The Bible’s Answers to the Protestant Departure from Orthodox Belief
West of Jesus is a condensed journey through Church history that establishes the Orthodox Christian Church as the Body of Christ; as the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ in the first century, as evidenced by the New Testament. Protestant schism from the historic Church and the failue to return to the Church erected in the first century ended in the abandonment of Holy Tradition. This resulted in the relegation of the sacraments to mere symbols, a misunderstanding of the process of salvation, and other distortions of sacred Scripture.
West of Jesus provides the Bible’s answers to the Protestant errors in terms Protestants will comprehend while also drawing on other elements of Holy Tradition (e.g., Apostolic and Church Father teachings, et al.).
The following chapters will discuss the establishment by the Lord Jesus Christ of His one Church in the first century; the Eastern Church that has remained unified and has maintained the apostolic faith for two thousand years and which continues today in Orthodoxy. Discussion will also cover Holy Tradition, defining it as possessing four inseparable components that constitute the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church (the dwelling place of God in the Spirit). Furthermore, it will be shown that in contrast to Orthodoxy’s two millennia of cohesion and of faithfulness to apostolic teaching that the Western Church at Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) schismed from the historical first century New Testament Church and that one result of this departure included the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.
Attention will then turn to the fruits having resulted from Protestantism’s schism from the Western Church and the failure to return to the Church established in the first century by the Lord Jesus Christ, a decision that rapidly ended in the abandonment of nearly all Holy Tradition. These fruits include the novel Protestant precept of sola scriptura, a proposition that argues Scripture alone suffices to understand and pursue the life in Christ and which played a key role in Protestantism’s having fractured into tens of thousands of divergent denominations. Moreover, because sola scriptura must rely on a private interpretation of Scripture it also functioned to bear fruit such as there being millions of conflicting opinions on the same Bible verses; which resulted in the relegation of sacraments to mere symbology, misunderstanding the process of salvation, and other dangerous misapprehensions of Scripture. Several chapters will cover in some detail the fruits that ensued as a consequence of Protestantism’s schism from the Western Church and failure to return to the Eastern Church established by the Lord Jesus Christ in the first century.
As a personal aside, given this state of Western Christianity, the author came to perceive Protestantism as a kind of instrument for assimilation into mainstream western culture and as a sort of psychology for coping with the world into which one had thusly been cast. Consequently, an interior emptiness, a spiritual void, persisted that triggered an all-encompassing search for completion. Glory be to God that this expedition ultimately led to the one unified Church established by the Lord Jesus Christ and resulted in the undeniable knowledge that “I was HOME!”
Turning to a few technical matters, references to Old Testament Scripture are from the New International Version (NIV) Study Bible and New Testament references are from the New King James Version (NKJV) Orthodox Study Bible. As for dates, they are presumed to be AD (anno domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) unless otherwise noted and when referring to a person indicate the year they rested in the Lord, again, unless otherwise indicated. Finally, apologies are offered to those who may take exception to the arguably inordinate use of Scripture, while preferring to normally rely more on all strands of Holy Tradition it was felt that the presentation of theologies herein would be more readily accepted by Protestant readers when supported by the Bible.
In closing, it must be said that a major intent of this work is to demonstrate that the “reverence” of Western Christianity appears to rarely transcend the conceptual and generally relies on human intellect while “devotion” in Eastern Christianity involves direct experience with God through the Holy Spirit (is experiential). This can be envisioned by picturing the Holy Spirit as a continuously broadcasting station whose frequency is obstructed by Protestantism’s immersion in worldly concerns and reliance on individual acumen. That is, the replacement of wisdom from the Holy Spirit with modern day intellectual opinion can only result in static. Quite simply, the life in Christ requires our adherence to what the Church has always believed; our constant pursuit of God through active participation in the Eastern Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is with this prescription that the following work, and below prayer, is humbly offered.
O Lord, we know not what to ask of You. You alone know our true needs. You love us more than we know how to love ourselves. Help us to see our real needs, which are concealed from us. We dare not ask for either a cross or a consolation. We can only wait on You. Our hearts are open to You. Visit and help us for Your great mercy’s sake. Strike us and heal us, cast us down and raise us up. We worship in silence Your holy will and Your inscrutable ways. We offer ourselves as a sacrifice to You. We put all our trust in You. We have no other desire than to fulfill Your will. Teach us to pray and pray Yourself in us. Amen.
Anthony of the Desert
Florence, AZ (USA)
This is the perfect book for Protestants seeking to understand Orthodox Christianity and for the Orthodox Christian who wishes to be armed with the biblical answers to Protestant challenges. Often, when a Protestant inquires about the teaching, life, and practice of the Holy Apostolic Church, definitive answers are elusive. Protestants demand that responses are backed up by verses from Sacred Scripture, and in West of Jesus the Orthodox Christian will possess a “handbook” by which replies to Protestants and backing from Sacred Scripture exists. Consequently, this work gives compelling discourse in support of Holy Tradition – to the Protestant Holy Tradition has become confined to but one of its four strands (gone is Apostolic teaching, the Church, and Church Fathers) – by pointing to the one aspect (Sacred Scripture) that Protestants proclaim as proof of all of Holy Tradition’s elements.
The text focuses on fruits – “You will know them by their fruits… a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matt. 7:16-18) – of Protestantism, including the novel sola scriptura mentioned supra; a Protestant contention that the Bible alone suffices to illumine the believer’s life in Christ. As is evident, much of Protestantism condems Holy Tradition and reduces also the Holy Sacraments to mere symbol:
Under the title of “Communion,” Divine Liturgy became in Protestantism a vacant rite that functions to only remember the Lord Jesus Christ’s death.
Baptism simply serves as but a public confession in Christ among Protestants (not the literal death, burial, and resurrection with the Savior that Scripture announces (cf., Col. 2:12)), while Chrismation has been discarded.
Confession (The Sacrament of Repentance) has, in Protastant domains, been condemned as heretical.
West of Jesus shows exactly where in both Sacred Scripture and Church Father writings: (1) a real “putting on” of Christ occurs (during baptism), (2) the Holy Spirit is given (at Chrismation), (3)confession to a spiritual father is essential and required (4) Divine Liturgy encompasses the actual Body (for eternal life) and Blood (for remission of sin) of the Lord Jesus Christ and involves the entrancing by Him into our interior realm for purification.
Any Protestant looking at Orthodox Christianity must start his/her voyage by reading this book! Moreover, any Orthodox Christian who seeks to understand Western Christian errancies will want to study West of Jesus in detail so that what has been believed everywhere, at all times, by everyone, can be more readily grasped and then shared with others.
Sample – Chapter 4 – THE HOLY SACRAMENTS
The knowledge gained thus far regarding the Protestant Reformer’s endeavor to become separated from the Western Church at Rome provides the requisite backdrop upon which a portrait of the Reformation’s departure from sacramental worship can be constructed with greater clarity.
Sacramental worship, as a vital component of life in the Church, has become all but lost in modern Protestantism so we will begin this pilgrimage with a characterization of what “sacrament” involves. Sacrament literally means “mystery” and within its construct resides the Latin term sacra (holy things) and the Greek word menoun (to live, to abide, or persist), an integration of terms that indicates “a place where holy things ought to be present.” We can further define sacrament as a door through which we are able to transcend the boundaries between heaven and earth, that is, a passageway that enables the Christian to voyage from physical realms (earth) into spiritual domains (the heavenly, or divine) wherein we experience direct union with God. Therefore, a sacrament takes created realities (eg., baptismal water or Eucharistic bread and wine) and mysteriously transforms them into the kingdom of God; a process that can be described as God’s grace, or as a gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, sacraments possess God’s uncreated energy (the Holy Spirit) and help in leading us to salvation (God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit).
With this idea of sacrament in mind we can now consider the sacraments that the Lord Jesus Christ instituted for use in His Church, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:16-17) – because divine energy permeated the Lord’s human nature we can, once joined to the Savior, adopt within ourselves these energies of God (a process facilitated by sacraments).
There are seven sacraments:
- Baptism – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19), “Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should also walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), and “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
- Chrismation – “Who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them, they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Ac. 8:15-17).
- Confession – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:23); “Confess your trespasses” (Jas. 5:16); and, “lf we confess our sins…” (l Jn. 1:9).
- Eucharist – “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins'” (Mt. 26:26-28).
- Healing (or Unction) – “Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9: 1-2) and “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (Jas. 5:14-15).
- Marriage – “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:20-24), see also the long passage in Eph. 5:22-33 on marriage.
- Ordination – “When they had prayed, they laid hands on them” (Ac. 6:6) and “stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).
Of course, along with these specific seven sacraments we must also recognize life in the Church, the Body of Christ, as a sacrament!
The picture now emerging includes the understanding that sacraments are vital tools in the process of working out one’s salvation (cf., Php. 2:12), and for running the race with endurance to the end (Mt. 10:22; Heb. 12: 1), and this enables us to observe how the Protestant removal of these utensils functions to empty the arsenal available for pursuing life eternal. We previously witnessed how the Protestant Reformation’s turning from the Western Church resulted in the evolution of theories such as eternal security – effortless, instant, and permanent “salvation” without any aid from participation in the Body of Christ – and are now able to behold how this culminated in the abandonment of nearly all sacraments. That is to say, with no need for help from the Church established by Jesus Christ in the first century in the pursuit of salvation there also existed no reliance on sacraments as facilitators in the process toward eternal life. For instance, baptism became a generic public confession of belief in Christ, rather than an actual remission of sin and rebirth as a child of God; Eucharist turned into remembrance of Christ’s work on the cross, not the real ingestion of Jesus’ literal Body and Blood as participation in God’s grace; marriage fell to but merely a civil contract between two people, no longer a holy union for running the race of salvation together.
In the following sections more complete coverage will be provided on some of the sacraments in the hope that the accompanying scriptural support will restore the Protestant perception of sacraments to the status of aids unto life eternal.
A. Holy Baptism
As just referenced, Protestantism has diminished the sacrament of baptism to the role of a symbolical public confession of belief in Jesus Christ. Obviously, baptism is far more than merely some statement of allegiance, baptism exists as the onset of our salvation process and involves the apostolic pattern of conversion; an example of which is Philip (the deacon, not the apostle) and the eunuch:
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.” (Ac. 8:35-38)
ln this scriptural example we see: (1) hearing Jesus Christ preached; (2) acceptance of Him by faith, and (3) baptism. In the same manner are conversions to Orthodoxy made today.
Prior to embarking upon a discourse regarding what else baptism includes it would be helpful to acknowledge that Scripture commands baptism:
As previously cited, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16).
The example just quoted in (Acts 8:35-38) of baptism as an aspect of the apostolic pattern of conversion.
And the example of Apostle Paul having converted the jailer, an event that included baptism:
“And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Ac. 16:33).
In other words, one cannot make themselves a Christian, while personal belief constitutes an indispensable ingredient for conversion there must also be baptism. This evidences the fact that salvation possesses the three-fold characteristic of: (1) I was saved, at conversion via belief and baptism, (2) I am being saved, the process of running the race to the end, and (3) I will be saved, the promise of eternal life to come.
Consequently, it is pivotal to not discard the “I am being saved” process, nor to exchange it, as have Protestants, for something effortless and immediate.
Understanding now that baptism is a requirement let us promptly endeavor to apprehend more of what this sacrament encompasses. The word “baptism” comes from the Greek baptizo, meaning “to irnmerse” or “put into,” and is performed through immersion in water. The Didache provides a few details:
“Now concerning baptism. Baptize as follows, when you have rehearsed the aforesaid teaching: Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you do not have running water, use whatever is available. And if you cannot do it in cold water, use warm. But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And prior to baptism, both he who is baptizing and he who is being baptized should fast, along with any others who can. And be sure that the one who is to be baptized fasts for one or two days beforehand.”
In keeping with our definition of a sacrament, baptism takes what is created (human beings) and, while also using another creation (water), transports a person into spiritual realms (the kingdom of God). This can be categorically observed in Jn. 3:3-5:
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ….’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”‘
Therefore, baptism exists as our pathway into the life in Christ, our natality into life in the Church (the Body of Christ). To both further abolish the precept of baptism as symbolic and to comprehend further what this admission into the kingdom of God involves let us take a look at a few more results of baptism, as reported in the Bible:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27); a literal entry into life in Christ.
“[B]uried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12; also, Rom. 6:3-4); an actual death, burial, and resurrection into union with Christ Jesus.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Co. 5:17); a real passing of the old self and sin.
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Ac. 2:38); “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord” (Ac. 22:16); “that he might sanctity and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26); “according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5; also, Lk. 24:47); a literal remission, or washing away, of sin.
It is interesting to note, in conjunction with baptism as a washing away of sin and component of salvation, the prefiguration of this holy sacrament in both Noah and the flood (Gen. 6-8) and Israel’s exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea (Ex. 14; see also, 1 Cor. 10:2).
As is now readily evident, by way of baptism we experience a dynamic and real life in Christ, not some symbolic profession of belief, or figurative action, but rather a literal entrance into the kingdom of God. Not only is this a birth into God’s kingdom – as we saw in Jn. 3:3,5; and which is also illustrated by “as many as received, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13) and “having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible” (1 Pet. 1:23) – but it is also an integral part of how we are saved: “He who believes and is baptized” (Mk. 16:16), “He saved us, through the washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), and “there is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism” (1 Pe. 3:21).
Prior to departing our consideration of baptism we should glance at an additional consequence that results from the dismissal of baptism’s literal constituents. In the Orthodox Church a freshly baptized convert is given a new name, a baptismal name, by his spiritual father. That is, just as a biological father names his newborn infant in the Church one’s elder confers a new name on his spiritual son. Protestantism refuses to accept, or to even acknowledge this apostolic practice that a review of Scripture authenticates.
To begin with, since there exists no dispute that an earthly newborn’s parents carry responsibility to name their child, by having established that baptism is also a birth we go a long ways toward biblically validating that spiritual fathers are duty-bound to name their newly born children. Thus:
“Those who were born…of God” (Jn. 1:13).
“[U]nless one is born again” (Jn. 3:3).
“[U]nless one is born of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5).
“[H]aving been born again” (1 Pe. 1:23).
Moreover, we see in the Bible that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself engaged in the practice of renaming His spiritual sons:
“As He passed by He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And he said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him” (Jn. 2:14); we know that Jesus subsequently renamed Levi as Apostle Matthew (cf., Mt. 10:2-3).
“Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter” (Mk. 3:16).
“Now when Jesus looked at him He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas”‘ (Jn. 1:42).
Scripture further reveals that the Apostles also followed this practice:
“And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles” (Ac. 4:36).
Finally, some Church Fathers also take the passage in Ac. 13:9, “[t]hen Saul, who also called Paul,” as an indication that Saul of Tarsus was renamed as Apostle Paul by Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. While there is not multi-lateral accord on this second name of Paul, what is indisputable is these words of the Lord:
“And I will give a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).
Given this widespread support – by Scripture, Christ Himself, the Apostles, and two thousand years of Church practice (Holy Tradition) – I was exceedingly humbled when after having been baptized my precious spiritual father named me Anthony (so may I be known).