Religion is an open market in America. Christianity in this nation is no exception. Though we all claim to serve the same God, the fact that there are about 40,000 different denominations and non denominations all claiming to preach and teach the Gospel is quite confusing. The doctrines of these churches tend to change with popular opinion and worship styles with the latest trends. A good friend who studied at Duke University’s School of Divinity shared a profound quote with me some years ago. “Let the church be the church. Let the world be the world. And let the church offer something different from the world.” With the wide variety of doctrine and practice being governed by the world and not by an ancient and holy standard, it is no wonder there is such confusion about true faith in this country. The 40,000 church “church” is no different from the world that honors all opinions and considers all opinions valid.
The Orthodox Church provides the unchanged historic and spiritual link between Jesus Christ and the world. Thus, when we hear doctrines and see practices that are well out of line with Holy Tradition (including and especially the Bible that we canonized), many of us would like to shout “heretic” to the top of our lungs and carry out a crusade against those who teach such doctrines. Knowing the horrific struggles of our forefathers from the righteous martyrs of our first 300 years to the modern sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East in defense of the faith, we can’t help but to be offended by distortions of the Gospel.
Before we pick up bricks and throw them at our critics, let us first consider ourselves and our own sinfulness. As the accusers with the adulterous woman, it is way too easy for us to drag the wicked before Christ and not address our own wickedness first (and I am stepping on my own toes here as well). Our Lord made it imperative for us to carry our crosses, not to throw stones. It is impossible to carry one thing and throw something else with efficiency and effectiveness. Those who would throw condemn themselves. Those who will carry receive the blessing.
In reading the Syriac version of St. Ignatius’s second letter tho the Ephesians, this advice may be the best way for we Orthodox Christians to confront those who we disagree with:
Pray for all men; for there is hope of repentance for them, that they may be counted worthy of God. By your works especially let them be instructed. Against their harsh words be ye conciliatory, by meekness of mind and gentleness. Against their blasphemies do ye give yourselves to prayer; and against their error be ye armed with faith. Against their fierceness be ye peaceful and quiet, and be ye not astounded by them. Let us, then, be imitators of our Lord in meekness, and strive who shall more especially be injured, and oppressed, and defrauded. (chapter 10)
I think that we really have to be patient with people with these doctrines. Unless we were born into an Orthodox family, it wasn’t that long ago that we were Protestants and Nondenominationals. Unless you grew up in Alaska or near an immigrant neighborhood in Pittsburgh or some similar city, you wouldn’t have known an onion dome from indoor football stadium. In all honesty, even “cradles” don’t know everything about Orthodoxy. So, we shouldn’t demand that our heterodox neighbors and friends readily jump and accept what little we are able to tell them about the faith.
There isn’t a need for us to run and see who we can pick theological fights with. Chances are, someone will step to us instead. When they do, simply stand on the truth that you have received and come to know for yourself. And we can stand not simply because we know the right scripture verses and can quote the right desert fathers. We can stand because we participate in the services, prayers, fasting, and love of the Church. We can stand as we seek God’s mercy and humble ourselves before Him and show our love for the holiest of icons; man who was made in His image and likeness. Stand and practice the faith.