Freedom of choice

One of the things I’ve noticed is how IN LOVE we all are with choice, and we associate the freedom to make ANY choice (to do anything we want) with the freedom to make IMPORTANT choices (to be able to worship freely or not). If you doubt my assertion, please visit the toothpaste aisle in your local super(size)market the size of ten football fields. It is now absolutely impossible to discern what’s the best or yummiest product to use on your teeth. And oh how we’ve extended this insatiable desire for choice. If you doubt that assertion, please contemplate the arguments for abortion rights, all kinds of odd sexual proclivities, and income tax evasion. I think that’s what happens when one of a country’s founding documents contain the language “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I don’t believe those three are inherently equal to each other.

How does this apply to Orthodoxy? Good question. Here’s how.

Western Christians (particularly American Evangelicals/Protestants) have taken this love of choice to religious heights. If you doubt that, please visit Beliefnet and check out the interview with the illustrious head of the Crystal Cathedral, Dr. Bob, who said the church experience should be similar to that of the shopping mall. (Somewhere in heaven, venerable foreheads are being smacked by venerable palms in sheer frustration.)

But that’s how America does church in this postmodern age of Baby-boomer enlightenment. We like our Christianity on the Jumbotron, with some film clips, and a good rock and roll band. We do not like Creeds, we don’t like statements of faith that are too exclusive, and we don’t like to be told that there MAY BE A BEST way to do this thing, as opposed to the way we want to do it.

We couch the argument in language of seeker-sensitivity, in the need to be “relevant” and in the desire to approach people where they are.

I heard all that. I thought all that, once upon a time. But I can tell you when I lost it. It was about two years ago, and I had managed to push the truth of Orthodoxy into a small box in the closet of my mind, while I continued to justify to myself why it was ok to go to the easy churches. But I was fast running out of places to go. A friend suggested I check out her church, a new church, meeting in a cafeterium in some middle school on the north side of the city where I live. So I dutifully checked it out. I was looking for a church called Pathways, but pulled into the parking lot of the wrong middle school, and in the wrong cafeterium found a church called Crossroads, and I could not, for the life of me, tell the difference.

I felt like I was shopping for spiritual khakis, and all I needed to do was find the closest Gap or Anne Taylor. But I realized, again, that this had to be more than finding whatever pair of pants fit my soul the best. This was much too serious for that.

I know this sounds weird, because I can go into any Orthodox church, and with a few regional/cultural differences, find the service to be almost exactly the same as the liturgy performed at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church every Sunday morning. It’s easy to say it too looks like just another toothpaste on the shelf. But I guess the difference for me was this: the Orthodox church stands there every Sunday morning, doing the same thing it’s done for centuries. It’s not trying to be relevant. It’s not too concerned about being seeker-sensitive. It is preaching the truth, as it has done for 2,000 years. It is not a franchise, nor does it say that if you can’t find the size you like here, you can try another one on next door.

I could not make church come to me on my terms. I could not be a consumer with my spiritual life, nor should church exist to make me as comfortable as possible, like some kind of flight attendant on life’s little journey. Nope, church is CHURCH. It is stepping into the presence of the Almighty GOD and worshipping Him, on His terms. It is above me, it is beyond me, and yet, in a strange way, it is me. And because I make up that church, I want to make sure I’m at the right one. I want my worship to be as true as possible, as right as possible, and as close to that of the angels as I can get it.

It’s a bit more than choosing between Colgate’s latest whitening formula and Crest’s fancy flavors. It has to be.

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Author: Rebecca

Orthodox Christian. Writer. SAR K9 handler-in training. All three of those are deeply related.

9 thoughts on “Freedom of choice”

  1. Blond people are dumb
    Black people are poor
    Western Christians are…

    The problem with a generalization is that it assumes the idea (or actions) of a whole group made up of individual people.

    This could be splitting hairs, but there is a slight difference between the phrase “Western Christianity has…” and “Western Christians have…”

    This is because there is a difference between Western Christianity and Western Christians. Not all Western Christians submit to the parts of Western Christianity that elicit your palm smack to the forehead. But the way you talk, we’re all running around like idiots, giddy with stupidity, diving into into vats of toothpaste choices, loving every minute of it.

    How many people actually enjoy spending 25 minutes staring at different face washes? Personally, I hate it. It’s agonizing. But sticking with your analogy, Crest and Colgate will both get your teeth clean. If you want to use baking soda and water that’s fine. I mean, it was the original way, right? Original doesn’t have to mean THE BEST.

    If there’s a film clip about a ministry of the church handing out wheelchairs to handicapped people in need, or if people (heaven forbid) sing a song together with instruments, why do you doubt? Why do you question the sincerity or the quality of their faith?

    October 12:
    It is this thing we do together. We don’t sit and watch a great concert, or a drama, or a film clip. We don’t clap and sway to the music as if at a dance hall. We come before the throne of the great Triune God and together we seek His face, together we seek His mercy, together we worship Him.

    You might have watched a great concert that day, but I sang. It’s only a concert if you’re there to watch. If you clapped and swayed to the music with the attitude that you were in a dance hall, it might as well have been a dance hall. I came before the throne of the great Triune God with all those around me and together, all of us in that room, we sought His face, sought His mercy and worshipped Him. You chose not to because you’re icons weren’t on the walls. That was dangerous.

    Your building doesn’t make your way better. Your attitude towards it does. History and tradition only back up what you already love doing. You might claim that history and tradition alone make your way better, but I can respect tradition and not go to an Orthodox church. I’ll argue that I read the same scripture as you do. I understand the life and death of Christ. I venerate and worship the same God you do. I pray and worship and fellowship with other believers. But I do it differently.

    Yours is the BEST way? The word BEST, in itself is an opinion word. You haven’t come so far as to create an absolute yet. If you feel that strongly, why haven’t you crossed over that line? My guess? You look at your family and friends, and you know you could never judge someone else. You would never want to. The truth lies in the hearts of men—not the church or the building or the chant or the prayer or the sermon or the homily or the film clip or the icon.

    We know the truth and we are not Orthodox. If those things are true, than how can you claim that yours is the best way? That statement only applies to you.

    I love that you are Orthodox. If you respect us (friends & family) and the sincerity of our faith, quit knocking the way we do it. We are not ALL stupid, crazy, ignorant protestants. You can love Orthodoxy without discrediting everything else.

    You chose to drive across the country in a Lexus. I’m okay in my LeSabre. It’s hard to not get irritated when you explain loving your Lexus at the cost of my LeSabre.

    Don’t worry though. Sometimes we go to the store in your car, you know. And if your car is broken, I’m more than willing to give you rides. I’ll even take you back to your own car when it’s fixed. And if I take it too far, which I’m going too, we usually fight about who has to drive everywhere anyway! There. Was that enough humor to diffuse anything I may have said that made you mad?

  2. Now that’s a conversation! Good points on both sides. I do see the consumerism side that Bec is talking about. But i also see evangelical churches doing some real good. And i also like selective use of polar statements because they shock us out of our ruts. They can make us address things and start conversations. Sometimes chaos can be a really good thing. Oh, and i drive Turbo Carrera…because it’s fast. yeah, i wish.

  3. Trivializing religion by comparing ones faith OR praxis to cars or toothpaste is a sad commentary of one’s relationship to God. Jesus doesn’t come in a 6 oz. tube, nor does He come in a pitcher of grape Kool-aid.

    You can sniff glue, chew mushrooms, bang drums or spout whatever heresy you want if that’s what gets you high, but how you feel is neither relevant nor determinant as to your final destination. That’s up to God, thankfully. What the Orthodox faith has done has been to preserve the theology, worship and faith of the Apostles to whom God (yes, Jesus Christ is God) revealed his new covenant.

    Bec’s point, and I for one didn’t miss it, is that human beings, as creations of the almighty God, are not free to define, invent, theorize or experiment when it comes to Christian theology, faith or worship. There ARE absolutes in life. You or I may think we have an opinion that’s worth something, but in the presence of the Almighty all creation bows in reverence to the Triune God.

    Orthodoxy doesn’t have the Martin Luther’s, John Calvin’s, Joseph Smith’s, Jim Jones’, Jim Bakker’s, or Robert Schuller’s who create not merely their own churches, but their own theologies, often via personality cults. Rather, the Orthodox Church is a synodal body, where decisions made since the Ascension of our Lord have been made by councils composed of groups of (primarily) pious men whose deliberations were influenced and shaped by the Holy Spirit.

    These Orthodox were the same men who deliberated and decided the composition of the New Testament. They are the same who defeated Aryanism, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, oh, and how about this one:

    Pelagianism: Another group of sects, centered in Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, is associated with the Irish monk Pelagius (fl. 410). He believed that original sin was not transmitted from Adam and Eve to their children (and thereby to us). Baptism was not considered necessary, and people could be “saved” by their own efforts, that is, they did not necessarily require the grace of God. Many modern liberal Christians agree with Pelagius. (http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/heresies.html)

    And I’m sure many don’t…

    But God doesn’t care what car we drive, and neither does he care for the vanity of men, their ego and arrogance. Bec isn’t being the least bit arrogant about her faith, nor was she putting down individual people really, as much as man’s misguided notion that God is really created in man’s imagination and defined in our imperfect intellect. It’s this plethora of vain imaginings that have given us over 1000 “confessions” of Christianity (in North America), most of which value their freedom and independence more than the Truth preached by Jesus Christ, his disciples and appointed successors.

    St. Peter was Orthodox, as was St. Paul, as was Polycarp, as was Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement, St. Nicholas, Sts. Gregory, Basil, Chrysostom; and St. Patrick, whose feast day we commemorate this month, was also Orthodox, believe it or not.

    If Bec is excited about the fact that she’s found the original, authentic, ancient Christian Orthodox Church, that’s as understandable as her faith is palpable. While faith can be relative, the Truth cannot be. There are absolutes and mysteries that exist through the open windows of those icons, and beyond the incense, that still amaze those seekers who knock, and find the faith of the Apostles and Fathers of the Holy Orthodox Christian Church almost two thousand years after Pentecost.

  4. Comparing one’s faith doesn’t trivialize religion. How did these Orthodox men, who defeated Aryanism, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, oh, and Pelagianism, do so without comparing their faith?

    And who’s comparing faith? Not me. I’m trying to lessen the gap between me (the Western Christian) and Rebecca (the Orthodox Christian) by saying that the TRUTH IS an absolute, no matter where or how it’s practiced. Where or how it’s practiced doesn’t make it the Truth. That same Truth exists with or without the open windows of those icons and, yes, beyond the incense—though I agree, the practice becomes richer in the midst of both of those things.

    We’re not arguing Truth. We both know we have it, Bec and I. We’re arguing the practice of it.

    I didn’t miss Rebecca’s point. I respect what the Orthodox faith has done to preserve the theology, worship and faith of the Apostles to whom God revealed his new covenant. And I respect Rebecca. I love that she loves Orthodoxy and I appreciate her zeal. It’s refreshing.

    I am, however, defending my own faith. She doesn’t like the Western Christian Church or the Western Christian practice as a whole. That’s okay. I don’t particularly either. But (while I enjoy her blog) most paragraphs start with Evangelicals, or Western Christians, or Protestants…

    I’m telling you, as a protestant evangelical western Christian, I don’t fit those statements. THe people I worship with don’t fit those statements. The church she used as an example doesn’t fit those statements. I know because I was there. And saying so doesn’t make me arrogant or trivial. It makes both of us defend the most important things in our lives. And that is a practice that will sharpen both of us.

    As for the car and toothpaste, some people speak in analogies. IT helps create a word picture. Jesus in a 6 oz. tube or a pitcher of grape Kool-aid? Come on now…

  5. That above deleted comment was mine — deleted because I wrote it in the wee hours of the morning, and it sounded much more harsh than I had intended. Oh, the beauty of control. 🙂

    “Buick Dealer” is a friend of mine, and I think is hearing me make personal arguments (based on her personal knowledge) where there were none. (It also makes me reluctant to argue or to allow others to argue with this person. I’m a bit protective.) But NO WHERE in my blog have I ever attacked any one’s personal faith or belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am using a much broader stroke than one church I visited, or one service I was in.

    What I have done is hone in on those views and practices which are not the BEST way to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, I am saying exactly that. I believe Orthodox Christianity is the best practice of faith. I believe it is the TRUEST practice of faith. It is where you find the fullness of Truth. I know that statement is inherently offensive to those outside that practice, though I wish it were not so.

    Orthodox Christians have a statement I have heard often–we know where the Church/Spirit is, but we do not know where it isn’t. That means that I know that my Church is the authentic practice of Christianity, but that also means that I do not know which individuals inside or outside of that Church may not rightly believe. It is not for me to judge.

    Of course this blog would be using the terms Western-Protestant-Evangelical, etc. I did not convert from Islam or Hinduism. I converted from Western-Protestant-Evangelicalism. As I describe the train of thought I rode to Orthodoxy, I will necessarily use those terms as frames of reference for those things I disagreed with, for they WERE the things I disagreed with, and the things I left behind.

    That leads me to generalizations. Generalizations are often true, though it is a slight and tenuous difference between a generalization and a stereotype. The difference, in my mind, would be that a generalization is often quantifiable or qualifiable. The statement “blond people are dumb” I would consider a stereotype. However, the subsequent statement “Black people are poor”, while still a stereotype, comes closer to a generalization because there is quantifiable evidence that many minorities in this country live, proportionally, in greater poverty than the ethnic majority.

    If I haven’t yet completely offended everyone…

    Thus the statements about Western Christianity are not stereotypes, but rather an accurate (and recently documented) generality. Barna, Sider, and others have been researching, writing, and preaching about the facts that Western church culture is in fact the mirror image of its secular counterpart. Sider’s new book, in fact, talks about the scandal of this–that the Evangelical churches have become obsessed with consumerism and self-fulfillment at the expense of (what I will call) authentic praxis. So I’m not just sharing my opinion. These are things that I have observed and studied, and others (inside and outside those churches) have also observed and studied.

    I’m not comparing churches or faiths to find a preference (which flavor do I like the best), nor were those synods and saints of the early Church who defined the tenants of authentic Christianity. I am looking at the standard (historic Christianity) and measuring others against it. And as Christians we are CALLED to do this. Where would the Church be if there had not been those councils who defined the doctrines of the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and those things necessary to call oneself a Christian? What concerns me (and I think the above “anonymous” poster) is that I see too much of these things already fading away. At Christian bookstores books written by people who would have been declared the worst kind of heretics 1,500 years ago sit among more benign works. Most people shopping in those stores cannot tell the difference, nor are they inclined to do so. I am convinced, largely, that if St. Peter (on whom Christ built the Church) walked into many of the churches on this planet, he would recognize neither the theology or the practice.

    I guess I would ask ANYONE visiting this blog (or commenting to this thread) to define for me how you measure the TRUTH of what faith you practice. Is it an objective standard? Is it a subjective one? I need to see what ruler you’re using.

    That is if anyone is still with me…

  6. That above deleted comment was mine — deleted because I wrote it in the wee hours of the morning, and it sounded much more harsh than I had intended. Oh, the beauty of control. 🙂

    “Buick Dealer” is a friend of mine, and I think is hearing me make personal arguments (based on her personal knowledge) where there were none. (It also makes me reluctant to argue or to allow others to argue with this person. I’m a bit protective.) But NO WHERE in my blog have I ever attacked any one’s personal faith or belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am using a much broader stroke than one church I visited, or one service I was in.

    What I have done is hone in on those views and practices which are not the BEST way to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, I am saying exactly that. I believe Orthodox Christianity is the best practice of faith. I believe it is the TRUEST practice of faith. It is where you find the fullness of Truth. I know that statement is inherently offensive to those outside that practice, though I wish it were not so.

    Orthodox Christians have a statement I have heard often–we know where the Church/Spirit is, but we do not know where it isn’t. That means that I know that my Church is the authentic practice of Christianity, but that also means that I do not know which individuals inside or outside of that Church may not rightly believe. It is not for me to judge.

    Of course this blog would be using the terms Western-Protestant-Evangelical, etc. I did not convert from Islam or Hinduism. I converted from Western-Protestant-Evangelicalism. As I describe the train of thought I rode to Orthodoxy, I will necessarily use those terms as frames of reference for those things I disagreed with, for they WERE the things I disagreed with, and the things I left behind.

    That leads me to generalizations. Generalizations are often true, though it is a slight and tenuous difference between a generalization and a stereotype. The difference, in my mind, would be that a generalization is often quantifiable or qualifiable. The statement “blond people are dumb” I would consider a stereotype. However, the subsequent statement “Black people are poor”, while still a stereotype, comes closer to a generalization because there is quantifiable evidence that many minorities in this country live, proportionally, in greater poverty than the ethnic majority.

    If I haven’t yet completely offended everyone…

    Thus the statements about Western Christianity are not stereotypes, but rather an accurate (and recently documented) generality. Barna, Sider, and others have been researching, writing, and preaching about the facts that Western church culture is in fact the mirror image of its secular counterpart. Sider’s new book, in fact, talks about the scandal of this–that the Evangelical churches have become obsessed with consumerism and self-fulfillment at the expense of (what I will call) authentic praxis. So I’m not just sharing my opinion. These are things that I have observed and studied, and others (inside and outside those churches) have also observed and studied.

    I’m not comparing churches or faiths to find a preference (which flavor do I like the best), nor were those synods and saints of the early Church who defined the tenants of authentic Christianity. I am looking at the standard (historic Christianity) and measuring others against it. And as Christians we are CALLED to do this. Where would the Church be if there had not been those councils who defined the doctrines of the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and those things necessary to call oneself a Christian? What concerns me (and I think the above “anonymous” poster) is that I see too much of these things already fading away. At Christian bookstores books written by people who would have been declared the worst kind of heretics 1,500 years ago sit among more benign works. Most people shopping in those stores cannot tell the difference, nor are they inclined to do so. I am convinced, largely, that if St. Peter (on whom Christ built the Church) walked into many of the churches on this planet, he would recognize neither the theology or the practice.

    I guess I would ask ANYONE visiting this blog (or commenting to this thread) to define for me how you measure the TRUTH of what faith you practice. Is it an objective standard? Is it a subjective one? I need to see what ruler you’re using.

    That is if anyone is still with me…

  7. hey beck

    I believe there is absolute truth – but i am of the thought that is houvering a little over our heads. In sight but out of reach. In reading some of the comments – what struck me was the comment that the protestant church was built on people’s theologies but that the Orthodox church was built on absolute truth (which counsels of MEN later voted on) that to me seems again like man’s theologies. I think there are better ways to express our faith – more true ways. But i think God in His grace has choosen to meet with anyone who is willing to seek His face. I think you would agree Bec that this process is a journey and I would not agrue that He has you right where He wants you. But I also know that He has me right where He wants me for now. It has taken me a long time to say this but I truely believe that He is bigger than our theologies. (Nicki)

  8. Hey, Nicki- Good to hear from ya’.

    I see your point, but here’s what got me very early on in my search. I agree that, in instances, absolute truth is above our grasp. (In Orthodoxy, we’re real quick to recognize the “Mystery.”)

    Yes, the councils were made up of men, but Orthodoxy teaches that those men were led by the Holy Spirit, guided into Truth. And one of the things I realized was that if I trusted them enough to read the Scriptures God led them to put together, and to believe the basic tenants of Christianity (the Trinity, fully-divine/fully-human natures of Christ, bodily resurrection, etc.) then I should be willing to trust them on the other things (Church order, practice, and theologies). Straying too far from those truths (and many churches today do)or a reluctance to trust historic doctrine leads to all kinds of errors and heresies.

    I, too, believe that God is willing to meet with anyone who seeks His face. I think anyone, even those without written Scriptures or encounters with Christians, who seek Him will find Him. That is His promise. There are Christians outside of the Church, and there are those inside who probably not be lined up on His right hand at Judgement (Lord, have mercy.) But as far as Church goes, for those who call ourselves His people, the Holy Orthodox Christian Church is the FULLNESS of Truth. All you need is here. And the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

    Thanks for the comments. I miss you guys! You are always in my prayers.

  9. I believe TRUTH is an objective standard. For that reason, I don’t measure it. It either is or isn’t.

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