An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholicism and on Protestant Faith

And also, in this post, I will address Archpriest Josiah Trenham – his EO perspective on Evangelical Protestant Faith

The first video (above) by Dr. Ryan Reeves gives a good overview of the issues of the “The Great Schism of 1054, where the Eastern Greek speaking Church split from the western Latin Church and became Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

I was never persuaded nor even tempted by the claims of Roman Catholicism nor Eastern Orthodoxy. see my previous articles, especially this one on being deep in history and check out the many others categories on the side bar of church history, early church history, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Sola Scriptura, and Sola Fide.

The Second Video: I really like this guy – Archpriest Josiah Trenham, who is an Eastern Orthodox convert from Reformed Protestantism – he is a former Presbyterian. (Amazing to me, given what he knew and his education, and all the great Reformed teachers that he studied under, like R. C. Sproul, John Frame, etc..) He had some of my favorite theologians! He made me want to understand better. He is very knowledgable of church history and historical theology and is articulate and interesting. He is the first Eastern Orthodox speaker that I can understand immediately and find so interesting that I want to listen to more. I also listened to several of his other lectures at this You Tube channel, especially his 2 part series, “Rock and Sand” and his book by the same name, which I have read some and hoping to read the whole book entirely. In the Rock and Sand part 1, at the beginning, he names several of his Presbyterian professors. (see more details later at the end of the article)

Trenham makes an interesting point that 1204, the Fourth Crusade, is the more important date that really made the split in 1054 much more bitter and deep, as the Latin Crusaders turned on the Eastern Orthodox and slaughtered people (and raped nuns !). wow. Indeed, what a massive tragedy and scandal that 4th Crusade was!! See Dr. Ryan Reeves 2 videos on the Crusades for a good overview.

“Rock and Sand”, both the videos and the book, are “An Eastern Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings”. I listened to both of the You Tube lectures on “Rock and Sand” and want to go through them again and take notes and along with his book, write more articles on those issues.

But back to his lecture on his Appraisal of Roman Catholicism:

From my notes I counted 17 points of disagreements that Eastern Orthodoxy has against Roman Catholicism. If I missed some, or numbered them wrong, I apologize. Many of these issues are purely external forms / rituals in their nature. (baptism 3 times by immersion, facing east in prayer, requirement of beards for clergy, sitting and pews (RC & Protestants) rather than standing (EO) in the worship service, art, icons and the whole theology behind the icons, architecture, music, various days and schedule and calendar on fasting on certain days, Chrismation (confirmation in the west) separation from baptism, allowing children right after baptism to start taking communion and partake in the Eucharist (padeo-communion), etc.

Overall, I was struck at the end by what an externalistic and ritualistic church the EO is. It seems to exalt the physical things over the spiritual and seems to be saying that contact with physical things can cause spiritual grace to come to a person. (icons, venerating icons as part of the process of theosis, water baptism, relics, church building architecture an art, the structure of the church, bishops and priests, beards, pews, unleavened bread, facing east in prayer, dipping 3 times in baptism, making the sign of the cross, calendar dates, etc.)

As a Protestant Evangelical and Reformed Baptist, I agree with 7 of the points that he makes vs. RCC –

1. The Papacy is wrong, and unBiblical. Both the claim of universal jurisdiction / supremacy over all other bishops and the dogma of infallibility of 1870.

2. Purgatory and Indulgences are unbiblical and wrong.

3. Mandatory celibacy for priests (presbyters / elders / pastors in Protestant thinking) is wrong. * but see later in the post

4. Baptizo means “to immerse”, “to dip”, “to dunk”, “to overwhelm”, “to completely surround”; As a baptist, this is great confirmation for our position; and also; I knew this for a long time. it is great to hear it from an EO priest.

5. The Immaculate Conception (proclaimed Dogma in 1854) of Mary is wrong.

6. not letting the laity partake of the cup of the wine of the Eucharist is wrong.

7. He makes a good point about the unleavened bread ; and what I gather is that the loaf of bread should be whole and then torn / broken in the service. (rather than prepackaged pressed individual pieces) Being a missionary myself, and using Iranian flat bread and tearing it and dividing it up for the people is a powerful illustration; I can see that. But still, this seems like something to disagree over without fighting about it. It turns out that was the main issue of the background that led up to the East – West Schism of 1054. I remember when in church history class in 1984, in seminary, hearing about this for the first time, I thought, “wow, how silly to make such a big deal over that!”.

The Filoque (“and the Son”) clause added to the Nicene-Constantinoplitan Creed by the western Latin church (sometime in the 500s AD), became the main sticking point doctrinally, but it was unleavened bread that led to the larger break up of bigger issues. ( I have read his critique of the Filoque clause in his book, Rock and Sand, and yet, the accusation of heresy of this is based on a lot of assumptions and presuppositions, implications, that the EO read into it, making a lot of unwarranted conclusions to the RCC and Protestant doctrine of the Trinity. But I admit that I will have to study more on that issue.

But, Trenham did not mention Augustine’s theology of original sin and original guilt (the aspects that RCC holds to; those aspects of Augustine’s theology that agrees with Calvinism) (maybe he did, but I don’t see it in my notes, after listening several times all the way through) .

It is amazing to me that someone from such a rich upbringing and educational background in Presbyterian Reformed sound theology would be attracted away from that to the Eastern Orthodox Church as a substitute. (from the “Rock and Sand”, parts 1 and 2 lectures, and he has a book by the same name) – Josiah Trenham was a former student of R. C. Sproul, John Frame, John Gertsner, Richard Pratt, Roger Nicole, Sinclair Ferguson (Presbyterian – Westminster seminary professors) and J. I. Packer (conservative Anglican) and others (wow !) By leaving the Reformed Faith, Trenham is saying that human beings are not slaves to sin in their hearts and wills, before regeneration. (John 8:34 – Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin”. John 6:44, 65 – “no one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him, and I will raise him up on the last day”. Acts 16:14 – “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart so that she could respond to what Paul was preaching.” Ephesians 2:1-3 – “we were slaves of lust and the flesh and the mind . . . by nature children of wrath”. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 – “. . . if perhaps God will grant repentance . . . ” that is truly amazing to have sat under these men and yet reject the doctrines of the bondage of the will and salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone. (but true faith does not stay alone, it results in good works and fruit and change and growth.) By leaving the Reformed Faith, Trenham, seemingly, is denying original sin and original guilt, and is saying that human beings are not guilty by nature and birth. From what I understand, the Eastern Orthodox teaches and believes in libertarian free will and denies the bondage of the will in man to sin – human beings have a truly free will to choose goodness over sin. From what I understand, the EO emphasizes death as the result of Adam’s sin more than internal, heart corruption, and not original guilt in Adam at all. See the side bar category of “free will”; and especially this article I wrote years ago over at Beggar’s All

* more About Mandatory celibacy for priests

*Although I just found out from a Roman Catholic friend (that I have friendly discussions/debates with on Twitter and blogs – Allan Ruhl) that the EO does require celibacy for EO bishops. I asked him, “how do they get bishops, if all the priests or most of them are already married?” He answered, “from the monks.” So, Rev. Trenham’s statement was kind of “tricksy” for what it left out. As Golam said in Lord of the Rings, “Tricksy Hobbitans” – he was kind of “tricksy” for not mentioning that information about the monks and bishops.

Other issues such as some of the things in Rock and Sand – about Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, and the role of tradition – we can discuss later. (see my article on “Tradition” linked below at Beggar’s All Reformation and Apologetics.) I am still amazed that he skewed them and caricatured them, even though he was educated in these doctrines before. I have many many other posts on those issues, so see the sidebar categories.

The Third Video: See also the video below to understand all of these comments:

Sacred Oral “Apostolic” Tradition

This article (linked to below) on “Tradition” answers father Trenham’s discussion of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Sola Scriptura, oral tradition, and the context of the Thessalonians in the first century. “With all due respect”, If I could say to him, “father Trenham, I am amazed that you think the Protestant position on tradition from 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6, written around 52 AD to the time of Paul’s execution by Nero around 67 AD, that we think that Paul was expecting the Thessalonians to only go by those 2 letters from the time of 52 AD to the time of 67 AD. 1 Thessalonians was written in 51 AD, and 2 Thess. in 52 AD. You seem to think Protestants don’t understand that they really did have theses oral traditions, preaching, discipleship, and teachings that Paul taught them, but also you are neglecting the probability that between 52 and 67 AD, the Thessalonians would get a copy of Galatians (49 AD – before 1-2 Thess. !), or Romans (57-58 AD) or 1 Corinthians (55 AD) or Ephesians (61 AD) or Matthew (55-65 AD) or Mark (45-60 AD) or Luke (61 AD) or Timothy and Titus (63-67 AD) before Paul’s martyrdom. It seems obvious that the truths that the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and the Gospel truths in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and later John, were also taught orally in the decades before they were written down. Obviously, the content of Paul’s preaching is repeated in later writings – Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, etc. I have never understood why they (both RCs and EOs) think that argument in the way they use 2 Thess. 2:15 has much persuasive power.” See more details in my article on “Tradition” below.

Father Trenham was right to point out the problem with the NIV’s choice of translating paradosis / παραδοσις (tradition) as “tradition” when it is negative (Matthew 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8), but “teaching” when it is used in a positive sense (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 1 Corinthians 11:2). It looks like they have updated (2011) 1 Cor. 11:2 to “tradition” and provided more footnotes to the 2 Thessalonian passages. But even my own 2002 NIV edition has footnotes for all three that explain that it is “tradition (s)”.

See my article on “Tradition” that I wrote at Beggar’s All Reformation and Apologetics

This interview by Austin Suggs (of Gospel Simplicity You Tube channel) helped me understand Josiah Trenham’s conversion better. He gives more details as to the process of him becoming Eastern Orthodox from his Presbyterian upbringing. It was evident that Josiah Trenham was persuaded by the feelings of awe and inspiration and reverence that he got from Eastern Orthodox worship and he says he was “unsatisfied” or “dis-satisfied” with Reformed Protestant worship services in church. He had some personal emotional experiences in EO churches when he went there growing up.

To this aspect, that EO worship gives more feelings of reverence and awe and majesty, etc., C. S. Lewis has some very relevant thoughts in his book, “The Abolition of Man”, pages 14-15. Lewis, writing in 1947, demonstrates how modern education has replaced objective truth with subjective feelings. When a man describes a waterfall as “That is sublime”, what he is really saying is that “I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “sublime”, or shortly, “I have sublime feelings.” (page 14, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis)

“The confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.” (quoting from “The Green Book”) (ibid, p. 14) In my opinion, this insight is the root of all the appeals to church history, traditions, unity, art, architecture, and liturgical worship of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I hope this is not too harsh. But it does seem to be the root appeal of former Evangelicals who convert to Rome or EO. My friend Rod Bennett had the same sentiments. (see category of “Rod Bennett”.)

Again, I really like father Trenham and I respect many things about what he says in these videos and what he wrote about in his book, Rock and Sand. I appreciate his pointing out positves from Evangelical Protestantism: 1. Zeal for Missions 2. Love and Zeal for Scripture 3. Good scholarship and exegesis and commentaries 4. He uses the Greek texts for study and commentaries done mostly by Protestants.

At the 47:16 mark, and following mark he made a mistake in his definition of Sola Scriptura. It is NOT “the only authority to which one can appeal”; rather, Sola Scriptura is “the only infallible authority”. He gets the definition correct on page 159 of his book, Rock and Sand, but here in the video, it was not fully accurate; but that may just be a function of the reality of the impromptu nature of an interview.

In his book, Rock and Sand, on pages 174-171, father Trenham explains what and why the EO consider the Protestant view of salvation as heresy. (also in his videos of Rock and Sand, parts 1-2) He points out that the Evangelical Protestant emphasis is on the past experience of a personal experience that, for example, in saying, “I was saved” (at some point in time in the past). (in a church, or at an evangelistic crusade, praying a prayer, for example “the Sinner’s prayer”, “born again” experience, “asking Jesus into your heart”, etc.) He is right that this is a popular emphasis that is prevalent, especially among the more low-church independent evangelicals. He is also correct that the Greek NT also describes salvation as a present experience, “we are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18), and the most frequent one is “we will be saved”. I don’t understand why he did not seem to acknowledge that knowledgable Protestants know this; and that we have a rich theology of distinguishing between justification as a point in time at conversion, in which God declares us righteous and forgiven (Romans 3:28; 4:1-16; 5:1 – “being justified by faith, we have peace with God”; Galatians 2:16; John 3:15-18; John 5:24; 11:15; Acts 13:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-9), and an ongoing sanctifying process until we die, and that there will be a future aspect of salvation, which we call “glorification” with Christ in heaven. (See Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-3)

At the end of this video, he emphasizes water baptism (using Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; John 3:5) and entry into the church as part of salvation. He also mentions repentance and faith, which we Protestants appreciate. There is some truth to what he is saying, that the normal way a person makes their profession of faith is at the baptism ceremony and commitment to the local church. Since this article is becoming incredibly long, see my other articles under the categories of baptism and baptismal regeneration and Sola Fide or justification by Faith alone, for responses to what he says here in this video.

About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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