Recently one of my posts was featured on my favorite Evangelical blog, Internet Monk, which was started by the inestimable Michael Spencer, who has been gathered to the Lord and to His saints, both of whom he loved intensely. I cannot tell what a privilege that was, but I was asked the question why Orthodoxy? Why this church? What is special about this particular Church?
I want to keep this as brief as possible, because there are countless better places to go and hash out these kinds of issues than Internet Monk, and a lot of times there is more heat generated than light. Touching divine matters, John Wesley said that in order to be effective we needed cool heads and warm hearts. Alas, I have a cold heart and a hot head, and on this Lazarus Saturday, the eve of our descent into Orthodox Holy Week, I want to keep both of these in check.
There are two propositions that I have come to believe:
The Church is visible, and it is One
Heresy is crueller than murder
Whatever you may believe about the truth value of the first proposition, there was a time when it was true. From the time of Constantine until the Fourth Council at Chalcedon in 451, the Great Church was visibly and organizationally united.
About fifteen years ago, I had a strange dream. I was working in a homeless shelter/soup kitchen, and Saint Patrick came in dressed as a modern homeless man. His sanctity, though, was apparent to all of us and he preached an impassioned sermon. Many of the homeless men accepted Christ. Afterwards the saint asked me where the Church was so that he could baptize the new flock. I asked him which church.
Which Church? the saint replied. The Church, of course. Where is it? Point me the way. In my day, you could point me there.
Now, there were Arians in south of France in Patrick’s day, but we won’t go there for now. when I awoke from the dream I was convinced that what I had been taught all my life about the Church of Christ, that it was basically a sort of a roll call of the redeemed, was false.
The second proposition is a little touchier. Orthodoxy means “correct glory” , not “correct belief” or “correct administration”. There needs to a place where everything fits in its proper place. Ideas have consequences and they also try desperately to reproduce themselves in other minds. I am doing this right now.
“Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet? As for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet and drink what you foul with your feet!” (Ez. 34:18-19)
When I was in South America as a Protestant missionary, I came across a small, isolated church where the pastor had sort of cobbled together the most odious portions of the doctrines of several Protestant sects and was preaching them vociferously. His flock wasn’t large, but it was fervent, and very, very sad. He was himself more miserable than Sylvia Plath baking her last batch of cookies, and his followers, practically all women, reflected his pathologies. They alone were the bulwark against which Antichrist in his pluriform manifestations raged constantly.
“Fear not, [vanishingly] little flock…”
‘Why did this guy ever leave the Catholic Church?’ I thought to myself. ‘He’d be better off walking up a mountainside on his bleeding knees to kiss a statue of the Virgin than he is infecting other people with his neuroses from the pulpit every Sunday. Hell, he’d be better off drinking beer and listening to a lot of 70s R&B.’
Fortunately, God is good, and most of us, the effects of heresy are pretty minimal. Most heresiarchs are not as culpable as my South American example. A heresiarch is like a doctor of podiatry who believes his club foot is normal, and attempts to reproduce it in all of the patients who come to him.
Since all things come from God and all things are in the process of returning to God, there always manages to be some sweet water mixed in with all the foul. But why not seek out the fountain of living water that flows unmixedly and uninterruptedly from the Throne of God?
Maybe I am deceived, and worse yet, attempting to deceive all of you. That is a possibility. My South American pastor certainly operated with a degree of self-assurance I have never been able to achieve. Maybe I have just found a heresy that is nourishing my own sinfulness. If that is true, let each man guard himself as best he can, and for Christ’s sake, since we are all in such a perilous predicament, let us cut each other some slack.
I know this doesn’t answer the specific question “Why did you become Orthodox, rather than Catholic, or stay Pentecostal, or return to neo-Calvinism, or go emergent like your brother?”
All I can say is that since my earliest thoughts, I have only ever wanted Jesus the Christ, even though I may not have known it at the time. You can find a lot of Him in a lot of places, but the fullness, the pleroma, of Him who fills all is the Church [Eph. 1.23], and I am convinced that that Church is the Holy Synod of Orthodoxy.