Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Hard Gospel to Preach

In a recent "retread" over threads in the forum I mentioned a few posts below this one, I ran across a thread regarding Evangelicals doing missionary work in Greece. Some Orthodox were lamenting Evangelicals' proselytizing people who, culturally and historically (and, very often -- though much, much less often these days -- by conviction) were already Christian. Others were scratching their heads wondering what the appeal would be regarding some of these groups. Y'all know where I come from theologically (or, if you're new here, you can click on my conversion story in the sidebar), and those of you who've read the blog long enough or thoroughly enough will know that I know when to take my lumps; though I truly believe that the Orthodox FAITH and the corporate Church that confesses it is the fullness of Him that fills all in all, all is not always rosy in practical, concrete matters. Cf. St. Paul's letters to Corinth. The following then, is my response to the question of why people (not throngs, but noticeable numbers of people) were joining Evangelical groups (edited in brackets for context):

"I think the intellectual input and stimulation [of regular, faithful Bible Study], as well as the realization that they're actually DOING something with their faith outside of church services provides a thrill that they weren't getting with just 'spectator sport' Orthodoxy/Catholicism, where the priest/choir/chanters sang the Divine Liturgy/said Mass and they went through the motions without any purposeful explanation and education of what was going on.

"When you take the stated doctrine of having all your sins completely and permanently wiped out, forever, of never having to deal with any kind of ascetic effort in order to arrive at purification and sanctification, and are 'free' to rejoice in a perceived spiritual perfection that God has granted you apart from any obedience you may or may not have actually walked in -- well, as virtual and artificial as it may sound when I put it that way, it does make for a VERY grateful reaction on the part of the believer. 'He who has been forgiven much, loves much,' and all that. The Evangelical perceives that his sins have been declared null and void through the legal transaction of the blood of Christ before the Father, and so they are free simply to rejoice in an already finished righteousness, an already guaranteed place in heaven. Couple this grateful state with AGRESSIVE memorization of proof-texts that seem to bolster this teaching, and you have the added rush of thinking that God's biblical stamp of approval supports the idea, adding confidence to enthusiastic gratitude.

"It is difficult, then, to put Orthodoxy next to that and say, 'Christ has died and risen again; through baptism we are brought into His Kingdom so that we would have the POTENTIAL of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, making every effort to enter into the rest He prepared for us through His Passion and Resurrection. The enemy, however, still prowls around as the wolf of souls, seeking to make us his prey, so we must be ever mindful of sinful habits that remain in our lives, as they could be occasion for the enemy to gain a foothold. Our life in Christ consists of constant vigilance, constant repentance, constant participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and constant sorrow and (should God grant) true tears of repentance over our state as 'chief of sinners' so that we might gain times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord which is the comfort for those who have mourned.'

"Evangelicals will say that this gospel has been tried and found wanting, pointing to the Orthodox hierarchs' and clergy's moral failure, as well as the laity's laxity and lack of fervor in studying about and participating in their faith outside of services. I would say that the faith is not so much tried and found wanting as it has been found difficult and left untried. This is not so much an excuse as it is an explanation. What is needed? A culture shift, I think. Increased emphasis on personal sin and the need for repentance, forgiveness and grace. Priorities on parish education regarding biblical, patristic support for Orthodox positions. Clear opportunities to LIVE the gospel (service projects like [soup kitchens, clothing pantries, prison visitation], for example). Fellowship and increased accountability among the faithful, pushing each other on to greater piety and holiness of life, seeking out ways to rid ourselves of sin and live to Christ. I say that, if these things are considered solely Evangelical territory, we as Orthodox have sold our birthright, so to speak, and Evangelicals' coming in and gaining the souls the Church has neglected should come as no surprise."

5 comments:

drinklife said...

very good post.

I have been meaning to comment for a while but have failed to do so.

We may have met each other. My name is Joshua Garrett. I graduated from ORU in May 2000, squeezed four years into five. I too was impacted by the friday eucharistic service and Dr. Shelton's church history class. After my graduation, I was searching for the Church, but even as a theolocigal/historical studies minor, I was completely unaware of Orthodoxy. I looked to Rome, but couldn't square the Pope or Mary. I looked to England, but could deal with its genesis nor its current liberal bend. So I settled for ....the Vineyard. It seemed to be the most open and we liked the pastor.

My wife and I served in Turkey and are currently in China with our two girls. Long story a little bit shorter, some friends of ours here introduced us to Orthodoxy in 2008 and we were baptized April 5.

What I keep telling my self is why didn't I find this earlier? Why was it hidden?

I like your blog. Keep up the good work.

David Bryan said...

Joshua,

Thanks for your comment -- and, yes, I think I know you. Thanks be to God you've found the Church! Interesting that you went to Vineyard following looking at the Catholics and Episcopalians; Audra's parents currently attend a Vineyard fellowship.

Do feel free to comment whenever and however you like; good to have you here.

Rhology said...

-When you take the stated doctrine of having all your sins completely and permanently wiped out, forever, of never having to deal with any kind of ascetic effort in order to arrive at purification and sanctification, and are 'free' to rejoice in a perceived spiritual perfection that God has granted you apart from any obedience you may or may not have actually walked in -- well, as virtual and artificial as it may sound when I put it that way, it does make for a VERY grateful reaction on the part of the believer.-


I don't mean to start a debate here, though you know I'm usually up for one.
It's just that, from my Calvigelical standpoint, this is only sometimes true. My community group just finished studying Galatians in detail, and I join in the Apostle Paul's amazement at the Galatians' "bewitching", as he wonders aloud in many different ways how it was that the Galatians would exchange this Gospel of grace for a system of God's grace + human effort, no matter how innocuous and otherwise-endorsed-by-God it might be. No matter whether this human effort is adding the very God-ordained sign of the God-ordained covenant in the OT - circumcision. But it's permissible if we add the God-ordained sign of the God-ordained NT covenant - baptism - to it?
And in the current Evangelical landscape, I see ppl abandoning this Gospel of grace right and left, b/c for some reason, our throwing our own efforts into the mix somehow makes us feel better, no doubt for all sorts of reasons. All that to say, in practical reality, it's not as if there's a great deal of "Hey, I WISH that were true!" appeal, in most people's minds, even if they've grown up around it.

In other news, I thought you'd be interested to know that Aubrey and I are planning to attend one or more of these sessions. Should be an interesting time, as I've read Gallatin's "Thirsting for God".

Peace,
Rhology

PS - word verification is "undignes". I think someone's trying to tell me sthg.

David Bryan said...

Rhology,

I'm working on a reply to your question; thanks for comemnting.

I do hope you enjoy the sessions.

iri said...

The truth in this post (mostly about the 'spectator sport' Orthodoxy/Catholicism and the fact that "the faith is not so much tried and found wanting as it has been found difficult and left untried") is one of the reasons of which you should be grateful not to live in an Orthodox country. I am sorry, I don't want to make it sound bad. But in a way Orthodoxy is so much taken for granted that it is not lived any longer by many (no, not by all, I wouldn't dare say that), but by many of us, although we consider ourselves Orthodox. In a way maybe this is the very sad result of communism (I live in Romania). On the other hand, one monastic of whom I am very fond of and who lives today in our country (Father Rafail Noica) says that our people seems to have become like the people of Israel, who had everything, the revelation of God, the Law, the prophets, but began disregarding them.

Regarding the contrast between Orthodoxy and Evangelism, I find myself deeply in all that. I was born an Orthodox (that is, baptized at my birth), but never lived my faith, actually we went to church only once a year, on Pascha. So when I met in high school an Evangelical Christian and we became friends, she began telling me all these things, and I felt everything you described. Unfortunatelly, with the growing of my faith - or what I believed was faith - my pride grew also. Fortunatelly I began attending services in the Orthodox church in my neighborhood. Although at first I had many protestant beliefs, I gradually came to understand and feel the fullness that resides of the Orthodox teaching.

Everything is true in your post (sadly...). In Romania also there are many Evangelical protestants that come and preach the Gospel.