December 3, 2020

Mule: Orthodoxy and Revival


Note from CM: One of our regular commenters goes by the handle, “Mule Chewing Briars.” I’ve been enjoying his blog lately; he writes at A Mule in the Chapter House. In some recent comments he’s made here and in the following post, I recognized a story with a trajectory similar to my own. I think you will enjoy it and benefit from reading it. Thanks, Robert, for letting us re-post it.

* * *

The pastor at the the Assemblies of God church my wife attends spent 45 minutes last Sunday pleading with God for a “community wide revival.”  Now, although I was baptized in a church that isn’t known as a hotbed of revival, I spent around thirty years of my life between 1973 and about 1996 in and out of different revival-oriented churches. Somehow, I had gotten the idea that the church into which I was baptized was not a church to be taken seriously by serious Christians, and in 1973, I considered myself a serious Christian. You see, I had a serious “come to Jesus” moment. After several years in the late sixties, early seventies drug-and-rock-and-roll culture, something of a revival broke out among people my age. It was called The Jesus Movement, and I don’t want to think about the influence it had on American Protestantism because dwelling on that depresses me profoundly. Suffice it to say that in 1968, Protestantism was a pursuit for grown-ups and for those young people who aspired to that label. Fast forward forty years and the most important thing in Protestant Christianity is that it be relevant, i.e. amenable to a group of people who, as CS Lewis said of Susan Pevensie, want “ to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as [possible] and then stop there as long as [one] can.” Boomer fingerprints are all over early 21st century Protestant Christianity, and you can barely see inside for all the smudges.

The church into which I was baptized was a Constantinian church, that is to say, a state church or an ethnic church. It was old-school. A Christian was someone who was born into the ethnic group and who had been baptized into its fellowship as an infant. The Assemblies of God church I found refuge in in 1973 was what I guess you would call a Revival church. Father Stephen Freeman, on his excellent blog Glory To God For All Things, does a very good job of explaining the difference. You become a member of a Revival church by “getting saved” and undergoing baptism as an adult.  It was implied that something was defective if you had only the first level of Christianity. It was implied that the only thing baptism accomplished for you as an infant was to make you wet. I remember the Assemblies of God pastor and many of the more eminent layfolk considering people in my native church valid objects of evangelism. I did too, and it led to some embarrassing incidents where I displayed too much zeal and too little discernment. There are a lot of very pious people in the Assemblies of God.  I could tell the difference even when I was very young. A Congregational minister in whose choir I sang because my mother earned a stipend as their choir leader often allowed his Assemblies of God-ordained sister to preach when he was absent. The difference was between night and day. It took a while, and a lot of growing up, before I could appreciate the serious Christians in my ancestral church.

jesus-people-time-magazineThe “Jesus Revolution” started in earnest in my neck of the woods in the early 70s. A lot of the ne’er-do-wells I hung around with at the time put down the hash pipes, picked up Bibles and headed for the churches, especially the more progressive, cooler ones that embraced coffee houses with lots of espresso and folk-rock bands as a means of attracting truculent, “hard to reach” young people. The idea was that we would funnel from the coffee houses into the churches, eventually. What a surprise to find that the coffee houses digested the churches and now it is very, very difficult to find a church that still acts like the churches of my parents’ generation, what with introits, Kyries, responsive readings, and all of that panoplia. Indeed, it is hard to find a church that will admit to being a church at all – we are overwhelmed with Worship Centers, Family Life Centers, Gathering Places, Deliverance Ministries, etc, and sometimes you have to dig pretty hard to find out what brand of Christianity is subscribed to.

Now, I did not leave Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism because I was “disillusioned” with Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism.  Evangelicalism fulfilled its purpose in my life. It introduced me to Jesus Christ, which 20 years as a member in good standing in my ancestral Reformed church did not do. This bothers me, because it was not that I didn’t have ample opportunity to meen Jesus in the Reformed church. It was that I wasn’t paying any attention. When I  finally started paying attention, it was the Pentecostals who benefited. It was the miracle stories, really, I guess. The Pentecostal God was the kind of God I assumed from my glancing knowledge of the Scriptures. But once Evangelicalism introduces you to Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot further it can take you. It’s a design flaw, really. Everything about Evangelicalism is designed to get you to Jesus as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Whether you stay with Him is pretty much entirely up to you.

Evangelicals in 2013
I left Evangelicalism in its Pentecostal variety because I encountered the Orthodox Church, and I was convinced of her claim to be the apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ on the foundation of the Holy Apostles. That meant that the original design was much more like my ancestral Reformed church than it was like any of the Revivalist churches I spent time in afterwards. People are born into it and find their spiritual subsistence there. Pastors of revivalist churches  often scratch their heads when I explain this to them, because nobody in the Orthodox Church is “born again” according to their lights. Except the converts from Evangelicalism, who by those rights should be the ‘best’ Christians in the Orthodox Church, but who usually aren’t.

Icon-of-JesusBut once again, I wonder what Orthodox spiritual renewal looks like. I know the Orthodox Church went through some very decadent times, when the faith of the faithful was reduced to a handful of superstitions and family customs. Apart from this historical understanding, the stories of St. Cosmas of Aitolos and St. Nektarios of Corinth make little sense at all. I mentioned to my parish priest that the career of St. Cosmas of Aitolos reminded me a great deal of that of John Wesley, his contemporary. Now the Orthodox Church does not  do “revivals” or “renewals”, like you see so often in the history of Western Christendom, but SS Cosmas and Nektarios were instrumental in “reOrthodoxing the Orthodox”; like Wesley, they founded churches, schools, and orphanges, rekindled parish life.  Father replied, “Wesley, sadly, provoked a schism.  St. Cosmas created unity.” That started me thinking. In every major Protestant awakening, from the first flutterings of Pietism and Puritanism in the 17th century to the Emergent  movement in the 21st, the price of increased spirituality always came to be paid in the coin of schism, with one group of Christians labeling their predecessors as lacking in zeal and not really worthy of the term. Maybe monasticism takes the place of this in the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

know what my wife’s pastor is saying. The darkness of this age is getting so thick it is nearly palpable. At a time when we need to love each other or perish, we cannot abide the sight of one another. Jesus has gone from being the Savior of penitents and the Lord of the Church to a nosegay for our culture and an issuer of seals of approval for our political positions, left or right.

But I don’t want another revival. Please, Lord, don’t send another revival. We won’t survive another revival.

Send the Holy Spirit, but Lord, to be honest, I haven’t been Orthodox long enough to know what this would mean for my wife’s pastor’s community, for my county, for my city, right now.


  1. I like the part about the schism coming about due to revival. However I would suggest that schisms happen across Christianity from the evangelical to mainstream Protestant to Catholicism. When I was growing up Catholic I recall how some Catholics looked upon Jesuits. Too liberal, too social justice oriented, etc… And there can be a sense of schism between different Catholic orders. I remember when I was in Crusade and speaking to several Lutherans. Hearing about how schisms between the ELCA, Missouri, and Wisconsin synods surprised me. And then in evangelicalism you have the different schisms between the different fundamentalist churches and ministries. For example look at how Campus Crusade as an organization looks down upon Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship?

    Perhaps (and I’m thinking to myself….) it’s not schisms that we are talking about but broken human nature. Sometimes in an effort to improve things Christians of all stripes instead make it worse. Maybe it just shows how screwed up we all are. I don’t know…I’m pontificating…

    • I suspect the tendency toward schism has much more to do with the innate human tendency toward tribalism than anything else. You may observe it in other movements as well. Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, socialism.
      Physics vs biology vs engineering vs medical. PC vs Apple vs Linux.

      It’s a tribal thing.

      • It’s like fundamentalism. Fundementalism is not limited to religion. You can find it in politics, atheism, sports, hobbies, etc… I agree with you Dave.

        • Christiane says

          Hi EAGLE,

          I am involved in reading SBCVoices and they are reviewing mistakes made during their ‘Conservative Resurgence’ (some call it the ‘Fundamentalist Take-over’);
          and the comments there are very diverse.

          Apparently there is SOME awareness in the SBC that the ways the CR accomplished its mission did some lasting damage to the SBC.

          I was reading MULE’s wonderful post, and came across this part:
          ” At a time when we need to love each other or perish, we cannot abide the sight of one another. ”

          and I thought, that is a perfect description of what is happening now in some quarters of the SBC, where even they acknowledge that the CR created a ‘warrior class’ and that there is entirely too much internal hostility that has lingered among the ‘survivors’ (?) and I use that term sadly, because a lot of people were shown the door, or left, or were fired, or driven away at the time of the CR, and those who remain are infested (unwillingly) with the seeming inability to appreciate the diversity within their own ranks, even now when they have closed ranks around their own exclusiveness.

          • Thanks!! I’ve seen that exclusivity in other faith movements, its quite disturbing. The question will be this…will they atone and admit they screwed up? Will they help out the person that was fired, shown the door, etc… and go back to them and ask for their forgiveness?

            Talk is cheap…actions speak louder than words.

  2. Yes, we’re screwed up and screwed–plain and simple.

    Mule, thanks for allowing us to know you better.


  3. @Mule………appreciate hearing your story and thoughts. I am a cradle Roman Catholic who never left the Church–or wanted to—save some serious rationalizations for my sins in college!

    I often do not understand the journey that you and so many others have made in finding you faith, so whenever I can learn the whats and whys and questions and answers from other Christians (or those searching still) I grow in my own faith and understanding.

    The reason I love I-Monk is the discussions and support as we (mostly in love) sharpen our own beliefs and understandings of what it means to follow Christ.

  4. Mule,

    I and wife have been seeing ourselves the past several years as being more in tune with EO theology than the Evangelicalism we’ve traveled in the past 50+ years. However, after exploring the local EO congregation’s website the Guide to Church Etiquette section is just off-putting. Seems like majoring in minors. Maybe I’m just too “American”, but how do you deal with this seeming “legalism”?


    • I’m Catholic, and I’ve seen something similar in a couple of my nearby parishes. What all is in the guide? The things I’ve seen are usually just please dress modestly, please show up on time, please no food/drink/gum, please don’t be loud while other people are praying. Oh, and please don’t leave until Mass is over (because there are people who bail immediately after receiving Communion).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Don’t forget “TURN OFF THOSE CELLPHONES!”

        I remember when one went off right in the middle of the Consecration…

      • Michael and others…

        This seems to go beyond just normal common concerns.


        • I’ve met (and in fact have friends who are) legalistic people, and can’t stand the trait. No flowers on the altar! There are too many candles- remove one NOW! Argh, that priest censed the Gospel too few times! That kind of thinking drives me up the wall, especially when said person has more interest in such nitty gritty ceremonial things than in the people who actually come to church and whether they are having/will have a genuine encounter with Christ.

          But I don’t know. I just read through that Guide to Church Etiquette from St Nicholas Orthodox Church, and none of it really bothers me. It actually cleared a couple of things up for me regarding my (admitedly small) experience of Orthodox worship. Maybe it’s because I’m accustomed to living in a foreign culture and so am always sensitive to potentially commiting cultural faux pas- things which may be of small account to me but are big no-no’s for those around me. If I had been given a document like that one the last time I was visiting the local Buddhist temple and inadvertently walked in on some ceremony or other, I would have been grateful.

          Perhaps the difference is the attitude towards such things. If somebody pounces on me after the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas for crossing myself at the wrong time, or for having my legs crossed or something, caring little for the sincerity of my prayers, we have a problem. But if the impression I have that these are guidelines to help newcomers avoid faux pas and help them participate in the Divine Liturgy well (and without making fools of themselves) is echoed in the attitude of the congregation; if the folks at St Nicholas see such things as means to an end rather than ends in themselves, and are gracious about accepting me even if I don’t always dot every i or cross every t, then I don’t see a problem.

        • Crossing legs? Really??

          Yeah that’s a bit much.

          • In the Middle East, it is considered rude to point one’s feet at anyone. I believe this is what is behind this particular admonition.

          • Well sure, but that church is in Arkansas.

          • After having attended an Orthodox Church for 2 years (and living in Arkansas!), I can say none of those “rules” were ever told to me, but I’ve intuitively picked up on them. I do not lean back in a relaxed position or cross my legs in Church as if I were at home on the couch. We live in a very casual even flippant culture that has practically lost all sense of decorum. I appreciate that the Orthodox Church is a place where respect is shown in the presence of God.

          • Also, the Orthodox understand that since our bodies and souls are united, our bodies are involved in our prayers. This is the main reason why casual body positions are to be avoided in Church – we should not approach God in a prayer in a casual manner, and if our bodies are too casual our souls probably are too. I think this is pretty well explained in the article you linked.

    • I don’t experience the Orthodox Church as legalistic, any more than I would consider the Marine Corps legalistic. The Church is demanding, but she’s trying to prepare you for a lifelong battle with the payoff being that you will have to live forever in the unmediated presence of God, which will be a torment if you haven’t been “properly trained.”

      In addition to what Michael said, going to an Orthodox parish is like hopping in a time machine and going back 60 years in terms of church culture. People are expected to dress for church and maintain decorum. There were some OPC and LCMS parishes I visited that had the same attitude. People will look down on you if you don’t conform, and you can either get huffy about it or comply. With my hippie ethos, I found it more salutatory to comply.

      • Josh in FW says

        What about all the ethnic/territorial disputes?

        • They’re a mess. The result of sin.

          Did you expect me to try to defend them? 🙂

          There is something that bothers me. Orthodoxy is all about honoring the sacrifice of your ancestors in preserving the faith for you. There is still a large part of me that believes I should return to the RCA and try to nudge it in a more Orthodox direction. I don’t think it would be that hard.

          • Josh in FW says

            Good answer. I find the ethnic/territorial politics one of a couple of barriers for me to the EO. Of course, all Christian Traditions have their negatives which in one reason I haven’t actually left the Evangelical Church where I’m currently a member. There are some things that I’m not satisfied with, but I don’t want to trade one set of problems for a different set of problems. Ideally, if I left my current church it would be to join one that is a better representation of Truth. Unfortunately, I find it increasingly difficult to determine what is True.

        • Not only disputes, but ongoing atrocities. In general, Orthodoxy tends to ally itself with the most right-wing or fascistic elements of society. So while the theology and liturgy may be nice, you have to ask yourself whether you can, in good conscience, support their politics.

          • “In general, Orthodoxy tends to ally itself with the most right-wing or fascistic elements of society.” Evidence for your assertion please? I would point to many examples even (especially) in recent times of oppression and martyrdom of Orthodox Christians under right wing and fascistic elements of society as contrary evidence.

          • I should add that Greek Orthodox leaders are deeply divided on the question of whether to support the Golden Dawn, while Russian Orthodox leaders are necessarily (being state-controlled) united behind Putin.

          • The Russian Orthodox Church is not state controlled.

      • ‘The Church is demanding, but she’s trying to prepare you for a lifelong battle with the payoff being that you will have to live forever in the unmediated presence of God, which will be a torment if you haven’t been “properly trained.” ‘

        Brilliant! Thank you!

      • Ok, maybe I didn’t realize that the OE and the Marine Corps were on the same mission ;o)

        BTW, who says the presence of God will be a torment if I haven’t been properly trained in EO ettiquette?


        • I think he was referring to the fasting and ascetic disciplines of the Church in general as being training for eternity, not the etiqutte per se.

          • Except for the hand kissing the thing read like something from my hyper-fundy Church of Christ upbringing. Been there, done that, refuse to conflate culture with Godliness. Going back 60 years culturally is not appealing at all.


          • Tom VM –

            I read the list. It does seem to be more about the guidelines for proper behavior in the Church. I can tell you that I have broken every rule in that book, and the Greeks still put up with me.

            I didn’t know you were CoC. I had a friend who grew up in a very rigorist Restorationist background and because of this he became very hyper-observant as an Orthodox. He was never able to find a jurisdiction sufficiently observant enough of the canons. The Restorationists seem to attract this sort of perfectionistic behavior and I have never been able to fathom it.

  5. Mule,
    Do you think you could do another post on what it is was that led you to be convinced that the Orthodox church is truly the apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ on the foundation of the Holy apostles? I’ve studied a little bit about the Orthodox Church. One day I would like to attend worship at one, which I’ve read you must do to truly understand the Orthodox Church. But I must say I don’t agree that it is the truly apostolic Church. I’m still Protestant through and through. As much as may be wrong in the Evangelical church I still believe people are much more likely to hear the call to repent and be saved there than in any other church. I still believe that the Orthodox and Catholic church cultures are too likely to lead people to put their faith in the rituals of the church rather than in Jesus Christ. But I’m still interested in learning more about the Orthodox Church and would be glad to hear your own reasons for believing it is the true church.

    • I still believe that the Orthodox and Catholic church cultures are too likely to lead people to put their faith in the rituals of the church rather than in Jesus Christ.

      When you say rituals, do you mean sacraments? Because in Catholic and Orthodox teaching, Christ is present in, and gives grace through the sacraments. Catholic and Orthodox both believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In confession, Catholics believe that we confess not just to the priest, but to Christ Himself, and that it is He Himself who grants absolution through His priest.

      I get what you’re saying when you talk about putting faith in the rituals of the church rather than in Jesus, but for Catholics and Orthodox, those go hand in hand. For us to say “Forget the church rituals, I want Jesus” would be a bit like being anti-plumbing, because we want water, not pipes.

      • Great illustration. Just don’t forget to include us Lutherans with that. And high Anglicans.

        I would add that the reason Christ is inseparable from the Sacraments is because He is inseparable from His Word. The name of the Trinity in Baptism, and the Words of Institution in the Eucharist: It is impossible for Christ to be absent where those are found. You might be able to get a Jesus fix elsewhere, but nowhere else is it promised.

      • Michael,
        That’s a helpful illustration and explanation. Next time I need to try and explain what Catholics belive about teh sacrament I’ll use that. Just to clarify my own comment, I’m not saying the church should have no rituals, just that we should be careful that our faith is in Christ and not in the ritual itself.
        Interestingly enough, the pipe illustration is one I’ve also heard used for Spiritual disciplines. That they are a conduit by which God’s grace flows to us and works in us.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That’s the difference between Liturgical and Non-Liturgical church traditions.

        And Sacraments and Sacramentals, expressing the spiritual in physical forms, guard against a “too spiritual” Gnosticism. Including that greatest of “Sacraments”, the Incarnation — think “God Incarnate having to squat and take a dump behind a bush.” (Speaking of spiritual scatology, I understand there is a Jewish “blessing” prayer used when going to the bathroom — it thanks God who can open and close the orifices of the body, and how having to go to the bathroom means you’re alive.)

    • Jon A –

      In addition to what Michael said – [the Latins are too much on the ball today]

      I dunno. How did you come to be convinced that the Bible was the Word of God rather than just an interesting collection of old stories and poetry? For me, when I started reading the Bible, I encountered a Face who knew me. The same way with the Orthodox Church. When I started attending her services, there was a Face there who wasn’t present in any of the other churches I had ever been in.

      As far as people being likely to hear the call to repent and be saved, there are a host of assumptions wrapped up into that phrase that i don’t want to unpack. When I started spending time with genuine Orthodox Christians, drinking wine, smoking cigars and all that, my Evangelical fastidiousness kept telling me ‘these people are as lost as a chattering poltergeist’. Then they’d tell me some story of a great aunt who chose to be martyred rather than convert to Islam, and they’d get this far away look in their eyes and tell you ‘My Lord and His Mother mean everything to me. I’d take a sword in the gut too before I’d give them up.’

      • Mule,
        That answers why you personally chose to join the Orthodox church, but is there something else that leads you to believe that it is the apostolic church and that other churches can’t make that claim (if that’s what you believe). I’m not looking to pick an argument with you or anything. Though I do disagree with some of what I know about the Orthodox church I am genuinely interested in what it teaches and understanding it correctly. And I’m not somebody who believes they are all lost and going to hell. My own tradition is Southern Baptist, and I don’t like when I think people are misrepresenting my tradition, so I try not to misrepresent others.
        As far as why I believe the Bible to be the Word of God, it is a combination of faith, tradition, and Scripture itself.

      • Christiane says

        it does seem that among the Orthodox and among Catholics, there is a passion for the faith that IS focused on Christ . . .

        for evangelicals who tend towards fundamentalism, I see a passion for pointing the finger at sinners and ‘others’ that they focus on in ways that I cannot see does much for those that they consider ‘sinners’. I suppose that passion against sinners helps to forge their own identity as righteous people, but how I wish they had the same passion for following the commandments of Christ to love and serve instead of to judge and condemn.

        • @Christiane…..

          I would suggest that the Catholic and Orthodox theology also recognize sin, but the finger-pointing tends to be directed at ones’ OWN sins, rather than that of others. (EXCEPT for notorious public sinners, like Pelosi and Biden.) Yes, YOU are a hopeless sinner…..and so am I, and everyone around us.

          • Christiane says

            Hi PATTIE,

            I agree that Catholics and the Orthodox practice humility about their own sins and ask for mercy and forgiveness.

            I disagree that Catholics and the Orthodox are ‘hopeless’ . . . to be a hopeless despairing person, even concerning the power of sin over us, is not in our DNA . . . if we fall in our weakness, we acknowledge it, and seek the forgiveness that is offered by the great mercy of God . . . if we do this, we must also be willing to avoid the places and people and occasions that might lead us into committing that sin again . . .

            and Catholics and the Orthodox also have the great Prayer of Our Lord to help us, and within it, we call on Our Father to ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.

            No, we may be sinners needing God’s mercy, but we are not without the hope we have that is anchored in Christ Our Lord.

            ‘hopeless’ is not a Catholic or Orthodox state, no.

  6. I was born in the Evangelical Covenant Church (which is still one of my favorite expressions of Evangelicalism), but when we moved out of state we ended up in the RCA, which is my father’s church home – and if you saw my last name you’d see why! 😉 It’s a good place in a lot of ways — not quite evangelical, not quite mainline.

    “The price of increased spirituality always came to be paid in the coin of schism, with one group of Christians labeling their predecessors as lacking in zeal and not really worthy of the term. ”

    Boom. “Revival” far, far too often means “come and follow us! We’re the ones with the Holy Spirit unlike those other Christians.” Not every time, but it seems to be the implication. If only they’d punched old ladies like Todd Bentley or knocked them over like Benny Hinn 😉

    I can feel a good rant about revival chasing forming in me….

    • lemmee guess, your last name has a van der in it?

      • Sorry, just one of those two 🙂

        • I’ve spent some time at Calvin in Grand Rapids for continuing education events. Learned what the term ‘Dutch Bingo’ meant, among other things.

          Not Dutch. But my seminary advisor is. So I could play, at least for a little while.

    • We had our home in 2 ECC churches over 15 years. Now in northern New England — not so much. A very formative experience for us.

  7. I tend to think of Novatianism, Montanism, and Donatism as the first “too holy for the rest of you schlub christian” schisms. They all happened quite early, in the first few centuries, so this isn’t a new problem by any stretch.

  8. Emerging Human says

    Admittedly the Jesus Movement led some into some bad spots: some of the music is/was awful, the whole “shepherding” thing, the Calvary Chapels and Vineyards, But my impression of the post is that we should get rid of those dirty hippies and their coffeehouses so the “real” churches can run the Christianity Show again.

    • To be fair, the “shepherding thing” was a reactionary christianization of the anti-institutionalism ethos of the time. I actually think it was an attempt to make Christianity real and relevant. But, there are people who just shouldn’t be around power – no matter the structure, they will distort it.

    • You are attributing an attitude to the author that isn’t there. “Dirty hippies” – how did you come up with that from what he wrote?

  9. I can relate somewhat to this post. Both my grandfather (on my mom’s side) and my father are AoG pastors. So I understand the whole emphasis on revival. Although, I must say, my dad is probably one of the most reserved Pentecostals you’ll ever meet. We rarely had “revival” services in my church growing up (in fact, I honestly don’t remember is we ever did), and I think my dad is a natural skeptic (something I’ve inherited from him). I remember when all the nonsense associated with the Toronto Blessing was happening, my dad had no time for it at all. So I guess the fact that I grew in what I consider a theologically-grounded Pentecostal environment makes me sort of an anomaly.

    So I think that’s part of my problem. I genuinely believe there are such things as authentic Pentecostal or Charismatic experiences. I believe God heals people. I believe He gives people words of knowledge or even messages in tongues. But I don’t believe these are things that we are supposed to chase after. But we do have to be open to them. I don’t see a lot of churches that are willing to live in that tension. Some are, but they seem to be relatively few and far between. I can’t see converting to Orthodoxy even though I have good friends who are Orthodox and I’ve attended many services. I think one of the largest factors to me is that it just seems like a slap in the face to my spiritual heritage. Also, there are things that I can’t confess. I don’t believe anything happens to the elements when they are blessed. I just don’t. Does that mean I’ve been brainwashed by Zwingli? Perhaps, but I just can’t see how I could ever un-wash it…

    • Staying where you are to honor your ancestors is as Orthodox an instinct as anyone can have. I cannot see any harm that could possibly accrue from that.

      Zwingli is a major obstacle that I never had to face. I thought veneration of the Mother of God and icons would be a problem for me, but they weren’t. I had some help from unexpected sources. Flannery O’Connor destroyed my iconoclasm with a single story after it had resisted some very capable theological arguments.

      Orthodoxy is more like Pentecostalism than it is like classical Protestantism. You should hear some of our ghost stories. When I was investigating Orthodoxy, I took my family back to the Assemblies of God from the PCA because I thought it was a step in the right direction. I stand by that decision.

      • MCB,

        Which O’Connor story? I recently attempted to delve into her stories, as she comes highly recommended from people respect enormously. I wanted to love her, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

        • Mule Chewing Briars says

          Parker’s Back.

        • You too, eh? I still haven’t acquired a taste for Flannery O’Connor either, though I feel like I ought to have. Recommendations are funny things.

          On the other hand, the first time I read G.K. Chesterton, I totally didn’t get him at all. Had read C.S. Lewis reference him positively and was expecting something similar, but Chesterton was unsystematic in the extreme and didn’t have that clarity and logic that I loved in Lewis. His biography of Francis frustrated me endlessly, because it ws the first book I ever read on Francis and there was more of reflection and meditation about it than biography. I wanted facts of Francis’ life- a narrative- so I could get to know him, but Chesterton just piled on paradoxes and impressions and Franciscan critiques of modern culture. Of course, now I love Chesterton absolutely for precisely these reasons, but it took me a bit to get the hang of him. Who knows, maybe one day the same will happen with O’Connor.

          • Thank you MCB. I’ll look that up.

            Glenn, I simply assuming that it is my weakness. Again, my respect for the ones who refer me are such that I am not prepared to say that Ms. O’Connor is not a fine writer. Indeed, I am able to discern that her writing is of a very high quality. Very evocative and expressive.

            Its rather like meeting a woman whom I can see is obviously very pretty and yet I feel no particular attraction to her. In fact, after spending a couple hours with her I find myself looking around for something else to do. She’s very nice and very attractive. We just aren’t hitting it off.

            I’ll take Ms. O’Connor out on a second date and see if I do better. 😉

  10. My stomach “twists” when I see the word revival. One of the “holiness churches” in my hometown had a regularly scheduled annual revival – which seemed strange to me. I thought of revival as being more spontaneous. Revival to me means something that was once alive but now is dying is brought back around again. In other words it is for believers to be “awakened”. Evangelism is a whole ‘nuther thing. But my girlfriend attended that church and my brother’s high school sweetheart’s father was the pastor so I went to one of the “revival services.” Pitiful. Scared the daylights out of this then brand new Christian. A man preached the evils of the Living Bible, apparently his sweat level was how they judged his preaching. If his shirt was soaked and sweat was running down his face it was a success. Then they “opened the altar” for anyone to come forward. Unbelievable. Regular attenders poured out of the pews and collapsed at the altar rail and wailed and carried on. I couldn’t get out fast enough. Shortly thereafter I was invited to a church picnic at someone’s home so I went. The regular pastor ( they always had a visiting preacher do the revival – I guess so he could get out of town real quick) and the pastor and one of the young attractive “wailers” who was dressed in one of the briefest bikinis I have ever seen were running around one of the picnic tables. She was screaming with delight and the pastor was laughing and salivating. Yes, the sweet, proper wife of the pastor was there at the picnic. She had a plastic smile pasted on her face. No one else seemed to think this behavior was not appropriate. Oh that Fred, he’s such a great guy. Whatever. Eventually pastor and sweet wife did divorce, the church imploded, district leaders told Fred to take a hike and to this day people sit on opposite sides of the church – pro Fred and anti Fred. So that was my revival experience. What can I say?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My writing partner tells me of churches in his part of the countryside who have similar annual “revivals” held at great expense — attended only by the members of the church (all over 70) and nobody else. (In some of these churches, NOBODY even knows anyone outside the church; it becomes a completely-closed social system.)

  11. Timothy Van Bruggen says

    I so appreciate the journey Mule has taken. I have been on a similar one, but have not left the Assemblies of God for the Orthodox Church. I would point out a things in his essay, however. I have been a worship leader in the AG for quite a few years now, having spent my youth in the Reformed tradition and having a similar “revealing of Jesus” to me that brought me to the AG. However, in the years I have been involved in the AG I have not heard of of believers of other traditions, Orthodox, Reformed, Catholic or otherwise being considered “not saved” and should be targets of evagelization. In the 3 or 4 churches where I have been involved, they were brothers and sisters of the faith, and the difference was mostly in our recognition in the active gifts of the Holy Spirit. But I totally agree with Mule that where the Assemblies of God is lacking is our emphasis on “getting people saved” and then not making disciples . . . walking out the journey of faith with people! That, by far, is more divisive and a failure to our sheep than revival is.
    The other thing that has surprised me about evangelical churches is the complete abandonment of the churches history in preference to their particular denomination, or even worse, their congregation. As a student of church history and music, I am constantly surprised when I propose an ancient hymn like, “Be Thou My Vision” and get blank stares. Even as a pentecostal, or evangelical, I love to hear the music of
    Bach, read scripture responsively in worship, have scripture read and presented aloud in service, as much as I like Chris Tomlin’s lastest song or see the youth do a “human video”.
    And I agree with Phil M. and his dad . . . while I truly believe that authentic pentecostal experiences can happen and do happen, that’s not what church is supposed to be about. I have had a couple of those experiences . . . and they happened in spite of me, not because I was seeking them out . . . but I tend to be Doubting Thomas first, and see if the fruit from such an experience is in line with Scripture.
    In truth, I long for the day where we can reach across denominational and congregational lines, honor the past and present and display the unity that Jesus longed for in his final prayer here on earth. When I can listen to Rutter’s Requiem on Saturday night, sign a Martin Luther hymn on Sunday morning, and lift my hands in praise to God singing a Matt Redman song on Sunday night, and not feel I am abandoning my tradition at any point.
    A great article and conversation . . . one I needed to read this Friday morning! Thank you, all!

    • Timothy,

      Were your type of worship leader more common in the AoG, perhaps many of us would not have waded the Bosporus/Tiber/whatever creek runs through Canturbury on stilts of respectively sufficient length. Be fruitful and multiply, dear sir!

      For the record, my folks are AoG ministers themselves, and are about the most grounded people I know. So you’re hardly alone in the AoG as a person of gravitas. Perhaps Pentecostalism’s second century promises a new direction along the lines you describe. Pax.

  12. The more freedom, the better.

    Keep going.

    Christ …alone.

    Holiness projects might be fun…they might not be, also.

    But they don’t require much faith.

    There’s a big difference between ‘grace for righteousness’…and ‘grace as righteousness’.

  13. What a great discussion!

    I live in Wisconsin and got involved in our version of the Jesus Movement in the early 1970s. I was raised in a couple of mainline Protestant churches. About ten years ago, I became a Lutheran. I’ve been around the block theologically and I don’t think my experience is that unique.

    I’d like to salute the AoG folks on here. I salute those who didn’t get caught up in all the hysteria with the Tornado, I mean Toronto Blessing. I heard secondhand at the time that a lot of AoG pastors were getting a great deal of pressure from their District Supervisors (not sure that’s the right term) to get involved, make sure their church was growing at all costs, etc. I salute those pastors and congregations that have kept their bearings!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My writing partner reported the same management pressure in his (non-charismatic) denomination.

  14. Mule, I just want to say that I’ve been enjoying your comments lately around here more than anything. Your healthy balance of stodginess with genuine self deprecation is so refreshing. (…and for confessional Lutherans, “stogy” is among the highest of compliments 😛 ) Thanks for the great article!

    But I don’t want another revival. Please, Lord, don’t send another revival. We won’t survive another revival.

    Amen. Super-spiritualism always leads to the condemnation of tradition and iconoclasm. It is the sole sacred tradition of the Evangelical circus. Lord have mercy, and help us to seek true unity.

  15. Randy Thompsonr says

    Great post. Thanks. I particularly liked the following:

    “But once Evangelicalism introduces you to Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot further it can take you. It’s a design
    flaw, really. Everything about Evangelicalism is designed to get you to Jesus as quickly and as painlessly as
    possible. Whether you stay with Him is pretty much entirely up to you.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between meeting Jesus and knowing Jesus. Too much of evangelical Christianity consists of introducing people to Jesus–arranging a meeting with him, if you will. But, meeting someone is not the same thing as knowing someone. For example, while at Yale Divinity School, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with the great Israeli general Moise Dayan. I also, once, was in the same room with Norman Mailer. Would either of them know me if we met again? (Difficult to do since they’re both dead, but bear with me.) Of course not. Do I know, really know, either of them? No. We only met, and met once. It seems to me that this is true for way too many people in our country in terms of meeting Jesus, once.. Many been introduced to Jesus, and then left to figure it out on their own, usually with little more than a few legalistic boundary markers.

    The foregoing has helped me make sense of Jesus’ scary words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” There’s a lot at stake in the distinction between (merely) meeting Jesus and knowing Jesus. Too often being “born again” is as much a ritual as infant baptism in a church where religion is as much about ethnicity as anything else.

  16. “But once Evangelicalism introduces you to Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot further it can take you. It’s a design flaw, really. Everything about Evangelicalism is designed to get you to Jesus as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Whether you stay with Him is pretty much entirely up to you.”

    Stopped here for a moment to say, Amen.

  17. If for the sake of my salvation or my spiritual growth in Christ I must identify the one true church and become a member of it, then I’m completely lost at sea; I don’t possess the resources necessary to make an objective determination of that question. And if it is not an issue of my salvation or spiritual growth, then what is the issue? If the issue is growing in my knowledge of Christ, my own experience has led me to the conclusion that it is possible to become more and more intimate with Jesus Christ without needing to be certain that my church has the greatest historical apostolic authority. I take it as a theological truism that schism is a terrible thing; bit we exist as Christians in the wake of schism, and there is no way of putting the genie back in the bottle. To move back in the direction of an ostensible and possibly only imagined original unity itself involves us in schism from the traditions we find ourselves currently in; this is our historical reality as Christians and we can’t escape from it by a retreat backward, because every such seeming step backward involves an inertial energy that in fact tends to deepen and extend the reality of our current situation. I think the truth of the matter is that we can grow in Christ where we are in the midst of our sea of separation, and we can learn to love and recognize each other as fully Christian people across confessional boundaries; in fact, I think that such a generous and embracing acceptance of each other may in fact be the unity that God calls us to unfolding beyond institutional definitions and controls, and beyond any historical claims.

  18. @ Mule;

    I officially left the CofC in 1998. The RM is still moving, but the virus is still there in too many ways. Maybe I’m still over-reacting.


  19. I want to preface the core my comments by saying that I have great admiration for Eastern Orthodoxy; its mysticism, sacramental life and embodiment of living history. I have learned important things about the meaning of Scripture and its interpretation from Eastern Orthodoxy, and one of my favorite novelists, Fyodor Dostoevsky, was a devoted son of the Russian Orthodox church whose fiction could hardly be imagined apart from Orthodoxy. But I think an important criticism can be made against Eastern Orthodoxy for becoming confined within such hardened ethnic boundaries. If N.T. Wright and the NPP are correct in their re-interpretation of the Scriptures, and salvation is significantly about the incorporation of people who were formerly outside the community of God into the church of Christ where they are to be made into “the righteousness of God,” and an important aspect of this is the breaking down of the walls of division between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, then it is no minor fault that the EO churches wandered down a path that isolated them into what were in many respects ethnic ghettos, with deep and bitter rivalries between the ethnically isolated autonomous churches (Dostoevsky’s fiction in more than one place mentions the hostility between the Russian and Greek expressions of Orthodoxy), and thereby reinforced deep divisions within the church that the salvation earned by Jesus Christ was meant to heal. And while it is true that here in the United States, sincere efforts are being made by some Orthodox (especially converts?) to form a unified church where ethnicity is not such an important element in church life, I think it’s important to remember that these efforts are being made in the midst of and not insignificantly under pressure from the strong denominationalism that is such an important facet of American Christianity; in an important way, American denominationalism has been the catalyst for EO to move away from its confinement in ethnic enclaves and into an identity based on confession and practice rather than ethnic division. So it is perhaps justifiable to say that EO is benefiting from Protestant denominationalism in a way that it would never have outside such a context, which is in way a marketplace context where EO must brand itself in an identifying way beside the other Christian brands (sorry if the commercial analogy bothers some, but those are the facts on the ground) in a way that is attractive to consumers (potential converts, as well as those already in the pews); in such a context, emphasizing ethnicity becomes a great disincentive to “buy”, that is, join or remain in the church. This same criticism can be brought against other Christian groups that have ghettoized themselves ethnically, for instance, the various kinds of Mennonites. If bringing down ethnic division is a significant and determinative dimension of salvation in Christ, then any church practices that reinforce such divisions are a major failure to embody the love of Christ in history.

  20. Robert, you make some great points. I know little about EO but have recently become more interested because they do not seem to be so influenced by Augustine’s duelism and other doctrines I find questionable that so infested Western Christianity.

    If you want to talk ghetto’s, what about Calvin’s Geneva?

    • Well, Calvin’s Geneva was more like a police state than a ghetto; that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  21. Brian Roden says

    As an aside, one of my A/G profs was telling us last year about a recent flight his wife was on, seated next to an Eastern Orthodox scholar who was working on a book about the Holy Spirit. Besides the Bible, the bulk of his research sources were A/G scholars.

    He even told us that he has been in dialogue with some Oneness Pentecostal scholars, and some of them are coming closer and closer to Trinitarianism.

    And the new Pope, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, regulary had an hour of prayer each week with his Evengelical gardner.

    Sounds like God is working among His children in all the major historic streams of Christianity.