Orthodox- Protestant Relations

The other day my wife, who works at an Orthodox Classical school here in Texas, mentioned how inconsistently the other Christian traditions relate to Orthodoxy. Though her school is explicitly Orthodox, a good portion of the faculty and student body are not Protestant. One of the most active and supportive families (dad’s on the board, mom chairs the PTO) belong to the PCA, the denomination that raised us. In my wife’s current circle this isn’t unusual, and the relationship between these conservative Protestants and the Orthodox isn’t strained. In fact, quite the opposite is true: there is a sense of companionship and camaraderie. This strikes me as the sensible way for conservative Protestants and the Orthodox to relate. Sadly, however, this is often not the case.

I understand that one of the first questions every Protestant must ask when introduced to the Orthodox Church is, “Should I be offended by this?” The honest answer to this is both yes and no. Orthodoxy makes strong dogmatic claims that – precisely because these claims are about important things – hit home in more personal way that most doctrinal claims do. Part of the oddity of our relationship is due to the fact that some Protestants sees many of these claims as unnecessary and perhaps petty: the ever-virginity of Mary, divine energies, how many wills Christ had, the liturgical cycle, etc. Obviously I hold these issues to be vitally important, but I don’t see the value in beginning Orthodox- Protestant dialogs with a discussion of intercessory prayer or the hypostatic qualities of icons. There are centuries of Protestant theology where these issues have been wholly absent from their consciousness, and the Orthodoxy vocabulary is developed enough to hide the heart of Orthodoxy from a Protestant interlocutor. Discussion that begins on this level illustrates the divide between the two “camps”, but in a false and misleading way instead of a helpful and convicting one.

Orthodox Christianity is the best ally Conservative Protestantism has, and it is a senseless shame when good Protestant institutions reject Orthodox Christians from their midst in order to maintain their institutional integrity. Any Protestant institution that has by God’s grace weathered the storm of liberalism and cultural fashionability has a sure friend in the Church. Such institutions – to which I am hopelessly indebted – have survived by clinging dearly on to two main tenets: the Bible should be seriously and humbly treated as authoritative in everyone’s spiritual life, and conservative social ethics. That this is indicative of the Protestantism speaks well of their heart and the kind provision of God, even if it means that they overlook heresies like Oneness Pentecostalism and the like. Both of these central tenets is shared and defended by the Orthodox Church, and it has stolidly defended them since it was established by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Orthodoxy has always elevated and venerated Scriptures. (Dr. Bradley Nassif has been beating this drum for years.) One can see this by talking to our clergy and laity, but even more so by observing the reverence given to the reading of the Gospel in the liturgy and the way the entire cannon pervades all the services. The past couple weeks I’ve been reading the minor prophets and routinely recognize passages from different hymns and readings: this is just one of the ways I find that the Church is bringing the Scriptures into my life in a new a profound way. Moreover, I keep meeting Orthodox converts who moved out of Protestantism and into Orthodoxy precisely because of their devotion to the words of Scripture.

Orthodoxy is unfailingly anti-Abortion, has always preached against homosexuality, and has ceaselessly been emphatically pro-marriage and the traditional household. The Protestant heart that once motivated Sunday worshipers to dress their best for the House of God is shared across the world by Orthodox worshipers. While conservatives might look at eco-friendly Orthodox Christians as liberals, what motivates it is actually a deep seated traditionalism in nature and not fashionable politics.

I find it incredible that institutions like my alma mater, Biola, devote a great deal of effort in restricting the presence of Orthodoxy on its campus, but freely associate with the Episcopalian church which outrightly supports agendas antithetical to its own. Something is wrong when a Oneness Pentecostal (who’s doctrine about the Trinity is about as close to the Christian God as Mormonism) can lead worship at chapel without raising an eyebrow, but I would be disqualified from admission into their Masters program because my pastoral recommendation is from a priest. Calvinists and Armenians battle without disturbing the administration, a woman pastor preaches without causing a blip on the radar, and politically active homosexuals are gently reminded of the unity we have in Christ, but the Orthodox are viewed as strangers. Episcopalian faculty proudly declare their allegiance, and it hardly matters that their bishops are women, support gay-marriage, and defend the slaughter of innocent babies. And I am the outsider? I am the one who left the fold?

It strikes me that the unity such institutions profess to shares amongst its diverse constituents is not shared by these outlying progressive Protestant factions, but by its allies in the Orthodox Church and some conservative Roman Catholics. The true unity; the unity of heart, vision, and Christian mission is not seen because of the superficial common thread of either a Protestation of Rome or tradition of practice in the form of hymns, or contemporary worship music. Such superficial unity is little more than a club or hobby; and this kind of unity doesn’t bind together, it just trips up and entangles. I believe that these institutions exist to further the Kingdom on earth, to engage the world in battle, both personally and culturally. If this is true than the administration of such Bible believing, Christ pursuing, evangelical should know its true allies.