Fr. Andrew Damick

There Is An Alternative: Letter To A Frustrated Friend

I’m thinking about crossing over to the easy happy-side of “gospel” where there are no requirements only rewards.

Dear Cotton-Candy Christians: God is not an ATM. The Commandments are not suggestions. And Church is not a pep-rally.

What is the point of the gospel if we keep moving the boundaries to fit around our desires & actions?

Dear Terrance,

Please forgive me for addressing you on my blog.  But, look at the bright side.  I did change your name to protect the innocent 🙂 .

All jokes aside, reading your statements on Facebook yesterday reminds me of the questions I have asked myself for years about our Protestant church and the direction it is heading in.  You always considered me a “hard brother” in part because I used to cut against the grain of what was popular among ministers and ministries.  I was hardened by the fact that I didn’t like what I saw in many areas of our faith and practice and could not find any firm alternative.  It seems that you are coming around to my realm of frustrations of our modern Christianity.  But, I am not as frustrated as I used to be because I have found the answer.  Let me address each of your gripes listed.

Me with St. Cyprian of Carthage (© John Gresham)

Me with St. Cyprian of Carthage (© John Gresham)

“I’m thinking about crossing over to the easy happy-side of “gospel” where there are no requirements only rewards.”  Of course, we know that Christianity was an outlaw religion during the first 300 years of its existence.  Yet, there were believers like Anthony were so dedicated to the Gospel that he left his desert hermitage to visit his imprisoned brothers & sisters with the hopes that he too would be martyred.  Then a funny thing happened.  Some guy name Constantine became emperor and legalized Christianity.  Not only weren’t people scared to be Christians, they readily accepted the faith because it was the “in” thing to do.  Folk thought it would look good on their resumes and social networks to practice the faith that the emperor just legitimized.  Hardcore believers like Anthony went right back to the deserts and built wilderness monasteries to get away from the “rah-rah” believers.  Those who could not afford to make such a drastic move visited and learned disciplines of prayer, fasting, reading the scriptures, and made it a point to live to love and do good to others.  Of course I see the sarcasm of your statement.  Apparently, the model of Anthony who truly followed Christ fits your walk better than the Joel Ostiens of what passes for Christianity.

I absolutely loved your second statement.  “Dear Cotton-Candy Christians: God is not an ATM. The Commandments are not suggestions. And Church is not a pep-rally.”  You mean there should be something more to our faith than sugar and fluff?  As you know, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  St. Isaac the Syrian’s words cut across the grain of the “cotton-candy” of his time.  Our lives are given to us for repentance, the very first thing Jesus preached after his fasting and temptations and going into Galilee.  Repentance doesn’t attract people the same way revenue does.  Repentance used to be a part of the church life of the Christian.  The Catholics abused the practice.  We Protestants threw it out of the church completely.  Well, that left a vacuum that is now being filled with rich preachers telling people they can be rich if they make them rich first.  Commandments?  Why do that when one can coddle and comfort?  When people are coddled and comforted, they are more likely to give up the cash.  And what makes crowds feel like giving into empty promises like a good pep rally?  If it is “anointed” and “spirit-filled”  people can put their mortgage payments on the pulpit knowing that the pastor will bless their offering.  Only latter they will find themselves homeless as pastor flies away in his new jet.  The empty and meaningless pursuit of wealth is one of the vain things Christ tried to warn us against in the Gospels and through the saints.  There is another quote from Isaac that when applied to one’s walk protects us against sugar coating like a fluoride tooth paste:  The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.  

And now for the most cutting question you raised. “What is the point of the gospel if we keep moving the boundaries to fit around our desires & actions?”  In 1054, the Bishop of Rome wasn’t satisfied with having only a position of honor among his brothers and the concept of three equal persons of the Trinity.  So, he shunned his fellows and made himself the head of the whole church and relegated the Holy Spirit as being subject to the Father and Son.  Later, a ticked-off German monk with some nearby printing presses felt it was fine for everyone to interpret the Bible with or without the Holy Tradition that put the books together in the first place (he made his point by replacing the apostle’s version of the Old Testament with the one made up by later Pharisees).  Then a Swiss lawyer came up with the idea that one is blessed or damned no matter what they say or do.  And today, we have 33,000 different churches based on whatever popular man or woman says, “MY BIBLE TELLS ME.”  In such circumstances, the gospel is little more than one’s source of entertainment and self-assurance.

Terrance, I am not asking you to do anything drastic.  But, I have found Eastern Orthodox Christianity to be the perfect and only real alternative to the circus that is modern Protestantism.  This is the faith, practice, tradition, and worship that was handed down from Jesus Christ to the apostles, to the church fathers.  The church has not changed from the seven ecumenical councils and is still alive today.  Why not take the time to explore Orthodoxy for yourself?  You like comparisons and putting one side vs. the other to make the best choice.  Father Andrew Damick put up one of the best side by side comparisons you’ll find anywhere.   http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodoxyheterodoxy.  There are several Orthodox Churches within a 15 mile radius of your home.  Call the priest and visit when you can.  With your education, I don’t suspect you to convert quickly, if at all.  I suspect you will make rational arguments against the faith.  But, I have told you about my journey months ago and you have been strangely silent.

If Orthodox Christianity is not the alternative to the “tom-foolery” that you railed against last night, please write back and tell me what is wrong with the direction that I am walking.  Because some time after 2015, I could convert.  But if you cannot come up with an alternative to the persistent degeneration of the Protestant Christian faith into sugar and fluff, may God make a way for you and I both to embrace the ancient faith.

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The Flaw of Faith Alone: (Part one) Lack Of Evidence

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:26

Flight with Two Wings (© John Gresham)

This is the first of 3 sermons I will preach about our need for good works to show that we have faith in God.  My next sermon will come from Matthew 25:31-46 and the final from Acts 2:42-47.  I am grateful for the lectures on “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy” from Father Andrew Stephen Damick for inspiring me to preach on this topic.  I pray that I  will correct myself by the grace of the Holy Spirit and lead others to correction as well.

THE FLAW OF FAITH ALONE:  (PART ONE) LACK OF EVIDENCE

James 2:14-26

(Introduction)  The Protestant Reformation leaders were right in pointing out the abuses of Medieval Catholicism, including the sale of indulgences and stressing works as a means to salvation.

(antithesis) In many of our doctrines, we ignore the point that good works are necessary as they are evidence that we have faith in Jesus Christ.  As a result of our lack of this sound evidence, we run around looking for false ones.

(thesis) We must commit ourselves to good works as well as having our faith secured by believing in the Gospel.

(relevant question)  Why are good works important?

(points)

  • evidence of compassion (vv. 15-17)
  • evidence of distinction (vv. 18-20)
  • evidence of awareness of God’s will (vv.21-26)

(conclusion)