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Can we call the non-Orthodox 'Christians'?


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#1 Evan

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 11:00 AM

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

First of all, it is not my intention to offend anyone on this forum who is not a card-carrying member of the Orthodox Church. I am not making any normative claims about who is and who is not a Christian. I would also like, if possible, to avoid treading the same ground that's been so recently covered regarding who is and who is not part of the Church. What I'm interested in here is terminology employed in common discourse.

If we Orthodox are asked as to whether anyone who is not in communion with us is a Christian, how are we to respond? Do we risk causing confusion if we say "yes" concerning those who would affirm belief in the Trinity (however incorrect we regard their understanding to be) (Catholics/Mainline Protestants)? Do we say "no" when asked about Mormons/Unitarians/Jehovah's Witnesses? Must we say more than yes or no? When?

Or should we avoid answering the question directly, and simply explain how our doctrines differ?

In Christ,
Evan

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 12:44 PM

Funny thing, that. Because it was others who referred to us as "Christians" not "ourselves" in Antioch. If someone professes to follow Christ and somebody wants to call them "Christians" then that is what they are, to those people. If you prefer to call them Nazarenes, or Jesus Peeps, or Bozos, that is your perogative I suppose, but the barriers to communicate you create with labels are yours to overcome.

Many refer to Muslims as "Mohammedans", which is technically correct (they follow the teachings of Mohammed) even if it is not politically correct. What do you call them to their face if you are trying to communicate with them? That, then, is what they are.

How we refer to the heterodox depends on who we are talking to and why, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer, or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the self-labeled Pooh

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 26 March 2010 - 12:45 PM.
typo correction


#3 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 02:46 PM

If a "Christian" is defined as one who strives to follow Christ, then we can call anyone who includes the example of Christ in their personal philosophy a "Christian". Whether they correctly and truly understand and follow Christ is another question and unless they do they cannot really be called "Orthodox Christians" by which we mean one who has the true belief and true worship of Christ. There are many Christians in the world - but not all are "Orthodox Christians" and even those who are members of the "Orthodox Church" may not be "Orthodox Christians" in that they do not follow the teaching of the Church.

So yes, many people can be called Christians - but calling them such does not imply anything about their actual relationship to Jesus Christ and whether or not they follow Him in Truth.

Fr David Moser

#4 Evan

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 03:22 PM

Funny thing, that. Because it was others who referred to us as "Christians" not "ourselves" in Antioch. If someone professes to follow Christ and somebody wants to call them "Christians" then that is what they are, to those people. If you prefer to call them Nazarenes, or Jesus Peeps, or Bozos, that is your perogative I suppose, but the barriers to communicate you create with labels are yours to overcome.

Many refer to Muslims as "Mohammedans", which is technically correct (they follow the teachings of Mohammed) even if it is not politically correct. What do you call them to their face if you are trying to communicate with them? That, then, is what they are.

How we refer to the heterodox depends on who we are talking to and why, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer, or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the self-labeled Pooh


The Muslim/Mohammedan example illustrates the particular dilemma I'm most concerned with. Muslims, as I understand it, don't like being called Mohammedans in significant part because they don't hold the same belief about Mohammad as do Christians who confess Jesus of Nazereth as the Incarnate Logos. So, their self-labeling is a response to a concept of "Christian" that is more substantial than "someone who professes to follow Christ."

Upon reflection, it seems like, as you say, this is really something that can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Perhaps the best thing to do in any conversation when the issue arose would be to settle upon SOME definition of "Christian," consider the group in question in light of that definition, and go from there. And make plain, where necessary, why that "Christian" confession is not "Orthodox"?

Just to establish some context, I recently listened to an Orthodox podcast in which the podcast author said, with reference to a particular group, something to the effect that you can't really call them "Christians." Which begs the question...

In Christ,
Evan

#5 Grace Singh

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 04:07 PM

If a "Christian" is defined as one who strives to follow Christ, then we can call anyone who includes the example of Christ in their personal philosophy a "Christian". Whether they correctly and truly understand and follow Christ is another question and unless they do they cannot really be called "Orthodox Christians" by which we mean one who has the true belief and true worship of Christ. There are many Christians in the world - but not all are "Orthodox Christians" and even those who are members of the "Orthodox Church" may not be "Orthodox Christians" in that they do not follow the teaching of the Church.

So yes, many people can be called Christians - but calling them such does not imply anything about their actual relationship to Jesus Christ and whether or not they follow Him in Truth.

Fr David Moser


yes, that is true, Father. by the former definition, Mohandas Gandhi could be called a "Christian", as he deeply admired Christ and strove to personally live by His ethical teachings, even while reading the Gita every morning, and worshiping as a Hindu.

the correct understanding of who Christ is, one's only Lord, Savior, God, and Shepherd, and living as a Christian is important. Orthodox theology is also important, but who defines what is Orthodox? what is Christologically Orthodox? liturgically Orthodox? what should one do versus not do? what can one avoid doing, or leave out and still be Orthodox?

can 500 Protestant churches believing different things and all following the Bible alone all be right?

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 04:21 PM

What he is really saying is that a particular group does not fit HIS specific definition of "Christian". If you accept his definition then you might agree, particularly if you are trying to differentiate a specific group from other groups, that is what labels do, they categorize. But perhaps the problem is he simply needs to come up with a more specific label.

It is like calling something "purple". What I see as purple might be a bit different than what you call purple, and when is it no longer purple (especially if you insist on calling it "violet")? If we do not agree or at least have an idea of where our boundaries exist, we have a communications breakdown. I have no problem with the term "Mohammedan" in this forum, but I would probably not use it if I was trying to have a meaningful dialog with one since all that would do is impede communication.

Herman the not purple Pooh

#7 Michael Astley

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 05:12 PM

I tend to use the term in two distinct ways, and I think they map onto the ways Fr David used above.

On the one hand, there is the purely sociological use of the word Christian, according to which it refers to a particular affiliation or influence. In this sense, a country can be referred to as Christian because of its history or the basis of its legal system, perhaps its state religion, and so forth. A person can be referred to as Christian because he is affiliated, either nominally or otherwise, to a religious institution that has some basis on the teachings or example of Jesus Christ, and so forth.

Then there is religious sense of the word Christian which refers to somebody who is grafted, by Baptism, into the Body of Christ - who has been Christened - and who seeks to work out his salvation through life in the Body of Christ.

Obviously, somebody who is not Orthodox is not a Christian in this second sense of the word. However, in the much broader, sociological sense, he can legitimately be called a Christian. We Orthodox Christians would do well to keep examine our hearts when we see somebody who falls into this category conducting himself with the humility that we who are in the Church can so often lack.

In Christ,
Michael

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 07:01 PM

but who defines what is Orthodox? what is Christologically Orthodox? liturgically Orthodox? what should one do versus not do? what can one avoid doing, or leave out and still be Orthodox?


The Church defines what is Orthodox and not Orthodox - that is why there must be a visible definable Orthodox Church. When we embrace Christ in Truth, we embrace all of Him and leave nothing out.

can 500 Protestant churches believing different things and all following the Bible alone all be right?


No, they can't be all right - but they can (and are) all wrong (to varying degrees)

Fr David Moser

#9 Grace Singh

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 11:11 PM

The Church defines what is Orthodox and not Orthodox - that is why there must be a visible definable Orthodox Church. When we embrace Christ in Truth, we embrace all of Him and leave nothing out.



No, they can't be all right - but they can (and are) all wrong (to varying degrees)

Fr David Moser


thank you, Father. of course you are right. anything and everything can not be Orthodox.

personally, something i struggle with is the "rapture". many, many Evangelicals believe in it, and denying it is akin to heresy. again, this is something which is either going to happen, or not. either the Bible actually prophesies it, or it doesn't. i just do not see it in the Bible. it's an idea you can insert, but within the Biblical text, and going by what Paul and John write about the final days, i just don't see it. not clearly, not dimly.

so either it's going to happen, or not. that is one example, among many.

#10 Kosta

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Posted 26 March 2010 - 11:54 PM

I would just like to add that the Fathers of the Church have always recognized people outside of the church as christians even though acknowledging them as either heretics or coming from heretical sects. This is the basis for recieving converts through eikonomia. This is best illustrated in canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council of 381 a.d.:

"Those who from heresy turn to orthodoxy, and to the portion of those who are being saved, we receive according to the following method and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, who call themselves Cathari or Aristori, and Quarto-decimans or Tetradites, and Apollinarians, we receive, upon their giving a written renunciation [of their errors] and anathematize every heresy which is not in accordance with the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God. Thereupon, they are first sealed or anointed with the holy oil upon the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears; and when we seal them, we say, “The Seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But Eunomians, who are baptized with only one immersion, and Montanists, who are here called Phrygians, and Sabellians, who teach the identity of Father and Son, and do sundry other mischievous things, and [the partisans of] all other heresies—for there are many such here, particularly among those who come from the country of the Galatians:—all these, when they desire to turn to orthodoxy, we receive as heathen. On the first day we make them Christians; on the second, catechumens; on the third, we exorcise them by breathing thrice in their face and ears; and thus we instruct them and oblige them to spend some time in the Church, and to hear the Scriptures; and then we baptize them.

As you can see from the above canon it differentiates between two categories of heretics. The first category are recieved by a renunciation of heresy and chrismation only. While the latter groups are said to be recieved, 'as heathens and on the first day we make them christians"....

#11 Ben Johnson

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Posted 27 March 2010 - 01:12 AM

If someone asks with the intention of causing an argument, I would say, "That is the LORD's decision."

#12 David Hawthorne

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Posted 27 March 2010 - 02:20 AM

I think of religions being founded upon either philosophy or revelation. So one can be a Christian either based on philosophy or revelation. Only the Orthodox Church is founded purely upon the Revelation founded by Christ, established by the Apostles, and preserved by the Fathers so it is absolutely correct to call the Orthodox Christians. All other sects are founded upon a mixture of philosophy and revelation: revelation insofar as they still keep the ancient Faith, philosophy insofar as they believe themselves to be Christian but are actually following the teachings of someone who came later. These are Christians according to their philosophy and revelation in varying degrees.

#13 Christophoros

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Posted 27 March 2010 - 01:29 PM

Theologically speaking, one need only read "Christianity or the Church?" by St. Hilarion the New Martyr to see how the Fathers viewed the heterodox.

"We hold the Faith of the universal Church, which was given by the Lord, preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers. The Church is founded on it, and he who falls away from this Church is no Christian, nor can call himself one." (St. Athanasios the Great, Letter to Serapion I)

However, out of charity and compassion, I don't think anyone objects to referring to the heterodox in everyday conversations as "Christians."

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 03:46 PM

On the other hand, it is not necessarily the compassionate or charitable thing to do to gloss over the truth. I think Orthodox Christians in "western" societies are so used to denominationalist claims that we recoil from taking the same approach. Also, it has been said that the history of the Latin Church, post schism (or maybe this is what caused the schism) is triumphalist, whereas in Orthodoxy we think of the faith as a way of suffering. In any case, I think one must differentiate to some extent between the inability of the Church to limit the work of the Holy Spirit on the one hand, vs. the absolute necessity of understanding and clearly stating what the true Church is and what true faith is. Many of my protestant friends have faith, but is it true faith? Or is it a kind of self-aggrandizing faith?

#15 Paul Nurmi

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 06:47 AM

I certainly believe that God has used the institutional Church, as we see in the way the Holy Spirit worked at the seven ecumenical councils to fulfill Jude 3. Yet ultimately, when push comes to shove the holy Church is a mystical body. The Holy Spirit unites the Christian with Christ in such an intimate sense that His death becomes ours and in exchange for life apart from Him we are raised with Christ into the center of the Ultimate Relationship, ie, the holy Trinity. Since the Church is the body of Christ every true Christian's home is next to the Father's heart. There are nominal Orthodox and there are nominal Roman Catholics and nominal Lutherans, etc. But in spite of nominalism throughout Christian churches, a true Christian is someone who is united with Christ in their heart.

In our risen Lord, Paul Nurmi

#16 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 10:50 PM

If we Orthodox are asked as to whether anyone who is not in communion with us is a Christian, how are we to respond? Do we risk causing confusion if we say "yes" concerning those who would affirm belief in the Trinity (however incorrect we regard their understanding to be) (Catholics/Mainline Protestants)? Do we say "no" when asked about Mormons/Unitarians/Jehovah's Witnesses? Must we say more than yes or no? When?


Evan, the Orthodox Churches have been deeply involved in the World Council of Churches, and thus the ecumenical movement, since its inception. Do you believe that this involvement can be justified, could be justified, if the Orthodox did not believe that the major players were not "Christian," in some significant sense of the word? I know that some Orthodox believe that ecumenism is a great heresy, and I know that many Orthodox have serious misgivings about the WCC; but the fact remains that Orthodoxy in the 20th century freely, and at times enthusiastically, involved itself in the WCC. Ecumenical dialogue makes no sense at all if both parties do not believe that the other is "Christian."

#17 Clare G.

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 01:49 AM

I would urge great compassion and caution in speaking to converts who have not encountered the Orthodox Church until late in their lives, but who until then have been worshipping Christ as devoutly and reverently as they are able and aiming to follow Christ in their daily lives as closely as they are able, in whatever circumstances God then placed them.

For some of us our increasing resistance to liturgical change, disciplining ourselves in daily prayer and association with a monastic community can be seen, with hindsight, as stepping-stones towards our eventual discovery of Orthodoxy. I am able to accept my pre-Orthodox life being called 'heterodox' but for it to be called 'non-Christian' is insulting.

#18 Paul Cowan

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 02:57 AM

Mark 9:38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our[c] side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

#19 Evan

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 10:25 AM

Evan, the Orthodox Churches have been deeply involved in the World Council of Churches, and thus the ecumenical movement, since its inception. Do you believe that this involvement can be justified, could be justified, if the Orthodox did not believe that the major players were not "Christian," in some significant sense of the word? I know that some Orthodox believe that ecumenism is a great heresy, and I know that many Orthodox have serious misgivings about the WCC; but the fact remains that Orthodoxy in the 20th century freely, and at times enthusiastically, involved itself in the WCC. Ecumenical dialogue makes no sense at all if both parties do not believe that the other is "Christian."



Father Kimel,

I didn't intend to question the merits of such participation in such ecumenical efforts, nor did I start this thread (which is actually quite old) to advocate a particular position. My "default" position when discussing my faith with the non-Orthodox is to refer to any person or group that confesses Jesus as Lord as "Christian." I started this threat out of concern that this practice of mine was not well-thought out, and to "hear out" the arguments from both sides that I expected to be presented here, and have been presented here.

In Christ,
Evan

#20 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 01:04 AM

I would urge great compassion and caution in speaking to converts who have not encountered the Orthodox Church until late in their lives, but who until then have been worshipping Christ as devoutly and reverently as they are able and aiming to follow Christ in their daily lives as closely as they are able, in whatever circumstances God then placed them.


Clare,

This is a very compassionate view. And honestly, I have encountered Christians who have no idea or the wrong idea of what or who the Orthodox Church is. That is to our shame. Evangelization should be a priority within our parishes and Orthodoxy as a whole. If it was, you can bet that almost everyone would have a pretty good idea who and what the Orthodox Church is and what she stands for. My parish priest once said, "Orthodoxy is one of the best kept secrets." This should not be so.

Just ask most anyone if they have heard of the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. The answer is obvious. And those two groups have have not even been around for two complete centuries.




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