A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

A Protestant Exodus? – My Response to Peter Leithart


Maria Lago Studio "Exodus" Source

Maria Lago Studio “Exodus” Source

In Rev. Peter Leithart’s recent column for First Things: “The tragedy of conversion” (7 October 2013), he describes as tragic Protestants who acquired the taste for “catholicity and unity” and instead of remaining Protestant go so far as to convert to the Orthodox Church or to Rome.  This is a crisis affecting Protestantism in general and the Federal Vision movement in particular.  The New York Times published an article in 2009 about this trend: “More Protestants Find a Home in Orthodox Antioch Church.

The recent exodus while not large in number is significant.  Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian seminary professor, wrote about his conversion in Rome Sweet Home.  Other notable converts include Thomas Howard and Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society.  More recently, a certain amount of controversy surrounded Jason Stellman.  Ironically, it was Pastor Stellman whom the PCA assigned to be the lead prosecutor for Leithart’s heresy trial!

On the Eastern Orthodox side the late Peter Gillquist tells the story how he and his fellow Campus Crusade for Christ co-workers became Orthodox in his book Becoming OrthodoxClark Carlton is a former Baptist seminarian and Matthew Gallatin a former Calvary Chapel pastor.  Frank Schaeffer, son of the famous Evangelical thinker, Francis Schaeffer, converted to Orthodoxy.  One prominent convert is the late Jaroslav Pelikan, world renowned Yale University professor who authored the five volume The Christian Tradition.  Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publications and a former ruling elder in the PCA, is now a deacon serving the Orthodox Church.

When one looks at the kind of people exiting Protestantism, we see some of the most seasoned, serious, and brightest people of the Evangelical world: seminarians, seminary professors, pastors, authors, publishers, leaders of leading Evangelical organizations.  One has to ask: What is going on here!?!

My assessment is that Protestantism having lost its theological center has become a fractured and confusing, if not volatile and unstable.  Troubled by this state of confusion many are seeking refuge in the historic early Church.  This is the backdrop to Leithart’s recent column.


Protestantism’s Meltdown

In the first half of the twentieth century American Protestantism was divided principally between liberals and conservatives.  Then in the 1950s and 1960s there was an influx of Pentecostalism into historic mainline Protestant churches.  The 1970s marked the beginning of the shift to post-denominational Protestantism.  More recently, American Protestantism saw the rise of mega churches whose seeker friendly services downplayed doctrine.   Church shopping became the new normal as people began to evaluate churches in terms of the services they had to offer instead of their teachings.

An ironic reaction to all this has been a growing ancient-future movement that sought to rediscover their roots in ancient Christianity.  Soon Evangelicals began having processions with acolytes carrying crosses, clergy wearing vestments, reciting the Nicene Creed, quoting early church fathers, and holding weekly Eucharist.  This return to the roots movement took several forms.  One was the Emergent Movement which attempted to be post-modern and eclectic in worship and doctrine.  Another was the Canterbury trail movement where people joined one of the various Anglican off-shoots from Episcopalianism.

Peter Leithart is part of the Federal Vision (FV) movement, a high church expression of Reformed theology that seeks to give greater emphasis to covenant theology, Trinitarian thinking, and the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion – as did many if not most of the early Reformers.

Leithart and his FV colleagues believe themselves to be on the cutting edge of “the-future-church” and much closer to getting it right than say the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  In actuality, they are just another “new-and-improved” Reformed splinter group.  For them, a Christian moving from an older Protestant denomination–Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, or mainline Reformed—to the Federal Vision would be making a wise move in the right direction.

Given the peculiar way the FV folks understand “catholicity and unity,” it is no surprise that they think a Protestant converting to Orthodoxy is going in the wrong direction.  An even bigger problem for them is knowledgeable Reformed Christians from the Federal Vision jumping ship!  There is a quiet exodus from the FV to Orthodoxy under way right now. This is the growing crisis that the Rev. Peter Leithart is trying to head off.



Keeping the sheep in line

A former PCA elder, currently an Orthodox catechumen, explained to me the implicit insult in his move towards Orthodoxy: “What!  You actually believe the Apostles and their disciples got the Faith right centuries ago . . . before our FV insights . . . . Grrrrr!!”  What adds to their grief and distress is that Pastor Leithart and his mentor Pastor James B. Jordan were two of the prominent CREC & PCA leaders who cracked open the door for their bright and zealous disciples to inquire into historic Orthodoxy with the unexpected results of some converting to Orthodoxy!  Now, they are writing articles like this one in an effort at damage control.  It seems to me that what Rev. Leithart is trying to do is keep people from straying off the Protestant reservation.


Leithart’s Theology of Time


Leithart’s opposition to Protestants converting to Orthodoxy stems from his understanding church history.

He writes:

Apart from all the detailed historical arguments, this quest makes an assumption about the nature of time, an assumption that I have labeled “tragic.”

It’s the assumption that the old is always purer and better, and that if we want to regain life and health we need to go back to the beginning (Emphasis added).

Leithart sees church history as progressive and dialectical.  For him, early Christianity was just the beginning of a long evolutionary journey and that the mature church of Protestantism is to be preferred over the infancy of early Christianity.  To dissuade Protestants from converting to Orthodoxy Leithart argues that the true Church is not to be found among the Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox but ahead of us in the future.  He writes:

History is patterned in the same way.  Eden is not the golden time to which we return; it is the infancy from which we begin and grow up.  The golden age is ahead, in the Edenic Jerusalem.

This evolutionary approach to church history is congruent with postmillennialism favored by Reformed theologians.  It reminds me of Mercersburg Theology’s Philip Schaff who posited that church history is the outworking of a Hegelian dialect, that over time division will be resolved into deeper unity, and that over time heresy and error will be resolved into deeper truth.  This is radically at odds with how Orthodoxy understands truth and what the Bible teaches.

Leithart’s portrayal of time is based on a false characterization of the Orthodox understanding of time.  Time is not the issue here.  The issue here is the promise of the Holy Spirit Christ made to His Apostles in the Upper Room discourse (John 13-16).  Was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to be a brief flash of inspiration for the Apostles and their disciples?  Or did the Holy Spirit come to inhabit the Church permanently, “abide with you forever” (John 14:16)?  For the Orthodox these are not difficult questions.  Christ’s promises were proven true not only in the book of Acts but in subsequent church history.  For Orthodox Christians the Holy Spirit guided the early Church through the Ecumenical Councils and continues to guide the Church.  This is very different from the Blinked-Out/Blinked-On theory of church history prevalent among Protestants.  This theory assumes that the light went out in the early Church and did not come back on until the Protestant Reformation.  The Orthodox understanding of Holy Tradition and the Bible arising out of Holy Tradition means that the Apostles got their teachings directly from Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Neither Scripture nor Tradition are dependent on Rev. Leithart’s notion that time is the crucial factor or his implicit evolutionary assumption “new is always better.”


The Faith Once and for All Delivered to the Saints

The Bible rules out an evolutionary understanding of theology.  We find in Jude 3:

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Emphasis added; OSB)

There are three important points made in this short verse.  One, the word πιστει (pistei, faith) has the definite article which indicates that the writer has in mind a body of truth or a set of doctrines.  This points to one true Faith, not multiple versions as would be assumed by Leithart’s theory of history.  Two, the word παραδοθειση (paradotheise, aorist passive participle, delivered) points to a traditioning process.  Reinecker’s Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament has this to say about παραδοθειση:

The word is used for handing down authorized tradition in Israel (s. 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thess. 3:6), and Jude is therefore saying that the Christian apostolic tradition is normative for the people of God (Green).  (p. 803)

The Christian Faith is not something discovered through rational study of the Bible or the result of creative engagement with culture, but received from the Apostles.  Protestant theology with its sola scriptura assumes that Christian doctrine arises from the study of Scripture independent of Tradition.  This is a novel theological method alien to that of the early Church Fathers.  Three, the word ‘απαξ (hapax) points to a unique one-time revelation.  The same word used in Hebrews 9:28 to describe Christ’s unique one-time sacrifice on the Cross.   That one time revelation was the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus taught his Apostles the Faith they were to teach the nations.  As recipients of the Apostolic Tradition we are obligated to safeguard it from change until the Lord returns at the Second Coming.  Thus, if we take Jude 3 at face value we have no choice but to reject Rev. Leithart’s evolutionary approach to Christian doctrine.

Another telling and related bible verse few Protestants seem to notice is 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by words or our epistle.” (Emphasis added; OSB)  Note that the verb used here is “stand fast” (στηκεν), not to move ahead.  This sense of standing one’s ground can be found in Paul’s use of the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 16:13 and Galatians 5:1.

If one holds to the traditioning model of theology then antiquity becomes a very important criterion for theological orthodoxy.  Antiquity is important, not because older is better but because antiquity is one of the distinguishing markers of apostolicity. Apostolicity without antiquity is sheer nonsense.  That is why unbroken apostolic succession is so important.  This leaves Protestants seeking the early Church with only two choices: acceptance of Orthodoxy’s Holy Tradition or submission to the Roman Pontiff.  Anglicanism, despite its having bishops, because it originated from a schismatic break with Rome, cannot claim unbroken continuity.


Coming to Zion

St. Seraphim Cathedral - Dallas, Texas

St. Seraphim Cathedral – Dallas, Texas


The fundamental problem with Rev. Leithart’s approach to church history is his understanding of time as χρονος (chronos).   It omits the understanding of history as καιρος (kairos).  Because of the Incarnation of the divine Word, human history is no longer trapped by chronological time.  Because the Kingdom of God has broken into human history the golden age Leithart longs for is present in the Liturgy.  Orthodox worship involves the shift from chronos to kairos.  Frederica Mathewes-Green describes in At the Corner of East and Now a typical Orthodox Sunday service:

This first service of the day is called the “Kairon,” from the Greek word for time.  Not chronos, orderly measured time, but kairos, the right time, the moment-in-time, the time of fulfillment.  Worship lifts us out of ordinary time into the eternal now.  At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the deacon says to the priest, “It is time for the Lord to act.” (p. 15)

For Orthodoxy the golden era of Christianity is now.  We are not moving towards Mount Zion, we are already at Mount Zion.  We read in Hebrews 12:22-24:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Emphasis added; OSB)

The first thing to note is the opening phrase “you have come.”  The Greek for “have come” is προσεληλυθατε (proseleluthate) which is the perfect active indicative form of “come to” or “draw near.”  The perfect means: you have already come to Mount Zion, not you will come one day in the future come to Mount Zion.  This passage in Hebrews 12 describes what happens every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy.


"The Lamb of God is broken and shared, broken but divided; forever eaten yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake of Him."

“The Lamb of God is broken and shared, broken but not divided; forever eaten yet never consumed, . . .”


The Church is the city of the living God, not in the process of becoming the city of God.  In the Eucharist the local congregation gathers as the people of God to join in the eternal worship of heaven.  As we transition into the second half of the Liturgy the Trisagion hymn reminds us that in the Eucharist we are surrounded by an innumerable number of angels.  When I look around the church I see icons of the saints, “the spirits of just men made perfect.”  As we go up for Holy Communion we see the communion chalice which contains the blood of Christ which speaks more powerfully than that of Abel’s.  Thus, Hebrews 12:22-24 describes the Orthodox Liturgy.  Gabe Martini notes in his response to Rev. Leithart:

In the Eucharistic fellowship of the Church, we are ever-united with all the Saints of history, both past and present. Our orientation is eschatological, and eschatology is not merely “the future,” in a strictly linear sense. This is nowhere more pronounced than in our celebration of the Eucharist, which is an event that points the faithful towards the east—not merely towards Eden or the beginnings of a nostalgic faith, but towards the great wedding feast of the Lamb. This is played out not only in our written tradition and services, but also in our iconography of the Mystical Supper, which shows both Jesus and the apostles not in a dingy upper room of first-century Palestine but at the table of the wedding feast in eternity.


Scene+from+the+film+TitanicThus, if Rev. Leithart’s theological argument is flawed, then Protestants should give serious consideration to converting to Orthodoxy.  Crossing the Bosphorus presents a way out of a current situation in Protestantism that Leithart described as “agonizing.”  It involves leaving a sinking ship for a more structurally sound vessel.  If Protestantism is a sinking ship, the real tragedy would be for one to go down with the ship and not help others cross over to a better, more stable and historic boat.  I would urge Rev. Leithart and other Protestants to reconsider their position.


The Blessings of Crossing Over

The Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait

People convert for various reasons.  Part of what prompted my converting to Orthodoxy was Protestantism’s theological incoherence.  Despite the initial appeal of sola scriptura I found Protestantism’s lack of Tradition has resulted in hermeneutical havoc.  My research led me to the unexpected conclusion that Protestantism’s hermeneutical chaos was intrinsic to sola Scriptura!  When I discovered the Ecumenical Councils and the notion of Holy Tradition I found a stable framework for reading Scripture.  One unanticipated blessing was Orthodoxy’s rich tradition of spirituality which taught me about the need for denying the passions the flesh and the cultivation of humility for spiritual growth in Christ.  Another benefit in converting to Orthodoxy is that I found myself receiving the Eucharist in the same church as that of the ancient fathers like John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Athanasius the Great, Cyril of Jerusalem etc.  I find great comfort knowing that I am now in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed.  I no longer find myself yearning to be part of that Church because I am now at home.  I pray other yearning Protestants will find a home in the Orthodox Church.

Robert Arakaki

See Also

Rev. Peter Leithart:  “Too catholic to be Catholic.”

Robert Arakaki: “Unintentional Schism? A Response to Peter Leithart’s ‘Too catholic to be Catholic.”

Robert Arakaki:  “Crossing the Bosphorus.”


  1. Travis


    Have you heard from Rev. Leithart or anyone in his circle.

    Has there been interaction with those in the Federal Vision group, with regards to exposure to your articles?

    Though I was never apart of FV, I was apart of a postmillenial church that taught progressive revelation and evolution of theological insight. It is really encouraging to hear those in leadership “jumping ship” in my experience most of them are hard lined reformed and everything else is heresy. One beauty of our Lord is he can change the most hardened hearts.

    • robertar


      I’ve been in conversation with people from a variety of backgrounds, including the Federal Vision. A friend who was in the FV group gave me some feedback on the draft for this article. I very much appreciate his feedback.

      It’s encouraging to see people becoming open and interested in Orthodoxy. The Holy Spirit is at work! In the meantime let us be patient and charitable.


  2. David

    Excellent article Robert. Let me say here publicly that I dearly loved my years as a Reformed Christian…and learned many wonderful things from my FV Pastor friends. But at the end of the day THE Faith that both Holy Scripture itself, together with the Holy Tradition mentioned repeatedly in Scripture promises in the Church believes and worships a good bit differently than the FV men allow. Lord have mercy on us all.

  3. Hinterlander

    “The recent exodus while not large in number is significant.”

    As an inquirer for the past year, I’ve heard of, listened to and read many of the people you refer to in the paragraph proceeding the above quote. I can’t help but say that I have a sense that the Orthodox are being overblown in regards to conversions and the growth of Orthodoxy. For every Protestant that converts, many more leave the church altogether? For every Protestant that converts, how many cradle Orthodoxy stray from Holy Tradition?

    For the vast majority of Christians in America, the utterance of the word Orthodox brings to mind Jews and not Christians.

    I make this comment yet hopeful that Orthodoxy will grow and have a more robust presence in American Christianity. I would love for there to be a healthy Orthodox parish within reasonable driving distance of every American Christian.

    I just wonder how much of the conversion talk is wishful thinking root in idealized reminiscences of a past where Orthodoxy dominated whole cultures and nations. This sort of attitude can also be detected in those who seem to ache for Holy Russia.

    I realize I am my comments are tinged with a bit of cynicism . . . I really do hope that Orthodoxy grows and would share your assertion that Protestantism is in a sense a sinking ship and that Orthodoxy could provide something enduring and lasting.

    I think of Pelikan’s airport metaphor. Orthodoxy was where he “landed” after “circling the skies” for years. It’s probably improper to extend this metaphor but perhaps the Orthodox need to do a better job in sending out the signal. I think this blog is one great example of that. Thanks Robert for your extensive thought, work and responses to engage the Reformed tradition.

    God bless.

    • Bayou Huguenot

      ***I can’t help but say that I have a sense that the Orthodox are being overblown in regards to conversions and the growth of Orthodoxy. For every Protestant that converts, many more leave the church altogether? For every Protestant that converts, how many cradle Orthodoxy stray from Holy Tradition? ***

      I think that’s largely true of all religious communions in America, *especially conservative ones.* That’s why I look with suspicion upon even Protestant (and Catholic and Orthodox) books trumpeting conversion narratives that sound eerily-golden aged.

    • robertar


      I share your concerns. Last year I met a guy who was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. He told me that when he asked questions about their beliefs he would be told: “It’s a mystery.” I groaned when I heard that. I know ultimately all knowledge of God ends up in mystery but still it does not preclude our obligation to try to give a reasoned basis for what we believe. He recently came back to the Orthodox Church after years of being an Evangelical. He’s not anti-Protestant but he found a depth and richness in Orthodoxy. This coming from a guy who loves RC Sproul!

      He and I agree that the Orthodox Church on the local level needs to do a better job of teaching the youth, giving them answers to their questions. Is the situation changing? I would say there are promising signs. One promising sign is The Forum, a Thursday evening gathering of young adults at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Daly City (San Francisco). I’ve been told that the informal setting and the freedom to ask questions creates a welcome environment for people looking for answers about their faith and life. We need more of that.

      As far as idealized, romanticized Orthodoxy goes, all I can say is spending time in a typical ethnic parish will quickly knock off those rose colored glasses! Mixing with the average Orthodox Christians soon makes me realize how much patience and humility I need to be part of a parish. And how much patience they need to put up with me! 🙂

      I like Pelikan’s airport analogy. With respect to your comment about Orthodoxy’s need to do a better job sending out the signal I would point to two recent significant developments: (1) the publication of the entire Orthodox Study Bible in 2008 and (2) the launch of Ancient Faith Radio in 2004.

      Beyond that Orthodoxy in America needs to change if we are to effectively reach out to the American people. One thing needed is the shift to American Orthodoxy from diaspora Orthodoxy. Diaspora Orthodoxy has the assumption that America is not really home, that home is in the ‘old country.’ We need to have the sense that Orthodoxy is for Americans, that one can be Orthodox and American.

      Another change needed is the planting of Orthodox missions across America. This requires long hard work. It requires dedication and sacrifice. It takes years for many mission plants to become a full fledged parish. It is happening but it’s slow and very much under the radar. So I’m not as jaded as you might be, but I am mindful of the daunting challenge ahead of us.


      • Hinterlander

        Thanks again for the thoughtful response. AFR and the OSB have been my main sources of information on Orthodoxy. I have to say I’ve learned much from these resources and am grateful for these efforts.

        Looking back, I sense that I am a bit jaded with Orthodoxy at this stage of my inquiry and need to repent of cynicism.

        Thanks again for the great posts. I really hope more from the Reformed side will be willing to engage you on this blog.

        God bless.

        • Karen


          The only reason to become Orthodox is because you are thoroughly convicted that what it teaches is the truth. Orthodoxy on the ground is often a very small beleaguered group (with fierce spiritual assaults both from within and without). There are a lot of challenges from within the hierarchy on down to the ranks. There are also incredibly bright spots like the Saints, and the contemporary Elders/Eldresses within our monastic tradition, who radiate Christ in a way only paralleled by the greatest heroes of the Scriptures themselves, as well as the Mysteries and the Liturgy of the Church.

        • Prometheus


          I understand your feelings. For me I swing back and forth in my feelings about Orthodoxy. Sometimes I’m ready to jump right in. But then I’ll come across some really good arguments from a different point of view. I think Karen is absolutely right, and what I’ve heard from other Orthodox: don’t rush it. Wait until you are ready. I just wish I was ready . . . that my journey were over. But I’m still working through things.

      • Rebecca

        Just a little anecdotal support to what Robert is saying about the slow (and difficult) but steady planting of missions across the US: When I was growing up in the middle-of-nowhere of NW Kansas, no one there had even heard of Orthodoxy. When I went to college in Wichita, many curious religion majors visited the local Orthodox cathedral, but few converted. When I converted 4 years ago, the closest parish to where I grew up was 3 1/2 hours’ drive. Now, there’s a mission only 1 1/2 hours away! The church we attended in NW Arkansas the last few years, though only recently at parish status and admittedly struggling on several levels, still sees around a dozen converts a year from a large surrounding area, and recently those converts became numerous enough to start a couple new, more local missions. As Karen said, the Orthodox church suffers many demonic attacks from without and from within– yet in my experience of several different parishes of different sizes and backgrounds in different areas of the country, each parish somehow continues to survive– by the intercessions of our Lady, the Most Holy Theotokos and of all the saints.

        • robertar


          Thank you for sharing about new Orthodox missions in the middle of nowhere. We can thank God for those dedicated people willing to labor to bring America to Orthodoxy. It’s also good to know that the saints in heaven are praying for us! As I write this I’m reminded that tomorrow (new calendar) is the feast day of Saint Luke the Evangelist.


      • Roger U

        “Diaspora Orthodoxy has the assumption that America is not really home, that home is in the ‘old country.’ We need to have the sense that Orthodoxy is for Americans, that one can be Orthodox and American. ”

        I visited an OCA church here in NC for a while and while I like Orthodoxy “on paper”, in person it left me cold. The congregation was all foreign, either other countries or Yankees, and it all felt very off. I kept hearing about how Orthodoxy was growing fast in the South, but all that says to me is a lot of the snowbirds who are filling our cities are Orthodox.

        I know you will say it shouldn’t matter, that all are one in Christ or something along those lines, but I haven’t pursued Orthodoxy because I didn’t feel like I belonged there.

        • robertar


          Thank you for your honest thoughts.

          First of all you shouldn’t be so quick to judge what people will say. I for one would not say ethnicity and culture shouldn’t matter; it does matter. Having grown up in Hawaii’s diverse culture I am keenly aware of the Local versus non-Local difference. So when I step into the local Orthodox parishes, I often feel like I left Hawaii! I often find myself being the only Local there despite there being other mainland converts present. And because Hawaii is a popular tourist destination we get quite a bit of visitors or what you call “snowbirds.” So I think I know where you’re coming from. I became Orthodox because I was convinced that the Orthodox Church was the Church founded by Christ (Matthew 16:18). I didn’t join it because I liked the Greek culture or because I like Greek food, but because of the Tradition received from the Apostles. I am praying that one day there will be an Orthodox parish in Hawaii where the Locals can feel at home. I also pray that there will be an Orthodox parish where the Liturgy will be in the Hawaiian language.

          My advice to you is look closely at the Holy Tradition taught in the Orthodox churches in NC. If it is the true Church and if it has kept the Apostolic Faith intact, then what choice is there? If you were to convert to Orthodoxy, you could think of yourself as a pioneer like Cornelius in Acts 10 or the Ethiopian in Acts 8. When I read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 I see the Greek word “ethne” for English “nations.” In other words the Great Commission refers to the evangelization of diverse ethnic groups, not political entities like in the United Nations. I believe that if the South is to be evangelized then we will need to see Orthodox parishes rooted in the culture of the South. We need to respect the unique culture(s) of the South and not seek to impose “Yankee” culture onto Southerners. If Orthodoxy is to reflect the diversity of the South then we will also need to see the inclusion of African Americans as well. This will require much patience and prayer. The Gospel is not just about the preservation of culture but also the redemption of fallen human culture. And we must never forget that like Abraham and Sarah we are sojourners looking for the heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13-16).

          Again, thank you for your openness and honesty. I hope I have addressed your concerns.


          • roger u

            I assumed you were from Penn. or somewhere up that way, since that seems to be where most Orthodox here are from, that or Serbia. Had I realised you were from Hawaii, my comment would have read differently.

            Your reply is very apt and I agree with all of it. I have been thinking since I quit attending the church I was visiting, trying to put my finger on what bothered me, and its hard to pin down. Writing my comment above helped to organise my thoughts a little better.
            I grew up in the South and didn’t cross the Mason Dixon line until I was in my twenties. I had no idea how “Southern” I had been raised. Since then I have been to 38 States and 5 Canadian provinces and there are vast differences (culturally the South is more similar to Saskatchewan than to the US North, I’m not even sure they speak English in Massachusetts!) and its mostly down to world view. The South is the Bible belt. I grew up in church, both of my parents went to Bible colleges, we said the blessing at every meal, prayed before every sporting event-even in public school- and if at least three people didn’t quote the Bible every day, the sun wouldn’t set. The last one is hyperbole, but it would have been odd not to hear Bible verses referenced in conversation.
            Conversely, the Orthodox congregation I visited rarely referenced the Bible outside of the Liturgy and seemed uncomfortable if I did, and I did because that what’s I do, especially in church, and I got the impression that they don’t discuss these things. Not that they don’t read their Bibles, just that they don’t discuss scripture. So, we had nothing to talk about after the service. I got the impression that they just followed the “rules” and didn’t worry too much about anything else and even that their faith was more in the Church than in God. Which is the criticism most leveled by protestant laymen towards the Roman Church. I am of course generalising, I didn’t get to talk to everybody and I do not doubt their faith, nor do I think that they are necessarily indicative of all Orthodox. However, they are the only Orthodox congregation in reasonable driving distance that hold services in English.

            Towards the end, I quit hanging around after the service and eventually began leaving after the Liturgy of the Word and then I just didn’t go back. They have recently acquired land and will be moving beyond reasonable driving distance, anyway.

            I don’t know what to think, “know them by their fruits” comes to mind, but I don’t think there were any “ravenous wolves” in the church I visited and, obviously, there are plenty of Godly Orthodox. One thing I did pick up from them was a saying, “we can say where the Church is, but we can’t say where it isn’t”.

          • robertar


            I appreciate your frank and detailed description of your experience with Orthodoxy. I think it helps if we understand Orthodoxy in America as a spectrum. One the one hand we have ethnic parishes founded by immigrants who wanted to maintain their cultural heritage, and we have American converts whose families have lived in the US for generations. Orthodoxy in America is undergoing a transition from immigrant parishes to parishes that mirror America. Some ethnic parishes are successfully making the transition while others sadly are withering on the vine. I wrote about this transition in my article: Why We Need an All English Liturgy.

            Another important transition is that Orthodoxy is spreading out from urban centers and ethnic enclaves out to the American hinterlands. I’m very glad for ministries like Ancient Faith Radio. They’re doing a great job of making Orthodoxy more widely known in America but the fact of the matter is we are doing to need more Orthodox missions if we are going to reach the American public.

            For inquirers like you all I can say is hang in there. Keep chasing after the true Faith! If you are committed to eventually becoming Orthodox and having an Orthodox church in your area I suggest you write to the Missions and Evangelisms department of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese — contact info — and let them know of your desire for an Orthodox mission to be started in your area. I would urge you to let them know of your desire to bring Orthodoxy into your area. If there are other Southerners interested in an Orthodox mission in your area, then things can happen.

            Another possibility is for you to plan your trips around visiting a vibrant thriving Orthodox parish in your region. Since Hawaii is next to California I try to include St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa CA, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Daly City (San Francisco), or St. Barnabas Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa. I’m sure other can recommend Orthodox parishes that model vibrant biblical Orthodoxy in their region or in your case North Carolina.


          • Karen


            Roger could also widen his search to include other Orthodox jurisdictions. I’ve seen some video of ROCOR and GO parishes in the South that look interesting.

            For one example, see here: http://byztex.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-it-should-be-done-st-innocent.html

            I suggest Roger, if he hasn’t already done so, research the biography of the late Bp. Dimitri (Royster) of blessed memory, who, as a native Texan raised Southern Baptist, along with his twin sister, converted in his teens to Orthodoxy (with the blessing of his mother) at a time when there were very few Orthodox options and no English Liturgy. He became the first convert Bishop within the OCA, I believe, and in spite of all the problems in our jurisdiction and what could be viewed as some very discouraging setbacks, had a very fruitful Christ-centered ministry founding OCA missions all throughout the South before his repose a couple of years ago (to the point that many of those most closely affected by his ministry believe he will be canonized).

            Roger could perhaps also reach out for encouragement to Priests like Fr. Stephen Freeman (also a Southerner), who is very accessible by email and likely by phone as well. (Fr. Stephen is Priest of St. Anne’s Orthodox Mission in Oak Ridge, TN).

            Laughter being, many times, the best medicine, for some comic relief around this issue of cross-cultural growing pains within contemporary American Orthodoxy especially in the South, Roger might enjoy Fr. Joseph Huneycutt’s podcast, here:


            God bless your efforts, Roger!

          • robertar

            Thanks Karen!

            I just want to add that there are two strategies for doing missions: the pancake strategy and the waffle strategy. The pancake strategy assumes that the mission field is flat; you just pour the syrup and the it will flow all over the pancake. This strategy assumes that society is flat and uniform, that everybody’s alike in terms of cultural identity. The waffle strategy recognizes that society is not uniform but more like a complex mosaic with all these little pockets of cultures.

            I don’t know all the details of Roger’s situation and the church he wrote about but it may be that they are operating from the pancake strategy and that they are not fully aware of the distinctiveness of Southern culture.

            For a long time the assumption has been that one Orthodox parish is enough for the entire neighborhood or even city. This is the pancake strategy. But the fact is that even if a “typical” American family were to live on the same block as the “typical” ethnic Orthodox parish, the cultural distance one travels by just stepping into to church’s social hall can be immense. Each parish has its own culture which is unique and special. At the same time we must also recognize that each subculture in the US is also likewise special and unique. In my opinion we shouldn’t seek to change other people’s culture rather we should respect each other’s culture. At the same time it is the Christian duty of ethnic parishes to welcome the visitors and the new converts. I believe that the catholicity of the Church means that we need to plant parishes for the cultural pockets. This is especially the case with language used for worship. Orthodoxy is not one size fits all but catholic, “according to the whole.”

            In situations where there is only one Orthodox ethnic parish in the area my advice is join that parish and in the meantime be open to helping an Orthodox mission get started. But the caveat here is that one must be wary of pride (ethnic and/or spiritual) and the spirit of divisiveness. We must always maintain the unity of peace among Orthodox churches. Missions and church planting must start from charity and humility.

            I think there’s a silver lining in Roger’s complaint which is that Orthodoxy in America is growing. There once was a time when the assumption was that if you wanted to become Orthodox, you had no choice but to become part of a local ethnic parish. That has changed. Orthodoxy in America has begun to move out of its ethnic enclaves into the American mainstream. But that is not enough. The next step for American Orthodoxy is to reach out to the subcultures like the Southern culture, the Latinos, the African Americans, the Asian Americans, and the native Americans. Orthodox catholicity means embracing the rich diversity of American society.

            I see Roger’s complaint like Paul’s Macedonian call in Acts 16:9. If we respond to this spiritual hunger, we can expect to see Orthodox churches that embody Southern culture redeemed and sanctified (Isaiah 2:2). We can expect that by the year 2100 there will be all sorts of Orthodox parishes all over the American waffle.


          • Carson Chittom


            As a Mississippian, I think you are especially correct about the inclusion of African Americans. At our parish, we have an African American subdeacon, and recently we received an African American catechumen–so small steps are being made. But there is still a long way to go in preaching the Gospel to all nations.

            Part of the problem is just history. Here in the South, as you may be aware, even for churches in communion, there are often the “black” Catholic parish and the “white” one; the “black” Baptist churches and the white ones. We inherit the sins of our forefathers in this way.

          • robertar


            Thanks for sharing how God is at work in the South. Faith, humility, and repentance opens the way for God to transform people’s lives. Let us pray for the advance of the kingdom of God.


        • Carson Chittom

          As a Southerner who is a member at an OCA parish, I just want to assure you that it’s not all foreigners and Yankees. 🙂

          If North Carolina is the Bible belt, Mississippi is its buckle. And I live in Mississippi. Most of our parish is native-born, and most of that is Mississippian–although of course we have some Russians and Syrians and Armenians and whatever else as well. The late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas was well-placed: he never spoke ill of his Baptist upbringing and always said that Baptists made good Orthodox, because they were apt to know the Bible. And I have to say, that’s been my experience as well.

          • Jane

            Fellow Mississippian here! *waves*

            I chuckled at what you said about Mississippi being the buckle of the Bible belt. It’s so true. In the town I live in (which is very predominately Baptist) you can hardly walk into a medical clinic, or a grocery store, or drive down the road without seeing Bible verses. And while the services and theology of most of the churches around can drive me batty, I have to admit I like the place and the atmosphere. I even have some fondness for the “Repent” signs on the side of the highway. I have wondered some about whether Orthodoxy can be Mississippian enough, or if it will be worn like an ill fitting garment. The thoughts expressed here about cultural adaptation working both ways are intriguing and hopeful.

          • robertar


            Thanks for sharing! If what you shared about the “Repent” signs is true, then I suspect Orthodoxy will fit in well with Mississippi culture. When I transitioned to Orthodoxy, I found an emphasis on repentance that I did not experience as an Evangelical. And even more surprising was the understanding of repentance as the gateway to spiritual healing. Let’s pray diligently for the growth of Orthodoxy in Mississippi and in other parts of the Bible belt.


  4. David

    Hinter & Bayou,

    I doubt we disagree much here. Your point(s) are well make and I
    suspect Robert might largely agree. Yet the article clearly does NOT say
    there is either a current “Golden Age” or even a flood of numbers…but
    grants the number are small. Indeed, he specifically said “while not
    large in number is significant”. So let’s not obfuscate what Robert
    really said.

    Whatever the numbers are…FV leaders seem to believe it merits a
    steady stream of articles/podcasts in response to slow the tide. Also,
    some TRs in the PCA seem to believe the FV pro-liturgy and sacraments
    writings dangerous enough (to their members/Pastors/Elders?) to
    take Pastor Leithart repeatedly into their Church courts. Personally,
    I think this is over-reacting as the Westminister Divines were broader
    than the far more narrow PCA TR zealots…and allowed for most every-
    thing the FV are advocating. I suspect it has and will continue to back-
    fire on both TRs and FV groups. The more one calmly and carefully
    looks at the Orthodox Church…the more compelling it looks and feels.

    • Bayou Huguenot

      Granted, though I think Leithart’s article was deliberately brief. I don’t deny that the FV is a complete train-wreck, nor has the PCA competently dealt with them (and for all the TRs in the PCA, technically the PCA has vindicated Leithart).

      As to the specifics of Leithart’s sacramentology and WCF, it needs be said that for all of the broadness, the WCF did not allow for paedocommunion. Further, Leithart (implicitly) rejects the idea of sacramental union, thus putting himself at further odds with WCF.

    • Hinterlander


      Your right, I suppose my comment was more aimed at other comments I’ve seen on blogs/forums/podcasts. Much of what I characterized isn’t really coming from Robert. This particular issue being raised sort of set me off on a tangent . . . I guess thats the danger with posting on your lunch break.

  5. Julie Gould

    I’ve admired the energy and ambition of the FV folks for many years. I considered attending the New St Andrews College, and I regularly read the excellent Credenda/Agenda magazine. I had hoped that the latest Leithart book on Constantine marked a new era in Orthodox rapprochement. Alas.

    Tragically, they err because they have no art.

    The gift of our Orthodox liturgical arts saves us from many heresies and silly blunders, such as this notion of the “future church”. Go ahead and paint it. Better yet, compose some music for it. Design some futuristic furniture for your “worship space”. Lovely, isn’t it? Architects have already tried building temples for the future church, and we have all seen their results. There is an old joke that the surgeon is more fortunate than the architect, for he at least can bury his mistakes!

    The desire for the future church has gone on long enough. Leave the battle for the future to the zombies and robot monsters, and live now in the eternal time with the Holy Tradition which is new every morning. Examples of artisans successfully working in our Tradition can be seen at Orthodox Arts Journal.

    • robertar


      Thank you for your excellent point about the important role that art plays in preserving and expressing the Orthodox Faith.


    • David

      well said julie. embrace the beautiful now.

  6. Savas

    As a Greek grown up as a Protestant, I must confess that my conversion to orthodoxy was the least possible solution for me. And that is because I was trained to fight against all the weaknesses of the orthodox church . However my weaknesses were greater so I desided to accept the therapeutic method of the church fathers. What is happenning in greece is mire or less the same as the rest of the world .At Least 100 people 50 of which I know personally have converted to Orthodoxy. So this is something God is doing all over the world. Maybe He is pteparing HisSon’s Bride.

    • robertar


      Thank you for sharing the news about what God is doing in Greece!


  7. IEK

    As a non-Orthodox Greek growing up in Athens, Greece, I had a long involvement in the Pentecostal movement. I am a true spiritual child of American missions, studied at an American Bible School and later Theology at an American University. I am grateful for it all, otherwise I wouldn’t have any kind of faith right now. I have also co-founded a Charismatic Bible School and had a full-time, self-supported teaching ministry for 11 years. It all ended like the Truman Show movie, I hit the painted wall of my glass bubble. (So, to those still in the middle of the artificial storm, generated by the tempter to keep u within the bubble, I just say keep sailing and hold on. God’s will will happen in the end).

    At a second thought, I wouldn’t have preferred to embrace Orthodoxy before such an experience, because there is a danger that it could just become another ideological quest for me, with other words just another hobby IN the glass bubble. Orthodoxy is neither a religious ideology, nor a religious hobby, it’s just life outside of any bubble. But in my humble opinion, honest Evangelicalism is better that an ideological form of Orthodoxy, like a real ambulance in the glass bubble is more useful than a picture of a hospital that is outside of it.
    But even after such a wall-hitting experience, the danger to view Orthodoxy ideologically, sadly, still remains in me, even outside Truman’s world.

    When I came in contact with the therapeutic model of Orthodoxy (7 years ago), that Savas mentioned above, I need to confess that I soon realised that I had and still have parts in my soul that have their own agenda and don’t really intend to surrender to God anytime soon. And this is the bottom line and the real problem of the Fall, or at least of my fall.

    Evangelicalism is like an ambulance that is destined to drop you to the hospital of Orthodoxy, sooner or later, when you hit the wall of its glass bubble. Evangelicals are not aware of this role, otherwise they ‘d stop playing it. They actually think about their systems that they are the spiritual equal of Mayo Clinic, but they are just an ambulance, nothing more, nothing less. And thank God for ambulances!

    As for me, while in the ambulance, I was enjoying the immediate care and the fact that I was the epicenter of interest during the whole ride. But when life and other factors decide that you end up on the operating table of Orthodoxy, you have second thoughts: Maybe I shouldn’t go on with this open heart surgery after all…I kind of like some of the passions that linger there.
    Therefore, the solution IMHO is not the development of Orthodox missions (i.e. more Orthodox ambulances—never seen any actually). I used to believe that also. Let the Evangelicals organize the ambulance network, and maybe this is better, cause in the end the ones who drop you to the hospital (even if sometimes they are reluctant to open the door of the ambulance for you to get out), they may also share an unexpected reward in heaven for doing this, since I doubt that there ‘ll be a reward for them for “contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.„

    I become sceptical when American Orthodox converts think and talk immediately about missions. It’s a temptation by the tempter, I am speaking of own experience. The actual axis of doctrinal deviation in the West was the identification of God’s essence with his energies, so God became actus purus, pure act. This influenced the Western view of man. The Western man’s essence ARE his acts. People loose their job and they loose their self. Ministers loose their ministry and they loose their identity. In Orthodoxy, essence and acts are not identical, neither in God, nor in man. Therefore in the Orthodox therapeutic model, external activity ceases in order to get your essence (what Paul calls the inner man) right. This separation between acts and essence is taking place or should take place in the “desert” or “Arabia” experiences, call them anyway you like. After we do this, God might give a ministry.

    As a „western“ convert to Orthodoxy myself, the toughest part was to shift from the self-imposed great commission model (which God never actually gave me, but did only give it to the apostles and some other sanctified guys throughout the centuries), to the believer’s model of 1st Peter 3:15. We can’t skip this verse and go directly to the great commission, this will be the greatest and most prideful heresy of all, even if we abide in the Orthodox flock. Orthodoxy is about sanctifying God in our hearts. The rest is a job description for the Holy Spirit.

    And when people who land on the operating table see a real doctor, then they won’t loose heart and will go on with the life-saving surgery of passions removal. If at the operating table, they see again an ambulance driver (even if he is Orthodox), well…they might just run away with good reason.
    I am quoting from Andrew Sopko’s fabulous book called “The Theology of John Romanides” just to highlight, whom Orthodoxy considers a real doctor of the faith. Sopko quotes here Romanides:
    “…the term doctor is used in a therapeutic rather than scholastic sense because those who have participated in the revelation of divine life can prescribe the Traditional regimen for others which will help lead them to the same achievement. The attainment of unceasing prayer through the Holy Spirit which envelops the Tradition of the Church ultimately bestows such Charismata. Having sought first the rule of God (Mt. 6:33) which is reached by the rule of prayer, “all these things” as spiritual gifts have “been added to them”.” [end of quote]

    Mt 6:33 is of course directly compatible to 1st Peter 3:15. And the rule of God, the sanctification of God in the heart, is the only job description of Orthodoxy and also the only job description of Orthodox believers and converts. And as we say in Greece, then we’ll see…
    Just my two cents (of a Euro).

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      I like your analogy from the Truman show and the analogy of the ambulance and the hospital. Very interesting!

      I agree that doing missions work or church planting should never be self-imposed. That’s why the approval of the bishop is needed. From what I understand it’s okay for people to get together informally for prayer and fellowship but once you decide to become a mission then you need to come under the cover of the bishop. I know that the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and the OCA are very much in favor of planting Orthodox missions. They see a spiritual need that needs to be met by Holy Orthodoxy. Doing missions is not an American thing, it’s very much rooted in Orthodoxy.


    • Karen

      IEK, I love your analogy and the references to 1 Peter 3:15 and Mt. 6:33. In that vein, I also am reminded of the Lord’s commendation of Mary in the story in Luke 10 of Martha and her sister, Mary, who had chosen the good part, the “one thing needful,” that would not be taken away from her.

      I was raised Protestant and spent years in an Assemblies of God church as a young adult (and a couple under those auspices on the mission field in Belgium). I found the Orthodox Church, my heart’s true home, and was received in 2007. Orthodoxy truly heals and allows our hearts to rest in Christ.

  8. Savas

    To be and not to do. That is the answer!(Orthodox Shakespeare).

  9. Jacob (formerly Outlaw Covenanter)

    ***For a long time the assumption has been that one Orthodox parish is enough for the entire neighborhood or even city. This is the pancake strategy.***

    I have a convert friend (who has since converted to EO) tell me that the informal rule was “one bishop per city,” meaning something like there weren’t supposed to be overlapping jurisdictions. I think Clark Carlton mentioned something like this.

    • Karen

      Jacob, that is indeed the canonical norm. Our multi-jurisdiction situation in the U.S. is not the Orthodox norm and we hope and trust that will be corrected eventually. That said, even under one bishop there can more than one parish in a particular region or even in larger towns/cities (Robert, you can correct me if I’m wrong here)–even parishes, if need be, that use different languages. Dogma and Liturgy will be the same, but after that there can be a lot of variation depending on the makeup of a particular parish. Even within my own jurisdiction–the smallest one–there are significant variations in the character of individual parishes.

  10. Mike

    Eastern Orthodox don’t do anything with missionaries, there’s hardly anyone who makes it their business to ask people to convert and then put the tools in front of them to make it work. Per capita, compared to Catholics and Protestants, it is literally a ratio-type per-capita comparison of pennies to dollars. You can only get so far when you don’t evangelize in any sense that is meaningful or effective. Note those qualifiers- in any sense that is meaningful or effective.

    • robertar


      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I appreciate what you had to say, but I think the situation has changed quite a bit. This past Sunday I heard a report from a cradle Orthodox guy who just came back from a missions trip to Guatemala. He reported that over a 150,000 Mayans recently converted to Orthodoxy! But the problem now is that they need priests, lots of them. He reported that in one area there’s one priest assigned to some 70 parishes. He gets around by motorcycle. So modern Orthodoxy is very much in a situation much like the Apostle Paul’s in the book of Acts. My friend is seriously looking into becoming a long term missionary with OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center). So I think your statement that “Eastern Orthodox don’t do anything with missionaries” no longer valid. We can rejoice in this new outlook in the Orthodox Church today.

      See this link to St. Vladimir Seminary’s site.


  11. Paula

    To Roger, I am prompted to say, as someone raised in the Serbian Orthodox Church, that many slavic Orthodox people come from a culture that for centuries fought to keep themselves Orthodox against the Turks and the Austrians. I count that as a significant reason for the insularity among those parishes in America.

  12. Walter Tomaszewski

    I like this article. I’m not too sure why so many Protestants (a word I don’t particularly like, as it’s too general) want to differentiate themselves from Rome to the point of hold Heresy trials for those they think are getting to close to it. The Reformers spoke of the renewal of the Church (as they saw it), and holding on to its beliefs so they could reject only what was not authentic. That got lost after the Reformers died; not too sure why.

    I used to be a Roman Catholic. For years (probably since I was in my early 20’s) I had been studying theology on my own, and my studies always seemed to lead me to Orthodoxy and back again, and not to Rome. I finally became Chrismated on the eve of the Feast of St John the Baptist in 2000, when I was 40.

    You mentioned that as Anglicans are in schism with Rome, they have no Apostolic Succession. Wouldn’t that also call into question Roman orders, as Rome is technically in schism with us?

    • robertar


      Thank you for writing! Your question about Rome is an important one but also one where the answer is far from simple. While the bishop of Rome is not in communion with Orthodoxy, he can trace his apostolic succession back to the original Apostles Peter and Paul. In that sense the patriarchate of Rome enjoys a heritage similar to the patriarchate of Antioch which was likewise founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul. BTW, I am well aware of the fact that the history of the papacy has often been convoluted with many twists and turns but so far as I know the Orthodox Church does not deny Rome’s apostolic lineage.

      I found a link to an OCA (Orthodox Church in America) website where someone asked a similar question. What I found striking was the answer that when Roman Catholic clergy become Orthodox they are vested, not ordained anew. But keep in mind that this is how the OCA does things; ROCOR and other jurisdictions will probably do things differently.

      I appreciate your comment about the original Reformers wanting to renew the Church. I believe they were sincere but that their theological method led them off track. Calvin quoted the church fathers but for some reason did not wish to be bound to the patristic consensus preferring instead to hold to the new insights discovered (actually invented) by him and Luther, e.g., sola fide and sola scriptura. When my research led me to reach this conclusion, I felt compelled to leave Protestantism and seek reception into the Orthodox Church.


    • Zechariah Codex

      It’s not that we are holding “heresy trials,” Reformed ministers take a solemn vow, among other things, not to promote Arminianism in the pulpit. Leithart and his allies have openly done that for ten years. Leithart’s church, the PCA, has rightly rejected Federal Vision officially, but has refused to officially discipline him for it.

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