Many of you who read my blog will already know that I am seriously considering and studying the Orthodox church. Those of you whom I see regularly in person must readily acknowledge my barely contained excitement as I recount this or that tidbit of the church as I uncover it. Despite this and my usual tendency to speak my mind, many of you may not possess a full context for the excitement. I am not Orthodox, yet, and when all is said and done, I may never be. Nonetheless, what I understand of Orthodoxy right now so cleanly illustrates the truths I find so absent in American Evangelicalism that I intend to dissect and present my experiences thus far in a series of essays in which I will attempt to share my perspective and method in understanding and situating man, Christ, and this thing they call the
church. Why are Christians in America in their present state? Is it a good thing? Are the American protestants missing something? If so, what is missing, and what, if anything, have they done right? And perhaps most importantly, where is God, and especially Jesus Christ, in all of this? These are questions some Christians in America have asked, but I claim, not enough have dared to consider answers to these questions outside of Protestantism, or Catholicism, as it may be.
I will claim no special revelation into Christianity, and certainly not any special qualifications for critiquing the church. Instead, I do not mean these varied essays as anything other than my own inward investigations turned outward, perhaps even in such a manner that may benefit others. As such, I am no more than an explorer mapping incompletely — perhaps even inaccurately — one Christian's trek towards his God. Moreover, I must also make clear my intended audience. I am perhaps not much of an evangelist; my writing must reflect this truth. I have always believed my gifts lie in ministering to the believer, the faithful, and it is to these that I chiefly direct these essays. Grant, by the Lord's Mercy, that I may reach the heart and mind of believer and skeptic alike, but surely any such message must derive its power and efficacy from a much greater power than I.
Before embarking on any quest, one may do well to understand how the starting point of a journey is situated amidst the many paths that lead forward. For me, this means examining my past before considering any present and future. This past is necessarily a long and detailed one, as my whole life has been as a Christian, if perhaps a poor reflection of Christ's glory too many times to recall. Nonetheless, even as a child I was understanding — or trying to understand — the nature of my relationship with God. As a child, I remember our non-denominational services and the choice our mother gave us: sit in the main service, or go to children's church? This is one of my earliest recollections on church, and it is a major one. I chose not to spend my time in children's church, where I might find my friends, and where I could arguably
gain more. At least, in America, that's the impression. After all, is not school segregated by age? So many social and communal activities in America are segregated by age, intentionally or not. Church is no different, and presumably, children experience church in a fashion suitable for them. Yet, this is/was not my preference. I could have gone had I wanted, but I had no desire to do so. Somehow, I had a sense of purpose beyond friends and my songs. The adults went to the real church, and that is where I wanted to be as well. Even as a child, I recognized an importance in the authenticity and integrity of a thing.
Through the years in which my daily schedule still bowed before parental might, we attended many protestant churches of many denominations. I experienced not only the diversity of Christian protestant worship in America, but also its lack thereof. In being a part of so many churches, I came to see and underlying culture and unspoken perspective that revealed itself so consistently, if perhaps in many different outfits. Still, my diverse participation also meant my near certain alienation: visitor in perpetuity. I never entered any official membership role until I married. Despite all this, some churches were more alien than others.
I have found myself continually attracted to liturgical churches over the years. My family used to have a practice of attending a church by turns. When my time would come around, I would usually chose a Presbyterian or similar style of church. Unfortunately, my family did not share my appreciation for such services, and it did not take long for me to be completely out-voted. My mother enjoyed non-denominational forms, while my brothers each in turn preferred contemporary (read, rockin') pentecostal or simple 1st baptist churches. It is interesting to note that we often made our choices based on style, preaching, or community. For my part, this had nothing to do with a disregard for theology or doctrine, and everything to do with my despairing of ever finding a church with right doctrine. Instead, I tried to find communities in which I might at least find a sense of sincerity mixed with reverence and communion. Seeing many different doctrines in many churches gives a perspective on how amazingly correlated are behavior and theology.
So, when it comes to my history and my perspective, the short answer is that, before really experiencing orthodoxy, I had been in nearly every imaginable protestant denomination. What sort of perspective has this varied experience given me? Here are some basic views of how I intend to analyze the Orthodox Church and to contrast it with the many different protestant churches.
- The vast majority of protestants have deep-seated systemic flaws that greatly handicap the body of believers in America.
- Core theology makes a huge difference, and in an effort to avoid Roman Catholicism, most churches fail to learn from the past.
- Christ and the Church are intimately connected, but too many churches misunderstand this relationship and fall into grave error.
- Many or most protestant churches cannot understand reverence, duty, honor, and worship, and have a view of the sacraments that cripples them.
- Protestant churches on a whole share a remarkably small and common set of bad or mis-appropriated priorities — in no small degree because of faulty theology — that undermines the right mission of the church.
- in so many ways Protestantism is a reactionary movement filled and blinded by a narrow-minded tunnel vision that must examine its purpose and history holistically, instead of its current and stubborn ignorance.
- Protestants lack a fullness of worship, doctrine, and community.
When I say that I intend to contrast these comments against the Orthodox church, I do not mean to suggest that this is only for Orthodox to mock the protestants. Indeed, it would be patently unorthodox for them to do so. Instead, I mean to draw attention to the issues in so many American churches so that those churches can examine themselves and right themselves in these issues. Surely, there are many good things to be found in all of these churches, but there are so many things that hinder them. I do not wish to allow these things to hinder them needlessly. I honestly believe that some people simply have never had someone show them this perspective, and indeed, there is precious little information on true orthodoxy compared to the rest of the literature that is out there in the culture today. One might argue that they could have figured this out for themselves, but this is not always so easy to do in practice, and so I hope to lay this out so that others can see these things and start to examine them with, hopefully, a wider and more encompassing viewpoint.
In future segments, I intend to defend, illustrate, and explain my intentionally harsh comments. I would probably not have even written these things if not for my love of the Body of Christ and my desire to see her perfected on earth. Even so, had I not discovered in Orthodoxy a concrete rebuttal to the flaws of Protestantism in so encompassing and foundational a way, I likely would not have bothered to pen what must only have been a most abstract and theoretical discourse. Yet, in my exploration of Orthodoxy have I found a renewed hope for the restoration and sanctification of America's believers. And none too soon at that.