I was talking with my mother-in-law today. She had a run in with a person who asked about my family. Where were we going to church? My MIL told her that we were Orthodox now, and the person asked her how she felt about that. Dear MIL hasn’t delved very deeply into the history of the Church or wrestled at all with the issues that causes my wife and I to convert, but she gave it her best shot. She told the other person that we had done a lot of research, and considered Church history, and felt that the EO Church was the closest to the early Church. Well, that’s not exactly how I would say it, but close enough. 🙂
The other person took quite a bit of umbrage at this. Well, she said, the early church was just a bunch of house Churches. (umm, no, but whatevs.) My MIL told her that it was more than just where people met, but also that the EO did what the early church did. The other person having finally hit the end of her rope stated un-categorically, “Well, the Orthodox Church is just Catholic.”
Been there, heard that. I wonder if the person who was dismissing the EO as “catholic” would appreciate me dismissing her Foursquare Church as just Lutheran, because after all it’s Protestant. What’s the difference?
Obviously this person had no intention of actually grappling with history and seeing whether her Foursquare Christianity looked at all like the early Church. Waving the magic “catholic” wand she sent us off to the darker corners of Christianity where there is minor wailing and the occasional gnashing of teeth.
Well, here’s my message to Evangelical Protestants. I was one of you for 35 years. I know where you are coming from, and how you view history. I love you, but I hate your sin of ignorance. OK, it’s not a sin. But it is ignorance. I would like to kindly say, you don’t know your history. You are not being told the truth in your church services.
Here’s the truth.
The early church was not a bunch of hippy, guitar-wielding house church attendees that just loved Jesus and didn’t care about much else. They did not go by the luke-warm, spit out of my mouth maxim of “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”. Which, by the way, came from a 17th century German Lutheran, not Jesus. The early Church required unity, and here’s how they were not like you:
Do you believe that you must be baptized to be a Christian? They did. If you weren’t baptized, you weren’t part of the Church. Period. Also, none of you were chrismated, were you? You probably don’t even know what that is. Well, that’s early Church too.
Do you baptize infants? They did. With the exception of some older flavors, Protestants today either don’t baptize infants, or baptize them and then consider them second class Church citizens until they grow up. This is NOT what the early Church did. Infants were baptized, and then took the Eucharist.
Do you have bishops, priests, and deacons? They did, and they traced the lineage of their bishops and communities back to the apostles in direct succession. You don’t. The bishop was the essential point of unity for the early Church. If you weren’t in union with a bishop of apostolic succession, you were not a Christian. Check out the writings of Ignatius of Antioch or Irenaeus of Lyons if you don’t believe me.
Do you believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ? They did. This was the universal understanding of the Church from the earliest times, and for 1600 years NO ONE would doubt this and be considered a Christian. If you are part of a group that doesn’t understand the Eucharist this way, your tradition is woefully inadequate. You are missing the greatest gift given by Christ. “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body ; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10:17) Go back and read the second half of John 6, and contemplate the craziness of discounting this belief. Nuts.
Do you venerate saints? Early Church did. Do you worship using the ancient liturgies? Probably not. How about fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? Unlikely.
And that’s just some external practices that are easy to point out. There are a lot of other differences in belief and practice that show over and over that Protestants have no idea what the early Church was like, or a grasp of just how unlike they are to early Christians.
Challenge yourself. Go and start reading the earliest writings of the Church that you’ve never touched. Read the Didache’s description of early worship, baptism, and fasting. Then read the letters of Ignatius of Antioch where he talks about the importance of bishops and the power of the Eucharist. Read through the parts of Irenaeus that aren’t dealing with gnostic craziness, and you’ll find out how important apostolic succession is. Read Justin Martyr’s description of early liturgical worship. Just keep reading early writings. Read ’em. Do it.
Then ask yourself, “why am I still Protestant?”