In the Vanity of Their Minds:
An Orthodox Examination of the Protestant Teaching (Part 1)
by John Whiteford
(Sola Scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone reveals all of God's truths.)
Editor's Note: John Whiteford is a former Nazarene Associate Pastor who converted to the Orthodox Faith soon after completing his B.A. in Religion at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. He first encountered Orthodoxy as a result of his involvement in the local Pro-Life (Rescue) movement, which also included Father Anthony Nelson and several of his parishioners. After over a year of searching the Scriptures and the writings of the early Church; and through the love, prayers and patience of Father Anthony and the Parishioners of St. Benedict's, John Whiteford was received into the Holy Orthodox Church. [When he wrote this article he was serving as a Reader at St. Vladimir's in Houston, Texas and is continuing his studies. He has since been ordained a Deacon].
Introduction: Are Protestants Beyond Hope?
Since my conversion from Evangelical Protestantism to the Orthodox Faith, I have noted a general amazement among many of those who have been raised Orthodox that a Protestant could be converted. This is not because they are uncertain about their own faith, usually they are just amazed that anything could break through a Protestant’s stubborn insistence on being wrong! What I have come to understand is that most Orthodox people have a confused and limited grasp of what Protestantism is, and where its adherents are coming from. Thus when "cradle Orthodox" believers have their run-ins with Protestants, even though they often use the same words, they do not generally communicate because they do not speak the same theological language — in other words, they have no common theological basis to discuss their differences. Of course when one considers the some twenty thousand plus differing Protestant groups that now exist (with only the one constant trait of each group claiming that it rightly understands the Bible), one must certainly sympathize with those that are a bit confused by them.
Despite all that stands in their way, there definitely is hope for Protestants. Protestants in search of theological sanity, of true worship, and of the ancient Christian Faith are practically beating on our Church doors (of course to those who are not paying attention, this may sound like a strange claim). They are no longer satisfied with the contradictions and the faddishness of contemporary Protestant America, but when we open the door to these inquirers we must be prepared. These people have questions! Many of these inquirers are Protestant ministers, or are among the better informed laymen; they are sincere seekers of Truth, but they have much to unlearn and it will require informed Orthodox Christians to help them work through these issues- Orthodox Christians who know where Protestants are coming from, but even more importantly, who know what they believe themselves!
Ironically (or providentially) this surge in interest in Orthodoxy among Americans from Protestant backgrounds has come even as the opening of the doors of the former Communist block has brought upon its Orthodox people an unprecedented onslaught from every religious sect and cult. At the spearhead, American Evangelicals and Charismatics have been stumbling over each other- with each of its sects seeking to gain the prestigious boast that they too have established themselves even among the Godless Russians! So we Orthodox are now presented with a double urgency- on the one hand, there is the missionary task of presenting the Faith to Protestants here in the West; but on the other hand we must earnestly combat the spread of heresies among the Orthodox, both here and in traditionally Orthodox lands. In either case, the task at hand is to equip ourselves with sufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues that confront us.
Perhaps the most daunting feature of Protestantism, the feature which has given it a reputation of stubborn resiliency, is its numerous differences and contradictions. Like the mythical Hydra, its many heads only multiply; and though it is a worthy task to seek to understand and confront these heresies individually, this is not the key to their defeat. In order for one to understand the unique beliefs of each individual sect, it requires a knowledge of the history and development of Protestantism in general, a great deal of research into each major stripe of Protestant theology, worship, etc., as well as a lot of contemporary reading in order to understand some of the more important cross-trends that are currently at work (such as liberalism, or emotionalism). Even with all this, one could not hope to keep up with the new groups that spring up almost daily. Yet for all their differences there is one basic underlying assumption that unites the amorphous blob of these thousands of disparate groups into the general category of "Protestant." All Protestant groups (with some minor qualifications) believe that their group has rightly understood the Bible, and though they all disagree as to what the Bible says, they generally do agree on how one is to interpret the Bible- on your own!- apart from Church Tradition. If one can come to understand this belief, why it is wrong, and how one is rightly to approach the Scriptures, then any Protestant of any stripe may be engaged with understanding. Even groups as differing as the Baptists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are really not as different as they outwardly appear once you have understood this essential point. Indeed, if you ever have an opportunity to see a Baptist and a Jehovah’s Witness argue over the Bible, you will notice that in the final analysis they simply quote different Scriptures back and forth at each other. If they are equally matched intellectually, neither will get anywhere in the discussion because they both essentially agree on their approach to the Bible, and because neither questions this underlying common assumption, neither can see that their mutually flawed approach to the Scriptures is the problem. Herein lies the heart of this Hydra of heresies- pierce its heart and its many heads at once fall lifelessly to the ground.
Missionary Leaflet #
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)