This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

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.