Rethinking Christianity?

ThinkingA while back I posed a question to my Facebook friends: “Do we need to rethink Christianity?” I asked this question in response to an article concerning the need for part of the Christian Church (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church) to rethink its stance on numerous doctrinal points. Now whether you think the Roman Catholic Church (and/or other more conservative portions of the Christian family) should reconsider the appropriate theology and practice concerning the role of women in the church and definition of marriage, I think that pondering the potential implications of “rethinking Christianity” is important. Continue reading

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Agobard and the Holy Spirit: Efficacious Procession

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Icon of the Holy Trinity (Rubilev)

Belief in the Trinity makes Christianity stand out. This is true for a number of reasons, including the importance that this doctrine places on faith (how else can you explain how one is three and three are one?), trust in the Christians of the past (most contemporary Christians do not excavate the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early Church for themselves), and for the importance of relationship in the Christian tradition (the Trinity affirms the necessity of love and companionship, especially among those created in the image of God[1]). Yet the exceptionality of this belief also makes it fraught with potential misunderstandings, misapplications, and outright heretical appropriations. Continue reading

Religious Secularity

This post is part of an ongoing series investigating “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which the world religious approach and understand the Divine. Today’s post engages a chapter of Mark C. Taylor’s work, After God.

Map of the InternetIn this reflection, I want to focus on Taylor’s chapter “Religious Secularity,” specifically his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications for understanding Protestant theology’s impact on the formation of the “secular” West. From the perspective of one having been trained in theological method and the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, there are a number of points that Taylor draws out in his discussion worthy of consideration. First, Taylor’s relation of the Trinitarian scheme to visions of the “interplay between God, self, and world” is fundamentally positive, and would seem to serve as an excellent starting point for Taylor’s constructive theological claims for the 21st century (139). This tri-part reality he effectively ties into conceptions of “creative mergence” (later developed by Hegel) as the source of appropriate theologies of nature, history, and culture (142). Continue reading

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading

Christologies in Conflict: Cyril and Nestorius

Rendition of the Council of Ephesus

Rendition of the Council of Ephesus

The Christological controversies of the early Church are some of the most interesting and historically confusing events within the Christian tradition. The four great Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and the writings of Early Christian leaders, both orthodox and heterodox, provide scholars with a wealth of information concerning the controversies concerning early belief concerning the person of Jesus Christ. At the Council of Ephesus (of which there were actually two) in 431 AD, the theologies of Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople squared off concerning the person of Christ, whether there were two distinct persons of Logos and man within the incarnate Christ, or if the persons were somehow joined in a union.[1] Continue reading

Church Search: Greek Orthodox Church

This post is part of our ongoing Church Search. For more information on our search and the churches we have visited already, please click here. During the “First Exposure” phase of our search, we are visiting different churches to gain a basic understanding of their doctrines and practices. Following these visits, we will post some of the basic doctrinal and practical considerations of the church we visited, as well as some thoughts on our experiences.

Basic History

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long Beach

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long Beach

Much like our previous post on the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church claims a history as long as the history of the Christian Church itself. Thus, we again note that this brief summary of Church History is something of an injustice. The Orthodox Church has long claimed and studied the earliest writings of the Christian faith, most often termed the “Church Fathers.” Of great importance in the earlier Church were the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils (from the fourth through eighth centuries), all of which took place in the Eastern Roman Empire. The growing divide between Eastern and Western Empire played a role in dividing the Byzantine bishops from the West, as did Western claims to papal supremacy (more on that below), the filioque clause, and the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 CE. The Orthodox Church remained the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire (often called the Byzantine Empire) until the Fall of Constantinople until its fall in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. Orthodoxy remained alive and well, however, in eastern Europe, especially in Moscow, where Russian Orthodoxy remained a strong presence until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. However, Orthodoxy remained throughout Greece and much of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and with the fall of the USSR has continued to grow abroad. There are between 225 and 300 million Orthodox today belonging to 14 autocephelous (administered separately but in communion with each other) churches around the world.

Doctrinal Considerations

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Winston-Salem

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Winston-Salem

Orthodox Christians practice what they understand to be the faith handed down from the Apostles, which “has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”, though not without unaltering development of doctrine and cooperation with local traditions compatible with the faith. Of central importance for Eastern Orthodox faith is the Holy Trinity,  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three-persons, co-eternal, and whom Christians are brought into union. Additionally, of great importance are the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (as originally written, that is, without the filioque clause), the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Holy Scriptures (Septuagint and New Testament), the writings of the Church Fathers, and the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion (which is believed to be the real presence of Christ, but often differentiated from Roman Catholic transubstantiation, and is in reality closer to the Lutheran teaching on consubstantiation, though not expressed in those exact terms). Perhaps the first thing that one notices upon entering an Orthodox Church is their use of icons, pictorial representations of Biblical scenes, the history of the Church, and the lives of the Saints. Orthodox also affirm that church leadership should include bishops, and though they affirm that the bishop of Rome (the Pope) should be viewed as “first among equals,” they do not affirm his premiership and infallibility. Since Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches are not currently in communion (which may change by 2025), the Orthodox look to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (currently Bartholomew) as the head of Orthodox conciliar leadership.

Local Church Experience

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Interior

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Interior

This past Sunday we visited The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Winston-Salem, which is an absolutely beautiful house of worship. Some might find icons distracting, but we found them to increase our sense of awe and assist greatly in approaching God in worship. If the first thing one noticed upon entering were the icons (and the iconostasis), the second was the language being spoken. Or rather, the languages  being spoken, namely Greek and English. Even as someone trained in Koine Greek, it took some time for me to adjust to the service (and poor Hayley was lost much of the time). We followed the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, as well as a separate memorial liturgy for a member of the congregation who had passed away. Apart from the repetition of these liturgies (we often would say something in Greek and then again in English, the scripture readings, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer, for example), the most notable thing was the lack of a sermon as part of the liturgy, with a homily only coming at the end of the service. One thing I wasn’t entirely satisfied with was the level of congregational involvement in the service, as all the music was sung by the choirs/priests, and there were not even many opportunities for liturgical responses from the actual laos (people). Of final note were (again, like our visit to the Catholic Church) the number of children, teens, and young families present, which was very encouraging. Overall, despite the new-ness of this church experience, we greatly enjoyed our visit to the Greek Orthodox Church and look forward to returning.

This visit marks the scheduled end of the “First Phase” of this church search. Over the next few weeks we will be beginning the “Second Phase,” and we invite you to follow along with us. Thanks for reading!