We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eastern Orthodoxy - Is It Really Orthodox?

Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches consider themselves to be the one true Christian church, both claiming direct apostolic succession, to the earliest church established by Paul. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy “is composed of several self-governing ecclesial bodies, each geographically and nationally distinct but theologically unified. Each self-governing (or autocephalous) body, often but not always encompassing a nation, is shepherded by a synod of bishops whose duty, among other things, is to preserve and teach the Apostolic and patristic traditions and related church practices.” (Wikipedia, Orthodox Church). “It is not a monarchy with one all-powerful ruler at the top, but ‘an oligarchy of patriarchs,’ based on the body of bishops and responsible to local or general (ecumenical) church councils. No one patriarch is responsible to any other patriarch; yet all are within the jurisdiction of an ecumenical council of all the churches in communion with the patriarch of Constantinople, who holds the title Ecumenical Patriarch.” (Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations, p.183).

To better understand the nature of Eastern Orthodoxy compared to Roman Catholicism in the way they operate as organizations, Patrick Reardon gives a good explanation:

“A single illustration may serve the purpose. When monks from Rome established their mission in England, centered at Canterbury, near the end of the sixth century, they continued to remain under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman Pope and their language in worship continued to be Latin. The same pattern attended the missionary work in Gaul, Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere in the West. Latin was the language of worship in all these churches (until Vatican II in the early 1960’s), and Rome endeavored with varying success to gain and retain appointment of local bishops. By and large the latter is still the case today. Such centralization and uniformity did not characterize the historical development of Eastern Orthodoxy, as we may see in the matter of language. Notwithstanding the dominance of the Greek tongue throughout the Byzantine Empire, there had always been Eastern Christians who worshiped in Syrian, Ethiopian, Coptic and eventually Arabic; so as Orthodox missionaries moved northward it was understood from the beginning that the native tongues of the new regions would be the languages used for worship and life of the new congregations. In fact, since these native languages had never previously been written down, the missionaries themselves were obliged to elaborate a new alphabet for them and commenced their literature from scratch. One should keep in mind that between the Slavic mission of 863 and the Alaskan mission of 1793 the Orthodox Church put the Gospel into nearly 3 dozen languages that had never been written down before.” (The History of Orthodox Christianity, pp. 23-24)

This idea of keeping the individual cultures where the Gospel was preached by Eastern Orthodoxy leads to branches known as “Russian Orthodox,” “Greek Orthodox,” etc. There have even been schisms over the centuries based on some doctrinal issues so that there are also sects called Oriental Orthodox (Coptic and Syrian Orthodox, e.g.).

In my articles about Roman Catholicism, I discussed their teaching authority, baptism, sin, purgatory, indulgences, the Eucharist, Marian dogmas, iconography and the saints. For this article about Eastern Orthodoxy, I will address the same issues.

Teaching Authority:
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not have a papacy, and therefore has no papal infallibility. However, they do teach that scripture alone is not sufficient, rather they add to Scripture “Holy Tradition.” Their authority is “the scriptures as interpreted by the seven ecumenical councils of the church. Orthodoxy also relies heavily on the writings of early Greek fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great.” (http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations/orthodoxy.htm)

The seven ecumenical councils are also recognized by Roman Catholics and Protestants, and are as follows: The Council of Nicea, 325,. the Council of Constantinople, 381, the Council of Ephesus, 431, the Council of Chalcedon, 451, the Council of Constantinople II, 553, the Council of Constantinople III, 680, and the Council of Nicea II, 787.

Baptism:
The Orthodox Church teaches that baptism is the initiator of the salvation experience, and they practice baptism by full immersion, never sprinkling; pouring is permitted in extreme circumstances. As with Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy believes baptism is necessary for salvation, that baptism washes away “ancestral sin,” and for this reason baptizes infants.

“Baptism is immediately followed by chrismation and Holy Communion at the next Divine Liturgy, regardless of age. Although baptism is a separate mystery (sacrament) from chrismation, normally when it is said that someone "has been baptized" this is understood to include not only baptism but chrismation as well. In some practices, first communion is also administered at once. The Orthodox Church makes no judgment concerning the efficacy or validity of baptisms performed by other denominations, as regards people who are members of those respective denominations. The precise status and significance of such baptisms has not been revealed by God to the Orthodox Church; however, as a practical matter, they are treated as non-efficacious unless and until the person joins the Orthodox Church. Persons coming to Orthodoxy from other denominations, and who had been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity, are generally not received by holy baptism, but instead through holy chrismation, after which their former baptism is deemed to be efficacious.” (http://orthodoxwiki.org/) (Chrismation is the anointing of oil for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.)

As discussed with Roman Catholicism, according to the Bible only faith is necessary for salvation. Also, the Bible does not say one has to be a member of a particular denomination for baptism to be valid. And, since baptism is a public symbol of a proclamation of faith in Christ, baptizing infants is pointless.

Sin and salvation:
Unlike Catholicism’s teaching of sin being either venial or mortal, the Orthodox Church has a more biblical view. Here is an interesting explanation: “The result of sin, then, was a blurring of the image of God and a barrier between God and man. The situation in which mankind has been ever since is an unnatural, less human state, which ends in the most unnatural aspect: death. Salvation, then, is a process not of justification or legal pardon, but of reestablishing man's communion with God. This process of repairing the unity of human and divine is sometimes called "deification." This term does not mean that humans become gods but that humans join fully with God's divine life.”  (http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations/orthodoxy.htm)

Purgatory:
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not have a doctrine on purgatory as a place. They do believe in the possibility that the dead can have a change of their situation based on prayers by those living. This, of course, contradicts Hebrews 9:27.

Indulgences:
The Eastern Orthodox Church has never practiced the use of indulgences the way Roman Catholicism has throughout history.

“The Eastern Orthodox Churches believe one can be absolved from sins by the Sacred Mystery of Confession, which in the East is preceded by a period of fasting. Because of differences in the theology of salvation, indulgences for the remission of temporal punishment of sin do not exist in Eastern Orthodoxy, but until the twentieth century there existed in some places a practice of absolution certificates (συγχωροχάρτια – synchorochartia). While some of these certificates were connected with any patriarch's decrees lifting for the living or the dead some serious ecclesiastical penalty, including excommunication, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, with the approval of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, had the sole privilege, because of the expense of maintaining the Holy Places and paying the many taxes levied on them, of distributing such documents in large numbers to pilgrims or sending them elsewhere, sometimes with a blank space for the name of the beneficiary, living or dead, an individual or a whole family, for whom the prayers would be read. Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheos Notaras (1641–1707) wrote: "It is an established custom and ancient tradition, known to all, that the Most Holy Patriarchs give the absolution certificate (συγχωροχάρτιον – synchorochartion) to the faithful people … they have granted them from the beginning and still do." A Russian Orthodox source says that these certificates were in use among Greek Orthodox until the middle of the twentieth century, and were ‘certificates which absolved from sins, which anyone could obtain, often for a specified sum of money. The absolution granted by these papers, according to Christos Yannaras, had no connection with any participation of the faithful in the Mystery of Penance, nor in the Mystery of the Eucharist’. The same source interprets the Western indulgence also as absolution from sin, not as remission of temporal punishment.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indulgence)

While this is much different than the Roman Catholic view, indulgences are still unbiblical.

Eucharist:
Eastern Orthodoxy’s Eucharist is virtually identical to the Roman Catholic Church. They believe, as do Romanists, that the bread and wine literally turn into the body and blood of Christ. Unlike Romanists, Orthodox communicants usually receive both elements.

As with the Roman Church, Orthodoxy claims the Eucharist is a sacrifice of Christ. They teach that, although Christ was sacrificed once, the elements turn into his sacrificed body/blood to be offered to God as a propitiatory sacrifice, and although all the events of sacrifice are not repeated (incarnation, last supper, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension), they are indeed present in the Eucharist. All comments made previously in relation to the Roman Catholic mass are also applicable to Eastern Orthodoxy; the teaching is patently unbiblical and idolatrous.

Mary:
Like Romanism, Orthodoxy adheres to the Third Ecumenical Council in 431, giving the title “Mother of God” to Mary, and, like Rome, uses the title to exalt her. They also believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary in the same manner as Romanists, including the teaching that even her hymen remained intact while giving birth to Jesus.

Again like Romanists, Orthodox Christians revere Mary to the point of idolatry, saying she is to be highly honored. While they reject the doctrine of “Immaculate Conception,” some say she was free from actual sin, some say she never sinned and some say she died sinless. So even without a specific doctrine, it appears that most Orthodox Christians believe Mary was sinless in some fashion.

Eastern Orthodoxy denies the Roman Catholic dogma of the Assumption. However, they have a very similar teaching called the “Dormition” (Mary’s “falling asleep”).

“Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death and that she was taken up into heaven bodily in anticipation of the general resurrection. Her tomb was found empty on the third day. "...Orthodox tradition is clear and unwavering in regard to the central point [of the Dormition]: the Holy Virgin underwent, as did her Son, a physical death, but her body – like His – was afterwards raised from the dead and she was taken up into heaven, in her body as well as in her soul. She has passed beyond death and judgement, and lives wholly in the Age to Come. The Resurrection of the Body ... has in her case been anticipated and is already an accomplished fact. That does not mean, however, that she is dissociated from the rest of humanity and placed in a wholly different category: for we all hope to share one day in that same glory of the Resurrection of the Body which she enjoys even now.”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_Mary)

Review my comments correcting Rome’s teachings about Mary and they can be applied also to Eastern Orthodoxy’s teachings.

Iconography and the Saints:
Even moreso than Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy is heavily into iconography. This is based on the outcome of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which supported veneration of icons.

“An Orthodox believer does not consider these images of Jesus and the saints the works of men but as manifestations of the heavenly ideal. They are a kind of window between the earthly and the celestial worlds. Through the icons the heavenly beings manifest themselves to the worshiping congregation and unite with it. Thus, it is impossible to understand Orthodox worship apart from icons. In Orthodoxy the idea of image is the key to understanding the ways God with man. Man is created ‘in the image of God’: he carries the icon of God within himself.” (Bruce Shelly, Church History in Plain Language, p. 142) “An Orthodox cherishes and kisses an image of Jesus or Mary or St. Nicholas for much the same reason that he cherishes and kisses a photograph of his mother, his grandfather or Aunt Dot.” (Reardon, The History of Orthodox Christianity, p. 17)

The problem with iconography was discussed in my article on Roman Catholicism; it is idolatry. It is venerating images of what the imagination says Christ and others would look like. While using the imagination to form a likeness of a person may be condoned, a likeness of Christ, who is God incarnate, must not be imagined. Without knowing what he looked like, everyone could have their own ideas and imagine all sorts of images which could be anywhere from sober to blasphemous. The making of an image of God for worship is a violation of the commandment.

As with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy encourages prayers to the saints.

Summary:
As with the Roman Catholic Church, we have seen that Eastern Orthodoxy practices some of the same unbiblical teachings. They deny the sufficiency of Scripture, teach baptism as necessary for salvation and that baptism itself has salvific value, teach that the dead can be prayed for to improve their condition, and practice a form of indulgences. Additionally, they teach the continual sacrifice of Christ in their Eucharist, exalt Mary as a sinless, perpetual virgin to be venerated, and practice idolatrous iconography and unbiblical prayers to the saints. For these reasons, while not as unbiblical as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy still must be considered a cultic sect of Christianity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cutting the Word Straight

Observing what we see in the biblical text, we then should correctly handle it (2 Tim. 2:15). The participle “correctly handling” (incorrectly translated in the King James Version “rightly dividing”) translates the Greek word orthotomounta. This combines two words that meant “straight” (ortho) and “cut” (tomeo). One writer explains the meaning of this as follows:

Because Paul was a tentmaker, he may have been using an expression that tied in with his trade. When Paul made tents, he used certain patterns. In those days tents were made from the skins of animals in a patchwork sort of design. Every piece would have to be cut and fit together properly. Paul was simply saying, “If one doesn’t cut the pieces right, the whole won’t fit together properly.” It’s the same thing with Scripture. If one doesn’t interpret correctly the different parts, the whole message won’t come through correctly In Bible study and interpretation the Christian should cut it straight. He should be precise…and accurate.

Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation. (the writer he cites is John MacArthur)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be Careful About Who Divides the Word

The following is by G. Richard Fisher in his article, The Plight of Ancestral Bondage: Is It Real Deliverance or Just a Radical Delusion, in the July-September issue of Personal Freedom Outreach’s The Quarterly Journal. The article exposes the fraudulent nature of “generational sin” and “deliverance” ministries. While the subject is about the whole fake demon-chasing by the likes of Bob Larson, Neil Anderson, Mark Bubeck, Rebecca Brown, et al, the comments by Fisher are also valid concerning any teachings.

Repeating a falsehood over and over can make it sound like truth. Hitler’s dictum that a lie repeated often enough will begin to sound true applies here. Just who divides the Word and how he divides it really becomes the all-important issue.

The discerning Christian will care who divides the Word for them. He will employ caution and concern when it comes to reading and listening, and will look to those who generally follow good hermeneutics, as well as historical orthodoxy. He will want to put himself under teachers whom he can trust and who hold to the fundamentals of the faith. He will avoid those who ride hobby horses, get off onto tangents, and are sensational for sensationalism’s sake. He will certainly avoid those who boast that they can verbally slap Satan and demons around because Jude 8-11 strongly condemns such conduct. Jude says that such teachers are dreamers who speak evil and speak of what they do not know. He says they are corrupt and totally running under their sinful nature and are like Balaam and Cain.

Christians should avoid these so-called “deliverance ministers” because they are clearly unbiblical, boastful, and spawning uncertainty as well as an unhealthy focus. We are to set our focus on things above - looking unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), not looking unto demons. …

It all goes back to who divides the Word and if they do so properly. When someone offers to lead us across a bridge of interpretation, we must be sure we are on the right bridge. Our protection is listening to dependable, historically orthodox teachers who recognize context and the balance of comparing Scripture with Scripture. We should also be praying for God to give us discernment. The commentaries we consult should be safe and sound. They should not smuggle in pagan worldviews and inject things into the text that are not there. Syncretism ends up being the real curse.

It is our responsibility to know where we dine and what we are “eating” and who is doing the serving. Sometimes apologetic ministries are maligned for trying to act as some kind of “Board of Health” for the religious “kitchens” out there. Somebody has to do it. Cutting the Word properly is a biblical mandate and essential to our spiritual health (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Unity Should Be Based On Truth

Many, eager to maintain harmony among God’s people, cannot reconcile contending for the faith with unity. … It becomes obvious that the church has very little purpose if truth is not at the center of all it does. Unity that is not centered in the truth is not unity of the faith, but mere uniformity. Where I live, we have one of the largest military cemeteries in the country. If you were to visit Camp Butler you would not find unity but the essence of uniformity - gravestones in perfect order, grass beautifully mowed, etc. But everyone there is dead. Uniformity is a good description of much of the church today - sociable, active, tolerant, compromising, and spiritually dead. Biblical unity, on the other hand, is a description of a vital faith wrapped around truth.

Gary E. Gilley, This Little Church Had None

Monday, July 5, 2010

Protect the Flock!

The pendulum has swung from a time when people didn’t feel as though they had gone to church unless they had their toes stepped on to a time when to step on people’s toes might mean that they will switch churches. The most popular preacher of our day is a man [Joel Osteen] who knows little theology, is not trained in the Scriptures, does not preach the gospel and ignores large portions of biblical truth. Instead he smiles constantly, tickles his listeners’ ears by telling them God wants them to have a wonderful and prosperous life and shuns any comment on sin or judgment. Yet every weekend over 40,000 people flock to his services and millions tune in via television. This pastor is merely reflective of our times - and he is successful. Preach a biblical message if you like, but if you want a successful ministry (in other words, crowds) you had better give the people what they want.

But what about God’s warning of false teachers and his mandate to contend for the faith? The trendy pastor rides the waves of current fads and philosophy, but the faithful pastor anchors his ministry in the timeless truth of God’s revelation. If our Lord has taken the trouble to warn us that wolves in the form of heretical teachers will attempt to ravish the sheep, we need to take him seriously and keep a constant watch for predators. If God has instructed us to contend earnestly for the faith, we had better strap on our armour and prepare for battle. If we love the people with whom the Lord has entrusted us, we will want to protect them from the danger of wandering from the truth.

Gary E. Gilley, This Little Church Had None

Friday, July 2, 2010

Live the Word

There has been a steady erosion of confidence in Scripture for several decades, cumulating in theological and/or practical elimination of the need for the Bible in our lives. After all, in a society infatuated with success - theological understanding , biblical knowledge, and even righteous living, are no match for fancy buildings, high-powered programs, the finest in entertainment and emotional experiences (no matter what the source). Very few churches grow numerically today because of solid teaching of the Word. That is because very few Christians today see the importance of the Word. To them the Bible is much like a musical concert - there to produce an experience, not to transform their lives. They see no vital connection between Scripture and life. To know God’s truth is not essential to how they want to live their lives; therefore they have no desire or urgency to study the Bible. This leaves a vacuum that is being filled with mysticism, rituals, entertainment and fun, all in the name of Christ.

Gary Gilley, This Little Church Had None

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jeremiah 29:11: Another Abused Scripture

A friend asked me to look over some work he was doing for a Bible study, and one of the passages used to ostensibly demonstrate God’s care for us was Jeremiah 29:11. If you don’t know the passage, here it is in NKJV:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says the Lord, “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Does this passage apply to the individual person? Absolutely not. The context is God’s discussion about Israel - the passage is about the nation of Israel, not about individual persons.

A question that must be asked is, COULD this passage in a different context apply to the individual? I have to answer, “NO.” I don’t think the Scripture says that God has a specific plan for each individual, other than allowing them to do what they want. And certainly we can’t say that God’s plan is for everyone to avoid evil when we have so many Christians martyred around the world. The only “future” and “hope” all Christians can look forward to is our eventual eternal life with the Lord. But while on earth, I’d say too many people have no hope of any future beyond the day’s survival.

Too often people (usually Calvinists) want to make God out to be nothing more than a puppet-master, with everyone’s lives preplanned from eternity past. Rick Warren, in his Purpose Driven Life, says God chooses when you are going to be born, who you will be born to, what color your hair and eyes will be, and even what you are doing this very moment. Can you imagine someone with congenital defects being told that God wanted him to be that way? What sort of a God is that?!?!?

Scripture does tell us God’s desires for us, but we are given freedom to choose how to live. The Holy Spirit will guide Christians, but they can still ignore him and do wrong anyway. God may lead us, but we don’t have to follow; that’s why we still sin. God does not force himself on anyone.

Now, can we take this passage in conjunction with many other passages from Scripture to demonstrate a principle about God’s attributes? Yes. But we can’t isolate this passage from its context and claim it for ourselves. It has nothing to do with the individual.