Why I Cannot Journey East

Derek Ouellette —  June 7, 2011

Last year I began to explore the Eastern Orthodoxy Church. I’ve read several books on it, joined a facebook group devoted to the curious like myself, and visited an Orthodox Church twice.

Theologically speaking, whenever I feel like I’ve reached a roadblock I tend to look for answers in unfamiliar places. I was taken in by one Orthodox scholar who suggested that in Orthodox theology we “Westerners” might find fresh answers to age-old problems. So I explored it.

I generally like Orthodoxy Theology and find that there is much to glean from and incorporate into my own understanding. I have found the people welcoming, engaging, and warm. I find its tradition rich and classic.

But I cannot bring myself to convert, and here’s why:

Note: I am sharing my heart here. These are not to be in any way strikes against the Orthodox Church, neither am I to be perceived here as attacking it, nor am I offering apologetical reasons for not joining.

  1. I’m married. As a married man, making a major decision such as this is not one I am obligated to make alone, and neither is it prudent to do so. My wife and I both come from very charismatic pentecostal backgrounds, making a move to any liturgical church would be difficult as it is, and more so if that Church has no instruments. If my wife is not ready for such a move, then by default, neither am I.
  2. I’m Evangelical. This point might seem circular, but it really hangs on one of my deepest convictions which is that all Tradition must be weighed by Scripture. In theory this point is moot if it can be said that Tradition and Scripture perfectly agree. But then, in theory, if Tradition ever were to make a claim contrary to the Scriptures, I must place the Biblical testimony first. So even in theory, the point still stands.
  3. What Apostolic Succession? I remain skeptical that something of an Apostolic Succession is actually historically true. Whenever I hear people defend an Apostolic Succession, there seems to be a gap in the timeline lacking actual historical evidence in which “reason” and “logic” seems to fill the gap. (Admitting, of course, that Clement of Rome [1.17] may have talk of something of an Apostolic Tradition, though its doubtful that’s what he had in mind in his context.)
  4. Practical church related stuff. Where I currently attend church I have friends and family with me, I sit on the church council and I preach on occasion. All of these elements would be lost to me if I made such a move.
  5. I like to worship with music. I play guitar, and though I no longer play in church, worship with instruments has brought on powerful experiences for me in the past. And just like how a familiar smell can trigger a fond memory, so too is the power of music.

Of course there are other reasons I could explore but these are five off-the-cuff reasons why I cannot jump my Nazarene ship to catch the Eastern cruiser liner.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    Those are all good reasons to me.

  • http://ehyde.wordpress.com Eric Hyde

    Derek, I relate to many of your points. I came to the Orthodox Church after 15 years as a charismatic, word of faith believer. It happened during my graduate studies in theology that some mysterious threshold was crossed where I couldn’t deny the claims of Orthodoxy anymore.

    That said, my wife was from a very entrenched form of word of faith background (Rhema, if you’ve heard of it) and while I was coming to grips with Orthodoxy it was the farthest thing from her mind. Once I knew I was Orthodox (about a year prior to our charismation) I started with asking her to just visit an Orthodox service. She absolutely hated it, but agree to go back again. Hated it again. Then agreed to visit a catechism class, and that’s where she began her journey. For the first time in her life she was taught the history of the Church and for the first time met a pastor/priest who actually cared about her and not just her tithe check.

    Anyway, just want to encourage you that if God starts you on the path be faithful and your wife, seeing the change in your life, will be interested as well. You two will probably always be in different phases of the journey, but that’s part of the fun :)

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey Eric, I appreciate the encouragement. Know that if I ever go liturgical, I’ll probably go Orthodox.

  • Jacob

    I mean no disrespect, but as I read this I see that four out of five of your reasons are selfish (“I”) and the other (apostolic succession) can be demonstrated in History, not by Bishops only, but by the Unity of the Orthodox Church’s Faith over 2000 years (as opposed to 16th century and 21st century innovations/changes/inventions of the faith that did not exist before the reformation). Perhaps when you are ready to deny yourself, you will be able to see more clearly. May God bless your journey.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      My sacrificial commitment to Christ is not in question. Consideration of my wife is a matter of biblical, godly and pastoral integrity. The post is not a matter of changing religions (in my mind) but of changing traditions within the Christian faith.

      But one thing that makes me want to stay away from converting to Orthodoxy is that – God forbid – I’d begin to look down on other Christians as I’m beginning to see many Orthodox do (a la your comment).

  • Jacob

    Looking down upon? I was making observations. I started with “no disrespect” and ended with “God bless your journey.” And where did I say I was Orthodox? Wow, do you read above what is written.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Forgive the “a la your comment” in assuming you are Orthodox.

      But whether or not you meant no disrespect, your comment was condescending. Many Orthodox have been doing to me recently precisely as you did (whether or not you are Orthodox): questioning my fidelity to Christ simply because I confess real barriers of making that move. And here’s where (looking down upon): “Perhaps when you are ready to deny yourself…” do you really think you can make such a sweeping statement here?
      Be blessed.

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    I can relate to some of this Derek. Largely because of my wife, I did not end up in the mainstream Byzantine Orthodox ambit, but where I am now, and this is where God has called me to be.

    Of course, the main problem I have with what you write has to do with “Evangelicalism” and your questioning of Apostolic Succession.

    One can, of course, argue that the (rest of) of the Tradition has come to contradict the Bible in certain ways. However, the question remains: WHO decides? According to the Bible itself, such decisions are given to the Church and its (Apostolic) leadership. Also, in practice, it seems that the rest of the Tradition is required to safeguard the fullness of the Biblical revelation. Consider the “Evangelical” abandonment of the sacramental worldview, an understanding that is clearly found in the Bible; this is a loss that ultimately endangers the biblical understanding of the Incarnation itself.

    Finally, you question Apostolic Succession. As implied above, the Bible requires it, and there can be really no question that this is what Clement is talking about. He is writing to the Church at Corinth precisely because they have deposed their leadership. Apostolic succession, or the rejection thereof, is at the heart of what Clement is dealing with.

    But don’t worry too much about “going East” right now. The Nazarenes could use a good “high church” movement, I think. :-)

    Have you read “Evangelical is Not Enough” yet?

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Greg, the question to “who decides” is easy enough to answer in my view: the scriptures need to be studied using the same methods we might use to study any piece of literature. Are there going to be wacko interpretations from time to time? Yes, there always are. But if Tradition tells me – to use a non-dogmatic and non-controversial example – that Elijah was raptured up into the third heaven when studying the scriptures tells me otherwise, I am bound and committed to accept the Biblical testimony and would wish that tradition would give that story a second look.

      I find your question of the Evangelical sacrament more interesting. Rest assured, I have “Evangelical is not Enough” on order.

      And: “The Nazarenes could use a good “high church” movement, I think.” LOL That would me nice. Thanks.

      • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

        Derek, the question of the fate of Elijah is not dogma. It is theological opinion (and, from where I sit, fairly peripheral either way).

        You advocate scholarship. Good. But does the Bible itself give the power of “binding and loosing” to scholars and scholarship or to the Church as a whole, and especially, to the Apostles (and therefore, to their successors)?

        There is some scholarship evident in Acts 15, but it does not take the major role, does it?

  • http://www.energeticprocession.wordpress.com perry Robinson

    First, I get it. Wives take time, if they come along at all. Making a move to a liturgical church requires you and your spouse to see it as biblically warranted. Works that aim at that goal might be worth pursuing. Also, the question is, do you think contemporary Pentecostal/charismatic worship is biblical or more so compared to a liturgical model?
    As for all traditions must be weighed by scripture, this will need to exempt the man made tradition of the formal canon of scripture, among other things. So it is impossible to meet this requirement even on Protestant principles. And we do not even agree about what books are inspired scripture to boot.
    Second, who shall do the weighing in an authoritative manner? It is one thing to say that the constitution is the highest law of the land, it is quite another to let every man be his own supreme court. The NT seems to present a model where church leaders had authority to make decisions for the whole, as in Acts 15 and to kick people out with divine authority. That doesn’t seem consistent with the right of private judgment.
    Third., as for AS, this depends on what you’ve read both in terms of primary and secondary literature, so we’d need to know that in order to assess how plausible this line of thinking is. I think part of trades on not a lack of evidence but on not recognizing the fluidity of NT terminology till about the 2nd century. Of course that goes for just about everything in the NT.
    Something else to keep in mind is that we have no substantial evidence for presbyterian ordination from the close of the first century forward. So we have evidence for episcopacy and nothing really for any other model. The best single work that I ever read was Felix Cirlot’s Apostolic Succession: Is it True? It is hard to find, but hands down the best work written in the last century.
    Fourth, changing churches sometimes means losing friends who aren’t willing to sustain a friendship across borders. Such is also true with respect to giving up a powerful place. Of course, if it is what God wills, those things don’t matter and God can give us better things in their stead. Such things are not unheard of.
    Fifth, the church likes music too, but not all music is created equal and the church has had the wisdom to recognize this. Even Plato did and recognized that the effect of music can be deep and moving, by passing reason altogether. And so that is exactly why the church doesn’t use musical instruments in the main and the pagans did. First because the pagans used them to get the attention of whatever god they were worshipping. Second, to whip the crowd into a “powerful experience.” From earliest times, Christians rejected or at least were warry of this, as were the Jews before them.