The word “heterodox” is a term that the Orthodox use for the non-Orthodox. Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy by Father Andrew Stephen Damick reviews all the major Christian denominations, and even some non-Christian religions, based on what they believe and how their doctrines conflict with the truth of Orthodoxy. Because God’s Church cannot err, it takes only one falsehood or misinterpretation to put you out of the Church. Father Andrew reviews these falsehoods and why they’re wrong.
What is the truth?
One of the basic assumptions of this book is that Truth—and here I deliberately use the capital T—is not relative and that Orthodox Christianity represents the fullness of the Truth, the locus of the revelation of God in Christ. Why? For the Orthodox Christian, Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6), and because the Truth is a Person, truth cannot be relativized.
Because Truth is not relative, we should be willing to set aside whatever we would prefer to be true and embrace only what really is true, changing ourselves, our attitudes, and our beliefs whenever necessary. If we come upon some truth we disagree with, yet we can see that it must be true, we should say not “I don’t believe it” but rather “I don’t believe it yet.”
If I encounter a teaching of my Church that makes no sense to me or that strikes me as incorrect, then it is I who need to be reformed, not the Church. This is the traditional view of almost all religions, as opposed to the modern consumer-style understanding of faith now popular: that each person is the arbiter of what is true and false, and that he is free to pick whatever bits of “spirituality” and belief he likes from a sort of religious buffet.
Religions are not all the same. They do not all worship the same “God.” This observation ought to be obvious to anyone who takes religious believers at their word when they describe their beliefs. Yet at the same time, we can recognize that there is truth in all religions and philosophies. St. Justin Martyr, in the second century, called this the spermatikos logos, the “Logos in seed form.” The Logos, or “Word,” is Jesus Christ (John 1:21-16), and St. Justin believed that all belief systems had within them the seeds of His revelation. Because all humans beings are created according to the image of God, Jesus Christ, they are not capable of being wrong all the time.
A deception that will cause you spiritual harm is to think that, because your non-Orthodox Church has some truth, or even a lot of truth, it is good enough and you shouldn’t have to endure the social discomfort and pain of having to change Churches, learn a new prayer rule, drive to a church that is located further out, and so on. Think deeply about this deception if you happen to be caught in it. You are stating that you are willing to stay away from the fullness of Christ’s truth, who went through the pain of crucifixion to bring the truth to us, because you are currently comfortable and don’t want to be inconvenienced or made uncomfortable. Why then do you deserve to receive the full complement of grace that comes from beholding the teachings of God’s Church in its completeness, of which were maintained over the centuries through the blood and sufferings of countless martyrs? Once you look at changing Churches in this way, the barrier should fall away, or at least become that much more manageable. A bit of worldly discomfort is worth it if it means a greater closeness with God for eternity.
Will the heterodox be saved?
We can therefore look at a given doctrine or practice and say, “That is not the Way.” But we cannot say, “All of you who have embraced that heresy are forever damned.” We don’t know that. We can say, “That doctrine leads to damnation,” but not, “Anyone who teaches that doctrine is certainly damned.” And especially not, “Because you teach that doctrine, you are damned.” Even the solemn conciliar anathemas (curses) pronounced against historical heretics do not go so far as to declare them damned.
From the Orthodox point of view, all Christian and non-Christian bodies that are not Orthodox are not the Church. The Church is a concrete, historical community founded by Jesus Christ through His apostles, which has existed in a real community for roughly two millennia. That is why we can say where the Church is.
Unfortunately, there are some Orthodox online who are quick to condemn someone to eternal damnation if they are not Orthodox. Ignore them because their behavior is not what the Church teaches.
Do the Orthodox idolize rationalism?
Rationalism has no place within Orthodoxy, because human reason is notoriously fallible.
What is faith?
Faith is not reducible to an inner, mental knowledge or even a feeling. Faith is rather an ongoing, dynamic relationship of trust and cooperation of the believer with God. Faith is a life of communion. Just as a marriage is not made by the wedding ceremony or the exchange of rings, salvation is not made by making a single decision for Christ. It is begun by that act, and like marriage, which St. Paul uses as a metaphor for salvation in Ephesians 5, salvation must be maintained and nurtured in order to come to full fruition.
We need to repent throughout our whole lives, not because that earns salvation, but because repentance is a cooperation with God so that He may bring salvation and personal transformation into every part of our humanity.
The occurrence of miracles
There are the “normal” miracles that occur such as the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but the more unusual miraculous gifts are typically practiced only by saints. The ability to heal spectacularly through prayer or to know the future, etc., are usually gifts given by God only to those who have spent a lot of time in asceticism and repentance, which make them humble and more likely to avoid the spiritual pride that so often affects modern-day “miracle workers.” Even in the New Testament, we do not see all believers working miracles. It is mostly just the apostles. There’s no indication that the kind of gifts God gives them are normal for everyone.
Miraculous gifts do continue within the Church, but they are not the norm, and they are also not regarded as being the proof of Orthodoxy’s authenticity. Miracles are often not widely advertised but taken rather to be normal in the sense of not being sensational.
Critiques of Roman Catholicism
The Roman Catholic Church accepts development of doctrine. Its own understanding of what that means is that the Church progresses in its understanding and expression of doctrine, not that new dogmas are actually introduced… Where the Orthodox differ is that we believe that—despite its self-understanding—Rome actually has introduced new dogmas.
Development of doctrine is possible in part because of the relationship Rome sees between faith and reason, in which reason tends to be placed on a higher level in Christian life than it is for the Orthodox Church.
The Roman Catholic faith is not “backwards compatible”… which means that a “good Catholic” from two hundred years ago could be in danger of excommunication were he alive today. For example, papal infallibility was denied by many Catholics, including bishops, until the official definition of the dogma in 1870 at the First Vatican Council. They all remained “good Catholics” before 1870. Now they would be excommunicated and under the anathema of the First Vatican Council.
Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio puts faith and reason on the same level as means to the truth: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know Himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
This kind of language is the reason Orthodox critics of Roman Catholicism describe it as rationalist—not just rational, but subjected to the demands of human rationality. Human reason becomes not merely a tool but rather the very criterion of truth. It is also the reason much of Roman Catholic spiritual life is legalist, because it is often concerned more with satisfying legal, philosophical categories than with addressing and healing spiritual realities.
Certain stream of Roman Catholic spirituality tend to be anthropocentric and materially focused. Instead of turning the eye of the soul away from this world, this kind of spirituality tends to focus on specifically earthy images and sensations.
In the religious arts, some visual examples of this kind of emphasis include Renaissance and Baroque art, with their highly sensual (and even erotic) character, and the realistic, three-dimensional statuary that is standard in church ornamentation.
…consider the imaginative spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits), self-flagellation, and other extreme forms of asceticism. All of these represent a fleshy, sensualistic approach to spiritual life. They are focused on the flesh and on the imagination.
Roman Catholic spirituality in practice is often legalist, as well. For instance, it is held as a sin not to fast, whereas Orthodoxy recognizes fasting as simply a tool. One may also find detailed lists of how to obtain indulgences out of purgatory, quantitative penances (“Say ten Hail Marys and one Our Father”), and the annulment of marriages as a means of circumventing the prohibition against divorce.
The Scriptures use the language of “debt” or “crime” in describing our sins against God, but it is not emphasized for the Orthodox as it has been for Rome, nor is there any complex system of satisfaction, merit, and indulgences. The Orthodox do not teach temporal punishment for sins that are forgiven, because forgiveness cancels out any kind of punishment. If God forgives someone, why would He still demand payment through satisfaction? This model denies the full power and implications of forgiveness in Christ’s death and resurrection. We agree that forgiveness of sins in absolution “does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused,” but what is needed is a reorientation of the human person so that he functions differently, not that he “make satisfaction for” his sins.
-Error of purgatory
[A problem] with purgatory is that it divides salvation into two parts: getting to heaven and being “purged” or paying off the debt of sin. The emphasis in everyday spiritual life is then placed on externalized works in order to reduce time in purgatory rather than personal transformation in order to unite with God. Christ’s saving work only suffices to get believers to heaven, but they still have to work themselves to be really free from sin. In some sense, full forgiveness can only ever be bought, with money, with good deeds, or with suffering in purgatory.
For Orthodoxy, it is even more nonsensical to suggest that one may essentially “buy” another person’s spiritual advancement by gaining indulgences on their behalf. We may affect another person’s life by our prayers, but we cannot exercise critical control over their spiritual experiences. Are spiritual realities so discrete and external to us that we can pay off the debt of punishment owed by another?
Critiques of Protestantism
-It constantly changes
Today, most Methodists would not be recognizable to John and Charles Wesley, nor would most Lutherans be recognizable to Martin Luther, nor most Calvinists to John Calvin.
As some of the Radicals attempted to read the Bible divorced from prior tradition, they began to revive some of the ancient heresies.
Almost every time there was a disagreement led by a charismatic theologian, a new denomination was formed.
-Emotional conversion process
Nowhere [in the Protestant conversion experience] is there a reference to entering the Church, the Body of Christ. Baptism is not necessarily involved. There is no sense that salvation itself critically involves anything other than escaping from hell after death. The only thing you are “saved” from is hell—the wrath of God. The whole process is essentially private, mental, and emotional. It is not required that there be an ongoing life of struggle against the sinful passions.
In historic Christianity, faith is not understood as a single, absolute certainty, based on a one-time experience of salvation. It is an active, ongoing movement toward and with God.
In its more radical forms, pietism is one of the most significant influences on all of modern-day Protestantism, especially Evangelicalism with its emphasis on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and its believers’ tendency to change denominational or congregational allegiances several times in life.
Pietism in one form or another affects nearly all Christians in the modern age, independent of their church membership. Even though it is not the tradition of the Orthodox Church, many individual Orthodox Christians themselves function in terms of pietism. My experience as a pastor has included helping people to heal from the damage caused by this movement. Christians who make sincerity the key to spiritual life often fall away when they feel that the flame of their zeal has cooled, that they don’t feel God’s presence, or that following the communal traditions of the Church no longer feels satisfying.
The individualism of pietism is also one of the currents that has affected the whole culture of the United States, which was founded in large part by English and German immigrants deeply influenced by this form of Christianity. It is not only in the realm of church life but also in politics, literature, music, marriage, parenting and so forth that pietism holds sway—the cultural measure of authenticity is how deeply you feel something for yourself, not whether you measure up to timeless truths or how you serve the larger community.
-Doctrine of the Great Apostasy
…most of the Radical Reformers, and indeed, now most Protestants of any stripe accepted some form of the Great Apostasy doctrine, even if only implicitly. The true Church must have disappeared entirely at some point, or else there would be no point in reinventing it or rediscovering it. Those who accept this doctrine must also accept the implication that the apostles fundamentally failed in their mission. Although the apostles practiced pure Christianity, they failed to pass it on to their disciples.
The Orthodox Church teaches, however, that the apostolic mission did not fail. One need only look at the writings of someone like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, to see that it was Orthodox Christianity, not Radical Reformation Protestantism, that was practiced by those who learned at the feet of the apostles. Indeed, through the first few centuries of the Church’s history, even before the time of Constantine, one of the marks of a church being trustworthy was that it could trace itself historically back to the apostles (this was explicitly witnessed to even in the second century by St. Irenaeus of Lyons). Apostolic succession was always defined by two elements: the continuity of the succession of the laying on of hands, and maintenance of the same apostolic faith. Orthodoxy has kept both up to the present time.
-The “Invisible Church”
And since Radicals had rejected sacraments and the priesthood, there was nothing anyone could offer the believer that he could not get for himself directly. Thus, the “invisible” Church, composed of all true believers, wherever they may be found, was the only one that mattered.
To paraphrase Father Josiah Trenham, the invisible church is a great name for something that doesn’t exist.
-The prosperity gospel
The focus on material wealth is diametrically opposed to Orthodox spirituality, which focuses instead on asceticism, giving up what we do not need in order to lighten ourselves for spiritual struggle against the passions. Earnestly seeking after possessions is detrimental to the soul. And while there is nothing wrong with asking God to alleviate poverty, we humbly accept our lot, whatever it may be. We cannot believe that it is always God’s will that we be healthy or prosperous—after all, such things are temporary anyway, and suffering with patience in this world often prepares us for the life of the age to come.
Orthodox Christians see Calvinism as monstrous, most especially because it depicts a God who arbitrarily saves some people and damns others, but also because God actually decrees the Fall of mankind. Such a “god” is not the God of a loving relationship, the gentle Christ who woos His bride, the Church. Rather, this is a capricious, erratic, vengeful “God,” who saves some men and damns others “for His glory” (a phrase used often by Calvin and turned into something of a slogan by Calvinists).
Puritanism also included a powerful work ethic, founded on the Calvinistic understanding of the predestination of the elect. It was believe that the elect would be materially successful in this life, and so Puritans and other Calvinists always worked hard out of a desire to prove their election to themselves and others.
In a very real sense, it was the Puritans’ need for assurance of their eternal election which led to the building of America.
[Quakers] do not officially hold to sola scriptura, because they believe that the Holy Spirit would never lead them astray in their interpretation of the Bible. Over time, however, this belief led to divisions among Quakers when they disagreed over where God was leading them.
…the Radicals distanced themselves from all the material elements of traditional Christianity. They retained no priesthood, no sacraments, no holy places, no asceticism, no place for visual beauty in worship. They did, however, retain a sense of community, if not really church as it had been understood for centuries. With all of those traditional defining elements of the sacred Christian community removed by the Radicals, revivalism took the next logical step and dispensed with the necessity for community altogether. Instead of church, a concrete, historical community governed by structure and dogma, revivalism was a movement, a popular current defined by enthusiasm, emotion, and personal charisma.
Because of the divorce from the historical Church, Evangelicalism has sought for a new way to satisfy the need or materiality. This is why such believers have welcomed pop music and rock-n-roll into their churches. It is why emotion is mistaken for spirituality. It is why sentiment is substituted for holiness. Sincere feeling is the authenticator. Instead of icons of Christ, whose piercing stare calls you to repentance, the Evangelical can go to a Christian bookstore and buy a soft-focus, long-haired picture of Jesus.
Evangelicalism has to keep changing, seeking after the latest new means of attracting church attendance, always looking for innovation. Churches in the evangelical tradition—especially non-denominational ones—may change doctrine every time they change pastors.
There is also a style of spiritual life and speaking that is now nearly ubiquitous in Evangelicalism—it is common, for instance, to hear average believers say with confidence that God is speaking directly to them.
I attended a service in Joel Osteen’s church. I had a lot to say about it in my book American Pilgrim, but what vividly stays with me is how loud it was. As if I were in a nightclub, it produced adrenaline and gave me a short-lived buzz that, I would guess, parishioners there confuse for God’s grace.
…various ministers from the old mainline Protestant denominations—Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Lutherans—began to declare their experience of being baptized in the Spirit. Some were speaking in tongues. Some would interpret those tongues. Some were practicing faith healing. Prophecies were claimed. Worship services started to resemble the more enthusiastic character of Pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism is not so much textual as viral. In some ways, it functions as a tradition, but without the usual limits placed by tradition. Ideas and practices are not propagated through historical processes or hierarchical determinations, but rather they function as communicable, memetic experiences.
…one of the things that Pentecostals share with the Orthodox is an appreciation of materiality when it comes to the spiritual life—something that distinguishes them from most Evangelicals and other Protestants, who tend to shun this as idolatry. The Orthodoxy believe that holiness can reside in physical things, including our own bodies, and so do Pentecostals. We may not engaged in “grave soaking” [lying on someone’s grave to receive their spiritual gifts], but we certainly do like to visit the graves of saints and ask for their prayers. And we do have the sense that physical touch can be an important part of our connection with the saints. Our dedication to physical beauty and love for the mystical experience of worship with all five senses may be for a Pentecostal seeker not merely familiar but more deeply fulfilling than what is available in Pentecostalism.
…Charismatics engaged in a process of appropriation of certain features of Pentecostalism. They retained the general structure of their existing church but began to include some Pentecostal elements in an attempt to renew church life.
Out of all Protestant groups, I believe it would be easiest for a Pentecostal to convert to Orthodoxy, which does have the genuine gifts they seek that come from God and not the demons.
Mormons practice what is called baptism for the dead, a proxy baptism for someone who has died. With this practice, Mormons believe they are converting people to Mormonism. Their concern for all their ancestors becoming Mormon is the reason for their strong interest in genealogy. Mormons are researching their family trees so that they can retroactively convert their ancestry to become Latter-day Saints.
Here is a selection of heresies that the book explains…
Antinomianism is a deduction from the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In antinomian thinking, if the believer is justified before God by his faith alone, then whether or not he lives a moral life is not critical and therefore optional.
Paired with the doctrine of eternal security—the teaching that it is impossible to lose salvation once you have it—antinomianism leads the Christian to believe that, because he’s “been saved,” he will go to heaven after death, even if he leads a life of selfishness and evil after his conversion to Christ.
Some of the communities that arose from the Radical Reformation (especially certain Baptists) profess the doctrine of soul competency. In this doctrine, each individual soul is ultimately responsible before God for its salvation. While the Orthodox can agree with this teaching in its essence (personal responsibility), these Baptists and others also hold it to mean that each believer has the full authority to interpret the Scripture for himself without correction from some other authority. The soul competency doctrine makes “every man his own pope” into a dogma.
The Radicals’ approach to Scripture also led to congregationalism, that each local congregation is completely autonomous and may not be corrected by any authority outside itself. In some cases, this makes the local pastor a sort of “pope” in his own right, but in most congregations, it means that democratic rule controls not only the “business” side of the church, but even questions of doctrine and the hiring and firing of clergy.
A rejection of the material world in the Christian life is essentially an embrace of pagan philosophical dualism or of the fifth-century heresy of Nestorius, who taught that the “spiritual” Son of God and the “physical” Jesus Christ were two separate persons.
The dualism of Evangelicalism extends beyond the sacramental life. Without a sense of the essential physical element of spiritual life, Christian anthropology suffers—we’re dealing with only part of what it means to be human. If your body doesn’t really matter, there is no need for asceticism. (Eat, drink, and be merry!) How could fasting, vigils, and specific periods of sexual chastity have any effect on the spiritual life? All of these kinds of practices, which are evident in Holy Scripture, are rendered meaningless in the dualistic worldview. While some discussion or observance of these practices does exist among Evangelicals, they are normally absent. If they are present at all, they are regarded as occasional acts of extraordinary piety rather than as a regulative lifestyle that trains the body to be submissive to the soul and thus brings salvation even to the body.
The problem that impacts the Armenian Church I left, monophysitism, is also discussed.
Overall, Father Andrew’s book was packed with useful information. For me it served as a textbook to understand the modern religious landscape and how a multitude of people continue to fall for ancient heresies that were long ago debunked by the Church or who believe in outright fabrications of lying men. To prevent yourself from falling for such a fabrication, and to help lead others away from lies, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy is a useful tool.
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