Follow-up: Still not Orthodox, apparently

April 1, 2008

You might remember I said this.

Ok, now I have totally different reasons for not being Orthodox. I think. I still don’t really have a clear enough idea of what Orthodox doctrine and practice is / can be to know for sure, but here’s the next step in the development of my thought on the subject.

Why I’m still not Orthodox:

1) Fulness of the faith / Divine superiority  / Infallibility

I’m getting there, but the sceptic in me still can’t really accept that the Orthodox church is infallible, at least in the sense I think they mean. I’m still not convinced that it’s really fair, either, for them to consider Protestants / evangelicals as lower in “Christian status” than Oriental Orthodox or Roman Catholics — RCs in particular seem at least as different from EOs as some evangelicals are. To me, this seems like nothing but prejudice, which means it’s probably not “official” — but if there’s anything I know about church, it’s that official or not the way the people in your church think is going to affect you. I think I came a step closer, though, when I read this. I also still don’t really get why (except for the obvious people reasons) Orthodox services couldn’t be more gracefully adapted to American culture. I could accept “infallibility” or “guidance by God” in a more general sense, but not down to things like vestments or particulars of liturgy, etc.

2) Chip on their shoulder

It seems like a lot of Orthodox people on the Internet just have a real problem with Protestants. A lot of contempt, to the point that it feels like some kind of insecurity. I don’t really want to be in a church full of people like that. Most of my friends are Protestant and I’m confident that most of them are in God’s will — maybe they’d be better off as Orthodox, who knows — but I couldn’t say that what they’re doing is meaningless, because it’s obviously not. I’m not going to convert to a church in which the whole parish is going to tell me that no matter how holy their life is, they’re inferior for one reason or another. Maybe I’m not explaining this well, and maybe people just won’t understand, but I just don’t really want to deal with this — and if this kind of attitude (bad attitude) is more prevalent there than in my current church (at which, of course, it isn’t entirely absent), then how can I really believe that “the Orthodox do sanctification better”? Etc.

Thoughts? Maybe I just need to suck it up and start attending an Orthodox church, but I’ve certainly learned the danger of not doing your homework going into a step like that. Things can change pretty fast once you’re in.

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7 Responses to “Follow-up: Still not Orthodox, apparently”

  1. Lee Says:

    I’m more interested in when/where you learned that lesson! Perhaps that discussion would be more suited to an offline conversation, though…

  2. Ben Says:

    Oh, I don’t know. Just a little gunshy, that’s all. In the past I’ve espoused ideas and jumped into projects / groups without thinking them through and either been embarrassed or suffered for it later. Not every case has been like that, but enough to make me cautious.

  3. Lee Says:

    I see – I thought you were referring to something on par with your contemplated jump to Orthodoxy…

  4. Krause Says:

    Ben,
    It’s hard to say whether or not Catholics, Orientals, or Protestants are in a worse position. Part of this problem is that there’s no way to judge “protestants in general.” There’s really not much normativity to being a Protestant so one could mean a whole huge mess of things by that term.

    For me, the bottom line is that none of these groups are the Church. Some groups are better than others on certain points, but in the end, none are the Church. This doesn’t mean they’re all going to hell of course. I tend towards some moderate kind of religious inclusivism myself.

    As far as behavior of Orthodox people goes:
    If you want to judge what Orthodox spirituality can do, don’t look at them; look at the lives of the saints. Sanctification is about producing really holy people. Orthodoxy can do this like no other group can and the Church still produces people like this today. However, it also produces a lot of lousy ones, but so does every other religious group.

  5. Ben Says:

    “no protestant nomativity”: True enough.

    “inclusivism”: Yes, I feel similarly, to a certain degree.

    “saints”: Hm, yes, some saints were very sanctified. You also have some “political saints”: bad people who were canonized (is that the right word?) because they were important. Personally I think that the goal is to sanctify everyone and not just a select few, though this would not stop me from honoring saints for their holiness.

    “lousy ones”: Well, it would be a small comfort to me that “the Orthodox system produces great saints” if everyone in my parish is an arrogant hair-splitter with little interest in personal holiness and love for others.

    You know, the funny thing is that the Orientals think they are exactly the same as you guys. I said to one OO lady on here, “Why can’t you be cool with Protestants? You’re in the same boat we are as far as the EO are concerned.” She insisted that this was not true, and that only extreme EOs felt that way. 🙂

  6. MG Says:

    Ben–

    You wrote:

    “I could accept “infallibility” or “guidance by God” in a more general sense, but not down to things like vestments or particulars of liturgy,”

    I will try and make a post sometime soon giving some biblical arguments for ecclesial infallibility. I think there are many good ones. In fact, when I compare the number (and kind) of statements about Church authority to the number (and kind) of statements about biblical authority, I wonder how I could have missed what seems rather obvious to me now…

    As for particulars of liturgy and the fact that Orthodoxy changes slowly, not everything in the liturgy is divinely-delivered content. Some of it of course is mode of cultural expression. If you listen around from Orthodox priests and bishops who have been to other countries, for instance, you will hear about how the liturgy takes a different shape in, say, Africa, than in the “West” or “East”.

    Its hard and not immediately obvious to distinguish what is cultural form and what is unrevisable content in the liturgy. Admittedly, I don’t know of a method for doing this, though there do seem to be obvious particulars that are content (there’s always gonna be a Eucharist, baptisms, trisagion hymn, etc.) and obvious particulars that are form (Byzantine style of icons vs. Russian, the language the liturgy is chanted in, etc.).

    Also, remember, it takes time for Orthodoxy to adapt to culture, but it does. The Antiochene Church I attend has taken a very American shape. The style of music, the kinds of people, the Church activities and programs, the language, the style of preaching, the architecture and aesthetics, all have a distinctly American feel–though I can’t quite explain why. And yet it is still fully Orthodox. I love how the Church can do that–retain continuity and yet dwell incarnationally in culture.

  7. Ben Says:

    Hm, I’d like to see that. I got the impression that most of the evangelical converts went to Orthodoxy at least in part because of its “otherness” … I haven’t yet heard of an Orthodox church adapted to American culture; in fact, most Orthodox folks that I’ve mentioned the idea to have responded with a diatribe against adaptation and modern culture in general.

    Church authority: True enough, but there is a question of what is meant by church authority. Evangelicals take it generally to mean “parish” authority, the authority of the one who disciples another; but it’s definitely broken in evangelicalism. Whether that means it’s fixed in Orthodoxy is a different question entirely, though.

    Not all liturgy content is divine: You may be the lone voice of reason on that point. From what I’ve heard, it’s hard for me not to classify Orthodox folks with KJV-only fundamentalists, or people who only want to hear hymns in church (albeit, drawing from 5th century culture instead of 19th). I’d love to be wrong on that point, of course.

    Thanks for your patient input. I can’t always quite keep up with the philosophy, and I don’t know near as much about Orthodoxy as I’d like to, but I sure benefit from these discussions all the same.


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