Discussing Orthodoxy with Evangelicals 

  The topic of religion comes up occasionally in conversation for various reasons. When I explain that I am an Orthodox Christian, most Americans either give me a blank stare or simply say that they are unfamiliar. Sometimes they ask, “like Greek Orthodox?” I say, “yes, what do you know about it?” The answers are then either, “nothing” or “isn’t it like Catholic?” Most of these conversations occur with those of a Protestant background. Most Protestants, particular those of a non-liturgical brand, are quite anti-Catholic, so it isn’t always possible to have much of a dialogue.  Today, I had such a conversation with the wife of an Evangelical Christian Pastor. She was not familiar, but was happy to learn more about it. She was not critical in any way, and said that she thought it was “neat.” She then did want to share that their church just focused on teaching that a person should love Jesus. She also told me that they believe in a priesthood of all believers and that they know that it is not “necessary” to have an intermediary to Jesus. I did not debate theology. I simply told her that I am glad that she loves Jesus, which is genuine.  There are far better discourses on the various concerns, questions, or disagreements about Orthodox Theology from a Protestant perspective. I just thought I would share some of my thoughts. If you have seen my profile, you know that I grew up with a Catholic mother who went to church twice a year. My father was of the Evangelical Protestant mindset when I grew up. My dad and I converted at about the same time. Before this, I always considered myself Protestant, thought not a very good one. So, I have worshiped in all three traditions. During my conversion, and even now, my most heated discussions are with non-liturgically minded Protestants. I would like to share why I am disappointed in many of their ideas now that I have studied our Faith. We know that Martin Luther was disappointed in the leadership and direction of the Latin Church in the 16th C. But, he never intended to start a new branch of Christianity; He was a reformer. But, that is exactly what happened. The branch now has thousands of smaller branches. In my area, most of these are “community” churches, or “bible” churches. From my perspective, and I know this feeling is shared, these groups have thrown the baby out with the bath water. There are too many varying doctrines to try to discuss in this blog. Instead, I would rather defend historical Orthodoxy from another perspective. Why do Americans think they can open the doors of a new building, slap a name on it, and claim to know more than those who brought their books and their faith through two millennia of suffering, prayer, and teachings? There are two main themes that I hear from Protestants: Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone). The other arguments seem to start from this perspective.  Along with believing that the bible is the only authority and that a simple proclamation of faith is necessary for salvation, there is another pervasive problem: capitalism. Now I am a red blooded American who wholly espouses free enterprise. But, our culture has continued toward an arrogance of self. Our culture is one of greed, arrogance, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement. There just seems to be very little respect of others left. Children even commonly address aunts and uncles by their first names. This prevailing sense of self-entitlement has invaded the new American brands of Christianity. We confess our sins to no man. We understand God’s message in our own Bible, irrespective of traditional understanding or teachers. Our minds in isolation are all we need. God will tell us. If I proclaim my belief in “Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” then the Holy Spirit will “lead” the reader to the correct understanding. Based on the evidence that this has led to 2,000 or more sects of Protestant belief, one has to assume this isn’t working out very well. Certainly no sane follower would argue that Jesus has 2,000 different versions of the Truth.  My father was challenged about many of the Orthodox Liturgical Practices by a guest of his, a Protestant. His response was both direct and cutting, but also valid. He said, “why are you asking me to justify the practices of the Church that has existed since Pentecost? It represents 2,000 years of Tradition, handed down from Christ through his Apostles. I would rather you justify why you would deviate from that? Why do you think you can just cast aside 2,000 years of theology and tradition and assume that you know better?” he asked. The answer, in my opinion, is that this is how Americans are taught to think about everything. We don’t respect tradition or culture. We don’t respect our elders. We think we know better than everybody else. Our young think they should be promoted to CEO within a month of starting a new job.  The fact is that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is hard work! The idea of martyrdom had a central place in the outlook of early christians. Our Traditions were brought to us by holy men and women who died for their faith. They were fed to lions, sawn in two, burned, stabbed, tortured, and more. They persevered ‘til the end (Matt 24:13). Are we, who think our “belief” entitles us to a job in the corner office with annual 4% raises, really so arrogant. I posit that we in fact are that arrogant. I listened, for some odd reason, to a televangelist talk about how he had so many beautiful suits and a great deal of money because he was a good believer. If you want more, he said, have more faith and God will “bless you” with more things. This is prosperity gospel at its worst.  American culture was built on ingenuity, determination, and hard work. I admire that about our history. I love reading about our great minds and our work ethic. But, we are losing that in favor of this new sense of entitlement. I just finished reading about the Wright Brothers. They changed the world with their invention. The biographer writes that the most common thing that was noticed about the brothers was how humble they were. Success never changed them. Why did we as a society lose this virtue? Orthodoxy does teach love. Christ is love. I recently blogged about what this means. Remember, the highest expression of love is when a man is willing to give his life for another. Orthodoxy does have Tradition. It is Liturgical. It is structured. We do confess our sins. We must practice humility. We are called to be ascetics. Our most famous writings are about how we are to pray without ceasing. Liturgy is the work of the people. Orthodoxy, properly practiced, is not for the weak or the slothful. Many of the things that drew me to the Church are the things that are most questioned. I wanted spiritual guidance. I love the icons, the imagery. The architecture is beautiful. The music is natural, not synthetic or modern. It has its own beauty. I can travel on any given weekend and hear the same readings in the same Liturgy in another parish as I would have at home. Yes, we honor those great martyrs of the past. We honor the Apostles, who were hand- picked by Christ Himself. We honor the one woman in human history that God chose to be the vessel through which He became incarnate. Yes, we humble ourselves to the direction of spiritual mentors, priests, and bishops. We fast nearly two-thirds of the year by prescription. We light candles. We have monasteries where the monks and nuns spend their lives praying. They pray for themselves, the Church, and the salvation of others. AND, we are sacramental. We anoint the sick; we baptize all believers–yes infants too; we chrismate–anoint with oil; we repent and confess our sins; we marry–a man to a woman; we celebrate the Eucharist, or communion; we bury our dead AND WE PRAY FOR THEM; and, we ordain men into the clergy: deacons, priests, and bishops. Everything I just mentioned is prescribed in Scripture by Christ or one of his disciples. I have blogged on a couple of these topics specifically and will probably address the others over time.  I will address many of our practices specifically in future posts if I haven’t already. But to summarize here, we Americans should know where we came from. We seem to be casting aside the great things we learned from great Americans and from Church leaders who sacrificed all to bring the Truth of Christ’s message. Wouldn’t it be great for those whose church is “new” by historical standards to ask, “I wonder why we don’t do it the way the historical Church does it?” instead of the challenging way that most ask why the Church Worships as it does?

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4 thoughts on “Discussing Orthodoxy with Evangelicals 

  1. Quite insightful. I especially like to be reminded of our need to be humble. Since I live overseas and travel extensively, I am witness constantly to the amazing wealth of our country and more and more, our lack of gratitude and humility. Our Orthodox Church demands and requires our submission which is sorely lacking in our Country and our new brand of self. Thanks again Aaron for reminding me and U.S. Of what we have gained by our Conversion.

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  2. Very well written. I liked your dad’s response at the beginning of the post. I also agree that we must never be arrogant about our faith, but approach the subject, or defend or faith boldly, yet with humility, patience and love.

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  3. It is an easy task to delineate the differences Orthodoxy has compared to Protestantism and to defend our Liturgical lives. The problem I see in my discussions is the unwillingness among many Orthodox Christians to personally invite a non Orthodox to a service. If the invitation is accepted and witnessed I have found that evangelization is more easily discussed. We must see that spreading the Faith is augmented with action. The hard work of Orthodoxy is being so comfortable with it that our love for it shines in our daily lives.

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    1. I very much appreciate your comments about evangelization. Protestant persons who are willing to attend a service are already expressing enough interest that they would be easier to talk with about the Faith. But, to your point, the work of the Liturgy is the best evangelical “tool” available. It reminds me of the two emissaries who declared to the crown, “We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth!” So, I appreciate that you remind us the one area where we really can learn from our Evangelical friends—inviting people to church.
      Thank you for reading, and thank you for your feedback.

      Like

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