Monday, February 16, 2009

Why I am not Eastern Orthodox

On occasion I get sent some sort of quiz or survey which is supposed to tell me what denomination I am most in agreement with or whom I am most in agreement with on the sacraments. I take the survey and often don't like any of the answers for some of the questions and when I'm done the survey tells me that I agree with the Eastern Orthodox with the LCMS coming in second. I love my Eastern Orthdox brothers and sisters but I think that these surveys are poorly constructed. I'm kind of a 16th century, Book of Concord, confessional Lutheran and maybe that's my problem. Maybe the surveys are written for people who are actually alive today and apply to what is going inside the head of the average church-goer.

This isn't meant to bash the EO, but I thought I would provide some reasons that I am not in agreement with the EO on a number of significant issues and perhaps it will help people write better surveys.

I love icons and I love incense but I think there is a problem when these things become central to worship--they turn into something which you couldn't have worship without. The pre-Nicean church fathers all seemed pretty opposed to both of these things. I don't think that means we can't have these things but it seems strange to me that something which the early church condemned would turn into something that you can't worship without.

I do not believe people should pray to icons or to departed saints. The Scriptures do teach that the saints pray for us on earth but there is no promise given that they hear our prayers. If we want to give a message to a saint we should pray to God who hears our prayers. I love the Jesus Prayer and think it is good to commemorate the lives of the saints but find that all the prayers to the saints distract from the Lamb on the Altar. I love most of the EO liturgy and all the chanting is awesome.

In regards to the Eucharist, I do believe that deification takes place through it (I think this is why the Eucharist survey said I was Eastern Orthodox). I think that Lutheran concept of the mystical union is compatible with this idea. I have to admit that I am somewhat confused as to what the Eastern Orthodox believe happens during the Eucharist. I've read numerous Eastern Orthodox writers trying to understand their position and sometimes find contradictory statements. As I understand it, the EO liturgy teaches that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice. I reject the idea that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice.

My own understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition probably puts tradition on a higher level than most Lutherans would put it (which is probably another thing that messed up the survey) but I'm not as confident in tradition as the Eastern Orthodox are. I agree that Scripture should be interpreted within the church and not as some individualistic exercise. I agree that consensus in interpretation is important but I don't think it is always attainable. Sometimes it seems that there was a pretty strong consensus about something in the early church that was overturned. Either the interpretation was correct or incorrect--it did not become correct or incorrect over time.

I'm pretty Western or Lutheran or Augustinian or Chestertonian or whatever you would like to call it when it comes to original sin. I believe that man is guilty of the sin of Adam. Like Chesterton I believe this is the only part of Christian doctrine which can really be proved.

My understanding of justification is completely Lutheran as well (you would think something like that might make it into a denominational survey). Justification doesn't occupy a very central place in EO theology and I've heard that the Lutheran understanding is acceptable within the EO church but the entire approach is different.

I really enjoy reading Eastern Orthodox books but the asceticism is a bit too extreme for me. It often seems that you can't be a real hardcore EO, unless you are part of some monastic community. They seem to be engaging in what Colossians 2 refers to as "self-made religion." I'm pretty convinced of the Lutheran understanding of vocation.

So, if anyone sends me a survey and the survey says that I am EO--don't be scared or don't get your hopes up. They wouldn't want me anyhow. The Lutherans are stuck with me. Besides, I'm German how can I help it.


Anonymous said...

I guess I find myself in a simialr position. At one time I did take a serious look at the EO church. I came away with a MUCH greater appreciation for tradition and patristics. In the end, I ran into many of the same issues - veneration of saints, Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice, original sin, etc.

I read EO writings and have drawn much edification from them. I have also made use of an Orthodoc Prayer rope to pray the Jesus Prayer. Nevertheless, in the end, I am a Lutheran

Anonymous said...

The only thing that is central to Orthodoxy - worship, belief, life - is Christ. Everything is revealed in the Incarnation and everything points to and reinforces our understanding of the Incarnation.

It is kind of odd to suggest that there was some kind of consensus view of the early Fathers opposed to incense and icons: that is a bit of surprise to me. Scripture records the use of both as a part of worship in the Hebrew context. In any case, neither are "central" to worship and certainly we can worship without them; they are, however, a part of the liturgical expression of the Church and both reinforce (of course) our view of the Incarnation.

Wishing you peace and mercy.

Chuck Wiese said...

I responded to your statement in a blog post:

Anonymous said...

I was really unfamiliar with Orthodox views just a few months ago. However, after reconnecting with an old friend who is Orthodox & planning to be a monastic, I began studying the religion. I have found some admirable qualities, but the more I study the more I find deviations of doctrine from scripture. The monastic movement, as I have experienced with my friend, seems to be what Paul described in I Timothy 4:1-3! I believe there are sincere people who genuinely love God in there, but by & large, they remind me of the Pharisees - pride over being the "Orthodox Church", elevation of unscriptural traditions over Scripture & missing the Lord, though He's solo close, because of these factors. My friend seemed very emotionally cold & distant compared to before - & was very selfish in conduct - & is an official in the church! I believe the use of icons & prayers to saints is a direct violation of the 1st & 2nd commandments by which demons and satan get a foothold in the church & lives of members - especially when they communicate with the "saint" which is really a familiar spirit, i.e. demon. The early church fathers did condemn praying to anyone other than God. Look it up! Remember that the Pharisees were the true line of the true law of God & they interpreted scripture as a group - but they crucified the Lord they were supposed to represent! Jesus Christ's said, "Search the scriptures..." Also, see Romans 8:32. The truth of God's Word is clouded by the traditions of men! "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump..." I would admonish you to align your souls with the truth of scripture before you stand before the Author in judgment. Jesus Christ saves, not the church. Get the leaven out! Why would Jesus use unleavened bread & leavened drink at Passover? Answer: He wouldn't! So, don't use the leavened (alcoholic) wine at Communion! His Blood's not tainted by sin! See Proverbs 21 about alcoholic red wine. It upsets me to see such unchristian "Christianity". See to it that worship truly is about the Lord, being born again & filled with the Holy Spirit! May God richly bless you as you seek Him!!! Peace & blessings!!

Chuck Wiese said...

In that climate, grapes being to ferment within 24 hours. Harvest time was in the fall and the Passover was in the Spring. Dr. Welch had yet to invent ways to keep the grapes from fermenting. It's pretty clear that alcoholic wine was used and this wasn't even a controversy until the 19th century when people were arguing that all consumption of alcohol is sin. The Bible speaks of wine as a blessing from God. Drunkenness is sin.

Anonymous said...

I almost became Orthodox after a long absence from the Lutheran Church LCMS, and nearly 2 decades of buying into the "unchurched" movement. I'm now in process of returning to the LCMS, and deeply appreciating what was there all along but which I did not, for some reason, grasp. But my husband still intends to become Orthodox. This is not easy at this point later in life. The idea that Scripture is contradicted by tradition in some really important areas became a big red flag for me, and even when you show clear Scripture to the contrary, they will not receive it. It blew me away that the EOC says anyone who embraces Sola Scriptura is a heretic! There seems to be an air of great hubris (especially with talking heads like Frank Shaffer and other converts from Protestantism) over being the "most true and original church", and "the way we do things is how the early church did it." Frankly, very good used car salesmen! My own comments would echo basically what was said by Anonymous in foregoing comments, and further reasons for not buying into the EOC's claims.