Saturday, March 18, 2017

Last Days Great Revival? The Charismatic Experience and Orthodoxy, the perspective of one Orthodox Priest, part 3

This is a continuation of a series, the reader may find links to part 1 & 2 below:
Part 1:
Part 2:

As previously indicated (see part 1), the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement (P/C movement) is heavily premised upon a very particular doctrine: the Church (again using this word loosely) fell into darkness just after the year 300AD. Beginning with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's the Church, it states, has been in the process of being rebuilt and restored; in the last days, there will be a great revival (move of God, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders). The expectation is that this last times event may even surpass the events recorded in the book of Acts.

Between roughly 300 and 1500AD, sterile form and ritual became the substitute for the dynamic living experience of the early Church, so the teaching goes. Every group within the P/C movement, regardless, claims a unique reconstitution of the “Early Church.” A profound ignorance of Church history is manifested; moreover, a deep ignorance of the real intent and significance of Liturgical worship, priesthood, sacraments, and so forth is revealed. Purportedly, Liturgical worship is “dead religion;” priests “stand in our way of God,” and on their objections would go. They war against the very nature of Christianity while claiming to do so for the sake of Christianity. All such groups claim to be restoring the power of the Early Church, be they my former Bible school, Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, or The Last Reformation, Morning Star, Bethel, and so forth. All teach that the Church went astray and is/was in need of restoration. They all hold, in basic, to the previously outlined historical timeline. They all teach a “last days great revival," move of power, and a super-abundance of miracles. And they all claim to be the ones chosen to bring such a grand event to fruition. (Signs and wonders may be a broad term, in this article it is used as a synonym for miracles, events of a seemingly supernatural quality worked at the hands of a person.)

One must understand that Protestantism is a movement with change in its DNA. Its whole original claim and premise were to restore authentic Christian practice. It has ever debated what precisely that is down to this day. Nevertheless, a founding idea of Protestantism is “Sola Scriptura:” the teaching that the Bible alone is the only genuine and reliable source for Christian doctrine (teaching). So, holding them to their own standards, the central doctrine, for a doctrine it is, of the P/C movement regarding the corruption of the Church and “last days great restoration revival” should be evident in the Bible. If not, according to Protestantism's own standards, it should be rejected. Of course, the Orthodox Church has never taught Sola Scriptura. Nevertheless, one may rightly expect that such a purportedly paramount happening as the corruption of the church, its downfall and subsequent restoration in a “last days revival” would be clearly revealed, if not plainly indicated, in the Scriptures. One would also expect Early Church Fathers to foresee such a catastrophic happening.

First, we must ask, did Christ Jesus ever indicate that His Church (Ekklesia)1 would be overcome by the world? No. Rather we do have an indication (moreover a promise!) that the Lord will protect and keep His Church. "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mat. 16:18). We may safely deduce two things: 1) Christ is the source of the Church, 2) hell will not prevail against it. Hell is the very personification of corruption. It is safe to understand this to mean that the Church will never fail in Her essence. Clearly, Church history is full of ignominious and glorious events. She has welcomed the good and the evil in the hopes that all may repent and be saved. Because evil men have been a part, at least nominally, of the Church, does not mean that she is corrupt. This would be akin to insinuating that Jesus failed as a teacher because Judas failed to apply His teaching. The Church (using that word specifically) is always pure and true as is Her Lord.

Did St. Paul ever indicate the coming (from his perspective) fall of the Church? No. St. Paul tells us that Christ is the head and the Church is His body (cf. Eph. 1:21-23). This imagery is potent. Physically we understand that the head and the body are inseparable; a perfect union connects them. Separation of the head from the body is physically unnatural. One does not find a bodiless head, or vice versa, only if they are dead. But Christ is alive, as is His Church. Thus, to assume a failure of the body is to imply a failure of the Head. If the Church, the body, went corrupt, then one could plausibly lay blame on the head, Christ. This is madness, yet this is the madness that is insinuated in such teachings. We are further told that we have received an unshakable kingdom (cf. Heb. 12:28), it is no leap to understand this kingdom to be the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is also called “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Clearly, the Church shares in the virtue of Her Lord. More examples could be given, but these suffice to show that the Biblical vision is not that of the P/C movement. Christ is the foundation of the Church, which shares in His life as the body does with the head. She is unmovable, and a sure foundation. In fact, to say that the Church fails is to call the Lord Jesus a liar, for He clearly says that the “gates of hell shall never prevail,” that is, the Church will never fail. The doctrine that the Church went corrupt is clearly against all sound Christian teaching. (People may separate themselves from the Church, but this does no violence to the essential and physical unity of the Church; the Church is always One. We are either united to Her or not. History is full of people disuniting themselves from the Church and uniting themselves. Simply because there are a plethora of groups claiming to be "Church" does not indeed mean that the Church is broken or split. The Church is One as is Her Lord, cf. Eph 4:4-6.)

The claim that the Church went "corrupt" must be used by the P/C movement because otherwise, they could not claim any similarity to, or continuity with, the "Early" Church. Thus a twister game like approach to Church History must be adopted (or it is altogether ignored). The testimony of Church life during the time period that they claim was corrupt and dark is so contrary to their vision, and thus it must be disregarded and degraded. Having no living continuity they must claim an ephemeral "spiritual" unity. Rather than listen and learn from the life of the Church they choose to disregard it so as to justify their own way of life, but it is not the Life of the Church.  

Secondly, is a “last days revival” at least indicated in the Scriptures? Let's see. I will limit myself to the Words of our Lord Jesus regarding the Last days in, Mat. 24, Lk. 21, and Mk. 13. St. Paul's epistle of 2 Thessalonians, a spattering of other Pauline references, and the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation). Clearly, since this is a short(ish) article, space does not allow an exhaustive study.

In all the accounts of our Lord Jesus' instruction regarding the last days, the picture is not all that bright. Persecution. War. Betrayal. Godlessness, and so forth. Of interest for the topic at hand are the opening words of our Lord in Matthew, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray” (v. 4). “Christ” simply means “anointed one,” thus it is possible to understand that many will come claiming to be anointed ones. The Lord continues, “If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (v. 23-24). In Christ Jesus' teaching concerning the last days the only signs and wonders spoken of are false ones. No other signs and wonders are mentioned. Christ clearly does not indicate a last days revival as described by the P/C movement. Rather the picture presented is one of an increase of sin and evil together with many false christs (anointed ones) moving with spiritual power; signs so great that even the elect could be seduced, if possible (but by God's grace the Church will stand even this!). The situation seems so dire that Christ Jesus tells His disciples, “Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mk. 13:23). What did He tell us? In the Last days false anointed ones will abound and they will use signs and wonders to justify themselves, “See we are from God!” but, "Do not believe it" (Mat. 24:23).

St. Paul prophesies regarding the last days, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 2:1-5). Again, not a rosy picture. There will be an appearance of godliness, and this correlates to the many false christs of which the True Christ warned. In 2 Thessalonians St. Paul instructs that in the last days a rebellion will come, a rebellion against God and His Church. Lawlessness will be revealed (cf. 2 Thess. 2: 3-4). Again, the only signs and wonders referenced are false ones, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9-10). Is it not significant that when speaking of the last days the only signs and wonders spoken of by both Christ and St. Paul are false ones? Clearly, they are telling us to be vigilant; there is no indication of a last days revival as taught by the P/C movement. The only last days revival is a revival of sin and evil, together with a “spirituality” free from the “constraint” of the Church. And what is the guard against deception? Love of the truth; St. Paul told us that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, thus we may conclude that a love and holding to the Church as it has manifested for 2,000 years is a love and holding to truth.

In St. John the Theologian's revelation of the Apocalypse we see a general vision of the rise of sin and lawlessness, brutal persecution of the righteous, war, suffering, and so forth. Clearly, this book is cryptic and requires great wisdom. Of interest for this article is not the specific meaning of each character and image, but merely whether or not a great last days revival is evident. We see the two witness, who testify against the Antichrist and his system. They are given the power to work wonders (cf. Rev. 11). Besides this positive reference to signs and wonders, the other reference is to the Antichrist himself and the beast (cf. Rev. 13). They use great signs and wonders to deceive the multitudes. Yet there is no clear and explicit teaching that the Church will fail and be in need of a last days restoration. Indeed the Church is persecuted and attacked throughout Revelation (cf. Rev. 12:17). Signs and wonders are predominately used to lead the multitudes astray. The culmination of all things is the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, which will truly be glorious (cf. Rev. 19).

A Charismatic Meeting
Nowhere are Christians instructed to seek a last days “restoration” of power. Indeed, the Church has always taught that obsession (the P/C movement is obsessed with power) with signs and wonders will only act to predispose people to accept false christs and ultimately the Antichrist. The power of the P/C movement has great emotional charge, I know I have moved in it. “The willingness of our fallen human nature to mistake illusion for truth, emotional comfort for spiritual experience, is much greater than you think,” astutely observes Fr. Seraphim (Rose).2 True Christianity has always had miracles and always will, but they are not an end-all indicator of truth. They may be mimicked, and thus the underlying principles of the one working the miracles must be weighed and tested. Is the source true and sound? Is the fruit true unity in Christ Jesus and His body the Church? Many times power flatters us into thinking that we are spiritual people and that we deserve to have the “Holy Spirit;” that we are “anointed” and even to a degree special. In Orthodoxy, this is called prelest. Let us remember the mandate to test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1-3). The chief appeal of the P/C movement is to emotional experience, and all “truths” are subject to this experience. Most of the time the experience is never tested by some greater and abiding Truth; untested experience simply justifies the experience. The assumption is, “I experienced power, thus it must be from God.” The “I” is set as the great discerner of truth, and the safety of the pillar and ground of the Church is cast aside. A great arrogant assumption is made: I am spiritual; therefore I can discern correctly! Moreover, the power in the P/C movement is fairly easy to attain, one need not be bothered by pesky ideas like a life of repentance, humility, and self-denial. No, Christ wants me to be super! I have been there. I have done this. My hope is that people will also, by the mercy of God, come out of this prelest into the eternal freedom and Truth of Holy Orthodoxy. 

To what do the Scriptures call Christians, most of all those living in these times? Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "In your patience possess your souls" (Lk. 21:19). "The one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mat. 24:13). Christ revealed the way, the Apostles preached it, and we must patiently endure in it holding fast; not being led astray by false shows of power. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering" (Heb. 10:23). "Stand firm and hold the traditions that you were taught by us (the Apostles), either by our spoken word or by our letter" (1 Thess. 2:15). "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13). "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We constantly see in the Scriptures an exhortation to stand in what was given once for all and never do we see a teaching telling us to look for a coming "new" work and revelation. Christ Jesus is the only New and Eternal Revelation of God, the job of a Christian is to hold fast to that revelation. This is the Faith of Jesus. (How can one hold fast to a faith that is in constant change due to ever-evolving experiences and new "words" and teaching, many times contradicting former ones, as in the P/C movement? To what teaching should one hold fast? The conundrum multiplies from here.) The Church has been founded on Christ once for all. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost affirmed the revelation of Jesus Christ to and in His Church. The Orthodox Church has proven through Her faithful and long endurance to be that very Church founded by our Lord. All other “new” revelations are condemned in the Scripture. Jude goes on to tell us, "certain people have crept in unnoticed ... who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). This denial is not so much a verbal one (they continue to teach in the name of Jesus), as one wherein they preach their own message in the Name of Jesus. Woe to such ones. In this way, they deny Christ and preach rather their own selves (but it sounds much more authoritative if someone says "Jesus told me!"). St. Paul tells the Galatians, "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema)" (1:8).

It is vital to note that the whole of Christian life and history for 2,000 years never expected a “last days revival.” To expound upon this would be very lengthy. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that the teaching at hand is novel. The Christian Church, Orthodoxy, has never held it. In fact, all Her teachings regarding the last of the last days are in line with the Scriptures: they will be extremely difficult days, many will lose their faith, evil will abound as will false signs and wonders, but those faithful to the Revelation of Christ in His Church shall be saved.

In light of such testimony, one has but few choices: either accept them as true and proven by the True Church for over 2,000 years or throw them out and listen to what the new “spirit” is saying.

There is something indeed new at work, but it is neither from the wellspring of the Holy Spirit nor the pillar and ground of truth in the Church.

Let it be briefly noted that this is in no way a denial of signs and wonders per se, for truly they have been at work in the Church since the day of Pentecost. It is a refutation of a novel doctrine that asserts the “restoration” of the church which, so it alleges, was corrupted; the primary justification it provides for such a teaching is an emphasis on signs and wonders; power untested and accepted easily with the assumption that Christ is the source. As we have seen such a doctrine is not in Scripture nor the life and teaching of Christ's Church. Christianity has always understood that there exist false signs and wonders, and they are very deceptive; thus miracles are never the paramount ideal.

How much, then, must Orthodox Christians walk in the fear of God, trembling lest they lose His grace, which by no means is given to everyone, but only to those who hold the true Faith, lead a life of Christian struggle, and treasure the grace of God which leads them heavenward. And how much more cautiously must Orthodox Christians walk today above all, when they are surrounded by a counterfeit Christianity that gives its own experiences of 'grace' and the 'Holy Spirit' and can abundantly quote the Scriptures and Holy Fathers to 'prove' it. Surely the last times are near, when there will come spiritual deception so persuasive as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect (Mat. 24:24).” Fr. Seraphim (Rose).

Please keep in mind that this series is an examination of a system. While I cannot but reject what is a faulty system, I understand that there are persons within it. The persons I leave to God. May He grant them enlightenment, repentance, and salvation. This is an examination of a novel system and teaching that claims to be from God.

1 It is good to note that our English word church does not come etymologically from the Greek word ekklesia, but from the Greek word Kyriacon, “of the Lord” or loosely “the Lord's house.” In old English it was Cirice from the west German Kirka, which is the same in old Saxon, from these words we have our word “church.” The word ekklessia is more properly “the gathering, or the community” the Greek is a compound of ek – out, away from; and a derivative of kaleo – to call. Thus literally it means “to call out from.” I will use the word Church in its current common usage as the translation of ekklesia.

2Fr. Seraphim (Rose). Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. St. Herman Press, p. 141.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Are We Truly Orthodox Christians?

by St. John of Kronstadt

So were rivers of blood shed for the preservation of the Orthodox Faith by apostles, prophets, and martyrs; much suffering was endured be reverend fathers and other champions of the faith.

What about us, children of the Orthodox Church? Do we preserve this most precious heritage, the Orthodox Faith? Do we follow its teachings, commandments, rules, statutes, advice? Do we love to offer this service to God, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15)? Are we renewed by it? Do we sanctify ourselves every day, do we correct ourselves, do we attain the perfection the saints attained? Do we perfect ourselves in our love for God and neighbor, do we cherish our faith, do we consider it the greatest mercy of God, the very first and greatest benefit of life the fact that we are fortunate to belong to the Orthodox Church, which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

What is our answer to these questions, if we desire to answer honestly? To our shame we must confess that many, many Orthodox Christians not only do not have the Orthodox faith in their hearts and lives, but also do not have it even in their tongues, and faith has either completely disappeared from their lives or they have become completely indifferent toward any faith: Catholicism, Lutheranism, Judaism, Islam, even paganism. We hear from many people that you can please God in every faith, that is, as if every faith is pleasing to God, and as if God is indifferent to truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Look at the consequences of ignoring one's faith, of the ignorance of the spirit and history of their Church, alienation from its life and divine services, the consequences of ignoring concepts of Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and other faiths!

A Christian as a member of the Church, must know his faith and try to live according to it, be saved by his faith, because the enemies of our salvation do not sleep, and seek our destruction at every hour; a Christian must not abandon his faith …

No other religion except Orthodoxy can bring man to moral perfection or holiness and perfect agreeableness to God, as evidenced by the history of the church and the incorrupt and wonderworking remains of the holy saints of God, and by the wonderful feats of the saints of the Orthodox Church … so it should be, according to common sense, only a perfect faith can bring one to perfection, with all divine powers, all the spiritual armor of God against the passions of the flesh, the world, and the devil.

If nowadays many Orthodox Christians live worse than Muslims and pagans … this truly impious life of the Christian must not in the least, of course, be blamed on the Orthodox Faith, which is unwavering in its principles of truth and holiness, according to the promise of the Savior Himself and the testimony of history. Such people, even though they came from us, were never one of us in essence, but only in name.

Yes, my brethren, only the Orthodox Faith purifies and sanctifies human nature stained by sin; it renews the corrupted, especially through the mysteries of baptism, repentance, and communion. It illumines those who are darkened and heals those who are wounded by sins … Would you like to be convinced of this? Read the lives of the saints, the history of the Church, and you will see firsthand all of these miracles in the lives of the saints.

Why does it not also effect such saving changes within us? Because of our lack of faith, or unbelief, because of our frivolity, corruption, and the impenitence in our hearts; because of the passions that grow stronger within us and have complete control over us, because of our falling away from the Church, and because many of us do not in the least instill within ourselves the spirit of the Church, and many others insincerely, weakly, and only slightly more formally belong to it.

For us to be true Orthodox Christians, we must first of all have a living, constant communion with the Orthodox Church; that is, we must partake in its prayers, teachings, and mysteries; we must diligently study our faith and be instilled with and live its spirit; we must be guided by its rules, commandments, statutes, and more important, we must restore within ourselves the image of true and deep repentance of a true Orthodox Christian according to the image of the saints, old and new, or better according to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who said: For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (Jn. 13:15), so that the Lord may say of us, as once he said of Nathaniel: Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit (Jn. 1:47). Amen.

From: Season of Repentance, Lenten Homilies of St. John of Kronstadt, Holy Trinity Publications.
Sermon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, p. 92ff.