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

 

What I Value About The Three Branches

Are there things to learn from every branch of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When my wife started looking into Eastern Orthodoxy to convert, I wasn’t that happy. Reactionary at first, yeah, but over time, I have modified my viewpoint on this some. Now I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant. At the same time, I have learned areas about my tradition I appreciate more and areas in other traditions that need to be emphasized better in my own Protestant tradition.

So what do I see in my Protestantism that I emphasize? First off, I am convinced the history is largely on our side since I see many beliefs in the Catholic and Orthodox churches that I don’t think can be traced back to the apostles. When I want to know what is reliable, I look at the history and I find the New Testament measures up well. For other traditions, it’s a case by case basis. No one ever believes all traditions. Traditions contradict one another. Only select traditions are believed.

Second, I really do think that the Protestants are known as people of the book and we are the ones that do some of the most in-depth research in Scripture. As my wife and I had lunch with an Orthodox couple one day they did say that we Protestants know our Bibles. If someone in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition agrees with this, the good news is our findings are available to all. Anyone can partake and accept them.

Catholics I think have an edge on moral philosophy. Again, this is something that is open to all, but I am thankful they are on our side with pro-life causes and defending marriage. I don’t agree with everything on this end still, but I do think some of the best comes from them.

For the Orthodox, my wife and I meet with the priest on a regular basis every two weeks go get regular counsel. I find this to be helpful because if there is something I really like that Allie is getting, it is some ancient wisdom. Too many people in my tradition seem to cut ourselves off from the past as if we are the only people the Holy Spirit has ever led into truth. We’re not.

I do think also there is a proper emphasis on worship. This is not to say that I agree with much that goes on in the worship services, such as prayers to the saints and to Mary, but I do realize the heart of it all. Even though I don’t agree with much of what I see, I do see a desire to take matters seriously and I have a great respect for that.

So while I am still a thoroughly convinced Protestant, I do think my perspective has been enriched by this journey. I have a good friend online who is a Catholic priest and I get along just fine with the priest at the Orthodox Church. (And both have also let me know that they affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.) I sometimes wonder how we can be more ecumenical, but I think I see it when I get together to talk with my friends of a different persuasion. When we get to eternity, I don’t think it’d be proper to say we’ll all be Protestants, Catholics, or Orthodox.

We’ll all be Christians.

Maybe we should just emphasize that right now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Meal Jesus Gave Us

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by¬†Westminster John Knox Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

N.T. Wright has always been a favorite writer of mine and when I found for sale on Kindle a book he wrote on the Lord’s Supper, I had to get it. This has been an object of study for me lately. I do tend to hold to more of a symbolic remembrance view. My ultimate position is that it doesn’t matter for discipleship which view it is. Jesus said to come to the table and that’s it.

Wright begins his book by going back in time to the Exodus and the Passover meal there. From there, we go to about 200 B.C. where a Jewish family is celebrating and acting as if they were there for the Exodus. This is then tied into the Lord’s Supper.

We then go into much more of the history. I do wish some more had been said about the Church Fathers, but Wright mainly wants to focus on the meaning of the meal. For him, the meaning of the meal is to remind us of what Jesus did and to tie all of time together as it were. We take a past event, the crucifixion of Jesus followed by His resurrection, and then we look forward to His future return and our resurrection, and we celebrate both of those in the present moment.

We also come to celebrate our unity together as a body. We are all Christians and we are all thinking about Jesus and what He did for us. We are all becoming aware of our sins and how we need to live better for the cause of Christ and how He is the Lord of us. We are thinking about just as Israel was delivered from slavery under Pharaoh, so it is that we are delivered from slavery under sin.

When he does look at the Reformation, he does get to the debate between Luther and Zwingli and he brings out some interesting facts, such as the young scholar standing in the background of their discussion who knew Aramaic and knew both of them were getting it wrong. Had something happened that Luther and Zwingli could have worked together, history could have turned out very differently. Alas, it did not.

One final point he brings out is one that I have come to appreciate more and more. The table ought not to be a place of exclusion. It’s my conclusion that the only requirement for coming to the table should be that you are a Christian. The table is a place of unity and we should recognize our unity. If you are going to spend eternity with someone and are going to be at the wedding supper of the lamb with them, shouldn’t you be willing to come to the table with them?

Wright’s book is a good and short read as most of the chapters you can read in ten minutes. Wright writes in such a way that draws you in and really gets you thinking about the meal and yet he has a profound depth to him. I highly recommend this for those wanting to understand the Lord’s Supper.

In Christ,
Nick Peters