This quote from St. Ephraim the Syrian convicts me everytime I see it. For the sake of my soul, I should have it printed out on quality paper, framed, and put over my desk.
"If you are an ardent reader, seek not brilliant and erudite texts; otherwise the demon of haughtiness will strike your heart. But like a wise bee that gathers honey from flowers, so also through your reading obtain healing for your soul."
Simple. Piercing in its wisdom. Brutally insightful. It is a constant reminder that I need to spend more time in the Bible, and less time with the latest books from SVS Press! Better yet, I should spend more time away from books in the first place and more time in prayer, acts of mercy, or just being present in simplicity to those who come into my path.
"In Evangelical Bible study, we started with the text - which we all agreed was verbally, plenarily, infallibly inspired. We'd read it, and then we'd have to start deconstructing it. You can't just read the English translation of the account of Ruth, or of Lot in Sodom, or even the Sermon on the Mount, and go drawing applications for life.
No, first you need to look at the audience of the original utterance or writing, the culture and language used, the literary form, the archaeological data that tell us how these people thought, and of course the grammatical analysis of the text in the original language. Now you can begin to reconstruct *what the speaker or writer meant*.
The underlying assumption is that you don't *know* what the biblical writer meant. You have to apply modern science, archaeology, antropology, sociology, and knowledge of ancient languages to build a substitute for the mindset and culture of the original audience. Then, you hope, you're ready to hear the words and *get* the message the writer meant.
Fundamentalists and Liberals in the Protestant world are really twins separated at birth, who can't see their own resemblance. Both are trying to do the same thing: To read Scripture as though nobody had ever read it before. Distrust all received tradition and go back to an agreed minimum canon of Scripture (The 1610 edition of the KJV or the Jesus Seminar's small set of trustworthy logia of Jesus, whatever) and then rebuild What Christianity Was.
What depressed me as an Evangelical was the fact that we had no reliable body of interpretive and cultural and linguistic data from the early Christians. We were adrift in a sea of data, trying to preserve some faithfulness to historical Christian faith by picking and choosing our authorities. Every assumption had its backers. Each pastor had to choose for
himself what he would accept and preach. 'In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.'
Imagine my delight and relief in discovering the earliest Christian writers - Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin, and all the rest. To me they were like a life-preserver thrown to a drowning man. I began to chuck doctrines and practices the Assemblies of God had taught me were normal to the early Church, as I read the firsthand accounts of how the disciples of St Paul and St John *really* interpreted Scripture.
I was not at the mercy of my own scholarship any more; in conforming my Christianity to what I found in the earliest Christianity, I was discovering something with some demonstrable *authenticity*.
There was still a ways to go before I encountered Orthodoxy and became convinced I should convert. But just discovering that there *are* external, objective boundaries to Biblical interpretation and worship and Church
government, was a welcome revelation."
It generated a firestorm of comments and reactions around the blogosphere. If you get a chance, it's an interesting read. One of the participants in the discussion, Tom Round, posted this amusing observation about the confusion inherent in three-way ecumenical dialogue (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant):
"Adding Constantinople to the Rome/ Geneva stoush, making it a three-way dogfight, really makes things interesting. It produces what we political science types call a "Condorcet cycle" where stone beats scissors, scissors beat paper, but paper wraps stone (by a 2-to-1 vote each time). So the results on each of the following "Resolveds?" is as follows:
Is the Bible alone sufficient, without Tradition? Catholics + Orthodox no, Protestants yes...
Is the Pope infallible when he speaks on faith and morals as head of the Church in communion with the bishops [etc]? Protestants and Orthodox no, Catholics yes ...
Was Augustine right about original sin? Catholics + Protestants yes, Orthodox no ...
So a majority-vote head-count among the three gives us ... Augustinian Orthodoxy. Come back, Patriarch Cyril Loukaris; all is forgiven!"
Tracy made this point:
"Perhaps different churches are all about meeting the varied needs of people so that the message of Christ can be heard."
I've lost track of the number of times I heard this point of view when I first became Orthodox. The following is a condensed version of the type of exchange I had with a variety of Christian family and friends on this issue:
Them: "So what church do you go to?"
Me: "Actually I just became Eastern Orthodox."
Them: "Oh...what kind of church is that?"
Me: [insert 3-5 minute church history explanation here]
Them: "Interesting. Isn't it great there are so many different and wonderful ways we can worship the Lord and express our faith!"
Me: [Internal sighing and biting of tongue]
Depending on the person, a change in subject usually was imminent. Most of the time, I didn't bother pointing out what I did write to Tracy:
"Ah, yes. The well-known 'Temperament' argument... the problem is this only makes sense in a culture that *already* contains thousands of denominations. It is a "post-disaster" rationalization.
It is an attempt to explain the liturgical, doctrinal and otherwise messed up state of western Christendom in a way that makes true unity something to only dream about. And, in the end, not really necessary (despite the promise and prayer of Jesus in John 17).
The 'different churches for different personalities' position doesn't make any sense when you start to look at Pre-Schism Christianity. While there were local and ethnic customs and flavors, all doctrine, all worship, all spirituality was (basically) the same. There was only One Church with a common faith (As St. Paul wrote, 'one faith, one baptism', etc...Eph 4)
The plethora of denominations should be something we grieve about--not a reason to 'celebrate' and 'embrace' our radically contradictory experiences."
Chris then responded to me via email asking, "Unfortunately, what do we do about it? People do think theologically, and people will argue over the liturgical and political expressions of that theology, so how can we repair fragmentation?"
The first thing I would say is that we need to purge the "cult of the nice" tendency of our culture to avoid all forms of confrontation. Thinking about theology and arguing over these issues, in moderation, is healthy! The truth is, confrontation, finding truth, discussing truth, is a necessary part of what it means to live in human society. We must "always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." (1 Peter 3:15)
This verse gives us the healthy balance. We should never be afraid of the questions themselves and we should aggressively enter into ecumenical discussion with the intention of reaching the truth and then living in that truth. For some reason many American Christians have a phobia about this. In part, it comes from witnessing the aftermath of squabbles in their families, churches, and businesses. After seeing my fair share of these meltdowns, I understand their fear.
So without gentleness and reverence for said truth and for the people involved, we will fail in our ecumenical endeavors and hurt people close to us. I certainly have caused no end of grief for many people in my life through rash and overly polemic comments.
But the other extreme, and tracy's comment betrayed this, is the popular relativism that whispers "Don't worry about your differences; it's all the same anyway. Just 'embrace' and 'celebrate' your respective views/experiences/denominations etc..."
A few weeks ago, Clifton wrote about nominalism and the epistemological errors it brings. The sad truth we absolutely should never lose sight of is that in these discussions, people bring not just different perspectives, but in many cases radically *contradictory* and *irreconcilable* perspectives.
So, in answer to Chris' question I would only say that we should start off with two assumptions:
1) Truth is One: thus the fragmentation is evil and *must* be fixed, by the grace of God and 2) only in gentleness and love will we find the grace to begin this process.
For some of us, the former will be harder to remember; for others (such as myself) the latter will prove more challenging. Either way, we all have our work cut out for us.
This little 5-foot tall women was standing there, with flaming curly red hair and a faint New York accent, starting off class with a story.
"I was into a lot of sex, drugs and rock & roll in the '70's.... Then in the early '80's, I looked at my life to see what was missing. Sitting in a park one day, it hit me: I needed to learn the ancient classical languages!
You have just heard the short version of how I cam to be a university professor of Classics and Greek mythology."
After spending two hours this morning with this women, I think I can safely say, at the very least, this will be an interesting class!
Sadly, a 4-week intensive course in Greek mythology will leave me little time to devout to blogging issues. Never fear, I am not taking a sabbatical! But I will warn you ahead of time that the quality and quantity may likely suffer for a few weeks, as I bury myself into The Iliad, The Odyssey, and a variety of other fascinating texts.
In the works are a few posts: a two part series on "how not to try and convert the Orthodox" as well as some ruminations and links about "the new heresy of our times." Hopefully I will be able to post 3-4 times a week, but I'm not making any solid promises at this point. The sheer volume of reading staring me in the face right now makes me wonder if I will even sleep this month!
I saw this little gem on a bumper sticker the other day while on a walk.
Six or seven years ago, when I was enamored with Zen Buddhism, I might have missed the humor in this. I would have played with it a bit, feeling out the implicit irony (in good Richard Rorty fashion). I would have enjoyed tumbling it in my head like a mysterious koan.
Many people spend a majority of their lives "playing the Hokey Pokey." We stick our right foot into our career and "shake it all around"....we stick our left foot into acquiring more extravagant material goods and.....well, you get the picture. The problem with the Hokey Pokey is that it�s all just fun and games. At the end of the day, it doesn't leave us much in the way of anything eternal.
The Hokey Pokey doesn't point us toward the real business of "bringing forth fruit worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8) and "working out our salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12b). So, yes we should "turn ourselves about" as the poem goes. But that metonia, that turning around should be away from the friviolity of the world and toward a vision of the world to come. A part of me recognizes that procrastination and blindness in myself--the desire to mindlessly fritter away my time.
Sometimes, I'd rather be playing the Hokey Pokey and believing "that's what it's all about it."
Last week I posted a three part series on the Orthodox critique of the Calvary Chapel statment of faith. These differences are not mere intellecual excersies, as some have said. They have real consequences. The following stories (found in this article) are examples of what happens to the piety and spirituality of people in churches who are disconnected from the historic Church:
"I remember Sandy, a fierce 10th-grade convert. While out on a "harvesting trip" at the local mall, she once chose to literally soil herself rather than locate a restroom and risk letting the couple she was preaching to escape. Later on, during an emotional prayer meeting at the church, she stood up to testify, stating ecstatically, "I wet my pants for Jesus!"
"Two other high-schoolers, Laura and Julianne, eager for a juicy mystical experience to tell the congregation, insisted that they'd witnessed the love of Jesus materialize before them in the form of a glowing ball of energy dancing before their eyes. They later realized it was a only a halo of light around a street lamp outside."
"We all prayed that an experience that overpowering, that mystical, that cool, might someday happen to us.
"Further swayed by [a youth pastor's] jaunty sermons encouraging our "servitude" to God and his insistent admonitions not to trust our "worldly desires," we became convinced that we were incapable of making decisions without God's help. We would pray desperately about everything: whether to go to college, which car we should buy, which person we should date. We even prayed at the counter in Burger King that God would guide us order the entr�e he knew was best for us."
"If you look deeply at what [other people] in the charismatic movement are saying...you see that what they call a spiritual revival and a spiritual life is actually what more recent Fathers like Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov carefully described as deception, that is, a kind of fever of the blood which makes it look as though one is being spiritual when actually one is not even grasping spiritual reality at all. In fact, it's as different from true Christian life, which is reflected in these very basic Orthodox books, as heaven is from earth."
Trying to figure out "God's will for my life" is a very easy thing for the Orthodox Christian: "be holy as I am holy." Period. We don't look for "mystical experiences," and we don't attempt to coerce those outside into the Church by force. We follow the remedy that has been proven by millions of saints to purify both nous and body, leading it into union with God.
Huw wrote a nice piece on this when he said, "Some questions of a Christian's day-to-day living are echoes of these big questions. The answers are there: truth or falsehood. The choice is up to each of us - but the answers are either right or wrong.
Some questions are not echoes of these big questions. Should toilet paper wrap over the top or the bottom of the spool? Should I use a mac or a pc? Should I buy a transit pass this month?
The secret of happiness seems to me today to be learning not to confuse the two types of questions - for the one really isn't a question and the other really has no answer."
"Wow!," said my friend, looking up from his science magazine, "Did you know DNA is folded into each cell nucleus in your body in a very precise and compact way? It says here it's like 30 miles of spider web thread carefully folded into a cherry pit!"
I think this sort of thing is amazing too. But what strikes me funny is that the same friends of mine who just love to read this sort of thing in science magazines think nothing of dismissing theology as just so much "angels on pinheads trivia". Religion, they say, should be simple, not complex. They say this because moderns imagine religious truth as an airy speculation, unconnected to "real life", which somebody got a bunch of people to buy into.
That's why we think Christianity could be made simple if "The Church" wanted to make it so, but we never imagine DNA could be made simple if "The Scientists" wanted to make it so. We know that Science is constrained to describe what is actually there, not what scientists would like to be there. But we have somehow forgotten that Theology is under the same obligation...."
I found Mark's essay poignant, especially on the heels of a comment Mac Swift made in a recent discussion. He said, "Since salvation is so crucial for mankind's redemption, it would naturally stand to reason that God would make it as simple a matter as possible to save as many as possible."
God does make it simple. Those early Christians who were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:38-47). They were not merely making "decisions for Christ", or beginning a "personal relationship with Jesus" -- again, neither of these subjective and individual concepts are Scriptural -- but they were repenting, being baptized for the remission of their sins, partaking of the sacraments, and actively immersing themselves in the liturgical, ascetical and sacramental life of the Church. (props to Silouan).
Salvation is a way of life, a continual participation of our bodies and souls in union with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not a private decision or a change in legal status. Thus, while simple to begin, it is complex and difficult to live out.
"The fact is that all Christians were once Orthodox Christians, but most of them could not take it and they fell away. Orthodox Christianity is not about being received into the Orthodox Church and then saying: 'That's it, I've done it'. It is about entering the Arena, it is about being on the Cross. So often I have heard from [Protestants]: 'I know Orthodoxy is the real thing, but I could never do it'. I suppose that at least has the merit of honesty. I always think of the words of that righteous priest, Clement of Alexandria, in the third century: 'If a man is not crowned with martyrdom, let him take care not to be far from those who are'.
....We come to the Church and we remain in the Church in order to save our souls, and nothing else. Church is not a hobby, a game, a private interest, a pretence, or even a community. It is our soul's salvation."
Plain English: Sola Scriptura and a Length of Rope
Someone recently asked me the familiar question, "Why do you call your priests 'father' when Jesus explicitly tells us not to?" (See Matt. 23:9)
This is a good question and, of course, there is a solid, patristic, historical, and theologically sound explanation for this ancient practice.
This incident reminded me how amusing it is to see people take the Scriptures out of context and create new doctrines, practices and teachings. "It is written in plain English!" they'll say if you try and explain the necessity of context, history, or in any way a more holistic hermeneutic.
So, with sola scriptura as my only tool, I will attempt to find the will of God for myself today in the plain English text of my RSV Bible. Here are the passages I turned to:
"He [Judas] went and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:5b)
"Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37b)
"What you are going to do, do it quickly." (John 13:27b)
Hmmm. I know I saw a length of rope in the office earlier this morning....
A couple of quick things as I skimmed through this week's chapters:
1) Ransom's attempts to communicate with the hross reminded me of how hard it is to bridge the gaps between East and Western Christendom.....at least in Ransom's case, he didn't have the added confusion of using the same words only with radically different meanings.
2) I liked this sentence in the middle of chapter 9: "The love of knowledge is a kind of madness." I concur.
The Feast of Pentecost: Brief Thoughts on Baptism and the Holy Spirit
The Feast of Pentecost, which we celebrated this morning, is one I hold dear to my heart. I was Baptized and Chrismated into the Orthodox Church on this Feast day in 1998. Today marks my 5 year anniversary as an Orthodox Christian. (Lord, have mercy!)
I recently heard a humorous story told by someone who knew the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1982). It seems he held this Feast in a special place in his heart just as I do. One year, on the Saturday before Pentecost, he was seen rushing to the church at the seminary. Someone saw him hurrying toward the chapel with joy radiating from his face.
�What�s the rush, Father?,� she asked as she tried to keep up with his pace. �Vespers isn�t going to start for several minutes.�
�I have been waiting a long time for this moment,� he breathlessly replied.
He slowed his pace enough to turn to the woman, and with a smile said, �I didn�t want to miss the singing of the �O Heavenly King!�
Fr. Schmemann was referring to this very famous Orthodox hymn, sung with great passion and joy during the Great Vespers service of Pentecost (today�s Feast):
�O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fills all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.�
This hymn is one of the Church�s finest prayers to the Holy Spirit and one I believe says a lot about what the Orthodox believe about our separated Christian brethren.
The mystery of the paradox is this: The work of the Holy Spirit unites the many into one body, the Church (2 Cor. 3:6); He guides the Church into all truth (John 16:13); He lives in each of us through baptism (Acts 1:5; 2:38). In the Holy Mysteries, the Holy Spirit makes known to us in the Church all the mysteries of Christ. (Eph 3:5). In the fullness of the Church is where the Holy Spirit is found.
Yet, he is not the property of the Church. We do not have a monopoly on Him and his actions. As the hymn says, the Orthodox firmly believe He is *everywhere* filling *all* things, even though we know He is made manifest in the Church. Bishop Kallistos Ware has famously said, �We know where the Holy Spirit is, but we don�t know where He isn�t.� Thus, where there is good and truth to be found in the world we rejoice, because it is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In one of the prayers during the Baptismal Liturgy, the priest asks the catechumen �Have you united yourself to Christ?� This question is asked both before and after the catechumen is plunged three times into the font! Lex credendi lex orandi strikes again, it seems. If it wasn�t for the work of the Holy Spirit, nobody would come into the Church. Thus, we always recognize the Holy Spirit in �the mighty works of God� (Acts 2:11), whether they occur in the context of the Church or outside.
Mark Byron writes the following stupefying statement in his edifier du jour for 6/14:
"Modern-day churches have their rituals of belonging; baptism, dedications, confirmations and memberships. However, while those things are meaningful ceremonies, it is your relationship with God that ultimately matters. Being in the right church or having been baptized isn't what saves you, it is knowledge of Jesus as your Lord and Savior that does, and no human ceremony can duplicate that."
There are so many things wrong with this, I almost don't know where to begin. The work involved fleshing out proper and patristic definitions of words like "save," "rituals," "knowledge," and "ceremony" is a Ph.D.-sized undertaking in and of itself!
Simply put, Baptism and Chrismation are "meaningful ceremonies" precisely because they enable and empower one to have a full relationship with God in his Church! In other words, they are an *organic* part of salvation. Why? Because salvation is not a judicial declaration, but an ongoing, dynamic relationship where we become more and more unified with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Matthew Gallatin writes about the sacraments in his book "Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells." He says (italics his):
"From the greatest to the smallest, the thing that all of these worship practices have in common is that they are actions. They are not ideas, or beliefs, or doctrines, or concepts. They are the keys to an experiential relationship with Christ in His Holy Church."
Why do we consider them keys to this relationship? Well, the fact is the sacraments of the Church are God-ordained practices and not "human ceremonies." Thus to say they don't really matter is to dismiss that which God has created for us to be unified with Him. The sacramental life of the Church is the primary means by which we truly learn to love and experience God in fullness of truth.
Sadly, western Christians tend to only have two types of ecclesial experiences in regards to the sacraments. They see the sacraments as simply the icing on the cake of a private "personal relationship with God" (at best) or impediments to this relationship (at worst). As I've said before, false dichotomies are the bane of western Christian theology.
Here are the two main distortions of the sacramental life so abundant in western Christendom:
1) Rote, legalistic, and hypocritical "rules" or "obligations"
2) Sentimental, narcissistic, and ultimately subjective "memories"
No wonder they want to dichotomize between the physical side of the Christian life (which organically includes church and sacrament) and an ethereal, private, and subjective "personal relationship with God." If these were the only two options of how to physically incarnate what it means to be church, I wonder what I would do.
Actually, I know what I would do....I would stop being a Christian.
We believe that God is eternally existent in three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
True! This is basically a paraphrase of the Nicene Creed.
We believe that God is the personal, transcendent, and sovereign Creator of all things.
True! Again this is a paraphrase of the first two lines of the Nicene Creed.
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, provided for the atonement of our sins by His substitutionary death on the cross, was bodily raised from the dead, ascended back to the right hand of the Father, and ever lives to make intercession for us.
Everything in this section is decent save the word �substitutionary.� The penal-substitutionary model of the atonement, while found in carefully nuanced places in the writings of the many of the Church Fathers, was misunderstood and heretically emphasized by the western church, specifically by Anslem of Canterbury in the 11th century. It has since created a faulty view of the atonement for all of western Christendom. Again, there are lots of resources on this issue and I won�t belabor the point any further.
We believe in the personal, visible, and pre-millennial second coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. He will return with His saints and set up a kingdom of which there will be no end.
Pre-millennialism is a doctrine that comes from the dispensationalist school of theology which the Church has condemned as heretical for a variety of reasons. Specifically, the heresy of chilianism was condemned at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 as a heretical eschatology and pre-millennialism is another form of this heresy. A-millennialism has been the classical eschatology of the Church and has been since the beginning.
After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He poured out His Holy Spirit on the believers in Jerusalem, enabling them to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to the entire world, an obligation shared by all believers today.
This is true. It should be noted though that the Ascension and Pentecost had ramifications that go well beyond �preaching the Gospel.� The word "obligation" is a rather jurdicial term; but otherwise true. In terms of what is written, this is fine.
We believe that all people are, by nature, separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness are freely offered to all by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person repents of sin and accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord, trusting Him to save, that person is immediately born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit, all his/her sins are forgiven, and that person becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord.
Most of this is adequate, although highly simplistic. I wonder what is meant by the word "nature" in regards to man's seperation from God. Without further clarification, I'll let it go. The word "personal" of course should not mean "private" as is commonly believed. Personal implies communal; being joined to the Church, the Body of Christ. The last 7 words are problematic if they imply a type of universalism, as this was condemned heretical by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. The other point that would need to be made is that that being �born again� implies formal, sacramental baptism and the being �sealed by the Holy Spirit� implies the sacrament of Christmation.
We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Scriptures, and that they are valid for today if they are exercised within the scriptural guidelines. We as believers are to covet the best gifts, seeking to exercise them in love that the whole Body of Christ might be edified. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without this love all exercise of spiritual gifts is worthless.
It should be noted that the fact that a statement concerning the �fruits vs. gifts� debate ravaging the Pentacostal churches had to be included in this statement of faith shows how influenced by modern western pneumenalolgy they are. The Orthodox have a much more holistic understanding of the gifts of the Spirit. But more on that another day....
We believe worship of God should be inspirational. Therefore, we give great place to music in our worship.
This begs the question, �Inspirational to whom?� From the Orthodox POV, worship is always God centered-- and not focused on whether it was �inspirational� to the worshiper. Now, of course worship should be inspirational in that it should empower (in the proper sense of that word) us to take Christ and the Gospel into the world. However, being "inspired" should not be the focus or point of worship. In a sense, it does not matter what �we get out of� worship, because worship is primarily about obedience and reverence and self-sacrificial love. When becoming �inspired� is the focus of worship, we tend to become more self-centered. Rather than asking ourselves �Did I give to God my heart and did I faithfully and with humility participate in the sacramental worship of God,� modern Christian worship is more focused on �Were my needs met?� or �Did I get anything out of the service today?� Much more could be said about this but I�ll leave it at that for now.
By the way, there is a great book on this issue by Matthew Gallatin, a former Calvary Chapel pastor (!), entitled, �Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.� He goes into great detail about the phenomenon of modern music, emotionalistic worship models, and the dangers they pose to true worship.
We believe worship of God should be intelligent. Therefore, our services are designed with great emphasis upon the teaching of the Word of God that He might instruct us how He should be worshipped.
This first sentence is true as far as it goes. Worship of God should be orderly, rational, and coherent. St. Paul makes that pretty clear to the Corinthians. But again, God has already instructed us how to worship him! One does not need to mine the Bible for spiritual insight into how worship should be conducted because the way in which worship should be done was already decided before the Bible was even put together! The cycle of services, the feasts and fasts, and the sacramental life of prayer (among other things) were well-established elements of the Church before the Council of Carthage (390 AD) which was when the final canon of Scripture was ratified.
These two sentences also present problems because they assume the faulty Augustinian anthropology and Aristotelian epistemology that subjugates faith, worship and the experience of God under the domain of reason and rationality.
Another sticking point is the phrase, �Word of God,� The Church has always understood that the phrase "word of God" refers primarily to Jesus Christ, the Logos of God--not the Bible!
We believe worship of God should be fruitful. Therefore, we look for His love in our lives as the supreme manifestation that we have truly been worshipping Him.
No beef here. This is true. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14, 17)
We believe in all the basic doctrines of historic Christianity.
Oh dear. This is another question beggar: and these basic doctrines are?�.. It is a plain fact that Calvary Chapel does *not* hold to many of the early church teachings on a wide variety of doctrinal issues. Here are just a few: the ever-virginity of Mary (held by even the early Reformers!), the power and reality of the intercessions of the departed saints, iconographic representations of Jesus and the saints, sacramental confession, the centrality of the Eucharist etc.
Of course, a critical doctrine they don't hold to (or at least have re-interpreted) is what the Nicene Creed says about the nature of the Church: that there is �one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church� against which the �gates of hell would not prevail� (Matt. 16:18) and fully united in doctrine, faith, practice and worship for 2000 years.
We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that the Bible, Old and New Testaments are the inspired, infallible Word of God.
Much could be said here. In fact whole books could be written! Basically, the �inerrancy� doctrine has many underlying faulty assumptions based on the Reformation doctrine of �Sola Scriptura.� The need to have the Scripture be �inerrant� was not needed in pre-Schism Christianity because the Bible is not the foundation of the faith! The Church is the foundation, not only of the Bible, but of *all* truth! (1 Tim 3:15). The other problem with this is that, other than the Holy Trinity, nothing is infallible! Catholicism says infallibility lies within the structure of the papacy; Protestantism, as the other side of the same coin, says infallibility lies within the Biblical text. However, infallibility lies in neither. The work of the Holy Spirit, especially in the Holy Tradition of the Church, is the only infallible guide the Church has. For more on this issue, see �Common Ground� by Jordan Bajis (esp. his chapter �The Real Authority in the Church.�)
Part Three will wrap this up and is coming soon.....
"None of the painful things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and continually meditate on their purpose. It is on account of this that St. Paul says: 'I take delight in weakness, insults and hardships' (2 Cor. 10:12), and: 'All who seek to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution' (2 Tim. 3:12)."
St. Philotheos of Sinai
I was planning on writing a bit about this quote, as well as excerpts from this book, but James Ferrenberg has coincidently just posted a wonderful piece on this subject!
Check out his 6/11 post on the "Health(Sickness) and Wealth(Povery) Gospel." (Permalinks still down....)
Just last night I visited my step-mother who recently decided to take in her invalid father and care for him. He was badly burned in a house fire and subsequently needs 24 hour care. Although my step-mother is mentally and physically exhausted most of the time, she is giving thanks to God daily. Not just because her father is still alive (miraculous though that is); but because she is beginning to experience the love of God in a way she never had before.
She has been given the blessing to live out, in a truly incarnated way, Matthew 25...."I was hungry and you fed me...." She recognizes the paradox of pain: her father's suffering is not, ontologically, a good thing. In God's original plan for humanity, he was not made to suffer. Yet his suffering, as much as it is offered to Christ allows him to participate in the sufferings of Christ. (Col. 1:24).
As James points out, our modern culture teaches us to glory in things we can tell are "good." Health, wealth, material goods, ect. How different this is than the words of St. Paul! "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (2 Cor. 11:30)
Many might be tempted to question God by asking "Why was he kept alive after going through a horrific accident?" While these questions are normal, they betray a certain worldly mindset and vision of what really constitues "health."
Could it be that God is giving him more time to repent of his sins so his soul will be healed? Could it be for the salvation and strengthening of my step-mother in faith and love? If repentance and humility are the keys to growth in Christ, is it possible that perfect health might be an obstacle to gaining these fruits? For the Orthodox, there are no coincidences. There are no accidents, even those things which on the surface may seem to be. "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." (Gen 50:20). While we recognize that evil, suffering, and pain are not illusions, neither are they all-powerful. *Anything* that results in an increase of humility, prayer, love, and repentance is something to give thanks to God for. Even suffering....perhaps one could say, *especially* suffering.
Most Orthodox Christians incorporate the following prayer into their regular rule to remind them of this. I try and say it in the morning after I get to work. It is a prayer which speaks to those of us who suffer and helps to give a proper perspective on pain and suffering in our lives:
"O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me. Amen."
Calvary Chapel churches, founded in Southern California in the wake of the "Jesus Movement" by Chuck Smith, combine methodical verse-by-verse Bible preaching with contemporary, "free-form" worship. The theology is basic foursquare Protestantism with a Pentecostal twist: a strong undercurrent of fundamentalist didacticism and an unswervingly literal approach to the Scriptures combined with a "low-key" charismatic form of worship. One of the interesting elements of this particular denomination is the demographic--many Calvary Chapel church pews are overwhelmingly filled with Gen-Xers. In some parishes, 20-somethings comprise up to 60% of the membership.
During a recent discussion, one of our friends asked me to look over their statement of faith and make some comments. (Yeah, they don't know me very well!)
The following is the brief and vastly inadequate critique of the Calvary Chapel statement of faith from the Eastern Orthodox perspective that I sent her. I thought I'd post it in parts on the blog. Again, this is by no means a finished draft and I'm sure has a few holes in it. Feel free to point them out! Here goes:
Calvary Chapel has been formed as a fellowship of believers in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our supreme desire is to know Christ and be conformed to His image by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only to their over-emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.
The first sentence, presumes that the original church doesn't exist and needs to be "formed" again--I don't think I need to go into the reasons why the Orthodox would find this problematic! The second sentence is fine. The last sentence presents problems. As I�ve pointed out before, there is no such thing, philosophically, as a �non-denominational� church at least from the perspective of western Christendom. Every western church was founded on some opposing principle or on some set of beliefs that were contrary to another church (either Roman Catholicism leaving Orthodoxy, or the various Protestant churches leaving either Catholicism or another branch of Protestantism). Even the �non-denom� churches are reacting to denominationalism! Ecclesiology is an essential matter for Christians and always has been. There is no such thing as �Churchless� Christianity!
Also, while many churches do take an overly polemic tone in doctrinal debates or issues and while many churches divorce doctrine from the practical and daily life of their flocks, this does not mean that doctrine doesn�t matter. Many of the early heretics (Arius, Nestorius, Marcion et al) thought they were the true Christians, yet their teachings are diametrically opposed to the witness of Christ and the Church. It was vitally important that the Church decide which doctrines are true and which are not. These decisions (made in the Ecumenical Councils) did bring schism-but only because the heretics refused to repent of their false teachings. The point here is that divisions and schisms are sometimes based on TRUTH, not just fruitless and hairsplitting debate.
We believe the only true basis of Christian fellowship is Christ's Agape love, which is greater than any differences we possess and without which we have no right to claim ourselves Christians.
This is fine. The Orthodox would emphasize that the Eucharist makes this fellowship fully realized.
We believe worship of God should be spiritual. Therefore, we remain flexible and yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to direct our worship.
Hmm. The first sentence is a little vague. I�m assuming it is an oblique reference to John 4:24. If so, this is true. If it is trying to imply that the physical forms of ancient worship (icons, incense, sacraments etc) are idolatrous and thus only non-physical worship is "spiritual", then we have problems. The second sentence seems to imply that the forms of worship are still up for interpretation and can be recreated based on �new revelation.�
However, the Scripture as well as the history of the early church shows clearly that the form of worship ordained by God in the OT was to be explicitly liturgical, sacramental, and sacrificial and that this form of worship was to be continued in the Church. Jesus validated the temple worship by participating in it fully during his earthly ministry. And the Apostles and disciples and early church fathers took the liturgical worship of Judaism and added the Eucharist to it, but did not change its essential form.
"Out of the Silent Planet" is my least favorite of the Lewis space triology. Of course, that's like saying plain cheese is my least favorite pizza--it's still pretty darn good!
Just a quick comment, as I only had time to skim through this week's reading. These two sentences at the end of chapter 6 reminded me of someone I know!
"Things do not always happen as a man would expect. The moment of his arrivial in an unknown world found Ransom wholly absorbed in a philosophical
S.F. Danckaert has been quoting some fascinating snippets from a book entitled, "Everyday Life in Byzantium." (see his June 3rd post)
Not that I'm a golden-eyed romantic, but it still seems that Byzantine culture makes our western culture pale in comparison. Our heritage leaves us impoverished in many ways (and not just theological). One of these impoverishments is historical ignorance of many things Eastern (Christian East, that is).
In the June issue of Touchstone (pg54), Preston Jones makes the following statements in a book review:
"...the church saved civilization after the collapse of the Roman Empire..."
Why is that western historians never recognize only the *western half* of the Empire collapsed! Culture, civilization, art, music, politics....all these not only survived in the East in Constantinople but flourished!
Then this sentence from Mr. Jones :
"The implication, of course, is that Christianity by itself cannot create--or up to now has not created--a civilization."
Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "created." While some might argue that Orthodoxy spread throughout the world by riding on the back of Hellenistic culture, I think a strong case could be made that it was the uniquely Christian culture of Byzantium that created and nurtured 1000 years of civilization.
I would say that creating culture, while not a distinctly spelled out mission, is a inevitable consequence of the spread of Christianity. We *must* create civilization and culture because if we don't, some other group will. Western civilization is replete with examples of what happens to culture (and thus, humanity) when Christians have failed to sufficiently be "in the world."
This morning we gathered to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on this, the Feast Day of the Ascension. I really love these early morning Liturgies. With the world still drowsy with sleep, the birds chriping, the flowers in bloom, we join creation in praising our Lord for taking our human nature into heaven. Truly, He "is clothed with honor and majesty!"
"O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,
The Redeemer of the world!" -- Troparian of the Feast of the Ascension
In Fr. Schmemann's collection of radio addresses he had this to say about today's Feast:
"The feast of the Ascension is the celebration of heaven now opened to human beings, heaven as the new and eternal home, heaven as our true homeland. Sin severed earth from heaven and made us earthly and coarse, it fixed our gaze solidly on the ground and made our life exclusively earthbound....It is precisely on this day, on the feast of the Ascension, that we cannot fail to be horrified by this renunciation that fills the whole world...."
"Speaking about heaven [St. John Chrysostom] exclaims: 'What need do I have for heaven, when I myself will become heaven." Let the answer come from our ancestors, who called the church "heaven on earth." The essential point of both these answers is this: heaven is the name of our authentic vocation as human beings, heaven is the final truth about the earth. No, heaven is not somewhere in outer space beyond the planets, or in some unknown galaxy. Heaven is what Christ gives back to us, what we lost through our sin and pride..."
Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, "The Lord leaves in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with himself. He goes in order to "prepare a place" for and to take us also into the blessedness of God s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the "heavenly sanctuary ... the Holy Place not made by hands" (see Hebrews 8-10). He goes in order send the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father to bear witness to him and his gospel in the world, making him powerfully present in the lives of disciples."
Click HERE to see one of my favorite icons of the Ascension and to learn more about the Feast. The way the icon is written makes it it hard to tell if it is the Asecnsion or the Second Coming....
("Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Acts 1:11)
"A liturgical Church has an advantage over one where worship is relatively spontaneous, in that people powered by religious emotion simply run out of steam. Where there is a Liturgy, you show up each week and merge into that stream, and allow the prayers to shape you. But where the test of successful worship is how much you felt moved, there's always performance anxiety; even the audience has to perform."
"I had been a Christian about ten years when I noticed to my dismay that my spiritual feelings were changing; the experience was growing quieter, less exciting. I feared that I was losing my faith...Then I came to sense that my faith had undergone a shift in location. It had moved deep inside and was glowing there like a little oil lamp; if I was swept away with emotionally noisy worship, it might tip and sputter. Silence and attentiveness were now key." Frederica Mathewes-Green, "At the Corner of East and Now" (pg 170-171)
I came across this in my reading last night and then found the following quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose at Huw's blog. I think they go well together:
"When experience is emphasized above doctrine, the normal Christian safeguards which protect one against the attacks of fallen spirits are removed or neutralized, and the passiveness and "openness" which characterize the new cults literally open one up to be used by demons."
A friend of mine (an inquirer into Orthodoxy) was explaining to his family that he is searching for, not a "perfect" church but a Church that is more whole, that is more full. One that, while containing sinful human beings, also contains and gives more access to truth and less to falsehood.
"[T]here is a significant probability that you are living in a computer simulation. I mean this literally: if the simulation hypothesis is true, you exist in a virtual reality simulated in a computer built by some advanced civilization. Your brain, too, is merely a part of that simulation."
Thus writes Nick Bostrum, postdoctoral fellow in the philosophy faculty at Oxford University. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he writes, not from Oxford, but from within the Matrix.
In this article, he states one of following three sentences must be true:
1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small.
(2) Almost no technologically mature civilizations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours.
(3) You are almost certainly in a simulation.
Bostrum's "digital self-image" bets on hypothesis number three. Like a well-trained Cartesian, Bostrum goes on to wax eloquent about the nature of knowledge and reality. He writes, "If you are such a simulated mind, there might be no direct observational way for you to tell; the virtual reality that you would be living in would look and feel perfectly real. But all that this shows, so far, is that you could never be completely sure that you are not living in a simulation." Where have we heard this before? (Are you a man dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man?)
But the money quote (as Andrew Sullivan would say), is this interesting tidbit where Bostrum explains away faith in the supernatural:
"To the extent that you think that you understand the motives of the simulators, you can use that understanding to predict what will happen in the simulated world they created. If you think that there is a chance that the simulator of this world happens to be, say, a true-to-faith descendant of some contemporary Christian fundamentalist, you might conjecture that he or she has set up the simulation in such a way that the simulated beings will be rewarded or punished according to Christian moral criteria. An afterlife would, of course, be a real possibility for a simulated creature (who could either be continued in a different simulation after her death or even be �uploaded� into the simulator�s universe and perhaps be provided with an artificial body there). Your fate in that afterlife could be made to depend on how you behaved in your present simulated incarnation."
You can read more about the computational requirements of the Matrix here.
The logic of Bostrum and the tone of this whole discussion reminded me of this quote from G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy":
"Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."