Practical Differences Between the Orthodox and Evangelicals

 
First Orthodox Cathedral built in Georgia in 1,000 years.

I am a Baptist and a missionary that was on the field for 14 years and I worked primarily in Georgia but other Orthodox countries as well. My experience with culturally Orthodox and faithful Orthodox believers are from these countries in descending order of interaction, Georgia, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and America. I was inspired by this post from @heavywater on the conversion of the Bible Answers man to Orthodoxy. What I wanted to do here is to lay out the practical differences I found between not just the teaching of Orthodoxy and Evangelicals generally but how the teaching is put to work in the real world. I am a Baptist and I would be a Reformed Baptist, on the question of salvation, to lay down a theological marker.

I am not trying to win or even make an argument here, I am not interested in this post who better reflects the teaching in the Bible or the wishes of Christ, instead I want to lay out how the differences in the teachings of the two churches play out in the lives of people practicing the two faiths. I want to illuminate what motivates the conversions that move people from Orthodoxy to Evangelicalism and what often motivates the reverse. I intend to take a more bottom-up look at what happens here so instead of starting with theology and then working down to the people I am going to start with the people and work my way up to some insights on the theology.

Let’s get started with part of a testimony of a girl that went from Orthodoxy to Evangelicalism.

“My first doubt about my faith is when we went to sacrifice a chicken to the Lord at the local Orthodox church. We had sinned and the Priest said we needed to sacrifice a chicken to Lord to atone for it. So my parents brought the chicken and while we prayed the Priest slaughtered the chicken and threw half in a basket before the altar and then took the other half for himself. Before I could control myself, I said aloud, “That is for God, why are you taking it?” My parents were mortified but the Priest just smiled at me and said, “Christ also takes care of his Priests.”

Now any, even nominally educated, Orthodox believer will quickly tell you the above story is a mess. Orthodox theology does not need chickens, no one atones for sin with the blood of animals. Some even question whether the above incident could have even happened. No one in Georgia would bat an eye at it however, they all know it happens. I am here to tell you though that Orthodox theology does not allow the Priest to act the way he did and it is true even if the people believed the chicken was sacrificed for their sins it was only because they were taught incorrect Orthodox theology.

Even Priests in Georgia, educated ones used to foreigners, will tell you what we see here is simple folk practice. Country priests have to find various ways to supplement their income to survive and people build up stories about once simple rituals to give them greater importance and so we get bad theology. But they are also quick to assure you that it is alright and the people’s faith in the Church is justified and their salvation is secure. Why is that? Well, one more story.

My sister in law, Nino, is out on a camping trip with her girlfriend and some male cousins and friends. They are feasting on fish the boys have caught in the stream and the next day they are going to a church up in the hill country called Tetri Giorgi (White/Silver George) the church is ancient and very holy. It is said the earth all around the church is black from the tens of thousands of cattle sacrificed there over the centuries. One of the boys noticed a gold chain around her neck and said, “You better hide that or even bury it out here.” Shocked Nino responded, “No, way. Why would I do such a thing?”

The boys explained that Saint George and other Saints located at the church are very hungry for sacrifice and if they “see” the gold they will demand it from her and if she does not give it they may even curse her causing her death. Nino, then explained that the church they are going to is simply a piece of cultural heritage to her and there are no saints who do anything like they say, and that her faith is in Jesus Christ regardless and Jesus doesn’t really need nor wants her necklace.

The boys then launched into long stories about how magical the church was, how the Saints can mess with the Earth’s magnetic field and essentially tell horrifying ghosts stories with gruesome ends for those that tried to defy the Saints of the church of Tetri Giorgi. When Nino and her friend still weren’t moved and tried to explain that even according to normal Orthodox teaching what they were saying about the church was wrong. The boys were so angry the girls were frightened and asked to go home and one the cousins drove them away from the camping trip.

What to make of these two stories, stories used often when explaining to others why the people that experienced them became Baptist instead of Orthodox? Well, normally the conversation derails on high theological grounds and defenses based on the fact that the bad actors in this story were not acting as true Orthodox and who seem ignorant of basic Orthodox teaching.

I think this misses the point. The Orthodox are basically unchallenged in Georgia. They have government backing and have been free of Communist oppression for more than a generation. If the Orthodox Church in Georgia wanted to stop these practices, they certainly could. A priest or monk coming out of the church of the Tetri Giorgi and telling everyone with a cow in tow that there was no reason to kill the cow and that it would bring them no advantage would swiftly put an end to the practice. They chose not to end it. Why?

Church Authority in Salvation

The reason these practices horrify Baptists and usually get rueful shrugs from Orthodox Priests is their different views of the role of the Church in salvation. For the Orthodox, the membership in the right church brings a person to salvation. The hard work of the priest and the church hierarchy is to bring their flock into salvation the flock does not have to do much more than belong and stay members in good standing with the church to make it into heaven.

Imagine for a moment that you are a priest and strongly believe that people need salvation and that salvation is on offer in the Orthodox Church. You head out to a village or small town and start caring for the flock. As you teach standard Orthodox theology you find that many people are surprised by what you are teaching and they start questioning many of their folk’s beliefs. As you try and reassure them that their folk beliefs are wrong they begin to worry about their dead grandparents and other relatives and get upset. The flock is troubled and there is dissension in the flock with many accusing you the Priest of teaching bad or “new doctrine”. You have a big mess on your hands, you are barely paid anything, you depend on donations from the flock who are upset and angry, other Priests around rebuke you for rocking the boat, and in general your life becomes very unpleasant. What would you do?

Well, I think we can forgive a Priest for asking, “Do the people really need to know any of these things?” They are in the right church, it is your job to secure their salvation by blessing a few folk practices you make a lot of people happy and you will give them correct sacraments and really isn’t that the most important thing?

People yearn for the supernatural and the unexplained, they desire meaning in their lives and folk practices, superstitions, legends, and Saints give them something to get them through hard days and for the Priests there really is no harm done since the people are in the right church. They obey their “Fathers” and they get the correct and very powerful sacraments and that is simply enough for salvation. I should say here too that the Priests I knew of or knew personally did not, for the most part, hide their deeper theological truths from their people but they took a very God-focused approach to sharing theology. If God moved someone to really ask questions and wanted to read books the Priest would help them do those things and teach them, because they figured they really wanted to know. They were always careful to leave some wiggle room for the customs and practices of the local people however, no matter how weird. As long as the practice did not detract from the authority of the Priest or the church he served.

There is a movie that gets at this as well. It is called Leviathan. A 2014 film from Russia. In the movie a man is losing his lands to a corrupt official but the innocent man knows a lawyer so he fights back to keep his land. This land stealing has been normal for a while in the region and the corrupt official Vadim is giving some of the land to the Church and using some of his wealth to build up the church in the area. There is Bishop in the movie and he is pretty good. I could not find the scene I wanted on YouTube but when Vadim thinks he is about to be undone by his victim’s lawyer he goes to the Bishop for advice. The scene starts at the 1:11-minute mark in the movie and Vadim confesses he is feeling uneasy about his criminal behavior, he is not sure if he will succeed. The Bishop carefully keeps himself from hearing any details of crimes and instead checks in on the man’s faith. He asks if he is going to the mass and talking with his confessor and then spiritualizes the conflict for him. The Bishop says that the realms of the two men are different, Vadim is in the secular realm and must use his strength to solve his conflicts. Vadim is doing God’s work, yes? Then act like a man and don’t let the Enemy win over him. The Bishop rebukes him for being a child and having doubts and then blesses him and sends Vadim off. Sure enough, the lecture works and Vadim solves all his problems with some carefully applied violence and fear and soon all his enemies have fled, committed suicide or are in jail.

Again this is not what the great moral theology of the Orthodox theology would teach. What is shows how easy the Orthodox fall into the trap separating what happens inside and outside the church. In the Secular world, you do what you must to accomplish your goals and the “greater good” when you are in the world of the church you obey the church authority and trust in them for your salvation.

Again the point here is to not show how the Orthodox Church “really” works I am discussing flaws in the system thate convince people to leave the Church for another denomination or faith.

A Nominal Orthodox confesses her faith in Christ.

So what about the Baptists?

While I have been discussing cracks in the Orthodox practice, it has to be said that the system overall is quite popular. Things like this don’t last if they are not popular and do not appeal to a side of our human nature. Since this post is about conversion, I thought I would line up how Baptist practice, and Protestant more generally, match up against these fault lines.

The first is the practice that matters here is the emphasis on Bible reading. It is often alleged that the Orthodox don’t read the Bible because they are not allowed too. That was not what I experienced working and living with Orthodox for 14 years. There is rarely, if ever, any command not to read the Bible by any Orthodox authority. Instead nearly all Orthodox believe, especially those in Orthodox countries where I have direct experience, the Bible is challenging and confusing. Reading the Bible directly is a holy exercise that requires regular access to a Priest and a lot of time. It is troublesome to read the Bible so it is better to read the readily available and curated books that Priest have put together where you read Bible verses and/or chapters with explanation in one book. Passages that are too troublesome are just left out.

This usually meant that the normal Orthodox member you ran into wasn’t just ignorant of the Bible, most people everywhere are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or other notwithstanding, they were shocked to learn what was in the Bible. In other words, Orthodox were often truly ignorant of the Bible but confident they were not. Reading the Bible, especially passages they didn’t know existed, would shock many Orthodox and undermine their trust in the church. I would say that of all the Georgians and others who sat down and read the Bible with me over the course time 80% of them became Baptist. Now, getting them to read the Bible with you for a period of time was very difficult but if they did they were very likely to convert.

This was not because the Bible “disproves” Orthodoxy; it was because they had been told for their whole lives that the Bible was confusing and that the Church would take care of the salvation. Reading the Bible, they did not find it very confusing and the Bible was pretty clear about having faith, yourself, in Christ to be saved. The church hierarchy didn’t seem to factor into this according to the Bible.

The second aspect of the Baptist practice that attracted people away from the Orthodox Church was fusing their normal secular lives with their faith. As a missionary, the hardest lift for me in teaching and preaching was not convincing people that Jesus loved them and they needed a personal faith Christ but that faith in Christ meant their “public” life was to match up with the “church” life. When people realized that Christ could affect their whole life, through a relationship with Him, the rituals of the Orthodox Church would feel empty or even pointless. Doing rituals to get rid of sin as you went pales in comparison to Jesus Christ who forgives all sin, once and for all so that we can love Him and love others more freely. This strikes many Orthodox as a life of greater integrity and fulfillment than one of ritual obedience to the Church. Once you believe that you are in a relationship with Christ and his Holy Spirit dwells within you the idea that Saints of any kind or Holy Water, Blessed Crosses, Holy Candles or any other aid or intercessor is necessary loses their appeal. Instead, converts felt these things distracted from Christ instead of drawing Christ closer to them. If Christ loved them instead of being angry with them, why do you need someone that Christ “really” loved, like a Saint, intercede for you?

This post is more than long enough. I will write a part II that will be up early next week where I will write an “Ode to Orthodoxy” about how the practical aspects of Baptist practice will lead people to the beauty and ancient wonder and wisdom of the Orthodox Church.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 490 comments.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member

    Hoping I can look at this more later. No time to read. Conference. Exams to grade.

    But good work. This looks like a wonderful post!

    • #1
    • May 17, 2019, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Hank Rhody-Badenphipps Esq Contributor

    Brian Wolf: When people realized that Christ could affect their whole life, through a relationship with Him, the rituals of the Orthodox Church would feel empty or even pointless. Doing rituals to get rid of sin as you went pales in comparison to Jesus Christ who forgives all sin, once and for all so that we can loves Him and love others more freely.

    I wonder if this effect would be as strong if the rituals in question didn’t also have a hefty dose of local superstition.

    I don’t have much to say about this, but I’ll tag @Skipsul in.

    • #2
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf: When people realized that Christ could affect their whole life, through a relationship with Him, the rituals of the Orthodox Church would feel empty or even pointless. Doing rituals to get rid of sin as you went pales in comparison to Jesus Christ who forgives all sin, once and for all so that we can loves Him and love others more freely.

    I wonder if this effect would be as strong if the rituals in question didn’t also have a hefty dose of local superstition.

    I don’t have much to say about this, but I’ll tag @Skipsul in.

    Part of all of it is the pleasure and shock of getting a brand new take on something you thought was completely familiar and explained.

    Your idea I think is true to some extent, but the opposite effect can also be true. I have seen people reject the Baptist and cling to the Orthodox Church to protect their folk beliefs.

    In the case of people that convert all the rituals of the Orthodox Church tend to lose their luster. The meaning of the liturgy, the cults of the Saints and the role of Icons are all part of mainstream Orthodox theology and not “folk beliefs” but their meaning tends to fade when you have accepted the nature of Christ in the way that the Baptist explain it.

    In the same way those same things come alive for people that convert the other way!

    Skipsul will see my post, he follows me so I am sure he will check it out. But just in case @skipsul

    • #3
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    I’ll not jump in, as I was savaged in the thread on Catholics. 

    • #4
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:27 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Front Seat Cat Member

    First, I think the boys wanted her to bury that gold necklace so they could come back later and dig it up….I was snookered out of a gold and diamond ring that I inherited when I tried to sell it on eBay and someone in Eastern Europe sent me a legitimate looking check (from a Texas bank owned by the Chinese! I kid you not – I called the bank). It was a fake check and it bounced back in 2009 – the bank says it “happens” all the time…..ok – I don’t want to talk about it…..

    I worked for a few months as an admin to a Greek Orthodox priest – in his 80’s. He was adamant how lost his Orthodox flock were. He went against the grain – apparently at one time he was groomed to be a bishop here in the US and upset so many people, they ostracized him instead. He created a church here in the US, wrote books, was a staunch supporter of Israel and the literal interpretation of the Bible. His biggest beef was the people did not know the Bible.

    So when you describe how the priests you met allow for these superstitions etc. I wonder how much they are missing when they leave the church – how they live in the real world (the flock). So much corruption and cyber-breaches come out of these countries. I worked with a fellow from Romania who was full of stories like that. Our IT guy confirmed that. Does it really make any difference one denomination over another? I feel like the priests and ministers are selling the people short – Bible studies, clear understanding of the faith, and strengthening the faith mean more today than ever, especially on how you live your life when you walk out of the church.

    • #5
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Front Seat Cat Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I’ll not jump in, as I was savaged in the thread on Catholics.

    When did that happen? I missed that one….

    • #6
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:44 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Brian W:

    I notice that you’re most familiar with Orthodoxy in four formerly Communist countries, with America listed fifth. I would expect the Orthodox churches in former Communist countries to have particular difficulties along the lines that you reference, due to the long submergence under Communist tyranny. I understand what you mean when you say a “generation” has passed since the fall of Communism, but this means 30 years, and that’s not a very long period for recovery if most of the adults had lost both their understanding of the Faith and regular religious practice. Thirty years seems a pretty short time to me now — though it seemed a long time to me in 1990, when I was 22 (. . . it was a very good year . . .).

    Have you observed the same issues among the Orthodox in America?

    My other thought is to agree with your observation that the sad ignorance of the Faith is hardly unique to Orthodoxy. It takes on different forms in America, and my experience is concentrated among lapsed Catholics and Protestants, if “lapsed” is the right word. There are two phenomena at work here: (1) some people self-identify as Catholic or Christian or with a particular Protestant denomination, while never having understood it in any meaningful way; and (2) some people were raised in a particular church, but have fallen away and are uninterested.

    Thank you for this excellent and interesting post.

    • #7
    • May 17, 2019, at 4:57 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  8. HeavyWater Coolidge

    Great post.

    Recently I have been watching some You Tube clips by Church Militant (a.k.a. Michael Voris). Voris is a staunch Catholic who lives in the Detroit, Michigan area.

    I have found his You Tube clips very interesting.

    Voris criticizes Protestantism very directly, saying that Protestantism is either a stepping stone towards atheism or is equivalent to atheism. Voris argued, on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth, that Luther caused the rending of Christianity.

    I can almost see his point. If you believe that Jesus gave Peter “the church,” then if one squints just a little one could see all protestant churches as “false churches.” At this point one might want to just have the Baptists, the Methodists and the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox folks all join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

    I agree with the post here in that peer pressure plays a huge role in how people select their faith. The thinking goes, “Well, my uncle is a pretty smart and moral person. He sees no problem with this church denomination and this faith ritual. Why should I think that I have more knowledge than he?”

    When I attended various churches in my 20s and 30s and even into my 50s, it seemed that even if the church pastor said something that didn’t sound quite right, it was impolite to publicly disagree. Often times a pastor would comment on an issue that the pastor really didn’t have any specialized knowledge of. One time, during the 1995-1996 government shutdown (Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole versus Bill Clinton) the pastor at a large non-denominational church said to his congregation, “You want to dismantle government.” No, we didn’t. We wanted to reform it. Then I thought, “If he is willing to wing it during a Sunday church service on a topic he isn’t up to speed on, why should I trust him when it comes to what he says about biblical issues?”

    We are social by nature. So, we don’t like rocking the boat and prefer to go with the flow. We also don’t like dramatic change. Don’t expect churches to be serving gluten free communion any time soon. People like consistency in a world of uncertainty.

    Now, full disclosure, I am what might be called a soft atheist, meaning that I believe that while there might be a God or multiple gods, as I observe the world with my senses, God seems to be superfluous. Laplace allegedly was asked by Napoleon, as Laplace was showing how planetary orbits were stable, where God fit into Laplace’s view of the solar system. In a response that is likely apocryphal, Laplace replies, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” That’s roughly where I come down. But of course I could change my mind. Also, even if there is a God, it’s hard for me to know what he likes and what he dislikes.

    • #8
    • May 17, 2019, at 5:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Saint Augustine Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    Often times a pastor would comment on an issue that the pastor really didn’t have any specialized knowledge of.

    The popular theory is that Republican pastors do that all the time. Those Baptists, those Texans, those inerrantists–they should open their closed little minds, lighten up, and rediscover a bigger church and a nicer Jesus!

    One time, during the 1995-1996 government shutdown (Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole versus Bill Clinton) the pastor at a large non-denominational church said to his congregation, “You want to dismantle government.” No, we didn’t. We wanted to reform it.

    And here you show an important truth. Even if Baptists, Texans, inerrrantists, and so on need to do this, so do Methodists, New Yorkers, and non-inerrantists.

    • #9
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Dude: Baptists, and Evangelicals in general, are in a complete mess over basic bible literacy and theology. What else are we to make of the latest survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries?

    Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

    Evangelical respondents in 2018

    Finding:52% of evangelicals agree

    God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

    Finding:2018: 51% agree vs. 42% disagree
    2016: 49% agree vs. 43% disagree

    Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

    Finding:2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree
    2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree

    • #10
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:43 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I notice that you’re most familiar with Orthodoxy in four formerly Communist countries, with America listed fifth. I would expect the Orthodox churches in former Communist countries to have particular difficulties along the lines that you reference, due to the long submergence under Communist tyranny.

    That is true about me and it is mostly true about the Orthodox countries. Greek Orthodox are not really different however they were not under Communism exactly. You do get to a deeper point however all Orthodox churches have been oppressed by the Muslims for 300 years or more with the sole exception of Russia. Russian Orthodox were suppressed for 70 years by Communism but never by the Muslims. All the other Orthodox countries were oppressed by Communism except Greece. This long history of oppression does impact Orthodoxy deeply and helped shape the Orthodox identity into a kind of ethnic identity. Some Georgians told me that they wondered if Americans could even be Christians because our blood is all “mixed” and we don’t know where they are really from. It is one of the reasons that Orthodox Christians do so little evangelism today.

     

    Have you observed the same issues among the Orthodox in America?

    Brian’s Law is that Religious freedom in American makes all faith’s better. Orthodox in America operating in our environment develop deeper arguments rooted in wonderful Orthodox theology and build better reasons for their practices and traditions. For instance in every country I have been the defense of Icons starts with, “Well because Jesus is really angry with us….”

    I have never heard an Orthodox person in America start the defense of Icons by explaining how Jesus is full of wrath towards us.

    In the countries where Orthodox is dominate they don’t have to come up with good arguments and rely on social pressure and cultural power. This is not good for the faith.

    • #11
    • May 17, 2019, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    I agree with the post here in that peer pressure plays a huge role in how people select their faith. The thinking goes, “Well, my uncle is a pretty smart and moral person. He sees no problem with this church denomination and this faith ritual. Why should I think that I have more knowledge than he?”

    It can. That depends on the time place though. For instance in my missions work I asked a table of full of 24 youth leaders how many of them had “Christian” parents. The context was faithful practicing Christians Orthodox or Baptist and only one leader raised their hand. Everyone else either had only one believing parent or none. So they were not becoming Baptist Christians from social or family pressure. They often came to faith in the face of strong pressure and mild violence and maintained their faith despite the severe strain it put on their family relationships.

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    One time, during the 1995-1996 government shutdown (Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole versus Bill Clinton) the pastor at a large non-denominational church said to his congregation, “You want to dismantle government.” No, we didn’t. We wanted to reform it. Then I thought, “If he is willing to wing it during a Sunday church service on a topic he isn’t up to speed on, why should I trust him when it comes to what he says about biblical issues?”

    This is actually a weakness in Protestant churches. Pastors have to carry such weight and legitimacy to make the Protestant churches run that many men don’t live up to expectations or crack under the pressure and harm the witness of the faith by opining on things they know very little about.
     

    • #12
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:04 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. EtCarter Listener

    Thank you for sharing. For real, thanks.

    • #13
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:08 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    Dude: Baptists, and Evangelicals in general, are in a complete mess over basic bible literacy and theology. What else are we to make of the latest survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries?

    Brian Wolf: This usually meant that the normal Orthodox member you ran into wasn’t just ignorant of the Bible, most people everywhere are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or other notwithstanding, they were shocked to learn what was in the Bible.

    The main difference here is that a Protestant in America might be ignorant of the Bible he or she is not shocked to learn something is actually in the Bible they are more likely to be slightly embarrassed to not to know that.

    We would read Biblical passages and the first reaction from the nominal Orthodox would be: That is a fake Bible! Who published that? Is this a trick?

    So the ignorance is common but the reaction to finding out something new is different between the two cultures.

    • #14
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Saint Augustine Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

    Finding:2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree
    2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree

    • #15
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    Dude: Baptists, and Evangelicals in general, are in a complete mess over basic bible literacy and theology. What else are we to make of the latest survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries?

    Brian Wolf: This usually meant that the normal Orthodox member you ran into wasn’t just ignorant of the Bible, most people everywhere are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or other notwithstanding, they were shocked to learn what was in the Bible.

     

    The main difference here is that a Protestant in America might be ignorant of the Bible he or she is not shocked to learn something is actually in the Bible they are more likely to be slightly embarrassed to not to know that.

    We would read Biblical passages and the first reaction from the nominal Orthodox would be that is a fake Bible! Who published that? Is this a trick?

    So the ignorance is common but the reaction to finding out something knew is different between the two cultures.

    So why do you imagine Baptist clergy are so poor at imparting basic theology in America? Why are their flocks so ignorant? And are they really embarrassed anymore?

    • #16
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:23 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Arahant Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    Then I thought, “If he is willing to wing it during a Sunday church service on a topic he isn’t up to speed on, why should I trust him when it comes to what he says about biblical issues?”

    Oh, yes. Just like journalists. You read something they write in an area where you have expertise, and you know they are wrong. But read something about a subject where you know little or nothing, and what they say seems plausible. You have to pick your church and minister well. Our minister died, still active at 84. Finding a new minister who knows what should be known and has no other issues is difficult.

    • #17
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. EtCarter Listener

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    I agree with the post here in that peer pressure plays a huge role in how people select their faith. The thinking goes, “Well, my uncle is a pretty smart and moral person. He sees no problem with this church denomination and this faith ritual. Why should I think that I have more knowledge than he?”

    It can. That depends on the time place though. For instance in my missions work I asked a table of full of 24 youth leaders how many of them had “Christian” parents. The context was faithful practicing Christians Orthodox or Baptist and only one leader raised their hand. Everyone else either had only one believing parent or none. So they were not becoming Baptist Christians from social or family pressure. They often came to faith in the face of strong pressure and mild violence and maintained their faith despite the severe strain it put on their family relationships.

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    One time, during the 1995-1996 government shutdown (Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole versus Bill Clinton) the pastor at a large non-denominational church said to his congregation, “You want to dismantle government.” No, we didn’t. We wanted to reform it. Then I thought, “If he is willing to wing it during a Sunday church service on a topic he isn’t up to speed on, why should I trust him when it comes to what he says about biblical issues?”

    This is actually a weakness in Protestant churches. Pastors have to carry such weight and legitimacy to make the Protestant churches run that many men don’t live up to expectations or crack under the pressure and harm the witness of the faith by opining on things they know very little about.

    Would you consider a lead-pastor and a plurality of Elders who are all deeply committed to a life-time of study (of Scripture) in order to teach/preach the whole message of salvation from Gen-Rev, expecting God to grant results in granting eternal life, yet fully embracing their duty to be trained in hermeneutics/exegesis/application, to have a “weakness” for bringing half-baked personal opinions to the pulpit? I’m asking because I am reading through Paul Mairs annotated Eusebius, and the early church, and those leaders still alive that were disciples of Polycarp, the protege to the Apostle John and for several centuries knew Scripture assigns the church and the civil government roles in the world, and the institute of the Church and civil government were separate for reasons obvious to them, but, from the story you shared about some Church (acting as the church) was taking on the role of civil government, then if I were an outsider, I think I’d be confused too. 

    • #18
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:40 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    So why do you imagine Baptist clergy are so poor at imparting basic theology in America?

    I don’t think that is a Baptist problem is a problem throughout all time ans space with religion. The Basic theology is there for all to see and learn but most people don’t think about it and when you hit them with a question they give the wrong answer. 

    It is like polling many political issues take abortion for instance. A majority of all people say the would like keep Roe and not see it overturned. Asked if they would like to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy a majority of those same people think that is a good idea. To ban abortion after 20 weeks would require overturning Roe. So the same people that would like to keep Roe would also like to overturn it. Perhaps we have not talked about abortion enough in the US? Perhaps it is a low profile issue? Why would people want two totally contradictory outcomes?

    I think it is the same with religion. If a you took all those people that think Jesus was a created being and put them in front of their pastor and the pastor said that Jesus was not created but had always existed just like God the Father all those or nearly all those people would agree with their pastor and deny believing anything else. I would say a large percentage of the people responding to the poll just aren’t thinking the question through because it is a subject they rarely think about.

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    And are they really embarrassed anymore?

    Sure I think they are. I was in a small group recently and we were having a discussion about what we would do if a large group of Wiccans came to protest our church. If I explained the context this would make sense but I don’t want to give the context right now so just go with it. One lady in the group said, “Well that is why I carry a gun in my purse if those crazy witches came I would know what to do.” I gently walked her through what Jesus would have us do with a large group of pagans were to show up at our church and why firearms would not be necessary or desired. As we talked her embarrassment grew and I allowed her to save face and walk back her own comments and to joke about them. It was very good for the whole group. So yes I think the embarrassment is there but in a day of very strong tribal politics we don’t challenge each other enough. If I had not brought up the Wiccans we would have never know this woman’s reaction to them would have been so unchristian.

    • #19
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. SkipSul Moderator

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

    Finding:2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree
    2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree

    Arius would be pleased.

    • #20
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:46 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    Would you consider a lead-pastor and a plurality of Elders who are all deeply committed to a life-time of study (of Scripture) in order to teach/preach the whole message of salvation from Gen-Rev, expecting God to grant results in granting eternal life, yet fully embracing their duty to be trained in hermeneutics/exegesis/application, to have a “weakness” for bringing half-baked personal opinions to the pulpit

    I am not sure I understand fully what you are asking here but let me answer this way. Due to the structure of the Protestant church in general but Baptist churches in particular the Elders and Pastor or Deacons have to carry a lot of weight for their congregations. We don’t refer back to the great teachers of the church or thousands of years of a teaching ministry or tradition. Many believers get their basic theological education and the legitimacy of their own faith from the teaching of the local pastor and leaders. That responsibility is very heavy. The Congregations often do this to their pastors by relying on them to do everything for them. Also Pastors are not all gifted the same and those different talents and abilities mean that not all Pastors are experts on everything in the same way but are often asked for their authoritative opinion on things they don’t know that much about.

    Some churches do better minimizing this weakness other churches do not but the weakness is there. That is what I was trying to convey anyway.

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    I am reading through Paul Mairs annotated Eusebius, and the early church, and those leaders still alive that were disciples of Polycarp, the protege to the Apostle John and for several centuries knew Scripture assigns the church and the civil government roles in the world, and the institute of the Church and civil government were separate for reasons obvious to them, but, from the story you shared about some Church (acting as the church) was taking on the role of civil government, then if I were an outsider, I think I’d be confused too. 

    Forgive me but could you say more specifically what you are referring to here. What story was I sharing about this subject? I may simply be dense but I am catching what you are referring too.

    • #21
    • May 17, 2019, at 7:56 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. EtCarter Listener

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    Would you consider a lead-pastor and a plurality of Elders who are all deeply committed to a life-time of study (of Scripture) in order to teach/preach the whole message of salvation from Gen-Rev, expecting God to grant results in granting eternal life, yet fully embracing their duty to be trained in hermeneutics/exegesis/application, to have a “weakness” for bringing half-baked personal opinions to the pulpit

    I am not sure I understand fully what you are asking here but let me answer this way. Due to the structure of the Protestant church in general but Baptist churches in particular the Elders and Pastor or Deacons have to carry a lot of weight for their congregations. We don’t refer back to the great teachers of the church or thousands of years of a teaching ministry or tradition. Many believers get their basic theological education and the legitimacy of their own faith from the teaching of the local pastor and leaders. That responsibility is very heavy. The Congregations often do this to their pastors by relying on them to do everything for them. Also Pastors are not all gifted the same and those different talents and abilities mean that not all Pastors are experts on everything in the same way but are often asked for their authoritative opinion on things they don’t know that much about.

    Some churches do better minimizing this weakness other churches do not but the weakness is there. That is what I was trying to convey anyway.

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    I am reading through Paul Mairs annotated Eusebius, and the early church, and those leaders still alive that were disciples of Polycarp, the protege to the Apostle John and for several centuries knew Scripture assigns the church and the civil government roles in the world, and the institute of the Church and civil government were separate for reasons obvious to them, but, from the story you shared about some Church (acting as the church) was taking on the role of civil government, then if I were an outsider, I think I’d be confused too.

    Forgive me but could you say more specifically what you are referring to here. What story was I sharing about this subject? I may simply be dense but I am catching what you are referring too.

    Sorry bout that. I started out asking you about a story with Bob Dole and a pastor addressing “reforming the (civil) gov, then I got too wordy thinking I needed to explain the context of my question was genuine study of early church. Thanks for responding, I’m always interested in people’s attitudes toward how a Christian can be an actively good citizen without misdirection the biblical purpose of the church, yknow?

    • #22
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:14 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. EtCarter Listener

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    Would you consider a lead-pastor and a plurality of Elders who are all deeply committed to a life-time of study (of Scripture) in order to teach/preach the whole message of salvation from Gen-Rev, expecting God to grant results in granting eternal life, yet fully embracing their duty to be trained in hermeneutics/exegesis/application, to have a “weakness” for bringing half-baked personal opinions to the pulpit

    I am not sure I understand fully what you are asking here but let me answer this way. Due to the structure of the Protestant church in general but Baptist churches in particular the Elders and Pastor or Deacons have to carry a lot of weight for their congregations. We don’t refer back to the great teachers of the church or thousands of years of a teaching ministry or tradition. Many believers get their basic theological education and the legitimacy of their own faith from the teaching of the local pastor and leaders. That responsibility is very heavy. The Congregations often do this to their pastors by relying on them to do everything for them. Also Pastors are not all gifted the same and those different talents and abilities mean that not all Pastors are experts on everything in the same way but are often asked for their authoritative opinion on things they don’t know that much about.

    Some churches do better minimizing this weakness other churches do not but the weakness is there. That is what I was trying to convey anyway.

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    I am reading through Paul Mairs annotated Eusebius, and the early church, and those leaders still alive that were disciples of Polycarp, the protege to the Apostle John and for several centuries knew Scripture assigns the church and the civil government roles in the world, and the institute of the Church and civil government were separate for reasons obvious to them, but, from the story you shared about some Church (acting as the church) was taking on the role of civil government, then if I were an outsider, I think I’d be confused too.

    Forgive me but could you say more specifically what you are referring to here. What story was I sharing about this subject? I may simply be dense but I am catching what you are referring too.

    Btw, thanks again for your reply. I understand what you meant now. Agreed re the expectations put on pastors/elders/deacons. I’m doing what little I can to support The Masters Academies that are being planted to get quality training to indigenous church leaders where it’s mostly dangerous to own bibles or have Christian church

    • #23
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:23 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    EtCarter (View Comment):
    Sorry bout that. I started out asking you about a story with Bob Dole and a pastor addressing “reforming the (civil) gov, then I got too wordy thinking I needed to explain the context of my question was genuine study of early church. Thanks for responding, I’m always interested in people’s attitudes toward how a Christian can be an actively good citizen without misdirection the biblical purpose of the church, yknow?

    Ahhh yes. I see. One of my big concerns out there today is that there is not enough thinking being done, or pastoral care given to being a Christian that interacts with politics in today’s America. Bruce Ashford is a find theologian working on these issues that you might want to check out. Also there is good podcast Countermoves that is excellent on these topics. Another podcast Room for Doubt also covers some of these topics with Center Left and Center Right Christians. Countermoves is hosted by a major fan of William F Buckley so that is a more a Center Right podcast, but in both cases the podcasts are talking for a Christian perspective first and politics are a secondary issue.

    I think the church in general has not been doing a great job giving Christian on both the right and the left very good guidance about how to bring their Christian values into politics, in a healthy way.

    • #24
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:26 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  25. SkipSul Moderator

    There’s a lot to unpack in here. I cannot, of course, speak for the state of affairs in Georgia, or of its church, and this is why I should note something: each Orthodox jurisdiction is autocephalous – meaning each patriarchal jurisdiction is ultimately responsible for its own affairs. And (speaking somewhat for myself, but also to a degree for others I’ve known), Georgia is eccentric in its praxis and church life even by Orthodox standards. I’d be very wary of extending issues you have with Orthodoxy, as experienced in Georgia, as necessarily indicative of Orthodoxy everywhere else. And I should note that much of what you note as problematic would be things outside of dogma or doctrine, and in the realm of custom and culture.

    That being said – there is much that one encounters even here in the US that is very “old world”, particularly in immigrant-heavy churches, that is problematic in Orthodox churches. I know of a priest (not local) who absolutely forbids the evil-eye amulets and symbols within his church – they’re older than Christianity (ancient Persian), and pagan to boot. And yet at the local Greek church, what did I see for sale during their annual Greek Festival? Evil eye stuff. A local Serbian church conducts its liturgies in Slavonic, and so had a number of Bulgarians attending (Bulgarians are not Slavs, but the ancient Bulgar language, a proto Turkic one, died out a thousand years ago, and they speak Slavic today). Then the Serbian patriarch issued a statement to be read one Sunday, commemorating some ancient battle between Serbs and Bulgars where the Bulgars lost badly, using language utterly offensive to Bulgarians. Half the congregation actually walked out during the service, and they all go to another church across town. Not a smart move there.

    But we all carry with us old habits and practices we may not understand or ever even notice, including into our churches – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, all do this. I’ve noted a number of Americanisms in American Protestantism over the years – beliefs carried in and amalgamated, biblical interpretations, and so forth – that, much as the local customs and superstitions of Georgia can pollute Christianity there, such Americanisms pollute Christianity here. Rapture fervency has been one such, a sort of Protestant Gnosticism (this world / this body / this life doesn’t matter, Heaven is my real home) has been another, and we should all be honest in recognizing that Prosperity Gospelism is a uniquely American contribution to the catalog of dangerous heresies (USA! USA! USA!).

    But I don’t judge Protestantism based on its eccentric Americanisms, and I’d be leery of judging Orthodoxy on its Georgian ones.

    • #25
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:40 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. SkipSul Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    This long history of oppression does impact Orthodoxy deeply and helped shape the Orthodox identity into a kind of ethnic identity. Some Georgians told me that they wondered if Americans could even be Christians because our blood is all “mixed” and we don’t know where they are really from. It is one of the reasons that Orthodox Christians do so little evangelism today.

    Most of the world’s Orthodox (outside of the Middle East) are still coming out of a kind of shell-shock from centuries of abuse from not just Muslims, and Communists, but also from even western Christians (Protestants and Catholics both). The Iron Curtain cracked just 30 years ago, and when it did, before the Orthodox natives could even find their sea legs, they were flooded with well-meaning American Protestant missionaries, which to them felt like yet another foreign invasion (Yay, the Russians are leaving! Oh, wait, now the wealthy Americans invade, when we don’t even have the money to reopen our own churches?). Doing foreign missions work for a long time was secondary to trying to rebuild their own local churches, and re-catechize their own people.

    But this is changing quite rapidly, and Orthodox missionary work abroad, while still comparatively small, quite enthusiastic.

    • #26
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:50 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. SkipSul Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    For instance in every country I have been the defense of Icons starts with, “Well because Jesus is really angry with us….”

    I have never heard an Orthodox person in America start the defense of Icons by explaining how Jesus is full of wrath towards us.

    That’s unfortunate. Some of the best treatises on iconography were written centuries ago in Orthodox lands still free, and they never went with “Well because Jesus is really angry with us”. The 7th Ecumenical Council (700s), which was largely to settle the issue of icons, did not use that language.

    • #27
    • May 17, 2019, at 8:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  28. SkipSul Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    Dude: Baptists, and Evangelicals in general, are in a complete mess over basic bible literacy and theology. What else are we to make of the latest survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries?

    Brian Wolf: This usually meant that the normal Orthodox member you ran into wasn’t just ignorant of the Bible, most people everywhere are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox or other notwithstanding, they were shocked to learn what was in the Bible.

    The main difference here is that a Protestant in America might be ignorant of the Bible he or she is not shocked to learn something is actually in the Bible they are more likely to be slightly embarrassed to not to know that.

    We would read Biblical passages and the first reaction from the nominal Orthodox would be: That is a fake Bible! Who published that? Is this a trick?

    So the ignorance is common but the reaction to finding out something new is different between the two cultures.

    It should be noted that for much of history in Orthodox countries, reading the Bible was a bit of a challenge. By the time of the printing press, the Turks had mopped up the Balkans. So church life was conducted as it always had been with the Bible available mostly only to clergy, being too expensive (or too difficult to obtain, due to oppression) for more than a few people to own one. Changing that habit has been a priority in many places, but old habits die hard. If you wanted to hear scripture, you had to attend services.

    Lay people receiving the Eucharist regularly was another practice that had to be brought back. Due to Muslim or Communist oppression, and the difficulties of even getting to any church at all, people were told just to try and receive it a minimum of once or twice a year. After a couple generations the habit was set, and people had actually forgotten that this was an exception granted by the bishops, and thought “it had always been this way”. It took some courageous clergy to one day tell their people and their bishops (who had also forgotten), that regular communion was necessary and normal. Cultural memory is a funny thing.

    • #28
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. SkipSul Moderator

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    I think the church in general has not been doing a great job giving Christian on both the right and the left very good guidance about how to bring their Christian values into politics, in a healthy way.

    With an emphasis on “Healthy”. This is a huge problem. I have come to believe that the Evangelical entanglement with the Republican party, for instance, has been massively damaging to Evangelicals (as the Babylon Bee likes to frequently mock). When people assume that to be an Evangelical means to also be a Republican, and that to be a Republican also means to be an Evangelical, the ability to preach the gospel to all people is hamstrung (and the party loses credibility with Catholics, Jews, etc.). Mind you, I know many Evangelical churches do try to stay out of politics, but as Protestantism is so splintered it’s very difficult for them to avoid being tarnished by, say Jerry Falwell Jr. (whose own theology is, umm, mixed) running his mouth off. It’s not entirely their fault to be in this pickle, but blame here matters little – the damage needs to be repaired.

    But you could just as easily point to Tsarist Russia – the entanglement between church and state there was toxic too. Peter I and Catherine II did massive damage to the Orthodox church in their times, and when the Bolsheviks took over, their massacres of priests were seen not just as being anti Christian, but also anti Tsarist. Again, not entirely the Church’s fault for Peter’s takeover centuries before, but the damage in the end was terrible. 

    • #29
    • May 17, 2019, at 9:32 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Dude: Baptists, and Evangelicals in general, are in a complete mess over basic bible literacy and theology. What else are we to make of the latest survey by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries?

    Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

    Evangelical respondents in 2018

    Finding:52% of evangelicals agree

    God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

    Finding:2018: 51% agree vs. 42% disagree
    2016: 49% agree vs. 43% disagree

    Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

    Finding:2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree
    2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree

    The reasons these work is because they sound right. They are trick questions.

    The first one is pretty accurate from most people’s daily experience. Most people do not encounter horrendous sin on a regular basis, even if they believe that they need Jesus in their life and Jesus will save save them from their sins.

    The second one has been drilled into us by the popular culture. Also, the religions listed are all monotheistic faiths with a lot of similar concepts. 

    The last one deals with Trinitarian theology, which is mind-bogglingly hard to understand. It is the quantum physics of theology. Since we are no longer butchering each other over the difference of a few Greek letters, this is much less of a concern for most people. People see Jesus alongside First and Greatest, and click yes. 

    • #30
    • May 18, 2019, at 1:16 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
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