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Chapter II – Reasons for Becoming Orthodox

Chapter II – Reasons for Becoming Orthodox

Why are conversions to Orthdoxy taking place? The answers can be better understood by investigating the reasons given by the former Protestants who became Orthodox.

First, almost every convert spoke of a fervent desire to find the New Testament Church. Virtually all converts embarked on a serious study of church history. Gillquist, in his book Becoming Orthodox, relates a thorough study that he and his fellow clergy undertook in their quest for the Church. The following topics lay at the heart of their investigation: (1) Doctrine, (2) Worship, and (3) Church Government. Their research incorporated the writings of early church fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, The Didache, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyprian of Carthage, Athanasius, as well as the decrees and canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. These men already accepted the Bible as the inspired Word of God. For them, the fathers helped to clarify issues of biblical interpretation, doctrine and practice. They eventually concluded that the apostolic faith has been preserved by the Orthodox Church.

In the book Coming Home the writers indicated several factors that led them to the door of the Orthodox Church.

Scriptural Interpretation

Many of the converts to Orthodoxy expressed dismay over the diverse interpretations of the Scriptures by the large number of denominations in the United States. Some of these men came from churches that affirmed the authority of the Bible but rejected creedal formulations.

Father Gregory Rogers, a former Church of Christ pastor, discovered that “the Bible does not exist in a vacuum or stand on its own apart from interpretation.”[5] Every church has a tradition that tempers its interpretation of Scripture. The crucial question for Rogers and others was not “tradition” versus “no tradition, ” but “which tradition?” Others, such as Father Anthony Hughes, a graduate of OralRoberts University, discovered that the Church existed before the New Testament was written. For them, the Church gave birth to the New Testament, not the other way around. They also contend that the interpretation of the Bible is best understood in the light of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and other pronouncements of the Church throughout her history.

Worship

Very few of the Protestant converts to Orthodoxy were motivated by a desire for highly liturgical worship. Most discovered the liturgical roots of the Church through studies of church history and patristics. And, as they made new discoveries, these men tried to incorporate some of these concepts in their Protestant congregations. Some discovered in Orthodoxy a synthesis of doctrine and worship. Father Kenneth Hines, a former Presbyterian pastor, speaks of the dichotomy between faith and practice that he perceived in Protestantism:

While in seminary, I had all but given up on any hope of trying to combine spiritual and ministerial practice with academics. The tension was left unresolved until by God’s providence I discovered the historic Orthodox Faith. With its daily, individual, and community liturgical prayer, and the sacraments, Orthodoxy provided the answer to the abstract and arid intellectualism I had encountered as a student.[6]

The converts from non-liturgical Protestant traditions spoke of their appreciation of the structure of the Orthodox liturgical services in enhancing their devotion and establishing order in their prayer lives.

The Sacraments

Those Protestants that had held a symbolic view of the sacraments or “ordinances” discovered the inadequacy of such a view when confronted with patristic evidence. They discovered the centrality of the Eucharist as a partaking of the very body and blood of Jesus Christ in the early church’s worship. They came to see the sacramental power of Holy Baptism as union with Christ and forgiveness of sins. And, they soon came to accept the other five sacraments: Confession, Chrismation, Holy Ordination, Holy Unction, and Holy Matrimony.

Liberalism/Modernism

A sizeable number of people have converted to Orthodoxy due to frustration over changes and liberal trends in their denominations. Father Andrew Harmon, a former Methodist minister, became disillusioned when “the power structure exerted consistent pressure for us to conform with whatever innovative trends were going on in the denomination.”[7] His dream of revitalizing his denomination was merely an illusion. He observed seminary graduates that had changed their beliefs over a brief period of time. Also, he found that he frequently could not recommend other Methodist churches to his parishioners who moved to different areas. In the meanwhile, he and his wife had been studying the Orthodox Church. They were attracted to the unchanging character of Orthodoxy.

For Father Athanasios Ledwich, a former Anglican priest, the final straw came during the consecration of David Jenkins as the Anglican Bishop of Durham. After his election, Jenkins appeared on television, denying the historicity of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ . According to Ledwich,

If the Church of England were to consecrate a man who openly uttered such heresy in public without asking him to retract, then it was not a single bishop who was at fault: it was the whole body which made him a bishop that could be accused of heresy.[8]

In most cases these men “saw the handwriting on the wall” and began to investigate alternatives. For many disaffected Anglicans, the Roman Catholic Church seems to be the only option. For some of the men whose testimonials are included in Coming Home, the Roman Catholic Church was an option that they considered seriously. This option is probably more apparent because of the significant presence of Catholic parishes in the United States and England. For those who cannot accept Papal Infallibility, and other later doctrines, such as Purgatory or the Immaculate Conception, and have “done their homework” in church history and patristics, the Orthodox Church appears to be a viable option.

Spirituality

Many men found the spirituality and mystery of the Orthodox Church to be a refreshing discovery. In the face of a hectic world, the Orthodox emphasis on communion with God in a disciplined prayer life adds a dimension to faith that some Protestants have never experienced. Ron Olson, a graduate of Biola College in Los Angeles, and now an Orthodox missionary in Santa AnaCalifornia, came to Orthodoxy through its emphasis on spirituality.

As opposed to rationalistic Western theology, Orthodoxy leaves room for the unknown and teaches it is okay to look upon God as a mystery. God could no longer merely be systematized, analyzed, and synthesized at will. Prayer became more than rehearsing a laundry list of petitions, or stubbornly trying to change God’s mind. In Orthodoxy, prayer is perceived as a matter of turning our minds, hearts, and even our bodies toward the Triune God.[9]

The following chapters will describe the history and doctrine of the Orthodox Church that these people entered.

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