am not clear, however, on your point with respect to the episcopacy. I am just not sure what you are trying to say? That the monoepiscopate may not have been fully formed in 60 AD? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but who cares? The New Testament wasn’t fully formed until after 500 AD, and not even then. But virtually all Christians accept this development.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            All Christian worship is by definition participating in heavenly worship — but if you went by Robert’s original statements above you’d never really figure that out. He argues for Orthodox worship as if it’s the worship of the church and nothing else qualifies. That’s just not the case as you have already indicated.

            All Christians (virtually or otherwise) do not accept that episcopacy is what God intended for church government or that the development that occasioned the growth of the church over the ages was as it should have been. That is certainly an overstatement on your part.

            There is an implicit assumption you are making here that because the church developed in a certain way, she has the imprimatur from the Holy Spirit. And yet, we know that the church has participated in a variety of actions and has been organized differently over her life sufficient for us and many others to critically address whether or not such an assumption meets the test of history and the Scriptures. Obviously the Orthodox feel that the split of 1054AD occasioned error in terms of how the West handled the breakup, yet if we continue to assume that historical developments are de facto by God’s design we have to conclude that such a continued development is the way that God designed his church.

          • anon

            I think you misread my statement: virtually all Christians agree on the contents of the New Testament.

            Anyway, I can’t get from Hebrews all the way to the rather extraordinary claim that all worship participates in heavenly worship. We’ll simply have to disagree – Robert’s view seems far closer to the Scriptural teaching and the historic belief/practice of the Church.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            I didn’t say that all worship participates in heavenly worship, but instead I said all *Christian* worship participates in heavenly worship. Such a statement on my part assumes that Christian worship is that which is ultimately Spirit-inspired and connected via the reality of who Christ is.

            To say that only the Orthodox or those that approximate Orthodox practice in worship are the ones that participate in heavenly worship as I outline it above is denying the status of Christian to anyone outside Orthodox jurisdictions. Hopefully, you’re not saying that and we can agree that any real Christian worship participates in heavenly worship.

        • Archpreist John Morris

          Any historical study of Christian worship shows the same basic outline of the Eucharist in all ancient Liturgies, East and West. Even today, the outline of the Roman Mass and the Anglican Eucharist follows the same outline as the Orthodox Liturgy. That is a rather good indication that historic Christian worship follows a definite pattern that dates back to the Apostles. It was only with Zwingli that Protestants threw out 1,500 years of Christian worship and developed new forms that transformed Christian worship more along the lines of a medieval university lecture with a few hymns.

  11. Baroque Norseman

    ***Robert starts with the “pattern” of the Tabernacle, then moves on the the Temple, seeing patterns for dress and practice in both. This is not completely unlike some Reformers who’ve also tried to “follow the pattern” of Old Testament worship. There is not the slightest inference of pitting the Temple against the Synagogue in Robert’s article as your response does. ***

    I should point out that a number of Reformed writers like Sproul Jr, R. J. Gore, John Frame, and Steve Schlissel and Jeff Meyers make exactly the same argument. I’ve been listening to those guys lately and that’s why I have rejected the RPW.

    • Kevin D. Johnson

      Actually, no, these various sources do not all agree. Most notably, Schlissel does not see Old Testament temple worship as a pattern for Christian worship and instead points to the synagogue as I have already outlined (cf. Schlissel’s work against the RPW here). Meyers is more to your point and somewhat arbitrarily adapts OT worship (as he frames it, somewhat prejudicially) for his covenant renewal scheme. But to lump all these authors together as if they endorse Robert’s viewpoint is inaccurate and just not true.

      • Baroque Norseman

        Fair enough. Most of the Reformed refutations of the RPW I’ve read operated more on Meyers’ point. It’s been almost ten years since I’ve interacted with Schlissel and I guess I figured he was arguing the same point. Mea culpa

  12. Baroque Norseman

    Another thing to point out: While it might seem “mean” for Orthodox to claim a fullness while Calvinists only get a “share,” Charles Hodge made essentially the same argument from a Reformed perspective, yet no one accuses him of being bigoted. Bahnsen discusses this in his sermon on Roman Cahtolicism.

  13. Jnorm


    I already mentioned in a previous post that our worship is a combination of both Synagogue and Temple worship.
    Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity With the Temple, the Synagogue and the Early Church

    And so for us it’s not about putting the Temple against the Synagogue or the Synagogue against the Temple. Our worship and the worship of Early Christianity made use of both! Also in regards to bishops in the first century, and the scriptural language that made Bishop and Presbyter inter-changeable wasn’t something that was unknown to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th century Christianity. They commented on this as well, the difference is most of them never denied the existence of a bishop in the first century even though the Scriptural language made the two words inter-changeable.

    The Apostles were Bishops, and in the Bible some of them were also called Presbyters, but it should be obvious to tall that they held authority over other bishops/presbyters. And it should also be obvious that some of their helpers also had more authority than other bishops/presbyters.

    We can see this with Timothy and Titus in regards to the Apostle and Bishop/Presbyter Paul. And we can see it even more so with less ambiguity with Polycarp and Ignatius in regards to the Apostle and Bishop/Presbyter John.

    Either way, regardless if one once to see it as a development or not. Regardless if one once to see it as a short development or a long one. The evidence will show that at least in some regions of the globe the distinction in regards to the inter-changeability of the words started to change in the late first century to early second century. But that’s just the words. In regards to the content behind the words, we can clearly see that some bishops/presbyters had more authority than other bishops/presbyters and so it really doesn’t matter if the words in the first century and in some regions of the globe the second century were inter-changeable or not.

    Now in going back to our previous discussion. I already knew about the existence of Orthodox Western Liturgical rites. That wasn’t the point of what I was getting at. The fact that we have western rites should show that it’s not all about worshiping in the way that the East does. Instead, it’s about something else! And even when it comes to those who are not in communion with us, there is still a certain level of respect that we have with others who preserved as much as they could of the Liturgical tradition. This is also obviously different from what’s going on in some lower protestant evangelical churches today.

    • Kevin D. Johnson


      In regards to the temple/synagogue distinction in worship I wasn’t responding to you but to Robert’s original post. I’m so glad you’ve bothered to admit the veracity of my remarks.

      In terms of the historical difference between bishop/presbyter and the development of the church, once again you fail to address the underlying assumption you all have–that somehow a development in history is to be automatically endorsed as the Spirit’s work. I’ve already said that the position of the church developed over the years, but that doesn’t mean it was the right step for the church or that the offices in question have the power and status that some assign to them. That has yet to be established by anyone on this thread–it is merely assumed by you and others. What you read back into the text of Scripture in terms of how presbyters/bishops and even Apostles function is not a convincing argument for your position.

      Where I really take exception to your words is your unbridled exclusivism in claiming that only the Orthodox belong to Christ, that only the Orthodox participate in valid Christian worship, and that only Orthodox tradition is the Christian tradition. Claims to exclusivity in that regard are very hard to prove (which you have not done) and are simply–from my read of history and knowledge of Christ’s work around the world–untenable.

      • Jnorm

        All I have to prove for my position is that some elders in Scripture had more authority than other elders in Scripture. That’s it. That’s all I have to prove. And so to me it’s convincing. Especially when one finds out that the inter-changeability of those Scriptural words was known by those living in the 2nd century onward. And yet they still said what they said about Bishops and Apostolic Succession.

        Now this may not be convincing for you, but it is for me. Also, I’m not a Cessationist and so why should I ask the question if the Church was in error for making a clear distinction between these words from the late first century on up to are very day? The Church was always developing/growing since it’s inception.

        At one time it didn’t have deacons. Then it made deacons. Obviously it also made Elders/Bishops too. And so if the Church had the power to form these positions within it’s bosom, then it should also have the power to make a finer distinction between the elder/bishop who had more authority vs the elder/bishop who had lesser authority. The distinction was needed for not every elder was the same. I mean, even the Apostles were elders and we know they had more authority than other elders. And so the distinction was necessary.

        In regards to your dislike of our exclusive claims. Can you name a time in where we(Orthodox) didn’t have such a claim? Have you read the Ecumenical Councils? Have you read the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils? I am asking because the exclusive claims you dislike are in alot of different places. So tell me, how could we hold on to our Christology if we left these exclusive claims? Can you answer this question for me?

      • Archpreist John Morris

        I would argue that the there are several very good reasons to consider the development of the leadership of the Church by Bishops in Apostolic Succession is the work of the Holy Spirit. These are. 1. The fact that all forms of Christianity in East and West accepted leadership by Bishops in Apostolic Succession for almost 1,400 years until the Protestant Reformation. 2. The most ancient post-New Testament documents testify that the Apostles appointed Bishops to act as their successors. 3. The rejection of the episcopal form of polity comes only with the development of Protestantism in the 16 century as a result of an over reaction to the excessive power claimed by the Bishop of Rome. Even then, Anglicans and Scandinavian Lutherans kept the office of Bishop after the Reformation.

      • Justin

        Can there be more than one truth is anything?

        In any disagreement where two parties are in contradiction, one or both parties can be wrong. There cannot be two contradictory “rights.”

        This is basic law of non-contradiction stuff.

        Rather than say “exclusive,” look at “true.”

        Truth is by definition exclusive.

  14. Baroque Norseman

    ***To say that the Chalcedon Fathers would only accept the Cyrillian framework***

    When the Fathers at Chalcedon approved Leo’s Tome, they only did so because “it was in accord with Cyril.” Which means Leo’s Tome must be interpreted with the single-subject Christology of Cyril. Schaff documents this.

    The question arises, then, did Calvin teach a single-subject Christology? Given his Comm. on John 14 (verse 26, I believe), it’s hard to answer that he did. How can one say “both natures acting” and maintain a *single* subject Christology is beyond me.

    • Kevin D. Johnson

      You’ll pardon me for sidestepping the question as this issue isn’t pertinent to this post. As before, my point was that you misrepresent Reformed authors on this subject.

      Maybe Robert will want to concentrate on this issue in another post and if so, then I (and others) might respond. Suffice it to say, not everyone thinks this is a problem as I’ve already hinted.

      • Kevin D. Johnson

        You might, btw, review Do We Have a Christology Crisis?.

        • Baroque Norseman

          I have. My response to the review is somewhere on my website. I agree with most of his summary conclusions, but I think there are other aspects of the debate that aren’t being touched.

          He actually got angry with my review, not realizing that I agreed with much of what he said. But that’s often been my impression of S.W.

          • Kevin D. Johnson

            I would be happy to read your review if you can find the link and post it. Or email it to: kj@mhephx.com

    • Archpreist John Morris

      Calvin’s denial of the communication of attributes and the deification of the human nature of Christ shows his Nestorian tendencies. Compare Calvin’s description of Christology in his Institutes with the Anathamas of St. Cyril and you will see that Calvin’s view are more Nestorian than Orthodox. Remember Chalcedon was not the last word of the Church on Christology. The 5th and 6th Councils make it clear that Chalcedon is to be interpreted in conformity with the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria.

  15. Karen

    In reference to these sort of exchanges, I would like to offer the following reflection from Fr. Stephen Freeman:


    Particularly pertinent for me as an Orthodox are the following paragraphs from part 1:

    ‘Being Orthodox means living with words like “pillar and ground of truth.” Or singing gleefully in a liturgy, “We have seen the True Light, we have found the true faith.” In the wrong hands such words can be dangerous indeed. They are true enough, but such truth can be uttered well only as praise to the Living God, rarely as apologetics or as “war words” in our confused scene of Christianity. Uttered in “battle” (if the little dust-ups that occur hither and yon can be called such) these words take on the fearful character of “that by which we will be judged” (Matthew 12:36). . . .

    ‘I do not think we give up conversation, but we have to be aware of the nature of our conversation. We utter “Pillar and Ground of Truth,” etc. “in a sacred mystery.” Pulled out of its context (that is the living Church) and placed in argument, the phrase becomes words weakened by every other word we have ever spoken, and particularly the actions we have performed or failed to perform. Such phrases are no less true, but they were never meant as offensive weapons (except perhaps in spiritual warfare).

    ‘I would start, as an Orthodox boy, with the fact that everyone who is Orthodox has agreed to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ.” The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, is found precisely in its weakness and is found there because God wants it that way. If salvation means loving my enemies like God loves His enemies, then I am far better served by my weakness than my excellence. If humility draws the Holy Spirit, then my weakness is far more useful than any excellence I may possess.’


    I offer these in the hope that they will be helpful to all, and especially to Robert/Nicodemus on the one hand, and Kevin on the other. I can relate and sympathize in various ways with what all of you are trying (with limited or no success with one another apparently) to communicate, and I struggle mightily with these tensions myself.

  16. Karen

    (cont.) It will probably be obvious if you read to the bottom of my last comment, but in referring to “these kind of exchanges” I was referring to the comments thread here, and particularly that between Kevin and Robert/Nicodemus, not to the post.

  17. Wesley

    I am late to the discussion and have not commented on this site in some time. But I wanted to comment on this post because I think Calvin himself said some excellent things in regard to public worship observances. His perspective, I believe, captures the New Testament view on the freedom of different Christian communions to practice the corporate worship of God in different ways in their own time, place, day, and age according to general rules and principles laid out authoritatively in Scripture. On the basis of these comments, I do not believe Calvin was a (strict) proponent of the Regulative Principle (Calvin wasn’t a Puritan after all, nor was he identical to Knox in Knox’s more extreme views). The pertinent comments from Calvin are in Institutes 4:10:30-32. (Link). Section 30 and the first couple sentences of section 31 are the most important portions, but all three sections are pertinent to the issue. And they are brief sections as well, so I urge you to read them carefully all the way through and see if Calvin is faithful and helpful.

  18. Ben

    As a devoted Protestant and a member of a “seeker-friendly” United Methodist Church, I must say that some of the ways in which our worship has been framed are not fair or accurate. To be fair, I have been to many churches where your descriptions ARE accurate, and it is exactly the things you pointed out that put me off from them…that they are performance-driven, that the congregation becomes more of an audience than a worshipping body, that the worship is often trite, shallow, and lacking in any theological depth, and that the messages are often watered down and detatched from all Biblical Exegesis.

    However, in my experience, many “Contemporary Worship Services” have NONE of those characteristics. Worship is a highly spiritual act, and draws the congregation into the act of worshipping God with their whole being, body, mind, soul, and heart. The worship can be celebratory and up-tempo, or slow and contemplative successively. As a participant, I can tell you that it indeed did represent worship “in spirit and in truth” as Christ said. While many of the worship songs are simple and relational in nature (not unlike the Psalms), others are thick with Scripture and theological truth. I believe music is as much a teaching tool as it is an instrument of worship. And since there is no true worship without truth, the ideas and motifs expressed in song should conform to Scriptural truth.

    But I have experienced every bit of the wonder and the awe and the majesty of God in this contemporary worship as you claim you experience in your liturgical worship. You cannot color us all with the same brush and dismiss us like that. It is unfair and does not reflect the great diversity and the deep faith of so many of us in modern Protestantism.

    I have great admiration and respect for the Orthodox Church and for liturgical worship in general. But I have found that deep and meaningful and SCRIPTURAL worship does not have to all look and sound the same. Contemporary worship is no less legitimate worship than liturgical worship. It is all in how you approach it. Is it for man, or is it for God? True worship is for God. False worship is for man. Therein lies the difference.


    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thank you for sharing about the worship practices in the United Methodist Church (UMC). I don’t disagree with you that one can experience the wonder and awe and the majesty of God in worship but is your church following the biblical pattern? I’m sure there are biblical elements in the worship services of your church, but does your church have a priesthood, priests that offer up incense and the Eucharist? These are the markers of the historic pattern of Christian worship. John Wesley was quite familiar with the Eastern Church Fathers so the gap isn’t all that wide between our two traditions. But ultimately it must be recognized that the UMC is a Protestant denomination. Your criterion: “Is it for man, or is it for God?” strikes me as subjective. In Orthodoxy we ask: “Is this part of the Tradition received from the Apostles?” The questions we use as starting points will significantly affect the answers we find.


  19. Gisele

    I am Protestant and have been to many Protestant churches. I am currently Non-denominational, so I guess I would be considered a contemporary worshiper.
    The pastor at my church is also a bishop, and my mother is a deacon. They focus on having pastors and bishops and such for other structural reasons more-so than for leading worship. And the pastor is very much a spiritual leader, just as a priest is. I believe they are called pastors instead of priests to emphasis that they do not conduct worship, so much as they do lead the people in worship. It’s about connotation. And I understand that Orthodox priests also lead instead of conduct/do it on their own. But Protestants were separating from Catholicism, so they needed to make distinctions. The Catholic churches I’ve been to, and that were at the time, had priest do just about everything. People didn’t even confess sins to God. The priest does it for them, then tells them how to get right with God. This type of thing causes more distance b/w God and His creation, than it does unity. You can’t truly have a relationship w/ someone, if you never actually speak to them or get to know them for yourself. In the same way, I have met Catholics, who focus on a genuine relationship w/ God instead of just mindless religion (there is a huge difference). So worship style is just a style. It does not indicate anything about a person’s walk with Christ.
    In addition, some Protestant churches have a very similar style as the Orthodox church. My mother’s Presbyterian church does. They are very traditional.
    Emotion is part of our relationship with God. How can we have a relationship with God and not have emotion. This is why we call Him Father. Father is an emotional title. Also, love is an emotion, and the scriptures say God is Love. In addition, it is possible to be both traditional and emotional. I have seen messianic Jews like that, and the pastor of my mother’s church is also like that.

    I don’t think worship style matters, though. Jesus came so we wouldn’t have to do all those rules and regulations (laws) from the OT in exchange for a true relationship w/ Our Father. And when He came, he declared that our bodies are temples. I believe this means worship is our entire life, our entire service to God. And note that all of our lives are completely different, and God has called us all to do different things and be different people. The Body (the Church) is made up of many different parts, all working together as one. The ear won’t worship like the hands do, and that is okay. If the Orthodox method is best for your relationship with God, go ahead. If contemporary, go ahead. The point is, you have a relationship w/ your Heavenly Father and aren’t just going through the phases. God sees the heart, not the external things, we humans see (that is in the scripture) .God bless!

    • robertar

      Dear Gisele,

      Thank you for sharing your experience of Christian worship. As I read through your comment it seems to me that you have not been to an Orthodox Liturgy. If you haven’t yet been to an Orthodox service, I urge you to attend one and discover the special quality of Orthodox worship.

      Regarding emotion and our love for God, I would say that love is far more than just feelings. It comes from a place deep within us where only the Holy Spirit dwells. While Orthodox worship may not seem very emotional on the surface, there is deep current of love in Orthodox worship.


  20. John

    Hi Robert. I enjoyed reading this. It was a very fair, calm assessment of your opinions. Easy to swallow for someone that’s never been exposed to Orthodoxy at all.

    Can I ask you to address a couple things. What about how the Jerusalem church (Peter, James) wanted to impose a list of Jewish rules on new gentile believers, and then conceded to only two in the end. Was that an arbitrary decision that displeased God in your opinion? It appeared to free the Gentiles from a yoke of legalities. If that’s true, it seems left to us to make certain judgements about what God is pleased with based on our Culture somewhat. I wasn’t raised Jewish, or Greek gentile, nor had any exposure to liturgical denominations either.

    Also, how do you account for the answered prayers and living relationship that I and other contemporary worshipers experience? I’m drawn to prayer many times throughout the day. My family has experienced God’s provision time and time again, me being a self-employed artist. My children have found it so natural to believe in the Godhead, because we teach them the role each plays in our life. God flows out of us in love for our church body, and unbelievers. Obviously, it would take an incredible move of God to convince me that we are missing His mark. The peace of Christ rules in our hearts.

    I do have one question that isn’t as rhetorical, as you can see the others are to some degree. We know the early Christians attended the temple, but were the home fellowships and gatherings similarly adorned with an altar or incense? A priest?

    • robertar

      Hi John,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      First of all, you asked some good questions. The controversy that led to the Jerusalem Council is somewhat complex and has been understood in several ways. There is a tendency among Protestants to superimpose the Protestant vs. Catholic debate of the 1500s on the first century church. The controversy was not over legalism, but whether Gentile converts needed to become Jews. The controversy was not so much over soteriology as it was over ecclesiology. Was the Church essentially Jewish in nature or was it open to the non-Jews? The decision made at the Jerusalem Council was that non-Jews could become full members of the Church without being required to undergo circumcision and assume the responsibility of following all of the Jewish Torah. So my answer to your question is that the decision made by the Council was pleasing to God. It is a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13; Acts 15:28). The Jerusalem Council was not a man made institution but the Church instituted by Christ Himself (Matthew 16:18).

      And with respect to God answering your prayers and others like you who are engaged in contemporary, I would say that God’s love is not confined to the Orthodox Church. At the end of every Sunday service the Orthodox priest ends with: “For He alone is good and He loveth mankind.” And John 3:16 begins with the premise: “For God so loved the world (Greek: cosmos) ….” God is generous with His love for us. He does not say if you meet these standards then you will experience My love.

      I think it is part of an incredible move by God that you and I are having this conversation. I was a Protestant Evangelical for twenty five years before I became Orthodox. I had no plans back then to leave Protestantism. It was through a matter of encounters and events and readings that I started on my journey to Orthodoxy. It was a journey that would take me about seven years. I’m sure you are surprised to find yourself asking questions about the Orthodox Church. I would say: Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you according the promise in John 16:13. Feel free to do more research about Orthodoxy but most importantly please attend an Orthodox Sunday Service (Liturgy). Orthodoxy can’t really be understood through books or Internet postings as through worship. ( BTW, I recommend that people look for an all English Orthodox service. Many Americans find it hard to follow when the service is in another language.) After you attend your first Liturgy, please get in touch with me and we will talk some more.

      And with respect to your last question about early home worship, the simple answer is that we don’t really know. I can make some guesses here. My guess is that the early Eucharistic celebrations were probably quite simple. But within this simple meal were three revolutionary elements: (1) Jesus the Messiah, (2) the coinciding of the Last Supper with the Jewish Passover, and (3) Jesus’ words of institution which made reference to a “new covenant.” It was not until tensions grew between the followers of Jesus and the Temple leadership that changes began to occur. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the exclusion of Jesus’ followers from the synagogues precipitated major changes in both Judaism and Christianity. Jewish worship was transformed into Torah focused synagogue worship and the Levitical sacrifice left in abeyance. The Church began to view Jesus’ death on the Cross and the Eucharist as the fulfillment of the Levitical sacrifcial system (Hebrews 9:11-15). The Church also began to view itself as the true Israel (Galatians 4:28-31, 6:16). I would guess that when this happened the Church began to draw on the memory and expertise of the priests and Levites who had served at the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 6:7). The Apostle Paul was not a priest but his companion and one time mentor Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36). The point I want to stress here is that what we see here is not innovation but rather conservation. The community of the New Covenant did not abandon or reject the Old Covenant, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit transformed it and fulfilled it.


  21. John Anton

    At the beginning i want to thank you for that great article
    second can anyone solve the problem of why not to dance in the new testament i want that clues & verses that could solve that problem as i always in any discussion the other party uses this principle why not to dance ??? it is written in the holy bible in the psalm 150 to dance & Miriam danced King David danced ?!!
    so please help me in that issue 🙂

    • John Peck

      Let’s remember that David danced ‘before’ the Temple, not within it. We don’t dance because it isn’t worship – it is performance. Showing off. Privately, knock yourself out.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I think Fr. John Peck and David gave you excellent replies to your question.


      • Archpreist John Morris

        Actually we do dance in the Orthodox Church. The walk three times around the memorial table by the priest and bride and groom and the walk three times around the Holy Table by a candidate for ordination is a kind of liturgical dance.

  22. David

    As Fr John said above…what David did (apparently once) outside the Temple…was never incorporated into the Liturgy IN the temple…or synogouge’s liturgy….so the Father would not have any inclination to continue it in Christian worship. (nevertheless, with Fr John…we can knock ourselves out with liturgical dance…privately!) LOL!!!

  23. Archpreist John Morris

    Actually we do have a form of liturgical dance in the Orthodox Church. The walk three times around the memorial table by the priest and the couple at the end of a marriage and the walk three times around the Holy Table by a candidate for ordination is a kind of liturgical dance.

  24. Archpreist John Morris

    Actually we do have a form of liturgical dance in the Orthodox Church. The walk three times around the memorial table by the priest and couple at the end of the wedding service and the walk three times around the Holy Table by a candidate for ordination are a kind of liturgical dance.

  25. Archpreist John Morris

    Sorry that I published my comment three times. I did not understand the instructions.

  26. Fr. Paul Jannakos

    Fr. John, Excellent article! Thank you very much…

    • robertar

      Fr. Paul,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!


  27. George

    I think the podium was a Latin innovation not a protestant one. Most old Catholic Churches have one and many Catholic Churches that have returned to Orthodoxy have them, and when they are present I have seen them used by Orthodox Priest to say the sermon, and at other times seen readings read from them.

    These are still however usually off to one side and not in the center.

    Protestantism does in the most obvious way possible put a man between worshippers and God.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Thanks for sharing your insight with us.


  28. Matt

    I’m not sure you’re entirely familiar with the Protestant Reformation. Us Lutherans still practice a very liturgical, orthodox service. We only have doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church (where I was raised).

    • robertar


      Don’t worry. I have an MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary so I’m pretty conversant with the Protestant Reformation. If I don’t say much about Lutheranism on this site, it is because I’m trying to keep the focus on the Reformed tradition. But I have read Luther’s writings, his classic commentary on Romans, his early and later writings.

      But let me ask you this: How familiar are you with Orthodoxy? Have you ever been to an Orthodox Liturgy? Have you compared the fifth century Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with your present day Lutheran liturgy? I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.


  29. Terry

    Hi, Robert,

    Thank you for posting this comparison.

    How would you say various Christian sects define worship? How would you say that Orthodoxy defines worship?

    Since we only worship God (or should), how would you distinguish between Orthodox veneration of icons, saints, and relics versus Orthodox worship of the Holy Trinity?

    Thank you in advance for your response.


    • robertar


      Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge! You asked some good questions.

      If you go to my article “Why Evangelicals Need Mary” and look for my quote from Kimberly Hahn, I think you’ll find the answer to your question about the difference between honoring the saints and worshiping God.

      I think another way of putting it is that we honor the saints, but we serve God. Serving God involves sacrifice, giving up something. In the US we honor the troops for their service to the country. Their example serves as an example of what patriotism is about but cannot take the place of serving one’s country. I hope this analogy helps.


  30. Alex

    I realize that this discussion is almost a year old, so hopefully someone gets notified when a new comment is posted.

    I am very new to Orthodox theology and I am almost completely unfamiliar with Orthodox Liturgy and practice. I have two questions about the Orthodox perspective on worship. The first regards creativity in worship. While I do not agree with the mega church methodology in worship, I find it hard to believe that creativity has such a small place in worship. I particularly see evidence of this in the Psalms as David wrote worship songs an poems to be sung by the people, offered as worship to God. How does the Orthodox community leave room for this kind of creativity?

    The second issue deals with the Holy Spirit. I am very much against the high-emotion atmosphere that often characterizes the pentecostal church and the abuse of Christian doctrine that they have caused in the name of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, It seems clear that the Holy Spirit was given to guide is in all truth (John 16:13) and to connect our mind to the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12-13). With that in mind, wouldn’t there be room for at least some changes?

    I look forward to hearing back as I work through Orthodox theology and practice. Thank you!

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! And thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Orthodox Tradition is not static but organic. One can view it as like a tiny seed that grows into a huge fruit bearing tree. Despite the outward changes the inner essence remains unchanged.

      My advice to you is that you do some reading on the basic features of the Orthodox Liturgy then you when you visit Orthodox churches you can spot the similarities and differences. One difference is the Byzantine chant used in Greek Orthodox services compared to the four-part harmony used in Russian or Slavic churches. The four-part harmony was imported from the West in the 18th century. I find it much more familiar than the Byzantine chant even though I attend a Greek parish.

      Is there change and creativity in Orthodox worship? The answer is yes but it’s a disciplined change. For example, if someone is recognized as a saint then a short song — “troparion” — is composed celebrating God’s grace at work in their lives. There’s a song “Rejoice O Unwedded Bride” which has been slowly gaining acceptance among Orthodox parishes. The ideas in the song is not new but the musical expression is moving which accounts for its popularity. The church I go to recently started singing that song during Communion when people are going up to receive the Eucharist. It’s important to keep in mind that the choir has some leeway in what they can sing during this part of the service. In some churches the lines are long because there are a lot of people going up to receive Communion so the choir director needs to find prayers to be read or hymns to be sung during this time. But keep in mind that this is not the Liturgy per se, the Liturgy proper consists of prescribed prayers and hymns. Examples of prescribed hymns include: “Monogenes (Only Begotten Son)” and “Phos Hilaron (Joyful Light)”; these are standards and found in all Orthodox parishes. Should a hymn becomes part of the liturgical texts it comes part of the official teaching of the Orthodox Church. The bishop has to approve these changes. The local congregation cannot take the lead in changing the Sunday services.

      I know a Greek Orthodox priest who can play contemporary Christian songs on the guitar. He plays these songs at the youth retreats OUTSIDE the Liturgy. So Orthodoxy is not hostile to contemporary Christian music, but we carefully guard the Liturgy because it is one of the pillars of Tradition. I like to listen to some contemporary Christian groups on my CD player but I wouldn’t try and make it part of the Sunday worship. Orthodox worship is based on the eternal worship in heaven; it is not contemporary worship. It is “contemporary” with heaven, not with transient modern culture with all its fads and trends.

      It’s also important to keep in mind that when we talk of Orthodox worship, we are talking about more than the Sunday morning Liturgy. We are also talking about the Matins service before the Liturgy and the Saturday evening Vespers service. Then there are the mid week services. This rich array of services is theology in song.

      I would suggest you visit several Orthodox services. I encourage you to check out and compare the Greek Byzantine chant with the Russian/Slavic four-part harmony. Feel free to ask me further questions.


      • Prometheus


        You talk about organic tradition in the context of changes that become authoritative for the church. Could you elaborate on how that is different from development of doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church?

        • robertar


          I don’t think there much of a difference between the way Orthodox and Roman Catholics understand the development of doctrine. I think the real difference lies in how we understand the facts of history. For example, Irenaeus acknowledges the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Roman Catholics claim that this means that the early church believed in the Pope as the Vicar of Christ early on whereas Orthodox Christians believe that this is a later development. I have a hard time accepting the idea of papal supremacy in the early church because the evidence is not there in the patristic literature or in the early councils. I found Aristeides Papadakis’ book The Christian East & the Rise of the Papacy very informative with respect to the rise of the papacy in the eleventh century. See “The rising tide of papalism,” pp. 46-58. What is to be noted here is that while one can trace the gradual emergence of the papacy in the West in the eleventh century, it marks a divergence from ecclesiology of the early church. This innovative nature of the medieval papacy is confirmed by the objections of the other four eastern patriarchates.

          Let me add that there one subtle but important difference in understanding (as opposed to application) between the two traditions. Roman Catholicism sees the office of the Pope as the key thread of continuity, whereas for Orthodoxy it is the patristic consensus and the authority of the Ecumenical Councils that provides the thread of continuity. This is because it views the Councils as having authority over all bishops including the bishop of Rome. This leaves inquirers like you having to ask where the magisterium lies: in the Church as a whole as expressed through the Councils or in the singular office of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope)? Many Protestants side step the issue by naively assuming that the early church fell into error and spiritual darkness; but that view of church history is unbiblical and unsupported by historical evidence.

          Another example of different applications can be seen in the Aristotelian categories used in the doctrine of transubstantiation. This reliance on Aristotle reflected the West’s discovery of Aristotle via the Arabs in the thirteenth century. The point here is that the Western scholastics’ use of Aristotle marked a break from the theological method of the early church fathers both Latin and Greek.

          A third example would be Anselm of Canterbury’s attempts to do theology solely on the basis of human reason. This marked a significant break from the theological methods of the church fathers who sought to read Scripture in the context of Tradition. It gave Western theology a greater emphasis on logic and propositions not found in the Byzantine East. For me a light went on in my head when I realized that Roman Catholicism = Medieval Catholicism and that Medieval Catholicism does not equal the catholic church as understood by the early church fathers.

          I concluded that while Roman Catholicism has historic roots in the pre-1054 Church, in many ways its real roots go back to Medieval Catholicism. When one looks at the early Church prior to 1054, Medieval Catholicism, post-Tridentine Catholicism, then post Vatican II Catholicism one sees a series mutations in doctrine and practice. While Roman Catholics today profess continuity with the early Church, I would say that the Orthodox Church today bears a stronger resemblance to the early Church than the Roman Catholicism of today.


        • George Kleinert

          I would add this to what Robert has said: The way that the Roman Church understands development of doctrine has resulted in modern Roman Catholics being required to assent to doctrines that were not important elements of faith (or were even denied) in earlier centuries, such as the addition of the filioque to the Nicene Creed, the monarchical leadership of the Bishop of Rome, and the immaculate conception of Mary. Father Andrew Stephen Damick has described this as Roman Catholicism not being “backward-compatible”.

          Eastern Orthodoxy is arguably free from such innovative additions. There have been innovative uses of terminology, such as the Son of God being homousios or of the same essence with the Father (which is almost universally accepted today) or the distinction between the essense and the energies of God (which the Roman church rejected in the dispute between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam). But those arguing for the new terminology contended that the resulting doctrine was a necessary clarification of what had been taught by earlier Fathers.

          Dr. Clark Carlton has a podcast episode on Ancient Faith Radio entitled “The Tragedy of Dogma.” His point is that when the Church has stepped up and pronounced something to be an essential element of church dogma, it has been in response to a dangerous error which is circulating. You will notice that Orthodox folk are comfortable with ambiguity and variety of pious belief, as long as the essentials are not denied. That is seen as a feature, not a problem. On the other hand, the Western churches, possibly due to the influence of Aristotle that Robert mentioned, like everything to be neat and systematized.

        • Prometheus

          Thank you both.

      • Alex

        Is there such a thing as a church that believes and teaches Orthodox theology, yet chooses allow more elements into their Sunday worship? Would the Eastern church even recognize them as a part of the orthodox tradition?

        • robertar


          Great question!

          There was a group of Evangelicals who wanted to go back to the early Church. They studied the early church fathers and the ancient liturgies. They abandoned later Protestant practices for historic Orthodoxy. Then they entered into dialogue with the Orthodox Church. Were they at that point big “O” Orthodox? The answer to use the American idiom is: “Close, but no cigar.” You can read about the journey of the Evangelical Orthodox to historic Orthodoxy in Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox. Or you can watch this video.

          To answer your question more directly, I would say the hypothetical church you described would be small “o” orthodox even if it did everything that a big “O” Orthodox church does. The missing element would be their being under a bishop who can trace his succession back to the original Apostles. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 98/117) wrote in his Letter to the Smyrneans that to have a valid Eucharist there had to be a bishop presiding over it or his appointed representative. I found this principle very helpful and practical. If I ever have any questions about a church that claims to be “Orthodox,” all I need to do is ask two questions: “Who is your bishop?” and “Is your bishop in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople?”

          Basically, it is through the bishop that the local Orthodox parish is linked to the Orthodox around the world and back to the early Church via his apostolic succession. The important point to grasp here is that the bishop does not stand alone but is part of the larger community of bishops. Orthodox Tradition is the shared life of the Church founded by Christ.

          Hope you find this helpful.


  31. Kyle

    Wonderful article. I am currently studying the history of the altar. I’ve been intrigued as to where the altar has gone in our society as newer contemporary churches are building sanctuaries without what I’d consider the most important part of the house of worship. The discussion I get from their side is that the altar is a “memorable” place within the heart of the people; however, while I don’t fully disagree, I don’t think the Bible fully supports that. The physical altar should be central to our House of Worship, shouldn’t it?

    • robertar

      Good question! I would say that central to Christian worship is the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. There’s a tendency among many contemporary Christians to separate the spiritual from the physical. This separation is not biblical and can lead to heresy. You might be interested in reading the late Peter Gillquist’s book The Physical Side of Being Spiritual. Historically, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) has been key to Christian worship, it was only recently that the Eucharist was supplanted by the word-based sermon which in turn was supplanted by spiritual experiences like speaking in tongues, signs and wonders, or being ‘slain in the Spirit’ as the focus of worship services. A physical altar is needed if one believes that in the Eucharist the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ.

  32. Mason Barge

    ” Contemporary Protestant worship on the other hand welcomes everybody and makes no distinction between believers and nonbelievers in its worship.” I don’t know of any church that invites nonbelievers to take communion. Of course, in the non-liturgical churches the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is quite a bit different than in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In sacramental Protestant churches, only persons baptized in faith are invited to take communion. In non-sacramental churches, nothing is said (in my experience) when the elements are passed among the congregation, but their doctrine is quite clear that the taking of communion has no significance for anyone not reborn in Christ.

    • robertar

      Mason Barge,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! The point I wanted to make in that paragraph was that lacking an altar Protestant churches end up being like a theater or restaurant open to the public. In the early Church only those who intended to receive Communion were permitted to remain for the second half of the Liturgy. That can be seen in the phrase: “The doors! The doors!” which was used to dismiss the catechumens and visitors.

      Unfortunately, things have gotten to the point in some parts of Protestantism where even those who belong another religion can be invited to partake of the consecrated elements. David Virtue in a 29 September 2009 posting reported that Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Church Los Angeles’ diocese authorized a joint service in which Hindus were invited to receive the consecrated elements. This event was also reported in the Los Angeles Times article.


      • Karen

        In my former Evangelical “low” church, all those who are “believers in Jesus Christ, who have accepted Him as Savior from their sins” are invited to partake. So basically any visitors who consider themselves Christians, whether they have formally ever been part of another Christian church or not, baptized or not, can partake. Recently, it was decided in the church that even those who have never been baptized can become members and can partake of communion even if they aren’t formal members of the church. If this is further reduced to those who are “believers in Jesus Christ,” even Hindus and Muslims who “believe in Jesus Christ” in an undefined sense and many do–Jesus is a god to many Hindus and a prophet to Muslims–could partake. I don’t believe this is something that would intentionally take place at my former church (far from it), which is why they qualify their invitation and what is meant by “belief in Jesus” at least minimally. But, I have read there are instances where some non-Christians do, especially in situations where they are married to and attend church with a Christian or in places where the church is in the midst of Hindu or Muslim culture).

  33. Anna G

    As followers of Jesus Christ we should always check ourselves and see who we are as Christians by our fruits! Whether we are true Christians who have fruits of Spirit in them:”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”(Galatians 5:22-23New International Version (NIV)).
    or false Christians with fruits the flesh in them: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21 New International Version (NIV))

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