Part 2: A critique of the Orthodox Church.
Of course reality isn’t quite as simple as I made it sound in the previous essay. Orthodoxy has an internally consistent, scripturally based, theologically sound, empirically verifiable claim: The unity Christians seek is a God-given unity which has never been lost, and, as a Divine gift and an essential mark of Christian existence, could not have been lost.” [From the previously mentioned 1957 Orthodox statement in response to the developing ecumenical movement.]
But then, there’s also Jesus’ conversation with the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37. (This was the Gospel lesson the week before last – Nov 15 – which got me thinking once again about George Hunsinger’s little tome, Ecumenism and the Eucharist.) The lawyer wanted Jesus to explain a small point of the Torah: “Who’s my neighbor?” In classic Jesus-speak, Jesus answered that question indirectly by means of another question: “What should I personally do in such-and-such a situation?”
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
I’m going to assume you all know the layers and ironic incongruities of this story, so I won’t preach a sermon here. Rather I will comment on Jesus’ point: Some things are bigger than the Torah. …
Well, technically that’s not true because there are a very few things might lay claim to being bigger than the Torah. Let me rephrase that …
Many things are bigger than our conception and practice of the Torah, no matter how perfectly (the Greek word telos that word came up in the previous essay) we have achieved the understanding and practice of the Law. A rigorous adherence to the Law (or to perfect theology – or perfect church – for that matter) can blind us to the most obvious realities. Good theology absolutely applied can keep us from doing what we ought (ie, “Agape” love), and love trumps any conception – no matter how humanly perfect – of the true Church.
“Love never ends … Our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
And this brings us full circle to the Orthodox view of ecumenism. The Orthodox Church is the true church. There is no “going forward in order to return to Nicene Christianity” (which is the underlying principle of Faith & Order style ecumenism). There is no going back (which is the underlying principle of the various primitivist movements); there is only entering into Christ’s church, which takes its form on earth as the Orthodox Church. But if we Orthodox apply this Truth without love, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church will indeed become The Church of Borg: You will be assimilated; resistance is futile.
I firmly believe there is another option. The 1957 Greek Orthodox statement on unity turned the ecumenical question into an either/or problem. And as scandalous as some the Ecumenical Patriarch’s ecumenical activities have been, he at least (in contrast to those who drafted the 1957 statement) recognizes ecumenism is not an either/or problem.
I’m not trying to be hyper-Calvinist, but the “You will be assimilated; resistance is futile” mantra that the Orthodox tend to apply to the Church might better be applied to Christ himself. It is Christ who is drawing everyone to himself. And when we resist the Truth, it is not the Orthodox Church we are resisting, it is the nudging of the Holy Spirit.
And if Christ chooses to assimilate believers who are not Orthodox into his very life outside the confines of the Orthodox Church, that’s his business. Of course, he’ll have to answer to the Bishop. Everyone’s answerable to the Bishop in these matters, but I think Christ can handle himself on that front (wink, wink).
But all joking aside, there is empirically verifiable evidence that precisely that sort of thing has happened frequently to Protestant saints. And this is the fundamental paradox of the ecumenical question. The Protestants are the Samaritans of the Jesus’ story. They are beyond the pale, but they are ones who are doing the right thing.
Even George Hunsinger admits his proposal is a pipe dream, but for a moment let’s just imagine that it comes to fruition. Will those fully realized and ecumenicalized Protestants be assimilated into the Orthodox Church? They will certainly be assimilated into Christ because if they reach that “fully realized and ecumenicalized” state they will have passed through their own veil and into the light of day. But whether the Orthodox Church has anything to do with it is a toss-up. For that to happen, the Orthodox would have to remove its own shroud, and that’s a different story than this essay tells.
As Jesus so deftly reminds us in his answer to the lawyer, the true follower of Christ is not always who we expect.