Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Conversion’ Category


Random Thoughts – July Edition

I’ve been so busy with work and dealing with the crash of our finances, that I’ve not had much time to come up for air. I read the SCOTUS decision on DOMA, it took me a couple of minutes to dig through it…

I just knew there was a wave of anger coming from believers the minute I read the decision,  the blaming and shaming would begin and the real discussion about what SCOTUS said would get lost.

Tim Kimberly weighed in on the topic with a good reasonable opinion, and then generated some heat from the comments section. You can read it here:

<a href=”” title=”Supreme Court Versus Sola Scriptura” target=”_blank”></a>

Sure enough, the next morning my iPad reader was full of commentaries from the Christian Community, they ran all the way from quoting the old testament lamentations, throwing ash on ourselves and wearing sack cloth (which could be a new fashion trend), to blaming the whole thing on our apathy.

My take is pretty simple, I think Tim’s right and we are now, and have been for quite a while, a secular society. Despite the culture wars, and battle mentality of some in the Church, this country was founded on the belief that faith, and personal belief should not be  legislated but protected. And yet I find so many in the Church who want to change that, they aren’t happy that others don’t share their delicate beliefs, and want our government to fix the situation.

I’m also tired of hearing the nonsense about our founding fathers all being Christian, any first year student of history will tell you that it’s not that simple, and disingenuous to suggest such a thing. That doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in religious freedom, they did. But their personal beliefs are all over the board, sorry revisionists but that’s the truth.

The Supreme Court, whether you agree with them or not, made the right decision, we cannot, or should not legislate morality at the federal level. And we certainly should not single out one belief system or another and hold it in higher regard than others at a federal level, the fed’s job is not to play that role, and the minute we change that we have lost what the founding fathers attempted to do.

We are not redefining ‘Holy Matrimony’ as defined by the church, but simply allowing marriage at a state level to be defined there. Obama stated that there is no desire to force Churches to accept the new definitions, and while I don’t always trust him, I believe him in this case. There’s no benefit in doing so, in this country the Church gets to believe what it wants, regardless of how one feels about that. If we have that type of religious freedom then, it needs to flow the other way. You may not agree with same sex marriages, that is your right, but you also don’t get to legislate them out, unless we as a society deem they are destructive as a whole.

Do I care if same sex couples get married?, not really, I don’t think it’s the end of society, at least I haven’t started building my bunker yet. There are much more pressing issues to focus on, Abortion is the killing of our own kind, and I think one could easily make the case that it sets a precedent that hurts our society as a whole. Same sex marriage, outside the church?, not so much.

I was also amused to read Kirk Cameron’s take on the issue, it was the old shame game, it’s all our fault, because we didn’t do enough, or witness enough, on and on and on the blame goes. I left that world a long time ago, and it feels good to be looking at it from the outside.

Apple and the Post Jobs Era…

I’m an admitted Apple Fan boy, have been for a long long time. I was very pleased with the new changes to iOS that Apple is making, and have decided to get back into programming on the side. I do some much administrative work in my day to day job, that I don’t get to code as much as I used too, and I miss it. Plus I find the OS X and iOS platforms fascinating.

I think Apple is doing fine without Steve at the helm any longer, and the latest changes show they are still innovating, and pushing the envelope in design. I wasn’t blown away by the new Mac Pro, but I’m intrigued. It looks like Darth Vader’s life support system from the outside, but it is impressive on paper, and will probably be outrageously expensive…

Converting to Orthodoxy

We got a chance to sit with Fr. Fenn this week and discuss our current personal situation, it was uplifting to hear his struggles which mirror mine in so many ways. And he didn’t give me sophistry, he gave us some good solid advice and shared Christs love with us, it was a shelter in the middle of the storm, and much appreciated.

He told me to not hold back in sharing my frustration with God, but I’m actually not mad at God this time, I’m mad at myself. So my prayer has been to ask for mercy, it’s all I can think to do.

The other topic that came up was our entrance into the Church, he is off for the next week to a conference and is going to talk to the Bishop about finally pulling the trigger on bringing us officially into the Church. It’s been just about two years, we have been slowly bringing the Orthodox Ascetics into our daily lives. And the one thing that I shared with him was that I have not been able to do reconciliation in over two years, and that weighs on my soul. So hopefully the Bishop will approve our entrance into the Church and we can finally be whole again.

Please Forgive me a sinner…



The Road To Antioch

Ruins In Turkey

Ruins in Turkey

Here is another old post that I found, for some reason I never published, and it’s  very good, it’s still relevant. The one exception is that we will enter into full communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church in August. I can’t find the original date for the article, but I think is was around december of 2012…

We’ve been on this journey for a long time, the road has led us to people and places, we would have never considered when we took our first steps. The path has taught us a great deal, we have found love in some very unexpected places, we have learned theology, some good, some bad, some terrible. We have run into creepy more than once, and left more churches mid-service than we care to admit.

Our goal (mine to start with, Michelle’s later on), was to find the truth at all costs. What that ultimately meant was going back to the very beginning, to the original deposit of faith and learning early church history. When you finally get there, and this is important, if you are willing to be honest with what you find and not try to read into early church history and writing. You are left with only a couple of options, there was only one church for a little over a thousand years. In the 10th century the one Church split into two halves we call East (Orthodox Church) and West (Catholic Church), which you choose is based on your calling.

I believe you can find fulfillment in either church, I believe both have full Apostolic succession (a line of bishops tracing all the way back to the original Apostles), I still find great beauty in the Catholic Church, just as I find a deep reverence in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

The difference between the protestant world and the ancient faiths is one of depth, when I was protestant all I needed was my bible, churches where chosen on what I could get out of them, and how I fit into the worship of the church. We attended countless bible studies, raked over revelation more times than I can count (how many ways can you ms-interpret the number of the beast for crying out loud), and was lied to in so many ways by people who themselves, simply didn’t know any better. Scripture changed in meaning depending on who was teaching, and which translation was being used. Churches always centered around an individual Pastor and his interpretation of the bible, trained or not trained, made no difference. If it matched what we thought, then we where good.

There was, and is today, no depth in the protestant faiths. There’s lots of philosophy, scripture reading, and sophistry. But it’s all dependent on interpretation, normally of one individual. I spent 20 years in the Baptist faith, and while we sure studied the bible a whole lot, we never once talked about where it came from, how it was created, and who put it together. That was not just one Baptist church either, that was a string of them as we moved. I even ran into the King James Only nonsense that one finds in some fundamental Baptist faiths, and heard numerous renderings of why it matters from different pastors. But beyond the doors of the Baptist church I found the same problem, no one wanted to discuss theology, no one wanted to study the early church and it’s foundations. It was all bible study, all the time.

I sat down yesterday to talk with my Orthodox sponsor, and this very topic came up. She lived her life as a committed protestant, did countless bible studies, and ultimately found the experience left her questioning everything. As she started to look at the early church, and make her way into the Orthodox church, she discovered that what she “thought” bible verses said as a protestant, actually had a different meaning when viewed through the lens of the Orthodox church. The more scripture was discussed the more obvious it became that without the guidance of not only the church, but the early church fathers, history and the deposit of faith, it was easy to misinterpret what scripture really meant. The problem is worse when you understand how bibles and their interpretation have changed in the last 400 years. Once Martin Luther began the protestant movement (and not without good reason mind you), history, tradition and the deposit of faith (the teaching of the Apostles) became secondary. Each man could be his own pope, all he needed was a bible to read, and he was all set.

Now 500 years in, we can see the effect that Sola Scripura has had on the church. There have always been and always will be heresies, heretical teachings, religious sects and cults. But today even in mainline protestant churches, we have division after division. All it takes is someone not agreeing over any reason and a new church is born, with new members. I’ve witnessed it first hand, and I’ve commiserated with those who want nothing more than to live a holy life, and are torn asunder by this going our own way nonsense. The Anglican Church which was created when the King could not marry again because the Pope held to Catholic teachings, is now in a state of free fall. Ordaining women, practicing homosexuals and unable to take a stand on any moral issue. Parishioners are leaving in droves, and whole parishes are converting to the Catholic Church to find some stability.

Too many of the men set to preside as pastors over a congregation, have neither the education, nor the training to effectively manage the position. The lack of standard is appalling at times, and the faithful seem nothing more than lemmings willing to follow any teacher off the cliff of new and inventive theology, all while holding their bibles in a death grip claiming they have everything they need.


That’s the issue, without the depth of history, the deposit of faith, and teachings of those who have gone before us, it’s easy to be led astray. There’s nothing quite a creepy as sitting in a service where the women all wear head coverings, rarely speak out, and all because someone misinterpreted what St Paul said to Timothy.

The protestant church is a ship without the rudder of history, the deposit of faith, and the guidance of the church fathers.

When we finally started this journey to a new faith, we looked for stability, something with roots. We never found it, and that’s because nothing in the protestant world goes any farther than 1511. Anything before that period is largely ignored, with the exception of a few chosen Saints like Augustine, who’s idea have been twisted first by Luther, and then later and more egregiously by Calvin. It wasn’t until the Anglican Church that we started to see some roots, but even there it only goes to the 1300’s at best.

When we finally ended up at the doors of the Catholic Church, we both where confused and concerned. But we worked through the issues, and ultimately became Catholic, if only for a short time. While I still believe that the Catholic Church is truly apostolic, the more I studied the early history of the newly founded Christianity,the differences I found in what Catholics taught versus what the church fathers said. Those discoveries are clearly listed here on the site, so I won’t go over them here.

But it finally led us to the door of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, that part of our journey took a year just to come to grips with how different the liturgy and practices are from what we have experienced, even as Catholics. Unlike our protestant background where everything revolves around how we interpret the bible, the Orthodox faith uses tradition, history, writings of the Church Fathers, and men incredibly well educated in sharing what scripture actually means. We don’t yearn to discover something new and inventive in texts that are now well over two thousand years old, and we don’t invent doctrine so that we can describe our theology. We use all the tools are our disposal: History, Tradition, The Deposit of Faith, Teachings of the Church Fathers, and Scripture to define how to live our lives.

In this we find stability, we don’t need a praise band telling us how to be happy in Jesus, nor does our Sunday worship rely on an impassioned sermon from the preacher. Those things don’t matter anymore, instead we are there to honor the Trinity, to give our worship TO God, to partake of the same mysteries that the Christians in Antioch celebrated over 2000 years ago as they did in the book of Acts. There are no lights, no stage, certainly no smoke machines. We don’t need to be hip and have a clever message to bring people in, in fact if you stop by, we will open our doors and our hearts to you, but we won’t pressure you at all. If you have questions we would LOVE to answer them as best we can, but we believe in free will, and that God gave us all the ability to choose for ourselves. You cannot be forced, or tricked into being Orthodox, you have to want to become Orthodox. We will do anything we can to help, but only if that’s what you decide.

When I was Evangelical, going door to door to sell the Gospel was the thing to do, just like the Mormons and JW’s. But as an Orthodox Christian, I’m not here to sell you on the merits of Orthodoxy. I’ll answer any questions, but you and you alone need to make the decision to go down this path to the Ancient faith. It’s a hard road to travel, once you realize how different the early church was, and how the Orthodox Church has maintained that same teaching, you begin to understand the magnitude of change that’s required. What is ingrained in us at an early age in the western world, will slowly and painfully peel away.

When I finally understood how much free will plays a part of Orthodox Theology, my heart soared, it was like being set free after a long imprisonment. Here, finally, was what I had been reading in the scriptures for so many years, and yet forced to submit to the theology of the western church. It makes the journey to Orthodoxy so much easier understanding that God gave each of us the true capability of free will, and despite how we have used it, still loves us unconditionally.

All I can say is that it’s all worth it, even the aesthetic lifestyle one slowly works into as an Orthodox Christian, becomes something more when you realize that the decision rests with you, as to how far you want this to go.

The road has indeed been long and painful, but finally we are at the end, Lent starts this week for us (the Orthodox use a different calendar for Easter), and hopefully with the blessing of the Bishop we will enter into full communion with the Orthodox church.


A longer road less traveled

This is an old post that I found while doing some cleanup, it’s a reflection of my mindset a little over a year ago. Today I’m no longer straddling the fence, I’m not sure why I never published it, so instead of letting it waste away, I’ll share it instead.


When I started my journey from being apostate and living in the evangelical wilderness, back into the world of faith, I never expected it to take me all the way to the doors of the Catholic church. But a little over two years ago, Michelle and I attended our first mass, at what is now our home parish. We actually hid it from the children, because we didn’t want them freaking out until we had a chance to finish freaking out ourselves. The good Father who greeted us that morning, would later take my first shaky confession, and would witness tears of pain and joy, as I confessed my sins.

Now we are facing our first anniversary as new Catholics this Easter, we have been faithful to our parish and faith, and we have found peace in simply being Catholic. We are sponsoring an older couple who come from a pentecostal background, it’s been good to sit and listen to their concerns and know that we had to face the same questions. The road that brought us here has been painful at times, and for a while we were sure that we had finally found home.


I never stopped looking for the truth, I knew that there was more, and the only way to find it was to keep digging until I had satiated my desire for authenticity and truth.

That has led me to a new place in my personal theology, somewhere I never expected to be. My wife is not there yet, and I’m not sure she ever will be, she doesn’t want to go back to the road. Too many painful events, memories, lost friends, and emotions. I agree with her, but I need, or more directly, Have to know where the truth is. As I have mentioned before I also have begun to look at the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and that has opened up a new world for me, one that quite honestly I didn’t even know existed for most of my life.

My theology has come to the point that I don’t think any church in existence today can claim full irrefutable authority or divine providence in matters of faith, certainly no evangelical church can make that claim. Much less the Orthodox or Catholic churches, even with doctrine that explicitly states otherwise, the history of each branch of Christianity tells a different story than the doctrine they present. I’m not trying to state that every church has faults, few would argue that point, rather my point is that no one body of believers has fully held the original deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles. Each has modified or changed it in some way, I’m not sure how you could expect any less. The world has not remained static, and each generation, and age faces new and more difficult challenges. This paired with constant attacks on Christianity from all sides (and often within), and modify doctrine becomes the only way to survive.

I no longer believe the dogma that the papacy is infallible when declaring dogmatic teaching. I know this will bother my Catholic friends, but the theology of infallibility was not even fully decreed as dogma until 1870 at the Vatican I council. And that after a long and bothersome history of the papal office expanding the role of the bishop of Rome, from a primate position among bishops (which is how the early church viewed the bishop of Rome), to the most powerful chair in the world. This expansion of power led to abuse and scandal, and was one of the key linchpins in the schism between east and west in 1054. Let me be clear that I’m not referring to papal cyclicals, doctrinal positions, or the personal human nature of the bishop of Rome. I’m specifically stating that the dogma declared by the Vatican I council is a position that cannot be supported from either Tradition, or Scripture. And despite apologetic claims to the contrary, it is clear from history and the writings of the church fathers that the original deposit of faith, was not seen as giving petrine supremacy to the bishop of Rome.

The Orthodox churches who share the same deposit of faith from the Apostles, certainly have never seen the papacy as universal in the same sense that the Catholic church defined it in 1870. That’s not say that the petrine doctrine found in Matthew has no significance, in fact it’s evident from the early church writings that the early churches looked to Rome and specifically the papacy as the guardian of doctrine. But it was never viewed in the same way that the Catholic church has defined it, and certainly not as Vatican I dogmatically decreed it.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in the primacy of papacy, or the magisterium. I think both are critical to protecting the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, Michelle and I have found stability in knowing that the structure of the Catholic church is not open to the whims of the changing times. At the same time, this very attribute of protecting orthodoxy creates a situation where the church can seem lethargic when reacting to a quickly changing world. So there’s good and bad, but we see it clearly as a positive. And I do dearly love the Catholic church, I love the liturgy, the aesthetic practices, the clergy, the structure and the grandeur of the whole thing. It’s safe, consistent and reliable, even if the people are not.

But I would be lying, if I was to tell you that I think it’s perfect. I cringe when I read apologist or others who feel the need to claim full inerrancy of the dogmatic or doctrinal teachings of the church, because when you take dogmatic teaching like the assumption of Mary, you can’t defend the position without playing the ‘on faith’ or ‘it’s a mystery’ get out jail card. There is nothing substantive in the writings of the church fathers, nothing in scripture on the topic, and the Orthodox have never seen a need to dogmatize the assumption. It’s really christian legend, and I’m not saying that it couldn’t have happened, just that if you are going to make something part of your dogma, you should be able to clearly and concisely argue your position.

So what about the Orthodox church?, my exposure so far has been scholastic in nature. But even with that type of limited exposure I have found that there are divisions among the various Orthodox churches, and you can find Orthodox churches that are exceedingly strict to the western palette, and ones that conform more to the needs of a modern society. The one thing that I find attractive is that in all my reading, the Orthodox do their best to protect what was handed to them by the Apostles, and aren’t afraid to admit when they are standing on less than solid ground. I do admit that I find that kind of frank honesty missing in Catholic apologetics, where the answer is always absolute, it’s only rarely will you find someone willing to admit that some doctrine is simply not very defensible.

So from my position, no one can claim full authority. Even with Apostolic succession, you end up with two institutions that haven’t gotten along since 1054,   both showing a clear succession from the Apostolic traditions to today. That doesn’t mean they are bad, or wrong, my point is more subtle than that. It means that until the two can join together and speak with a united voice, neither can really be considered the one true church.

I am, for lack of a better term, stuck in the middle. I love the Catholic Church, I don’t think it’s perfect and I don’t buy into all of it’s dogma, but I’m reticent to leave because I find so much beauty in what it is and what it does. I find that the Orthodox faith makes so much more sense, and on matters not relating to Rome, they seem to be so much more reasonable. I’ve learned more about being Catholic from reading Orthodox authors than I have Catholic ones, there are exceptions, but they are pretty scarce.


Finally, the river has been crossed, a new harbor awaits…

We asked today to be allowed as Catechumens into the Antiochian Orthodox church, next sunday at the end of the Great Liturgy we will be accepted into the arms of the OCA and begin our journey to becoming fully Orthodox.

This has been a long and trying year for us, we left the Catholic Church, we stumbled at the strong middle eastern influence of the Orthodox liturgy, and our lives unraveled around us. At a time when we where between the shores of the Catholic faith and the Orthodox faith, I believe, God used circumstances to finally push us in the right direction. There is a huge sense of relief with our asking this morning, and the reception, along with the fellowship warmed our hearts.

I knew 5 minutes into the Liturgy this morning it was time, I signed to Michelle I was ready, and she told me later she felt the same calling. I don’t think that was coincidence,  I think it more divine providence. We have been off and on with the OCA, struggling with the liturgy and the aesthetic nature of it all, I tend to shy from piety because of my background in the Baptist faith.

But a month ago I met over lunch with Fr. Mark, and we discussed our hesitation and concerns, he shared the difficulty in his conversion which helped us to relax and just let it happen. We stopped worrying about getting the details right, and let the liturgy come to us naturally, it made all the difference and we are beginning to finally settle in. I have also realized that the piety I was so concerned about, is nothing of what I experienced while I was a Baptist. It was an internal change, but one that allowed me to start taking my guards down, which is a big step. Even while Catholic I never fully let my true self out, I was always on guard at some level, I never felt the familial comfort that we have found with Orthodoxy. That’s not a knock at all against the Catholic Church, I’m just pointing out the difference in how we have been received. I did a full year in the ministry of Lector, and it was an honor to be able to serve and pronounce the Gospel, and if we could heal the Schism, I would sign up again because serving to me, is the highest form of praise.

This journey will change us, I can already see that we are going to need a basic understanding of Greek to get through this, that’s a challenge, I could say it’s all Greek to me right now!, and very little in the liturgy or practice uses western names. They are in many ways very close to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, just with wildly different names. There are new Diet restrictions, weekly fasts, a more stringent rules leading up to the Eucharist. It’s all doable, but it’s new, and it will take time to adjust.

So we will start out the new year on a new set of journeys, from a new house, kids moving out, and into a new and wonderful faith.

2013’s going to be a ringer of a year!!!

Bring it on!


The Vicar: Part II

This last week I met with the Vicar for the final time, he was being reassigned to another Parish, and I was returning his books and giving him one more shot. It was bittersweet in many ways, a new parish is getting a very talented and compassionate man, who has a true heart for Christ. He will be missed for sure.

I read through the suggested material from my last post, plus some of the books the father had supplied, I found them again to be fully unconvincing on the issue of Papal infallibility. I don’t buy the apologist line that it’s in there if you look for it, that’s the same line that other religions use to justify their theology. You have to read the meaning behind the text, and read the whole history to get the true ‘meaning’ of the words. I read Adrian Fortescue’s ‘The Early Papacy’ and found that again, as with other Catholic apologist, good sound evidence of the PRIMACY of the papacy, but nothing meaningful on infallibility. I stopped reading Catholic Apologists on the issue after that, I just don’t see the point. I can read the early fathers for myself, and ultimately *I* have to decide.

So based on everything I’ve read, the only way you can get papal infallibility is to claim it as part of the Doctrine of Development, because despite what I keep hearing time and again from Apologists, I can’t find any direct or even salvageable indirect history that it was ever fully supported outside of Rome, or that the early churches in the East, had the same concept. Francis Sullivan, who is highly regarded as a Catholic Theologian, basically says the same thing. The man has a Doctorate in Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, and while he believes in papal infallibility, he’s at least honest enough to say you can’t use history to prove it.

As to the development of doctrine, the argument that the trinity had to be developed like the the findings of the early church doctrine, is an incredibly weak position to try and prove your case. First of all, the trinity is EASY to find in scripture, there is clear scriptural and historical evidence for what the councils agreed upon, and certainly we deepened our understanding of those issues over time. But that’s COMPLETELY different than saying we had to develop the immaculate conception, or infallibility, because WHERE DO YOU FIND THE SEED FOR THOSE LIKE YOU CAN FOR THE TRINITY? Do they exist in any standard written form?, and I’m not referring to the practice of reading your theology into someone elses writings. The church Fathers weren’t illiterate idiots, they spoke clearly and concisely on a number of topics, but it seems that there is a hidden theology in their writings that Catholics have been able to piece together, where’s Dan Brown when you need him? Doctrine has to develop and change over time, I’m not disputing that, but you can’t claim something out of nothing, and then make it dogmatic. That simply goes too far for me…

Back to my discussion with the Vicar, what became apparent to me this time around. Was that the Vicar who is a cradle Catholic, has never explored much outside of Catholicism, why would he? I mean you have a church claiming to be the one ‘True’ church, and an infallible pope and magisterium. So why ask questions? I wasn’t there to try and challenge his faith, he’s got a good handle on it. I was there to try and quiet my doubts, and this time it did the exact opposite. Part way into the conversation I realized we had left logic at the door, and had started into the area of philosophical sparring, which I really have no interest in.

We did discuss how far my disbelief could go before I fell into schism with the church, and that for me was the point where something inside me broke. When all your left with is posturing, and the discussion begins to resemble an Aristotelean diatribe, the gig is up and it’s time to move on.

We parted on good terms, I hold no ill feelings against the Catholic church, but I cannot honestly consider myself Catholic and gloss over these crucial issues. If the doctrine of infallibility, immaculate conception, and the assumption where not Dogma then I’d be staying. But they aren’t, and the gradual change in the character of the papacy starting around time of the Gregorian reforms have led to a situation where the church has overreached.

This is a decision that has been a long time in the making, I could spend another two years rooting and digging, and I’m convinced now that I would still reach the same conclusion. I’m not an apologist, I’m not going to write any books on the papacy, I am simply someone who had to decide for himself where the truth was to be found. Fortescue was kind of the lynch pin for me, once I realized how weak his argument was on infallibility, there was no going back, the landslide had begun.

I came home Friday evening dispirited, but after a good stiff drink, and some time to talk things out with my wife. I decided at that point that I needed to move on, it was time to go east, stop putting off the inevitable, and get with the program.

So this Sunday, Michelle and I attended our first Great Liturgy service with the Christians at the local Antioch Eastern Orthodoxy parish. It was like entering a different world, the basic structure of the liturgy was the same, but the form was SOOOO different. We didn’t feel out of place, as much as lost trying to keep up with what was going on, we’ll get better as time goes by. We did decide that doing the Great Liturgy, and then the kneeling vespers was a little too much for these novices :)

Next Sunday we are visiting the local Greek Orthodox parish, they have this new invention called pews, so maybe our legs won’t hurt so much after a long service.



The Vicar

Two weeks ago I met with the Vicar at our local parish, I always enjoy spending time with the good Fr. He’s very orthodox in his faith, has a degree in philosophy and theology, and he enjoys a good discussion about faith.

But this time I had a real surprise for him, I told him that I was considering leaving the Catholic faith, and moving into the Eastern Orthodox church. To his credit he only paused for a moment before beginning to ask questions, and find out what was driving my decision. After a lengthy discussion covering a whole spectrum of issue, we  finally got down to the following issues, listed in order of precedence:


1. Papal and Magisterial Infallibility.

2. Universal Authority given to the Papacy in the Gospel of Matthew as taught by the church.

3. Dogmatizing The Assumption of Mary, and The Immaculate Conception.

4. The Churches stance on contraception and Natural Family Planning.

5. What I agreed to without full understanding when I was confirmed.

The conversation covered many other topics, but none really worth writing about in much detail. We talked about the Filoque and what it means from both the Catholic and the Orthodox perspective, liturgical abuses that still take place (even in our own parish), the sorry state of the RCIA programs.

The first issue on the list is the single most important, on it actually rest all the other issues. We discussed church history, and how I could find no real reference in the writings of the church fathers to bolster the Catholic case for infallibility or universal authority for the papacy. Because of other commitments, he handed me a number of books he used when going through the seminary to become a priest, and I promised to read through them and we would meet back up and continue our discussion. We both agreed that if the Schism could be repaired none of this would be needed, but I’ve come to believe that will never happen until Christs return (more on that in a bit).

The three books where on the Magisterium, the councils of the church, and one called ‘All Things Catholic’. I started on the Magisterium book first, while I don’t deny the magisterium as some do. I do not believe that it can be proven to be infallible, I hold the same view with the Papacy. I believe in the primacy of the petrine position, and that each bishop receives the promise given to Peter in Matthew 15. The Papacy played an important role in the early church in regards to protecting dogma, but I have never found any evidence that the Papacy was given universal authority to make dogmatic statements outside of an ecumenical council.

The book I started with is written by Francis A. Sullivan, and while reading through the book, I ran into a section that made me stop and go back to make sure that I had read what he stated was correct. In discussing the authority of the Papacy, he clearly states that up until 1032, when the schism between east and west happened. That the doctrine of Papal authority ONLY existed with the Roman church, and that even when the Papacy made decrees ex cathedra, that the Eastern churches would not accept such declarations until a ecumenical council was held and the decree could be validated against both the deposit of faith, and scripture.

Wait, What?

Here is a Catholic admitting the very thing I’ve been saying all along, that the early church DID NOT, in any way shape or form support the doctrine of divine Papal authority to decree doctrine unilaterally. He also states very clearly something I had never considered before, that after 1032, when the west was no longer being held to account by the East, the doctrine of Papal authority began to to expand quickly.

I had never considered that the union of East and West was a good counterbalance, but he’s right. The seat of Peter being the universal position of power in the church, is NOT taught in the deposit of faith. If it was then the East either discerned it incorrectly or the Apostles made a mistake. Instead what I’ve seen from history is that the East steadfastly held that the authority of the Papacy did not extend universally, and that unlike the decrees of Vatican I, the Papacy DID not have authority to unilaterally make dogmatic decisions. Only when the Papacy AND the bishops met in a truly ecumenical council could such decisions be made.

I had to stop and smile, I know the Vicar was hoping that the book would clear up the issue for me, instead the author in being truthful made the very case I’ve been making all along. Then he asks a question that I was hoping he would get too:

How can we be confident that the Catholic understanding of papal doctrinal authority is a correct insight into what is implicit in the ‘petrine ministry’?
I would say that our confidence is ultimately based on our belief that the Church of Christ is indefectible in its faith, and that it subsists in the Catholic Church. When the Catholic Church accepted papal authority to define dogmas, it was making a judgement about a norm of its faith. A Church that is indefectible in its faith cannot be mistaken about the very norm of its faith. [Magisterium, Francis A. Sullivan, Wipf And Stock Publishers, Pg 77]

 Two things about this statement, by the time the Church decreed as doctrine, infallibility it was no longer the original Catholic Church, it had long since lost the East and the balance that they brought to such decisions. And I would say that she no longer can be called the ‘One True Catholic Church’, without the East, the Church is missing a key component and no longer has any real accountability other than whatever doctrinal development that the Church decrees as core to the dogma of the faith. That’s a harsh statement, but one that I don’t see any way around, the Church believes that both the Assumption of Mary, and the Immaculate Conception are dogmatic, not because the Church can prove them explicitly.  But because over centuries of theologians, and the Magisterium working through the belief, that they where guided by the Holy Spirit to finally be able to conclude that they could authoritatively make those beliefs, even without Apostolic teaching on the matter, dogmatic.

This development of doctrine concept, when combined with the break at 1032, was a slippery slope that allowed the church to slowly move away from the structure of the first millennium, into one where doctrine is no longer accountable. It should concern Catholics that an infallible Papacy and Magisterium, had to declare themselves as infallible in 1870, and not during the first seven ecumenical councils. If such a drastic doctrine is TRULY inspired, then why declare it only after almost two thousand years?. I’ve heard the argument that the Church was forced to do so, because of the protestant revolution, but the doctrine of Papal authority can be seen as being challenged as early as the second century. So that argument doesn’t wash.

To be fair, I’m now reading through the book where he talks about infallibility and breaks it down. And maybe yet he can make a case, and I will finally see the light. I’m trying to keep an open mind, because I could be wrong, but the fact that the Church made both the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception to be dogmatic, meaning that to be a Christian I HAVE to believe them. Well, that’s a bigger problem than even infallibility. To be clear Orthodox believe in the Assumption (they call it the Dormition), and the Immaculate Conception requires a discussion of original sin, which honestly I don’t have time to address here, but I will at a future point. But you don’t have to believe them to be Orthodox, which is the way it should be.

I’ve made my position clear on contraception, that I believe that in a marriage with medical or external reasons for not having more children, that the Orthodox position is much more grace filled than what you will find with a truly orthodox priest. The point that we did argue on was Natural Family Planning, Catholics just can’t seem to admit that it’s used for contraception. I get that it can be used to conceive, and that’s a GOOD thing. But there is no difference between a married couple using a condom, and using NFP to achieve the same result of no children, sorry there’s no way to spin that one.

I’m reading through this book pretty quickly, and will meet with the Vicar again very soon. As stated before, I still love the Catholic Church, I wish that the schism could be fixed. But that would mean the decree of 1870 would have to be revoked, and that would mean that the whole thing was a mistake. That’s not happening anytime soon…

I cannot in good faith, be forced to believe that the immaculate conception actually took place as taught in the Catholic Faith. And especially that it is an issue of salvation as stated in the decree given by the Papal office. Which means that I don’t believe that office be infallible, it’s all connected. That’s a deal breaker, because the Church has deemed that it has the right after almost two thousand years to change the dogma of the faith. I can’t abide with that, and so it’s East that I continue to go.



What I’m reading

I love my kindle, an average reading day for me is The Orthodox Bible (I like the translation), the Philokalia, and a science fiction novel of some kind (anything that piques my love of fiction)

But last night while searching for a new non-theology book (I gotta keep my sanity somehow), I ran across this book:

Changing Churches: An Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran Theological Conversation

It’s an account of two Lutherans (both professors), who converted away from the Lutheran church to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (Antiochian to be precise). I was intrigued so I grabbed the sample version and read the whole thing this morning, I was blown away by how respectful they are treating the subject, and yet are being fully honest about the strengths and weaknesses in their decisions. I immediately bought the full book, and will dive in tonight. I’m very excited to see how their journeys compare to mine, and what I can gleam from their combined knowledge.

The last time I was this excited was when I found Francis Beckwiths conversion story.

I’ll post a review when I’m done, which won’t be long :)




Answering Devins Questions Part 2…

I realized after writing my last piece that I didn’t fully answer Devins question, it had been on my mind for a few days. So I sat down last night and wrote it out while it was still freshin my mind, then ran upstairs and started working on our renovations…

Here again is Devins question:

“But if you became Catholic while believing that the Catholic Church was in error in one or more of her doctrines, that perhaps reveals that you never fully accepted that God has guided and is guiding her into all truth. Do you believe that God is guiding the EO Churches, protecting them from error in their doctrines? Not accusing, not trying to trap you, just curious.”

So the last part of his question about if God is guiding the EO churches protecting them from error in their doctrines. It’s a complicated answer, and something I have thought about for a long time. But first let me state that I am not a theologian, or an apologist. I’ve been studying Philosophy when my schedule allows (hopefully will get a degree one day), and I love to dig and study, but by no means should someone bank their salvation on anything I say. I have done some study under Michael Patton over at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, and have a huge debt of gratitude for his program that teaches lay people theology.

So let’s start with some biblical references to set the stage:

St Paul in talking to the church in Philippi makes the following statement:

    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 it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
(Philippians 2:12-18 ESV)

He goes on to explain that he is straining and pressing on toward the Goal of being Christ like. His admonition has always stuck with me, I never stop trying to make sure that what I am doing, believing, practicing, helps to make me a better man spiritually.Then we get to 1st John:

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:1-6 ESV)

Finally there are the Bereans:

    The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

(Acts 17:10-15 ESV)

The Bereans have influenced me greatly since coming back to find my faith, I love the fact that they didn’t just take Paul at his word, but went and studied everything he said before believing. So today in our Christian world, we have three main divisions all claiming to have some type of Apostolic succession and the “truth” about the Gospel:

  1. The Catholic Church
  2. The Eastern Orthodox Church
  3. The Protestant Churches

I can easily dismiss the Protestants with a minimal amount of study into both history and scripture, been there, have the funny hats, not doing it again.

But the other two are harder to deal with, much harder.

Protestants by and large, have gone on a rampage against the Catholic faith since Luther introduced his own unique view of the Gospel in 1516. Granted Luther had some very valid concerns about the Catholic Church, but those things eventually got fixed.

So now you have two Churches both claiming Apostolic succession, and both can show a direct historical lineage back to their foundations from the Apostles. So that’s a tie…

Both claim to be the ‘One True Church’, and here comes the rub in this whole thing. Both churches have been plagued by bad decisions, neither side has been ‘Protected’ by God. Catholic apologist will split hairs and say that the dogma of the faith has only been changed by the Papacy a few times, and that is the only time that Papal infallibility comes into play.

It’s true in one sense, but in another, the view from the Catholic side that the Papacy was handed universal authority on matters of faith here on earth, has been problematic. Adding the Immaculate Conception in 1854, the doctrine of Papal infallibility in 1870, and the Assumption of Mary to the dogma of the church in 1965, should give anyone pause. In my view the issue with the Papacy is not being the Primate of the Bishops, I think that role is desperately needed. But when you translate Christs words to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew to mean that suddenly Peter and his successors have this divine control over the whole church, things get a little weird. You are putting the very fate of the church into the hands of one single man, who by his very nature, shares the same sinfulness as Adam did. Humans are sinful, all of us, and to claim that somehow the Papacy is specially protected is not something I can find a good solid argument for. Either from the writings of the early church fathers, or scripture. After all, we either have free will like Adam and Eve, or the Pope has some special providence that again I can’t find any reference material for.

The Orthodox Church views changing the dogma of the faith differently, they believe that only in ecumenical councils, with the Primate of Rome attending, can the dogma or the teachings of the church be modified. I think that’s a good thing, because having one person other than Christ making those kinds of changes is terrifying. On the other hand, as Devin correctly points out, without Rome, the Orthodox Church has not made any dogmatic changes since 1032.

There has been all manners of bad things that have come from both the Catholics and the Eastern Churches, and it seems that some don’t want the schism to end, I’ve already run into that nonsense on the EO side, and I won’t stand for it. But I am stuck in the middle, so I have to choose what is right. I have to work where I want to worship, and give freely of my talents. And it sucks, this is not a fun place to be. I’m tired of polemics, apologetics who don’t concede anything, or worse, take history out of context to bolster their case.

So who is right? Neither in my opinion, or at least fully. When you involve mankind in anything holy, they screw it up, its our very nature since Adam and Eve took the first bite. I don’t believe that either side can show with full certainty that they are the ‘One True Church’, they will claim it, boy will they claim it. But Johns words live in my heart, test all things by the spirit, don’t be easily deceived.

After all my study, listening, thinking, praying. I believe that the Orthodox have a closer handle on what the Apostles handed to them, I don’t think they are perfect. My hope is that East and West can unite, with Rome as the primate of the bishops, and the ancient churches living in unity. But until that time, I’m a man caught in the middle.

I will only truly be satisfied when I finally get to meet Christ face to face, then and only then will I trust another human being fully with my salvation. That’s no small thing, given that literally everyone thinks THEY have it right somehow. So for my own part, I have to weigh the options, and then make the choice that I believe God is telling me to make. What irritates me is when people assume that they are the only ones who know the full truth, because in that sense the words of St Paul could not be any clearer:

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

I have definitely found a more comfortable, loving environment in the Orthodox church, if I can just get past the alien nature of their liturgy and pious nature, I’ll be set :)

Come quickly Lord Jesus and fix this mess.



Answering Devins Question Part 1…

In my last post about crossing the river to begin my journey to the Orthodox faith, Devin asked this question:

“But if you became Catholic while believing that the Catholic Church was in error in one or more of her doctrines, that perhaps reveals that you never fully accepted that God has guided and is guiding her into all truth. Do you believe that God is guiding the EO Churches, protecting them from error in their doctrines? Not accusing, not trying to trap you, just curious.”

It’s a great question, and I mulled it over for quite a while before answering, partly because I wanted to make sure I gave an honest response, and partly because I had to stop and go back and think about my (our) reasoning.

I left the Evangelical world in 2008, and Michelle was not far behind. We are wired differently, she can let things slide that drive me up a tree, it makes a good combination for a long stable marriage. When I began too question things that we were being taught in church, she knew where I was headed, but was never really bothered over the inconsistencies like I was. It took her a while longer to reach the point of simply giving up and going Apostate.

A year later we started looking again, tired, empty hearted, but still believing. We wanted to find a good solid, biblical church home, what ensued was a very difficult period for us, where we tried all the major flavors of the evangelical world. We ended up in the Anglican church for a while, but finally came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough oversight and structure. We loved the people, but we had concerns with how things were run, so we stopped going to church altogether for a while.

When we finally ended up at the doors of the Catholic Church, we were worn out, emotionally drained, and very cautious. After our first mass (which was the feast of the Annunciation, the worst thing a cautious Mary fearing protestant should see on their first visit). We met with the RCIA director at the largest parish in town a few weeks later, and then two days later the first RCIA of the year was being held. We took that as a sign of providence, because we had been debating about if we should even go and ask about RCIA. That started a long 9 months of study, struggles, questions and endless discussion.We stopped receiving communion, and did everything that was asked of us.

I wanted to quit more than once, I loved the people, but there was no deep study or discussions (I did what study I could, but had not strong mentors who could answer theological questions). There where bright spots to be sure, but it seemed that they were more concerned with how we felt, rather than teaching the true orthodoxy of the church. When we started to get near confirmation, I asked a very pointed question about what we where agreeing too. I was told that all I needed to believe in was the Apostles Creed, that was all that was required. I tried in vain to get my fingers on the confirmation text the Church was using, but there was a desire on the part of the administration to keep those details safe until the day of confirmation.

I was very frustrated more than once with need to keep things secret from us, when we where accepted as candidates, I asked repeatedly what the ceremony contained. I was told it would ruin the surprise, I would have quit then if not for my wife. I take oaths very seriously, and it still gets under my skin that I could not get direct and solid answers to my questions. When we sponsored our candidates I made sure that nothing was held back from them if they wanted to know, I know that the Church means no malice. But these things matter, and with all the dangerous religious garbage out there, being fully open about ceremonies and details is crucial in my opinion.

When we finally got to confirmation, I was a nervous wreck. More than once I wanted to bolt, and had it not been for my wife, and my need to once again take communion, I would have avoided the whole mess. I wanted to enter into the Church quietly, without fanfare, and begin to serve. But I was forced into a large, crowded ceremony (which for me is a hard thing to deal with), with no idea what was going to happen. I could not find out what I was going to be asked to agree too, or the scope, and by this time I just wanted it over with.

So on Easter Sunday 2011, we did everything we were asked, and against what my head was telling me, I agreed to be confirmed into the Catholic faith.

A year later I still have mixed feelings about that day, all I wanted was someone to sit down with me and explain what was about to happen in detail, go over what I was agreeing too. And to make sure that all my questioned where answered, but there where so many in our group, that simply never happened. I tried to move more than once to our local parish RCIA where I could get more personal attention, but my wife wanted to stay, so I stayed.

What I realize now is that I would have probably never gotten those answers, the Church uses a program that is geared towards feelings, or what I call “Touchy Feely Nonsense”, and it strays from hard Orthodoxy. Bibles where trucked in for the class, and then taken away, as if we had never seen one before. The whole thing felt like a government training program geared to the lowest common denominator, I’m not trying to be unkind, it’s just hard to explain how bad it was for us. Making matters worse was that getting an appointment with a priest was nearly impossible, the Church has a serious shortage, and one priest for a parish of 10,000 parishioners is just nuts! I met with Deacons when possible, but when you start asking technical questions about salvation, original sin, free will, and things like monergism and synergism. Well you get some pretty strange looks…

So did I have questions when I joined?, yes a number of them in fact. But after reading Francis Beckwith’s book on his conversion, I took his same idea which was if the Church got the big things right, then the little ones would fall in place. Never once where we handed the Dogma of the faith, and told this is what is required to be a Catholic. Those kind of hard discussions sadly never happened, I’m not sure I would have joined or not, but it would have made me more comfortable with the whole process.

Michelle and I talked a great deal before we entered into the Church, we were so bruised and worn out, that we needed to become part of something. We LOVED the liturgy, the reverence for the Eucharist, and all the trappings. And I couldn’t break her heart and bail at the last minute, so at the time it seemed like the best of all options to simply join. And I actually have not regretted it, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in the faith, I love our parish and the Catholic way of life.

But I never stopped digging for answers, and the more I dug, the more I started to find things that didn’t seem right. Papal Infallibility, the assumption of Mary, and immaculate conception being made dogma (all within the last 14o years or so). The Churches stand on contraception and Natural Family Planning, liturgical nonsense that takes place even still today. When I started to seriously look into the Orthodox faith, I learned more about my Catholic faith, than I did from the Catholics. And I started to see that so much of what the Orthodox church believed, aligned with what my studies had told me.

So I’m now in the process of leaving, not because I want to, but because if I don’t, I can’t say I’m being honest with myself. I love the Catholic Church, I really do. But there are things I just can’t sit by and ignore anymore, and for me personally, I’m either committed to it fully, or it’s just going to be painful because I’ll know in my deepest parts that I simply don’t agree.

The hardest part for me has been putting my wife back through another long search, I feel terrible. It was so painful the last time, she has been very stern about not just jumping ship. But the more we have talked the more she has come to realize that there are issues we would need to compromise on, and so she has followed me on this new journey.

So there it is, in all it’s dark glory. We are on a new journey, and the Orthodox church is like entering an alien landscape, they even cross themselves the opposite of Catholics! We have done two vespers services, and it’s not getting any easier. What helps is that everyone is a convert and knows exactly what we are going through, people have shown us so much love and patience, that it takes the edge off (but not by much yet). So my heart knows this is the right thing, but my head is screaming “RUN YOU IDIOT, RUN!!!”