This entire comment thread is particularly good by all involved and possibly deserves its own write-up.
- Nick Badalamenti, regarding a comment thread begun by Walt Garlington, here.
The subject post, The Value of the Protest, reviewed reaction by Protestant Christian leaders to both Covid and to a recent Canadian bill signed into law, a law that now makes illegal conversion therapy. This Protestant reaction was compared to reactions from more institutional churches – Orthodox and Catholic.
In any case, my response to Nick (who is, perhaps one of my longest-tenured on-line “friends”):
Nick, from my first exchange with Walt on this thread, I have had a similar thought. I will go back and review the thread; if I feel I can do it justice via editing a bit and trying to pull out the main points of the exchange, I will put it together and post it.
I will try to do the thread justice, without copying and pasting word for word. If you want that, go directly to the thread. Also, this post is going to be very long – two or three times as long as usual; if you don’t want that, just go read the original thread. Walt also has included many links for further exposition in his comments; I will include these here only as necessary.
First, a preamble, and, perhaps, a reminder of my purpose and some ground rules (albeit, sometimes loosely enforced and sometimes violated by me). I have jumped fully into the examination of the relationship of culture and liberty, and, in doing so, have landed in a spot where it is clear to me that liberty cannot be found or sustained absent the Christian culture from which it sprang.
However, I do not want to turn this into an examination or debate about theological and doctrinal differences between and among Christians. When I point to these, it is only to examine how these might have impacted, positively or negatively, liberty.
Finally, I have found Walt to be a gracious and thoughtful commenter. I hope my replies to him have also been seen in the same spirit and I hope to maintain that spirit in this post.
With that, let’s begin. For shorthand, Walt Garlington will be WG; I will be referenced as BM. I will not present the comments as presented in the thread; I will try to present them in a dialogue format. Where I introduce new thoughts, not from the comment thread, these will not be indented.
WG: Lutheranism / Protestantism is a double-edged sword. Because the individual conscience is the sole authority in that system (i.e., no bishops, binding traditions, etc., to restrain a man), there can be swift reactions against bad policies, as with the initiative against C-4 that was mentioned.
This is a good point. Independent positions can be taken, with little or no approval necessary from a higher (earthly) authority. This, as Walt is about to point out, also offers a downside:
The downside is that other individuals can go on to decide that their conscience tells them that LGBT ideology is blessed by God based on how they read the Scriptures; and because the individual is the final authority, no one has any ground on which to stand to gainsay them. And so we end up with situations like we have in Canada, the uS, and the rest of the West in which governments must suppress traditional Christian teaching in order to allow the LGBT individuals to live according to their consciences.
Yet, even the very hierarchical Catholic Church has fallen into these same humanity destroying worldviews…. Jonathan Pageau has recently released an excellent video on Weaponized Compassion – using a bastardized and neutered concept of Christian love and yet, somehow calling this “Christian.”
BM: Walt, you have illuminated both the value and the corruption of institutions. There is value in institutions, for consistency and guarding tradition and teaching.
The wisdom of countless generations in conversation, instead of the inventions of one generation (the current one).
BM: Unfortunately, institutions are ripe for corruption (hence, the West received Luther).
And necessarily so.
WG: If the Orthodox are slower to act, in addition to what Miner said above…
The referenced comment from Delinquent Miner:
A “silent” and “complicit” Orthodox Church, in my observation, comes from their collective experiences under Ottoman, Muslim, Turk, and Communist oppression. It’s a matter of survival.
This seems a reasonable observation. I will relate, however, one example of just where such a road leads. The Armenians of the Ottoman Empire – Orthodox, but known as “Oriental” due to a different understanding of how Christ is both divine and man than that offered via the Council of Chalcedon:
During a period in which the Ottoman Empire was losing a great deal of land—particularly the Christian Balkans—the Armenians were seen as the “loyal millet” who did not cause problems for the government.
By the end of the nineteenth century, this loyalty devolved into getting slaughtered. And during World War One, genocide. So, such “loyalty” only goes so far. Sooner or later scapegoats will be found, turned into sacrifices to appease some god or another.
One sees the same situation in the West today and for the last hundred years or more. Christians and conservatives always giving up a little more ground, thinking that this would be the last time and peace will follow thereafter. This is all fine until there is no more ground to give.
So, believe me, I understand the idea presented by Miner. It just seems it almost always ends up disastrously for those who live in such a manner. One could easily argue that this has been true for the Christian Church in the East.
Returning to WG:
…it may also be because we are taught to mistrust our passions and thoughts (because of the damage of the Fall and its effect on our ability to think rightly), to not act immediately on them; to find an experienced father or mother in the spiritual life before whom we can lay our thoughts so they may be tested for rightness or wrongness; from whom we get guidance before making important decisions; etc.
I think this is wise…most of the time. My grandmother would take her daughters to church every Sunday. “Where was grandpa?” I would ask. “No church was the right church, as far as he was concerned; he would just meet with a couple of like-minded friends.” I feel it safe to say that this isn’t the best path.
But what is the answer when it is clear that the Church (any tradition, any denomination) needs new leaders (most visibly evident in the fight within the Catholic Church). We (Christians) are in a battle with principalities and powers. Christ conquered demons. What good is the Church if it cannot recognize or does not act against the demons in this world?
WG: Let us also be careful about lionizing Pastor MacArthur, who once taught the heresy of adoptionism in his Commentary on Galatians (Father Josiah Trenham, Rock and Sand, p. 250). Heresies about Christ and the Holy Trinity can kill a soul just as much as heresies about human sexuality.
According to the Orthodox, Protestants teach multiple heresies (and each Christian tradition and denomination would say the same about every other tradition and denomination). The point of my using MacArthur as example was not because of his teaching but because of his actions both regarding Covid and regarding this Canadian bill.
BM: As to MacArthur, one need not be perfect to offer an example. If institutional Christianity (Roman Catholic especially, given its prominence in the West, and Orthodox) had taken stands similar to what MacArthur and thousands of Protestant clergy had done, we would be living in a much healthier world today.
In March 2020, all it would have taken for this covid nonsense to come to a quick end was for a majority of Christian leaders – Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic – to just say “No! We will stay open throughout Holy Week.” Checkmate, in my opinion.
Ephesians 6: 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
MacArthur knows that he is fighting against demons, as Christ did.
WG: I agree with you that there are good and bad people in every place.
I have benefitted mightily over the years from Protestant and Roman Catholic people and institutions, from my childhood Southern Baptist pastors and Sunday School teachers on up to the writings of Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, de Maistre, Tolkien, and others. Likewise, I am quite scandalized by the actions of some Orthodox, like Archbishop Elpidophoros marching with BLM protestors.
This really comes to one of my points, something I have touched on repeatedly. We know, from evidence and observation, that there is value in each Christian tradition toward bringing people closer to God, for developing our relationship with Christ, for loving our neighbor. I am a fan of C.S. Lewis’s hallway; after this, find a room that works for you.
What the Orthodox call theosis, a Protestant would label “becoming more Christ-like.” Now, I know that most Orthodox Christians would see the Protestant view as falling short, not getting one properly toward the end. I recall an Orthodox priest, might have been Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick: A Protestant comes to the dinner and finds a turkey sandwich; the Orthodox find, in the next room, a full Thanksgiving meal. All the ingredients are there, but the latter offers (per Fr. Damick) a more complete experience.
Perhaps. However, both are, to be sure, partaking of the Father’s feast. In any case…
WG: I am happy to acknowledge all of that, but doing so doesn’t get us any closer to understanding or resolving the larger problems of the West – Why has the West undergone a continual distortion and decomposition for the last 1,000 years, with no end in sight to that process?
BM: Walt, you see that this is a question I am exploring…
All regular readers of this blog will know the extent to which I have explored this issue.
…and am not afraid to consider it from the Orthodox view. I will likely spend more time with Strickland than I have spent or will spend with any other author.
I am into Strickland’s third book of four planned volumes. I will likely review the fourth as well, when it is out. I have recently spent more time listening to Orthodox podcasts and explorations recently than those from any other Christian tradition (Ancient Faith Ministries is an excellent source). I will explain why later in this post.
What I have little or no patience for: anyone from any tradition making derogatory comments about another. One need not denigrate Calvin or Reformed Christians in order to make a point about where and how and why Catholic or Orthodox theology differs from that presented by him or them. I can handle a tiny bit of tongue in cheek. But none of the holier-than-thou stuff from any Christian who should know that humility is a proper characteristic.
BM: Yet, I am deciding that I am being somewhat unfair. What was the cultural situation of the Eastern Roman Empire during the 1000 years until the fall of Constantinople? Clearly some sort of failure also occurred here, yet without the negative features (as described by Strickland) that afflicted the Western Church. To that end, I will begin review this Eastern history…once I make sufficient progress on the couple of books currently being examined.
Having grown up in the Western tradition, and having studied it as much as I have, especially since beginning this blog, it is easy for me to find the logs in my own eye, if you will. Given my relative ignorance of the culture and history of the Eastern Church, it is also easy, therefore, for me to not see the faults in arguments or presentations made by advocates and apologists of same.
In other words, it is accurate to say that I am finding much blessing in learning of Orthodoxy and the East. But, being an institution of men – no matter how holy – it also has warts, and warts tied to its history, councils, doctrine, etc. And these warts, one way or another, likely had a hand in the undoing of the Christian East.
WG: On the subject of why disasters have befallen the Orthodox (Muslim Turks, Communists, and so on), St Justin gives us an answer in the Papism essay:
Walt then provides an extensive cite, the relevant portion for my reply is repeated and presented in my subsequent comment:
BM: From your cite of St Justin:
“It is God trying the endurance of the righteous, visiting the children for the sins of their fathers, and announcing the strength of His Church by taking it through fire and water. Because, according to the words of the wise-in-God Macarius of Egypt, that is the only path of true Christianity: "Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there follows, like a shadow, persecution and battle... It is necessary that the truth be persecuted."”
My reply to this comment:
BM: One, of course, could apply these words to the West of today.
Is not the Christian West going through fire and water – right here and now? If the Holy Spirit is wherever persecution and battle will be found, does this not describe Covid – with the closing of churches during Holy Week – and the aforementioned Canadian law? The Christian truths of the West are equally persecuted.
Now, as should be clear given my writing, I don’t mean by “Christian West” that everyone who claims to be a Christian in the West is properly walking the Christian path – nor do I suggest that every so-called Christian leader is, in fact, a Christian leader. But there is a remnant, and that remnant is being persecuted.
BM: In other words, no clarification is offered by this observation [the reference to St. Justin]. We will see how many “God-men” arise during this time. Which, of course, brings me back to my observation of where we find men standing up against the tyranny of covid and the Canadian Bill C-4. There are extremely few to be found in the Orthodox tradition, and equally sparse in the Catholic.
Maybe not equally sparse. A wonderful example is offered by Abp. Viganò, another by Fr. Martin. Both ostracized by the Catholic Church.
BM: Walt, I will add: I see Orthodoxy playing a healing role in the West, as the West has taken science and nominalism to an extreme, becoming scientism and a monopolizing rationalism.
Orthodoxy offers the proper antidote to this…
This is one reason why I have been spending more time listening to podcasts by Orthodox priests and about Orthodoxy.
BM: …but I suspect that it, too, can be corrupted by extremes. Perhaps one reason why Constantinople fell and why communism found its most fruitful soil in Orthodox lands.
This is one reason why I want to dive into the history of the lands of Eastern Christendom. These lands fell pray to the worst enemies of Christ. There is a “why” in that story worth considering, specifically when it comes to the focus of this blog: the intersection of culture (Christian) and liberty.
The following comment by Walt is worth reading in its entirety (here). However, for brevity and as I have done for both his and my comments thus far, I am including only a short portion:
WG: I think with regard to Constantinople and Russia, you will find that the problem lies not with the Orthodox Church but with the character of those two peoples. The Greeks, as they admit themselves, are very prone to faction and even betrayal. This, and God’s withdrawal of His Grace for their attempted unions with the Roman Catholics at Lyons and Florence, contributed to their downfall.
Russians have a great desire for justice (I believe Fr Andrew said that once at his blog), which made them, along with their own apostasy (per St Justin, St John of Kronstadt, St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and others), accepting of the allure of Communism.
BM: “…you will find that the problem lies not with the Orthodox Church but with the character of those two peoples.”
Walt, it seems clear that within any manifestation of Christianity, man falls short. This is true in the Protestant world just as it is true is the Catholic world, and, as we have been discussing, the Orthodox world. None of these traditions have proven able to overcome man’s flaws in any broad, societal, degree.
Yet, it was only in the West where something approaching liberty was developed and sustained. Now, one can ask:
Matthew 16: 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
However, I am certain that many souls were saved via the Catholic and Protestant churches. An Orthodox Christian might say that these lives were not developed fully, but – whether one agrees with this Orthodox notion or not – this does not discount in any way the salvific power in these other traditions.
WG: Your words about the Orthodox presence in the West, that she could play a ‘healing role’, are well-chosen, and exactly what the West needs. In order to correct one-sidedness towards national exclusiveness or rationalism, etc., mankind needs spiritual healing. And it is not for nothing that the Orthodox Church is called a ‘spiritual hospital.’
BM: Just as I see that Orthodoxy can play a healing role in the West for the reasons mentioned, I also see the Catholic notion of a natural law ethic (which would not have been developed without leaning on rationality and reason) also playing such a role and a Protestant focus on teaching the Bible (which would not have been developed without Sola Scriptura) playing such a role. Each tradition, in its best manifestation, can bring much healing.
I have mentioned before, something to the effect: in the once-again-unified Church, the Orthodox will conduct the liturgy, the Catholics will establish universities to teach natural law, and the Protestants will have responsibility for Bible study.
WG: And hopefully the Orthodox will learn something from the West in being quicker to act when necessary, though the Orthodox can act decisively when roused sufficiently, as proven in Montenegro, where hundreds of thousands gathered continually in the streets to protest when the gov’t attempted confiscate Church property through a shameful law in 2020.
We need more of this, in all countries and from all Christian traditions.
BM: Unfortunately, instead of these best manifestations, the more common picture is that of the Orthodox under the state, the Catholic social justice bordering on communism, and the Protestant worship of the military and the state of Israel.
None, other than to thank Walt for the conversation.
Toward the end of this comment thread, the following comment from Tony:
I have heard the Catholic Church called the church of Peter, the Eastern Orthodox Church the church of John, and the Protestants the church of Paul. I think this is a good place to start if you seek ecumenism without false irenics.
I had to look that up (which I have to do more times than I would care to admit….)
Irenics: the branch of theology dealing with the promotion of peace and conciliation among Christian churches.
I don’t know about the “false irenics” part, but Tony’s comment raised a thought. There are so many aspects of doctrine and theology that are almost unexplainable in human words, or that have multiple aspects of truth in them. The what and why of what happened at the Cross is just one of a hundred examples; Adam’s fall is another. See this example from Wikipedia (yeah, I know), examining Salvation in Christianity. Many theories of atonement are examined. These need not all be mutually exclusive, and the concept of atonement might be complex enough to not be fully captured in one theory.
Jonathan Pageau offered an interesting tidbit that he heard from an Orthodox deacon, the thing that closed the deal for him to move to Orthodoxy: “Catholics see the Eucharist as real; Protestants see it as a symbol. The Orthodox see it as real because it is a symbol.” It can be more than one thing, I guess.
I don’t say this to start a theological food fight. Just reflecting on the reality that Peter, Paul, and John were each different people that certainly understood Christ differently on many points – and yet, none of them understood Him incorrectly.
Not a bad way to ecumenism with peace and conciliation.