Crossposted from my Facebook account:
So I wrote this note more as an official declaration than anything, although those closest to me already knew the announcement I'm about to make.
I am leaving Western Christianity in general-- and the Churches of Christ in particular, and joining the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Perhaps I should give some background.
I haven't had any huge struggles in my spiritual life recently; no massive existential crisis that left me adrift in a sea of confusion. So you don't have to worry about that. I never doubted Christ, even if I have questioned the hows and whys of certain things. To be honest, I was dealing with a certain amount of dissatisfaction in my personal life and also in what I saw around me. I was not quite the person I wanted to be, but who is? I wasn't entirely comfortable with my Church, but these criticisms were on a more personal level, and church is corporate, not individual. I had always frowned upon people who whined "I'm not getting spiritually fed" and similar criticisms, and tried to make the Church reflect what they wanted. I would not be that person, I decided.
I had also been reading. I had read Athanasius, and Augustine, and occasionally snippets from other early Christians. These men were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, followers of the same God as I. You could see it in their writings. When Athanasius describes how Christ reconciles us to God through his life, death, and resurrection, I knew this man was genuine, and would know more about God-- and know Him better-- than I could ever hope to. When Augustine cried that all men's souls were restless until they found rest in God, I recognized a kindred spirit. I knew that, despite the distance in time and space, Augustine and I worshipped the same God, though he had more certainty and honesty than I could muster.
I also-- slowly, of course-- began to understand that the Christianity of these men looked different than my own. They worshipped differently. Prayed differently. It made me wonder, at times. I suppose you could say I was being prepared. Nudged, bit-by-bit, out of my old patterns of thinking. Other Christian churches were no less valid for different forms of worship, was that not the heart of the first precept of the Stone-Campbell movement? The Churches of Christ hold to three principles: "We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only." "No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible." "In essentials unity; in opinions liberty; in all things love." I might question some things, but not this. These were good teachings. Not a bad hill to plant your standard on, all things considered. So I resolved to stay where I was, and deal with whatever issues I had personally.
A few months later, I got a wake up call. I had just finished a book by Rodney Stark called "The Victory of Reason". It's a good book; It explains how Western history was pushed in a positive direction by Christianity. I recommend you check it out. Anyway, I was having an online discussion about the book with a friend of mine. We began mentioning how Christianity-- and this is a key point of the book-- has developed over time, how it has changed in certain ways that led to the development of the free market, to the enlightenment, etc.
My friend responded with the assertion that Christ's message has not changed. It doesn't "develop", it doesn't "mature" over time-- it was delivered "once for all". Our duty, he said, was to maintain fidelity to the teachings of Christ and his Apostles, and to share them with others. Nothing more, nothing less. And what he said... *spoke* to me. It seemed to take into account my hesitations, my issues with what I thought, what I believed... It was an authoritative answer, but it shined with truth.
I asked him what Church he went to. He said he didn't merely go to "a" church, but he was in "the" Church, the very one founded at Pentecost. The Orthodox Church. That thread was quickly deleted, but we got together over email. I hammered him with questions. How can you prove that? He pointed to doctrines and practices that hadn't changed since the beginning. Immersion baptism. *BAM*. I knew from my education at KCU that the early believers immersed, and that pouring/sprinkling had been an innovation added later. Score one for the Orthodox Church. There were others. I ordered books. I read. I looked about online, at resources there.
Like the Roman Catholics, they could point to a unbroken lineage to the first century. Unlike the Roman Catholics, however, they could point out that purgatory, indulgences, papal supremacy/infallibility, and other accretions were never adopted by the Orthodox Church, as they were in the West. There was never a Protestant Reformation in the Orthodox Church, as there was nothing to reform.
It was a journey both easy and difficult at the same time. So much was familiar, so much rang true. But other things looked odd and knocked me for a loop. I read the explanations, the apologias for the how and the what and the why of Orthodox faith and practice. And the things I didn't agree with, I admitted were possibly true, as my disagreement stemmed from personal opinion rather than concrete proof.
Looking into history, it was easy to see the wildly different directions East and West took after the first united millennium. The Eastern Orthodox Church changed no essential doctrines. The West did, and often. As I spent months studying, searching, praying... I came to the conclusion that if any Church on Earth could claim to be the New Testament Church, it was the Holy Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church.
Something you must understand about the denomination I came from. The Churches of Christ seek to return to the New Testament Church. They take the Church described in Scripture, and try as much as is possible to emulate it (with varying levels of success). What I was taught in the Churches of Christ was to respect the earliest believers and to follow their example. They have a deep respect and affection for the first century Church. And it is this respect and affection I had implanted in me. So when it slowly began to dawn on me that the Orthodox Church was not some man-made denomination, that they had successfully kept the faith through persecution and division, through war and peace, that they were the Church of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Athanasius, Augustine... I knew that I must join. I must become Orthodox.
It is not that the Churches of Christ is bad, or heretical, or anything like that. They have a portion of the truth-- love for the First century Church and for Scripture gets them that far, at least. But I have found the "real thing", the Church which the Churches of Christ (and all other denominations, for that matter), are a dim reflection of. I have found the truth in its fullness, complete and unchanged from the very beginning. I have many family and friends in the Churches of Christ. And I still love all of you, and will go on loving all of you. But I cannot continue on with you, not in the Churches of Christ. Knowing what I now know, I cannot sit in your pews, listen to your sermons (though they teach good things), sing your songs (though they are beautiful). It would be a betrayal. I can no longer embrace the lowest common denominator held to by the Stone-Campbell movement, now that I have seen the wholeness of the truth. I cannot cling to the driftwood of Restorationism, not with the Ark of Salvation plunging through the waves of this world, offering passage to all who would climb aboard.
Some of you may take this as an insult, and as a challenge. It is neither, nor do I intend it to be. But exclusive claims are often taken that way, so I felt I had to make that clear. I am simply trying to explain to everyone who reads this why I am becoming Orthodox, why I am making such a distant journey, in thought and deed and belief.
Feel free to make comments, or ask questions, or say anything else that is on your heart.
And there were comments. All of them were gracious, though some took object with some of the Orthodox Church's claims-- declaring oneself to be the One, Universal, Apostolic, Undivided Church is sure to raise hackles, not only among those who believe their church to be so, but also among those who don't believe in anything other than "denominations". Still, I was appreciative of all the comments, though of course I couldn't agree with all of them.
And this note being what it was, I didn't respond in an "apologetic" fashion, though I think I could have done so. One thing that stuck with me-- surprised me, actually-- was a comment of one of my professors. In it, he said the goal of the Stone-Campbell movement (the source of the "Churches of Christ"/"non-denominational" Christian churches) was to "get back to the beliefs of the early church, but not necessarily all of their practices." This shocked me. You see, I had always been taught the goals of the "Restoration" movement was to restore the early Church. That is, at least, the way it has always been taught.
But here was a professor who admitted-- no slouch to history, he-- that certain practices of the early Church were not admitted into the Churches of Christ. Which ones he is referring to, I do not know. But having researched myself, I know there are many beliefs and practices of the Church which Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell jettisoned as "later additions"-- such as infant baptism, the office of bishop, the Eucharist being the body and blood and not merely "symbol devoid of reality"-- and thus never made it into the "Restored Church".
I think that was the first time I breathed a sigh of relief to be, finally, Orthodox. To rest behind walls built of martyr brick and saint mortar, to know that-- no matter how fierce and all-consuming the storm outside is-- these walls will never fall, because Jesus Christ himself promised that they would not.