Eastern Orthodox, Hank Hanegraaff, and Mere Christianity

What is Eastern Orthodoxy?

The Eastern Orthodox Church split with the Roman Catholic Church in what is called The Great Schism of 1054. Up until that time, there had been one church but one in which existed great tension. The idea that there was some sort of harmony between the East and West in the history of Christianity until the great schism is simply uninformed. The split between East and West took place for several reasons, no of which were isolated to events of the 11th century. The rupture between the Eastern and Western churches that occurred during the pontificate of Leo IX should not, therefore, be disconnected from a very long history of disengagement and estrangement.[1] In fact, some historians believe that the differences between in the Eastern and Western church were underway as early as Tertullian of Carthage and Clement of Alexandria.

One of the more prominent issues creating a difference between the two bodies was how the West inserted “and the Son” into the Nicene Creed in the 6th century. This is known as the filioque, the Latin term for “and the Son.” Another area of serious tension was the Western church’s insistence of papal supremacy. Finally, the event that propelled degenerating ill will into schism was Pope Leo’s capture by Norman troops later in 1053.[2] The event led to each church excommunicating one another in yet another embarrassing moment for the church. The final seal of the schism came in April of 1204 when, in the name of a crusade (1202-4), Venetian, French, and Flemish soldiers sacked Constantinople rather than attack the Muslims. Steven Runciman wrote, “Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes of pillage and bloodshed continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shable.”[3] Of course Runciman always talks about murder and rape just to mention some of the atrocities. This resulted in the shift of Orthodoxy from Constantinople to Russia.

Icons

ICONS are images of Christ, of His angels, of His saints, and of events such as the Birth of Christ, His Transfiguration, His death on the Cross, and His Res­urrection. Icons actually participate in and thus reveal the reality they express.

Mary

MARY is called Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer” or “the Mother of God,” because she bore the Son of God in her womb and from her He took His humanity. Mary lived a chaste and holy life, and we honor her highly as the model of holiness, the first of the redeemed, the Mother of the new humanity in her Son. It is bewildering to Ortho­dox Christians that many professing Christians who claim to believe the Bible never call Mary blessed nor honor her who bore and raised God the Son in His human flesh. The Orthodox Church affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Prayer to the saints

PRAYER TO THE SAINTS is encouraged by the Orthodox Church.

Confession of sins to a priest

The Orthodox Church has always followed the New Testament practices of confession before a priest, as well as private confession to the Lord. Confession is one of the most significant means of repenting and of receiving assur­ance that even our worst sins are truly forgiven. It is also one of our most powerful aids for forsaking and overcoming those sins.

Salvation is works based

Salvation begins with these three “steps”: 1) repent, 2) be baptized, and 3) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. To repent means to change our mind about how we have been, turning from our sin and committing ourselves to Christ. To be baptized means to be born again by being joined into union with Christ. Both salvation and regeneration are classified as something we must do rather than something that happens to us resulting in this outward behaviors. The difference is substantial.

Baptism

Nowadays, some consider baptism to be only an “outward sign” of belief in Christ. This innovation has no historical or biblical precedent. Others reduce it to a mere perfunctory obedience to Christ’s command (cf. Matthew 28:19, 20). Still others, ignoring the Bible completely, reject baptism as a vital factor in salvation.

Justification

JUSTIFICATION is a word used in the Scrip­tures to mean that in Christ we are forgiven and actu­ally made righteous in our living. Justification is not a once-for-all, instantaneous pronouncement guarantee­ing eternal salvation, no matter how wickedly a person may live from that point on. Neither is it merely a legal declaration that an unrighteous person is righteous. Rather, justification is a living, dynamic, day-to-day reality for the one who follows Christ. The Christian actively pursues a righteous life in the grace and power of God granted to all who are believing Him.

Scripture

While the Bible is treasured as a valuable written record of God’s revelation, it does not contain wholly that revelation. The Bible is viewed as only one expression of God’s revelation in the ongoing life of His people. Scripture is part of the treasure of Faith which is known as Tradition. Tradition means that which is “handed on” from one generation to another. In addition to the witness of Faith in the Scripture, the Orthodox Christian Faith is celebrated in the Eucharist; taught by the Fathers; glorified by the Saints; expressed in prayers, hymns, and icons; defended by the seven Ecumenical Councils; embodied in the Nicene Creed; manifested in social concern; and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is lived in every local Orthodox parish. The life of the Holy Trinity is manifested in every aspect of the Church’s life. Finally, the Church, as a whole, is the guardian of the authentic Christian Faith which bears witness to that Revelation.

The above beliefs are taken from the following link: http://www.antiochian.org/whatorthodoxbelieve

As anyone can see, the Orthodox Church affirms iconoclasm, believes in the perpetual Virginity and veneration of Mary, encourages praying to dead saints, subscribes to confession of sins to a priest, holds to a works-based view of salvation, believes in baptismal regeneration, denies justification by faith alone in the once-for-all work of Christ alone, and denies the authority of Scripture alone.

Hank Hanegraaff, a renowned evangelical has recently converted from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. As if this was not troubling enough, Hanegraaff has made the very public claim that his beliefs have not changed. He recently pointed to all the books he has written over the years and said that these materials contain essentially what he continues to believe today despite his conversion. Moreover, Hanegraaff has reacted with bewilderment and confusion because so many in protestant evangelicalism have accused him of defecting from the faith. I know that Hanegraaff is a very intelligent man. His success is both a demonstration of his intelligence as well as an indictment on his character. The reason I put it this way is really quite simple. If you spend a mere 2 hours a day for just one week studying the history and beliefs of the Orthodox Church, then you would know that it is neither Protestant or Evangelical. Yet, for decades Hanegraaff has affirmed that he is both. Adding insult to injury, Henegraaff, a very intelligent man is on record as saying that he studied Orthodoxy for a couple of years before making this switch. He has been attending an Orthodox Church for a couple of years? It is impossible that a man of Hanegraaff’s intelligence would spend so much time around the Orthodox Church and not discern how radically different it is from the Protestant-Evangelical Churches he has spent decades in. Something is very, very suspicious about Hanegraaff’s “stunned confusion” regarding how people are reacting to his recent decision. I admit that I have a very hard time believing that Hanegraaff is being genuine. The real question here concerns the future of CRI. Financial supporters want and need an Evangelical Apologetic, not one that is an barely inch removed from Rome.

What is Mere Christianity?

The Mere Christianity movement is a movement that is really an old guy in a new cloak. Mere Christianity is the new robe of ecumenism. The idea behind Mere Christianity philosophy is to reduce the Christian faith to a core set of beliefs, to define that is Christianity, and then to make everything else a non-essential. The goal is unity at the expense of truth. James White has talked about this movement for a long time now and so have others. Hank Hanegraaff mentioned it several times in his recent defense of his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.

One problem of Mere Christianity is the problem of the criterion. When someone puts forward a list of what equals Mere Christianity and what is not core to Christianity, the question of authority immediately is introduced. Who says that is core and what is not core Christian belief? Are we to look to the Pope or the Patriarch of Constantinople or to Russia? Which one is the vicar of Christ? Who is Peter’s true successor? Or, perhaps we should limit our authority to the seven ecumenical councils. But why all seven? Why not a subset? Or why just those councils? Mere Christianity then immediately runs into the problem of authority. This is not a new problem. This is one of the many problems confronted some five-hundred years ago in the reformation. And as it turns out, Mere Christianity is a covert attempt to unwind the reformation. The reformation is either no longer relevant or it was a mistake from the beginning. Either way, the church needs to get away from the principles of the reformation, reformation theology, and ignore or marginalize and avoid those who use reformation language. For those who do not want to use the term Calvinism to describe your theological system because of the confusion it supposedly creates, get ready. It is only a matter of time until Reformed language of any kind becomes just as negative and marginalized as Calvinism did before it. My advice: stop playing the game and be who and what you are without apology.

It was at the Diet of Worms that the issue of authority exploded in the Christian Church: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” – Martin Luther

With the compromise of the authority of Scripture comes the collapse of the Christian religion. If Scripture can be subsumed under tradition as just one aspect of divine revelation that is subservient to the decisions of men and church councils, then authority rests with men, not Scripture. And if authority rests with men, it does not rest with God. If a council determines that Romans 9 is authoritative Scripture but Romans 1 is not, then Romans 9 is no longer authoritative because of its nature. It is only authoritative insofar as a council has decreed it to be authoritative. Either Scripture is self-authoritative or it is not. In the Orthodox Church and in Roman Catholicism as well as liberal Protestantism, Scripture is not self-authoritative. Mere Christianity is wearing the garb of the “pseudo” in an attempt to infect and deceive the Church. Clearly then, the first serious problem with Mere Christianity is its view of the nature of Scripture and its problem of epistemic authority.

A second problem of Mere Christianity is that it does not seem to agree with the approach taken by the Apostles and NT writers. When one examines Galatians 1:6-8, the language used by Paul here is simply remarkable. The Jewish legalists, adding requirement of the Mosaic law to the gospel, were accused of preaching a different gospel. Now, this was not an entirely different gospel. They believed in the “core” idea that Jesus was God, that He was raised from the dead, that salvation came through him. The only thing, in this context, that the legalists seem to be guilty of is requiring Christians to keep certain components of the Law of Moses. They added their own rules to Christian praxis. In this case, it was not a denial of the Trinity, or the divinity of Christ, or even the Scriptures. The legalists were not denying anything, well, except that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone. They were modifying the gospel.

The point I am making is this: the second problem is not unrelated to the first problem of Mere Christianity. And I would say that every problem the idea encounters is related to its first problem: an inadequate and low view of the nature of Scripture. Once we place the decisions of men as authoritatively on par with and even over Scripture, the gate swings wide for numerous heretics and heresies to invade the Kingdom. This Mere Christianity surely does. After all, it isn’t God speaking in Scripture who is deciding what is core and what is not. It is men, councils, creeds, and confessions, all influenced by a sinful nature and a godless culture. A study of church history, if it teaches us anything, teaches us that popes, councils, and men of all stripes are not to be trusted to give us the light can sustain Christianity. That light must come from God Himself.

The Issue is not Creeds, Confessions, and Statements of Faith

If you will read the New Testament letters, beginning with Romans and working all the way through each one, paying close attention to them, you will notice that the authors are incredibly concerned with theological deviations from the faith and from unethical behavior spawned from such deviations. The Bible itself reveals to us what is core and essential for Christian faith and praxis. This brings one to the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture. What is clear is core and what remains ambiguous is not. This is how the writers of the NT approached their audiences and this seems obvious the more time one spends living in the text of the NT. This really attaches to the principle of a self-interpreting Scripture. It isn’t the interpretations of man that are authoritative, of councils, confessions, or creeds. Rather, Scripture’s interpretation of Scripture is the only authoritative interpretation we have. To claim otherwise opens the gate to the inevitable collapse of historic Christianity in preference for something new, something foreign to divine truth, something deadly, sinister, and damnable. Beware, because your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, searching for someone to devour. Mere Christianity could be his most clever camouflage yet.

[1] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2012), 123.

[2] Ibid., 132.

[3] Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusadges, 3 Vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1954), 3:123.

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