The Sin of Schism

October 11, 2007

I’ve been commenting on this post. Down towards the bottom of the page you will find this:

Indeed, if studied carefully, all Christians who enter Orthodoxy, are repenting of the sin of schism (though most will not have thought of themselves that way until they saw the truth of Orthodoxy).

I’m enjoying my discussion with these folks, but I find that a little offensive. Certainly it is consistent with their beliefs (there is one church, the Orthodox church, and you as a believer from a different tradition have strayed). But frankly, I think that at some point the Orthodox church is going to need to abandon that idea. Why? Because schism did happen. There’s nothing we can do about it at this point. And though the victor (to my understanding) was clearly the Orthodox church in 1054, it’s a fantasy to suggest that the Orthodox represent the complete development of God’s kingdom on earth today, just as much as it’s a fantasy for the Reformed denominations to claim an unwavering line of truth in Church history that leads from the apostles to their modern Statements of Faith.


23 Responses to “The Sin of Schism”

  1. The actual problem, is that for the Orthodox, all Christian Churches that have descended from Rome (i.e., the whole West) are participants in the schism of Rome from our perspective. Or were simply living outside the One Church (as we understand it). The Kingdom does not develop on Earth nor can it be subject to development. It is the gift of God and we eschatologically participate in it, but it’s not the same thing as christendom. That there are many other Christians, Orthodox quickly recognize, and are generally more than willing to dialog with. But when it comes to entering the Orthodox faith, we generally do so with confession, absolution, and chrismation (though some insist we should be baptizing only). But we are still the same Church we’ve always been, and cannot see anywhere in Scripture that taught us that the Church would be multiform. Thus, I think Rome has a special term for the churches of the non-Roman, Orthodox simply refers to them as the heterodox, or just Protestants, etc. We have no fantasy about the Church – simply that outside of Orthodoxy is in extreme dissary (and its bad enough even inside Orthodoxy). We won’t abandon a point that is the only sense we can make of the present based on the canons. It’s how we see the world. We don’t get to make up another point of view.

  2. Ben Says:

    Yeah, I’m glad that most of the Orthodox are still willing to dialog with Protestants. Maybe what I’m driving at is … though I recognize Protestantism has many failings, and there is much we could learn from the Orthodox … that perhaps there are also some things the Orthodox can learn from us, as well. As I hinted at in the comments for your post, I would not be willing to embrace Orthodoxy because I think there are aspects of “What God calls us to” that we get right, that you don’t. Even if I considered Orthodoxy to be superior, I would not be willing to give up what I’ve learned … I’ve been reading a bit by Dr. Brad Nassif, who seems to have the right idea. Maybe I am just getting caught up in the philosophical differences … perhaps you would agree with Nassif’s approach? Not that I would 100%, not being Orthodox myself, but he seems to be on the right track.

  3. Ben Says:

    On a side note (I don’t know if you agreed with that guy or not) I think that the idea of the Septuagint being superior to the Hebrew text is preposterous. By all means, have an “Orthodox only” translation, but this is the exact thing I’m talking about. For the sake of your tradition, you are compromising truth. Sure, the Septuagint is good, but if it was a *mostly* error free translation of original Hebrew texts … wouldn’t it be better to use the Hebrew and the Greek together? I hope you don’t think the Dead Sea Scrolls aren’t genuine, because I would consider that to be conspiracy-theory level misdirection. In Protestantism, we have the same thing … some folks are convinced that only the King James is good enough, in spite of all evidence to the contrary; it’s cultural tradition that dictates this to them. Or the Vulgate … it’s a good translation, to be sure, but politics and tradition are what made its use compulsory for so many years within the Catholic Church.

  4. Gina Says:

    I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m unusual in saying that I can’t at all relate to Professor Nassif’s characterization of Orthodox parish life.

  5. Ben Says:

    In what respect is Dr. Nassif’s characterization incorrect? Obviously I have little to no experience of it, myself.

  6. Gina Says:

    Primarily that the gospel is not preached. The gospel is not only proclaimed in every Liturgy, it is woven into everything. If you were blind, you would hear it and sing it in the prayers. If you were deaf or didn’t speak the language, you would see it in the gestures and icons. It’s no accident that these same things I mention are the things which have been jettisoned from evangelical worship. It is natural for us to be blind to all but our own “cultural clues.” And so, evangelicals who are used to a certain kind of preaching look for that kind of preaching in Orthodoxy, may or may not see it (or see enough of it), and say “the Orthodox don’t preach the gospel” or “the Orthodox don’t do evangelism.” Dr. Nassif, whose project is synchronizing Orthodoxy and evangelicalism, naturally emphasizes these things.

    Of course, there is spiritual blindness and deafness which makes the soul immune to all of these proclamations of the gospel and more. As our Lord said, “even if one were to come back from the dead…” But the church is a hospital, not a museum of perfect Christians, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

    As to your irritation (if that’s the right word) with Orthodox claims to “trueness,” I understand them well, but you have to understand the Orthodox are just doing what they have always done and are not going to stop because we in the West experience a certain Christian schizophrenia. I think, in our heart of hearts, we in the West really don’t want them to. While we may make great strides in bringing in the numbers, in getting people to speak great commitment and demonstrate it in various ministries and activism, perhaps you would agree that in many cases we are miles wide and inches deep. I can say that having been in evangelical campus ministry in Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey, now having converted to Orthodoxy, I was truly blind and deaf to Orthodoxy’s riches. I thought to offer people out of American richness and have come instead to see some of our own spiritual poverty. You can convert a lot of people, but what are you converting them to?

    Thanks for listening to our point of view, as puzzling and frustrating as it may be.

  7. Ben Says:

    Yeah, thanks for sharing. I am enjoying learning about Orthodoxy and enriching my own faith through these discussions. I certainly would not be of the crowd that considers Orthodoxy irrelevant or inferior.

    In response, I guess it all depends on how you evaluate “mile wide and inch deep”. If you mean that evangelicals have less holiness and more hypocrisy than Orthodox, I would certainly question that statement. Both the evangelical and Orthodox churches have problems with nominal believers, and I don’t think that it’s really possible (or profitable) to evaluate which tradition is worse on that front.

    If you are saying that a person can be a very active evangelical, involved in career ministry, and still not be effectively discipled and sanctified, certainly that is true. This doesn’t imply, however, that everyone involved in evangelical ministry is a pharisee. I’m sure that the same could be said of Orthodoxy, as well … “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” … or, less severely, we could say that not everyone is “given much, that much may be required”. As I said on the original post (on Fr. Stephen’s blog), you shouldn’t judge all evangelicals by your own experience, either. It may be that you did not mature greatly in Christ before becoming Orthodox, but this does not mean that all evangelicals are immature believers.

  8. Ben Says:

    I’m wondering, too, what’s being “jettisoned” from evangelical worship? Worship varies a lot from church to church. What’s jettisoned in one church could be emphasized in another. Unless you’re referring specifically to the Liturgy (big L)?

  9. Ben Says:

    Also, when you worked in Kazakhstan, were you primarily working with Russian or Kazakh folks? Because that brings up a whole other issue. Unless you’re a universalist, which Orthodoxy has even less room for than evangelicalism, you must admit that it would be better for a Kazakh person to be an evangelical than a Muslim or Atheist. Which brings up another … hm … “achilles heel” for the Orthodox church, which is, how is a Kazakh going to start attending what is obviously a Russian church? I would hope that as an evangelical missionary, you came across the concept of contextualization. I can only assume that you think it is invalid if you believe that the Orthodox church could sufficiently witness to the Kazakh people. The idea being that we should not be requiring people to turn their backs on their culture and identity to become a Christian. This (making the gospel mono-cultural) is the very thing you are condemning the American church for, is it not? To my understanding, the Orthodox church is much worse on that front.

  10. Gina Says:

    Ben, about “jettisoning”: This happened long before you and I were born, when the Reformers cleansed their worship of “papal superstitions.” You may see more where I’m coming from if you have a look at my commentary on Eamon Duffy’s “Stripping the Altars”:

    Likewise by “inches deep” I refer not to individual evangelical believers, many of whom humble me in their faith. A couple from my previous church have prayed for me every day for years. The only person I have prayed for daily is… myself. No, what I refer to is what is described by Orthodox as “the fullness of the faith.” Fr. Peter Gilquist, who wrote the quintessential convert story “Becoming Orthodox,” said that when he became Orthodox he learned about all the parts of the Bible he hadn’t underlined.

    As for my evangelical experience, I was an evangelical for 15 years, 10 of them in full-time missions. I make no claims either to saintliness or special maturity, but I think my experience of evangelicalism was more intense than average.

    I think it’s ironic you mention contextualizing ministry to Kazakhs. The actual culture of Kazakhstan is, thanks to the Soviets, not nearly so “diverse” as your words imply. The fact that the ethnic Russians and ethnic Kazakhs don’t always get along or trust each other, especially since the fall of the USSR, is a long way from saying they don’t share a common culture. Shouldn’t the church be where both sides confront such issues? What would “contextualization” involve, anyway? Worship in Kazakh, a language hardly anyone speaks? Worship in American style, since it’s supposedly a “neutral” medium? Furthermore, think a bit about what you’re saying. Do the Kazakhs and Russians need *us* to help them sort out their problems? Is that so far removed from the bad old paternalistic missions mindset of old? To answer your question, in all the countries I was in, we worked with “all comers” regardless of background.

  11. Ben Says:

    Obviously, contextualization is *not* an idea you’ve been exposed to, then. Kazakhstan may be a bad example, but I doubt it, and it doesn’t disprove my point (it just shows that I may be ignorant of the on-the-ground culture in Kstan). Turkey might have been a better example.

    A missionary practicing good contextualization goes where there is no effective gospel witness, to a culture that cannot be reached through church expansion (usually because of cultural barriers). They attempt to present the gospel in a way that is relevant to the target culture, without requiring them to adapt to another culture (change their name, turn their back on their family, adopt practices that are not Christian, but American, Russian, Greek, etc.). The music would be whatever they chose, obviously, but rather than forcing Western hymns/praise songs or Eastern liturgy on them, the goal would be to develop a worship style in their language, using forms that they understand, hopefully in the traditional styles of their culture. Though, once again, Kstan could be a bad example, there are many countries in that region where Russian is the language of business, but the first language, what we call “heart language”, is Azeri, Turkmen, what have you. Imagine if all the liturgy of the church was in Greek or, say, Spanish. You can get the gist, but you’d be much better served by a contextually appropriate church (assuming you, like myself, have English as a first language and Spanish as a second).

    If you want to see what you missed about evangelical missions, I would encourage you to take the Perspectives Course.

    I gather from your blog that you live in the Bay Area, therefore it should be easy to find a class.

    As to the “us sorting out the problems of Kazakhs and Russians”, the God I worship commanded His church to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. If the Russian church is failing to witness to the Kazakhs, Azeris, and Turkmen, I’m not going to condemn them to hell because it’s “Orthodox Territory”. Take Turkey for instance; evangelical missions are making headway there in the last 20 years that the Orthodox church has not achieved in 500 years. “Fullness of the faith” or not, I’m not going to tell those missionaries to go home.

  12. Gina Says:

    Hi Ben,
    If language is the only issue, it’s not (much of) an issue. The Liturgy, like the Scriptures, can be translated into any language, though the Orthodox have often tended to keep it in the language that most of their parishioners speak. Canonically, missionaries to new lands were to put the liturgy in the language of the people. Examples here are Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who created the Russian alphabet in their missionary work, and more recently St. Herman of Alaska with the native people there.

    I think your characterizations of Orthodox witness are bound up mostly in the cultural blindness I spoke of earlier. I understand it- in a review of “Becoming Orthodox” on, I at one point wrote, “if it’s the church of the apostles, why don’t they do missions? That’s pretty apostolic!” Alas, our words come back to us. Suffice to say I see things differently now and am embarrassed for my arrogance.

    I am definitely familiar with contextualization, for we talked about it all the time and pursued it. I tend now to think we fool ourselves, however, if we think that what we’re passing on is not American-ness and pop culture. In Turkey, Protestant believers sing Hillsong songs translated and performed with Turkish instruments. Whatever that is, it is not a “native” Turkish form, it is a new hybridized form. One of the interesting things you notice after a while on the mission field is how the church landscape begins to look suspiciously like that of home. The Baptists look like Baptists, the Presbyterians look like Presbyterians, the Pentecostals like Pentecostals. So even though everyone talks about wanting to be Turkish, are they really?

    I’m familiar with the Perspectives course, though I never took one. I still get the USCM magazine. Again, suffice to say I just see it all with different eyes now. I don’t expect to convince you, only to say there is a different way to look at it all.

  13. Ben Says:

    Hm, yes, I appreciate that. What I’d really like is to see what the Orthodox are doing about missions, so I don’t have to assume that they aren’t doing that much; obviously, I am making assumptions that may just be based in ignorance.

    As to the “failures” of contextual missions you described — I don’t think that the failure of a contextual attempt or even 75% of contextual attempts (as you described, failure = they think it’s contextual, but it’s just phony) necessarily condemns the idea behind it. It just means we haven’t quite figured out how to do it 100%, yet.

    You say you see it with different eyes, but it seems to me that the Orthodox perspective is just to give up on everyone out of reach of the gospel. Aside from a few tribal scenarios (such as I imagine St. Herman encountered), we’re not going to have the traditional Orthodox method of evangelism (converting entire nations at a go) seeing a lot of success in the modern age.

    I would love to be wrong, but I haven’t really been exposed to an effective, modern idea of reaching the lost within Orthodoxy. In that respect, failings aside, I think the Orthodox church should be looking to evangelicalism, even if to say “we can do it twice as good”.

  14. Ben Says:

    Oh, ok, one more thing … since we’re talking about worship styles … what’s wrong with having a different worship style, anyway? I know we’re mostly talking about contextualization here, but …

    I’ve had some powerful experiences of Christ in the Orthodox church liturgy, but I’ve also had enough boring ones to know that I couldn’t handle doing that every week. If I want to praise God through rock music, instead of chant, why can’t I do that? If a hispanic believer wants to sing “Cristo es la Peña de Horeb” instead of “Troparia on the Day of Salvation”, aren’t you doing exactly what you are accusing American missionaries of if you require that the only legitimate expression of worship is your liturgical style?

    Once again, my understanding may be born of ignorance, but I have yet to see a rock and roll Orthodox church … and I don’t think that God isn’t glorified by music in new and different and *more contextual* styles. This is just another reason that I am super skeptical that the Orthodox church could be “the only church”.

  15. Gina Says:

    It’s ironic (there’s that word again) that you say you’re looking for “modern methods” in Orthodoxy and don’t find them. Yes, you don’t, and you won’t, but since in many ways modernism is collapsing in itself in Europe and America, I can’t see that as a bad thing. The very structure and philosophy of denominationalism, individualism, and minimalism that is inherent in Protestant missions is wrapped up in modernism. As the prevailing philosophy shifts, what then?

    As some signs of this, evangelicals and traditional Catholics here are rejecting pop-culture forms of Christianity, “worship as entertainment,” and the ever-widening compromises made in the name of relevance. Abroad there is a growing backlash against globalization and Americanization. Americans largely don’t understand this, so again, it goes over our heads or in one ear and out the other.

    In order to see Orthodox mission, look to the Liturgy (as I said earlier, a proclamation of the gospel in word and form), to endurance under persecution (the martyrs are literally witnesses of the gospel), and the monasteries, to name some forms. There are signs of Orthodox revival in many of the countries that were formerly under communism, as well as Africa and Asia, but these are not so obvious to the outside world. Here is one example of a missionary from my own church (which can be regarded as a truly native African church):

    As for Christian rock, it’s not my thing, but the Orthodox are not “anti-art” or “anti-culture.” It’s just the Liturgy is not the place for them. Nor do the Orthodox claim to be “the only church,” as I believe Fr. Stephen explained on his blog.

  16. Ben Says:

    Modern methods are required to operate in a modern world. Paul tailored his message to his hearers, rather than force them to accept Jewish customs and traditions to come to Christ. I don’t think you can have any better precedent than that.

    You know, you can say that the Orthodox is not the only church, but if it isn’t, why would you waste so much time denigrating other traditions, such as evangelicalism? Either you have a reason to (you’re the only church) or you’re just intolerant.

    I appreciate Orthodoxy even if I disagree. I don’t have to destroy it to appreciate my own tradition. I’m a little tired of having my entire Christian experience written off as pop-culture, modernist, compromised, American, and etc. here and elsewhere. If it’s not your thing, fine … but why the hate? This smug “well, we’re going to watch and laugh while evangelicalism falls apart” attitude isn’t exactly a great advertisement for piety and holiness in the Orthodox church. It just makes you look irrelevant.

  17. Gina Says:

    Did I seem to be laughing? If so, I miscommunicated. After all, being an American I’m on the sinking ship. I don’t really think we’re a lost cause, by any means- God redeems all things and the church is His, no one else’s.

    You are basically asking why the Orthodox don’t act like evangelicals. I’m explaining why we don’t and don’t feel the need to “adapt.” Is this hate? If you mean why I write about Reformation themes on my own blog, it’s because these things affect us all one way or another, and also in order to process my own transition.

  18. Ben Says:

    Maybe we’re miscommunicating, but here’s what I’m saying:

    “The Orthodox church is good, but not perfect.”
    “The Protestant church has many problems, but is also doing some things right.”
    “Our understanding of how to be the Church (universal) should be evolving through the ages.” (as it does, even in Orthodoxy)

    Here’s what I’m not saying:

    “Denomenationalism is good.”
    “I want all Christians to be Americanized.”
    “The truth is evolving.”
    “The Orthodox are lacking something necessary for mature life in Christ.”

    If we can agree on those things, then we’re basically on the same page. I am not out here to bash Orthodoxy.

  19. Gina Says:

    Ben, if you think that what we are saying is that Protestantism is all wrong/worthless/anti-Christian/not at all true, then you’re completely misreading. On the other hand, the differences between us are not incidental or unimportant. In fact, the paradigms underlining our respective use of the words church, salvation etc. are so different, that I cannot easily either agree or disagree with the statements you lay out. I have particular difficulty with the last statement, that the church is always evolving.

    I think this article may shed light. It’s long, but well worth a read.

  20. Ben Says:

    I don’t know … I think you should re-read your earlier comments. You were basically saying, “Protestant missions are 100% worthless” as in the statement “You can convert a lot of people, but what are you converting them to?”

    All I meant to say was, “The Orthodox church at this point in history does not have the focus on reaching those who have not heard the gospel that I would expect from a church that claims to have the fullness of the faith.” In fact, more than a challenge, it was a question. And your answer was pretty much what I expected: though 20 churches planted is an admirable goal for one man, 20 churches in the whole of (heavily Christianized) Africa is not exactly a monumental work along the lines of Cyril and Methodius.

    You accuse me of cultural blindness … I think I have a very open mind about Orthodoxy, and I respect those I know who are Orthodox. However, the people I know who are Orthodox are more like Dr. Nassif than they are like the people I have run into on the internet (in places like Energetic Procession and Fr. Stephen’s blog) … so I was pretty surprised to encounter so many (what I consider) reactionary attitudes.

    You may not think you’re bashing Protestants, but that’s how it came across. I don’t think it was just me “misreading” you, either.

    As far as adapting, it might be better if I used the word “refining”. Just as the creeds of the church developed over the course of a thousand plus years, the nature of our faith is revealed and refined over time. This does not mean that modern “innovations” like denomenations are good, and desirable, but it does mean that some things change, for the better, over time.

    The “official” Orthodox attitude regarding Protestants, for instance, is probably not what it used to be. In that sense, even with a continuity of the faith (within Orthodoxy), changes still happen, and should in my opinion; a faith that does not have the flexibility to respond to current events is the twin of the faith so rooted in the ephemeral that it “has no root in itself”. Balance is the key, to “take hold of one without letting go of the other”.

  21. Ben Says:

    I read some parts of that article. I think that if Orthodoxy is truly what he thinks it is, I am starting to change my mind about it. Of course, I’ve had experiences of Orthodoxy that were positive, and I think that it balances a lot of the bads of evangelicalism.

    But really, the more I read about “that kind of Orthodoxy”, which you (and others) believe to be the “true Orthodoxy”, the less compelling I find it. It sounds more like implicitly deified tradition, the corruption of thousands of years of being tied too closely to Empire, Nation, and Culture, and less like the “fullness of the faith” or “the apostolic deposit” … in particular, the attack on “realistic art” just sounded ridiculous; not that icons are a problem for me, but to say that icons are the only correct form of religious art is insulting.

    The biggest thing: Scripture is not merely the crown of tradition. Though I am not of the camp that says, “Reason will reveal God to us through the scriptures as Science reveals Nature” … to wed tradition so closely to Scripture that tradition cannot be scrutinized by any standard — that’s not an Eastern/Western distinction, that’s an evasion. As you folks would say of many of my beliefs, “This belief doesn’t make you not a Christian, but it is certainly a mistake.” I am confident that my view of Scripture was the apostolic view, and that of the Fathers. I just do not accept that it is a modern innovation.

    Once again, you accuse me of cultural blindness — why should I accept the “Orthodox” culture? It is not my culture (nor yours, originally, come to think of it). When Paul condemns the judaizers, this is just the sort of thing he’s speaking against. You can’t get any more “apostolic” than that.

    I don’t know, I don’t mean to be rude. Just frustrated, and thinking out loud.

  22. Gina Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to read, and for the discussion.

  23. Ben Says:

    Yeah, and likewise. It’s an emotional issue, but I appreciate the discussion … even if we don’t ultimately agree, I’ve certainly learned a lot, and I think I may end up modifying some of my own views as a result. I hope that I wasn’t too offensive in my responses.

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