A Warning from the Evangelical Outside

This post is worth reading by every single Orthodox in America–really by anyone in the West–as much as it is worth reading if one is evangelical.  Here in Lutheran Land, it would do Lutherans well to read it, too, as in too many places, I’ve seen Lutherans emulate  Evangelical approaches to things.  For those of us who are Orthodox, we should read this because we have a fair number of Evangelical converts.

http://thegospelside.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/whats-so-uncool-about-cool-churches/

His warnings to fellow Evangelicals might not seem to apply to us, but in some ways they do.  Now, certainly, Orthodox could get triumphalistic–see, we have services for all ages and we don’t try to reinvent the wheel with market-driven feel-good fluff.  Ok, fine, fair enough.  Good us!  Yay us!  Go team!  The problem is that this is reminiscent of cheer leading at a football game or, worse yet, is downright arrogant and bigoted.  What we should do with such warnings is respond with the following exclamation and two questions:

1) Keep bringing the children to the entire liturgy!  This can be a struggle in some of our parishes where we have adopted the “cry room” approach, not simply as a place to change diapers or breastfeed or something, but as a place to hang out during much or all of the liturgy.  Alternatively, this could be because of “Orthodox time.”  Yes, a nice joke, but really?  What do we say if we bring our children but there’s consistently around 20 minutes left to the service?  This can and does happen in some of our parishes.  It’s one thing to be running fifteen or twenty minutes late that day.  Purposely loafing and showing up an hour late is another matter.

2) How have we handled the influx of Evangelical converts who want to stamp icons and Orthodox phrases on everything from coffee mugs to keychains to anything else that has a surface area equal to or greater than an inch square?  I think there is work to be done on this front and certainly, there is enough of this occurring that before we get triumphalistic, we should ask how we’ve handled this within our own midst.  When is it allowable?  What is appropriate?

3) What are the reasons we have lost the maturing youth we have lost?  We have Orthodox youth grow up, go to college, and then maybe attend church for the wedding and when they’re forced to at their funeral.  Is this what it should be?  We also have youth who simply leave the Orthodox Church, some of them not even joining a non-Orthodox parish somewhere. This happens.  Are we addressing it?

I think Matt Marino has hit on some real problems in Evangelical parishes and yes, I am thankful that Orthodoxy does not fall prey to such an extent of ridiculousness, but being thankful is not being triumphalistic.  Being thankful does not omit being open to further needs for repentance and self-critique, and that is something Mr. Marino’s post may allow us to do yet again.  My three points are hardly the only ones applicable, but they are worth considering and discussing.

11 thoughts on “A Warning from the Evangelical Outside

  1. Regarding ‘Orthodox time’, St. Barsanuphius gave the following advice:

    “You must not leave the church before the end of the Liturgy, or else you will not receive the grace of God. It’s better to come towards the end of Liturgy and stand through it then to leave before the end.” (Afanasiev, Victor. ‘Elder Barsanuphius of Optina’, translated from the Russian; vol. 7: The Optina Elders Series. [Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000], p. 27.)

    I came late when I had a toddler who wouldn’t stay put like when he was a baby and was too excited about moving to stay put for very long. When he got a little older, we started coming on time. Then I had another little one and we’re at it again. As a single parent when it comes to church, it’s a compromise I’m will to make. I am generally there by the Readings – if not, I don’t commune, though the boys do.

    • I tried to acknowledge in the post that sometimes people run 15 to 20 mins late or so. It happens. I was simply noting that we Orthodox also have to watch to make sure it is not consistently an hour late, such that a quick snack before coffee hour is what we are going for. I do agree with St. Barsanuphius that once one is there, one should stay to the end. I think your discipline concerning your own arrival is a great example regarding communion.

  2. My previous Greek priest (with 6 kids) said that kids love Orthodox worship (because of all the stuff, smells, sights, sounds, etc.), but in small doses. They need breaks, they need to wander up to the candles, to the icons, they need to bow, they need to see the Entrances, I try to have them stand during the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Consecration, Entrances, the Gospel Reading.

    It’s also true that holiness kind of seeps in even if a child can’t pay attention and is a little bored, distracted, etc. The long-term example of one’s parents and other adults in prayer is extremely important, too. I once read the story of a pious Greek man who never forced his sons to say their prayers, he would simply go into the bedroom the two of them shared at night, and he would stand there saying his own prayers, near them. Both sons grew up to be priests.

    • I agree on both points. I have seen children, and not just my own, enjoy aspects of the faith and as long as we Orthodox remain free to their movements and needs to venerate and light candles as they please while young, we will see the faith grow in them. Likewise, I think holiness has a way of “seeping in” as you put it.

      • Would you consider the Narthex (where there are icons, and candle stands, and such) as part of the Church? I am a Reader with a little 15 mo old child who is very curious. (My wife just had our second child 2 weeks ago so I’m on my own for the next 4 weeks). He can be very disruptive as he hasn’t learned to use his “inside voice” and likes to go up to people who he does not know and say “hello” by pulling on their pants/skirt. I make sure to close the door between the hall and the Narthex so he stays in Church. . . He loves to go up to a little crucifix that is on he stand holding our triptich and kiss it. It’s very endearing seeing my little one show so much love towards our Savior and his Mother. He loves to also come into our room at home and pull the icons off of our Icon corner table and kiss those loudly as well.

        • Reader Benjamin,

          Don’t worry, my friend. I see you as part of the solution, not the problem. You ARE bringing and raising your children in the church! Being in the Narthex sometimes is hardly a problem. Each parent has to do as he/she sees best. The problem is when “best” means just staying home to read the paper and maybe showing up with a few minutes to spare, essentially to be there for coffee hour.

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  4. Hello Dr. Herbel,
    Thank you for linking to my “cool church” post. It has gotten much wider readership than anticipated. I am encouraged at the way Orthodox folks responding are reporting being faithful in their public and private devotion to God in front of their children…allowing their faith to be taught by being caught. It is also encouraging that you have kept your children in church. For the young the liturgy may, on occasion, be like broccoli – one needs to develop a taste for that which edifies.

    • And thank you sir! I think your post has received the attention it has because it addressed one of the pink elephants in the room, so to speak. Those of us who have never been Evangelical (I was “high church” Lutheran and now Orthodox) have always seen the problems you note but when someone on the inside sees it too, that causes ripples. I thought your post was a good opportunity to remind us Orthodox not to be triumphalistic and do some sort of “ha-ha look at you” type thing, but to be 1) thankful for the Apostolic Tradition we have and 2) address some of our own shortcomings, our own pink elephants, if you will. For that, I give thanks to God. Your post was providential in that way (and probably in others) I do believe.

  5. Thank you. It may be “the fullness of time” for those seeking something more dependable. As an outsider looking in, Orthodoxy appears to offer tradition, experience and theological stability as antidotes to our narcissistic culture.

    • I think you have definitely placed your finger on why so many who do convert to Orthodoxy, do. There are various sociological factors and such, of course, but theologically, the appeal of “tradition” is certainly a strong one and, I’d argue, almost always the central one. I am editing my dissertation, with the hopes of future publication somewhere. Its current title is Turning to Tradition: Intra-Christian Converts to Orthodoxy and the American Anti-Tradition Tradition. So, for whatever it is worth, I would offer that quite a few on the outside see that within Orthodoxy. I think quite a few of us within Orthodoxy also highlight her tradition as a positive grounding to life. Of course, this does not remove the struggle against sin. It just gives us the way to engage in such struggle in light of the Gospel of Christ.

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