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Images Inside Reformed Churches

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, NYC


A reader recently wrote me that not all Reformed churches have only four bare walls and that there are in fact Reformed churches with images in them.  These images take the form of stained glass windows and murals situated in sanctuaries.  That these images are situated in the sanctuaries is highly significant.  It suggest that Reformed iconoclasm is not as extreme as some supposed it to be.

I’ve edited the feedback slightly to correct misspellings and omit hyperlinks inserted by the reader.

Joseph wrote:

Hi there, interesting reading this. As someone that was raised In a highly liturgical Presbyterian Church now PCUSA, some of these things that are written about Reformed seem sort of odd. The Church of Scotland in Scotland started by John Knox who started Presbyterianism under the studies of Calvin is not austere, nor is it free from any type of imagery. Many Presbyterian churches in the USA whether they be PCUSA or PCA or others like Cumberland, their sanctuaries have some icons as well as ornate stained glass with saints and even the crucifixion. You need to Google some following churches: Shadybrook Presbyterian, Madison Avenue Presbyterian NYC, St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh Scotland, Brick Presbyterian Church NYC, East Liberty Presbyterian Church in PA, and St Stephen Presbyterian in Texas. I think what you are talking about are Reformed Churches that were influenced by Puritans. But you need to understand, when the Scottish and English that were Presbyterian came to the Americas to visit, attending a Presbyterian church that was influenced by Puritans seemed odd and strange and not anything like Presbyterians at home. Many of these from Scotland and England would then attend and Anglican/ Episcopal church here since it was much more similar. The offshoots of the mainline Presbyterian or the ones that are more “evangelical” would be more austere and favor more of Puritan type worship. They were only really on Presbyterian in polity not necessarily in worship. If you were to pull up John Calvin’s Order of Worship in Geneva it was highly liturgical, nothing like Puritan worship. One must read and consider all things. On one end when he might of been against certain things, he retained many things that later could be construed by other evangelical or protestants as not removing enough of the connection of the catholic church. Hence the word “reformed” meaning breaking off from the Roman Catholic church and reforming it. – PS I as a mainline Presbyterian, do not view off shoot Presbyterians the same as us. And many of them are too extreme or evangelical and are not truly reformed. They use the name Presbyterian for the form of government. Some of broken off, but that does not mean they are the same.


My Response

Dear Joseph:

Thank you for suggesting that I Google the churches you listed in your comment.  What I found was surprising and very intriguing.  There are in fact Reformed churches with images in their sanctuaries!  I also did some digging around and learned some things that suggest that you may have oversimplified the role of images in the Reformed churches.


Images in Presbyterian churches


Drayton Avenue Presbyterian church, Ferndale Michigan


Stained glass image – Drayton Avenue Presbyterian church


Carved images – Drayton Avenue Presbyterian church



East Liberty Presbyterian church – Pittsburgh, PA


Old First Reformed Church – Brooklyn, NY


St. Giles Cathedral – Edinburgh, Scotland


St. Giles Cathedral – Edinburgh, Scotland

St. Giles Cathedral, also known as High Kirk of Edinburgh, played a distinguished role among the Reformed churches.  John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, was elected minister of St. Giles.  Soon after he took office, the removal of the church’s Roman Catholic furnishings began.  The church changed hands between Protestants and Roman Catholics until the Parliament of Scotland declared Scotland to be a Protestant country in 1560.  When Scotland became officially Protestant, workmen were given the task of removing Roman Catholic furnishings, whitewashing the church interior, and painting the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer on the church walls.  John Knox retired to St. Andrews for health reason.  He was later recalled to St. Giles where he preached his last sermon and was buried there.

Interestingly, after the Reformation parts of St. Giles were converted to secular purposes.  The various bays were used by the Court of Session, the criminal court, and the Parliament of Scotland.  The vestry was converted into the office and library for the town clerk and weavers were allowed to set up their looms in the loft.  By the 1800s, St. Giles had become an eyesore and embarrassment to the city.  City leaders undertook a major restoration project that would result in a beautiful national church building.  Part of the restoration involved the installation of stained glass windows.

The stained glass windows that we see in the picture above are quite recent.  The installation of stained glass began in the 1800s.  They had been clear or plain since the Reformation.  This was a radical move for a Presbyterian church that viewed such decorations with considerable suspicion.  They were allowed on the grounds that they illustrated bible stories and as such were aids to teaching.  Only a small number of windows were restored during the restoration project of the 1800s.  The majority of the stained glass windows were installed by the mid 1900s.  By the 1900s, peoples’ attitudes had changed to the point where even the depiction of saints, e.g., St. Andrew and St. Giles, were allowed.


Scottish Saints window – St. Giles Church


Closing Thoughts

I learned from Joseph’s comment about an aspect of the Presbyterian tradition I was not aware of before.  It also taught me that the Reformed tradition is not uniformly iconoclastic in the sense of being opposed to all kinds of images.  While I agree that there existed a liturgical aspect to the Reformed tradition that goes back to Calvin and the other Reformers, I remain unconvinced by Joseph’s claim that the Reformed tradition is open to images in churches and that the Puritans are to be blamed for the four bare walls characteristic of Reformed churches.  First of all, John Calvin explicitly denounced images in churches.  See my article “Calvin Versus the Icon: Was John Calvin Wrong?”  Second, the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 explicitly speaks out against images or representations.  Third, the Heidelberg Catechism, which represents the Reformed tradition in Germany, just as forcibly spoke out against images in churches.  See Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 97 and 98.  Furthermore, if this were the case, the Mercersburg theologians, John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff, would have argued for the restoration of images along with the mystical presence in the Lord’s Supper.  Therefore, the four bare walls of Reformed worship are intrinsic to the Reformed tradition and not some extreme Puritan Evangelicalism.  If anything, the case of St. Giles Cathedral in Scotland suggests that the inclusion of images in mainline Presbyterian churches may reflect more a syncretistic adaptation to modern culture than fidelity to the Reformed tradition.  This leaves me to conclude that iconoclasm is very much part of the Reformed tradition and that Joseph’s assertion that Presbyterianism or the Puritans are to be blamed for Reformed iconoclasm is unfounded.  This raises a ticklish question for present-day staunch Calvinists: Should they demand the removal of images from Reformed churches depicted in this article? Or would it be acceptable to tolerate images in Reformed churches?

As a former Calvinist who converted to Orthodoxy, I view the acceptance of stained glass windows by Presbyterian churches as a positive step away from the heresy of iconoclasm and a return towards ancient Christianity.  Images were found in the Dura Europa church, which was dated back to 250, and in the catacombs of Rome.  The four bare walls of Reformed churches are innovations that date back to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s and 1600s.  On this Sunday of Orthodoxy, which celebrates the defeat of iconoclasm in the early Church and reaffirms the place of images in Christian churches, it would be worthwhile for both Reformed, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Christians to reflect on the value of having images/icons in churches.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is customary for Orthodox Christians, young and old, to process inside the church holding icons.  The picture below shows a procession at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Andover, Massachusetts in 2017.  YouTube link.

Celebrating Sunday of Orthodoxy at Saints Constantine and Helen GOC, Andover, MA  Link to video


The mood on the Sunday of Orthodoxy is that of a joyous faith, knowing that one has received an unchanging Faith that goes back to Christ and the Apostles.

Today hath appeared, a day full of joy,
because the splendor of true doctrine shineth forth brilliantly,
and the Church of Christ now sparkleth,
adorned by the elevation of the Icons of the saints and their illustrating pictures,
and believers attain there a unity rewarded of God.

Orthros of the Feast, Tone 4


Robert Arakaki


Further Reading

Robert Arakaki.  “How an Icon Brought a Calvinist to Orthodoxy.”  Journey to Orthodoxy.  (2011)

Robert Arakaki.  “Calvin Versus the Icon: Was John Calvin Wrong?”  OrthodoxBridge (2011)

Robert Arakaki.  “A Response to John B. Carpenter’s ‘Icons and the Eastern Orthodox Claim to Continuity with the Early Church.”  OrthodoxBridge (2013)

Camden Bucey, Glen Cary, Jim Cassidy.  “The Second Commandment and Images in Worship.ReformedForum (2016)

Jordan Cooper.  “Thoughts on Mercersburg Theology.”  Just and Sinner. (2014)

James J. De Jonge.  “Calvin the Liturgist: How ‘Calvinist’ is Your Church?


Orthodoxy’s Official Response to Calvinism — The Confession of Dositheus (1673)

Cyril Lucaris


The Orthodox Church has made two major responses to the Protestant Reformation. The first response was to Lutheranism when the Lutheran theologians of Tübingen and Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople exchanged letters from 1573 to 1581.  The exchange ended in an impasse due to irreconcilable theological differences. See the “Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in the Sixteenth Century.” The second response was to the Reformed tradition almost a century later in 1672 when a synod of bishops gathered in Jerusalem to respond to Cyril Lucaris’ Calvinistic 1629 Confession. The council resoundingly rejected Reformed theology and drafted a formal statement known as the Confession of Dositheus. It soon acquired the status of being Orthodoxy’s definitive stance on Reformed theology.

In this article, I will be examining the Confession of Dositheus to understand why Calvinism was rejected and the rationale for these rejections. The Jerusalem Synod made lengthy responses to three issues: (1) sola scriptura, (2) double predestination, and (3) icons and praying to the saints. In addition, it made shorter responses: (1) sola fide, (2) church government, (3) the sacraments, and (4) prayers for the dead. To assist the reader, certain parts of the quoted excerpts have been emphasized.


Cyril Lucaris

Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) was born in Crete, which at the time was occupied by the Venetian Republic. His education was far ranging. He studied in Venice, Padua, Wittenberg, and Geneva, where he encountered the Reformed faith. For a brief period of time he was a professor at the Orthodox academy in Vilnus, Lithuania. He was ordained to the priesthood under the patriarchate of Alexandria. He later served as Patriarch of Alexandria from 1601 to 1620. Then from 1620 to his death in 1638, he served as Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril’s tenure as Patriarch of Constantinople was a tumultuous one marked by his being deposed and reelected to the patriarchate several times. His unstable tenure reflects the intrigues of Turkish rule and Roman Catholicism’s efforts to extend its influence into Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In 1638, the Sultan ordered Cyril’s execution out of fear that he would stir up the Cossacks against him.


Cyril’s Confession

In 1629, Cyril’s Confession was published in Latin in Geneva. In the next several years, it would be translated into French, German, and English. Cyril’s Confession generated considerable controversy among the Orthodox. Between 1638 and 1691 six local councils condemned it (Ware p. 96). In 1638, a synod in Constantinople declared: “Anathema to Cyril, the wicked new iconoclast!” (Pelikan p. 285) Cyril’s embrace of Calvinism can be attributed to three factors: (1) the appeal of Reformed theology, (2) the lack of precision up till then on certain points of Orthodox theology (Pelikan p. 283), and (3) the advantage of currying the support of Protestants against Roman Catholicism.

Cyril’s Confession was controversial in other ways as well. There were some who believe that Cyril’s Confession was a forgery. It should be noted, however, that the Confession had been in circulation for about nine years prior to Cyril’s death in 1638. Furthermore, there is no evidence of Cyril having disavowed his Confession in writing. In his favor was the fact that Cyril was not deposed by a synod of bishops but by the Turkish Sultan.

A recent assessment of Cyril Lucaris can be found in Fr. Josiah Trenham’s Rock and Sand (2015). As a graduate of Westminster Seminary (Escondido, CA), Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS; Orlando, FL), and having received his doctorate under the supervision of Andrew Louth at University of Durham, England, Fr. Josiah is in a good position to assess the controversy about Cyril Lucaris’ theological leanings. He wrote:

Historians have differed on the authenticity of this confession, some affirming the authorship of Lucaris, and others noting that we have a large body of books and letters from the Patriarch in which he does not advocate Calvinist positions and is a defender of Holy Orthodoxy. There is no doubt that the Jesuits were seeking to undermine Lucaris and to brand him as a Calvinist and a betrayer to Holy Orthodoxy so that his valiant opposition to Latin intrigues would be weakened . . . . Though Patriarch Lucaris is said to have disavowed authorship of the Confession orally on several occasions, this was never done in writing.

There is some ambivalence as to Cyril’s posthumous status in Orthodoxy. The Patriarchate of Alexandria recognized him as a saint and martyr, but the other Orthodox jurisdictions have yet to accept this judgment of Cyril. I found several convoluted attempts to prove that Cyril was falsely accused of being a Protestant. In light of the absence of evidence that Cyril’s Confession was a forgery along with the absence of any evidence of Cyril disavowing the Confession, I lean towards Cyril’s 1629 Confession as a genuine evidence of Cyril’s having embraced the Reformed faith. I also find it noteworthy that two prominent scholars—Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Yale professor Jaroslav Pelikan—assumed Cyril to be the author of the 1629 Confession. However, the main focus of this article will be the 1672 Synod’s response to Reformed theology rather than the status of Cyril Lucaris’ beliefs.


The Confession of Dositheus

The Jerusalem Synod was convened in 1672 to respond to the controversy generated by Cyril’s Confession. It met 108 years after Calvin’s death and not long after the Reformed tradition had drawn up two major doctrinal statements: the Canons of Dort (1619) and the Westminster Confession (1646). In other words, the Synod was addressing Calvinism at a time when it had attained mature expression. The Jerusalem Synod issued the Confession of Dositheus which explicitly condemned the teachings of John Calvin. The document took its name from Dositheus Notaras, the Patriarch of Jerusalem who presided over the Synod.

The Confession of Dositheus consists of: an opening paragraph, eighteen decrees, four questions, and an epilogue. The Confession in no uncertain terms denounced John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

. . . but would be the Church of the malignant {Psalm 25:5} as it is obvious the church of the heretics undoubtedly is, and especially that of Calvin, who are not ashamed to learn from the Church, and then to wickedly repudiate her. (Decree 2; Leith p. 487)

Here the Orthodox synod recognized Calvin’s acquaintance with the Church Fathers then it criticized him for abandoning the patristic consensus. Even more striking is the strong language used to describe the Reformed tradition as the “church of the heretics.” Also notable is the specificity of the document’s language.  Cyril Lucaris is mentioned by name three times: in Decree 10 (Leith p. 492), Question 4 (Leith p. 515), and the Epilogue (Leith p. 516). Calvin is mentioned by name once in Decree 2 (Leith p. 487), and the Calvinists twice: in Decree 10 (Leith p. 492) and in Question 4 (Leith p. 513).


Sola Scriptura

Conservative Protestants and Evangelicals will be happy to find that in Decree 2, the Orthodox Church affirms the divine inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. However, they will find that the Synod repudiated the Protestant tenet of sola scriptura (the Bible alone), insisting that the Bible must be understood in light of how the Church interpreted the Bible.

We believe the Divine and Sacred Scriptures to be God-taught; and, therefore, we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic Church has interpreted and delivered the same. (Leith p. 486)

The Synod warned that without the Church’s teaching authority, the consequences will be men interpreting the Bible from their own standpoint, thereby opening the way for heresy, theological fragmentation, and denominationalism.

For if [we were to accept Scriptures] otherwise, each man holding every day a different sense concerning them, the Catholic Church [i.e., the Orthodox Church] would not by the grace of Christ continue to be the Church until this day, holding the same doctrine of faith, and always identically and steadfastly believing. But rather she would be torn into innumerable parties, and subject to heresies. (Leith p. 486)

As mentioned earlier, conservative Protestants and Evangelicals will be happy to learn that Orthodoxy affirms the infallibility of Scripture. However, they will need to wrestle with the claim that just as the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, so likewise He inspired the Church. The concluding sentence of Decree 2 affirms that both the Bible and the Orthodox Church are infallible.

. . . it is impossible for her [the Church] to in any wise err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and has perpetual authority.

Unlike Roman Catholicism which situates infallibility within the papacy, Orthodoxy understands infallibility to be the result of the Holy Spirit guiding the entire Orthodox Church into truth (see John 16:13). The magisterium (teaching authority) of the Orthodox Church is framed by Holy Tradition, e.g., the Nicene Creed, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Divine Liturgy, the Church Fathers, etc. Decree 12 explains in greater detail how the Holy Spirit through the Church Fathers keeps the Orthodox Church free from error. (Leith p. 496)

The Synod encouraged all Orthodox Christians to hear the Bible, a reference to the Scripture reading during the Liturgy. However in Question 1, it discouraged private reading of Scripture unless one had been properly trained in the interpretation and meaning of Scripture. (Leith pp. 506-507) Question 2 refutes the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture asserting that certain parts of Scripture are difficult to understand. (Leith p. 507) In Question 3, the canonicity of the Deuterocanonical books (aka Apocrypha)—which many Protestants do not recognize–is upheld. All these point to how Orthodoxy understands and approaches Scripture differently from Protestantism. (Leith pp. 507-508)


Double Predestination

Reformed theology is well known for its doctrine of double predestination. We find that the Orthodox Church holds a different understanding of predestination. The opening sentence of Decree 3 affirmed that God predestines people, but explicitly rejects the doctrine of double predestination.

We believe the most good God to have from eternity predestinated unto glory those whom He has chosen, and to have consigned unto condemnation those whom He has rejected; but not so that He would justify the one, and consign and condemn the other without cause. (Decree 3)

One might wonder how Orthodoxy can affirm God’s eternal decrees while rejecting double predestination. The answer is that unlike Calvinism which teaches unconditional election, Orthodoxy believes that humanity retained the capacity for free will after the Fall and that God in his omniscience foreknew how each person would exercise their free will.

But since He foreknew the one would make a right use of their free-will, and the other a wrong, He predestinated the one, or condemned the other. (Decree 3)

So [he still has] the same nature in which he was created, and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating, so that he is by nature able to choose and do what is good, and to avoid and hate what is evil. (Decree 14)

Decree 3’s statement that God would not justify or condemn “without cause”—a reference to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election—can be understood to teach conditional election, that is, dependent on the moral choices one makes.

It is highly instructive to note how the Jerusalem Synod understood human free will to be the basis for the doctrine of synergy (human cooperation with divine grace). Furthermore, synergy is at work in all people with two different outcomes: salvation or condemnation.

And we understand the use of free-will thus, that the Divine and illuminating grace, and which we call preventing [or, prevenient] grace, being, as a light to those in darkness, by the Divine goodness imparted to all, to those that are willing to obey this — for it is of use only to the willing, not to the unwilling — and co-operate with it, in what it requires as necessary to salvation, there is consequently granted particular grace. This grace co-operates with us, and enables us, and makes us to persevere in the love of God, that is to say, in performing those good things that God would have us to do, and which His preventing grace admonishes us that we should do, justifies us, and makes us predestinated. But those who will not obey, and co-operate with grace; and, therefore, will not observe those things that God would have us perform, and that abuse in the service of Satan the free-will, which they have received of God to perform voluntarily what is good, are consigned to eternal condemnation. (Decree 3)

The Orthodox understanding is that even after the Fall man retains free will and that God bestows prevenient grace on all peoples: “by the Divine goodness imparted to all.”  Furthermore, it understands that prevenient grace “co-operates with us” pointing to the synergistic understanding of salvation in Christ. The application of the doctrine of synergy to the saved and the unsaved can be seen in the two parallel phrases “those that are willing to obey” and “those who will not obey, and co-operate with grace.” Thus, all humanity have received in some measure God’s grace, and have chosen either to respond positively to God’s grace or refuse it.

Decree 3’s affirmation of free will challenges one of the foundational premises of Reformed soteriology: monergism, the teaching that God is the sole source and determiner of our salvation. That is, if we are saved, it is because God so chose to save us, and if we are damned, it is because God in his inscrutable wisdom has chosen this fate for us. There is no room for free will or synergism in the monergistic paradigm of salvation found in Reformed theology.

Reading further into Decree 3, we find the tone of outrage and dismay by the fathers of the Jerusalem Synod at the heartless cruelty implicit in the Reformed doctrine of double predestination. In no uncertain terms, they condemned this teaching as impious and blasphemous.

But then to affirm that the Divine Will is thus solely and without cause the author of their condemnation, what greater defamation can be fixed upon God? and what greater injury and blasphemy can be offered to the Most High?

But of eternal punishment, of cruelty, of pitilessness, and of inhumanity, we never, never say God is the author, who tells us that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.


Sola Fide

In Decree 13, the Confession of Dositheus rejects the core Protestant doctrine sola fide (justification by faith alone):

We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which works through love, that is to say, through faith and works. (Leith p. 496)

They explained that good works is a manifestation or fruit of faith, something quite different from the medieval Roman Catholic understanding of good works as meritorious.

But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becomes efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises {cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10} that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it be good or bad.

The Jerusalem Synod’s brief response to sola fide here most likely reflects the Lutherans giving greater emphasis on sola fide than the Calvinists.


Icons and the Veneration of the Saints

In Question 4, the Jerusalem Synod made a lengthy rebuttal to Reformed iconoclasm. (Leith pp. 508-516). In response to the Calvinists citing the Second Commandment as grounds for the rejection of images, the Jerusalem Synod noted that the Second Commandment was later followed by God instructing Moses to make representations of the cherubim, oxen, and lions that were to be placed in the Temple. By placing the Second Commandment in the broader context, the Jerusalem synod did something Calvinists then and even today fail to do.

Therefore, when we contemplate God Himself saying at one time, “You shall not make for yourself any idol, or likeness; neither shall you adore them, nor serve them;” {Exodus 20:4,5; Deuteronomy 5:8,9} and at another, commanding that Cherubim should be made; {Exodus 25:18} and further, that oxen and lions {1 Kings 7:29} were placed in the Temple, we do not rashly consider the seriousness of these things. For faith is not in assurance; but, as has been said, considering the occasion and other circumstances we arrive at the right interpretation of the same; and we conclude that, “You shall not make for yourself any idol, or likeness,” is the same as saying, “You shall not adore strange Gods,” {Exodus 20:4} or rather, “You shall not commit idolatry.” (Leith p. 510)

The Synod concluded that the Second Commandment is best understood, not as condemning visual representations in places of worship, but rather the worship of false gods.

The Jerusalem Synod defended the veneration of icons by noting that it was an ancient practice going back to the time of the Apostles and that it has been affirmed by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea 787).

And as to the Saints whom they [the Calvinists] bring forward as saying that it is not lawful to adore Icons, we conclude that they [icons] rather help us since they in their sharp disputations inveighed both against those that adore the holy Icons with latria [Gk: adoration], as well as against those that bring the icons of their deceased relatives into the Church. They [the Calvinists] subjected to anathema those that so that, but not against the right adoration, either of the Saints, or of the holy Icons, or of the precious Cross, or of the other things that have been mentioned, especially since the holy Icons have been in the Church, and have been adored by the Faithful even from the times of the Apostles. This is recorded and proclaimed by very many with whom and after whom the Seventh Holy Ecumenical Synod puts to shame all heretical impudence. (Leith p. 510)

Related to the veneration of icons is the veneration of saints.

Since the Saints are and are acknowledged to be intercessors by the Catholic Church, as has been said in the Eighth Decree, it is time to say that we honor them as friends of God, and as praying for us to the God of all.

The Orthodox understanding of Christ’s resurrection strongly influenced its understanding that some kind of fellowship exists between the Church Militant on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven, and that the saints are present before the throne of God. This contrasts sharply with the general practice of Calvinists and other Protestants of barely giving attention to the dead after their burial.


Other Differences

The Reformed tradition favored the presbyterian polity, a form of church government typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters (elders). This is contrary to historic episcopacy in which the bishop’s authority rested in his being part of the chain of apostolic succession. For this reason the Jerusalem Synod felt obliged to defend the historic episcopacy (Decree 10).

Decrees 15 to 17 cover the sacraments in general, and baptism and the Eucharist in particular. The Jerusalem synod affirmed the necessity of infant baptism and rejected the notion of rebaptism. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is affirmed. What is interesting to note is that Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation is rejected and the real presence defined in terms very much like the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantation. This resemblance can be seen in the use of Aristotelian categories of substance and accidents. (Decree 17, Leith p. 503; see also Ware p. 97) The Confession stressed that the real presence is not something that can be explained. (Leith p. 504) It goes on to insist that the only valid Eucharist are those celebrated by an Orthodox priest authorized by a canonical Orthodox bishop. (Leith p. 505)

With respect to the afterlife, the Jerusalem Synod taught that upon death the soul departs either to joy or sorrow and that this is a temporary state until the resurrection, when the soul shall be reunited with the body (Decree 18; Leith p. 505). It also affirmed the efficacy of praying for the dead – a practice most Protestants avoid.


Summary and Conclusion

Whether or not Cyril Lucaris was in fact a Calvinist, the Confession of Dositheus makes it clear in no uncertain terms that it rejected Reformed theology. It repudiated the heart of Reformed soteriology through its rejection of double predestination, unconditional election, and by its affirmation of human free will after the Fall along with the synergistic understanding of salvation (Decree 3). Furthermore, it rejected other core Protestant doctrines: sola fide (Decree 13), sola scriptura (Decree 2). With respect to worship practices, Reformed iconoclasm is rejected (Question 4).

In light of its universal reception by Orthodoxy, the Confession of Dositheus can be considered the definitive dogmatic response by the Orthodox Church to Reformed theology. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Church noted:

While the doctrinal decisions of general councils are infallible, those of a local council or an individual bishop are always liable to error; but if such decisions are accepted by the rest of the Church, then they come to acquire Ecumenical authority (i.e. a universal authority similar to that possessed by the doctrinal statements of an Ecumenical Council). (pp. 202-203)

Thus, the Confession of Dositheus represents Orthodoxy’s official and definitive response to Calvinism. The Jerusalem Council’s rejection of so many of Protestantism’s core doctrines (sola fide and sola scriptura), as well as the Reformed tradition’s distinctive soteriology and ecclesiology, means that irreconcilable differences exist between the two traditions. So while the two traditions may share common ground with respect to the Trinity and Christology, they are far apart on so many other doctrines.

Cyril Lucaris’ pro-Reformed sympathies in the 1629 Confession had a positive influence on Orthodoxy. It forced the Orthodox Church to grapple with many of its implicitly held beliefs leading it to restate them with greater clarity and precision. Jaroslav Pelikan notes:

When Cyril Lucaris composed his Eastern Confession of the Christian Faith, he strove to adhere to official orthodoxy on the two basic dogmas and to use the official silence of the church on other questions as a warrant to graft Protestantism onto his Eastern Orthodoxy. The outcome of the controversy over his confession showed that the East in fact believed and taught much more than it confessed, but it was forced to make its teachings confessionally explicit in response to the challenge. (p. 283)

Thus, the Confession of Dositheus is immensely helpful for people who wish to compare and contrast Orthodoxy against Calvinism (the Reformed tradition). It is also very useful for Orthodox Christians who wish to defend their religion against their Reformed critics.

Robert Arakaki


Primary Sources

Confession of Cyril Lucaris” (1629) at The Voice by Christian Research Institute. David Brachter, ed.
The Confession of Dositheus (Eastern Orthodox, 1672)” at The Voice by Christian Research Institute. David Brachter, ed.
Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in the Sixteenth Century

Secondary Sources

Anthony J. Khokhar. “The ‘Calvinist Patriarch’ Cyril Lucaris and his Bible translations.”
John H. Leith, ed. Creeds of the Churches. “The Confession of Dositheus (1673),” pp. 485-517.
Jaroslav Pelikan. The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). The Christian Tradition Volume 2.
Josiah Trenham.  Rock and Sand.
Timothy (Kallistos) Ware. The Orthodox Church.



Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire?

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire?

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire?


This is a response to a long and interesting comment by ‘Prometheus’, a frequent visitor to the OrthodoxBridge.  Part I contains Prometheus’ comment and Part II my response.

I underscored parts of Prometheus’ lengthy comment as a way of assisting the reader.


Part I.  Prometheus wrote:


Your thoughts are pertinent as ever, but this hermeneutical problem is not limited to Protestantism. When Orthodoxy faces crises, it has not always been clear which side one should stand on. During the controversy over Arianism, the process was not simple nor immediate. But the church trusted God to lead them the right way, even if there was a lot of disagreement. At some point what became the recognized church excommunicated those who at the time still thought they were the true church. So, “in the moment” so to speak, it doesn’t seem that Orthodoxy gives any clear stability when there is a crisis. The problem with Apostolic succession, too, is that when there is a crisis, there is not agreement as to what constitutes Apostolic succession. Then one resorts to consensus . . . and the church as a whole has to accept the decision of the fathers (i.e. the priesthood of all believers is involved). All this seems much messier than you make it out to be. Your faith, then, seems to be not in the Orthodox tradition being less messy, but in the Orthodox church itself. This same type of faith is fairly true about those in Protestantism who have not examined their presuppositions . . . they trust in the Bible itself (or, less critically, in their denomination). While I know that the Orthodox don’t see the Orthodox-Oriental split in the same light, nor the East-West schism, I would submit that these are the types of denominational splits that predate Protestantism. For someone who would like something more solid than the current fragmentation of Protestantism, I think it is great to look back at history . . . but it keeps throwing the same kinds of problems at us that we are trying to avoid: disagreement, disunity, and schism. Certainly a conscious pursuit of ‘tradition’ has helped keep these groups from fracturing nearly as much as Protestantism, but it hasn’t kept it from happening altogether . . . and some of us find ourselves scratching our heads still and saying, “how do we know which is the true church.” I would also like to add that at least on the literalistic level, the Bible contains books that are like any other. They can be read and understood without a controlling body of tradition. We believe that Shakespeare wrote intelligible plays and that they can be read with more intelligence when we know the background of their writing. But we don’t confuse that with the need for an “official” tradition to interpret Shakespeare for us. Certainly there will be varieties of interpretation . . . but that doesn’t mean that each variety is equally valid. Some people will have down-right wacko interpretations. Again, that doesn’t undermine the validity of a better interpretation, nor does it even give us the need for a special interpretive tradition. But even if we grant that there is a good interpretive tradition for Shakespeare, that doesn’t mean all of its individual interpretations are correct. The good use of interpretive tradition in literature includes an ability to critique that tradition when it butts up against the literature or other information we can gather from the time period. What the Orthodox and Catholic churches have, is a tradition that resists change, but that cannot itself be corrected. Now this is all fine if they are true. But if they resist correction by data inasmuch as they may have been distorted from original tradition (compare how the Bible’s manuscripts have come down to us with variations and how in that sense they are distorted; what is the likelihood that the Church’s tradition hasn’t had that kind of distortion as well?), then there are serious problems. The problem with Protestant traditions is that they tend to deny that they are traditions and then impose themselves very rigidly on people (e.g. there is a sense in which sola scriptura is at odds with the other solas because the others limit our ability to critique them using sola scriptura; logically, then, you could say you believe in sola scriptura but deny what scripture teaches because you have an a priori commitment to sola fide or some such).

I say all this knowing that there are some seriously good reasons to doubt the doctrine of sola scriptura, and that Christ did speak about revealing truth to his disciples. But I still don’t see how Orthodoxy can escape some of these critiques . . . in addition, I don’t want to have to affirm anything that, for one who spends a lot of time in the Greek text of the New Testament, directly contradicts what is said therein. Sorry if this is not helpful, I just am looking for a way to resolve my own doubts regarding the unity of the early church.



Part II.  My Response to Prometheus:


Thank you for your thoughtful comment.  Rather than respond with another long comment, I think it would be better if I wrote a response article.  I titled this article “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire?” because the basic question you posed in your comment comes down to whether the same problems in Protestantism – disagreement, disunity, and schism — can likewise be found in Orthodoxy.


“Without a Controlling Body of Tradition”

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Your attempt to liken the Bible to the works of William Shakespeare while interesting doesn’t touch upon the central problem of hermeneutics.  The greatest controversy over Shakespeare’s works has more to do with authorship than with how to interpret his plays.  I would agree with you that as a literary work the Bible is accessible to the intelligent reader and does not require a key to decode its message.  But you overstate your position when you say that Scripture can be understood “without a controlling body of tradition.”



constitution_quill_penThis would be akin to saying that one can read and understand the US Constitution apart from the entity called the United States of America or apart from the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court.  Hypothetically, a group of Africans or Asians could find the US Constitution inspiring and organize their particular village along the lines of the Constitution but this would be farthest thing than what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted it!  There is currently a controversy between the originalist and the progressive readings of the First Amendment establishment clause.  As it became problematic to assert that the Founding Fathers had intended a church-state separation (the originalist approach), separationists find themselves resorting to a progressive/evolutionary reading of the Constitution, i.e., to read the First Amendment in light of the Founding Fathers’ “progressively evolving intentions” (see Grenda).  The most salient or most critical question here is whether the Bible is just a human document like the US Constitution subject to changing circumstances or divinely inspired as has been recognized by the Church.

When you used the phrase “without a controlling body of tradition,” you seem to imply that the Bible can be read apart from the Qahal/Ecclesia (assembly of the faithful).  This could lead to anachronistic views, e.g., the Gospels written as modern biography or Genesis and Exodus were written as scientific history.  Divorcing these biblical books from their social and ecclesial contexts leads to all sorts of difficulties.  For example, the creation account in Genesis becomes susceptible to a dogmatic literal six 24 hour day interpretation.  Also, the Gospels then become subject to modern historiography that supposedly underlie the quest for the historical Jesus.  So are you sure you want to divorce Scripture from the ecclesial context as you imply with the statement that Scripture can be read apart from “a controlling body of tradition”?

Let me ask an empirical question: Did there exist in the early Church a “controlling body of tradition”?  The answer is: Yes.  The early Church had the Regula Fidei (Rule of Faith) – a shared set of beliefs and metanarrative about Jesus Christ and the redemption of the cosmos.  If you are interested, there is Paul Blowers’ article “The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith” in which he discussed the complex character of the Regula Fidei among the early Christians.  The article is nuanced and sophisticated in its use of early Christian sources and its interaction with modern scholars like N.T. Wright.  I urge you to read it and learn more about the “controlling body of tradition” in the early Church.  The only criticism I have of Blowers’ article is that he overlooked or neglected the critical role played by early liturgical worship in the telling and transmission of the Regula Fidei.  The Regula Fidei was more than a set of teachings, it was also a set of practices: liturgical worship, Eucharist, Baptism, and baptismal creeds.  The Regula Fidei was lived out through the worship life of the church Sunday by Sunday.  The early Christians received it as part of a tradition received from the Apostles, not something excavated from the Biblical text.  Scripture was part of a received tradition and interpreted from the standpoint of that received tradition.

Let me ask you a normative question: Is there a need for a “controlling body of tradition”?  If the Scriptures were written as a covenant document, then the answer is: Yes.  Jesus’ claim to being the Messiah, his instituting the Lord’s Supper and his Great Commission all point to covenant language.  The Bible is binding not just because it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit but also because it is a covenant document written under the authority of the suzerain for a covenant community.  Genesis and Exodus were patterned after the suzerain treaties of the ancient Near East.  Similarly, the prophetic books written by Isaiah and Jeremiah would be incomprehensible unless one knew of the covenant obligations set forth in Exodus and Deuteronomy.  Now if there exist a covenant and a covenant people, then there must be a established authority structure for the interpretation of the covenant document (Scripture).  You seem to imply that there is no need for a covenant leadership structure for the reading of Scripture.  It would be like saying a non-American can read and adequately understand the US Constitution just as much as an American citizen.  It would be like a law professor telling his students they could if they pleased ignore the rulings of the Supreme Court.  Is that what you are trying to say?  I hope not.  But if you do agree with my position that the Bible must be read as a covenant document meant to frame and guide life in a covenant community then we must ask: Where is that covenant community is to be found?  This leads to your questions as to whether Orthodoxy is all that different from Protestantism.


Non-Historic Churches versus Historic Churches

The main point I wanted to put across in “Deja Vu All Over Again” was that Protestantism is especially prone to conflicting interpretations and to church splits.  This is not to say there were no divisions or different theologies among the early Christians but that there is a distinctly different quality about Protestantism in comparison with the historic Christian churches: Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the Oriental Orthodox churches.

Historic Churches

There are two types of churches: (1) historic churches that can trace their histories back to the original Apostles and (2) non-historic churches that have no direct ties to the original Apostles.  For example, among the historic churches there are three major options: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Oriental Orthodox.  The Antiochian Orthodox claims to have roots going back to Acts 11.  Roman Catholicism claims that St. Peter founded the church in Rome.  And the Coptic Orthodox Church claims that the Evangelist Mark founded the church in Egypt in AD 55.

It is a sad fact that these churches are no longer in communion with each other.  Thus, if the new convert were to decide which church to make their home, they would need to examine some basic issues.  With respect to the difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism one key issue is the Pope’s claim to a universal authority over all Christians and his claim to infallibility.  With respect to Orthodoxy one would have to look at Orthodoxy’s claim to have preserved the Apostolic Faith intact over the past two millennia.  With respect to the Oriental Orthodox one would need to decide whether or not the Oriental Orthodox were right in rejecting the Christological definitions put forward at the Fourth Ecumenical Council and by Pope Leo in his Tome.  Also, one must reckon with the fact that Oriental Orthodoxy has a very small presence in the US and Europe compared with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

A modern day inquirer who reads extensively might raise the issue of lesser known groups like the Old Believers who separated from the Russian Orthodox Church or the Sedevacantists or Old Catholics who separated from the Roman Catholic Church.  In addition, there are Celtic Catholic churches and Celtic Evangelical churches.  From a practical standpoint these groups are miniscule splinter groups.

If someone were to ask me how to find the true Church, I would answer: Start with the Book of Acts then follow the historical evidence that leads to where the Church is today.  Following the Apostles and their generation of disciples we find the Apostolic Fathers like Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and the book The Didache.  Then a little later we find the Apologists: Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Diognetus, Tertullian, etc.  By the time of 200s and 300s we come across the more well known Church Fathers: Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius the Great, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, et al.  From the fourth to the sixth centuries we encounter the Ecumenical Councils.  The task of the inquirer is to sift through the complex interweaving strands of debates, theological terms, and personalities and discern which particular group held fast to the Apostolic Faith.  In addition to the primary sources one can make use of J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines, Jaroslav Pelikan’s five volume The Christian Doctrine, and a church history text like Willison Walker’s A History of the Christian Church.

If this seems all too overwhelming there are three crux issues the inquirer can examine: (1) the two natures of Christ controversy and Leo’s Tome (Chalcedonian versus Non-Chalcedonian), (2) the Filioque clause (Roman Catholicism versus Eastern Orthodoxy), and (3) sola fide and sola scriptura (Roman Catholicism versus Protestantism).

For most people I recommend they visit the Liturgy of the local Orthodox parish and ask: Is this the same way the early Christian worship?  Is the faith taught at the Liturgy the Apostolic Faith?


Non-Historic Churches

Luther Invoking Sola Scriptura at the Diet of Wurms

Luther Breaking Ties with the Roman Catholic Church

Protestantism comprises churches that have no historic ties going back to the original Apostles.  Protestantism’s historic roots only goes as far as 1500 because of their rejection of Rome’s magisterium and because of Rome’s excommunication of Luther and his followers.  The fact that Protestants are denied access to Communion in the Roman Catholic Church is a visible sign of their broken ties with the original Apostles.

So if a new Christian convert were to look at the Yellow Pages listing of Protestant churches, he or she would have many decisions to make.  Take baptism, should baptism be by total immersion or is sprinkling okay?  If the former, then one should become a Baptist; if the latter, then one should become a Presbyterian or Methodist.  And if one desires one’s children to be baptized then the Baptists are definitely out, and one should consider the Lutherans or Anglicans.  If one believes in predestination then one should join a Reformed church but if one believes in free will then one should join either the Baptists or Methodists.  Then if one wanted to become Lutheran, one has a choice of ELCA, Missouri Synod, and Wisconsin Synod.  If one wants to become a Presbyterian, one has many more choices: PCUSA, PCA, OPC, RCA, CREC, ECO, Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, etc.  If one wants to be a Baptist, one has the choice of Southern Baptist, American Baptist, General Baptist, Freewill Baptist, or Landmark Baptist. Then, one also has to decide whether one should be a Pentecostal if one wants to experience the Holy Spirit or if one wishes to see signs and wonders. Or another issue is whether one is interested in social justice, if that is the case then one will wish to check out the more liberal mainline liberal churches.  More recently, there have been differences over whether sexual morality should be redefined and whether hell is real. The problem here is choice, choices, and even more choices!

From my experience as an Orthodox Christian I can say there is substantial agreement with respect to theology, worship, and practice.  Among the Eastern Orthodox churches the differences are mostly that of ethnic origins: Greek, Russian, Syrian, Bulgarian, etc.  One will not find differences in worship style, like contemporary praise band versus ‘traditional’ hymns, or high church versus low church.  If there are disagreements among Orthodox it is likely to be over pews versus no pews, or mixed language services versus all English services, or old calendar versus new calendar.  These differences are minor compared to fundamental theological issues that split Protestant churches.  This shows up most clearly in their worship. Many Protestants within the same denomination will not allow another pastor to substitute for the one they have now because they do not trust one another theologically. But Greek, ROCOR, OCA, and Antiochian Orthodox priests get a pass to substitute in leading the liturgy for each other in a routine way. Their differences are most administrative.


The Messiness of History

You asked: In light of the messiness of church history, how do I know which church is the true church?  Among the historic churches you have three choices: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Oriental Orthodoxy.  You should study the issue the best you can, ask God for wisdom and discernment, and then make your commitment.  Some might point out that I am advocating the use of private judgment and that “everyone knows” that private judgment is very prone to error.  My response is that I am advocating personal judgment on the basis that even fallen human beings have the ability to think and to make choices, and that God desires that no one perish (2 Peter 3:9).  The Orthodox doctrine of synergy recognizes our ability to respond to God’s gracious initiative even despite our fallen condition.

You complained: It doesn’t seem that Orthodoxy gives any clear stability when there is a crisis.  I’m not sure what you mean by that.  Do you wish that there was a five point formula by which an early Christian could check off to determine if a bishop or council went rogue?  The controversies that wracked the early Church can be considered growing pains as the early Christians sought to understand the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity.  Out of these controversies the Latin and Byzantine churches emerged with a theological consensus informed by the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.  The tragedy of the Non-Chalcedonian churches may lie in the fact that these church bodies lay outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire.  Similarly, the Schism of 1054 has roots in the growing cultural difference between the Latin West and the Byzantine East.

If you are wondering what advice I would give to a Christian caught up in such circumstances in the early Church, I would say: “Follow your bishop so long as he in communion with the Bishop of Rome and the other ancient patriarchates.”  I would not say: “Read the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind on the matter.”  The main thing is that the battles that led to the Ecumenical Councils are over and done with.  We can visit the site of Gettysburg Battle and learn important lessons, but we don’t need to recreate the battle by shooting live bullets and bayoneting fellow Americans all over again!

My apologia for Eastern Orthodoxy is basically that the Holy Spirit guided the early Church, protected her against heresy, and that correct doctrine can be found in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.   Second, the unity of the early Church was manifested in the Pentarchy comprised of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  I reject Oriental Orthodoxy because they do not formally accept all Seven Ecumenical Councils and that their rejection of Leo’s Tome and the Fourth Council resulted in schism with the Pentarchy.  I reject Roman Catholicism because I came to the conclusion that the insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed was an unauthorized theological and liturgical innovation.  And, when it came to the issue of the Filioque I had to choose between Rome and the other four historic patriarchates.  Was Rome alone right and the other four wrong?  And who changed?  Rome or the other four patriarchates?  My conclusion is that despite Rome’s long history of doctrinal conservatism, by the year 1054 the Bishop of Rome went his own way when he unilaterally inserted a doctrinal novelty the Filioque into the Nicene Creed and refused to heed the objections of his fellow patriarchs. This also set a pattern that haunts Rome to this day in yielding to the pressure of social and for political power. 

History is messy but one has to make a choice.  Central to my critiques of Protestant theology is that its principle of sola scriptura is fundamentally flawedSola Scriptura renders Protestantism theologically incoherent and ecclesially fractured.  This is based on a historical and sociological analysis.  I am willing to debate the issue but my question to those who disagree is: Then what do you see is the underlying cause of Protestantism’s fissiparous nature?  Those who wish to remain Protestant should be able to give a good theologically sound apologia or else their position ends up becoming: I’m Protestant because I like being a Protestant, not because I have good reasons for being Protestant.  

I often wonder if people confuse the statement “the Orthodox Church is the true Church” with “the Orthodox Church is a perfect Church.”  It seems that the expectation is that if Orthodoxy is true then it will never have experienced schism, no breakaway groups, and no bishop or patriarch espousing heresy.  Rather, the Orthodox Church is a battle scarred survivor that despite its great suffering and great conflicts has faithfully held fast to the Apostle Tradition for two thousand years.

You alleged that my faith is not so much in Tradition as in the Orthodox Church.  You wrote: “Your faith, then, seems to be not in the Orthodox tradition being less messy, but in the Orthodox church itself.”  My response to that is: My trust is in Jesus Christ who is faithful to his promises that (1) he would establish his Church which would withstand the gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18) and that (2) he would send the Holy Spirit to guide his Church into all truth (John 16:13).

Protestant Diagnostics

You wrote that the problem with Protestantism is that they deny having traditions and that this leads them to impose their traditions “very rigidly” on people.  You also asserted that the good use of tradition calls for critical appropriation of tradition and against competing interpretations at the time.

The good use of interpretive tradition in literature includes an ability to critique that tradition when it butts up against the literature or other information we can gather from the time period.

Such an approach would lead to revisiting of ancient theological controversies settled by the early Church Councils, e.g., Arianism (the denial of Christ’s full divinity), Modalism (the denial of the Trinity), Montanism (ecstatic prophecy equally authoritative to Scripture), or Gnosticism (the denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ).  Protestantism’s lack of a binding interpretive tradition has opened the door to these ancient heresies.  Are you calling for an open hermeneutics that allow for these views?

I suspect that you may be arguing for an open hermeneutics that can provide balance to extreme positions like the young earth creationism reading of Genesis popular among Evangelicals.  The problem here is that certain Evangelicals in their zeal to uphold the authority and inspiration of Scripture have elevated certain interpretation of Scripture to the level of dogma apart of the Church Catholic.  Lacking the binding authority of the Ecumenical Councils and falling back on the opinions of certain individuals or denominational groups Protestant hermeneutics has become profoundly and tragically fragmented.  The proper diagnosis here is not the absence of a flexible interpretive tradition.  Rather, what is tragically missing is the absence of a universally binding interpretive Holy Apostolic Tradition that provides unity and constrains extreme interpretations of Scripture.

To return to the debate between the two Presbyterian groups in Fr. Andrew’s article “My Presbyterian Field Trip,” the PCUSA and ECO, how does your proposal for a flexible and self-critical interpretive tradition prove helpful?  Is it not a fact that the PCUSA as a denomination has been quite open to new interpretations?  Would you then agree with those calling for a Third Way that for all these years the Christian Church’s prohibition against homosexuality has been based on a misreading of Scripture?  Would you also then assert that conservatives like ECO are too rigid in their interpretive tradition?   Would you like Adam Hamilton call for a local option in which there is freedom to “agree to disagree”?  Your possibilities, if you are Protestant, are legion and troubling.



Greek New Testament

Greek New Testament

Greek New Testament

You suggested that textual variation in Bible manuscripts are distortions that require corrections, and that the original Apostolic Tradition has in a similar fashion undergone distortion and thus require a similar kind of correction.  You are exaggerating the situation here.  Yes, there have been transmission errors but the text we have today is recognizably similar to the original text. For your analogy to hold there ought to have been a pattern of multiple textual traditions resulting in several different New Testaments with several different kerygmas (core messages).  More apropos is the struggle in the early Church to define the New Testament canon, especially to exclude heretical books.  Can you imagine if different churches had different canons and different creeds?!  Fortunately, that was not the case.  The early bishops did such a good job that the pseudepigrapha have become little known curiosities.  Why? Because the Holy Spirit led the Church as Christ promised He would. Otherwise you would now have canonical chaos. The fact that the biblical canon is more or less a settled matter is something most Christians take for granted.

You closed with the statement that you don’t want to affirm anything that contradicts the Greek text of the New Testament.  That is why it is important for someone in your position to check out Orthodoxy before committing to the Orthodox Church.  I suggest you make a list of Orthodox teachings or New Testament passages that you find problematic, then write to me using the Contact form provided on the Home Page.  Or you can forward these questions to an Orthodox priest knowledgeable in these matters or an Orthodox seminary professor.

Should you begin to seriously consider becoming Orthodox, the issue you will need to confront is the Orthodox Church’s stance that the Byzantine Text is the preferred text for teaching and instructing in the faith.  Keep in mind that Orthodox scholars do use the Critical Text for their research so conversion to Orthodoxy might not be all that restrictive for someone in your position.  If you have any further question on this matter, I suggest you write to an Orthodox seminary professor who engages in biblical studies.


Into the Fire?

Is Orthodoxy theologically coherent?  In comparison to the diversity of beliefs and practices found in mainline Protestantism and popular Evangelicalism, the Orthodox Church is remarkably coherent.  If one talks with an Orthodox priest one will find consistency with respect to their Christology, doctrine of the Trinity, the real presence in the Eucharist, the liturgical form of worship, the sinfulness of abortion and same sex marriage.  And what Orthodox priests teach will be consistent with the teachings of the early Church Fathers.  What inquirers need to keep in mind is that the divisions among the historic churches are quite few in comparison with Protestantism.  Furthermore, the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox churches have demonstrated a doctrinal and liturgical stability remarkable in comparison to that found in Western Christianity, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.  So to answer the question: Is converting from Protestantism to Orthodoxy like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire?  My answer is: No.  Orthodoxy has its problems but it has a stability of faith and worship that bears witness to its faithfulness to Apostolic Tradition.

Robert Arakaki


Paul M. Blowers.  1997.  “The Regula Fidei and the Narrative Character of Early Christian Faith,” Pro Ecclesia 6, pp. 199-228.

Christopher S. Grenda.  2013.  “Giving Up on the Founding: The Separation of Church and State and the Writing of Establishment Clause HistoryPolitics and Religion (June), pp. 402-434.


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