Our church in schism: Russia vs. EP

I’ve waited to write about this as I gathered information on what it means, and as I waited for my priest to get his instructions on how to proceed.

The schism between the Russian Patriarch and the Ecumenical Patriarch is very grave.  While here in the Diaspora, we’re half a world away from this and have nothing to do with it, we still are affected by it.

There are many repercussions in America to being told that Russians can no longer commune or share any other sacraments with those under the Ecumenical Patriarch (EP; includes the Greeks in America).  The following is taken from how my priest explained it, along with my own thoughts:

Here, we are of a minority faith, so the members of all the different Orthodox jurisdictions come together.  Maybe we have Greek churches, Russian churches and the like, but we also have Pan-Orthodox churches and services, such as an annual Vesper service in this region.  And a Russian is welcome to come into a Greek church and commune, and vice versa.  Which is especially necessary because many communities have only one type of Orthodox church for miles around.  I read about churches which have members from all over the place: Russians, Greeks, Serbians, etc. etc.

The schism is not because of dogmatical differences, as my priest says, but because of two hierarchs disagreeing.  It’s the biggest schism since the Big One in 1054.  He sees it as a great tragedy.

The EP, from what I understand, has not broken communion with Russia, though Russia has with him.  My priest says that Russians are welcome in our church, even if they don’t take communion with us.

The trouble is that Russia has said that its members are not allowed to share any sacraments or even services at EP churches.   And ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) supports the actions of the Russian patriarch and has also separated from the EP.

In my own church is someone from the Crimea who loves our church.  She’s too far from churches of her own jurisdiction to go there often.  A few weeks ago, she could come to our church without any hindrance or feeling like it’s a sin.  Now, she’s being told she can’t.  Not by US–we tell her we want her to keep coming, and Father will also let her keep coming–but by Russia.  And her mother.  Our church members told her this is men arguing, and that what matters is what’s in her heart.

And we’re just one church.  Just the thought of how many people this is going to affect, all the disruptions it will cause in the Diaspora, people who can no longer commune with their own families (ie, Russian married to Greek), people who no longer have a church to go to, breaking of Pan-Orthodox events…. When the split happened, I read on an Orthodox forum about someone who was supposed to be a godfather in a few days.  Now all of a sudden, he couldn’t do it.  Imagine the scramble to find a godparent, and after the parents had already decided they wanted him to do it!  Imagine the honor which was ripped out of his hands.

As one person said last week after the service: And they wonder why church attendance is dropping!

 

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From Orthodoxy in Dialogue: Trouble in American Orthodoxy

The blog Orthodoxy in Dialogue recently criticized the standard conservative Christian response to legal abortion.  The more I read this blog on various issues which are big in politics and religion today, the more I see kindred spirits:

For a while, back in the early 00’s, I was becoming more and more liberal.  But I also wanted to find out what the original Church believed about various theological issues and practices.  That led me to Orthodoxy, which led to a period of time in which I was much more conservative about many things.

But then I realized I was, in a sense, being brainwashed:

First there was the very persuasive and charismatic person who first suggested Orthodoxy to me: Richard.  He was a convert from the Foursquare Church; time eventually revealed that he’s also a narcissist.  Not sure if he’s malignant or not, but a lot of those narc traits are there.  He did a LOT of talking to me about Orthodoxy: not just about its beauty, but about the many things which the local church did wrong because it wasn’t “Orthodox” enough, and how I was wrong for not being “Orthodox” enough.

Then there was the constant presence on the Net (where, in the early days, I spent most of my time with Orthodoxy) of “Netdoxy” and “Ameridoxy.”  Orthodoxy has been getting a lot of converts in recent decades from American Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches.  I wanted to get away from Evangelical/Fundamentalist influences, but many are bringing them into Orthodoxy.

OID’s most recent post,  Notes from Underground, describes this phenomenon as a peculiarly American “mob mentality,” where you get attacked for disagreeing with the prevailing views of the group you’re in.  You see it in politics; you see it in discussions on social issues; you see it on narcissism forums; you see it within Evangelicalism; you see it on Orthodox forums on the Internet.  This is one reason why I stopped going to such forums some years ago.

Anyway, I finally began to break away from Netdoxy and, with it, away from the conservatism which had been pulling me back in.  I began to move back toward liberalism.

But by this time, I had already become a full Orthodox Christian, so it wasn’t as if I could just pick up and leave.  I still saw many things in worldwide Orthodoxy (as opposed to Ameridoxy or Netdoxy) which were refreshing and did not hold to American Republican politics.  For example, the Ecumenical Patriarch actually believes in climate change and working to get along with Catholics, Muslims, and others.  But the more I examine issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the more I agree with liberals–which means a huge disconnect with official Orthodox positions.

This has made me wonder if I should’ve stayed in a liberal Protestant church all those years ago.  I’ve often wondered if I’ll be allowed to stay Orthodox, if at some point I’ll be excommunicated for my views, especially now that I’ve discovered an Orthodox friend is LGBTQ–and I sympathize rather than telling this person to change.

But finding OID is reassuring.  Finally, I feel like, if there’s room for the writers/editors of OID, there’s room for me in Orthodoxy.  Maybe I can still stay in, rather than leaving all the richness of Orthodox tradition.

Anyway, OID also has insightful posts on abortion and how the usual “Right to Life” response does nothing at all to stop abortion, while pro-choice policies have actually caused a huge decrease.  In the past I posted a link to a blog post by someone who is now atheist and made the same points, but I suppose some Christians may not give her any credibility because she’s an atheist.  Well, here’s a Christian saying many of the same things.

Basically, that money on marches is wasted, when it could be spent on helping women afford contraception or afford to raise a child, leading to fewer abortions.  That when abortion is against the law, women die along with their babies from backroom butchers and coat hangers.

The response OID received to these posts was enlightening–but, sadly, not surprising: Orthodox women were grateful.  Orthodox men were furious.  And Netdoxy attacked it as well.

Chew on that for a bit.

Here are the posts on abortion:

Abortion, Contraception, and Christian Faith

Another January, Another Celebration of our Moral Superiority

 

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Neo-Nazis Infiltrating Orthodoxy

“Why is a symbol of my faith being used alongside Nazi and White Nationalist symbols, and what is American Orthodoxy going to do about it?”

This question was asked by Arthur Hatton after taking a picture of a rock painted with neo-Nazi–and Orthodox–symbols.  It’s published in this post–WHITE SUPREMACY IN THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ASSEMBLY OF CANONICAL ORTHODOX BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA–by Orthodoxy in Dialogue.

Neo-Nazi and Confederate sentiments have been making their way through the Orthodox Church, a small but disturbing minority, going directly against everything Christ ever stood for.  OID wants the leadership of Orthodoxy in America to clearly condemn white supremacy and racism before this poison does any more damage.  And anyone can still sign the open letter by e-mailing OID.

And of course, the neo-Nazis have responded with a post by Matt Parrott of the Traditional Worker Party.  (The name draws from the original German name of the Nazi Party.)  In a hate-filled post, he makes himself and other white supremacists in Orthodoxy into some kind of martyrs for the cause, puritans fighting the heretics of “Ameridoxy.”  You can read it on the OID website here, along with OID’s response.  That’s better than linking you to the original post, which is on a Nazi website.  😛

For example, Parrott writes,

The Toronto School of Theology’s vibrant and very ecumenical community is calling on Orthodox clergy to go on a hysterical witch hunt for absolutely any and all clergy who may have the slightest anti-globalist or pro-Southern sympathies. Co-signatures are reaching into the hundreds as layman and clergy alike scramble to get their name on the list of people less likely to find themselves strapped down to the lynch mob’s cucking stool.

And also,

May the first man who attempts to deny communion on account of race be excommunicated.

Hold up. Wait a second. That stupid list [ names signed to the OID letter ] actually is a handy list of folks who are guilty of precisely that. Start with excommunicating and defrocking them. … The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests and bishops, and I will stomp on each one of them on my way to hell and back to win this war for the universality of Christianity in the West.

Apparently, this TWP group would find my feminism and desire to see equality for LGBTQ in Orthodoxy to be much, much worse than their racism.

Their words made me want even more to sign OID’s letter.

The TWP even has the crazy idea that Confederate symbols weren’t seen as “super racist” at all until a couple of years ago.  Er…..I’ve seen Confederate symbols as “super racist” as far back as the 1970s/80s, when I was a child.  And so have countless others.  In fact, I’m amazed that it took so long for Southern states to wake up to how many people see the Confederacy as “super racist.”

I see this stuff popping up here and there, and start wondering if my ex-friend Richard, the guy who led me into Orthodoxy, has anything to do with any of it.  He’s only half-white, so hopefully the other half and his mixed-race child keep him from joining the racists.  But I can’t be sure, because I remember how he became militant Tea-Party in the last year or two of our friendship, back when nobody had heard of the Tea Party yet.  I remember how he hated Obama, and how his militancy strained our friendship until it finally broke in 2010.  I wonder if he’s a Trumper now.

I hope he has nothing to do with these “Orthodox” neo-Nazis, but who knows.

And of course, it’s because of Trump that these neo-Nazis are so bold these days.  They think they have a chance to take over American sentiment now.

 

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Reblog: The Adoration of the Konvertsky

From Second Terrace’s The Adoration of the Konvertsky:

I will deal more ethically with the reflexive irony. How go the konvertsky — that famous (or infamous) influx of unlikely American Anglicans and distraught establishment Protestants, and even more unlikely mishmash of “free church” Evangelicals and Charismatics — that immigrated into that patently odd jurisdictional ambiguity of the American Orthodox Church?

I hope that the majority of those who have left their own heterodox “Ur” and entered the Orthodox nave of Canaan have stayed. I hope that they and their families have continued along the eternal path of becoming, and have tasted the first fruits of theosis. I hope they have learned of the Church’s tradition and “theoria,” and have become wise in responding to the foolhardiness of this contemporaneity. I hope they have become adept at fighting the passions, and fending off the feints and wiles of the loathsome powers.

…There are, as you might expect, anecdotes, as far as data is concerned. I am aware of several narratives of ex-protestants who tell stories of disillusionment after five to ten years in Orthodoxy. The first apprehensions of beauty have worn off, and the frustration of relationships and disappointments have set in.

Other, more extreme, narratives include the exposure to egregious ecclesiastical misbehaviors. Some converts have seen Bad Things — and some of these converts have had Bad Things done to them. Some of them have seen persons in the Church not only ape the patterns of the world (“world” in its negative, not John 3.16, sense) — but have seen churchmen actually surpass the world in worldly behavior. Some converts have seen the Church replicate the marketplace DNA, having given religious preference to the term “entrepreneur” and have adopted the management-by-objective procedure and newspeak of corporate America.

…You take Communion differently now, and Chrismation is a one-way seal. You never experienced those things before — but the other part of deification is a providentially-ordered sequence of burden-bearing and grace-sharing. The disappointments from other people are such that God has elected you to bear that particular burden, and to bear His Grace to those particular people.

Yes, they hurt your feelings, but in our hurt feelings is His strength made manifest, and through our hurt feelings do we find the sufficiency of His Grace.

The entire blog post is here; it goes into the various kinds of converts–from the former Evangelicals and fundies, such as me, to former mainline Protestants–and various reasons why we can get disenchanted with Orthodoxy.  It includes the political right-wingers and left-wingers.  It goes into reasons why we should stay put and work on our own judgmentalism (wherever we fit on the spectrum of converts).

 

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On Women in Marriage/The Church

I was once engaged to a guy who insisted I say “obey” in the marriage ceremony.  I said I would not.  He said, “I thought you weren’t one of those feminists.”

He was Catholic.  My parents, who would pay for the ceremony, would hold it in our Nazarene church; neither “obey” nor “submit” was in the Nazarene marriage vows.

I never heard in church that I should be an obedient wife.  I refused to have the pastor put “obey” into the marriage vows.

We sometimes argued about this; my fiancé seemed to think that if I didn’t promise to obey him, then if he told me not to go out and have affairs, I would go ahead and have affairs (for example).

The “obey” disagreement was only a symptom of his control issues and emotional abuse.  Eventually he broke up with me, probably tired of my sticking up for myself and refusing to be a doormat.

(Why did I stay with him?  It was probably a combination of, trouble getting dates and hoping he would change.  I suppose I loved him, too.)

His next girlfriend was even more of a “feminist” than I was, so I’m surprised they lasted so long, but they did have a tumultuous relationship and finally broke up.

After finding and marrying a much better man who did not care about wifely obedience, we went to a church which preached a different meaning of submission.

It wasn’t about obedience; it was about the wife submitting to the husband voluntarily and the husband submitting to the wife.  The wife was to respect her husband; the husband was to love his wife.

“Respect” also included “respect for the husband’s role as spiritual head of the household.”  That meant, he would make the decision if there was an impasse, and he was in charge of the spiritual health of the household.

This was much better than how such people as my ex-fiancé interpreted it, because it allowed the woman to have her own opinions and influence decisions.  However, she still seemed to have a second-class status.

I even read an article by Lisa Whelchel in Today’s Christian Woman which said the husband should take over the finances, no matter how bad he was at it!  (I guess my own mother was a “sinner,” then.)  My own childhood church never taught that!  And I wondered how to explain Peter praising Sarah for obeying Abraham and calling him “master.”

Actually, when you take scripture as a whole instead of in bits and pieces, both the husband and the wife are to be totally equal.  Christ explains that rulers in the Church are not to lord it over their followers as earthly rulers would–which he himself demonstrated by example when he went to the Cross to pay the debt to death which freed us from sin and death (Matt. 20:25-28).

St. Paul says that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church.  So if the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the Church, then he is to love her and give himself up for her, not act like “the king of the castle” who must be obeyed.

Here’s an Orthodox view: An Orthodox, Christian Perspective of Marriage by Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides

St. John Chrysostom wrote that “a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.”  While “the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them” is “appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage” (p. 72, On Living Simply).  They are obedient to each others’ needs and feelings.

He also wrote that a harsh master, using angry words and threats, causes obedience but not attachment in a slave, who will run away the first chance he gets.  “How much worse it is for a husband to use angry words and threats to his wife.”

Chrysostom went on to describe what, even in our modern age, still plays itself out every day: a husband shouting, demanding obedience to his every whim, even using violence.  But this treatment turns wives into “sullen servants, acting as their husbands require out of cold fear.  Is this the kind of union you want?  Does it really satisfy you to have a wife who is petrified of you?  Of course not.”

Such behavior may make the husband feel better for the moment, “but it brings no lasting joy or pleasure.  Yet if you treat your wife as a free woman, respecting her ideas and intuitions, and responding with warmth to her feelings and emotions, then your marriage shall be a limitless source of blessing to you” (p. 74).

Catharine P. Roth’s introduction to St. John Chrysostom’s On Marriage and Family Life, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (Orthodox), says the Pauline epistles give the impression of much freedom and equality between the sexes.  They were missionaries and church patrons; the husband’s body was owned by his wife, just as her body was owned by her husband.

But eventually, “the roles of women became restricted, probably to avoid provoking too much conflict with the surrounding patriarchal society.”

Pagan fathers, husbands or masters needed to know their daughters, wives or slaves would still submit to them if they became Christians; “otherwise life could become very difficult for the women.”

This is why some New Testament epistles tell the women to hold to their traditional roles.  In time, this survival strategy became the norm even in Christian families, so rather than overthrow it, Christian teachers tried to “mitigate its exercise or at best transform it from within.”  St. John Chrysostom, rather than trying to change the patriarchal tradition of marriage, taught couples to transform it with love (pp. 10-11).

This introduction–in a book published by an Orthodox press–suggests to me that we should look at marriage not so much in terms of who obeys whom, but in terms of how to love each other and meet each other’s needs.  Outward customs can change from one culture or one century to another; what’s important is Christian love, respect and mutual submission.

Also read this article from the GOARCH website: Domestic Violence at Home: Cursory Observations by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald  [Update 5/2/16: This link now appears to be redirecting to an erroneous link.  I’ll keep it up in case it’s fixed.]

Now, of course, if you’re still not convinced that the husband and wife should submit to each other, not just the wife to the husband, then here’s a tip to get your wife to submit to you:

Act like you don’t care if she submits to you or not.  Then, if she doesn’t, there will be no hard feelings between you.  If she does, it will be willingly, with no resentment on her part.

Also note that yes, indeed, there were women apostles: Junia, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, Thekla, Nina.

Phoebe was a deaconess (woman who ministered to women in ways improper for a male deacon) who got a personal recommendation from Paul: Apostolic Succession by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.   So when Paul says he does not allow a woman to teach, he can’t possibly mean that no woman can ever preach or teach men.

Even the Catholic Church, which at the present time is adamantly against women priests, recognizes “Fathers and Mothers of the Church,” or primary teachers of the Apostolic Tradition in the Early Church.  Another class of teacher is called “The Doctors of the Church”; three were women.  Teachers of the Church by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.

St. Gregory of Nyssa held a lengthy dialogue with his learned sister in On the Soul and the Resurrection.  He called her “The Teacher.”

Also see this article on Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles.

As for the Orthodox restriction against women priests: As explained to me by an Orthodox believer around 2006, there were women preachers in the Early Church, but not ordained women who distributed sacraments etc.  Modern Protestant churches have preachers taking on the roles of priests, not just preaching but distributing sacraments and taking charge over a church, so we tend to lump the words together when examining the Early Church.

As the explanation continued, the Orthodox do not have a problem with women teaching men (though a layman who preaches is rare).  They allow women all sorts of leadership roles, even the role of epistle reader in the Liturgy.  The highest role possible for humankind in the Church, the Mother of God’s human incarnation, was given to a woman, Mary.

Who was the first apostle?  As my priest explained it, it was not one of the Twelve Disciples–rather, it was Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well.

See Women’s Ordination by Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox writer who herself has preached in the Orthodox Church!  She writes, “Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.”  She also gives examples of Orthodox women evangelists, theologians, apologists, rulers, etc.

But Orthodoxy does have a problem with women distributing the sacraments, because the priest represents Christ giving Himself to the Church (the bride).  The Eucharist is not just a memorial; it’s not just about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; it is also intimate communion with Christ, Christ and the Church (the bride) becoming one, a spiritual counterpart to marriage.

So in any church in which the Eucharist is seen as Christ’s real body and blood, if a woman distributes the sacraments, that’s vaguely homosexual (which is frowned upon in Orthodox marriage).

Summary of Church’s arguments

Concerning Women’s Ordination by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

An Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware re: the Role of Women in family/the Church

OCA Q&A: Ordination of Women

Written between probably 2005 and 2007

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

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Just read something about being “truly Orthodox”….

A former Orthodox-convert-blogger, who was quite popular (and controversial) in Net Orthodoxy in his day, then became Catholic, is now becoming Orthodox again–and I discovered he lives near me.  And will be coming to my church.  😀

I’ve been checking out what traces are left on the Web of his old blog, to see what the controversy was in the old days.  I missed it somehow.  Either I encountered his blog many years ago and forgot about it, or he wasn’t mentioned on the Orthodox forum I spent time on, or it was during the time I dropped out from Internet Orthodoxy (after the Richard/Tracy crap soured me on Orthodoxy for a time).

I only found his newly-revived blog recently by accident, through another Orthodox blog’s post which included a link to one of his posts.  And discovered he lives very close.

Anyway, I found this comment by 123 on one of his old blog incarnations:

More practically, one hasn’t started becoming truly Orthodox until you’ve had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you’ve found yourself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you’ve stayed put for a few years.

That’s not something converts are prepared for, they aren’t prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren’t prepared for that ‘abandonment’ on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy.

Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it’s also the Cross, it’s also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hyperbole, or metaphorical.

No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there’s also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from the top of the Divine Ladder, that’s really what the spiritual life is about.

It’s when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it’s then that people start assuming you’re foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it’s all you can muster, and you can’t stop doing even that because it’s simply what you are, even when you’re bad at it.)

And this gave me pause, because that’s where I’ve been for the past 4 and a half years.  Staying put in Orthodoxy even after discovering that my spiritual mentor and idol (Richard) had feet of clay, that he was an abusive narcissist and enabler of abuse.

He’s the one who broke my heart, and he (at least in name) was Orthodox.

And here I am, often going through the motions, wondering how much of it is true, yet still here.  Too stubborn to leave, even though it is common for converts to do so.  According to 123, that makes me “truly Orthodox.”

And I get to see someone who also has had my doubts and frustrations, leave and then return.

 

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Cat and Dog Theology

This new theology, if you can call it that, is described here, here and here.  It’s also here, a June 22, 2003 sermon, “It’s All About Him,” which sounds very like a sermon we heard in church once.

Cat and Dog Theology is tied in with the above described supremacy of God doctrine.

Yes, we need to focus on God and loving others, not on making ourselves happy and getting all the blessings for ourselves.

Yes, it is true that the Church has been riddled with materialistic error and the concept that God is some sort of cosmic slot machine, giving us wealth, a beloved, a great job, etc. (as long as we remember to tithe that 10%).

Yes, it is dangerous to think that we can expect a life of ease, when our forebears were tortured and martyred for the faith (and many still are in other countries).

Yes, it is dangerous to think that we don’t need to struggle to become more like Christ.  Many down through the ages have deliberately chosen poverty and other difficulties to become closer to Christ.

Yes, it is true that American worship is becoming more and more man-centered all the time, bringing in various forms of music and praise choruses to make us “feel” closer to God, to make us raise our hands, dumbing down the message so it becomes more like a self-help seminar or something to make us feel good, assaulting our senses with multimedia as if we were being entertained by a movie or concert rather than worshipping at church.

On these issues, I wholeheartedly agree with Cat and Dog Theology.

But when I read the “It’s All About Him” sermon, it scared me.

Now I recognize very Calvinist doctrines running throughout this sermon: Some people are born to be killed for God’s glory?  “What if God wants to sell you into slavery so He can position you for His glory, like Joseph?”  What??!!!  (God did not sell Joseph into slavery; Joseph’s brothers did that.)

Other teachings I’ve heard along this line include, we should pray for other people (dog) and not for ourselves (cat).

But Christ specifically tells us to bring our requests to God, and that we do not have because we do not ask!  He is a loving Father who will not give us a stone if we ask for bread.

Sure, we should pray for other people, and more than we pray for ourselves.  But it is not a “cat” thing to ask for our own needs as well.  (Needs, not wants.)

One Sunday, I could swear the pastor told us we shouldn’t grieve or question when a loved one dies, because we don’t know God’s purposes.  I could swear he told us that even praying for that person to be healed was a “cat” thing.

But the Orthodox tradition affirms that death is a tragedy and we should feel free to grieve, not make glib comments like, “God had a purpose in [your loved one’s name]’s death.”  Christ came to conquer death; death is the enemy!

Some passages from this sermon:

In 1 Chronicles 21 Satan prompted King David to count his fighting men.  The Lord wasn’t pleased for He wanted the glory for giving military victories.

But David swelled with pride, in himself, his country, and his men and took the glory of God.  So it was the Lord, not Satan, who sent a plague and killed 70,000 of David’s chosen men, military leaders and believers from the nation Israel.

Let’s listen in on the conversation these men might have had with God.

Men: Lord, why did you bring us all home at once?  We weren’t even fighting a war.

Lord: David sinned.

Men: What?  David sinned and we were all punished for his sin?

Lord: I don’t see bringing you home into my presence as punishment but that’s what I did.

[Note from me: In those days they would have gone to Sheol, or Hades, the land of the dead, of shadows, of nothingness–NOT God’s presence–because Christ had not yet gone down into Hades and defeated death.]

Men: Oh Lord, we’re sorry.  You’re wonderful.  but why didn’t you take him home?

Lord: Because I had a greater plan for his life.

Men: What about our lives?

Lord: I had a plan for your lives as well.

Men: Well, what was it?

Lord: To die when David sinned, and to serve to bring about his repentance.

Men: But Lord, that just doesn’t seem fair.

Lord: Well, I have never run My kingdom based on fairness, I run it for my glory.

[Note from me: What about justice and mercy?  What about people being judged only for their own sins, not someone else’s?  This “theology” sounds more like heresy than Orthodox doctrine!]

God uses all nations, both good and bad, for His purposes.  When God wanted to take the gospel message past Jerusalem He persecuted his people in that city to spread them throughout the Roman Empire.

When He wanted to extend the gospel message past the Empire He sacked Rome with barbaric tribes from the north that scattered Christians from Ireland to China.

What does that say for America?  Can you think for a more historically accurate, God-honoring way to take the gospel to the Muslim world than to scatter the church, perhaps even the American church?  After all, it’s not about America.  It’s All About Him.

…Let’s ask some questions: Did God love the first nine generations [of Israelites living as slaves in Egypt] as well as the tenth one He freed?  (Absolutely)

Did God have a plan for their lives?  (Definitely)

What was God’s plan for their lives?  (To be born a slave, to live as a slave, and to die a slave.)

Why?

Because God used their captivity to teach future generations to be kind to people from other countries.  Because It’s All About Him….

Would you be willing to be a slave for the glory of God?  What if God wants to sell you into slavery so He can position you for His glory, like Joseph?

…Suppose it is God’s will that you be stoned to death like Stephen?

…As a woman would you be willing to live in southern Sudan, to be raped, mutilated, homeless and hungry if your being on the front lines of spiritual war brought great glory to God?

This website critiques Cat and Dog theology, based on a report given to the author by a reader whose church taught C&D Theology.  The author writes:

Value of mankind:

1-“God is not fair”

We were given examples of three people who served God, yet had different outcomes. Thereby, we conclude that God is not/does not have to be “fair”. “You have no right to ask, ‘Is it fair?'”

Nothing was mentioned about justice. Or just trusting that God sees the bigger plan for our lives.

We should not question when life is taken. We should not grieve when a child is taken.

2-We were told not to seek the glory of the “winner’s circle” by seeking to be like the Bible heroes (of faith). Rather, we were told that we should identify with the lesser characters of the Bible.

The two examples given were of nameless people who died. We were told that they died in order that God might be glorified. (Not true.)

Ex. -1) Job’s children. This story was told as if Job’s children went to heaven and had a conversation with God. (This seemed to be a deliberate but subtle denial of hell.)

Ex. -2) David and the 70,000 who died as a result of his sin and his choice of judgment on his people.

What is missing here is this: If bringing glory to Gods name is so paramount in his theology, then the greatest glory to God that we could possibly affect would be that of seeking to be like none other than Jesus Christ.

This “option” was totally omitted as was the fact that Hebrews 11 sets before us a whole list of “winners” as examples of people to emulate in order to bring the greatest glory to God. He equates these men and women of faith to being “the winner’s circle”.

This is a distortion. They simply walked in faith and obedience to God, enduring hardship and seldom seeing the promise fulfilled.

Now, in our Evangelical-Free church, for possibly two years and in every sermon, we heard that God’s predominant passion is His own glory.  That makes it hard to tell where “Cat and Dog Theology” ended and basic Supremacy of God doctrine began.  So I’m not entirely sure if the following two points came from Cat and Dog Theology.

But our pastor told us 1) Even if God didn’t have all these attributes–love, compassion, caring, blessing us, etc.–we should still glorify Him because He is God.  2) Even if we didn’t sin, Christ still would have died on the Cross because it was for God’s glory.

In answer to 1: If God didn’t have all these attributes, He would become like ancient pagan deities who didn’t care at all about mankind–deities who required sacrifice so we wouldn’t be punished, deities who barely thought about humans and just used them as occasional playthings.  Why would we care to worship and glorify such a deity?

In answer to 2:

According to Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor and other Greek Fathers, the Incarnation would have taken place even if Adam and Eve had never sinned. Isaac the Syrian held the same view, as did later Syriac writers.

The purpose of the Incarnation was to achieve intimate union between God and humanity. This is salvation, the fullest expression of love.

God’s plan was for the two to become one and form a New Humanity (confer Eph 2:15 read in light of Eph 4:13 & I Cor 15:45 53).

In contrast to this is the Latin tradition, at least the part that prevailed. During the Easter Liturgy in the Roman Church, the Exultet is sung. The following is an excerpt: “O Happy Fault, O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a Redeemer.”

According to the Latin mindset, there never would have been an Incarnation unless Adam and Eve had sinned.

The Eastern tradition finds this line of thinking totally offensive and in fact, several Popes had condemned it as well.

Nevertheless, ever since the split between East and West, this section of the Exultet stands as part of the Roman liturgy. There is a Latin saying “lex orandi, lex credendi,” “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” The liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church reflects its theology.

From the Eastern perspective, God’s desire and reason for the Incarnation was loving intimacy, not punishment for sin. The Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, while foreknown by God, was not the primary motivation for the Incarnation.

The East accentuates God’s mercy over God’s justice; the West is vice versa. –Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Theme 8–Soteriology

So on the Latin side, if man had never sinned, there never would have been an Incarnation.  On the Greek side, if man had never sinned, there would still have been an Incarnation because of God’s desire for union with us.  So either way, what the pastor said was just plain incorrect.

Week after week after week, the pastor made God sound more self-centered and less like a loving Father; my husband felt like just a tool being used for God’s purposes, not someone God cared about as a person.

After all, if God wanted to kill you for His own glory, who were you to complain that wasn’t fair?

And yet the pastor wondered why we didn’t consider this a wonderful theology that made us more in love with God.

We watched in disbelief as other members of the church embraced it and began teaching it to others.  Even now, members from that church propagate this doctrine, and Cat and Dog Theology has become quite popular in the American Church.

This “theology” is the product of modern American Protestantism mixed with Calvinism, not the theology of the ancient Church.

To summarize, God created us for communion.  He wanted someone to bless.

Christ came not just to die for us, but to reconcile us to God and lead us to communion–not for God’s glory, but for communion!

We are not saved from Hell for service, but saved from our sins so we can commune with God!

We do good works for others because Christ told us to and it’s the sign of true faith and love, not because we’re a “dog” or a “cat.”  (See above, and see page 3 for lots of stuff about sin, salvation, Hell, etc.)

Cat and Dog Theology said we are supposed to hunger for God’s glory; in Orthodoxy, we are to hunger for God Himself.  As we come together as a congregation to worship God, and sing praises and glory to Him (since this is a good and worthy thing to do), our worship culminates in the Eucharist.

Our hunger and thirst for God is satisfied as we take His body and blood into our bodies in an intimate union which has even been compared to a man and his wife becoming one.

Out of this pours our honor, glory and praise to God, and we desire to become more and more like Him and help others to do the same.

So just because we do not focus on glory above everything else, hardly means that we are “cats.”  But so much of what I have heard and read from Reformed sources makes it sound like we are robbing God of His glory if we do not focus on His glory above all else.

Also, Cat and Dog Theology says “everyday life was designed to be one big worship service” and goes on to ask, What does God get when you hug a child, see a sunset, listen to music, eat a chocolate covered strawberry, etc. etc.

However, this is not what worship is all about.  Such experiences can show us God exists, and it is good to remember all of it is possible because of God’s goodness.

But worship “reflects the fullness of Truth,” “strives to make holy,” and all

flows from the one, essential act of worship and thanksgiving, the ‘common union’ with the Trinity and with God’s people into which the ‘community’ enters through the reception of Holy ‘Communion’. …’Enjoyment’ is not a goal in worship. —Orthodox Worship vs. Contemporary Worship

Another deficiency, a common problem, is that I read so much in the Cat and Dog writings and other Protestant writings about God, which makes God sound like one Person who is God-centered.

In Orthodoxy, God is more commonly referred to as the Trinity and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Yes, Protestants are usually Trinitarian, but in common speech, oftentimes Christ and the Spirit seem more like subordinates, while the Father is God.  One important note–which some proponents of Cat and Dog theology may be fully aware of, but can be missed by those in the pews–is that the Persons are equal to each other and each are God.  Instead of seeking what’s best for Himself, each member of the Trinity loves the other two completely and seeks to glorify them.

This is demonstrated by the Trinity icon, in which the three members of the Trinity sit around a table in perfect love and communion, their heads bent toward each other.  See here.  Looked at in this way, God is not self-seeking or self-loving, but loves and seeks what is best for the other, just as we are to do.

Oddly enough, this Cat and Dog “theology,” first heard of in the Evangelical Free Church, is part of the reason why I began the path toward Orthodoxy.  It was a long and twisted path, full of error, but led me to seek what was for God rather than just for myself.

Still, as I’ve noted above, this theology is flawed.  Cat and Dog Theology says that “dogs” hunger for God’s glory while “cats” hunger for the blessings; Orthodox theology says that we should hunger for GOD–and this hunger is satisfied in the Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood.

Cat and Dog Theology focuses our attention on God’s glory (as in, reputation); Orthodox theology focuses our attention on God Himself.

Cat and Dog Theology says that Christ died on the cross for our sins so that we might point to God and glorify Him; Orthodox theology focuses on the love of God in reconciling us to Him, showing us how to live, and bringing the suffering souls out of Hades so they could commune with Him forever.

Cat and Dog Theology focuses on God’s reputation (glory); Orthodox theology longs for the wondrously beautiful manifestation of God’s energies (glory).

Cat and Dog Theology makes life’s unfairness sound deliberately caused directly by God; Orthodox theology realizes that the Devil is our enemy and the source of all evil, that we ourselves cause our own troubles (such as Hell, which we cause ourselves by rejecting the love of God).

Cat and Dog Theology focuses on the lack of praise of God in Hell; Orthodox theology focuses on the suffering people will endure because they have rejected the love of God and cannot get away from it.

Cat and Dog Theology would essentially call Orthodox theology “me-centered cat thinking” because it focuses on our becoming like Christ and acquiring the Holy Spirit.  Yet Orthodox theology is the most ancient, while Calvinism is only about 500 years old!

See for some good old-fashioned deep theology that does not come from 500-year-old Calvinism: Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life

Written between late 2004 and probably late 2006/early 2007

 

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

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