Why I am not Orthodox

December 3, 2007

In response to this.

1) Ecclesiology

I believe the Holy Spirit is the means of joining a person to the church, based on my reading of the book of John and the book of Acts. To convert to Orthodoxy, I gather, I must accept that the incarnation, and thus the Eucharist, is the unifying factor in the church. Whatever else may be right or wrong about Orthodoxy, I just don’t think this is true.

2) Authority of Tradition

I believe that the Scripture is the only “canonical” (set, fixed, unchangeable, authoritative) source of truth. All other sources, including the fathers, must be “deutero-canonical” (useful, but not binding). Obviously I would get into some trouble here, because I would expect any little-o orthodox Christian to adhere to most of the early councils (Trinity, Nature of Christ, etc.); but I don’t think I should back down on my view of tradition, even though the position leads to ambiguity. I do not believe in the “fullness of the faith” as Orthodox folks do.

3) Static cultural adaptation

I don’t think God wants the church to emphasize form over substance. To have one basic way of worshipping God, that cannot be adapted, is to risk being both syncretistic and irrelevant and is to elevate the content of the form from “deutero-canonical” to “canonical”. I enjoy the Divine Liturgy, but to accord it a higher place than another form without reference to substance (how effective is this at helping me to meet God and become more holy?) is incorrect.


74 Responses to “Why I am not Orthodox”

  1. Danny Slavich Says:

    You crazy Protestant you.

  2. Tato Says:

    I am glad you came out and said this I was getting worried. Next step… make you reformed! Does this mean we can’t be the liberal tag team anymore?

  3. Ben Says:

    No, I was worried about this Orthodox thing jeopardizing my liberal status. So the tag team is still on.

  4. titus2woman Says:

    Interesting… still processing…. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  5. thedeezone Says:

    Interesting post.

    I prefer to consider myself a believer rather than orthodox.

  6. Ben Says:

    What are you, homeschooled or something? J/k

    I am referring to


    as distinct from Protestantism and Catholicism.

  7. PB and J Says:

    interesting post…thanks for the perspective. i agree that a set form can lead to “canonical” in future generations. thus we must be wary of what we institutionalize.


  8. nathanwells Says:

    nice post ben 🙂

  9. […] Or so I thought.  This post makes me think twice:   Why I am not Orthodox « Dare To Decide. […]

  10. Joseph Patterson Says:

    Ecclesiology- The Holy Spirit joins a person to Jesus Christ and his Church through baptism (using water). (John 3, Rom. 6). God uses matter to unite us to himself (water) and to keep us united to Himself (Eucharist, bread and wine). The Eucharist as well as other things unite the Church as is seen in (Acts 2:42 “the breaking of bread”). Since the Lord Jesus Christ is visible and one the Church must be visible and one since the church is the “Body of Christ”. This is why any ecclesiology that denies that the Church is visibly one, demonstrated in EUCHARISTIC FELLOWSHIP, is denying the incarnation of Jesus Christ in practice.

    Scripture -The Church came before the Holy Scriptures. What authority was appealed to before the Scriptures were put together into a Bible (book). Where are the canonical books listed in Holy Scripture since it is your only canonical true authority? Plus Holy Scripture teaches that the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (I Tim. 3.15) and not Scripture. Holy Scripture also teaches the authority of Tradition and Scripture. For an example see II Thessolonians 2:15. If you deny the fullness of the faith then you deny that the Church is catholic (Not Roman) since catholic means whole or full. This is because Christ is the fullness of the Truth and the Church is “the body of Christ” and Christ is the Head of the Church. How can the Church lack anything if Christ is her head? The Church is full because Christ is full and complete. Also the faith was “once and for all delivered to the saints”(Jude). The Faith has been preserved in its fullness by God in Christ , through the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout history in His One Visible Church.

    Worship-The worship of the Church as experienced in the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church transcends space and time since the place and bases of worship is heaven and eternity rather than any particular place or culture. Also since we believe angels, archangels and all the company of heaven participate with us in worship or rather we with them it would be pure arrogance to force the angels and saints to submit to our whims about worship. Read the book of the Revelation of St. John which is not just an end times book but a book about the worship that takes place in heaven.

    I make these points not in order to argue with you but it seems to me that these three short paragraphs simply demonstrate that you have not thought a whole lot about these issues YET. May God bless you.

    Joseph Patterson

  11. Ben Says:

    I make these points not in order to argue with you but it seems to me that these three short paragraphs simply demonstrate that you have not thought a whole lot about these issues YET.

    I’m sorry, but that statement is just ignorant. “Because you don’t agree with me, you haven’t put any thought into it.” You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. It sounds to me like you are parroting statements you don’t even fully understand, so I would charge that you are the one who has not thought this through.

    it would be pure arrogance to force the angels and saints to submit to our whims about worship.

    Actually, I think that’s exactly the thing that keeps the Divine Liturgy in its place … the preferences of men. Think about this: what does the statement “You will worship neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, etc.” mean? As to the book of Revelation, I believe that it depicts all tongues, tribes and nations, worshipping together. Why would they all be worshipping in a liturgy written by Greeks and for Greeks? It is hubris to think that the Divine Liturgy is the “worship of heaven”.

    Response to your first two points will follow.

  12. Ben Says:

    The Holy Spirit joins a person to Jesus Christ and his Church through baptism (using water).

    … does not contradict my point.

    God uses matter to unite us to himself (water) and to keep us united to Himself (Eucharist, bread and wine).

    … does not necessarily follow from those passages. It is your opinion, and possibly, the opinion of your church.

    The Eucharist as well as other things unite the Church as is seen in (Acts 2:42 “the breaking of bread”).

    Again, this story in the book of Acts does not indicate to me anything approximating “You are joined to Christ’s church through the sacraments.” It carries no weight in this discussion, as far as I can see.

    Since the Lord Jesus Christ is visible and one the Church must be visible and one since the church is the “Body of Christ”.

    Once again, your opinion. And in fact, Jesus is not visible … he has ascended into heaven. His kingdom is “not of this earth”. And again, “not all who are Israel are Israel” … indicating a “spiritual Israel” …

    This is why any ecclesiology that denies that the Church is visibly one, demonstrated in EUCHARISTIC FELLOWSHIP, is denying the incarnation of Jesus Christ in practice.

    I don’t think you’ve come anywhere near justifying a charge like that. I believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I believe that he challenged and subverted the traditions of worship at the time because they were corrupt and insufficient, and in every age He calls people to worship Him in “Spirit and in Truth”. I believe that just as those whom the disciples did not know and had not preached to were considered Christians when they received the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the one who unites the church and distinguishes a follower of Christ from one who does not follow Christ.

  13. Will Cubbedge Says:

    You could have called this post “Why I am Neither Orthodox nor Cahtolic.”


  14. Ben Says:

    Possibly. I have not really considered becoming Catholic, though, and I’ve considered Orthodoxy. I would have additional reasons for not being Catholic.

  15. Will Cubbedge Says:

    Yes, I am sure. I meant that your stated reasons for not being Orthodox would be, by themselves, sufficient.


  16. whatisassumed Says:


    To respond to your post, trying not to repeat anything Joseph may have said:
    1-I don’t know that the incarnation unites to the church specifically, though it is certainly uniting of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10–That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him). The Eucharist is “uniting” for and to the church (1 Cor. 10:17–For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread). However, neither the incarnation nor Eucharist are effected or unite apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, and are never treated as such for Orthodox.
    2-As to scripture being the only canonical source of truth: The Greek “kanon” is well know to be a carpenter’s rule, a line by which other lines are judged straight or crooked. For the New Testament to have been “canonized” means it was judged straight according to a canon (straight line). Indeed, scripture was not judged straight according to a crooked line. That is to say, if there is nothing canonical which the church possesses (or at least possessed) outside of scripture, we would not have scripture.
    3-The church does not emphasize form over substance. The liturgy has in fact been adapted to many cultures; and just because the form cannot be stretched into any other form you so desire without at some point compromising the substance, it does not mean form is emphasized over substance. According the liturgy a higher place than another form is precisely because of its connection to its substance. Also, why think the content of the liturgy deutero-canonical? As to your later comments, the liturgy is no more “by Greeks, for Greeks” than is the New Testament (just ask the Slavs, Russians, Arabs, Japanese, Inuet, etc). Christ has been given a liturgical work in heaven and indeed is, there, our liturgist forever. Earthly worship reflects that liturgy, and we indeed believe that our worship is an icon of eschatological worship and even participates in it. We believe this a cherished gift from God, not an achievement of men. It is no more a matter of hubris than thinking the Bible the word of God. Moreover, Jesus did not challenge and subvert the worship traditions of his day but the spirit in which many performed them; and being as how Jesus worshiped in those traditions it is hardly admissable to call them corrupt.

    I meant to respond to a couple other things, but it is late and I must rest. But before I do I would just note that I don’t think Joseph was saying you had not thought things through simply because you disagree with Orthodoxy, nor did I see him “parroting;” and to charge former Protestant clergy who gave up his career to become Orthodox as not thinking through both sides appears a weak claim. Your post at many points was, at best, overly-simplistic, and Joseph did you the courtesy of chalking it up to the need to think more rather than the inability to think. I’m not saying you’re a poor thinker, I think you have plenty of ability, and I’m not saying you know nothing at all of Orthodoxy, but please appreciate that Orthodoxy is very rich and if you continue to penetrate it I think you’ll find a greater depth than you could imagine and a deepening appreciation for it.


  17. Ben Says:

    Well, as to my response to Joseph, I must admit that it was a little harsh — but “it seems to me that these three short paragraphs simply demonstrate that you have not thought a whole lot about these issues YET.” … ? I’ve thought about it a great deal. I would freely admit to not understanding Orthodoxy fully, but when somebody comes on my blog and tells me that I haven’t thought it through, I’m probably not going to respond without defending myself. As I mentioned, I don’t know anything about Joseph myself, but his response to me did not seem to be any more studied, intellectual, or profound than my original post. I’ll see if I can address your other points later on today.

  18. Ben Says:

    3) I would not say that worship should be stretched to any form. I would not advocate, for instance, a professional wrestling church service, although I guess I would not bother condemning it either.

    What I do disagree with is a statement like this: “The Orthodox liturgy is qualitatively more spiritual and better than any non-Orthodox form of worship, whether it is more effective and teaching an individual about Christ and etc. or not”. I would have no problem if you were to say, “Well, we think that the liturgy is the most substantive form, but the substance is what’s important.”

    I think I see what you mean about icons. The whole icon thing is not one that I understand 100%, but it might form a middle ground between my perception (that is, that Orthodoxy is the equivalent of those folks that will only read the King James) and what I want you to be (the liturgy is just another form, with the same goal as Protestant services). In any case, my problem here would be with the idea that the liturgy, rather than being a human-invented form of worship based on Scripture and Tradition, is a reflection of the worship of heaven in a way that Protestant worship is not. That, as I say, is a reason I am not Orthodox … I don’t buy it.

  19. monkpatrick Says:


    Please excuse the rather preachy expression of the points that follow but these matters transcend my own opinion and so I feel that they need to be spoken with the sense of authority from which they come. Nevertheless, my own fallible weaknesses in expression and understanding etc may sneak in from time to time, so I am not claiming such authority of myself.

    Regarding point 1.

    The Holy Spirit is essential in uniting one to the Church but so is also Baptism. One must be born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). The unifying factors in the Church are many but principally outlined in Ephesians 4:4-6
    “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.”

    It is not a case of either or but both and. The Spirit unites, the body unites, Christ unites, the faith unites, God unites, our calling unites. At different times different aspects may be emphasised but this is not to exclude the others. We must be united in all aspects and by all aspects.

    Regarding point 2
    Christ is the source of Truth. His teaching and example was not limited to what is written in the Scriptures (John 21:25) and included much more that was passed on orally and written later or remains oral, or was written in other contexts that were not appropriate to include in the Canons of Scripture (this doesn’t mean that they were not inspired but that they were not intended for public reading). The Apostles also taught more than is left in the Scriptures (II Thess 2:15). The Scriptures provide texts that provide a sufficiency of material by which to test the truth of other teachings etc but they are not exhaustive teachings in themselves but rather a selected representation of the teaching of Christ passed on by the Apostles and maintained in the Church. Christ also taught the Apostles how to worship, to organise the Church, the expected way of Christian life, and many other things.

    The same God who inspired Moses and the Torah did not neglect the worship of the Church nor did He abandon ritual or community structure and rules. Nor has Christ ceased to continue guiding the Church of which He is head. The Councils and various Fathers are considered infallible because they were also inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoke the testimonies of God as much as the Holy Scriptures. The source of these teachings is God and everything inspired by Him is equally true and binding, although that does not mean that the Scriptures do not carry an honour of place among them. The Orthodox do not believe that Christ spoke once and left man to Himself but continues to speak to this day.

    One may not accept writings apart from the Scriptures but there is no valid argument that one should not do so other than that the other writings are not consistent with Scripture. Personally coming from a strict sola Scripture background and maintaining a strong commitment to Scriptural consistency and obedience, I find all other accepted Orthodox authoritative witnesses to the Traditions of Christ taught through the Apostles, such as the Ecumenical Councils, to be completely consistent to the Scriptures in a way that astonishes me when I consider the inconsistencies of all Protestant confessions in expressions of their traditions. I have found that only the Orthodox Tradition truly maintains and preserves a completely Scripturally coherent position. I have found the Councils etc to be necessary to maintain this coherency and to prevent false opinions. They reflect the Truth that I know to be in Scripture and I told fast to them also to protect the Scripture from false interpretations such as continue to abound today.

    Are you denying Christ’s continuing inspiration and guidance? Are you saying the Holy Spirit guides all “believers” to a consistent reading of the Scriptures without the need of Traditional guidance from the Fathers and Councils? Where is the evidence?

    Regarding point 3.
    The Liturgy has been adapted to various places. Nevertheless, there is also an impulse to have uniform worship of the one Church in all places so that where-ever one goes one is worshipping in the same manner and can join in whatever the language. Even, though I do not know the words in Slavonic, I still know the Liturgy because it is one with the others.

    The form of the Liturgy is important. Christ was Incarnate and took form, so to do away with form or to deny its importance is to deny Christ’s incarnation and one’s salvation. The rites of the Church continue to manifest Christ and unite the worshipper to the life of Christ both on earth and in heaven. It has certain forms because Christ has certain form. Certain forms work well to portray the spiritual mysteries involved and to change them would be to distort the spiritual reality. Some features are the result of time but remain to emphasise the unchanging truth of Tradition and that the Liturgy is a work of Christ that transcends time and place.

    If it were to continually adapt to the times and places, it would be to make the worship human and the product of man. Rather, it is of Christ and by Christ. We participate in this worship and own it for ourselves, it becomes our worship, but it is not from us but from God. It is the “Divine” Liturgy. Christ is the same, today, yesterday and forever. If one claims that worship is merely a human aspect then one needs to continue to re-examine one’s theology of the Trinity, salvation and life because such worship is not theologically consistent; God is all in all.

    The Liturgy is the most effective way of coming to know God. Nothing can be better or higher. It is the complete rite of union with Christ; it is the summation of His and our life. Also, there are a range of other public and private prayers etc taught by the Holy Spirit and written by the Fathers that can provide appropriate means of reinforcing the Liturgy for all types of people. Saints have risen from all cultures and times in the Church worshipping in the way of the Church. It is effective because it is of God, who knows us all and provided it for all peoples.

  20. Ben Says:

    MonkPatrick: I think it will take me a while to get around to responding to all of your points. Certainly, I respect that you believe this and your points seem well-reasoned, in general.

    I should say that what you have stated pretty much reflects my post; that is, I don’t agree with any of your points. 🙂 I wouldn’t judge you for believing it, but I do disagree. I intended this post to be an explanation of which points of Orthodox doctrine I take issue with. If nothing else, your rebuttal is a reinforcement that I have not mistaken the basic nature of Orthodoxy.

    My initial response is that I don’t see a lot of your arguments as logically “following”. That is,

    “to do away with form or to deny its importance is to deny Christ’s incarnation and one’s salvation”

    This is possible of course, but I don’t see that it follows necessarily. This is how I felt with many of your points. It may be a question of epistemology, of course, as other Orthodox folks I have spoken with struck me the same way.

    “Christ also taught the Apostles how to worship, to organise the Church, the expected way of Christian life, and many other things.”

    I view anything other than the confirmed canon as being non-essential. Possibly Christ taught other things, even regarding worship. I would not consider something like the Divine Liturgy to fall in that category. It seems very implausible to me. If God (and presumably, the Fathers) had wanted it to be a permanent fixture of Christian life, it would be described in canonized Scripture as the OT rituals were. Instead, I view the NT as moving away from ritual into “the heart of the matter”, though I am sure I did not explain that well in my post.

    “Are you denying Christ’s continuing inspiration and guidance?”

    Hm … possibly. I don’t believe that Christ sustains every decision of the church or of its leaders.

    “Are you saying the Holy Spirit guides all “believers” to a consistent reading of the Scriptures without the need of Traditional guidance from the Fathers and Councils?”

    No … I don’t believe that being a Christian is a guarantee to understand the Scriptures completely. I don’t believe, however, that the Councils or Fathers are themselves free from the fear of error.

    “Where is the evidence?”

    … ? I think the idea here is that, since I have stated my personal reasons for not converting to Orthodoxy, that you should be bringing the evidence 🙂 I could explain why I believe this, the rationale I used to determine it, I suppose … but if you are treating tradition as a source of authority, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on you?

  21. Joseph Patterson Says:

    Polly wants a craker! Haaaa!

    What I meant by arguing was the kind that usually involves putting each other down using the fallacy of the ad hominem which is usually what passes as an argument these days. I am not against using reasons for the hope that is within us which was what I was trying to do in my first post but I think our presuppositions and WV is so different that my first approach was not very beneficial. Please forgive me for any offense that any of my statements have caused to you or anyone else.

    I must say that I am a bit unclear about your first reason for not becoming Orthodox.

    Ben Said, “I believe the Holy Spirit is the means of joining a person to the church, based on my reading of the book of John and the book of Acts.”

    -I think the Orthodox Church would agree with this sentence as I pointed out in my first post referring to Rom. 6. Can you make a little clearer distinction for me concerning how what you believe differs from what the Orthodox Church teaches?

    Ben said, “To convert to Orthodoxy, I gather, I must accept that the incarnation, and thus the Eucharist, is the unifying factor in the church. ”

    -Here is where I get really confused. In your first sentence you are talking about how a person is joined to Christ and in this second sentence you are talking about the “unifying factor”. In my mind these are two different things. How do you relate sentence one to sentence two? In sentence one you are talking about “joining” and the second “unifying”. Could you please explain to us what your view is and how it differs from the Orthodox view.

    Ben said,”Whatever else may be right or wrong about Orthodoxy, I just don’t think this is true.”

    -What does “this” refer too? This does not tell us what you believe concerning how a person is joined to Christ and it does not tell us what you think is the unifying factor? I can see that you say generally the Holy Spirit but how do you see that work of the Holy Spirit and how does your view differ from the Orthodox view. Why do you put this under the heading of ecclesiology? This seems more like a soteriology topic.

    Just trying to understand.


  22. Lee Says:


    I’m curious, having read your About page on your blog: do you consider that you came to a saving knowledge of God before you converted to Orthodoxy?


  23. monkpatrick Says:


    Reflecting on your post and initial reply, it also seems that you do not believe in the Church as being the Body of Christ, at least not in more than possibly a metaphorical manner, at least this is my impression from an Orthodox perspective.

    The reason I raise this point is that the Scriptures are clear on this matter unless one tries to interpret them in a manner of being metaphorical because of some other preconceived idea from outside Scripture that the plain reading is impossible.

    Ephesians 1:22-23 “And He subjected all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him filling all things in all.” and Ephesians 5:29-30 “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as also the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” (According to the majority of extant manuscripts.) And many other passages in Romans, Corinthians, Philippians and Colossians

    If the Church is the fullness of Him filling all things in all then how can it not have the fullness of Faith? Christ is the fullness of Faith and the the Church is this fullness; it is Christ. The rest of the points I made above fit into this context.

    And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt 28: 18-20)

    Again, Christ is the authority and He is with us always. To claim that “Scripture is the only “canonical” (set, fixed, unchangeable, authoritative) source of truth” is to deny either that Christ is the source of Truth/authority, to equate the Scriptures with Christ, or that He is not with us and so must leave a source to speak for Him. All of these positions contradict Scripture.

    Also, the Church does recognise writings attributed to the Apostles with material dealing with worship etc that were canonised with the rest of the Scriptures but not intended for public reading. Anyway, the Canons setting the limits to Scripture were made by the Councils and Fathers that you reject as being not binding. Thus, following your logic, the Canon of Scriptures itself cannot be binding and we are free to choose which books we wish. Rather, it is only the binding nature of the Canons of the Councils and Fathers that sets and fixes the Scriptures that we accept today. One cannot divorce the Scriptures from the Church and its Fathers and Councils.

    The evidence was regarding the unity of one faith, “that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same opinion” that is expected in Scripture but contrary to the experience and nature of Protestantism. Even, if not perfect in Orthodoxy, the principle is not contrary to the nature of Orthodoxy. Anyway, Orthodoxy has been the norm of Christian belief since Christ; it does not have to prove its position rather the onus is on others to disprove it, if they think they know better.

    Finally, the Divine Liturgy is another name for the Breaking of Bread as instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and part of the life and worship of the Apostles. It has always been part of the Church and is certainly taught by Christ.

    You may not agree with me and my arguments may not sound convincing but I hope to show that one cannot say that Orthodox Christianity is not faithful to the Scriptures. One can only say that one reads Scripture from a different framework and one does not believe/agree because one does not accept the other framework. This disbelief is not based on Scripture itself but by the preconceived opinions one has when coming to read Scripture. That is why it is said that the Scripture belongs to the Church and can only be properly understood in the Church. Nevertheless, those outside the Church can begin to see that Scripture doesn’t fit their preconceptions when they start trying to force Scripture into these ideas, although often they are blind to the inconsistencies. This is when one must open one’s eyes to the mistaken framework that they have and seek the Truth, that is the framework that fits naturally with Scripture. On what grounds are you basing your reasons for rejecting/disbelieving Orthodoxy?

  24. Lee Says:

    Monk Patrick – I, for one, am beginning to understand the distinction concerning frameworks, but I think one of the reasons Evangelicals have such a hard time with statements such as this:

    This disbelief is not based on Scripture itself but by the preconceived opinions one has when coming to read Scripture. That is why it is said that the Scripture belongs to the Church and can only be properly understood in the Church. Nevertheless, those outside the Church can begin to see that Scripture doesn’t fit their preconceptions when they start trying to force Scripture into these ideas, although often they are blind to the inconsistencies.

    is because of passages which come to mind concerning understanding Scripture – passages such as 1 Cor. 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…” and

    John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
    14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
    15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.

    Both of those passages really appear to be talking to individuals – speaking of an interaction on a personal level.

  25. Lee Says:

    I.e., individual interaction of the believer with the Holy Spirit rather than at the level of the Church as a whole…

  26. Ben Says:

    To clarify on reason #1: I believe it was Perry (Energetic Procession) that told me this: basically, that those outside the Orthodox church (i.e. Protestants) may be holy but are not, strictly speaking, part of Christ’s “body”. I would not say that passages speaking of the church as Christ’s body are metaphorical, but I would say that Protestants, if not having everything correct, are still as much a part of Christ’s body (whatever that signifies) as Orthodox are. I would not become Orthodox if I were required to rescind this belief, unless I was convinced otherwise, which at this point seems unlikely.

    As to frameworks, it’s kind of the same thing. You believe that the “lens” of the church is required to understand Scripture. I believe that through the Holy Spirit, God can and does reveal the truths of Scripture to any believer. I understand that epistemological differences matter to a certain extent when interpreting the Bible (which should inspire all of us to humility when expounding our beliefs), but I do not accept that your epistemological framework is 100% free from error and “divinely inspired”, as it were.

    I have to admit, too, that to say, “Well, Scripture is only understood correctly if you view it through our lens” sounds an awful lot like a cop out. As in, “It’s my house so we play by my rules!” (do you know what I mean?)

  27. Ben Says:

    MonkPatrick: As to tradition, I understand that the canon would not exist without the church leaders deciding on it. I just don’t think that God himself upholds every thought of each of the fathers, or that every idea present in the Orthodox Church was taught by Christ or the Apostles. Icons, for instance, whether beneficial or not, are not present in any canonical descriptions of worship.

    As even you Orthodox folks say, the canonization process was one of confirmation — this is truly the works of the Apostles and inspired by God; this is not. I know that you folks will not accept this, but it just seems historically and biblically clear that there should be a delineation between that which is inspired and that which is not. Etc.

    The Divine Liturgy, you say, is the exact form of worship that Christ set forth … but given the actual statements in Scripture about worship (discussion of the Eucharist aside) how could you say that Protestant worship is not? The Divine Liturgy uses icons, a pre-written non-inspired text (though it contains many good and true things), etc., that is, tons of stuff not described in the NT; I don’t see a framework in the NT that could only develop into this form. I am not saying I am against using the Divine Liturgy, again, but rather that I could not accept that it is what you claim it to be to the exclusion of all other forms, or that the NT does not preach a gospel that is about moving away from ritual and etc.

    In short, I believe that though Protestantism is flawed and does not 100% capture the truth of Christ, I have, by the Holy Spirit, understood a great deal of what is in the NT. To join a church that denies things I am confident are true would be, for me, to work against the Holy Spirit. I believe that Orthodoxy, while good, contains some elements that are incorrect, and as long as Orthodoxy requires that you accept this “divine inspiration of every tradition” then I cannot in good conscience become Orthodox. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t view Orthodox folks as being every bit as “Christian” as myself.

  28. Joseph Patterson Says:

    I (Orthodoxy) see salvation as a process and not as a one time, instantaneous event. (Maybe you do too?) The Orthodox do not believe in “once saved always saved.” (You probably know this?)So I believe that God, the Holy Trinity, was at work lovingly drawing me to Himself throughout my Protestant years.
    I kind of see my time in Protestantism like this. As a Protestant I was trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a raft that I put together with the various branches and vines that were available to me. It was a raft that “I” put together. Now maybe one can make it across the Atlantic on a man made raft but the better and more sure way to cross the Atlantic is in an ocean liner or battle ship. Christ has given us an ocean liner, the Church , to cross the Atlantic (the sea of life) in which contains all things neccesary to reach the other side of the Atlantic. So I was floating along in the Atlantic on my man made raft and the Ocean Liner of Christ, the Church, came by and I jumped on board.

    All illustrations break down somewhere but I hope this gives you some idea of my take on the situation.


  29. […] Why He’s Heterodox Sed Contra  […]

  30. Lee Says:


    I also view salvation as a process, but up to the point when one has a clear enough understanding of the concepts involved and the requirement of faith being active rather than an intellectual acknowledgment of God – I think that once a person comes to possess a saving faith (in light of Eph. 2:8-9, of course), I believe that Ro. 8:31-39 applies. Not to say that one can coast thereafter – I think one needs to “press on”, to “work out” one’s salvation, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness…”, etc., etc. (Not that sanctification isn’t a process as well – but I understand the Orthodox don’t use those terms.)

    I think I may have been exposed to this aspect of the synergistic view of salvation (that one can lose one’s salvation) before, but it’s definitely become more clear to me only very recently.

    So in your analogy, you were on your way to, or in the process of coming to a saving knowledge of God throughout your years as a Protestant, but you became (much more, though perhaps not yet completely) equipped for that journey once you became Orthodox? Would you say that if you had died before you became Orthodox you would have gone to Heaven? (I ask not because I’m looking for an excuse to remain a Protestant – I really don’t see myself becoming Orthodox. I ask just to try to better understand the Orthodox perspective on Western Christians. Just so you know – if you answer “no” to my last question, my follow-on question will be “do you think you could have come to a saving knowledge of God without converting to Orthodoxy?”)

  31. monkpatrick Says:


    John 16:13-15 is addressed to you in the plural not singular. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit does also guide each person into understanding. There is no dichotomy between the Church and each person. Each person becomes Christ and is in a sense the Church but so is each other person (this is not to negate or conflict with the need of the church around its Bishop). Each has for oneself the Spirit’s guidance as well as the others. It is the same guidance at all times and places. Because of our weaknesses, the Fathers have identified certain among them that portrayed a faithful manifestation of the Spirit’s guidance and have established their writings as being inspired and faithful in guiding others to the same Truth, to help us in our weakness to distinguish thoughts of the evil one, deceivers or of ourselves from those of the Spirit. This is not to reject the Spirit’s guidance of each believer but to help us to confirm it in ourselves.


    In relation to the Scriptures outside the Church, your argument about the Holy Spirit revealing the truth to any believer doesn’t work because by remaining outside the Church one is not a believer; otherwise they would be in the Church or at least not wanting to remain outside. Also, those outside the Church do not have the Holy Spirit, so are not enlightened as those inside the Church. This is not to be understood contrary to the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, nor the ability of natural man to understand some truth and Scriptures, nor God’s providence for all outside the Church and desire and help for them to come into the Church.

    When I am talking of frameworks, I am talking of a noticeably different way of understanding the Scriptures. When I became Orthodox, I started to see the Scriptures in a new light and various texts took on a much more profound and obvious meaning that I couldn’t see as a Protestant because at that time I was convinced that such a line of meaning could not be meant, so I read the text to fit what I thought it could say. I relearnt how to read the Scriptures, without at any stage someone dictating a meaning to me, by seeing the texts again from an Orthodox perspective.

    Protestant’s are not in the Church because they do not believe as the Church believes. They do not accept the Holy Mysteries that constitute the Church as the Church does. Otherwise they would have Bishops, Priests, Baptism, the Eucharist and its Liturgical setting and all else that the Church has and be in communion with the Church. The Church doesn’t have these things as options but they are necessary for the very life of the Church and salvation of our souls just as Christ teaches.

    Icons(images) of the Cherubim are mentioned in the Old Testament and were used in the Temple, Exodus 36:5, 35. That the practise continued in the Church’s Temples, as church buildings are called in Greek, is not surprising but thoroughly Scriptural. Note: Christian Temples are build to the same design as the Temple in Jerusalem, the differences being that the Altar has moved into the Holy of Holies, where the ordained Priesthood enters each service and not only the high Priest once a year, and the people, the royal priesthood, now enter into the Sanctuary previously reserved for the consecrated Priesthood of Aaron. The narthex, or porch, is reserved for those still outside the Church but coming to Her. Properly, those unrepentantly rejecting the Church and Christ are cast out into the world as the man from the wedding feast, just as the gentiles were not permitted to enter the Temple. Incense is still offered as is bread but with a new meaning fulfilled in Christ.

    The Church does hold a delineation between what is inspired and what is not. Not all “Fathers” are without error nor are all “Councils”, only those confirmed by the Holy Spirit in Christ. Those that speak against the Truth deliberately or mistakenly are either quietly covered over, as with Noah, and/or eventually rejected by Christ through the Fathers and the faithful as being foreign to the Church.

    Who says the text of the Divine Liturgy is not inspired? Who says that it contains things not in the Scriptures? The form of the Liturgy was not developed from the New Testament; it was around long before much of the New Testament was written, although the early form of the Liturgy underwent changes later that did not change the substance of the Liturgy or even its substantial form. In fact, some elements of the New Testament, especially in St Paul’s writings are said to quote the words of the Liturgy, that is the Divine Liturgy was a source of text of the Scriptures. One makes a mistake in seeing the New Testament as a prescriptive text of the Christian Faith. It is not so and this is clear from the writings which constitute the New Testament. Apart from the Gospels, which are a selective testimony to the life and teachings of Christ, the Acts that are selective accounts of the life of the early Church, there are the Epistles that are written to deal with specific issues and were not intended as comprehensive/systematic teachings on the Christian faith, worship and way of life. They are testimonies of the life of the Church but not prescriptive documents written as a complete instruction manual on how to establish the Church.

    The Church requires one to accept the teaching of Christ and the Traditions of the Apostles, which are inspired by definition. The Orthodox Faith is free of error because it is the Faith of Christ. The Church of the living God is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (cf. 1 Tim 3:15). What the Church denies as false is what Christ denies as false and so also the Holy Spirit.

    Of course each person must accept one his own conscience what is true. If you think that the Church denies the Truth then obviously it is not the Church and rather an organisation of Satan. One can only say that Protestants have what the Church has or Orthodoxy is mostly good, as if it is another Protestant denomination, if one denies the existence of the Church as taught by the Orthodox Church and is taught in Scripture. Protestants don’t believe in the Church, as understood by the Church, because their organisations are clearly not the Church. Because they believe that they are genuine Christians, they therefore deny the Church and object that the Church is being arrogant when told by the Church of their condition and in making its claims. They do not believe that such a Church can exist to make such claims, yet the Scriptures clearly make such claims of the Church. The Pharisees tried to stone Christ for claiming to be God because they couldn’t believe that God could be Incarnate in their presence and they were sure of their own understandings and standing before God. What do you believe to be true that the Church denies?

    Note: when I said something wasn’t prefect in Orthodoxy, I was referring to some human practices in the Church and not in the sense of the Church, which is perfect in Christ. Man remains free in the Church and all are liable to mistakes without contradicting the perfection of the Church. Men are fallible but when they speak in Christ, then their teachings are infallible because they are Christ’s.

  32. Ben Says:

    Once again, Patrick, you resoundingly deliver. I disagree with the majority of what you said. This is why I am not Orthodox.

  33. Joseph Patterson Says:

    I don’t fully understand what you mean by saving knowledge. If such knowledge exists then it would have to include the Church, the Orthodox Church since she is “the pillar and ground of the truth”. I really don’t think there is really any one point where one can say I am finally saved or not. God is always lovingly drawing a person to Himself whether he is a Hindu, Muslim or atheist.

    Lee- “Would you say that if you had died before you became Orthodox you would have gone to Heaven?”

    I am an agnostic on the issue. I try not to judge whether a person is saved or not and that includes myself. Only the Holy Trinity can make such a judgment. I always hope and pray that in some way all will be saved. I am such a great sinner that I need much more of Christ’s healing medicine found in His Church.


  34. bon82 Says:

    Monkpatrick– Can you clarify this statement: “Men are fallible but when they speak in Christ, then their teachings are infallible because they are Christ’s?”

    How do you sort out whether a man is speaking in his own fallibility or Christ’s infallibility?

  35. Andrew Says:

    Wow. Great stuff guys. I must admit I’m not very educated on this subject. (Thanks for the free education!)

    This all seems to revolve around the importance placed on Scripture. On the one hand, Protestants see Scripture as sufficient and authoritative over the Church. What I gather from Orthodoxy is that the Scripture is a result of the Church and (which is partly true) and therefore the Scripture is subject to the Church.

    I think as you said Ben, the burden of proof at this point falls on the Orthodox [Church] to prove themselves “orthodox”. What the Orthodox viewpoint seems to argue (at least from what I’ve read above) is that “we’re Orthodox so therefore we’re orthodox… duh!” This is remarkably similar to the argument of Roman Catholicism as being the “one true church.” It all hinges on the understanding that Catholicism (or Orthodoxy) was the original faith. I think the fact of the matter is the faith of the apostles was neither Orthodox nor Catholic, but orthodox and catholic. So capitalize it, and we must be right, right?

    Ben, your next post should be “Why I Am orthodox” (as in the definition as having right knowledge about God)

    I’m not buying it either Ben. Not one bit.



  36. monkpatrick Says:

    When a man speaks in Christ, it means that he is willing to speak as led by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When he is not so willing but rather prefers to expound his own ideas and opinions apart from Christ’s opinions or the Churches opinions, which are the same because the Church is Christ, then he is fallible and most likely to be wrong. This is the principle of synergy used by the Orthodox. Christ working with man, who co operates completely freely; that with full freedom of will.

    The test to see if one is speaking as Christ is usually cited as St Vincent’s rule. This is that what is spoken is in line with what has always been taught, at all times in all places and it conforms to the rule of Scripture. Although, it is best to read St Vincent’s test oneself because it is deeper than this. Faith is still an element in the process; there is no magic rule to test it by but rather the commitment of faith.

    The Orthodox Church is the Catholic Church. It is orthodox and catholic. It is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It can claim no founder but Christ and the Apostles. Feel free to try to find one. Churches in Greece, the Middle East and elsewhere can trace unbroken lines of existence back to Apostolic days, as some ancient Sees in the West. It teaches the same Faith as the Fathers of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th … 20th Centuries. Prove that it ever deviated. The Protestant groups have no such lineage, they were founded by men such as Luther and Calvin, they are neither one, nor catholic. The understanding of being Holy and Apostolic is quite different and neither can be claimed in the sense the Catholic/Orthodox Church uses the words. Protestant teachings cannot be found clearly taught throughout the history of the Church but only claim to return to a pure faith of the Apostles that was lost/blurred by those now claiming to be the Orthodox/Catholic Church.

    Protestants cannot agree on what this faith is, so there are many groups of Protestants claiming to hold the true faith with no standard to claim any orthodoxy. How can such a one claim to to have right knowledge about God? By what standard? The Scriptures but all claim that. Why do you think the history of Councils and Creeds happened? In order to solve these issues. Protestantism is really a denial that these issues can be solved and allowing the freedom of heresies denies that there is one faith and that the Church is the pillar of the Truth, or rather that there is the Church. All these things are contrary to Scripture, so putting Scripture alone from the Church is to deny Scripture. Orthodoxy does not deny man’s freedom of faith or action rather is prizes it very highly and quickly defends any infringement of this freedom. Nevertheless, it also affirms that one is only truly free in Christ and so only through obedience to Christ and union with His Body, the Church, with those also in obedience to the one will of God, can one find salvation and preserve one’s freedom.

    Scripture declare the Church to be the body of Christ. It also declares that there is one body of Christ. Thus, the Church is one; it is one body. This is because it eats one bread as says St Paul “For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake from the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17) Read this back to your first point.

    So, why is there a problem with the claim of being the “one true church”. Do you not believe that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no-one comes to the Father but by Him? Are Hindus, Buddists, animists, Satanists etc are all fine as long as they are becoming holy where they are? One faith in one Christ is not important? If you are willing to be exclusive on the place of Christ then why not the Church? The issue surely is not that the Church claims to be the one, true Church, because such a Church does exist, but that the body so calling itself is indeed what it says it is. This must be considered by looking at Her witnesses, that is the Fathers, the Scriptures, the signs, the prophecies, the Saints and the fruits of the Spirit in the Saints, including Her numerous Martyrs (witnesses in Greek). There are really only four contenders for being this Church, that is the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East. Only these can claim true historical connection/foundation with the Apostles and have some type of claim to a continual witness of teaching.

  37. Ben Says:

    “the Church is Christ”

    Can’t agree with you there. Christ is the head of the church, the church belongs to Christ, the church is the “Bride of Christ”, but the church is not Christ.

  38. Ben Says:

    “The issue surely is not that the Church claims to be the one, true Church, because such a Church does exist, but that the body so calling itself is indeed what it says it is.”

    Yeah, that’s kind of my problem. If I did indeed believe that your church was infallible, it would solve a lot of problems, but I don’t. I believe that “one faith” means that all who are in Christ are one, not that there must be a structure that encompasses the entire body of Christ. “Some follow Christ, some Apollos” … to me, this passage signifies that the error is in identifying yourself more with what kind of believer you are than with the true head, Christ.

  39. Lee Says:

    I suspect the Orthodox position on the “Church is Christ” is due to a literal interpretation of 1 Cor. 12:27 “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (NAS) Similar, I think, to how they get to the position that “Mary is the Church”, though I’m still very puzzled by that equation…

  40. monkpatrick Says:


    Is my body, me, or someone else? Read the epistle to the Ephesians, especially chapter 5. It is clear that the Church is Christ’s Body, it is His Body, His flesh. It is Him; it is Christ. So, the Church is Him; it is Christ.

    You are making the church like a human organisation, such as a bank and Christ is its head as a bank manager. It is not. Anyway, more so in believing this, it is the structure that unites the organisation without it would be an undefined collection of individuals with no connection to the head because there is no structure to connect them. The Body of Christ is what all believers in the Church are members; it provides the structure, read I Corinthians, Ephesians and Romans. The Church has physical presence because the Body of Christ has physical presence, even though it transcends physical nature. The Church doesn’t claim to be true like a human organisation but it is only doing so in declaring what it is; it cannot deny itself no more than God can deny Himself.

    How do you claim to be in Christ? In what way? How is this different to atheists being in Christ? How are you one in Christ when you do not hold one faith nor one baptism nor one bread nor one hope?

    Surely, it is Protestants that are guilty of the error that you mention by named in denominations, which is exactly what St Paul was condemning as does the Orthodox Church. Orthodox claim nothing other than to be identified with Christ, and much more closely than Protestants claim to be.

    You don’t seem to be able to break away from the idea that the Orthodox Church is just another Protestant denomination or that the church is just a collection of individual “believers”. It is something much more and different than that. I think that you need to understand the Orthodox nature of the Church from within its own understanding and not from that imposed from outside. It seems that you are trying to fit the Orthodox Church into a Protestant framework and so reject it when it doesn’t fit. The problem is the framework. To reject Orthodoxy you must show that by its own framework it is inconsistent and self-contradictory. This is why your understanding on the matter was challenged because you haven’t done this.

    I have replied in length to show that none of the issues you raise are genuine problems with Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians, especially the Fathers, have a real love for the Scriptures and their divine authority. They have a love for the Truth and for individual freedom of will. They object to anything being forced on someone, yet they all held strongly to the faith and teaching as it continues to be held in the Orthodox Church today. They all hold it with complete integrity as being consistent with the Scriptures and this as much, if not more so, than any Protestant. So, you are arguing with, and rejecting, two thousand years of tried and tested Christian Faith than is profoundly Scriptural and with those committed to Christ in very personal relationships. Anything you may think of has been addressed centuries ago.

    It seems also that you have already made up your mind on the matter, so further discussion may only degenerate into a slanging match with no real understanding, which is of no benefit to any of us. Nevertheless, if you wish to learn more I am always willing to share the little that I know.

  41. Ben Says:

    It’s not that I can’t break away from the idea that “the [Orthodox] church is just a collection of individual believers”. It’s just that I’m convinced it’s true, based on examination of Scripture. Or more correctly, I don’t think your ecclesiology is reflective of the ecclesiology taught in the NT.

    “To reject Orthodoxy you must show that by its own framework it is inconsistent and self-contradictory.”

    I don’t think that a system which is consistent is necessarily true. I understand that to the Orthodox, it makes perfect sense that you’re the only real church. I just don’t, unfortunately, think your “rules” are the right ones.

    “You have already made up your mind on the matter.”

    Well, you haven’t convinced me, if that’s what you mean. You seem to think that because I don’t find your arguments compelling it is because I am inflexible. I am very open to new ideas and concepts; I just don’t allow myself to be bullied into thinking something I’m not convinced of.

    It’s obvious that you’ve put a great deal of thought into this, but what you’re saying seems more for your own benefit than for mine. Your comments are too long to follow, your points are mostly self-referential, etc. I don’t think I’m being stiff-necked when I say I’m not convinced.

  42. Andrew Says:

    monkpatrick- all your arguments are circular and based on literal takes on analogies. When Jesus said “I am the vine and you are the branches,” this was no more literal than the Church or bread of the Eucharist being the Body of Christ. Your argument doesn’t make one body (as Ben’s does), but excludes all who aren’t part of your “in crowd.” Essentially, you condemn followers of Christ for not belonging to the right church. What does the church I attend have to do with my salvation? If there is not an Orthodox Church for me to go to, am I forever damned? That is the result of your logic. It is not about which church I go to, but who I follow. I follow Christ and am therefore in the one true Church.



  43. Lee Says:

    I’m a little behind in my responses! I’ll endeavor to catch up now…

    Monk Patrick,

    On December 10th at 3:26pm, you wrote concerning John 16:13-15, which I had quoted earlier. Yes, it is the plural ‘you’ being used there – Christ was addressing His disciples, after all… but I should have clarified that earlier. Thanks for your clarification on the Orthodox position on the Holy Spirit’s interaction with individual believers.

    You wrote on 12/12 at 10:39am:

    Protestants cannot agree on what this faith is, so there are many groups of Protestants claiming to hold the true faith with no standard to claim any orthodoxy. How can such a one claim to to have right knowledge about God? By what standard? The Scriptures but all claim that.

    The last sentence I quoted doesn’t quite parse – did you mean to say “The Scriptures all but claim that”?


    By “saving knowledge” I mean a knowledge which involves a heart that acknowledges its corruption and sinfulness before God, its need of a Savior, and bows to Christ’s Lordship. That is, not merely a knowledge (possessed even by demons) that Christ is God. I’m not sure how or why you are tying in the Church here (in your comment from December 10 at 4:16pm):

    If such knowledge exists then it would have to include the Church, the Orthodox Church since she is “the pillar and ground of the truth”.

    You should read this post by Benedict Seraphim. Over the past few days I’ve been having a very interesting discussion with him in the comments for that post concerning assurance of salvation. He seems to have a different view than you on how the Orthodox view the subject.

  44. momesansnom Says:

    Just thought I should clarify a couple of points. Please forgive my wordiness. I’m going to state some observations and opinions. All readers here can take them or leave them, as I probably won’t engage in any heated argument over them. I’ll try to respond only if I discover that something I said appears to have been gravely misunderstood because of an insufficiency or inaccuracy in my choice of words and needs clarification. You should understand why I won’t make much effort to defend my propositions when you get to the end. Thanks in advance if you read through. And be merciful to me for any errors, any tone of haughtiness or any instances of convoluted prose.

    First of all, Orthodoxy has no official final declaration about the status of all non-Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christians know they are in the Church, and they know the Holy Spirit works in ways they cannot always see. Most Orthodox recognize a Christian reality, and therefore a dimension, presence or domain of the Church, outside the clear-cut, canonical boundaries of Orthodoxy. This is one of the reasons Orthodox engage with the rest of Christendom as often as they do, because they know the other Christians matter and most are quite interested in the final unity of all Christians. It’s just that the Orthodox are unwilling to take any easy shortcuts toward that unity. It’s best for everyone to be open about their differences and not try to kid themselves with phony minimum standards for unity. If it takes centuries, so be it.

    A significant number of Orthodox reject the statement that Christians outside of the Church could be authentically Christian, but many more, including a large number of eminent Orthodox thinkers and bishops, accept it or something like it.

    So, contrary to the impression that some have offered on both sides of the debate in this thread, the Orthodox as a whole do not look at serious, trinitarian non-Orthodox Christians as “unsaved,” to use the Protestant term, although some Orthodox do see it that way. It’s not official one way or another. Contrary to other impressions offered in this thread, many aspects of theological thinking are not in fact dictated by the Church.

    Most Orthodox converts from other Christian confessions who I have met or read are not timid about acknowledging the genuineness of their encounter with Jesus Christ before they became Orthodox. Their conversion to Orthodoxy is not seen by them as a repudiation of all that they knew, did, said or prayed before, but as the continuation of their journey into greater knowledge of the mystery of Jesus Christ and his glory. They do not look at their non-Orthodox Christian family members and friends as totally lost heathens or worse sinners than themselves, even though they most likely pray for their conversion to Orthodoxy.

    None of this is meant to say that any Orthodox believers see Protestant churches as, properly speaking, Churches or as parts of the Church, as though the Church were a conglomerate or an invisible tally of all believers. Inasmuch as Protestants or Roman Catholics are authentic Christians, the Orthodox would see them as somehow, in a way as yet undefined by the Church, as belonging to or having relation to the one, holy, apostolic and catholic Church in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. And it is because of this, among other reasons, that many Orthodox talk about “fullness” and such. While most Orthodox are likely to recognize an authenticity in the Christianity of many non-Orthodox, the Orthodox would see it as a necessarily limited (not-full) or marred Christianity because the faith taught in non-Orthodox churches is either truncated or has been subject to unsanctionable innovations, or both, thereby necessitating a break in communion with the Orthodox Church (because communion with another body for the Orthodox would imply full endorsement of and sharing in the faith taught in that body). The Orthodox do not concern themselves with any minimum set of propositions that would make communion with a particular non-Orthodox body possible, because that simply would lead the totality of the Church’s teaching into a relativism that, once initiated, could never be stopped (you can see this has already happened in certain Christian communions). So, what might appear from the outside to be an all-or-nothing exclusivity is in fact strictly a wise maintenance of integrity on the part of the Orthodox Church and a guarding of the Pearl of Great Price which Orthodox Christians have come to cherish and a faithfulness to those Christians who have died for this precious faith through the centuries. It is a commitment to a whole faith rather than a rejection of anyone else’s faith.

    It might appear offensive to Protestants to hear Orthodox apply the term “one true Church” to their communion, but it is by no means stated in order to offend. Orthodoxy recognizes itself as the guardian of complete Christian teaching in the face of a constant parade of heresy, false teaching (the two are not equivalent), and schism. The fact that all of these have originated both within as well as outside of the Church’s membership does no damage to the Church’s self-understanding because a heretic found within the Church’s boundaries will be recognized and condemned by the Church as such, and will in no way be seen as speaking for or as part of the Church. But I digress here.

    Another point that needs correcting in this thread is the notion that the Orthodox teaches that any Church Father is infallible. The Church understands that no man or woman is infallible except the God-Man, Christ Jesus. Every Church Father was fallible. Every bishop is fallible and every Church council is potentially fallible until it has been confirmed to be faithful to authentic teaching or Tradition by the witness of the whole Church. The Fathers contradicted themselves often enough on minor points (and certain teachers who are often treated and read like Church Fathers, such as Origen or Tertullian, have deviated dramatically from the Church’s Tradition). But inasmuch as they have been faithful, they have been recognized by and in the Church as faithful witnesses to the truth and reliable teachers who expressed the truth of the Gospel when the truth was challenged. This in no way means that every statement from every Church Father carries the weight of Scripture. In fact, no statement from any Church Father carries the weight of Scripture. Scripture is primary in all Orthodox teaching, and no Orthodox teaching is seen as adding to Scripture, even if it speaks where Scripture is silent (For what it’s worth, a careful examination of Protestantism will also find churches speaking where Scripture is silent on many points). One of the things most valuable about the Fathers is that they show us the Church’s continued faithfulness to Scripture, and the Church understands that to be faithful to Scripture is to be faithful to those who were first faithful to Scripture, to those in whom the Holy Spirit has worked mightily and to whom God gave riches of wisdom. Does this mean that a particular Father never erred in interpreting Scripture here or there? Of course not! What it does mean is that the Fathers, taken together, and in harmony with the statements of the Councils, the liturgy (which has developed — gradually and somewhat separately in the East and in the West — and will continue to develop, slowly and organically, not revolutionarily, in a way that has always been and must continue to be carefully protective of and expressive of the teaching of the Church, based on the principle of “what is prayed is what is believed” and based on the approval of the whole Church).

    Another point: In the first serious rebuttal to this blog post, Ben was accused of not having thought “a whole lot” about these issues yet. Ben took this somewhat personally, and he is justified. Few or none of us have any idea how much he has thought about these issues. But thinking a lot about something and really thinking through something are quite different, and I would suggest that many opponents of Orthodoxy in this thread have not given Orthodoxy a completely fair hearing. If you’re not Orthodox, there’s a good chance you’re going to be skeptical about the Orthodox Church’s claims when you hear them, and this is perfectly understandable. But if you’re really going to investigate the Church, blogdom is not the place to do it. However, Ben said, over at Energetic Procession, that “Maybe my problem is that my knowledge of Orthodoxy is coming mostly from bloggers.” I would suggest that if your knowledge of Orthodoxy is coming mostly from bloggers, then you’re not getting a good education in Orthodoxy. If nothing else, blogs are so often polemical, and blog commentators (myself included) don’t always present their perspectives in the most well-thought-out manner. But really, anybody here who wants to have a good knowledge of Orthodoxy should start with books from authoritative Orthodox authors like Kallistos Ware, Peter Gilquist, Vladimir Lossky, John Meyendorff, Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann, John Zizioulas, Thomas Hopko, Sergius Bulgakov, Dumitru Staniloae, Frederica Mathewes-Green and others.

    I’m not saying you have to read all these authors before you can get a good understanding of Orthodoxy, but I would contend that you need to read two or three of them (definitely check out Ware) instead of the rants and arguments of bloggers and blog commentators. These authors are good reads whether you’re interested in converting or not. And you don’t have to convert to gain some spiritual and theological benefit from their writings. Some of them are more scholarly and difficult than others, but all are worth your time. I’m not saying any of this in order to proseletyze. These writers do not pound you with arguments about why you should abandon your current confession or why you are wrong (though you’ll find some arguments and tough talk here and there), but really they describe and work through the Orthodox understanding. And *gasp* they disagree sometimes! (Loyalty to Tradition isn’t blind submission to all that’s been said before, though it is submission to what the Church has confirmed).

    And, in addition to reading a couple of these modern authors, you should read some of the Church Fathers; and as you do, you should consider what they said and practiced in relation to what modern Orthodox say and practice.

    And finally, for those who really want to know what Orthodoxy is like, beyond the contentions of blog commentators, visit a couple of Divine Liturgies. If there are Orthodox churches from different jurisdictions (Greek, OCA, Serbian, Antiochian–just make sure they speak English, most do), visit more than one, and you’ll find that the Liturgy, though mostly fixed in form, is not entirely uniform in its execution. Talk to a priest, and ask questions about anything that seems strange to you.

    Of course, if you have no interest in Orthodoxy or you don’t want to be bothered, then by all means ignore my suggestions. However, until you’ve done some serious investigating that doesn’t involve the Internet (except maybe to track down books and church addresses, and maybe to listen to Orthodox Christian Network radio programs), then your acceptance or rejection of Orthodoxy is really just the acceptance or rejection of an insufficiently informed personal impression.

  45. Lee:

    Thank you for referencing my post (I saw it on the pingbacks), but I fear you have misunderstood me. For the record, I do believe as Joseph has written.

    But more to the point regarding the possible misunderstanding: our conversation is narrowly focused on a particular point (at least insofar as our conversation is concerned), which is the different views of salvation between Orthodox and evangelicals. My comments there should not be taken as exhaustive of what I believe (or, perhaps, what I understand the Orthodox Church to believe) regarding salvation.

    In fact, your comment brings to light one glaring ommission I made there regarding the objectivity Orthodox have regarding salvation: the objectivity of the Church itself. Yes, there are the Sacraments and so forth, but I have failed to make clear that the Church itself is another objective marker of salvation.

    So, again, I affirm what Joseph has written.

  46. “Nameless Mommy” (at least that’s what I made out of momesansnom):

    While you are correct that there has not been set forth a conciliar Orthodox statement regarding the salvific status of the non-Orthodox of our present age, I fear lest your reiteration of said lack of finality would lead some of the evangelical readers to think that the Church is confused on this point. It is not.

    The Church is clear on two seemingly contradictory things: there is no salvation outside the Church, and the Spirit acts where and when he will. The Church is no more unclear on these things than it is unclear on the divinity of Jesus.

    The difference is: how these truths get applied in particular cases, and, from the human standpoint, there is a spectrum of theologoumena on this application.

    To cite an analogy: The Church is absolutely clear on the fasting canons: no flesh meat, eggs, dairy, oil or wine during Great Lent. But the Church is also free, with regard to episcopal/pastory economy, to alter the strictures in individual cases.

    That is to say: what appears to outsiders to be confusion regarding what the Orthodox think regarding the salvific state of non-Orthodox is not much more than the difference of applying the “canons” in diverse fields of pastoral economy.

    At least, that’s how this Orthodox “reads” it. But I defer to the clergy on this one.

  47. Ben Says:

    Thanks, momesansnom. The Orthodox Christianity you described sounds more like what I thought it was before this “blog war” started (2-3 months ago). Thankfully, my experience of Orthodoxy is not limited entirely to bloggers, but I think I need to remember to take what they say with a grain of salt. Perhaps I will borrow a few of those books from my mother-in-law (an evangelical convert to Orthodoxy).

  48. Lee Says:

    Benedict Seraphim – Really? It seemed to me that the objective measures we have been discussing over on your blog were meant to describe a “better” assurance than Joseph has described… That is what I meant when I said that your respective positions seem to differ. Don’t worry – I don’t believe that we’ve covered all there is to cover on Orthodox soteriology in those few comments on your blog! 🙂

    When you say that the Church is an objective marker of salvation, you mean membership in the Orthodox Church, correct? If so, I’ll point to my most recent comment on your blog (from 10-15 minutes or so prior to this comment)…

  49. monkpatrick Says:


    I meant to say the the Scriptures are the standard claimed to support true faith but even Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this to be the standard and so the Scriptures by themselves fail to be the only rule for determining true faith. Although, some groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, tend to need to re-translate the Scriptures to make it “clearer” for their own points of view.


    Sorry to be so long winded and difficult to follow. I am commenting to critique your reasons for rejecting Orthodoxy. I am not expecting you to be convinced by my arguments but to show you where there may be difficulties with your reasoning, to try to establish a little clearer idea of what the Orthodox Church considers itself to be and to say that the Orthodox understanding is consistent with Scripture depending on how one reads what is to be literal and what it to be less so; this is an aspect of the framework to which I was alluding. However, it is not really my place to critique your thoughts without an invitation or questions to answer and such a critique as I have made is not very charitable, so my apologies for forcing it upon you.

    I also hope that you will maintain an interest in Orthodoxy and find time to read those authors recommended, as well as spending some time reading early post-Apostolic writers to see their take on Christianity.

  50. Lee Says:

    Monk Patrick – I see. But, as you say, those other groups need re-translations, and even additional “inspired” texts (as well as tradition). Furthermore, they redefine everything. They are truly a “different gospel”. But I’m coming to understand that the Orthodox view even mainline Protestant theology in the same way! “What mainline Protestant theology”, you ask? 🙂

  51. momesansnom Says:

    Hi Benedict and Ben,

    It’s actually “nameless kid” in French.

    Sometimes, Orthodox worry too much about giving outsiders the wrong impression, but outsiders are bound to have mistaken impressions about the Church on many points, and it is only by a deeper engagement with the Church rather than argumentation, especially on blogs, that they will begin to see the larger and more accurate picture or Orthodoxy, whether or not in the end they choose to accept or reject its claims.

    If you reread one of my paragraphs (which is difficult when I wrote so much — please forgive me), I was clear, even if somewhat indirect, about the fact that the Church understands that there is no salvation outside herself. That is why I wrote: “Inasmuch as Protestants or Roman Catholics are authentic Christians, the Orthodox would see them as somehow, in a way as yet undefined by the Church, as belonging to or having relation to the one, holy, apostolic and catholic Church in Christ and by the Holy Spirit.” This is largely a paraphrase of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s explanation of a moderate Orthodox understanding.

    I could quote Bulgakov here: “Not the whole of the human race belongs to the Church, only the elect. And not all Christians belong, in the fullest sense, to the Church — only the Orthodox.”

    I know this statement and others will shock or offend some Protestants, but they should keep in mind that these kinds of statements reflect Orthodox attempts to synthesize the Orthodox claims that might seem, on the surface, to contradict each other.

    Most certainly, the Orthodox do not see the Church as existing outside of Orthodoxy, only that some of its members might be, paradoxical as that may sound (Orthodox thought swims in paradox). To say this reflects no confusion about the Church’s self-understanding. Theological opinions vary, yes, but they do seem to be largely tilted in favor of something much like what I have said (not that majority opinion is at all a gauge of truth).

    In any case, the truth of somebody’s engagement with the Father through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit is not something that is “applied” like a canon of the Church. It just is or isn’t. The Orthodox episcopal/pastoral economy regarding converts from other Christian confessions is rarely a judgment one way or another of the salvific state of the convert before conversion (that’s God’s economy, not man’s). It is instead a rejection of error on the convert’s part and a reception of another soul into the fullness of the faith on the Church’s part.

    I say these things partly because I know that Protestants consider some of the ultimate fightin’ words to be “you’re not saved.” It is totally unnecessary for an Orthodox believer to be saying or implying this to any Christian other than a gross and unrepentant heretic, who has been censured as such by the Church (again, not all false beliefs fall under the heading of “heresy,” just as not all true beliefs fall under the heading of “dogma”). God knows who is “saved” and who isn’t, and the Church by and large, clergy and laity, has been quite willing to recognize, given the state of the world and Christendom today and without any compromise to the Church’s claim to be the one Church, that God has not, on account of historical circumstance, left those people high and dry who have put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ, eternal God in human flesh, but have not known much or anything about the Orthodox Church.

    Certainly, to be clear about this will lead some Protestants to feel that the Orthodox Church teaches that it’s fine and dandy that they remain Protestant because they have enough truth to be saved. This of course is a cheapening of the Orthodox understanding of what salvation is all about, but that is another discussion.

    I have already violated my stated commitment to avoid doing anything more than clarifying myself in the face of responses to my post. Forgive me, all, for showering you with too many words, and, if you are interested, certainly take to heart my suggestions in the previous comment about serious investigation into Orthodoxy beyond Internet blogdom and its endless polemics. This is not to indict the wonderful blogs that exist, but just to encourage a more proper and complete introduction to Orthodoxy than any blog I’ve seen can possibly offer.

    Ben, I appreciate your appreciation, and I pray that God will bless you and Benedict greatly and guide you always as you seek the treasure of the riches of the knowledge of Jesus Christ in your life.

  52. Ben Says:

    Yeah, thanks monkpatrick. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that it can be hard to process polemics in a forum like this when there’s so much information being tossed at me at once. Though I tend to think in the abstract, I find that to discuss it with others and learn it’s easier when there are a few concrete points to latch onto, which I can then test and etc.; if a comment contains too many points, I am forced to choose which ones to respond to, and usually we end up talking past each other.

    I, unfortunately, have read little of the early fathers myself, but my wife is somewhat familiar with them. I will have to add that to my reading list.

  53. Ben Says:

    “This of course is a cheapening of the Orthodox understanding of what salvation is all about, but that is another discussion.”

    Yes … that’s a discussion I’d like to hear. So far, your characterization of the Orthodox view of Protestants seems acceptable to me, though I imagine it could break down when you start describing what exactly is “cheapening salvation”.

    A big problem I’ve faced when contemplating Orthodoxy is that I know the Holy Spirit has done work in my life, and also the lives of others I know who are Protestant, laity and “clergy” (as far as that goes in evangelicalism). I couldn’t in good conscience dismiss the work in our lives as “cheap salvation”, or consider what they’ve done to be somehow a pale imitation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox church.

    I’ve gotten the impression from a lot of these folks (Orthodox bloggers) that that’s exactly how they view us, or worse. Even MonkPatrick here considers us on the level of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I’ve had people say things to the effect of “evangelical missions is a waste of time”, that is, that a person is just as well off as a Muslim or Buddhist than an evangelical.

  54. monkpatrick Says:


    One last comment. Although, I use comparison of Jehovah’s witnesses I am not equating them with Protestants but using them as acceptably “off track” in both our understandings to make a point regarding Scripture.

    I understand your sense that God has worked in your life and I experienced that as a Protestant also. I do not dismiss this as God’s hand in your life because I believe that God loves all people equally and helps them as far as they are willing to receive His help. Protestants are much more receptive than Muslims and Buddhists but these are not excluded from God’s love either (I know a number of Buddhist friends and testimonies). Nevertheless, just because God cares for all, it doesn’t mean salvation for all. This requires other aspects. God tries to draw all men to himself and accept Him as much as possible but salvation is, in Orthodox terms, full and holistic union with Christ and this is only possible in the Church and to those willing to accept/be all that Christ is. To reject the Church and stop short outside her, even though one loves Christ, is a sad thing to see for Orthodox, who want all to join them in communion with God.

  55. Ben Says:

    Once again, my reading of NT ecclesiology and soteriology is very different. How exactly is full and holistic union with Christ possible through the Orthodox Church in a way that it is not in the Protestant churches … ? I.E., other than incense, icons, and being even more focused on exclusion, what’s the real difference? Please use NT references if possible.

  56. momesansnom Says:

    Ben, I guess I can’t really write another long treatise (though I probably will end up doing just that), and I certainly wouldn’t be able to begin to exhaust the Orthodox understanding of salvation right here and now. But, I must tell you my use of the term “cheapening” was in no way meant to imply that Protestants are on the level of Jehovah’s Witnesses or others who have subverted the Bible and deny the eternal godhood of Jesus Christ in the flesh as the second person of the triune God (though some liberal Protestants do fit that description, which of course is also acknowledged by most Evangelicals themselves).

    I did not refer to a particular “cheapening” of the authenticity of anyone’s salvation. Using the word was not meant by me to be a way to keep my fingers crossed while I made more gracious statements. I was instead referring to a “cheapening of the Orthodox understanding of what salvation is all about.” This was meant in the sense of reducing the Orthodox understanding of salvation to a single moment in one’s life (the day I “got saved” at the altar or prayed a certain prayer) or to one or two of the benefits of salvation, such as forgiveness of sins or admission to heaven. This was said in reference to the possible Protestant tendency that might see forgiveness of sin and admittance to heaven, and living a good moral life, as what salvation is all about. I am aware that many Protestants (Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, among others) earnestly combat this reductionist way of seeing salvation, but by and large this is what comes across in much popular Evangelical discourse.

    For the Orthodox, salvation is very much about God’s mercy and grace and his forgiveness of our sins. “Lord, have mercy” is the constant prayer of the Orthodox Christian. But it is standard teaching everywhere in Orthodoxy that salvation is much more than just having sins forgiven and trying not to sin anymore. For Orthodoxy, salvation is about an ever-progressing union with God that begins in this age and continues into the next. It is about the renewal of human nature and the believer’s participation in that renewal by the grace of God at the level of level of personhood and freedom and participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a very concrete, sacramental way, as a participation in life by way of death, entirely by way of love. Salvation for the Orthodox is about God effecting his original plan of uniting humanity to himself in spite of human sin, which God full knew would arise when he made man — and all of this to his glory.

    We’re getting into the realm where Orthodox would use the term “fullness.” This is where you and I might experience a breakdown in conversation, because you have already expressed your rejection of the idea of fullness, and I respect that. I’ll just add a couple of words to say that when the Orthodox talk about fullness in relation to a Protestant lack of fullness, they aren’t talking about how they believe more things than Protestants, as propositions or historical accretions. They are talking about a kind of depth of dimension that defies an Orthodox Christian from completely capturing the full essence of his faith in any set of propositions or systematic treatment. The closest thing you’ll get to a complete confession of Orthodox faith, besides the creed itself, is in the liturgical books, and it is for this reason that the Orthodox resist changes in the liturgy.

    But, to get down to the nitty gritty, I’ll just say that, yes, it’s true that the Orthodox see Protestantism as having reduced the fullness of the faith into minimalist systems, confessions or sets of propositions (the Lutheran catechisms and confessions, the Westminster Confession, the Articles of Faith, and other such documents or individual Evangelical churches’ statements of faith). And the Orthodox see errors and insufficiencies in each of these documents. They also see an insufficiency in “sola scriptura” because absolutely nobody is able to approach the Bible nakedly, without presuppositions or even understand the leading of the Holy Spirit without reference to his or her own limited knowledge (though the Holy Spirit is also not limited by our limitations, of course). The fullness of the faith is not found in statements or words, but in abundant life, and Orthodox see that life as existing in its fullness when lived in the Orthodox Church. This by no means denies that life to those “outside” the church (who, if they indeed have that life, would be seen to be in some fashion “inside” the Church, though not in communion and therefore missing something vital). It might sound off-putting to hear and Orthodox person say that you or other Protestants are missing something vital, but that’s the Orthodox perspective given the Orthodox self-understanding, which is impossible to justify to someone outside of Orthodoxy. It’s not the equivalent of saying you’re unsaved or that the life and activity of God within you is “cheap.” If the life of God is in you, as it appears to be, then it is indeed most precious and worthy of thanksgiving to God who is faithful at all times.

    You and I will just have to agree to disagree on some of these points, I’m sure, which is only to be expected given our differences in perspective. I’m definitely not trying to argue you over to my way of thinking. I’m just firing off a bit of my very limited understanding by way of description. But one place that you and I will not disagree is that the Holy Spirit really does work among non-Orthodox Christians and bring them to Christ. The Orthodox do not see Protestant missionary work among people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ as counter-productive. Of course, the Orthodox would like to see all of the unreached people, and indeed all of Christianity, come to full harmony with Orthodoxy and thereby be fully in harmony with the all truth. But as long as this is a distant reality, the Orthodox will rest confident in the knowledge that God is working in humanity to bring his own to himself.

    I hope most of this makes sense to you, and that the inevitable annoyance that comes with some of my statements don’t turn you completely off to what I’ve said. Really, look to people more authoritative than I for your information on Orthodoxy. I’m confident that, while you might not change your convictions about Orthodoxy, you’ll grow to appreciate it and be blessed by it. In the end, we have important disagreements that can’t be resolved through this conversation. I trust that each of us has built our house on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Each of us might believe that the other could have done better when building on that foundation, but we have to trust that Christ himself will lead us each to the place he wants us to be.

    God’s blessing be upon you. I don’t think I even came close to addressing your concerns, but I’m all out of steam. Take care.

  57. Nameless Kid:

    Sorry I missed that. While I did not take French (Greek and German here), my wife did, and I should have at least worked that much out–though in my defense I did get the nameless half of it!

    Thank you for your clarifications. They were very crystal.

    And you’re right: my analogy of canonical applications was very poor, indeed, likely misleading. Your response definitely brought greater light.

  58. Lee:

    I’ll respond to the Orthodox Church as objective marker over on my blog so as not to derail this discussion.

  59. momesansnom Says:


    I’m very glad to have discovered your blog. Not that I didn’t know of it from the blogrolls of others, but I’m sort of new to blogdom and have only now began to read it, and I find your thoughts to be beautiful.

  60. Ben Says:

    Thanks, momesansnom … that was very helpful. If what you’re saying is indeed the correct Orthodox perspective, I may not have as many problems with it as I thought. That at least addresses my first point to the degree that I think I could rescind it.

    Wow, 60 comments.

  61. monkpatrick Says:


    The key thing is also uniting to Christ in the flesh and not just spiritually. Both are required and the union of the flesh is through partaking of the Eucharist, or described as “breaking of the bread” (John 6:53-58). These verses are have always been understood by the Orthodox as being quite literal, although even as Christ spoke them many found it hard to believe (v. 60-61). St Paul reinforces this literal understanding in his letters, as quoted in my previous comments, especially 1 Cor 10, 11, Colossians 1, 2 and Ephesians but these verses are all over the Epistles. (John 6:63-64 are understood as not making the earlier texts metaphorical and negating the literal meaning but that the Mystery is not something of a natural created occurrence rather something divine and spiritual. The verses do not say that we do not need to partake of His actual flesh otherwise Christ would contradict Himself.)

    We know where the Church is because of where the Eucharist is, as it is believed by the Orthodox; the Church is formed by the Eucharist. Those not partaking of the Eucharist, (breaking of bread as understood to be transformed into the Body of Christ and also the cup of His Blood), are not in the Church, the Body of Christ. They have no life in them, as Christ teaches. (John 52, 53) Baptism is also required as the entrance to the Church. (John 3: 5) These Mysteries do not happen without faith because God does not force Himself on people, otherwise He would transform all bread into His Body to save all people whether they believe or not, because He wills all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). So, where these Mysteries are denied or corrupted in belief then they do not occur. Sadly most Protestants deny these Mysteries as believed by the Orthodox. They are not in the Church nor do they have the same faith (from an Orthodox/Catholic perspective.

    I hope this answers your question. There are other differences that have a variety of different understandings but what I have mentioned is what I see as the key difference. Sorry, I am not as “accepting” as some but this is what Christ teaches and the Church believes. You are free to believe as you will but I hope you understand that there is a large difference between Orthodox and Protestants and why something is lacking. The exclusive nature is a fact of what the Eucharist is; it is not saying you are not free to enter the Church because you are born in New Jersey or are black or white but because of your faith. It is no more exclusive that saying you are not in Ireland because you are in California. You are free to travel there if you wish, and God will provide the means.

  62. Ben Says:

    I don’t know, MonkPatrick. I think that placing such value on the Eucharist is a misinterpretation of the words of Christ. I am open to there being a “mystery” therein that is not fully apparent to me as a Protestant, but the statement that one cannot share in the Holy Spirit or be united with Christ without sharing in the Eucharist is one that I don’t think I could accept. Apparently, based on momesansnom’s comments, this is also not the only belief found in Orthodoxy, unless I have again misunderstood.

  63. momesansnom Says:


    I’m glad if I could offer anything useful. I have sought to be true to the Orthodox understanding, but some of the things I wrote are not necessarily THE Orthodox perspective, but rather AN Orthodox perspective, a way of understanding some difficult matters in light of certain tenets of Orthodox faith that have been settled within Orthodoxy. To be sure, what I have written is not a fringe opinion; it is an Orthodox perspective that is held by a large (majority?) share of Orthodox believers and which I have learned in large part by listening to and reading from Orthodox teachers and leaders of distinction and holiness. But as you have discovered and will discover, opinions do vary, which does not mean that Orthodox Christians disagree on what they believe to have been revealed about the Church. Other Orthodox believers might be more reticent about saying exactly what I have said because they might disagree or because they might simply believe that the risk is too high of giving non-Orthodox people a reason to say they have no need of Orthodoxy. I also understand that risk, but I’m more willing to take it. I have made the statements I have made because I believe them, frankly and first of all, and also because I know exactly what it’s like to be a Protestant regarding the Orthodox Church and wrestling with its claims. I know what some of the chief concerns are about those claims and I know what answers helped allay those concerns for me.

    May God reward you as you continually seek him.

  64. drewsive Says:


    Have you ever read any St Ignatius of Antioch? His writing on the relationship between the eucharist and ecclesiology was dynamite for me. Oh, and he was a disciple of the Apostle John. Go figure.


    Drew Harrah

  65. Ben Says:

    A bit. I am aware that he was a disciple of the Apostle John. As I mentioned in point #2, this doesn’t guarantee that what he taught was correct.

  66. Ben:

    While St Ignatios’ discipleship to the Apostle doesn’t guarantee his infallibility, on what basis do you assert that St Ignatios’ understanding of the Lord’s Supper is mistaken while yours is correct?

    We Orthodox clearly are asking you to critique your present understanding of the Lord’s Supper. And I get why you are resistant to that (though you’ve been incredibly gracious and willing to engage us in conversation). But what if we turn the question around?

    In other words, why should we Orthodox abandon our understanding and accept yours? What authority do you present, and what is the evidence supporting your authority?

  67. Ben Says:

    I could prepare a defense of why my reading of the NT suggests to me that the Eucharist is a symbol, and not literally union with Christ as it were. The thing is, though, I’m not asking you to abandon your position. I think you might be mistaken about it, but I don’t see it as being an essential component of the “true good that God desires”.

    I don’t think there is any point throughout this discussion where I have tried to convince you or anyone else that you should convert from Orthodoxy to evangelicalism. On the other hand, there I was minding my own business (2-3 months ago) and about a hundred Orthodox bloggers descended upon me, telling me that I was, though not damned for sure, certainly less than half Christian. Hence the seemingly combative nature of this post.

    What I am trying to figure out here, I guess, is whether it is possible to affirm the Eucharist (as you must to become Orthodox) and still hold momesansnom’s moderated view (that is, to interpret the passage in John that you quoted as not referring to Protestants’ lack of union with Christ).

    I would be open to accepting that I was wrong about the nature of the Eucharist, and open to being wrong about its importance. However, I would not be open to the concept that the Eucharist or baptism is a form of “new circumcision”, essential for God to accept you, because that just seems so clearly not in harmony with Scripture that it cannot possibly be correct if Scripture is indeed inspired. Does that make sense?

  68. Ben:

    I’m sorry that my response may have seemed to you to be putting you in a corner to defend yourself. I did not mean it in that way at all.

    Rather, I was attempting to have you really engage your own views. Maybe I should have asked, on what grounds should you, yourself, take your own views as authoritative? You don’t believe the Orthodox view, because it doesn’t jibe with your view. Okay, I get that. That’s natural. But now, let’s take it one step further. Why should you take your view as authoritative and believe it over against the Orthodox view? What, besides your own personal authority, do you have to buttress your view against other views? Given all the competing and contradictory views (just among evangelicals, let alone the rest of the Christian world), why is your the one you should hold over all others?

    That’s really what I was trying to get at. On what basis ought you to hold the views you do?

    And is that basis a trustworthy one?

  69. Let me hasten to add: my questions are meant for your to reflect on. I do not expect you to have to answer them here.

  70. Ben Says:

    Ah, I see. Well, though it may not seem like it, I have been attempting to evaluate that through the course of this discussion … it’s a hard balance to strike, you know … that is, between being open to challenging your own beliefs but not being a perpetual “polemics victim” who cannot make up their own mind.

    If I did not have some sympathy with Orthodox claims, this would have been a much shorter discussion; so, over time, I have been challenging my own views. That being said, I think we could both agree that holding a view you are convinced isn’t correct is a bad idea.

  71. mgmg11 Says:


    You wrote:

    “I could prepare a defense of why my reading of the NT suggests to me that the Eucharist is a symbol, and not literally union with Christ as it were. The thing is, though, I’m not asking you to abandon your position. I think you might be mistaken about it, but I don’t see it as being an essential component of the “true good that God desires”.”

    I think that defending your position on the Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper would be a helpful exercise even if you are not trying to convince the Orthodox. Here are 2 reasons why:

    1. You could show the Orthodox why you don’t find their position convincing. This could lead to them either trying to show why your position is inadequate, which would lead you and them both toward greater truth and clarity about this subject; or it could lead to them admitting that they can’t argue you out of your position, which would also be a helpful realization.

    2. You might show the Orthodox that what you take to be the truth about Communion is true. This would encourage them to leave the Orthodox Church for something truer–namely a church that doesn’t have false beliefs about a very important subject. I know you aren’t *trying* to do this, because you believe they are as Christian as you are. But I still think it might be good for us anyway. If you’re right, I, for one, would want to leave and go where the truth is.

    So all of that to say, I would be very interested in a defense of a memorialist viewpoint (I assume you’re a memorialist). But regardless, whatever viewpoint you have, I’d like to see it articulated.

  72. Ben Says:

    1) You’re right, that would be great if I had unlimited time to spend. Unfortunately, between wife, son, job, holidays, etc. I am already spending too much time blogging 🙂 Maybe I will try that eventually.

    2) Hm, I guess so. But if Orthodoxy doesn’t have all the answers, then any evangelical church certainly doesn’t. My encouragement to them would be, only leave the Orthodox church if it’s preventing you from loving God and others more deeply and truly. Of course, it could be difficult to remain there if you were convinced that the Eucharist was symbolic.

    I haven’t heard the term “memorialist” before, but it sounds about right. Maybe if I have time in the next couple weeks I will write a post about my view of the Eucharist. Part of the problem is that I’m less confident about what it is than I am about what it’s not — as I said, it’s not “the new circumcision”. I don’t think God intended us to become one with Him primarily through a sacrament rather than disciplining and teaching us through the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t say with confidence that it is merely a symbol.

    This is a big part of the problem here — I have not approached Orthodoxy as a polemicist per se because I don’t really think evangelicalism is superior … only that there is a shared essence (?) that is not present in Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc. I might say that the Orthodox church should learn some things from evangelicalism, for it has a few goods; but it might be a pain to sort through all those bads to find them.

  73. momesansnom Says:

    If I may, I’d like to supplement some of what’s been said by others on eucharistic ecclesiology and show how I am able to affirm what has been said on the topic while also maintaining a generous view toward non-Orthodox Christians. I’ll just make my sentences declarative, without adding a constant qualifiers such as “Orthodoxy teaches” or “an Orthodox understanding is.” And as always, my opinions are always subject to correction by those wiser and more trustworthy than I. And to all Orthodox readers, do not hesitate to correct or complete my thoughts if you feel it would be good to do so.

    The eucharistic community manifests the whole church in the place where it has gathered to give thanks for and share in the body and blood of the Lord. In no other way do Christians more powerfully proclaim the death of the Lord. Those who partake unite themselves in the flesh with the broken flesh and spilled blood of Christ and in so doing, they unite themselves to one another and to all those in heaven and earth from the beginning to the end of time who are united to Christ. It is an eschatalogical reality that becomes present in a specific time and place, bearing the entire content of that timeless reality, which is why it is “catholic” and heavenly. It is the realization of the Church in and out of space and time as “one body.” It is Christ’s bodily life united with man’s. The life imparted is actual, not metaphorical; as actual as the power that Jesus felt go out of him when the woman touched him to be healed. With all this in mind, you can see why it is see to be the epitome of Christian worship and the basis of unity among believers.

    But a caveat will help to show how participation in the eucharist is not a “new circumcision” or a proof of salvation per se (if anything were susceptible to the charge of being a “new circumcision,” I would think it would be baptism). Some partake in an unworthy manner to their condemnation. We learn from St. Paul that such partaking even killed some people. This doesn’t sound merely symbolic to me: blasphemers living on to persecute the church while unworthy communicants, presumably Church members, fall dead. We are all unworthy, but to partake in an unworthy manner is to partake without faith, repentance and humble acknowledgment of one’s own unworthiness (the latter two being correlated to the former). One does not cover over his own lack of faith by participation in the eucharist. And so, if it is possible that some partake but lack the faith to be in true communion with Christ and his Church, it is likewise possible that some who do not partake are, by the grace of God’s mercy, in a communion that is not manifested. But nevertheless, never to partake from the table is certainly a grave loss for the one who can’t or won’t partake. It is the life of Christ, the flesh and blood of Christ that he or she forgoes, along with an actualized union in the flesh of Christ with the entire communion of saints.

    Also, if partaking in the eucharist were the ultimate and only necessary criterion by which to establish membership in the Church, it would mean that some great desert fathers and mothers, who did not partake until just before their deaths, spent most of their lives devoted to something to which they didn’t yet belong. It would mean that any catechumen or martyr who died before partaking is on the outside (though it has been argued by some church fathers that martyrdom itself is a sacrament that includes any others that had been absent in the martyr’s life). But of course, Orthodoxy does not teach that God’s grace is bound by our weaknesses and circumstances any more than it teaches that we can demand or expect God’s grace on our own terms outside of the normal economy he has established. The book of Acts shows us that men received the Holy Spirit before chrismation was performed. Such a fact doesn’t alter God’s normal economy, but only reveals his bounteous grace and kindness and compassion on us and his willingness to accommodate us when circumstances would keep us away from his truth.

    If God offers grace to those outside of communion with Orthodoxy (and I have contended that he does), it is because he is merciful to those who call upon his name in faith (as he has said he would be), not because he sanctions false doctrine or neglect of his Church and the normal participation in the mysteries.

    For anyone interested, some very interesting and challenging thoughts on eucharistic ecclesiology, with frequent appeal to St. Ignatius, can be found in the work of Met. John Zizioulas.

  74. […] Follow-up: Still not Orthodox, apparently April 1, 2008 You might remember I said this. […]

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