I was speaking to a friend not long ago who is a Charismatic/Vineyard-type Protestant. At one point in the conversation we were talking about what it might mean if he were to seriously consider becoming Orthodox. One of his concerns was that he would have to “give up” his Charismatic ways.
“Yes, that’s true,” I said, “but ‘give up’ is probably not the most accurate or helpful way to look at it.”
I explained that when I became Orthodox (I had been Pentecostal), no one said that I had to give up anything. The year-long catechism process that our community went through (about 85 of us) was all about what we were embracing. And my first few years as an Orthodox Christian (and continuing) has been about entering into a paradigm of prayer and worship and spiritual warfare that is so deep and profound (and effective!) that the forms of my old Pentecostal paradigm fell away all by themselves–somewhat like the leaves of a flower that fall away as the fruit emerges.
Language is also a useful metaphor here. When I am in Stuttgart I speak German, not because someone is making me “give up” English, but because in Germany, the German paradigm communicates more effectively. The dog is still a dog, but now it is called der Hund. Similarly, the deep and genuine Christian spiritual realities (sans a lot of emotionalism and hype) are still there. They are, however, no longer expressed in a Pentecostal paradigm, but in an Orthodox Christian paradigm. And I have found that the Orthodox Christian paradigm has been a much more useful and effective paradigm in which to experience personal relationship with God and transformation into His likeness than the Protestant and Pentecostal paradigm(s) I came from.
When we were first received into the Orthodox Church, some of us angst-ridden Orthodox newbies asked our bishop if anything in our religious past was real. Had we been in complete delusion? Our bishop wisely told us that, first off, much must have been good in what we came from because it brought us to Holy Orthodoxy. Second, the Grace of Holy Baptism both precedes and follows Holy Baptism. The Grace of the Church was already at work in us drawing us to God in whatever way (paradigm) we could understand it. Our bishop told us not to despise our Christian past, but rather to glean from it all that is good and (slowly) to discover in the Church its meaning, its fruition.
And that has been my experience seventeen years later. I have lost nothing. What was good and true and useful is carried over (with a few logistical and linguistic adjustments). Much of what was good and true and useful has fallen away in the face what is better, truer and much more useful. There were also specific practices and theologies that have been left behind because they are not true, although in my Pentecostal days I thought they were. It’s almost like cleaning a bathroom by the light of a single candle. What looks clean in the light of that one candle may indeed be cleaner than it was, but still very dirty. But you don’t know that until the electric lights go back on. For me, embracing Orthodox Christianity has been like having the electric lights turned on.