Unintentional Schism? A Response to Peter Leithart’s “Too catholic to be Catholic”

This post was originally featured on the Orthodox-Reformed Bridge site. The original is here.

Of late Protestantism seems to be undergoing a “climate change.” Theological positions are shifting and church affiliations are undergoing realignment in surprising ways. Reformed Christians are rediscovering liturgical worship and the church fathers. While pastors sought to enrich their Protestant heritage, they did not intend that people would jettison their Protestantism altogether and become Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. These defections are raising concerns among pastors. Renowned Reformed theologian and pastor Dr. Peter Leithart in a recent posting noted:

My friends tell me that my name has been invoked in various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, sometimes by people, including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world. My friends also hinted that it would be good for me to say again why I’m not heading to Rome or Constantinople or Moscow (Russia!), nor encouraging anyone to do so.

Leithart’s “Too catholic to be Catholic” is an apologia for his remaining Protestant. A considerable part of the article focused on the matter of closed Communion and church unity. He argues that converting to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy does not heal divisions among Christians but rather reproduces the divisions in different ways.

Mercersburg Theology Paves the Way

I once held to this view. Prior to becoming Orthodox my theology was shaped by Mercersburg Theology. Mercersburg Theology was a form of high church Calvinism in the 1800s that sought to incorporate the early church fathers and the Eucharist into Reformed Christianity. In many ways the Mercersburg theologians, John Nevin and Philip Schaff, anticipated the inclusive approach advocated by Leithart by more than a century. There is little that is new to what Leithart is advocating. There seems to be a Mercersburg revival among young Reformed scholars like W. Brad Littlejohn and Jonathan Bonomo.

Like Nevin and Schaff I believed then that through a historical dialectic the divisions between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism would be resolved. According to this view even if I were to become a Catholic, the dividing issues would still remain between the two traditions and for that reason it would be better to remain a Protestant and help Protestants recover their Catholic roots. In this way a more radical healing of the divisions would come about.

However, as I studied the early Church the more the underlying assumptions of Mercersburg Theology and the Protestant Reformation became problematic. Theology in the early Church was based upon the receiving of Holy Tradition and being in communion with its bishops. Nowhere was there any evidence of people reading the Bible for themselves. Contrary to the popular understanding of tradition as extra-biblical man-made inventions, the early Christians sought to preserve the teachings and practices of the Apostles. (See my posting on apostolic succession.) And just as surprising was the discovery that the New Testament teaches the passing on of the apostolic doctrine from one generation to the next (II Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2; II Thessalonians 2:15). (See my posting on the biblical basis for Holy Tradition.)

This historic-biblical understanding of Tradition was radically different from Mercersburg’s scholastic method which viewed the writings of the church fathers as theological resources for constructing theological systems than as part of a traditioning process. The notion of Tradition contradicts the idea of doctrinal evolution that underlies much of Western Christianity. For the early Christians then and Orthodoxy today, Holy Tradition is a body of doctrine and praxis received as a treasure to be safeguarded and preserved from alteration; it is not a jar of silly putty to be shaped and played with as we like. Furthermore, theology in the early Church was conciliar in which the Church Catholic made binding decisions on matters of doctrine and practice. This was a fulfillment of Christ’s promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. (See my recent blog posting on Pentecost.) What impressed me about the early Church was the reality of church unity back then. As a Protestant I was haunted by the fact that there was so much theological diversity among Protestants and even within the same denomination. And I was troubled by the fact that Protestant Christianity seemed to bear little resemblance to the early Church.

Horizontal Unity versus Vertical Unity

Leithart posed the question: “Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome?” My response is that there are two dimensions to Eucharistic unity: horizontal unity in which one shares the same faith with others across the world in the present moment and vertical unity in which one shares the same faith with others across time, e.g., fellowship with the church fathers. As I became increasingly aware of the significant differences between Protestantism and the early church fathers I reached the conclusion that Protestants, even the original Reformers, would be barred from receiving Communion in the early Church. This led me to an awkward dilemma. Did I want to be in communion with contemporary Protestantism and out of communion with the early church fathers and the Ecumenical Councils? Or was I willing to give up my Protestant beliefs in order to be in communion with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church?

In other words, Pastor Leithart’s advocacy of open communion is inadvertently divisive because it sacrifices vertical unity with the historic Church for horizontal unity with the contemporary Protestant church.

Many Protestants would object: But we believe in the same things the early Christians did! I would respond: Do you really believe the same things the early Christians did?

  • Does your church accept the Nicene Creed as authoritative? (Many Evangelicals today never heard of the Nicene Creed.)
  • Does your church celebrate the historic Liturgy or is your order of worship something recently concocted? (Most Protestant churches do not celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. Those who celebrate the Eucharist regularly do not have a received liturgical tradition that goes back to the Apostles, e.g., the Liturgy of St. James, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Mark.)
  • Does your church accept the doctrine of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood as taught by the early church fathers and the ancient liturgies? (Most Protestants today believe that the bread and wine are just symbols. The Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation and the Reformed doctrine of the spiritual feeding in the Lord’s Supper have no counterpart in the teachings of the early Church.)
  • Who is your bishop? What is his line of succession? (Virtually all Protestants lack bishops in the historic sense.)
  • Does your church accept the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s decision about the veneration of icons? (No Protestant denominations and none of the Reformers venerated icons as decreed by Nicea II.)
  • Does your church reject the novel doctrines of sola fide (justification by faith alone) and sola scriptura (the Bible alone)? (None of the early church fathers taught these Protestant doctrines.)

The gap between modern day Protestantism and the early Church is considerable. The early Church did not subscribe to the view that if one accepted Jesus as Savior one was automatically a Christian and therefore a member of the body of Christ. Becoming a Christian in the early Church was a fairly lengthy process in which one faithfully attended the Sunday liturgies for at least a year and learned the Creed by heart. Conversion in the early Church meant undergoing the sacrament of Baptism in which one was born anew in Christ, received the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Chrismation, then brought before the altar where one received the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. (See Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, especially Lectures XIX to XXIII.)

Pastor Leithart is critical of the notion of closed communion. He wonders what the difference is between the Catholics, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, or the Continental Reformed? For Pastor Leithart this is a rhetorical throw away question. But actually, this is a very useful question to ask. Another way to pose the question is to ask: What does Communion mean for this particular body? What does Communion tell me about the boundaries for their faith? How a church body practices Communion brings to light how they define the parameters of doctrinal orthodoxy, i.e., how it distinguishes right doctrine from heresy. It shines a spotlight on the theological core of the church body. A church body without a theological core is like a person without an identity (a very unhealthy situation to be in!).

Communion in Roman Catholicism means: (1) that one accepts the infallible teaching authority of the Pope and (2) that one accepts the Catholic Church’s dogma on transubstantiation. Communion in the Orthodox Church means: (1) that one has received the “pattern of sound teachings” (II Timothy 1:13-14) passed on from the Apostles through the bishops (II Timothy 2:2) to the church of today, and (2) that one has placed one’s self under the authority of the bishop the guardian and teacher of Apostolic Tradition (II Timothy 4:1-5). In the case of the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, to be in communion means that one accepts the distinctive Lutheran doctrines as found in the Book of Concord. Even Baptists practice a form of closed communion; only those who have been baptized by total immersion are granted access to the communion table.

What Pastor Leithart is doing with his rhetorical question is not only trivializing the Eucharist by detaching it from doctrinal authority but isolating the Eucharist from the historic church be it Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox. He seems to be saying we all should be giving communion to each other regardless of our doctrines or regardless of our what our faith tradition teaches. Is he implying that there are no core doctrines? And that communion is to be given to all without condition? And that there is no such thing as wrong doctrine (heresy)? I’m sure that Pastor Leithart does have doctrinal standards that he applies when he celebrates Holy Communion. Once he spells out what the preconditions are then he in effect declares what he considers to be the boundaries of his church tradition.

A Critique of the Branch Theory of the Church

Leithart’s criticism of closed communion is apparently based upon the branch theory of the church. The branch theory of the church believes that despite the outward divisions, the various denominations (branches) remain part of the one true Church. This view holds that despite the differences we are all one and that we need to recover a visible expression of our underlying oneness. In its original version, the branch theory encompassed the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions; then somewhere along the way it was broadened to include Lutherans, Reformed Christians, Baptists, and born again Evangelicals! Given Protestantism’s inability to find common theological ground, the attempt is made to substitute orthodoxy with inclusiveness. Such an approach is radically at odds with historic Christianity. Furthermore, the branch theory calls into question Christ’s promises that the gates of Hell would not prevail over the Church and that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth. (See my recent blog posting: Pentecost and the Promise of God Fulfilled.)

Orthodoxy rejects the branch theory on several grounds. One, none of the church fathers taught this doctrine. Historically, it was invented by the Anglican theologian, William Palmer (1803-1885), and then popularized by the Oxford Movement in the mid 1800s. Two, the branch theory assumes that heterodoxy is compatible with the one true Church. Three, the branch theory assumes that each of the branch (denomination) has a part of the Truth but no one branch (denomination) has retained Apostolic Tradition intact. This implies that the original Apostolic Tradition is no longer intact but exists only in broken fragments. On the grounds that it has faithfully preserved the Apostles’ teachings for the past two thousand years, Orthodoxy is compelled to reject the branch theory. The irony and tragedy here is that Leithart’s position on open communion seems to have roots going back to the 1800s, not to the ancient Church.

Is denying Communion to Protestants a Bad Thing?

Orthodoxy is not a social club but a covenant community entrusted with safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition. This is the teaching and practice of the Apostles handed down from generation to generation with care and diligence; much like how the crown jewels of the British monarchy are treated with great respect and care. Protestants are denied Communion because they do not share in the historic Faith but hold to a novel theological system that none of the church fathers taught.

By denying Protestants Communion Orthodoxy is actually doing Protestants a favor by making visible Protestantism’s alienation from its patristic roots. We invite Protestants to become part of a historic Faith that has been handed down from the Apostles. We invite Protestants to leave behind their doctrinal innovations and embrace the historic Christian Faith. But it should be made clear that Orthodoxy will not endorse a cheap ecumenicism that jeopardizes our ties with the historic Church. The Eucharist is not just a symbol but a genuine receiving of Christ’s body and blood. Eucharistic union with the Orthodox Church means being in communion with the one holy catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Nicene Creed.

Learning From Ignatius of Antioch

Let us give heed to Ignatius of Antioch, the third bishop of Antioch who was martyred circa 117. Tradition has it that Ignatius was one of the children Jesus took into his arms and blessed. It is important to keep in mind that Antioch was the Apostle Paul’s home church (Acts 11:25-26, 13:1-2). This means that Ignatius was discipled at one of the spiritual capitals of the early Church. Orthodoxy can claim a direct historic link to Ignatius through the Patriarchate of Antioch which still exists today. The church Antioch continues today under the leadership of the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV.

Ignatius wrote:

Let no one do any of the things appertaining to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. (Letter to the Smyrneans VIII)

For Ignatius the Catholic Church was evidenced by two things: the Eucharist and the bishop. The Orthodox Church holds to the same view as Ignatius. It is surprising that Pastor Leithart feels free to ignore the very point that Ignatius stressed over and over as he faced death as a martyr for Christ. Ignatius also has stern words of warning:

“Be not deceived,” my brethren, if any one follow a maker of schism, “he does not inherit the kingdom of God;” if any man walk in strange doctrine he has no part in the Passion. (Letter to the Philadelphians III)

What we read here from Ignatius is not a call to doctrinal inclusiveness but to doctrinal orthodoxy. “Strange doctrines” refers to any teaching not taught the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. Because they lack bishops Protestants have been vulnerable to strange teachings. The novelty and Protestant assumptions underlying Pastor Leithart’s article “Too catholic to be Catholic” becomes stark when compared against Ignatius of Antioch’s letters. The two positions are too different to be reconciled. Leithart’s “Too catholic” article cannot be squared away against Ignatius’ teachings. One has to accept the one and reject the other. This means that one must choose between communion with contemporary Protestantism or communion with the historic Church via Eastern Orthodoxy.

Conclusion

Pastor Leithart misses the mark when he makes inclusiveness and doctrinal diversity the basis for being “catholic.” What Leithart is proposing is a Protestant solution (doctrinal inclusiveness) for a Protestant problem (denominational divisions and doctrinal innovation). Ironically, Leithart’s attempt at ecumenicism exacts a high price – schism from the historic Church. To conclude, Leithart’s “catholicism” is unintentionally schismatic.

See also: Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s response: “Too catholic to be Catholic”: Communion With Idolaters?

Robert Arakaki administers OrthodoxBridge.com, “a meeting place for Evangelicals, Reformed and Orthodox Christians.” He attends Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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14 thoughts on “Unintentional Schism? A Response to Peter Leithart’s “Too catholic to be Catholic”

  1. “Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome?”

    There is a much deeper problem with this question, although the analysis above is fantastically comprehensive.

    This question is simply backwards.

    Orthodoxy does not exclude Protestants from participating in the Eucharistic sacrament. Protestants exclude themselves from participation through their insistance on being Protestant. The very act of self-identifying as, essentially, Not Orthodox excommunicates yourself. They separated themselves from us, not the other way around. It is entirely disingenuous to turn around and complain that the people you have deliberately ceased to associate with (aka are in schism from) won’t share their most sacramental act with you — because you don’t consider it sacramental !!!

    Protestantism becomes less relevant to Western culture by the day. They know it, we know it, and everyone knows it. One of the biggest reasons is the “image problem” that Protestantism has developed because of the culture war and the prevailing sense that Christians are bigoted not only towards non-Christians, but even towards one another if they aren’t of exactly the same franchise (as more and more non-Christians jokingly refer to our denominations and sects).

    Consequently, Protestantism is _desperate_ to find a way to repair this image by making the faith look as “nice” as possible — increasingly by trying to wall paper over the tens of thousands of schisms in the church. The recent branding of “non-denominationalism” (which is in and of itself a denomination, of course) is one kind of evidence of this, enthusiastic embrace of not only ecumenical dialog and inter-faith dialog, but actual ecumenical concelebration of rites and rituals is another. And it is this latter which allows Leithart to present the question of an “open table” as though the inherent superior value of such a thing over almost anything else, including core doctrines about what that table itself _means_, is self-evident.

    I would _LOVE_ to share the eucharist with all the Protestant friends and family that I have. I pray for this every day (that I do not fail to pray as I should). Nothing would give me more joy. Unfortunately, making that happen is 100% out of my hands. The only way that can happen is if they begin to understand that Protestantism itself, voluntary deliberate schism itself, is theologically bankrupt. Western Christians need to get over their Romaphobia and re-discover The Church.

    The goal of a pure, perfect church is a myth. We will never have a perfectly unified church and we will never have a perfectly doctrinally cohesive church. The intent of Orthodoxy is _NOT_ a monolith. The intent is to preserve what has been revealed and taught, and in so preserving to seek to preserve as much unity and cohesion as human persons are capable of preserving.

    But it is ultimately just a choice of two, not three.

    1) A single, unified church full of complications, squabbles, arguments, debates, even ill will and confusion, but which clings to the divine revelation of God like a life raft and does all it can to pull as many people into that raft as it can.

    2) Many many many churches, all of which are full of complications, squabbles, arguments, debates, even ill will and confusion and which throw people over board (or jump themselves) at the first sign of “impurity”.

    There is _no_ option #3 for a pure church and this has been the goal of Protestantism since 1517. Until Protestants abandon this false hope and begin to prioritize _genuine_ unity (“warts and all”) over doctrinal superiority they will not be able to _invite themselves_ back to the table with us.

    We are here, ready, willing and able to welcome them back. They are unwilling to come. Unfortunately, that sounds an awful lot like the way most of humanity treats Christ.

  2. Great article, the common underlying assumption that closed communion is ”prideful” and even ”panders to divisivness” is clearly dispelled in this article and even by a casual reading of the church fathers. The mind of pluralism is the greatest opponent of the church today (I have even heard Orthodox faithful make comments about how they are Orthodox but it isn’t for everyone ;( It seems that even with very serious, faithful protestants they appeal to this \”branch theory\” thinking they are being generous when in reality they are placing a priority on feeling good about having some kind of false unity rather than stand for and humbly contemplate the truth of what has been handed down and invite others to join them. Thank you for the post, I enjoy you uncompromising tone without resorting to Ad Hominem as so many on the internet do.

  3. Dear Jim John Marks & Stefon Rmstrong,

    I’m glad you liked my article. I agree that it’s important that we keep our tone positive. Oftentimes our Protestant friends are looking for clear and reasoned explanations for Orthodox beliefs and practices. Calmness and sobriety are also marks of Orthodox spirituality. I try do my blogging rooted not just in Orthodox doctrine but also in Orthodox spirituality.

  4. I think Evangelical Protestants have a different understanding of open communion. I’ve been to enough services (in my days of being an EP) and have had discussions about this very subject with my EP friends. They would deny that they practice open communion because a caution is issued beforehand. Basically it goes something like this: “If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and you’ve never been saved (born again) then you should not participate in communion.” However, this sort of practice lends itself to subjectivism and shifts the communion act into one of being an independent act apart from obedience to the Church. In other words, inclusion into the body of Christ is simply boiled down to some decision made at one time without the involvement of Church. So, outsiders can come in and partake of communion in these Protestant churches since the decision is left up to them alone. This is especially common in churches that believe in OSAS. Even the manner in which communion is taken reflects that of an independent action – the passing around of the grape juice and crackers. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but I would posit that they are few and far between. In fact, the last non-denominational church I attended gave up the practice of receiving communion at the altar (they had Methodist roots) in favor of passing it around.

    In saying all the above, I realize that Peter Leithart is of the high church persuasion, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if communion is served at the altar. Nonetheless, it would seem anyone who considers themselves a Christian would be welcome to partake of communion in Leithart’s church.

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  8. Hey everyone. I went to an Southern Baptist Church, and subsequently Evangelical churches. Perhaps you just don’t understand Protestantism. At least the churches I went to.

    Essentially, it’s all about the Bible. Many churches I’ve been to say, “If it’s in the Bible, we believe it.” And it’s that simple. My home church (Southern Baptist) read the Nicene Creed together, but other churches I went to did not. They were much more focused on living the kind of lives that Jesus would want us to live.

    They would say the “Church Fathers” are a later innovation. Basically, they’re not God, or the apostles, so you have to take everything that happened after the Bible was written with a grain of salt. Of course Protestants reject the authority of the Orthodoxy and the authority of the Pope. Those are “innovations” to them. They are just fallible men. Not evil, just no different from you or me.

    Even emulating the early church is impossible. They were also fallible people. There are many things we can learn, but they lived in an entirely different cultural context, so many of the things that worked for them would not work now. I mean, do we all put everything we have in common and take as we have need? At least for Protestants, no.

    You are essentially saying the same thing Protestants would say to you. You accuse the Protestants of “ignoring” or “rewriting” or “corrupting” the Holy traditions. And Protestants would say that the only authority is in the Bible, and anything that happened after it was written was simply relevant to the specific time it happened.

    Of course, that’s not why you wrote this article. You were responding to someone who said that we should all share communion with one another because we’re all a part of “one branch” but you are saying that Orthodoxy IS the one branch and everyone else just needs to realize it.

    That’s fine I guess. If that’s what you want to believe, great, but Protestants and Orthodoxy start from two different places and so they end up in different places. The issue is not really communion, but we all already knew that, so it’s almost useless to debate this particular piece.

    You’re right of course that many Protestant churches have many different teachings, and that based on how you put verses together, you can get wildly different beliefs. But even then, Protestants still say that we are fallible people, and we have an imperfect understanding of the Bible. We’re only doing the best we can. We may never fully understand the Bible, but that’s ok. So long as we are in a ‘relationship’ with God, we’re a part of of His kingdom, and can be assured that although we deserve hell, Jesus was the atonement for our sin so that we could have everlasting life. And that’s how you become Protestant.

    • “Perhaps you don’t understand Protestantism.”

      Andrew, I appreciate the kindness and grace of your comment here, but it seems to me from this statement of yours you should explore the links above to learn a little more about Robert Arakaki who authored this article and Fr. Andrew who edits this site. They are both former Protestants with seminary education, as are many of the commenters here.

      I have my BA from a major Evangelical institution (though, not seminary) and was Protestant for over 40 years (all of them as a committed Evangelical, including a stint on the mission field) before I decided to become Orthodox. I came to realize Eastern Orthodoxy had a kind of continuity with both the biblical witness and the earliest Christian thinkers my Evangelical faith did not. I discovered within the Eastern Orthodox Church a fullness of the life of Christ expressed in its greatest Saints for which I long in my own relationship with Christ. I think you can rest assured we understand what Protestantism is. Rather, I suspect Robert (and other commenters here) may have explored Church history and the teaching and practices of the earliest Christians a little more in depth than you have (as of yet), including carefully examining the Scriptures through the lens of the consensus of the early Fathers of the Church vs. examining and interpreting the Scriptures through the various lenses of the Reformers (and their successors) which came 1500+ years after the birth of the Church and out of the polemics of the Protestant Reformation. (You might want to explore why there was no such protest leading to such a Reformation in the Eastern Christian Churches.) I hope it won’t sound presumptuous for me to admit I believe some things might begin to take on a somewhat different perspective for you if you took the opportunity to look more deeply into that sort of thing.

      I would certainly not suggest Protestants (or any Christians outside the EO tradition) are inherently inferior Christians (in the sincerity of their desire to repent and follow Christ). In fact, I’m quite sure many, including many of my Evangelical friends, as far as their own personal integrity before the Lord will have a better defense on Judgment Day than will I–sinner that I am! Rather, some former Protestants like Robert, Fr. Andrew, and me, have just come to the conviction the various Protestant traditions of Scripture’s interpretation have lost some important apostolic understandings–some essential tools to having a consistent framework for Scripture’s proper interpretation and a Church polity and sacramental/spiritual practice (including a common understanding and practice of Communion) which can keep Christians unified and connected with Christ in reality as the earliest Christians were under the Apostles (not just “invisibly” or in imagination) and, more importantly, through which they may have the possibility to experience the indwelling of Christ as fully as it is possible for a human being this side of the grave. Most of us have become Orthodox because we realize that without the kind of true experiential union with Christ we taste in the Orthodox Eucharist, we are lost. We are not content with just having what some consider a “right opinion” about the meaning of Scripture and Christian faith. Faith for us is having a true experiential encounter with Christ in His Church, so that we might be transformed little by little “from glory to glory” into all the fullness of Christ’s very likeness–that His image might be truly fulfilled in us. We find a true taste of that encounter consistently in the Orthodox Eucharist.

      • I hear what you’re saying. But again, for many Protestant, Evangelical, Non-Denominational, Multi-Denominational churches in America (at least), none of that matters. They essentially cut the Nicene Counsel back to when the agreed on the Bible. Older denominations generally accept more of the Nicene Counsel. Most Mega-churches are experimental off-shoots of older denominations that became their own entity, and may not be able to spell ‘Nicene’.

        My parents go to a Mega-Church where the Pastor was raised Assembly of God, and I went to a Mega-Church where the Pastor was formerly a Youth Pastor at a Southern Baptist Church, and the Youth Group evolved into the Church that it is today.

        I’m not here to discuss things I don’t know. Of course many commentators, and the author, know much much more about the Orthodoxy and Church Traditions than me. I just thought this comment section was a little one-sided.

        Granted, I only speak for my experiences. So I don’t pretend to have the breadth of ALL of them.

        As for the Reformation, many churches would probably say that Martin Luther’s 99 theses proved the fallibility of the Catholic Church and proved that they were fallible men leading an imperfect movement. They may/may not give it much more thought than that.

        As a former Protestant I’m sure you’re familiar with many Protestant skepticisms as well. I was basically taught that Orthodoxy was borderline heretical.

        Anyway. Communion in the Mega-Churches was essentially a table with Bread and Grape Juice. You can come up anytime during worship to take it. For them, it’s a way of demonstrating how Christ took on the sin of man.

        I’ve also heard it talked about as simply breaking bread together. Not much different than eating together. Basically like Jesus at the Last Supper. He broke bread and drank wine with the Apostles. To most of these Mega-Churches and Christians it’s sort of a solemn, but informal ceremony. Basically like an ‘act’ of worship.

        The question of Protestantism, as far as I can tell, is ‘How far is too far?’ How many different denominations will there be? I don’t have an answer for that. I doubt anyone does. People are still territorial about their particular denomination, believing others might be heretical, but at this point, it’s a pretty open field. Lost of people ‘church shop’ when they move to a new city and try out many different denominations, or no denomination.

        Anyway, I’m going on pretty long, so I’ll wrap it up to say, that particular post would not carry much weight to Protestants. Perhaps it wasn’t written to Protestants. Many Protestants, I know at least, would say that the fact that the author didn’t quote the Bible to justify his points is bad. Again though, the author of this article says “Orthodoxy IS the one true branch.” Whereas the author of the other article says “anyone who claims Christ is the Branch” and then he gives a bunch of examples and things to think about.

        I don’t speak for anyone except myself and my experiences. There’s a world of theology out there I haven’t waded through yet. Perhaps I’ll read some of the things you recommended. Have a good one.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Dan. Believe me, I do understand them. I will reciprocate in kind.

    My own Baptist assumptions began to unravel when my Baptist (soon to be mega-church) pastor in the mid-90s started prefacing each service of Communion with the words, “These elements (the bread and grape juice) are not magical. They are not mystical. . . .” Then as he served the crackers and the grape juice (via the elders who served us by passing the trays of the elements down our pews), in taking Christ’s words from the Gospels where Christ instituted the New Covenant in His own body and blood, “This is my body . . . ” and “This is my blood . . .”, my pastor would insert the word “represents” in place of “is.” Because of that, it occurred to me to start reflecting more deeply about the meaning of this “ordinance” of the Lord’s and the purpose of this ritual. I started to ask myself is this really what Christ meant? It certainly required me not to take Christ at the “plain sense” of His words in John 6, never mind the interpretive spin it required me to put on the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16! :-)

    When I researched the original language of these texts (Aramaic), I learned Christ actually said, “This my body . . . ” and “This my blood . . .”. There is no verb. Most translators insert “is” in English translations to clarify Christ’s meaning. Though at the time I accepted the Baptist theology my pastor was expressing in his interpretations of this ritual, I couldn’t help but feel the emptiness of the experience. I came to realize the bottom line of that theology meant I was essentially “communing” with my own mental processes about what I rationally “knew” about the historical events of Christ’s death and perhaps some vague feelings of remorse and guilt for my sins. That emptiness contrasted even with my experience of taking Communion in the little village Methodist Church in which I was confirmed as a middle schooler in England. There I went forward to receive and knelt at the Communion rail, bowed my head and reverently extended my palms, while the pastor (who wore clerical garb) placed first a cube of leavened bread and later the tiny glass of grape juice in my hand and in a quiet, reverent tone said, “the body of Christ broken for you . . .” and “the blood of Christ, shed for you . . .” It felt like a blessing from the hand of Christ Himself, and I felt enfolded in His love, which melted my heart. Even though the theology of that ritual in my Methodist Church was officially little different than that of my Baptist pastor decades later, even the mere fact that its pastor adhered more closely to the way Communion had always been traditionally served in the ancient liturgies of the Church provided a hint of the real meaning of what the earliest Christians understood to be the consummate ritual expression and experience of what it meant to be “in Christ,” and to be a member of His Body, i.e., as a real participation and sharing in the life of Christ Himself. It became a vehicle for me to truly experience Christ’s love. I still agree with my former Baptist pastor that the ritual of sharing in Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist is not “magical,” but according to the teaching of the NT, it is indeed in a mystical way (i.e., “in a mystery”) a real participation in Christ’s Presence and Life. And if it is not that, why bother? Communing with my own capacity to “imaginatively” remember Christ’s death brought me no life–it only left me feeling empty and bereft.

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