A Response to Reformed Christianity

This is my response to a Reformed group of people, including a Reformed teacher and blogger who engaged in a conversation regarding why he does not want to covert to the Orthodox Church. I believe he is a member of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals, a Reformed group that  grew from other Reformed groups by embracing Orthodox theologians such as Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

“Robin [and Brad],

You said that you do not want to take one authority or one period of the Church, and you apply Orthodoxy to this, but this assumes Orthodoxy is to be as Roman Catholicism. We do not have a Pope and we have not turned Ecumenical Councils into dogma parties. The Councils are here to protect and NOT to necessarily establish doctrine. The Orthodox faith moves doctrinally in a very collective manner, but with the guidance of the bishopric. And if the Church collectively gets off track, a council is formed and heretics are excommunicated.

You also say that you do not want to stick with one period of the Church but Orthodoxy does not do that either. You might be confusing the fact that  for the first one thousand years, the church was unified (not without trouble, of course) but both east and west met for council then and the monarch was alive, well, and protecting the Church as it is supposed to be. This was not just “one” period. And now that there has been a massive schism, the east continues to expand on doctrine and teaching, albeit not as much as it used to, but nonetheless enough to grow and prosper to be larger than any Protestant ‘denomination.’

Could it be that you are narrowing yourself to one period far more than the Orthodox? The Reformation was quite short and whatever lasted turned into liberalism. Most every Reformed church that succeeded from the Reformation has become completely liberal (European Reformed and most all of American). The 20th century schismatics from the Presbyterian and Anglican groups did not gain any dominion whatsoever from the “splits.” Their numbers of people retained were very small, they lost most all of the properties, and they could not even hold themselves together doctrinally. The Reformed period was very short and ended in what is now liberalism and shopping-mall evangelicalism.

I like the way you want to strive for unity of the gospel but why not do this within the “laying on of hands?” Why not strive within the apostolic Church? It does not make any sense to remain separate in order to begin unity. We already have unity, the same that you long to have. We wrestle with the Scripture, we debate, and honor theological education. You, again, mistake the Orthodox faith for the Roman. We have doctrinal latitude within our Church, more than Reformed, I would say. But we have little latitude within worship, as the Church did for over one thousand years. We do not allow renaissance and other modern philosophies to enter our worship. And we hold to the doctrine of  lex orandi, lex credenda, the Latin phrase for ‘as we worship so we will live.’

There is much to be said about God working through unity! Saint Paul, Jesus, Saint Ignatius, and many others proclaim that without unity there is blindness! After the schism of the Church, there was much blindness spread, and when the schism of the schism happened (the Reformation) there was even more spread. We are living in perilous times, times where one cannot afford to be reinventing the Church on their own!”

Comments

  1. Michael,

    I see that you were formerly an Evangelical; what denomination were you a part of? Were you Reformed? And what finally convinced you to become EO? How did you finally see that the Episcopacy of EO was in fact the true representative of the Apostolic faith (and succession)?

    I am “Evangelical” Reformed, but with sensitivity for the EO. I don’t see myself ever “converting” to the EO, but I am always intrigued by those who have made that “leap.” I should say, that I am not a 5 point Calvinist, instead I follow a Scottish instantiation of Calvinism (one articulated by T.F. Torrance, who himself had a “Reformed” Doctrine of theosis, and made fruitful in-roads with the EO in his time).

    Anyway, blessings in Christ.

  2. “Could it be that you are narrowing yourself to one period far more than the Orthodox? The Reformation was quite short and whatever lasted turned into liberalism.”

    This is CLASSIC!!

  3. Bobby, I spent some time in the Reformed side of things (Anglican 39 Articles as well as Westminster standards). You can see my conversion story below. It came down to how Christ calls us to worship in truth and submit to the bishopric. I have some articles on the bishopric, but what struck me was that the Episcopacy was what the Canon of Scripture is based on. It was the Episcopacy that created the Bible, which means that I could not have really believed in it otherwise. Also, I finally found that wrangling with Bible verses to figure out church government was fairly vain. In the beginning was the bishops and deacons and because of the growth of the Church, the “priests” were made to stand in the place of the bishops, especially in the rural areas. The unity of the faith that Christ speaks of in John 17 and that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4 is centered on the bishopric and His authority over the Eucharist. With that in mind, I also contemplated John 6, regarding the Eucharist, which pretty clearly speaks of the Eucharist as Christ. Wow, I should probably write a “theological conversion” story. The one I wrote was very circumstantial, although it does include some theology.

    Part 1
    http://classicalchristianity.com/2010/10/27/my-conversion-to-the-orthodox-church-part-ii/

    Part 2
    http://classicalchristianity.com/2010/10/27/my-conversion-to-the-orthodox-church-part-ii/

  4. Michael,

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your “testimony” (there’s a little Evangellybelly for you ;-). Seriously, don’t you think it a bit curious, though, or even ad hoc that the “Church” can name itself as the “Church” by tracing a historical lineage. In other words—and I understand the argument for Apostolic Succession—to claim to be the rightful (and only) heirs to the Gospel of Christ seems over-stated.

    Anyway, I don’t intend to get into a debate with you about this; I do thank you for sharing, and for those links. My sense is that the Gospel is more expansive than what the Orthodox church allows it to be. I see the ground or esse of the Church finding concrete actualisation in God’s life and mediated to us through the assumed humanity of the eternal Logos, or the Son, Jesus. I don’t see the church as the prolongation of the Incarnation; which it seems the EO do.

    Blessings, brother.

  5. One more thing, Michael,

    I would like to take issue with the way you have caricatured or offered a sweeping generalization of the Reformed faith (e.g. your point about it leading to or becoming Liberalism). I just read your part II conversion story; I see you hit this same there too. I do agree that scholastic Reformed is no good at all, but not all Reformed theology has turned to liberalism; not even the scholastic Reformed (like the United Reformed Churches, Westminster Theological Seminary , etc.). I frequently critique this kind of scholastic Federal Calvinism myself; but there is much more in the Reformed history than the scholastic kind. Like I said, I read TF Torrance (plan to do a PhD that involves TFT), and he articulates a Trinitarian theology that hearkens back to the Patristics like Athanasius et al. Anyway, I don’t think it helps your cause to assert that the Reformed faith equals liberalism. I would be interested in seeing how you define “Liberalism;” that is a rather slippery task at points.

  6. Well, we do not call Orthodoxy the Church simply because we have the succession of laying on of hands, in and of itself; although some Orthodox may oversimplify it to sound this way. Jesus calls us to be unified (John 17) and Saint Paul forbids us to have division. Saint Ignatius says that the Holy Spirit cannot even properly function within division. So, it is really more about being unified than about a certain custom of ordination. The Eucharist itself is a symbol of unity and we fall under its meaning and spirituality.

  7. Bobby, I really do not want to debate about the current Reformed churches. I will end this particular question with this: I would think that the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals, whom I have a lot of respect for, would have certainly aligned with any Reformed group of Churches that survived the wrath of liberalism and is in any sort of rightly patristic position/theology.

  8. Michael,

    Oh no, I understand that the Orthodox Church’s identity finds shape through the reality of Apostolic Succession (the office); I understand the desire to unified. I simply believe that that unity is only full realized (since we only see and live through a glass darkly now) in the reality of the the Logos ensarkos, Himself; or in Jesus. I think we are all moving toward that unity in a stereoscopic way at the moment; and I look forward to the full visio of that made consummate at the bodily return of Jesus Christ.

    I don’t really know much about the CRE, but have come across some of them. Like I said, I am Evangelical Calvinist; within the ranks articulated by theologian Thomas Torrance and Scottish Theology. There are plenty in the history whom I believe are “rightly” related to Patristic theology (meaning that they have a healthy appreciation and appropriation of the ‘Fathers’), and yet of course this obviously does not represent all of the Reformed (esp. those who are deeply Augustinian). Anyway, thanks, Michael.

  9. Bobby, the “office” is not empty. The fathers speak of the bishopric as the unifying factor of the Church.

  10. Michael,

    I know; and all of this in the context and face of rampant heresy. But to assume that this supposes a causal relationship between the assertion and the reality is another thing (that’s why I said earlier that this is ad hoc). In the end, this is why I am not EO; nevertheless I highly appreciate the heritage that the Orthodox claim to represent.

  11. I see Christ as the unifying factor of the church. All of humanity united to his humanity in the Incarnation (Col 1 etc).

  12. But that would mean that the existential value of Christ’s Church, which He clearly proposed, is of little value, and that all humanity is the Church. We become members of the covenant through corporate baptism and not through ones own intellect.

  13. @ Bobby,

    I’m a little familiar with Torrance and he takes a lot of his objective union theology from his interpretation of St. Athanasius. Well look what the author of “On the Incarnate Word” says about the bishopric:

    St. Athanasius ca. 297-373

    But if the organising of the Churches is distasteful to you, and you do not think the ministry of the episcopate has its reward, WHY, THEN HAVE YOU BROUGHT YOURSELF TO DESPISE THE SAVIOUR THAT ORDERED THESE THINGS? I beseech you, dismiss such ideas, nor tolerate those who advise you in such a sense, for this is not worthy of Dracontius. For the order the Lord has established by the Apostles abides fair and firm; but the cowardice of the brethren shall cease.

    For if all were of the same mind as your present advisers, HOW WOULD YOU HAVE BECOME A CHRISTIAN, SINCE THERE WOULD BE NO BISHOPS? OR IF OUR SUCCESSORS ARE TO INHERIT THIS STATE OF MIND, HOW WILL THE CHURCHES BE ABLE TO HOLD TOGETHER? Or do your advisers think that you have received nothing, that they despise it? If so surely they are wrong. For it is time for them to think that the grace of the Font is nothing, if some are found to despise it. But you have received it, beloved Dracontius; do not tolerate your advisers nor deceive yourself. (Letter 49.3-4)

    Your ecclesiology is vastly different from that of the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils. Where did you get this ecclesiology from and by whose authority was it promulgated? For St. Athanasius, the episcopacy is God-ordained, apostolic and necessary for Church unity. Tertullain wisely puts it this way: Opposition to the episcopate is the mother of schisms.

  14. @Michael,

    Yes, I’ve read Athanasius’ De Incarnatione Verbi Dei; excellent!

    I think we should understand what Athanasius says here (and other Patristics who write similarly) within their historical context. To suggest that this has binding or normative force today goes beyond, methinks, how we should receive this from Athanasius. I like to think that my ecclesiology comes from the Word who is the head of his body, the Church. The Word who stands over and against his body as her Savior and Lord. My ecclesiology flows from my doctrine of God and christology; it understands the distinction between our relation to God in Christ by identifying the difference that the Son has with the Father by nature and we by adoption and grace. It is this distinction that provides critical space for someone like myself to understand that the concrete instantiation of the Church is not grounded in a prolongation of the incarnation in the historical Church; but instead to be grounded in the distinct or “new” (novum) reality that has taken place in the assumptio carnis of the eternal Logos. It is his humanity that serves as the sacramental medium and “institution” of the Church; not the episcopacy located at a physical address on the earth. The esse of the Church is the economy of God’s life which we participate in by the Spirit. I am following the logic of the Fathers and Holy Writ.

  15. Bobby, using Latin terms sounds very sophisticated but what you are essentially proposing is very basic Protestant fundamentalism. The Church is a visible reality and is supported by what Christ and the Apostles teach, including the prayer of Christ to have His reality “on earth as it is in heaven.”

  16. Bobby,
    The unity that Christ prays for in John 17 is that “they may be one, Father as we are one.”
    The Trinity is an undivided communion of persons, as is the church. She is not an invisible unity of persons that do not have the same faith while claiming the same head. Unity in Christ comes from being organically connected to our head, but a body is visible by nature….we are not ecclesial docetists. Because of the eucharist, we are said by Paul to be one loaf. Participating in the bread and cup that is “blessed” (1 Cor 10), and from an altar which we eat from (Heb 13:10)

    Authority was given by Christ to the apostles and to their successors through the laying on of hands. All NT churches had their preysbyters ordained FOR THEM by those authorized to do so and not by the churches themselves. And there was an authority given to some of them to ordain over vast areas (Titus, Timothy, Paul, Barnabas). Those that were ordained for individual churches did not have this same authority to ordain, revealing a difference between bishop and presbyter.
    Apostolic Succession is not only about succession of persons, but preservation of a faith through them. Authority is not arbitrary and disconnected from Christ who is the truth, but the authority is that of Christ himself. (He who hears you, hears me…..whosoevers sins you forgive, they are forgiven….)
    Our ecclesiology comes from our Christology in that the church, though human, has an interpretive authority and ability that comes from her participation in the Divine One, which the individual, or heretic, or schismatic does not have, being only human opinion. This is most evident in the church’s defences of Christ in her Ecumenical Councils. Does your church have divine authority over you and for you, or does it promote the right of private judgement in the interpretation of the scriptures? How do you know when a doctrine is a divine interpretation of the scriptures or human opinion? Do you opt out whenever you don’t agree?
    Grace and peace.

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