With the obvious exception of ordained seminary professors, if you were to ask most Christian clergy how often they get asked questions about doctrine, they would probably chuckle sardonically at least a little. Some clergy would probably not care about that bit of irony, and they would likely not chuckle. But the chucklers would be chuckling because they know that most Christians no longer really care hardly anything about doctrine.
It was not always so:
This city [Constantinople] is full of common laborers, who are all profound theologians; and preach in the shops, and in the streets. If you want a man to exchange a piece of silver, he informs you how the Son is different from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf of bread, you are told, by way of reply, that the Son is inferior to the Father; and if you ask whether the bath is ready, the answer is, that the Son was made out of nothing. —St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th c. (Oration on the Deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit)
Now, I will not be so romantic as to suggest that the fourth century was a golden age of highly educated laity to which we must aspire to return, but clearly, in the sixteen centuries since this remark by St. Gregory, something has changed.
It could be argued that we are now more educated than ever before, that our scientific progress is the furthest that history has ever seen. Literacy levels in our culture are probably the highest in history. And yet, somehow, even among church people, people who say they love God and want to know Him, questions about theology are almost entirely unknown. Even in the inter-religious groups of clergy I’ve taken part in, we curiously almost never discuss theology.
Many of us acquire and master vast knowledge about the history, rules, regulations, rivalries, players and coaches of football, baseball, or some other sport. Almost all of us have fairly strong and informed opinions about politics and political figures. Many of us have great knowledge about medical procedures and human anatomy, even those who are not doctors. Plenty of folks among us could explain to you in detail about how to invest and make money. And a number among us, including me, could tell you in some detail who all the various actors are who have ever been regulars on any of the six television series and eleven feature films of Star Trek. (Yes, I’ve seen them all, including Star Trek: The Animated Series.)
We’re not dumb, and we’re not incapable of being the kind of people St. Gregory talks about, but we mostly just don’t care any more. Why? It’s because of a movement from the Protestant Reformation called pietism, whose most pervasive inheritance to us Christians is the feeling that doctrine doesn’t really matter, that a serious Christian is marked not so much by what he believes but by how sincerely he feels about God and by his moral behavior. Pietism has spread far beyond the churches of the Reformation and their numerous children, and it affects Christians of every communion, including Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.
Ironically, though, even though most Christians no longer care about doctrine, they still believe in it, though more often at a subconscious level. But even beyond the question of belief is the effect that doctrine has on their worship, their morality, and their sense of how to bring the Gospel to other people. Here are a few examples: If you do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, you probably will not have communion often, and when you do, you may well give it to just anyone. If you believe in “once saved, always saved,” logically, you can spend your life in sin, being comfortable in the knowledge that you have your irrevocable ticket to Heaven. If you do not believe that any one church is the true Church, then you will probably not care about heresy and you will not care that people who believe something radically different from what you do could be heading in a different spiritual direction than you are; you may even begin to say that all religions are “true” paths.
Whether we like it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not, doctrine really does matter. It matters even for atheists. What you believe about the nature of the universe, whether or not there is a God or gods, whether or not a divine being would become a man, and what all that means will have a profound effect on how you live your life, both for yourself and in community (or lack thereof) with others.
This weblog project, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, is dedicated to the ongoing pursuit of these great questions, most especially in terms of how different theologies relate to and critique one another. Theology and doctrine aren’t the mealy-mouthed meanderings of professors in seminaries and universities. They’re the how-to manual for mystical union with the divine, for properly living this life and getting into the next in one piece, and for seeing and experiencing the deep meaning present in every person, every tree, every rock and every sub-atomic particle. If you follow the how-to manual in the right way, you get the right results. If you follow it in the wrong way, or you follow some other manual, then you get different results.
The writers on this site are Orthodox Christians. They belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church—the Orthodox Church. The writing here reflects this membership not as a brand loyalty or as an ideology, but rather as participation in the prophetic, apostolic work begun by Christ through His Apostles. Where Orthodoxy meets heterodoxy (teachings that deviate from Orthodoxy), there is something to be learned, something to be refined, something to be improved, and often something to be set aside.
It’s because theology isn’t just a bunch of spiritual opinions. Theology is not just life and death, but eternal life and death. We have to get it right not just so we can belong to the right churchy club, but so we can grab hold of sanity in an insane world, so we can seek out the profound while surrounded by triviality, so we can pursue beauty in the midst of ugliness.
Orthodoxy means true glory (among other things), and that is what we seek.
This site’s tagline—Doctrine Matters—is not just an affirmation that Orthodox dogma is a necessary part of the spiritual life. Doctrine (“teaching”) includes not just dogma, but every teaching and true tradition pertaining to union with the Holy Trinity—worship, asceticism, hierarchy, canonical tradition, and so forth. Doctrine is what we are taught and what we teach.
I hope you’ll add this site to your bookmarks, RSS feeds, subscriptions, etc., and that you’ll participate in discussion and even will consider submitting articles for review and possible publication. In the future, you can expect to read many voices from within Orthodoxy speaking their faith, commenting on the doctrines of other faiths, sometimes together, sometimes not entirely agreeing with each other, sometimes in a series of articles individually or with other writers, and sometimes in single pieces on something that occurs to one of us.
Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for coming along on this journey, this pursuit of the one thing needful.
Our first series of coordinated posts is going to be on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church. Stay tuned. We begin next week.
Thank you, Fr Andrew, for starting this weblog.
I’ve been Orthodox for seven years now. Having come from a 30-year background in Reformed and Presbyterian churches (OPC and PCA) where the only way I could cope was to immerse myself in the doctrines and history, I am fascinated by the influx of similar folk into our Parish. It’s been exciting to discuss points of truth with my friends and fellow-sojourners and see how this has born fruit in two ways: our Priest and our cradle Orthodox are gaining an appreciation for how differently the Reformed folk think about, well, everything; whilst we converts struggle to purge the kool-aid we’ve been fed to acquire an Orthodox mind. Sometimes, it’s more than apologetics. It’s translation.
I am looking forward to reading more.
Awesome blog! I look forward to reading more. This is a very promising beginning. I’m a writer for a Catholic blog, Team Orthodoxy (very ironic name when talking to a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I know). Please check it out, I could definitely see a possibility for collaboration.
May God bless you and make this blog a success!
With all respect, Fr. Andrew, some of us – e.g., serious Calvin junkies who convert to Orthodoxy – may need a period of Doctrine Detox with concentrated prayer and sacramental life. But I’m pretty well detoxified after 15 years, and I’m subscribing from blog #1.
Very excited for what this has the potential to become. Have you considered adding Lux Christi to the blogroll, Father?
Oh, hey, good idea, especially considering that Cyril is one of the people we have on board. 🙂
Lux Christi is incredible, at that.
I am enthralled to see this, Fr. Andrew. I think we need more of these out there as I know too many who think that as long as you agree with the first 4 councils then everything after that is fair game.
Doctrine matters, of course. However, my wife is Protestant, and so often she hears former Protestants talk about how glad they are that they are no longer Protestant now that they have become Orthodox. To her it sounds arrogant and/or triumphalistic, and she feels like people discount any value she may have gained from her spiritual heritage to this point. She feels like Protestants are often painted with a broad brush that is unfair and, sometimes, mean-spirited.
My wife is not pietistic at all, but she feels like Orthodox Christianity has not patience for someone like her who is not immediately convinced that everything the Orthodox Chruch teaches is correct. How do we compassionately respond to people like my wife while maintaining the Church’s convictions?
How exactly is she defining patience, Rob? Inquirers and catechumens don’t have any restrictions on how long they can remain as such, and such orders specifically allow time for someone to continue to learn and discern.
Also, these days, I have rarely if ever heard of a Protestant who has become Orthodox that totally denounces their former church without admitting to at least a number of spiritual, Christian gains from that upbringing or time spent in the former community. I would think that we do our best to call Truth Truth, wherever it is. We just happen to think that the fulness of Truth resides in the life of our Communion in Christ, within the Orthodox Faith.
Thank you, Pete.
My experience agrees with yours: most people say that they had at least some benefit from their upbringing as Protestants. However, whereas a lot of the people I know left Protestantism with a lot of hurt and baggage, I left with an ounce of sadness. A lot of people I know were glad to leave Protestantism because of what they suffered there. While I had experienced hurt and disappointment, I left simply because I had come to believe what the Orthodox church was saying.
Likewise, if my wife ever converts, it will be either for my sake or because she believes what the Orthodox church teaches. However, the percieved lack of patience (moral patience, such as society having no patience for murderers) on the part of the Orthodox church for people such as her – this perception originating from converts who think the benefits of Orthodoxy of Protestantism must be manifest to everbody – makes it hard for her to accept what the Orthodox church believes. Her comment to me goes something like, “How can I become a part of a church that believes everyone else is less of a Christian?”
FWIW, my own Evangelical upbringing taught me that Roman Catholics were not Christians at all (Orthodoxy wasn’t mentioned). The other day, a certain prominent Reformed theologian and pastor announced that all RCs and Orthodox were idolaters. So it goes.
This is a basic dynamic, though—where there is variation in doctrine, if people actually believe in their own doctrine, they cannot help but believe that contradictory doctrines are less (or not) Christian. It’s the only logical conclusion. You can’t get around it. Some Protestants put Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses outside the circle of Christianity, but that is only because they have their own self-defined orthodoxy. Yet those groups would say that they are Christians.
In any event, defining whether other people are Christians or not, or whether they are more or less Christian, is not really the point of life in the Church. The question is whether I am.
Rob, I will second what Fr. Andrew said at the end. Coming from a strong Calvinist background (more Reformed than which cannot be thought), the point is am I, the chief of sinners, making sure of my own salvation. I have known many Orthodox – – my confessor calls them the uberorthodox – – who, while they may not consign the non-Orthodox to perdition by what they say, often imply this by how they act. Each of us must realize we are the chief of sinners, one reason why Orthodoxy is hierarchical, and that are chiefly Christ to other people by our lives, epistles read every day. Patience! As Fr. Boniface Black told me, don’t be hasty, the Church is going nowhere.
I am a Christian. My family and I currently worship with American Restoration churches (church of Christ). A longing for a deeper understanding of Truth has led me down the path of discovering Orthodoxy. I’m walking slowly and with fear. I have no family or friends that are Orthodox, and so the little I am learning is from sites like this one.
So far, I have found Father Stephen at Glory to God for All Things, Letters on Orthodoxy, Pithless Thoughts, Orthocath, and Roads From Emmaus to be helpful, especially Father Stephen. Are there other sites that you feel would be a good resource for a Texan like me?
The problem for one like me is that I cannot just stop worshiping with the church I am a part of and start visiting an Orthodox church. I have a wife and children who also have hearts filled with faith and the desire to give good works to God. And so my learning process is somewhat “underground” . . . late at night usually after everyone is asleep. My wife knows of my interest and is supportive, but I have to walk slowly. I can’t just skip out on Sundays and go to an Orthodox worship service while my family goes to our home congregation. And it is unreasonable for me to take my family to an Orthodox worship service as an inquirer. Lots of hearts are involved. I hate this. And so once again, my learning is somewhat restricted to what I can read and watch on the web.
I’m looking forward to following this website. I hope the content posted here will be a help to me in the search for Truth.
May God bless those who submitt articles to this site so that the content will be what is needed . . . not just for me . . . but for many.
As a former member of the Stone-Campbell movement now converted to Orthodoxy, I sympathize with you David. I know what it’s like to be the only person remotely interested in Orthodoxy you know, and to do your research “secretly”. I will pray for you, and for your family.
Have you checked out Ancient Faith radio at ancientfaith.com? Several of the bloggers you mentioned have podcasts on that site and I know when I was inquiring into Orthodoxy it was a great help to me.
Since Sundays don’t really work for you (and believe me I understand; while inquiring I would go to 2 services every Sunday – first Lutheran and then Orthodox because I was not comfortable just dropping out of my church) have you considered attending a Saturday evening Vespers service? Some Orthodox churches even have Vespers additional times during the week. If you’d like to see a Divine Liturgy service but can’t go on Sunday, perhaps you can go on a “Feast Day”. For example June 29th coming up is the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Feast Day. It is on a Friday, but a Divine Liturgy will be served that day. One last suggestion: I don’t know what time your church of Christ service is on Sundays, but an Orthodox church close to you may have a Matins service in the morning, early, that you can attend before your church.
Hope this helps! Christians are called to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) so I encourage you to keep at it and will pray for you and your family!
I ask my students: “Is doctrine irrelevant for life, or is your life irrelevant for doctrine?” Love the lines Fr. Andrew, “Theology is not just life and death, but eternal life and death. We have to get it right not just so we can belong to the right churchy club, but so we can grab hold of sanity in an insane world, so we can seek out the profound while surrounded by triviality, so we can pursue beauty in the midst of ugliness.” Wish I had written that.
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