Orthodoxy: How I Found the Ancient Church
Approximately two years ago (2015), I began questioning my faith. Questions on Sola Scriptura, “Once saved, always saved,” (OSAS) and historical veracity of Protestantism itself began surfacing. I found myself wondering, “how did the earliest Christians worship?” Did the earliest Christians believe that baptism is efficacious? Is communion (eucharist) merely symbolic or is it Christ’s real body and blood? What is true Christian orthodoxy? The doubt I experienced led my wife and me to join the church that still practices as the first Christians did – the Orthodox Church.
The Root Issue
I found that, no matter how I tried to work around it, the root of all my questions was this: is the Bible the sole authority for Christians? If the answer is yes, and Christians need to look no further than Scripture to find instruction in their faith, it didn’t matter how the earliest Christians worshipped. If the answer is yes, OSAS may well indeed be true and baptism may or not be efficacious.
For those of you who may not know, Sola Scriptura is the Protestant doctrine that “Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.” If you are Protestant, your church almost certainly adheres to the doctrine.
There are many, many arguments both for and against Sola Scriptura I have read online and elsewhere, but the most compelling I’ve found is this:
Where is Sola Scriptura found in the bible?
If Sola Scriptura cannot be found in the Bible, it is self-defeating.
Some have posited that Sola Scriptura is found in Scripture, albeit not explicitly. The problem with that, however, is that if Sola Scriptura is not explicitly stated in Scripture, then one must rely on Scriptural interpretation to arrive at the doctrine. If one is employing Scriptural interpretation, it follows that one is relying on an extra-Biblical authority to support the doctrine that there is no authority but the Bible. Furthermore, the Apostles never taught Sola Scriptura and neither did any later Church Fathers. If Sola Scriptura is the truth, why do so many people interpret in different ways? Ultimately, under Sola Scriptura, the person is his or her own authority, even over Scripture.
Finding myself unpersuaded by the arguments for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, I began to search both Scripture and many historical records for what the ancient Christians believed and practiced. I found that until sometime in the 11th century, there was originally only one Church. There were no denominations. In the 11th century (most date it to 1054 AD), the Church of the West (based in Rome), parted ways with the Eastern Churches (collectively known as the Orthodox Church) to form what is now known as Roman Catholicism. The disagreements that led to this split are complex and is best left up to experts (I invite you to read The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware for a great in-depth treatment.
Rome and Orthodoxy
I learned that, while the Western Church (still consisting of only Rome) went on to develop new doctrines, the Eastern Church (hereafter referred to as the Orthodox Church) did not. The Orthodox Church sees the Chair of Peter (read: the Pope) as first among equals, and not the Supreme Patriarch. The Orthodox Church has no system of indulgences or Treasury of Merit. While the Western church generally attempts to define most aspects of the Christian faith that are not detailed in Scripture, Eastern Orthodoxy does not. While you may think that these issues only exist between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, do not forget that Protestantism and Anglicanism were born out of Western philosophy and the Catholic Church.
So where did the Orthodox Church come from? It came from the Apostles themselves. A look at the Timeline of Church History (from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese website) shows this well.
It is clear that both the Aristotelian thinking and doctrinal development that occurred within Catholicism after the Schism in 1054 AD were partially passed on to Protestantism while the Orthodox Church remained largely unaffected.
On Sunday, July 30, 2017, we were Chrismated into the One, Holy, Catholic (Not to be conflated with Roman Catholicism) and Apostolic Church – Eastern Orthodoxy.
It was a beautiful Chrismation. Our sponsors, Ken and Maggie have been wonderful from the first day we wandered into St. Demetrios (our new parish) over a year ago. Our friends, Alistair, Beth, Tim, Jamie and John were also great resources – always up for a chat over burgers and beer. Our Priest, Father Nicholas, was very patient and helpful as we inundated him with questions and concerns. We credit much of our growth to you all.
To my Protestant family, let there be no misunderstanding. We did not make this decision in haste. It was a long, prayerful (and tearful), painful process. I also want to highlight a few differences:
- In the Orthodox Church, there is no concept of Once Saved, Always Saved. If you were to ask me, “are you saved?”, I would reply: I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.
- We believe that the Eucharist (communion) is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ, and not merely a symbol of His sacrifice.
- We believe that we can pray to the Saints, and that they can hear us. We believe that the Saints, in turn, intercede for us in prayer.
- The Orthodox Church is liturgical (almost all churches are, regardless what they claim).
- We do not believe in salvation by faith alone.
Three nformative resources are listed below if you’d like to know more: