Eastern Orthodox Church and the Gospel?

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I was looking for a Youtube video of an Eastern Orthodox Father explaining the gospel when I found the one below.  After watching it, I’m not sure they know what the gospel is.  Was it just me, or was his explanation convoluted and imprecise?  After listening to it, I’m more unsure of what they believe than when I began.  It seems to be the normative for the EOC.  It is almost like they purposely leave things unclear.  It is like buying a car from a used car salesman in a fancy outfit who says, “Come on, trust me.  I’m looking out for you.” but then he won’t let you look under the hood, or even open the car door before you buy, and when you ask him what size engine it has, he just assures you that it is wayyy better than your other car, because it is the oldest car around.

The gospel is fairly simple to explain as a Protestant.  That is because we hold the Bible, God’s Word, as our authority for our faith.  Ya know why? Because it is God’s Word…  Here it is in a nutshell, we are sinners. God is perfectly righteous. We can’t be good enough to make up for our sins. Jesus Christ, the second person of the triune God, took on human flesh, was born of the virgin Marry, lived a perfect sinless life, and was righteous. He was truly God, and truly man. He went to the cross, had the wrath of God poured out on Him that we had coming to us, and paid for our sins.  This justified us to God.  If we repent of our sins, turn from them and turn to Christ, trust in His work on the cross where He atoned for us, and believe only in Him and His work for our salvation, God considers us as righteous as Jesus.  His righteousness is imputed to us once we repent and believe.  After that moment, we are saved, and can never be lost again.  From that point on, God will conform us to His Son’s likeness, in the sense that we will begin to hate our sin, and love God and His will more.  We will submit to Him more.  We will grow in the knowledge of our own personal sins, as well as grow in holiness.  OK so maybe I didn’t make it as simple as, “Repent of your sins, believe in Christ, then you are saved.”  I could have, because in a sense, it is that simple.

The EOC explanation of the difference between the EOC and Protestants gospel was kind of useless to me.  I don’t know how it could be good news to anyone.  It almost sounded like the guy was trying to say they believe you can be dead and get saved.  If that is true, then the Bible is a lie.  If the Bible, being God’s Word is a lie, then it isn’t God’s Word.  I trust the Bible and not the EOC’s man made traditions.

Call No Man Father, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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In the Easter Orthodox Church’s pamphlet titled, “Call No Man Father” written by Fr.(Father) J. Richard Ballew, and published by Conciliar Press, the author presents a straw man argument to easily dispute. He claims that Protestants believe that we don’t call anyone Father because we don’t think any man should be recognized as our, “spiritual father.” Here is what he wrote …“They, of course, are interpreting “father” in this Scripture to mean, “spiritual father.” Therefore, they refuse to call their clergymen “father,” preferring instead such titles as “pastor,” “reverend,” or perhaps even “brother.”…

He misrepresented our position either unintentionally erring, or intentionally lying. I don’t know, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he simply erred. Protestants don’t call their preaching elders, “Father” because we don’t have an authoritative titular role for leaders, or teachers in the Church. This is what is being condemned in Matthew 23:8-10. This is explained by the context of what Christ had said. Matthew 23:1-12, (NASB)

1Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10“Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11“But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

As you can plainly see from the context provided, Jesus is explaining how the Pharisees had wrongly taken for themselves titles and positions of authority, while sinfully using them to hypocritically burden everyone else with rules. Jesus was instructing His followers to not recognize men like the Pharisees of the Jews as their authority, but instead to recognize God as the authority. Within the Church there are no authorities other than what God has revealed in His word. We don’t hold traditions of having a man called a Father as the head of our local Church body.

The Eastern Orthodox has conflated their preaching elders (πρεσβύτερος presbuteros) with a position of authority. They say they are calling the preaching elder of a church, “father” as a term of affection, but in practice it isn’t that way. Their practice demonstrates that they are doing that which Christ in scripture forbids. On the other hand, Protestants do have all kinds of elders in our body. We have men who preach, teach, evangelize, and administrate to name a few. There is not one that is more important than the other. We can even have more than one preaching elder in any one given local Church. Some teach and preach, others serve by administrating church affairs. 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 (NASB)

24whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

We also recognize that sometimes men are thought of as someone’s father in the faith, as a man who was their personal friend and helper. Paul is mentioned as being Timothy’s father in that sense. Timothy learned from Paul. In a sense he could be considered his spiritual father, not in a mystical way, but simply in the role of a mentor in the faith, the man who preached and taught the gospel of Christ to you. 1 Timothy 1:2 (NASB)

2To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The other types of elders are all under the same conditions. None of them are to be regarded as holding a position of authority over us in the same fashion the Pharisees did over the Jews.

Then Ballew goes into a self-refuting argument about traditions of the Rabbis and how they added their own ideas to them, of course the Eastern Orthodox aren’t guilty of that lol. I would find it quite laughable if it weren’t so sad to see so many people locked into a works righteousness religion akin to Roman Catholicism.

He did get some things right. In regards to the Rabbis exalting themselves and abusing their authority, he rightly condemns that and agrees with Christ.

In the end he uses the word father instead of elder. He still affirms in practice the wrong use of the word and has attributed it to a position of authority that is not warranted by scripture.  The bottom line is the same as my last article on the Eastern Orthodox Church.  They have a low view of scripture and a misplaced submission to their traditions.

Let’s take a closer look at the tradition of using icons, especially by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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I attended my Son-in-law’s baptism in to the Eastern Orthodox Church. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was aware that they utilized icons, and relied heavily on extra-biblical traditions in the practice of their faith. If we are honest, very many Churches practice traditions that are not in the Bible. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are also not necessarily right. I am not a member of the E.O.C. I had some questions about some of the traditions I witnessed. I asked around, and everyone was quite eager to answer my questions. They were pleasant, and friendly. I had a nice time talking with several of the folks after the baptism and first communion. I also took some free booklets home with me for further reading.

One of the booklets I took was titled, “No Graven Image” by Jack Sparks, Ph.D. I figured that this would be geared towards a person who was not familiar with their traditions and should give at least a rudimentary explanation of their tradition of using icons. I was correct. Although I didn’t find any of the explanations very compelling.

A painted picture, of a Biblical scene, for people to appreciate, is different than bowing to, kneeling in front of, praying to/through, or kissing a picture, as if you are doing it to the person depicted. Christian themed art is not the same as venerated icons. I am not willing to say that every person in the E.O.C. views and understands icons the same. I am also not willing to say that all of them are idolaters. I am willing to say that I don’t agree with the blurring of lines that comes along with calling it, honoring, or veneration.

I want to make it simple. If you believe that you can pray to a dead person to have them pray for you, you are wrong. Christ is our intercessor. We pray to Him. We don’t need a Priest. The office of Priest is also fulfilled by Christ. Of course, that is a topic for another discussion. If you kiss the picture of Jesus, while thinking and feeling like you are kissing the real Jesus, you are wrong. I also don’t agree with their use of Mary icons. I didn’t get a booklet for that. I did ask about it though. They esteem Mary in excess. Not like the Roman Catholic’s do, but still more than I believe they should. If you think that looking at an artistic rendering of Jesus, is going to help you have a deeper experience of faith, I would posit that perhaps you don’t have a high enough view of scripture.

Jack Sparks argues that as Christians attempt to emulate Jesus, or Paul that they should also use icons to help them. I disagree. Sparks says, “When Orthodox Christians honor an icon of one of the saints by bowing before it, they are intent upon the godly example of that saint and upon following that example.” I don’t see any value in what he asserts. I think we should derive our knowledge of their character and behavior from scripture. We know of them from scripture. It is their character and behavior we emulate. We don’t use icons for that. We use the word of God.

There was no direct Biblical support provided to justify the tradition of icons. The scriptural support cited as evidence in the booklet had little to nothing to do with the topic of idolatry or in justifying the Eastern Orthodox position. Sparks also cited works of some early Christians as historical support for their traditions. I can always do the, “My church father can beat up your church father thing” but that would be counterproductive. Just because they did it in the past doesn’t mean we should still be doing it. I can understand how in a time before mass circulation of printed books, how they would rely more on pictures to tell a story. I get it, but it is not the same. It has taken on a ritual of its own. It has become idolatry, even if it didn’t start out that way. There are some within the E.O.C. who don’t use the icons in an idolatrous manner, but I think that it is a detriment to the faith. I think it is a tradition that needs to go away. We have the fullness of God’s word, given by progressive revelation over the years. It is the most printed book in the world. It is widely available in many languages, even for free from different ministries. We should be reading it, and regarding the content therein, as much higher and better than pictures.

The booklet compares people’s misplaced respect of Pastors, or the Bible, to the Eastern Orthodox treatment of icons. Just because people do something doesn’t make it Biblical. I don’t think people should venerate the Bible, but rather the contents of it. It contains the word of God. I don’t agree with respecting Pastors over any other brother. We don’t even have the title in the Church I attend. We have Elders. They are not held in any higher regard than anyone else. They are servants.

I realize many of the folks in the E.O.C. are probably very Bible literate and do in fact esteem the word of God highly. When I say that they don’t have a high enough view of scripture it is in comparison to their desire to experience their faith in some other manner. It is as if there is something they feel is missing from the practice of their faith. They find something about the traditions of the E.O.C. fulfilling. I think if God’s word were more to them, they wouldn’t have the desire to feel their faith. I could be completely wrong here. This is just my opinion.