Orthodox-Reformed Bridge

A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

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Review: GCTS Prof. Ryan Reeves’ lecture: “Great Schism (1054)”

 

Prof. Ryan Reeves

On several occasions, I have read comments by Calvinists and Evangelicals who expressed anger and disappointment on not being taught about the early Church and Orthodoxy while in seminary. I was fortunate that I had more than a little exposure to the early Church and the Church Fathers at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. So I was intrigued when a reader brought to my attention Gordon-Conwell professor Ryan Reeveslecture on the Great Schism of 1054.

 

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – South Hamilton MA

As one who once identified with the Reformed tradition then later converted to Orthodoxy, I wondered how balanced the presentation would be. My intent in this article is not so much to criticize as to provide positive feedback so that Prof. Reeves could give his students a more balanced approach (at least from my perspective) to the Great Schism of 1054. It would be as if I had returned to Gordon-Conwell for a one-day visit and dropped in on this particular topic which is of great interest to Christians concerned with church history and church unity.

 

 

It is tragic that the 1054 Schism is so often ignored, or at best, given brief mention in most Protestant and Evangelical circles. It serves as evidence that in the Protestant perspective, church history is not viewed as the Holy Spirit working in the Church—at least in the sense of a continuing Pentecost. This presupposition adds up to a secularization of the Church on earth. To say the least, it inculcates a very different mindset toward Church history and the presence of the kingdom of God on earth.

 

 

Three Factors

Prof. Reeves identified three factors leading up to the 1054 Schism: (1) political, (2) theological, and (3) the “bozos factor.”

Political Factor – The Two Romes

Prof. Reeves commendably debunks the stereotype of the Patriarch of Constantinople as the pope of the East. This stereotype is contrary to the East’s principle of conciliarity or as Reeves puts it aptly: “collaborative unity.” Reeves notes that the Second Ecumenical Council—the Council of Constantinople (381)—established five principle ecclesial seats or patriarchates (12:42; chart at 13:00). The understanding was that these church leaders would supposedly be first among equals. The East’s “collaborative unity” is quite different from the West’s centralized approach to unity that would mark the later papacy. Reeves sees as the “kernel of the fight” the issue of authority, more specifically the role of the Pope—the bishop of Rome in relation to the other Patriarchs (12:42; see chart at 15:45). It would have been good if Prof. Reeves had noted how the episcopacy was foundational to the polity the early Church and how so much of present day Evangelical churches follow a radically different polity.

The roots of the East-West Schism can be seen in the rivalry between the Old Rome and the New Rome aka Constantinople. Once the center of the Roman world, Rome went into decline and in 410 was sacked by Alaric the Visigothic king–an event that shocked and horrified the whole Roman world. With the decline of Old Rome a power vacuum emerged that would be filled by the bishop of Rome, i.e., the papacy. The political gravity shifted to Gaul with the emergence of Charlemagne. In his attempt to restore the Roman Empire in the West and to consolidate his rule in that sphere, Charlemagne referred to the leaders in the East as “Greeks.” This marked the West’s attempt to withstand Constantinople’s asserting its role as the successor to Old Rome.

Charlemagne’s semantic shift in the term “Greek” was designed to make people conscious of a growing divide in the Roman world. It highlighted the fact that there were two major languages—Latin and Greek–in the Roman Empire. This linguistic difference did not matter so long as there were bilingual theologians and rulers. However as the linguistic divide grew, prominent theologians, e.g., Augustine of Hippo, would be unable to read Greek and so had limited exposure to the thinking of the Greek Fathers. This difference in language would contribute to theological differences between the Latin West and the Greek East

 

Theological Factor – The Filioque Clause

One of the most prominent theological issues that led to the 1054 Schism was the Filioque—the unilateral insertion of the phrase “and the Son” into the Nicene Cred. What may seem to be an arcane point of theology for Evangelicals and Protestants today is very pertinent for Orthodox Christians. The Filioque marks the parting of ways between Orthodoxy and Christians of the West: Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Prof. Reeves notes that in the West Arianism was spreading among the Gothic tribes. This gave rise to concerns that the Nicene Creed could be misunderstood to teach that the Son and the Spirit were created, not eternal (19:42). The phrase “and the Son” (Filioque) was inserted into the Creed around the sixth century (20:51) to combat the Arian heresy. Reeves explained that by affirming that the Son was of equal standing with the Father with respect to the procession of the Holy Spirit the divinity of the Son could be maintained (21:27).

Underlying the insertion of the Filioque clause was the issue of authority, more specifically, the Pope’s doctrinal authority. Prof. Reeves points out that the West—the Pope–was saying: “We’re going to change the Creed—add to it in order to clarify the theology of the Creed in the midst of our context.” (22:10-16) When the East began to notice the West’s unilateral revision of the Nicene Creed they objected vociferously (22:25). For them, it was only in the context of a council of bishops (plural) that the Creed could be modified (22:32). Reeves goes on to note that the West’s response was that the papacy had decreed this and therefore it is good theology (22:45). Here I was very surprised. I had never heard of such a papal decree or of such a claim being made. It would be good if Prof. Reeves could provide us with the supporting reference for this.

It would have been good if Prof. Reeves had noted that early on there were Popes—Leo III (795-816)—who had objected to the insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed and that it was not until 1014—at the coronation of Henry II as Holy Roman Emperor—that the Filioque was inserted into the Creed at a papal Mass. In other words, there was a time when the popes held views similar to the East on the Filioque. Since this was a church history lecture, Prof. Reeves should have mentioned that the Filioque clause was first inserted into the Nicene Creed at the Council of Toledo in 589 at the prompting of King Recared who had just converted from Arianism and embraced Nicene Orthodoxy. The revision of Nicene Creed in 589 was done by a minor regional council. This contrasts with the Nicene Creed which was formulated by the numerous bishops at two Ecumenical Councils: Nicea I (325) and Constantinople I (381).

 

Bozos Factor

In 1053, Western cardinal of Silva Candida, Humbert, received a letter from an Eastern bishop, Leo of Ochrid, who condemned the West for the Filioque clause and for their practice of using unleavened bread for the Mass (27:28). Humbert then makes a trip to Constantinople to present his objections to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. Reeves describes the 1054 event as “two egomaniacs throwing temper tantrums at each other” (28:10). Granted that both parties behaved deplorably and inexcusably, however, Prof. Reeves’ colorful characterization of what he calls the “bozo factor” is unfortunate. While caricature can be entertaining and memorable, it is similar to ad hominem attacks.

 

The Final Blow — Sack of Constantinople (1204) Source

Closing Thoughts

The 1054 Schism was more a paradigmatic event than the actual breaking point. What happened that day—Saturday, 16 July 1054–highlighted the differences between the East and West, burning them into the collective memory. Towards the end of his half-hour lecture Prof. Reeves drastically compresses the unfolding of the Schism—apparently he is rushing to windup his lecture. He notes that the participants in the 1054 incident did not view it as a momentous act that would sunder the West from the East. He mentions the Fourth Crusade (30:10)—a far more disruptive event for West-East relations. One could say that the pillage of Constantinople by the western Crusaders in 1204 was the straw that broke the camel’s back estranging the East from the West. What happened in 1204 was more a political act than a theological one. Kallistos (Timothy) Ware wrote concerning the aftermath of 1204:

The long-standing doctrinal disagreements were now reinforced on the Greek side by an intense national hatred, by a feeling of resentment and indignation against western aggression and sacrilege. After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian east and Christ west were divided into two. (The Orthodox Church p. 60).

Prof. Reeves might also have touched on the influence of Augustine of Hippo’s teaching on the double procession of the Holy Spirit as the reason why so much of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism hold on so tenaciously to the Filioque clause. However, Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity does not represent the patristic consensus. His understanding differs from that of the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen, who stressed the monarchy (monos = sole + arche = source) of the Father, that the Son being eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Person of the Father. In other words, the understanding of the Trinity found in Augustine and the Filioque clause represent a minority viewpoint in the early Church.

Any good church history professor worth his salt will seek to relate the past to the present. The importance of the Nicene Creed—more accurately the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed—is that if was the Creed for all Christians—East and West. For the students at Gordon-Conwell the question must be posed: Why is it that so many present-day Protestants and Evangelicals do not say the Nicene Creed in their Sunday worship when it was the standard practice back then? And for the Protestants and Evangelicals who do recite the Nicene Creed the question must be posed: Why do they use the version with the Filioque clause? I often tease my Anglican friends for using the papal version of the Nicene Creed. But I am mystified by the reluctance of so many Anglicans to relinquish the Filioque clause and return to the original version of the Nicene Creed.  The return to the universally recognized Creed of the early Church would mark a significant step towards church unity. This tenacious adherence to the Filioque shows how much the 1054 Schism continues to influence relations among Christians today.

In closing, I appreciate Prof. Ryan Reeves presenting the complexity of the 1054 Schism. The only major disagreement I have with his lecture is his characterization of Cardinal of Silva Candida, Humbert, and Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, as “bozos.” I have three suggestions for his 1054 Schism lecture: (1) placing greater stress on 1054 as a paradigmatic event, not as the moment of actual schism, (2) showing how the events of 1054 affect twenty-first century Christians, and (3) using the 1054 Schism to help Gordon-Conwell students become aware of how far present-day Evangelicalism and Protestantism have parted ways with early Christianity.

Robert Arakaki

 

Resources

Athanasios Philippides. “The Days of the Schism of 1054.”
Orthodox Church in America. “The Great Schism.”
Steven Runciman. The Eastern Schism.
Timothy (Kallistos) Ware. The Orthodox Church.

 

 

A Frank and Friendly Conversation

A Friendly Conversation

A reader wrote the following:

Dear Sir,

I really appreciate this article. I come from a Reformed background. I am one who laments that Protestantism has made so many sects. Yet, I want to ask a very simple question and its not out of spite, I am really curious to know more about how Eastern Orthodoxy holds things together theologically, what happens when the Church Fathers conflict with the Scriptures? The Fathers themselves had different ideas and were not all of the same mind on every issue. The Roman Catholic Church has its Magisterium. The trouble with their position is that they claim their teaching does not err. As much as I have sympathy for your position related to the severe weaknesses of Protestantism in regard of creating sects (which didn’t have to happen), as a Protestant Sola Scriptura seems to be a necessary conclusion even if it is messy.

Ethan

 

My Response

Thank you for your blunt questions and your willingness to engage us here! I have broken down your questions into three points with my response following.

 

1) How does Orthodoxy holds things together theologically?

What unites Orthodoxy is Apostolic Tradition. Apostolic Tradition consists of written Tradition (Scripture) and unwritten Tradition (the oral teachings and praxis of the Apostles) (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:13-14). Unlike Protestantism which insists on the “Bible alone” (sola scriptura), Orthodoxy teaches that Scripture is to be understood within the context of the Church, primarily in the matrix of its Liturgy, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils.

 

Fractio Panis — 3rd century Roman catacomb painting

One good example of how oral Tradition complements written Tradition can be seen in the Eucharist. All early Christian worship services had the Eucharist and all early Christians believed in the real presence — that Christ’s body and blood are truly present in the Eucharist. This was an implicit understanding shared by the early Christians. According to Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) it was the Gnostic heretics who denied the real presence in the Eucharist viewing it as symbolic (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7.1).

Zwingli vs. Luther at the Marburg Colloquy – 1529

This belief in the real presence was transformed into a precise formula in the West during the Middle Ages resulting in the distinctive Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In the East, the Orthodox position was that the real presence was a mystery. When the Protestant Reformers sought to reform Christian worship on the basis of sola scriptura, they ran into the problem of how to interpret Jesus’ words: “This is my body.” Were the words to be understood literally or symbolically? Not having oral Tradition to fall back on, Luther and Zwingli reached an impasse and parted ways. One has to wonder whether sola scriptura was the underlying cause of Protestantism’s earliest church split. One also has to wonder whether sola scriptura is the reason why Protestantism never had a shared common worship.

 

 

Orthodox Liturgy in Russia

Oral Tradition can also be seen in the understanding that Christian worship was to take place on Sunday, was to have the Eucharist, and follow a liturgical order (see Justin Martyr’s First Apology 65-67). There is no explicit Scripture passage that mandates a liturgy with the Eucharist every Sunday. These are all part of oral Tradition that emerged alongside the Bible. It is important to keep in mind that the biblical canon and the Liturgy emerged simultaneously within the early Church, both are the result of the Church being led by the Holy Spirit. Thus, oral Tradition plays an important part in the unity of the Faith as Scripture.

All Orthodox parishes today follow the same Liturgy. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom provides a rich hermeneutical context for understanding the Bible. I strongly recommend you attend the Liturgy for several Sundays—at least 6 to 8—taking note of Scripture being expressed in the prayers and hymns in the Liturgy. The Liturgy is beautifully complex, multi-layered and multi-sensory, involving whole person, body and soul with the goal of drawing the worshiper closer to God.

The Liturgy with the church calendar provides another commonality among Orthodox parishes across the world today as well as providing a historical link to the early Church. This calendar is not a piece of paper hanging on the wall, but rather a schedule of services, prayers, and hymns to be used on designated days. Through the feast day services Orthodox parishes around the world remember the lives of the saints and important historical events. When I was a Protestant I learned church history through reading books but as an Orthodox Christian I learn church history through attending services. In Protestantism, church history tends to be specialized knowledge, not shared knowledge as in Orthodoxy. This shared understanding of church history and the saints is another factor to Orthodox unity. Without knowledge of family history, we become susceptible to becoming isolated individuals intent on developing our own identities.

First Ecumenical Council – Nicea AD 325

Another source of unity is Orthodoxy’s adherence to the Seven Ecumenical Councils. At these Councils major heresies were refuted by the Church Catholic. There have been other later councils that while not considered Ecumenical have been universally received by Orthodox churches, for example, the 1623 Council of Jerusalem which rejected Calvinism. Another unifying factor is the Nicene Creed which we recite every Sunday. The Nicene Creed, while it does not define every point of theology, nonetheless provides the parameters of what all Christians are obliged to believe. When Orthodox Christians recite the Nicene Creed we are affirming the teaching authority (magisterium) of the Ecumenical Councils, especially the first two. Orthodoxy’s objection to the unilateral insertion of the Filioque is indicative of Orthodoxy’s adherence to the conciliar approach to doing theology. The conciliar approach underlying the Nicene Creed is radically at odds with the Protestant theological method which is based on sola scriptura.

Then there is the episcopacy which consists of a living, historical chain of bishops who trace their spiritual lineage back to the original Apostles. The bishop as the recipient and guardian of Apostolic Tradition also oversees the local liturgical celebrations. No priest can validly celebrate the Eucharist apart from the bishop’s authorization (Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8). Keep in mind that this authority is a covenantal authority. When Christ said: “This is the blood of the New Covenant,” he was implying that Christianity would be a covenant community with a covenant-based leadership. In many ways the authority of the Orthodox Church traces back to the Last Supper, whereas Protestantism’s authority traces to the Reformers in the 1500s taking the Bible as their starting point for their theologizing. However, the problem with the Protestant approach is that the Reformers took into their hands a covenant document (the Bible) without a validly conferred covenant authority to interpret it. Protestants lack this covenant authority because they rejected the historic episcopacy. Lacking the historic episcopacy, the magisterium (teaching authority) in Protestantism shifted to either the university which in the nineteenth century became captive to the European Enlightenment Project or to untethered religious entrepreneurs beholden to nobody except themselves. Theological fragmentation and denominational disarray were the inevitable consequences. This is a sign of Protestantism’s lack of covenantal basis. Because Protestantism rejects apostolic succession, it lacks not only covenantal authority to interpret Scripture but also covenantal unity essential to being part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed. The local bishop through right teaching and right worship ensures the Orthodox Church’s covenantal unity.

 

2) What happens when the Church Fathers conflict with the Scriptures?

The first thing to note is that just because a Christian thinker lived long ago does not make him a Church Father. Only a select group of men recognized for their teachings and their holy lives have been honored by the Orthodox Church as “Church Fathers.” This recognition is expressed principally through the church calendar in a feast day honoring their service to Christ. There are some early Christians who had brilliant minds but were not regarded as Church Fathers, for example, Tertullian and Origen.

When you say “conflict with the Scriptures” you would need to be more specific. It might be you are thinking of some early Christians who held eccentric views. Or it might be that you, as a Reformed Protestant, might be siding with the minority viewpoint. For example, if you believe that Scriptures affirm the iconoclast position, then you are favoring the minority position. It might also be that you have not critically considered the problematic aspects of the iconoclast position. When I was a Protestant, I assumed that the icon was the weakest point of Orthodoxy until I took a fresh look at Scripture and read carefully the early Christians’ defense of icons. See my article: “The Biblical Basis for Icons” in which I found that icons do not necessarily conflict with Scripture. In any event, it is a matter of record that the pro-icon position was ratified at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II 787) and iconoclasm was condemned as heretical. Also, you need to consider that iconoclasm is not universal across Protestantism and that it represents only an extreme end of the Protestant spectrum. Where Orthodoxy is united on the issue of icons, Protestantism is not.

 

3) The Church Fathers themselves “had different ideas and were not all of the same mind on every issue.”

Your observation is quite accurate that there was quite a bit of diversity among the Church Fathers. Nonetheless, what they had in common was striking when compared to Protestantism. Early Christian theology was essentially liturgical theology. It was not so much written down on paper as it was sung out loud during the Liturgy. The early Church viewed the Eucharist as the central feature of Sunday worship and all affirm the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. Another common element was the understanding that Christianity was based on oral Tradition received from the Apostles and safeguarded by the bishops. The episcopacy was the norm in early Christianity. Protestant forms of church government like congregationalism and presbyterianism were not the norm. Among the early Christians there was some disagreement as to how to reconcile Jesus being the Son of God with Jewish monotheism. This question became a major crisis with the emergence of the Arian heresy. This heresy was refuted at the Council of Nicea (325). It was for his articulate defense of Jesus’ divinity that Athanasius was recognized as a Church Father. Cyril of Alexandria would be recognized as a Church Father for his defense of Mary as the Theotokos (God-Bearer). It was at the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople II, 553) that Nestorianism was condemned as heretical and recognition of Mary as Theotokos be made part of the Liturgy. The iconoclast controversy was precipitated by Emperor Leo III’s edict against icons. For his defense of icons John of Damascus would be recognized as a Church Father. It was at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II, 787) that iconoclasm would be formally condemned as heretical. The early Church encountered numerous heresies and dealt with them through councils–local, regional, and ecumenical—with the assistance of bishops who would later be recognized as Church Fathers. It is not as if conflicts emerged the Church Fathers and were resolved at Ecumenical Councils; but rather heresies surfaced and the bishops came together to deal with these heresies and in the process certain men who played a key role in the upholding of the Apostolic Faith would come to be recognized as a “Church Father” just as an “ordinary” Christian who suffered martyrdom would be recognized as a capital “s” Saint.

Another important aspect of Orthodox unity is the patristic consensus. This “consensus of the Fathers” is usually a reference to the bishops of the Church speaking collectively via an Ecumenical Council. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the Jerusalem Council so likewise he guided later Councils into the truth (cf. Acts 15:28; John 16:13). Please keep in mind that while there have been many church councils, only a few have been recognized as “Ecumenical Councils.” Individually the Church Fathers may err but collectively they bear witness to the Apostolic Faith. Orthodox theology does not seek to neatly and systematically answer every theological question possible in a comprehensive manner similar to the Westminster Confession. of Faith While we remain steadfast on matters of dogma like the Trinity and Christology, there is diversity in other matters like soteriology and eschatology. As an Evangelical in a liberal mainline denomination it distressed me to see pastors and theologians calling into question the dogmas of Christology and the Trinity, and fundamental assumptions of human nature, the Fall, and our salvation in Christ. Since becoming Orthodox, it is a tremendous relief to find myself on the same page on the core dogmas of the Faith as the Orthodox priests I meet. I did not have that certainty when I was Protestant. Whenever I met a UCC minister for the first time, I first needed to feel out their theological orientation: Was he or she a Liberal, an Evangelical, or a liberal Evangelical? The parameter of Orthodox’s Holy Tradition gave me a safe harbor and a sense of integrity that I felt was missing during my time as a Protestant.

 

What I appreciate about Orthodoxy is how the Church Fathers are very much among us today. The Church Fathers influence how we understand our Faith. When I make reference to Church Fathers like Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, or John Chrysostom, Orthodox Christians understand who I’m referring to. The Church Fathers are not remote figures in the past but our companions of faith. Recently my priest concluded his sermon with quotes from two Church Fathers and then closed with ”Holy John Chrysostom pray for us! Holy Basil pray for us!” For my priest Father Alexander, the Church Fathers are part of great cloud of witnesses who surround us right now.

 

Orthodox Liturgy in Overland Park, Kansas – YouTube video

Closing Thought

I’ll leave you with this thought. In comparison to meticulous neatness of the Reformed confessions, Orthodox theology is messy and at times fuzzy. However, when it comes to the fundamental core dogmas and worship practices of historic Christianity, Orthodoxy is coherent and stable, while Protestantism is becoming increasingly theologically incoherent, liturgically anarchic, and bereft of historical memory. I suspect that you have had little direct experience with real, live Orthodoxy. I would urge you to spend time getting to know living Orthodox Church and come back again for further engagement. In other words, let keep talking to each other!

Robert Arakaki

 

 

Memory Eternal! Kevin Allen

 

One of contemporary Orthodoxy’s greatest evangelists in the blogosphere was Kevin Allen, host of The Illumined Heart. Many who visited the site have been touched by the many fascinating one-on-one interviews Kevin did with people from a wide range of faith backgrounds who came to Orthodoxy.

On 7 August 2018, Kevin passed away from ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s disease (source).  This progressive neurodegenerative disease is dreaded by many due to the gradual and unstoppable unraveling of the body’s nervous system. Kevin shares his journey from diagnosis and his preparation for the moment of death in the article: “Discovering Life by Facing Death.”

May your memory be eternal dear brother in Christ!

 

In light of this blog’s focus on promoting dialogue between Reformed and Orthodox Christians, I found an interview Kevin did back in 2008. He interviewed Robert Meyering, the former moderator of the Calvin Forum, who is now an Orthodox Christian. Meyering was a Five-Point Calvinist minister who worked at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the half-hour interview, he described his Reformed roots, his disenchantment with Protestantism, and his journey to Orthodoxy. Meyering also discussed his Calvin Forum interview with Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, and the role that interview played in his journey to Orthodoxy.  Meyering closes the interview with some observations about what Orthodox can learn from Reformed Protestants.

Robert Meyering interviewing Frank Schaeffer Source

 

One reason why The Illumined Heart is so widely listened to and has touched so many people’s lives is the journey stories. People instinctively love stories. The Bible is one long narrative about the human race in which God is both the master story teller and the main character. In the Incarnation Jesus entered into human history becoming part of our story. Jesus told parables that invited his listeners into the grand narrative of God seeking to save the lost. Jesus’ death on the Cross and his third-day Resurrection marked a radical turning point in the story of humanity. The drama of history can be reduced to a few questions: Will he or she find God? Will they confess Jesus as Lord and Christ? Will he or she find their way home? As we listen to Kevin Allen’s interview with Robert Meyering, we may find ourselves faced with questions such as: Is my background similar to Robert Meyering’s? Am I in a similar situation like his? Do I have the courage to follow Christ in radical discipleship . . . even into the Orthodox Church?

Robert Arakaki

 

The Illumined Heart: Orthodox dialogue to illumine the heart

“Calvin Forum Moderator Becomes Orthodox” – 5 July 2008 – The Illumined Heart [35:49]

Interview: Robert Meyering with Frank Schaeffer on the Calvin Forum

 

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