Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

« Changes to the Blogroll | Main | The Dog That Did Not Bark »

March 10, 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

JS Bangs


You know, as a current Anglican inquirer into Orthodoxy, I've more than once thought about writing you to ask this very question. Thanks for your response, even if you're not telling the whole story :). The bit about not having to quia-subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions especially explains something that I had often wondered about.

What you say totally strikes a chord with me. The SINGLE biggest difficulty for me when I consider Orthodoxy is the weakness of Orthodox mission. This encumbers me far more than all of the questions about icons, saints, Mary, episcopacy, or any of the other doctrinal things that formally divide Orthodoxy from Protestantism. I'm not sure what to do, esp. since Anglicanism is nice but I don't think I can make a home here.

Lord have mercy on us.

Chris Jones


I have some stuff I'd like to send you via e-mail, but there's no hint of an e-mail address on your website. Drop me a line (ckewinjones at yahoo) and I'll reply to it.



Thanks for your post. I tend to agree with you that the true gospel is not well communicated in Orthodoxy. I have been attending a parish for about a year and if I had not been coming from a Biblically literate evangelical background, I can't say that I would have learned much about Jesus in the OC. Yes, scripture is read during Liturgy, but it is not explained and taught well. Yes, they may proclaim "apostolic succession," but in my admittedly limited experience, the priests have not communicated well. I feel I have had to overlook much. Including cradle Orthodox who have no personal understanding that we are all sinners who need Jesus desperately.

Perry Robinson

While I respect Chris and his position, and while I agree with the problems he cites, I don't think it would legitimate his position.

Granted, the rank and file Orthodox aren't exactly "on fire" for God as a majority. They aren't "compelling" people from the highways and the by ways. Not on the whole true enough. I know, I am in a large Greek parish, as a non-Greek.

But a couple of things need to be kept in mind. I don't necessarily go to church to get fed. I am personally past the point where most any sermon really moves me just because I have more formal and informal theological education than most priests. So I go to church to feed other people and to help. The liturgy is still living to me, because I take it that way. Just because others around me don't, doesn't entitle me to jump ship. It only permits me to move them to take it seriously also. The Liturgy is no more rote and barren to me because people around me take it that way, than it is for Lutherans with a vibrant faith when they are surrounded by nominal Lutherans.

I teach sunday school at my parish, 11th-12th grades. If I didn't step up to the plate, these people would be helpless. Many are sincere and have a simple beleif in Christianity but have no real foundation. And there are, even in the ethnic parish I am at, people who are ethnically Greek who do love Jesus and do evangelize. Like any Church, it is the 80/20 rule. 20% of the people do all of the real work in the parish for the other 80%. In any case, things have been slowly changing. A third to a half of the American seminarians and clergy are now converts and their parishes are evangelizing and teaching people. It is not as if nothing is being done.

And it is well known, that you can find the same thing within Reformation bodies and not on a small scale either. How many times have I heard about the "dead dutchmen" or the "Frozen chosen." The majority of American (something like 60-70%) Lutherans for example believe that we get to heaven by "being a good person." Where is the "gospel" there? When I was Reformed and hung out with the CURE crowd, Rod Rosenbladt and Rick Ritche used to bemoan the rampant ignorance, if not outright hedterodoxy all the time. It is not different from people I have talked to from Concordia either, both in CA and in MO.

Some priests are better than others. It varies from place to place. This will be true no matter where one goes. It has always been true. But what the church professes formally isn't. So I could never join a body that I formally disagreed with over major theological issues and that I knew stood condemned for those views by the church universal, both east and west.

The practical problems of nominal lay people and bad clergy you are going to have wherever you go. But what is formally taught isn't. I can always work harder and join with other like minded people to make the church that has the true faith better. But what am I to do with a church that formally teaches heterodoxy? I might as well have stayed in ECUSA.

rob k

Chris - Would you please take a look at this site - www.philorthodox.blogspot.com, and read a posting dated Feb.24th, entitled "How I Understand Confessional Lutheranism". Like the poster, I am an Anglo-Catholic interested in the subject of Lutheranism, and have had many of the same thoughts and questions that were in this posting. And, from what I know, I thought the remarks were fair. I'd like to know what you think, especially as the article deals mostly with LCMS Lutheranism, and because you know the Catholic understanding of these issues so well, in my estimation at least. You've actually touched on these issues in a couple of postings directed to me in the remarks sections in some other sites. Maybe you could answer me either on this posting or in the remarks section of the Philorthodox posting. Thx. in advance, & Regards.

Chris Jones

Rob K,

I've made a (very long) comment at the Philorthodox weblog you referred to. Let me know what you think.

rob k

Chris - Thanks so much for your detailed reply to Philorthodox's post about confessional Lutheranism on his site. Here's what I think. I didn't take notes, I'm replying from memory, so I hope I don't seem to disorganized here. Real Presence - Fr. Chad wasn't at all questioning Lutheranism's adherence to that belief, but he sensed a disjunction between a strong belief in the Real Presence and what he saw as a very Protestant view of the ministry - no Apostolic Succession and no sacerdotal priesthood. I think you explained well the idea that the Reformers at least would have wanted to retain the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, but that historical circumstances, both religious and political, made that impossible. For myself, I had thought that St. Jerome's view that the difference between bishop and priest was only, functionally speaking, a matter of keeping order, and not ontological, was a very minority view throughout the middle ages. When did the Lutherans, except in Sweden, drop the designation of "priest" and substitute "pastor" for the second order of the ministry? Although the word "priest" in English is derived from "presbyter", the Latin translation of the Anglican ordinals used "sacerdos" to refer to that order of ministry. And although I support the agreement between ELCA and ECUSA, I do believe that the temporary suspension of the Anglican ordinal insofar as the charism to celebrate the Eucharist is concerned (only a priest ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession may do so) is a fudge, or maybe a "finesse", but hopefully agreeable to the Holy Spirit. As far as Sacrifice is concerned, the polemics of the 16th century obscured the fact that true Catholic doctrine was that Christ's sacrifice was final and sufficient, and that each mass was not a new sacrifice, but a re-presentation of, or re-entering into, His sacrifice, which He still pleads in heaven. Most of the Reformers were so knowledgeable, and I wonder if at least some of them knew better, but chose to grind their axes against popular superstition instead of what they knew was the real doctrine. My opinion is that the Lutheran refusal to allow for any doctrine of sacrifice, not only of Christ Himself, but even of praise and thanksgiving (am I right, Chris?) was, and is, anachronistic. Frank Senn of STS and the ELCA has indicated to me that recovery is necessary here, and I think that is happening in some ELCA circles. I think your answer about continuity of the Catholic Church was quite to the point. In fact, the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican reformers all pretty much said the same thing - that they were only restoring the Church by referring back to an earlier, purer, state of being, each in their own fashion. For my own part, I believe that Apostolic Succession in its fulness consists in more than tactile succession conveyed by bishops, that the Gospel must continue to be preached and believe, but that on the other hand tactile succession, with intention to do what the Church has always done, is of the esse of the Church. A side thought is that I can't see how LCMS commentators seem to write off the validity of the Reformed eucharist, in which the verba are recited. To say that it all depends on belief enshrined in 16th or 17th century confessional statements seems donatistic to me. Well, I've gone on to long, Chris. Hope all this wasn't too disorganized and rambling. Thanks again for your interest. Regards - Rob.

Josh S

As far as Sacrifice is concerned, the polemics of the 16th century obscured the fact that true Catholic doctrine was that Christ's sacrifice was final and sufficient, and that each mass was not a new sacrifice, but a re-presentation of, or re-entering into, His sacrifice, which He still pleads in heaven.

This would have been news to the late medieval scholastics. You can't re-inject what a council (Second Vatican or otherwise) or pope hundreds of years later decreed back into the context of the 16th century. In other words, deciding now what the "true Catholic doctrine" is has no bearing on what it was in 1529.

rob k

Josh - I don't think so. Many authorities before and after 1215 said so. See Darwell Stone's "A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist" in two vol.s for commentary by many authorities, including Council of Trent itself which reaffirmed the identity of the sacrifice of the mass with that of Christ on the cross. I'm willing to learn more, however. Thanks for commenting.

Fr. S.J.

Your explanation for why you are Lutheran instead of Orthodox puzzles me. If I understand you correctly, you have left the Church which you admit has a true priesthood and Mysteries for one which you acknowledge does not, saying that you have done so because the Lutherans preach Christ more clearly. This raises several questions:

1. How can you properly bring people to Christ if you do not have a true priesthood and Mysteries? Isn't the Christian life more than a mental acceptance of Christ, but rather an incorporation into His Body, the Church; but without the Church that incorporation can't happen. So your preaching is deceiving people, not bringing them to the Lord.

2. While I can agree that many members of the Orthodox Church are spiritually weak (if not worse), I am stunned that you propose the Lutheran Church as an alternative. My observation is that if any two churches have had similar experiences in the US, it is those two. The Lutherans in were until fairly recently divided into a multitude of ethnic parishes, with their own languages and traditions (Swedish, Finnish, German, even English). It was only after several generations in this country that they overcame these differences and united. Even now, they are not noted for their evangelical outreach, but may be the most self-contained and turned-inward of the major Protestant bodies, especially the confessional churches. The Orthodox churches have not been here as long, but they are already moving toward more commonality as they switch more to English as their preferred language. And at the same time, more outreach is appearing among them. It really seems to me that the Orthodox today are where the Lutherans were one to two generations ago; and they are moving in much the same direction--toward greater unity and outreach.

So, from my perspective you have left what you admit is the true Church of Christ for something which you agree is deficient in critical areas, while gaining little in evangelical outreach that would not be found in Orthodoxy in this country in the coming decades. I am at a loss to explain how this makes sense.

Chris Jones

Fr S.J.

I am sorry to have puzzled you. As I said at the outset, this is not intended as a full explanation of why I am not Orthodox, but only as an explanation of one of many reasons. I admit that my position is quite idiosyncratic, and I don't really expect very many people (Orthodox or Lutheran) to understand it, much less agree with it.

I have essentially one answer to all of your questions. If the Orthodox Church has the fulness of truth, if she is the one Catholic and Apostolic Church, we should be able to see her doing the things that the Apostolic Church does: proclaiming the Gospel to all; inviting all to be united to Christ. Catholicity is more than valid orders; it is more than correct doctrine; it is more than valid mysteries. The Catholic Church is the Church which is responsible before God for making disciples of all nations, and we should be able to recognize the Catholic Church because she is actually doing that. When I look at the Orthodox Church I see a Church which has all of the doctrine and discipline formally correct, but does not actually do what the Church does. She does not proclaim Christ to those who know Him not; she ministers to those she already has, and gathers in some others who are already believers but have grown dissatisfied with the Churches they are already in. In effect, the Church's mission of evangelism is delegated to the Protestants, who act as Orthodoxy's "farm team".

It gives me no joy to say these things about the Orthodox Church, which I still love. And I would like nothing better than to be proven wrong. If you want people to believe that Orthodoxy truly is the Apostolic Church, that she truly has the fulness of truth, then by all means stop keeping it to yourselves!


Lately I have been listening to many Orthodox sermon's and radio shows. I don't see how a church which focuses on the 'Process' can have the fullness of truth. I've heard the guys at "Our life in Christ" repeatedly proclaim that the Monastics are examples for our life and the highest goal. What would this Orthodox evangelicalism look like? How to be like St Matthew? How to engage in theosis? To me this is no different then many protestant churches where the focus is on Sanctification. I used to attend a Calvary Chapel and the things I hear sound very similar. With that said I have heard a few excellent sermons by the Orthodox which proclaim Christ for you


Don't let the "Go back where you came from" crowd get you down, Chris! I think it's great to have you around and on board. Great for the Augsburg Evangelical church, and great for Orthodox teaching.


P.S. I also think Bradley Nassif is being a bit hard/easy on the Antiochenes in the US and the Middle East. Why don't they have sermons in the Middle East on "how we're different from the Muslims"? 'Cause it could get you killed, that's why. Why don't they have sermons on "how we're different from the other Christians"? 'Cause they're just as small a minority as the Orthodox. Whether that's good or bad, I think it's freedom (or lack of it) and sociology that makes the difference in relative prominence of "why we're different" preaching so big.


Rob K
About the sacrifice of the Mass issue, the confessional Lutheran non-negotiable on the issue is this:

1) God relates savingly to man solely through His gracious promise, not through any work any man does, participates, or shares in, alone or with the church. One receives that promise solely by faith, again not by any work done individually or with the church, in whole or in part.

or to put it differently

2) No sinful man, no matter what baptism, ordination or consecration he receives in the church, can perform, participate, share in, or otherwise effect in whole or in the smallest tiniest part, the propitiation of God, and the deliverance of man from His wrath.

Find a way to make the Mass a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead while meeting these two conditions and I'll be first to congratulate you!

The series I start here may help explain this.

JS Bangs

Fr. SJ makes a good point. In Romania the Orthodox are not an "ethnic enclave", but the bread and butter spirituality for nearly everyone. The Lutherans, on the other hand, are restricted to tiny immigrant communities of Germans and Swedes in a handful of cities. Suceava, the town I lived in, had one Lutheran church that was only open every couple of months when a priest came by to perform the Eucharist, and there was no lay ministry or meaningful church community between those times. The problems that Chris mentions are very real and very grevious, but they aren't necessarily true of all places and all times.

rob k

CPA - Thanks for your comments. I read all your posts in your site that you cited. In fact I've read some of them before. I suppose you could say that the re-presentation of, or re-entering into, Christ's all-sufficient Sacrifice is an act of man, it is though only a response to His command to "Do this". In the rite of the ECUSA BoCP, after the Words of Institution in the epiclesis the celebrant prays "Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable throught him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Isn't this the activity of God's Promise, as you put it, that in the mass we are given the benefits of "His passion and precious death" (BoCP wording). And we pray for these benefits to be extended to the whole Church, both in place and in time. And this happens only through the merits of Christ, not our own. Don't Lutherans do pretty much the same thing, or not? As an aside, do Lutherans celebrate requiem eucharists, or "masses of the Resurrection" as they are sometimes called, especially in the RC Church? Or would that be an example of a "new" propiatory application? Are there any RC, Orthodox, or Anglican readers here who can help out? Chris, what do you think, seeing you have experience of two of those venues? Atwood, I hope you understand my interest in Lutheranism is irenic, not confrontational. Thx.


Rob K,
Don't worry, I don't offend easily.

I find it hard to enter into the thinking of behind your questions -- to me the categories of Luther distinguishing God's promise and our works, the sacrament and our prayers, etc. seem so natural and obvious it's hard to see why anyone would wish to blur the distinction.

Again, the ground rules from the Lutheran point of view seem clear: even if Christ commands us to do something, and we do it in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are still sinners and that action is still incapable of being a ground for the propitiation of God. (I will leave aside the questions of Biblical grounding here.)

Lutherans do not celebrate requiem masses. The problem is, if the mass is a promise, it benefits as a sacrament only the partakers, not those absent, and only via faith. What can benefit those absent is our prayers offered on occasion of the mass, but such prayers are our work, acceptable to God when performed in Christ, but which we distinguish sharply from any participation in Christ's work. As works of ours, such prayers also depend on the godliness of the performer, thus also being different from the Eucharist as a sacrament, which depends solely on the faith of the recipient. Such prayers certainly cannot be said to be effective ex opere operato, in however qualified a sense.

Also in connection with such votive masses, if you read sources like the Catholic Encyclopedia's article "sacrifice of the mass", they speak of the "fruit of the Mass" having two forms general and special: only the former is unlimited and the latter not unlimited but rather circumscribed by the intention for which the mass is said. As the article says, such a distinction seems essential to make sense of the traditional Catholic culture of stipends, fraternities, chantries, etc. And to a Lutheran such a distinction seems also clearly to separate the mass as performed by the priest from the sacrifice of Christ, whose value is of course infinite.

So the line is this: if you are having masses said for particular intentions, with the understanding that the efficacy of this particular intention (say, relief of temporal punishments of a soul in purgatory) is effected through the sacrificial action, ex opere operato (however qualified), then the Lutheran sees in reality a culpable attempt to make celebration of the sacrament a good work of the celebrants, not a reception of the promise of God.

Huw Raphael

Chris - Thanks for this post. As you know I come from a more high church (and liberal) background into Orthodoxy. My problems and struggle with the Church are based on that history. So it is very interesting to read of others who have different issues.

Given the Gilquist (et al) influx, Antiochians (especially) enjoy a bit of a good reputation among prospective Evangelical converts. It's tempting to assign Dr Nassif's comments only to the "ethnic" congregations that are not blessed by so many folks "on fire". But having been recently in a struggling Antiochian mission made up entirely of Converts I can say that it's a struggle getting anyone (myself included!) who has found The True Churchâ„¢ to get out there and do something.

I think it's a pre-Orthodox mind set issue, tho: Keith Green sang of the Church being "asleep in the light" and asked "how can you be so dead when you've been so well fed?" These are valid questions of anyone who seeks to follow Christ. I don't think that a "valid priesthood" or even "valid" sacraments or historical succession or "easy to prove we're the most-ancient".

Huw Raphael

Forgive me... now that I'm awake for my 3rd shift job, let me finish that last thought...

These are valid questions of anyone who seeks to follow Christ. I don't think that a "valid priesthood" or even "valid" sacraments or historical succession or "easy to prove we're the most-ancient".... provide the answer. In fact, for many they provide the problem.

rob k

Atwood - Thanks for your reply. It clarified my groping but hopefully expanding knowledge of confessional Lutheranism. I did ask about requiems because I thought your answer would shed light on the question. Is it fair to say that in Lutheranism the benefits of His passion and death are extended to those actually present and actively praying? I would guess that is the difference with RC, Orthodox, and a lot of Anglican theology about the mass. On a related subject I have always supported the CCM agreement between ELCA and ECUSA even though a few issues such as the one we were discussing were, I think, finessed. What do you think about it? Thx. again.


About the CCM, I'm not ELCA or ECUSA, so I can't comment. I've never even read it.

About the benefits of the mass, yes, you're close, but not quite there:

"Is it fair to say that in Lutheranism the benefits of His passion and death are extended to those actually present and actively praying?"

The direct benefits of Christ's passion are extended to all who believe that He died for them. That is, the mass/Eucharist/communion is a promise with a sign of His commitment to that promise (His body and blood): believe the promise and you have it. (Actively praying is a consequence of faith/reception of the benefits, not a cause). This kind of benefit is sacramental, i.e. one in which the worthiness of the celebrant is irrelevant (like in baptism).

But prayer also benefits others outside, not present, only not sacramentally.


While I could never critique deeply felt personal reasons for affirming a specific faith, I do have to say that your critique of the Orthodox Church is missing something: the caveat that this critique is NOT universal. Our local parish (St Spiridon's in Seattle) - and many other churches I have attended - do not have the systemic lack of teaching and education and proclomation of the Gospel that you lament as missing. I think it is fair for you to recognize trends and patterns, but I do not think it is accurate to offer such a sweeping, global critique. Further, I wonder if your critique also begs the question of approach to Christ... ie, hermeneutics. A faith that is inherently apophatic and sacramental may simply not satisfy some... Ie, to say it in an oversimplified and overexaggerated way: perhaps some prefer preaching to prayer. The comment about the Monastic way of life being a kind of goal for the Christian... this doesn't mean that you have to take up a habit...but the Monastic goal is union with God, through prayer, through the Mysteries, through self-emptying love. Of course those things are our goals! No?

Lastly, I'm curious what your response would be to those who love all the things you love about the Orthodox church, and who then do become Orthodox - but with an active hope to add to their experience the various elements that you find missing? If Orthodoxy has these various 'truths', but has some elements missing, why not work to provide those elements? It's a touch easy to sit on the sidelines and cheer the team, but then say "if only you had a decent running game...THEN I'd come play". As opposed to joining the team and helping to establish a running game?

Christopher Orr

Chris, I think that you are not well aware of the great deal of mission work that goes on in Orthodoxy. Even when you were Orthodox the great Mission to America was truly beginning with the OCA and Antiochians reaching out to Americans, the Evangelical Orthodox joining the Church, etc. The development of the OCMC missions, the Real Break, the ROCOR mission to Haiti, just about every parish has someone who has been to Project Mexico or down to Hogar Rafael Ayau, and the mission growth in Africa has been amazing from Madagascar to Zaire, etc. This is not to mention the establishment only in the last 50 years of the indigenous Orthodox churches of Indonesia and the Philipines.

There is also a great deal of evangelization that has had to take place in traditionally Orthodox countries where the Church was slaughtered for 40-80 years, and where they are still being persecuted by the Muslims (e.g. Turkey). Expecting the Church to be able to do mission work as easily as the well-fed, safe Protestants of the West is hardly a fair expectation. The argument could be made that Western Christians have spent so much time and energy saving the world that they have lost themselves as the plummeting church attendance numbers and agreement with orthodox belief show in the West, even in the US.

Sure there are those in the Orthodox churches that don't think much about mission, but these are generally the people who don't think much about the Church. Thank God they still come at all. At the same time, a staunch member of a large LCMS turned WELS parish in Southern CA told the church secretary about how there were too many blacks in the neighborhood and the church school- not noticing the family photos of the secretary who is married to a black man.

The complaint over "too much ethnicity" is really just a cry for "more of my ethnicity" as an American- what I'm comfortable with. As uncomfortable as I get worshipping 2/3 in Greek (and it is a lot!), this is exactly how uncomfortable cradle born Greeks and Greek-Americans often feel worshipping in English. Orthodoxy and Byzantium made a point of fully incarnating the entire culture from top to bottom in Christianity and Orthodoxy. The culture itself was seen to become an icon of holiness. Is it no wonder that they are so slow (so, so, so slow) to want to give it up when they emmigrate to a new land? Many a Lutheran pastor has noted how much was lost in the LCMS pastorally, theologically, and especially liturgically when they made the switch to English. Given that Orthodoxy is glacial in pace at the best of times, do you think it is any wonder they are both open to all converts from whatever background as well as loathe to give up thehymns in their language written by the saints of their Church?

As to Prof. Nasser's article, traditionally Orthodoxy never had to teach "Orthodoxy" because it was simply "the Church". So, the focus was on the Gospel message as is so well illustrated by the folk tales and stories of Romania and Russia. Here in an alien and anti-Orthodox land there has been the need to educate on the very basics about what Orthodoxy is, inevitably in the context of what the Americans do at their 100s of brands of churches. Most often, this Gosepl message is given to Orthodox in the same way that it always has been: spiritual father to spiritual child in confession. Anyone who comes to this sacrament regularly gets a good dose of practical Gospel. Additionally, if you listen to or read any of the services for each and every service of any day you see Gospel, Gospel, Gospel. Sermons aren't the only form to preach.

Thanks for sharing more of your reasons for being betwixt two titans- between a rock and a hard place?...

The comments to this entry are closed.