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Monday, March 7, 2011

Evangelicals and Orthodox

A commenter recently noted that the Russian Orthodox Church is fiercely anti- Evangelical. This might be a time when Uncle Cephas might way in on why this is so.

The Christian world tends to divide along the lines of Evangelical vs. Sacerdotal. The Evangelical camp emerged into plain view during the 16th century, following the Reformations led respectively by Martin Luther and Huldreich Zwingli in Saxony and Switzerland. Before that time, certain Evangelical movements arose from time to time in the Christian West, only to fade into obscurity through persecution by those churches centered on either Rome or Constantiople; although such groups as the Waldensians in the Alps, Lollards in Britain, and Hussites in the Western Slavic lands of Europe managed to survive long enough to fall into the orbit of the Lutheran and Reformed churches of the Reformation. Hence, the polemic of both Rome and the Faner against Evangelicalism centers on the historical continuity of the Roman and Faneriot communions, as well as the supposed power their institutional clergy have over the sacraments as means of grace.

The understanding of the sacraments and the power of a priesthood lie at the center of the sacerdotalist-Evangelical controversy. The sacerdotal churches believe that the seven sacraments of baptism, the eucharist (Lord's Supper), confirmation, confession and absolution, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction were given as means by which the grace of Christ is infused into the believer via the work of an ordained priesthood who, in an unbroken line descending back to the Apostles of Christ themselves, are the sole means where by the Holy Spirit is diffused to the church. As stewards of the sacraments, the clergy are able to give or withold divine grace.

The rediscovery of Scripture in Europe between the time of Wycliffe in 14th century England and the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries opened the eyes of many to serious conflicts between the Scriptures and the official line of the established churches. People read the words of Paul in First Corinthians 15:

"Moreover brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that chich I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures: and that he was een of Cephas (Peter), then of the twelve: After that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was een of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also..."

They read as well in the words of the Apostle Peter:

"[you all] Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of uncorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,
For all flesh is as grass,
and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away:
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever [Isaiah 40:6]
And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you" (I Peter 1:24-25).

In such text, they see that the power of salvation is mediated to man not by an institution or ceremony, but by the Word of God. Hence, the Evangelical movement, especially that portion that traces its development through men like Zwingli, Knox, and Calvin, became Bible- rather than church-centered in their way of thinking. While the church remained an important institution, it could be challenged and reformed by Scriptural teaching.

To this, the sacerdotal churches replied that God is known through the traditions of the church as well as by Scripture. But the Evangelicals were quick to counter that the traditions of the church caused divisions over how monks and clergy wore their hair or beards, the use of leavened or unleavened bread in the eucharist, vestments, and many other issues over which Scripture is silent. Calvin noted how while the Greek churches criticized the Roman for worshipping carved statues, no other communion indulged in the veneration of pictures (icons) as much as the Greek.

Following Scriptural teaching, the Reformed churches saw only Baptism and the Lord's Supper (the eucharist) as instituted by Christ as means of distinguishing Christians, challenged all use of images in worship, and established a variant system of doctrine of which more will be said at other times.

Essentially, the question dividing the evangelical and sacerdotal churches is this: who saves sinners? Christ, or the church? The latter says that the church and its ministrations saves; the latter that Christ alone saves.


  1. from what i understand is that Orthodox christians tend to be in the "jews killed christ" thing, and are anti semitic, and don't like evangelicals sympathyzing with Jews.

    to some eastern europeans or levantines, the word "jew", can set off a very hostile reaction, the Russian authorities tolerates Tibetan Buddhist mongols, who don't have jewish connections

  2. This is a matter of biblical literacy. A man of an older generation near and dear to me learned of the division of Jew and Christian at age six when someone threw a dirt clod at him and yelled "Christ Killer!" at him. This happened in Protestant America, not Russia. People who are only "sociological Christians" often despise the Jews as "Christ-killers", forgetting that

    "...he was wounded for our transgressions,
    he was bruised for our iniquities:
    the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
    (Isaiah 53:5-6).

    The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not a crime to be avenged, but central to the plan of God for our salvation. As sinners, but at the same time objects of God's saving love, all of us had a role in crucifying Christ.

    Luke 23:24 tells us that when Jesus was crucified, he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The fact that people came to faith in Jesus Christ back then and still do, and will continue to do so until he returns to judge the living and dead shows that the Father heard the Son's prayer, and continues to pour out the Holy Spirit to produce faith in us.