Due to the concerns of people I care about sincerely, I wanted to make public my thought process as it pertains to Eastern Orthodoxy.
First, let me begin with what I personally find historically and theologically wrong with the majority of Eastern Orthodoxy. I do not list these things because I intend to teach and convince you of them. Rather, I am giving an honest assessment of my own private opinions based upon my weighing of the Biblical and historical evidence.
- Paedobaptism. Clearly, the Scripture speaks of believers baptism, and such baptism was the dominant mold of the early Church, even in believing families. Paedobaptism is an obvious break with the earliest Church practices, if I were to employ a purely historical method in addressing the question. It is worth noting that Cyprian is the only aberration within the first three centuries of the Church.
- Monarchical Episcopacy. Granted, the Monarchical Episcopacy did universally exist extremely early, but the plain verbiage of the Scripture, Didache, and 1 Clement indicate that even small cities (and probably individual churches) had several Bishops a piece. However, it is worth pointing out that Orthodox ecclesiology may also be rightly derived from the Scriptures.
- Extreme use of icons. The historical case that the ancient Church never used icons cannot be proven. The theology for icons developed over time. Calling them “windows into heaven” probably would have been a very foreign, and strange notion, to the early Church. Plus, it is really unsanitary. Ditto for the Eucharist in which Orthodox partake of it all using the same spoon. This spoon is subsequently put in everyone’s mouth.
- Emphasis on free will. The Eastern Orthodox will admit God can affect the thoughts and desires of man, so that he will freely choose what God ordained for him to choose.* The way this is emphasized between east and west is very different. The Augustinian will emphasize that this shows that God is in complete control of everything. The Eastern Orthodox will emphasize that man’s free will is ultimately responsible over his destiny. Both ultimately are saying the exact same thing, but with the exact opposite emphasis. I personally find the following Orthodox emphasis annoying:
- *Bishop Kallistos Ware writes to be saved that “human free will is an essential condition” (How are we Saved, p. 38), and that God’s grace does not compel us.
- However, the ancient Orthodox champion of free will, John Cassian, concedes: “For the God of all must be held to work in all, so as to incite, protect, and strengthen, but not to take away the freedom of the will which He Himself has once given…God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, [and this] cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man” (John Cassian, Conference 13, Chapter 18).
- The Scripture itself is also clear that no one can come to the Father unless He “draws” them (John 6:44). It is worth pointing out that the word “draw” in the Greek means to compel “a person forcibly against his will” and it is used consistently with this sense in the New Testament.
- Fearing God too much. Man by his free will can apostatize. Man can give into temptation. Man can fail to endure until the end. We ought to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Of course all of these things are true. But “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6) and that “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also” (2 Cor 4:14). So, we may have confidence in the saving work of our God on our behalf, because He loves us. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). We must embrace the mystery of all of the above, but I will always emphasize the strength and love of God over the weakness and deficiency in man.
- Corrupt history. Eastern Orthodoxy is no different than any other corner of Christendom. It has its far share of violence, Byzantine emperors meddling, selling out to Tsars, and Bishops acting nasty. Usually, a point like this would not even come up (I wouldn’t avoid being an Anglican because I don’t like King Henry VIII), but it is relevant when we consider that there is an institutional Church still existing today from Apostolic times, but its outward character is the very opposite of Apostolic.
- Rejection of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. The East rejects this doctrine specifically because it is tied to merits and justice. The Orthodox rightfully teach that God does not require anyone’s merit, nor can injustice be done to Him in any ultimate sense. However, early Eastern believers commonly wrote on Penal Substitutionary Atonement in the past so I cannot in my own mind reject what seems to me a very clear model of the atonement, even if in the modern day it is not appreciated in Orthodox circles.
- Prayers for the dead. The Scripture does say the dead pray for us (Rev 6:10). However, on what basis do we know we can ask other Christians beyond the grave to pray for us? How do we know they can hear our prayers, and so many of them? Why follow a practice that God has not explicitly commanded us to do? While prayers for the dead is not necromancy, I am not 100 percent confident that Saints Mary and Stephen hear my requests for prayers– though, to be honest, a few extremely unlikely answered prayers have occurred recently in my life which would give me greater grounds for confidence that the prayers of deceased brothers and sisters are efficacious.
- Partially obfuscated Gospel. My western mind prefers the cut-and-dry Western, Protestant Gospel. We are saved by faith alone, apart from works, period. The Eastern Orthodox can affirm the same exact thing, but they regularly will not let the conversation end there. When not pressed apologetically, Eastern Orthodox will often extol the role of works in justification because they are aware that faith will not justify man if it is not a faith that produces works. However, they lack a Roman concern for merits, so ultimately works do not merit salvation, but rather works proceed and are a demonstration of man’s cooperation with his salvation from God. Like I said, the Western view is simpler. The Orthodox view most simply can be summed up as, “Works cannot earn salvation to any degree, before or after conversion.” This is true enough.
- It is worth pointing out that Protestantism emphasizes what we are saved from (our sin) and how (the merits of Christ.) Orthodoxy generally glosses over this, opting focus on what we are saved for (theosis–being transformed into the image of God.) We need to emphasize both if we are to present the Gospel in its fullness.
- “Valid sacraments,” though something I can easily infer are important from early Church history, are not emphasized in the Scripture. However, the Scriptures take for granted that taking part in the sacramental life of the Church is part and parcel with being faithful. In my Protestant mind, it is hard to grapple with the idea that the means of taking part with God’s divinity on Earth is tied to a specific, visible institution (apart from “sacraments by desire”).
- The Orthodox Church has not clearly avoided schism, though historically they lay the strongest claim to it. The Oriental, Syriac, and Armenian churches either voluntarily left, or were forced to leave the Church, over the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon–depending who you listen to.
- It is worth pointing out that modern Oriental Orthodox today admit that their doctrine Christologically does not differ with Eastern Orthodoxy. Hence, the whole division was linguistic and ultimately nationalistic. There are accusations that the Egyptians appointed their own Bishops and ultimately this would have been an act of schism, akin to the Novationist and Donatist schisms.
- Further, it appears the Romanists were the schismatics in 1054 AD. The Roman church excommunicated the Orthodox and continued to refuse the Orthodox into communion unless they would allow themselves to be subjugated to Rome. It appeared the Orthodox would maintain communion initially as long as they were not subjugated. Today, the shoe is on the other foot. Pope Francis actually teaches against the conversion of Orthodox to Romanism, as he identifies them as a legitimate Church body. However, Orthodoxy generally rejects Rome as a legitimate Church until they forswear Papal claims to absolute authority.
Now that I proved I am an equal opportunity hater, the following are reasons why I am compelled to choose Eastern Orthodoxy:
- The Gospel. The Gospel does exist within Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s not a works based Gospel. It isn’t a Faith + Works Gospel. It is a Faith Alone, but not a Faith that is alone, Gospel. “The notion of merit is foreign to Eastern tradition…human free will is an essentialy condition, [but] in no way does this signify that salvation can be earned or deserved” (How are we Saved, p. 38). This is the correct Gospel.
- The Gospel has been consistently held for generations. Protestants reject Orthodoxy over prayers for the dead, icons, and the like while ignoring this is how the vast majority of believers have worshiped for all of Christian history. Are all of these people going to Hell? Does Christ’s shed blood now not cover all sins, but only some sins? It would seem to me that God bears with a lot of error on our behalf as long as we like dependent children lean on Him.
- Anti-schism. I want to be careful not to take the Gospel (that Christ forgives all of our sins) and use that as justification to commit any sin I want. The Scripture is specific that certain sins not repented of (greed, lying, homosexuality, adultery, schism) result in damnation. Doctrinal purity is not on that list, but schism is. Yet, the Protestants prize doctrinal purity so much, that they commit the sin of schism to attain it. This, in my mind, is unbiblical and unforgiveable. God warns us not to divide the Church repeatedly. He even gives us a vivid example in Rom 14 and says not to make disputes over matters we know to be clearly wrong (observing Sabbaths for example). We are to be “convinced” in our “own mind” of this or that doctrine, but to keep this between ourselves and God (Rom 14:22). We cannot commit the sin of willful defiance against God in schism for the sake of doctrinal purity, when the Scripture says the exact opposite.
- Matters of dispute. Protestantism has made it an issue that all matters of dispute require schism. Catholicism is the exact opposite, excommunicating people over disputable matters. Orthodoxy contains diversity and allows for disputable matters. For example, most reject any sort of concept of Purgatory, but they will not excommunicate a Bishop that holds to a concept that has certain ideas in common. Should Luther have been excommunicated for his continual defense of the doctrine until 1528? Or do we bear with each others inconsistencies when it pertains to disputable matters?
- The Reformation is not a “tragic necessity.” If the Gospel is still being preached, aren’t all other matters disputable and not worthy of schism?
- Rejection of Forensic Justification. Now, I don’t think Forensic Justification is entirely wrong, or at least I am not convinced of this entirely. However, Forensic Justification alone is too narrow a concept to fully encompass the Biblical teaching of how we are justified. It was never historically held by the Church, never explicitly endorsed in the New Testament (no matter how much the Reformers inferred the concept), and it clearly historically breaks with the Old Testament where “righteousness” can be lost (as in Ezek 18) and must be maintained through continual faithfulness and repentance (manifested in sacrifices, fasting, Sabbaths and the like.) The New Testament made clear that there is a historical break between the legal requirements of the Old and New Covenants. However, nowhere does it say that this discontinuity also applies to the need to be continually repentant and faithful. Salvation is a continual relationship with our redeeming God, for we are “being saved” (1 Cor 1:18, 1 Cor 15:2, 2 Cor 2:15). Ultimately, our salvation is only complete at the Judgement. An emphasis on the transactional nature of Forensic Justification alone obfuscates this Biblical fact, and it in part distorts the truth of the Gospel.
- No concept of being “back slidden.” Because of Forensic Justification, us Protestants have been forced to rationalize extra-biblically how someone who is clearly sinning has not forfeited salvation. We say they are saved, but they are back sliding. In other words, “not positively moving forward with their sanctification” (a concept never mentioned in the Scriptures). We ignore the literal warnings of the Scriptures that such people will not inherit the Kingdom of God, merely saying “they were with us, but not of us.” Just because some people were with us, that does not mean they were all not of us. Further, even if the preceding is true (which ultimately I personally think it is but that’s besides the point), it is wrong to add an extra-biblical inference to our hermeneutic when the Bible literally warns against falling away. We must walk fearfully before God, but with confidence that his faithfulness is greater than our sinfulness.
- Consistent ecclesiology. While we may infer presbyterianism from the Scriptures and the Didache, in no way was this explicit in the Scriptures. However, Orthodox Ecclesiology can also be inferred from the Scriptures. Further, it was explicit in early Church documents very early on, and universally accepted. Interestingly enough, churches in India cut off for almost 1,000 years by Islam maintained the same Ecclesiology and then rejoined Oriental Orthodoxy (and others Catholicism.) While there are few Indian Eastern Orthodox, they maintain a church that is identical in every way other than the acceptance of Chalcedon. Undoubtedly, if the Church is recognizable even after 1,000 years, it has been consistent as if it were preserved in a time capsule. For those who reject the priesthood and Bishoprics of the East, ask yourself, how did the whole Apostolic Church explicitly have all these things as soon as they were commented upon in the third century without exception? If any serious strain of differing thought similar to modern Protestantism existed, it would have come into conflict with the dominant mode of ecclesiology. But, we never see this.
I appreciate your honesty about some of the weaknesses of EO, but not sure you’re completely fair when it comes schism and Protestants.
There was one elephant that wasn’t addressed in the post: What about Scripture and tradition? How have you reconciled or working through those positions?
Concerning sola scriptura, I would affirm the concept as it was understood by the fathers.In short, the Scriptures are alone word for word infallible, and they are sufficient in all matters pertaining to the faith, but just as I cannot read them without a lamp on in my room when its night time, they cannot be understood without the historical consensus of His people.
I cited your link in an upcoming article but I want to read it with more care. My impression is that Calvin affirmed that theosis only happens in the next life–however the Scripture says we are being now transformed into the image of the Lord. So, this is a chink in the Protestant’s armor when they claim that the individual attains to no true righteousness in this life. Mere forensic justification does not work, regardless of the rest of its merits as a doctrine.
Thanks for the response. Could you explain more of what you mean when you say Protestant’s don’t attain true righteousness. I want to respond to some of the other things you wrote a little later. But this one stood out to me. I agree it goes back to Theosis, and it is something I have wondered about for some time. I think what you are learning is quite interesting, and revealing in a very meaningful way. Still not sure that it warrants conversion, but I do agree that it is not insignificant. Any how, thanks again for taking the time to respond. I hope to learn more about Theosis through this exchange.
It is interesting that you picked out the Scripture issue. It’s the one that has bothered me least in Ortodoxy as I think the “differences” in position are not that large and in fact Protestants use sola scriptura as a wedge for private interpretation, which I do not think is legitimate to begin with.
Completely off topic, but of interest to me, is any part of the Orthodox service considered propitiatory like the Mass? Thanks in advance.
“Completely off topic, but of interest to me, is any part of the Orthodox service considered propitiatory like the Mass?”
Yes, the Eucharist. But, the Orthodox liturgy is specific that Christ is only sacrificed once, 2000 years ago. In short, the how can the Eucharist be the same propitiatory sacrifice from 2,000 years ago but we taste and see He is good literally every Sunday after being accepted into communion?
Well, I can say it is simply a paradox, that the Scripture teaches both so we accept both. That’s good enough for me. However, if it helps, I have heard a Priest say that “time travel” is literally occurring. We are mysteriously (hence the word “Mystery/Sacrament”) transported back in time when we partake in the Eucharist. Before you say this is seriously, you believe your sins were paid for on the cross, right? So, last time I checked you sinned in the year 2017. So, some element of time travel is going on, even if we do not know how.
As far as I can tell, the Eucharist is not a good work which wipes out demerits as the Catholics understand it. Repentance wipes out sin in a chronological way, the Eucharist wipes out sin in-as-much Christ’s sacrifice wipes out all sin 2,000 years ago. Without the Eucharist, repentance does not work. Without Christ really coming in the flesh, dying and rising, thee is no Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ, so of course there is a sense, outside of time, i forgives sins. But no, it’s not your weekly delete button on sin.
“Could you explain more of what you mean when you say Protestant’s don’t attain true righteousness.”
I don’t think I said that, or I didn’t mean to. Their model of righteousness, forensic, does not work intellectually. That does not mean union with Christ, which is our righteousness, categorically does not exist.
“I agree it goes back to Theosis, and it is something I have wondered about for some time…I hope to learn more about Theosis through this exchange.”
I am not the best source as an upcoming catechumen. I am sure you read my article in the subject. I will offer this short comment. Salvation is being transformed into the image of Christ. Justification is more than a legal definition, God is correcting the flaws in our nature (the word “justify” in the Greek also means “correct.”) So justification starts in a moment in time where we are right standing with God, but it continues as God corrects our nature, restores what was lost in Adam in us, and transforms us into the image of the Lord. It is a process. Even if justification was not literally used in the Greek this way, which it arguably was three times, the concept is a good and necessary consequence of the Scripture. That’s why it is not objectionable.
“It is a process.”
What process is it, if not sanctification (ie being conformed to the image of Christ, through union with Christ)?
“Even if justification was not literally used in the Greek this way…”
Is it only used in a forensic sense in Scripture as related to how God justifies believers, or is it used differently when God justifies believers?
As I read more, I am learning more about how justification is a status, and righteousness is a quality. Is that what you think is missing/lacking in Protestant sanctification? Here is the link to the article delineating the differences between justification and righteousness if you are interested:
I appreciate the challenge you have raised concerning Theosis. It really has spurred me on to understand it more in relation to justification, sanctification, and glorification.
I read your link, but it is intellectually beyond me. Did you read my article on sanctification? I think, sanctification and justification are the same thing. The Fathers understood this as do Greek speakers for the last 2000 years. (” Since the time of Chrysostom it has been pointed out in the Greek Church that dikaioo could equally well be translated “make upright or righteous” [See David Weaver’s three articles on “The Exegesis of Romans 5:12″ in the St. Vladimir Theological Quarterly, Volume 27.3, 1983, p. 133 ff., volume 27.4, 1983, p. 187 ff. and Volume 28.1, 1984, p.231 ff].” See http://www.brow.on.ca/Articles/JustificationPaul.html)
I find it funny when moderns presume they know a language better than the people who actually spoke it at the time. This, in my mind, settles the issue against the Protestants.
Craig, In my opinion you’re being inconsistent.
“The Gospel has been consistently held for generations. Protestants reject Orthodoxy over prayers for the dead, icons, and the like while ignoring this is how the vast majority of believers have worshipped for all of Christian history. Are all of these people going to Hell? Does Christ’s shed blood now not cover all sins, but only some sins? It would seem to me that God bears with a lot of error on our behalf as long as we like dependent children lean on Him.”
(“For all of Christian history, Vast Majority of Believers”: I’m not sure if this is hyperbolic)
(Key Phrase: Are all of these people going to Hell? Does Christ’s shed blood now not cover all sins, but only some sins?)
Followed by this remark where your inconsistency is found;
“I want to be careful not to take the Gospel (that Christ forgives all of our sins) and use that as justification to commit any sin I want. The Scripture is specific that certain sins not repented of (greed, lying, homosexuality, adultery, schism) result in damnation.”
(I’d add Idolatry to that list and place it firstly and foremost, as Apostle Paul placed it in the secondly on his list of dangerous sins, and as St. John the Apostle or The Elder stated in his 1st Epistle, last chapter, last verse.)
If praying FOR the dead (which does not seem sinful per say), yet not that alone, but literally invoking/calling upon the name of person (or an Angelic entity), Mary especially, along with various men and women who are dead, who if they are truly saints, according to the scriptures are absent from the body and asleep, “dead” in Christ: invoking them for requests, intercessions, assistance in life etc. A practice which is, to my knowledge, found no-where in holy writ, at all. The Apostle Paul makes remarks which would make no sense whatsoever if he had any belief or knowledge of such a practice as to pray or invoke the dead in Christ, Angels and OT & NT Saints for intercession. Anyone without bias, upon reading his letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians should be able to discern this.
Along with Image Veneration (kissing them, bowing/metanias to them, candle lighting to them, censing them with incense, invoking the names when facing the Image), Cross veneration. Relic Veneration etc.
If these things are in turn idolatrous, not apostolic, but traditions of men, damnable practices which need to be repented of, then the people who arose in History, brought them in and including those who performed these practices are in grave danger (God knows where they are, I Hope they find mercy), as you have stated though;”The Scripture is specific that certain sins not repented of (greed, lying, homosexuality, adultery, schism) result in damnation”. Again I’d add idolatry to the list.
I think that’s reasonable to say and Revelation 9:20 is clear.
An Apostate Church is an Apostate Church, if they have departed from the Historic faith, not in the negating of practices (love feasts, anointing the sick etc.) or even the adding of practices (Clergy, Hierarchical Structures, Sign of the Cross) but by and through the practice of sin.
If they are content in that rebellion without repentance, then schism imo, is not schism as you may put it, seeing that 1 Corinthians 5:11 allows for separation from such people, how much more mandated if a whole Church system falls into idolatry? Is one supposed to break bread, fellowship with, pray and remember the Lords coming with people who have been overcome with heathenish practices, superstition, idolatry and refuse to repent?
God Forbid, God have mercy.
Do not deceive yourself or compromise,
Acts 20:25-31, Colossians 2:8-9 & 2:18-23, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 1 John 5:21,
A few quick things: 1. Venerating icons and idolatry are two different things, Biblically. I have written about this here: https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2017/06/09/the-theology-of-icons-in-600-words-or-less/ 2. Prayers to/for the dead are demonstrably different in Christianity than in Paganism. That is covered here: https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2017/06/18/pagan-versus-christian-prayers-for-and-to-the-dead/
3. Your objections to Orthodoxy appear to be on these grounds, and not other doctrinal grounds, so I won’t even address the ecclesiological heresy of Protestantism. If you simply assume that historic Christianity is idolatrous without knowing the issues, then you are accusing them of falling away without real evidence, which rids schism of its justification.
Thank-you for the reply Craig,
I wrote a great (in amount) response to your reply, raising some of the issues which are at hand here, that being idolatry but when I was on the verge of finishing off the response the computer which I was using froze and what I wrote seems to be lost.
I hope I can touch on those things here,
Now In regards to images, your blog post has not answered or defended their use in the context in which they are mainly used in Eastern Orthodoxy. Images in themselves aside, we are speaking on the worship/veneration of images here. There is a difference between having a photograph of a person for recollection and memory, or stained glass church windows adornments, in contrast to having a photograph or image for the purpose of veneration, invoking names in front of the photograph for assistance, salvation, prayers, miracles etc, kissing the photograph, performing prostrations, bowing and metanias to the photograph, lighting candles and censing the photograph. The Bronze Serpent is a perfect example to show this distinction, it was fine to be looked upon, fine when used in for its purpose, but when people went beyond its prescribed use and burned incense to it, the Serpent (who knows how long they did such a practice for) was destroyed. I’m sure the same would apply to the Angels which adorned the walls of the house of the Lord and those Cherubs which were overlaid with Gold. It was clearly for adornment, now you may say this is an assumption, and let that be granted, but I think its well founded, I don’t believe that the Jews were praying and invoking, bowing to these Images, kissing them, censing them to honour them, calling upon Michael or Raphael (for example) in front of them for help and assistance, for prayers.
There is a great gulf Craig, imo, when it comes to images and their use, a heaven and hades gulf of difference. Defending images for the use of teaching and instruction, much like the example of Mary and the Lord which you used to show the Lords humanity, is completely, and I mean completely different to defending them for veneration, I don’t think any honest person would deny such a distinction. I don’t think any-one would deny the difference of creating a portrait for a King in comparison to painting a portrait of a King for people to bow, kiss and do religious type actions towards. I’m trying to be very clear here with my various examples in the hopes that you can see where I am coming from. The difference is huge.
These things aside, which I think most peoples conscious bear witness to, accusing or excusing them, which I’m sure yours has also Craig and may still be bearing witness to you that you shouldn’t be doing it (If you have invoked the names of the deceased or angels for their prayers, kissed images, bowed to them, invoked names in front of them etc). I personally believe you still get these promptings and convictions, and I doubt that you’ve received a satisfactory answer that completely removes these convictions from your mind and doubts that surround the biblical mandate of such practices, that’s my assumption but I for one believe it is so, correct me if I’m wrong.
So no, I don’t think you’ve shown that Idolatry and Venerating images are different things by that post you have written, you in my eyes have simply defended their use for teaching and instruction. Something which is not the actual issue.
Biblically, Scripturally and Historically It needs to be shown that images were being used by Christians in the context of worship and veneration as performed to this day by the Orthodox Church. If it can be shown from the writings of Early Christians that their was an opposition to images period (I mean image creation of any form), then how much more Apostate would the Veneration of them be? Apostate, Un-Apostolic, a tradition of men, contrary to the faith once delivered to the saints and an innovation of the grossest kind, it being the wide spread incorporation of idolatry into the Church.
These things Craig need to be looked at not only Biblically, but also prophetically.
And I can assure you that I’m not the first person to believe and see that Revelation 9:20 in history. It would be too much of a coincidence if it was not relating to history past. I’m not the first person to see the significance of the fall of the Roman Empire and its prophetic implications, I believe you need to consult the writings of the Church from the first 4 centuries in regards to the Empire and its prophetic implications. If the events have occurred then futurism is not to be held, there is no more futurism in Isaiah’s Prophecy regarding the Virgin Birth. It has been fulfilled. The implications of the Pope and the Anti-Christ are huge, again this is not just some personal self deluded belief. The connections in history are there and obvious but it comes to honest, unbiased enquiry to decide if it is so. I can’t get past them, seeing that they are so clear to my eyes.
You can view a few comments by some notable Protestants regarding the verse here: https://www.studylight.org/commentary/revelation/9-20.html
I do not assume “Historic Christianity” is idolatrous, If we are looking through the lens of Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy and how they define Historic Christianity then I would be lieing if I didn’t say that I have heart felt convictions that certain practices which they perform are idolatrous, unbiblical, traditions of men. But I don’t view “Historic Christianity” in such a way. I’m not convinced that Irenaeus or Melito would take part of such acts such as the invocation of the saints or angels along with veneration of their images, relics or that they knew of such acts. I don’t believe that the Apostle Paul would have taken part in such practices or that he introduced such practices as part of the Apostolic and Historic Deposit of Faith.
The real questions to be asked are these Craig,
Do you believe that the Lord, The Apostles, their Disciples and Christians, including the Jews of along the Church of the First 2 Centuries, say even 3 centuries up to the 300s performed such practices? Do you believe that Paul invoked any name other than Jesus in prayer? Do you believe that once Mary passed away, Christians, Apostle Paul, The Apostle John and the rest of the churches were invoking her name and had a devotion to her? Do you believe that Paul called upon Angels and departed Christians and pleaded requests for his salvation, the salvation of others, miracles, assistance from God and for them to pray for him to God? Do you believe that Paul venerated Images of Jesus, departed Saints, Moses, John the Baptist, Angels? Do you believe that he kissed these images, bowed to them, censed them, lit candles to them? Do you believe that any of the churches listed (as seen by Paul’s Epistles and in Revelation) in the bible performed such practices? Do you truly believe that Saint Luke painted a portrait of Mary?
If you don’t believe that he or they did such acts or that they were aware of such practices (not saying that such is the criterion of how we judge what is true but It’s possible God will witness to you from what you’ve read of the NT, that we have reasonable grounds to believe they/he knew not of these things: but also from your research of the first 2-3 Centuries of the Church, which I hope you’ve sought through, the stance of Christians towards Images and their practices) then these things are traditions of men, they are not of the faith once for all delivered. They are innovations. They are not negations but additions. They also touch very serious areas of the faith, namely Worship and Fellowship. Invoking an Angel or a Deceased person is not a small matter of indifference to just skip over. Neither is the Veneration of Images and Relics. Calling upon Mary or a Saint, during an event that one mite suspect as a demonic attack is not a small matter, Calling upon her at the hour of your death is not a small thing.
These are serious issues with serious implications. For one I urge you to consult the writings of the Early Christians if you haven’t already and view the prophetic implications relating to the fall of the Empire. Also consider the great falling away in light of this. Jerome touches on it (The Empire)
If you have any resources which may be of use to me, any early Christian writers from up to the 4th-5th century that will be of help to me, If I’m not seeing something clearly, please do let me know. I myself am not convinced, I have not received answers that seem to be biblically consistent and historically sound, my reason (or the Holy Spirit) also tells me that these things are un-biblical and should not be practised. I’ve seeked into Orthodoxy and Catholicism once again, and re-considered them but they seem too far removed from what we have in the scriptures. The imposed fastings, Marian devotion, image and relic veneration, possibly even saint devotion, saint and angel invocation, asceticism, saint feast days, practices such as the Jesus prayer, priestly confession with absolution, confirmation and I’m sure many other practices. I’ve read of and watched the accounts of visions of Orthodox men, completely unbelievable in their content (not to say they did not occur).
My mind and heart can not overcome these things, I cannot step outside and ignore what I see in the scriptures and in history, in comparison to what I see in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches (now I know that there are differences between them to a certain extent, even great ones such as the filoque, Marian dogmas, church structures and I’m sure many other things). I do long for the Church Community, I miss attending Church, the atmosphere, the solemnity of the services and wish that I could attend a service every day if possible (minus the un-biblical additions, the Lord getting re-sacrificed and the hail Marys if they still occur in the service), what a beautiful thing. I was raised a Roman Catholic, nominally, as I’m sure most are these days, but I have great memories (as faint as they may be) of the Church and it’s occasions when they came about (even though I was involved in things I would not partake in now in the Services). The Baptist Church I attend (for now) at this time has no weekly schedules as such, it’s usually Prayer meetings on Wednesday and Service on Sunday along with other occasions occurring here and there and such, I’m not saying this to slander the church I attend, It’s understandable, the main person leading the church has a family and has to work to provide for them, but I wish it was more tight nit and not as dispersed as it feels. If I was a Catholic I could attend a Church which is in walking distance, 6 days a week. Now Maybe I’m not involved in it enough, the Church i’m in now but yes, it’s just different in my eyes and I’m sure since becoming involved with the Orthodox community that you have noticed the difference in some ways when it comes to Elder and Younger interactions, the vibe of the Church in general, the service solemnity. Those things aside though I can’t love practice over truth and sacrifice truth for practice.
I could write on much more, I think this is long enough. Probably even unusual. I have touched on prayers for the dead here seeing that I don’t think it’s an issue, it’s prayer to God for another.
Again if you have any resources which will be of help to me, when it comes to icons, prayers for the departed and ones that also deal with prophecy and the like. Please do recommend them.
I’ve tried to be faithful and honest in my speech here, I apologise for any errors I may have made, misinformation and the like which I may have conveyed.
Matthew, thanks for your reply. In short, we run into the error of picking and choosing out tradition. If we find a tradition we do not like widespread in the 4th cetnury, so we move the goal posts to the third. If it is in the third, we move it to the second. If it is in the second, and even the late first century (like the Eucharist being a sacrifice) then we move it to the Bible. If it is in the Bible, then we are forced to allegorize the literal passages we do not like. When does it stop?
“The Apostles, their Disciples and Christians, including the Jews of along the Church of the First 2 Centuries, say even 3 centuries up to the 300s performed such practices? ”
If I had to answer as a historian, then the answer is “yes.” The Jews and Christians both did it. Is it a result of Hellenization (this is me the historian speaking)? Perhaps. But, this hellenization probably predates the Scriptures. Our earliest Christian witnesses are 3rd and 4th centuries–one is a prayer widespread throughout the entire eastern Christian world to Mary, the other is a reference from Cyril of Jerusalem making note of commemorations in the liturgy. Are these references perhaps too late to be smoking guns? Of course. But any decent historian would look at the fact that Christianity came from Judaism and see that Jews had the same practice, concluding it was part of Christian practice.
I do think that the practice has certainly increased–mostly as a response against Christological heresies (good Mariology confronts bad Christology) and the increase in the number of martyrs (even in the marytrdom of Polycarp they collected his relics, which shows that this was a practice in the mid 2nd century.) So, the argument should be over how much we should partake in such practices, not whether they are to be partaken in.
Craig, long time no see. It’s really confusing to see you half-way to Orthodoxy — even knowing that some of you positions wouldn’t qualify as Orthodox, but heretical, taking from the etymology of haeresis, that is, a personal opinion/choice. That is, you just chose “Orthodoxy” because it agrees more than 50% with your own opinions, not that you have wholeheartedly embraced Orthodoxy. You still cling tenaciously to your childhood dogmas. In short, you just have a Protestant pick-and-choose, cherry-pick attitude to Orthodox doctrine. Maybe you’re halfway to accepting almost 100% of Orthodox doctrine (justifying Orthodox history is another matter), but who knows. Just don’t judge me, I’m a faithless evolutionist heretical spiritual materialist myself. But I just wonder if some serious Orthodox theologian had a long dialogue with you (it seems we’re lacking one here on your blog), so you could post his answers here. And by the way, it seems you’re more “Orthodox” on clothing than other Orthodox’s clothing, whereas you are less Orthodox in doctrine than other Orthodox.
In the first half of this article, you sound thoroughly Protestant. You are still holding to ideas totally incompatible with Orthodoxy.
In the second half, you sound, frankly, muddled. I will answer your bullet points as I find time.
In the meantime, I will simply say that I agree with Matthew. I have looked at veneration and prayer to saints and icons for a long time now. I have done so with a view to give EO’s and RC’s the benefit of the doubt…but it just won’t wash. It is indeed idolatry. If it isn’t idolatry, then nothing is.
Also, you accuse us of “picking and choosing” our traditions based on what we like. What does that even mean? I don’t like or dislike the concept of the Eucharist as sacrifice or baptismal regeneration or salvation as a process. I don’t decide issues based on my paradigm, but on the sound interpretation of Scripture informed by consensus and history and tradition. My paradigm comes about as a result of my studies rather than vice-versa. I accept or reject faith tenets on the basis of exegesis and history. If I move backwards to the third or fourth century, it is because that is where the evidence lies. Why do EO and RC apologists move FORWARD if they don’t find what they like in the second or third centuries? They are tied to a paradigm. And they must defend that paradigm till the end…evidence be damned!
Hans I saw your email, I will try to reply soon. I have been very busy and my health is not the greatest. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.
” I don’t decide issues based on my paradigm, but on the sound interpretation of Scripture informed by consensus and history and tradition.” If you were serious about this, you cannot reject the Orthodox view of the Eucharist.
I enjoy conversing with you partly because you are still somewhat between paradigms and thus willing to question the new and linger on the old.
I am very sorry if you are under the weather, sorrier still if your comment alludes to chronic ailments. May God strengthen and renew.
As for the comment on the Eucharist, the Orthodox seem to punt to mystery when it comes to explaining the miracle of the Real Presence, much as the Anglicans do. I’m fine with that.
Yes, the fathers speak of the Eucharist as sacrifice, but the 64,000-dollar question is, how do they mean that?
As a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise? As a re-presentation/reapplication of the once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross?
Well, then, fine. I can go along with that.
What I cannot go along with–because it comes across to me as utter nonsense–is that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice in its own right (as Trent states, and, as far as I am aware, with which EO’s concur). If the Cross is the only propitiatory sacrifice, then the Eucharist cannot be, as well. I don’t care what the fathers say. Self-contradiction is self-contradiction.
A number of fathers speak of the Eucharist as a commemoration of the sacrifice on the Cross. That sounds about right. Do you have a problem with that?
Why isnt the Eucharist the same sacrifice from Calvary? “THis is my body given for you” would seem to imply on the Thursday before Good Friday, that the sacrifice transcended time and went into a Delorean in the upper room to the disciples. 🙂
Well, it certainly can be, but that would make it a commemoration, not a propitiatory sacrifice in and of itself.
Audie Murphy starred as himself in the WWII film “To Hell and Back Again” depicting his own heroic exploits in the war. Still, it was just a reenactment, not the real thing.
Protestants aren’t stupid. They know that the Eucharist–the blood-red wine and the flesh-like bread–is all about the one great Sacrifice. I know I have no problem even with its being called a sacrifice: an offering of thanksgiving and remembrance and praise. But to call it propitiatory is to usurp the role of our great High Priest and give it to an “alter Christus,” when Christ himself is right there and requires no stand in.
Why, you can even point to the sacrificial nature of living life in Christ, individually and communally. You can speak about how we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Whatever you want as long as you never echo Trent and call it another sacrifice.
Sometimes I think the whole impasse could be averted if the EO’s and RC’s weren’t so infernally stubborn in terms of their depiction of the rite. It’s an unbloody sacrifice…very much, in many ways, like a memorial offering spoken of in the OT. But then you are bringing to the mind of God a sacrifice already made, not making a new sacrifice. It’s a huge difference and one that needs to be kept distinct. Quite frankly, there’s no warrant for it in Scripture. To make it directly propitiatory, not a harkening back to Calvary, is egregiously wrongheaded.
If whenever you watched To Hell and Back you were transported to that M4 he was shooting Nazis on top off, it may be a little more than a commemoration. The Eucharist is mysteriously “the real thing.”
Just to make it as clear as I know how to make it:
Even if we use your Delorean analogy…even if the millions of Eucharistic participants through time are transported across time, to the foot of the Cross, to take part in the once-for-all bloody Sacrifice of Christ (though in an unbloody manner), they are doing so indirectly, commemoratively, in homage of our magnificent Redeemer.
The one atoning Sacrifice is drawn in blood. It is all sufficient and totally unique…no matter how many myriads timelessly experience it.
If you wish it to be seen as one and the same sacrifice, then call it bloody. And don’t shrink from calling it commemorative: it points unhesitatingly back to the accursed Tree.
Of course it is commemorative, it just is not merely commemorative.
Of course it is not merely commemorative.
From the WCF:
“Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.”
See? It’s not merely commemorative. It’s a seal for benefits. It’s a means of grace, providing spiritual nourishment, etc.
But that’s not the point. If we wish to call it a sacrifice, what sort of a sacrifice is it?
Again, from the WCF:
“In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.”
So, it is not merely commemorative. But in terms of being a sacrifice, it is merely commemorative, responsive, observational, providential, distributory, applicational….
It is NOT propitiatory!
It IS the sacrifice from Calvary.
Trouble is…if it IS the Sacrifice at Calvary, then there’s no reason to say that it’s propitiatory.
And it’s wrong to say that it’s another sacrifice…or that it’s unbloody.
The sacrifice of cavalry IS efficacious!
Indeed, the Sacrifice on Calvary was (and is and is to come) totally efficacious.
It was also bloody, uniquely propitiatory, and occurred once-for-all.
Correct, which is why the Eucharist is efficacious but not bloody. We say not bloody because we are not reaaceificing Him. It is also debatable that the Euchariat is both the sacrificed and resurrected body of Chriat at the same time. There are obvious chronological issues with this to which the east responds, it is a mystery.
No, sir. The Eucharist is NOT efficacious except in so far as it reflects Calvary. It is the moon, not the sun. It is not a sacrifice, but the remembrance of one. A face-to-face timeless experiencing of one.
And I’m not sure what the Orthodox say (too much mystery to wade through), but RC’s are adamant that the Eucharist is the glorified body of Christ, and some of them are just as adamant that this whole “traveling through time to the foot of the Cross” is dogmatically bogus.
Eucharist in orthodoxy does have the time thing. Technically when the liturgy is conducted you are not even on earth anymore.
The Eucharist transports you right to the sun.
Right. I’m fine with that.
In Calvin’s conception of the Eucharist, we are also transported right to the (risen) sun, the glorified Lord of Grace, the Eternal Son at the right hand of the Father. Not across time but across space.
But that’s not the point. The Eucharist is our transport. It it is not the sun. It takes us to the Sacrifice, but it is not itself the Sacrifice.
It is Jesus Christ, it is the Sun, it is the transport–it is all of these things.
Then how is that different from any Protestant Eucharist?
Even the memorialists believe we have access to the Sacrifice on the Cross.
Because the Eucharist is real
Anglicans believe the Eucharist is real. Lutherans believe the Eucharist is real. Calvinists believe the Eucharist is real.
Orthodox and Catholics believe they have God, locked in a little box, which they alone control.
Is there anything more arrogant than that?
Sounds like you are trying to have it two contradicting ways. If you affirm the Wicharist is real and an anachronistic. Sacrifice why the debate !
Because, Craig, it is NOT itself the Sacrifice. The Sacrifice is a “one and done” which cannot be repeated. It can be repeatedly offered to the Father (by our great High Priest) in reconciliation for our ongoing sin. But it itself cannot, need not be repeated.
You, for some reason, think it unimportant to make this distinction.
In the film “To Hell and Back Again,” the actor Audie Murphy was indeed real. But his mowing down of Nazi’s left and right was not. Those actors remained alive.
It was a reenactment, a re-presentation, a remembering of the real actions that took place. (Even if we were transported time-travel-wise to the real battlefield…to the real battle…it would not transpire AGAIN except within our own experience.)
But we just substantiated that the Eucharist transports you back in time, so that it is one of the same!
In some sense, Craig, I guess I’m simply asking, “What difference does it make?”
If a documentary film team had captured Audie Murphy’s original actions on film, how would that have been appreciably different from the film we have?
He did it…once. His heroism springs from his having done it on the battlefield that one time.
However we experience it is secondary to that.
In many ways, the Real Presence doesn’t make anything any more real. We have access to the profound benefits of the Atonement 24/7/365. Immanuel means “God with us.” Wherever two or more of us gather, with or without the Sacrament, there he is in the midst of us.
We have union with him. That is also real. We have fellowship with him. Also real. We participate in his divinity. Real. We are all functional parts of his Body here on earth. Very real.
At any rate, WATCHING a film is not itself a film. Experiencing a Sacrifice firsthand, even across time, is not a sacrifice. The Eucharist is the experience. The Cross is the Sacrifice.
I don’t even know how to imagine it your way. All I can think of is a Kewpie Doll.
The difference is you are not affirming something obvious (the Eucharist forgives sins) because you either doubt that Jesus CHrist is not the Eucharist or you doubt John 6 which says it gives life. Somewhere you are allegorizing something that everyone used to take literal.
Sorry. Addled brain after getting the kids down for their nap.
I meant Voodoo Doll.
An inhaler, a hypodermic needle, or a gel capsule can be said to restore health even though they are merely the delivery system. In truth, the medicine contained therein takes the illness away. This isn’t analogy, per se, though it is a brand of metaphor. Synecdoche, in particular.
I can say that the Eucharist “forgives sin” or “gives life” without saying it’s a sacrifice. Heck, I can call it a sacrifice without technically meaning it’s a sacrifice.
I’m sorry, but to me, to call the Eucharist directly propitiatory makes no freaking sense. Not as a paradox. Not as a mystery. All it is is a contradiction, and that doesn’t do me one iota of spiritual good.
The only Sacrifice that is propitiatory has already happened and will never happen again. Nor does it need to.
We have access to the benefits of the Sacrifice through baptism (also not a sacrifice), through confession and absolution (also not sacrifices), through repentance and reconciliation and restitution (also not sacrifices), through prayer and thanksgiving (also not sacrifices), through confirmation (also not a sacrifice), and through the Eucharist.
Through the Eucharist which is Christ’s sacrificed Body
His having-been-sacrificed body? Or his being-sacrificed body?
And if it is the latter, is he dead or dying?
He is resurrected, the sacrifice has already occurred–we eat a sacrifice not while it is being sacrificed, but afterward. Ignatius writes that we feed upon both the crucified and resurrected body of Christ. As for the Scriptures, they only present the Eucharist as the Body given and Blood shed. So, it does not exclude Ignatius’ interpretation.
Orthodox priests do no re-sacrifice Christ, they present to us the sacrificed body of Christ.
“…they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”
This could refer to both conditions…or merely to his glorified state (since by then he has suffered crucifixion).
Old Testament sacrifices are eaten in only one condition: they are all stone, cold dead. Is this what you feel Ignatius means by our eating of the crucified Christ?
If Christ is NOT re-sacrificed, then–once again–we’re back to a commemoration, a memorial offering (where the sacrifice being commemorated is the one which is propitiatory).
The Eucharist is not “stone cold dead.” He is not sacrificed again. His flesh and blood, the same that experienced crucifixion on calvary, are presented again. DO you affirm all of these?
Yes, Craig, I affirm the Real Presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.
What I must disavow–since Hebrews 7:27, 9:25-26, and 10:12-14 definitively disavow it–is that Christ, in any way, sacrifices himself again…or needs to.
Basically, the magisterial Reformers held to the Real Presence. What they objected to was talk of further sacrifice for sin. It’s patently AGAINST Scripture and cannot be maintained, regardless of strenuous efforts to somehow make it biblical. It’s not. Period. Plain and simple. It’s not.
So quit saying it’s not a resacrifice of Christ when you clearly don’t mean it. Or better yet, quit using the language of sacrifice at all.
It is an offering, a gift, a commemoration, an application of the once-for-all Sacrifice.
The Sacrifice is there in the Eucharist. But we do not control it or dole it out. It is the gift of the Spirit to those of faith. Christ is the victim, Christ the priest, and he requires no surrogates. (And Justin Martyr speaks of the officiant as a mere “president,” i.e., someone who presides.)
What we do–here and now–that thing, that which we do…THAT is not a sacrifice. And certainly THAT is not THE Sacrifice.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s pretend we are pagans for a second. We sacrifice a cow today and eat it today. TOmorrow, we go through a time machine and pull out some of the same beef, and bring it to the present. It is still the same sacrifice without it being re-sacrificed. The one who is giving to you through the time machine is still giving you a sacrifice , but he is not sacrificing it in the same way because ultimately we are all sacrificing CHrist, as our sins put Him on the cross. But, the Orthodox priesthood exercises the special function of actually making that sacrifice available to us, just like the Levitical priest did the dirty work with the offering the Israelites would give.
This example gets more complicated **if* we go by Ignatius’ construction and speak of the sacrifice being the crucified and risen Lord. If so, then we can alter our preceding example in this way. We sacrifice a cow today. Tomorrow that sacrificed cow resurrects from the dead. On the day after that, that resurrected cow offers us his T-Bone. It is still a sacrifice even though he is now resurrected, because he never stopped being one. He is resurrected from the same sacrificed body. So, whenever the cow offers us his t-bone, he is offering his sacrificed body because the cow is not given a **new** unsacrificed body, he is a resurrected sacrificed body. The real mystery is how the cow does not run out of t-bone 🙂
Sacrifice is both a verb and a noun. Protestants recognize well enough that the body of Christ is a sacrifice (noun), as in “a body that has been sacrificed.”
We object to the Eucharist being an active sacrificing of Christ. That has already happened and cannot happen again.
Yes, we can be said to have put Jesus to death ourselves by our sin. Mel Gibson famously used his own hand to hammer in a nail in his film.
A Lutheran hymnist wrote the following text as part of a communion hymn:
“Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
“Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
“‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
“I crucified thee. ”
But though clearly real psychologically and spiritually, this is a metaphor and can only be a metaphor. Mel Gibson was never a Roman soldier. Neither were you. Neither was I.
Christ is with us! He is and always will be!
I have been watching some of James White’s debates with Roman Catholics on the subject of icons and I noticed that he uses both the LXX and the Masoretic Text to argue against the proskynesis and latreia distinction made by the 7th Ecumenical Council. He argues that none of the people present at the Council knew Hebrew and that they did not allow the iconoclasts to read statements from Fathers against the use of images.
Could you and Matt make a video responding to that argument? White’s full argument could be seen in his video “Great Debate VII – Veneration of Saints and Images – Madrid vs. White”
I really enjoy your videos and I will pray for you and your catechumenate. We need more Orthodox that know Scripture well!
I am very busy but if you keep bothering us hopefully we can get to it. If you can connect on Facebook and remind us.
“It is worth noting that Cyprian is the only aberration [on paedobaptism] within the first three centuries of the Church.”
On the contrary, we have infant baptism established by Cyprian, Hippolytus, Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. (Yes, Tertullian preferred to wait, but he attested the fact that infant baptism was accepted in his time, and did not change the legitimacy of an infant baptism).