By Allison Sailer Bennett
I grew up in a fundamentalist “Bible church” that loved God and had a clear desire to serve him, but I questioned why my church was so isolated from other Christians. By the time I graduated from high school I found something in the more historical faith of Reformed Presbyterianism but still wondered what exactly transpired between the first century A.D. and 1517. During my first year of college, I attended a Reformed Church on Sunday mornings and a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday evenings. My theology was still Reformed, but I longed for rich, liturgical worship saturated in Scripture. A year later, I encountered Eastern Orthodoxy and knew immediately that this was where I belonged. General dissatisfaction with evangelicalism led me to search for the historic church of liturgy and sacraments. And while Reformed Christianity sometimes has these elements, I found the fullness of them only within the Orthodox Church.
Protestantism’s narrative of church history left me dissatisfied. In particular, what happened between the first century church and the dawn of the Reformation? Evangelicals essentially told me that the Christian church fell into heresy right away and did not recover until years later when Martin Luther rescued the faith from the hands of Roman Catholicism. Reformed thinking is more generous to the early church, but still takes significant pause at what transpired between Jerusalem and Geneva.
Orthodoxy claims that the church has been here all along, unchanged, and still relevant. Orthodoxy is both “right belief” and “right worship” in the context of apostolic succession. In other words, someone has to preserve the faith (duly ordained bishops), and the right faith must be preserved (Orthodoxy). Christ promised to build his church (singular), “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Evangelical and Reformed Christianity left me dissatisfied by their liturgy. All churches inescapably have a liturgy, but many evangelicals say that formal liturgical worship is “canned,” “dry,” or pharisaical. The Orthodox Church worships together in beauty and holiness, and I was drawn to it. Because liturgy is rooted in the Incarnation, we worship God with our whole being: body, mind, and soul. Anyone who has attended an Orthodox service can speak of the holistic worship: incense, icons, vestments, chants, and prostrations.
Finally, evangelicalism left me dissatisfied by its sacraments where there is little to no recognition of the elements as physical vehicles of grace, and Communion is celebrated more as a memorial service than as the life-giving bread and wine. Orthodoxy understands that all of life is a sacrament in Christ who fills life itself with the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy is centered on one sacrament – the Eucharist – which is the “sacrament of sacraments” and the heavenly banquet of the kingdom of God. In Holy Communion we partake of the body and blood of Christ, the Eternal Passover Lamb, who makes us alive and holy with himself. This is why we worship, and this is why I transitioned from evangelicalism into the fullness of the faith – Christian Orthodoxy.
Originally published in Modern Reformation Magazine