Sunday, July 29, 2007

Crisis (BBB Part 21)

By the first of December, only four months after our return to Banja Luka, I had attended the Divine Liturgy several times and had read and re-read Becoming Orthodox, Common Ground, and The Orthodox Church. Jennifer had also read the books and had also found them persuasive.. As a result of our reading and visits to the Liturgy, we found ourselves in a theological crisis. When we arrived in Banja Luka, we were confident that our Baptist theology and practice were solidly based on the Bible and Church history. We were certain that the Baptist church, along with most other evangelical churches, was a “New Testament Church,” meaning that it was a faithful reproduction of the Church of the Apostles.

As late as early October 2000, we were convinced that the first-century Church was non-sacramental. In other words, Peter and Paul and the others saw Baptism and the Eucharist as being purely symbolic rituals that do not impart any kind of supernatural grace. We believed that early Christian worship was unstructured and centered on preaching; it certainly was not liturgical! We also held that the polity of the apostolic Church was more or less congregational, without any semblance of “monarchical” bishops. All these beliefs had to be true; the Bible clearly taught them (or so we thought)!

But by December, we were not so sure about any of these “facts.” We had been presented solid biblical and historical evidence that the Church was in fact sacramental in theology, liturgical in worship practice, and hierarchical in structure from its very beginning.

Before we began studying Orthodoxy, we held firmly to the twin Protestant pillars of Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone is a valid source of authority; extra-biblical traditions are untrustworthy) and Sola Fide (salvation comes through faith alone; works play no role whatsoever). Moreover, the Southern Baptist core doctrines of “believers’” (not infant!) baptism and the eternal security of the believer (salvation can never be forfeited once obtained) were deeply ingrained in our thinking. Practices such as praying to saints, praying for the departed, and venerating icons were anathema to us!

But by December our thinking had changed. At this point, we were not sure what we believed. On some issues, such as the nature of the early Church and infant Baptism, we were 90% convinced of the Orthodox position. But we were not fully sold on the Orthodox view of salvation or on the validity of venerating saints and praying for the departed. Clearly, we needed to do some more study!

Providentially, Jennifer and I had already scheduled a trip to the States from mid-December to mid-January. We had been in Bosnia for nearly two years, and we needed a break. So, I got on the Internet and began ordering books, which I had sent to our parents’ homes, where we would soon be able to read them. In all, I ordered something like a dozen books. We also started searching for an Orthodox parish in the Houston area that we could visit, to see if the worship in the States was as magnificent as that which we had seen in Banja Luka. What would we discover once we arrived in the States? Would we find further confirmation of the truth of Orthodoxy, or would we find that it was merely a quaint, outdated, mainly Eastern European phenomenon based more on the traditions of men than on the teaching of the early Church?

We would soon find out…


Kim R said...

Great cliff-hanger! I really enjoy reading your blog, Father James. I went to Indiana and Illinois to visit family for about 12 days, and when I got back I was eager to see what you had written during that time. Thanks for sharing your story with the rest of us.

Kim Robbins

Fr. James Early said...

Thank you for your interest, Kim. While you're at it, why not tell a friend or two about it?

God bless,

Fr. James