While my compatriots and I continue to gather and compile documents and information from many groups of former CRI employees across the country, I thought I would write a short piece. (I’ve included what I take to be some suitable musical accompaniment. ) Some critics no doubt think that my claims of Hank’s theological incompetence and the evidence I gave in the previous post are a matter of cherry picking. Likewise no doubt, some have wondered if the video I linked where Hank simply reads off of works by others without attribution is truly indicative of his lack of education. After all, everyone makes mistakes, right? You’re just being too hard on him, right?
There is an opinion among, at least some, Orthodox scholars at present that the limits of the Church can be defined in terms of baptism. Within this limit it is proposed that some division can exist, such as between Roman Catholic and Orthodox, and that we can still speak of the divided parties as Church. Thus, because most Christian groups/denominations/churches perform baptism they are all in some manner in the Church as distinct from non-baptised who are outside the Church. In practice this is the reasoning supporting marriage between those who are baptised even if they are of different creed and one of the partners would nevertheless be excluded from the eucharist of the other’s church.
It is agreed that baptism is the means of entry into the Church and that the members of the Church are identified as those that have been baptised, which permits them to gather with the other members in the eucharist. However, is the act of wetting someone with water while saying a particular formula in itself what baptism is? Is the Church defined as those people who have had undergone such an act? If so then once one has undergone that act then can they cease to be members of the Church regardless of faith and morals and choice?
The Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head. It is not merely the collection of those having participated in a particular form of ritual or believing a particular doctrine, although these may be marks of those in the Church, that is the Church is not a collection of those having certain marks and in particular of having one mark isolated from the others, which is the implication of the opinion stated initially. Rather the Church is those who form the body of Christ, that is those who are united with Christ, who is a living person. Those united to Christ come into the life of the Trinity as sons of God having the Spirit rest upon them that is they become deified.
Baptism brings us to membership of the Church because of a number of features in baptism. Considering baptism in water. Firstly, the water must be sanctified, it is not merely any water but that upon which hovers the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the triple immersing and coming out of the water unites us with Christ and the Son of God through his death and resurrection and three day burial thus identifying us as sons of God. Thirdly, the triple immersing into the three distinct names of the Trinity each invoked with an immersion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit brings us into the life of the Trinity. This is baptism in water but this in itself is insufficient because we must be born of water and Spirit, so one also requires the anointing of Chrism blessed by a bishop to symbolise the baptism of the Spirit and thus that the Spirit rests upon the baptised and confirms that he is both a son of God and has come into the life of the Trinity with God as his Father. The correct expression of faith is also another requirement of baptism that the person believes into the name of Christ; that they freely and willingly accept Christ and participation in the life of the Trinity. And another requirement is that of the baptiser, a bishop or presbyter, because is God who gives new birth to the baptised not man thus the bishop/presbyter manifests the Father in terms of the baptism so that the baptised in generated as son by the Father and the procession of the Spirit who rests on the baptised as a son of God. The whole Trinity in various symbols is manifest in the baptism. The bishop/presbyter are also the focal points of union with Christ, that is the baptism is the means for a person to enter a relation with Christ who is present in the bishop/presbyter and also that it is Christ who sanctifies the waters for baptism. It is this relationship that identifies one as a member of the Church, and this relationship can only be established through baptism. Thus, when one speaks of membership in the Church via baptism it means not only the application of water with a formula but a relationship with a hierarchy that confers the baptism as a gift to bring the baptised into relation with the hierarchy, through whom Christ is present and so the baptised enters relationship with Christ and into the life of the Trinity. Also, if Chrism is not that from the bishop then there is no baptism in Spirit and so the person who has been immersed in water with the appropriate formula is not born again of water and Spirit and so not yet a member of the Church.
If Christ is not present in the baptiser then the baptism is not of God and it is not one that brings the baptised into a relationship with Christ nor into the life of the Trinity, so the baptism is of no effect and does not permit entry into the Church. Baptismal membership is dependant on who baptises and not only the other symbols of baptism.
So, baptism as a means of showing the limits of the Church cannot be separated from showing the limits of the Church in terms of the hierarchy, which also defines legitimate eucharistic gatherings. This later limit is based on a mutual sharing of one faith/tradition, tracing ordination to the Apostles, and mutual recognition. It is quite wrong to speak of some form of Church membership by baptism that includes those of separated hierarchies, particularly where this is due to difference in faith/tradition. One separating from the hierarchy appointed by Christ and the Apostles is no longer united with Christ and so no longer with the Church, even if they were properly baptised. That is why marriage is only to be between people of the same faith, and whether one has a form of baptism within a group of differing faith is irrelevant to this issue, the canonical test is orthodoxy not baptism. The form of baptism conducted outside the union of faith only has relevance to the economy of receiving converts.
Converting to Orthodoxy is not an instantaneous process, especially in regards to ones thinking and way of mind. We all have developed certain ideas, principles and perspectives from our mental journey through life which are influenced by parents, teachers, ministers, media, reading etc. When one converts to another faith then he is changing some or all of these developed thoughts, whereas one who is reared in a faith from childhood tends to have these thoughts instilled from an early age, although he too is influenced by outside thoughts at school, by media or from reading. The advantage that one has growing up in a faith and staying within it is that he is more likely to have thought development in context of that faith which is consistent with that faith. A danger for someone in this situation is that he may not be able to distinguish some foreign thoughts that have entered his thinking from those that are genuine to the faith. Someone converting may radically change particular elements of his thought development and in these elements often has a better understanding than one reared in the faith and also a better of awareness of genuine thoughts of that faith. However, the adult convert has a huge range of developed and interrelated thought processes and often it can take a number of years, if ever, of regular learning and contemplation to realign all his way of thinking to be consistent with that of the new faith. In context of the Orthodox/Catholic Church this time taken to rethink must be recognised and addressed before a person converts because for a convert to turn his back on the Church once entering it is a spiritual tragedy and it would be much better if he had not entered at all. This is particularly true regarding Protestant converts for whom it is more acceptable to move from one denomination to another to find one that better matches one’s way of thinking. Becoming Orthodox/Catholic is not such a denomination shift and requires a stabilised conversion. Hence, the wisdom of the ancient practice of a slow catechism over a year or three to ensure that the convert is open to accept all orthodox teachings. It would not be appropriate nor any benefit to his soul for someone to convert only to discover that they need to accept that Mary is the Mother of God and, refusing this, to leave again. The Bishop/Priest permitting this conversion also shares responsibility for the fall, which is mitigated by the due care that they had in the conversion.
Is, then, a complete reorientation of the every thought required before one is permitted to convert? The early practice of the hierarchy of the Church was not to teach catechumens all aspects of the faith but only enough so that they understood to what they were converting. This is because certain teachings are such that they are more easily misunderstood and blasphemed against than others. What is important for conversion was not a fixed amount of knowledge that one has but the willingness that one has to accept the teachings of Christ. A good period being catechised should expose the catechumen to sufficient teaching to help him develop a model of orthodox thinking within which ‘higher’ teachings would naturally fit. The Eucharist is an example of such a ‘higher’ teaching because in a Protestant framework of thinking the full reality of this doctrine is unacceptable but once an orthodox framework of thinking is developed then the doctrine becomes most acceptable and even recognised as a necessity. So, what is important for the point of being received into the Church is not a reorientation of every thought but the establishment of a framework of orthodox thinking, that is the orthodox Gospel teaching, and the willingness of the convert to be open to accept all orthodox ways of thought, even if they cannot immediately understand them at the time of reception. Nevertheless, for one to become a Presbyter in the Orthodox community then a number of years should pass after reception so that the candidate can both be tested regarding his stability in the faith and also to allow a much wider and deeper reorientation of his thoughts to within the Orthodox framework, i.e. Tradition. This is not to mention the other major reasons for this patience in the spiritual struggles with pride and vain glory. A convert who has received advanced theological training outside the faith may even have more difficultly in readjusting his way of thinking than one with only limited training because the foreign model is more deeply embedded within his way of thinking, although sometimes this can allow a very quick and thorough reorientation of thought by applying a new key to understanding the collected knowledge.
It is difficult at times to know how well one has developed in Orthodox thoughts and how much of one’s thinking may still be ‘baggage’. Perhaps, a useful barometer of an Orthodox way of thinking is ones reaction when reading the works of recognised Orthodox Fathers. If one can read for example St Gregory Palamas and find his teachings expressing in clarity what is consistent with one’s own thinking then one’s way of thinking is likely to be orthodox. Apart from misunderstanding what he is saying, if St Gregory’s teachings seem contradictory and inconsistent to one’s way of thinking then one is likely not to have an orthodox way of thinking. This applies to the other Fathers particularly the Ecumenical teachers St Basil the Great, St John Chrysostom, and St Gregory the Theologian. Also, when reading through the Sacred Canons or the Anathemas, if one sees them all as true and wise then one is likely to have an orthodox way of thinking, if one finds them contradictory and frivolous then one is likely not to have an orthodox way of thinking.
Having said all the above, the best barometer of Orthodox way of thinking is a holy life. A humble and quiet life of prayer and repentance that exhibits the fruits of the spirit. The man who being pure in heart gains the Spirit is guided into all truth and develops a strong instinct about what is right and wrong, true and false. One’s connection to traditional Orthodox worship is also a barometer of one’s deeper Orthodox way of thinking. If one sees in ‘byzantine’ icons a deep spiritual beauty and peace and hears the choirs of monks from Mt Athos as resounding forth heavenly angelic praise then one is likely to have an Orthodox mind and heart. If one finds these icons flat and lifeless or the chanting only dull and monotonous then one is likely not yet to have developed an Orthodox mind and heart.
For readers who do not know, I am a former Episcopalian. My personal history of religious affiliation goes something like the following. I was baptized Catholic but raised in the Episcopal church until my teen years. From then I’d attend the Episcopal church on Sunday and then Calvary Chapel for “Bible study” on Friday evenings with their youth group. This was on account of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the youth group at the Episcopal church voted that I should leave since I wanted to read the Bible and not have pizza parties and such. The youth directors agreed given that the kinds of questions I was asking really required a “professional” response. This was after I became exasperated with the whole approach of, let’s sit in a circle and go around the room asking what each person thinks such and so verse means “to me.” At the ripe old age of 13 I blurted out, “I don’t care what it means to me, I just want to know what it means!”
To sum up, I eventually ran into the Horton/Riddlebarger crowd when I was about 17 and then became Reformed for a number of years. I then moved towards a more high church Anglican view, returning to what I had been raised with, ending up in the then, Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). Fortunately I met my wife in the ACC, who was also a life long Anglican, though her family had left the Episcopal church (TEC) earlier than I did and joined the then forming ACC. After a few schisms in the ACC and/or theContinuing church movement and a deepening in my grasp of Christology through an exposure to the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church.
Recently, I was reminded once again why I am not an Episcopalian. The reminder doesn’t explain why I am Orthodox but it does I think point to something that is worth thinking about and discussing. So the reminder came in a post on another blog that I saw through the WordPress blog feature of Tag Surfer. It allows me to see other recent blog entries across WordPress with similar topics as my own.
The post was by an apostatized Baptist of sorts who returned to “Christianity” through the Episcopal church. The post was an expression of his thoughts on “reformulating” the doctrine of the Trinity. What the post was, was in fact not a reformulation, but more an expression of his rejection of the Trinity and an expression of its perceived uselessness. I didn’t take the post to be overtly hostile, (I am sure he’s a nice fellow) but it wasn’t something that amounted to Christian thinking on the subject and that’s the point. This post expresses the typical adoptionistic Christology found among classical Unitarians and contemporary liberals. Jesus is the man who was more open to the divine or “Spirit” and so is a means by which one is in contact with “God” or “Spirit” and so moved or inspired to “social justice.” The other posts on Hell and other doctrines pretty much fall into the typical liberal, that is Unitarian teaching.
I wrote this a long time ago, before this blog existed when I was writing on Kimel’s Pontificationsblog. I get requests for it and it is easier to just post it than to send out emails over and over again. Since it was originally a blog post, I have cleaned it up a bit and made it more or less a stand alone piece.
Anglicans in Exile
As a former Anglican myself I can sympathize with the troubles of my former brethren. On the one hand they do not see any good reason to abandon the tradition as it was handed on to them. Their problem is that they seem to be forced to leave the communion, but not the tradition that they are in. It is this loyalty that keeps them in place. Certainly loyalty has its limits and there is eventually a point where someone has to jump ship. I agree with many people who have already articulated the idea that going to Rome the eternal city (because after all, there’s always Rome!) because of problems in Anglicanism seems less than justified. By the same token I would agree with them that going to Constantinople for the same reason also lacks justification on that basis alone. But still, there is the pressing reality of what is going on in ECUSA and even in England. These are something like William James’ “forced decisions.” One doesn’t have eternity (let alone the brains) to study through all of the issues completely and yet one is compelled to make some decision. You have to dosomething. If Anglicanism does recover, it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, at least in the long run. As an Anglican I never found a move to either body justified on strictly the basis of the quackadoxy of Spong or other individuals. What one needs is a positive reason that will tip the scale in favor of one body or another. And a positive reason that also cuts against Anglicanism would be even better since it would motivate one to leave Anglicanism for some other reason other than the presence of quackadoxy. Such a reason would allay the fears that one is being disloyal.
Next week I will be in the Denver area in Colorado. Arin Hatfield, a recent graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary is being received into the Orthodox Church with his family the Sunday of March 1st at St. Spyridon’s GOC. On Saturday, Feb 28th, at around 6pm I will be giving a short talk about my conversion to Orthodoxy and much of that will be laced with material that is usually discussed here-Maximus, Simplicity, Free Will, Problem of Evil, etc. If you are in the area and would like to come, please R.S.V.P. by emailing me at the email listed below for further details. There will be opportunities to break beer together and informal discussions afterwards.
acolyte4236 AT sbcglobal dot net
This looks very interesting. The man is a convert to the Orthodox faith and was heavily influenced by these men. I’m happy to see someone writing in a very positive manner about Father John Romanides. It’s about time.
Don’t know how long this dissertation will be up on Baylor’s page, but get it while you can.