A Dialogue on the Church, the State, and
the Various Churches of Christianity
I guess I'll address monasticism first. But thank you for the very thoughtful, kind response. I really appreciate it. I guess the way I read the points of what Orthodox believe and what they don't was that you were saying being a Monk or Nun could "save" a person. Actually, I really enjoyed your response because it did have a lot of comments that I agree with.
Of course, I'm sure you would say that it is the Holy Spirit that saves people based on the work of what Christ did for us. I've found that the Orthodox and the orthodox Lutherans have a different view of Justification by Faith, although not as far apart as I thought.
Believe me, there are times when I was tempted to look into being a monk or working in a Religious Order. But that no longer seems in the realm of possibility.
I guess I went against my own advice which is to always tell people not to judge a person out of the context of the century they lived in. You make some really great points about the modern day so-called Church-State relations. You are right that many Protestants and people that whine the most about separation between church and state indulge in it themselves. Billy Graham comes to mind.
My problem, I think, is just plain frustration about the state of Christianity today. I've prayed the 25th Psalm for years and all I want is to know the ABSOLUTE truth of what church out of the thousands out there is the one that teaches the pure gospel.
Luther was a great man and of course didn't want to start a new church, just clean up all the absurd things that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was doing.
I, to this day, have trouble with his interpretation of Romans 1:17. He even said that he had been studying that verse for 20 years and still didn't understand it.
I was born Lutheran, at 12 my best friend was a Jehovah Witness and I studied that for years. Then I went to college and became an atheist. Then rejected that foolishness and joined a Southern Baptist Church. I thought I had found it. Then my wife would not go with me unless we converted to the Catholic Church. I'm like.....whatever. Well, I stayed in the RCC for 20 years, read everything I could but finally got so fed up with statements like all graces come through Mary, that one can be saved without Jesus Christ, that the Muslims worship the same God that we do, support for the U.N., the World Council of Churches, the NCC and on and on. So I went to a Reformed Baptist Church where the 5-points of Calvinism was taught (TULIP). Then when the Minister kept saying everyone who was not a 5-point Calvinist was going to hell I finally lift that place and am not in the only Lutheran Synod worthy of the name -- the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. But, even so-called "scholars" and ugh... seminary professors are pushing for ordaining women, higher criticism of the bible, ordaining gays, etc. I'm just sick and tired of all this modern slop that passes for Christianity. If I ever go to church and some gay women comes in and says she is the new minister I'd leave the place so fast it wouldn't be funny.
So, while I enjoyed the Catholic Church for awhile, it just seemed that a lot of the folks from the poorer countries were worshipping Mary more than Jesus Christ. And the knowledge of the individual -- and the interest -- of the person in the pew, of the bible and of even what their own church taught was just plain terrible. It's like people crossed themselves, shoved each other around to get to the holy water first, leave church and practically have a fight in the parking lot about who was going to be the first to leave the church grounds.
Well, it just seems to be getting worse. Now churches have something called "contemporary worship." It's rapping for Jesus. I mean it is plain sickening. Why do churches have to play that obscene, mind-numbing, low IQ music to "appeal to the young people"? It is out of control.
I believe the Bible to be the living Word of God. What can't people see that being a Christian and a Free-Mason is a contradiction in terms? It's like people go play church -- to cover their rears just in case there is something to all this god stuff. I've had it.
The reason I am looking at the Orthodox church is because I love history and it is hard to deny that in Matthew 16:18 Jesus Christ said he was going to establish a church -- a real church with doors and steps and everything. Not some gaseous, mysterious "invisible" church. A real, honest to goodness church. But then that's why I consented to join the RCC. Because of it's history. But come one now, the Pope being the Vicar of Christ on earth!!! Please!!!!!!
Anyway, I have an appointment this Monday with a Priest from our local Greek Orthodox Church. He said he would love to meet me. So, we'll see what God has in store. I'm getting embarrassed about leaving different churches all the time. This Lutheran Church I am in now is great and I and the Pastor and several people really, really love each other. We have a great bible study on Monday nights and I would feel horrible about leaving them --- again!!
I didn't mean to give you my life history, but I needed to vent a little I guess. Sorry, for banging on your electronic ear.
I'm going to go to the website link now.
Once again, thanks for the thoughtful, nice response.
P.S. What is the difference between the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox church, other than the name?
Don in Colorado Springs, CO
I love your e-mails, so you can write all you like, as long as it's relevant, as it has been. It sounds like you're more motivated for Christ than most people, and in this generation, we desperately need to hear from others equally motivated for encouragement. It's hard to find people who take Christ seriously and worship Him with all their minds, souls, hearts, and strength. Even in the Orthodox Church, & I'm just preparing you for it in case you see it, you may find churches and priests who are as spiritually empty as in any Catholic and Protestant ones. Some Orthodox churches are great, just as there are good Catholic and Protestant churches, as you know, since you seem to be in a good Protestant church now. This is because in every religion around the world in every place of worship throughout history most people are spiritually lazy or weak or whatever. Only a minority of souls takes their religions and worship seriously. I'm letting you know this now in case you may think that all Orthodox Christians are as zealous as the Early Christians. But even the Early Christians had their wolves in the churches and the lapsed and lazy. Augustine even complained how there are lambs outside the flock and wolves inside it. What he meant by this reflects the Orthodox teaching that salvation in Christ isn't limited to belonging to the Apostolic Church; for there have always been fringe groups, either heretics or non-aligned churches, that sincerely believe in the Gospel, even if slightly deviant in theology. The thief on the cross next to Jesus was saved without being baptized and following all the canons of the Church. However, it is usually more difficult to be saved when you're not following the Apostolic spirituality. And conversely, some Orthodox Christians, even some monastics, because of serious known or hidden sins, are not going to Heaven. (I'm going to look at my 14th article again to see where I might have implied that salvation occurs through monasticism. I'll fix that if I need to.)
Your complaints about the spiritual emptiness of Protestants and Catholics are still correct, even though Orthodox churches can also be spiritually empty. The only difference though is that the Orthodox liturgy provides the spirituality, rather than the cleverness of individuals providing the spirituality. The Orthodox liturgy has far more direct connections with the Apostles than the church services of the Catholics and Protestants. And it focuses more on prayer and the Eucharist as being the central aspects of worship, since it emphasizes that Christ, the saints, and the angels are literally present, so that Heaven and earth are treated as one Church united by Christ in the living God, not the god of the dead, thereby making spirituality more immanent and not so theoretical. The spirit, soul, and body are all united through the chanting, rituals, prayers, and homily, adding to the experience of Christ's immanence. You don't get such an effect in Protestantism and in modern Catholicism. Protestants focus on the sermon, the mind, and Catholics focus on the Eucharist and some degree of what I call entertainment. Thus, Catholics still have a sense of the immanence of Christ in worship and theology, but they have developed their worship and theology to fit Protestantism through the filter of ever-changing papal opinions and councils, especially Vatican II, thereby diminishing the original arrangement and experience of the liturgy. And Protestants change stuff all the time, so that church can be made fun and entertaining, along with ever-repetitive sermons and short prayers. Even the Eucharist is regarded as a nice, little ritual of remembrance or as some concept of Christ's presence kind of being there. And their churches are sometimes treated as social clubs. Some people may receive some grace from God in all this, but in general it is spiritually empty because the worship is so contrived and based on ever-changing individual feelings and shifting opinions of theology. This can't happen in an Orthodox church, since the liturgy and the Eucharist are intrinsically established as an unchanging expression of the Holy Spirit. Ever since the Prophets in Ancient Judaism, anything regarded as sacred was treated as Holy Spirit inspired in some sense, which the Apostles taught the Early Church to experience. So the Early Christians were convinced that the liturgy was Holy Spirit inspired and directly ordained by the Apostles, and this immanent reality is what people are supposed to learn and experience in church. Protestants think that only reading the Bible can be an activity from the Holy Spirit, and Catholics have made Holy Spirit inspiration into a set of rules.
You can get a bad priest or be in a bad church in Eastern Orthodoxy. But because of the Biblical concept of liturgical worship, one can still experience Christ powerfully at church and learn the Apostolic doctrines, as though you have no bad priest or are not in a spiritually empty church. After being Catholic and Protestant for a while, I got so sickened by the spiritual emptiness because I knew that some of the Apostolic spirituality was being diluted or dismissed for the sake of perking up the worship in some contrived and arbitrary way. But I have been Orthodox for about 5 years and have gone to a handful of churches, and I've never had a problem with the worship, despite noticing spiritual emptiness in some of the people. The whole Apostolic liturgy was established as an expression of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, and so whatever problems there may be in a church have no effect on my worship and theological studies. But the Holy Spirit may want you to remain at your Protestant church; I'm just saying all this to let you be aware of it in case you happen to notice any faults in an Orthodox church. But don't worry. Though there are a few idiot Orthodox priests going around and trying to convince people that evolution is factual or that gays should be priests or whatever, they are recognized as outcasts and their teachings are quickly compared to Apostolic Tradition. It is really difficult to change the Orthodox Faith in any way because the Orthodox Church focuses on what has always been taught & practiced for 2000 years. On the contrary, Protestants and Catholics are either de-sensitized to change or they revel in it, so people often assume that this is the case with Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet people who have sought to change Orthodoxy from within have always met stiff resistance, so that they have always been forced to just establish their own denominations or sects, like Catholicism, Gnosticism, etc. This will always be the case because, as Ireneus said in the 2nd century, there will always be one direct succession of priests preserving the original Apostolic Faith with people closely adhering to it, constituting the True Apostolic Church of the Lord.
This is why Matthew 16:18 is so prophetic and must be interpreted according to its original meaning. The Early Christians regarded this verse as referring to a physical Church preserving the original Gospel through a direct succession of priests trained to guard what was entrusted to them from the Apostles. Anyone who thought differently about this doctrine was known to be a heretic. So it's interesting that you understand this verse in the original way & you recognize that it's a farce to think otherwise. I love what you said about the Church, that it is "not some gaseous, mysterious 'invisible' church- a real, honest to goodness church." Can I quote that? You say it better than I have. Anyway, since only the heretical Gnostics and Luther came up with the gaseous Church doctrine, there is no reason to interpret all of the Bible's references to the Church as indicating a mystical gas of floating souls. Good job.
The last e-mail you sent me refers to some things that I had written about judging the ancient Church-State alliance, which I think I should clarify just in case you might have missed it. I want to say this because it took me some years of overlooking what I think is in today's society really important, though it is possible that you already know this. Early in your last e-mail to me, you said, "I guess I went against my own advice which is to always tell people not to judge a person out of the context of the century they lived in." I don't want to leave the impression that this should be strictly followed. You're right, & I've said this myself, that we can't judge previous generations by our own modern perceptions of political-social ethics, standards, traditions, customs, etc. However, in moral and spiritual matters, we have every right to judge historical people, cultures, and related things according to the standard of morality established by the Apostles and expressed in the Historical Church. Some people go around saying that Martin Luther's serious moral corruption should be understood according to the morality which was popular in his time and place, so as to justify his theology (I don't want to go into detail with the seriously immoral things he told individuals to do, nor discuss how he taught that Revelation was not Holy Spirit inspired and that James, Jude, and Hebrews were frauds, as he taught in his commentaries on the New Testament; but any perusal of his teachings and sayings will irrefutably prove all this). And some people go around saying that the pedophilia, terrorism, deception, murder, and all the other extremely immoral teachings and acts of Mohammed should be accepted and viewed as irrelevant simply because it was the common practice of the cultures of the 7th century for religious-political leaders to go around killing and oppressing people, so as to justify Islam (which is the first religion to institute crusades as a doctrine). Such thinking is called moral relativism or cultural relativism, which is a theology that teaches how there is no absolute Truth and no absolute standard of morality from Heaven for any culture. It totally ignores the fact that credible people, often the victims, in those very same generations actually did objectively regard Luther and Mohammed as immoral. I just wanted to make clear that aspect of what I was saying.
Since I have said this, the question may then be asked, "Well, Protestants are judging the ancient alliance of Church and State according to a good, moral standard." It may be true that the Early Church and Protestants have both viewed an alliance of Church and State through a moral standard, yet the Protestant premise is that their objections to the alliance is from the Apostles, whereas the Early Church viewed their acceptance of the alliance to also be from the Apostles. Both can't be right and both can't be wrong. That's why in this case, the best way to judge the morality is to see who is more attuned to the Apostolic witness and to historical facts, and that is of course the Early Christians. When this issue of Church and State came up in the 4th century, there were some debates about it, but after it was established, no one seemed to care. Hence, it was both a non-issue and apostolically-biblically acceptable to the people whose ancestors knew the Apostles and their disciples. It wasn't like the issues of the Trinity, or when to celebrate Easter, or other issues that caused serious arguments and even riots in the Early Church. Yet Protestants make the Church-State alliance out to be a big issue or something heretical, when there is no evidence for thinking like this. But I doubt that you would have viewed it in cultural relativism; I just wanted to point that out in case you do tell others what I've said about not judging the Early Christians by our modern standards. Our society is so filled with relativism of all kinds that I always try to make sure that I leave no impression of relativism in what I say!
Now I've written too much! But this is good. Christians who are fervent and motivated are the minority and we need each other for encouragement, even if our devotion is feeble compared to the Apostles and Church Fathers. We're surrounded by people who think that being highly motivated in spiritual matters is over-doing it or unnecessary. This can easily weaken or divert our attention from climbing the ladder of divine ascent, so it's good to talk about the frustrations of dealing with sentiments opposed to a more fervent spirituality. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, though, I never encountered people saying that my spirituality is going overboard, but I did hear that when I was around Protestants.
Then you asked me what the difference is between the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Church. In some ways it's only a difference in name. But there is a difference in other ways. Orthodox churches have been around for many centuries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. As Christianity expanded, new bishops and patriarchs were established for each major region and language. So there is the Russian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Bulgarian, the Rumanian, the Ethiopian, the Coptic, the Serbian, and others. But when these Christians started emigrating to America, they could only hold on to their previous ecclesiastical arrangements and liturgies in their languages, since they knew of no other. So we've now got all these ethnically oriented Orthodox churches here because there hasn't been the formation yet of an official American Orthodox patriarch. The Greek Orthodox church is just one of these various immigrant Orthodox churches, and it is directly under the patriarch for that region. The Russian Orthodox church also settled here, but after the Communists took over, certain patriarchs in Moscow began to compromise or change certain ecclesiastical things for whatever reason, and so the Russian Orthodox church in the USA maintained the old system and adapted church life in this country accordingly. This arrangement was called the Orthodox Church in America (the OCA). I may not have all the details right, but I'm pretty sure this is its story. You could ask a priest to make sure.
That's it. Let me know if you want to write something for my website. Oh yeah, I forgot Billy Graham; he's a good example of a church-state alliance. And I didn't know that Luther had a problem with Romans 1:17. I guess that explains why he and his teachers were so theologically inept. What was his interpretation of it? I don't feel like looking in my boxes for his commentaries and my wife wants a clean closet.