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Responding to Pastor Jordan Cooper

“Five Reasons Why I am not Orthodox”

A reader asked for my thoughts about Pastor Jordan Cooper’s YouTube video “Five Reasons I am not Eastern Orthodox.” In this quite brief (15 minutes) video, Jordan Cooper concisely and eloquently gives his reasons for not converting to Orthodoxy. I very much enjoyed the thoughtful, irenic spirit of his presentation. While Pastor Cooper is an ordained Lutheran minister, his reasons for not converting echo the objections of many Reformed Christians. It is my hope that this article will stimulate a friendly and frank conversation between Protestants and Orthodox.


Objection 1 – Apophatic Theology

Pastor Jordan Cooper brings up apophatic theology (theology without words) as a great dividing factor between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity. He explains that apophatic theology uses the method of negation—stressing what God is not. In apophatic theology we strip away all thoughts and concepts of God. This way of doing theology is intertwined with Orthodox spirituality which stresses wordless, thoughtless prayer.

I was surprised and yet not surprised to hear Pastor Cooper bring up Orthodoxy’s apophaticism as an issue. I first learned about apophatic theology in my initial readings about Orthodoxy. However, in my journey to Orthodoxy as I met Orthodox Christians, attended the Sunday liturgies, and read the Church Fathers, the apophatic method was more in the background. As a matter of fact, when it comes to the typical week-by-week life of an Orthodox Christian, there is very little mention of apophatic theology.

There is a strong cataphatic (theology with words) element in Orthodoxy. When one hears the elaborate prayers said by the Orthodox priest in the Anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) one cannot but be struck by the way theological terms are laid upon theological terms in the description of who God is:

“You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, beyond words, unchangeable. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the great God and Savior of our hope, the image of Your goodness, the true seal of revealing in Himself You, the Father. He is the living Word, the true God, eternal wisdom, life, sanctification, power, and the true light.”

This tells us that Orthodoxy has no problem with cataphatic theology. Cataphatic theology is integral to Orthodoxy. I can understand why Pastor Cooper described Orthodoxy in this way, but it is simplistic and misleading. I suspect that his understanding of Orthodoxy comes primarily from reading books about Orthodoxy, rather than witnessing real-life Orthodoxy.

The real difference in theological method between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is threefold. The first major difference is that for Orthodoxy doctrine is something received, that is, passed down from generation to generation through the Church going back to the Apostles. In contrast, in Protestantism doctrine is based upon individual inductive reasoning with the biblical texts. Granted, individual Protestant theologians will often consult the Church Fathers. Yet the Holy Tradition of the Fathers have no prior claim but are merely advisory, and thus subordinate to his conclusions, either individually or in committee. The root source of this theological method is sola scriptura—a doctrine with no precedent in the early Church. None of the early Church Fathers opposed Scripture against Tradition, giving priority to Scripture over Tradition. The major Protestant confessions of the 1500s and 1600s were the result of the sharpest minds of a denomination coming together and hashing out their group’s statement of faith. This gives Protestant theology a humanly constructed or self-made nature. While the Reformers did not totally reject the idea of tradition and respected the early Church Fathers, they nevertheless subordinated these to the principle of sola scriptura. In many instances they set aside the Church Fathers for what they considered a “more” biblical teaching.

Zwingli and Luther at the Marburg Colloquy – 1529

This new way of doing theology led to a parting of ways from the ancient patristic theology and been at the root of Protestantism’s fragmentation for over 500 years. Rather than promoting unity, there has been a progressive splintering of Protestantism into several thousand separate individual denominations. One of the earliest failures of Protestant theology was the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. Here were two Reformers deeply committed to sola scriptura but differed on the meaning of Scripture. Luther believed in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist while Zwingli believed that the Lord’s Supper was symbolic. They were unable to reach an agreement and went their separate ways resulting in one of the earliest denominational splits in Protestantism. Luther felt so strongly about his difference with Zwingli over the significance of the Lord’s Supper that he wrote:

Before I would have mere wine with the fanatics, I would rather receive sheer blood with the pope.

Father Josiah Trenham, author of Rock and Sand, gave a trenchant analysis of Protestant theology’s basic flaws:

By cutting the cords of Holy Tradition, and placing in its stead the doctrine of sola scriptura, the Protestants ensured theological divisiveness and fracture between themselves and their descendants and have only multiplied divisions, theories, and interpretations ad infinitum, with no end in view to this day. We may judge a tree by its fruit. The sola scriptura tree has borne the fruit of division and every conceivable heresy. (p. 275)

It is puzzling that Pastor Jordan Cooper did not bring up sola scriptura. One could say that sola scriptura is the crown jewel of Protestant theology and ought to be highlighted in any Protestant-Orthodox dialogue. Sola scriptura must not be overlooked, because it is foundational to Protestantism’s theology. Moreover, it has severed Protestantism from the patristic consensus and from the Ecumenical Councils, both of which are foundational to Orthodoxy. While Protestants have cited the Ecumenical Councils, they cannot claim to be in fellowship with the historic Church that gave us the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

The second major difference is that the Orthodox theology is liturgical theology. Theology books and statements of faith play a secondary in Orthodoxy. My journey to Orthodoxy did not really begin until I began attending on a regular basis an all-English Liturgy. It was after several months that I began to understand the Orthodox theological paradigm and more importantly dimly perceive the spiritual reality referred to in the Liturgy. In the Liturgy I began to sense the reality of God as Trinity in a way I had not in all the years I was a Protestant. As a Protestant I did indeed learn about God as Trinity, however, the Protestant teaching on the Trinity struck me as a convoluted abstraction. Orthodoxy does not attempt to explain the Trinity, but rather it invites the whole human person to be at the Liturgy, to participate in and experience the heavenly worship of the Trinity in all its fullness. This way of expressing and understanding doctrine reflects the ancient theological principle lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith).

The third major difference is that Orthodoxy has a twofold approach to knowing God. One way is through the intellectual study of Scripture and the Church Fathers. The other way is through prayer. One of the early Desert Fathers, Evagrius of Pontus, taught: “He who prays is a theologian and he who is a theologian truly prays.” This maxim points to the belief that one can go beyond understanding concepts about God to a personal knowledge of God. In other words, cataphatic theology should lead to apophatic theology. Both go together; just as the human person, the created Imago Dei, cannot be reduced to mere intellect — but is a unity of body, soul and spirit. This latter way of doing theology—spiritual ascent via prayer—ultimately depends upon divine grace and mercy.

Pastor Cooper has set up a false dichotomy when he contrasts the Eastern theology without words against the Western theology by analogy. He notes that in the Western God is known through analogy (2:27). In this method God’s love is likened to human love but far greater. He cites Martin Luther who said if you want to know what God is like look at the babe in the manger. The weakness of theology by analogy is its implicit denial of direct knowledge of God. Ultimately, will we only know about God’s love or will we truly know God who loves us? The goal of Orthodox spirituality is union with Christ and life in the Trinity (John 17:21-23). Protestantism’s rejection of apophatic theology has led to a rejection of contemplative prayer. In Protestantism prayer is understood primarily as petition (asking God for things) than as union with God. This has had a limiting effect on Protestant spirituality. Theology by negation is an important part of Orthodoxy, but it does not represent the totality of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy prays with words and without words. In Orthodoxy theology without words refers to experiencing God through prayer. Prayer without words can be viewed as the more advanced form of prayer.


Holy Transfiguration – Christ conversing with the deified Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:23-33)

Objection 2 — Theosis

The second reason Jordan Cooper gives is the Neo-Platonism underlying Orthodoxy’s doctrine of theosis (4:03, 4:44). He points to Pseudo-Dionysius, the Palamite tradition, and the twentieth century theologian Vladimir Lossky as evidence. I have heard this criticism before, but this criticism to me seems based more on assertions than on evidence-based arguments. I invite Pastor Jordan Cooper or other Protestants to show me the evidence. Then I would ask them to explain how Neo-Platonism is so inimical to the Christian Faith.

Furthermore, Pastor Cooper needs to wrestle with the fact that Augustine of Hippo taught the doctrine of theosis.  In my article “Theosis and Our Salvation in Christ,” I cite an excerpt from Augustine’s exposition on Psalm 50.  In it he notes that we are deified by grace, not by nature, which is what Orthodoxy teaches.

See in the same Psalm those to whom he says, “I have said, You are gods, and children of the Highest all; but you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” It is evident then, that He has called men gods, that are deified of His Grace, not born of His Substance. For He does justify, who is just through His own self, and not of another; and He does deify who is God through Himself, not by the partaking of another. But He that justifies does Himself deify, in that by justifying He does make sons of God. “For He has given them power to become the sons of God.” (John 1:12) If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods: but this is the effect of Grace adopting, not of nature generating. (Augustine Exposition on Psalm 50; emphasis added)

This is not a one-time exception.  Augustine also affirmed theosis at least two times in his City of God.  In this passage he explains how God intended Adam to achieve theosis through reliance on divine grace, not on proud self-reliance.

For created gods are gods not by virtue of what is in themselves, but by a participation of the true God. (Book 14.13; emphases added; see also NPNF Vol. 2 p. 274)

In the conclusion of City of God, Augustine affirms that theosis takes place through union with Christ.

There shall we be still, and know that He is God; that He is that which we ourselves aspired to be when we fell away from Him, and listened to the voice of the seducer, You shall be as gods, (Genesis 3:5) and so abandoned God, who would have made us as gods, not by deserting Him, but by participating in Him. (Book 22.30; emphasis added; see also NPNF Vol. 2 p. 511)

This leaves me wondering whether Pastor Cooper is going to criticize his favorite theologian of Neo-Platonism and of having a defective soteriology?  I would suggest that Augustine’s affirmation of theosis points to theosis as common ground between Western Christianity and Orthodoxy.

Pastor Cooper points out that the New Testament places the emphasis on the finished work of Christ, whereas the Orthodox Church does not (3:23). I am not sure on what he makes this claim. If one listens attentively to the Divine Liturgy one learns much about how God works in history to bring about our salvation in Christ. Every Sunday the Liturgy recounts the Incarnation, Christ’s saving death on the Cross, and his victorious third day Resurrection. What the Liturgy does is sum up the biblical narrative of salvation history. I suspect that when he speaks of the “finished work of Christ” he is using a Protestant theological code, that it is because of Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross we who believe in him have been forgiven and our legal status has changed from that of condemned criminals to children legally entitled to the benefits of God’s kingdom. This approach to soteriology narrows the focus to Christ’s death on the Cross, leading to an under appreciation of Christ’s Incarnation and his Resurrection. We are saved by the Person of Christ, not by just one thing He did. It was not until I encountered Orthodoxy that the pieces of the puzzle came together, enabling me to get a glimpse of a more complete picture. It troubles me that Pastor Cooper is implying this sixteenth century theological paradigm is superior to the soteriology presented in the ancient liturgies.


Objection 3 – The Doctrine of Justification

Pastor Jordan Cooper identifies the doctrine of justification as the major reason why he is not Orthodox. He points out that in the New Testament there is much legal language surrounding justification: acquittal, condemnation, judgment, all of which are courtroom language (7:41). He notes that this emphasis is lacking in Orthodoxy. Cooper asserts that Orthodoxy’s anti-Western prejudice leads away from the forensic language of the New Testament (9:24). My response: There is indeed forensic language in Scripture. However, it is important to keep in mind that Scripture contains a multitude of different ways of describing and explaining salvation in Christ: redemptive, imitative, transformative, covenantal, etc. Moreover, the Protestant reading of Scripture gives greater attention to the Apostle Paul, whereas in the Orthodox reading of Scripture greater priority is given to the Gospels. This is especially evident in the Scripture reading in the Liturgy. What troubles me is that the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, a theological novelty invented by Martin Luther in the 1500s, was never a part of the ancient patristic consensus. By turning sola fide into a dogma and a theological plumb line by which to assess the orthodoxy of other theological traditions Protestantism has become doctrinally schismatic. See my article “Response to Theodore – Semi-Pelagianism, Sola Fide, and Theosis.

Pastor Cooper notes that there is a need for greater balance between Orthodoxy’s participatory language and the biblical forensic language (8:04). I would point out that Orthodoxy’s theology is fundamentally liturgical, not scholastic. What we believe can be found primarily in the fifth century Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and the fourth century Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. The Orthodox priest is using forensic language when he says “for the remission of sins” over the bread and over the wine. I would ask Pastor Cooper: “Are you saying that the theology in these early liturgies is imbalanced and theologically deficient? Would it not be the case that you are using your Euro-centric, post-1500s theology as the theological norm by which to assess all other theological systems and find them wanting?”


Objection 4 – The Augustinian Theological Tradition

Augustine of Hippo

Pastor Cooper expressed his dismay at the anti-Western prejudice by certain Orthodox theologians. This anti-Western bigotry is to be deplored as small-minded and not characteristic of the true spirit of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not Eastern; it is catholic in the sense of embracing and constituting the whole. Orthodox theology is catholic in scope embracing both East and West. It is the universal Faith for all nations. There is a need for Orthodoxy to better integrate the Latin Fathers with the Greek Fathers. The way has been opened by the Western Rite Liturgy and Orthodox Western Rite vicariates. It would be good if Orthodox seminaries offered classes on the Latin Fathers.

At the 12:15 mark, Jordan Cooper states that the Fall is clearly taught in the New Testament. I have no disagreement with that, but what I would question is whether the New Testament depicts the Fall as a catastrophic event as understood by Augustine. Unless there is indisputable textual evidence for a catastrophic Fall, what we have here is an interpretation, not a fact. In light of the fact that there are other interpretations of the Fall, it would help if Protestants were less dogmatic in their soteriology.  Could Pastor Cooper please give us the chapter and verse that explicitly teaches that the Fall was such a catastrophic event that resulted in humanity becoming a massa damnata (condemned mass) and as a result of inherited guilt an infant was eternally damned at birth? These are conclusions resulting from rigorously applying logic to certain theological premises. There is a certain attractiveness to Protestant theology’s quest to be logical and internally consistent; however, the results can be invalid and even harmful if the initial premises are faulty.

Pastor Cooper notes Orthodoxy’s less severe understanding of the Fall leads to greater emphasis on synergy. In contrast, the Western Augustinian tradition catastrophic understanding of the Fall leads it to give greater emphasis on divine grace in our salvation. However, it should be noted that what Cooper is doing here is doing theology on the basis of one Church Father while ignoring the patristic consensus. Pastor Cooper needs to beware of building his theology around one particular Church Father. To focus on just one Church Father is to risk theological sectarianism. The way to avoid this error is to embrace the patristic consensus, to faithfully read one Church Father against the broader context of the other Fathers. We should bear in mind the Apostle Paul’s rebuke to the Christians in Corinth for their factionalism when they claimed: “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12; NKJV) In light of the fact that there is no patristic consensus regarding the consequence of the Fall, we ought to be refraining from turning our particular interpretation into a universal dogma. My view is that there is room for disagreement between the Augustinian and other understandings within Orthodoxy.

Augustine was not the only Latin Church Father. There was Ambrose of Milan, who brought Augustine to faith in Christ and who made use of Eastern melodies in the hymns he composed. The Western tradition includes Vincent of Lerins, Leo of Rome, Pope Gregory (aka Gregory the Great), Jerome, and Cyprian of Carthage. Going back to the time of the Apostolic Fathers, there was Clement of Rome and Irenaeus of Lyons, who, although they wrote in Greek, can be considered part of the Western tradition. To be fair, Pastor Cooper did mention Prosper of Aquitaine and Ambrose of Milan (11:58). In terms of spirituality, the Western Christian tradition can lay claim to Benedict of Nursia. These are saints recognized and venerated by the Orthodox Church. Thus, the Western tradition is far more diverse and richer than Pastor Jordan Cooper has led us to believe.

Augustine’s preeminence in Western theology is largely due to historical circumstances. With the Fall of Rome in the fifth century, Western Europe became isolated from the spiritual heritage of the Byzantine Empire which would continue the Roman Empire for another thousand years. During the Middle Ages, Scholasticism used Augustine’s writings as the basis for their theological project. It is from this theological framework that Protestantism would emerge. As a result of this historical circumstance, Protestant theologians by and large regard the early Church Fathers as exotic theological resources, not as foundational sources of theology.

The main problem here is not so much Augustine, but rather those who have turned their interpretations of Augustine’s teachings into fundamental dogmas of the Christian Faith. Would Augustine have agreed with them and become Protestant? Western Christians err when they elevate to the level of dogma Augustine’s catastrophic understanding of the Fall, his forensic understanding of Original Sin, his forensic understanding of justification, and his teaching of the double-procession of the Holy Spirit. All these should be regarded as theological options within the scope of Holy Tradition. It is dangerous to the unity of the Faith if one were to utilize Augustine as the theological plumb line for Christian theology. That function belongs more properly with the Ecumenical Councils and with the patristic consensus.

There is considerable value in the Western tradition. For example, in the OrthodoxBridge blog site I frequently refer to the theological principle lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith). This saying, which has been attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, has helped me to view the ancient liturgies as having something akin to dogmatic authority in doing theology. It also helped me to understand that when a theological tradition modifies its way of worship, its beliefs will likewise undergo a shift. Another Western principle I have found so helpful is the Vincentian Canon:

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. (That Faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all) The Commonitory (ch. 2) Vincent of Lérins

In my journey to Orthodoxy I found the Vincentian Canon useful for assessing the validity of Protestant teachings like the rapture, pre-millennialism, the born again experience, the Lord’s Supper as purely symbolic, and even the more foundational doctrines like sola fide (faith alone) and sola scriptura (Scripture alone). The Vincentian Canon helped me to make sense of the overwhelmingly massive corpus of early Church writings. The Orthodox Church is not as anti-Western as Pastor Jordan Cooper makes it out to be. It should be noted that during Great Lent the Orthodox Church uses the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, a liturgy that has been attributed to Pope Gregory the Great. I would challenge Pastor Cooper and other Protestant pastors to tell us what ancient Western liturgies they use today.

Pastor Jordan Cooper notes that he is indebted to Augustine for his understanding of the Trinity, especially as presented in De Trinitate (10:05). One of Augustine’s controversial contributions to theology is his teaching on the double procession of the Holy Spirit. Many Orthodox Christians vehemently reject this teaching. My stance is more tempered. I regard Augustine’s double procession of the Holy Spirit something that falls into the category of adiaphora—not an essential doctrine. In my opinion it is a tolerable theological option so long as it is not imposed upon the Nicene Creed promulgated at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. Kallistos Ware noted in The Orthodox Church (1997):

For all these reasons there is today a school of Orthodox theologians who believe that the divergence between east and west over the Filioque, while by no means unimportant, is not as fundamental as Lossky and his disciples maintain (p. 218).

Prior to my becoming Orthodox, I was Western in my theology. I did hold Augustine of Hippo in high regard having read his Confessions, City of God (De Civitate Dei), and The Trinity (De Trinitate). However, I was more committed to John Calvin. A critical part of my journey to Orthodoxy consisted in the critiquing of John Calvin and other Reformed theologians. I did not so much reject Augustine as I moved away from Protestant Augustinianism. What Pastor Cooper referred to as Augustinian theology is really Protestant Augustinianism—the result of the Reformers cherry picking Saint Augustine. As I became acquainted with the ancient liturgies and the broad patristic consensus I became aware of other theological positions besides Augustine.

One of the knotty problems in Protestant theology is Hell and the Final Judgment. The strong need to be logical in their theologizing has led Western Christians to some rather unpleasant conclusions, e.g., unbaptized infants being condemned to Hell, the millions of people who have had no exposure to the Christian message likewise being condemned to Hell, and those who grew up in a loving Christian family going to Hell because they are not part of the predestined elect. In reaction there arose some questionable theological alternatives, e.g., the teaching that everyone will go heaven (universalism) or the suffering in Hell will not be eternal as the condemned ones will eventually be annihilated (annihlationism). What I found appealing about Orthodox soteriology is its bold confidence in Christ’s Resurrection, its humble uncertainty about the eternal destiny of individuals, and its emphasis on our calling to participation in the life of the Trinity over attaining legal/moral perfection. I found myself drawn to the teaching that the suffering of Hell is the suffering of rejecting God’s love. God does not send people to Hell as they choose to live apart from God. People end up in Hell as a result of their free choice. This paradigm avoids the two extremes of Western eschatology: (1) Hell as a torture chamber for the non-elect and (2) Heaven as a place where everyone ends up regardless of their free choice.  See Alexandre Kalomiros’ “River of Fire.”

I would say that one can convert to Orthodoxy and still hold on to Augustine of Hippo. However, this love of Augustine must be balanced by the recognition that the patristic consensus and the Ecumenical Councils take priority over any single theologian. Furthermore, any convert to Orthodoxy must guard against being contentious in commending Augustine to others. Likewise, I would urge Orthodox Christians to treat Western converts with charity and humility. Let me reiterate: Anti-Western bigotry is contrary to Orthodoxy’s catholicity. There is value in the Western patristic tradition. The goal on both sides must be to deepen and enrich Orthodoxy’s catholicity. Orthodoxy needs to be receptive to enriching our understanding of the patristic consensus if we are to effectively reach out to Western Christians.


Objection 5 – Orthodox Icons

Jordan Cooper’s fifth reason for not becoming Orthodox is the central role played by images (icons) in Orthodox worship and spirituality (12:23, 13:35). First, no Orthodox Christian would say that icons are the focus of the Liturgy. The central focus of the Liturgy is the Eucharist in which the faithful receive Christ’s body and blood. Second, icons do not play a central role in Orthodox spirituality. If anything, it is the Jesus Prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”—that is given prominence in Orthodox spirituality.

I suspect that Pastor Cooper was overwhelmed and distracted by the visual prominence of icons in Orthodox churches which led him to make this sincere but off-based criticism. Initial reactions to a new and unfamiliar presence of icons in Orthodox churches and homes do not mean a Protestant visitor rightly grasped the role and significance Icons play in the life of Orthodoxy. Indeed, misunderstanding is quite common. This is why it is so important for those who are curious about Orthodoxy or who wish to critique Orthodoxy to attend numerous Orthodox liturgies. It is also important that they talk with the local priest. Without engaging the priest in dialogue there is the danger of prejudging or misinterpreting Orthodoxy. Protestants visiting Orthodox church services are often like monocultural American tourists who travel abroad to strange exotic cultures, take a few pictures, buy a few souvenirs, then come home thinking themselves experts on the culture they just visited. It is one thing to have icons on one’s bookshelf, it is another thing to have a prayer corner with icons. Icons are meant to be aids to prayer.

Pastor Cooper notes that the early Church did not seem to have the strong view of images as necessary (14:01). This strikes me as taking a primitivist approach to the early Church like the nineteenth century frontier Restorationist movement. Orthodoxy is not about theological primitivism, but rather the faithful transmission of Apostolic Tradition. Where Pastor Cooper seems to have a static understanding of Apostolic Tradition, Orthodoxy has a dynamic understanding. This dynamic understanding of Tradition is based on Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would guide His Church into all truth (John 16:13). It is thanks to the Ecumenical Councils that we have the term “Trinity” and the mature Christology that explicitly affirmed Christ’s divinity and his two natures in one Person. From a primitivist standpoint these are extra-biblical novelties, but for Orthodoxy these represent the flowering of Apostolic Tradition. So likewise the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s affirmation of the veneration of icons represents the further development of the Christian Faith. These are not theological options but rather the consensus of the early Church. To reject the authority of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II, 787) would be to weaken one’s respect for the authority of the earlier Ecumenical Councils. One cannot pick and choose among the Ecumenical Councils. Doing so would entail denigrating the authority of the early Church, rejecting the ancient Christian Faith and embracing instead a novel, modern theological framework, which is what Protestantism is.



In many instances Pastor Cooper’s reasons for not becoming Orthodox can be traced to a superficial understanding of Orthodoxy. It is evident that he has done quite a bit of reading on Orthodoxy; however, this puts him at the beginning stage of understanding Orthodoxy. Even if he has read Lossky and other prominent theologians, one cannot read one’s way into Orthodoxy. The better way is through attending Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy and talking one-on-one with a priest. With respect to Pastor Cooper’s commitment to Augustine, I would say that there is room for Saint Augustine in Orthodoxy, but not for dogmatic Augustinianism. Central to Orthodox theology is the consensus of the Church Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, and the liturgies of the Church. If Pastor Jordan Cooper wishes to object to Orthodoxy, he will eventually have to explain why he is rejecting the patristic consensus for one Church Father. Pastor Cooper needs to wrestle with the fact that his Augustinianism is regional (Western Europe) in terms of geography, Medieval in terms of historical roots, and reflects the cultural values of one particular region (Western Europe). Therefore, Protestant theology cannot lay claim to catholicity. In Orthodoxy’s patristic consensus is a theological tradition that is far richer, older, and wiser than Protestant Augustinianism. In Orthodoxy’s spiritual tradition is the promise of genuine transformation (theosis) and direct knowledge of God through union with Christ. This promise of transformation can be seen in the lives of the saints. Pastor Jordan Cooper may point to various Protestant theologians and their books, but I will point to the Orthodox saints like Saint Mary of Egypt, a repentant sex addict who devoted the rest of her life to prayer and fasting in the desert; Saint Xenia of Petersburg, who lived a carefree life until her husband’s unexpected passing then lived the rest of her life as a holy fool; and Wonder Working Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who in addition to his miracles, is known for his welcoming of the Western saints into Orthodoxy.

Robert Arakaki



Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.  “Western Rite.”
Robert Arakaki.  “Orthodox Christians on Penal Substitutionary Atonement.”
Robert Arakaki.  “Contra Sola Scriptura (4 of 4): Protestantism’s Fatal Genetic Flaw: Sola Scriptura and Protestantism’s Hermeneutical Chaos.
Robert Arakaki.  “Contra Sola Scriptura (3 of 4): Where Does Sola Scriptura Come From? The Humanist Origins of the Protestant Reformation.”
Robert Arakaki.  “Response to Theodore — Semi-Pelagianism, Sola Fide, and Theosis.
Robert Arakaki.  “Theosis and Our Salvation in Christ.
Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Loeb Classical Library.
Augustine of Hippo.  City of God.
Augustine of Hippo.  The Trinity.
Peter Brown.  Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.
Pastor Jordan Cooper.  “Five Reasons I Am Not Eastern Orthodox.”
Alexandre Kalomiros.  “River of Fire.”
Vladimir Lossky.  The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.
Josiah Trenham.  Rock and Sand.
Kallistos (Timothy) Ware.  The Orthodox Church. (1997 edition)
Vincent of Lerins.  Commonitory 2.


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



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.



Response No. 3 to Pastor Steven Wedgeworth’s “What is Eastern Orthodoxy?”

Response to Pastor Steven Wedgeworth’s “What is Eastern Orthodoxy?” — Trinity Talk Interview No. 3 (30 November 2009)

Pastor Steven Wedgeworth

In this blog posting I will be  responding to Pastor Wedgeworth’s November 30 Trinity Talk presentation.  This review will be structured along the lines of topics than chronology.  Given the large number of topics covered, I have grouped them into five broad categories: (1) why people are converting to Orthodoxy, (2) anti-Augustinianism, (3) Orthodoxy as civic religion, (4) unity with Rome, and (5) unity with Protestants.  To facilitate the review I will be referencing his statements by minute and second in the podcast.  At the end of the blog posting will be: (1) an assessment of Wedgeworth’s November 30 podcast, and (2) an assessment of the three talks as a whole.

I. Why are Reformed Christians Converting to Eastern Orthodoxy?  

In recent years there have been a growing number of Evangelicals and Reformed Christians converting to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Wedgeworth gave several reasons why people have become Orthodox.

Not Roman Catholicism (3:30)

According to Wedgeworth, some people see Eastern Orthodoxy as Roman Catholicism without the Pope.  So if you’re interested in leaving Protestantism but you’ve been brought up to believe that the Catholic Church is evil and the Pope is the Antichrist, then Orthodoxy becomes an alternative. (4:04)

My Response — What strikes me here is how Wedgeworth framed his answer with a negative bias: If you are anti-Protestant and you are anti-Catholic, then you are going to be pro-Orthodox.  I suspect that in most instances, people who became Orthodox did so for overwhelmingly positive reasons.  In all fairness to Protestant converts, most are serious Christians who are sincerely looking for the historic ancient church.  Those who are looking for the historic church prior to the 1500s are faced with two choices: Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

But before asking where they looked, Pastor Wedgeworth might have asked why? Why are they looking?  Many are looking because of the continuing weakness and fragmentation of Protestantism.  Others are looking because their own Protestant leaders have over the past several decades moved away from the Evangelical or Reformed status-quo, and moved towards to a more Liturgical and Sacramental Church.  New converts are often merely following the lead of their leaders — but following through with a more full and complete solution in Orthodoxy.  They want something more than a mere tweaking or reshuffling of old Protestant and Roman Catholic categories and practices — they want the historic Church.

Pastor Wedgeworth would also have done well to ask whoWho are the converts to Orthodoxy?  What is astounding about the converts into the Orthodox Church is their variety!  We find pastors, seminary students, lay leaders, and devoted long time Christians.  These are people who are deeply familiar with the beliefs and practices of their churches and have enjoyed years of warm fellowship there.  Converts come from all kinds of backgrounds: Evangelical, Charismatic, Anglican, and Roman Catholic.  Increasingly, converts to Orthodoxy include those from non-Christian background.  I highly recommend Kevin Allen’s podcast series Illumined Heart for stories about people coming to Orthodoxy.

Very Aesthetic (4:50)

Orthodoxy has a very aesthetic aspect to it.  Their worship is typically very beautiful — lots of chanting and singing, lots of gold.  The icon is very pretty.  (4:50)

My Response — The aesthetic elements of Orthodox worship are really New Testament or “Incarnational/Resurrection Upgrades” of Old Testament Tabernacle worship which were commanded in the Pentateuch.  Moses was ordered by God himself to organize the worship “according to the pattern” shown on Mt. Sinai.  See the section “According to the Pattern” in an earlier blog posting.  In addition, Evangelicals and Reformed Christians need to take seriously the biblical passages on the “beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4, Psalm 90:17), and worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness (I Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 110:3).

Beyond the aesthetic elements is the centrality of the Eucharist to Orthodox worship.  Many Protestants are drawn to Orthodox worship because of the centrality of the Eucharist and Orthodoxy’s firm belief that we truly receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  The focus on the Eucharist in the Sunday worship opens up the possibility of the Christian life as a profound union with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s Different (5:05)

It feels so foreign.  It’s more authentic.  There’s a higher level of commitment, a stronger level of commitment.  It’s a very foreign looking church.  So to go to that church you’ve got to be weird. (5:27)

There’s something about weirdness that makes you feel you’re doing the right thing.  It’s a badge of honor.  We see that in the Reformed church; the stricter and tougher you are, the less like everyone else you are, the better (6:14)

Conversion Sickness

With respect to “weirdness,” Pastor Wedgeworth concedes that the Reformed also value what he calls “weirdness.”  And is it “conversion sickness” if someone embraces the Reformed faith?  I doubt Pastor Wedgeworth would warm to this label if it is applied to him and his friends.  What he calls “weird” in Orthodoxy, most Orthodox Christians would merely call “historic.”  Think of a callow American teenager who hangs out at the mall and on upon visiting a home of one of the royals in England and declares: “Weird!”

It is not helpful for Pastor Wedgeworth to label conversions to Orthodoxy as “conversion sickness.” (2:52)  Apparently, this is a reference to an emotional need to be different or weird.  He may have said this tongue in cheek but the frivolous tone diminishes the importance of this life changing decision and the high price some converts have had to pay.  Furthermore, I believe that this sound bite answer has muddied the waters between Orthodoxy and Reformed Christians.  It can lead to Protestants attributing emotional reasons for why so-and-so decided to become Orthodox, rather than engaging in a reasoned dialogue about worship, doctrine, and life in Christ.  This is a subtle form of ad hominem attack, i.e., questioning the emotional stability of converts.

Two Converts: Peter Gillquist and Frank Schaeffer

Metropolitan Philip welcoming the Evangelicals in 1987

Metropolitan Philip welcoming the Evangelicals in 1987  Link

Pastor Wedgeworth discussed two well known Protestant converts to Orthodoxy: Peter Gillquist and his friends from Campus Crusade for Christ, and Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer.  When I listened to the interview I was bewildered to hear Peter Gillquist’s and his friends described as identifying with New Age mysticism. (9:44)  In an email Pastor Wedgeworth admits that he confused Gillquist’s group with the Holy Order of MANS, another group that was received into the Orthodox Church.  The fact that Wedgeworth confused two very different groups highlights his unfamiliarity with Orthodoxy.  I do appreciate his willingness to correct this error in private, but I believe that he and Trinity Talk are morally obligated to include a brief correction paragraph on the webpage listing his interviews so as not to bear false witness against Fr. Gillquist and his fellow Evangelicals.

[Note: On 3-April-2012, Pastor Wedgeworth wrote a comment in which he graciously conceded the error.  See below in the comment section.  It should be noted that several groups converted to Orthodoxy.  Those formerly with Campus Crusade for Christ, including Peter Gillquist, were received by the Antiochian Orthodox Church.  Those formerly with the Holy Order of MANS were received by the Orthodox Church of America.  It is understandable that unless one is familiar with the details that confusion can arise. RA]

For those who listened to Wedgeworth’s talks, the best thing is to go directly to the sources — those who made the switch.  Those interested in learning how a group of Campus Crusade top leadership ended up in the Orthodox Church should read Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox.  Also, there is a four part podcast series: A Journey to the Ancient Church.

See also “From Becoming Orthodox to Being Orthodox” Again Interviews Father Peter Gillquist.

And, Father Peter Gillquist’s recent reflection on their journey to Orthodoxy shortly after the passing of his friend and colleague, Fr. Jack Sparks in 2010.

Frank Schaeffer at Calvin Forum

Frank Schaeffer at Calvin Forum

Wedgeworth describes Frank Schaeffer’s reason as: “Orthodoxy doesn’t preach at you; they don’t tell you how to live your life.” (10:24)  Apparently he heard this on a television interview.  It makes me wonder if Wedgeworth had read Frank Schaeffer’s Dancing Alone or watched his videotaped testimonies.  At a Calvin Forum interview Frank Schaeffer talks about his “Jurassic Park” experience with Orthodoxy in California.

See also Frank Schaeffer’s “Is the Ancient Church Out of Date?


My Response — What I find so striking about Pastor Wedgeworth’s answer were the reasons he did not mention.  One reason why so many people convert to Orthodoxy is their attraction to the early church.  This interest in the early church is often a reaction to theological liberalism in mainline denominations, or to the excesses of contemporary worship in Evangelical and Charismatic churches.  Another appeal is the profound unity of the early church that stands in stark contrast to the bewildering denominational diversity of Protestantism.  And then there is Orthodoxy’s Tradition.  This two thousand years old Tradition dates back to the original Apostles.  This Tradition gives Orthodoxy a tremendous doctrinal stability which is sadly lacking in Protestantism.  Many have made the decision to convert to Orthodoxy after studying church history and historical theology.

One does not just get up and “become Orthodox” by walking down the aisle, or make a “decision” prayer to become Orthodox.  Orthodox priests are trained to be cautious, and are quick to slow zealous converts down.  The process is a slow one, sometimes taking several years.  Those who desire to become Orthodox must become catechumens and faithful attendees of the Divine Liturgy and other services for an extended period of time before they are received into the Church — usually by chrismation and sometimes by baptism.

People who want to learn why people convert to Orthodoxy would do well to read or listen to Journey to Orthodoxy.  These stories are valuable in that they provide empirical data about real peoples’ spiritual growth and how their theology changed.  The variety of reasons why people are becoming Orthodox is fascinating and informative.

Recommended website: Journey to Orthodoxy.

Recommended YouTube video: Peter Gillquist “Why Protestant Clergy are Coming to the Orthodox Church.”

Recommended books: Peter Gillquist Becoming Orthodox; Frederica Mathewes-Green Facing East; Matthew Gallatin Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.


II.  Anti-Augustine

One surprise for me as I listened to Pastor Wedgeworth’s three talks was the attention he gave to anti-Augustinianism in Orthodoxy.  Wedgeworth notes:

If you don’t like Augustine, if you feel Original Sin and predestination too harsh, you don’t have many respectable option.  Most people in our circle won’t be interested in going to a mainline church.” (6:38)  

Orthodoxy is the only Christian option if you don’t like Augustine. (7:22)

According to Wedgeworth, many of those who convert have been turned off by traditional Christian theology and in reaction will say: “That’s because it’s Western theology; the East can be my refuge in that regard.” (12:40)  He devotes quite a bit of time to refuting the anti-Augustine attitude held by certain Orthodox Christians.  He notes that at a recent theological conference the consensus was that the hostility to Augustine was a recent post-1940 phenomenon and that for some Orthodox Christians it served as a boundary marker making them different from the West. (21:37 to 24:50)

My Response — The first thing to note is the fact that Wedgeworth relied heavily on the academic authority of seminaries to make his point.  Seminaries may play a major role in shaping theology in the West but that is not the case with Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy takes a more ecclesial approach to doctrine, e.g., the decisions by bishops, by church councils, the Ecumenical Councils, and the patristic consensus.  The important fact here is that no Orthodox hierarch or church council has formally condemned Augustine of Hippo.

Book by Seraphim Rose

Book by Seraphim Rose

Orthodoxy’s disagreement is not so much with Augustine himself, but with Western Christianity’s excessive reliance on him for their theological systems.  As with Anselm and Aquinas, Protestants take Augustine beyond where even he would be willing to go.  When waves of barbarian tribes invaded the western half of the Roman Empire that part of the world entered into what is known as the Dark Ages.  The decline in learning, commerce, and long distance communication resulted in isolation and insularity.  In time the Latin West lost touch with the Greek Fathers and became increasingly reliant on Augustine to the exclusion of other Latin Fathers.  Ironically, as the Catholic Church became almost exclusively Augustinian it began to lose its catholicity!

The eastern half of the Roman Empire did not experience a Dark Age like the West.  The capital city of Constantinople continued to thrive as a political capital, a center of learning, and as a spiritual center.  Because learning was still alive and well in the Byzantine Empire many of the clergy and laity were able to read the New Testament in the original Greek as well as the Greek Fathers.  It is a well known fact that Augustine himself never mastered Greek!

I did not join the Orthodox Church out of animosity to Augustine or a fundamental disagreement with his theology.  I did come across anti-Augustine rhetoric from time to time in my reading, but I never gave them much weight.  My problem is more with the followers of Augustine who turned his teachings into fundamental dogmas of the Faith.  I believe that Wedgeworth is making a mountain out a molehill.


III.  Orthodoxy as an Ethnic or Civic Religion (17:56)

One thing that strikes me as I listened to all three interviews is Wedgeworth’s institutional understanding of the Orthodox Church.  This carries over to his presenting Orthodoxy as a civic religion.  He does not give any room to the Orthodox Church as a community of faith where genuine Christian spirituality can and do flourish.  This, however, is a common reality throughout the world, especially in recent years with the fall of the Soviet Union, where many zealous converts are entering Orthodoxy there, as well as here in the US and other countries.

His anecdote about the Serbian family who abandoned their Orthodox roots and joined the Episcopal church in order to assimilate over simplifies a complex situation.  Many immigrant families tenaciously held to their Orthodox roots, while others abandoned theirs in the attempt to become American. (19:06)  Oftentimes ethnic Orthodox churches functioned more as ethnic clubs than faith communities.  This also happens in the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches as well.  There are also stories of faithful cradle Orthodox Christians who have a deep commitment to Jesus Christ.

While nominalism is certainly to be avoided, ethnic Orthodoxy is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be viewed as fulfillment of the Great Commandment in which the Apostles were sent out to “disciple the nations.”  Note that Christ did not command them to disciple individuals but ethnic groups.  In ethnic Orthodoxy we find the convergence of the cultural mandate in Genesis with the missionary mandate of the Gospels.  The Orthodox missions tradition is based on the Incarnation.  Salvation in Christ does not entail the abandonment of our culture but rather its fulfillment.  To insist on a local parish that transcends earthly culture is to risk falling into a form of Gnosticism.  Thus, the Gospels and church life must take root in the host culture.  The Orthodox Church honors Saints Kyril and Methodios, two missionaries who translated the Liturgy and Scripture into the Slavic language.  I recently came across a quote attributed to them:

To conduct the Divine Services in a language not known by the people is like writing in sand; it could not bear any spiritual fruit.

I can respect those who wish to have their Orthodox parish maintain their cultural heritage but I also see the need for Orthodox parishes with all English services and rooted in American culture.  We can thank the ethnic parishes for bringing Orthodoxy to America, now it is time to bring Orthodoxy to Americans — in a language they understand and in a culture they can relate to.


IV.  Unity Possible Between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism? (24:55)

St. Mark of Ephesus

Pastor Wedgeworth answered bluntly: “I don’t think it’s possible.” (24:57)  He recalls reading an article in which the author states that the only difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism was the Papacy.  He quips: “But that’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln: ‘Other than that, how was the play?'”  Then in a more serious vein, he adds: “That’s huge!”  He notes that any attempt to unify Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy would be a replay of the Council of Florence.  He points to Mark of Ephesus as an example of Orthodoxy’s opposition to union with Rome.  His icon shows him holding a scroll with the words: “I condemn the heresies of the Latins.”  Wedgeworth closes:

They found it mutually beneficial to be different from the mainstream Evangelicals; and they’re both equally bizarre to American eyes.  They’re interested in recovering an Old World pre-modern church, but they can’t unite. (26:56)

My response — The approach Pastor Wedgeworth takes here is curiously untheological.  What he fails to highlight is the issue of authority.  For Orthodoxy the source of faith and practice is the Apostolic Tradition; for Roman Catholicism, it is the Pope.  Behind that is the understanding of the structure of the church; Roman Catholicism assumes the understanding the church as a monarchy, Eastern Orthodoxy views the church as conciliar, the consensus of the church based on Tradition.

Pastor Wedgeworth’s claim that the two churches find it “mutually beneficial to be different” is problematic on several levels.  One, it is insulting in its insinuation that the root cause of the differences is psychological, not theological conviction.  Two, it doesn’t match social reality.  As American society becomes increasingly postmodern and post-Christian, the Evangelicals and conservative Protestants are increasingly being perceived as bizarre and out of touch with the American mainstream.  Three, while some Catholics are ultra-traditionalist, many more are seeking to adapt Catholic faith and practice to contemporary culture.  Four, the late Pope John Paul II worked hard to repair relations between East and West.  In sum, to say that the two traditions are apart because they find it “mutually beneficial” is misleading and insulting.  Here Pastor Wedgeworth muddies the water and in so doing does a disservice to his listeners.


V.  How Should Protestant Evangelicals Interact with the Orthodox Church? (27:44) 

I found a lot to like in this section.  Pastor Wedgeworth brings a positive attitude to Orthodox-Reformed interaction.  He notes:

We should be able to work with the Orthodox in their best expression. (28:08)  

He recounts how at the time of the Reformation the Reformers had high hopes that reform would also come to the Orthodox Church.  The basic assumption was that since both sides opposed the Papacy, they would have much in common and that what differences they had would be minor. (28:26)  He points to Cyril Lucaris, the one time Patriarch of Constantinople, who was open to Reformed ideas. (28:44 ff.)  Wedgeworth points to Orthodox and Reformed Christians sharing the belief that the civil magistrate, not the Pope, should order a Christian social order. (29:41)

Then in a shift to a more sober tone, Wedgeworth observes that the Reformers underestimated how difficult it would be to bring the Protestant Reformation to the East. (30:05)  He attributes Orthodoxy’s resistance to reform to their being “very fond of their ecclesiology, liking it just the way it is.” (30:14)  He notes: “They don’t even recognize us as a church!”  He concludes:

Until they come to a position for a need for reform, we will not be able to talk unity.  We won’t be able to join in ecumenical activity.  There’s not a whole lot we can do.  (30:29)

In the face of the serious differences between Orthodox and Reformed traditions, Pastor Wedgeworth calls for a loving and positive attitude in the face of a long and difficult task.

The best we can do is respect them, affirm the possibility that they are Christians by faith in Jesus. (31:15)  

The only way you can get anywhere with anyone is charity.  You’ve got to be nice, assume the best of them and hope they will assume the best of you.  (32:37)

My Response — I commend Pastor Wedgeworth for his positive and open attitude to ecumenical relations with Orthodoxy, and for his honest recognition of the major obstacles that stand between the two traditions.  I was heartened to hear him throw cold water on cheap ecumenicism that breezily calls for Reformed churches to invite Orthodox Christians to their Communion table.  Wedgeworth points out that any Orthodox Christians who does this would be excommunicated. (31:10)  However, some have suggested Orthodox and non-Orthodox can work together for a united Christian witness that is pro-life in the broad sense of the word in an increasingly post-Christian society.  This is worth looking into.

Talking Point — The Early Church Fathers  (31:29)

Wedgeworth notes that the huge church fathers collection — Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers — was started by Philip Schaff and was a joint effort by Protestants. (31:40) He sees this as a point of commonality between Orthodoxy and the Reformed tradition.  He boldly claims of the Reformed tradition: “We are the heirs of the church fathers, heirs of the early church.” (32:25)  He then notes that the likely Orthodox response will be a skeptical: “Are you really?” (32:25)

My Response — With respect to Orthodox-Reformed dialogue, I would like echo what Pastor Wedgeworth said earlier: “We should be able to work with them in their best expression.”

Athanasius the Great in bishop’s vestments

I like Pastor Wedgeworth’s suggestion that Protestants engage the early church fathers.  The early church fathers series is a valuable resource for both Protestants and Orthodox.  They also provide a point of commonality.  The original Reformers made extensive use of the early church fathers.  However, just taking a book off the shelf and reading it is not enough.  One needs to be mindful of the way one reads the patristic texts.  The vast majority of the church fathers held offices as bishops and were part of a unified Church.  Thus, when Orthodox Christians read the church fathers they look for the patristic consensus.  They also read the fathers within the context of the Ecumenical Councils.  They avoid cherry picking passages that support their own individual agendas which is what Protestants often seem to do.  Protestants need to be wary of imposing their Protestant or modern mental habits on these ancient Christian writings.   In light of the fact that every one of these church fathers believed in (1) the episcopal authority of the bishop over the local church, (2) the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, (3) apostolic succession, (4) the importance of honoring Mary as the Theotokos, and (5) the binding authority of the Ecumenical Councils one cannot assume them to be pre-Reformation Protestants; they weren’t!

For the Orthodox, “working with their best expression” means affirming Protestantism’s respect for Scripture by showing how the faith and practice of Orthodoxy are consistent with Scripture.  I’ve tried to do this in my blog postings that show the biblical basis for icons and for Holy Tradition.  I have also tried to show how the patristic consensus and the Ecumenical Councils provide a solid and useful framework for interpreting the Bible.  I have tried to show that the Orthodox interpretation of Scripture is grounded in a historic tradition that goes back to the Apostles.

I would like add one more important area for Orthodox-Reformed dialogue — Christian worship.  The dialogue can proceed along two issues: one where there is significant agreement and one where there is significant disagreement.  The recent interest in the Eucharist and the real presence in the Eucharist in certain Reformed circles can provide common ground for discussion with Orthodox Christians.  The recent Orthodox apologia for icons on biblical grounds need to be given serious attention by Reformed Christians.  They cannot dismiss it out of hand in light of the fact that people who have studied at some of the best Reformed seminaries have found biblical grounds for the use of icons in worship.  To uncritically refuse to take a look at the biblical evidence would be a betrayal of the original Reformers’ appeal to the authority of Scripture.

One area where I believe Orthodox Christians can learn from Protestants is the art of biblical exposition in the sermon.  The Protestants’ love for Scripture is something that we should all emulate.  This is not a call for long elaborate sermons that dominate the worship service or shows off the minister’s rhetorical flair.  But Protestants can help the Orthodox with making clear, organized expositions of the Faith.  Much can be done in a 15 to 20 minute homily that prepares our hearts and minds for the Eucharist.


CONCLUSION 1 — Interview No. 3

As I listened to Wedgeworth’s November 30 podcast I was impressed that he knew of the Council of Florence, St. Mark of Ephesus, Cyril Lucaris, and John Zizioulas.  At the same time I am dismayed that he confused Peter Gillquist’s group of Evangelicals with the Holy Order of MANS.  Much of this can be attributed to his being an outsider.  It would have been good if the Trinity Talk interview was done with a knowledgeable Orthodox Christian, preferably a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy who is familiar with both traditions.

Wedgeworth’s tendency to psychologize conversions to Orthodoxy is demeaning.  Using psychological explanations implies that the other side lacks a rational basis for their position.  It would have been better for him to show the flawed reasoning behind peoples’ beliefs and practices.

Pastor Wedgeworth’s charitable and frank approach to Orthodox-Reformed dialogue is something I heartily agree with.  It serves as a good role model for Orthodox-Reformed dialogue elsewhere.  My hope is that this will not be the last word by Wedgeworth on Eastern Orthodoxy and that in the future we will hear him engaging in a face-to-face dialogue with a Reformed convert to Orthodoxy.  That would be interesting!

CONCLUSION 2 — All Three Interviews

As noted in the first blog review, it is evident that Pastor Wedgeworth has done a fair amount of reading about Orthodoxy and has even taken the trouble to attend Orthodox services.  I consider him one of the more informed and balanced Reformed commentators on Eastern Orthodoxy.  However, a similar pattern of weaknesses also recur: oversimplification, unbalanced presentation of the issues, unfamiliarity with Orthodoxy’s finer points, and some egregious errors that calls for correction or public retraction.  Much of this could have been avoided if a member of the Orthodox Church was invited to the Trinity Talk series.  What the listeners learn about Orthodoxy here is filtered by Pastor Wedgeworth.  A direct exchange between Pastor Wedgeworth and a committed Orthodox Christian would be more conducive to critical thinking and spiritual discernment.  Wedgeworth’s Trinity Talk should not be viewed as the final word on the matter but a first step in understanding an important and complex issue.  As growing numbers of Protestants convert to Orthodoxy it becomes increasingly pressing for Reformed Christians to investigate Eastern Orthodoxy.

Robert Arakaki


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