Was the Reformation Necessary?

This is a relaunch article.  It marks the end of my blog vacation and the OrthodoxBridge moving to Ancient Faith Blogs.  

 

Luther posting the 95 Theses
Luther posting the 95 Theses

This Saturday will mark the 498th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church (Wittenberg, Germany) sparking a huge theological debate that would radically alter the religious landscape of Europe.Within a few decades the once unified European society was divided among competing Christian churches.

 

As we draw near to the 500th anniversary of Protestantism it would be good for Christians – Protestants and non-Protestants — to reflect on its origins and its legacy.  And to ask the question: Was the Reformation Necessary?  To answer this question, we need to first understand what justification was given for the Reformation.  One of the finest apologia was written by John Calvin.

 

Historical Context

In 1543, Calvin wrote “The Necessity of Reforming the Church” in anticipation of Emperor Charles V’s convening the Diet of Spires (Speyer).  Altogether there were four Diets (parliamentary assemblies) held at the town of Speyer situated on the river Rhine in Bavaria.  During that period the Reformation was seen as a minor faction outlawed at the Diet of Worms (1521) and politically a nuisance.  It is likely that the Reformation would have been quashed then and there if it were not for the fragile state of Europe’s political unity.  The four Diets at Speyer trace the growth of the Reformation from a dissenting view into a separate church body independent of Rome.

At the first Diet of Speyer in 1526 in a moment of political and military weakness, Charles V was forced to accept the principle allowing each local ruler to rule as he wished: “every State shall so live, rule, and believe as it may hope and trust to answer before God and his imperial Majesty.”  This decision in effect suspended the Diet of Worms and allowed the Lutherans to coexist with the Roman Catholics.  (In 1526 the Turks were advancing in Hungary and later that year would lay siege to Vienna necessitating vigorous military action by the Emperor.)  In 1529, Charles V was strong enough to seek the reversal of the 1526 resolution.  While most complied, six rulers along with fourteen free cities objected.  They drew up an appeal which would be known as the “Protest at Speyer”; the signatories would become known as “Protestants.”  A third diet of Speyer was convened in 1542 for the purpose for rallying support against the Turks.  The Protestant princes withheld support until the Emperor agreed to the Peace of Nuremberg (1532).  A fourth Diet at Speyer was convened in 1544.  This time Charles V needed support against two fronts, against Francis I of France and against the Turks.  It was in this the context that Calvin composed “The Necessity of Reforming the Church.”  By 1555 the Emperor would be forced to give legal recognition to the Lutherans in the Peace of Augsburg.

Source: James Jackson
Source: James Jackson

 

Historically, Calvin’s “Necessity of Reforming the Church” was not a game changer.  However, Theodore Beza (1519-1605) considered this essay one of the “most powerful” of the time (Beza, p. 12).  This review seeks to be sensitive to the fact that Calvin’s essay was written in the context of a Protestant versus Roman Catholic debate while assessing Calvin’s apologia for the Reformation from the standpoint of the Orthodox Faith.  References and page numbers are from J.K.S. Reid’s Calvin: Theological Treatises (1954).

 

Iconoclasm and True Worship

Calvin’s first justification is the use of images in churches which for him impedes “spiritual worship.”

When God is worshipped in images, when fictious worship is instituted in his name, when supplication is made to the images of saints, and divine honours paid to dead men’s bones, and other similar things, we call them abominations as they are.  For this cause, those who hate our doctrine inveigh against us, and represent us as heretics who dare to abolish the worship of God as approved of old by the Church (p. 188).

The critique was directed against Roman Catholicism which at the time was heavily influenced by the Renaissance.  While there may have been excesses in the churches of Calvin’s time, his remedy was drastic – the removal of all images from churches.  This is something no Orthodox Christian could endorse especially in light of the fact that iconoclasm was condemned by an Ecumenical Council (Nicea II, 787).

 

Strasbourg Cathedral - France  Source
Strasbourg Cathedral – France Source

 

Calvin’s argument here is highly polemical with very little theological reasoning involved.  Calvin’s failure to rebut John of Damascus’ classic defense of icons based on the Incarnation and the biblical basis for the use of image in Old Testament worship present a gaping hole in his argument for the necessity of the Reformation.  See my critique of Calvin’s iconoclasm in “Calvin Versus the Icon.”

 

Spiritual Worship versus Liturgical Worship

Calvin’s next target is what he deemed “external worship” and “ceremonies” (p. 191).  Calvin argues that there was a time when liturgical worship was useful (i.e., during the Old Testament) but that with the coming of Christ liturgical worship has been abrogated.

When Christ was absent and not yet manifested, ceremonies by shadowing him forth nourished the hope of his advent in the breasts of believers; but now they only obscure his present and conspicuous glory.  We see what God himself has done.  For those ceremonies which he had commanded for a time has now abrogated forever (p. 192; emphasis added).

This argument is a form of dispensationalism.  While there are differences between Jewish and Christian worship, Calvin pushes it to the breaking point.  Calvin’s dismissal of liturgical worship overlooks the fact that early Christian worship was liturgical.  Evidence for this can be found in Volume VII of the Ante-Nicene Fathers Series p. 529 ff.

Calvin objects to external ceremonial worship on the grounds that it leads to the failure of people to give their hearts and minds to God (p. 193).

For while it is incumbent on true worshippers to give heart and mind, men always want to invent a mode of serving God quite different from this, their object being to perform for him certain bodily observances, and keep the mind to themselves.  Moreover, they imagine that when they thrust external pomps upon him, they have by this artifice evaded the necessity of giving themselves (p. 193).

For Calvin true Christian worship consists of the preaching of Scripture and the inculcation of right understanding of the Gospel.

For the Orthodox Calvin’s derisive assessment of the Liturgy is hard to swallow.  The Liturgy lies at the core of Orthodox life.  On most Sundays we use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which dates to the fifth century and on 10 Sundays we use the older Liturgy of St. Basil which dates to the fourth century. Calvin’s argument here rests on the assumption that early Christian worship was basically Protestant in form (Reformed).  This is highly questionable in light of the church fathers and historical evidence.  Most likely the theological motive for Calvin’s anti-liturgical stance is his spiritual versus physical dichotomy.

In short, as God requires us to worship him in a spiritual manner, so we with all zeal urge men to all the spiritual sacrifices which he commends (p. 187).

Protestantism’s emphasis on the sermon and its downplaying of the embodied aspects of worship: bowing, prostrations, processions, candles, incense, etc. can be seen as originating from this dichotomy.  There is no evidence that the early Christian worship was informed by this mind/body dichotomy.  Where Calvin takes an either/or approach, Orthodoxy takes a both/and approach holding that the symbolism and ritual actions that comprise the Liturgy help us better understand Scripture.

 

Reforming Prayer

Calvin strongly objects to the intercession of the saints and to the practice of praying in an unknown tongue (pp. 194-197).  He notes that there was a Catholic Archbishop who threatened to throw in prison anyone who dared to pray the Lord’s Prayer in a language other than Latin (p. 197)!  Calvin’s motive was to emphasize Christ as the sole mediator.  For him the invocation of the saints is idolatrous (p. 190).  Similarly, he condemns relics, religious processions, and miraculous icons.

Now it cannot without effrontery be denied, that when the Reformers appeared he world was more than ever afflicted with this blindness.  It was therefore absolutely necessary to urge men with these prophetic rebukes, and divert them, as by force, from that infatuation lest they might any longer imagine that God was satisfied with bare ceremonies, as children are with shows (p. 191; emphasis added).

This leads Calvin to call for the reforming of worship and devotional practices so as to restore what he calls “spiritual worship.”  In this particular passage Calvin seems to advocate church reform by preaching and if that did not work by force.

It is hard to know to what extent medieval Roman Catholic devotional practices had fallen into excesses during Calvin’s time but an Orthodox Christian would be taken aback by the sharpness of Calvin’s critique.  Praying to the saints is an ancient Christian practice.  The Rylands Papyrus 470 which dates to AD 250 contains a prayer to the Virgin Mary asking for her help.  The ancient Christian practice of praying to the saints is based on Christ’s resurrection and the communion of saints.  While certain bishops sought to temper the excesses in popular piety surrounding the commemoration of the departed the idea of worshipers here below – the church militant — being surrounded by the departed – the church triumphant – became part of the Christian Faith.  Excess in popular piety is best held in check through faithful participation in the liturgical life of the Church and submitting to the pastoral care of the priesthood.

Also, in comparison to Roman Catholicism Orthodoxy has been more receptive to the use of the vernacular in the Liturgy.  The Church of Rome’s inflexible stance on Latin as the language of worship changed with Vatican II.  An Orthodox Christian would find it puzzling that the acceptance of the vernacular was accompanied with a new liturgy, the Novus Ordo Mass.  Why not retain the historic Mass but translate it into the local vernacular?  This is what is done in many Orthodox parishes in the US.  Many Orthodox parishes celebrate the ancient St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy in English or a mixture of English and non-English.

While not a prominent part of contemporary Reformed-Orthodox dialogue it should be noted that not only does Orthodoxy today continue to venerate icons, we also have relics and miraculous icons.  While the danger of fraud exists, Orthodoxy has safeguards to discern the validity of these supernatural manifestations.  What is concerning about Calvin’s critique is the way it rejects the sacramental understanding of reality so fundamental to Orthodoxy.  Also, concerning is the secularizing effects of Calvin’s position.  The Protestant Reformers did not deny the supernatural but confined it to Scripture.  For example, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were efficacious because of the power of the “Word of God” (signaled by the capitalized form for the Bible) invoked during the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Another implication of Calvin’s emphasis on personal faith is the interiorizing and psychologizing effects on Protestant spirituality.  The personal interior dimension of Christianity took priority over the collective ecclesial aspects of the Christian life.  Thus, Calvin’s quest to reform prayer comes with a high cost that many Protestants may not be aware of.

 

The Ground of Salvation

It was justification by faith that sparked the Reformation.  When Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses he called into question the practice of selling indulgences.  In the ensuing debates the focus shifted to the ground of salvation.  The sale of indulgences was based on the Western medieval theory of the church as a treasury of merit and the power of the keys.

They say that by the keys the treasury of the Church is unlocked, so that what is wanting to ourselves is applied out of the merits of Christ and the saints.  We on the contrary maintain that the sins of men are forgiven freely, and we acknowledge no other satisfaction than that which Christ accomplished, when, by the sacrifice of his death, he expiated our sins (p. 200).

Much of the debate surrounding justification by faith was framed and constrained by the judicial, forensic paradigm to the exclusion of other soteriological paradigms.  While much of Calvin’s rebuttal of his opponents rested on the forensic theory of salvation, one can find a non-forensic understanding of salvation in his writings.

This consideration is of very great practical importance, both in retaining men in the fear of God, that they may not arrogate to their works what proceeds from his fatherly kindness; and also in inspiring them with the best consolation, lest they despond when they reflect on the imperfection or impurity of their works, by reminding them that God, of his paternal indulgence, is pleased to pardon it (p. 202).

Calvin’s emphasis here on God’s paternal love for humanity is surprisingly close to what Orthodoxy affirms.

The issue of the ground of our salvation and the faith versus works tension was never a major issue in Orthodoxy.  Unlike Western Christianity, Orthodoxy never went into detail about how we are saved and the means by which we appropriate salvation in Christ.  Where Orthodox soteriology remains rooted in patristic theology, medieval Catholicism took a more legal and philosophical turn with unexpected innovations like the sale of indulgences and the understanding of the Church as a treasury of merits.  The Orthodox understanding of salvation is informed by the Christus Victor (Christ the Conqueror) motif as is evidenced by the annual Pascha (Easter) service and by the understanding of salvation as union with Christ.  The theme of union with Christ is much more intimate and relational than the idea of imputation of Christ’s merits which is more impersonal and transactional in nature.  Unlike certain readings of sola fide (justification by faith alone), the Orthodox understanding of the relationship between faith in Christ and good works is more organic and synergistic.  We read in Decree 13 of the Confession of Dositheus:

We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which works through love, that is to say, through faith and works.

Soteriology is one of the key justifications for the Reformation.  In claiming to bring back the Gospel the Protestant Reformers introduced a much more narrow understanding of the Gospel.  The debates over justification would be consequential for Protestantism.  Justification by faith was elevated into dogma.  Some Protestants insist that unless one holds fast to the distinction between imputed righteousness and infused righteousness one will not have a “proper” understanding of the Gospel and if one did not have a “proper” understanding of the Gospel one was not truly a Christian!  The early Church on the other hand dogmatized on Christology but remained flexible and ambiguous on how we are saved by Christ.  It was not until the medieval Scholasticism introduced these categorical precision that the Catholic versus Protestant debates over justification became a possibility.  One unforeseen consequence of these debates is that personal faith in Christ soon became equated with intellectual assent to a particular forensic theory of salvation.  Another consequence is that it erects walls between Protestantism and other traditions like Orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy being rooted in the church fathers and the Ecumenical Councils would not view the Protestant Reformers’ “rediscovered” Gospel in sola fide (justification by faith alone) as sufficient justification for the Reformation but more as a theological innovation peculiar to the West.

 

Reforming the Sacraments

For Calvin the reform of the church entailed the reforming of the sacraments, removing man-made additions and returning to the simplicity of biblical worship.  This is his justification for reducing the number of sacraments from seven to two.  Calvin is reacting to several developments: (1) liturgical additions not found in the Bible, (2) the adoration of the Host, (3) withholding the communion chalice from the laity, and (4) the use of non-vernacular in worship.  For Calvin the pastor medieval Catholic worship resulted in the laity being reduced to passive bystanders looking on with dumb incomprehension.  Calvin seeks to replace this magical understanding of the sacraments with one based on an intelligent understanding of Scripture in combination with a lively faith in Christ.

Like Calvin modern day Evangelicals hold to two sacraments but many will be surprised by how Calvin understood the sacraments.  Calvin did not do away with infant baptism, nor did he insist on total immersion.  While Calvin rejected the medieval Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, he did not embrace a purely symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

Accordingly, in the first place he gives the command, by which he bids us take, eat and drink; and then in the next place he adds and annexes the promise, in which he testifies that what we eat is his body, and what we drink is his blood.  . . . .  For this promise of Christ, by which he offers his own body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine, belongs to those who receive them at his hand, to celebrate the mystery in the manner which he enjoins (p. 205; emphasis added).

Calvin adopts a view somewhere between the extremes of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the later Protestant Evangelical “just a symbol” understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  However, his “under the symbols” seems to implicitly deny that the bread and the wine undergo a change in the Eucharist.  It is at odds with the understanding of the early church fathers.

 

Assessing Calvin’s Apologia

There is a funny story about a Protestant who wanted to convert to Orthodoxy.  He runs up to an Orthodox priest and says: “I’m a Protestant, what must I do to become Orthodox?”  The priest answered: “You must give up your Roman Catholicism!”  The point here is that many of the problems in Protestant doctrine and worship reflect its origins in Roman Catholicism.  It also reflects the fact that Western Christianity has broken from its patristic roots in the early Church.  Another way of putting it is that Protestants are innocent victims of Rome’s errors and innovations.

To sum up, Calvin justifies the Reformation on three grounds: (1) doctrine, (2) the sacraments, and (3) church government, claiming that the goal was to restore the “old form” using Scripture (i.e., sola scriptura).

Therefore let there be an examination of our whole doctrine, of our form of administering the sacraments, and our method of governing the Church; and in none of these three things will it be found that we have made any change in the old form, without attempting to restore it to the exact standard of the Word of God. (p. 187; emphasis added)

Calvin and the other Reformers had no intention of dividing the Church or of creating a new religion.  They desired to bring back the old forms using the Bible as their standard and guide.  The results have been quite different from what the Reformers had expected.  The next five centuries would see within Protestantism one church split over another, new doctrines, new forms of worship, and even new morality.  One interesting statement in Calvin’s apologia is the sharp denunciation of “new worship” (p. 192).

. . . God in many passages forbids any new worship unsanctioned by his Word, declared that he is gravely offended by such audacity, and threatens it with severe punishment, it is clear that the reformation which we have introduced was demanded by a strong necessity” (p. 192; emphasis added).

In light of the fact modern day Protestant worship ranges from so-called traditional organ and hymnal worship that date to the 1700s, to exuberant Pentecostal worship, to seeker friendly services with rock-n-roll style praise bands, to the more liturgical ancient-future worship one has to wonder if the Protestant cure is worse than the disease the Reformers sought to cure!

It is encouraging to see a growing interest among Reformed Christians in the ancient liturgies and the early church fathers.  This points to a convergence between two quite different traditions.  However, they remain far apart on icons, praying to the saints, and the real presence in the Eucharist.  These are not minor points. Calvin’s essay “The Necessity of Reforming the Church” makes clear these are part of the basic rationale for the Reformation.

As Protestantism’s five hundredth anniversary draws near it provides an opportunity for Reformed and Orthodox Christians to assess the Reformation and ask: Was the Reformation Necessary?  My answer as an Orthodox Christian is that while the situation of medieval Catholicism in Luther and Calvin’s time may have warranted significant corrective action, the Protestant cure is worse than the disease.  For all its adherence to Scripture the Reformed tradition as a whole has failed to recover the “old form” found in ancient Christianity.  Its numerous church splits put it at odds with the catholicity and unity of the early Church.  Orthodoxy being rooted in the early Church, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and in Apostolic Tradition has avoided many of the problems that have long plagued Western Christianity.  Orthodoxy has never had a Reformation.  It has had no need for the Reformation because it has remained rooted in the patristic consensus and because it has resisted the innovations of post-Schism medieval Roman Catholicism.  The fact that Orthodoxy has never had a Reformation is something that a Protestant should give thought to.

Already a conversation about the necessity of the Reformation is underway.  Three major Reformed leaders: Don Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller did a videotaped conversation: “Why the Reformation Matters.”  The Internet Monk published: “Reformation Week 2015: Another Look – God’s Righteousness.”  The Reformed-OrthodoxBridge hopes to provide a space where the two traditions can meet and converse in an atmosphere of civility and charity.

Robert Arakaki

 

References

Theodore Beza.  “Life of John Calvin.”

James Jackson.  “The Reformation and Counter-Reformation.”

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. “Diets of Speyer.”

J.K.S. Reid, ed.  1954.  Calvin: Theological Treatises.  The Library of Christian Classics: Ichthus Edition.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Additional Resources

Internet Monk (Chaplain Mike).  2015.  “Reformation Week 2015: Another Look – God’s Righteousness.”

The Gospel Coalition. 2015.  “Keller, Piper, and Carson on Why the Reformation Matters.

Ligonier Ministries (Robert Rothwell). 2014.  “What is Reformation Day All About?

 

25 comments:

  1. Thanks Robert…good to have your back. While there is little doubt the Roman Catholic Church needed reforming at the time, the new and wholesale innovations in both Doctrine and Practice by the Protestant Reformers have no historic precedence in the history of Apostolic Church. It can certainly be debated whether this Protestant cure has proven actually worse than the Medieval Catholicism it confronted. Yet there is there is no doubt it has proven far more unstable divisive, and fragmenting than has the stability of Orthodoxy and its fidelity to the Holy Tradition of the Apostles.

  2. Hi Robert,
    congratulations on the move!
    On the topic of the Reformation, there were certainly problems with Roman Catholicism at the time (theologically speaking). Morally, the sources are very divergent. Needless to say, the reformers tend to stress (exaggerate?) the corruption and laxity of the clergy while the Counter-reformation did not deny that there was worldliness but tended to take it in their stride as an ongoing problems to be addressed in the normal parameters of the church.
    I have always thought that nationalism is a neglected element in the Reformation, especially for Lutherans. It does not explain the start but it certainly accounts for the popularity.
    The writings of the Reformation are distorting mirrors. In many cases people just wanted to have a vernacular liturgy or the clergy to legitimise their marriages rather than support the abstract notions like sola fides.
    To conclude, the Reformation was futile because it did not achieve its aim of returning the Church to an earlier ‘uncorrupted’ state. What it unleashed caused more problems than it solved.
    What I wish was this –
    1) That the Reformers could have distinguished between legitimate ancient practices/beliefs like married clergy, icons, vernacular worship, prayers for the dead, no indulgences, divorce and their own little theological inventions like sola scriptura and sola fides.
    2) That the Reformers were a little more humble and listen more carefully to the voices of the past (and not just Augustine)
    3) That Orthodox had more political influence at the time of the Reformation
    4) That more of the writings/conciliar acts were available to scholars at the time Reformation
    5) That the Reformers weren’t so condescending to the Orthodox of the 16th century. It seems they dismissed ‘the Greeks’ because they were under Ottoman domination. For them, this could only have happened if ‘the Greeks’ had lost God’s favour by being heretical. Why look to heretics for doctrine. I’m not sure how they could dismiss the Russians but apparently they were ‘backwards’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘vulgar’.
    If I was generous I might say the Reformers did the best with what they had but then I see them dismissing ancient Christian practices with a cry of ‘superstition’ and I doubt their sincerity.

    1. Stefano,

      It’s good to be at Ancient Faith Blogs!

      I was struck by your closing sentence: “If I was generous I might say the Reformers did the best with what they had but then I see them dismissing ancient Christian practices with a cry of ‘superstition’ and I doubt their sincerity.” I think part of the problem was the attitude: “I know better than you,” not just with respect to the Church Fathers but also the Ecumenical Councils. I don’t the get the sense that the early Reformers or their later descendants wrestling with the Ecumenical Councils, especially the Seventh Council which affirmed the veneration of icons.

      Robert

  3. I am excited I came across this blog! Thank you graciously for the information provided here and for the bridge of communication made available to us who are curious and very much befuddled to what Christianity has evolved too in the west via Rome. I never even knew what Orthodoxy was until a few years ago. I honestly never gave it a second look as I figured it was a just another Roman Catholic branch. The recent information I have encountered about Orthodoxy has been unbelievably surprising and truly a blessing for me and my wife who always deep down knew there was and always will be a unified Church protected by the promise of Jesus Christ. It just became a matter of searching and testing.

    As far as liturgical worship I honestly find it very difficult to somehow discern Calvin’s view as correct. The Old testament is loaded with scriptural discernment. We certainly recognize the evidence of the earliest Christian writings and archeological excavations of not only early Christian iconography but ancient Jewish iconography as well.

    Also how can anyone read The Book of Revelations and not sincerely recognize this clear distinction of Heavenly worship and veneration? After All this a part of the New Testament right? In fact it is prophetical…

    Rv 8;3-4 shows an angel offering to God the prayers of men on earth ( angelic intercession). The saints in heaven also intercede for men on earth, as is shown in Rv 5:8. Hence it is perfectly biblical to seek the intercessions of saints and angels; this does not equate to worship. A relic is merely a physical object that God uses to communicate his energies to people on earth. God used Paul’s aprons and handkerchiefs to heal the sick and cast out demons in Acts 19:11-12.

    Rv 5;8 reads: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.” They are not resting; they are alive in Christ and worshiping God. This worship includes offering to God the prayers of the saints (pictured as perfumes in golden vials). Awesome!

    In Rv 19;10, John tries to worship an angel, but the angel forbids him, saying: “See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God.” Obviously, angels and God are not the same thing. In Rv 8;3-4, angels and God are shown in the same scene as clearly distinct from one another. It reads, “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” The passage directly states that the angel is offering the prayers of saints to God. That is angelic intercession IN THE BIBLE. In the New Testament.

    Altars, incense, censors, intercession… These are prophetically inspired and infallible writings.

    In short… Calvin’s claim of the Old Testament worship losing it’s acceptance or necessity to God when Jesus Christ graced us with his incarnation and image is difficult for any honest person to grasp.

    Thank you again for your work Robert.

    – Vic & Emily

    1. Dear Vic & Emily,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! I found it hard to think that Calvin got things wrong but once I opened my mind to the early Church I was amazed by the richness and fullness of liturgical worship. Let’s keep working to let people know about the blessings of Orthodoxy!

      Robert

  4. I look at this from a very different point of view. As I see it, each of the various ancient church councils was in a sense a reformation. What had been allowable beliefs/understandings, or at least not forbidden was ruled out. Usually those who held newly unallowable beliefs formed a separate churches which tended to more or less die out over time although from time to time ancient heresies tend to crop up and the church needs yet again to be reformed.

    The Council of Chalcedon was an exception resulting in the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox, both of which exist today in substantial numbers. I understand that both claim to be the original true church.

    Having grown up in Ethiopia I would say that the Coptic church is in need of reformation as it often tends towards syncretism and nominal-ism.

    Among other Eastern Orthodox beliefs, I find Constantine’s integration of the imperial government with the church very troubling and wonder if this does not need reformation.

  5. By the way I do not hold that the “reformers” got everything right and in fact I strongly disagree with Calvin in places even though I am a Calvinist.

    1. Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      I’m not familiar with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church but I am acquainted with the Coptic Orthodox Church which I understand is quite similar. One thing I admire about the the Coptic Christians is their retention of ancient Christian beliefs and practices. I haven’t seen much evidence of syncretism. However, nominalism is a very common problem no matter where one goes.

      Your view that the various church councils represent a reformation is interesting but if “reformation” results in broken Eucharistic communion then something gone awry. If one believes in “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” then the schism between the Byzantine Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox is tragic and needs to be healed.

      I think your concern about the Constantinian symphonia is overstated. It presents an ideal of the integration of religion and society, otherwise one would either be taking a secularist stance that religion has no place in the public sphere or a quietist stance that society is depraved and unredeemable. John Calvin held to the Constantinian ideal which is why in the last chapter of his Institutes he called for the reform of the magistracy in addition to the reform of the church.

      I’m curious if you identify yourself as Calvinist, where do you disagree with him?

      Robert

      1. I am aware that Calvin held to the Constantinism and that is one place where I disagree with him, another place is meticulous providence. For example I strongly reject using the force of state power to coerce “proper” doctrine as happened to Felix Manz in Switzerland. But I find Calvinist churches the best fit for what I find in scripture. I also learn much from other traditions for example from the Eastern Orthodox I learned to reject the filoque clause in the Nicene creed along with other points.

        In my post I was referring to the Ethiopian/Egyptian Coptic church who often call themselves Orthodox. You said that “I haven’t seen much evidence of syncretism” to which I reply that you have not lived there especially in the rural areas. Having watched both Ethiopian and Eastern Orthodox services on UTube I feel more comfortable with the music in the Ethiopian liturgy but that is probably because of my exposure when I was growing up. DaveW

        1. Dawit,

          Thank you for the clarification. What I know of Coptic Orthodoxy comes from my interaction in Hawaii. I very much appreciate their adherence to the ancient faith and practice.

          Robert

  6. Welcome back Robert!
    It was a nice surprise when i checked your site today and saw a new post and the site revamped AND part of AF. Congrats brother.

    Your work has been of huge value to me, it’s nice to know that more will be able to have access to it.

    God be with you brother!

    1. Thank you Evan! It’s good to be back. Being part of Ancient Faith ministries is a pleasant surprise. I did not plan on it and was pleasantly surprised when I was invited to become part of their family. Also, I would like to thank Gabe Martini for the great work he did on the redesign of the site. Please keep me in your prayers as I write new blog postings.

      Robert

  7. Thank you Robert for this up-date/revision. Reading through Calvin’s justifications for ‘Reforming The Church’…I could not help but see many Gnostic tendencies. Your best comment was:

    “What is concerning about Calvin’s critique is the way it rejects the sacramental understanding of reality so fundamental to Orthodoxy. Also, concerning is the secularizing effects of Calvin’s position. The Protestant Reformers did not deny the supernatural but confined it to Scripture. ”

    A sort of Gnosticism against Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection is more than minor implicit in Protestantism. I would love for you to flesh this out a bit more…per the Sacramental view of Reality, and the merger between Heaven & Earth (Spiritual & Physical) both in our Civic and our Liturgical/Sacramental life. It never occurred to me how impoverishing Protestantism made itself, throwing this out with other more peripheral Roman Catholic excesses.

    Thanks again for your good work for us and a host of others we don’t know of!
    Lord have mercy,
    David

  8. Am I wrong or does not Orthodox understanding of the union between God and His creation in the Incarnation rather like a marriage? It has always seemed so to me.

    1. Michael,

      Good question. My understanding is that in the Incarnation, a special union was formed between God the Word and humanity that takes place by means of faith in Christ. Because humanity stands at the apex of creation, the blessings of the Incarnation, Christ’s death on the Cross, and his Resurrection, extend downward to the rest of creation. This is part of the redemptive process the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 1:9-10: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (NIV) So marriage, as a one-flesh union between a man and a woman, does give us a good picture of God’s redemptive work in the cosmos.

      Robert

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