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?