Moving east to find lost treasures…

In the light of the current Rob Bell controverse (if you don’t know what I mean just google his name and ‘love wins’)  there are some thoughts that are not new, and there’s probably nothing new about them… For example, Kingdom Grace has made similar remarks earlier, but I’ll try to explain how I see it.

While not much seems to be happening here in Flanders in the (very small) evangelical world, it seems like the internet is announcing over and over the end of evangelicalism in the US, or its split. The fights over Rob Bells new book (ironically called ‘Love wins’, how naive of him, you know christians will never exhibit love if they disagree… hmm ) seems to make a division between the hardcore reformed who hold to a theology I find very troubling sometimes (and I’m not the only one) and all the others, who are not considered ‘in’ for some of those… But frankly,  I don’t believe calvinism is the most helpful tradition here.

I don’t think we need to return to seventeenth century ‘orthodoxy’ if we want to find our roots again, and neither do I think we need to read the bible through a few elect pauline verses… Yes we need to go back to our roots, but the problem with sola scriptura is that where we had 4 schisms in the first 1500 years, we have had 30000 church splits since protestantism, so even when teh bible is infallible, everybody seems to have another opinion about what it says… So we don’t just need to go back to the bible, but also look at the others who are going the same way as we do, and/or those who did in the past.

Yes I think that the ‘modern’ protestant church has been navelgazing too long, blinded by our cultural assumptions, and it might need some input from other traditions to refresh its vision (and more open ears to the Holy Spirit!!!). I might be quite unmodern being both pentecostel (which according to some is more pre-modern) and influenced by C.S. Lewis, who called himself the last ancient westerner, but I’m not going to do all the emerging church babble about postmodernism being better than modernism. Still I’m affraid that I’m convinced that modernism and Christianity don’t mix very well. Both fundamentalism and liberalism, the 2 polar opposite adaptions christianity made to late modernism are not the most vital and life-bringing forms of Christianity, and did much harm to the gospel.

So my proposal is to learn from non-modern christian traditions to find back what we’ve lost with the blind spots of our modern eyes. Thats’s in fact one of the things happening in and beyond the ’emerging church’, and one of the problems for some is that those traditions are far away from standard dispensationalism and calvinism. One of those traditions which we can learn a lot from is the (neo-)anabaptism which probably is the most attractive side of the emerging church to me. A focus on discpleship and following the Jesus of the gospels is something we surely need in our churches! Every church a peace church!!

(another one would be the charismatic tradition, of which I am already part, which is frustratingly ignored in some parts of the emerging church tending too much to naturalism!)

So what’s the ‘new’ one I’m finding more and more interesting? It’s actually a very old one, and unlike anabaptism undeniably totally outside of protestantism, and it was even left out of Brian McLarens ‘generous orthodoxy’, but I don’t think it can really be considered ‘unorthodox’ in any way at all, since I’m talking about the so-called eastern orthodox church here. They own the word!

People who read here regularly know that I recently was very impressed with a video pointing out the differences between the orthodox and protestant view of salvation. I do indeed think that the orthodox have a much more complete, biblical and coherent view on salvation than the good-friday-only penal substitution some of us protestants preach! And we can and should also learn a lot from their non-dualistic view of reality, their insistance of the presence of God, and their embrace of paradox and mystery instead of trying to push all of reality into systematic theology!

And I’m not the only one who has been discovering this, even people in my own denomination (the vineyard) are discovering that the the eastern orthodox are theologically very interesting and very close to the ideas some post-evangelicals are (re)discovering. Yes indeed, the ‘heresy’ of some of Rob Bells or even NT Wrights views is in fact much closer to eastern orthodoxy and the church fathers than to calvinism, which is in return a heresy condemned by both the catholic and orthodox church… The whole idea that Jesus came to save us in the first place from the wrath of God would be totally alien to them. To quote American orthodox priest Father Stephen:

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals – and yet it is necessary – both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me

So, I think we can and should learn a lot from the orthodox (among many other traditions), who have a much more complete view of salvation, and who seem to be able to make a lot more sense of the ressurrection, without which our hope is in vain according to Paul, but which is reduced to just some counterintuitive fact that should be believed in to be saved by some fundamentalists.

but no, I’m never ever going to become eastern orthodox myself. My theology of church would fall somewhere between those of Frank Viola and John Wimber and is quite opposite to the hierarchical liturgical view of an old church with only male priests: I believe in the priesthood of all believers, where ‘everybody gets to play’ and where men and women can excercise the gifts the Spirit has given them. And I don’t buy the stuff about relics and saints (even though their theology of the communion of the saints and the witness cloud sounds interesting to me!)

So if we want to restore a truly ‘evangelical’ faith, we have to recover the good news of God redeeming all of creation and of the hope Jesus brought in the resurrection. The vision of Gods kingdom as layed out in the gospels is incompatible with a gospel that is only concerned with saving individual souls from Gods wrath, it’s about the restauration of all of creation! And here I think can learn a lot from those older brothers in our faith in Jesus Christ.

(Even if we’ll still disagree about a lot of things and not be able to be in communion with them because different views on church, priesthood and eucharist. )

But it’s not about which tradition is best. It’s about understanding God more, and participation in the mission of His kingdom.



ps: I am in no way an expert in orthodoxy, so if anyone has helpful links or book titles to enlighten me more, please share them with me and my readers!!!

11 responses to “Moving east to find lost treasures…

  1. You were right – this is a topic that is close to my heart. =)

    We have to look beyond Protestantism and the last 500 years of Christianity if we are going to find a way forward in this new land of multi-religious culturalism.

    Of the three main branches of Christianity, it seem that the Eastern Orthodox are the only ones who have maintained the mystery of God throughout the ages….a fact that, like you, intrigues me to no end. How did they do it? How did they withstand the push and pull tension of human wisdom to maintain a sense of awe at the Lord Almighty?

    Perhaps, they simply redirected their energies into other areas of theology and ecclesiology… I don’t know…but I do know that my life has been enriched by some of their theology.

    On a side note, do you know anything about the Coptic Church in Africa? They were one of the first groups to split off from the ‘mainline’ church in the fourth century. Yet from the little I have read, they seem to have developed a fairly orthodox theology… Granted, I don’t know much beyond the basics…as such, if you hear about any resources in English I would love it if you gave me a heads up. =)


  2. Pingback: Moving east to find lost treasures… « Requisite Danger

  3. Friends, the Orthodox Church most certainly believes and teaches in the priesthood of all believers and that all are called to exercise their spiritual gifts. Actually, we believe their is only on Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the last and eternal Priest, whose ministry we are called to be a part of.

    The Copts are Orthodox too – there was a technical-linguistic split over the language of Chalcedon, but the theology of all Orthodox churches is essentially the same – the primary reason for that stability is there is no mechanism for change. Any shift in fundamentals would cause a rupture in communion. Lacking any central authority (other than Christ and our understanding of Him as revealed in the Scriptures), we don’t have mechanisms to introduce new teachings. That is why a Christian from the first or second century can could understand the worship and teaching of the Orthodox Church today – there’s nothing ‘new’ in it’s essentials.

    If I can, I’d be happy to try to answer questions.

  4. I thought I’d try to provide some context for a few areas where you have concerns about Orthodoxy. I’m not trying to present an argument or compel agreement, just to provide some background on the issues you raise, specifically, the priesthood and relics. I wanted to pass this along because in my experience many Christians simply have never been exposed to this information. I hope this is helpful – if not, please just delete the comment.

    From an Orthodox perspective, the ordained ministry within the Church is just a continuation of the practice of the Apostolic period. The New Testament mentions the Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons, which remain the clerical “orders” in the Church today. These offices have special ministries, but the

    Immediately at the end of the first century, we see this structure repeatedly described in terms that indicate it was normative. St. Clement of Rome in his first epistle to the Corinthians talks about these offices as “God appointed”:

    “These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.”

    Similarly, during the same period the martyred Bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch talks of the Bishop and the Priests in terms that are really quite identical to how they are viewed today (epistle to Ephesians):

    “I do not command you as if I were someone great, for even though I be bound in the Name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I do but begin to be a disciple and I speak to you as to my fellow learners. And it were fitting for me to be anointed by you for the contest,[7] with faith, admonition, patience, long-suffering. But since love does not suffer me to be silent concerning you, I have therefore hastened to exhort you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of God. For Jesus Christ, our inseparable Life, is the mind of the Father, even as the bishops who are settled in the farthest parts of the earth are the mind of Christ.

    4. Hence it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop, even as the strings to a lyre. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. Form yourselves one and all into a choir,[8] that blending in concord and taking the keynote of God, you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, that he may hear you and recognize you through your good deeds to be members of His Son. Therefore it is profitable for you to live in blameless unity, that you may always enjoy communion with God….”

    (Parenthetically, Ignatius also makes very striking statements about the Eucharist being the real Body and Blood of Christ and that no Eucharist may be received except from the Bishop or his Priests)

    Early Christian apologists such as St. Irenaeus of Lyons were already suggesting the necessity of Apostolic succession in the immediate post-Apostolic Age.

    The Communion of the Saints is for the Orthodox a basic Biblical teaching and lies at the heart of our understanding of the Gospel: Christ has defeated death and calls us all to participate in the Divine Life as joint-heirs. As the Scriptures say, the Saints form a “cloud of witnesses” that support us through their prayers in our struggles. Aside from the Scriptures themselves, the immediate subapostolic writings show this was the view of the first Christians – in the martyrdom account of St. Ignatius of Antioch we read about the visions of this Saint praying for this followers:

    “Now these things took place on the thirteenth day before the Kalends of January, that is, on the twentieth of December, Sura and Senecio being then the consuls of the Romans for the second time. Having ourselves been eye-witnesses of these things, and having spent the whole night in tears within the house, and having entreated the Lord, with bended knees and much prayer, that He would give us weak men full assurance respecting the things which were done, it came to pass, on our falling into a brief slumber, that some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord. When, therefore, we had with great joy witnessed these things, and had compared our several visions together, we sang praise to God, the giver of all good things, and expressed our sense of the happiness of the holy [martyr]; and now we have made known to you both the day and the time [when these things happened], that, assembling ourselves together according to the time of his martyrdom, we may have fellowship with the champion and noble martyr of Christ, who trod under foot the devil, and perfected the course which, out of love to Christ, he had desired, in Christ Jesus our Lord; by whom, and with whom, be glory and power to the Father, with the Holy Spirit, for evermore! Amen.”

    Similarly, the Scriptures are full of relics in both the Old and New Testaments. The worship of Israel centered around the Ark of the Covenant, a portable reliquary. In Kings, contact with the bones of Elisha raise a man from death. In the New Testament, St. Paul’s handkerchief heals. The relics of martyred Saints were collected for veneration – in fact the Eucharistic altar was placed on the relics or graves of martyrs. For example, when St. Polycarp, a Bishop and disciple of St. John the Evangelist was martyred, the martyrdom accounts includes the following:

    “So he put forward Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to plead with the magistrate not to give up his body, “lest,” so it was said, “they should abandon the crucified one and begin to worship this man” — this being done at the instigation and urgent entreaty of the Jews, who also watched when we were about to take it from the fire, not knowing that it will be impossible for us either to forsake at any time the Christ who suffered for the salvation of the whole world of those that are saved — suffered though faultless for sinners — nor to worship any other. For Him, being the Son of God, we adore, but the martyrs as disciples and imitators of the Lord we cherish as they deserve for their matchless affection towards their own King and Teacher. May it be our lot also to be found partakers and fellow-disciples with them. The centurion therefore, seeing the opposition raised on the part of the Jews, set him in the midst and burnt him after their custom. And so we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom for the commemoration of those that have already fought in the contest, and for the training and preparation of those that shall do so hereafter.”

    By the way, Vineyard Church in San Jose converted to Orthodoxy en masse some years back – if you are interested in a Vineyard centric view of this experience, I believe there is at least one book published on the experiences of this congregation.

    • Greg;

      wow, thanks for all of this… The quotes from the fathers are interesting, and the story about the vineyard-turned-orthodox is even more interesting. (Not that I will convert to orthodoxy soon.

      It’s interesting how you say that schizm of the copts (and I suppose other monophysites) was a “a technical-linguistic split over the language of Chalcedon”. I’m currently a secundary school teacher who teaches protestant religion in secondary school (in belgian public schools pupimls are able to choose their religious eductation subject -catholic, non-confessional morals, protestant, islam, orthodox, jewish or anglican-) and I’ve met 2 teachers of orthodox religion who both complained about monophyites being grouped together with them. Seems like both of them do consider their christology heretical…

      And my second question would be: what about Nestorianism? As a protestant I tend to agree with Nestorius’ critique of the term ‘theotokos’, and I would prefer ‘christotokos’ too. (not that I’m ever using this kind of terms anyway…)

      Also I’m wondering what you forgot to type after the ‘but the’ in your second paragraph of your second reply.

      I don’t think I’ll be easily convinced to actually join the orthodox church, I believe all (or most) kind of churches have their function in gods kingdom, but I do recognise the same God that I know much more in orthodox theology than I see in hardcore calvinism of dispensationalism. And I can learn a lot from you (and other traditions like the anabaptists who should be the opposite in terms of tradition but similar in dedication to the following of Christ)…



  5. I’m not trying to convert you, just sharing …. I think we have a lot to learn from each other.

    I am not sure that the Copts are truly monophysite, at least dogmatically as a church. You will find most Copts will immediately protest if you call them monophysite. My impression is that they have serious reservations about using language distinct from St. Cyril in their Christology, which was their core issue with Chalcedon. We certainly consider our Christology to be “Cyrilian” as well, but we believe that this is appropriately expressed in the Chalcedonian formula.

    Nestorianism is another matter. It is unacceptable as it divides the person of Christ into two subjects – we affirm that the child borne of Mary is the God-man, one Divine Person. To be honest, I’ve never actually met a protestant pastor who didn’t agree that Theotokos is proper Christology, but I am sure there are some out there. But this is dogmatic for us.

    The Alexandrian Liturgy, which we know in the 200s contained the hymn

    ” Beneath your compassion,
    We take refuge, O Theotokos:
    do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
    but rescue us from dangers,
    only pure, only blessed one.”

    was the likely immediate cause of this dispute, but it was very much about the person of Christ, theologically speaking.

    And yes, I did unfortunately drop a sentence there – I meant to underscore that we preach, teach and are supposed to live the fact that all Baptized and Chrismated Christians are annointed into the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ. Sorry about that.

  6. PS. I believe this is the book by the Vineyard pastor turned Orthodox priest providing a charismatic view of Orthodoxy.

  7. thanks, I have too much books to read and buy already, but I’ll put that one on my list…

    And I’m not gonna discuss mariology here. I’m not denying the word theotokos, but I’m preferring the term christotokos. But indeed, Mary gave birth to Christ as both God and man.

  8. Agreed: like I said, I don’t want to argue about anything, just to present a bit of detail on some of the what/whys specific to Orthodoxy because there seems to be so much misinformation out there. Just as a data point, properly speaking we don’t really have a mariology in Orthodoxy, only Christology. The only thing we say dogmatically about Mary is she bore God in the flesh. Obviously, we view her as very much in intimate communion with us in and through Christ in a way that often (though I’m surprised to find more and more not always) seems uncomfortable for protestants, but we don’t believe in the immaculate conception, her living assumption, the various c0-mediatrix/co-redemptrix doctrines etc that one finds in Roman Catholicism.

  9. “Of the three main branches of Christianity, it seem that the Eastern Orthodox are the only ones who have maintained the mystery of God throughout the ages….a fact that, like you, intrigues me to no end. How did they do it? How did they withstand the push and pull tension of human wisdom to maintain a sense of awe at the Lord Almighty?”

    In the 1400’s, the Arabs and their Turkish successors had conquered all of the formerly-Orthodox lands in the Middle East, Africa and Anatolia- they were poised to attack Constantinople, and to pillage and subjugate all of Eastern Europe.

    In 1431-39, The Council of Florence was called between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in order to negotiate a reunion of the churches– in reality, to negotiate subjugation under Rome. This council was primarily convened at the behest of the Orthodox Eastern Roman (Byzantine) leaders who wanted military support against the invading Turks. The Orthodox would have had to accept all of the Roman Catholic innovations– de-mystified theology, the filioque, created grace, limbo, purgatory, papal supremacy, etc. in order for the union to occur.

    Of the Orthodox bishops who attended, all capitulated to Rome to save their people from the Turks… except one man, St. Mark of Ephesus, who stood contra mundum against his brothers for the Orthodox Faith. Afterward, popular support against the union caused it to fail, and the council of Florence was later regarded as a “robber council” by the Orthodox Church.

    In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Turks, and the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI, was slain. The Orthodox remain under persecution in “Turkey” up until this day. They lost everything.

    Except for the Truth.

    • wow, interesting story, and intensely sad; thanks for sharing. There’s so much about Church history I don’t know…

      I’m glad they didn’t lose their Truth though!

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