June 5, 2020

Which One of Us Is Lost or Confused?

teteUPDATE: Comments closed.

I wrote a bit about this person earlier this month on the “Praying to Mary” discussion.

I’ve been teaching Ethiopian Orthodox students for as long as I’ve been teaching Bible- 17 years.

In all that time, I’ve only met a handful of students who could even begin to explain to me anything about their religion. One student was planning on becoming a priest and was quite knowledgeable and willing to provide information. The others were students who were fasting or practicing some other part of their faith and could explain their practice. I’ve had many good conversations about worship and especially the Christian year.

These students have been quite passive in their approach to the interaction of their faith with the Baptist evangelicalism of most of our faculty and staff. No one was out to convert anyone and no one balked at the Gospel our ministry communicates.

Until this year.

This year I’m experiencing something quite different- an Ethiopian Orthodox student zealous for her version of her faith and eager to challenge the Christianity of others over issues that are important to her.

At first, this was a bit disorienting, and I took several days to reacquaint myself with the unique views of Ethiopian Orthodoxy as compared to other traditions and especially my own evangelicalism.

My student has been very persistent on every issue raised in my class. (We’re reading/discussing Mere Christianity while going through some of the argumentation of the new atheists by means of videoed debates.) She recently asked to read something of a manifesto of her own beliefs. (Oddly, much of it was taken from John Piper.) We’re always wrong. Very wrong. For example, she has debated teachers and students on the issue of the sinlessness of Mary. She’s recently moved to the issue of fasting, continually telling us that our sins can’t be forgiven if we don’t fast.

In the midst of this daily interaction, I’ve become convinced that a good bit of what we are hearing is at variance with the actual teaching of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. The response of other Ethiopian students seems to bear this out. A language barrier may play into this, but she appears to have many deficits in understanding Orthodoxy.

But I am more interested in a greater and more fundamental question: How do I respond to a professed and baptized Christian who has demonstrated, to my way of thinking, almost no understanding of the Gospel at all?

Please note that I am not talking about an understanding of Christian teaching or one’s own tradition. My student has a deep attachment to her tradition and many of its practices. What is not present, however, is a basic understanding of salvation by grace through faith.

Ah yes…..Protestantism rears its ever-present head.

At this point, I can hear the gallery picking up their weapons. I assure you, I understand the dilemma here. I’m not wanting to do an imitation of a Baptist who declares all other traditions null and void. I am not wanting to reject a baptized Christian brother or sister. I am not wanting to be the arbitrator of someone else’s salvation. I am not wanting to put my ignorance forward as “evangelism” and I am not declaring my tradition to be the only valid expression of Christianity.

But I also do not want to make the mistake of assuming something that isn’t there.

My young friend believes in God, but when the Trinity is discussed, Mary is always brought up. An error of emphasis? Yes, but how serious does this go? How serious can it go?

My friend believes she is a sinner, but is confident that her sins are forgiven though her practices while the sins of others remain because they are not Orthodox.

My friend believes in Jesus Christ, particularly in his incarnation as portrayed in the Christ child being held by Mary. She sees her faith as expressed in her Orthodox practice, but her relation to this practice is one of complete confidence in the practices.

For example, today’s episode was a condemnation of those who do not fast, because fasting is the way sins are forgiven.

I am prepared to understand that in some expressions of Christianity, my friend’s confidence in fasting is a kind of confidence in Jesus, but my problem is that she doesn’t know that, or if she does, she’s unable to articulate it recognizably. Her confidence in the practice is much like mine would be if I said, “Walk the aisle at the next revival service, because the only way for your sins to be forgiven is for you to walk the aisle and shake the preacher’s hand.” An error, but how much of an error?

My evangelicalism teaches me that people are lost without Christ and that some are lost in religions that teach truths about Christ but do not place faith in Christ for salvation. My experience with other Christians teaches me that confidence in Christ may look very different in Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism than it does in evangelical testimonies.

Is my concern that my friend does not believe the Gospel a valid concern? Or am I being a judgmental evangelical rejecting the effectual power of baptism and refusing to see the faith that’s in front of me? She has already judged that Protestants are not Christians by any of her standards. Her shock that we believe Mary sinned is constant and unavoidable. But I don’t want to make any version of the same mistake.

Is she lost? Is she someone who does not know Christ? Are there those persons who are caught in Christian religions without faith in Christ alone for salvation? Or is this Baptist judgmentalism and playing God? In wanting to hear some recognizable confession of faith in Jesus, am I demanding what my culture approves and ignoring who she is?

Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous? Or does my young friend simply need the Gospel, no matter what her status, understanding or reaction?


  1. I speak out of ignorance – I have no knowledge of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. But my initial reaction is to wonder where her teaching comes from. I’d be tempted to ask her to “show me!” where the things she does are endorsed or supported by scripture. Which raises another issue of course. What does she treat as scripture and what is the place of scripture? I’m guessing that tradition trumps scripture, but again I speak from ignorance.
    Interesting dilemma though. It seems that it needs to involve some sort of ‘back to basics’ move to establish some common ground from which to begin to progress.
    Sorry I can’t offer deeper insight.

    • Of course, scripture arguments are moot points. She’s mostly informed by tradition as it interprets scripture. She wouldn’t claim any form of sola scriptura. Quite confident that the church is the true teacher of scripture.

      • It seems like this would be all the more reason to ask her what texts/traditions are at the source of these comments. If it would then be possible for you to explore those traditions, you could better communicate on the issue.

      • If you cannot agree on ultimate authority (scripture vs tradition, or scripture vs tradition+scripture, etc) then I’m not sure you will ever agree. Until you are both appealing to the same authority you will not get anywhere…

    • What does she treat as scripture and what is the place of scripture? I’m guessing that tradition trumps scripture, but again I speak from ignorance.

      I think that is a vast simplification we Protestants make. When consulting “tradition”, which really means the creeds given by the ecumenical councils (especially for Eastern Orthodox) – the creed *is* the tradition – and that creed was written specifically with a Scriptural understanding in mind.

      So the problem really is that our contemporary understanding of the Scriptures is clashing with the Scriptural understanding of those who wrote the creed. We play this as Tradition vs Scripture, when it is more like Scripture-at-the-time-of-the-council vs Scripture (all understood from our contemporary view).

      • I get your point, but issues like the power of fasting to gain forgiveness are not creedal issues. One reason I contend that she doesn’t know her own faith well is that she has no idea there is a difference between the incarnation and fasting in terms of importance.

        • Certainly they are not, I was more responding to the other JohnO’s remark about Tradition over against Scripture.

          • 2 JohnOs – I feel quite confused now. 😉

            Anyway – yes your point of tradition over against scripture is noted. My comment was an over-simplified shorthand to suggest that tradition interprets scripture and, as such, essentially becomes the authority.

      • Ethiopian Orthodox are not Eastern Orthodox, so they do not believe all of the ecumencial councils to begin with, and may have a differing view of tradition/Scripture than the Eastern Orthodox do.

        Regarding “our contemporary understanding of the Scriptures . . . clashing with the Scriptural understanding of those who wrote the creed” — such is not the case with the Ethiopian Orthodox who were evangelised by the Coptic Orthodox of Egyptian who rejected the Council of Chalcedon (and thus all subsequent councils) and are therefore at a disjoint from the rest of Orthodoxy.

  2. Michael,

    I’m not Orthodox. However, I find much to admire about Orthodoxy. I think your concerns about the Gospel are valid. You might try asking her about the Nicene creed. You could ask her why it doesn’t mention fasting or Mary and sin, but does talk a lot about Jesus (“who for us men and for our salvation…”). The creed is a big deal for the Orthodox, and rightfully so. You can use this to your advantage. Barring that, you might refer her to an Orthodox priest (Fr. Ernesto?). She sounds a bit confused about her own church’s teachings.


    • Well one matter is that Ethiopian Orthodoxy is a different thing entirely from Other orthodoxies.

      She was quite unhappy with our study of the Apostle’s creed the first week. That’s where the “Where is Mary?” discussion started, leading to the “You people consider Mary a sinner etc” discussion.

      • Are they more in line with the Coptic church than with Eastern Orthodox?

      • Yes

        • That’s because the Ethiopian ‘abounas’ were appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria for many centuries. I think it started in the fourth century and continued up to the twentieth century.

      • Okay, not wanting to jump in with the weapons waving, just looking for clarity.

        When you say she talks about Mary when the Trinity comes up, in what context? Is it the Christological one of what Eastern/Western Christianity came down on the side of in the term “Theotokos”? By which I mean, is she thinking your tradition is harking back to Arianism?

        At least as a representative of an Oriental Orthodox church, her insistence on the sinlessnes of Mary is more evidence that, contrary to some Protestant polemic, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not invented by the Pope in the 19th century – there is a tradition, even in the non-Latin Rite churches, of the sinlessness of Mary 🙂

        I think perhaps a lot of this clash of cultures is because the Reformation in Western Europe, and the churches and denominations born out of it, were aligned on the Roman Catholic versus the rest lines. The Eastern Orthodox get very little look in, not to mention the non-Latin Rite churches in communion with Rome and as for the Oriental Orthodox and Nestorians – no consideration at all!

        So how is this interaction with someone from a church that would be as opposed to the claims of Rome as the Protestants, but for whom the terms of the European/American theological disputes of the last five hundred years have no meaning, going on with the other Baptists?

      • Martha:

        You can go to ethiopianorthodox.org and see a picture on the front page: Father, Son and HS all crowning Mary. That’s my friend in a nutshell.

        Why are we praying to Jesus? was her first question to me. We should be praying to Mary.

        When she heard from a teacher that Mary was a sinner, she launched and hasn’t come back down. This eliminated all of us from the Kingdom.

        You can also see on that web site that there is a nestorian/monphysite controversies. I’m not up to speed on them.

        As to the evidence that Marian dogma goes back earlier, I don’t know of any serious church historian who would argue that. The disagreement over that dogma doesn’t end by finding some evidence of some Christians honoring Mary or calling her sinless. My friend can go on for hours about how if Mary isn’t sinless Jesus is a sinner. She apparently thinks we took a vote at breakfast.

        • Maybe she takes the verse ‘full of grace’ literally (?)

        • Michael,

          I think perhaps another Ethiopian student might have more of an ability to speak to her, particularly if she is expressing thinking that is out of bounds for the Ethiopian Church. That being said, I believe Mary has a particularly strong following among Ethiopian women–I recall the following Time article from several years ago which talked about this:

          Faith that moves mountains

          She dances with the single-minded intensity of the divine. On her head she balances a solid granite boulder, symbol of her mortal burdens. Round and round in syncopated steps, her open palms fluttering up and down in tireless supplication, she strives toward ecstasy. On and on she circles to the soft crooning of “Mariam, Mariam, Mariam,” bending and rising in private communion; the heavy stone never wavers. Suddenly she halts and smiles with such sweetness that the Virgin must surely have answered her prayer.

          Read the rest

          Now, far be it from me to suggest that a reporter would correctly interpret a religious practice, but it does show that there is some sort of Marian devotion at work–and one that some women have an obvious affinity for.

        • “My friend can go on for hours about how if Mary isn’t sinless Jesus is a sinner.”

          Aha! I know nothing about Oriental Orthodox, but here is something that sounds like a distortion of the Augustinian position on Original Sin and how it is transmitted, i.e. “original sin was physically transmitted from parent to child through the concupiscence (roughly, lust) that accompanied sexual reproduction” (though I think this definition is itself a misunderstanding of St. Augustine’s teaching).

          I wager that she is maintaining that since Jesus took His human nature from His mother, if His mother was sinful then that transmitted Original Sin to Jesus’s human nature. Since Jesus was “a man like us in all things but sin”, that is incorrect. Therefore, to have a sinless human nature, His mother must have been sinless.

          That’s not the Roman Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception, but I bet the Monophysite/Miaphysite bent of the Ethiopian Church is at work here also.

          On the other hand, Ihave no difficulty with a picture of the Coronation of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven 🙂

  3. Are there those persons who are caught in Christian religions without faith in Christ alone for salvation?

    I think we have to answer yes to that question. The better question is “Can we recognize that, and how?”

    In wanting to hear some recognizable confession of faith in Jesus, am I demanding what my culture approves and ignoring who she is?

    Is certainly part of “How”. And for someone who is not schooled in thinking religiously – she probably doesn’t know of any way to take “works” apart of “faith” – something I wish that we weren’t so good at doing in our own lives.

    Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous?

    I can think of many people who don’t think that is a ridiculous question – and then many who would.

    • I think the culture question is part of the larger picture.

      For this young woman, the Reformation never happened. It is not on her radar at all. The “squabble of German monks” means as little to her as a dispute between Chaldean monastics means to us.

      So the whole terms of “sola Scriptura”, “justification by faith alone”, “faith versus works righteousness” and so forth are not just unfamiliar, they are totally meaningless.

      I mean, arguing about Biblical inerrancy and “Where does it say that in the Bible?” when looking for Scriptural warrant for practices is not even out of the blocks when the Ethiopian canon contains more books than even the Roman one.

  4. We are all in need of the gospel, both the “believe” and the “follow me” aspects.

    Many of our early beliefs are at best incomplete, at worst horrendously wrong and heretical.

  5. I think we run into this with self proclaimed Christians of all variations – but I have no answer to how far off is too far off… I mean what is absolutely necessary for salvation – I don’t know… I run into this in dealing with other topics – is a difference of opinion as to whether something is outlawed in the Bible something big enough to be a salvation issue, or is it not? We’re all going to be wrong on something when we get to heaven – I firmly believe that none of our denominations will have gotten it right on every issue. I love the Moravian quote about “In Essentials Unity, in Non Essentials Liberty, in All things Love.” but how do we know what are essentials and non-essentials?

    Although – I tend to think that Christ is the easiest essential to agree to. Jesus said “I am the way” how much clearer can you get…. But how that is to be born out in love without looking like you are attacking her tradition (which you aren’t really – because it sounds like she doesn’t have a full understanding of even her own tradition) I have no clue…

  6. It seems to me that either way you go – dropping all bare minimums to effectively lower the bar to admit all professed Christians OR setting some benchmark of a minimal level of biblical standards required – results in problems that are difficult to resolve.

    With one, we are always going to be in danger of condoning error in the name of inclusion and grace. With the other, we are going to have to admit that we are playing judge. And, even if we are ‘kinder, gentler’ judges than your student – we’re still judging.

    I don’t know which error you’re more comfortable with. Me, I’m pretty much stuck with expecting some baseline. It may exasperate and alienate some, but I don’t know where else to turn. My baseline is ultimately centered in an ultimate dependence on grace, even if some reliance on a particular form or appropriating the grace creeps into their equation.

    But if the external means of accessing the grace becomes some kind of lever we can pull without an underlying dependence on the grace of God – then it’s gone to far for me.

    • I’m unsure what the “danger of condoning error” exactly is? It seems to lie with the supposition that we are judged by God based on our correctness? Is that not precisely the opposite conclusion you make about “ultimate dependence on grace”? Is this “correctness” not a cultural condition that modernism has imposed on us? It seems more prevalent (from my eyes) in Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism certainly than in other, older traditions such as RCC, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.

      • Doesn’t the Bible tell us to correct those who go astray? If we someone who has gone astray to the point of heresy, are we not to blame somewhat if we do not offer them correction? Are we risking letting another person fail to reach salvation due to idolotry, even if the idol was created by another professed Christian?

        If we start to allow some to go astray, where do we draw the line. At what point do we start including those that do not call themselves Christian?

        I think that was the concept of “danger of condoning error”. If I am wrong, please feel free to correct me.

      • In the case of the student being discussed, the error that would concern me is the error of removing our dependence on grace by placing our confidence in something else than that grace: a tradition, a denomination, a practice, another authority than Christ.

        We moderns (and especially those of us rooted in evangelicalism) may have a distinct tendency toward propositional faith that predisposes us to strain everything through a checklist of proper theological positions, as determined by our particular filters of orthodoxy. But, personally, I try to reduce my list to the most generous level I can justify, not the most stringent. I have little use for the lengthy checklists. But some may think even my short one is too demanding.

    • This is a question i sometimes struggle with in my own ministry as i deal with young people from different traditions. Where’s the line between a traditional practice that points to and helps them “experience” the grace of Christ and a necessary legalism for them to be accepted by Christ?

      i tend to err on the side of not making a big deal about things and just clearly present Christ and His all-sufficient grace, but Paul’s reaction to the Judaizers in Galatians causes me to pause and wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

      i wouldn’t ever suggest any of the kids i work with to emasculate themselves (well, most of them anyway), but there is a line that we have to toe, isn’t there?

      • The Judaizers drew a clear line in the sand that made their position indefensible: If you were on their side of requiring adherence to OT law and circumcision, you were in. If not, then you were out. That is clearly adding something to salvation by grace through faith.

        In my opinion, if your students are suggesting that others might have a richer, deeper relationship with God through the practice they are advocating – that’s not in the Judaizer’s territory. If they’re trying to make you accept it as mandatory, that’s another story altogether.

  7. I think my first step would be to find out if her -praxis matches her -doxy; that is, I’d make sure for sure that what she’s preaching is accurate. It might be worthwhile to find a Ethiopian Orthodox parish on the web and e-mail a pastor or two, see what they think.

    I’m also wondering if the underlying issue is that she’s homesick, and that this is an expression of retaining some of her identity.

    I think I’d also point her in the direction of a little booklet on the Ethiopian Orthodox website by Pope Shenouda III about fasting, and about how it’s quite clear that fasting in Ethiopian churches doesn’t cause forgiveness, but prepares for it.

    Not convinced that’s entirely gospel, either, but its certainly a little less than what she’s saying.


  8. Steve in Toronto says

    My suggestion may be impossible give difficulties of language and geography but it would be wonderful if you could connect your student with a knowledgeable priest (or even older student) from her own tradition that is small “o” orthodox (father Ernesto Obregon?) the key would be to present authentic Christian orthodoxy to her in a way that will not make her feel as if excepting it does not forces her to reject her own spiritual heritage. You may not be able to turn her into a Baptist (not that you would want to) but you should be able redirect her towards Nician orthodoxy.

    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

  9. I’m curious as to whether this student was raised in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition or converted into it. Sometimes the ones converted in from outside a particular faith are far more zealous than the ones raised in it. What is her background?

    It isn’t judgmental to point out an error — teachers must do that all the time. It IS wrong to set ourselves up as judge, jury, and executioner.

    • Raised in Ethiopia in a homeschool. This is part of her problem. She’s in a bit of culture shock.

      For the folks saying get a priest…I’m pretty sure she would argue a priest back to his car 🙂 Tenacious kid.

      • Then it’s going to take a lot of prayer for this kid to have her eyes opened; those roots will run deeper than a kudzu vine.

  10. I-Monk:

    I’ve been to Ethiopia and shared the Gospel in many homes in a village south of Addis. No one prepped me on what I was encountering with the Ethiopian Orthodox. This girl sounds much more polished and knowledgeable than most; however, EO in general is not gospel-oriented. I found shrines to Michael and Gabriel. I found that virtually ever EO follower was far more interested in Mary than Jesus.

    If anyone in this village publicly followed Jesus, the EO would take their livestock, burn their homes, and/or not allow them to bury their dead. And it got worse from there. Hardcore persecution.

    There are believers within EO, but it’s tough sledding for them and they are not open about their faith unless they are incredibly brave. The doctrine is heavily twisted.

    This girl, I don’t know. But humanity needs grace, and we seek the law. She sounds 100% normal. Works-based justification is so much easier to accept.


    • We’ve seen some tension between EO students and the few evangelical Ethiopians we’ve had. I don’t quite get it.

      • “If anyone in this village publicly followed Jesus, the EO would take their livestock, burn their homes, and/or not allow them to bury their dead. And it got worse from there. Hardcore persecution.”

        Because from the viewpoint of those you label “EO”, they are not “following Jesus”, they are heretics who have left the true faith and are deluded by the devil.

        You see shrines to the archangels as idolatry. They see them as honouring the servants of God. This is what the wars of religion were all about. This is the kind of behaviour that roiled Europe in the sixteenth century. We’ve undergone the upheaval and come to a kind of settlement that says everyone is entitled to express their opinion as long as public order is kept. That kind of secular state imposition does not hold for everywhere in the world.

        • The situation in Ethiopia is serious and persecution, while not endorsed, does happen. We’ve heard it from the EO students and families for years. As I said, our evangelical Ethiopian students have seen and experienced active persecution often personally.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Sounds like Ethiopia is in about the same state as Europe of 500 years ago, where
          “Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room;
          Christian dreadeth Christ who hath a newer face of Doom;
          Christian hateth Mary whom God kissed in Galilee…”
          — G.K.Chesterton, “Lepanto”

    • Might be a reaction on their part for being denounced as idolaters and pagans. Just a wild guess. Doesn’t mean it’s the best reaction, but the Orthodox are not the first to hurl stones in this situation.

      • Actually Sam, I think they might be the ones throwing the first stones. At least a whole lot of the time. And naming facts is not denouncing. It is what it is: shrines for worshiping archangels.

        • Veneration is not worship. Period. Naming facts falsely won’t get anyone anywhere.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            But what if veneration goes overboard into worship?
            From Dulia to Hyperdulia into Latria?

            We Catholics spawn cults, too — Baysiders, Hill-of-Hopers, the antipope-of-the-month who claims that every Pope since John XXIII is false and they alone are True. A lot of these cults start with some form of “Mary Channeling”, and end with actual Worship of Mary instead of Veneration. (In Tridentine Latin, of course; that’s what makes the Tridentine Latin Mass such a hot potato.)

            This was also a problem way-back-when; doesn’t St Paul write about having problems with “worship of angels”?

    • Not replying to a specific comment, per se, but I’ve been reading all the comments – just wanted to say that from where I’m sitting, I juuuust saw the train go off the rails. I’m thinkin’ it’ll be a hard job gettin’ that puppy back on after this.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Somebody tell all these theological trains about a little thing called “Wheel Flanges”. I just got off the thread of a LiveJournal posting that started with an article too long to read and by the third comment had become a Creation-vs-Evolution flamewar. 100+ posts and counting.

  11. Michael, you asked, “Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous?”

    No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous. Many, regardless of their label, are in the pen but are not sheep. Doesn’t Jesus teach that this will occur?

    You also asked, “Or does my young friend simply need the Gospel, no matter what her status, understanding or reaction?”

    Yes she does. We all do. Many of us were well entrenched in Christendom somewhere before we understood the simplicity of, as Capon puts it, the Mystery of Christ. If she thinks of Mary before Trinity or fasting for forgiveness, it seems that she needs the Gospel. Sadly, based upon what you have said, your friend just doesn’t seem to get it. She has failed to grasp the essential and simple message of Christianity: Jesus Christ – his life, death, and resurrection for sinners. It seems, as Horton suggests, she has a “Christless Christianity.”

    • The issue may not be the failure “to grasp the essential and simple message of Christianity,” but it may that she has just been taught (strictly so, it appears) of a faith that is either partially Christian or seriously extra-Christian. I have seen this in my own family (although not to this extent). When the Lutheran and RCC churches made a joint profession (probably 1999), my mother’s head nearly exploded. She couldn’t grasp the “justification by grace through faith” concept. And this was after having been in the RCC faith since her birth, including Catholic school until she went to college. She just had a very James-ian understanding of salvation.

      But how to approach this young woman is a very tough question. Of course, the Bible is not meant to be totally non-offensive. But we have to continue to speak the truth, regardless of the other person’s response.

      • When those who ‘speak the truth’ are also causing offense,
        isn’t it because they are simply speaking their opinion of what the Bible teaches and getting angry at those who won’t buy their version?
        And the anger they display: is it not an ego-based anger ?

  12. We could look at this young woman who claims to be a Christian as being in your class to be taught a more clearer understanding of the Gospel/biblical Christianity. Maybe we meaning Christians are first to present the teachings of the Bible and leave the results to God-in the end we know we in ourselves can not bring anyone to a saving understanding of the Gospel/the teachings of the Bible.

    As Christians we must teach and the preach the Bible faithfully and leave the results to God.

    I would stress to this woman we as Christians must base our beliefs on clear teaching of the Bible-where does it teach in Scripture one must fast to be forgiven of their sins?

    Is this young woman a Christian? I do not know. I see people all around me who profess to be Christians but I do not know if they are? I have gone to church with people who have gone to church all their lives and can not show me from the Bible what is means to be born again? Are they lost? I do not know? My responsibility is to be faithful to what I know to be revealed in Scripture and faithfully proclaim it trusting the Holy Spirit to apply it to those who He has chosen from eternity (the elect).

    On the Last Day the Lord will separate the wheat and chaff. peace

    • Our desire is that, like thousands before her, we all have a positive experience and the Holy Spirit will do what he desires. This young woman makes that difficult and has made confrontation a daily event. I get along with her, but she has decided long ago I am some kind of atheist.

    • “where does it teach in Scripture one must fast to be forgiven of their sins?”

      Depends on your translation of the Bible, doesn’t it? I asked Michael about the difference in the Chapter Nine of Mark he was preaching – where his version finished with “This kind only goes with prayer”, whereas the version I was familiar with was “This kind goes only with prayer and fasting”.

      Textual differences from variant manuscripts, the older ones not including the fasting phrase. Which version do you take as more authoritative? She will naturally trust the authority of her church, while you will naturally lean towards the teaching of yours.

      I imagine she would point to the Old Testament as a warrant for fasting in repentance for one’s sins. And I imagine you would answer with the primacy of the New over the Old.

      Then she could show you where Christ fasted in the wilderness, and where He says in Matthew “”When you fast” (so that there is an assumption there that His disciples fasted and would continue to fast), and in Acts, and whatever Paul says in his Epistles, and so forth and so on.

      What it boils down to is trying to convince her that your reading of the Bible is the correct one and that what she has been taught is wrong interpretation. Hmmm – haven’t we been having this exact same debate for the last four hundred years?

      • Exactly. But I’m willing to let her have that belief and all the room she wants to explain it.

        But her reaction to the Gospel we encountered in book 2 chap 5 of Mere Christianity today was typical: alarm. Practices must precede forgiveness. Grace? She really has no idea other than “If I do this ritual, then a transaction occurs.” So we are on really different pages.

        And my conscience tells me that she’s got a lot of religion, but her version of Jesus has real problems. Problems that concern me.

        • I believe that your concerns are extremely valid. And you are wise in seeking other ideas. Might not work, but most of the ideas I suggest at work are rejected, but sometimes long shots come in.

  13. Much talk about grace, perhaps her experience of God through fasting is grace filled but she is imposing that on all around as God’s means of grace.

    • “For example, today’s episode was a condemnation of those who do not fast, because fasting is the way sins are forgiven.”

      “A” means of grace, or “The” means of grace? If the former, no real harm. But it sounds like she is trying to impose it as if it is essential to salvation.

  14. Is it possible to have a rational discussion with her? For example… about the fasting for forgiveness, my first thought is… Where did you learn this?

    So that would be my approach. Why do you believe this? Where did you learn it from? Then, I would go deeper. If what you’re saying is true, why didn’t Jesus or his disciples teach this — and if they did, why didn’t they write it down? You may not change her mind, but maybe you can at least get her to start thinking more deeply about her own beliefs — which I think is incredibly valuable.

    • Why questions get a repetition of the previous statement. She doesn’t see me as having the right to ask her for a reason. She’s the true witness of God. I’m the atheist.

      • So that means the answer to my first question is no. 🙂 I’m at a loss then (as apparently are you) on how to deal with her… I don’t think you’ve been judgmental though.

        If there is any way you can get her to think about her own beliefs though, I think that may help. Even if it’s not you providing her answers, but instead providing her questions. I can only speak of myself, but I think that’s how I grow — when questions arise that challenge me to ask why I believe what I believe (about anything, not just God/theology).

      • Unless you can keep stepping the discussion back until you find an authority you both agree upon and recognize, I fear that you are in a no-win position.

        So what is your role then? Do you have the duty to warn the other students to beware of her attempts to proselytize?

        • No danger of conversions with her approach.

          • I think that it is futile to try and reach people who are unreasonable, at least through discussion. Of course you can be an example, pray for her, and serve her however else you can, but other than what refuting of her opinions may be necessary to inform the other students, talking to her about it is likely a waste of time and energy.

            Council that in not asked for is rarely taken.

  15. SearchingAnglican says

    This is a tough situation, no doubt about it.

    A question that relates directly to your previous “that guy” post: Is her out-spoken persistence in your class evident in her other classes (math? English? science?), or is it more or less limited to matters related to faith and practice? There’s a much larger issue at play if this is part of her deeper character, and not “just” a zealousness about her faith/practices.

    My first impulse would be to encourage her to substantiate her beliefs/practice through research about her Church’s official teachings, rather than through her own experience. But that could be…painful….because those traditions must have been passed down somewhere, likely through devout family members. But it’s an opportunity to guide her down the path within her EO tradition, even if there are church teachings that cause you grief.

    Do you end up with some sort of contract about what she can or cannot debate in class or how she treats “differences of opinion”, because she’s disruptive to the other students? I can imagine her zeal causes her some interpersonal problems.

    Do you then encourage her to spend time with you (or another spiritually mature adult with the right disposition since you’re evidently an “athiest”) in spiritual direction where she’s able to express her views, learn how to articulate her faith, and you can explore Gospel-centered questions?

    Rhetorical questions aside, my gut tells me that at this point in her very young life, your role is more about demonstrating grace than debating the means to receive it. Her tenacity leads me to believe that’s a no-win situation otherwise.

    Sometimes seed planting happens looooong before it bears fruit.

  16. She takes this to every class. It’s the talk of the school, and the girl’s dorm.

    I’ve given her a chance to research and read a manifeto of her beliefs. It mostly declared us unbelievers over the Mary issue.

    • Michael, if she takes this to every class and cannot deal with “why” questions, the problem is immaturity/fear/language & culture issues (and perhaps even a personality disorder), not a problem with Mary or any other doctrine. It can’t be approached or addressed on the basis of “lost” or “confused”, and you have to get off that “playing field”. You’ve given her a chance to have her say. Advise her to adhere to the classroom policies that are the same for everyone. Act like an adult and show her consistent care and concern, and leave the rest to the Lord. I understand this is easier said than done, and that the situation is upsetting because you truly care.


      • I’m probably going to move her to a class that is a basic Bible survey. That won’t end this, but it will make the agenda day to day more clear and it will be easier to call her as off topic.

        • Scott Miller says

          That is probably the best plan, Michael. I would imagine that she is disruptive enough to be almost counterproductive.
          Regardless of the big questions of whether she is really a Christian, just share the gospel with her.
          I also can imagine how this is going over in a Baptist school! Has she become someone’s personal conversion project (not yours I mean)? Does this stress your work life if you even refer to her as a Christian when talking to the other staff?

  17. Maybe you should assume, just for the sake of the argument that she is right and you are wrong. I have just recently read of the historical position in EO of Mary as the third member of the Trinity. Don’t know that I’m buying it, but it’s worth wondering why they came to that conclusion. I imagine it has something to do with Jesus not inheriting original sin, so Mary must be sinless. At least if you’ve put yourself in her shoes, you’re in a better place to understanding where she is. And, it’s always good for evangelicals to be evangelized by someone else. Good life lessons, and all that.

    • >I have just recently read of the historical position in EO of Mary as the third member of the Trinity


    • Joel, I would be interested in knowing where you read that. Nowhere in my experience of Orthodox liturgy is Mary addressed as “the third member of the Trinity”. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are always explicitly denoted as the Undivided Trinity. The liturgy and services are where Orthodox doctrine is fully expressed.

      Orthodoxy has a different view of the problem of humanity than what is expressed in the concept of “original sin”, and Mary has the same problem as everyone else. For Orthodoxy, “sinless” has to do with more than morality. I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into that discussion here; email Fr. Ernesto if you want to know more.

      I think this student’s insistence is actually not related to doctrine. She’s young, far away from home trying to deal with life in another language and culture, and likely may have additional underlying issues.


    • “EO” usually refers to “Eastern Orthodox” but on this thread it seems to be referring to “Ethiopian Orthodox” which could be causing some confusion. As mentioned, the Ethiopian Orthodox are Coptic Christians and not the same as the regular Eastern Orthodox. Many similarities, though.

      ” I have just recently read of the historical position in EO of Mary as the third member of the Trinity” as commented by Joel could not possibly be referring to the Eastern Orthodox and the Copts don’t believe this, either. No way, no how, no sir.

      In many impoverished countries (and even here in the US) there is a lot of folk religion which doesn’t conform perfectly to the official teaching. I think this, combined with home-sickness combined with a feisty personality explains this dear young woman. Mr. Spencer, I am glad you don’t want to expel her and actually seem to be fond of her.

    • Well, I have never read of Mary as the third person of the Trinity. The Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox are all strong supporters of the Trinity. They disagree with one another as to the interior working of the Trinity, but Mary is definitely not part of it. I admit that I do not know Ethiopian Orthodox theology as they are their own thing, but somehow I doubt it.

    • The idea that Mary is part of the trinity is islamic. Islam thinks that what Christians believe is that God (father), Mary (mother), and Jesus (son) constitute the trinity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That sounds too much like the Father-Mother-Son triads of gods you got all over Ancient Egypt.

  18. I agree with Searching Anglican. I’d add, can you enlist the other, knowledgeable Orthodox students to talk to her? Do you think she understands that she’s insisting on a set of beliefs or emphases that no other corporate group of Christians recognizes? (If that’s in fact true.)

    • Her relations with other EO students now is in serious disarray.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Do you think she understands that she’s insisting on a set of beliefs or emphases that no other corporate group of Christians recognizes? (If that’s in fact true.)

      If true, she may have walled herself off behind the event horizon of “I Am The Only True Faithful; every other ‘Christian’ is a HERETIC!’ She definitely has some weird folk doctrines, apparently even by Ethiopian Orthodox/Coptic standards. Question is, has she joined the Dwarfs in the Stable who Won’t Be Taken In? Because when you get to that point, there’s usually no way back out.

  19. Twenty years ago, I used to believe that people weren’t “real” Christians unless they actively supported the criminalization of abortion in all circumstances. In other instances I’ve been told that “real” Christians must:
    a) speak in tongues
    b) never speak in tongues
    c) believe in the Rapture
    d) believe Young Earth Creationism
    e) read only the KJV
    f) demonstrate their election by flaunting health and wealth
    g) be Roman Catholics
    h) not be Roman Catholics
    i) vote Republican

    Your student seems to be working a variation on these themes. I don’t think such people can be persuaded by anything but time, maturity, and God’s loving grace.

  20. I’m not stressed over her. She’s a student. I’m concerned about how I evaluate her spiritual situation, and I want her to have a positive experience here.

    • Sherman the Tank says

      The interesting thing to me about her spiritual situation is that she seems to be displaying a stage of faith more appropriate to a seven-year-old than a seventeen-year-old. (Thinking James Fowler’s stages of faith here.) I think you hit the nail on the head with comparing her understanding of fasting to the person who thinks you find salvation by walking the aisle and shaking the preacher’s hand. That there’s magic thinking going on interests me more than that the content of that magic thinking is EO.

    • Maybe, just maybe, the confrontation is, for her, a positive experience.

  21. I know this may make me sound like “That One Guy” again, but I’d consider expelling her. I don’t know the modus operandi of your school, though. If she considers herself the witness of God and is actively trying to convert people to heresy without budging an inch on having a rational discussion, even about her own beliefs, at what point should you let her go in her error?

    • Oh my! Why? No way. We don’t even consider that. 60% of our students aren’t Christians at all. We can love her even if she’s difficult. That’s what we’ve done for 110 years. We have a lot of difficult students during the year. We go the 70×7 route with our kids.

    • Once again, who defines “heresy”?

      From her side, denial of the sinlessness of Mary is heresy. From your side, denial of the sinfulness of Mary is heresy.

      I’m not saying that she’s absolutely correct in every element of her understanding of her own faith and its theology; I’m not denying she’s disruptive.

      But I am saying she is being consistent. This is the flip side of what was mentioned on a separate post, where one commenter asked why did Evangelicals from the United States come over and run missions in Germany – did they think there were no Christians there before they came? What about the Lutherans and Catholics already there?

      If Baptists or Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Charismatics can send missionaries to Europe on the basis that there is no preaching of the true Gospel there, this is the other side of the coin – a young woman from an ancient church who thinks she’s landed in the midst of those who have never heard the true preaching before.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        From what she’s saying, “an ancient church” which has drifted a bit onto a tangent. Especially her personal brand of it.

    • Martha:

      In this setting, a Baptist school she’s paying to attend, we aren’t having a religious free for all. There is a dominant tradition and we don’t hassle her about hers. She’s behaving as if its the will of God for her to convert our school to EthO. I’d suggest that the situation here is one of learning, being a good guest and respect. I certainly strive to treat her that way, to the 2nd and third mile. But she’s unable- and I mean that- to understand the concept of diversity or tolerance in this area. If she stays in America, that will be a problem.

      • No, I understand that, Michael. I was just reacting to the tone of some of the comments which seems to me to be “Of course she’s a heretic and has no knowledge of Christ or grace.”

        We don’t know how she experiences grace or what her relationship with God is. Externally it looks as if she’s hanging on to tradition, ritual and disciplines. That well may be, but I don’t think it’s helpful if we all charge in telling you the best way to bring her to Christ.

        Maybe all you can do is explain to her that you are Baptists, this is a Baptist school, and this is the tradition you work in. I imagine she’s never even heard of Martin Luther, so starting from scratch and saying “In the 16th century, a group of various Christians were convinced the church had drifted from truth and was in need of removing some of the stuff accumulated over time.”

        Basic from-the-beginning stuff like that. Ask her if she thinks Mary is a goddess or more important than Christ – don’t be afraid to sound dumb 🙂 I think there is a huge gap of lack of historical context, and if she’s being told (not by you, and I do say “if”) that all her beliefs are wrong and she’s not a Christian – when she thinks she is following the ancient ways – then that’s a recipe for disaster. Explain to her that it sounds to the people in the school as if she’s worshipping Mary in place of God, for one thing, and for another that there is no discipline of fasting in many Protestant denominations.

        Maybe in the end all you can do is drop the hammer and say “As long as you’re attending this school, these are the rules you have to obey. We won’t try and deceive you into changing your faith, but you can’t take every opportunity to start an argument in classes that are not about religion.”

        I note what you say about tolerance and you probably will have to explain to her that in America, everyone is free to believe or not believe whatever they like, and she will have to row back on the enthusiasm.

        I have sympathy for her in that she obviously does take her faith seriously – seriously enough to want to correct the errors she sees around her, much like – dare I say it? – is recommended to young Christians to witness to others in public schools. Doing it in a Baptist school is probably not the best start, though, and getting on the backs of her countrymen about how lukewarm and fallen away and surrendered to the culture they have become is definitely not going to help her 😉

      • I remember back in the nineties American Baptist missionaries came into our little, mostly Orthodox town in Romania and right away started calling us “idolaters” “lost”, “unbaptized” etc. Those were also good manners.
        Our priests there, although not obsessively anti-Protestant, always warn the parishioners when an event like this took place to not attend it. Otherwise, they are mostly indifferent towards Protestants, having almost no desire to even have a “dialogue” with them.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        She’s behaving as if its the will of God for her to convert our school to EthO.

        IMonk, this sounds so much like a funhouse mirror of the clueless “WITNESS! WITNESS! WITNESS!” behavior you see so much among Evangelicals out of their element….

  22. I would say this seems to be a psychological defensive coping mechanism, possibly due to being thrust into a foreign situation and hostile religious climate. By focusing on denominational and cultural distinctives to the exclusion of all else, she is protected from being influenced by others. She likely feels threatened, on a cultural and spiritual level, so she retreats to a small niche where she knows no dialogue is possible.

    To be honest, I’ve experienced this myself. Praying only in Latin, reading only the Vulgate, avoiding anything written in the last 50 years, etc… It’s based on fear and the need for comfort, more than anything theological.

    The impression I get from the Ethiopian Orthodox website is much broader and level-headed. For instance, this document describes salvation and faith in pretty standard terms. For instance, it quotes Pope Shenouda III, saying:

    Some think that returning to God means a program for prayer, fasting and spiritual practices, spiritual readings, attending meetings and prostrations … All of these are good and well, but does it contain a hearty relationship with God or not? Is there love for God or not? Without this relationship, and without this love, you have not yet returned to God – despite of your prayers, fastings, reading or prostrations … but by a relationship with God and with love, these means become powerful and fruitful … the heart first, out of which these means will be produced.

    I can’t see any readers here having problems with that statement…

  23. Bob Sacamento says

    Last things first,

    Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous? Or does my young friend simply need the Gospel, no matter what her status, understanding or reaction?

    Honestly, I was wondering over the past couple of months if you were going universalist on us, Michael. 🙂 Guess not.

    And I don’t really have an answer to this question in her particular situation. But I can tell you …

    I am prepared to understand that in some expressions of Christianity, my friend’s confidence in fasting is a kind of confidence in Jesus, but my problem is that she doesn’t know that, or if she does, she’s unable to articulate it recognizably.

    The distinction you make here is so very important when Christians of different stripes try to talk to each other. It distresses me that so many of us can’t seem to understand it. However this all pans out, she is lucky to be dealing with someone like you who understands this.

    It sounds like she has some “spritual issues,” and maybe — I don’t know, but maybe — they put her outside of the gospel (for now). I think you’re right to be concerned, and you’re right to try to understand what it is exactly that she believes before you answer this question, and you are right to try to help her fully understand it as well.

  24. From what you’ve described, Michael, I think you’d have as much luck convincing her of salvation through grace as you would Saul of Tarsus before his experience on the road to Damascus. She’s young, passionately zealous, and legalistic to the hilt — a combination that is difficult, if not impossible, to budge. What she probably needs is an experience of God’s grace, rather than a theological explanation of it. If I were you, I would just pray for her and ask God to send her such an experience at the right moment (according to His timing).
    And, maybe, she just needs a few years under her belt. Extreme legalism is exhausting, and some people don’t discover God’s grace until they’ve worn themselves out trying to please Him through works.

  25. I don’t know, I hope I’m not being too simple-minded. But as far as simply being able to produce Christians capable of articulating the upshot of the Gospel and having a sincere faith in Christ, I think all Christian traditions are able to. This, in my mind, isn’t where we differ. When a tradition produces a Christian that can’t do either, on the surface these Christians will look very different from tradition to tradition but they all seem to me to have the same faults: Trying to “objectify” faith and salvation and making it contingent on something concrete and comprehensible, and therefore not on grace or God; an us-and-them mentality / black-and-white distinctions between the saved and the damned; an emphasis on works or again on something that’s concrete and discrete; in subtle ways some kind of all-holding promise that they are in the right and cannot fall from grace.

    We Catholics have those in our ranks who (deep down, to some extent) seem to think that a Catholic baptism is a ticket to heaven, and that assenting to Catholic dogma equals faith. There are Methodists who (deep down, to some extent) seem to think that abstinence from alcohol is Christian dogma. There are evangelicals who (deep down, to some extent) reduce their salvation to an emotional moment and talk as though this singular moment of being once-and-for-all saved is the criterion of salvation, or confuse being able to cite scripture in argument as the same thing as understanding the Bible.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on how to view her. Think of her as someone from a less alien tradition who can’t articulate the Gospel very well. This probably won’t seem to reveal much at first glance since Protestantism does tend to keep a more Gospel-focused language, but words don’t necessarily reflect understanding.

    • I guess I didn’t address the issue-at-hand of her exaggerated and idolatrous Mariology. All I have to say about that is that we need to internalize the Gospel in order to protect us from those kinds of errors. Such errors and exaggerations can be expected in any tradition where there’s a Christian who hasn’t internalized the Gospel, and Christians with mature understandings of the Gospel and scripture don’t make them. They will look far more bizarre and serious in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

  26. Is there a particularly large Ethiopian population where you live? I’m not sure I’ve ever even met someone who was Ethiopian Orthodox.

  27. Yowza. That sounds tough.

    One question I’d have is whether her parents or guardians seem to support this behavior. I don’t know her situation, so I don’t know if it’s possible to find that out. If they do, that’s another indication that things are not likely to change much. I agree that homesickness and defensiveness sound like they may be contributing to the situation.

    In your shoes, I might also contemplate trying to find her some more resources from her own tradition, since it sounds as though the Ethiopian Orthodox position as a whole is at least somewhat closer to the sort of Christianity we’re all used to. It sounds as though she is relying 100% on what she has been told by her parents or teachers in the past, rather than finding out for herself what EO teaching actually is in any depth. The very idea that there can be depth and variety within the same tradition may be as much openness as she can handle at this stage, and if she could get some glimmerings of this from studying her own tradition, it might be less threatening.

    Of course, ideally you’d be able to find an Ethiopian priest that wouldn’t mind being argued all the way to his car 😉

    • Family is in Ethiopia. Really aren’t part of the equation. And the nearest Ethiopian priest will be in DC probably. Maybe Cinci.

      • I wonder if the lack of a priest nearby is healthy, not just for her, but for any of these kids in a strange land far from home. If there are so many Ethiopian Orthodox students and no local priest, what do they do for religious obligations?

      • E-mail? Internet sites?

        Clearly lots of prayer is indicated. This can’t be easy.

  28. It is hard to pin down where this young lady might have got her influences. You’ve got an ancient form of Judaism in Ethiopia which has influenced the Orthodox in that they have an ‘ark’ in their sanctuaries and keep Saturday AND Sunday Sabbaths.

    You’ve got the churches isolated up in the ‘rocks’ where monks dwelt in ancient monasteries: keepers of scriptures, some of which are not in any modern canon.
    And the doctrines in these isolated monasteries have evolved in strange and differing ways from what we are familiar with in our modern world.

    And then, there is the tension between the Orthodox and the Catholics, since the time of the coming of the Jesuits to Ethiopia.

    And now, evangelicals are on the scene there, adding to the mix.

    It is hard to know how this young girl came by her strange doctrines. But this is a fascinating look at someone from a country where Christianity was ‘isolated’ and ‘evolved’ into something not formed as recognizable to evangelicals. I can’t imagine a greater contrast between this girl’s world of faith and that of a Southern Baptist. Very interesting encounter, this.

  29. Both RonP’s and Dana Ames’s posts ring true to me. You can’t win a theological debate with someone who doesn’t know the rules of debate. Speak the truth in love. Love some more. Then encourage the other students to follow suit. Then she’ll have the support team around her when the Spirit does start working on her.

    If EOs persecute evangelicals so horribly, I can imagine this has something to do with the situation. Partially because her immediate culture may have trained her to react emotionally to anything that goes against their beliefs. Partly because if she accepts what you say, what will her family do to her?

  30. iMonk,
    You have a gift for bringing people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to God’s grace. Don’t hammer her with doctrine or theology–that will come later!
    Just kidding. Seriously you do have that gift and see needs to here you preach the Gospel–the real Gospel which no Christian can refuse.


  31. Is the question of “Is a Christian ever lost?” ridiculous?

    No. The difference is that Christ knows where I am.

    The guilt I have to deal with is that at the time when I thought I had my spiritual life the most together – when I was witnessing zealously, reading massive chunks of the bible in one sitting, and making public stands for various issues – I was actually the most screwed up. I was a religious prick…and probably still am.

  32. What great questions you pose and I can see they come from caring about this young lady and your calling in the kingdom many of us dearly need this kind of concern for others. I only skimmed some of the responses, so forgive me if my question was addressed and overlooked.

    I know you say she was home-schooled and she views most everyone at your school as astray. Do you know any other background about her particular church experiences? Perhaps she is part of very insular and schismatic group, I occasionally run across certain Christian groups of various origins that have drifted significantly from the main. Is she more trusting of a women in discussing her story? Finally is their some name, or designation we might attach to her for prayer purposes?

    I think your concerns are warranted and genuine, not just trying to judge her from your own faith background. I also think it important for people to come to as much of a true Gospel understanding of Jesus and salvation as possible for that person. From your description she could definitely be more enlightened and freed than she is currently. As with all of us, Lord, have mercy.

  33. Humankind will never escape the need for the divine feminine. We should not be surprised to see it cropping up in Christianity, despite the desires and needs of many to keep God a man.

    The student is a fascinating look at Christianity outside the scope and influence of the west.

    If we gave the Bible to a group of people who had never heard of it and had them construct an institution and theology, I think the result would look entirely different than what we currently call Christianity.

    • Jjoe wrote, “If we gave the Bible to a group of people who had never heard of it and had them construct an institution and theology, I think the result would look entirely different than what we currently call Christianity.”

      Good point, Jjoe. It would be an interesting experiment, for sure.

  34. Is she perhaps a microcosm of what one sees in almost every Christian, to a greater or lesser degree: a skewing of doctrine or scripture according to one bias or another. For me, the bigger issue is not is her doctrine wrong, but to what extent does she lack the insight to correct any potential problem. Can we really blame somebody for lacking insight because, perhaps, they are incurably concrete by nature? (i.e., will God hold us accountable for failings beyond our control?) Anyhow, I don’t know if this analysis applies to this woman, but I have known some people to whom it might.

  35. Part of me hears her more zealous reactions as a need to hold onto something solid in what is probably a frightening and disorienting culture for her.
    Part of me thinks she is one of the extremely zealous ones we can all recall knowing in our own faith circles (or an equally zealous anarchist, atheist, etc). Everything has to be black and white, exactly like this… etc.
    Part of me wonders if this is also personality embedded. The way she is expressing her independence, attention, etc.
    I don’t know.
    Listen and pray, listen and love, wait in love, speak when Love says speak, hold in love what she may not yet be ready to receive if this be the case.
    And we can all keep you and her in prayer. Jesus knows her and loves her most.

    • BTW, I know you are already engaged in these things or God wouldn’t keep putting her before you and you before your readers. I just know I have light years to go in these ways of Jesus who was always present, always ready to engage in what he saw his Father saying and doing.

    • Very good words. That’s the spirit we try to respond in.

  36. Why are Ethiopian Orthodox students attending a Protestant school? Is the understanding in sending them here that you are to guide them in matters of faith, or leave their religion alone?

    Under normal circumstances, since you belong to different religions, I would consider it inappropriate (not to mention probably futile) for either of you to “correct” the beliefs of the other. Presumably she has a priest somewhere for that. (If not, then perhaps she would appreciate you setting her up to communicate with one, perhaps online.)

    At the same time, if she is being disruptive in class, then it is your duty to manage this, perhaps by taking her aside and informing her frankly of the situation (keeping the theological issues separate). It is possible to respect her beliefs, whatever they might be, without permitting her to expound upon them uninvited.

    The best one could hope for, I think, is for the two of you to accept that you disagree on various matters, agree not to press these issues, and just try to relate to one another as human beings. I would say the same regardless of what religion it was.

    • I don’t have a classroom management issue. Almost two decades in the classroom, I can handle a religious zealot. Her issues with her peers are happening outside of my room, though one can easily sense the reaction to her in my room.

      Our school is 110 years old. We don’t have religious requirements to attend. Our students understand we will respect their beliefs and we expect them to respect ours. Since the school is ours, the classes and worship reflect our tradition, of course. That’s where she’s struggling.

      She’s free to contact whomever she wants via computer, etc. It would be hard for anyone to see the issue without being in the classroom.

      This discussion has gotten fairly seriously off the actual topic of the post. I was writing about the instinct an evangelical has that some people who are religious are lost. Do we ignore it or follow it?



      • “Lost” as in hellbound, or “lost” as in confused about theology? (The first is unknowable, and the second is relative.)

        Well, whatever your goals are, are they best served by challenging her beliefs, or by sidestepping them? Especially if she seems to want to set up your religious traditions to be in conflict, I wonder if your opposition isn’t just feeding the fire. Patience might be much more effective. I realize she this has resulted in inter-personal problems, but you can’t solve them for her. She’s young, time will go by.

        If EO is anything like regular Orthodoxy, it may be hard to separate folk belief from the dogmas and canons (law-like precedents). “Church tradition” (considered as authoritative) might be construed as encompassing both. Sometimes there are strange things, like protection from the evil eye. Plenty of material for anyone inclined to eccentricity (maybe like the cult of St. Jude?).

  37. This is a topic that hits close to home for us as last year our family adopted a 12 year old girl from Ethiopia. She spent some time in a orphanage that was Orthodox and most of the people we know are unfortunately of the mindset that Orthodox and Catholics are lost. However since reading your blog for the past few years I have come to be not so “denominationally militant”. We had concerns with letting her join communion and some other things as well. There were some stories they have about Jesus as a child and such and it was a real struggle for us to have grace in our understanding of her understanding of because of the emphasis on fasting and some other things. It was for me a challenge to truely look at some of the things that I believe and make sure I have a clear understanding for myself and not assume because some one has different luggage that they are not carrying a true gospel in it.

  38. Colorado Jimmy says

    I just finished reading all the replies about the young student. I have stumbled across this blog quite by accident. Please let me know if there are some conventions which I am flauting (inadvertently of course)

    I do love the body of Jesus Christ. Sometimes I am not all that fond of His church and all of its denominations, however.
    I was raised in a Southern Baptist tradition and at the age of 16 joined into an Assembly of God tradition. After some years, I came to a Apostolic/Prophetic Church. Currently, I am involved in a small Calvary chapel. Most Sunday’s. I am involved in a Catholic expression on Wednesday’s which is a mass-less ecumenical charismatic praise gathering. I am involved in a once a month prophetic gathering and am deeply in love with Jesus and larger church.
    I was involved with many home church expressions.

    All that to say, most of what we teach in the body of Christ, I regard as tradition. It is my firm belief that only in the essentials of the faith can we find common ground of belief and that only with the active involvement of the person of the Holy Spirit.

    I have been very wordy, but am trying to understand this blog and enjoy the teaching in it.

  39. I should mention that the Ethiopians appear to be the Christians who are most “enthralled” with Our Lady. They have 33 feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is significantly more than any other Christian group.

    They also have one of the longest sets of fasts among any Christian group. An official website of theirs says, “The total number of fasting days amounts to about 250 a year, of which about 180 are obligatory for all, and the rest are only for priests, monks, nuns and other special groups in the church. The longest periods of fasting are those of Lent. Advent and Kweskwam (forty days preceding the fast of the flight to Egypt). Fast generally implies one meal a day to be taken either in the evening or after 2.45 p.m. with total abstention from meat, fats, eggs and diary products.” To say that this is rigorous is an understatement.

    Anyway, this is all to say that the Ethiopian Orthodox are quite an one extreme of church life.

  40. Perhaps is some of her overzealousness due to her dealing with being a foreigner in a foreign land? Feeling a bit lost in the wilderness she is making up for it ?

  41. Paulms says something important. What about her? Someone also mentioned culture shock. She is not her theology any more than a cancer patient is his/her sickness. I am convinced there is something else going on here. She is tenacious about her beliefs. Why? What sense of purpose is she deriving from this?

    I think you are going to need to find a way to engage her. Her theology and pontificating are a smoke-screen. I could be wrong about this and reading way too much into it. But understanding her motivations by getting her to explain the why is key? If you want to help help form her, find out who she is. Asking her why may also get her to quiet down a bit.

    The peace of Christ to you.

    • Thanks Xenia.

      You said, “…she doesn’t wrestle with the possibility that other forms of Christianity might be correct.”

      You’re giving her too much credit. My point is she is wrestling but not with what we would prefer (i.e., theology, etc). An exploration of why she is as vociferous as she is will tell us more. Pigeonholing her may make us feel good and in control but it does nothing for her or for us. If we are really concerned, we will make every attempt with the Spirit’s help to get closer to why she is doing what she is doing. I will lay odds, it has nothing primarily to do w/ theology.

  42. Memphis Aggie says

    Wow this is an especially interesting and hard problem, but I think there’s a way forward for your charge. Unfortunately it’s a Catholic method so I’m not sure how you could approach it if you don’t believe in intercessory prayer and the Immaculate Conception yourself. The key issue is whether she understands that all graces are from God through Christ and Mary although sinless and the Mediatrix of all graces is herself the the recipient of graces and not their source.

    Based on the picture you mentioned, if you believed, you would point out how Mary receives power that she doesn’t have intrinsically. Suggest that she fervently pray to Mary for the proper understanding of her Son and that you highlight Mary’s humility as an especially laudable trait that Her Son chose to exalt. In contemplating Mary’s humility we recognize both our created nature and hers. Mary’s entire Biblical role and role in Catholicism is as a nurturer of faith in Christ. Authentic devotion to Mary properly understood is only realized by the eventual translation of that devotion to Christ. In Catholicism you doubtless know that Marian visions are tested on just this basis, if they point to Christ they are examined more seriously, if they point away they are dismissed out of hand.

    But all of this of course presupposes she’s open to you at all on these points. If you don’t believe in prayer to Mary yourself you can’t suggest the Glories of Mary by St Liguori as a road to Christ comfortably or credibly. Perhaps you could find a surrogate with sufficient credibility who could. You are right to worry because Marian devotion that excludes or diminishes Christ is dangerous. Fortunately there is plenty of basis in Scripture and Tradition to demonstrate that Mary is really all about Christ telling us to do whatever He tells us etc. Use Mary to point to Christ, that’s my two cents.

  43. She sounds like a lot of Evangelicals I know who are idolotrous about their propositional truths. except her Idols are her ecclesiastical traditions. I wonder if this sort of works righteousness, dogmatic phenomenom is an expression of the cultures we come from.

  44. I remember one priest from India talking about a young couple that came to him for marriage prep from families that had been Christian for centuries. He was quizzing them on the basics of their faith and he asked the young man, “Who is in the tabernacle?”

    The young man answered quickly, “Our Lady!”

    The priest turned to the young man’s father, who was also present, and repeated the question. “St. Anthony, of course!” answered the father.

    The priest was understandably very concerned about the poor catechesis in the area and the lack of Christ in CHRISTianity. My father went home grumbling that he should have let the family continue in their great devotion to the saints, especially the Virgin Mary. My parents themselves really seem to have lost Christ in their devotion to Mary. I’d say that they should call themselves Marians, except that my mother tells me that she’s not Christian, she’s Catholic. I don’t understand where they get it either since they certainly don’t hear it at church or read it in approved devotional books, unless reading Jack Chick and doing the opposite is their preferred method of learning the Faith.

    If this sort of thing is sometimes found in Latin Rite Catholicism, where a certain amount of knowledge is required to receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation, I can imagine that Orthodoxy, where these sacraments are administered to infants along with Baptism, is worse. I have come to the conclusion that Catholics have the terms “invincible ignorance” and “material heresy” for a reason and it isn’t just to describe Protestants. 😛

    Out of curiosity, does the term homeschooling carry the same baggage in Ethiopia that it does in the USA? I was homeschooled and probably acted about the same way that this girl does at the same age.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …unless reading Jack Chick and doing the opposite is their preferred method of learning the Faith.

      I’ve encountered people who are that contrary, just not in a religious context.

  45. Opps I kinda strayed from the question. But I think I’m still in the ballpark. She’s no more lost than an Evangelical who holds onto his propositional truths for dear life as the all ecompassing criteria for eternal life. I’m sure God, who is the Author of her faith, will lead her into the truth of His gospel. That ultimately it’s about Jesus, our relationship with Him and others. Its so weird how you can be in a Church that is preaching and teaching Christ alone, will fall into the trap of works righteousness, guess it’s in our DNA if you will.

  46. My understanding of Galations is that followers of Christ can be lost, and she sounds to have no understanding of grace at all. Her best bet may be for your readers to pray and fast that God reveals to her His gift of righteousness through faith alone. If God could get through to me when I was 17, He certainly can get through to her. We (the imonk readers in all of our diversity) can join you in prayer and see what power God unleashes in this young girl’s life.

  47. Wow! A very lively discussion indeed. Let’s not leave out the ultimate authority on truth, the Holy Spirit.

    “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me……And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness, and judgment……but when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

    The Spirit of truth is the one who will open the eyes of this young lady if she’ll search for truth. None of us would believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, if He had not opened our eyes to see the truth.

  48. I am sorry that you are facing such unpleasantness, imonk, but I must say it’s a fascinating question. A quick google search notes that there are at least two brands of “ethiopian orthodox”–the tewahedo and the tehadeso–and that the tewahedo branch is serious about expecting “the laity to fast 165 days of the year” (according to Wikipedia, take it with the usual salt and check the references). Speaking as someone who has problems with gluttony, I have to take my hat off to them.

    Sounds like your girl is from the Tewahedo school of thought (though the FAQ from the Tewahedo church in Los Angeles is already pulling back from the number of fast days, apparently). All the official statements of EthOrth churches of either flavor that Ican find sound reasonable in their views of the trinity, the role of Jesus in salvation, etc. They put more emphasis on using saints, angels, and Mary as intercessors, and they are serious about fasting and reverence of ritual, but that’s hardly earth shaking. Lots of subdivisions within Christianity find it easier to use intercessors as go-betweens with God than to believe they can approach God directly. I can’t find anything that says the EthOrth believe Mary must be sinless or Jesus is not sinless–quite the contrary, they make a big deal about the unification of human and God’s nature within one person in Jesus.

    So your student may be out on some vaguely heretical limb of her own or her family or tribe or village. Be that as it may, it does seem like she needs to learn proper schoolroom behavior and the capacity to both have and withhold from rational discussion of such things, without constantly having to be the center of attention or controversy.

    The question of whether a Christian can ever be lost seems somehow tangential to your situation. I always get very nervous when it seems like one person is setting themselves up to judge the state of another’s salvation or orthodoxy, rather than modeling for them a Christ-centered life. Didn’t Paul have something to say about working out your own salvation? 🙂

  49. I haven’t read the other comments. Here’s what I’d suggest. Ask her for her priests name. Invite him and her parents to a little conference with you. Explain that you want to better appreciate your students tradition, and that you don’t wish to convert her. Point out that you recognize her as a Baptised sister (even if she doesn’t regard you or the rest of the school as Christians. Express your concern about her understanding of the gospel – direct it to the priest. That way you can address the issue, but she won’t feel like she’s a youth going up against the teacher alone. She will have her “back up” with her at your invite. Allow the priest to explain the gospel to her. Allow him to explain fasting and Mary to her. Get your 2¢ in, and steer the conversation. It could be a good thing for everybody. 🙂

  50. I just started breezing through the comments and I now see how useless my suggestion was.

    Some people just operate with a completely different reality than the rest of us and it can’t be helped. Just keep speaking the Word of God to her. She can’t argue with that. I’m one of those “the Holy Spirit works through means” folks, so I believe scripture (and of course prayer) is the only option here.