Cranbrook Daily Townsman
Christianity 101 An Orthodox Perspective – 16th to 20th Century
The Orthodox Catholic and the Roman Catholic Churches (Catholic simply means complete, universal) parted ways in the 11th Century. Serious additional differences soon developed as the bishops of Rome added new ideas to their understanding of the Christian way. Almost immediately Pope Gregory VII proclaimed an end to married clergy. After the split, extreme changes such as the systemized development of merits stored up by the saints and the sale of Papal indulgences – used to lessen one’s punishment and placate a new wrathful God in the newly developed “purgatory” emerged. These novel innovations led the Roman Catholic priest Martin Luther to start the Protestant Reformation.
The reason the Church met; to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, worship God, and receive the body and blood of Christ in communion (John 6:50-66), had been established from the very beginning by the Apostles and the bishops, and followed faithfully through the centuries. For Martin Luther, gathering for Liturgy to receive the Eucharist was beyond question. However, once the Pandora’s box of “Sola Scriptura” had been opened, allowing any individual to come up with their own unique take on what the bible was saying, reliance on what the Christian Church had established through the centuries was perjoratively labeled “tradition.” The cumulative wisdom, practice, and writings of the Saints and the Martyrs was dismissed as irrelevant. Private understandings (based on the bible and the bible alone of course) of the latest charismatic leader was the new standard(s).
The Orthodox remained steadfast in keeping the faith passed down from the beginning without these additions or subtractions. They would agree with Luther in throwing out what had been added by the Popes of Rome over the last 500 years since the split. But felt he didn’t throw out enough of the new Roman scholastic reasoning, especially the new distorted view of a wrathful God. Unfortunately from an Orthodox viewpoint, Luther and especially the more radical reformers then threw out “tradition” and the wisdom of 1500 years of the experience of the Church and her saints. Rejecting the Roman Pope’s authority, “Sola Scriptura” ushered in the age of individualism where every man was now a pope. Chaos and wars ensued. Luther disagreed and argued with strong personalities such as Ulrich Zwingli about the sacramental nature of the Eucharist, John Calvin about the idea of total depravity and pre-destination, Meno Simons and the Anabaptists about dualism (spiritual reality – good; material reality – bad)… but it was now his opinion against theirs
As time went on, even many of the heresies thoroughly rejected in the early centuries of the church reappeared. The Arians re-emerged as the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1870), the Gnostics came back as Scientologists (1954) and Mormons (1830), Millennialism as 7th Day Adventists (1863)… All these were decreed by the early church to be outside the boundaries of Christianity after much investigation and debate in the early centuries. However, with the new definition of bible understanding divorced from church tradition, who can protest anyone’s understanding of the bible? By what authority? It is difficult to make an argument that the old heresies were any worse than some of the new ones that arose such as Eternal security, Total depravity of man, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Pre-destination of souls…
I have spent most of this 4th column on the Reformation years (1500-1900), focusing on the Protestant developments that the Orthodox Church would not be in alignment with. This does not mean I don’t have respect and admiration for many of my Protestant brothers and sisters. Even though they may espouse the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, many are wonderful examples of simply loving Christ and humanity, working diligently as examples of “Faith without works is dead.” So while the Orthodox are very clear that we are The Church, and we tenaciously guard the deposit of faith that has been faithfully passed down to us through the millenniums, we are quick to add that “We know where the Holy Spirit is, but we do not know where He isn’t.” We profess little about how God deals with anyone in the end. We are much more mystically than rationalistically inclined in our search to not just know God but to be transformed through “Theosis.” (More on that in the next column). The most common answer to many questions is “We really don’t know.” But we have great hope as we know that God loves us and all of mankind!
Image: Martin Luther