Who’s not a Christian?

I can recall growing up as the son of Evangelical Protestant missionaries being taught that Roman Catholics were certainly not Christians. I’m not sure whether my parents ever said that to me, but it was a marked theme in some of the preaching I heard in the various low-church Baptist and small non-denominational churches that marked my growing up years. After all, how could the Whore of Babylon be Christian? I even once recall strolling the hallways of the mission headquarters my parents worked for, overhearing one of the staff giving a tour to some visitors, describing in glowing terms how the mission was “broadcasting Christianity into a Catholic country.” I honestly do not remember the Orthodox ever being mentioned during my childhood.

When I did eventually choose to be received into the Orthodox Church during my college years, I remember being questioned by one of my Evangelical relatives: Do you still believe that Jesus is God? (Yes, of course.) Do you still believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved? (Well, yeah.) Do you have the Bible? (We came up with that!) And so on.

Perhaps one of the more vexing questions in discussions between the members of various Christian communions is the question of mutual recognition. One of the barbs occasionally thrown by those fighting the rearguard in certain sectors of Protestantism, dismayed that a handful of their former co-religionists are swimming either the Bosphorus or the Tiber, is that those converting either to Orthodoxy or Rome were now required to look upon their friends and family who remained behind as no longer Christians, second-class Christians, deficient Christians, etc. That is, this is an argument from meanness, i.e., it would just be plain mean for you to be joined with that communion, because doing so is implicitly leveling judgment on those who do not join you. (Never mind the question of whether you believe your new communion is actually true.)

But I have been led to wonder lately what exactly is the point of this desire for mutual recognition. Why exactly would, for instance, a Lutheran want me to recognize him as a Christian? Or why would a Baptist bother to wonder whether a Roman Catholic is a Christian? Why this drive for defining a communion as Christian that is, by its nature, not Christian in the way that one’s own communion is Christian?

I have been asked, for instance, whether I would consider a Baptist as a Christian. But why? Is it so he feels good? (So?) Is it so I’ll give him communion? (I can’t.) Is it so we can join together in humanitarian work? (I can do that with a Muslim.) Is it because he wants me to affirm that he believes in Jesus? (I believe someone when he says he believes in Jesus, but I don’t have to give a label to do that.) Is it because he wants me to say that he’s “saved”? (There’s a can of worms; I don’t know the answer, though, however one defines salvation.) Is it because he wants me to approve of his church? (How could I? If I really approved of his church, I would join it.) Is it because he wants to marry my daughter? (Maybe I should be rethinking gun ownership.)

Underneath all this, it seems to me, is actually a cryptic expectation that I will accept the anti-ecclesiology, that there is no one, true Church. In other words, what I am actually being asked for is an approval of a certain kind of orthodoxy, a recognition that the other guy is “in” something along with me, even though we do not commune together, do not worship together, do not have the same doctrine, and do not practice the same day-to-day spiritual life.

That said, I probably share a good bit of doctrine with those who would seem to want this mutual recognition. Most Christians in America at least formally believe in the core doctrines of Christian tradition—traditional Triadology and Christology. Our Bibles are even mostly the same. But even though I can agree with many such people on these essentials, I would not agree that they are the only essentials, nor even that doctrines and practices that are not so near the core are non-essentials.

It seems to me that the real reason why I am supposed to accept as Christian those who believe certain things is actually that I am supposed to accept the anti-ecclesiology of denominationalism, the idea that there can be multiple “denominations” (including the non-denominational denomination) of Christianity who have conflicting doctrine and practice and yet are somehow all legitimately the Body of Christ, the Church. But I don’t believe that. That presupposition is antithetical to my faith. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, not myriad, conflicting, fragmented and innovative denominations. I do not accept that there are different “brands” of Christianity. There is only the Church, and as an Orthodox Christian, I believe that that one Church is the Orthodox Church.

I also note that this sub-orthodoxy (for that is what it is) only seems to include dogmatic affirmations. Churchly practice never enters into the question. Such things are “non-essentials,” I suppose. But how could whether baptism actually contributes to salvation or merely symbolizes something, whether the Eucharist is actually the very Body and Blood of the God-man or is just a nice memorial with crackers and juice, whether worship is ordained by God to be liturgical or can be made up by some bright-idea “worship leader,” whether asceticism is training for love and humility or Pharisaical “works righteousness,” et cetera, ad nauseam, ever be “non-essential”? Since when is a caste system of the elements of Christian faith and life even hinted at in the Scripture?

In the end, I think the only purpose in defining someone else’s group as Christian is really just as a kind of shorthand, a method of grouping various communions together intellectually and as a starting point for dialogue and cooperation. I tend to use the affirmation of traditional Triadology and Christology as my touchstone in this regard, but it can’t amount to any sort of “recognition.” How could it? Doesn’t every serious Christian actually believe that the communion to which he belongs is the right one, the one that truly (or at least, best) represents what Jesus came here to teach us to live? If so, why would he want to give some sort of stamp of approval to something that is less than that, or (more likely) contradicts that? To what end?

I can affirm what I believe is true, wherever I see it. Do I have a relationship with those who confess Christ (however they do it) that is different from those who do not? Of course. But I don’t really see the point in defining out a sub-orthodoxy that makes one (officially?) “Christian,” even while I believe that true Christianity is something else, or at least, something more.

So, yes, I do think that most people who call themselves Christians are Christians. But most of them are not Orthodox Christians, which means that I believe that most of them are not believing and practicing Christianity the way that Christ gave it to His Apostles. And I fully expect that they would see me in exactly the same way, that I am not doing Christianity in the truly right way. I would not blame them if they declared I wasn’t a Christian as a result.

It all just shows that everyone draws the line somewhere. Everyone has an ecclesiology, even if it’s just the sub-orthodoxy of the anti-ecclesiology.

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66 thoughts on “Who’s not a Christian?

  1. Pingback: Who’s not a Christian? « Roads from Emmaus

  2. The good news is that more and more protestants are ceasing to self-identify as ‘Christian’ and are opting instead for terms like ‘Christ Follower’, ‘Sojourner’ and the like.

    With any luck, in a generation or two, this problem will resolve itself!

  3. Good article Fr.
    I think you are correct in your analysis. There is a similar shorthand with the question, are you saved? and a knee-jerk reaction to any statement that seems to get too far away from “we are saved by faith alone”, which is part of the Protestant lexicon at a dna level, despite its lack of Biblical backing. The hackles are raised to an alarming level when one has the temerity to suggest we are judged by our works.

    When preachers repeat the same thing for decades it becomes orthodox, even if Luther needs to amend certain texts and omit certain books entirely. Amazing that these same people see themselves as bibliophiles. Oi vey!

  4. Fr. Stephen,

    I am a recent convert and a former Anglican priest who discovered Orthodoxy one day while researching a sermon. Not that I did not know about Orthodoxy, I did. However, what I knew had little to do with it as it truly is. All I really knew about it is that it was mystical, ancient, and Greek or Russian, very Greek or very Russian. I also knew that the Orthodox perceived themselves to be the one true church. That bothered me. Why? Because, it meant that if they were right, then my status in Christ was somehow less than it should be. I knew that I believed in Christ, that I trusted the Lord, and yet I also knew that my expression of Christianity (Anglicanism) had many flaws in it, and that claim of the Orthodox rocked my boat.

    It is here that the rubber hits the road. It seems that one of the reasons that every Christian wants every other Christian to affirm their Christianity is so that they can be comforted in the midst of the heresy, schism, and general mayhem that exists in their denomination. A nod of acceptability calms the worries caused by the concerns brought about by the obvious.

    Carlos M.

  5. Pingback: Ontological Categories and How They Bind Us | The Life of Meaning

  6. I’d stopped attending any church for some time before beginning to visit an Orthodox Church. It took me several weeks to begin to allow myself to think of Orthodoxy as “Christian” because of how wonderful it was and how awful the connotations to that word had become for me!

  7. I think what is interesting in discussions like this is Matthew Gallatin’s point in “Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells,” namely that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus.

    If this is a relationship with the person Jesus, the risen Lord and Savior, then the efforts of people to try and have this “sub-orthodox” identity is problematic because it is based on a belief system. It looks at the Faith and tries to find common ground between belief systems, which ultimately will break down.

    This is because either Jesus established Holy Tradition or He did not. Either Jesus allows babies to be baptized or He does not. Either Jesus foreordains everything or He does not. This means that all of the various communions actually have different versions of Jesus.

    If Christ cannot be divided, He certainly does not have multiple personality disorder either.

    • Steve,

      Yes, Gallatin hits the nail on the head, and drives is deep. The Church is theanthropic reality, not mere dogma. Western Christians have, for the most part, reduced Christianity to a cast-system of doctrinal propositions. This sort of “christianity” has proved very dangerous.

  8. Very true and well thought out post Fr. Andrew. Im never sure how to aproach this situation since my family including my wife and children are still protestant.

    • God bless you. I’m a catechumen whose wife is not interested. Besides feeling alone because my spouse is not with me on my journey, it is also disheartening to be in a very ethnic parish which doesn’t seem very supportive of the faith so much as willing to preserve ethnic pride.

      Pray for me, I am a sinner.

      • While it seems difficult now, believe me you are blessed and miles ahead of myself. If you read, I recommend the book “Reflections of a Humble Heart” and other books like it to help maintain a positive perspective!

  9. The Church is theanthropic reality…”

    It could not be otherwise. Why would Christ come to establish an invisible Church? The very nature of the Incarnation opposes such thinking. And yet, multiple denominations advance this hypothesis (although they wouldn’t call it such) in order to affirm thier own validity and the validity of various communions.

    The problem, however, becomes complicated when applied in actual, real life situations. Where should one attend church in order to worship Christ? If all churches “Christian” are valid, then does it matter? If the Church is invisible, then there must be true Christians in all of these communities. But if they are invisible, who can actually know who they are? If the Church is invisible, then the body of Christ must be invisible as well. Where then, pray tell me, do I find an actual flesh and blood Christian? I know, I’m analyzing this to the nth degree. But think about it, what was the point of Christ coming in the flesh only to establish an invisible entity? Why not just communicate through mental telepathy to His creation without ever having to take on a body? Why bother with such details as becoming man, living as a human being, publicly dying for the human race, publicly ascending into Heaven, only to disappear and leave the faith amibiguous, disguised, and imperceptible?

    I know, I know…this is where some will contend that this is why God gave us the Bible, hence Sola Scriptura. And futhermore, they will contend that the Bible is self-interpreting. So then, how exactly does this invisible Church fit into this paradigm? If the Bible is self-interpreting, then why do I need a/the Church? All I really need is the Bible. The Church becomes relagated to a nice, but unnecessary appendage.

    Ok. I’m done with this for now before my brain brain contorts like a pretzel trapped in a taffy pull machine.

  10. Pingback: Who’s not a Christian? « Tipsy Teetotaler

    • Alright, here’s my response:

      How does the Bible delineate salvation? “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the Dead, you will be saved.”

      So, based on that (and there are more verses), we can fairly clearly define whether or not one is saved or not. There is the “Saved” group and the “Unsaved” group. I’m not going to speak for all Protestants, but that’s quite enough of a delineation for most of the ones I know.

      In Mark Chapter 9, Christ tells John that anyone who does great works in Christ’s name will not be able to speak ill of Christ, and that whoever isn’t against Christ is for Christ.

      I don’t necessarily agree with Calvinists, nor do I agree with parts of the “Praying to saints” thing that the Odox and RCC have, but as long as they’re saved as per Romans 10:9, then it’s not a matter relevant to my pay grade to draw lines around churches, doctrines, rites, or hats.

      That’s what it always keeps coming back to to me. Christ said a lot about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and taking care of widows and orphans, and I don’t think we should even start bothering to draw lines through the “Saved” group until we’ve finished doing the things Christ told us to do.

  11. I posted this on my FB and some interesting convo came from it. One person wrote: “I think it sounds like fighting because if you believe you have the right way, doesn’t that imply you think everyone else’s way is wrong?” In practical terms, if people do not believe in the existence of truth, what is your response, Fr. Andrew?

      • If there is no truth, then by default there can be no error- why then bother refuting anything at all, everything must be OK always. By the way that means genocide, torture, starvation, &c…

      • That’s a fair sentiment, but these people aren’t home with the nachos. They are engaging us. Many of them are curious or searching, though they don’t all realize it. I suspect that many people who pose the questions you are talking about in your post are feeling a push from their consciences. That puts the Orthodox Christian in a weighty spot. Saying “yeah, sure” or shrugging when someone asserts that there are many paths is an error I’ve committed many times out of vainglory. Trying not to rock the boat. Trouble is, the boat rocks when you pull someone in who has fallen overboard. Hard conversations.

        • Yes, well, my point is that, if someone doesn’t believe in any truth at all, why is he engaging? My guess is that he actually does believe in truth. Someone who genuinely doesn’t believe in truth can have essentially two options—nachos or suicide. He certainly wouldn’t be bothering to ask any questions, because he thinks all answers will be false, anyway.

    • There’s a difference between “fighting” and “arguing,” as well. Both aren’t bad. But really, if someone is concerned that SOMEONE has to be “wrong” about things, well … that’s life. They were raised poorly.

  12. Reblogged this on The Ruminations of a Orthodox Catechumen and commented:
    “So, yes, I do think that most people who call themselves Christians are Christians. But most of them are not Orthodox Christians, which means that I believe that most of them are not believing and practicing Christianity the way that Christ gave it to His Apostles. And I fully expect that they would see me in exactly the same way, that I am not doing Christianity in the truly right way. I would not blame them if they declared I wasn’t a Christian as a result.

    It all just shows that everyone draws the line somewhere. Everyone has an ecclesiology, even if it’s just the sub-orthodoxy of the anti-ecclesiology.”

  13. @readerjohn – Here arrives the Protestant to leave a comment.
    I was raised in a Protestant church which gave me an excellent start on Biblical knowledge and a community of caring Christ followers. When I meet any new person I want to know where they stand. Are they a Christ follower or not? If not, I hope that they should soon start following Christ. I understand that there is one God, one faith, one baptism. There is the truth of the Gospel and someone either is or is not a follower of Christ. You’re essentially saying “who cares about mutual recognition, because I am already recognized”. Sure if you are inside a fence, it doesn’t make sense to categorize the masses outside the fence. For myself and the rest of my community, according to you, we are not recognized. From this and a few other articles i have read today what i have is a slap in the face and a declaration that my faith is invalid. For me its not even a question of whether Roman Catholics or pentecostals or lutherans or orthodox recognize each other. You follow Christ, so do I, and you just pushed me outside your fence with what feels like the hand of an arrogant authoritarian. Your statements are well presented, but all I hear is “I’m glad i’m not one of those crazy protestants anymore.”

    • Your statements are well presented, but all I hear is “I’m glad i’m not one of those crazy protestants anymore.”

      I can imagine why you might feel that way, but since no one actually wrote that (and I certainly wouldn’t say that), what do you think of what’s actually being stated here? If you want Orthodox Christians to recognize you as a true Christian, why? And if you recognize Orthodox Christians as truly being Christians, why? To what purpose? What is actually being accomplished by this mutual recognition?

  14. Very well thought out and well said. This article could perfectly sum up my perspective if you switched out Orthodox for Catholic. Also just found out that there’s an orthodox equivalent to swimming the Tiber.

    Perhaps the funniest thing is how your blog loves to use big-O Orthodox and little-c catholic, whereas mine uses the opposite: little-o orthodoxy, big-C Catholic. How strange.

    orthodoxcatholicism.com

    • Fr. Andrew is attentive to detail my friend!

      There is an important reason to distinguish Big O “Orthodox” from little o “orthodox” and Big C “Catholic” from little c “catholic.” Those four words mean four entirely different things!

      “Orthodox” (Big O) – Referring here to the Eastern Orthodox Church itself, as in saying, “Father Andrew is an Orthodox Christian.”

      “orthodox” (little o) – Literally translated from the Greek (Fr. Andrew can catch me on this one if I am off a bit) as “right or correct teaching.” Little o “orthodox” is itself, speaking of definitions, the opposite of “heresy” (incorrect/wrong teaching). This word “orthodox” might be used as in saying, “The orthodox teaching of the person of Christ is that he is one person in two natures, without division, separation, change, or confusion.”

      “Catholic” (Big C) – Referring to the Catholic Church itself led by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). Used itself as in saying, “The Catholic Church’s stance on contraceptives might differ from the Orthodox Church’s stance.” (note the Big O Orthodox use there too!)

      “catholic” (little c) – This one is often misunderstood and it drives me bonkers when I see historians incorrectly refer to the early Church as the Catholic (Big C) Church when in reality, it is appropriate to refer to the early, undivided Church, as “catholic” (small c) which itself literally means “the universal body or Church.” – Technically in that sense, all Orthodox can be catholic (small c) in the sense that they belong to the same undivided Church (the big O Orthodox Church).

      So as you can see, word choice is very important when talking about Orthodox/orthodox and Catholic/catholic!

      Cheers! :)

  15. I recognize Orthodox Christians because you are being true to the Apostolic example that has come before you. I ask you to recognize me because we ought to be brothers in Christ, but it would seem that you condemn me due to Orthodox confession that I have not received the Holy Spirit since i lack an anointing with oil following my baptism.
    The righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Faith comes from hearing. The word of Christ is before me; in him my faith is found. I have confessed with my mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, believed in my heart that God raised him from the dead, and have been baptized and He has reconciled me. Now I live by the Spirit.
    What is being accomplished by mutual recognition? supporting one another in prayer, encouragement, loving one another, bearing each others burdens as any community of believers would do.
    what is being accomplished by your exclusion?

    • Well, see, there isn’t an exclusion. There’s actually an invitation. The Orthodox want you (and everyone else) within the community of Orthodoxy. If there is an exclusion, it’s by those who prefer not to become part of the community (and historically, it’s self-exclusion which creates schism and apostasy). Why folks would want external recognition from a community whose faith they reject doesn’t make much sense to me.

      Your second paragraph seems to be a kind of mini-creed asserting your definition of what constitutes true Christianity. But for many (indeed, most) Christians, their communions teach that much more is involved. So asserting that is really just throwing another hat into the ring. But it’s not the Orthodox hat, nor the Roman Catholic hat, nor Lutheran, etc. But if you insist that we take up that hat, it’s really just insisting that we put our own down. As I wrote in the article, you’re just expecting that we accept your ecclesiology and forget our own. I’m fine with it, of course, since I would expect that you would want everyone to believe what you believe (as do I), but we can’t really think of that as mutual recognition. It’s a call to conversion.

      In any event, prayer, encouragement, love, etc., are all possible without giving a formal imprimatur on someone else’s faith. That is, such things do not require placing a stamp of legitimacy on another person or community who reject the faith of the one in question.

      But I think it’s disingenuous to refer to groups of people who worship separately and differently, believe differently, and practice spiritual life differently as a “community.” How is that community? Community is a mutual life, but there isn’t one in the realm of “mutual recognition.”

  16. There are more nations in the world than the U.S. Baptists of the United States who do not really seem to resemble Protestants in the rest of the world. The U.S Anglicans you mention are not quite like those in other countries The Anglican Communion is very large and nationally diverse.. It’s doctrines are diverse too so one is not like another.
    It does not seem to cross the mind of your contributors that Orthodox Churches are not easily found everywhere. and it is not so easy to join them anyway because they are the churches of refugees or immigrants and naturally exclusive.
    This is the World Wide Web so perhaps you can consider favouring the rest of us with your valuable teachings, which I read with great interest. though I find this British site very useful too. for some one who is chrismated but without a church congregation to belong to .http://www.aidanorthodox.co.uk

    • It is true that there are some places where Orthodox churches are quite far away. There are at least two solutions to this problem: Either missionaries must be sent or you have to relocate to be near a parish. Neither option is crazy and has been done many times. If either sounds crazy, then perhaps (and this may be a hard saying) it is time to reconsider one’s priorities, especially vis-à-vis the Final Judgment.

      As for Orthodox churches being dominated by immigrants intent on ethnic exclusivity, that is true in some places, but very much not so in others. My own parish is quite multi-ethnic, and English is the language of worship.

      While it is true that inward-looking congregations are discouraging to potential converts, and they ought to do what they can to welcome those not of their “kind,” I also encourage potential converts to enter in, anyway. After all, if they are convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy, why should some off-putting people prevent them? So yes, the walls need to be taken down, but sometimes you have to just go ahead and climb over them. There are certainly plenty of examples of people who have done so.

      • Dear Mavis Wood,

        Please know this is from a former cradle Episcopalian. There are many of us here in Orthodoxy waiting to welcome you!

        I thought the same thing and kept in darkness for 30 years! It was truly demonic as I eventually found an Orthodox Church (St. Barnabas, Costa Mesa, CA). Not ‘found’ exactly. The Holy Spirit tired of using finesse on me and basically took me by the arm to the doorstep of The Church. We AREN’T ethnic and a bunch of immigrants!!! It’s a lie from he who lies. There are all sorts of parishes around that are converted in their entirety.

        Please read:

        There are many more parishes than are in this book. There are many more books than this one.

        Good luck!

  17. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”

    My husband and I are converts to Orthodoxy, and aside from the beauty, symbolism and depth of the church, one of the main attractants was that the Orthodox church we experienced wasn’t bashing other faiths or waving flags as the one and only way… (for the record I was raised non-practicing Catholic, and later attended a presbyterian church, after years of abandoning Christianity altogether, my husband briefly attended a Unitarian church for a couple of years, but that was largely it.)

    I can know what I “believe” to be true, but I cannot “know” the mind of God or how he works in the lives of individuals and in their individual hearts.

    You would have a hard time convincing me that Mother Theresa, MLK, Jr, Ghandi, a devout Anabaptist, evangelical or what not who has truly received Christ and lived their lives according to his word is going to burn in hell because they are not Orthodox.

    I do not see why we should not pray for all christians, pray for and love ALL people (it is the sick who need a physician, not the well) and be willing to work with and embrace members of other denominations despite doctrinal differences as a community of christians. That doesn’t mean we have to serve them communion; but it does mean when someone reaches out to us, it’s probably best to walk in love and avoid sounding flippant by mentioning nachos.

    I am not ignorant or unaware of the darts flung from all sides about who is Christian; who is not….but that doesn’t make it right; and that is why the non-christian portion of the world is apathetic and growing “look at them,” they say, “they can’t even get along amongst themselves….”

    I can tell you without hesitation if I had read this discussion early on (and I discussed this at length with my husband) and he wholeheartedly agreed; we probably would have passed Orthodoxy by.

    There is a point in any religion where doctrine, legalism, and theology steps in between the church and an individual. One loses sight of the feet of the master which is where we should be….

    This article and the following discussion leaves me asking….. am I in the right church?

    • You would have a hard time convincing me that Mother Theresa, MLK, Jr, Ghandi, a devout Anabaptist, evangelical or what not who has truly received Christ and lived their lives according to his word is going to burn in hell because they are not Orthodox.

      Nor would I try to convince you of that, because I do not believe it. It’s also not what I wrote.

      I do not see why we should not pray for all christians, pray for and love ALL people (it is the sick who need a physician, not the well) and be willing to work with and embrace members of other denominations despite doctrinal differences as a community of christians.

      Of course!

      There is a point in any religion where doctrine, legalism, and theology steps in between the church and an individual. One loses sight of the feet of the master which is where we should be….

      This strikes me as a false dichotomy. While I don’t go in for legalism (nor would I preach it), doctrine and theology are simply the manual for knowing God, the path to living the life that the Church sets out for us. At the Master’s feet, what do people hear? It is His teachings. That’s all that doctrine literally means, and theology is just another way of speaking of the same thing.

      It seems to me that you read this article—which was about the problems of demanding mutual “recognition” between bodies that do not worship together, do not believe the same things, and generally do not know each other—and came away with this message: “Anyone who is not formally part of the Orthodox Church is damned and going to Hell.”

      But that’s not what this piece was about, nor do I believe such a thing.

      You ask whether you are in the right church—if you are Orthodox, of course you are. There really is only one Church, and that’s the Orthodox Church. Affirming the uniqueness of the Church is right there in our Creed, so, yes, you do have to believe it if you want to be an Orthodox Christian.

      But believing that doesn’t mean that we damn the rest of humanity to Hell. Indeed, only God can do that, and He hasn’t given us to know whether the rest of humanity is damned, nor has He even given us to know with absolute certainty in this life whether we ourselves are saved or damned. So if I cannot say such things with absolute certainty regarding Orthodox Christians, how can I say such things about anyone else?

      It is one thing to say, “This is the one Path,” and another entirely to say, “Everyone who appears at this very moment to be following the one Path are the only ones who will reach the Destination.” We can’t know that. Some will get off the Path. Some will get on it. Some will exit from the Path right before the Destination. Some will get on it right before the Destination. Some will have been following it and reach the Destination without knowing it. Some will think they are on the Path and yet not be anywhere near it.

      The Church is an article of faith for us as Orthodox Christians: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Who exactly will constitute the full makeup of the Church is not something we can really know until the end of time.

      • I’m sorry but this statement: “But I think it’s disingenuous to refer to groups of people who worship separately and differently, believe differently, and practice spiritual life differently as a “community.” How is that community? Community is a mutual life, but there isn’t one in the realm of “mutual recognition,”

        and your apparent acceptance of this statement: “I do not see why we should not pray for all christians, pray for and love ALL people (it is the sick who need a physician, not the well) and be willing to work with and embrace members of other denominations despite doctrinal differences as a COMMUNITY of christians.”

        “Of course!” (your quote from above)

        appears in conflict with one another.

        Secondly, let’s rephrase the question; you can’t say what God has in store for non-orthodox, but you can affirm they are not really Christians or at least “on the wrong path.” So in a hypothetical meeting with Mother Theresa, MLK, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or the Amish man at the market you can comfortably say to them; “You are not really a Christian.” Or at least not the right kind, or right path, what-not. You can “know” that much of God’s plan, but not “know” what he has in store for them. Forget Ghandi, he can’t even come to the table, he’s not a Christian at all. Incidentally, Ghandi initially felt Christ was the way to salvation; and because of the segreated, racist and icy cold response he received from “the church” he turned his back on Christianity, but not on Christ. It is that kind of experience in a “Christian Church” of any denomination that sends people away. Can you imagine had that NOT happened? Can you imagine had he been embraced and treated as Christ had designated his disciples to treat others the massive conversion that would have taken place in India? Millions of people??? But no; there was no love for him as a fellow human being.

        (http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/no-2-religion-yes-2-faith/2011/mar/31/gandhi-glimpsed-christ-rejected-christianity-false/)

        Lastly, nowhere in your response did you mention the word love… which I believe, was the core of Christ’s message. Indeed it was his parting message to us; to love one another as he loved (his disciples). Sometimes things unsaid speak louder than things said.

        On my final question, Father, electronic communication makes it hard to communicate feeling and inflection; and really the question was for myself. And if your answer is to be taken literally;

        “You ask whether you are in the right church—if you are Orthodox, of course you are. There really is only one Church, and that’s the Orthodox Church. Affirming the uniqueness of the Church is right there in our Creed, so, yes, you do have to believe it if you want to be an Orthodox Christian.”

        Than no, sadly, I am not in the right church at all.

        • Madam, forgive me, but I’m honestly not really sure how to converse with someone who seems intent on making me say things I’m not saying. How can I respond? Isn’t it best to let someone speak for himself regarding what he believes?

          In the interests of clarity, though, I’ll try.

          You write that I contradict myself in agreeing with your statement, “I do not see why we should not pray for all christians, pray for and love ALL people (it is the sick who need a physician, not the well) and be willing to work with and embrace members of other denominations despite doctrinal differences as a COMMUNITY of christians,” because I wrote, “But I think it’s disingenuous to refer to groups of people who worship separately and differently, believe differently, and practice spiritual life differently as a ‘community.’ How is that community? Community is a mutual life, but there isn’t one in the realm of ‘mutual recognition.'”

          We’re clearly using the word community differently here, and I gather that your objection to the harmony between those two statements turns on that. In my statement, I am using community to refer to people who really do share a common life—worshiping, believing and practicing spiritual life together. When I read you write that “we should pray,” for all people, etc., “as a COMMUNITY of christians,” I took you to mean that the “community” is the Orthodox, who should be loving and praying for all people (everyone else). I see now that perhaps you meant “community” to refer to everyone who says he’s a Christian. If that’s the case, then, of course, we in some sense disagree, but I nevertheless will agree that I can love all people together with Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, etc. Why not?

          But it still doesn’t make real sense to me to refer to people who don’t actually share a common life as a “community.” But we can of course be “grouped” with such people.

          The article was about “mutual recognition,” though—which assumes distance and separation, not common life.

          You also write: you can affirm they are not really Christians or at least “on the wrong path.” So in a hypothetical meeting with Mother Theresa, MLK, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or the Amish man at the market you can comfortably say to them; “You are not really a Christian.” Or at least not the right kind, or right path, what-not. You can “know” that much of God’s plan, but not “know” what he has in store for them.

          Again, that’s not what I said at all. Indeed, I actually did say that I use the term Christian to refer to pretty much anyone who affirms the central dogmas of traditional Christianity. But what this article is at least partly about is what the term Christian actually is for. You seem to intend it only to mean “those who will be saved,” but that’s not how I’m using it, nor does one really find warrant for that definition in the Scriptures or in Christian history. But when you see my ambiguity regarding the term, you appear to be taking it as a statement of damnation on my part. But it’s not.

          Forget Ghandi, he can’t even come to the table, he’s not a Christian at all. Incidentally, Ghandi initially felt Christ was the way to salvation; and because of the segreated, racist and icy cold response he received from “the church” he turned his back on Christianity, but not on Christ.

          Yes, it’s true that he had some nice things to say about Christ, but while I wouldn’t presume to know whether Gandhi is in Heaven or not, I can at least say that, while in this life, Gandhi certainly didn’t consider himself a Christian. He was a Hindu—born, lived and died that way. So I doubt he would even have wanted to be called a Christian.

          Lastly, nowhere in your response did you mention the word love… which I believe, was the core of Christ’s message. Indeed it was his parting message to us; to love one another as he loved (his disciples). Sometimes things unsaid speak louder than things said.

          For what it’s worth, the argument from silence really is a classic logical fallacy. You infer that because I didn’t explicitly use the word love in my response that I must not have any. But I might also respond that you didn’t mention the Trinity or the Incarnation—do you not believe in those doctrines? You didn’t mention the Eucharist, the episcopacy, the creation ex nihilo by God, the Holy Spirit, etc., etc. Glaring omissions? Or just not necessarily what exactly was being discussed?

          Of course it is incumbent upon me and other Orthodox Christians to love absolutely everyone, whatever they call themselves or would like to be called. But, as the great Florovsky once said, love should never be held in opposition to truth. Truth and love always go together. It is not loving to pretend something is true when it is not. Saying that there is only one true Church and that God has revealed the Way to eternal life, and that it is that one true Church does not mean that I don’t love those who disagree, any more than it means that Christ’s claim to be the exclusive Way to the Father means that He didn’t love those who disagreed with Him and even rejected Him.

          In any event, as I said above, you seem convinced that the purpose of my piece (and indeed, apparently what is even in my heart) is actually hatred and rejection of those who disagree. So I’m not sure that anything I write in response will be read any other way. But I’m at least trying to explain here what my point actually is. I can say that it’s not what you’ve been saying, i.e., that I regard all non-Orthodox as non-Christians and therefore damned. (Especially because I don’t equate “Christian” with “saved.”)

          In sum, my point is this: Between various groups of people who do not worship together, do not believe the same things, and do not practice the same spiritual life, there can indeed be a certain commonality, but what exactly that commonality is is very hard to define, because the diversity is so pronounced. Christ gave His Apostles only one Way. When people changed that Way and make other ways, how can you say that they’re the same Way? They’re just not. All Christians of whatever stripe at least implicitly say that about each other: Roman Catholics believe that Orthodox and Protestants are not fully following the Christian faith as God revealed it. Protestants look at each other and at RCs and Orthodox and say the same thing. And so on. Why these various groups would want some kind of recognition from people they themselves regard as being (at best) incomplete in their faith and probably heretical makes no sense. Every faith group has the right and freedom to define for itself what the true version of its life and teachings is. Why should they want validation from outside their group?

          You finally write: On my final question, Father, electronic communication makes it hard to communicate feeling and inflection; and really the question was for myself. And if your answer is to be taken literally;

          “You ask whether you are in the right church—if you are Orthodox, of course you are. There really is only one Church, and that’s the Orthodox Church. Affirming the uniqueness of the Church is right there in our Creed, so, yes, you do have to believe it if you want to be an Orthodox Christian.”

          Than no, sadly, I am not in the right church at all.

          I mean no offense, but I sincerely hope that the Church’s uniqueness was communicated to you during catechism, i.e., before your conversion. That said, though, is the “right church” the one that is “right for you,” or is it the one that is right in God’s eyes? There certainly is no hint in the Scripture or the writings of the Fathers that God approves of multiple, divided, contradicting denominations all claiming to be the same one Church. As such, the question I ask myself is not whether the Church is right for me, but whether I will do what is right, even if I don’t like it.

          God bless you. I’m sorry for any hurt that what is written here has caused you. But at the same time, this really is the truth, and it’s what Orthodoxy has believed for 2000 years. Love always tells the truth.

          • Father; I certainly do not mean to offend and I appreciate clarification; and yes, we are defining thing differently; I use the word community to define a community of christians; i.e. anyone who accepted christ as their lord and savior…. (and yes, I do define the term Christian as exactly that; someone who is indeed saved.)

            What I find hardest to swallow is that people/denominations focus on differences not similarities; and I am well aware that other faiths discount, insult and even revile other faiths as being wrong or downright cults…. but creating bridges to understanding begins with finding our similarities, not what separates us.

            Considering that a goodly chunk of my point in the original post involved love, not seeing the word mentioned in your response seemed a glaring omission (as a representative of the church, not as a comment on your own personal beliefs.).

            In contemplation I realize that when I say “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church…” that to me means all christians who have truly accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, the “universal” church; not just the “Orthodox Church,” that god willing will someday heal it’s differences and be a whole body again…

            In the end when I have questions, I do not look to what anyone else has written but rather to the actual recorded words of Christ himself in the four synoptic gospels, along with the ten commandments… Christ said the only way to the Father was through him; and if someone has accepted him; truly and with their whole heart and are practicing his word as it is written; I cannot believe or accept that they are not also part of a legitimate church simply because of doctrinal differences.

            That very likely makes me not Orthodox afterall, perhaps even a heretic in the eyes of the church; I don’t know.

            God bless you as well and thank you for your patience.

            • Christ’s Apostle Paul (whom He called a “chosen vessel” in Acts 9:15) had very strong words for those who preached “another Gospel,” even commanding that such people be cast out from the Church community. (Mind you, he is referring to those who take it on themselves to teach this to others and refuse to repent when given the chance, not merely those who happen to have fluid or confused opinions.) Doctrine really does matter. If it didn’t, why would Christ and His Apostles spend so much time teaching it and carefully making sure they they appointed others who would preserve true doctrine for the Church? Christ said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He did not say that He was merely an object of acceptance and dedication.

              It is good of course to read the Scriptures for answers to your questions, but I might suggest you also keep in mind that interpreting the Scriptures is no easy or obvious thing. And indeed, the Church that produced, compiled and canonized the Scriptures is the only proper context in which to interpret them. Otherwise, all we have is our private opinions, which can very easily be wrong.

            • After responding to this; I have to let this go, but I speak to it for the others reading it and because I believe it is wrong not to. It is precisely this kind of thinking that drove thousands away from the church to begin with starting with Martin Luther….. that only seminary graduates and church fathers can truly interpret scripture. Christ spoke in simple terms to illiterate people. He met for everyone to understand it, and to have it speak to them with the help of the holy spirit.

              I mentioned Ghandi not in the context of whether or not he went to heaven; but because he is a shining example of a missed opportunity for Christianity to “be a light unto the world.”

              My entire point of responding to this post at all is to highlight what may be causing Orthodoxy (and/or other churches) to be a stumbling block to those who may be seeking to let Christ into their lives. That to me is a worse sin than doctrinal disagreements; possibly turning someone away from God.

            • Again, forgive me, but you are responding to things I did not say. I nowhere said that “only seminary graduates and church fathers can truly interpret scripture.” When I said that Scripture is only properly interpreted within the context of the Church, that refers to the whole of the Orthodox Church, the full tradition which Christ gave to His Apostles and they passed on to succeeding generations. The Church is not only seminary graduates or the Church Fathers, but the whole community of Orthodoxy together in Christ.

              It is true that Christ spoke simply, but even in His own time, there were people who misinterpreted His words. Scripture does not interpret itself, and the multiplicity of competing Protestant denominations is proof that a free-for-all approach to its interpretation leads only to division. It is true, of course, that the Holy Spirit does help people to understand the Bible, but it’s also true that people who contradict each other all claim to have the same Holy Spirit. They can’t all be right. For more on why the Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”) really does not work and is not even supported by the Bible itself, I very much recommend this article.

              As for whether the Church’s uniqueness is a “stumbling block to those who may be seeking to let Christ into their lives,” I can say from personal experience that it is actually far more attractive to me to know that I have finally found Christ’s Church than to have to wander all my days wondering whether I ever really can begin the process of knowing the Truth. If there is no true Church, how can we even trust the Bible, which was put together by the Church over the course of three centuries?

  18. I feel sorry for arrogant Orthodox who think no one is a Christian but them, and that they and only they are the true church. And if we had a time machine and went back to the time of the Apostles, I think that all of us would find that no one today does church like the Apostles did.

    • Which is more arrogant—to believe what your tradition has taught for 2000 years, or to “feel sorry” for those who do so?

      In any event, I didn’t write (nor does the Orthodox Church teach) that “no one is a Christian but [the Orthodox].” I do believe, however, that only the Orthodox Church is truly the Church. Why? Because various groups over time have broken off with new teachings. Do the people who remain faithful to what they received in the beginning somehow forfeit their identity because others were unfaithful? That makes no sense.

      As for “no one today [doing] church like the Apostles did,” if it really is the case that their faith and their spiritual life truly has died out, then why should we not follow Joseph Smith or the Buddha or Sun Myung Moon? Theological agnosticism leaves us in a rather sad and lonely place, a place in which the Incarnation actually had no real lasting effect. The faith “delivered once for all to the saints” has been lost, and with it is lost any hope.

      I prefer instead to believe that the Apostles’ mission succeeded.

      • No one said the teaching of the apostles has died out. And where do you get the notion that we are theological agnostics? Yes, the Apostles mission succeeded. I believe that too, but not just in your Church, but in mine too and in others. I ask you as I have asked other Orthodox without getting an answer, what do you make of Luke 49-50?

        49 Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.”

        I interpret this as an ecumenical statement.

        Personally, I see a lot of Orthodox from the Eastern Church quoting their national saints, but few quotes from the Bible.

        My opinion is that if you keep defending your Church as the only true Church, there will never be complete unity in the Church. And I believe there can be unity, but not if you hold on to this erroneous notion that yours is the only true Church.

        There are many who belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church who do not have the identical culture and customs of the Orthodox. And when you get right down to it, that is what you are advocating, that everyone take up your culture and customs. You will deny this, but I believe it is true. I believe there is only one church, as there is only one body, but just as does the body, it has many parts made of different cultures and customs.

        Lastly, when we meet in Heaven, will our differing opinions matter anyway?

        • I ask you as I have asked other Orthodox without getting an answer, what do you make of Luke 49-50? 49 Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” I interpret this as an ecumenical statement.

          One of my rules for discussion with those with whom I disagree theologically is that I cannot assume that they’ve not actually read the whole Bible. So, “gotcha” Bible verses really are kind of pointless. Don’t you think that the Orthodox actually have an interpretation for every single verse of the book that they wrote, compiled, canonized and copied for centuries?

          In any event, I’m surprised that the Orthodox people you’ve put that question to seem to stand dumbfounded that the Lord’s admonition not to forbid exorcisms in His name performed by people who were not (yet?) with the Apostles is properly interpreted an endorsement for the founding of new, schismatic denominations based on new teachings concerning the Christian faith. You interpret it as an ecumenical statement, but that’s quite the stretch, since “ecumenism” is quite far from the Lord’s vision of a single Church—one flock, one Shepherd, one baptism, one faith, etc.

          Personally, I see a lot of Orthodox from the Eastern Church quoting their national saints, but few quotes from the Bible.

          I must therefore assume that you’ve never attended any of our services.

          My opinion is that if you keep defending your Church as the only true Church, there will never be complete unity in the Church. And I believe there can be unity, but not if you hold on to this erroneous notion that yours is the only true Church.

          There can also be unity by a universal return to Orthodoxy. In any event, from the point of view of historic Christianity, there already is unity. Because Christ cannot be divided, there cannot be divisions within the Church, but only from the Church.

          There are many who belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church who do not have the identical culture and customs of the Orthodox. And when you get right down to it, that is what you are advocating, that everyone take up your culture and customs. You will deny this, but I believe it is true.

          Another of my personal rules for theological disagreements is to let people speak for themselves what their beliefs are. So, yes, I do indeed deny that Orthodoxy would base unity with the Church on “culture and customs.” Rather, there must be one Lord, one faith, and one baptism—history shows that this means a single faith and a single communion. Those who deliberately remain in schism from the Church essentially deny that there can indeed be one of any of these, but would prefer to pretend that many is in fact one. It’s not.

          Lastly, when we meet in Heaven, will our differing opinions matter anyway?

          I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in opinion. I’m interested in the truth. And yes, in the age to come, whether we believed in the truth or distorted it will indeed matter. Whether we unite with Christ’s Church or set up shop separately on our own will indeed matter. It will matter far more for those who do so deliberately, since they know better.

          • I think the Orthodox do know and interpret the Bible, but so do people of other cultures and customs.

            I did not intend the Bible quote as a “gotcha.” Please don’t make assumptions about me when you do not know.

            I think the verses that I quoted were ecumenical and that Jesus was, in essence, saying that varying culture and customs are OK.

            I did not say that the Orthodox to whom I put that question were dumbfounded. You misquote me. I said I got no response.

            I did not say anything about the statement being an endorsement for schism. I do not think that varying culture and custom constitutes schism. One can have one flock, one shepherd, one faith, etc. with varying culture and customs.

            I have attended orthodox service and I wasn’t referring to liturgy with Bible quotes; I was referring to discussions like the one we are having.

            There can be unity by universal return to Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism or any denomination, but I do not advocate that. There can be unity with varying culture and customs. It is that unity that I advocate. And I think that Paul advocated the same and Peter agreed. You can’t get much more Apostolic than that.

            I let you speak for yourself, but you tend to misquote me and make false assumptions about me. You seem to have many personal rules, which seems to me to be characteristic of your Orthodoxy.

            I think you are incorrect is thinking that history shows that this means a single faith and a single communion.

            I pretend no more than you do when you say that the Orthodox is the only true Church. Furthermore, I think you are mistaken to think that anyone except Othodox is in schism.

            You accuse others of distorting the truth, but I and others think your truth is not the truth of Jesus, but your own culture-centric, custom-centric and ego-centric truth.

            You accuse people falsely and you border on judging my salvation, which Jesus speaks against. Only God can judge my salvation, not you.

            You are so certain that you and only you have the truth. Well, whether you believe it or not, the truth is that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins so that we might have everlasting life with God.

            I think you will feel compelled to post a disagreement to what I have written here. But there is no reason for me to continue to respond. I won’t change my mind, nor will I change yours. We will have to agree to disagree. And I will still consider you as my neighbor and, hopefully, you will consider me as yours.

            • I did not say that the Orthodox to whom I put that question were dumbfounded. You misquote me. I said I got no response.

              But that’s exactly what dumbfounded means!

              I have attended orthodox service and I wasn’t referring to liturgy with Bible quotes; I was referring to discussions like the one we are having.

              Well, then I have to confess that your sampling leaves something to be desired. It seems that the Orthodox people you know don’t know anything in particular about the Bible. But wouldn’t it make more sense to judge Orthodoxy by the people who actually are exemplars of what the Orthodox faith teaches, rather than the people who aren’t actually behaving very Orthodox?

              As for the rest, well, it’s essentially just a series of assertions of what you think and how you feel. You are of course free to think or feel what you wish, but I don’t think you’ve made any converts to your preferred ecclesiology with your lead-in of insisting that Orthodox Christians are arrogant simply for affirming what they’ve believed for 2000 years—and indeed, what nearly every Christian group believed about itself until fairly recently. The onus of proof that a change to denominationalist ecclesiology is necessary is on those who endorse such a radical shift in Christian doctrine.

              As for whether I have the truth, I will be quite clear that I do not. But Orthodoxy is the fullness of the truth, given once for all to the saints by Christ Himself. I endeavor to live up to it, though I do so badly.

  19. I was Baptized, nurtured, taught the faith, and Confirmed in an Anglo-Catholic part of the Episcopal Church. That Church, of course, no longer teaches or practices what it taught me. As we say in Texas, “Dance with the one who brung you.” I tried. Now I am faced with choosing a new Bride (either Orthodoxy or Catholicism) or remaining partnered with the unfaithful lover or my youth.

    That FACT is, I find true faith declared in both the Orthodox and the Catholic– and yet both fail to acknowledge it in the other– just as neither acknowledge the faith in the Anglo-Catholics seeking reunion with whomI once shared communion. No one wants unity– all want power. No different from the Baptists preaching Rome as the Beast. Therefore, I have no community, and refuse to chose one or the other as if I, personal, am responsible for the mess made a thousand years ago.

    Like countless others, I must work out my own faith in fear and trembling– and no one is helping. None.

    There is the real problem. “If you are not sitting in our pews, you are damned, or at least lacking in a soul-jeopardizing way?” Really? That is the message of the Church to a soul desperate to find unity with others? “Us versus them” communities are rejected by me because I am a Christian. When I see Orthodoxy and Catholicism speak to each other as “I-Thou” then I will know a true community — a Church.

    I will not ever know that, will I? Exactly how did the Church become such a source of despair for me?

    • My experience is that most Christians really are not actually out for power, but simply believe that doctrinal differences really do matter. If “unity” is based on anything but the truth, if doctrine is actually set aside in order to create such a “unity,” then who would be able to live with himself?

      Even Christ said that He came “to bring a sword,” indicating that the truth of course unites those who believe in it, but it also serves as the occasion for division to those who depart from it. From the beginning of the Church’s history, even in the New Testament itself, we see that truth is more important than simply getting along. Why? It’s because truth is the path of salvation, the path to union with God in Christ. If we compromise on that, then we compromise our salvation.

      Anyway, I don’t see anyone actually preaching the message that “If you are not sitting in our pews, you are damned, or at least lacking in a soul-jeopardizing way.” Mind you, the accusation here is really broad, so I’m not sure who it’s really aimed at, but can a church really be blamed if it actually believes in what it teaches? And if it doesn’t believe in it, what’s the point?

  20. I believe I have an answer to the question of why people expect mutual recognition. Ever read “The Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom? Here’s an apropos quote from the introduction: “It was not necessarily the best of times in America when Catholics and Protestants were suspicious of and hated one another, but at least they were taking their beliefs seriously, and the more or less satisfactory accommodations they worked out were not simply the result of apathy about the state of their souls.”

    The book’s thesis is squarely in opposition to the sort of moral and spiritual relativism you are decrying in this post, Fr. Andrew, and I am enjoying reading the book as I find it challenges me to be more deeply true to the absolutes I believe in, but have a hard time expressing due to the cultural conditioning to which we are all subjected in the educational system and media.

    The Closing of the American Mind could now be called The Closing of the Human Mind, as it is now affecting all people in all parts of the world, not just us. It is a sad and shocking testament, and a good companion to the thesis found in CS Lewis’s Abolition of Man.

    • Nicole,

      BINGO!!! I love that book. And great synthesis to pair it with “Abolition…”. I need to find the time to re-read it. Just not enough time.

  21. I’m a bit late to this article, but I’m going to comment anyway.

    I was born into a strongly Protestant family of the Baptist persuasion. Circumstances led me to recognize that Baptist doctrine had some deficiencies. Namely, their doctrine of baptism was completely absent from Scriptures, which they claimed to base it on. I began poking around the internet and found a wonderful explanation of baptismal regeneration and infant baptism from a Lutheran pastor, and believed it immediately. The doctrine of the Real Presence followed shortly thereafter. It seemed that I had corrected all of my doctrinal deficiencies. I was overjoyed.

    But I realized that I now that I believed in the Sacraments, my beliefs were much closer to Orthodox and Roman Catholics than most other Protestants. This is causing me to take a second look at your beliefs.

    And now I’m miserable. It seems that you all have a more legitimate claim to being the Una Sancta. Which means, right now, that I’m outside of the Church, along with literally everybody that I’ve known my whole life, if you’re right, and I’m wrong. I weep sometimes, thinking about this. If you’re outside of the Church, how can you not be damned?

    I don’t know what to do. Some of your doctrines seem so terrible to me that it feels like a kick in the face. For instance, if you’re right, then I can’t be certain of my salvation? How can I love a God who might damn me, despite doing everything possible to obey Him? I wouldn’t have any time to love; it would all be servile fear.

    Then, I have to choose between Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, a thousand year old feud, with my eternal salvation on the line? How in the world am I to figure out who’s right, given that both sides have apologists that sound equally plausible, and both claim to be the one true church?

    What a miserable, miserable, MISERABLE state of affairs. Pray for me. I’ll need it.

    • You seem to be reading all of these questions in terms of “Formal Membership = Saved for All Eternity.” Neither Orthodoxy nor Roman Catholicism see things that way.

      Is it possible to be outside the Church right now and yet be inside the Church at the eschaton, the end of all things? I say yes.

      • Well, what is it that you teach then? I’ve seen a bunch of people compare Orthodoxy to the Ark. And all who were outside the Ark were destroyed. What am I supposed to conclude from that?

        I’m not trying to be difficult. Just trying to understand your beliefs.

        • One cannot take any metaphor too far. During this temporal sojourn Orthodoxy is agnostic concerning those who, in this life, are not following the Way. We know that the Way is salvific and that there is only one, but we are not given to know the fate of those who are ignorant of it or even reject it. Even heresiarchs like Arius have not been dogmatically declared to be damned. And there have even been certain daring, ascetical souls who have prayed for Satan! (NOT a recommended practice, by the way.)

    • From one miserable sinner to another, the best advice I could give you (other than going to the closest parish and talking with that particular Priest) in hopes of helping raise your outlook is to go and buy the book “Wounded by Love” about Elder Porphyrios, and do it as soon as possible. The whole book is wonderful but I’d suggest reading the chapter on Loving your Neighbor first. I got mine from Archangel Books but it’s available at a lot of Orthodox outlets online. I wish I had it to read years ago but thank God I’m able to read it at all.

      Others here could give better advice and will hopefully do so. May God bless you!

  22. Father,

    Great job. I do not know how you do it. Write a great article and then the added time of answering all the comments. Please know that your hard work in especially answering the comments has a silent reward by people like me who learn even more from your article by reading your cogent replies. Everyone I read was so well thought out and on point. I am humbled.

    I am praying for June, above all. To me, she still sounds as if she is protestant in thinking. When I hear someone say ‘scripture is what I think it is’ which may not be an exact quote but is the meaning from her retort, I am saddened. I mentioned above that it took me 30 years to ‘find’ The Church. What I really mean (in all truth) is that it took me 30 years to become humble enough to realize that I need help in everything. Submission to authority is so tough in our western culture (this from a right-wing love America rugged individualist!) but so freeing. I just wish I was more humble. As Father Josiah said in his latest podcast, “I am not yet catechized yet.” Please pray for me.

    Just thank you for all your efforts, Father.

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  24. Pingback: The Top 20 “Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy” Posts | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

  25. I do realize that this is an old thread, but I hope this post will not go unnoticed. I myself am an Orthodox believer; I fully accept that the Orthodox faith preserves the essential elements of the apostolic faith, and has an essential dogmatic stability that is lacking either in the Roman Catholic church or in the Protestant denominations. However, an Ecumenical settlement in which substantial rapprochement between Western Christians and the Eastern Orthodox Church does seem a distinct possibility, beginning with the Roman Catholic Church; the relative success of ecumenical dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Communions seems to pave the way for further progress. This work is vitally necessary in light of the fact that within Protestantism the leadership of many of the “mainline denominations” is very keenly involved in the revival of heresies such as Gnosticism and Docetism that have been dead since the fourth century, and at the same time is also busy inventing novel departures as well. This is naturally alienating a substantial portion of their congregation; and these congregants are in turn the victim of what could only be described as depredation at the hands of cults such as the 9Marks-affiliated churches, the Calvary Chapel, and so on.

    Now, as I see it, the Orthodox are obliged to intervene to assist and rescue as many Protestants caught in the middle of this inevitable degeneration as possible. To this end I personally strongly support the Western Rite parishes of the Church of Antioch, the ROCOR, and others like them; liturgical uniformity does not exist even within the so-called “Byzantine Rite”, and the success of dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox suggests that even greater liturgical diversity can exist while retaining the Orthodox Faith. Surely, the use of liturgy based on the traditions that have always been followed in the Western Church, before the Great Schism, is completely acceptable. However, even this issue has been contentious, with many authorities whom I greatly respect, such as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, taking an opposing view. This is not the main problem that confronts the Orthodox, however, as far as I am concerned.

    A still greater problem, and the reason why the mutual acknowledgement of Christianity is important, is because of the pressing question however of one’s forebears. It’s all fine and dandy for us to say that the Orthodox Church is the True Church; indeed it is accurate; however, there remains a large problem that interferes with the process by which ecumenical reconciliation to Orthodoxy is occurring; this problem involves the vital question of the fate of one’s forebears. Of those Protestants who are converting to Orthodoxy, some assurance, in the interests of economia, I feel ought to be given, that while the Protestant churches are not in the fullness of faith that comes with the Orthodox Church, and indeed this is why some of them, such as the United Church of Christ, have degenerated into neo-Gnostic heresy, that one’s Protestant (or indeed Roman Catholic) forebears were not completely deprived of the grace afforded to Orthodox Christians.

    Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, of blessed memory, rightly said that he could not accept the view that the Church was invisible, or concede any ground to an idea which, in his mind, indicated that the Gates of Hell had in fact prevailed against the Holy Catholic Church of the Apostles. This is a correct and orthodox view that one should rightly expect from an Orthodox hierarch. However, I think it also needs to be said, at the highest level, that just as God did not allow the Gates of Hell to prevail against the Orthodox Church, surely he also did not allow them to prevail against the entire Western half of the Church, just because an arrogant Pope in 1054 appointed an even more arrogant Nuncio to the Byzantine Patriarch, who in turn slapped a writ of excommunication on the altar of the Hagia Sophia in one of the most unfortunate moments in human history. Surely our loving God would not, from that moment forth, deprive all Western Christians of the grace that they had previously enjoyed through full communion with the East, especially since the break in communion occurred at the behest of, and was sustained by, the hierarchy, who had neither accountability to nor input from the vast majority of Western parishioners. Surely God would not punish the devout, pious Christian living in Western Europe, who at that time, in general, did not even enjoy religious freedom, and was very possibly illiterate, and very likely at a minimum relatively ignorant of the affairs of the Eastern Church.

    Now we can see a clear degeneration in the Roman Church from the break with Constantinople, and this had clearly reached its nadir by the era of Martin Luther, when the Pope had resorted to selling indulgences, in an act that the Orthodox Church, even as it is close to a happy reunion with Rome, can never endorse; to a low that the Orthodox Church has never approached (or else it would have ceased to be Orthodox). In response to this severe abuse, a schism occurred, but tragically, the schismatics failed to, at the time, restore themselves into communion with Constantinople, even though the opportunity for such presented itself and dialogue occurred. However, this did not prevent Protestantism from becoming the official religion throughout Northern Europe, to the extent that those who favored Catholic devotional practices were often executed. Thus, the laity, we can safely say, was dragged, very possibly against their will, out of communion with the Eastern church, and was then, in Northern Europe, as a response to the depravity of the Roman church at that time, dragged into Protestantism, often against their will. In many cases, in the centuries that elapsed since that time, political barriers emerged that further hindered the work of the Orthodox Church; for example, Sweden and Russia became military rivals, and thus Sweden, being a Lutheran country, obviously was destined to remain as such, and at the same time, the Russian Church, which in that era was very much under the control of the Czar, to its disadvantage, was not in a position to even attempt ministry to the Swedes). Thus, a Swede in the 18th century could no more help not being an Orthodox Christian than a Russian of the same era could help being one. Nonetheless, a definite cultural similarity between the two people, who shared to a large extent a common heritage (in that the Russians were descended from the intermarriage of Swedish Vikings and indigenous Slavic people), existed, and continues to exist. The Orthodox Church absolutely cannot say, in any way, that the Swedish people of that era, who were in terms of their religion largely prisoners of their government, were either damned, or completely without the grace inherent in Christianity, even if they were outside the true Church.

    An oft quoted phrase in Orthodox ecumenical discussion is that we can say where the church is, but we cannot say where it is not. I would propose that this statement ought to be expounded upon and developed further. We can definitively say that Orthodox churches are part of the church, due to their maintenance of received church tradition, their dogmatic stability and relative resistance to heresy, their Apostolic succession, and other factors, and at the same time we cannot deny that outside of the Church, a failure to maintain these things occurred, suggesting a breakdown. However, this should be confined to the ecclesiological level; we can say that the Lutheran church, for example, is heterodox, when viewed from the top down; however, we cannot say that the individual Lutheran believers throughout history, many, if not most of whom, were historically Lutherans because their national government decreed that Lutheranism would be the State Church, but whom in reality were merely simple and pious folk in search of Christianity, did not in and of themselves manifest an expression of the Church, solely because they had the misfortune of being born a few hundred miles further to the west than those lucky enough to find themselves within the Orthodox Church. All criticism of heterodox churches should be, in my opinion, directed solely at the church itself, and should be directly proportionate to the specific manner in which that church theologically diverges from Orthodox. However, even the historical clergy of such a church should not be directly blamed for it; sin did clearly occur amongst those at the beginning or at the top who kept these churches apart from the Church, but that sin, like all sin, can be forgiven within Christianity, and we can pray for their salvation, even by virtue of the same economia that prevents us from declaring that Arius, for exanple, is damned to Hell; he may be anathema, but we can and should hope that God has mercy on him.

    Now in the modern world we have religious freedom, almost universally. People in general have a choice as to what religion they should believe in, and what church to go to. I personally wish the Russian Orthodox Church would press the Russian government to ensure religious freedom among Christians within that country, even though the Russian Orthodox Church is clearly the correct faith, people should not be coerced into Orthodoxy, but rather must come willingly. Now, because we have religious freedom, we also have more accountability if we chose to be Orthodox versus belong to another church. However, the transition to Orthodoxy has not been instantaneous; people have been freed from state pressure preventing them from being Orthodox, but not from personal pressure. Families that are traditionally Catholic or Protestant cannot be expected to entirely convert on their own; especially those within those families who are of a more passive nature would most likely conform to the historic beliefs of their forebears. To the extent that Catholics and Protestants are converting individually to Orthodoxy, this should be celebrated; however, the top-down, churchwide approach to ecumenism that has successfully worked with the Oriental Orthodox, and is continuing to work with the Roman church, is still urgently needed, and in this process the Protestants must not be neglected, because ultimately, persuading the church hierarchy to adopt the Orthodox faith and enter into communion with the rest of Orthodoxy is the only way to convert the majority of believers. At the same time, for individual converts, we must not in any way appear to be transmitting the false doctrine that their ancestors, by virtue of having been born in Western Europe (or otherwise outside the reach of the Orthodox Church) are in any way accursed.

    Finally, in the specific case of the Church of England and the Old Catholics, I feel the Orthodox Church did not move fast enough in seeking to convert these churches to Orthodoxy. The Anglicans have fallen into depths of heresy so that direct communion with the majority of the Anglican Communion is now completely impossible, and the same has occurred with most of the Old Catholics, and these churches came closer than any other Protestants to adopting the Orthodox faith and becoming Orthodox. I feel that an immediate effort must be made to reverse this situation, by engaging with traditionalist groups. I also feel that it is possible that in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, a similiar dogmatic degeneration preventing communion may soon occur if communion is not quickly restored, however, if that occurs, it would be particularly tragic, because I fear that, unlike with traditionalist Anglicans, the Society of St. Pius X, for example, would be categorically unwilling to consider any form of ecumenical rapproachement with the Orthodox Church.

    Thus, we can say where the church is, but we cannot say where it is not. However, we can, I believe, clearly reassure converts to Orthodoxy that their ancestors are not accursed, and we can clearly reassure them still further that their ancestors were, and indeed are, in a much better position than they would have been had they not been a follower of some form of Christianity, even if the Christian church they attended lacked the fullness and authenticity of the Orthodox Church. Likewise, I think we can also say with some certainty that members of the schismatic West are not in the same boat as voluntary members of the heretical breakaway churches of the first and second century, for example, because clearly, the Protestants and catholics are much closer to the Orthodox faith than were Valentinus or Marcion. However, the revival of these first century heresies occurring within the Western Church undeniably poses a great risk not only to parishioners of those churches, but also to Orthodox laity, to the extent that the pervasiveness of neo-Gnostic thinking in our society might begin to corrupt even the Orthodox. Thus, we must have faith that God will not allow the gates of Hell to prevail against the church, that he has not allowed them to prevail against the church, even in the West, and we should then act on this faith by taking firm action to bring as many Protestants and Catholics into the Church as possible, both through individual conversion and through high-level dialogue.

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