Friday, April 12, 2024

What do Eastern Orthodox believe? A Confessional Protestant Analysis and Response to Ten Beliefs of the EOC

Note: In CRBC's midweek meetings we are currently doing a series on "World Religions" and at present are looking at Christian denominations. Last Wednesday (4.10.24) our topic was Eastern Orthodoxy. Here are my notes:


The Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC), also called the Orthodox Catholic Church (OCC), was distinguished from the Western Church by the Great Schism of AD 1054.

Though we may speak of them as one “church,” they are, in fact, a collection of various national churches (Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc.)  united by similar doctrines and practices.

The EOC was greatly affected by the rise of Islam, and especially by the fall of Constantinople in Ad 1453.

In Russia and Eastern Europe, they were also greatly affected by the rise of communism (especially in Russia from 1917-1990).

There has been a major resurgence of the EOC in Russia and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.

It is estimated that there are now c. 230 million baptized members of the various EO churches.

It is often pointed out that the EOC never experienced anything like the Protestant Reformation which took place in the West, and some have suggested it has been less affected by modern Enlightenment values than has the Western Church (both RCC and Protestant).

The EOC in the US has been a relatively small presence up to the twentieth century, attributable primarily to migration of persons from EO countries (e.g. Russians, Greeks, Egyptian Copts, etc.). EO are estimated to be less than 0.5% of the population in the US.

There is, however, anecdotal evidence of conversion growth of the EOC in recent years, especially among younger men who are attracted to the traditional beliefs and practices of the EOC. There have also been a number of former Protestants and evangelicals who have gone over to Constantinople.

They include:

Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan (a Slovak Lutheran) converted in 1988.

Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, converted in 1990 and wrote about his conversion in Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion (1994).

Rod Dreher, a conservative political journalist and Editor-at-large for the American Conservative, raised a Methodist, converted to RCC in 1993 and the EOC in 2006. He is the author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (2017).

Hank Hanegraaffe, A Dutch Reformed evangelical, the “Bible Answer Man” and head of the apologetic ministry Christian Research Institute (CRI) converted in 2017.

There are also now a growing number of online advocates for the EOC known as “Ortho-bros.”

On the other hand, some have made this move later to regret it.

An example can be found in Joshua Schooping’s book Disillusioned: Why I Left the Eastern Orthodox Priesthood (2022). Read my review here.

Ten Beliefs of the EOC and a Protestant Response and prooftexts:

1.     The EOC denies the concept of the invisible church. The church only exists as a visible institution. Since there is “no salvation outside the church,” those who are outside the EOC cannot claim to be Christians.

Response: Not only is the church found in visible local churches, but there is also an invisible church composed of all genuine believers. Salvation does not come by baptism or by church membership but by faith in Christ.

Prooftexts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 27; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-10.

2.     The EOC claims that it alone exists as a church which embodies universal unity in its beliefs and practices.

Response: The EOC does not, in fact, possess outward unity, given that several of its national church organizations are not in agreement with one another (e.g., the conflict between the bishop of Constantinople and the bishop of Moscow). True unity does not come about by institutional unity but by a common faith in Christ. Absolute unity will only come at the end of the ages when Christ returns in glory, and the saints enter the glorified state.

Prooftexts: Mark 9:38-41; John 10:16; 17:20-23;1 Corinthians 11:19; Revelation 7:9-10.

3.     Like the RCC the EOC looks to its bishops and to tradition as its chief authority over Scripture. It holds that the church chose the Scriptures.

Response: Christ alone is the Head of the church. The highest authority for doctrine and life is Scripture (Sola Scriptura). The church did not choose Scripture, but only recognized its nature and authority (i.e., Scripture chose the church.).

Prooftexts: Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-16.

4.     Though the EOC affirms the first seven ecumenical church councils, it has not produced its own confessions of faith which might clarify and articulate its doctrines and practices. Rather than reasonably articulated doctrine, the EOC tends to focus on mysticism.

Response: We must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Our experiences must be regulated by Scripture.

Prooftexts: Luke 16:31; John 10:35; 1 Peter 3:15.

5.     The EOC places great emphasis upon the spiritual uses of icons and religious objects. It refers to the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) (AD 787) as “the triumph of orthodoxy.”

Response: God alone is the only lawful object of our worship and devotion. Religious images and objects are not sanctioned by Scripture and misdirect our focus and attention.

Proofexts: Exodus 20:3-6; John 3:30; Acts 17:22-25; Colossians 2:23; 3:16.

6.     Like the RCC the EOC places great emphasis on devotion to Mary.

Response: Mary was an important early disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, but she was an ordinary sinner saved by grace. Devotion should be given to no one other than God himself.

Prooftexts: Exodus 20:3; Matthew 12:46-50; John 3:30; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; 1 Timothy 2:5.

7.     As with the RCC, the EOC also accepts OT books which are outside the Jewish/Protestant OT canon. Unlike the RCC (Trent) and Protestant churches (WCF) it has no authoritative declaration of the canon of Scripture.

Response: The Apocrypha are a collection of uninspired writings and are not received as Scripture.

Prooftexts: Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Romans 3:1-2; Revelation 22:18-19.

8.     The EOC accepts the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the OT) rather than the Hebrew text of the OT as authoritative.

Response: God’s Word was immediately inspired and written in the OT in Hebrew not Greek. It has been preserved by God. Translations are useful to the degree that they reflect the originals.

Prooftexts: Nehemiah 8:4-8; Matthew 5:17-18.

9.     The EOC ecclesiological structure based on national churches tends to place emphasis on ethnicity/nationality rather than faith in Christ as the standard for inclusion in the church (i.e., phyletism or ethnophyletism).

Response: Inclusion in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ comes about by grace through faith, not according to one’s familial, national, ethnic, social, or gender status.

Prooftexts: Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 3:9-11.

10.                        The EOC practices not only infant baptism but also infant communion.

Response: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances that are established for believers alone who are part of local churches. Since infants are not mature enough to articulate faith or to be recognized as regenerate members of the church they cannot be baptized or receive the Lord’s Supper.

Prooftexts: Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 8:37; 1 Corinthians 11:23-33.


No comments: