An Answer Seeking an Articulation

For me, 2005 was a watershed year in much of my thinking both in terms of philosophy and theology. In 2005 I solidified my understanding of why it was that I was attracted to and felt it utterly important to promote so-called “ancient philosophy” (in part through a couple of books by Pierre Hadot, as well as in clarifying my thinking on the “problem” of free will). It was also in 2005 that I finally came to understand that the theology of the ancient (indeed New Testament) Church was not simply a collection of doctrine or a set of principles, but an embodied way of life.

It was also in 2005 that Perry Robinson sent me a copy of his essay “Anglicans in Exile,” which helped me address the criticism that I was choosing to become Orthodox on the basis of mere preference. Some of that criticism would have at the time appeared to have been justified. After all, hadn’t I gone from the Stone-Campbell/Restoration Movement Churches to the Episcopal Church/Anglican tradition and was (then) looking at moving to Orthodoxy? Wasn’t this simply changing churches again? For me the answer was always no. I was not then becoming, and I am not now, Orthodox simply because I liked it better than all the alternatives, or because it has far more points of attraction to me than anything else. If that were my only attraction to Orthodoxy–the liturgy, the “ancient-ness,” the “this-isn’t-lowest-common-denominator” religion, or whatever–then as soon as I was more strongly attracted to something else (even to nothing), I would simply migrate away from Orthodoxy. Once the gravitational attraction was less than that necessary to keep me in orbit, I would just float away to be captured by something else.

My move to Anglicanism (in the Episcopal Church) was not a move from attraction to Anglicanism per se. Which is why I later moved out of Anglicanism. I was searching for something far deeper. But it was hard, in 2005, to articulate positive reasons for moving to Orthodoxy aside from I preferred it. I wasn’t a consumer shopping about for my latest sustained impulse. I was, at the risk of coming off as melodramatic, a drowning man looking for his salvation.

Perry’s article, now posted on his blog, helped me to articulate substantive and positive reasons for becoming Orthodox that went beyond mere preference and helped me to defend against what appeared externally to be church-shopping.

I commend the article to you, but caution that it will not be for the faint of heart nor for those who haven’t some background in broad historical and theological matters.

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Restoration Movement Christian to Orthodox Catechumen

For whatever reason, being a catechumen of the Orthodox Church has given me the impetus to reflect on the last seven years of Orthodox inquiry as well as on my heritage churches, the self-described Restoration Movement churches.  Although I think it fair to say that my time as an Anglican (Episcopalian) helped me in the transition from my non-liturgical background into Orthodoxy, it has been my Restorationist heritage that has most shaped me, and, in some respects, most prepared me for Orthodoxy.

This past Sunday, at a post-service breakfast with Father Patrick, Khouria Denise, and two other young men who’ve been coming to All Saints, one of the gentlemen shared with me how his brother had married a young woman from the a capella churches of Christ.  He himself being cradle Orthodox had little idea about these churches, and wondered at the notion that his brother (also cradle Orthodox) would find it possible to be involved with those churches, so I gave a couple of points of strong affinity between Restorationist churches and Orthodoxy.

Indeed, in the summer of 2000, after my first incredibly disappointing, even wrenching, semester at the Episcopal seminary, one of the things I was struck by, as I investigated the Orthodox Church, was how many Restoration Movement Christians there were who’d become Orthodox.  I read many of their testimonies online.

I was thinking about this phenomenon of Restoration Movement affinities with Orthodoxy in particular on the drive home from teaching my business ethics class last night, and thought there are several specific touchstones at which Restorationist belief and practice strongly parallel Orthodox belief and practice.  I want to reflect on these in this post.

But first a disclaimer: the Restoration Movement churches have no official institutional organ which aligns, coordinates and enforces similarity of belief and practice, so to the things I’ll be mentioning there are likely to have several exceptions depending upon the Restorationist church you run into.  The most famous example: the use of instruments in worship.  The non-instrumental churches of Christ agree with their other Restorationist brethren that Scripture is silent on the matter, there are no express commands one way or another (which doesn’t stop some from trying to find those express commands).  However, the a capella churches interpret that silence to be prohibitive while the other Restorationist churches interpret that silence to be liberative.   Also, even the same congregations in which I grew up as a youth have changed somewhat on some of their practices (divorce, for example), so that what I will describe is my past experience, which may not be applicable today.

But there are the following touchstones of similarity that I want to touch on: baptismal regeneration and its Trinitarian nature and its form, frequency of observance of the Lord’s Supper, divorce, male leadership, and, ultimately, its allegiance to an undivided, normative New Testament Church.

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Askesis: The Biggest Failure of My Heritage Churches

I’ve written in several posts about my faith heritage in the Restoration (or Stone-Campbell) Movement churches. Some people, when as adults they choose a new religious heritage or identity, one different from that in which they were raised, tend to first relate to their heritage faith antagonistically, emphasizing the failures and blindspots, and how their new found heritage or identity so much better addresses the various realities with which they are confronted. A converted atheist of all people is the most certain of the claim that religion is nothing more than infantile superstition having nothing to do with reason.

In my case, however, I cannot consciously recall ever having any reaction of that sort. I certainly have spoken of what I take to be the failures and weaknesses of my heritage faith, but the fact of the matter is, I know my heritage churches to have many strengths, and have never really considered myself alien to those churches, even in pursuing membership in the Episcopal churches and (now) in the Orthodox Church. If I were ever very critical of my heritage faith, it was while still a student at one of the Restoration Movement Bible colleges–which is what one normally expects of ministry students. From my Restoration heritage I learned to love Jesus, his Church and his written Word. I learned the importance of growing in my understanding and living of that written Word, and of loving my brother or sister in Christ. Equally as important, I learned the importance of speaking the Gospel of my Lord to those with whom I came in contact.

These disclaimers being stated, however, I do want to speak about one glaring weakness of my heritage churches: the failure to develop an asketic of growth in faith and holiness, and concomitantly, the distortion of the biblical asketic.
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