MacArthur and the Principle of Charity

How do we read even our opponents? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s a rule in debates of any kind that if there are at least two possible readings of a text and you have no good reason to prefer one to the other, you go with the one that puts your opponent in the best light. You would want him to do the same to you if he thought your statements were ambiguous. If you don’t understand a concept also, you should not put it in a way that is absolutely ludicrous.

So let’s look at something John MacArthur is claimed to have said. My friend who shared it is a Catholic and I have not known him to post false information so if this was never said, I will gladly rescind any comments about MacArthur, but the concept will still be the same because this is a common mistake. Anyway, it all begins with this picture.

I understand a lot of my fellow Protestants get antsy when they hear the phrase “Mother of God” and I will be discussing that concern later on, but no matter how much you might think Catholicism is false whether you just disagree with it or whether you think it’s the biggest cult on Earth, and I am indeed the former, let’s state something about what is meant by Mother of God. The fact is that no Catholic takes it to mean something along the lines of, “God did not exist and then Mary came along and Mary gave birth to God and God came into existence at that point.” Every Catholic knows that God in His divine essence was not born. God is eternal. They do know that a man named Jesus who is both God and man was born. That is what is meant.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to accept every bit of Mariology that comes from Catholics and Orthodox, but it does mean that you can accept this term when it is understood. If by Mother of God, one means that Mary gave birth to a person who is fully God and fully man and brought the incarnation into the world through her body, there is not a problem. Protestants agree that Mary was the one to do this and to this degree, she should indeed be honored even in Protestant circles. While I think Catholics and Orthodox have gone too far with Mary, I think the Protestant reaction has gone too far in the other direction.

Now let’s address something a Protestant friend said in the discussion. Catholics should say what they mean. When people hear Mother of God, they do tend to think something along the lines of God came into being through Mary. Why not let them just say what they mean then?

The problem here is that everyone does theological shorthand. Were you to go up to Protestant Evangelicals and ask “Is Jesus God?”, they would say yes. Now you go to someone like Greg Stafford, who is a Jehovah’s Witness who wrote a book defending them. He will take that and go this way.

Jesus is God.
God is a Trinity.
Jesus is a Trinity.

Obviously, no one accepts this, but Stafford will use it to show the Trinity is nonsense if you think Jesus is God. Some will look at this and say, “I know it’s wrong, but I don’t see where.” The problem is the first premise is theological shorthand. Evangelicals don’t go around stating the doctrine as “Jesus is the man in whom the fullness of the divine nature, the second person of the Trinity, dwells in bodily form.” No. We just speak of the deity of Christ and say Jesus is God hoping people will understand rather than use a long and clunky phrase every time.

Getting back to the picture itself, the reality is MacArthur should know enough about Catholicism to know this. I could grant some grace to Joe Protestant who doesn’t walk in highly theological circles and hears this phrase and reacts that way. On the other hand, how much better would our discussions be if we would go to our opponents over ideas like this and say “Do you really believe this? Explain this to me please.”

And again, if the citation is wrong and MacArthur never said this, fair enough. This can be changed. What is still the same is the point. We ought to read our opponents in the best possible light and if we don’t know something, try to understand before critiquing. How much better could our dialogues be if we did that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Why Can’t Protestants Be More Protestant?

Are we really people who take the Bible as our authority? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times as a devout Protestant, I hear my fellow Protestants speaking in ways that trouble me. We often talk so much about what the Bible says to us and how it is our final authority in faith and practice. By the way, let’s make that clear, the Bible is not our only authority, but it is the one such that if anything contradicts Scripture, it is false, and any good Orthodox and Catholic would say the same thing. None of us want to believe anything that contradicts Scripture. Whether anyone does is another debate.

Yet when I get together with my fellow Protestants, I wonder about this. Often times, I hear talk about doing what you feel like God is leading you to do. It’s as if God is sitting up in Heaven trying to get your attention by giving you feelings in your heart. Question. Where in Scripture do you see anything like this described? Where do we see anyone being told to follow their feelings? If anything, we know too often that listening to your heart leads to trouble. As Jeremiah tells us, it’s deceptive above all.

Not only that, we would also need a guide as to which feelings are from God and which are not. I remember hearing Derwin Gray talking about talking to a Mormon once who said he knew God was speaking to him when he got goose bumps. Gray said, “If that’s the case, then when I’m watching Rocky 3, the Holy Spirit must be all over me.” It’s humorous, but you get the point. I also realize that we are not Mormons, but we do know Mormons are a fine example of what happens when you listen to strong feelings.

By the way, none of this means that I am opposed to feelings. It means that I am saying feelings must be guided by Scripture and if Scripture doesn’t tell us to listen to our emotions and feelings as cues from God, then we should not do so. Many people look at guilt as such a judgment from God. Guilt can always be a good reason to self-examine, but we all know people who feel guilty for things when they have done no wrong, and we know people who have done wrong and feel no guilt. It’s not reliable.

You may feel like God doesn’t love you. That can tell you that there’s an emotional problem to work out for you, but that says nothing about God. God’s love for you is not dependent on your feelings. If you think it is, then your feelings are greater than God. I have said before if we could ever for the briefest moment of time grasp how much God truly loves us, we would never live our lives the same way. Maybe the reason we don’t have that made fully manifest here is because honestly, in our sinful natures, we cannot handle that.

What would happen if we all took the promises of Scripture more seriously? I realize that my Catholic and Orthodox friends add tradition to the list of something else infallible, but I know they would agree wholeheartedly with this. If we took Scripture more seriously, all of us, we would all be better off. That book contains some pretty incredible promises for all of us. We spend so much time looking at ourselves often that we overlook what Scripture says about the matter.

Let’s consider one example. I am a sensitive guy in many ways when it comes to the fear that I have committed some sin. Of course, we all do, but I know this is one area I am very neurotic in. Now there is no doubt we need to reflect on the gravity of sin, but it would be absolutely awful to see the gravity of sin and then also to miss the greatness of the grace and forgiveness given to each of us. That could actually be a sin in itself. It has a God who would rather judge us than to forgive and love us. (And even if He doesn’t forgive us, He still loves us.)

Maybe you’re like me and your past isn’t filled with heinous sins. Sometimes, we can hear testimonies of people who came from a sordid past and they sound so glorious in a way because they know what they are forgiven for very well. If you don’t have that, it’s hard to experience it the same way. It might seem easy for Paul to write about seeing as he was guilty of murdering Christians, or Peter since He denied the Lord three times, but what about someone like the disciple whom Jesus loved? Are there not plenty of people who are seen as righteous regularly in the Bible and yet celebrate their salvation and thus their forgiveness. We have a hymn in the church about grace that is greater than all our sin. Why do we often act like sin is greater than grace?

After all, any one sin can separate you from God forever. God does not have to forgive you. He doesn’t even have to provide a way of forgiveness. He could have let us all just go to Hell and He would have been justified in doing so. He owed us nothing. That He gave us even an offer is a sign of His grace. If anything, it should tell us God is more serious about our need for forgiveness than we are.

Consider then if you’re a Christian whatever you have done, you have been spared of that. Regardless of if you hold to some form of eternal conscious torment or to annihilationism, you have been spared. Even if you hold to Universalism, you can say that God did not have to do that. We are the ones who have done wrong against God and rejected Him and spat in His face and yet He offers us forgiveness and even still wants to be with us despite the wrongs that we have done against Him, and keep in mind we are to show that love to others as well.

It is something I need to think about as well. I think for instance if an employer wants to do a background check on me, go ahead. They won’t find anything. That’s true. Before the law, I’m a quite clean individual. God help me though if I had to give an answer to Him for any background check. Every careless word and deed and even intention of my heart examined? Instead, forgiveness is given for all of that.

That’s a promise we all have.

Protestants. Our feelings will often lead us astray. We don’t have any guarantee that God is speaking through feelings, dreams, circumstances, etc., but we do know He has spoken in Jesus and in Scripture. Let’s always treat those as our final authorities. There’s a lot of awesome truths in there that we still need to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The Liturgy Trap

What do I think of James Jordan’s book published by Athanasius Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As one a few years ago who started having to interact with the Orthodox Church, I have become curious about the divide between the Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have a great respect for all three traditions, although my home is in Protestantism. Still, when I saw a book about the liturgy trap and evangelicals being drawn into Catholic and Orthodox churches because of the worship, I decided to see what was said.

I had a concern at the start hearing that the author was part of the Reformed tradition. I am thankful for my fellow Protestant Christians who are Reformed, but at the same time I realize too often they can take too hard a line on the issues. I was relieved to hear that Jordan does not write off Catholics and Orthodox as non-Christians even if he does disagree with their churches.

I was also pleased to hear that he points to a real problem in evangelical churches. Our worship is way too shallow. Much of our songs are really filled with emotional pablum with no theological depth to them whatsoever. The songs focus on the singer and how they feel for the most part. Few of our sermons have any real depth to them. When I would attend an Orthodox Church, one benefit I had is while I never got into the liturgy, when I heard the sermon, I at least knew I would hear something substantial even if I didn’t agree with it, which was the minority for the most part.

A number of Jordan’s criticisms though I found lacking. I found it difficult to tell what his position was on praying to saints although I know he disagreed. I did get the impression that he has no problem with the idea of the word worship properly understood. For instance, it used to be in some marriage ceremonies each spouse would say to the other, “With my body, I thee worship.”

I agreed with his point on tradition. When I hear someone say that they hold to Scripture and tradition, I think they hold to certain traditions. Catholics and Orthodox both say they hold to the apostolic tradition, and yet there is disagreement between the two of them. When I hear a tradition, I want to know who said it, when did it start, and how reliable is it? If I hear of a tradition and it first shows up a few centuries after Jesus, I am skeptical.

One such tradition dealt with is the idea of perpetual virginity. This is one tradition I definitely question as it looks highly convincing to me that Jesus had brothers and sisters and I have no reason to think of these as anything but natural brothers and sisters. I do not find convincing the story of Jesus at the cross giving His mother to the beloved disciple as a reason to question that Jesus had brothers and sisters. I think Protestants should give honor to Mary as the mother of our Lord and so on our end, I think we don’t show enough reverence.

Overall, I think Jordan does definitely hit on valid points, but I think he overdoes it to at times. What I would like to see, and I just checked and it still isn’t on there, is something like a Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox counterpoints book by Zondervan. I realize there is Robert Plummer’s Journeys of Faith, but I find that one too limiting in interaction as there is just one reply and I would like to see all the positions interacting.

I also wish something had been said about, you know, liturgy. I was hoping there would be some look at worship in church history. For a book with that title, one would think that would be an emphasis, but sadly, it wasn’t. I won’t deny for some, the liturgy is quite beautiful and I understand that. For me, it really didn’t resonate and I suspect I am not alone in that.

If you’re interested in the debate, this one is a good one to interact with still. I do appreciate that it was said that there are real Christians in other churches instead of all guns blazing. We need to be able to debate our disagreements, but still do so as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Book Plunge: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives

What do I think of Ana Smiljanic’s book published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is the collected wisdom of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. He never wrote them down, but his students and others apparently gathered them together. This is a work at what in psychology today would be called cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is that what you think has intense power over you. Thaddeus would add a spiritual element that most secular psychologists wouldn’t, but that’s not a shock from a Christian worldview.

While I do come from a Protestant perspective, this has been one of the most helpful books I have read. I think CBT is already great, but it’s even better when used from a Christian perspective that focuses on eternal realities. That is what Thaddeus gives us in the book. He urges us to look at the way we think about ourselves, about God, and about our fellow man.

Sometimes when I am going through a hard time, I talk to a good friend who knows this technique well and he encourages me to write down good thoughts to tell myself on a 3×5 index card. It might sound silly, but usually after I write it down, it helps. I then carry the card around with me and look at it throughout the day.

Much of our days are often spent thinking about things we cannot control. We think about other people and how they treat us. We spend less time thinking about how we treat them. We think about our situations often as if God does not exist or if He does exist, He’s not really good and working for our good.

When we have these negative thoughts, there are physical and other side-effects with it. How many of us have had intense stomach aches or sleepless nights just because of our thoughts? How many of us have had relationship issues because of what we think about the other person even when we later see it’s far from the truth?

Thaddeus covers topics like family life and repentance and prayer and love. Most any aspect of the Christian life is in this book. Sometimes, I think he thinks our thoughts have too much power on reality, but for the most part, there is really good material in here.

The chapters are really easy to read. You can just read the one that you want and go through it quickly. Each chapter is also divided numerically into smaller bits so you can read one thought a day or so before heading out on your day.

As I was going through this book, I found myself trying to catch myself in what I was thinking. Am I thinking ill of my fellow man? That is not doing him any harm and it is only doing me harm. Am I assuming reality is going to be horrible? Then I am saying that God does not really care about me like He claims to. I tried to work to see my fellow man in a new light and try to understand where he was coming from even if what he was doing seemed horrible to me. I tried to see how God could be working in my life in ways I couldn’t understand.

Protestant readers might not care for references to praying to Mary and matters like that, but if a Protestant decides that will keep him from reading the book, he is really missing out. This is a book I wish more of us would read. I think even an atheist could get something out of the book as well even though he disagrees with the Christian side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Time and Despondency

What do I think of Nicole Roccas’s book published by Ancient Faith Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometimes when I have been struggling with something, I will talk to my wife’s priest. While I am not Orthodox, that is not a problem with us as he’s more than happy to help me with things. I also think wisdom can be found outside of one’s own tradition (And even religion) and if we as Christians ever think it’s only people of our theological heritage that have true wisdom worth gaining, that is a very sad state.

Right now with some present circumstances, I have been in normally a state of seasonal depression. When I mentioned the word depression to him, he turned it into despondency. At that moment, I remembered I ordered for my wife who is a catechumen in the Orthodox Church the book Time and Despondency. I decided to get it out and give it a try.

Let’s start with one excellent thing about this book. The author does not come out as someone high and holy and thus you read the book and think “I will never reach this level.” Nope. Roccas is a fellow traveler on the journey and she too would prefer at times to do something like binge watch Netflix.

She definitely writes from an Orthodox perspective, but that does not overwhelm the book so much that others won’t benefit. As a Protestant, I found much of the advice helpful. The advice of great saints is found as there is wisdom to be found in many places.

She also writes of goals that are doable. She never tells you to go and pray for an hour or so. Instead, just work on matters bit by bit and learn and grow in them. There’s even a place advocating quick prayers. Those are fine many times. When I am out in public and I hear sirens and see a first responder going by, I always pray for that situation. (Definitely not with eyes closed if driving.)

Her advice to deal with despondency is also not just purely spiritual matters. She talks about St. Antony who was scolded by someone for playing with his fellow monks when surely he should have been praying and how Antony responded to justify his actions. She talks about the use of humor, which at this point, I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter and the spell to deal with boggarts.

For those who don’t know, boggarts are creatures that take on the image of your worst fear. The way to deal with them is to use a spell with the word “Ridiculous!” and turn them into something you can laugh at. I think Rowling at this point hit on something with the nature of fear.

Roccas also shows that this is a problem that is not just modern in nature. Monks from well over a thousand years ago dealt with this. They had times they didn’t want to pray either or work on the Scriptures. Apparently, some could have even committed suicide from sorrow. It was even called the noonday demon. The condition is the same, but today we probably have more means to encounter it.

There is also definitely good theology in here. Roccas brings out the reality of the resurrection and what it means. God being the God of all time is there to redeem every moment of time, including the moment that we are in. Again, just like before, none of this though is spoken in terminology that is over the layman’s head.

If you’re struggling with depression, or despondency if you prefer, this is a really good book to read. The advice is practical and doable and not over your head. Most of the chapters are short enough to read in one sitting and even the longest one can be broken down into manageable pieces. Give it a try. It beats living in despondency after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Thank you, Father Barnabas

What are some things to appreciate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So on Monday, I wrote an appreciation to my pastor for Pastor Appreciation Month, which was last month. I had done something on Facebook, but I wanted something more public. I thought about that later on and realized I should go to someone also who could be called the other pastor in my life.

Not sure if he’d agree 100% with that title, but many of you know that my wife is a catechumen in the Eastern Orthodox Church. At first, I had my concerns and doubts, but I grew to appreciate the change that I saw in her. We also both got to know the priest down there, Father Barnabas, very well.

Sometimes, we would go in for a counseling session together and the way he has talked to her has often impressed me. It’s a calm approach, but it is often firm and tough as well. There’s no beating around the bush. He used to be a police officer so he knows something about how to talk to some people.

Yet what is amazing is the time investment. There’s so much of it. At the end of a session, he’d often ask if he could get a hug and then say something like, “I like you. You’re a good kid.”

Other people have noticed that liking too. When my wife and I went to an event a few months ago in downtown Atlanta at a major cathedral there, we sat with the priest of another church and other people we didn’t know. It wasn’t intentional. We just sat somewhere and they joined us.

Before too long, Father B (As I often call Barnabas) saw us and came over and put his hands on our shoulders and said “You can’t have these two. They’re mine.” I thought it was just a fun little comment, but afterward, the other priest told me, “He’s really protective of you two. I could tell when he said that that he really meant it. He’s really looking out for you.”

Bible studies at the church were often fun too. The only one we’ve been to is Revelation and there were many times when he’d ask a question and say “Does anybody know?” and I’d raise my hand immediately and he’d say “Not you.” Allie was getting concerned about it, but he assured her it was a game we played together. It was fun.

Yet the interesting thing is we both know I am a devout Protestant, but I think he’s just as much there for me as he is for Allie. He’s helped me learn to think about different issues on how I relate to Allie better. He’s been there for me when Allie has been in a suicidal state.

Why is this? Something he tells Allie all the time. “Father’s not a title.” He made a donation to her fundraising effort and said to her mother on the phone, “It’s for a selfish reason. I want that child to get well.”

If that’s selfish, we need more selfish people out there.

Something else I like is that my Protestantism has not been used against me. He’s told me why he left that world. I respect it. When I have talked one-on-one, I have never been told something like, “Well if you would just abandon your Protestantism and accept Orthodoxy, your problems would be solved.” I think that’s a cheap move anyway, but it’s never been an issue.

Many times when I’m at the church with Allie, people know that I am a Protestant, and they’re okay with it. It’s not an issue. I can look around and say “These are my people also.” I would hope that if any of them ever came to my Protestant church, it would be the same way again.

Now do Father B and I have our disagreements on theology and history and things like that? Yep. Never been an issue though. He’s still supported me. When I went and debated Dan Barker, I found out later from him that he actually watched the whole debate online. I was really pleased with that. There has never been a hesitancy to share a prayer request from me either.

I think I have been fortunate to get some of the wisdom that I’ve seen. I’ve read a number of books on Orthodoxy and from an Orthodox perspective. I still disagree, but there is a good respect here. I also still maintain my strong stance when it comes to dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, to strive to see all as my fellow Christians and go after any who question the salvation of the other.

So thank you Father Barnabas for what you have done with Allie. I hope it keeps up and I can definitely say from what I see, Father is not a title.

In Christ,
Nick Peters,
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

What do I think of Andrew Louth’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When my wife’s mentor was visiting recently, I was looking for a book for her and found this one on the shelf. I didn’t remember when I requested it, but I figure I did with my wife’s current looking into Eastern Orthodoxy. I got it out and decided to soon read through it.

Now I have and I found it an interesting read and informative. I am curious to see that it’s a work by an Orthodox Priest but published by an evangelical press. I really encourage that. I think Orthodox Christians should read books by evangelicals about their position and vice-versa and the same goes with Catholics. We have differences and similarities and we need to understand those.

The book is written on the level for laymen so that part is a bonus. It’s also not really argumentative. I would have liked to have seen a little bit of that seeing as an evangelical needs to know what makes the Orthodox position distinct and that would require telling some of our differences.

Fortunately, what we agree on is covered well in this book. The evangelicals should stand up and say amen to the news about the Trinity and the person of Christ. There could be some pause on issues of creation since the author doesn’t say there’s a necessity for a literal Adam and Eve. Some also might be concerned about Louth not having a problem with evolution.

Those positions don’t trouble me, but I know they will trouble some. It’s good though that Louth is familiar with these issues and I like seeing the Orthodox having the same kinds of discussions we Protestants have. Now let’s get also to some things I would like to see changed in the book.

First, I would love for there to have been something like a glossary. There are times terms are used about Orthodox worship that I doubt many evangelicals would know and they are not explained. Louth will write about the Metropolitan and I suspect some Christians would say “I know we have bishops and elders and deacons and presbyters. I don’t remember that position in the church.” A glossary would have it that an evangelical reader could look back and see terms explained.

Second, I would really like to see what Louth thinks makes the Orthodox Church distinct. I realize this would entail some criticisms of Protestantism and Catholicism, but I think that’s a good thing. We need to hear those criticisms. If we are wrong, then we can embrace a true position. If not, then we can hopefully learn to refine our own position.

Third, some history of Orthodoxy would be nice. Now I don’t mean saying “Our church started in 33 A.D.” I don’t know anyone in the other camps who is at all persuaded when the Orthodox say that. I don’t think this needs to be extensive, but something needs to be there.

Fourth, I would like more explaining on the doctrines we do disagree with. Why do the Orthodox hold those positions? I know the reasons, but many evangelicals might not. Why do you hold that Mary was perpetually a virgin and is the mother of God? Why do you hold that it is okay to pray to saints? Why do you think the way that you do about the Eucharist?

Of course, this could have made the book longer than intended. In all fairness, Louth does have listed books for further reading, but I would have liked more categories and many of them more specific. What if someone wanted church history specifically, as an example?

What I might like even more if someone was to write it, and it could be out there already, would be a dialogue book with an Orthodox and a Protestant in dialogue and it could be interesting to include a Catholic. There is some of this in Plummer’s Journeys of Faith, but it could be interesting to have a book dialoguing different positions. Salvation, the eucharist, Mary and the saints, original sin, etc.

Still, if you want to understand Orthodox theology, this is a good introduction. I encourage reading it. I also want to again point out that while I am still a devout Protestant, I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church. I’ve learned a lot of wisdom from them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Do Protestants Have A Problem With Works?

Is works salvation really a major issue today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday at a Bible Study at the Orthodox Church my wife attends, we were going through Revelation 14 and I heard the priest get to the verse about those who die in the Lord for they will rest and their works will follow them. He remarked that Protestants have a problem with this verse. For me, I was sitting right there as the Protestant in the room and thinking, “I don’t have a problem with it.” I don’t know how we could get statistics on how many Protestants might have a problem with it, but I figured it could be something interesting to write on.

I think those of us who are Protestants have rightly emphasized salvation by grace through faith. It cannot be earned. It is a gift. It is not wages that are given out because we are good boys and girls.

So when I see this verse in Revelation, I think it means the work that the person has done immediately is done. They themselves will work no more, but the effects of what they have done will live on. Why would that be a problem?

If we go back to the Reformation, I am convinced the Protestants had the better arguments, but their exegesis was still not the best overall. Now I think there’s more evidence that what is being discussed in Galatians is not if salvation is by works or if it is by grace. It is instead being discussed what is the identity marker of if one is a Christian? Is it keeping the Law, i.e. circumcision, or is it faith in Christ?

If we’re Protestants, we shouldn’t balk when we hear works being talked about. Works are great and wonderful things. Picture a man who goes to an altar one day next to a woman he loves and says, “I do.” Then he goes back home to his parents and stays there. He never interacts with his wife or has sex with her or provides for her or anything, but he insists that he is married. We would all seriously question that one.

If you are a Christian, then along the way you ought to show the signs that you are a Christian. If you are not producing any fruit at all, we have reason to doubt your Christianity. This shouldn’t be a problem. It’s abundant in Scripture. Christ says He who abides in Him will produce much fruit. Ephesians 2:8-9 is followed by a verse saying that we are saved by grace through faith and the very next verse talks about the works that we do. While James 2 is often misunderstood, it is certainly right in the emphasis on how important works are and I would argue that James is talking about justification before men and not before God.

While I do think the comment yesterday might have been exaggerated, we who are Protestants do not need to shy away from doing good works and we need sermons on the importance of doing good works. Again, none of this is so that we can be Christians. We do good works because we are Christians and we have a job to do. We are to do the Great Commission.

It still is a tragedy to me today that there are three branches of Christianity today and I do look forward to the unity of all three one day. Still, we should all agree on the importance of doing good works. If a tree doesn’t produce any fruit, we can rightly speculate that the tree is dead. If we do not produce any fruit in our Christian walk, people can rightly speculate that our faith is dead.

Again, I don’t know how many Protestants really do have a problem with the passage, but we shouldn’t. We should be greatly emphasizing the importance of doing good works. Those start with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Steven Anderson on Mount Athos

What do I think of Steven Anderson’s views on Orthodoxy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those who don’t know yet, I am a thoroughly convinced Protestant. I have a wife who is interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and that did get me looking into issues of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It really was something I never wanted to get into since I am one who tries to be ecumenical. Now I do have a greater understanding of both positions and still disagree, but I don’t want people speaking wrongly against my brothers and sisters on the way.

For those who don’t know, Steven Anderson is this crazy pastor who thinks that we should kill all the homosexuals or that they should kill themselves. This is not to say that I think homosexuality is fine. I think Scripture is clear on the wrongness of homosexual practice. It’s also clear to me that we’re not in an Israelite theocracy based on the Old Testament Law.

I also find it interesting that the video we’ll be looking at has a description that says the real way to get to Heaven. It’s a shame that Pastor Anderson thinks that the whole point of Christianity is to get to Heaven. That is part of it, but the goal of the gospel is to bring honor to God and has an impact for this life and not just the next one.

In this video, Pastor Anderson says that he is told that he needs to look into Mount Athos. Some of you might not know that for Orthodox people, Mount Athos is one of the most holy sites out there. I don’t claim to fully understand that, but I know when I’m at the Orthodox Church and hear Mount Athos mentioned, it’s a really big deal.

The first thing he talks about is the idea of vain repetition. I understand the concern with saying the Jesus Prayer over and over and I do agree that some people could get into this being a rote thing that they do without any real motivation behind it, but the constant repetition does not equal vain repetition. Jesus condemns a certain kind of repetition, but He does not condemn all of it.

The Jesus Prayer in my understanding is meant to change the person praying more than be a constant plea for mercy. It’s meant to make them think about who Jesus is. It’s up to the person to determine if they’re being vain in their repetition or not.

Next he mentions praying to Mary. Now I do disagree with this practice, but at the same time, I’m not ready to say everyone who has done such is being thrown into hell or is outside of the body. I would find it hard to condemn Christians across the centuries who have been doing this since whenever it started, and any Orthodox person who wants to convince me it started early had better bring some really good historical evidence to the table.

The same will be said with praying to the saints. While I disagree with this, I am not one who thinks that there were no true Christians after the apostles died until Martin Luther showed up again. I actually think most Catholics while disagreeing with Luther would agree that the Catholic Church needed some reformation and change in it and there were corrupt practices going on. Any material about practices like this then I will not say further on but just point back to these sections.

He also says something about the drinking of alcohol. He is right that the Bible condemns drunkenness, but it does not follow that it condemns alcohol, any more than the Bible condemning gluttony means that it condemns eating. The Bible condemns extramarital sex, but it thoroughly commends it between husband and wife in marital union. Jesus did not turn the water into grape juice at Cana.

I want to say at this point also that I do not say this as one who drinks alcohol. My wife has come to accept that I am willing to change my diet in many areas, but I just never want to drink alcohol. If you can control it, I have no problem with you drinking it, but I will abstain.

He then goes on to a monk carving a crucifix and says it is the making of idols even though we are told to not make any graven images. To begin with, if images are the problem, then what is going on behind Pastor Anderson in his own church video with watching a service live? Would we really say the problem with the image is that it is graven instead of that it is an image?

The first person to be explicitly said to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible is a man named Bezalel. Who was he? An artist. He made images that he was ordered by God to make. Now it could be that the Bible contradicts itself in such an obvious way, or else the prohibition is not against images, but rather against the use of images to worship.

This is a point the Iconophiles brought up against the iconoclasts in the debates about the use of icons. At the same time, I want to be aware that yes, some people could treat icons and relics as if they were magic charms which is just as bad. The misuse of an object does not point to a lack of a proper use.

He also says that the Bible says it’s a shame for a man to have long hair and every priest and monk on Mount Athos has that. Samson also had it as that was part of the Nazarite vow. What is going on in 1 Corinthians is Paul is addressing practices of the day. How men and women wore their hair said something to their culture then. Were I to visit Anderson’s church, would he want me to greet his wife with a holy kiss? That’s what Scripture tells me I am to do.

Pastor Anderson said that Jesus said to beware of the ones who go around in long clothing. Jesus was speaking more of the tassels on the garments and those were used to show a special kind of holiness. In other words, Jesus was against wearing clothes for the purpose of showing off your holiness. It’s not as if Jesus would have no problem with the scribes and Pharisees if they suddenly switched to shorts and T-shirts.

He also has a statement about the prohibition of calling people Father. Now at this time, I also do not call priests in the church by the name of Father. At the same time, I recognize there are some ridiculous extremes that can be taken, such as the video my wife and I saw once about the man who called his parents by their names instead of Mom and Dad even to avoid breaking the commandment of Christ.

He also looks at collections of skulls and femurs and other bones they have and says that the Bible says to bury the dead out of sight and to not touch dead bodies. It’s really a shame a pastor has such a poor understanding of Israelite Law and its relation to Gentiles today in light of the new covenant. My understanding is that these are gathered to remind the people of the resurrection that is coming.

There’s a part here where in what is apparently an aside he says that the monks are dressed like warlocks. I am sure in movies and TV shows and video games warlocks dress in these robes, but I am also sure that in real life, they could dress just like everyone else for the most part. As I say this, it is still morning and I am wearing my Legend of Zelda robe. I suppose Pastor Anderson is convinced I’m a heathen then.

He also says that the Bible says that all those who hate me love death. He doesn’t say who says this, but it is Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. This is said about the skull collecting, but does that equal a love of death? Does someone who grows up wanting to be a mortician then hate Jesus? This is not done to worship the dead but to honor the dead.

He then goes and says there is no monastery or monk in the Bible. True. There’s also no such thing as a pulpit or a pew in the Bible as well. I wonder if Pastor Anderson’s church has a parking lot and heating and air system in it since those aren’t in the Bible. His services are recorded, even though the Bible says nothing about that. If he wants to go the argument from silence route, I expect him to be consistent.

Finally, in criticism, he says that Orthodoxy is closer to Eastern practices and he gives Buddhism as an example. The thing is, he’s right and also wrong. I don’t think it’s like Buddhism, but it is closer to Eastern practices. What else is closer to that is the culture of the Bible itself. Pastor Anderson probably knows nothing about the eastern dynamics of honor and shame and agonistic societies. The Bible is itself not a Western book. It is a Middle Eastern one.

He encourages people to come to the real Jesus and the real gospel. I encourage that, but I have many friends who are Orthodox and Catholic. We disagree on many things, but there is something we don’t disagree on. We agree on who Jesus is.

I am sure Pastor Anderson’s motivations for this are noble, but his criticisms are way off the mark. I encourage healthy dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox on our differences, but let’s make sure they are informed criticisms. I also encourage that we try to recognize that others are Christians as well. Not all Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants are Christians, of course, but for the most part, the doctrines all agree on the centrality of Christ and His work in salvation.

Let’s try to focus first on what we agree on. Alright?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Protestant Look At Holy Week

What does holy week look like to an outsider? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With my wife looking into Eastern Orthodoxy, she was very excited about holy week. For those who don’t know, there is apparently debate on when Easter takes place so on the 21st, we celebrated Easter at the Protestant Church. The next week we were celebrating another Easter known as Pascha at the Orthodox Church.

One of the things that is done on Pascha, or rather before, is a time of Lent where something is given up which includes meat and dairy. My wife was excluded from this for medical reasons and because the priest mainly wanted her to abstain from self-harm for Lent. (To that end, she got her 11-month chip at Celebrate Recovery last night.) Keep this in mind as we go on.

Something I have said about Orthodoxy for awhile is that I question whether the traditions do go back to the original apostles or not. This is not to say that some of the rules might not be helpful. If someone wants to observe a time of Lent and it helps them in their worship and helps them honor Christ, well and good. I have no problem with that. If that becomes the sign of a true Christian, then I think there is an area of concern.

Every night of the week there was an event going on at the Orthodox Church. We were there for most of them, although not for all. We have been packing for a move to another cheaper apartment complex here in the area. My wife thoroughly enjoys them. Myself, not so much. As I have let be known on here previously, I really don’t think statements made to Mary or the saints go back to the apostles.

On Saturday night, everyone meets at the church at 11 P.M. Yes. You heard that right. P.M. We then go in and each of us is given a candle that is unlit. A few minutes before midnight, the whole place goes dark. Then around midnight, the priest starts speaking about Christ being risen and has a lit candle. He lights a candle of some others upfront and they in turn spread that light so before too long, everyone is holding a lit candle.

There is also a portable tomb carried much like the pallbearers carry the coffin at a funeral through the doors. We all go outside together in the middle of the night with our candles to continue the surface. To go back in, the tomb is placed at the doors and everyone has to kneel some to go under it and go inside the building.

In all honesty, though, I was watching most of the time and thinking “I hope someone doesn’t accidentally light someone else’s hair on fire.” This is not to say that way of worship is wrong, but it is to say that this is just the way that I think about things.

Everyone is invited after the service to the feast. My wife and I had no interest in the food being served and we wanted to get to sleep. We didn’t get home until around 2:35 A.M. Then, we had to get up in the morning again for a noon service. The feast has a lot of the foods people abstain from during the Lent period so it wasn’t a major deal for me anyway.

I do think the Orthodox take the resurrection seriously, but what matters to me is do the laity in the pews do so? I will freely say that sadly many Protestant Churches have abandoned their intellectual responsibilities without thinking about the resurrection, but I suspect this is more of our Americanism coming through than something problematic in Protestantism itself.

When my wife was on her journey and visiting a Catholic Church, we met with a priest to ask questions. When she told him she was looking for something deeper, he gave an answer I 100% agree with and still hold to this day. “What you are looking for, you will find by going deeper in Jesus.” For my own wife, I think the ritual and order of Orthodoxy is more helpful to her. Could she have found similar in an Anglican Church? Perhaps, but the nearest was about 30 miles away from us.

For me, it’s not the same way, and ultimately that’s okay. As long as one holds to what is essential to being a Christian, I think we should all strive to unite together. Do I wonder how many of the laity in the Orthodox Church are taking the resurrection seriously? Yes. I wonder the same about the Protestant and Catholic Churches as well.

So Holy Week is certainly an interesting experience, but I am thankful to be back to the way things normally are and while I can handle it, having a church service at midnight is something I am thankful only takes place once a year. I also do not have any sides on the debate of the true date of Easter. What matters is Christ is risen, something we should all celebrate.

In Christ,
Nick Peters