Extremists are always a difficult bunch to deal with within the Church. But who are these extremists? Are they those who want to obey the traditions or those who want to disobey the traditions? The fathers teach us that in these apocalyptic times Christians will not become extreme in the obedient sense! They will become extreme in the disobedient sense. But what does this disobedience look like?
Within this past century the west has birthed a variety of extremely heretical Bible groups who have made a complete mockery of Christianity. They have also called the traditional churches such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox out claiming them to be about religion and not about the gospel. Is this true! Are we a bunch of religious pharisees?
Prior to my Orthodox conversion I served within ministry with Calvary Chapel, a very large Evangelical group. They taught us over and over that liturgical churches were religious, not spiritual, and the people were likely not “saved.” I remember one of Chuck Smith’s counterparts once saying over the pulpit that one of the most popular Roman Catholic saints of our time was in hell! To be a liturgical Christian, to them, was not to be a Christian.
One of the primary reasons why Calvary Chapel and so many other Protestants say this about us is because we are committed to a very elaborate and beautiful prayer service but we leave the service – in their eyes – unempowered to spread the gospel. Now, there is certainly a difference of belief in how they believe Christians should spread the gospel and how we believe we should spread the gospel. And so…how do we spread the gospel as Orthodox Christians?
Orthodox Christians do not use sales talk-tracks, simplified doctrinal packages, or any form of manipulation as our form of evangelism. We do not corner people in their beliefs, we do not pressure them to an “altar call” and we certainly do not tell them they are going to hell if they do not convert!
What Orthodox saints are known for, in regards to evangelism, is the philanthropic and humanitarian aspect of the gospel. There are an incredible amount of Bible verses as well as stories and quotes from the fathers that show us this truth. The first that comes to mind is the early Church’s care for the poor and the needy which ultimately led to the Edict of Milan where the Roman emperor Constantine liberated the Christians to build their ministries throughout the Roman Empire, resulting in the Bible (Canon) itself as well as ministries now known as ‘hospitals’ and ‘orphanages.’ This type of cultural conversion happened in many other countries as well such as Russia and America (Alaska). The people in these areas were helped with their lives, their communities.
So what is a religious extremist? I would say that a religious extremist is not one who believes that we should hold to our traditional worship services, but it is one who believes that our worship service does not extend itself out into the greater world in a real and tangible way, a way that actually starts taking shape in the form that Christ says it should. Below are a number of Bible verses that show what the saints have typically adhered to over time. To accomplish such a radical task in our day, we would need to start behaving as a real community…not a worship community but a real life community, one that extends the temple in to the greater culture and geography. Anything less is religious zealotry! And the only way to even begin such a radical task is to actually start believing that the Church is a real life community, as we believed prior to these modern days (and as many Orthodox believe in the east). Passing our calling to a secular government or to other secular organizations is not what we have historically done. We are going to have to begin at a grass roots stage (at least in America) and we are also going to have to believe that this is an essential aspect of our faith.
If groups such as Calvary Chapel knew about our history and what we have done as a community of believers, they may not be so harsh toward us, but what they typically do not read Church history. They simply look at what is going on currently with us and make the judgement. Yes, they are being judgmental, but it is what they see: An isolated religious community within a building.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
1 John 3:17
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
“On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
“But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.
“Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.
and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.
a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.
and he said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.
“Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings;
1 Corinthians 16:1-3
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem;
2 Corinthians 8:11
But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability.
They only asked us to remember the poor–the very thing I also was eager to do.
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
1 Timothy 6:18
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,