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Modern Charismatic Movement Similar to Charismaticism in the Early Church?


Charismatic Worship

Charismatic Worship


by Hal Smith (Guest Contributor)

One of the main debates between the modern Charismatic movement and traditional Orthodox Christianity is over which better represents the Christianity of the Apostles’ era. Further, both Orthodox Christians and modern Rationalists see the modern charismatic movement as unreliable in its claims of miracles, because they see those claims as originating in the witnesses’ psychological phenomena, rather than as accurate depictions of material phenomena. Yet pure Rationalism would propose similar explanations for the miracles claimed in the early Church. How close, then, was the early Christian movement to the Charismatics of today, and how would Christians respond to the Rationalists’ claims about the early Church?

In this essay we will discuss four apparent key similarities between the Charismatic movement and the Early Church of the 1st to 2nd century that distinguish them from subsequent Orthodox Tradition: (1) expectations that the world would end within their generational cycle, i.e., within 120 years, (2) the practice of speaking in tongues, (3) spontaneous, improvised worship in their gatherings, and (4) much more frequent alleged gifts and miracles. These features represent major trends among Charismatics and the early Christians, however they are not necessary traits for their members. For example, despite the Apostles’ multilingualism at Pentecost, many early Christians lacked the “gift” of tongues, as Paul noted (1 Co 12:30).

The Orthodox Church’s teachings are those of the Ecumenical Councils, Scripture as understood by its Tradition, the Church Fathers, and its saints. Its beliefs include the plurality of views of modern theologians and laity, but they receive less weight than they would in Protestantism. Rationalism, on the other hand, is a modern philosophical movement that emphasizes skepticism and the scientific method, not just “rational” or logical thinking.1 According to the Encyclopedia Britannica this philosophy “regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge. In stressing the existence of a ‘natural light,’ rationalism has also been the rival of systems claiming esoteric knowledge, whether from mystical experience, revelation, or intuition.”2 So while the Orthodox Church recognizes and justifies the proclaimed gifts of the early Church, Rationalism attempts to debunk or propose non-miraculous explanations for them.


I. Expectations that the world would end within a generational cycle

Early Charismatics -- the Montanists

Early Charismatics — the Montanists

One of the main features of the Charismatic movement is an expectation that Christ’s Second Coming and the world’s end would occur within the span of our current generation. Some early Christians had this expectation about their generation too. From a Rationalist perspective, this expectation could be disproven were it put into an explicit limited time frame that has passed. Consequently, when Orthodox commentators meet what could be failed, expired predictions for the world’s end, they avoid interpreting them as predictions whose chronologies can be measured beforehand in years or decades.

For example when Jesus asked rhetorically about John the Apostle “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?,” an alleged saying by Jesus about John went “abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but,’ If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’” (John 21:22-23). St. Paul appeared to imply that he would not have yet died by the time of Jesus’ Second Coming, when he wrote:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Th 4:15-17; KJV).  [Note: biblical quotations are from the KJV unless noted otherwise.]


St. Theophan the Recluse

According to the 19th century Orthodox theologian St. Theophan the Recluse, some Church fathers considered Paul’s phrase “we who are alive” to be merely conditioned on Paul’s presence among the living at the time of Paul’s writing. St. Theophan, however, agreed with others’ view that Paul meant this unconditionally, on the basis that Christ said “Be alert, as you do not know the day or hour when the Son of Man will come” (Lk 12:40).3 St. Theophan concluded that “Thus everyone must expect it, be ready, keep oneself as if this minute he had reached his last day, holding in one’s heart the Lord’s future coming explains why in the New Testament the Last Day is portrayed as oncoming.

Alexander Lopukhin, another leading Orthodox theologian, commented that he was “inclined to the opinion that the Apostle hoped to be a living participant of the parousia. He would not have said ‘we the living’ if he was talking about a completely distant event. One must remember that the Apostle Paul kept the vividness of the expectation of the parousia until the end of his life, about which Php 4:5 and 1 Co 16:22 serves as a witness.”4 To those verses may be added Hebrews 1:2, in which Paul writes that God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”

While spiritual readiness, if not expectation, of the End Times can be part of both biblical and Orthodox thinking, they do not share the practice of some Charismatics of proposing a date by which the Second Coming would occur. For example, the modern Adventist movement’s founder, William Miller, predicted this “Second Advent” for 1843, the non-occurrence of which caused the movement’s “Great Disappointment.” The Evangelical writer Hal Lindsey predicted the world’s likely end by 1989 in his famous book: The Late Great Planet Earth. Edgar Whisenant’s book: 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 sold 4.5 million copies, while the Trinity Broadcast Network televised preparations for the Rapture date.5

On the other hand, St. Theophan noted that Paul denied knowing a date for the world’s end and considered this a reason to doubt that Paul was absolutely certain that it would come in his lifetime. Paul explained that while Christians must not be caught unsurprised by the Second Coming, they would not foreknow its date either:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. …But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief (1 Th 5:1-4).


II. Glossolalia or “speaking in tongues”

Besides expectations about the End Times, another distinction of the Charismatic movement is the practice of “speaking in tongues.” Mark’s gospel ends with the resurrected Christ predicting that speaking in “new tongues” will be a sign that accompanies believers (Mk 16:17). This prophecy was apparently fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Apostles “were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”(Acts 2:4). Bystanders, who came from many nations like Egypt, Parthia, and Mesopotamia, recognized their languages being spoken even though the Apostles were Galileans. Some bystanders mocked them as if they were full of “new wine,” but Peter denied it, saying that it was still 9 am, or by biblical calculation, “the third hour of the day” (Acts 2:15).

It’s important to note that in this incident, the Apostles were not babbling nonsense, but rather speaking other languages coherently. This gift of tongues was in accordance with their instructions from Jesus to evangelize the world (Mk 16:15-17). On the other hand, Acts presents the Pentecost event as spontaneous and energetic, as some bystanders portrayed it like drunkenness, and as it was accompanied with visions of tongues of flames on the Apostles. The Pentecost event is also portrayed as a miracle, since the Apostles were Galilean and presumably would have lacked natural exposure so many languages. Granted, it’s not inconceivable that they could have learned some creedal statements in other languages and been inspired to declare them collectively.

Accounts of miraculously speaking or being understood in a language unknown to the speaker exist in Orthodoxy, but they are very rare. One Orthodox monk relates:

St. Ephraim the Syrian visited St. Basil the Great (4th century) and the two communicated by this means: each spoke his own language and the other understood. In the actual life of Elder Porphyrios, it is recorded that an atheist French woman visited him in Greece and the two communicated in this way: Elder Porphyrios spoke Greek; the woman spoke French; and the two understood each other. The French woman was later received into the Orthodox Church. She is, as far as we know, still alive. This event would have occurred within the last 50 years.6

Although the Bible does not clearly record other instances of miraculous speaking in national tongues, it describes Christians in Corinth practicing incomprehensible speech or “glossolalia.” One possible instance is Paul’s reference to the language of angels in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass.” This reference does not specify if the angelic “language” is incomprehensible glossolalia. But in the next chapter, Paul calls glossolalia “speaking in tongues” and a “spiritual gift” that he is thankful to have himself (1 Co 14:1, 18). He regards it as a “sign” predicted by the prophets:

In the law it is written, “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people…” Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not… (1 Co 14:21-22) [cf. Isaiah 28:11: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will [God] speak to this people.”]

Nonetheless, Paul considers glossolalia inferior to the gift of prophecy because the latter is comprehensible (1 Co 14:2-5):

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries… He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying….

The Orthodox theologian Lopukhin comments about Paul’s phrase “no man understandeth” the glossolalia:

This expression ‘no one’ is a very important proof against the proposition that the speech of the “speaker of tongues” was speech in a foreign language. If the Apostle understood such speech, he could not say that “no one” understands it, since in Corinth there were not a few newcomers from various countries of the world.7

St. John Chrysostom, however, may have thought that the Corinthians spoke foreign human languages like the Apostles in Acts 2, since he commented that the Corinthians “considered it a great gift… because the Apostles received it first of all and with such ceremony.”8

In any case, Paul instructs the Corinthians to always use an interpreter for their glossolalia and to allow at most three at a time to speak it, because “If… the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?… God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Co 4:23,33).

In his essay “Speaking in Tongues: An Orthodox Perspective”, Fr. George Nicozisin accepted the glossolalia of the Corinthians as a real gift with which they praised God. He wrote that “The Greek Orthodox Church does not preclude the use of Glossolalia, but regards it was one of the minor gifts of the Holy Spirit… Better to ‘speak five words that can be understood … than speak thousands of words in strange tongues.’ (1 Cor. 14:19) This is the Orthodox Christian viewpoint.”9

An Orthodox monk remarked that:

In the Epistles of Paul it is recorded that a person might speak a new or even angelic language.  However, the question arises, did a Church service that St Paul attended sound like an Assemblies of God service today?  We really do not have any way to know…  However, there is no recorded case that we are aware of that following voluntary Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation of an adult, that person spoke in tongues in the way people who have been ‘baptized in the Spirit’ do in the Assemblies of God or any other Pentecostalist or charismatic church or group. It just doesn’t happen in the Orthodox Church.

The Rationalist criticism of glossolalia is that it is fundamentally a psychological phenomenon. Fr. Seraphim Rose, a well-known Orthodox theologian, used Rationalist criticism to explain modern glossolalia in his book Charismatic Revival As a Sign of the Times:

Far from being given freely and spontaneously, without man’s interference–as are the true gifts of the Holy Spirit–speaking in tongues can be caused to occur quite predictably by a regular technique of concentrated group “prayer” accompanied by psychologically suggestive Protestant hymns (“He comes! He comes!”), culminating in a “laying on of hands,” and sometimes involving such purely physical efforts as repeating a given phrase over and over again (Koch p. 24), or just making sounds with the mouth. One person admits that, like many others, after speaking in tongues, “I often did mouth nonsense syllables in an effort to start the flow of prayer-in-tongues” (Sherrill p. 127); and such efforts, far from being discouraged, are actually advocated by Pentecostals. “Making sounds with the mouth is not ‘speaking-in-tongues,’ but it may signify an honest act of faith, which the Holy Spirit will honor by giving that person the power to speak in another language” (Harper p. 11)… A Jesuit “theologian” tells how he put such advice into practice: “After breakfast I felt almost physically drawn to the chapel where I sat down to pray. Following Jim’s description of his own reception of the gift of tongues, I began to say quietly to myself ‘la, la, la, la.’ To my immense consternation there ensued a rapid movement of tongue and lips accompanied by a tremendous feeling of inner devotion” (Gelpi p. 1).

Can any sober Orthodox Christian possibly confuse these dangerous psychic games with the gifts of the Holy Spirit?! This is the realm, rather, of psychic mechanisms which can be set in operation by means of definite psychological or physical techniques…it certainly bears no resemblance whatever to the spiritual gift described in the New Testament, and if anything is much closer to shamanistic “speaking in tongues” as practiced in primitive religions, where the shaman or witch doctor has a regular technique for going into a trance and then giving a message to or from a “god” in a tongue he has not learned.

Fr. Seraphim denied that the New Testament gift of tongues was basically an unusual self-induced psychological phenomenon. However, Acts 2 notes that bystanders who heard the Apostles at Pentecost concluded that the Apostles were drunk, and Paul in 1 Corinthians warned that witnesses of the Corinthians’ collective, simultaneous glossolalia could think them mad. Therefore, it appears that rationalists of that time might also have considered the Christians’ speaking in tongues to be a mentally confused practice. Further, if as Paul says “no man understandeth” the unknown tongues of glossolalia, then how could Paul’s instruction for someone to interpret it be reasonable?

The Orthodox response to this criticism can be that the Pentecost event and the early Christians’ speaking in tongues were not deliberate and artificial. Rather, at the Pentecost, the Apostles claimed to see flames and spoke comprehensible languages, which do not correspond to deliberately prompted garbling. Nor do we have a record of the Corinthians using mental techniques to intentionally prompt their glossolalia. As for the unexpected ability to interpret incomprehensible glossolalia, this too could be received as a spiritual gift, as Paul wrote: “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret” (1 Co 14:13).


III. Inclusion of free or informal styles of worship

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul suggested that their gatherings included an unprogrammed part for their members’ creativity, noting: “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Co 14:26). His own instructions allowed them to speak in tongues and give prophecies a few speakers at a time: “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret… Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Co 14:26, 29). The theologian Lopukhin commented: “The apostle lists further five kinds of inspired Christian art: a psalm or song, which the Christian composed, under the influence of special inspiration. This was an improvisation, as the very expression (‘has a Psalm’) used by the Apostle here shows.”11

Paul did demand that they give their individual prophecies in an orderly way, remarking that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Co 14:32-33). He also demanded that although they might give their own songs and prophecies, they must be united in their faith and avoid factionalism (1 Co 1:10-13).

The Anglican theologian John Drane reflects an occasional Protestant perception that early Christian worship was informal, claiming:

At the very beginning the Christians met together every day, and their worship was spontaneous. This seems to have been regarded as the ideal, for… Paul describes… a Spirit-led participation in worship… (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). No doubt this was the natural way for things to happen at a time when the church generally met in someone’s house.

Drane wrote that as the Church grew, its worship developed a more structured form because:

At a time when there were significant debates about the nature of Christian faith there was the constant danger that those who were out of harmony with the church’s accepted beliefs and outlook would use this freedom to undermine the faith of the community. Because of this it became necessary to ensure that those who led the church’s worship could be relied upon to be faithful to the gospel… By the end of the first century a fixed form of service was in existence for the celebration of the Eucharist, and other forms of Christian worship were also becoming less open and spontaneous than they had been. Not everyone welcomed this, and even the [1st century] Didache (itself a handbook of church order) asserts that the ministry of Spirit-inspired speakers should not be curtailed in the interests of a formal church order.12

Drane’s claim that informal worship was initially ideally open and unstructured is a doubtful simplification. The Corinthians’ inclusion of individuals’ improvisation in the gatherings does not exclude that other parts of their worship was structured. That the Didache, with its instructions on worship structure, came from the late first century does not exclude the possibility of previous worship structures, detailed records of which have not survived. Early worship certainly included basic ritual elements like the Eucharist, scripture readings, sermons, and Psalms.

In his essay “From Evangelical to Orthodox,” Fr. Gregory Rogers related the experience of those like himself who shifted from an Evangelical perception of early Church worship to an Orthodox one:

I was partial to a loose, spontaneous, charismatic kind of approach toward worship, and expected to find that in the Scriptures and in history. To our surprise, our spontaneity itself began to lead us to order in worship, everything taking on a familiar pattern. Our study of the writings of Justin Martyr (about 150 A.D.) showed us that the Church has always had some kind of liturgical form to its worship. Even the New Testament showed evidences of this in the use of hymns and in the description of the meetings.13

Consequently, some Protestants like Charismatic Anglican Rev. Charles Alexander claim that early Christian worship included both set forms and moments for spontaneous worship: “Clearly, with Jewish backgrounds, the Apostles were used to some liturgical form of worship. Obviously, as we see in the Gentile context of Corinth (and in churches to middle of the second century), form plus informality became the norm.”14 So Alexander proposed arranging services with worship singing that may lead to “singing in the spirit, and then silence followed perhaps by “words of revelation” or “immediate ministry.”15

Eventually though, the Church did arrange its liturgies without space for individuals’ personal prophecies or doctrines. For example the Council of Laodicea in Phrygia (c. 365 AD) in its 59th canon banned privately composed psalms from being read in church. One of the Council’s motivations was likely to address the Phrygian-based Montanist movement, mentioned in Canon 8, who based its unorthodox teachings on private “revelations.” In any case, while improvised spontaneous prayers and prophesying were part of early Christian worship, their exact nature and role in early Christian gatherings is not clear.


IV. The belief that charismatic “gifts” are widespread

A fourth major trait of the Charismatic movement is its belief that gifts from the Holy Spirit like healing, speaking in tongues, visions, and prophesying are common, like they were in the Apostles’ time. At Pentecost, Peter described the sudden ability of the many Apostles gathered to speak in foreign tongues as an outpouring of God’s Spirit widely across genders, ages, and social castes (Acts 2:16-19):

[T]his is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy”….

Furthermore, Charismatics point to Paul’s advice to the Corinthians to desire these gifts: “Pursue love, and zealously16 desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.… I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied.” (1 Co 14:1, 5) Jerry Munk, former editor of the Orthodox newsletter Theosis and a rare Orthodox sympathizer of the Charismatic movement, wrote that the gifts spread beyond holy ascetics:

In the Old Testament we see many examples of the Holy Spirit coming upon people with little evidence of ascetic perfection: Samson, David, and Balaam’s ass come to mind. In the New Testament, the pattern continues: in Acts 11, the Spirit falls upon un-baptized Gentiles, while the book of I Corinthians is addressed to people who exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit apart from the fruit of that same Spirit. After the New Testament period, we read in the Didache instructions for dealing with people exercising charismatic gifts while at the same time indulging the flesh. In none of these situations is it automatically assumed that the “spirit” behind the gift is from the devil. Just as one can receive Holy Communion unworthily, so one who is unworthy can exercise the gifts of the Spirit – but there is danger in doing so.17

Icon of St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Icon of St. Irenaeus of Lyons

St. Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop, wrote as if the gifts were still frequent in his time:

“In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light, for the general benefit, the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God.”18

He also wrote:

“Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils.”19

A common view in Orthodox tradition about the gifts is that they were frequent in the Apostles’ time, but then became severely restricted. Commenting on Paul’s reference to the “spiritual gifts” (1 Co 12:1-2), the famous 5th century theologian St. John Chrysostom noted their earlier frequency:

Well: what did happen then? Whoever was baptized he straightway spake with tongues and not with tongues only, but many also prophesied, and some also performed many other wonderful works… And one straightway spake in the Persian, another in the Roman, another in the Indian, another in some other such tongue: and this made manifest to them that were without [the Spirit] that it is the Spirit in the very person speaking.20

Icon: St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom remarked here:

This whole [phenomenon of gifts] is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. …Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?21

St. John Chrysostom answered this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:5 (“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”). He explained that the Apostles lacked a scholarly education and used wonders and insight from God to evangelize, rather than using human wisdom. Further, Christians of his time did not invent teachings, but rather relied on what they received from the Apostles, on the Divine Scriptures, and on the Apostles’ miracles. Secondly, “the more evident and overpowering” events had ceased because the greater such events are, the more they abridge the role of faith.22 If Jesus simply returned as God with His angels, then the event would drag its audience’s mind along and not be accounted for faith. Instead, Jesus told Thomas: “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). St. John Chrysostom also cited Paul’s words: “For now we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Co 5:7).

Thirdly, he answered that miracles are continuing, but of a different kind, such as “the conversion of the world” and “the change from savage customs.” He asked rhetorically: “How did ‘the gates of hell’ not ‘prevail’ against “the Church?’ …Dost thou not see the whole world coming in; error extinguished; the austere wisdom… of the old monks shining brighter than the sun… the piety among Barbarians”?23 Fourthly, St. John Chrysostom commented “that our upright living seems” to be a “more trustworthy argument” than obvious miracles, because if the miracle-workers’ sins were prevalent, nobody would admire them or their miracles. However, “a pure life will have abundant power to stop the mouth of the devil himself.”24

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine also proposed that miracles had become far less frequent. In his Homily on John 6:10, he wrote:

In the earliest times “the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believed, and they spake with tongues”(paraphrasing Acts 2:4) which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These were signs adapted to the time. For it was fitting that there be this sign of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That was done for a sign, and it passed away.25

While the Orthodox Church considers the gifts less widespread, according to Bishop Ignatius, they exist in Orthodox Christians “who have attained Christian perfection, purified and prepared beforehand by repentance.”26 They “are given to the Saints of God solely at God’s good will and God’s action, and not by the will of men and not by one’s own power. They are given unexpectedly, extremely rarely, in cases of extreme need, by God’s wondrous providence, and not just at random.”27 Fr. Seraphim Rose included among the “great miracle workers” in the Orthodox Church St. Seraphim of Sarov in the 19th century, and St. John Kronstadt, Elder Paisios, and Elder Porphyrios in the 20th. He noted that before all these miracle workers “either received the charisms or publicly exercised them they went through the preparation of a long and arduous asceticism so that they might be spiritually cleansed from their tendencies to sin. Such Elders and Saints are… characterized by their rareness.”28

Fr. Seraphim continued:

This is different from Pentecostalist circles where the charisms are acquired quickly (sometimes it seems that all it takes is to go to a revival). The charisms are also quite common (how many persons are claiming to be Apostles and Prophets today?)… These charisms are often exercised by persons who might not only lack distinction for their holiness but might even be involved in serious sin. There’s nothing odder than a great miracle worker who gets a divorce on account of his adultery.29

Illegal power lines

Illegal power lines

If the gifts are no longer widespread, how does Orthodoxy explain the miracles that modern Charismatics claim to perform? Fr. Paisius of St. Herman’s Monastery in California considered the possibility that some of them may be real phenomena, but not necessarily done “in the spirit of our ‘Meek and Lowly’ Lord Jesus Christ.”30 As such, they may cause harm by increasing the “miracle worker’s” pride. He noted that in Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus considered some who claimed to perform miracles in His name to be working lawlessness. Fr. Paisius gave as an analogy the practice of illegally using an electric cable to steal power from a power line.


Another Orthodox explanation for some of the Charismatics’ frequent miracles is that they could be illusory. St. Seraphim of Sarov warned against a sickness “called ‘prelest’ [in Russian], or spiritual delusion, imagining oneself to be near to God and to the realm of the divine and supernatural. Even zealous ascetics in monasteries are sometimes subject to this delusion, but of course, laymen who are zealous in external struggles called ‘podvigi’ [in Russian], undergo it much more frequently. Surpassing their acquaintances in struggles of prayer and fasting, they imagine that they are seers of divine visions, or at least of dreams inspired by grace. In every event of their lives, they see special intentional directions from God or their guardian angel. And then they start imagining that they are God’s elect, and often try to foretell the future. The Holy Fathers armed themselves against nothing else so fiercely as against this sickness — prelest.”31

The Rationalist response to the claims of widespread gifts in the early Church would be that such gifts were just as illusory as they are among Charismatics today. From the Rationalist viewpoint, with its skeptical view of miracles, such gifts would not have been even initially widespread in reality; thus they would not have undergone “Cessation” either. Rather, those “gifts” would have been delusions whose later appearances received less attention as the Church became institutionalized, and brought more educated people into its leadership.

While Drane proposed that the Church began to avoid spontaneous worship because dissidents could use it to undermine its teachings,32 one could also use Drane’s practical explanation to understand the Church’s reduced focus on individuals’ ongoing visions and prophecies more broadly. For example, in the late 2nd century the Church disputed with the Montanists, a Christian group that: gave special salaries to their own preachers,33 forbade women from wearing ornaments,34 claimed that their headquarters of Phrygia was the New Jerusalem, and justified their unorthodox claims by ecstatic states, visions, and spontaneous utterances. The debate with the Montanists was also one of the primary instances when the Church began to oppose an emphasis on ongoing independent prophecies for church decisions.

A Rationalist would propose that if genuine miraculous “gifts” after the first century became rare and the alleged ones were usually illusions, then this suggests that the same was true in the first century as well. While St. John Chrysostom claimed that Christianity’s ongoing spread far around the world was miraculous, a Rationalist could propose that it spread naturally because its beliefs and teachings were extremely appealing.

St. John Chrysostom responded to the claim that miracles were absent “even in the times of the Apostles” by noting the intense challenges the evangelists overcame:

If signs were not done at that time, how did they, chased, and persecuted, and trembling, and in chains, and having become the common enemies of the world, and exposed to all as a mark for ill usage, and with nothing of their own to allure, neither speech, nor show, nor wealth, nor city, nor nation, nor family, nor pursuit, nor glory, nor any such like thing; but with all things contrary, ignorance, meanness, poverty, hatred, enmity, and setting themselves against whole commonwealths, and with such a message to declare; how, I say, did they work conviction? For both the precepts brought much labor, and the doctrines many dangers. And they that heard and were to obey, had been brought up in luxury and drunkenness, and in great wickedness. Tell me then, how did they convince? …For… If without signs they wrought conviction, far greater does the wonder appear.35


V. Conclusion

In review, the 1st century Christians shared common elements with modern Charismatics at first glance, but there are important differences. Many early Christians lived in expectation that some of them would live to see Jesus’ Second Coming and the world’s end. Their worship included speaking in incomprehensible tongues and moments for free, independent creative prophesying. And they portrayed such gifts of the Spirit as widespread and frequent in their church gatherings.

Rationalists tend to see premature expectations of the Second Coming as failures, and glossolalia as a fundamentally psychological phenomenon. Rationalism is irrelevant as to whether Christians include time for individualistic creativity, like spontaneous praises, in their services. However, Rationalism would be skeptical of the early Christians’ claims of widespread miracles, since it is skeptical of miracles in general.

For its part, the Orthodox Church avoids interpreting New Testament writings as categorically predicting that the Second Coming would occur in the 1st-2nd centuries. For example, it interprets Paul’s reference to “we which are alive and remain unto the” Second Coming as conditional or as reflecting Christian strong, healthy preparedness for Jesus’ return. The Church often agrees with the Rationalists that glossolalia and other “gifts” are psychological when the claim is made about the modern Charismatic movement. Otherwise, the Church claims that Charismatics experience are real phenomena, but that their gifts are frequently flawed as not in accordance with God’s preferences, like meekness, deep morality, deep contemplation, etc. Orthodox Christians like Fr. Seraphim Rose distinguish speaking in tongues in the early Church from that of modern Charismatics by portraying the former as either intelligible foreign languages or a spontaneous gift, while portraying the latter as spouting gibberish intentionally learned through psychological mechanisms. However, the degree of similarity between the Corinthians’ and Charismatics’ glossolalia remains an open question.

Orthodoxy does not deny that some early Christian gatherings included special moments for performing gifts like glossolalia. But while the exact role of those moments in early Christian worship is not clear, the Orthodox Church emphasizes that early services involved the same basic ritual elements as traditional Christian worship, like prayers, psalms, songs, Scripture readings, homilies, and the Eucharist.

Finally, the Church considers gifts like healings, visions, and speaking in tongues to have been far more common in the era of the Apostles. However, Church Fathers like St. John Chrysostom attributed their reduction or “cessation” to Christianity’s greater spiritual value placed on faith to generate acceptance, rather than on overpowering evidence to compel belief. Once Jesus and the Apostles revealed and supported their teachings with widespread, impressive miracles, then it became less necessary to rely on further miracles to motivate faith.



Hal Smith

About the author.  Hal Smith converted to Orthodoxy at age 17.  He works as a Russian-English translator and attends an OCA parish in Eastern Pennsylvania.  He administers Rakovskii – a website about Old Testament prophecies.



1 BBC – Religions – Atheism: Rationalism, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/types/rationalism.shtml
2 “Rationalism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/topic/rationalism
3 St. Theophan the Recluse, quoted in “Tolkovanie Svyatogo Pisaniya,” http://bible.optina.ru/new:1sol:04:15
4 Alexander P. Lopukin, Id.
5 Mark Jeffries, The Last Daze: The Truth About End-Times Theology, Lulu.com, p. 4.
6 Orthodox Monk, “The Gift of Tongues,” October 7, 2010, http://orthodoxmonk.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html
7 Alexander Lopukhin, “Interpretation Bible: Interpretation of the first epistle of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians,” http://azbyka.ru/otechnik/Lopuhin/tolkovaja_biblija_64/14
8 Commentaries on 1 Corinthians 14:1, http://bible.optina.ru/new:1kor:14:01
9 Fr. George Nicozisin, “Speaking in Tongues: An Orthodox Perspective,” http://orkut.google.com/c111009-td0acc91d040b3ec0.html
10 Corduroy, Did Eastern Fathers Pray in the Spirit?, July 11, 2009, http://mistercorduroy.blogspot.com/2009/07/did-eastern-fathers-prayer-in-spirit.html
11 Id.
12 Orthodox Monk, supra Note 6.
13 Alexander Lopukhin, “Interpretation Bible: Interpretation of the first epistle of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians,” Supra note 7.
14 John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, Lion Books, 2010, pp. 431-432.
15 Fr. Gregory Rogers, From Evangelical to Orthodox, http://www.pravmir.com/article_400.html
16 Charles Alexander, The Church I Couldn’t Find, WestBow Press, 2013, p. 112.
17 Id. at 130.
18 The Greek word used here is ζηλόω, pronounced zēloō.
19 Jerry Munk, “Reply to Fr. Seraphim Rose’s The Charismatic Revival,” December 4, 1997, http://www.workofchrist.com/Theosis/reply.htm
20 Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Book V, vi.
21 Id. at Book II, xxxii, section 4.
22 John Chrysostom Homily XXIX , http://www.piney.com/FathChrysHomXXIX.html
23 Id.
24 St. John Chrysostom Homily VI on 1st Corinthians, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/220106.htm
25 Id.
26 Id.
27 St. Augustine, Homily on John 6:10, quoted in: Hieromonk Seraphim Rose of Platina, Charismatic Revival As a Sign of the Times, http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frseraphim_charismatics.aspx
28 Bishop Ignatius, quoted in Fr. Seraphim, The New “Outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/sign/outpouring.shtml
29 St. Isaac the Syrian, quoted in Fr. Seraphim, The New “Outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” supra note 28.
30 Fr. Seraphim, The New “Outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” supra note 28.
31 Id.
32 Correspondence with Fr. Paisius of St. Herman’s monastery, October-November 2015.
33 St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers,” http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/prelest.html
34 Drane, Supra note 14.
35 Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 5, 18
36 “Montanism.” Collier’s New Encyclopedia. 1921.
37 St. John Chrysostom Homily VI on 1st Corinthians, Supra note 24.

A Tale of Two Gospels

"And was-given to-him [the] book of-Isaiah [the] prophet" Source

“And was-given to-him [the] book of-Isaiah [the] prophet” Source

By Stefan Pavićević.


Stefan Pavićević

If there’s one thing I really think Protestantism has gotten wrong, it would be the way it treats the Bible.  Now, before I continue, I want to assure the reader that my intention is not to bash Protestants, because I have many friends who are good Christians and Protestants, people I deeply respect and love as my brothers and sisters in Christ.  My point here is not to be rude to Protestants or to even try to set out the logical outworking and problems with Sola Scriptura per se. This has been done over and over there is no need to repeat it here. I want to offer a fresh perspective and look at things a bit differently.

Protestants would often say that they believe in the true Gospel, making it clear that they are not like those who believe in a false Gospel. But, what is the true Gospel? And what is a false Gospel? Some would say the true Gospel is that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins.  I see nothing objectionable about that definition. But tell me, what major Christian denomination, group or church doesn’t believe that? Why then, do Protestants insist that Roman Catholics or Orthodox do not have the true Gospel?  Then the Protestants would add a number of other qualifications for what counts as the true Gospel, and what doesn’t. Then different groups would come up with different descriptions of what the true Gospel really is. And now we have chaos!

What they don’t see is that they have made an abstraction of the Gospel.  They have set up a neat logical and abstract system which they call the (true) Gospel. However, this approach is always bound to fail.  Why? Because it misses the most central fact of Christianity: the Incarnation. Now, I don’t want to even remotely imply that they have rejected the Incarnation.  But I am concerned that they may have turned the Incarnation into an abstraction, an idea.

We are abstracting whenever we go from what is tangible and particular to what is universal and remote to our senses, accessible only to our intellects. Such is our idea of God, abstract and indirect. But we are not abstract concepts. As living breathing human beings we need tangible reality, not abstract reality.  That is why we need the Incarnation.


The Word of God Became Flesh - Icon of the Annunciation. Source

The Incarnation — The Word of God Became Flesh for our salvation   Source

The Incarnation is the most important event in world history.  This event has cosmic consequences. The intangible, inaccessible, unlimited God became tangible, accessible and limited in order to save us. Not only did he share in our suffering, and tasted our bitter grief and death, but He revealed His Divinity in His very own flesh. God became a living breathing human being who walked on earth (1 John 1:1-3)! The Gospel is the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is the Gospel.

Thus, the Gospel is a living, tangible reality of sharing in the life and sufferings of the Word of God, so that we may share in His most blessed divine life. This life consists of the experience of and in the Church, a life of ascesis, prayer and partaking in the Holy Mysteries, the Sacraments. Our life in Christ and the life of countless of others, especially those who have reached the light of deification, this is what the Gospel is.  The light of deification means that the Gospel is more than a teaching, it is a reality that will profoundly change who we are.  It is the continued life and incarnation of Christ in His Church.

That is why we need to heed the advices and most divine words spoken to us by the prophets, the apostles, the fathers, and all the saints, as they speak to us. These are not formulas and algorithms for salvation, but words that are life eternal, that ought to be practiced and lived. We don’t need an abstract Gospel, we need a tangible, incarnational Gospel! We need Emmanuel, God with us!

The capital “W” Word of God is not the Bible, it is Christ Jesus, our Lord who is the eternal Word (Logos) of the Father. The Bible is not the way, the truth, and the life, it is Christ who is the only way, truth and life (John 14:6). The Holy Scriptures are profitable unto salvation only when through them we encounter our Lord Christ. The Bible doesn’t have the answers to all questions, nor is it a textbook of correct belief and right living. Yet, for some Protestants it is as if reading the Bible is all one needs. As if reading the Bible is enough to be true Christians, with sound and correct belief and right living. As if those who read the Bible can never become heretics. But what about history? What about those who fought against heresies and who have spent their whole lives on defining the landmarks of orthodoxy, can we just ignore them? Can we ignore the history of the Christian Faith, risking the grave danger of repeating the mistakes and the errors of the past?

Whenever someone commits himself to a strict, literal reading of the Scriptures, divorced from the actual life of the Church, they are not only reading the Bible in a superficial and profitless manner, but they actually sever themselves from the communion of saints and from communion with Christ. The Bible is called the Word of God only by analogy, because it is Christ who is the True Word, and the One the Scriptures testify of.

Now, someone would say: “Stefan, you’re painting with a broad brush.” I realize there are people from traditional Protestant churches who don’t read the Bible in the literal way. But my point still stands as I’ve noticed that this trend of reading the Bible literally is very popular among many Protestants.  This is especially true for those with an evangelical bent, regardless of the denomination they may formally belong to. Our tale of the two Gospels illustrates my point perfectly. There is the true Gospel, and there are false Gospels, according to many Protestants. They approach the Bible as if it has come down from heaven and has become Emmanuel, God with us.  But it is a Person, the Word of God, who came down from heaven. (John 1:14)  Just as Jesus Christ took on flesh in the Incarnation so likewise the Incarnation continues in the Church the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)  It is at Church, the Body of Christ, on Sunday mornings that we meet God.  We first hear God’s word in the Scriptures and then at Holy Communion we go up to feed on the body and blood of Christ, the Word of God made flesh for our salvation.  Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)

Where Protestant worship emphasizes the Gospel as the written word of God especially through the sermon, Orthodox worship emphasizes the Gospel as the Incarnate Word of God who gave us His Life on the Cross for our salvation and incorporates us into His Body, the Church.  For the Orthodox Christian the true Gospel is not just a message to be intellectually understood but a life of worship, discipleship, and ascesis in the context of the Church, the Body of Christ.

I propose that we distinguish between the tangible, incarnational Gospel and the abstract intellectualized Gospels. The former is the true one, because it is rooted in the life and experience of the Church even as she lives and experiences the life of Christ, whereas of the latter I need not comment.

And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:4-6)


Stefan is a cantor at the Macedonian Orthodox Church. He is interested in arts, music, philosophy, church history, patristics and theology, as well as computer science (in which he is majoring). In the free time, he likes to read books (he’s an avid Lord of the Rings fan), listen to Orthodox chant as well as secular music, or just hang out with friends. When it comes to Orthodox theology, his main interests are in St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Dionysius the Areopagite.  


See also:

Stefan Pavićević — “The Mystery of the Church and My Search for Truth”  24-January-2015


Book Review: Rock and Sand

51+pcoOK8FL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings (2015)

Review by David Rockett

When a seminary trained Protestant Pastor writes a book-long critique of Protestantism after converting to become an Orthodox Priest, it makes for interesting reading! However, critiques of theological systems and its primary proponents outside one’s own loyalties are on the surface suspect. Has the critic carefully understood what he proposes to critique? Is he fair or one sided? These are no small issues if the critique is to be taken seriously. Does the critic have the credentials and standing to do such a thing?

In this light Fr. Josiah Trenham is uniquely qualified to offer a compelling critique of the Protestant Reformers and their theology. Raised in a devout reformed Protestant family and Reformed church, Fr. Josiah was educated by the top Reformed intelligentsia. Fr. Josiah received his B.A. in Social Science or History from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. His senior thesis was on the famous American theologian and revivalist Jonathan Edwards (1989). In 1992, he received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido, CA, having studied also at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, and Orlando, FL under the Reformed theologians Drs. John Frame, John Gerstner, and R.C. Sproul. In 2004, he received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Durham, England, studying under the well-known Orthodox Christian professor of patristics, Father Andrew Louth.

The hypothetical reverse would be a book-long critique of Orthodoxy’s leading Fathers lives and theology expressed in the Seven Ecumenical Councils – all in historic context, from a Reformed Ph.D. pastor who was raised as a cradle Orthodox, educated at an Orthodox university and seminary (Holy Cross?, St. Vladimir?) – but converted to Protestantism and received his Ph.D. from Westminster! Reformed-Orthodox dialogue would benefit from such a book. We pray our Protestant friends and theologians will read Fr. Trenham’s book with the same zeal an Orthodox would read such a hypothetical book! For now we are more than satisfied with Fr. Josiah’s book: Rock & Sand.


Introduction and Historic Context – Roman Catholic Europe 1500s

Father Josiah’s introduction gives us his book’s three-fold purpose:

…to provide the Orthodox reader with a competent overview of the history of Protestantism…to acquaint Orthodox and non-Orthodox readers with a narrative of the historical relationship between the Orthodox East and the Protestant West…[and] to provide a summary of Orthodox theological opinion on the tenets of Protestantism. (p. 2)

Before doing this he sets the context for the Reformation: “The Protestant Reformation cannot be understood without a cursory grasp of the political, social, cultural, and ecclesiastical developments that created 15th century Europe.” (p. 3) Given Fr. Josiah’s history degree this is understandable and critical for us Moderns. Too often we rush to debate theological tenets before grasping the context or the dominant cultural and sociopolitical realities of the time. Fr. Josiah notes: “The traditional western historiographic categories of ‘Dark Ages,’ ‘Middle Ages,’ ‘Renaissance,’ and ‘Reformation,’ have little meaning in the East, and in fact have now been widely discarded in Western academia. The Fall of Rome…was not as significant in the East…” (p. 5)

The city of Constantinople or New Rome thrived intellectually and politically for centuries long after old Rome had fallen.

Prior to the Reformation, the papal West entered into a scholastic period in which theology was conformed to philosophical paradigms and detached from its traditional ascetic milieu. Theologians became academics and bishops political lords. Detached from the Orthodox East and its insistence on patristic continuity, papal innovations – theological and practical – abounded. These innovations, advanced by a newly articulated and aggressive view of papal supremacy, were supported by a collection of forged historical documents known as the False Decretals…These forged papal letter were fabricated in order to place in the ever-growing claims of papal arrogance and supremacy into the mouths of early saint-popes and thus establish the papal novelties as ancient Christian faith. (pp. 5, 6)

Add to these the Donation of Constantine:

This falsified imperial decree is said to have been written by Emperor Constantine the Great to Pope Sylvester (314-335)…an enumeration of the privileges bestowed upon the pope and his successors. (p. 6)

Thankfully, an honest and influential German Roman Catholic churchman named Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa exposed these documents as fraudulent. Fr. Josiah notes:

Martin Luther was aware of Cusa’s work and obtained a copy as a young theologian, which certainly influenced his thinking on the proclaimed rights of the papacy. Their authenticity has been universally rejected for hundreds of years, even by the papacy. (p. 7)

Luther was not alone in noticing the papacy and their representatives’ moral duplicity, and willingness to lie for great wealth and power. Political power and wealth increasingly became issues surrounding the Reformation in every country including England and its ruler Henry VIII. Fr. Josiah concludes this section with:

A strong argument can be made that the Protestant Reformation itself was more a land grab by the Protestant princes than about ecclesiastical renewal, and that without their cooperation Martin Luther would have been a flame that quickly ignited, but then rapidly dissipated. (p. 8)


An Orthodox Appreciation of Protestant Virtues

This chapter on page 251 appears to be out of sequence. Had Fr. Josiah been writing primarily for a Protestant instead an Orthodox audience, I suspect this chapter would have occurred earlier. Anticipating many Protestant readers of this review I’ve put it here. The book at points is sharply critical of the Reformers and their doctrines, and Fr. Josiah’s graciousness in this chapter seems most fitting:

Before launching this exercise in Orthodox apologetics, however, which must by necessity be highly critical, I would like to share with you an exercise that I require my catechumens to perform in the catechetical program that seekers are asked to engage in. [A blank sheet of paper is given for them to divide in half, writing “Orthodox Beliefs” on the left column and “Heresies/Errors” on the right, make a list.]…The intention of this catechetical exercise is two-fold. First it raises the issue of heresy to the proper intensity. Heresy is not to be played with, and it certainly does not save. Christ, Incarnate Truth, saves. The theological divisions that afflict Christendom are extremely serious, and are not to be swept under the rug by naïve theological peaceniks who assume that, just because they do not understand theology, it therefore must be unimportant…On the other hand, this catechetical exercise guides the person in process of conversion to a deep appreciation of the good of their previous confession. (pp. 253, 254)

Over the next six and half pages Fr. Josiah highlights elements of Protestantism which should be deeply appreciated and given thanks for by converts to Orthodoxy. Listed here without Fr. Josiah’s commentary:

An exceedingly high value upon the text of Holy Scripture; zeal for missionary work…ability of Protestant Christians to articulate concisely…what Jesus Christ has done for them…they call ‘giving a testimony’; a deep and costly commitment to Christian education; aggressive commitment to cultural engagement with Christian values…[finally saying] “I could go on, but I think this is enough to understand that the Orthodox theological critique of Protestantism does not derive from blind prejudice, or a lack of appreciation of the virtues of Protestantism. I admire the virtues of Protestantism most sincerely and make myself its student in those areas where it is exceptional. (pp. 257-263)

Let us pray the critical aspects of the book will be understood in this light.


The Protestant Reformers

Martin Luther was educated as a lawyer at Magdeburg and Eisenbach and the Erfurt University (1501-1505). Yet, he had a near death experience during a lightning storm and prayed to St. Anne with an oath he’d become a monk if she saved him. He took solemn vows as an Augustinian monk in August 1505 at age 22, and was ordained a priest in 1507 at age 24. His father rode in for his first Mass with twenty riders and bestowed a generous gift of money to the monastery. Luther on his visit to Rome was scandalized by the debauchery and blasphemy committed by the priests there, and then later with the sale of indulgences. He posted his 95 Theses on 31 October 1517 just a few weeks before his 34th birthday. Fr. Josiah rightly points out these 95 Theses are no articulation of Protestant dogma, but objections to Roman Catholic innovations that any Orthodox could also agree with on principle.

We can certainly admire Luther’s courage before Rome as we do other early would be reformers like John Wycliffe. Yet we see here just the beginning of the theological controversy that would follow Luther for the rest of his life. Fr. Josiah writes:

The greatest of these [controversies] took place at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529. This official gathering was designed to unify the Protestant theologians, but instead served to express the deepest of divisions between Luther and Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli on the subject of the eucharist.” Luther thought his teaching on consubstantiation was the clear teaching of Scripture, and neither could understand why the other was being so hardheaded and disobedient to the ‘clear teaching of Scripture.’ The Marburg Colloquy and Protestant eucharistic controversy revealed the greatest weakness of the Protestant embrace of the doctrine of sola scriptura, and proved the absurdity of any dependence on the clarity of Scripture alone to establish common doctrines. Luther felt very deeply on this matter, and said ‘Before I would have mere wine with the fanatics, I would rather receive sheer blood with the pope. Accomplished Protestant leaders like Carlstadt, Zwingli, Oecolampadius in Basel and Bucer in Strasbourg disavowed Luther’s teaching on the sacraments and church polity. We Orthodox Christians are led to ponder: where is the reality of sola scriptura and the perspicuity of Scripture if even those bound by faculty, friendship, politics and faith cannot agree on the meaning of the central Christian act of worship? (pp. 36, 37)

The failure of Sola Scriptura to engender unity among the Reformers on the central sacrament of the Church is a major point Fr. Josiah makes several times in the book. Space prevents a look into Luther’s often violent rages against the Anabaptist movement he inspired, and the Jews he often seemed to loathe. Yet of the ascetic life and monastic estate Fr. Josiah takes careful note:

In his Small catechism Luther calls marriage ‘one hundred times’ more spiritual than the monastic estate. Yet to enter into the married estate himself Luther became an oath-breaker, as did his wife Catherine. As adults they had sworn oaths to serve Christ faithfully as celibate person like St Paul. Yet as adults they broke the oaths and encouraged hundreds of others to do likewise. In such a case of clear ethical violation Luther found it convenient to vilify the monastic estate in order to justify breaking his own vows. Yet his own Protestant prince, the elector Frederick, who consorted with concubines himself, was so opposed to this offense that Luther was not able to marry as long as Frederick lived. Luther’s colleague and friend Melanchthon was so opposed to Luther’s oath-breaking and marriage to Catherine that he himself did not attend the wedding. (p. 46)

More could be said here and Fr. Josiah reviews a history few Protestants are likely to know. In a footnote he comments further: “Luther was clear about how far from traditional asceticism he had strayed. ‘I now seek pleasure and take it wherever I can.’ He should not have wondered, after such attacks upon ascetical Christian practice, why he failed so bitterly to effect a moral improvement in Christian life amongst the Germans.” (p. 47)

Ulrich Zwingli was a Roman Catholic priest born in Switzerland a year after Luther. Fr. Josiah demonstrates he is far more the father of modern American evangelicalism than either Luther or Calvin.

Zwingli viewed Luther as a polemicist, and not above the typical reform of humanism which was unable to shed many Roman Catholic ideas…Luther was not fully committed to the Reformation and was too conservative. (p. 78)

Zwingli is also more the Reformed father of the Anabaptists than either Calvin or Luther, and took his own superior subjective view of Sola Scriptura farther than they were willing. He also likely deserves the distinction as father of the iconoclasts, those who delight in the destroying Christian art and shrines objectionable to them but revered and venerated by the Church for centuries.

Regarding Zwinglians’ boldness and impatience at reform Fr. Josiah writes:

To raise a public debate, Zwingli and his allies then sent a request to the bishop of Constance for abolition of celibacy and permission for “scriptural” preaching – meaning their preaching. Zwingli himself had been living in a secret union with a widow, Anna Reinhardt, since the beginning of 1522. On April 2, 1524, when his lover was pregnant with their first child, he married her and together they had four children….

Fr. Josiah in a footnote wrote: “The real theological father of much contemporary Protestant Evangelicalism was living in fornication while he was articulating evangelicalism.” (p. 82)

A final telling note about Zwingli was his presiding over the dissolution of 350 monasteries and the appropriation of their lands by civil authorities (similar to what Henry VIII did in England). Many of their cronies would trace their wealth for generations to these new land holdings. Again Fr. Josiah’s footnote: “Here we see one of the innumerable cases of Protestant theft on a grand scale. The Protestant assumption appears to be that believing wrongly invalidates property rights.” (p. 83) Incidentally, Luther thought Zwingli’s teaching on baptism worse than the Anabaptists’ and believed that his death in battle was God’s judgment on him.

John Calvin was born in 1509 (26/25 years after Luther and Zwingli) into an aristocratic family. His father planned an ecclesiastical career for his son. Calvin was tonsured at age 12 by the Bishop of Noyon. However, in 1533, at the age of 24 Calvin detached from his Roman position and income. Fr. Josiah wrote in his footnotes:

Calvin’s fallout with the papacy was generational. His father Gerard was a successful lawyer and accountant of sorts for the church. He was accused of corruption in regard to the estates of two priests, and was excommunicated in 1528 [Calvin 19]. He died in that state in 1531 [Calvin 22]. Calvin’s brother, Charles, was a Catholic priest, excommunicated for insulting a colleague and striking a parishioner, and, though offered absolution and last rites on his deathbed in 1537, he refused both and died excommunicate [Calvin 28]. (p. 120)  [Calvin’s age in brackets provided courtesy of the reviewer.]

Calvin, a very bright student, gave up ambitions to study for the priesthood by age 20, and studied law diligently, self-publishing his first book, a translation and commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia, at his own expense. Calvin became a Protestant at age 24. Three years later Calvin would publish his first edition of his infamous Institutes of the Christian Religion. His intellect and abilities led Guillaume Farel to recruit him that same year to Geneva in July of 1536. Though asked to leave after a dispute with the city council two years later (Easter 1538) Calvin was asked to return three years later (Sept 1541) at age 32, where he, “would spend the next twenty-three years producing a massive literary corpus and endeavoring to establish the church of Geneva upon his principles. (p. 124)

Geneva’s city council accepted Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Ordinances in 1941 which “established a consistory of pastors and elders to oversee church discipline and public morality.

Fr. Josiah writes:

This body of elders was to have the power of excommunication, which was the cornerstone of his [Calvin’s] system of church polity. Through the police force, the power of this consistory extended into every aspect of personal life in Geneva, and the basis for much resistance by its citizens and grounds for the charge that Calvin created a theocracy in Geneva.

The Yankee Puritans of New England a century later would prove to be meek libertarians by comparison.

It [consistory] examined one’s religious knowledge, criticism of ministers, absences from sermons, use of charms and family quarrels. It exercised discipline against a widow who prayed requiem prayers at the grave of her departed husband, a goldsmith for making a chalice, a barber who tonsured a priest (haircut); …against one who criticized Geneva for executing a heretic; and against someone who sang a song critical of Calvin. The consistory forbade cards and ball games, regulated how much cutlery and how many plates were allowed to be used at the table, prescribed the clothing that could be worn, abolished Christmas day and made it a normal workday, and forbade brides from adorning their hair on their wedding day. Calvin’s hand was intimately involved in almost all matters of the consistory, and it took its cue from him. (pp. 125, 126)

Note here that Calvin was a ripe 32 years old, 8 years a Protestant, when this occurred. The consistory supplied Calvin with a very large salary funded by the City government to symbolize their support.

Fr. Josiah is not as critical of Calvin even offering this summary: “Calvin is especially good in his interpretation of the covenants, and his articulation of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments…maintained a brilliant Christocentric hermeneutic…set forth a very positive view of the divine law…[and] Calvin’s doctrine of the last things is where he may be most traditional [with the Holy Fathers of the Church].” Sadly, as is often the case, Calvin’s zealous youth often got the best of him.

Meanwhile Calvin and other Reformers and Protestants of his day quoted the early Church Fathers implying the Reformation’s agreement with the early Church. Yet this was and is very selective – they were quoted when they agreed with him. Calvin was disdainful of them when they departed from him:

Certainly, Origen, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom and other like them would never have spoken as they do, if they had followed what judgment God had given them. But from desire to please the wise of the world, or at least from fear of annoying them, they mixed the earthly with the heavenly. That was a hateful thing, totally to cast man down, and repugnant to the common judgment of the flesh.

Fr. Josiah comments:

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments.

These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks. Chrysostom and Basil were ascetic monks who were other-worldly, and show Calvin as still quite fixed to the earth by comparison. Who was the one who rejected his tonsure and married: And that a widow? Who was the one so irascible that he could not bear to be contradicted? ?[as a young man]? Who was the one who determined eucharistic practice by the judgment of the civil powers? Who was the one who received a large salary from the state? Who was the one complicit in the execution of heretics? Who was the one who died in the comfort of his own home with the approbation of the wise of Geneva, instead of in harsh exile with the opposition of the emperor? (pp. 131,132)

Like Luther, Calvin was in constant theological disputes. Fr. Josiah writes,

Calvin fought with the Anabaptists, the Zwinglians, the Lutherans, and with the Roman Catholics, while claiming that the Scripture were clear. And, though he read the Holy Fathers extensively Calvin judged them all by their level of agreement with him, imputing moral depravity where none objectively existed in order to justify their universal disagreement with him. This is self-serving and contradictory theology. (p. 133)

I will cut short here Fr. Josiah’s critiques of other Reformers like the Anabaptists and their triumph in America, The Church of England, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and America’s folk religion (many familiar names here). These are rich and as demonstrated above, Fr. Josiah handles them with skill and insight – all from an Orthodox perspective steeped in the history and Tradition of the Church.


Historic Christian Doctrine

Nor does space allow a review of the many doctrinal issues Fr. Josiah elucidates with skill and candor. Among them are an outstanding review of the Filioque heresy and its importance, though embraced by both Protestants and Roman Catholics; an extended historical review of Orthodox Cyril Lucaris’ wrongly supposed conversion to Calvinism, and the Orthodox answer to Calvinism in the Confession of Dositheos and the Synod of Jerusalem (1672). Much here we must skip that is excellent reading.


The Fathers and Holy Tradition

However, Fr. Josiah’s cogent critique of Sola Scriptura – the notion that Scripture is a stand alone as the only infallible rule of faith and practice – merits some attention.

First and foremost is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles did not teach such a thing but explicitly rejected it in teaching and practice…Our problem with the Protestants is that at this point they are not biblical enough. The New Testament itself affirms that the foundational authority for the Christian and the Church is the Apostles teaching. (p. 64)

The teaching of the Apostles is itself called ‘tradition’ in the New Testament…’Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.’ (2 Thess. 3:6) Tradition is the Christian way of life, or life in the Holy Spirit. Tradition is the Bible rightly interpreted. St. Paul praised the Corinthians for adhering to the Church’s tradition, ‘Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (1 Corth. 11:2, 15:3 and Jude 3)

Of course today Protestants have their own Traditions…Luther’s (Lutheranism), Calvin’s (Calvinism), Zwingli’s (Baptist), with a host of variations all firmly certain they rest on the clear teaching of Scripture. The question is not If you embrace a theological ‘Tradition’…but whose is it? where did it come from? – and is it the same Tradition spoken of so often and reverently of in the pages of Holy Scripture? Fr. Josiah notes:

…the history of Protestantism, from its very root, bears witness to the lack of Apostolic authenticity of the sola scriptura doctrine. Why do Lutheran, Calvinistic, Zwinglians, and Anabaptist creeds all differ on fundamental points if the Bible alone is the only authority of the reformers? Why could not Luther and Zwingli and other Reformers agree on the nature of the very central act of Christian worship, the Holy Eucharist, if they were both simply reading the Bible and following its teachings? 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)


On Salvation

Fr. Josiah writes:

The great problem with Protestant teaching on salvation is its thorough-going reductionism. In the Holy Scripture and in the writings of the Holy Fathers salvation is a grand accomplishment with innumerable facets, a great and expansive deliverance of humanity from all its enemies: sin, condemnation, the wrath of God, the devil and his demons, the world, and ultimately death. In Protestant teaching and practice, salvation is essentially a deliverance from the wrath of God. (p. 288)

This expansive and multifaceted understanding of salvation in Christ is often referred to as the fullness of salvation or salvation maximalism where limiting salvation to mere fire insurance short-changes what the Scriptures and the Church as understood about salvation.

Rather than seeing salvation primarily as a one-time past event in time, Orthodoxy sees salvation a process that occurs in the past, present, and future. Fr. Josiah comments:

As emphasized as this past event is, Orthodox Christians are very much aware that salvation is a process as much as it is a definitive act. We are saved by faith when we are baptized, for sure. However, the New Testament uses the word sozo also in the present and future tenses. In fact, the most common use of the word sozo in the New Testament is the future, not the past. Hence, to be “biblical” we must consider salvation to be primarily, not exclusively, a future reality. (p. 290)

Take, for instance the Reformed Protestant doctrine of atonement as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf.” Here we see the usual Protestant reductionism applied to the Cross of our Savior. The traditional Christian teaching expressed in the New Testament and the writings of the Fathers on the subject of the atonement of our Savior is the Cross saved us in three essential ways: on the Cross Jesus conquered death; on the Cross Jesus triumphed over the principalities and power of this evil age; on the Cross Jesus made atonement for human sins by His blood. Because the Protestants were working out of a soteriological framework of a courtroom and declarative justification, they read the teaching about the Cross through these lenses and as a result articulated a reductionistic theology of the atonement, which ignored the traditional emphasis on the conquering of death and the triumph of the demons. Everything for Protestantism becomes satisfaction of God’s justice, and by making one image the whole, even that image became distorted in Protestant articulation. (p. 294)

Note: To be fair, two Reformed theologians of the late 19th century, John Williamson Nevin and Philip Shaff noted this problem to some degree in their Mercersberg theology (see Robert Arakaki’s in-depth critique).  More recently Anglican Bishop NT Wright’s writings and some of his Reformed followers in the Federal Vision movement have move away from this narrow, exclusively legal-forensic view. Sadly, as they have incorporated select aspects of Orthodox theology, they have been charged as heretics by their Reformed brethren for this select quasi-Orthodox perspective!

In regards to being “biblical” Fr. Josiah also notes:

The 2nd chapter of the Epistle of St. James explicitly affirms that we are not saved by faith alone. Luther’s importation of the word “alone” into his German translation of Roman 3:28 where the word does not exist in the Greek original is yet another Protestant abuse of the New Testament translation… “Orthodox Christians acknowledge the immense importance of the act of faith…[but] categorically deny, however, that one is saved by faith alone. (p. 289)

Finally, Fr. Josiah points to the neglect of theosis and deification:

…the greatest reductionism is found in the immense neglect of emphasis upon the heart of the New Testament teaching on salvation as union with Jesus Christ…. The theology of the Church bears witness to the fact that the mystery of salvation is accomplished not just on the Cross, but from the very moment of Incarnation when the Only-Begotten and Co-Eternal Son united Himself forever with humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary, his Most Pure Mother. Salvation as union and communion between God and Man drips from every page of the new Testament and in the writings of Holy fathers.

This coming transfiguration of believers, this glorious resurrection and divinization of human nature in the unspeakable bliss of union with God, this shining as the stars in the Kingdom of His Father as our Savior puts it in his parabolic teachings, is the future of believers. It is hardly just forgiveness.

The Tragic reductionism of Protestant concepts of salvation has produced a very serious neglect of theosis, and has led to the serious error of objectifying fallen human life and it limitations and projecting it into the future. It has kept Protestants from understanding the potential of human transformation in this life. (pp. 296, 297)

This wonderful section is full of Apostolic teaching all too often neglected by Protestants.



This review has run a bit long due to the many long quotations. Sadly, many other good and perhaps more worthy passages should have included that have been left out. I conclude here with an exhortation.

If you are Orthodox living and working in the North America, Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand – read this book. It will help you understand what your friends, neighbors, and co-workers believe and the church they attend on Sunday.

If you are a Protestant convert or a Protestant who sincerely wishes to understand Orthodoxy – read this book. Russians and those in traditional Orthodox lands would profit in understanding western Protestants now trying to proselytize them with false doctrines.

Protestant converts living in Asia and Africa should read Fr. Josiah’s book for the same reasons! The Christianity the missionaries brought to your country is not the Ancient Faith proclaimed by the Apostles and their disciples, is rather a new theological system invented by Europeans in the 1500s reflecting the values and mentality of Western Europeans.

Thank you Fr. Josiah for this wonderful book! May its influence be multiplied and magnified within and without the Church of our blessed Savior.


Further Readings

A Calvinist Who Crossed Over to Orthodoxy” by Robert Arakaki 29 September 2011

“Interview with Fr. Josiah Trenham”: The Examiner

Fr. Josiah Trenham — St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside CA


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