Off-the-Cuff: What about the Eastern Orthodox?

I was pointed at a blog post from a few days ago “Why Mormonism’s Claim is So Crazy to People.” The article is a very simple defense of the teaching of the Great Apostasy and a bit of pleading that the teachings of the LDS church don’t amount to an enormous fraud. I was asked to comment on it, and instead of getting into a back and forth with the author in his comment section, I just decided to start a new set of opinion posts I’m going to call “Off-the-Cuff.” In the words of Peter Pan: “Oh, the cleverness of me.”

So, for background go read “Why Mormonism’s Claim is So Crazy to People.”

First, why do LDS folks always seem to forget about the hundreds of millions of Christians that make up the Eastern Orthodox family of churches? I know Roman Catholicism is a bigger bogey-man, but come on! The Eastern Orthodox church has been around just as long; I’d actually argue it’s older. The Eastern Orthodox church claims, and can back it up pretty well, that their leaders have an unbroken line of apostolic succession. And, yet, they get absolutely no love. You can’t talk about anything like the Great Apostasy with any real, historical, credibility without dealing with the Eastern Orthodox churches. But, that has never stopped any well-meaning LDS folks. Heck, it doesn’t even stop well-meaning Protestants. So, the first huge weakness is that Mr. Trimble completely ignores a huge swath of ancient Christianity in order to make his points seem remotely valid.

Second, he doesn’t actually substantiate the claims of a Great Apostasy except to say “[t]he early Christian fathers witnessed the church fall into deep apostasy and they wrote about it.” I will commend Mr. Trimble for referring to the collected volumes of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene volumes; but, I think he may need to re-read more of those volumes before characterizing the writings the way he does. While, there was certainly in-fighting in some quarters of the church, the majority of the writings against apostasy and heresy looked a lot like the church fathers writing against teachings more resemblant of Mormonism than Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. In fact, Tertullian, writing at least 100 years before the big, bad, Council of Nicea provides us with the oldest extant formulations of what was formalized in the councils as Trinitarian orthodoxy. Even the tritheism of Mormonism was dealt with in the Post-Nicene era in connection with the Monophysite controversies of the fifth century. And, all the early church fathers were concerned with maintaining apostolic teaching, which is why they worked very hard to identify the apostolic writings and make extensive use of them in the churches. So, the Great Apostasy, as taught by Mormonism lacks a great deal of historical veracity and the writings of the church fathers can hardly be said to support such a notion.

Third, there is a huge lack of clarity in regards to the issue of apostasy. Mr. Trimble operates from the assumption that there is no grey area with regards to apostasy. He, essentially says that either there must be one church, possessing all truth, without any error; or, the church is completely absent from the earth. This is a failure distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Even after the Great Schism of 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches continued to each affirm the earlier ecumenical councils and they remained in substantial agreement about many things. Even Protestants, in the midst of the Reformation, recognized that not all that Rome affirmed was errant. And there is a really good reason for that: The Bible. Despite all the differences of opinion on all kinds of matters, the Word of God has been preserved in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. Despite the Bible not being universally accessible for centuries, it was not lost or corrupted. The Bible has always served to organize God’s people. Some time people go beyond what Scripture teaches and invent such things as the papacy, infant baptism, purgatory or the Quorum of the Seventy, First Presidency, etc. But, God’s Word endures, and so the Church endures. The Church has from time to time been subject to error; but the Gospel has never utterly passed away because, just like in the Old Testament, God is powerful enough to defend His people and preserve a remnant for Himself. And, that remnant has always been rooted in God’s revealed Word.

But, the big question that this article begs is why would God allow a Great Apostasy? The Mormon response must be either: because God wanted to, or because God couldn’t stop it. In the first case I’d question the wisdom, charity and benevolence of God to not even attempt to preserve His church in any form. In the second case I would assert that such a God is unworthy of worship and lacks the basic abilities to be God in the first place. In either case, the LDS view of God is woefully deficient; and that’s assuming the Great Apostasy even happened, which is hard to argue historically. So, in the end I would conclude that Mormonism is a fraud, and a counterfeit Gospel. As a religion, Mormonism reveals itself to be Anti-Christian in its adoption of teachings that depart from the teachings of the Apostles and in its addition of a yoke of slavery to its adherents. It is, in the end, exactly the sort of “other gospel” that Paul warned the Galatians about and pronounced any who would bring such a counterfeit “anathema,” which means they are committing damnable error.

The people of God must always stand upon the Word of God, not upon men. There is still one Lord, one faith and one baptism; they simply aren’t mediated by merely one church, but by all the churches where the Gospel of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone is preached. And such a Gospel is missing from the Mormon church, revealing it to be a fraud and a monstrous one. And, no one should be surprised that such a monstrous fraud should be possible; for, as it is written: “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24 ESV).


Being Holy — Thinking About Holiness Part 1

Our Lamb Has Conquered - Let Us Follow HimHoliness is an odd topic for many Christians, primarily because many have never heard it taught. They know that God is holy, and they think that means he’s some great “other” and unique, which are both true. But, that is hardly the full extent of holiness. The idea of personal holiness isn’t something that crosses the minds of many individual believers. Yet, it is not a minor theme in Scripture:

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45 ESV)

So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:40 ESV)

[B]ut as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV)

[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4 ESV)

Even from this tiny sample of verses we can see a few things about holiness. First, the people of God are Holy because God declares them to be. Leviticus 11:45, as well as countless Old Testament passages speak to the holiness of Israel as a then present, effective, reality. The people of Israel were holy because God said they were and had made them so by the act of His will and redemptive work. The same is said of the Church in the New Testament; we see this in verses such as Ephesians 1:4. So, in one since holiness is a declaration that God makes based on His work alone. In this sense, it is connected to our understanding of justification and the knowledge of our righteousness in Christ.

Unfortunately this is as far as most believers get in their understanding of holiness, but the Bible does not stop with our declarative holiness. The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments speaks of a sort of progressive holiness. We see this in Old Testament passages like Numbers 15:40 which encourage the people of Israel to keep the commandments of God. In this sense, holiness is something to be worked out. The odd thing is that, despite the difference in declarative versus progressive understandings of holiness, the exact same Hebrew word is used. This signifies that a full understanding of holiness must incorporate both an understanding of being declared holy and set apart, as well as being conformed to a God-given standard of conduct.

As Christians it is clear in the New Testament that works of the Law can not save. Only the work of Christ is able to accomplish salvation, and it is applied as the result of faith alone:

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

But, even such well known passages as Ephesians 2:8-10 don’t leave room to wonder about whether progressive holiness is necessary. Ephesians 2:10 is crystal clear that the Christian is expected to “walk in” the “good works, which God prepared.” This idea is further reinforced by 1 Peter 1:15-16 and other New Testament passages that expect holiness in connection with the conduct of the believer.

So, the call for the Christian to be holy is inescapable. But, what is the standard the believer is to use to examine their walk? Paul encourages the Galatians to “not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). In that context he is explicitly referencing circumcision, but he is clear that submission to even that one tenet of the Law makes the believer “obligated to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 ESV). So, if the Law is not the standard the believer is to adhere to, what is? That is the question we will take up in “Holiness and the Law of Christ – Thinking About Holiness Part 2.”

Why the barber is not like the florist, the baker and the photograph taker

What Would Quark Do?Christians have been very bothered by the advancement of efforts to normalize homosexual marriage in the last few years. I must admit that I am also bothered by the aggressive pace. Bakers, florists and wedding photographers have all been hauled into courts to justify their refusal to serve homosexuals who ask them to provide services for their, now legal, weddings. Christian businesspeople in all these circumstances cite their deeply held religious beliefs concerning the immorality of homosexual behavior and, particularly, the legalization of homosexual marriage. The Christians are all free to hold to these convictions, but courts have ruled that Christian businesses may not act on these convictions in a way that leads them to refuse service to homosexuals.

Such figures as Drs. Albert Mohler and Russell Moore have weighed in, taking up the cause of the businesspeople and raising alarms about the erosion of religious liberty. I want to be clear: in some ways I agree with Drs. Mohler and Moore. I think there are signs that religious liberty is becoming a difficult to maintain freedom in the West, and a big part of that is the advancement of laws designed to curtail speech and open dissent surrounding the issue of homosexuality. But, I don’t believe that the examples cited in the United States of florists, bakers and photographers being told they can not refuse service is quite the crisis some imagine.

I’ve gotten into far too many discussions with folks and had the same line used repeatedly in defense of the liberty of business people to “refuse to serve whoever they want for whatever reason they want.” This line sounds great to advocates of an unrestrained free market, libertarians and the like. But, it would require the unmaking of laws put in place to protect minorities and women against discrimination and return us to the possibility of an era where society could be segregated along racial and gender lines, at least in the context of some businesses. Do I think such segregation would come? Only in a very limited way in communities where bigotry and hatred still have powerful holds. But, the adoption of such an attitude, consistently, would open the door to discrimination without restraint in the business world: should business owners be permitted to discriminate in hiring, or in any other area of operations when they are granted the right to discriminate in their refusal of service to certain kinds customers?

Personally, this quasi-libertarian argument opens way too many doors to way too many problems to be considered reasonable. I believe that businesses that operate publicly ought to serve the public, without unreasonable restrictions that can not be justified from a business or purely religious basis. I include the idea of “a purely religious basis” intentionally, and I want to argue that the florists, bakers and photographers can not use it as their justification. The reason I want to make that argument is because of what sounds like the start to a bad joke: A lesbian seeking a haircut from a Muslim.

In Canada, a lesbian is suing a Muslim barber for refusing to cut her hair. The reason the barber gave is that according to his religious beliefs he can not touch women who are not his wife. On the surface this sounds like the very same issue that the florists, bakers and photographers in America are facing: a desire to refuse service based on religious beliefs. There is a big difference though and I think many Christian miss it. Until this story came along I wasn’t even sure how to articulate my belief that Christians were wrong for denying services to homosexuals who wanted them to provide for their weddings.

The barber is on solid legal ground, or would be in the United States, because of the tendency of courts to steer clear of examining articles of religious faith. In order for a U.S. court to overrule the barbers decision to not cut the lesbian’s hair they would have to directly examine the barbers specific religious commitments and rule them invalid. This is an action that U.S. courts refuse to do because it isn’t their job to determine which religious beliefs are valid or not. So, how does this differ from the florists, bakers and photographers?

In the U.S. cases the Christian business owners have tended to defend their refusals to serve homosexuals on the basis that participation in their weddings would constitute an endorsement of such weddings and thus violate their Christian consciences. Here is where the problem lies: a court can examine whether participation is equivalent to endorsement without having to consider the religious beliefs of the businesspeople involved. The objection for the sake of conscience isn’t solely grounded in religious conviction, but is also based on an understanding of what participation denotes. Dr. Albert Mohler explicitly makes this connection when he writes “active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful.” But, is participation, necessarily, endorsement?

Lets use some analogies to help clarify things: journalists actively participate in events of all sorts in much the same way as photographers do at weddings, yet their participation can not be construed as an implicit endorsement of the events they report on. Further, citizens in the U.S. elect leaders, yet the active participation of the citizens in the electoral process does not imply their endorsement of everything the government does. The issue is one of proximity and association, and so I’m led to believe that the argument that Dr. Mohler and others make in justifying Christians denying services to be used for homosexual weddings is an expression of the association fallacy. Florists, bakers and photographers are not required to give their consent to those being married, and so their participation is ancillary, and thus should not be understood as an endorsement.

For this reason I’m inclined to agree with the courts who have ruled that Christian businesses that provide service for weddings don’t have a firm basis for refusing services to homosexuals. They are still free to hold to their convictions concerning the immorality of such weddings, just as I do. But, unless they can remove the degree of separation established by being a business, or somehow prove that their involvement would, necessarily, require endorsement; I don’t see the cause for their rejection of business on purely religious grounds in these cases. The barber is not like the florist, the baker or the photograph taker in reality.