In a 26 January 2013 canonwired podcast, Pastor Doug Wilson was asked about the fragmented state of Protestantism. One frequent objection to Protestantism is the fact that it has over 20,000 denominations. Pastor Wilson responded that if you look at the data in terms of tradition as opposed to independent polities, you will find Orthodoxy has 19 different traditions, Protestants have 21 different traditions (streams), and for Roman Catholics there are 16 different traditions. This answer gives one the impression that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox are all in the same boat.
However, Pastor Wilson is confusing apples with oranges. His 21 Protestant groupings are based on theological differences among Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals etc. His 19 Orthodox groupings are based mostly on national jurisdictions, e.g., Greek Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Bulgarian Orthodoxy etc. National Orthodox jurisdictions are of a very different nature from doctrinal differences between Protestant denominations.
In this blog posting I will sketch Protestantism’s theological divisions. Then I will compare its doctrinal disarray against Orthodoxy’s theological unity.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
One of the first major divisions occurred over the Lord’s Supper. In 1529 Luther and Zwingli met at the Marburg Colloquy seeking to come to a common understanding of Christ’s words: “This is my body.” Luther held to the real presence, while Zwingli preferred a more symbolic understanding. Unable to come to an agreement the two went their separate ways. Calvin held to a position somewhere between the two.
This difference over the real presence in the Lord’s Supper continues to divide Protestants. Many Evangelicals and Baptists will side with Zwingli, while the more traditional or high church Protestants will side with Luther (if properly nuanced). The significance of the Marburg Colloquy is that deep divisions emerged so soon among the original Reformers despite their adherence to sola scriptura. Theological division is not a later development but present from the start.
Baptism was another cause for division. Lutherans and the Reformed Christians continued the practice of baptizing infants, while the Anabaptists rejected infant baptism insisting that only those old enough to understand the meaning of faith were to be baptized. The Anabaptist movement began in 1523 in Zurich and spread to many parts of Europe. The Baptists we know today can be traced to seventeenth century English Separatism. Their refusal to recognize infant baptism or baptism by sprinkling divides the Baptists from more historic Protestants. Some Protestants have experienced the pain of being excluded from Holy Communion at a Baptist church just because they had not been baptized by total immersion. And those who wish to join a Baptist church will need to be rebaptized by total immersion.
Conclusion: The majority of Protestants reject Roman Catholicism’s seven sacraments for two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The reducing of the number of sacraments to just two rather than promoting unity resulted in divisions among Protestants.
Under Elizabeth I the Anglican Church and the Via Media (Middle Way) was established in the mid 1500s. Via Media was a compromise between Roman Catholicism and the more radical Protestants influenced by Calvin’s Geneva. The English Puritans objected to the retention of the episcopacy and its close ties with the monarchy. Two novel forms of church government emerged from this: presbyterianism and congregationalism. Presbyterians believe that the local congregation is to be governed by presbyters (elders) elected by the people of a congregation or by a group of congregations. Congregationalists reject the notion of a state church. Following the “gathered church” principle, they insist that the church should consist only of those who responded to the call of Christ and who covenanted with Christ and each other to live as Christ’s disciples.
The Holy Spirit and Religious Revivalism
There is within Protestantism, especially Puritanism, a strong emphasis on a personal experience of God’s grace. The Halfway Covenant controversy that troubled the New England colonies in the mid 1600s was over whether those who professed faith in Christ and lived upright lives but had had no conversion experience were to be admitted into full church membership. In the mid 1700s there emerged a movement of New England Congregational preachers who insisted on the possibility of an instantaneous or sudden conversion experience attended by emotional and mystical features known as “New Lights.” These were resisted by those who believed that faith in Christ did not require a dramatic experience and that the baptism administered to infants was efficacious provided that it was accompanied by diligent catechesis. In the mid 1800s John Williamson Nevin in The Anxious Bench criticized the emotional approach to religious conversion being popularized by the frontier revivals. From the frontier revivals of the 1800s we see the origins of the emphasis being “born again” prominent among many Evangelicals and Baptists today.
Similar to the emphasis on instantaneous conversion was the emphasis on instantaneous or entire sanctification. The Holiness movement which emerged in the mid 1800s sought to preserve John Wesley’s teaching that through a powerful instantaneous and emotional experience, distinct from the initial conversion, one who became cleansed from inbred sin was enabled to live without conscious or deliberate sin. This emphasis gave rise to the Holiness Churches, the Church of the Nazarene, and many other smaller groups.
A new religious movement emerged from this emphasis on the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism. This movement which emerged at the turn of the century emphasized speaking in tongues as the sign that one had received the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism has exerted a wide and powerful influence on twentieth century Protestantism. What was initially considered a bizarre sect in time became accepted in many mainline churches through the charismatic renewal. Its expressive form of worship laid the foundation for the contemporary worship services found in many congregations.
We find here three quite different approaches to Christian conversion and faith in Christ: (1) the more traditional churches that accept infant baptism and view faith as trusting in Christ, (2) those who insist that becoming a Christian requires having undergone a distinct conversion experience and that baptism is only valid for those who had such an experience, and (3) those who believe that having a born again experience while necessary is not sufficient and that one needed to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues. These differences are more than doctrinal. They touch upon the issue of who was a genuine Christian and who was not. These questions generated strong emotions on both sides often resulting in church splits and new church groups being formed.
Liberalism Versus Fundamentalism
With the rise of modern science and the Enlightenment, Western Christianity faced a new challenge, knowledge based on autonomous reason. The historical critical method of studying the Bible and the quest for the historical Jesus caused many to question and rethink traditional doctrines. Many Protestant theologians, pastors, and denominational leaders began to jettison traditional beliefs like the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and even that of Jesus’ divinity!
This gave rise to theological liberalism, an attempt to forge a new theology compatible with the insights and findings of modern science. Others resisted the attempt viewing naturalism as incompatible with the traditional Christian worldview. This gave rise to conflicts between the theological conservatives that sought to hold on traditional doctrines and the theological liberals that sought to adapt theology to the new knowledge being generated by modern science. In contrast to previous theological schisms that more or less remained within the confines of Christianity, theological liberalism resulted in many churches and denominations parting ways from the historic Christian Faith.
This is not to say that ‘conservative’ Protestantism resisted the temptation to syncretism. The controversial ‘word of faith’, prosperity gospel, and holy laughter teachings, while immensely popular today have gone beyond the boundaries of historic Christianity. The contemporary Christian music and the seeker friendly/church growth movement have taken much of Evangelical worship away from the historic pattern of Christian worship. And ironically, in a post-modern reaction to the excesses of modern Evangelical worship the ancient-future movement surfaced in an attempt to reconnect with the ancient Christian tradition lost by modern Evangelicalism.
Protestantism and Orthodoxy Compared
In his attempt to describe Protestantism as consisting of 21 groupings or traditions, Pastor Doug Wilson glossed over the serious doctrinal divisions among Protestants. This is where the contrast between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is most evident.
Core Doctrine – All of Orthodoxy share in the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology as defined by the Ecumenical Councils; Protestants, on the other hand, range anywhere from the classical Reformed and Lutherans who adhere to traditional Christology to the liberals who question or even reject the divinity of Christ or seek to redefine the Trinity using inclusive language – with more than a few denominations lying somewhere in between.
Worship – All of Orthodoxy carefully follow a select few ancient liturgies received from the historic Church; Protestantism has no common pattern or unity of worship. Rather than rely on Tradition, they sought to create their own liturgies based on their reading of the Bible. Protestant worship follows a broad spectrum from liturgical Anglican and Lutheran services, to sermon focused services characteristic of Evangelicals and Baptists, to the more emotionally expressive services among charismatics and Pentecostals.
Church Government – All of Orthodoxy agree that proper church government requires a bishop who is in apostolic succession; the vast majority Protestantism have no bishops in any historic sense. Where the early Church only had one kind of polity: episcopal, Protestantism allows for all kinds: episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational. In a disturbing development some of the Third Wave charismatic churches have claimed to have restored the office of the apostles!
Sacraments – All Orthodox share a common understanding of the historic sacraments. They all affirm the real presence in the Eucharist. There are different understandings about the need to baptize converts from Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Among Protestants there is no unity over infant baptism or the mode of baptism. Neither is there a shared understanding about how often a church should observe the Lord’s Supper, the real presence, and who is authorized to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
It has been claimed that Protestants do in fact enjoy Eucharistic unity. But given the widespread belief that Holy Communion is just a symbol, intercommunion among Protestants has become all but disconnected from doctrinal orthodoxy and moral discipline. In the glaring light of this fact, claims to Eucharistic unity among Protestants sound hollow to Orthodox Christians.
Conclusion: The sad fact is that Protestantism today has no unifying core beliefs, no shared pattern of worship, on top of its many denominations founded on these divisions. From what I know of Pastor Wilson, he takes doctrine seriously. However, he does his listeners a horrendous disservice by ignoring this scandalous reality. What is compelling many Evangelicals to take a serious look at Orthodoxy is not merely the fractured state of Protestant theology and the widespread apostasy among liberal mainline denominations, but also the accelerating pace of doctrinal innovations among the younger generations of Evangelicals.
Protestantism’s Doctrinal Disarray
When I was a member of the liberal mainline United Church of Christ (UCC), a friend made a joke about the fact that if you walked into a room of 30 people at a UCC conference you would find 30 theologies in that room. While intended to be humorous, the joke also underscored a very sad fact about the theological health of a denomination in decline. Similar tensions have surfaced in the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
When I studied at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary the majority of the students there were conservative Evangelicals. There was much common ground among us students but the sad fact was that there was no common worship life at Gordon-Conwell. There was a chapel service but that was sparsely attended. Once a month the students would meet with their fellow denomination members, but there was little interest in reconciling denominational differences during these meetings.
This is not to say that there are no differences among Orthodox Christians. We differ over following the new church calendar versus the old church calendar of fast and feast days. I have friends who attend an old calendar Russian Orthodox parish. But while they celebrate Christmas two weeks later than the Greek Orthodox, I can receive Holy Communion if I were to visit that parish. As far as multiple administrative jurisdictions in America, we all agree that it is contrary to canonical law. I don’t know of any Orthodox bishop or priest who believe that multiple jurisdiction is God’s will. Steps have been taken to prepare the way for another council.
The multiplicity of administrative jurisdictions has not destroyed or precluded the fundamental liturgical and Eucharistic unity among world Orthodoxy. In Honolulu I attend the Greek Orthodox Church; on occasion I will visit the nearby ROCOR parish. When I visit the mainland I usually attend an OCA or Antiochian Orthodox parish. Also, we recently had an OCA priest who moved to Hawaii and was assigned to the local ROCOR parish and who would fill in for the Greek Orthodox priest when he went on vacation. So those who point to the problem of multiple jurisdictions are overlooking the Eucharistic unity that we all share and our desire to live out our unity in Christ.
Schism can be healed. When I became Orthodox in 1999, I was discouraged from visiting the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) parish. This was because ROCOR saw the Moscow Patriarchate as collaborating with the Soviet regime and broke off ties with them. That schism was healed in 2006. As far as the schism between Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox I remain cautiously optimistic. Whenever I visit a nearby Coptic church I can sense of family resemblance that I do not have when I visit a Roman Catholic or Anglican parish. One positive sign is that the Copts have been sending students to the Greek Orthodox Holy Cross Seminary. Another positive sign of possible reconciliation is the fact Coptic Christians can receive the Eucharist at an Orthodox church when there is no Coptic church in the area. This is an exception made on a case by case basis and requires the blessing of the bishop.
One could point to the various splinter Orthodox groups. A Wikipedia article on Orthodoxy has three categories: (1) those in full communion, (2) traditionalist schisms, and (3) nationalist schisms. The best way to deal with this complex situation is to ask: What do we mean by Orthodox unity? Unity in Orthodoxy is organic and relational. The Eucharistic unity that all Orthodox share in is not just in the body and blood of Christ, it is also a communion among Orthodox bishops around the world and goes back to the Apostles. It is not enough for a church group to put the name “Orthodox” on its door; it must be in communion with the ancient patriarchates. It is a sad and unfortunate fact that human nature being what it is has resulted in individuals and groups leaving the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But based on what the Nicene Creed teaches we believe that there has always been one Church, not two parts. This view means that if one leaves the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the Church remains intact but one has become outside the Church. One way of locating this one holy catholic and apostolic Church is to see who is in communion with the ancient patriarchates.
There was a group of sincere Christians who called themselves the “Evangelical Orthodox Church.” There is no patent, to my knowledge, on using the word “Orthodox.” Similarly, there are many cults who call themselves “Christians.” Yet as the Evangelical Orthodox grew in maturity and understanding, they learned that to be Orthodox in the historic sense meant entering into canonical communion with the historic Orthodox patriarchates. So, they did. (See chapter 10 “A Decade of Decision” and chapter 11 “Welcome Home!” in Peter Gillquists’ Becoming Orthodox.)
Inquirers will need to confront two questions: (1) Do I agree with the Nicene Creed’s “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church?” and (2) Where do I find this one holy catholic and apostolic Church? I don’t think they will find it in Protestantism.
When I entered into Orthodoxy I found a common faith and a common worship. I close with two quotes: one from the second century church father, Irenaeus of Lyons, and another from a contemporary Orthodox blogger, Vincent Martini. Irenaeus wrote:
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth (Against Heresies 1.10.2, Richardson 1970:360).
Vincent Martini wrote:
An Orthodox Christian in America can travel to any Orthodox church in Greece, Russia, or Serbia, experiencing the same liturgy, prayer, and piety that they are accustomed to in their “home” church, while sharing full eucharistic fellowship with every single one of them. (“How Many Different Orthodox Churches Are There?”)
Despite the nearly two thousand years that separate Vincent Martini from Irenaeus of Lyons, we see the same Orthodox Faith.
When we compare Protestantism against Orthodoxy we will find that very little has changed with respect to Orthodoxy. Orthodox unity is based on the stability of Holy Tradition. All Orthodox share the same core doctrines, the same worship, and the same Eucharist — as did our Fathers in the centuries before us – and as will our grandchildren in the generations to come. But Protestantism is not grounded in the stability of Holy Tradition but in the quest for a reformed church ever reforming. This has resulted in constant change and flux from the time of Luther and Calvin till now. Neither the most historic high church denominations nor its low church evangelical or charismatic counterparts will be able to guarantee that its grandchildren will worship or believe as they did.
This is only my personal opinion and i can easily be wrong and i humbly accept it if i’m wrong.
I get the impression that Protestant history has been so focused on justifying itself against Roman Catholicism (with good reason originally) that when Orthodoxy showed up, it was hard to know what to do with it. Protestantism had so many generations to evolve and accept itself as “right” that when it stared the ancient Church face to face, it found that SOME of the criticisms from Roman Catholicism may have had some weight to them.
So what to do?
One option is to use arguments that apply to Roman Catholicism but they don’t apply to Orthodoxy.
Another option is to claim that Orthodoxy has wrong doctrine. But when looking through history, you discover that Orthodoxy has the right doctrine and through Holy Tradition has maintained it.
So what now? Protestantism has had it’s home very strongly in the US. It has been built by it. Much of its ethos derives from it. It’s been believed, lived and been a family for multiple generations and now it’s what? a lie?? Was all that zeal for Jesus, for morals for salvation all one big farce??
Though i wouldn’t say that it was all for nothing, i wouldn’t blame a Protestant for thinking that this is what an Orthodox Christian is saying.
If the Orthodox Church is the Ancient Church, does that mean that they’re the only ones that can legitimately say that they’re Christian and know that they’re right? If that’s the case, does this mean that a Protestant saying that he’s a Christian is nothing more then self-proclaiming oneself??
Real hard questions come up in this. I thank God that it I didn’t have to go through this process in any difficult way because i waited to be spiritually ready to look into Orthodoxy and open to accepting things that may contradict what i thought.
My prayers to all who inquire in life.
Thank you for the courage to ask hard questions.
First of all, I wouldn’t call Protestantism a farce. I was a Protestant Evangelical for 25 years before I became Orthodox. There are good things in Protestantism. I know that for a fact based on personal experience. From Protestantism I learned to love the Bible, to have a daily prayer, to attend church on a weekly basis, and I acquired a passion for world evangelization. These are the things I took with me into Orthodoxy and still hold on to even today. So the Orthodox critique of Protestantism is not so much that it is wrong as it does not have the fullness of the Faith.
You are right that American culture has been profoundly shaped by Protestantism; but will that be the case in the future? There are indications that we may be heading into a post-Christian America in the near future. One image in my mind is that Evangelicalism is like a grass shack made for life on a breezy tropical beach. But when the storm hits the grass shack will collapse but the castle built with stone blocks and on a strong foundation will be able to withstand the storm. After years of seeing fads come and go in Evangelicalism and watching with horror the growing apostasy in liberal mainline denominations I find a sense of relief and security in belonging to the Orthodox Church. You can see my analysis of what ails Protestantism in my blog posting: “Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw.”
As far as who is a true Christian that is a question best left to God. As Jesus put it to Peter’s question: Yes, Lord, but what about him?” Jesus answered, “If it is my wish for him to stay until I come, is that your business, Peter? You must follow me.” (John 21:21-22; Phillips translation) Being Orthodox doesn’t guarantee your salvation. What Orthodoxy does is provide you the tools and wisdom for working your salvation in Christ. Every Lent we are reminded of the one disciple who knew the Lord Jesus but betrayed him; this is a warning that it is possible to lose one’s salvation. One good thing about traditional Protestantism is that it encourages personal faith in Christ. While Orthodox does affirm that it is The Church, it does not say that God’s love and mercy is to be found only in the Orthodox Church. But having said that, I would affirm that the fullness of God’s blessing is found in the Church because it is in the Eucharist where we receive the body and blood of Christ. It is in the Eucharist that we enter into the fellowship with the saints who have gone before and where we join in the heavenly worship.
I would encourage you to talk to other Orthodox Christians,and especially with Orthodox priests. I think you will many will see good things in Protestantism even when we disagree with it. Take your time and get to know the Orthodox worldview. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.
Hey Robert. I am actually Orthodox. I came into the Orthodox Church around 2 years ago.
I agree with everything that you said and I do not negate the good things that I had gained out of Protistantism and never will. The way I figured it is that Protestantism for me was like elementary school. I was introduced to subjects and learned basics. Then Orthodoxy was easier to get into because i didn’t have to get everything all at once. Just a smooth transition.
when i asked the questions:”It’s been believed, lived and been a family for multiple generations and now it’s what? a lie?? Was all that zeal for Jesus, for morals for salvation all one big farce??”
I don’t believe it to be a farce at all. There is something there just not in its fullness. But what i was aiming at is the emotional reaction that a Protestant might have as these questions might come up. Like a spiritual shock.
These are just alot of questions that at the time i had in my mind. I know that i can’t talk to my Protestant friend and say that he’s a Christian as i know that a Christian is what the Creed describes but rather the best i could do is say that my friend is a true Christ lover. Very often more of a Christ lover then many that I find in my own church.
In the end, i won’t be surprised if i find Protestants and Roman Catholics entering the Kingdom of God ahead of me.
I hope my thoughts haven’t offended anyone and if they did, that wasn’t my intention. forgive me
I really like this website because I can get quick info fast and the comments are always interesting and informative to read. However, I really feel like this is a place where Orthodoxy is unbalanced with those of the Reformed camp. Would it be possible to have more on the Reformed camp post up articles or have their position posted? This, however, may be a ‘protestant bias.’
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
Your question is a good one. You are right in suspecting that while both the Reformed and the Orthodox sides are presented on this blog, there is a bias towards the Orthodox point of view here. You might want to read my early blog posting: “My Posting Policy.” Maybe you might want to start your own blogsite? 🙂
I do realize this, I just wanted to say. Personally I love this site and love going to it. I have left evangelicalism because of your posts and have moved into high church anglicanism. Hopefully one day I will move to Orthodoxy after more reading and prayer!
Thanks again for this site.
I’m glad to you enjoy this site. And thanks for sharing with us your journey! Many have found high church Anglicanism a useful stepping stone to Orthodoxy. In addition to more reading, I would encourage you to attend the various Orthodox services. This will help acclimate you to the spirituality of the Orthodox Church.
Is there a way to make contact with you outside this website or even in it? I have questions that I want to ask about the East and Rome! I have many friends that are trying to do everything to pay tribute to the Bishop of Rome, but I refuse to because some of their doctrines….plus the whole Pope thing….
Let me know,
While I agree with your Apples & Oranges analogy, it would have been helpful to interact some with the grossly inflated notion of “20,000, 31,000, 40,000 and growing!” Protestant denominations. Just a few minutes research show this folly. One Roman Catholic writer conceded by the same method there would be over 200 RC branches. Several seem to come up with around 8,000. http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=5159
“Protestant apologist Eric Svendsen has taken exception to this statistical study, or rather to those who don’t read it his way, and has concluded that are are actually only 8,196 Protestant denominations . He criticizes Catholic apologists for using the larger number…”
But even IF this number is double reality…4,000 separate denominations is a tragedy. Nor did you comment much on where this takes sola scriptura as you did in Mathison’s book? You did, however, make a stronger case for fundamental Orthodox doctrinal/creedal/liturgical unity that simply is nowhere to be found in Protestantism. I just saw where a couple of Protestant Pastors are editing the Creed…themselves.
It is important to remember, however, that a great number of these so called divisions in Protestantism is much like what you see within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Different cultural expressions and emphases, but unity in central tenets, such as the the Solas and Trinitarian and Christological theology. They differ not in matters for salvation but on what they consider more minor things. They are, in short, minimalists to what, as has been mentioned many times on Orthodox websites, is called maximalism. The issue that must be solved before trying to analyze how many denominations Protestantism has is whether to take a minimalist or maximalist approach to understanding “denomination.” A minimalist approach will yield a much smaller number than a maximalist approach.
But, though I know the Orthodox disagree, it seems very hard to avoid seeing splits in the Orthodox church, not only at the time of the Great Schism, but also before and after. The only thing that saves the Orthodox (and the Roman Catholic Church) from the same accusation of “denominations” is that it does not recognize the other schisms as the church! The Roman Catholic church is not considered another denomination, but it is not the church at all! Voila! No more problem for the unity of the Church. But some of us have a hard time swallowing that explanation after reading through Roman and Byzantine history. It is hard not to see a strong correlation between the political and religious lines in the Roman empire.
This is not me being antagonistic. More that I’m bitter that I cannot see an unbroken unity in the church throughout history – that I cannot not yet see the Orthodox Church as the one true church – that I cannot find my home there.
I’m not sure what your experience of Protestantism has been, but it seems that we have quite different experiences. When I interacted with my Evangelical friends I would be frustrated with their indifference to the fact that their understanding of sola fide and sola scriptura diverged considerably from that of the early Reformers. Theologically speaking, modern Evangelicalism is far removed from Luther and Calvin. And when I met with other pastors from the United Church of Christ I would be disturbed to find that some believed that Jesus was not the only way to God or that Jesus’ resurrection was not a historical event. I experienced the same thing when I led a bible study at a small Episcopal church and had a chance to interact with the Episcopalian clergy. I think you are glossing over the significant theological differences running through Protestantism today. I would challenge you to give us a set of doctrines that all Protestants would agree on and by that I mean: Baptists, Pentecostals, Reformed, Lutherans, liberal Congregationalists and liberal Episcopalians. I doubt you would be able to provide a cogent and substantive doctrinal framework that unites all the different branches and allow them to come together under one roof.
In my blog posting I did not engage in the numbers game, i.e., enumerating the thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations. Rather I traced the emergence of theological differences among Protestants. This significantly reduces the number of denominational differences, but the fact is Protestantism is deeply fractured. What I found in Orthodoxy is that whether I visited a Greek, Russian, OCA, or Antiochian Orthodox parish I would find the same Liturgy and that the priests would share the same beliefs. This gives me a sense of stability and security I did not have when I was a Protestant.
The Orthodox approach to ecclesial unity and the view that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are not real churches is not a matter playing a definition game but arises out of the ecclesiology of the early church, e.g., Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Cyprian of Carthage. Orthodoxy grounds ecclesial unity in the Eucharist which is interrelated with the office of the bishop who presides over the Eucharist and Holy Tradition of which the bishop is the guardian. From this standpoint, the unity of the Church remains intact even when there have been groups and individuals who have left this Eucharistic fellowship. But the question I have for you is: What for you constitutes the basis for ecclesial unity? Which basis for church unity are you working from? Intercommunion at a major Christian conference? The ecumenical movement? And how do you feel about the fact that much of Protestantism today is far removed from beliefs and practices of the early Church? I’m sure you must be disappointed with the present state of Protestantism today, but I would urge to take broader view of church unity from the standpoint of the church fathers and the Ecumenical Councils.
Sorry for lack of clarity, Robert. First of all, my comments were in direct reply to David (though I realize now that I didn’t hit reply).
You are right that there is a lot of disagreement doctrinally among Protestants, but there is a lot of agreement among the “conservatives.” When I look at the Roman Catholic church, at least, I see that they have many of the same problems in terms of liberal theology as the Protestants – they don’t seem to do anything about their liberal theologians. The Orthodox Church is not as public at this point, so I don’t know how the conservative-liberal issues show up in actuality there.
I think regarding ecclesial unity, I would have an easier time believing in the Orthodox argument, if the Orthodox could better demonstrate that their part of the schisms was the true church rather than the other parts of the schisms. How can one know which church is the true church? How come the majority of the churches in the world are not the true church? How is it that the schismatic Roman Catholic Church managed to grow to be the biggest church in the world rather than Christ’s true church, the Orthodox Church? It is hard to understand why Jesus would not make it more obvious which church was his. I’m not saying God must be understandable, but for an outsider, it makes choosing a church confusing.
I have a certain sympathy for this argument; it seems intuitively plausible that God would bless most His “truest” Church.
Except I don’t see in Scripture or Tradition that Church growth demonstrates orthodoxy.
On the contrary, Arianism grew rapidly in the Early Church, yet no Father suggested they were therefore orthodox. Also, we know that Mormonism is fast growing, yet heretical.
Looking at the “fragmentation” and ignorance of doctrine from a pedagogue’s position, I think the ignorance of doctrine stems not from “the inherent tendency to _______ (fill in the blank with perjorative describing the “other” guy’s position),” but simply the fact that Americans and moderns of whatever stripe simply don’t like to read or learn. I’ve gone to some Orthodox and Catholic churches and the average layperson had no idea about the intermediate levels of the faith–no different from the Baptists. Is this proof that said position is obviously wrong? No. It’s just proof they are American.
The problem goes beyond intellectually lazy lay people in America. Ignorance of early church and the core Reformation doctrines is also pretty widespread among Protestant clergy. But I think the situation is changing. I think the American visitors to the OrthodoxBridge are proof that there are Americans out there who do like to read and learn.
Well it depends on what we mean by Protestant clergy, but it really doesn’t matter because either claim is purely anecdotal. As much as I dislike Westminster Seminary, I know for a fact that its guys there are as familiar with the church fathers as most anyone on this board.
My point was that we can find intellectually lazy sheep anywhere. I know, for example, of an “ethnic” family at a local Greek church that deliberately refused to get to liturgy until only minutes before the Eucharist. Maybe he thinks it has a magic power that the sermon doesn’t have. That’s a bit crude, but it’s the best equivalent to the intellectually lazy protestant.
For a humorous example, find the “Hyperdox Herman” and “CradleChristopher” memes on Facebook.
I can only speak from my own experiences, since that is all I know, but my church background (Assembly of God) and my college experience (involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) gave me interaction with many Evangelicals who were anything but nominal. They went to Church faithfully, read their Bibles, prayed, and where otherwise very serious about their faith. Yet that is exactly what it was: their own faith. Every person had their own of beliefs (influenced by the Bible and teachers they liked), and they tended to “fellowship” with people who shared most of those beliefs. In many cases those beliefs where not consistent with the teachings of historic Christianity. It’s not that they were ignorant of the teachings of historic Christianity (although in many cases they were). They simply didn’t care. To them, the Church Fathers were just men who wrote during a time of questionable beliefs and practices.
I’m not convinced by the argument Outlaw makes in regards to the “intellectually lazy”. I do feel sympathy for his point of view, after all there are many Christians (Evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox alike) who are nominal and/or don’t know anything about their faith. However, in my experience among the Evangelicals, it’s not the “intellectually lazy” who have the most un-orthodox (small o) beliefs. The “intellectually lazy” just accept whatever the pastor says (which if they go to a more conservative church, should be reasonably orthodox). It’s those who are more serious about their faith, including those going into ministry, who are most at danger of developing strange doctrines. It would seem to me that this is due to several factors (again this is oriented toward Evangelical Christians):
1. Sola Scriptura Extrema – Everything we believe must come from the Bible only. If it’s not in the Bible its questionable at best.
2. A belief that true Christian belief and practice were somehow lost or distorted in the early church (usually sometime between the 2nd and 3rd Centuries).
3. The Internet – I hate to include this as a factor, because it’s so unlikely that I would have discovered Orthodoxy without the Internet (my wife and I were received this past Sunday February 17th, and we’ve been so blessed!). People who are serious about orthodox Christian doctrine (again, I’m speaking in “small o” terms here) can discover all sorts of heresies and other questionable material online. Much of this material is geared exactly for those who lean in the direction of the above two points of view. For example, anti-Trinitarian Modalist materials will point out that the word “Trinity” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, Modalism was an early 2nd Century Christian belief (Sabellianism), and that it wasn’t until the 4th Century that the Doctrine of the Trinity was defined and formalized.
I have come to the conclusion that knowing everything about the Faith isn’t really what’s most important. For did all the laity in the first century read a lot? I would say no. Most of them were probably poor and uneducated. Most of them probably couldn’t read and write, and so being highly read and educated in general can never be thee critera
I don’t doubt they were great Christians, but their situation is *not* our situation. Book of Hebrews says to go on to maturity in doctrine (which presumes knowing more things, among others). And it is a biblical fact at least in the OT–and a sociological fact today–that those who are uneducated and do not go ad fontes often fall into superstition, pious people or know.
That notwithstanding, Robert talked about intellectually lazy and some Protestants not knowing the fathers (though I’ll gladly put my so-called knowledge of the Fathers, as a Protestant, against anyone on this forum, Perry excluded. He knows more), and so I responded with a similar intellectual claim.
I know the Fathers… or what they have written on prayer. Depends on what portion of the Fathers we are talking about. I haven’t read nearly as much of St. Maximus for example. Ever read much of the Philokalia or the works on prayer and living the spiritual life? What counts when it comes to ‘reading the Fathers’?
Outlaw, you should be careful about wanting to compare what you know with any and all who post on this board besides Perry. For you don’t really know what everyone else knows. My bulk of knowledge is mainly in the pre-nicene, nicene, and early nicene period. For I’ve been reading them off and on over and over again since 1997/1998. I was still a protestant most of that time, but most protestants around me (back in those days) looked at me funny, for they weren’t into patristics and church history. And so be careful about trying to compare yourself to others. Yes, I may not be well informed when it comes to the later centuries, but I’m comfortable in my own skin when it comes to the early centuries. And others on the board might be more comfortable in other areas. And so, don’t toot your horn against us, for you don’t know each of our history and experiences.
Having grown up S-Baptist and spent 32+ yrs in conservative Presbyterianism, the “unity” they have is of a different in nature than exists in Orthodoxy. There is amazing variety and diversity even within the OPC and PCA, much less the S-Baptists. They know nothing of the Creedal, Cannonical, Liturgical and Practical unity that exists in Orthodox Tradition. Despite surface similarities, the OPC, PCA, CREC, EP, RPCNA, CRC…and other Reformed Calvinists are NOT willing to set aside their doctrinal or practice differences — which are not similar in kind at all to Orthodox jurisdictions. Robert said this clearly and about as well as one can.
While I’ll not pretend to be an expert on all things Orthodox, I have read enough about the Filioque and Great Schism for it to be most clear whom separated from whom. The only people who seem perplexed believing it’s a “tossup” don’t seem to have read much Orthodox take on the issues and history. I suggest you take a slow read and look at _Two Paths: Papal Monarchy — Collegial Tradition_ by cradle Roman Catholic convert to Orthodoxy Michael Whelton. http://www.amazon.com/Two-Paths-Monarchy-Collegial-Tradition/dp/0964914158/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1361297003&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=two+paths+michael+welton
The gross manipulation and heavy hand of various Popes make dominating Protestant Pastors look like neophyte up-starts. And you’ll see why so many Orthodox say, “Roman Catholics became the first Protestants.”
As for size and “success”, you might well ask God why He chose Israel — not China. Or David and not Goliath, or the weak, poor and not many mighty. Your questions I fear, expose your Western slip, and the triumph of the Colossus. Roman Catholicism certainly rode the Western power vacuum the past few centuries. Yet it is hard to square Rome’s grand success in religious power politics (“with swords loud clashing”) — with the sacrificial Church’s conquest by service and suffering. Just saying.
Thank you, David.
I’ll have to look at Whelton’s book.
Maybe you are right about me not reading enough of the history. However, two things you said are the reason for my difficulty: one, you said I need to read an “Orthodox take” – which begs the question. What if in reading the Orthodox take, I felt it didn’t like up with what I know of the history? Secondly, I understand that God doesn’t need to choose the powerful, and you mention the sacrificial conquest through service and suffering. And in reading Byzantine history, it is hard not to conclude that the church used the same tactics as the the world to achieve her ends and that the Eastern Church used the same means as the Western church.
My concern with why it is so hard to decide has to do less with “bigger is better” than with Jesus prayer that “they may be one that the world might believe.” So as one outside the so-called Church, how can I know what the one true church is when he has not made it glaringly obvious which is the “one” that testifies to the faith.
You are right that the various Protestant groups won’t set aside their differences, but they are usually willing to call one another brother and sister in Christ. They would admit that each of the others are part of the church. So it comes down to ecclesiology. The orthodox understanding of the Church is very different than that of the protestants. As a result they look at unity differently. Most Protestant churches that I’m aware of have an open communion policy towards anyone who admits certain doctrines. They have a closed communion policy towards those who don’t believe certain things.
As you study the issue of Orthodox ecclesiology, you will discover that it also differs from Roman Catholic ecclesiology.
When my son was young, I read him the biography of a missionary to a primitive spiritistic culture in the Philippines. She described their way of learning about her God as a process of questioning that was like poking an object in all sorts of ways from all different angles to find out what it did under various circumstances to figure out what it was. In my experience, it takes a lot of poking around this subject before anything will start to come clear. I think this was the most difficult subject for me as I was contemplating Orthodoxy, and I think that’s true for anyone raised in the theological mindset of the West. In the wake of the “branch theory” and the positing of an “invisible” universal church within Protestantism by the World Council of Churches in its ecumenical efforts in the beginning of the 20th century, its hard to really think biblically about the implications of Christ having only one Body and within that Body there being only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.” It is only in very recent history that the various Protestant churches have allowed non-members to commune. I’m old enough to remember the era when that wasn’t the case, and when one could commune only in one’s own denomination, and sometimes even only in one’s own parish. This bears witness that the various Protestant groups in their origins still had some historic memory that the apostolic faith meant common doctrine and practice were inseparably linked to a common chalice.
Thank you, Karen.
I appreciate your perspective from older generations of Protestantism. I grew up as a missionary kid in Wycliffe Bible Translators and so never saw the divisiveness of the Protestant Church until I came back to the United States and went to Wheaton College. Perhaps the missions community among the Protestants is far ahead of many churches in the US in terms of mutual acceptance. But it is good to remember that it wasn’t always that way.
Have dear Navigator friends, Cliff & Judy Fenlason) S-Korea missionaries then Vietnam who met at Wycliffe B-translators I think.
I’d expect a ready communal-friendship with any Christian professor on the mission field…which likely rests on the surface and disguises Creedal, Canonical, Liturgical/praxis difference of substance below the surface? We also have “unities” of different gravity as co-belligerents in the social realm. But it this the unity or “oneness” spoken of in Jn 17 and by the Apostles? Seems Saint Ignatius appealed to a “Unity of Submission” around the Bishop, no?
For many protestants, the union is not just surface. While there are “creedal” differences, these people truly believe in *sola gratia* and *sola fide* so that Christ accepts people not for getting all their ducks in a row theologically, but for accepting Christ under that rubric of understanding. By faith/trust in the atonement of Christ, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the other theological differences. There is a hierarchy of doctrine in Protestant thought very much like the difference between dogma and theolegoumena. The Protestant dogma, however, is very minimalistic, while the “agree to disagree” aspects are very broad.
As for Ignatius, I agree with you. The locus of the local church is in the Bishop, according to his view. Of course, for the Protestant, *sola scriptura* means that Ignatius can be safely ignored if it seems that he contradicts what is seen in scripture. So appealing to Ignatius will not work with most Protestants unless you can convince them that the scriptures are not sufficient for determining proper faith and practice.
It is very hard for a Protestant to see how an Orthodox can be maximalistic *if* it has nothing to do with one’s ultimate destiny. For the Protestant, the church should be preaching what is necessary for salvation. If people are saved apart from the Orthodox Church, what is the point of being part of the Orthodox Church. If a minimalistic preaching will do, that is what should be preached. We shouldn’t make things more complicated than needed for those looking for salvation.
I’d like to respond to your last question about Orthodoxy’s maximalism. All too often Protestantism has been fixated with getting into heaven and has lost sight of our greater calling in life to love God and to glorify Him. Salvation is more than the forgiveness of our sins but our being joined to Christ, our being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, our acquiring citizenship in the New Jerusalem, and our transformation into Christlikeness.
One of the key differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is the centrality of worship to our salvation. For the Orthodox to be saved, that is, to be in a right relationship with God, is to be engaged in the right worship of God, that is, the Divine Liturgy. To put it another way, salvation = worship of God, and worship of God = eternal life. Because in the Divine Liturgy we participate in the heavenly worship our Sunday worship is not a matter of passing time until Christ returns, but a real participation in the eternal worship of heaven. The Orthodox Liturgy is not so much anticipatory as it is participatory. For the Protestant to be saved is to have faith in Jesus Christ as one’s savior from sin and going to church on Sunday while very helpful is not necessary for salvation. For the Protestant in the Sunday worship we express our faith in Christ but we are not really participating in the heavenly worship, that will come after the return of Christ.
I’ll close with this analogy. Protestantism is like riding the coach section of an airplane. It’s minimalistic but it will get you to your destination. Orthodoxy is like the first class cabin section with all the services provided for by the Captain. Wouldn’t you like to ask for an upgrade and move into the first class cabin?
I recently got done with this book, and so this might help you understand our perspective on ecclesiology a bit better:
Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Contemporary Greek Theologians Series, No 4)
Also, don’t be scared about our take on history. For every group has it’s own bias, however, with us, what you will find is a stronger continuity with the past than most other groups.
You mentioned unity among protestants, my assumption is that you are talking about the unity found among the more modern American protestant Evangelicals(the american notion of the word, not the Lutheran).
Yes, they stress the conversion experience, as well as a few other things like Sola Fidea and Sola Gracia than the other beliefs that divide them, but that’s a more modern 18th to 21th century British and North American thing, and not necessarily a Classical Protestant thing. In the 21st century the realm of acceptance is even branching out to the more Oneness Pentecostal heavy hitters like T.D. Jakes and others.
And so yes, they may say that there is unity in the essentials and tolerance in the non-essentials. But everyone has their own list of what those things are. For liberals it’s one thing, and for the more conservatives it’s another. And even among the conservatives, the list of essential vs non-essential varies from person to person. So is it really the same?
Our understanding of unity is both in regards to dogma(right belief), continuity(apostolic succession….for a group has to be apostolic) and community(in inter-communion).
John Chapter 17 was referenced and so I will focus on that to show a little of what I mean.
“”I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.””
I see this prayer as being a first century reality(and not necessarily something of the far away future that never happened yet….which is what some modern protestants in North America tend to believe). For Jesus was talking about those who became Christians by way of the Apostles going out doing ministry.
Jesus wanted His apostles and their disciples / church plants to all be one like He and the Father are one. The language he uses is:
“”as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You;”””
This is called in our world “Perichoresis”. It’s an interpenetration or an inter-communion between persons. And so what Jesus is telling us here is that He wants our Oneness to be just like that.
“”And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:”””
And so the oneness that we are suppose to have has alot to do with actual communion between persons.
For it’s about communion. As Robert noted in another post about Saint Irenaeus and Apostolic succession.
Response to Robin Phillips “Questions About St. Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession”
“”It was not enough for a bishop to claim apostolic succession, he also needed to be in communion with the church catholic. In contrast, Gnosticism was comprised of teachings that varied according to schools and geographic locations. In other words, the unity of the church catholic stood in sharp contrast to Gnosticism’s denominationalism.””
I’ve been following this thread and although you’ve defended your beliefs in Protestant unity several times, I still think you’re glossing over significant differences between Protestants. Your description of the Protestant mindset that I’ve quoted above reflects the beliefs of those particular Protestant denominations descended from the Revivalist movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course groups that came out of revival movements emphasizing personal faith and conversion over and even to the exclusion of ritual and doctrine are going to minimize doctrinal differences in favor of personal faith and conversion. But how would these groups compare to more classical Protestant groups?
But even among the revivalist (Evangelical) denominations there are significant differences. While I was still an Evangelical Protestant, I visited many fellowships that believed “by faith/trust in the atonement of Christ, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the other theological differences” but had particular doctrines that caused them to believe the majority of Evangelical Protestants were not really “saved.” Each also had peculiar doctrines that many Evangelical Protestants would consider heretical. What kind of fellowship can these groups have with each other? But even when you restrict yourself to more mainstream Evangelical Protestants by excluding various holiness and charity groups, you’ll find that there are large divisions. The well known Evangelical preacher John MacArthur claimed that untold millions of Americans who claim to be “born again” are in fact deceived and not born again at all, sparking the modern Lordship salvation controversy among Evangelicals, which pitted a literal reading of “faith alone” over and against a reading that would include obedience to Christ as Lord. There are also Evangelicals who believe that Pentecostals (a fairly large segment of modern Evangelicals worldwide) are not “born again.” There are Pentecostals who believe that if you’re not Pentecostal then you are not “born again.”
Just to put in my two cents here. Fr. John Whiteford recently wrote about theological differences among non-denominational churches in Journey to Orthodoxy. I was astounded to read about his being admonished to “get off that doctrine stuff.” I’m glad that was not part of my experience of Evangelicalism.
Yes. I had a good experience in Evangelicalism growing up, but once weird people (so called “new Apostles”) started getting invited into the church I attended to preach strange doctrines, my wife and I left and we started looking for another more conservative church to attend. Eventually I was so lost I didn’t know what to believe. I didn’t even know if I believed in God anymore. I wanted to believe, but it seemed so confusing to have all of these different (conservative Evangelical) Christian groups that basically had different (often incompatible) versions of how a Christian would or should live their life and believe, and on top of it all I was suppose to just “read my Bible for myself” because “the Holy Spirit would guide me?” But if I didn’t get it figured out and choose correctly, well, then I was either in a cult or on my way to Hell, and probably both.
Eventually, my wife and I stopped going to church. We didn’t go anywhere for a whole summer (figured it was better to stay at home than to have all sorts of contradictory doctrines entering our ears). It was during that summer that I started running into various people who referred to themselves as Orthodox Christians, and who seemed to have a completely different view of the Bible and Christianity than I was use to. My wife looked it up on Google, found a Greek Orthodox Church about 1 hour and 15 minutes away from our house, and we haven’t turned back. We were received into the Orthodox Church last Sunday, and we couldn’t be more at peace.
Now I had to work through my own issues with Orthodoxy (and I’m still learning the Orthodox way, and probably will until the day I die!) but it was within Orthodoxy that I found the answer to the questions and doubt I struggled with in Evangelical Protestantism.
Thanks for sharing your story. I was moved by your tale of your time in the desert and your “discovery” of Orthodoxy. Actually, it seems that God was moving in your life bringing Orthodox Christian across your paths. I am glad that you found peace of mind and heart in Orthodoxy. And like you, I struggle to live my life according to the teachings of the Church.
You’re welcome! My husband and I support Wycliffe missionaries (friends) in the Philippines, and Wheaton is my alma mater (I won’t tell you the year I graduated! :-P).
I spent a two-year short term on the mission field as a young adult in a denominational campus ministry in a Northern European country. My denomination had a bit of a spiritual superiority complex and an “empire-building” mentality vis-a-vis the other Protestant group in the area. However, vastly outnumbered as we Protestants all were by nominal Catholics (who were mostly, by their own admission, atheists), out of survival, we tolerated fellowshipping with the mainline and only gov’t-recognized Protestant group (our denomination was considered a “sect” by the country’s gov’t–as all “free church” groups would have been at that time). We even attended an annual “ecumenical” service on campus that also included the local believing Catholics (a lot of them also internationals–a sweet group of folks as I recall). Nevertheless, we thought we were the only ones in possession of the “full gospel.” And, we were working, for all practical purposes, in almost total isolation from other Christians in the area, doing our own thing. We were little more than a curious oddity of a blip on the radar of the local students we were trying to reach, if they even noticed us at all. Our tiny group was mainly comprised of protestant international students. Only about 5 national natives belonged to our little church (one of whom was married to an international student).
Karen, I’d love to hear more about your experiences sometime.
To the rest of you. I appreciate your comments and your corrective in terms of seeing the long view of Protestant Christianity – particularly the “personal aspect” more recently espoused in modern Protestantism. I concede that there are more differences . . . and extremely confusing and disconcerting ones at that.
Robert, I think that I struggle with your plane analogy because it makes it sound, again, like being Protestant is alright. But if Orthodoxy is true, I would have a hard time believing that we can know that the Protestants are on the plane at all. And if they are, you would probably find as many Protestants as Orthodox who see salvation as relationship to God. You would also see as many in both camps who are nominal Christians (depending on which countries you ventured into). Also, why, if Protestants are just in another part of the plane, do Orthodox seem, in this country, to spend so much more time trying to proselytize other Christians than preaching the gospel to the unevangelized. Okay, okay, the Protestants do take part in “sheep-stealing” too. 🙂 But the point still seems pertinent. In general, too, the Orthodox seem more interested in personal salvation than in extending that salvation to others. (i.e. Missions does not seem high on the radar.) Please forgive me if I am mischaracterizing Orthodoxy.
PS Do you have a good link that helps explain how Mary could be sinless and it be true that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” I have no issues with Jesus being an exception (because that is obvious – see Hebrews), but having Mary as another exception is rather a stretch for me.
that is an excellent question. Who counts as a “Father?” Sort of puts a new angle on the Patrum Consensus. I was defining Fathers in the sense of circa Athanasius through Maximus the Confessor. If someone wants to count Palamas, that’s fine, though few Roman Catholics would accept him in the discussion, as few Orthodox would consider Victorinus as a Father because of his hyper neo-Platonism, though Roman Catholics would consider the latter a Father.
While I’ve read a lot of Maximus, I haven’t read much of the Philokalia (aside from passages here and there)
I suppose my point was more like what material from the Fathers counts? Do theological works count more than works of exhortation to live the spiritual life? They wrote both. What I lack on the theological end I more than make up for by reading works on prayer.
Orthodoxy doesn’t distinguish between theology and spiritual life. The two go together. This is especially evident in the Liturgy and the other prayer services. In the Liturgy we do theology through prayer, song, and gestures like the sign of the cross. On the personal level I’m more predisposed to the theological writings by the church fathers but my prayer life gets shaped by the services I attend and the prayer books I use.
I knew what you meant, but the phrase (or something like it) “What do the Fathers say?” isn’t always clear. If by Fathers we mean those Fathers instrumental in the Conciliar controversies in the early and middle first millennium, then MANY Protestants are quite familiar with the Fathers, more so perhaps. Once we move beyond that there is a greater emphasis on “prayer and spirituality,” but at that point the term Fathers applies more to some Orthodox leaders in later centuries, thus ruling out any claim to the Fathers by Roman Catholics and Protestants.
And from what I gather, I can’t imagine a single Evangelical who would advocate divorcing doctrine and spirituality.
***Outlaw, you should be careful about willing to compare what you know with any and all who post on this board besides Perry. For you don’t really know what everyone else knows.***
Fair enough, but if that’s the case then many need to stop with the blanket statements about Protestant ignorance of church fathers (or whatever). Yes, my statement was a bit unfair, but I really don’t see how it is any different from the numerous Orthodox statements on Protestants. I take offense at a lot of the stereotypes, so should it be any surprise that a Protestant responds in kind?
I think we were talking from personal experience, for most of us were protestants. Most of the protestant pastors and laity in our bubbles, even highly read laity in my circles were more into the puritans(my Reformed protestant friends), James Arminius, and the Remonstrants(my classical Arminian friends), the Caroline Divines, William Law, the Non-Jurors, and the Oxford movement(My Episcopal, and Anglo-Catholic friends), or more modern writers than anything else. Now, was this true for all protestants I came in contact with? Nope! For there were some that I ran into that were into church history and Patristics. However, they were the exceptions and not the norm. The only exception(in my personal experience) would be the Anglo-Catholics, for I ran into more of them who were heavy readers of Church History and Patristics than most other protestant groups I ran into.
But yeah, we were protestant at one time, and so that’s why we said it. I mean, if we were cradle orthodox saying this, then I could understand your frustration, but we’re not cradle orthodox. We’re former protestants from various protestant or protestant like back-grounds.
I forgot to mention the Anabaptists, for alot of the followers of David Bercot read them now too,along with the pre-nicene fathers. But they are a different animal from most other protestant groups, and so I didn’t include them, even-though I was once heavily influenced by that movement. I also didn’t include the SDA’s and Pentecostal groups that read things as well. but yeah, in most protestant or protestant like group, reading the fathers, and church history is not the norm.
Thank you for the clarification. I appreciate the fact that you are giving anecdotal testimony of your own experience. All I can say in response is similar anecdotal testimony. When I was at Reformed seminary we read more of the Church Fathers than we did of the Puritans (though we read more of Calvin than of both, for obvious reasons). We also read more of the medieval scholastics than we did of either the Puritans or Church Fathers. And not to mention the biggest irony: the man who mainstreamed the study of the Church Fathers in the modern world and who made them much more accessible was the Reformed Protestant, Philip Schaff.
When I was a protestant and first started to read the fathers back in the late 1990’s, I didn’t know about Philip Schaff back in those days. I only knew about the Anglicans who did it like Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson. It wasn’t until later that I found out about Schaff, but even he was different and somewhat of an anomaly among your more mainstream Reformed Protestants in North America back in those days.
True, Schaff was a bit of an anomaly, but that ceased to be the case once textual criticism and modern historical methods were applied to church history studies. At that point, church history became more familiar to Protestants.
I will do some more digging here. I’m also a GCTS grad, a former pentecostal, currently Reformed (and happy with it), but very saddened by Protestantism generally.
I wrote about my discouragement with Protestant theological divisions in
and . I had comments from both Catholics and Orthodox believers.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I’m glad to hear from another GCTS grad. I will give your blog a look.
At least most Protestants don’t see the Virgin Mary as the Christians great hope and deliverer, crying aloud to her, “save us, o Theotokos!”.
Such blasphemy as it is constantly practiced in Orthodoxy and Catholicism makes both traditions untenable fro anyone seeking the to embrace the actual Apostolic teaching. Whatever protestants do wrong, they don’t worship mere human beings. And for that reason I will remain a protestant.
Thank you for voicing your concerns frankly. I would urge you to have an open mind on the matter of the Virgin Mary. First of all, we DO NOT worship Mary. We honor her for her obedience to God’s will. The Orthodox Church’s understanding of Mary is grounded in Scripture. I would urge you to read my blog posting “Why Evangelicals Need Mary” and let me know if you find any flaws in my research.
With respect to your objection to the phrase “save us, o Theotokos,” the phrase “save us” can also be translated “help us.” For example, the Greek word ‘boetheo’can be translated “save,” see Matthew 15:25; it can also be translated “help,” see Acts 16:9 where Paul had a night vision in which a man from Macedonia cried: “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, gave an enlightening lecture “Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us” in which he explains how the Orthodox understand this phrase.
I hope your mind is not closed on this matter. It takes a lot of courage to be open to other people’s opinion. Many Evangelicals and Protestants have taken a closer look at the Orthodox Church’s teachings have been pleasantly surprised by what they found. I hope to hear from you again.
The Greek boethei βοηθέω will not help your case, since the Greek for “Most Holy Theotokos Save Us” is swson σῶσον, meaning save. I think that David’s remarks were more apt. “Saving” has more than one denotation, like for instance the word proskunew προσκυνέω which the Orthodox use of icons, though in Revelation it such veneration is forbidden for all except God. You’ve written elsewhere on how context determines meaning – the Bible uses the term proskunew</b positively with regard to human beings elsewhere. So there must be some uses where it means worship and others veneration. In Orthodoxy as well as Roman Catholicism, the terms evolved and solidified so that proskunesis never meant worship. This is the reality of linguistic change. Words change meaning. Therefore, to argue that the New Testament forbids x, and the Orthodox engages in x is only valid if the meaning of the word x is being used in the same way in both contexts. David’s example of Paul “saving” people as well as himself seems to be a great example of the language of salvation being used differently in a different context from the Psalm that says “you alone are my rock and my salvation” when speaking to God.
However, there does seem to be a valid critique. The Orthodox claim that the law of believing is the law of praying (lex orandi, lex credendi [I’m not sure why this is always quoted in Latin!]). If the Orthodox pray a certain way, such that those listening understand the prayer in the wrong way, what is to prevent the Orthodox from developing heretical views? I think I know the answer. Is it that a) the Holy Spirit promised to lead the church into all truth and b) those who know what it means can explain to those who don’t? Anyways, is this not an example of the ability of liturgy and practice to be misleading rather than helpful in worship? If one does not expect Mary to do the saving, but to intercede to the one who is able to save, why not actually say so? I suppose one could say the same thing about certain Bible passages, such as John 1, which are fraught with difficulty in terms of meaning. Only in following the traditional explanations of the church can one be sure that one’s interpretation is correct. What if, though, the consensus patrum seems to change over time? In John 1:3-4, the original consensus seems to have been “apart from him nothing came into being. What has come into being in him was life.” Later writers seem to have changed the consensus, particularly Chrysostom, in reaction to those who saw the Holy Spirit as a created being due to the phrase “what has come into being in him was life.” The new way of reading the text became: “apart from him nothing was created which has come into being. In him was life.” A handy chart is given at the end of the following article, showing how the various church fathers had read the passage: http://www.christadelphian-ejbi.org/extracts/John1v3-4.pdf. What does the Orthodox layman, priest, or other member of the church do if they are caught up in the middle of a challenge to the current consensus? How are they to know whether the old consensus or new consensus is true? Especially in light of the fact that the “age of the fathers” has never truly ended?
PS Sorry about the big bold block. Only the first and last word were supposed to be bold. Too bad we can’t edit after the fact.
You made some good points here. I do not have the Greek text for service for the Salutations to the Theotokos that has the phrase “Most Holy Theotokos save us.” After doing some looking on the Internet, I believe you are right in identifying ‘soson’ as the Greek for ‘save” as opposed to ‘boetheia.’ And as David noted in his comment, the Greek ‘soson’ has a range of meaning. I found a helpful article by Fr. Steven Salaris “Most Holy Theotokos save us?” In it he wrote:
You may be wondering, “Does the Orthodox Liturgy teach that Mary ‘saves’ us by means of her intercession?” The answer is: Yes. The first antiphon in the Liturgy book used in my Greek Orthodox parish reads: “Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Savior, save us.” This is echoed and reinforced by other prayer texts used in the Orthodox Church. The Daily Prayers for Orthodox Christians edited by Michael Vaporis has this prayer: “Most glorious, ever virgin, blessed Theotokos, present our prayers to your Son and our God, and entreat him, that through you he may save our souls.” And in another prayer I find: “Through the intercessions of all your saints and the Theotokos, O Lord, grant us your peace and have mercy upon us, only merciful One.” Keep in mind that Orthodox Christians do not pray exclusively to the Virgin Mary but to other saints as well. This can be seen in the “Prayers Before Sleep”: “Intercede for us, holy Apostles, and all you saints, so that we may be saved from danger and sorrow. We have received you as fervent defenders before the Savior.” This is not a new teaching but part of the historic practice of Orthodoxy.
Protestants may find all this hard to swallow but it is part of the Orthodox package. As a former Protestant, I want to assure you that what I found in Orthodoxy is a profoundly Christ-centered and Trinitarian faith. The difference is that as a Protestant I prayed alone but as an Orthodox Christians I can ask the other saints to join me in my prayers. I recognize that Protestants do have prayer groups but these groups or prayer circles are confined to fellow believers alive today; once they pass on, we don’t ask them to pray for us.
With respect to people misunderstanding the liturgical text I would say that the problem is usually with Protestant visitors not familiar with Orthodox beliefs and prejudge Orthodoxy without having done the research needed. I don’t think Orthodox Christians who faithfully attend the church services would even think of Mary as their savior! The Orthodox services consistent emphasize that it is Jesus Christ through his death on the Cross and his third day resurrection who is our savior.
Your question about people misunderstanding liturgical texts to such a degree that their beliefs become heretical describes well the problem faced by early Christians that resulted in the convening of the Ecumenical Councils. The Arian controversy arose over the meaning of the phrase “Son of God.” The debate over the meaning of that phrase was settled at the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea I). Basil the Great’s classic On the Holy Spirit defends the deity of the Holy Spirit through the exegesis of Scripture and also of liturgical text. Again, it took an ecumenical Council to resolve the issue. For the Orthodox, the Ecumenical Councils have settled the fundamental questions about Christology and the Trinity. The Orthodox Church believes that the Ecumenical Councils are a fulfillment of Christ’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).
What I have seen in the Orthodox Church is a profound respect for the Ecumenical Councils. This arises out of respect for Holy Tradition. Holy Tradition informs both the laity and clergy in the Orthodox Church. When I was a Protestant I saw theologians and seminary professors play around with the meaning of words to create new doctrines. I saw the same thing happening with the bishops and priests in the Episcopal Church; this despite their having a prayer book and their professed respect for the historic faith. In the Orthodox Church the bishops guard Tradition not just by repeating the liturgical texts but also by maintaining the inner meaning of the liturgical text. I am glad I don’t have to worry about an Orthodox bishop coming up with a new understanding of Christ or the Trinity! This means that there won’t ever be a new theological consensus that departs from the Ecumenical Councils.
I took a look at the analysis by Paul Wyns you mentioned. The first I noticed was that the site was sponsored by the Christadelphians, a nineteenth century group founded by John Thomas. While they accept the Bible as divinely inspired, their beliefs are heretical: they deny the Trinity and the pre-existence of Christ. They cannot be considered part of the historic Christian faith but a nineteenth century movement. Given their outright deviant beliefs I wonder why you even made reference to them. You would do better to read the early church fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius the Great, and Basil the Great.
Robert, you completely missed the point! The Christadelphians being deviant has no bearing on a list of the church fathers and their punctuation of the text of John 1:3-4. Even heretics can correctly quote fathers. I mentioned the article because it had a list at the end of how the church fathers understood the punctuation. The earliest consensus (on an issue so minor, the number of witnesses is impressive!) is not only more difficult to understand, but also in contradiction to the later consensus (post-Nicea). While this issue is not one that clearly affects church doctrine (unless one assigns very specific meanings to the words in the text), it does seem to show that consensus can change. Of course, hopefully consensus on something so important and central like Christology would never change.
I merely am pointing out that from an historic protestant point of view, looking back at the “consensus of the fathers,” it seems sometimes like that consensus changed. The ecumenical councils are a great case-in-point. I seem to remember there being such “ecumenical councils” whose decisions became reversed. If you were living during that time, how would you, as a Christian, lay or otherwise, know how to deal with the situation. You might, for instance, be unsure about it, but then find that it is the consensus of the church . . . only to find out later that another council condemned that one! (Okay, okay, I suppose the Robber Council is an unfair one to cite. But there it is.)
On a more personal note, Robert, it felt insulting for you to dismiss an argument because it came through a Christadelphian article (which they had cited from the Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament 27th edition). To say I had better go read the church fathers shows that you were not reading my comment with care; “read the church fathers” is not the answer to every argument; it reminds me of students saying the answer is always Jesus (I then always ask who the devil is.). The whole point was the chart of how church fathers understood a passage. I am not a patristics expert, but I am an expert on Greek language, being a teacher of the subject myself. Since the question was regarding how church fathers understood an aspect of Greek language that might have theological implications, a list of such fathers (where ever the source came from, if accurate) seemed perfectly appropriate. And, if you had looked at the chart, you would have noticed that Irenaeus of Lyons and Athanasius were on it, as well as Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius, and (of course) John Chrysostom. No Basil I’m afraid.
I hope, Robert, that this reply does not offend you. It is not meant to.
Please forgive me. I had no intention of offending you in my reply. Please pardon my over-reaction to your referring to a heretical group that denies the Trinity. You have to admit we normally don’t reference heretical groups on this site when making our points.
I brought out my NA26 and looked up Wyns’ chart. It seems that my NA26 does not list the Naassenes and Alexander among others as early sources. I guess I’ll have to buy the NA27.
Forgive me if I misunderstand your point but it seems that you are saying that there are two consensuses: one before Nicea and one after. That is not how I read Wyns’ chart. From what I see in Wyns’ chart there is an older mainstream textual tradition for John 1:3-4 and there is a textual reading that shifted the punctuation in response to the Arian controversy. Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem continue this older textual tradition while John Chrysostom and Jerome followed this newer textual tradition. This adaptation can be seen as something akin to Athanasius’ propounding ‘homoousios‘ as a way of defending Christ’s divinity. But I am not a biblical scholar and my knowledge of biblical Greek is rudimentary at best. I hope that there are others who are more knowledgable in this matter who can help us out.
With respect to your question about instances when the consensus is contested and instances when church councils are reversed and counter-reversed, e.g., the Robber Council, my advice is that one look to the Pentarchy: the five patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Prior the the Schism of 1054 the Bishop of Rome was in communion with the other patriarchates, that indicated where the orthodox faith lay. With Rome’s departure in 1054 one had the following choices: (1) follow the papacy, (2) join the Oriental Orthodox churches, or (3) join the Byzantine Orthodox churches. To a Protestant wrestling the tangled mess of the Robber Council I would say that these are your choices when it comes to ancient churches; to be a Protestant means belonging to a branch of Christianity that has no historic link to the early Church. The advantage of Byzantine Orthodoxy is that the remaining four patriarchates that can claim apostolic succession remain in communion with each other and are opposed to Rome’s innovations. The Oriental Orthodox churches are neither in communion with Rome nor with Constantinople. For me this works against any claim to catholicity. For me this combination of communion and catholicity of Byzantine Orthodoxy stands in stark contrast to Rome’s papal isolation.
My guess is Robert is more than willing to grant that the Fathers were seldom unanimous, if ever, and did corrected and sharpened each other over the early centuries of the Church — including Church Councils. I suspect is was your use/reference of an anti-Trinitarian heretical group that was the red flag. We do not typically use such groups to prove our points –however narrowly correct they might be…do we? I suspect if you’d graciously made the same point with more ‘orthodox’ references…he would have agreed. But then, Robert is more than able to answer for himself.
At best, from what I can see is a difference in punctuation. Can it lead to a difference in doctrine? Yes, that’s why they did what they did. But most of those listed on the left hand side believed what those on the right hand side believed (in regards to actual content of the Divine Logos, creation…..etc). So your argument in regards to this and the patristic consensus is mostly limited to a difference in punctuation. I personally don’t expect the fathers and Christian witnesses to be 100% uniform on Biblical texts.
Thank you for your gracious reply. I’m sorry that I over-reacted to your comments regarding the Christadelphians. And for those who felt I was quoting an heretical group (and still do), I emphasize that it was with regard to their information, not to their argument that I was citing them.
Also, I have looked at the NA28 myself and haven’t seen some of what was claimed on the chart. I suspect they were looking at the 4th edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, because its footnotes are more clear and expansive. It includes all the information. It may be that the Christadelphians miscited their sources or that the NA28 is just that hard to decipher.
The pdf article you linked to said that the issue effect doctrine. I would like to ask how so? Did the church fathers and witnesses listed on the left hand side believe differently from those listed on the right hand side about God creating all things through Christ? What did they believe about the Deity of Christ? What did they believe about the about the Divine Logos being eternal? If they believed the samething in regards to those things then can it really be a difference in doctrine?
Whether it was a real theological difference is unclear, though by the time of Chrysostom it was felt to be. “That which has come to be in him was life” could mean what the heretics thought, but the word “has come to be” could refer to motion as well as coming into existence: i.e. “that which has come in him was life.” What could be being communicated is that life (interpreted as Holy Spirit) came through him, not that it “came into being” through him. But the heretics were using the verb in the more technical sense. I don’t know that the early orthodox writers took things the way of the later fathers, but I suspect that they did. This verse didn’t seem to bother them until later. However, this was meant to be a minor test case for the question of change. In my original post, though, I believe I said something about two answers that I expected to be given, and I believe that that was substantiated: a) the Holy Spirit will lead his church into all truth b) those who know what things mean can explain it to those who don’t.
Joseph Farrell did a good job showing how many Fathers before Athanasius did hold to the Origenist problematic. Justin Martyr and Clement came very close to positing a second God after the First God (Father). See Justin’s doctrine of the Logos and the Logos prosphorikos.
Therefore, when groups say that the early fathers didn’t hold to x position concerning the second Person of the Trinity, there is a grain of truth in that.
I understand you loud and clear Cody. Orthodoxy language can sounds weird if not blasphemous to a long time Protestants. But the Apostles Paul’s says women will be “saved” in childbearing. Really, what does this mean? Or, the Apostle Paul feared after his preaching “saved” many, he’d be a cast away. The word “save” simply does not always mean “the ground of our justification” which is Christ. I dare you to listen carefully to Dn Michael Hyatt’s Sunday School podcast Robert linked above. I bet you don’t look at the language of scripture, or that strange-to-Protestant-ears Orthodox prayer the same way afterwards. I dare you.
in His mercies,