Tag Archives: eastern orthodoxy

Why Do Some Evangelical Protestants Convert to Roman Catholicism OR Eastern Orthodoxy?

Roman Catholic Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made history in February, 2016, by meeting together, in an effort towards Christian reconciliation. (Photo credit: Edgar Jimenez / Flickr | Larry Koester / Flickr)

The vast majority of evangelical Protestants remain in such churches, once they become Christians. Also, quite a number of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox convert and join evangelical Protestant churches, particularly if their faith was rather nominal to begin with.

But interestingly, some evangelical Protestants move in the opposite direction, and either join the Roman Catholic Church, or they join an Eastern Orthodox church.  So, why do some evangelicals bail out on Protestantism, to become members of these other churches?  When it comes to Roman Catholicism, is it not true that Protestants fought long and hard to try to reform Catholicism, only to find themselves outside of the church of Rome? When it comes to Eastern Orthodoxy…. well,… what is Eastern Orthodoxy, anyway?

Well, there are multiple reasons why some evangelical Protestants either “cross the Tiber” (a metaphorical way of saying that they become Roman Catholic…. the Tiber River cuts through the heart of the city of Rome), or “cross the Bosphorus” (a metaphorical way of saying that they become Eastern Orthodox…. the Bosphorus is a body of water that goes through Istanbul, Turkey, the traditional heart of the Eastern Orthodox world). One reason is that in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is central to their corporate worship. Whereas, in much of Protestantism, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper often takes a back seat, when compared to the teaching of the Scriptures.

But perhaps one of the main reasons for leaving evangelical Protestantism is a disillusionment with how Protestants often handle the doctrine of sola scriptura, from the Latin, or “Scripture alone.”

The idea of sola scriptura assumes that Scripture, by itself, can be interpreted, without an authoritative magisterium, or teaching authority, like the Pope (Roman Catholic) or college of bishops (Eastern Orthodoxy). But when Protestants rely on the private interpretation of Scripture, confusion has often ensued. Protestant Christians, in the United States, have been often known to “vote with their feet,” once they run into perceived problems with a teaching pastor, who says something that does not line up with how they read the Bible.

You do not have that problem in either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

The “vote with your feet” syndrome, that commonly divides Protestant churches, can become quite weary for some Christians. When Protestants are unable to work through their differences, it can get rather tiresome.

So, on the other hand, it is pretty much a “package deal,” if and when you decide to join either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox communions. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have their own authoritative magisteriums. Such conflicting understandings of teaching authority has created another whole set of problems, which would take a comprehensive look at church history, to fully digest.

Those “package deals” presented by both older communions have presented obstacles for those Protestants who have considered making the journey across the Tiber or the Bosphorus, but who end up not crossing one of those rivers (I would include myself in this latter category). For example, both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy hold to what is called the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is a big stumbling block that keeps many evangelical Protestants from seriously considering crossing “the” river.

If you want to learn more about why some Protestants look to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy, these two short videos, respectively, help to explain why:


The Miracle of the Holy Fire?

The Holy Fire emerges from the tomb of Jesus, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (credit: Greek City Times)

I meant to post something about this last weekend, but this past Sunday was Pascha, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, otherwise typically known as “Easter” among English-speaking Western Christians. Different methods of calculating the day of Easter explains why the Eastern and Western churches are not always in sync, when it comes to celebrating the Resurrection.

But I am glad that I waited to post something until now, in that I ran across a very interesting article, by Rod Dreher, of The American Conservative, addressing a popular Eastern Orthodox tradition, associated with Holy Saturday, the day right before Pascha/Easter. Dreher is the author of the widely discussed book The Benedict Option, a prolific journalist, who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy several years ago.

As readers of Veracity might know, I believe that evangelical Protestants have a lot to learn from the Eastern Orthodox. Sadly, Eastern Orthodoxy remains an enigma to most evangelical Protestants, who tend to confuse Eastern Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism, which only shows just how myopic some evangelical Protestants can be.

When the (once) popular evangelical apologist Hank Hanegraff was received into the Greek Orthodox church in 2017, you would have thought that he had renounced Christianity altogether, based on the criticism levied by some evangelical Protestants. Some even think that Mormonism is more theologically orthodox than Eastern Orthodoxy, which is a pretty laughable judgment.

To summarize those previous posts: Eastern Orthodoxy (abbreviated hereafter as “EO”) does have a lot going for it. Let me list a few of the reasons:

  • A generous posture towards “disputable matters,” for non-essential Christian doctrine: For evangelical Christians tired of the on-going theological debates among Protestant evangelicals, that never seem to go anywhere, EO is like a breath of fresh air. Among the EO, they do not get hung up on matters such as the minute details of the “End Times”, the age of the earth, or the dispute over God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility. Even though the Book of Revelation is considered to be canonical Scripture, the EO refrain from being obsessive in parsing out the technical details of the book. When it comes to the first few chapters of Genesis, most EO have no problem with the use of metaphorical language to express great theological truth. The dispute between Calvinists and Arminians among evangelical Protestants is a mute point among the EO. On and on the list goes.
  • A consistent and awe-inspiring liturgy, that unites the faithful: For the EO, worship is theology and theology is worship. There is a strong emphasis on integrating doctrine with practical spirituality, something that is often missing in evangelical circles. A profound sense of reverence pervades the corporate worship experience. This is in contrast to a popular trend in many evangelical circles today, where Sunday worship looks more like a rock concert followed by a TED talk, than it does an attitude of awe of being in the presence of a Holy God.
  • A moderate and stable view towards “women in ministry” : Evangelical Protestants love to fight about the so-called “women in ministry” issue. Evangelical churches tend to divide from one another, with complementarians on the one side, opposing women serving as elders, in a local church, and egalitarians on the other side, promoting women to serve as elders. Mark my word, in a good twenty years, you will see even starker lines between complementarian and egalitarian evangelical churches, where you can tell the difference, just by examining what Bible translation is being used by that church. Such a trend does not bode well for the evangelical movement, as such a trend merely reinforces tribalism….  But among the EO, this issue has been settled for hundreds of years. Yes, only men are permitted to serve as priests, and preside over the administration of the sacraments. But in most of the EO churches I have seen, women are more involved in the leadership of the local community, than they are in many evangelical congregations today…. which is all the more ironic, in that the growing trend towards egalitarianism among evangelicals puts up yet another barrier to reconciliation among the Great Traditions of the church.

Yet like any other Christian tradition, EO is not perfect:

  • Nominalism is rampant. More than a few EO are Orthodox in name-only. While many EO Christians have a profoundly deep, even evangelical faith, a vast number of EO parishioners go to church simply because of family tradition, or because there is a sense of fear coming from the local priest or bishop. But then again, that happens in just about every Christian tradition.
  • EO theology sometimes seems fixed in the 8th century: The EO have not had a major church council meeting since the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 A.D. The EO emphasis on their long-abiding tradition often leaves them resistant to making certain changes, that would not necessarily compromise their core theological commitments. But a number of EO theological traditions strike evangelical Protestants today as being quite quirky, like the perpetual virginity of Mary.
  • EO churches tend to be more ethnocentric. This is easily seen in the United States. There is an Orthodox Church of America, that spawned off from Russian Orthodoxy, but still, the majority of EO movements in America are strongly tied to their non-American ethnic roots, like the Ukranian, Russian, and Greek Orthodox churches. This has made it hard for the EO to fully integrate into the broader American culture, inhibiting the EO from establishing an authentically American flavor of EO faith.

Anyway, what I wanted to highlight here is this popular tradition among the EO on Holy Saturday. Tradition has it that a miracle occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, on Holy Saturday: the miracle of the “Holy Fire.” The story goes like this: a blue light emerges from the traditional location of Jesus Christ’s tomb, rising above a stone slab, where it is thought that Jesus’ body was laid on Good Friday evening. From the light, candles are lit and then taken outside of the tomb, so that other pilgrims can have their candles lit.

What was quite unusual in 2020 was that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was officially closed this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so there were only a handful of priests on-site to witness the miracle.

I must admit, I am a bit skeptical of this. But I appreciate the perspective shared by Rod Dreher, that his faith is not built upon such signs and wonders. Below is the video posted by Rod Dreher, showing the moment when the Holy Fire is used to light the candles, that are taken out of the tomb. What do Veracity readers think of this?


“Bible Answer Man’s” Critics Follow-Up: Mormonism More “Thoroughly Biblical” Than Eastern Orthodoxy?

Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man” on many Christian radio stations, has sparked a debate among evangelicals as to what being a “biblical” and “orthodox” Christian really means.

I want to add a short editorial comment, following a curious development involving Hank Hanegraaff, “The Bible Answer Man,” and his recent admission into Eastern Orthodoxy, that I blogged about recently.

The Bott Radio Network is apparently a popular source of syndicated Christian radio, though not available in my state of Virginia. Upon hearing the news of Hanegraaff’s “crossing of the Bosphorus,” Bott Radio Network decided to drop “The Bible Answer Man” from their radio programming, a show that they have hosted since the 1980s. In a news report, the president of the Bott Radio Network, made this statement:

We want to make sure that our listeners know that the programming that we have on Bott Radio Network is thoroughly biblical.

Neither I, nor my Eastern Orthodox friends, are surprised by this. But that is not the whole story. To replace “The Bible Answer Man,” Bott Radio plans to accommodate a new lineup, featuring the teachings of other personalities, including David Barton, of WallBuilders. Presumably, Bott Radio believes that David Barton’s teachings are more “thoroughly biblical” than Hank Hanegraaff’s.

Pause for a moment.

David Barton, a controversial history popularizer, is a frequent guest on a show hosted by TV personality Glenn Beck, a well-known Mormon.

The irony here is that in 2011, a Moody Radio affiliate dropped David Barton from their playlist, when Barton claimed that fellow political conservative, Glenn Beck, another popular radio and TV personality, and an outspoken Mormon, was in fact an orthodox-believing Christian.Three years ago, we explored Glenn Beck’s association between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity, here on Veracity. According to various news reports, including this one, David Barton heard Glenn Beck say that he accepted “the Lord Jesus Christ [as] my Savior and my Redeemer.”  Here is an endorsement by Barton, standing by Glenn Beck’s conversion to Christianity, on Moody Radio:

Glenn says he’s Mormon. Ok, that’s fine. Based on what you heard, if you heard a Baptist say that or if you heard a Methodist say that…what would you say?….Why is it not a real conversion because of the label he wears?…I don’t care what label Beck wears. I don’t care what Glenn thinks Mormon means.

So, is the Bott Radio Network claiming now that Mormonism is more “thoroughly biblical” than Eastern Orthodoxy?

Seriously?

The Eastern Orthodox are not Protestant. Yes, that is true. But they are far more orthodox in their theology than the Mormons are. The Eastern Orthodox accept the Triune nature of God. Mormonism’s track record on the Trinity is highly suspect. The Eastern Orthodox have not added “newer” books to their canon of Scripture. The Mormons have added newer books. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of how believers become more Christ-like, otherwise known as the doctrine of theosis, is way-way-way different from the classic Mormon idea propagated by the late 19th century Mormon president Lorenzo Snow, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.

Mormonism pales in comparison to Eastern Orthodoxy, concerning doctrinal truth, even if a Protestant ultimately finds many others beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy unacceptable.

We live in strange times indeed.

It is apparent that the good folks at the Bott Radio Network do not know much about Eastern Orthodoxy, or Mormonism, or perhaps both. Sam Storms, a blogger with The Gospel Coalition, has a good summary of Eastern Orthodoxy belief, geared towards educating Protestants.


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