Sunday, April 30, 2006

Changeless and Eternal...Not!

Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants have been converting to Eastern Orthodoxy at a steadily increasing rate over the last decade or so. I won’t comment here on the reasons for this, since they are often as varied as the people themselves. But there is one peculiar phenomenon that is accompanying this trend and is witnessed in nearly every single instance. The converts, who in many cases have been members of their previous church groups for many, many years and enjoyed what they assumed to be close friendships with their brothers and sisters in Christ in those churches, are finding that these same friends are now treating them as heretics or worse over their decision to become Orthodox. I have heard stories of church women calling up all their friends and warning them to avoid Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so because, “they have joined a church that uses icons and has an altar and (gasp!) prays to Mary!”

To a certain extent, this is a human thing; people naturally dislike anything markedly different from their own grasp of how things ought to be. It is also a Protestant thing. Contemporary Christians have virtually no knowledge of how the early Christians worshipped or how they understood the communion of the saints—including Mary—and thus accept without question the teaching they continually hear from their pastors and bible-study groups that these things are wrong. It is ironic that old friends condemn converts to Orthodoxy as if they were ignorant, when the converts have likely spent years studying church history to arrive at their decision, a study that their former friends have never made and know nothing about. Who is ignorant here?

But what is also interesting to me is how quickly attitudes change in the world of Protestantism. Way back in the beginning of the Reformation, the earliest Reformers were entirely sacramental in their beliefs. In what was just a matter of a moment, a man named Zwingli arose who decided from his reading of the Bible that Holy Communion was not an actual sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, but a spiritual memorial only. To him, the bread and wine were simply symbols of the Body and Blood and could not possibly contain any “actual presence” of the Lord. Luther and Zwingli engaged in a heated debate over this matter, during which Luther essentially accused Zwingli of being demonic. Today Zwingli’s view holds sway over much of the Evangelical/Charismatic world, in defiance of traditional (and truly Biblical) Christian belief dating back to the apostles.

When the modern Pentecostal movement got started on Azusa Street in Southern California, it was nearly universally rejected by mainstream Protestant churches. Anyone in, say, a Presbyterian or Baptist church in the 1930’s who confessed to speaking in tongues or to believing in the gifts of the Spirit such as healing would likely be “disfellowshipped” and asked to go somewhere else. Today, the vast majority of new “Praise Centers” are Charismatic and have been influenced to one degree or another by the pioneers of American Pentecostalism. It has gone from being anathema to becoming thoroughly mainstream.

The same is true with Christian Zionism. When the radical dispensationalists began teaching that the Christian Church was not the “New Israel” as had been nearly universally believed from ancient times, but in fact represented little more than a “speed bump” on God’s highway to return the Jews to their promised land, most Protestants cast them out of their churches and condemned Zionism as heresy. This was around the beginning of the 20th century. When a new state was formed in the Middle East in 1948 and was named “Israel”, many Christians began to wonder if perhaps the dispensationalists were right in their wild assertions. Given the fact that most Protestants at that time (and today) possessed a threadbare ecclesiology and saw the Church as nothing more than an “invisible body” on the earth, whereas here was now a visible, locatable Jewish state, it became easier to think that God had satisfied prophesy and that “the time of the Gentiles was fulfilled” and all attention should now be focused on the nation of Israel. Today, it is nearly impossible to find an Evangelical or Charismatic church that has not embraced Zionism. I recently heard a pastor from one such church claim that if you subscribe to “Replacement Theology” (in other words, that the Church is Israel), then you are anti-Semitic and opposed to the will of God. My, how things have changed in such a short time!

Perhaps this should give converts to Orthodoxy some hope. Seeing that there are essentially no boundaries to Protestant thought or dogma, that things condemned in one generation are wholeheartedly embraced in the next, perhaps in a hundred years or less they will have icons in their churches, put the altars back in, and even (gasp!) start praying to Mary. It could happen. After all, anything goes when you have no continuity of faith and all you have to go by is the latest fad in biblical interpretation. It’s like my friend in Seattle, Washington says about the weather; if you don’t like it now, wait a minute and it will change.


At 4/30/2006 10:22 PM , Anonymous trenna said...

Well Father Michael, you are so right about the quickly changing face of the Protestant church, but we won't have to wait at all for icons in some Protestant sects. In the 'new' Emerging church movement, icons, prayer corners in the church for prayers and candle lighting, the Jesus prayer, and certain spiritual disciplines are something that is now trendy to incorporate and is called "vintage Christianity". The 'continuing Anglican' movement likes icons even though the traditional Anglican church condemns the seventh Ecumenical Council.....evidently Scripture alone doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

At 5/01/2006 10:18 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

They pray to statues, thinking that they are God"

I've never seen nor heard nor ever read of God or a representitive of of likeness of a representitivie of God being loaded in on a cart, and yet it be God.

At 5/01/2006 10:28 PM , Blogger ooze addai said...

"Perhaps this should give converts to Orthodoxy some hope. Seeing that there are essentially no boundaries to Protestant thought or dogma, that things condemned in one generation are wholeheartedly embraced in the next, perhaps in a hundred years or less they will have icons in their churches, put the altars back in, and even (gasp!) start praying to Mary. It could happen."

That actually has started with the Ancient/Future, Postmodern/Emergent movement. Along with some Orthodox ideas regarding such things as theosis, the incarnation and so on.

Unfortately it's not something to celebrate when you realize most of the acceptance and use of Eastern theology comes from a liberal and experimental dabbling type mentality. That lacks doctrinal standards in many areas the Orthodox are pretty definite about.

At 5/02/2006 6:55 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Thanks, Trenna. I love that term "vintage Christianity". Sounds like something you would buy at Abercombie and Finch :o)

Fixer, who is the "they" you are referring to? Don't forget that some poor souls have virtually idolized the Bible. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is these that point you to Me; yet you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life".

Ooze, you are quite right about the shallow mentality behind the ecclesiastical experiments of some folks today, yet I think there is cause for remaining optimistic. God may still be the impetus behind such movements as Trenna describes above, even though the results may be less than perfect from an Orthodox point of view.

Of course the main point I was seeking to make is that Protestants continually go from condemning a thing one moment to embracing it wholly the next, thus demonstration that their alledged "Scriptural foundation" for everything they believe is not quite as solid as they suppose. This would seem to be a real concern, but nobody's memory is long enough to appreciate it.

At 5/02/2006 8:12 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

Actually Ere, the memorials of faithful beleivers past do not trouble me at all, I draw strength in my Faith over there tribulations.

The Scripture draws lines, bright and clear lines, to venerate a piece of wood shaped into the form of a Saint crosses one of those lines.

There is no life in a statue, there is no life in a "venerated icon", there is life and life abundantly in Jesus the Christ.

For a example when Westminster Abby was remodeld(sp), they had to take away 5 cart loads full of the "pieces of the Cross"

Sorry Fr. Michael, I did not mean to be contentious on your blog.

At 5/02/2006 9:31 PM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

No problem, Fix, we welcome all comments here except the nasty ones, which I delete.

Still, you leave me perplexed over your "fix"ation on statues. Who said anything about statues? I mentioned icons, but those are neither the graven images condemned by the 2nd Commandment, nor statues. It is not the general practice of Orthodoxy to use statues. If you would visit one of our churches, you would see this.

I think you must be confusing us with the Roman Catholics

At 5/02/2006 10:08 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

Ere, you did mention in your "Gnostic Protestant post" the veneration of Icons of the Saints and how Protestants refused to do that.

Be consistent Ere A interesting story /anecdote

When Billy Graham partook in a revival in Atlanta he had occasion to speak with Martin Luther King and the conversation went like this

"Why am I not seeing more black folks at my Crusades?"
MLK replied "You are not where they are are"

To which MLK replied

"Billy, I am going to stay out on the streets, I am going to die on these streets. but you you stay inside the convention center because in there you can do some things that I cannot do, on the outside I can do some things that you cannot do, it doesn't matter, because we have different means but the same goal..."

At 5/03/2006 8:47 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Jesus once taught His disciples that “whoever is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40). This remains one of the most difficult concepts for Christians to embrace, that people of different traditions and practices can still be Christian and love and serve God. Good point, Fix.

As far as my being consistent over the issue of icons, I believe I have been. I spoke of the veneration of icons; you speak of statues. One could argue that a statue is simply a 3-dimensional icon, but the Orthodox Church has apparently recognized enough of a difference between the two that statuary is rarely used by her, though icons are in abundance.

Also, you are incorrect that scripture forbids the veneration of icons. The second commandment condemns the worship of graven images, not the veneration of the saints through their holy images. It is a distinction lost on most modern day Protestants, but clearly spelled out by the Seventh Ecumenical Council and in the writings of St. John of Damascus. It is also noteworthy that the earliest Christians used holy images in the catacombs and later, in their churches and cathedrals.

This is an aspect of Christian history worth looking into if the modern Christian, in the spirit of Mark 9:40, wants to understand his brethren in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, rather than simply condemn them for alleged violations of scripture.

At 5/03/2006 9:43 AM , Blogger E Rica said...

Well said. I have had similar experiences with my own extended family.

I seriously believe that Protestants don't disagree with Orthodoxy as much as they think they do. I've found that the Protestants I've come across have false ideas about how the Orthodox worship and pray and no matter what you say to negate those ideas it doesn't matter.

Keep it coming.

At 5/03/2006 1:59 PM , Blogger John said...

Fr. Michael, I have just stumbled across your blog, and I am enjoying it immensely. I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy from Protestantism. This posting reminds me of a quote from the great Catholic writer, Flannery O'Connor. She said "one of the good things about Protestantism is that it always contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends--at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief." Keep up the good work!

At 5/04/2006 8:15 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

It does seem that you are creating a distinction without a difference however Ere.

Peace be with you.

At 5/05/2006 7:43 AM , Blogger ooze addai said...

Well on the Icon issue. For any Protestant that is curious, or has a problem with this I basically refer them to articles like this one.

Is Venerating Icons Idolatry?

And simply try to talk about the issue from the stand point of people perceptions, assumptions and so on. Which by nature are very subjective, etc.

I do think we Orthodox do have to be careful with the term "unchanging". That might be true to how we do our best to transmit Holy Tradition, and so on. But it doesn't perfectly describe the nature of the Church. Because as we know the Church can change, when it needs to when it comes to expressing dogma, revising lituryg, dealing with new cultural moral issues etc.

I think some people might get the notion that the Church is frozen in place. OR maybe making the claim that the Church is perfect and fully formed and delivered straight from heaven, like Muslims believe about the Koran.

Rather than what Orthodox believe about Holy Tradition from such writers as st. Vincent Lerins, in the Commitory and so on....

At 5/05/2006 9:40 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

Not too long ago a life-long, good Prot. believer wanted to talk to me about some of the "tools" (as I described them to him) we use in our spiritual formation in the Eastern Orthodox Church (icons; circular prayer; etc). He came over to my home and we began to talk. He said he was tired of a Christianity that is somehow stuck in his "head", based on didactic "head knowldege" and doctrine. He said he wanted to experience Christ in his "heart". We talked about the disciplines of the early Church and the fact that these "tools" we have been given are precisely for that purpose: to draw the Holy Spirit to the "heart" of man, so that the living presence of Christ is dwelling constantly and consciously at his very core! I have also found that the more I work with the tools the Church has provided, the more the scriptures come alive, as the scriptures (as well as the other ('tools') are vehicles of grace! I wonder if we saw them this way if there would be such an issue!?

At 5/05/2006 4:04 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/10/2006 2:17 AM , Blogger Petros said...

At the risk of this comment being one of the aforementioned "nasty ones", I will proceed with caution. Two comments, first of all, it was in reading (and doing an essay about) the three main views of the Supper according to Protestantism that I looked at the arguments between Luther and Zwingli, as well as Calvin's "Spiritual Presence" view. I had already abandoned the Zwinglian view, but was still having trouble with Calvin's view. As an aside, I knew the Papist/Aristotelian substance/accidents view was a stretch; so that was out too. After completing the paper I was sold on Luther's view of the "real presence". Luther was the "gateway drug" for me. With my introduction to the Orthodox view on the issue, thanks to Luther (Thanks to God!), I had no more objections to Orthodoxy on that issue. "Hoc est corpus meum," ... "This is my body." Christ did not stutter. Seems clear to me. He was not speaking of a mere cold, lonely symbol. A sign which, in the Prot world today seems to really signify nothing. ... As for the modern-day Protestants in general, having to work around them every single day... God bless 'em, but they are totally insane, Theologically, ethically, and socially. Or to be generous, perhaps I should simply say, they are severely disfunctional. The "emergent church" is yet one more proof of that.

At 5/11/2006 1:39 PM , Blogger Grace said...

Fr. M,
Shoot! I have to add my two cents on the iconography issue, and with my grasp of the facts, that's always dicey. Please do some clarification if I get this wrong. In the course of doing a class on iconography, I delved a little into the arguments for it by St. John of Damascus, and I think they cut right to the heart of things:

* The second commandment was absolutely right to forbid the Israelites from worshipping any created thing, because there was no created thing that could rightly be said to express God, and so any worship would necessarily be false. That was true **until** the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, who was fully man and fully God, WAS the first icon.

* Just as the veil of the temple was split from top to bottom, some of the things that changed from the Old Covenant to the New stayed changed, not because they were discarded but because they were fulfilled. When Christ opened the door to humanity, it stayed open. Every icon that is ever done is merely a recognition of that fact, which is one reason that the older Byzantine style doesn't allow for a lot of personal idiosyncratic details. In a sense, *every* icon is an icon of Christ.

* Think of it this way: in Old Testament Israel, it was forbidden to say the name of God -- which is why Christ was nearly stoned to death for calling himself "I AM" -- yet today, Christians (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) invoke the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit constantly. Why? Because Christ was the Word of God. In the Church Age, there is a true expression of God, and it opened the way for other expressions. Does it mean we think that the words "Wonderful Counselor" or "Sweetest Lord Jesus" ARE God? No. Those words merely help us, in our fallenness, to call to mind, some aspect of God. Hopefully, we always bear in mind that God is infinite and so, indescribable.

* If historicity holds any water in the argument (and it might not), our tradition is that the first icons made were by St. Luke himself. So, in any case, this is not some practice that crept into the early Church after a couple hundred years.

Went on waaay too long with that. But hopefully, there's something in there that's worth the trip ;-)

(Very interesting recent history on the other Protestant trends. And you're right, it does seem encouraging.)

At 5/11/2006 5:42 PM , Blogger Hilarius said...

Grace -

Wow - that is one of the better and more concise modern english statements in defense of icons that I have seen in a while!

Re: your statement that In a sense, *every* icon is an icon of Christ - while I do not know if this is a widely standard practice, one of my fellow inquirers in class remarked that all of the faces on our iconostasis were just like the Christ icon face (albeit sans facial hair in some cases, etc.) - to which my priest replied, 'well, that's intentional, for it's really the saint's union of life in Christ that we are depicting' or words much to that effect.

Similarly, the saints generally in our parish's iconography are seen to wear the crimson robe outside (the divine nature, as I understand it) and the blue (human) on the inside, whereas Christ has the crimson robe reversed.

Perhaps Fr. M. can comment on this aspect, but it seems to me that when we reverence such an icon, we are still reverencing Christ, pointing to Christ in all things, and thus to the Father, for none has seen Him but the Son and those to whom the Son reveals Him.

At 5/12/2006 8:46 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Truly no one can become a saint unless Christ is in him. The various aspects of Byzantine iconographic style intentionally depict human beings transformed by their union with Christ. They are recognizable as human persons, yet we perceive that they are somehow "different" at the same time...heavenly, glorified, filled with God. Thus, for those who have learned to "read the language of the holy images", the icons of the saints become for us a dramtic portrayal of the Gospel message in pictorial form. By looking at them, we see what God intends for each of us, and are further encouraged to pursue our own communion with Christ.

Icons are intensely "incarnational" in character. They depict God become man, and man in turn filled with God. This explains why they were hated by the Muslims and Iconoclasts of the 8th century, and perhaps why they are hated by the Gnostic-influenced Christians of the 21st century.

At 5/12/2006 6:57 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/16/2006 11:26 PM , Blogger Zeph said...

What do you mean when you say that you "pray to Mary"?

At 10/22/2007 12:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken, "pray to Mary" would be shorthand for "ask Mary to pray for us".


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