A Critical Analysis of Eastern Orthodox Beliefs

In way of introduction, I have been forming my Christian beliefs, in some cases based on other’s views, in others personal study, for now some 20+ years. Recently, I have explored some of the beliefs and doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and, surprisingly perhaps, have found substantial overlap with my own. I say surprisingly, because I have never experienced any teaching of the Orthodox Church, a Church who claims its beliefs to be the authentic beliefs of the very earliest Christians. I would characterize my own beliefs as still shackled in some ways to traditional Western Christian doctrines (e.g., a “Platonized” or perhaps “Epicurean” brand of God vs “Emmanuel”, God with us; going to heaven or hell, but little if any mention of living the Christian life; Christianity as put on once a week but discarded the remainder of the week, etc.). But through my study, I have gradually been concluding that some fairly large pieces of Western Christian belief are not Biblical (i.e. not what the Bible authors actually teach), in the pure sense of that term, and so have been looking at other faith traditions to see if I find more Biblical authenticity in them than what I have grown up being taught. This piece, then, is intended to be a somewhat more thorough investigation of what the Orthodox believe in comparison to my current beliefs, from which I hope to learn and grow in my faith. (It helps me to learn and remember if, when studying a subject, I write down what I find more or less as I find it.)

A Conversion Story

I admit to selfish motives in penning this piece. How one comes to allegiance and obedience to Christ is an intensely personal story. And, others may likely find nothing in it to identify with from their own experience. But for me, at this point in my life, it is important for me to describe how my life was turned inside out if only for the benefit of my progeny if no one else. This is that story.

What is the Christian’s Calling?

There are three polar opposite popular opinions these days as to what it is the Christian is called to do. The first is that the Christian calling is to do essentially nothing. This is the view held, in whole or in part, by the vast majority of those who identify with the Reformed Church tradition, convicted as they are by the doctrine of God’s Grace. These folks’ understanding is that God is in complete control of the outcome of society, and so they are at best incidental to His Sovereign decision. Some who hold this opinion share it only up to a point, insisting that spreading the Gospel of Christ is the true Christian calling, which they read as applying to themselves in Mat 28:19-20. The other opinion is that Christians should “work” for the righting of society’s wrongs, be they racism, child trafficking, spousal abuse, drug abuse, or,…fill in your favorite societal pathology. This opinion also includes climate-related causes, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, tree planting, trash clean-up, etc. These people are persuaded not so much by Biblical commissions but rather by their well-founded belief in the advent of the “New Heavens and New Earth” at the Eschaton. If there’s going to be a “New Earth”, they reason, then they should be about its preservation until that day. What these popular opinions seem to fail to appreciate is what Jesus actually called us to do . Let’s unpack what they’re missing.

Searching for a Consistent Biblical God

I wonder how many people have been thrown off of their inevitable search for God by what they perceive as not just the inconsistency of the characterization of God in the Bible’s Old Testament compared to His portrayal in the New, but by His seemingly severe, some would say immoral, characterization in the Old Testament. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find and describe one, integrated, consistent whole of the Divine Nature across the entire Bible? Imagine being able to perceive God’s essential God-ness through a new lens, and so enable others to see beyond their personal prejudices. Looking for such a God is the task of this piece.

The Jewish and Christian God

Jews and Christians have almost nothing in common except their God.  He is one and the same God. Jews believed they were chosen by God for special blessing, that this blessing was an inheritance due to their birthright, originating with their father Abraham if they would only faithfully live by His Law (discussed, below).  They didn’t concern themselves with “going to heaven” (at least until the advent of their Pharisees in the first century BC), but were very concerned about their survival from hostile surrounding nations.  And so, to them, God would “save” them, His chosen people, from these earthly enemies.  But when they died, they were dead.

Christians, on the other hand, believe they are “saved” from God’s final judgment of creation by their belief in the life, message, atoning death and resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ.  They believe that they die physically, but that they live on in the presence of their Savior forever.  Most Christians are taught that the Law given to the Jews has no claim on them – that they have “freedom in Christ” through their faith.  Some, probably a significant percentage if not a majority, believe that after death Jews who have not turned to Christ are sent, as punishment for this decision, to suffer in hell for eternity.

So how could His people be so different in their beliefs?  And how could there be such disdain of one for the other?  The purpose of this piece is to explore these questions and to see if there is any room for a middle ground, based on what the Bible says.

Belief, and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

There appears to be in the Christian church today a profound misunderstanding of the working of Salvation in the Christian’s life.

On the one hand, we have the tried and true fundamental statement of salvation found in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (2:8):

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When one hears and receives this glorious proclamation, he breathes a groaning sigh of relief.  “I no longer have to strive to please God on my own; to be ‘good’ enough; to worry that I won’t live up to God’s expectations.  I’m saved and my faithfulness to Him has saved me.”

These are all legitimate conclusions for the one who has, perhaps at long last, repented and believed.  God saves from His judgment those who live faithfully to Him and His Son, Jesus, the Christ.

But what is it the Christian believes who receives this reprieve?  And what is it that he has agreed to in proclaiming Christ the Lord of his life?

Free Will?

If God decided the destiny of every person that would ever live before the foundation of the world, why bother exhorting people to change their lives? If God directs every (significant) action and outcome of everyone’s life, why tell them to change?  They’re just doing what God specifies they do. If God didn’t provide humans with free will, why then spend many Biblical books appealing to those same wills to change what they think and believe, telling them what they should choose to think and believe instead?

Forsake Offense

When many look at what’s going on today they see an attack on their long-held values.  Others see sinister forces at work to prevent them from achieving a better society.  And let’s just stipulate that both are reacting honestly, in that their feelings are not fake. What’s unusual today is the strength of those feelings.  It’s true that the media does its best to stoke the flames of those feelings.  But unless you spend your day glued to a media outlet, its hard to believe that you are significantly more agitated by today’s events than, say, those of the 1960’s (assuming you were here then). So what is it about today, this time, that is so different, that elicits so much more emotional trauma and animosity against the other side?

Israel as Metaphor

Those familiar with the Jewish Bible -- the Tanakh -- or what Christians call the Old Testament, have puzzled for centuries over the meaning of the failed history of the Israelites, culminating in the destruction of their Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD, and their destruction or banishment from their homeland in 136 AD following the Bar Kokhba revolt.  What exactly does it mean that God chose the Israelites from all the peoples of the world, led them, gave them a homeland and, for a time at least, heaped blessings on them only to have them nearly universally turn their backs on Him and His prescriptions for living?  And what can we learn from their experience?

Scientific Evidence for God

From our earliest days, we have perceived God through His creation. From the majesty of the Universe to the delicacy of a hummingbird, or the simple beauty of an Orchid, we have equated the exquisite wonder of creation with its even more majestic Creator[1]. Today, however, the evidence science finds in God’s “Second Book” – Nature – for the creative signature of God himself is overwhelming. It is virtually beyond dispute today that the Universe had a beginning, and came from nothing (ex nihilo). This makes the Biblical story unique among all religions’ stories of the beginning.

Christianity in the Age of ‘Whatever?’

Lots of people write blogs.  Very few people actually read them. So why this one? Recently I’ve been absolutely stunned by the power of the delusion our society is suffering regarding truth, good and evil.  In this perverse worldview, people who elect to strap on explosives and detonate them, or fire automatic weapons at unsuspecting … Continue reading Christianity in the Age of ‘Whatever?’