apologetic

Against Modern Heresies, Simply Stand and Practice

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.

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch

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.

A Response to Paul Talbot

In response to my article,  The Ever-Virgin Mary:  My Bull’s-Eye Theory,  I received this response from Paul Talbot.  I have never met him.  I am a bit suspicious if this is a friend of mine trying to pick my brain (what little I have), or if this is someone who frequently post opinions against those who do not hold to his interpretation of Christianity.

Mary was a virgin through-out her life. Not true and this article offers NO evidence for that statement at all, it only attacks and attempts to discredit the substantial evidence against the statement.

This belief was central in early church doctrine, Not true. The early church knew Jesus brothers. One of them, James, led the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James in the bible, another wrote the book of Jude in the bible.

continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, True.

and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers. True, because they had been indoctrinated all their lives by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

I confess that I am not the best at apologetics.  But, here is my attempt.  I recommend  the Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy Blog as a far better resource for defending Orthodox Christian doctrine.  

Dear Sir,

I mean you no personal insult.  I am afraid that your criticism of my article shows you have not considered basic Biblical language translation, ancient and eastern culture, and that you overlooked the main point of the article and (thus) failed to put up a legitimate argument against it.

In at least nine other verses of scripture, it is written that Jesus has brothers.  However, the language of the New Testament was not English.  It was Greek.  In the oldest Greek translations of the Bible, the word generally translated “brother” is adelphos.  Adelphos literally means “kinsman” which can be taken as “brother, cousin, fellow countryman” or even “fellow believer.”  This word is used some 80 times in the New Testament as Paul used it frequently to describe his relationship to other Christians.  Thus, the “brothers” of Jesus may have just as well been his first cousins, or close childhood friends.

A glimpse of ancient culture will give some clarity to this term “Brother.”  Jesus was brought up in a culture that regarded general kinship.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham as stated in Genesis 11:27-31.  But, in Genesis 13:8 and 14:14, 16, the text clearly does not use the term “nephew.”  The term used is “brother,” which in Hebrew is ‘ach (fellow tribesman, or blood relative).  So, even when the Hebrew is translated into Greek (the Greek language Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament used by the Apostles as it was written some 200 years before the birth of Christ), the word adelphos was used indicating no specific relationship between the two men other than the fact that they were kinsmen.  By the way, in Strong’s Concise Concordance (I am using this and Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible), the term “nephew appears only twice in the Old Testament with neither reference referring to the story of Abraham and Lot.

No, my article had no “proof” that Mary was ever-virgin.  That was not the main point.  But, since proof is what you wish to criticize me on, I ask you what is your proof that Mary had marital sex and bore these James, Jude, and the other “brothers.”  See that I have given you the argument of the languages and culture from a text that you can readily obtain and are probably familiar with.  But, I would also ask that you dive even deeper into the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and others were of the same generation of and one or two generations removed from the Apostles.  Almost every time they mention her name, they call her the Virgin Mary.  Consider this, if she had other children, why would anyone have continued to call her a virgin?  And in every version of the Nicene Creed (the oldest accepted in 325 AD and revised in 381, both of which are older than the canonized Holy Scriptures of 398) she is the Virgin Mary.  So, if you have some proof that the earliest interpreters and translators of the Old and New Testaments are wrong, please set up a blog site and post what you have found.  Let me know when you posted this.

Again, the meat of my article had little to do with offering proof of Mary’s Virginity.  My point was that believing in Mary as ever-virgin (whether Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, or Orthodox Christian) can help us strive for sexual purity.  The aim for us is to flee adultery and fornication whether it is the act or even the thought of them.  Of course, we Christians aim to be Christ-like.  Second only to Him (both fully human and fully divine) is His mother who was the fully human “maidservant of the Lord.”  A maidservant dedicates her body, mind, and spirit to the service of her Master.  Likewise, our aim is to dedicate our whole selves to our Master, God the Holy Trinity.  An ever-virgin Mary (with her Son and our God) makes the perfect target for us to aim for; that we would seek to keep ourselves pure as she did so that Christ can be a part of us and born in us as she was.   If a person cannot maintain sexual control, then let him find a wife or her husband and keep their sexual activity for that spouse (as Paul advised the Corinthians in his first epistle 7:1-9).  It makes sense for us to aim for the highest level of purity (the bull’s-eye) and feel confident in attaining the second (the inner circle around the bull’s eye).

Since you chose to disregard the main point of my article, I am curious to know how your perception of Mary can help lead someone to sexual purity.  By believing Mary to be either unwilling or unable to set aside her sexual desires (even within a legitimate marriage) to be the Lord’s handmaiden, where then is your example for people to set aside his (or hers) for the greater purpose of God?  If you deny the dart thrower the ability to hit the bull’s-eye (celibacy for God’s glory), how then can he best focus on the inner circle (faithful, heterosexual marriage)?  If your doctrine of rejecting Mary’s ever virginity, in fact or theory as my article was a theory, gives someone a high point to aim for in the struggle for control of sensual desires, I would like to read your blog article.  As I mentioned earlier, I would be glad to read your work on your site.

Also, you failed to answer the question I posted in the first paragraph of my article you challenged:  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?  James and Jude were alive.  Why were they not chosen for the task?  Do you have any proof that they were somehow less worthy to care for their own blood mother than a disciple?  I would like for you to provide proof with your answer.