Getting Saved in the Church


I ask forgiveness for the offense the article will give to some – it is not my intent to offend. However, in the past several days, central doctrines of the Orthodox faith have been questioned in a number of quarter relating to articles or comments I have posted, most especially those regarding certain aspects of the Church. I post this article as an answer and an affirmation of Orthodox belief. 

I grew up in the deep South where “getting saved” was a part of everyday speech and we all knew what it meant. It was evangelical short-hand for “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” usually done at Church after walking the aisle at the end of the service. I did this at age seven. This action was followed by Baptism (as simply an outward obedience to Christ). It did mean I could start to take communion on one of the four Sundays a year this occurred. Though, again, communion was only meant as a meal to remember something Jesus had done once upon a time. In giving such a description, I am simply relating what I and any other member of the Southern culture at large knew. We could cite a few Bible verses that spoke of what we were doing and that seemed to make everything legitimate.

Of course in such a context, speaking about the Church in anything other than mere fellowship or accountability terms is a foreign thing. Verses such as those in Ephesians 1, where the Church is called, “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all,” either make no sense, or must be relegated to some Church of the eschatological future about which we can only dream.

Of course, all of this rural Protestant understanding presupposes human life defined in purely modern terms. We are individuals whose relationship to one another is at best emotional, psychological or affectional. We go to the same Church because we believe some of the same things (or for reasons much less noble).

Having been saved, there are really only two things left to do: help other people get saved (evangelism) and become a more moral citizen (sanctification). Sermons will usually talk about one or the other.

Of course, all of this is completely foreign to the Orthodox Catholic faith of the Fathers – the inheritance of the Church as given in Scripture and the writings of centuries. Anyone transported from our modern world into the 4th century and speaking of their salvation in the modern manner would have been judged a heretic (of a strange variety never seen before) and disciplined accordingly.

Several key elements here should be underlined:

1. Salvation is not something that happens to you as an individual in isolation from others.

2. Salvation is not a legal settlement between you and God in which, having your sins remitted, you are now permitted to enter heaven when you die.

3. The Church is what salvation looks like.

I’ll explain this third point in some detail. The Church is what salvation looks like because salvation is not a momentary matter, but a life-long event. It may be initiated by our acceptance of Christ, just as a battle against cancer may be initiated by a diagnosis and first dose of chemo. But the sin which affects us is not a mere legal problem – it is existential, ontological – it is deep in the core of us – and only a lifetime in Christ, bathed continually in grace, will we find a beginning to the healing of its destruction and prepare us for the life God is giving us.

What does St. Paul mean when he says in Romans 13:11:

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

Or in 2 Corinthians 7:8-9

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

Or most famously in Philippians 2:12-13?

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

And again in 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9?

But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In none of these cases is salvation used to describe a past experience (the word has a very broad use of meanings in the New Testament). These kinds of example can be multiplied over and over to demonstrate that the parlance of many modern cultural Christians is simply not at all in line with the Gospel as proclaimed in Scripture. It is a truncated, virtual version that does not express the fullness of the faith.

The idea of the salvation of an individual qua individual is also a modern idea. It is a modern idea, for the very concept of a human being existing as a self-existent, self-contained individual is a very recent idea. Charles Taylor in his magisterial work, Sources of the Self: the Making of the Modern Identity, carefully illustrates (in over 500 pages) the slow process whereby man as an individual came into modern consciousness. It is not surprising that the concept would come to dominate popular preaching. Preaching and preparation that has been cut off from the history, doctrines, language, and Fathers of the Church, is absolutely vulnerable to every pop cultural notion that comes down the pike. Thus it is that American Evangelicalism is mostly Americanism with a Jesus veneer. In some cases it can be as unashamedly American as Mormonism, a purely American phenomenon.

These are strong words but they are meant to be. The Gospel is a precious treasure and should not be made captive to the cultural forms of any land, whether America, Byzantium or Russia. At present, the world-wide danger is the complete and total captivity of the Gospel to American culture. American culture makes the Hellenization of the ancient world seem mild. Our culture is conquering the world, even where they hate us. And our ideas are supplanting almost everything with which they come in contact.

Thus to maintain a proper Christian understanding of what it is to be human is particularly difficult. We are not purely individuals, except as the most unregenerate sinners. We were created in the image of God, and even in that creation were declared, “Not good,” until we existed as male and female. We are created in the image of a Triune God. My life is not my life alone. Indeed, sin can best be understood as the rupture of communion between myself and God and myself and others around me. And if this is sin, then salvation will be the restoration of communion – both with God and with others around me.

Thus, the Church is what salvation looks like. It is here that we are Baptized into the very life of Christ, into His body. It is here that we are fed on His Body and Blood. Here in the Church we are restored to communion with God and communion with others. And it is here that the battleground to maintain that communion takes place. Thus God has given us the means to correct one another, to heal one another, to aid in the salvation, the complete restoration of each other in Christ.

Anyone who does not know that the Church is what salvation looks like has not begun to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. We cannot love one another unless there is another to love. Indeed, the New Testament, with the exception of the Book of Philemon and the Pastoral Epistles is written only to the Church. And those exceptions are written to men only in regard to their place within the Church. The New Testament belongs exclusively to the Church. If you are reading it as an individual and not as a member of the Church to whom it was written, then you are reading someone else’s mail.

Finally, the Church has always understood itself to be One (not an abstract “one,” dwelling mystically in some second storey, but a very concrete one). Those who establish fellowships and ordain leaders have not been given authority to do what they do. Reading the letters of Abraham Lincoln does not make one a U.S. Senator. Those who have authority in the Church were appointed by Christ and by those whom Christ appointed. Apostolic succession is real – though not merely mechanical. Those who sit in the seat of the Bishops must in fact teach what the Apostles taught. But to ordain men apart from this divinely appointed means comes dangerously close to the make-believe of cult-like groups who think nothing of proclaiming prophets and the like. Of course, the Orthodox Church treats with deference and respect those who lead Christian communities, and in most cases has graciously received converts from that number with respect (though some like myself, having been an Anglican, had to submit to re-ordination – I did not take this as an insult).

According to Scripture, it is only in the Church that we will find the “fullness of Him who filleth all in all.” Why would we want less than the fullness, and how could we dare to create our own organization and claim such a Divine reality to be its constitution? Those who have inherited their Church from their own fathers stand perhaps in a different quandary. But it is still a quandary to be pondered and not merely justified because it exists.

76 Responses to “Getting Saved in the Church”

  1. the hobbit Says:


  2. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Yes! Very sound. “The Church is what salvation looks like.” To put on Christ is to be part of that reality.

  3. timglass Says:

    “Why would we want less than the fullness, and how could we dare to create our own organization and claim such a Divine reality to be its constitution?”

    What a great article!
    Blessings to you!

  4. David Says:

    Your consistent ecclesiology is refreshing as always Fr Stephen.

    No offense taken (btw) I don’t know if I was one of the ones doing the questioning you referred to.

  5. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    “[Life in the ]…Church is what salvation looks like”

    That is what I was terrified of when I was an Evangelical Protestant. ‘What if this is all there really is?’ True, there is always the threat of hell to make it more palatable. Even an aeon-long Pentecostal/Evangelical praise service is better than skitting across a hot griddle like a drop of bacon fat.

    Since becoming Orthodox a year ago, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Church, but the Divine Liturgy remains the same – it always seems interminable, yet somehow over all too quickly.

  6. Fatherstephen Says:

    David, no, actually I had some others in mind, who simply asserted the opposite of what I have (and Scripture) affirmed. We are saved in the Church. Others (some off site) were asserting that salvation is by Christ and then we’re placed in the Church (by which they meant some sort of invisible off planet sort of thing, I suppose). The individualistic salvation notion of many American theologies, is, unwittingly, bordering on heresy, if not actually crossing the line. It sort of depends on who is teaching it. But to deny our salvation in the Church, to me, is tantamount to denying the Trinity.

  7. Fatherstephen Says:


    You brought belly laughs to both me and my wife! Thanks!

  8. Steve Says:


    I am curious how many stories the human spirit/soul/person has. Does it have one (analogous to the world), or does it have two, or more?

  9. Fr Ronald Says:

    Thank you, Father, for this clear teaching.

    This is a fantastic articulation of what many of us making our way to Orthodoxy are struggling with. For my part, I grow weary of hearing orthodox Episcopalian leadership urging us on to continue “bringing people to Jesus,” even while the church we serve falls apart. Related to this is the constant banter about “getting on with mission” as if ecclesiological questions are secondary to missiological ones. There can be no true mission apart from the Church. To say otherwise would be like saying that an Army that is uncertain of its own identity, rules, and principles, should just “get on with the mission,” whatever that mission may be. I certainly wouldn’t want to use the church’s problems as an excuse not to go about my Father’s business, but all of this raises a serious question to which you give such a clear answer: Can we “bring people to Jesus” apart from bringing them to the Church? If you are correct (and I grow more and more persuaded), then if our evangelism efforts are to be fully effective, they must take place within the life of the Church… the ONE Church…the VISIBLE Church that you can see and touch…

    ok, rambling now…sorry, this is your blog, not mine:-)

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Ronald,

    I have reason to know that during my time as an Episcopalian, top leadership in the Church intentionally used the “call to mission” in order to change the subject from matters that needed attention. Their mission was, in fact, to divert the mission from the traditional Christian model to that of a radical revisioning of the Christian faith (largely as the far social left at prayer). Ecclesiology is never a secondary issue. The Reformation largely avoided ecclesiology because it was the largest point of disagreement among reformers and thus became a constant weakness within Protestantism (such that some have little or no ecclesiology to this day). High Church (i.e. Laudian) Anglicans had a serious concern for ecclesiology, but have largely long since disappeared from Anglicanism. If you take ecclesiology seriously, then it finally becomes necessary to actually submit to the ecclesia (and I would hope that would be the Orthodox Ecclesia). 🙂

  11. nancy Says:

    Thank you for expressing these truths so well. And I thank God that I’m a part of the Orthodox Church. It has changed my life in so many ways. Keep on writing these words to us who need your blog to keep us on an even keel.

  12. jacob Says:

    The individualistic salvation notion of many American theologies, is, unwittingly, bordering on heresy, if not actually crossing the line. It sort of depends on who is teaching it. But to deny our salvation in the Church, to me, is tantamount to denying the Trinity.

    One of the things that caused me to search for the Church and eventually enter her was the issue or question of heresy – i.e., on what basis and by what authority could the non-denominational Protestants and churches that we were and were part of call anyone a “heretic.” Maybe they could have given me an answer had I asked them, but I suspect it would have been an “It’s not what the Bible teaches”-based response, which still leaves the door wide open for Arianism, Sabellianism, etc.

  13. AR Says:

    For me it has also been the search for authority – looking for someone with a legitimate basis for guiding me into truth. Ecclesiology is, yes, essential to answering that epistomological question, which in its turn is the burning question of our time. I wonder if that’s a coincidence?

    Thanks for your straight talk, Father.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    May God help us all.

  15. Fr Ronald Says:

    Even Anglo-Catholics, we who see ourselves as successors to the Laudian High Churchmen, have largely been content with being a “wing” or “party” within the Church. This puzzles me, because if A-C’s believe that they understand and hold the truth of the matter, then why continue to shy away from communion with the ancient Church and pursue “partnerships” and “fellowships” with orthodox Anglicans who, as godly and solid as they are, really are evangelical protestants with a vastly different understanding of Church, Bible, Sacraments, priesthood, etc…?

    Few of us would argue with the need to submit to the ecclesia, but we have to face the question of what and where that is. Once we have discarded the once-vaunted “Branch Theory,” then we are left with some serious soul searching. Ora pro nobis!

    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Orthodox Church was, is, and continues to be what the classical Anglican divines always hoped Anglicanism would be. But re-inventing the wheel is never a good idea, and we are seeing the fruit of that today.

  16. stephen Says:


  17. StevenF Says:


    I read your words here several times. As I did, I realized that I read it with *fear and trembling* . I think that is a good sign…

  18. Jeff Says:

    Fr. Ronald,

    As an ex-AngloCatholic, I pray for you. I understand the challenges you are facing(with the huge exception that I was not a priest, so no difficulties there). For years I taught the branch theory to our adult catechumens. I also taught Orthodox fasting practices, we extolled the Orthodox Study Bible, and quoted/used many Orthodox texts in our class.

    Then the day came that I had a developed a strong friendship with a recent convert to Christianity, who kept asking the difficult questions. Is the branch theory really true? Can we be a member of a club if the rest of the club doesn’t acknowledge it? (can you imagine walking up to the Kiwanis and insisting you were a member, if you never really were?). Finally, he kept asking why, if what I was mostly after was the Orthodox Church, if what I wanted was to be Anglican Orthodox, why don’t I just go “down the street” and be a part of the Orthodox Church.

    I had no answer for that last question. None, whatsoever. So, almost 2 years ago, at the dinner table, I told my wife I was considering speaking with one of the local Orthodox priests about exploring the Orthodox Church more fully. Her response? “I was wondering what took you so long.”

    I have had the pleasure of worshiping with the likes of Bp. Ackerman and Bp. Iker, but I can tell you that nothing – absolutely nothing in my previous Christian experience, compares to Orthodoxy.

    I have a learned about a depth to the Church that I thought I had understood, but only now realize that I never really did. I’m still in the shallow water, but am more aware now, than even 18 months ago when my family was Chrismated, how much of an ocean there is before us.

    I wish you God’s speed on your journey.

  19. fatherstephen Says:


    I think there is but one storey to the human soul – only it has depths and even the capacity to contain the universe. Gee, that sounds mystical. But Fr. Sophrony taught that in extending ourselves (which oddly we do by emptying ourselves) in love towards the other, we have an infinite capacity. He was speaking actually of the person rather than the soul. But you get my meaning. See the quote by St. Maximus on the heart on the sidebar of the blog. All the treasures of heaven are to be found in the heart.

  20. Living Deliberately » Today’s Gem From My Blogosphere Routine… Says:

    […] Freeman, but one of those reasons is his blog. Today he has a stronger-than-usual position post on how differently the ancient church viewed both the church and salvation than does our modern culture; it is these very differences that ring true to me, having come from modern […]

  21. Salvatore Sberna Says:

    I think all that is preventing me from converting to Orthodoxy is an unshakable faith in the reality that the Orthodox Church is THE Church Christ founded. I mean, it makes sense that the Incarnation would bring about a real, tangible, visible Church, but… I have a rather immature fear of dying and appearing before Christ only to find out that (fill in the blank) was the true church, or (fill in the blank) was the correct ecclesiology. I know I can’t stay in the ELCA (I have felt a call to become a pastor for about a year now), but why not the LCMS, a more conservative branch of Lutheranism? All I know is that when my Evangelical Protestant family members ask me (when and if I convert) if I truly believe that the Orthodox Church is THE TRUE CHURCH I want to be able to answer in the affirmative with confidence, boldness and love.

  22. Handmaid Anna Says:

    My family and I were members of the Reformed Episcopal Church after being Presbyterian for years. We were very ignorant of church history and theology. Our REC priest was leading us into Orthodoxy without us even knowing it at the time. We were devastated when he gave up his priesthood to become Orthodox. The next priest that came was very low church and led us back into the protestant world. I couldn’t understand how so much could change with each priest. I was angry, desperate, and extremely confused. This forced me into learning church history and more about the Orthodox church. I wanted to know why our former priest could give up everything that he thought that he believed in. The catalyst that finally moved me on was the realization that anyone who goes to the alter for communion in the REC can believe whatever they want about the bread and wine. It can be only a remembrance of Christ or it can actually be the body and blood of Christ. How could it be both? While driving to church one Sunday I listened to St. Vladymir’s Divine Liturgy that an Orthodox friend had given to me. With deep weeping and tears I never went back to the REC after that day. Glory be to God that we found Orthodoxy with all of its fullness, richness, and true healing for our souls through our minds and our hearts.

  23. Ezekiel Says:


    To some extent, I shared your concerns, for years, but in the sense that we confessed in the Nicene Creed “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That question ran through the decades from my seminary education (I was a Lutheran pastor in the LCMS for 33 years, having been a Lutheran all my life until around two years ago now). That Church exists in Orthodoxy.

    Fr Stephen has written winsomely, speaking the truth in love.

    To become Orthodox, to come home to The Church, is to deny oneself, take up ones cross and follow Christ — to trust Him! That means that we, hard as it is, act and leave behind the fears (although they may still haunt us as the Evil One seeks to cause doubt and fear to turn us from Christ).

    As to the LCMS — not really an answer my friend, not really an answer. Given what you’ve said, I don’t think you’d find a home there, either.

    My priest often points out that you can see the Truth of Orthodoxy historically, liturgically, and theologically. I agree with him — it is what I found after my long journey home.

  24. alyssasophia Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Two things hit me as I read this (well, more than two actually, but…). The first was recalling a talk Fr. Hopko gave on the Holy Spirit at the cathedral a few months back. It quickly became a talk on the Trinity. It appeared that he could not talk about the Holy Spirit apart from the Father and Son. I got the feeling it would have been unnatural for him to do so.

    I remember thinking after that talk that my evangelical upbringing did not deny the Trinity–we believed and taught it. We would have insisted on it and defended it vigorously–it’s one of the few things we agreed ALL Christians must believe (esp. in parachurch ministry). Still, Hopko’s talk stood out to me as different somehow. This single year I have spent in the Orthodox Church, I have found my previous Christian discipleship lacking in ways I could not have imagined or even consciously identified. The Trinity infiltrates and upholds all of the Church’s teachings in ways I have not experienced before.

    I’ll save my 2nd thought for another time.

    But for now, I’ll just say my usual THANK YOU!

  25. Ben Says:

    I’m sorry that most of you seem to have had negative experiences with evangelical churches … but I don’t think you should filter the whole structure through your experience. Just because you individually have experienced a spiritual reawakening and greater understanding of God through conversion to Orthodoxy does not mean that evangelicalism is spiritually bankrupt. There are many people who learn, grow and thrive in that environment who would be turned off by the stiff, archaic, and unfamiliar environment of the Orthodox church. And even if you think that the Orthodox church (in liturgy and doctrine) is the “best church”, you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss others who may not be as wrong as you think.

    As far as I can tell, a simple reading of the NT can show you that the form a church takes, though it can be helpful, is not the substance of Christianity. As you’ve all rightly said, the Trinity is the substance of Christianity, and the Orthodox, even if having the most complete version of the Trinity, don’t have a monopoly on it.

    Reading this post at face value, it doesn’t sound to me like a group of folks who have figured out the secret to Christianity, as much as it sounds like an elite club of the “best Christians” (no personal slight against anyone, of course). It seems more like the gnostic idea of “secret knowledge” … “if you’re not Orthodox, you can’t really understand”.

  26. fatherstephen Says:


    I think many, including myself, owe much to experience within various parts of the evangelical church. What you have difficulty hearing, is that “Church” does not mean the same thing as evangelicalism means by the term. It’s not a matter of comparing churches or this one is better. Parish to parish, many things might seem better in once place rather than another.

    What is going on here is a conversation about the teaching and life within the historic Orthodox Church, which has existed continuously since the time of the Apostles. It is not reformed, or enlightened, or counter reformed, etc., it’s just the Church as it has existed through the ages without all of these various permutations and changes. It has produced more martyrs than all others added together, even in modern times.

    But it also has unique insights and a fullness of teaching that cannot easily be explained outside the experience of being Orthodox because, indeed, without that experience it’s hard to explain to someone what it is to worship and grow in an environment in which 2000 years of the Church are still alive and well and active.

    Be where you are, and seek God. Please don’t take offense at Orthodox comments. Though, I have spoken strongly and warned of dangers inherent in evangelicalism (particularly in America) from an enculturation that may be endangering the integrity of the gospel. But having said that, I will still say, seek God. Give thanks for all things. God is good.

  27. Yvonne Says:

    Indeed, sin can best be understood as the rupture of communion between myself and God and myself and others around me.

    But do you regard the Orthodox Church as THE true religion? What about other religions (Buddhism, Islam, Hindusim, etc)?

  28. fatherstephen Says:


    Yes, Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is the revelation of the Father – there is no other revelation of God. Buddha did not claim to be God or to know anything about God. I believe that Islam was not a true revelation. Hinduism is interesting as a surviving ancient paganism but does not know the true God.

    The true God cannot be known unless He makes Himself known, and He has done so only through His son Jesus Christ. There may be hints that point towards this in other religions – but no other religion reveals God to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If God truly is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then only Christ made Him known. If God is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then Christ was either deceived or a liar. I believe He is the Truth. No much choice. You can’t take Him and some other without ignoring Him.

  29. alyssasophia Says:

    Dear Ben,

    I apologize if my comments above seem unduly critical of my evangelical past. My intention is not so much to criticize it, for it could not have given me what it did not have in the first place.

    What you see in my writing is joy in discovering a fullness that I did not know existed before I started on my search almost two years ago. And though I believe that the Orthodox Church is and contains the very fullness of the faith handed down to us for 2,000 years, I owe much to my evangelical friends, former pastors, and parachurch ministry co-workers.

    For 19 years they gave and shared with me all they had…they loved Jesus, they loved other people, and they loved the scriptures (and for some crazy reason, they loved me!). I am grateful that they passed those things on to me as I lived and worked and worshiped beside them. I believe that that excellent foundation ultimately helped lead me to Orthodoxy.

    Though I do know some folks who look at their protestant pasts regretfully, I do not. I was born into a world with many choices–many of which did not exist in the first 1000 years of the church when there was only one choice. The multitude of divisions in the church were not of my making; I inherited them. But much in the same way I was searching for Truth when I came to Jesus initially, in the same way I was instructed to always seek Truth as I studied the scriptures. That search for Truth has continued for me and led to a particular church–the Orthodox Church–the church that existed from the beginning. And in many ways, this discovery for me is not all that different from when I was introduced to Jesus 20 years ago!

    I would just add that there is no secret knowledge here as you suggest. While, as Fr. Stephen said, it may be very difficult for us to explain what we see from within Orthodoxy to others, it is available to everyone; it is freely offered to all of us just has it has been from the start.

    Gratful to God for His faithfulness throughout my entire journey,

  30. Margaret Says:

    Indeed Fr. Stephen, God is good all the time! I so appreciate this posted article and the comments and your response to the comments. How wonderful to have eyes to see and ears to hear, may God have mercy on us all!

  31. Tripp Says:

    Lovely post. Thank you.

    I am working up my own post on salvation…from a very different POV. I think your’s is tremendous and may have to borrow some language, Father.

    Peace and all Good Things to you.

  32. Lucas Says:


    Respectfully and humbly regarding your last point: the inability to understand Orthodox Christianity without participating in it isn’t gnostic secrecy, but the experiential reality of Orthodox Christianity being The Way.

    To use a limited metaphor–I cannot simply read about an activity like soccer, for instance, and expect to understand it; I must get onto the field, run around, kick the ball, celebrate with my team, mourn with my team, and practice in order to get better. It is no guarded secret, soccer, but it must be lived in order to understand it. Anything else is simply statistical information, not knowledge in the real sense of the word.

    Likewise the Church cannot be evaluated as the sum of the factual, intellectual data gathered about Her, rather we must enter into the life of the Church, which is the Life in Christ. Pray for me.

    the sinner,

  33. Ben Says:

    Alyssasophia: I understand completely what you are describing, and certainly would not judge you for feeling joy in the greater revelation of Christ you have experienced through Orthodoxy.

    Lucas: I understand what you are saying, but although I am sure many experience God more fully through the Orthodox church, I do not think that this experience of God is one that is totally unavailable to those in other traditions. I appreciate that the Orthodox liturgy is useful for knowing and relating to the Trinity (to use evangelical terminology), but I think it is dangerous to elevate it to a level where … the Trinity is inaccessible except through the liturgy. I don’t think that is consistent with what is said in the Bible. I understand that Orthodox folks in general don’t accept the validity of other traditions, but hey! This is the internet. I can say pretty much what I feel like. 🙂

  34. fatherstephen Says:

    Actually, Ben, it’s not about experience entirely. That is a dangerous road indeed. The primary claim for Orthodoxy is that it is the Truth, not a Church that has been recently reinvented according to yet another interpretation, but the truth as it has been received and maintained faithfully. How we experience it is something else altogether. Because it is the truth, it offers to possibility of experience the true God, and not just a cultural look-alike.

    It is the internet, but we cannot have everything we say posted. 🙂

  35. jacob Says:

    I appreciate that the Orthodox liturgy is useful for knowing and relating to the Trinity (to use evangelical terminology), but I think it is dangerous to elevate it to a level where … the Trinity is inaccessible except through the liturgy.


    If any Orthodox Christian is serious enough about his (her) faith that he says his daily prayers, he would NEVER come to believe that the Trinity is inaccessible except through the liturgy, since he “accesses” the Trinity in prayer at least 2 or more times every single day.

  36. fatherstephen Says:


  37. Erik Says:

    You may already know this, but Charles Taylor has a new book out called, A Seculur Age. Comes in at just under 800 pages, but it has all you want to know and some you probably don’t about the rise of the two storey universe. Not one reference to your blog, though. He clearly needs to widen his horizons.

  38. Ben Says:

    Fr. Stephen: I understand that many (if not all?) Orthodox believe that the Orthodox church is 100% True and that all other churches are at least partly illegitimate. I’m not condemning you for that … because if it’s true, why not believe it?

    But from my perspective … every group says that. The Reformed think they recovered the religion of the New Testament and Church Fathers, the Catholics think that they cut you loose because you were getting uppity, and you guys think that you’re the only ones who can really access God in a meaningful way … right? For me, the things I find attractive about Orthodoxy are not that it’s 100% correct, because I don’t believe that it is, though the idea of a 100% correct church to answer all your questions is compelling. Obviously, I’m not going to talk you out of it, but I think the Orthodox church and believers from other traditions as well would be better off if the Orthodox could just, get over it. Be open to the idea that they may have misinterpreted things. Acknowledge that some of the practices and beliefs they hold were developed over time, and could potentially be wrong, and that other traditions may actually have something to offer. Of course, as an evangelical, my perspective is radically different … I view the Trinity as being revealed in the Scriptures, whereas it seems that the Orthodox view the Trinity as being revealed in the True Church (big T, big C)? Obviously, unless you or I change our minds about that, there can’t be a complete meeting of the minds.

    Jacob: I should certainly hope so. I’m just trying to explain … maybe … a danger of placing the liturgy in too high a place? So that you start to look down on those Christians who do not participate in the liturgy, as if God could not work in their lives as well? Or worship the medium, rather than the message?

  39. jacob Says:


    God worked – or tried to work – in my life for more than 20 years before I seriously set foot in an Orthodox Church, so it would be foolish of me to say He could not or would not work in other lives as well. Besides, if He only worked in our lives if we attended the Liturgy, He would have way too much time on His hands, at least in this country, since only a fraction of a fraction of Americans attend, let alone know much or anything about, the Orthodox Church and its worship, and it will likely be or stay that way for a long, long, long time.

  40. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    Ben, where did those Scriptures come from? Meditate on the answer to that question, and you’ll approach the perspective from which we Orthodox operate: Scripture came from the Church, not the other way around. Scripture is one expression of the living Faith, much of which is otherwise unwritten, and only experienced by living it. It can’t be explained or adequately described in a few internet posts or comments.

    Father Stephen, such a field of flowers you have as commenters. It’s a pleasure to read here.

  41. Lawrence Says:

    Father, bless!

    Great post! I suspect it may prove useful in explaining my faith to my protestant friends.

    I was struck by your observation: “Thus it is that American Evangelicalism is mostly Americanism with a Jesus veneer. In some cases it can be as unashamedly American as Mormonism, a purely American phenomenon.” Harold Bloom makes a similar argument in “The American Religion.” He posits that Baptists (American and Southern), Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, etc are not at their core Christian religions, rather they are millenarian American religions that have more in common with each other than with Christianity (as it has been practiced for 2 millenia in the “old world.”

    I very much enjoy your writing. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this important work.

  42. fatherstephen Says:


    You’ve simplified things far too much. It’s not the same as have a church that’s 100% correct. It’s simply having the only Church Christ has given us and we take it as it is. We do not have a Roman theory of infallibility.

    But what you suggest, that maybe everyone is just wrong a bit here and there and we all make our way as best we can, is not what Christ promised in the Scriptures, it’s American consumerism projected onto the screen of the Church. It’s a modern idea. All of these various claims can be examined and with time and patience can be discerned.

    Imagine the Reformers having to recover the church after 1500 years. How is that the promise of Christ? etc.

  43. Peg Says:

    Father Stephen,

    As always I enjoy reading your blog and very much appreciate your thoughts in this post. I totally agree with your viewpoint re “Americanism with a Jesus veneer”… something I’ve been trying to explain to people for years (words mostly falling on deaf ears).

    Just one thing: I think I’ve come to a point where I have to say simply “I follow Jesus”. After all, isn’t the Church as described in the scriptures a spiritual/mystical union rather than an earthly institution? (Having said that, yes, I am a member of a church and totally recognize the need for working out salvation within the context of it…) But isn’t all this talk of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc just a modern way of saying “I follow Cephas”, “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”?

    Having said that, I really appreciate your insights and am adding your blog to my list of recommended reading. Many thanks!

  44. fatherstephen Says:

    Peg, I’m not certain you can say simply “I follow Jesus,” (though I understand the sentiment and the weariness that brings it on). But wherever you are following Him you are in a context and that context will determine so much. Jesus according to the mega-churches is not the same thing as Jesus according to the Orthodox Tradition. It does and will make a difference. We make this journey in a ship, not a row boat. We make it together or we make it not at all. Not all ships are being steered in the same direction. The questions are real.

    Paul, Apollos and Cephas were all in communion with each other and taught the same thing. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and whoever is the source of these various denominations are not in communion with each other (well some of them are now because they don’t think that what is taught matters anymore) but they don’t teach the same thing, or they may teach anything they want. Thus it is not the same situation.

    I agree that discussions comparing churches is interminable. However, a lot of my ministry is to seekers and converts, thus the subject naturally comes up more often than it normally would, and needs to be discussed somewhere.

    I am a missionary. I am to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness in obedience to the Orthodox faith which has been given to me. I cannot say that these others places are just the same because they are not. Many of them teach good portions of the good news, and I will gladly cmmend them. Others have reduced the faith to such a level that their people understand very little of the gospel. Others, whom I would not compare with these first two, have denied most of the content of the Christian faith and are preaching another gospel.

    In obedience to my Archbishop I preach the fullness of the Orthodox faith. He, who has been a Bishop now for over 30 years, has observed that the Orthodox have no choice but to preach the gospel to all. For the fullness of the faith is being abandoned around us.

  45. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    I don’t know but that the Church’s sojourn in the United States Of America will not turn out to be as significant as her sojourn in Byzantium or Russia.

    Or whether it will take just as long to clean up the mess. 🙂

  46. Webelf Report Blogroll « The WebElf Report Says:

    […] GETTING SAVED in the Church …. (fatherstephen) […]

  47. jacob Says:

    Peg wrote: Just one thing: I think I’ve come to a point where I have to say simply “I follow Jesus”.

    A question: Assuming they would join you in doing so, would you have communion with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and let them preach and teach in your church or assembly or whatever form of gathering of fellow believers you are part of? Why or why not?

  48. Fatherstephen Says:


    Probably so. 🙂

  49. Handmaid Anna Says:

    Father Bless,
    As prideful self-seeking sinners we continually think that we can reinvent the wheel into something that is comfortable for ourselves. We want to mold our Christianity into something that we can easily accept. Orthodoxy is not comfortable. It demands a lot from us. The “It’ is Christ who began this body of His, the Church, at Pentecost and it has not changed or needed to change in 2,000 years.
    Forgive me, a sinner, for trying to make my life more comfortable on a daily and even moment by moment basis.

  50. Ben Says:

    Kevin: Hm … I know you folks believe that you have exactly the same faith as the church fathers and the folks who confirmed the canon … but they seem to me to have a much higher opinion of the authority of Scripture that the modern Orthodox church does.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that the Reformed position may put it a little too high … it becomes the answer for everything: how do I meet God? the Bible. how do I conquer sin? the Bible. etc… but I don’t think it’s unprecedented to, like the Bereans, “search the scripture to see if these things are correct”. That passage might even indicate that we have a responsibility to do so. As far as I can see, your “we’re the true faith” is simply rhetoric, if you can’t evaluate that on any historical or scriptural basis.

    Fr. Stephen: I’m not defending all the practices of the Reformation, but most evangelicals consider each other to be “in communion” with each other, in the sense that the Antiochian church is “in communion” with the OCA and etc. We may not believe exactly the same things about every issue, but we agree on enough that we can view each as equally Christian. (At least in California … I don’t know what it’s like in the midwest). I don’t really see time as a factor here, either … obviously, by the Reformed view, they were recovering the faith that had been corrupted gradually over the years. Once again, without an epistemological framework for evaluation of your claim to being “the True Church”, it is merely rhetoric.

    As to the “Baptists are the same as Mormons” concept: shouldn’t you have some sort of criteria by which to evaluate a statement like that? I mean, Baptists believe in the Trinity, like you, they believe in the same nature of Christ that you do, they believe in the same Scriptures, even if they interpret them a little differently, etc., while Mormons do not. You are confident that “the fullness of the faith is being abandoned”, but what exactly are the Protestant churches not doing that is so critical? The Liturgy? If you would preach to a person that they are not Christian enough because they don’t practice your liturgy, I would say that you have greatly missed the reason that Christ came to earth, died and rose again.

    To say that evangelicalism is merely Americanism is unfair, I think … there are many folks in the evangelical church that are not that way. Nominal believers are in every tradition, and Orthodoxy is certainly not excluded.

  51. Ben Says:

    Jacob: “Would you let LDSs or JWs speak in your church [as a fellow believer]” … Well, the JWs believe, as I recall, that Christ is a created being, and not fully God. They also don’t believe that Christ’s death atones for their sin. To me, those are requirements to be considered a Christian. All Reformed faiths (and the Orthodox as well, I assume) believe this. Mormons believe that the Father was once a man like us (not eternal), that Jesus and Satan were brothers, and that after death a good Mormon will become a God, like the Father. From my perspective, those beliefs are incompatible with Christianity.

  52. jacob Says:


    My question was for Peg because of what she wrote. The question is not appropriate or necessary in your case.

  53. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    Ben –

    Something somebody once said made an impact on me, and I’ve never forgotten it – “Fundamentalism is where the Catholic mind in Protestantism went during the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy, and here is where it currently resides in Protestant circles.”

    It is hard to overlook that what we call “Evangelicalism” is an ad-hoc, emergency affair, the flotsam and jetsam of a shipwreck lashed together with seaweed. True, the Modernist hurricane has abated somewhat, but given the history of conservative Protestantism in the last 50 years, I don’t believe that this jerry-rigged life raft is going to assume the outlines of an ocean-going vessel.

    Divorce and remarriage is eating the Evangelical seed store, and that is nothing more and nothing less than an ecclesiological issue.

  54. fatherstephen Says:


    I understand you points, and many are well-taken. Actually, Orthodoxy has an extremely high view of Scripture. Our opposition to Sola Scriptura is that we think the same author of Scripture also spoke or gave us some things that are not written (and could not be) and that we cannot read the Scriptures outside the context of how they were given and read to start with (i.e. with no tradition to guide). But we believe this is also living – that it is the presence of the Spirit in the Church.

    But it’s not an argument than can be made or won. The Orthodox Church is either what it is or it’s not. Denominationalism as an ecclesiological theory is interesting – I just think it’s wrong – historically and theologically. I recognize that history had a lot to do with it’s creation. Some folks did the best they could with what they had. No fault there. But I still think that the best they could do is, in fact, theologically and historically wrong.

    But the Orthodox do believe what is taught in the fathers and the Scriptures – it’s all we hear. The same canons are still in effect. But there are still as many sinners in the Church today as ever. Being the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” does not make someone perfect – just Orthodox. That’s a starting place.

  55. Peg Says:

    Jacob: Thanks 🙂 To answer your question – no, I would not allow the leaders of either movement to preach or teach in a Christian church. JW and Mormon theologies don’t teach the Trinity; they don’t teach Jesus as he made Himself known (Son of God and Son of Man); they deny or distort the working of the Holy Spirit; they don’t teach what the Apostles taught, who knew Jesus personally; and they deny the sacraments. What the JW and Mormon organizations teach is considered heresy by all Christian churches everywhere, and the leaders of those organizations know it.

    What I was getting at was St. Paul’s teaching that all Christian believers are called to be one in Christ, and (to paraphrase Paul) we are to claim Him, and Him alone, rather than saying “I follow so-and-so” because Jesus is the only one who gave His life for us. It seems to me the splits in the Christian church eventually come down to what the founders taught or what the greatest theologians taught. All the branches claim they’re the true one (or at very least the best one) and can go on and on and on about why. What’s the real bottom line? Who is the only Way, the only Truth? Jesus.

    I love all the branches of the church, and my own beliefs (as far as I understand things at this point) are entirely compatible with the Orthodox faith and with the faith as taught in “little-o” orthodox RC and Protestant churches except for those points regarding organizational structure and hierarchy, which I don’t believe are salvation issues.

    Standing back and taking it all in as one great worldwide Church, the richness of the variety and beauty to be seen in the Body of Christ is breath-taking. God bless the folks who are doing what God is leading them to do within the context of their own traditions.

    Fr. Stephen: you’re right, a lot of it is just plain weariness. “The fullness of the faith”… these days I’m happy to come across mere flickers of light! But I know what you mean, and totally agree the fuller and deeper the better. Thanks for being such a gracious host!

  56. Peg Says:

    PS. Yo MCB: Speaking as one small piece of the flotsam you describe…. keep in mind what scripture says about “small is the gate and narrow is the road…” In spite of all appearances we *are* seaworthy. The Modernist juggernaut OTOH is actually a spaceship heading out past Pluto at the moment, if you don’t believe me just ask ’em, they’ve got star charts to Heaven and everything.

    In the words of Monty Python, “we’re not dead yet!”

  57. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    Ben, Father Stephen, of course, gives a fine answer to your objection to my comment responding to you.

    I will add that it seems you’re misunderstanding quite a bit about Orthodoxy, perhaps related to limited exposure. You say, “I know you folks believe that you have exactly the same faith as the church fathers and the folks who confirmed the canon … but they seem to me to have a much higher opinion of the authority of Scripture that the modern Orthodox church does.” Let’s take these points separately.

    Regarding “the same faith as the church fathers,” you may be thinking that we would say that everything we do today is precisely as it was done in 40 AD or 300 AD or 700 AD. While it is, in fact, very similar to what was done in 700 AD, it is not precisely identical, and there has been a development of understanding various doctrines of the Faith throughout history, from almost the moment of Pentecost onward, as the Church has been required to define its Faith more and more precisely in the face of distortions of that Faith. This is recognized by Orthodoxy. But, yes, it is the same living Faith, the same organization founded by the Apostles to which the Church Fathers belonged and in and for which the Councils took place. That is simple historical fact, not some kind of mumbo-jumbo. The same Church in the same areas, often in the same buildings, with the same developed liturgies, languages, books, foods, traditions and families and, yes, Faith, as from the beginning.

    Now, regarding “…and the folks who confirmed the canon…,” you seem to believe there is only one canon, by which I presume you mean the list of books to be included in the Bible. This is not so. There are several canons approved in the Orthodox Church, differing in the books included in the Old Testament: the Russian Bible includes a book named 3 Ezra (which is the Ezra Apocalypse typically referred to as 4 Ezra in scholarly circles), while the Greek Bible instead includes 4 Maccabees. That’s just in our modern state. The Fathers of the Penthekte/Quinisext/Trullo Council, in canon 2, approved the canons of numerous other Councils and the writings of various Fathers. Many of the canons of the various Councils and writings thus approved included different lists of books to be included in the Bible. And all were approved! There is no single approved biblical canon, though through the years, the “bigger is better” principle has come to be the accepted solution, though one will not find precisely the lists used by Russians or Greeks in the canons of any Ecumenical Council. For your edification on biblical canon subjects, I’ll recommend to you the book edited by Lee McDonald and James Sanders, The Canon Debate. Many issues are discussed there, and I’m sure you will find it enlightening.

    Lastly, you say that the Fathers “seem to me to have a much higher opinion of the authority of Scripture tha[n] the modern Orthodox church does.” And yet, it is precisely these Fathers in their writings and the Councils which we cherish, and which have helped to define Orthodoxy as it is. We are not separate from those Fathers, but quote them daily, treasure their writings and the hymns they produced and that we still use in our liturgies, and revere them rightly as Saints. Our liturgical texts are more full of Scripture than they are of original imagery or vocabulary. I doubt you’ll actually find a more practical expression of the value one places on Scripture than that! You’ll hear more Scripture, directly and by allusion, in a day’s Orthodox liturgies than you will in any other service. And while personal study and knowledge of the Bible may not be as widespread among Orthodox as it is among Protestants, this is recognized as a problem that is being addressed, within the context of Orthodoxy, by the spread of translation projects, group Bible studies, publications, videos, and such things. It could be better, and it will be, as it is getting better. It’ll help very much to have an Orthodox-produced complete Bible, which will finally be coming out early in 2008, rather than relying on the insufficient (whether incomplete, tendentious or faddish) Bible translations that Orthodox have been relying on in English.

    I hope that helps you.

  58. Fatherstephen Says:


    May God keep you – alive and well.

  59. Fatherstephen Says:


    I am reminded of our value of Scripture as I read aloud the entirety of Matthew Mark Luke and John in the context of Holy Week each year. Many people like the Bible. How many read so much of it aloud in the Church each year? It’s a wonderful experience.

  60. Ben Says:

    Fr. Stephen: thanks for you comments, very insightful.

    Kevin: Of course, as an outsider I will not understand Orthodoxy perfectly. My intention is merely to, uh, justify (?) the evangelical position on Scripture, which in turn (I believe) can defend, if not prove, our position on “the Church Universal”. I understand, as well, that there are different versions of the canon, but the substance is essentially the same. I don’t think there’s anything in 3 Ezra that’s going to dramatically affect doctrine or practice one way or the other.

    As an aside … what’s wrong with the Protestant translations? Even if you dislike the NIV, certainly a translation like the NASB is sufficient? From what I understand it is fairly literal (and therefore, not tendentious?) … unless you’re upset about deuterocanonical works not being included, it’s not incomplete; and faddish? There are a great number of translations available, of course, but I don’t think many people use TNIV, for instance, on a regular basis.

    Thanks folks. Though we may disagree on points, it is always enlightening to have a discussion like this, and every time I do I feel I understand Orthodoxy a little bit more.

  61. jacob Says:

    To Kevin’s recommendation I’d add Lee Martin McDonald’s newest book, The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Updated and revised 3rd ed. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007. 546 pages. $29.95 US.

    It has a few typos, which are being corrected in the 2nd and 3rd printings. It’s probably easier to read than The Canon Debate (which is a collection of scholarly essays), but I’d recommend both.

  62. David Says:

    What is an orthodox reason for becoming Orthodox?

  63. Fatherstephen Says:

    I have written elsewhere that the only reason for becoming an Orthodox Christian is that you believe it to be the truth. What is required of us in conversion would require perjury if we thought it anything else.

    Indeed, if studied carefully, all Christians who enter Orthodoxy, are repenting of the sin of schism (though most will not have thought of themselves that way until they saw the truth of Orthodoxy).

    Thus, the Orthodox reason for becoming Orthodox is that you understand that you have been living in schism from the Church that Christ founded, which is the Pillar and Ground of Truth, the Fullness of Him that filleth all in all (to use Scriptural descriptions of the Church).

    Admittedly, it is Orthodox practice to not overplay these things (though when the discussion comes up as it has here in these last few postings, it will come out). But that’s the best I can describe it.

  64. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    Father Stephen, yes, it’s an extraordinary experience to live through, too! Not just a few snippets of one or two lines, and not just the NT books, either, with most of Genesis and Job, and much of Proverbs and Isaiah appearing during Lent, and then of course, the constant refrain of the Psalms, day after day, week after week, year after year. So much of the Bible can simply be learned through absorption by repetition, if only we would just be there (let the reader understand!).

    Ben, yes, the other translations exhibit clear problems from an Orthodox perspective. It is unhelpful that the only current complete Bibles in English according to the Orthodox (the RSV and NRSV; the Brenton is old and poorly translated) are currently hybrid affairs, based on the Hebrew text rather than the Septuagint, which differs in many ways, with the complete “Apocrypha,” but with a NT text that is a critical chimera. The NRSV is entirely faddish, with its textual gymnastics to avoid such horribly old-fashioned words as “man.” It could’ve been brilliant, instead it’s an also-ran. Some (most?) Orthodox bishops even officially forbid its use in Bible study. NIV reads very well, I suspect because they’re the only Bible translation to have hired a style consultant to run all the translations through, explaining its consistency and readability. But it also shows tendencies to avoid the plain meaning of such an important word as paradosis, tradition, in favor of avoiding it by rendering “teaching” and other such things. Why? Because anti-traditionalism is (or at least was) such a strong component of Evangelicalism. The major problem is with the different Old Testaments, though. The Hebrew is simply not the Orthodox Old Testament, differing by inclusion of texts in some places and exclusion in others, and often different wording. Currently the RSV holds pride of place as the “least bad” for Orthodox use. That’s not much fun. Within a month, there will be a scholarly translation of the Septuagint, the New English Translation of the Septuagint available from Oxford University Press, and the Orthodox Study Bible will be available in February. There is also another Orthodox translation project that I know of. These are all going to be much more useful for Orthodox Bible study, and even for other Christians.

    Jacob, I didn’t recommend Lee McDonald’s new book because it’s so riddled with errors at the moment that even he, the author, is uncomfortable recommending it. From private communication, I can tell you that he’s recently sent extensive corrections to Hendrickson (many of which I provided him!), which expects to do a corrected printing next year sometime. Some of the errors are quite severe, and would mislead those who are trying to learn from the book. It will eventually be a great resource, but it would not be good to rely upon in its present state, unfortunately.

  65. David Says:

    Schism! That’s what I was looking for, thanks Fr Stephen.

  66. Jay Says:

    Father Stephen, great blog, probably the best among Orthodox blogs. This posting was especially helpful. I am a “revert” cradle Orthodox, strayed, returned home, re-chrismated. What I am starting to understand is that individuals are not and cannot be “saved”. The Church is saved, the Bride of Christ. It is difficult for Americans, even Orthodox Americans to grasp this. Religion becomes a consumer product in our culture, and we are first and foremost individuals. Keep up the good work. Father bless.

  67. jacob Says:

    Kevin: I think it was your blogpost that alerted me to the errors in McDonald’s book. In fact, I have corresponded with Dr. McDonald about some of them and found a few which I sent him, which he is apparently forwarding to Hendrickson. I have the first printing, and Hendrickson offered to let me send it in and exchange it for a second printing edition, but since that was done in March 2007 and Dr. McDonald was still fielding corrections, I told them that I’ll just wait until the third printing or so. The lady at Hendrickson told me at the time that they had about 1,000 copies, so it might be awhile before a third printing. Based on what you’ve shared, I may just wait until 2008 and printing 3 or 4 to exchange my copy. But since I got it for 1/2 price, it was worth reading despite the errors, since I assume the general themes are still accurate.

    Fr. Stephen: When I could no longer justify my separation from the Church, I knew my entrance was inevitable if I wanted to remain a Christian. Even if I wasn’t 100% sure that the Orthodox Church was THE Church, I knew that what I was doing and had been doing for my previous nearly 30 years as a Christian bore hardly any resemblance to what I read in the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers and the Didache, etc.

  68. Kevin P. Edgecomb Says:

    Jacob, that’s funny that it was me that put you onto that! But, yes, I would just wait for the printing in 2008. It should be labeled a corrected printing, as there’s a whole slew of things they should be fixing. It’s fortunate that Lee McDonald is very accessible and open to the help, as is Hendricksons, which really helps in cases like this. They’ll also be redoing the author index, which was so incomplete as to be useless, and hopefully including his full bibliography, rather than the “select” one that’s currently in there. It looks like it’ll be at least six months to a year before they go back to press, they told him, so the second half of 2008 is a better target, I suppose, if you can wait that long! I think in the case of this book, it’s not so misleading if one really knows the subject well, but recommending it for a beginner unable to sort mistake/misprision from the true and intended statements is not ideal. It could do more damage than help, if such a cracked foundation is laid. I’m very cautious in recommending introductory books. The Canon Debate is good, if perhaps a bit heady, precisely because it really does present several aspects of the debates over different issues related to the canon(s) of the Bible. This gives a firmer foundation for readers new to the subject to understand where the question lies these days. That’s my two cents, anyway.

  69. The Sin of Schism « Dare To Decide Says:

    […] Sin of Schism October 11th, 2007 I’ve been commenting on this post. Down towards the bottom of the page you will find this: Indeed, if studied carefully, all […]

  70. Michael Vogel Says:

    A friend of a friend of mine who is Orthodox sent this article to me. I am a Lutheran who holds to the Augsburg Confessions. To the best of my knowledge, we do not teach contrary to your above expressed doctrines of the church. How would you address a body who believes that the Church is what Salvation looks like, but has been excommunicated since the 1500’s? What teachings in the Augsburg Confessions does the Orthodox church object to, such that they feel we must remain excommunicated?

  71. fatherstephen Says:


    The point here was not to declare what points of doctrine but to note that the Orthodox Church is not in communion with the Churches of the West (or any others) and that a state of technical schism exists – that the absolution given as part of receiving someone into the Orthodox faith was an absolution of the sin of schism (which is usually unwitting and unknown) that exists.

    I am not knowledgeable on the Augsburg Confession, but it would make no difference. Communion is given within the One Church and as others comes and confess the same faith, they can be received into the Orthodox Church. There would never be a case of someone coming demonstrating that they agree with Orthodox doctrine and therefore taking communion. Communion is also about right relationship – to be in union with one another and not just about doctrine. Doctrine is important, no doubt, but then there must be a disire for uninteruppted union as well.

    This may sound no better than anything in the article – but is the ecclesiological view of Orthodoxy.

    Does the Augsburg Confession teach the filioque in the Creed? Does it allow for women to be priests? Does it teach that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ? Has it ever been recognized by an Ecumenical Council of the Church?

    Luther or some followers did enter into correspondence with the Eastern Patriarchs, but it fell through. It’s a shame it did not succeed. They were difficult times. Perhaps such conversation should continue to the point of true success.

  72. Lucas Says:


    Fr. Stephen has certainly stated the most important points in response to your question, but you may be interested to listen to the Faith of Our Fathers Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans for specific doctrinal points. It was an informational seminar held in September to speak the ancient faith in ways understandable to Lutheran pastors and laypeople–having converted to holy Orthodoxy from the LC-MS I enjoyed listening. You may find the audio at:

    the sinner,

  73. Gina Says:

    Also regarding the Augsburg Confession, there is a fascinating paper on the Tübingen Reformers’ attempt to reformulate it in their discussions with Patriarch Jeremias of Constantinople.

  74. Gina Says:

    Here is an interesting paper on the Tübingen Reformers’ attempt to translate/modify the Augsburg Confession to support their discussions with Patriarch Jeremias of Constantinople.

  75. Gina Says:

    Oops, I reposted because I thought the comment disappeared. Sorry about the double post.

  76. Michael P Bauman Says:

    Mike, being received into the Church is not just about belief, it is not just about doctrine, it is a matter of touch, the laying on of hands or as we call it the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The catachumen is physically embraced by the the Church and acceped into her bosom. Through the Church we receive physical gifts that have been permeated with the life of the Holy Spirit.

    Salvation is union with Jesus Christ. Doctrine either points toward Him or away from Him, but either way it is secondary to Him. Within the Church, however, we have the opportunity to be touched by Him and to touch Him in a manner that simply does not exist elsewhere. That touch allows us to enter into a more complete union if we will. This opportunity is both our chrism and our Cross.

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