Conversion stories: look while you are leaping

The guy who currently blogs at ViatorChristianus (or something like that; I don’t like linking to guys who were at one time associated with the Federal Vision movement.  It attracts unnecessary traffic and old wars are brought up) did some really good posts on the reasons why one would leave Evangelical and Reformed communities for the epistemological certainty that Roman Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy brings.   And to be fair, he had a lot of good points.  Many guys do convert to Rome/Orthodoxy for some very bad and shallow reasons.

This post is about conversion stories, though not mine:  I have yet to convert to anything.  I am going to get everybody angry in this post, though in a rather unique way.   Orthodox guys will get angry because they will think I am attacking Orthodoxy.  I am doing no such thing.  If anything, I am actually offering something of an apology for looking into Orthodoxy.  Further, I agree with Orthodoxy, but it is still hard to undo 20 years of Evangelical subculture and the expectations that culture brings.   I do ask your pardon.  This post is simply a snapshot of someone along the way (and in one sense it is no different from Fr Peter Gilquist’s experience when he led some evangelicals to Orthodoxy).

Evangelicals will be tempted to say, upon reading of some of my disappointments, “Aha!  We told you it was a dead church and not biblical and not faithful to our American Conservative Republican Christian distinctives.”  To which I urge silence:  Evangelical theology is flawed on the structural level and cannot mount anything resembling a defense.

Anglicans might be tempted to say, “Well, join Anglicanism.  We have liturgy and we are sensitive, sometimes it appears more so, to many Western liturgical concerns.”  That might be true, but the leader of the Anglican church is still hesitant to say that butt-sex is wrong, and he ordains women.   So, no die.  Perhaps one can see Anglicanism as a stopgap on the way to Orthodox, barring any other liturgical alternative in the community–I can follow that line of reasoning, but no more.

I’ve talked with some facebook friends on my–and others Reformed inquisitors–experience with Orthodoxy.   In what follows I will be told that I should not import Western Evangelical expectations onto the life of the church.  While I still have some questions–based on reading Eastern fathers and noting severe disjuncts between said fathers and what I experienced in Liturgy–I will agree for the moment.  I cannot stand in judgment upon the church, but I can’t pretend I have a blank slate mind as well.

(And before we get started I just have to add, St Gregory of Nazianzus delayed baptism for ten years, while holding to something like Orthodox belief.  Cf. Brian Daley’s St Gregory of Nazianzus).  The following is adapted from several emails with several friends.

I’ll be honest with you–and I’ve told Mr. _______ as much–but I don’t know if I can keep going to St _______’s.  I certainly can’t bring my family there.    Most of the service now seems to be in Greek, and even then isn’t always following the book (so I have no idea what is going on half the time, and while I can read and understand Greek; my wife would be completely lost).   The kids at the church are out of control, and the parents make no effort to discipline them;  I would give examples, but it would seem like I am exaggerating (I am not).  I understand that telling a parent how to discipline their kids is about as awkward as giving sex advice, but still….  It is distracting to see (hear?) a kid playing his Nintendo DS with the volume up, or another kid walking down the aisle gathering liturgy books (and dropping them), or throwing models cars across the room (I am listing the things I have seen).  Add this to the general confusion I feel, and no doubt my wife would feel, I can’t help but recall St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about worshipping God in a way you really don’t understand, and confusion, and chaos in order.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t bring Evangelical expectations of corporate singing and judge the Church based on my understanding of what I want it to be.  Fair enough.  Let’s put it into context.   There were about eight to ten people there, and I think maybe two were chanting (yours’ truly being one of them).   Is this what the Psalmist meant when he alluded to corporate singing?  It could be.  I don’t know.

  There was no homily the last time I was there.  I realize the homily/sermon doesn’t have the same import as in Protestantism, but St Paul did say something like “preach the word.”  How do we go from St John Chrysostom to having no homily at all?  And no, before one points out, this was not merely a prayer service. With the last priest at this service there were homilies, and fairly decent ones, too.
I don’t want to be one of those guys who gets all interested in Orthodox theology, but rejects the church because it didn’t meet his expectations.  I’ve had friends reject Christianity on that point.  I realize I don’t have the right to judge the church based on my expectations, but on the other hand, I’m no idiot in Church history either.   Gregory Nazianzus’ sermons were over an hour in length.  I don’t want to sit through an hour long sermon, but how do we go from that to having no sermon at all?
I don’t really expect–nor do I judge them harshly on this–an older, largely Greek community that is very small to engage in active missionary evangelism to Western potential converts (though if the OCA or Antiochians came in with a “Western Rite” church in North Louisiana, it would have HUGE potential.    Yet, there is a substantial undercurrent of resistance to the Western Rite among many Orthodox–see for example, Fr Alexander Schmemann).
 Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.   I’m not rejecting Orthodoxy, but am remembering something that Joseph Farrell said, “When you enter Orthodoxy, enter with your eyes open to the problems in modern World Orthodoxy“).
I have another reason for writing this–it serves as a cautionary tale to guys who read a few books on Orthodoxy, internet debate a few Calvinists, and think they are “truly Orthodox.”  No, we are not.  We are still learning, and there are numerous considerations which are far more difficult than simply trying to follow a Greek-spoken liturgy:
  • Which branch of the Orthodox church is the true one:  Coptic, Armenian, Chalcedonian, etc.? How do you know?
  • How come Monachos.net always deletes threads that ask questions about Freemasonry and the Ecumenical Movement?
  • Which Calendar is correct?
  • If we have to move from our current location, possibly hundreds of miles simply to find the right bishop, doesn’t this also imply that Orthodoxy will never truly come to this region?
  • Is this the approach the Man from Macedonia took?
Even though I am open with my thoughts on this topic, the above reasons are also why I don’t debate Calvinists and Catholics on Orthodoxy.  Most importantly, I don’t want to pull a Jay Dyer and reject Orthodoxy because SCOBA has a weak view of the Old Testament precepts, or whatever Jay’s reasons were.
So yes, I am still very much interested, but the above is a snapshot of life on the way.