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May 28, 2013

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 ┬ávery good, it’s still┬árelevant. 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.

Depth…

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.

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