Reclaiming The Gospel
Posted on 29. Jan, 2008 by The Gimcracker in Theory & Philosophy
I was recently directed to read a brief article about the current state of Orthodoxy in America, written by Bradley Nassif. This article sums up exactly what I’ve been recently discussing with my wife and friends, and I agree whole-heartedly with the author.
For anyone who is Orthodox and has not yet read the article (I believe most of my reader(s) were sent a link to it via email) I would highly recommend the 10 minutes it takes to read. You can read it if you’re not Orthodox (this isn’t Scientology) but it might be mind-numbingly boring, unless you are experiencing the same kind of troubles in your church, in which case you will be able to identify.
I’ll highlight a few good points:
“Parishioners are coming and going in and out of church with little visible change in their lives. In short, they do not know the core content of the gospel or how to integrate its meaning into their everyday lives.”
“Bishops and priests must not take for granted that everyone in the Church is converted and has no need to hear the basic gospel message.”
“Outside of Orthodoxy, have you noticed how the healthiest Christian communities around today are the ones who preach Christ, not their own denomination? … Yet, all we seem to hear from our pulpits is “Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy!” We are obsessed with self-definition through negation. It is a sick religious addiction.”
“The Orthodox Church has such a long history and rich theology that it is easy for us to lose sight of the forest for the trees. But we must never lose sight of the simplicity of the gospel and its far-reaching consequences for everyday life.”
This is something I have been struggling with for a long time now. I do not feel like I’m getting anything out of going to church. I’m also sick of people telling me that you’re not supposed to get anything out of going to church – that it’s supposed to be work and that you’re doing it for God and not yourself. That’s silly talk. That sounds like something people under a tyrannical regime say. If that’s really what I’m supposed to believe as an Orthodox Christian, then count me out.
I think the solution starts when our priests and bishops start preaching about the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and how I should adjust my life to live as my Creator would have me live. Not about Orthodoxy. We’ve been saying Orthodox prayers for an hour. We’re standing in front of a tremendous iconostasis. We KNOW we’re Orthodox. It’d be nice if we could at least distract ourselves from that during the sermon and focus on Christ. I don’t care about vestments, narthexes, finances, or relics. I mean I do care about about those things, but not during the sermon.
Most Importantly, if I, as an Orthodox Christian, don’t want to hear about those things during the homily, then surely my Protestant, Catholic, or non-Christian friend that I bring along as a visitor doesn’t. Wish me luck convincing my friend to ever come back. Don’t we want to grow the church?
In short, God is not Orthodox. To hear it put much better than I ever could, read the article I’m talking about. The guy who wrote it looks pretty distinguished to me, and appears to hold influence in the church.
Here’s the link: Reclaiming The Gospel.
Amen and amen. You already know my thoughts and feelings on the subject, so I won’t repeat them here, except to say that this is an ABSOLUTE MUST if the Church is to grow and people are going to maintain a shred of true spirituality and moral fiber. I too am sickened by the amount of talk ABOUT Orthodoxy and not nearly enough action. And where the heck is the balance? YES – the “leitourgia” means “the work of the people” (thank you Fr. J), and YES we are supposed to be offering the world back to God, but we are ALSO supposed to be growing and getting fed ourselves. It must be a balance of the two. And I’m sorry, but the notion that we’re doing the liturgy for God and we are not supposed to get anything out of it is a lie directly from the Evil One himself. God does not need our worship anymore than I need a Big Mac and fries. We need it to remember and to grow ourselves, so that we might grow up and into God, but He certainly does not need to be worshiped. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” How is it that we so easily forget the Scriptures and turn to the easy road of rules, regulations, and the tyranny clericalism.
I think really the single most astounding thing to me is the number of folks that think, feel, reflect, and write this same thing, and how many clergy and hierarchs are completely deaf to it. We’re not asking for congregationalism or super-charismata, nor are we asking for a drastic change to the liturgy or the canons or anything handed down to us through the centuries. Simply preach the Gospel – and then live it. That’s it. Preach Christ crucified and risen. That’s it. Fr. Schmemann put it this way, (not an exact quote) “The homily should only and always be about Christ in the Scriptures.” In other words, the sermon is to explain the Scriptures and how they relate to Christ and our life in Him. If this simple thing was done, then every homily WOULD be Orthodox because Orthodoxy is the Truth – Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and so homilies about Him and about the scriptures are the most Orthodox of all. Teachings about vestments, sacraments, church history, canons, icons, prayer ropes, incense, books, etc. belong in a separate “teaching time” – not in the middle of Divine Liturgy during the homily.
Last but not least, here’s my spiritual father’s take on the subject… Fr. James said this, “I’m a terrible sermon giver. I know that I don’t do well but it is my job as a priest to talk about the scriptures that were read during the Liturgy. However I don’t subject my people to my homilies for too long. Besides, a homily should be no more than 15 – 20 minutes and should be about the scriptures. People have a hard time concentrating after that, and besides the homily time is not a time to show how much you know about Orthodoxy or any other subject. It’s to explain the scriptures. I’m amazed at the number or clergy who think that the sermon is a chance for them to display the breadth of their knowledge on the Fathers and Orthodoxy, and to subject the people to 45 minutes of them blathering on about nothing related to the scriptures. Lord have mercy!”
Indeed Abba, indeed. So the question I have is, what to do? What do we do? There must be a balance and I think more and more our generation is crying for it. What to do to help achieve that? Thoughts?
“God is not Orthodox”
I love it. It says two things:
1. We are not to worship Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy is not God. I know we aren’t worshiping Orthodoxy, but sometimes it’s hard to tell that we aren’t…
2. The Church is made to worship God. We as a body are in Christ, not the other way around. The Church does not contain God. God contains The Church. Therefor, God is not Orthodox any more than God is Catholic or Protestant. God is God. We are supposed to be brought closest to him through Orthodoxy, although that would be an extremely hard argument for anyone to make (that Orthodoxy brings you closer to God than the other denominations) because it’s so subjective.
I go to church because I know I “should” but once there get very little out of it, and would be hard pressed to explain beyond a few “whys” why Jesus died on the cross.
1 Q: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
1 A: To save us from our sins.
2 Q: Why did Jesus dieing on the cross save us from our sins?
2 A: [silence]
It’s no wonder I’ve never converted anyone to Christianity or Orthodoxy. I mean, sure I can kind of come up with some answers after some hard thought, but I have no idea what a good solid correct canonical answer is. I could tell you very quickly what protestants believe:
2 A: Because it appeased God and washed our sins away with his blood.
3 Q: Why did it appease God and wash away our sins?
3 A: Because a blood debt was owed, and the debt was so large that only God could ever pay it. So God paid it.
4 Q: Why does that matter and how does it affect us?
4 A: Because Jesus purchased us from God and will set us free if we just decide that we want to give our freedom back to him. (huh? You are a slave unless you freely decide to be a slave, then you’re just a willing slave?)
I know that’s not *exactly* how they would say it, but that’s basically what it comes down to. It’s sad that I could very quickly and easily vocalize that, when I can’t even get past the first “why” for Orthodoxy, and I’ve been “Orthodox” all my life…
I’m not going to trash orthodoxy, but I will say it reminds me too much like the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees back when Jesus was alive. Too much man made stuff, almost to the point where you loose focus that it’s Jesus’s sacrifice that saves you.
I love how my church sums it up – and some might think it’s convienent or whatever – but I like it.
“Where the bible speaks, we speak, where the bible is silent – we too are silent.”
Add nothing, focus on the message, become less so he (and his church) can become more.
Good luck B – a worthy struggle my friend.
Hmm…Jesse – I understand, and yet, at the risk of opening up a can of worms, that credo leaves WAY too much up to individual interpretation. I think the balanced way would be to say, the Scriptures are the authority, and yet they must be interpreted through the lens of the historical Church and the Fathers. St. Vincent of Lerins (b. late 300′s AD) said it the best in his Vincentian Canon, which reads, “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credituni est” – What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” Scripture interpreted by 100 different people without the authority and history of the Church and the Fathers will ultimately be interpreted 100 different ways. So while I admire the simplicity of “Where the bible speaks, we speak…” it simply cannot be final authority. I don’t think it’s convenient at all, and I do understand why your church would use that as a standard, however I think there are times when that credo alone runs into serious trouble.
Chris & Jesse – While I agree that there is much “man-made stuff” and also some pharisaical tendencies, those things are not Orthodoxy. I think that’s why those of us that are Orthodox get so frustrated with them. Orthodoxy is Truth, or literally “right belief”, and I’m not talking about man-made things or some triumphalistic point of view that “The Orthodox” are the only ones that are “right” in Christendom. All churches should struggle towards orthodoxy, or towards finding the things that have been believed and practiced always, everywhere, and by all. However, I DO believe that the Orthodox Church has maintained those things moreso than others, just as I believe that the Jews had maintained what was handed down from Moses in its purest form. However, fact of the matter is that while I think we should all strive towards orthodoxy, if we become passive about it and think that the outward form and religion of it is what saves then yeah, we’re lost. Jesus himself pointed out this folly when he said to the Pharisees “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We are sons of Abraham.’ for I say to you, God is able to make a son of Abraham out of any of these stones!” However he didn’t abolish the Jewish law – he fulfilled it. So while he reminded everyone that it’s not the Law that saves he also didn’t say “Disregard it.” This alone shows the balanced way – that while quarrels over ancestors are meaningless, it does not mean that history itself is.
Chris, what you said about not knowing the “Orthodox” answer illustrates perfectly the problems with the current state of things. You ought to know that, and I don’t mean you should just magically know, you should have been taught that. While not everything can be neatly and nicely explained, many things can and should be.
Dang – sorry, I’m going on and on again. Anyhoo…yes, this is frustrating. I’m done…for now…
So you’re saying that we basically need balance between individual interpretation and the authority of the church… I definitely agree with that. I’ve always agreed with that. I’ve still not come across an Orthodox parish or another Christian denomination that has this balance.
On the one hand you’ve got churches that go solely by the Bible. I don’t agree with this because I haven’t seen any indication to say that the Bible is the only thing you need and the only thing that’s been revealed to us. No one has ever pointed out to me where this is stated. I’m sure it’s something that I have to have faith about, and I can see where some people have this faith, but I do not.
On the other hand you’ve got churches that go by the Bible AND teachings of the church fathers. This makes more sense to me logically because the same guys who wrote the Bible and who the Bible talks about are the ones that started the Christian church, so why would we abide by the words they happened to write down and include in the Bible one day, but not abide by what they wrote down the next day? (did God stop divinely inspiring them at this point?) My problem is, as I said, I still haven’t come across a church that has the necessary balance. As this article points out, Orthodoxy could have it right if they would take God out of the box that is Orthodoxy.
The good thing is this conundrum really doesn’t bother me all that much. I know that no matter if I’m Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, etc., as long as I’m doing what I truly believe I should be doing – even if it is different than what my neighbor is doing – I am pleasing God.
Some people respond to that by saying it’s too post modern or that it’s a cop out. To those people I respond: it’s still all about balance. I’m not saying let’s all become existentialists and that nothing really matters. If you think I’m saying that, then you didn’t read anything I wrote before that sentence.
In response to my man’s comment on his own post…(i know you hate the ellipses that i use) you say you want a church that has the balance of Christ, the Bible, and the church fathers. Our parents wanted this as well when they joined the EOC. Even that had flaws. The problem is that everything we make as humans is fallen. I love our parish and just like myslef, it has room for improvement. I would like to give Luke a shout out becuase i really like his points.
thank you for reading my first post on gymerick miskellany’s blog
LMAO I never thought I’d see the day. Strangely I’m more honored by a comment from you than if Tony Dungy himself were to comment. Now spell my name correctly next time you hilariously funny stand-up comedian.
You are absolutely right about the EOC. I forgot how close we once were to this balance. What the heck happened?
LOL. Nicely done! Thanks for the shout out April.
Brian, as to your question, “What the heck happened?” Well, IMHO, the EOC, or at least Holy Trinity (but I think the whole EOC) because it was full of fallen people, took on the same characteristics as triumphalistic Orthodoxy – basically, the EOC got proud of being the EOC. I remember quite well how people who left the “Perfect Church” were treated by many folks. There was a type of silent “shunning” that took place. I don’t even think folks were trying to be mean, but it was kind of that, “How can you leave the perfect church?” type of attitude.
So I think really it doesn’t matter what it is – it will collapse and it will fall. I mean, you know, some boast of chariots, and some boast of horses – but if all we boast in is the name of our God, then while they will collapse and fall we will rise and stand for good.
Ok, seriously, yeah, as long as there is the sin of pride in the world there will be the temptation to think that we have achieved perfection this side of heaven, and then brag about that. So I think that no matter what parish or church, club, group, etc, there will always be those who want to make THAT heaven believe that THEY are in the “chosen” group and fall into the trap of forming just another clique that worships the idol of itself rather than God. Idolatry is prevalent in churches just as much as in the world.
Sadly, churches then become just large social clubs rather than the catalyst for radical change that Jesus commanded us to be.
Hmm…maybe I’ll make a post on this myself, since I keep writing so dang much here. Sorry!
I should have posted this, I horribly summarized our stance.
“Being neither fundamentalists or modernists, we call ourselves Christian. We realize that we are not the only Christians, but simply Christians only. We have no other name.
Our authority is the Word of God. We have no creed but the Bible. Where it speaks, we speak. Where it is silent, we are silent. The scriptures are our only rule of faith and practice. We allow the utmost liberty of opinion in matters where Scripture revelations do not legislate, while we accept the fullest conformity to the clear and uncontested revelations of that Word. ”
I will freely admit I know nothing about orthodoxy, I guess I just have a simple faith. I believe the bible is God’s word, and he sent his son to die (and raise from the dead) for me to save me from my sins and give everlasting life in heaven.
Whatever title or religion that makes me, fine. I try to focus on my relationship with God and what Jesus taught in the bible. I leave the other stuff to people way smarter than I am.
Who am I to judge someone on the best way to have a relationship with God? That’s waaaaay above my paygrade.
This last Sunday my wife said to me after church, “Who cares what Fr. Schmeman says. Why don’t we ever hear what the bible says?” I don’t want to agree with what she is saying. Unlike her, I am fully committed to “becoming Orthodox”. Unlike her, I can deal with the hyper self-centeredness of a church filled with pilgrims that feel they have found something more real than the untethered protestantism they left behind. Unlike her, I’m willing to take the good with the bad. But I Do agree with her in spite of myself, and it kills me to think that when it is said and done she will not choose to be Orthodox because of this terrible ignore-ance, not of reading the Gospel (that is done very well!), but of the preaching of it. Sometimes I want to jump up and say, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”.
Thanks for your thoughts. They are an encouragement to my wife that she is not alone.
Can I comment on my own comment?
In spite of what I said above, I would not trade the profound, intense, worship we give to God in the liturgy for the most Scripture centered sermonizing found in any Evangelical church on any Sunday. After all, I do have a Bible (in fact many) of my own. I know that when I take the time to read and listen, I hear the Word of God loud and clear without a middle man.
Still,it is plain to me that the Fathers intended that BOTH Word and worship should find balance when we get together.
I definitely hear you. A lot of other people do too. Did you see how many catechumens we had yesterday? This is most assuredly a church where some people can grow spiritually, but not all people. Not even most people, I’d wager (at least American people).
Once again, I left church feeling nothing, except maybe anger. I heard nothing that I could relate to my life during the homily. Absolutely nothing. This has been going on now for well over a year. And I was even in the choir! If I can’t feel close to God as a regular layperson, and I can’t feel close to God singing in the choir, then I don’t think there’s any hope for me.
Maybe I’m the one that needs to change. Whether that means changing myself, or changing where I attend church, I don’t know. But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to bring me closer to God.
Heck – this isn’t isolated in Othodoxy. Even at my church (possibly the wild liberal church in this crowd ) sings songs during worship that just kill me.
Look, if I don’t know what the song is saying because the vocabulary and olde timee language- how am I supposed to be praising God? I mean you can only lean over and ask your wife what a word means so many times in 1 song.
I call for a generation X (or are we y?) church reformation. Brian gets to be the choir leader guy.
Same thing with my church. Except we sing EVERYTHING. That’s right, we sing our prayers, sing our scriptures (the Gospels at least), and sing our litanies.
I’ve heard a few reasons for this – none of which make a lick of sense. One reason I’ve heard is because it’s louder and everyone can hear it better if we sing it. If so, we’ve invented PA systems for that.
I’ve also heard it’s because we want to limit the vocal inflections, and thus our own interpretations, that we use to spin the message to whatever we want. If so, that’s dumb for two reasons: 1) the words don’t change, so let’s be honest – could the message really change if we say the same words differently? and 2) we put EVEN MORE personal emphasis on whatever words we want when we sing them than when we say them! I’ve heard priests do 15 syllable melismas on certain words that they personally thought should be emphasized.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and make a pros and cons list.
PROs of singing:
CONs of singing:
-Can’t understand the words as well (especially sopranos)
-Not how humans are used to hearing messages, so we don’t really get what the prayer is saying
-There are many more ways to put our own interpretation by means of emphasis on the message via the use of pitch, volume, malisma, tempo etc.
PROs of speaking:
-Easier on the voice
-Less foreign to American culture
-Easier to understand
CONs of speaking:
-Not as loud.
If we’re not supposed to interject our own commentary on the prayers, then why do we do a homily? Why do we even have a church service?
If someone has answers to these questions, or corrections to my current understanding as to why we sing, please comment. Like I said, these are just things I’ve heard – I don’t know if they’re official reasons or not.
I don’t even want to get into the whole “intruments during church” argument. I do have one question for you to mull over though: isn’t the human voice an instrument? Not only does it fall into the category of being an instrument, but some would argue it is the most beautiful of all the instruments (and thus the most distracting).
thanks for posting this. The Bradley Nassif article was good.