A friend brought to my attention “The Relentless Protestant Pursuit of Progress” by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. He opens with the recent attempt in the Church of England to approve women bishops. Then he makes an arresting observation about Protestantism as a whole.
This pursuit of progress for its own sake is insidious, dangerous and relentless. It is also intrinsically Protestant.
I resonated personally with Fr. Longenecker’s observations. As a former member of the United Church of Christ I saw up close progressive Protestantism. This progressivism is based on a particular approach to history.
. . . . There cannot be peace because the progressive Protestant’s entire world view is determined by their unfailing belief first in progress. Progress and the struggle for “equality” and “justice” is woven into their genetic structure. It’s the way they’re wired. It’s the spectacles they wear to look at the world. Blinded by a Hegelian dialectic, they truly believe that life only has meaning when they are engaged in the tug of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. (Emphasis added.)
A “catholicity” grounded in Hegelian dialectic is an unstable catholicity; the parameters of orthodoxy are constantly up for renegotiation. In time this unstable catholicity will degenerate into heresy and apostasy. Being in the minority, conserative Protestantism finds itself becoming increasingly sectarian in character.
Especially vulnerable are those who are seeking to create a synthesis of Protestant catholicity. Regretably, it raises the skirt on their pretense at a broad, warm hearted “catholicity” when some within their flock choose to journey to Orthodoxy or to Rome. The reaction to this departure for the ancient sees is often not warm hearted or gracious. A chilly atmosphere enters in and even normal civil social greetings become difficult. Such is the narrowness of their new “catholicity”!
We see this instability in mainline Protestantism moving further away from its historic roots and the more conservative Protestant groups constantly regrouping and falling back in the face of the constant progressive onslaught. Conservative Protestants find themselves outside the mainline in small continuing Protestant offshoots. This is a logical consequence of the Protestant rejection of Holy Tradition when it embraced sola scriptura. Historic confessions become more like lines drawn in the sand than solid ramparts that withstand the tidal force of change. Stable catholicity requires grounding in Tradition. Doctrinal orthodoxy without catholicity is sectarian.
Fr. Longenecker recounts a conversation he had with a high ranking Anglican in which he described the disastrous consequences of progressive Protestantism. He complained to the Anglican cleric:
. . . . In the meantime, you were totally blind to the havoc you caused in thousands of other lives. You had no real concern for the hundreds of good priests who, obeying their conscience, left their homes, their vocations, their livelihoods, their ministries and their congregations. You had no concern for the thousands of good Anglican laypeople who belonged to their village church for generations, but were expelled by your decision. You had no concern for the thousands who remain–supporting your church with their prayers and gifts while abhorring the vulgar innovations you have imposed on them. You had no concern for the relations with the Catholics and Orthodox brothers and sisters, no regard for decades of ecumenical work striving for unity, not to mention concern for preserving the apostolic faith of which you were the guardians and defenders. (Emphasis added.)
Progressive Protestantism is in the long run disruptive and divisive. This is ironic given the fact that it is the mainline denominations that have been deeply involved in the ecumenical movement. While for the progressives equality in the matter of ordination is a matter of justice and civil rights, for the Orthodox it is a matter of fidelity to Apostolic Tradition.
Orthodoxy’s Wall of Tradition
Part of the progressive’s strategy is the calculation that the non-progressives will not be willing to bear the costs of severing ties with major denominations like the Church of England.
But they have not taken into account Orthodoxy’s staunch unyielding upholding of capital “T” Tradition.
Metropolitan Hilarion, the chair of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, warned the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England:
I can say with certainty that the introduction of the female episcopate excludes even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the apostolic continuity of the Anglican hierarchy. Source
This hard line stance is rooted in Orthodoxy’s commitment to Apostolic Tradition. Where the river banks shift over time adjusting to currents, a well built wall stands firm and unmoving even during a raging flood. Metropolitan Hilarion astute observation describes well what Fr. Longenecker labeled “progressive Protestantism.”
It is impossible to pass silently by the liberalism and relativism which have become so characteristic of today’s Anglican theology. From the time of Archbishop Michael Ramsay of Canterbury, the Church of England saw the emergence of so-called modernism which rejected the very foundations of Christianity as a God-revealed religion. (Metropolitan Hilarion; emphasis added.)
In the face of the Protestant pursuit of progress, conservative Protestantism is nothing more than lines drawn in the sand. The history of Protestantism is littered with confessions, declarations, and statements. As soon as one statement is forgotten and a new situation arises, a new statement is drawn up. This can leave a conservative Protestant weary and disheartened. As a former Protestant who found refuge in the harbor of Orthodoxy, I can say that I found a stable catholicity that has withstood the test of time.
I actually agree with most of this. Progressive Protestantism is certainly guilty. However, I think simply noting something as Hegelian does not mean it’s wrong. Hyper-conservative Orthodox Matthew Raphael Johnson is a Hegelian.
*** Being in the minority, conserative Protestantism finds itself becoming increasingly sectarian in character.***
Maximus the Confessor was told he was in the minority on dyotheletism. Did that make him sectarian.
It seems noteworthy in this discussion that his interpreters ultimately conclude Hegel was in actuality not a deist even, but an (intentionally covert) atheist, and that the basic philosophical assumptions from which his philosophical system is built are those of rational humanism, not a fundamentally Christian view of the world.
Jacob, why did you ultimately cease to be a “militant Hegelian” (if you can write that in a few words)?
I’ll throw these questions out for anyone to try to answer: What makes St. Maximus and St. Athanasius and other (at some point) minority voices like them, whose views were eventually vindicated by the Spirit as Orthodox during the great challenges to Orthodox faith that confronted Christians during the history of the Church, different from today’s Protestant sectarians? In what ways may they be similar?
As to hegel’s own religious views, it’s anybody’s guess. From the texts themselves it seems that he believed in a god of sorts. That was one of Marx’s problems with Hegel.
As to why I am no longer a militant Hegelian: in short words, 1) Hegel badly read NT texts. Revelation is not redemption, for one. 2) Common Sense realism provided a better venue.
As per Maximus: My point in bring that up was to contrast it with the semper ubique claim.
I really appreciated the recent address to the WCC by Met. Hilarion (Alfeyev) here: http://byztex.blogspot.com/2013/11/metropolitan-hilarion-of-volokolamsk.html
Seems like a good example of the forces of the Tradition at work within Orthodoxy.
Hegelian dialectic is a titanic view of man ending with a conclusion that man is basically evil . That is not an orthodox christian view. Catholic philosophers such as Maritan and Gilson are good sources to clarify Hegels view.
Thank you for the information.
That’s interesting you say Hegel’s view of man is basically evil (I’m not necessarily disputing the point) in light of the whole discussion about progressing upwards.
For the record, I am not an Hegelian. I was a militant one for about three years. I’ve read Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Right. And some of Phenomenology of Spirit. Gilson’s an okay source on Hegel. Nothing surpasses Charles Taylor’s work.
My larger point is that a lot of people label something as Hegelian when it probably isn’t, unless the idea of progress itself predated Hegel.
Interesting article Robert. I think the author is touching on a similar theme as did the Southern Agrarian writers in the 1920s/30s per the philosophy behind ‘Modern Progress’…and it’s inability to content with an Place or state of being (stasis?). Wendell Berry speaks to the same mentality…and I’ll hunt for a few salient quotes pointing to this. But there seems to me at least two broad categories that should be separated here.
First the physical/phenomenal world merits our discovery…as designers envision better building, true science, materials…the manipulation of the material world. A modest and careful ‘Hegelianism’ here might have some merit…especially IF (big IF!) such things can be done with a reverential regard for creation, humility and pace that ‘Modern Progressivism’ has shown little respect or love for.
But in the area of theology such notions are dangerous. It relates to Truth and the promise of Christ to His Disciples/Apostles…via the Holy Spirit. Did He or did He not make good on His promise to them? (Did they believe He did?) Another way to ask this is: “Is Orthodox Holy Tradition a reflection of the Holy Spirit’s the teaching of the Early Church?” If so…the protestant quest for and ‘Evolving Truth’ and ‘Church of the Future’ that one day acquires a ‘New & Improved Truth’ that the ancient Church (AND the present Church too) does not have…is a fools errand. It is an arrogant refusal to learn and submit to the Truth given in time and history to the Church…as promised by Christ.
Good point regarding mislabeling of Hegel …Also interesting regarding the article is that it makes me reflect on the now common occurrence of Protestant church hopping . This is not necessarily based on progressive themes but more simply a quest to have a minister you ” enjoy”……
I understand. I’ve read huge chunks of Hegel (even tried to read Logik in the original German!) but I would be lying if I said I had anything more than a 4th grade understanding of him.
Sadly, it is true that many church-hop to a minister they enjoy.
Given the central and dominant place of scriptural exegesis and sola scriptura in protestantism “getting IT exigetically it right” is of utmost importance — and protestant church-hoping makes perfect sense to me. Indeed, since the Church might never yet have gotten ‘some important insight right’…and this new pastor might have…then this new guy just might have discovered something critical…in his private bible study.
Underlying this is the latent and suppressed possibility (fear) in protestantism that we’ve missed some golden kernal of divine Truth — that’s a critical exegetical key to the Christian life never before rightly understood! I’ve heard white charistmatic pastors holding hands at McDonald’s arguing over their own bible study sights with similar zeal as the black lady minister argue with her folk…not over what the Bible says…but what it means!. At root motive, they are not much different than the protestant seminary homiletics professor teaching future pastors.
Fact is, the protestant minister nor his congregants have a strong and abiding confidence that the Holy Spirit really did deliver over The Faith to the Apostles as Christ promised — or IF He did — that they handing it down to us rightly. Unlike the Orthodox Priest, who can largely get lost with great confidence in the Liturgy handed down via Holy Tradition — the Protestant minister and congregant is forever looking for golden scritpural nuggets. You see them forever trying to post “unique insights” on facebook from their sermons. So, church-hoping to the lastest great exegete of sola scriptura is critical. How else might your family sit under the “right teaching/teacher” who has gotten it ‘right’? They would rather live with this volatile independent exegetical flux…than believe their own bibles at II Thes. 2:15 or Christ’s promise to His Apostles in Jn 16:13.
David, that anxiety that we may be missing some exegetical insight key to our sanctification (and the restlessness it engenders) as well as the manifest lack of doctrinal coherence and unity among Evangelical Protestants were two of the biggest impediments to my own peace and repentance that I was happy to discard when I became Orthodox. Now I worship in a Church in which I can turn my attention from trying to resolve theological conundrums “out there” somewhere to my own repentance and to “in peace” simply praying during the services of the Church.
“Again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord. . . . “
Speaking of anxiety, when I was looking into Orthodoxy, and I saw that the True Orthodox, the Old Calendarists, the SCOBA modernists were all saying that “such and such a group” lacks grace (and hence, for all practical purposes isn’t saved).
With which group should I align myself? Saying that the True Orthodox are schismatic isn’t helpful, for by their own narrative, everyone else is schismatic, and so on ad infinitum.
In fact, judging by the historical sources, it seems clear that the Old Calendarists and Old Believers are the ones who held fast to the ancient faith, and those following in Patriarch NIKON’s footsteps are the innovators.
Jacob, I’m totally sympathetic with your point here. Looking at “objective,” external, “logical” evidence–especially that based on strictness of adherence to a particular group’s canonical norms alone–really doesn’t resolve the problem, does it? There is something of a minefield out there in terms of what purports to be “Orthodox” (and, of course, “orthodox”)–both within and outside of “canonical” groups. Couple that with the freedom and power God has demonstrated throughout the Scriptures and human history to achieve His purposes through very flawed vessels (and even those totally outside the community of faith). He has a disconcerting propensity to choose what seems to those most seemingly interested in upholding His reputation to be the wrong person through whom to effect His plans. If I were a pious Jew in 1st century Palastine and trying to choose who to follow or support between that strange, often unorthodox, wonder-working Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus, and that Pharisee with the perfect racial and doctrinal pedigree, Saul, whom might I have chosen? Whom did Christ choose to be His disciples–were they the most likely candidates from a human perspective? God’s freedom is indeed often scandalous to us.
For myself, with regard to where to land within nominal “Orthodoxy”, I personally put quite a bit of weight on what posture the most-beloved and respected contemporary Elders within Orthodoxy have adopted in regard to the various schisms (and sins of hierarchs) that have arisen. I base this sort of “canon” of the lives of such Saints-in-the-making (and also those historically recognized as such) on the Scriptures’ teaching that those to be given authority and responsibility for others within the Church are to be chosen from those of universally good reputation, whose manner of life and treatment of others is consistent with that of Christ–of “faith working by love.”
I’m also quite sure that a fully Orthodox understanding of what is meant by a group (or a group’s sacraments) “lacking grace” doesn’t equate to all the members of that group, therefore, not being in process of being “saved” (as western theological training and background would incline us to believe). As Met. Kallistos (Ware) writes in his classic work on the Orthodox faith, an Orthodox Christian is bound by the norms of the Church, but the Holy Spirit isn’t. As I understand Orthodox teaching, no matter where you are, whether in the visible bounds of the Church or outside them, God’s effective working for your salvation is based on the true state of your heart in relation to the Holy Spirit speaking to your conscience and relative to the light from Him you have received. As one dear spiritual father I trust has often said in various ways to inquirers, God is Good (and infinitely more interested in our attaining salvation than we can be). He can be trusted to guide us aright, but He is not in a hurry, so neither need we be. We need only seek to be faithful to what He has shown us so far, and He will continue to guide and give more light.
For myself, over the course of my life, having trusted Christ in childhood and then entering adulthood and encountering many different kinds of Christians, I found there was a similar “spirit” or “ethos” to the various Christian “fundamentalisms” I encountered everywhere I went, no matter what their form (i.e., Fundamentalist Baptist, Church of Christ, “Word of Faith” Pentecostal, Traditionalist Roman Catholic, “True Orthodox”). They also all invariably created in me a very conflicted, confused and anxious state when I tried to seriously consider their claims. That experience taught me that relying on external standards alone really wasn’t enough.
Reading Ron Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse, was helpful for me. It examines from a sociological perspective how that “fundamentalist” spirit will manifest itself (and what experiences and predispositions in individuals will make them vulnerable to the influence of those inclined to abuse authority and distort the Apostolic Christian Tradition–or more specifically, the Scriptures as Enroth understands them). Although the groups Enroth covers in that book are quite diverse, there is a common, discernible “syndrome,” if you will, of such groups.
One thing true of any account of Orthodoxy is the critical importance it assigns, in the development of spiritual discernment, to learning with the help of the Holy Spirit to truly understand our own heart and its needs, vulnerabilities, and motives by looking intently into its depths in the Light of God’s Presence. What it came down to for me in the end, after vigorously examining various teachings in the light of Scripture and my own Christian experience, was trusting my “gut” and the pure vision of God in His love I had received as a child (which involved trusting like a child that Jesus is what God looks like and that our heavenly Father doesn’t give us stones when we ask for bread). So far, I have discovered only the Orthodox position on the nature of our salvation in Christ really fully upholds that vision (and has expanded it).
Your experience will likely be quite different than mine, but at some point if you are sincerely seeking the Person of Christ, I believe your head and gut will align. In my humble opinion, wherever and whenever this happens is where you should stay (at least for the moment–there were a few what proved to be temporary and relatively less perfect “alignments” of that nature throughout my Christian life, but those resting places served God’s purposes in my life anyway even though they couldn’t ultimately get me all the way to where I felt I needed to go because they lacked the fullness I have found in Orthodoxy). I trust by many things you have written that this is what you are sincerely presently trying to do.
Sorry for the long-windedness. I hope something I have written will be helpful.
it is comforting that Greek OCA, Antiochian, and ROCOR Bishops (if not other jurisdictions also) routinely allow their Priests to sub for one another when absent…with all but identical Divine Liturgies…an overwhelming unity of doctrine. all is certainly not perfect in the Orthodox world. yet the order of disunity in protestantism is so at the root. even the multi-various presbyterian denominational pastors often despise and can’t sub for each other! as Fr Longnecker so pointed says, their divisive pursuit of “progress” (being right) is ‘fundamental and “insidious”. Lord have mercy.
Karen, could not have said it better, sitting in church listening to the liturgy feeling the ritual yet focusing on your own personal relationship with God …The mass is the.same but everyday you change and the atmosphere is free to search for inner peace .
Thanks, Karen. Here are some of my thoughts:
***I personally put quite a bit of weight on what posture the most-beloved and respected contemporary Elders within Orthodoxy have adopted in regard to the various schisms (and sins of hierarchs) that have arisen***
I know what you mean. I read the biography of Fr Seraphim Rose at least three or four times through. And it was his concerns against “World Orthodoxy” and the Ecumenical Patriarchate that really rattled my sensibilities.
***I’m also quite sure that a fully Orthodox understanding of what is meant by a group (or a group’s sacraments) “lacking grace” doesn’t equate to all the members of that group, therefore, not being in process of being “saved” (as western theological training and background would incline us to believe).***
I am pretty sure the Old Believers said precisely that everyone else lacked grace. (Fr Raphael Johnson has a book on it, but it’s been five or six years since I have read it). Their specific argument was that it is impossible for those communions (including most if not all of World Orthodoxy) to have grace in their sacraments. Maybe that doesn’t mean those are eternally damned, but it’s hard to see any other conclusion.
I respect the holiness of Fr. Seraphim Rose, but he is not an example of what I meant by “universally beloved and respected contemporary Elders.” In fact, he is an example of someone whose works those Orthodox I most trust would only recommend with caution because his views on certain things are quite controversial and not positions universally attested in the history of Orthodoxy. I think you understand well from your knowledge of Church history that even truly holy people are not infallible. I am thinking more of folks like Elder Porphyrios of Athens, Fr. John (Krestiankin) of Russia, Elder Ephraim of Mt. Athos, St. George of Drama, Mother Gavrilia of Greece, and others like them with deep roots in traditionally Orthodox cultures, all of whom did not break communion with “world Orthodoxy” and whose holiness and genuine Orthodox faith is not in question by anyone whom I would trust (and certainly not my own “gut” either). It has always been the case, even from NT times, that egregiously sinful things can take place within the formal sacramental boundaries of the Church and even amongst its hierarchy and that there can be long periods where such processes are allowed to run their course before God, in His omniscience and sovereignty, definitively judges and cuts off the erring olive branch, so to speak. We see this pattern in the accounts of God’s people in the OT as well. The Donatist heresy and the Church’s ultimate discernment that it was a heretical position is evidence to me that the pious faithful are always going to be tempted to prematurely judge and usurp God’s sovereign authority in this area, and that the genuinely Orthodox instinct and Spirit is much more truly gracious, generous, long-suffering, and faithful in its true holiness than we can ever imagine.
By definition, I really would not expect “Old Believers” and “True Orthodox” to be able to articulate a “fully Orthodox” understanding of the meaning of another group’s “lacking grace.” I’m sure God is working even amongst such “Old Believers” (my conviction, as I stated in my previous comment, being He is not limited in the way that we are), but I believe there is spiritual delusion at work there as well. In my own experience, any anxiety that such schismatic groups might be “right” in their entirety (not that they may not have quite legitimate concerns and true observations–that is another thing altogether) has ultimately been exposed by the Holy Spirit as an unhealthy “paranoia” provoked by the enemy of souls. It has never borne good fruit in my own heart and life. Again, that “it’s hard [for you] to see any other conclusion” about the “eternally damned” part, I understand, but again, I reiterate that from my perspective this is the result of a mindset deeply immersed in the Western theological traditions and which is simply not Orthodox.
One more important thing to note: Fr. Seraphim Rose, despite his concerns, did *not* break communion with canonical “world Orthodoxy,” but rather sought to come under that roof.
That’s a hard one to figure out. My understanding is that he was under the jurisdiction of St John Maximovitch, who *did* break with the Moscow Patriarchate. This was before ROCOR and before ROCA became known as truly schismatic.
As to Rose’s teachings, it’s fairly well-documented that the holy fathers believed in aerial toll houses and six day creation, especially the former.
Jacob, the circumstances of the Soviet era were such that a “break with the Moscow Patriarchate” during that time of upheaval would not have constituted a “break” with world Orthodoxy. Do we have any record that St. John repudiated any of the other Patriarchates? No. Indeed, he would not be venerated as a Saint in canonical world Orthodoxy unless he had maintained communion within it. He became a hierarch within ROCOR. ROCA/ROCOR (same jurisdiction) formed in 1920 following instruction to do so from the last Moscow Patriarch independent of the Bolsheviks, St. Tikhon (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Orthodox_Church_Outside_Russia under the section titled “Formation and Early Years,” second paragraph). ROCOR is a recognized canonical jurisdiction within world Orthodoxy (now, as you know, reunited under Moscow), and St. John had for decades already been a bishop within ROCOR by the time he served in the U.S. where Fr. Seraphim became his spiritual child. Temporary breaks in communion in extraordinary circumstances, such as the Communist Revolution in the former Soviet Union, are not the kind of schisms that constitute real ruptures from “world Orthodoxy.”
I’m getting the impression your understanding of Orthodoxy is rather superficial and really quite distorted.
“. . . it’s fairly well-documented that the holy fathers believed in aerial toll houses and six day creation, especially the former.”
Let me just put it this way, not in the way that modern Fundamentalist Protestants would understand those teachings. I’ll just leave it at that. If you want to understand better, you can listen on AFR to Presbytera Jeannie Constantinou’s “Search the Scriptures” podcast on the first chapters of Genesis. Given her background and training, I think her understanding is more reliably fully Orthodox than Fr. Seraphim’s, given that he was, besides being a very holy person, also a child of his background and his times.
I’m puzzled by your statement that the “holy fathers” (I assume you mean ‘church fathers’) believed in aerial toll houses. I haven’t seen much evidence for it and the overall attitude towards this teaching in the Orthodox circles I move around in is to view it with skepticism.
Let me challenge you to write an article for your site showing that the patristic consensus supports the toll house teaching. This will give you an opportunity to demonstrate to us that you are familiar with the Vincentian Canon method even though you reject it.
My understanding is that it is one strand of teaching within Orthodoxy but is not a core dogma of the Church.
Athanasius believed in it (in his bio on St Anthony). Since I don’t have the same view of a patristic consensus that you do, I really don’t think I could write an article demonstrating a patristic consensus (The Messianic Hebrew commenter “John” ably demonstrated that point).
I perhaps wasn’t clear about my saying vis-a-vis the Fathers: any criticism of Rose on this point must equally apply to St Athanasius.
Did you assert that the patristic consensus supports the toll house theory? If you did, then you need to prove it with supporting evidence. If you did not, say so and I’ll drop the matter. Otherwise, citing Athanasius isn’t going to cut it.
I didn’t assert the patristic consensus. I said the holy fathers. Did I mean ALL the fathers or SOME of the fathers? Granted, I didn’t say. Perhaps I could have been more precise. Some/many of the Holy fathers held that. But that illustrates a problem that keeps arising. Which fathers and how many? Seraphim Rose demonstrated that most of the Russian fathers in the 19th century held to it, but was pretty weak in demonstrating more classical fathers. Do the 19th century Russians count?
And if I start quoting significant fathers, I will be told “But that’s not the patristic consensus” (though one wonders how one can begin to develop a patristic consensus without the individual data from the fathers. One has to start somewhere). It’s literally a losing proposition for me no matter how I cut it.
Yes. You should have been more precise, especially in a setting where people are speaking from different faith traditions. Now I know that when you say “the holy fathers,” you mean “some of the holy fathers” not the overall patristic consensus.
Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂
I just read an interview with Fr Thomas Hopko and he said that the aerial houses were the teaching of the church. He didn’t give any citations, but since it was an Ancient Faith interview on the popular level, I didn’t expect him to.
“. . . it’s fairly well-documented that the holy fathers believed in aerial toll houses and six day creation, especially the former.”
That’s fairly all encompassing so getting defensive about the comment and then throwing everyone a bone by saying “well maybe just a few but even if I did take the time to investigate it and wrote about it and found consensus but you’d reject it anyway ” isn’t the posture of someone dialoging, it’s the posture of someone who at best isn’t quite following along or at worst is trolling.
Thanks for contributing to the dialogue here!
That’s right. I’m just trolling. Seriously, though, one criticism I did have of rose is that while he had an impressive array of Russian fathers on toll houses, he could have better documented the more classical patristics fathers
Robert…I really appreciate much of the content on your blog. I must say though that the post by Fr. Longenecker seemed very dismissive and used sweeping generalities. It doesn’t seem like he really wanted to engage so called progressive protestants as much as hastily label. I resonate with my friend’s response.http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/2013/12/those-pesky-protestant-progressives.html?m=1
Thanks for sharing with us your friend’s response. Combining orthodoxy with mercy can often be a challenge for those who are inclined to be conservative and for those who lean towards being liberal. Genuine Christian conservatism is grounded in divine mercy, not in fear. Granted that the tone of Rev. Longenecker’s essay may come across as shrill but I believe that we need to take seriously his concerns that the Church of England is abandoning its historic roots in its pursuit of women bishops.
Gender and sex are profoundly spiritual and moral. They express and shape our inner life and our relationship with God and with one another. Thus, Christian morality and gender roles are ontologically grounded in the divine will expressed in the creation account of Genesis, and redeemed by Christ in the Incarnation. For the Orthodox Christian the Apostles’ teachings on moral conduct is an integral part of Holy Tradition. One cannot divorce morality from doctrine and liturgy; in Orthodoxy erroneous doctrine (heresy) or sexual immorality (sin) can result in one being denied Holy Communion. More positively, sexual relations and gender roles ordered and sanctified through life in Christ leads to theosis. That is why the Church regards marriage ultimately as a sacrament from God, not a mere social arrangement. The same thing can be said about the sacrament of ordination to the priesthood. Orthodox Christians received the sacraments as part of Apostolic Tradition; they are not up for negotiation or reform.
After a quick glance at your friend’s writings I was struck by the secular tone of his writings and his reliance on autonomous reason characteristic of the Enlightenment Project. I’m not unfamiliar with this kind of reasoning having heard it many times when I was in the United Church of Christ. What concerns me is that this new moral framework is at odds with the historic Christian Tradition. That is why I think the Metropolitan Hilarion’s address to the Church of England more balanced and sober in tone and for these reasons deserve to be taken seriously.
Robert…thank you for the response. I am trying to appreciate your perspective. I’m kind of in a sort of transition right now between my protestant roots and something else. I find many aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy attractive but have some serious reservations as well. Who knows, I might land in EO.
In regards to your response. It seems that many EO theologians have what seems to an allergic reaction to “Enlightenment Project” and throw that term around without really engaging the points that are being made by the opposing side. Like you with autonomous reason (which I don’t think he is soley using by the way) I am not unfamiliar with claims made by EO thinkers who play the Enlightenment project card. Dr. Reitan specifically examined three particular claims made by Fr. Longenecker. I thought Reitan was fair in expressing where Longenecker had some good points and where he was attacking strawmen. Seeing that sexual issues are really not up for discussion for you as an EO Christian, I don’t know how you could entertain any serious critique. I am having an increasingly harder time to know how to handle comitted same sex relationships who for all other appearances are following Christ. As of now, it is almost impossible for me to wrap my mind around Met. Hilarion’s near disgust toward women bishops. appealing to Holy Tradition to short circuit any kind of civilized discussion marginalizes sexual minorities and women in harmful ways. These issues are important because it seems that Christ cared first and foremost about people and the content of their character over dogmatically asserting or appealing to doctrine. Doctrine is important but not at the expense of harming others. It is hard for me not to see Conservative protestants, Catholics, and EO consistently doing this. I believe that Christ makes claims over our lives, but I am having an extremely hard time seeing the importance of taking a hardline stance on these two issues. I don’t sense any compassion or understanding from Met. Hilarion or Fr. Longenecker (at least in the comments I saw). I just get disheartened and frustrated with any tradition that doesn’t take any genuine criticism seriously simply because said tradition conveys “this is what has been handed down to us therefore we must guard it all costs.” Robert, I have read many of your posts and you are a man that is not afraid to ask poignant and penetrating questions to your opponents. But if these issues are not even up for negotiation, how do you avoid the charge of stacking the deck in your favor. I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive of your points, but this seems to be a blind spot in EO that I have never seen satisfactorily answered and one of my biggest reservations about joining the church. Questioning tradition is off limits no matter what kind of fruit it might produce.
Thank you for conveying your concerns and frustration over the issue of sexual morality, and your questions about how Eastern Orthodoxy handles recent questions about sexual morality. I’ll take your advice and read through Dr. Reitan’s article. I’m sure there are other readers who have similar questions like you. I’ll do my best to respond to Dr. Reitan. If I have any concerns, it is that this will take me into areas beyond my expertise. I’ll do my best to respond, but it may take me a while before I can respond to Reitan. So I ask for your patience and your prayers.
Robert…thank you for your response. Please take all the time you need. Please know that I personally have had many blindspots in my thinking and I’m sure I still do. To be honest, EO theology has helped me see and provide a corrective to some major blindspots as a Protestant. I just think many Christians (including myself) have done a terrible job of listening those who have been deeply hurt marginalized by things that I believed. I think we can both agree that the first step in loving somebody is genuinely listening them and where they are coming from. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s position is equally valid or true. But it means at least being open to a genuine give and take of ideas. I just know homosexuals who love Jesus and desire to follow him wholeheartedly but are shunned by many of my fellow brothers and sisters who have labled them with a single story. Please know I need prayer so very much and want to live before Christ with a clean and honest conscience. Blessings my brother.
I would recommend reading the whole piece if you haven’t.
This prayer has been on my mind and I think accurately reflects my intentions.
“In times of doubts and questionings, when our belief is perplexed by new learning, new teaching, new thought, when our faith is strained by creeds, by doctrines, by mysteries beyond our understanding, give us the faithfulness of learners and the courage of believers in thee; give us boldness to examine and faith to trust all truth; patience and insight to master difficulties; and in times of change, to grasp new knowledge really and to combine it loyally and honestly with the old; alike from stubborn rejection of new revelations, and from hasty assurance that we are wiser than our fathers;Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.” George Ridding
I understand your concern when discussing committed same sex couples, however what about committed opposite sex couples who are unmarried? What about committed polygamous spouses? And what about committed couples where one is a minor? Are any of these to be considered sin?
Fr Thomas Hopko has a fine book on this subject. He honors those with same sex attraction with great dignity and addresses the subject in such a way as to almost place the issue of same sex attraction in the background as he describes every Christian’s daily struggle against whatever his besetting sins and desires may be.
Canadian, thanks for recomending that book. Interestingly enough I went back to my amazon wish list and saw that I added it a while ago. I will definitely have to read it.
Canandian, what I’m trying to discuss is a homosexual orientation (that many I have read about did not choose anymore than you or I chose to be attracted to the opposite sex) We just are. Is there such a thing as an orientation in the scenarios you posted. I don’t know but my informed guess is no. What is so hard for me to understand is why God would allow this orientation to exist (that many claim they had no control over) and then deny them the same joy we experience in marriage. That seems very cruel to me to be honest.
I would recommend reading the book Torn by Justin Lee. I am also wanting to read Dr. Wesley Hill’s book called Washed and Waiting. Both men are gay. Justin believes God will bless committed same sex relationships while Wesley believes he is to remain celibate. (Which I would imagine is Fr. Hopko’s stance?). I truly do want to see both sides. As of now, I have seen more compelling reasons to side with Justin (whom he calls side A Christians. Wesley being side B). Canadian, I have seen those arguments addressed at length elsewhere and I haven’t been very convinced philosophically as I used to be.
The whole point is that our orientation is disordered and untrustworthy due to our fallen condition…..all of us. So some struggle mightily with fornication due to an insatiable drive that never lets them rest, yet the next person has little trouble resisting. Some seem to just sniff alcohol and are oriented to abuse it. Some have compulsive and obsessive thoughts, actions and behaviours. We are all broken, some struggle with homosexual desires that seem natural to them. Desires do not constitute what is natural to humanity. The pedophile could make a defense based on “orientation” just as one with same sex desires or as one driven with opposite sex attraction who claims he cannot wait for marriage. On what basis do we tell anyone to resist their passions? Someone with intense anger, which seems very natural to them, must fight it. What about those who are internally convinced by their desires and “orientation” that they should be the other gender?
I say all of this with a compassion I never had before coming to Orthodoxy, I have to say. I can’t imagine the struggles all of these folks have in these various areas. I am not talking about casual sexual experimentation but those, as you allude to, who seem to be wired for something internally. God knows we are broken and we find our “nature” healed, recapitulated, deified, reordered in Christ. He alone is our healing, but healing implies that we all are sick, regardless of how natural our sickness may feel. The crosses that we must take up to deny ourselves are different for each of us. The church is the place to encourage one another in this endeavour
Well said Drew,
Sadly, I must confess that I too had little Christian compassion for those with “ab-normal” passions (unlike my “normal” ones) before coming to Orthodoxy. It was Orthodoxy that helped me see/learn that ALL sinful passions are indeed “abnormal” to Real Humanity. My healing, sanctification and theosis is no less needful than what I’d heretofore have regarded as “really” sinful ‘others’. Such pride…or maybe “exceptionalism” that must be faced and conquered by the Holy Spirit — working IN the sacraments, traditions and ministries of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Church…our only real and complete Hospital for sick sinners. In this, the murderer, paedophile, whore, fornicator and sodomite all have the same root problem that I have…SIN sickness. Only when I learned to see them like me, with a different illness, have I been able to have a real compassion for them (as I want for myself)…all without excusing or re-labeling any of OUR sins. Is this easy. Not at all, and we all struggle to have a proper hatred for sin, while loving sinners. Lord have mercy on us all.
In fact, Dr. Reitan has a whole series concerning the slippery slope mentality. Here is the first part.http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/2013/10/taking-slippery-slope-seriously.html?m=1
Who brought up the slippery slope argument? All I saw was the idea that we all are born in sin. Which means we all are born with something abnormal that we all must struggle against. Non of us choose our desires, but we all can choose to suffer and struggle against them.
Christianity is for those that are willing to suffer and struggle. If you don’t want to suffer then stop being a Christian! Period! It’s best to leave us then try to stay and convince us to change our ways and thinking. If we don’t wish to change then maybe we are not for you!
Jnorm…one can pretty readily deduce the slippery slope concern in Canadian’s statement “I understand your concern when discussing committed same sex couples, however what about committed opposite sex couples who are unmarried? What about committed polygamous spouses? And what about committed couples where one is a minor? Are any of these to be considered sin?” Canadian seems to be asking a legitimate question that lends itself to said mentality. So while no one came out and actually used those words, one can see what he is getting at.
I’m confused at your hostility toward me. You don’t know me from Adam. I even posted a prayer that tries to explain my intentions. I do struggle with sin. But I’m always confused as to what passions are good and bad from an EO position. Jnorm…people struggle with sin. I’m not disagreeing with you. But there is hope for resolution for those with anger problems, lust, etc. How do you change someone’s sexual orientation (who they are attracted to)? Did you wake up one day and decide who you were attracted to? Probably not. I have read many more stories of people who have prayed and prayed for God to change their same sex attraction but to no avail. Then when you read their agonizing stories of not being able to share in the joy of marriage as we do, it makes one wonder (at least me) what KIND of homosexuality the Bible was addressing. Is there any substantial difference between monogamous homosexual relationships and cultic acts involving homosexuality that Paul seems to be addressing? Jnorm…please give me the benefit of the doubt that I am trying to sort through this issue fairly. Anything less is being presumptive.
Thanks for your comment, though directed at JNorm.
I wasn’t implying slippery slope at all, but the equivalency of same sex attraction with that of other seemingly “natural” attractions to fallen persons. Slippery slope implies a small insignificant thing leads necessarily to some greater evil.
You seem to segregate same sex desires from sex change desires and fornication desires and someone’s sexual desire for children. Why?
If same sex relations is not sin, on what basis can we say fornication, sex change, polygamy etc are sin? Are these just all persons who are naturally laden with desires they cannot control? Why would God permit me the penchant for irritability and short temper? Should I resist this or is it my natural orientation?