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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Balanced Approach to Appreciating Secular Arts

And a voice spoke to him again a second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common" Acts 10: 15


Years ago, I preached a sermon centered around this passage in a Homiletics class - that sermon dealt with the diversity of people in the Body of Christ.  However, as I use this passage today, it deals with something a little more relevant to the times, as a major debate has raged for some years over this issue.  What I am about to say is not going to endear me to some people on both sides of this issue I will discuss, because I will be stomping on some spiritual toes on both sides.  Thing is though, extremes exist on both ends, and neither extreme is edifying to the Body of Christ.  I have read literature dealing with both sides of this issue - some of which I will be referencing - and some of what was said troubled me as it was spoken in either ignorance or was misinterpreted by one side or another as a self-granted sanction for their viewpoints.   As I will show though, neither the Bible nor the Church condones the extremes, but rather the balance.  


I want to begin this with a history lesson that our priest inspired me with a couple of weeks back.  In the 8th century, a controversy rocked the Church called the Iconoclastic Heresy, and it basically said that any image, etc., was not "Christian" and therefore must be destroyed.  The people responsible for this based their assumptions on a Biblical prohibition about "graven images," and it was taken to an extreme due to noting some abuses of iconography as objects of worship (which is also forbidden by the Church).  It got to a point that even a cross on a church was an object of contempt.   Into this fray steps St. John of Damascus, a monk who also served as an advisor of sorts to the Muslim caliph of Jerusalem and as such understood what extreme iconoclasm could lead to.   St. John cleared up the controversy by saying that the worship of images as deity were the issue, not the images themselves, as no one can comprehend the likeness of God.   Therefore, he recommended that we exercise discernment in the way we use images, but did not say they should be prohibited.  Below is an excerpt from his Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images which more adequately expresses his view:


You see that He forbids image-making on account of idolatry, and that it is impossible to make an image of the immeasurable, uncircumscribed, invisible God. You have not seen the likeness of Him, the Scripture says, and this was St Paul's testimony as he stood in the midst of the Areopagus: "Being, therefore, [8] the offspring of God, we must not suppose the divinity to be like unto gold, or silver, or stone, the graving of art, and device of man." (Acts 17.29)
These injunctions were given to the Jews on account of their proneness to idolatry. Now we, on the contrary, are no longer in leading strings. Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fulness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not. The Scripture says, "You have not seen the likeness of Him." (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localise mystery? It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His [9] form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. Have no fear or anxiety; worship is not all of the same kind. Abraham worshipped the sons of Emmor, impious men in ignorance of God, when he bought the double cave for a tomb. (Gen. 23.7; Acts 7.16) Jacob worshipped his brother Esau and Pharao, the Egyptian, but on the point of his staff.* (Gen 33.3) He worshipped, he did not adore. Josue and Daniel worshipped an angel of God; (Jos. 5.14) they did not adore him. The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit [10] another. Now, as we are talking of images and worship, let us analyse the exact meaning of each. An image is a likeness of the original with a certain difference, for it is not an exact reproduction of the original. Thus, the Son is the living, substantial, unchangeable Image of the invisible God (Col. 1.15), bearing in Himself the whole Father, being in all things equal to Him, differing only in being begotten by the Father, who is the Begetter; the Son is begotten. The Father does not proceed from the Son, but the Son from the Father. It is through the Son, though not after Him, that He is what He is, the Father who generates. In God, too, there are representations and images of His future acts,-that is to say, His counsel from all eternity, which is ever unchangeable. That which is divine is immutable; there is no change in Him, nor shadow of change. (James 1.17) Blessed Denis, (the Carthusian [i.e., Pseudo-Dionysius]) who has made divine things in God's presence his study, says that these representations and images are marked out beforehand. In His counsels, God has noted and settled all that He would do, the unchanging future events before they came to pass. In the same way, a man who wished to [11] build a house would first make and think out a plan. Again, visible things are images of invisible and intangible things, on which they throw a faint light. Holy Scripture clothes in figure God and the angels, and the same holy man (Blessed Denis) explains why. When sensible things sufficiently render what is beyond sense, and give a form to what is intangible, a medium would be reckoned imperfect according to our standard, if it did not fully represent material vision, or if it required effort of mind. If, therefore, Holy Scripture, providing for our need, ever putting before us what is intangible, clothes it in flesh, does it not make an image of what is thus invested with our nature, and brought to the level of our desires, yet invisible? A certain conception through the senses thus takes place in the brain, which was not there before, and is transmitted to the judicial faculty, and added to the mental store. Gregory, who is so eloquent about God, says that the mind, which is set upon getting beyond corporeal things, is incapable of doing it. For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are made visible through images. (Rom. 1.20) We see images in [12] creation which remind us faintly of God, as when, for instance, we speak of the holy and adorable Trinity, imaged by the sun, or light, or burning rays, or by a running fountain, or a full river, or by the mind, speech, or the spirit within us, or by a rose tree, or a sprouting flower, or a sweet fragrance.




What St. John is saying here, in so many words, are two things:


1.  Iconography and symbols are a part of human nature, and are abundant in Scripture.

2.  Discernment is the key attribute in all these matters.


In other words, it is not a sin, nor against God's will, to utilize symbols and iconography, but we must discern its proper use.   That being established, let us see how that relates to us today.


Although the original Protestant Reformers were not guilty of this necessarily, there has been almost a resurrection of the Iconoclastic Heresy among contemporary Fundamentalist Protestants since I would estimate the mid-1800's.    It is largely due in part to an emphasis on a literal interpretation of Scripture coupled with Romophobia and also a reaction against the rise of theological liberalism at around the same time.   While their motives are good, many Fundamentalists have taken this to some odd extremes.  One area I want to address is music.  Just this week, I received in the mail a pamphlet from an independent Baptist ministry called Liberty Gospel Tracts based out of Michigan dealing with the issue of music.  It is a correspondence course they offer on Practical Christian Living, and it basically is a lesson designed to show the student what godly music is.  Like much of this type of literature, it has its positives and negatives.  On a positive note, it does address quite well the incursion of worldly music into the Church and its damage, but on the negative it proceeds to condemn all music, secular and sacred, that doesn't conform to the standards of the author of this study.   The author, for instance, takes great labor to point out the less-than-perfect lifestyles of composers such as Beethoven, and out of that concludes that basically Beethoven was some sort of homosexual transvestite who wore long hair, and that people who listen to composers with long hair are going to hell for some weird reason.   I have heard a lot of this talk before, and frankly feel it is a type of iconoclasm.  And, now, I wish to address that.


Contrary to some interpretations of Fundamentalist writers, I personally do not think it necessary to eschew everything that is secular.  After all, God gave all humanity the creative ability, intellectual capacity, and other attributes to produce quality art, music, literature, etc.   And, this is an attribute given to Christian and non-Christian alike.   By celebrating a good composer's work, or listening to a quality piece of music, one affirms God's creative ability of making us imago Dei.   So, if you happen to like Beethoven - he did compose some great music! - it will not send you to hell, I can assure you!  Also, if you like admiring the "Mona Lisa," go for it - good art doesn't send you to hell either.   However, it doesn't mean there are not exceptions or boundaries, as we after all as Christians are new creations and we have to be careful, and I now want to address that.


As I have mentioned, creative ability is something God has given to all humanity, and it is an integral part of our nature.  A significant aspect of that is having a sense of taste and appreciation for beauty and other aesthetic qualities of something a fellow human being creates.   That being said, we have a responsibility as Christians to appreciate the best of these attributes and we should definitely encourage the creativity of others.   That being said, we should also reject anything that prostitutes that creativity, and this includes anything that defiles God or nature, as well as anything that is contrary to the teachings of the Church or Scripture.   One thing I do not feel that responsible Christians should have much to do with - although it is up to the Holy Spirit, not me, to convict them - is rock "music."   Rock is technically not even a music, as it lacks a lot of the attributes of music and also goes against the scientific laws and principles God has established.   It also is contrary to the Christian life as it expresses rebellion, has no real creativity involved in its performance or creation, and in many cases it also openly projects values that are contrary to the Christian worldview.   Some of our Fundamentalist friends tend to focus as well on the lifestyles of some of these people, and as a result they often catch up into the net classical composers and others as a way of justifying their own iconoclastic tendencies.  I oppose rock music for a different reason, because if it were just the lifestyles, then I am afraid that would also rule out many Fundamentalist heroes of the faith as well - for instance, the writer of this Liberty booklet I mentioned earlier also esteems J. Frank Norris (a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Texas who shot a man in cold blood on a train), John R. Rice (a racist), Jack Hyles (late pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN, and innovator of the bus ministry who also was subject of allegations of some serious sexual indiscrepancies), and Charles Haddon Spurgeon (a man who smoked big stogies and drank brandy - not sins in themselves, but they are to a Fundamentalist Baptist!).    And, if lifestyle was the standard of what we could listen to, watch, etc., we would all be in some trouble, based on Romans 3:23!  A person who has a less-than-perfect lifestyle can still create good things - take Bunny Berigan, who was one of the greatest trumpeters of the Swing Era; he died as a chronic alcoholic in 1942, but still produced some great music.   My issue with rock music is that it lacks any type of creative quality, and now I want to address that to people who are within the Church who seem to think it is acceptable to bring this stuff into the Church.


The "Worship Wars" of the past 30 years or so in American Christianity have a root that is deep, and funny thing is that the same people I just talked about that condemned Beethoven are themselves directly responsible for all this.    Although that may seem a stretch, let me explain.  The Fundamentalist emphasis on eschewing what they feel is "against Scripture" has produced a type of iconoclasm, but it is an iconoclasm with two sides.  The one we have just dealt with, but the second has come about as a result of many new developments in the past 30 or so years in Christianity.  With the emergence of such things as Rick Warren and his "Purpose-Driven" movement, as well as televangelism, the Contemporary Christian music industry, the "Seeker-Friendly" church, the "Emerging Church" movement, and also an increasing secularization among American Christians, there has arisen a new type of iconoclasm, and this one has disasterous consequences because the emphasis has shifted from "getting back to Scripture" to making the Church more conformed to culture.   How is this connected to the Fundamentalists, who not only oppose a lot of these other things but have even been targets of them?   Well, unfortunately, it is the same mentality that drives both movements, although I must admit that I do share some convictions with the Fundamentalists on many things.   The common factor with both of these camps is an iconoclasm that centers upon the hatred of one word - TRADITION!  Both groups - the Warrenites and the Fundamentalists - rail in their literature, in scathing terminology I might add, against what they call "traditional Christianity."   The only difference is that the Fundamentalist seeks, in their view, to get back to Scripture while the Emergent/Purpose-Driven/Seeker Church proponent seeks to deconstruct and redefine Christianity in their own image, which they feel is their interpretation of what the New Testament Church is about.  Despite noble ideals on both sides, both are so wrong.    And, here is why.

The Church as an institution is first and foremost the mystical Body of Christ, and as such it exercises an unique role granted to it by Christ Himself, who is its head, to preserve both the best of our humanity as well as transcending it by reflecting God's Kingdom.   What that entails is a propensity for growth, and it is totally possible for the Church to adapt new hymnody, new technology, and other things God has gifted individuals with creating.   That being said, over the centuries the Church has utilized the talents of many great classical composers in its liturgy and hymnody, and it has also utilized the best in artistic expression.   St. John of Damascus made that point abundantly clear as he refuted the iconoclasts, and indeed had it not been for the Church, Western civilization may have been lost.   I challenge some of my friends in the Fundamentalist camp in particular to give Dr. Alvin Schmidt's book Under The Influence (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001) as well as D. Jame Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe's book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997) for more about that.   Also, St. John of Damascus, and his courageous stand against the Iconoclasts, is worth a study as well - if it weren't for people like him, the Renaissance and for my Protestant brethren the Reformation would not have happened.   So, as the Fundamentalists attempt to eschew certain things, and the Emergent Church people attempt to deconstruct the legacy of the Church, they need to understand they do so in great ignorance and with great consequence.   As the Church continues until the coming of its Master in glory one day, it will continue to adapt certain things to its heritage - that is inevitable.  But, the things it adapts should never contradict or destroy its witness, nor should its past legacy be thrown out.  The idea is to build upon the foundation, not to rip apart the foundation with each generation.   Ultimately though, it is about discernment.   We are mandated to do two things as commanded by I Timothy 2:15:

1.  Presenting ourselves approved unto God without shame

2.  Rightly dividing the Word of truth.


As I contemplated writing this, I received some insight into this verse I have never thought about before, despite the fact it is one of the first Scripture verses I ever committed to memory.  First, presenting ourselves approved unto God without shame.   One, this means we should always rejoice in the great legacy of the Church and its works, and we don't have reason to be shamed or afraid of them.  Many modern Evangelicals and Fundamentalists fall short of this, due to the fact they have a misunderstanding of the "traditions of men" Scripture talks about.  They seek to throw out the right traditions a lot of times while either creating their own or holding onto the wrong ones.   This has robbed many Christians of a great blessing.   Second, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.  What this entails is exercising godly discernment.   Many American Christians are impaired when it comes to this, because you either have the Fundamentalists eschewing the good things or the Emergents adapting the bad ones, and both miss it by infinity.    Also, there is a lot of muddying the waters when it comes to these matters too, because everyone these days seems to set themselves up as "armchair theologians" and in a sense they have become their own "popes."   This is why you have many Fundamentalists and Emergents throwing out Beethoven for different reasons but the same motive - one seeks to eschew while the other seeks to replace, and in the end both are wrong!  Discernment again is the key factor - in adapting or utilizing a new hymn, etc., in the Church, there are two important questions that must be asked:

1.  Does this conform to both Scripture and Tradition?

2.  Is this something that gives our best to the Lord?


These two things are a measuring-rod for the utilization of anything - new hymnody, new books, etc. - that is candidate for adaptation into the life and spirituality of the Church.  That being said, I have some thoughts to elaborate upon.  First, let me assure you all that it is not wrong to listen to secular music or enjoy anything of a creative nature in a secular setting.   That being said, I must also say though that not everything that is part of secular culture is appropriate for the Church - I like Guy Lombardo's music, for instance, but it doesn't need to be part of the Mass of our parish!    Second, some things however are not really things a Christian needs to be participating in, secular or sacred - rock music, pornography, drugs, etc.  Reason is, these things are not compatible with the Christian worldview and don't have a place in either the individual life of a Christian or in the corporate/institutional life of the Church, and that is why I do not advocate using rock music (or rock-inspired music) in a church setting.   An individual who wants to listen to rock music outside the church walls, whether secular or CCM, needs to take that issue up with God themselves, as it is a matter of personal conviction in that regard - some people have the strength to listen to that stuff, while others need to stay away from it.  I feel the same way about alcohol consumption - the Church has never condemned alcohol consumption, and enjoying a glass of wine with dinner will not eternally damn your soul, be rest assured!  It is the abuse and over-indulgence of alcohol that the Church condemns, just as over-indulgence and abuse of anything is wrong - it falls under the sin of gluttony, but in the case of alcohol, it can also impair your health and judgement if abused.   Rock music, too, is not something that should be indulged in, just because of what it represents and where it comes from.  Unlike other forms of music, which stay within convention and often grow and evolve (jazz is a good example of this), rock music has not evolved, but has devolved - it is the only form of musical expression I know of that has actually gotten worse the longer it is around.   And, its attributes are like a bad terminal virus in that they infect other musical forms and "dumb them down."   It actually makes almost perfect sense, for instance, as to why the Rick Warren advocates and the Emerging Church camp encourage using it - they have similar motives!  Warren, Erwin McManus, Brian McLaren, and others of this mentality seek to "devolve" and reconstruct Christianity in their image, and they want to do away with anything that is part of the Church's legacy.  And, they use rock music to do that to the Church's hymnody, because rock music is about the same thing.   That is why it doesn't belong in Christianity.   But, Fundamentalists are equally guilty - they rightly eschew rock music, but in their frenzy to divest themselves of what they dub the "traditions of men," they also throw out some beautiful hymnody of the Church because it is either "too catholic" or "too pentecostal," or some other thing that doesn't conform to their standards - and, that is the key phrase:  their standards (ie: traditions of men)!  Thing is, the Church's musical tradition and hymnody allows for a great deal of diversity - it stretches over hundreds of years, and encompasses every age, culture, and situation.  I myself pretty much listen to a diversity of Christian music, ranging from Ethiopian Orthodox liturgical hymnody to the Blackwood Brothers, and all of it is in conformity with the teachings of the Church Catholic as well as being artistically acceptable.   It is OK, remember, to use more than your brain in the worship of our God - He tells us to worship him with all our being, and that includes all of our senses;  it is all throughout the Psalms.  So, when both the Emergent crowd and the Fundamentalists start throwing out things because they are "too traditional" or they attach an allegorical meaning (particularly Fundamentalists when it comes to the use of incense in worship - it's all a symbol to them) to practices they otherwise would say are "too Catholic" (the ugly beast of Romophobia raises its head again!).  But, those things in their literal context allow us to worship in spirit and in truth, because God endowed us with these senses - so, in that context, who is actually violating Scripture then when it comes to the use of incense??   Looks to me like our Fundamentalist friends may have a little problem there, being they claim to be literalists - again, discernment comes into play. 

We have said a lot here in this teaching, and I hope you all get something out of it.  Some on both sides of the issue are going to be offended, but if you fall into those categories, I admonish you again to read I Timothy 2:15 and make an application of what it says in lieu of the Church's teaching and Biblical context.   God bless you until next time.



Friday, May 18, 2012

Holding Onto Spiritual Legacies Without Burning Bridges

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or by our epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15)


Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6)



It has been a while since I have given a good teaching, and today as I thought a lot about what to say, the Lord gave me the above verses based on something I have been wanting to address for some time, and I wanted today to finally tackle this issue. 


I was reading an article yesterday that my spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, wrote entitled "The Dead End of Convert Infatuation" (http://www.stsymeon.org/archive/thedeadendofconvertinfatuation.htm) in which he addresses the surge in converts to the Orthodox Church from many Evangelical and Protestant traditions.   He says, basically, that many converts are so enamoured with their new "discovery" (quotations mine) that they burn religious bridges behind them, and like Fr. Eusebius, I feel this is unfortunate.   Of course, this is nothing new, as in the past many converts to Evangelical, Fundamentalist, or Pentecostal denominations from Catholic backgrounds did the same thing - everything "Catholic" all of a sudden became something evil and nasty, and as a result a religious experience which was supposed to give them much joy instead fostered bitterness and a nasty spirit of unforgiveness.  I remember in particular a professor I once had in college by the name of Dr. Andreas Carrodeguas.   Dr. Carrodeguas was a former Benedictine priest who at some point became born again, and when he did he basically became so vitriolic towards the Catholic Church that his own bias colored his classroom manner, and although I liked the guy and respected his great mind (he was a brilliant scholar) I was personally offended by his attitude.   I don't know what it is about American Christians and their converts on the mission field, but it just seems like for some bizarre reason they want to eschew their past when they leave one church and join another.   I myself have had that temptation too, but overcame it.  Perhaps some of these people had bad experiences, which I can understand, but for the most part it seems as if the person who is responsible for converting them is more than often the blame - I have seen evangelists, lay discipleship workers, and others spew some rather venomous (and blatantly wrong!) junk from Sunday School classrooms and pulpits, and what they are saying has little to do with the Gospel and its message.   And, as you will see momentarily, this is not a problem that is exclusive to Pentecostals and Evangelicals - liturgical traditions have their fair share of this too.

I have invested a lot of time combatting many things over the years of writing these articles, and as of late I have taken great lengths to expose the errors of modern fads such as the "Purpose-Driven" movement and the exploits of many popular TV preachers.   However, today I want to take a little break from doing that and address my own people, as there are some housecleaning issues we need to take care of in our churches too, and one of the worst is this whole thing of "Convert Infatuation," to use Fr. Eusebius' term for it.   The two verses you seen me quote earlier have a lot to do with correcting this problem, and hopefully some who are guilty of it will take what I say to heart.

Beginning in the 1970's, there was a great move among Evangelicals and Pentecostals to rediscover the "ancient Church."   As a result, literally thousands of them have found their way into Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and independent liturgical Church traditions, and I am part of that.   I feel that this is a move of God too, because God is calling His Remnant Church together and in order to go forward in this case we need to rediscover a heritage so many of us have rejected.   Converts come into liturgical/sacramental Churches in many ways.  The most recent of course has been the Convergence Movement, but long before that sincere Christians have been led, through the readings of the Church Fathers and other venues, into the sacramental/liturgical tradition.   This is actually a good thing, for in doing so many of these people - I myself am among that number - have enriched their own Christian walk.   But, just like in the past when Evangelical soul-winners aimed to convert Catholics, some things have happened that created  problems.  For one, when some are "converted" to Orthodoxy or the Catholic Church, they are told that previously they were not really Christians and therefore to hold onto any former convictions (no matter how Scriptural) would be considered a heresy, and therefore they were discouraged from preserving a spiritual legacy they already had.  This is particularly true among converts to Orthodoxy, who like Fr. Eusebius correctly points out often "burned bridges" when it came to their past.   Unfortunately, as Fr. Eusebius also notes, it created problems on both sides - the converts almost always became so enamoured with externals that they grew legalistic and even antagonistic towards other Christian denominations, and their attitudes re-enforced some already bad attitudes on the part of Orthodoxy that should have been dealt with and eliminated generations ago.   As a result, some converts lose something that is precious.   Bishop Malcolm Smith, himself a convert from the nondenominational Charismatic movement to the Anglican tradition, once said that there are two issues that plague Christians when they encounter other Christians of different traditions - one is Romophobia, in which some former Catholics as well as some misinformed cradle Evangelicals literally bristle when words such as "sacrament," "Eucharist," or "Liturgy" are mentioned.  The other, however, is what he called Charisophobia, meaning some former Evangelicals getting equally chagrined when something smacks of too much "emotion" for them, or God forbid, anyone talks in any way that is too "Protestant" in an Orthodox parish!  There is obviously a breakdown in communication somewhere and someone was taught wrong when stuff like this happens, and what happens is the introduction of something that Charismatic Episcopal Church bishop and veteran missionary Fr. Philip Weeks calls "The Three Young Ladies" - mis-understanding, mis-communication, and mis-trust (Philip Weeks and Hugh W. Kaiser, Non Nobis Domine! The Convergence Movement and the Charismatic Episcopal Church {Maitland, FL:  Barnabas Ministries, 1996} p. 62).   These things go against what we are admonished in the Collect for Peace in the Morning Prayer service of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (p. 17) when it invokes "O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord."
Concord is a Latin term which means "same heart."   We as Christians are one in Christ - one Body, one Church, and one Holy People (Romans 12:4-5, and Ephesians 4:11).  Therefore, we need to start acting accordingly.   Despite what some legalists in the Orthodox Church in particular may say (not just picking on them, as Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants all have their fair share of them too!) they are not the perfect Church.  Yes, they may have the fulness of the Sacraments, and yes, they may have ancient roots going back to the Apostles - I fully affirm and believe both are true.   But, over the years, Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church have both been infected with a similar legalism that Jesus found 2000 years ago among the Jews, and it is just as ugly to look at in both cases.   Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for these attitudes, and the Gospels are filled with accounts of Him doing so - would He not similarly hold us accountable for the same sin, being His nature is immutable (Hebrews 13:8)?   This problem, I feel, is a root sin in the Church today, although it has been taken different directions - the "Emerging Church" movement, for instance, seeks to divorce itself of all its heritage, and thus is barely recognizeable as Christians.  Converts to other churches oftentimes fall into the same trap on a lesser scale - in their zeal and sometimes bitterness, they eschew any trappings of their former affiliations, even condemning them as something evil or heretical, and do so often at their own loss.   A godly heritage is precious, and as we grow, we need to appreciate where we came from as well as where we have arrived.  

That being said, I have a word for the converts today.   Especially in America, it seems like in recent years the church has installed revolving doors, and a great migration has happened between churches - Evangelicals are becoming Catholics and Orthodox, and Catholics and Orthodox are becoming Evangelicals.   Let me say that all three traditions have validity as genuine expressions of the Christian faith, and none are perfect and therefore have something to offer each other.    I myself am a convert to the Catholic tradition from the Pentecostal movement - I was raised in a Holiness/Pentecostal environment, got my degree at an Assemblies of God College, and have walked with the Lord as a Christian for 26 years, of which 17 I have been a Catholic Christian.   I am about as fully Catholic as anyone - I believe in the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, I love the beauty and reverence of her liturgy and worship, and I have even come to have a strong Marian leaning, as the Holy Theotokos has impacted my life personally in a great way.  But, there are many wonderful things I would not trade for the world when it comes to my spiritual roots - I still know and believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and not only teach about the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit but fully practice them.   I love good old-fashioned Southern Gospel music, as well as a good tent meeting, and if the preaching is inspirational I value and appreciate it.   And, I also feel all of this can be integrated into my own spiritual walk, because it is all a part of my testimony.   Like many, I have had bad experiences in my former church tradition too - especially coming out of the Pentecostal tradition, you experience a diversity of things; the good, the bad, and the ugly!  I have seen it all, and some of the worst of it repulses me to this day, but I also know it is not representitive of all Pentecostals either.   And, as I grow in understanding, I fully believe and have come to the conclusion that the sacramental and the Pentecostal are not only compatible, but they actually need each other!  And, for some of the legalists on both sides of the issue, I appeal to history - the first and oldest Pentecostal movement happened in a sacramental/liturgical context in the 1830's with the Catholic Apostolic movement.   Also, it must be mentioned that one of the earliest Pentecostal pioneers in the UK, Rev. Alexander Boddy, was an Anglican clergyman with distant ties to John Wesley (more on that momentarily!) who visited the Solovetsk Monastery in Russia.   While there, he looked at the icon written into the dome of the cathedral, and it depicted a scene from the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit.   He later saw this as a reference to Acts 2, and that the Holy Spirit and its empowerment was not just for the Apostles or priests, but was for all believers - he later became one of the founders of the Elim Church in England, one of the oldest Pentecostal groups there.  The impact Orthodoxy had on his life - he wore an Orthodox cross he received in Russia, and was even proported to venerate icons he brought back with him from there even after becoming part of the Pentecostal movement (see Bishop Kalistos Ware's well-documented paper on this entitled "Personal Experience of The Holy Spirit According To The Greek Fathers," which can be found at http://silouanthompson.net/2008/08/personal-experience/).   It is time we brought this all back together as Boddy and others saw it. 

And, speaking of John Wesley, let's talk about who he was for a moment, shall we?   John Wesley is often touted as the founder of the Methodist Church, and a significant segment of the Evangelical tradition - Pentecostals and the Wesleyan/Holiness movement - view him as a spiritual father of their movements.  Yet, would he be an Assemblies of God, United Methodist, or Nazarene minister if he were alive today?  What I am about to say will shock many on both sides of this issue, because John Wesley in reality not the person many Evangelicals who claim his legacy say he was!  For one thing, Wesley never founded the Methodist Church, and for all his life he and his brother Charles were both Anglican clergymen.  But, not just any Anglican - they were high-church Anglo-Catholics who would have actually resembled more of the priests in my own Anglican Catholic Church I am part of than they would have the typical Methodist or Nazarene congregation.   For one, Wesley prayed the Rosary, which also indicated he had a high regard for the Theotokos, whom he also believed was ever-Virgin (as did many of the Protestant Reformers, I might add).   Also, he was an avid reader of the Church Fathers, in particular the Macarian Homilies and the writings of St. Ephrem.   Regarding the latter, he wrote in his 1756 "Address To The Clergy" about St. Ephrem that he was "the man of a broken heart,"  meaning that St. Ephrem had a humility and total devotion to God that often he was broken before God (see Gordon Wakefield's article, "John Wesley and Ephrem Syrus," which can be accessed at www.bethmardutho.org,  where it was originally published in 1998 in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies.   I had referenced this before in a scholarly paper I wrote years ago about the doctrine of initial evidence and the Syriac Christian tradition).  I would go also as far as to say that the inspiration for the Wesleyan doctrine of second-blessing sanctification, or "Bible Holiness," had its roots in the Eastern Christian idea of theosis - if you will read Wesley's classic work, On Christian Perfection, and compare it to, say, St. John Climacus' work The Ladder of Divine Ascent, you may see some parallels that surprise you!  As we really delve into the practices of the ancient Church, one finds that in a lot of ways it had much in common with both Catholics and Orthodox as well as Pentecostals, but it also was vastly different from them in that it didn't carry all the baggage and legalism - not that the early Church was perfect, but its leaders seemed to be more spiritually discerning than many today are, which should be an alert to us that maybe it is we who are wrong and not them.   More things could be cited here - for instance, several Anabaptist monastics including the Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania and the Eckerlin Brothers in my native West Virginia - that show some seemingly incompatible traditions may have more in common than they thought!  Too bad so many on both sides fail to recognize it, and instead you have Orthodox listening to the likes of people like the late Fr. Seraphim Rose (an unrepentant homosexual convert to Orthodoxy from mainline Protestantism) while Evangelicals listen to years of bad rehashed garbage that has its roots in the writings of Alexander Hislop and Lorraine Boetner.   The Seraphim Roses and Alex Hislops have produced disciples like Frank Schaeffer and Jack Chick, among others, who thrive on crazy speculations and skewed history in order to justify their own biases, and these people do no one any service in doing so.  That being said, I have some concluding remarks.

I have come to believe that true Christians will bear witness of one another via the Holy Spirit that indwells them (or is supposed to).   And, true Christians are found in all Christian churches - I value my Evangelical and Pentecostal brethren that I know personally who are great prayer warriors and live lives that reflect the presence of Christ.   Likewise, I know many wonderful Catholic and Orthodox Christians - I was personally mentored by Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, and also count among my spiritual influences the late St. Padre Pio, both of whom were two of the greatest spiritual giants of our time - and they bless me as well.  God's Remnant is found where he chooses to call them, and no amount of legalism and triumphalist bias will change that fact - some of these legalists in the churches are going to be in for a rude surprise one day when they finally realize who God really called to be His disciples!  And, in these times when people of faith have a lot more opposition and challenges - we get attacked for our position by the poisonous environments of Corporate America, where many of us have to work to pay our bills, as well as on social media such as Facebook, where speaking your convictions on your own personalized page will often get you thrown to the hyenas who will call you names, slander you, etc. for your point of view - we need to know who our brethren are, and oftentimes the old-time Holiness/Pentecostal may have more in common with the Roman Catholic traditionalist who adheres to the old Latin Tridentine Mass than they will with the typical mainstream Assembly of God church.   The whole point of my writing this is to issue a rallying-call - we need to set aside our legalisms and learn to discern, simple as that.  Until we do so, the Body of Christ will remain fractured and He will be grieved over our pettiness.  However, as we do so, we also need to do so without sacrificing our convictions and our own roots.   God bless each and every one of you until next time.