‘Robert’, whoever he is, has sent us a comment on our post ‘Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia’:
Growing up in a pentecostal church I have sat through similar experiences as described. Something in my spirit just didn't feel right about it-I felt anxious, uncomfortable. For the most part though the church was very good. They were very much biblically centered and taught the whole bible, not simply the new testament. Something you wrote bothered me a little though. You say that the holy spirit stays with us unless we deny Christ. I agree with that. But as an example you say "such as entering a non-orthodox faith." Are you saying that only Orthodox Christians are saved and will go to heaven? I agree there are some confused churches out there, but they still believe Jesus is the son of God who died to save them, isn't that what's most important?
We would like to engage with this comment but need to pose a few questions first.
Before that, however, we would ask Robert to read our nine posts from ‘Coercive Christianity’ through ‘Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia’ to ‘Wherein We Respond to Two Comments’. To give Robert a complete answer we would have to repeat material from those nine posts, which would be tedious.
Now the question we have for Robert is this: You write: ‘Growing up in a pentecostal church I have sat through similar experiences as described.’ We are not sure what you mean by ‘similar experiences’. Surely the ‘rock worship’ you would have experienced. However, we wonder if you mean something else in addition. Moreover, if you read the nine posts we have indicated, we would be interested to what extent what we are describing in those nine posts resonates with (echoes) what you experienced. That way, we will have some idea whether we ourselves are talking through our hat or not.
Next, we are curious about the sense of anxiety you felt in the Pentecostal church you attended. Was this in general? Or was it on specific occasions?
Now we would like to respond to your questions. We remarked that as you put it ‘the Holy Spirit stays with us unless we deny Christ’. You then proceed on the basis of our having qualified ‘deny Christ’ by ‘such as entering a non-Orthodox faith’ to ask if in our view non-Orthodox Christians are saved. This is not the same thing. These are two different issues.
Let us take the issue of denying Christ first.
We once spoke to a convert to Orthodoxy from another Christian church. He had been speaking with an Elder about some difficulties he had experienced with his conversion. The Elder remarked: ‘Your motivations for joining the Orthodox Church were not pure but you would be better off dying than returning to the church that you came from.’ The issue was that although the fellow did not make a ‘clean conversion’ to Orthodoxy, he did in fact convert; and to return to where he had been would be a denial of Christ: he had received the Holy Spirit in becoming Orthodox (he told me another Elder with the charism of discernment had positively verified that) and he would have lost the Holy Spirit in returning to where he had been.
Now let us take the case of someone who has been born and baptized Orthodox and becomes, say, Pentecostal. We ourselves have heard a well-known Elder say that in such a case—where the Elder was discussing a specific person and it was understood that the person had been rebaptized by the Pentecostals—that since the person had received the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism, the second baptism was a sacrilege—an insult to God—and that the person in such a case receives a demon. That is not to say that everyone who is baptized into the Pentecostal Church receives a demon. That is a different issue. See below.
We ourselves have seen a case where an Orthodox elected to be rebaptized into an Evangelical church. He seemed to have a stupid, stubborn spirit, although he himself, since he had advanced degrees, must have had a high IQ.
Now let us take the case of a member of the Orthodox Church who becomes Muslim. In the many centuries of rule over the Orthodox Greeks by the Muslim Turks there were many such cases of conversion. The vast majority of such converts remained Muslim. Some returned to Orthodoxy. Most of the New Martyrs were such Orthodox converts to Islam who later repented of their conversion. However, some New Martyrs were in fact Orthodox who had never converted to Islam but had a zeal for martyrdom out of love for Christ.
The Orthodox converts to Islam were received back into the Orthodox Church through a life confession and Chrismation. Chrismation was administered precisely because they had denied Christ in becoming a Muslim (accepting Jesus as a prophet is denial). Chrismation restored the Holy Spirit to them.
In some but not all cases, it was pointed out to these people that the norm for people who have denied Christ is to return to the place where they have denied Christ and to confess Christ. It should be understood that in Islam, the penalty for apostasy—which is how Islam sees a return from Islam to Orthodoxy—is death. Hence, for an Orthodox convert to Islam to go to a Muslim place to confess Christ is to court martyrdom.
In some cases these returnees to Orthodoxy had such a zeal to confess Christ anyway.
In many cases these persons were prepared for martyrdom on Mt Athos—often becoming monks of the Great Schema just before their martyrdom.
In their zeal, these New Martyrs often had to provoke the Muslim judge a little to secure their martyrdom: the judges were often a little slack and uninterested in applying strict Sharia Law.
Normally (and we think virtually always), Orthodox who converted to Islam were denied communion until their death bed. It should then be clear why in the lives of the New Martyrs we often read about how their communion was assured just before the commencement of their martyrdom: because they had denied Christ they were denied communion until their deathbed, or in their case, until the eve of their martyrdom.
It should be understood from the above just how seriously the Orthodox Church takes these things.
Now today not many Orthodox become Muslim. But some take up Transcendental Meditation; others become disciples of Tibetan Lamas. While things in the West are slack, it should be understood that what we have described above is the norm for Orthodox converts to other religions—although we imagine that if an Orthodox who repented of having become the Buddhist disciple of a Tibetan lama were to go to the place where he had become the lama’s disciple in order to confess Christ, the lama would shrug his shoulders and walk away. (This is not to diminish the Chinese Martyrs in the Boxer Rebellion.) For the most part, Buddhism does not punish apostasy by death but by indifference.
Now we have covered the cases of the conversion of an Orthodox to a non-Orthodox Christian religion and to a non-Christian religion.
What about the issue of whether Pentecostals or Roman Catholics or Protestants go to Heaven—assuming they didn’t start off Orthodox?
We don’t know.
Generally, the Orthodox avoid the complex analysis of the Roman Catholic Church about degrees of ignorance and degrees of culpability, leaving it to God to decide what to do with people who die outside the Church.
We do know the following however. The Orthodox Church is an ark of salvation.
The issue now is the question that Robert has posed:
I agree there are some confused churches out there, but they still believe Jesus is the son of God who died to save them, isn't that what's most important?
The Orthodox Church is a confessional Church: Before we are baptized we are made catechumens. Part of the service to become a catechumen is the renunciation of the Devil and the joining of the person to Christ of his own free will. This is very similar to accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour as it is found among the Evangelicals. However, in the Orthodox Church, the person becoming a catechumen MUST as part of the service confess the Nicene Creed as it has come down to us in the Orthodox Church. There is no other way to be baptized. Hence, from an Orthodox point of view, the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save us is not a complete confession of faith. To become Orthodox we must confess the whole Nicene Creed, and in the case of the educated even the content of the Seven Ecumenical Synods. Moreover, as part of the service of becoming a catechumen, the Orthodox priest reads prayers of exorcism over the person and then prayers for his blessing. Thus the service of becoming a catechumen is not only an individual election but also a spiritual act of the Church.
When we look at various manifestations of Evangelical and Pentecostalist (the two seem to be converging in some measure) belief and worship, we have to look at this statement in the Gospel: ‘Not all who say unto me Lord Lord will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father.’ In other words, we do not really know what the founders of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ believe but we imagine they might believe that Jesus is the Son of God (although then again they might not understand that in the same way that the Orthodox or even other Pentecostals understand it). Moreover, Mormons believe in Jesus but patently they do not understand things in the same way the Orthodox do, or even Protestants. A bare belief in the Lordship of Christ is not in itself a guarantee that a person is on the right road: he must do the will of the Father. The Orthodox Church understands that as conforming oneself to the teachings (the ‘Tradition’) of the Orthodox Church—notably through accepting the Nicene Creed and the Seven Ecumenical Synods, although there is a further spiritual dimension that is hard to convey.
What we are saying is that it is not enough to confess that Jesus is the Son of God. There is more to being Orthodox and more to being saved—as is evidenced even by the Gospel passage itself.
Moreover, we are also saying that in the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, there are indications of a spirit of deception in at least some cases: the ‘Toronto Blessing’ for example. And this despite the fact that the people involved might confess Jesus to be the Son of God, although perhaps without understanding that as the Orthodox would understand it. In other words, confession that Jesus is the Son of God is not a guarantee that you have the Holy Spirit.
In the nine posts that we have recommended above, we discussed the ‘Toronto Blessing’. We discussed the rock worship of the New Life Church. In ‘Wherein We Respond to Two Comments’, we engaged with Steve Hayes’ defence of the charismatic Iviyo Movement in the Anglican Church in Africa. Although we never got an answer from Mr Hayes, we would again pose the question:
The problem of demonic deception is what is also in issue in Mr Hayes’ discussion of the African Pentecostalist/charismatic movements. He especially remarks: ‘The founders of the Iviyo movement, Bishop Alpheus Zulu and Canon Philip Mbatha, were not, as "Orthodox Monk" implies, demonised’—i.e. possessed by demons. How would we know, Mr Hayes?
The issue is how we know precisely what spirit is moving the church or charismatic movement we belong to. What we are saying is that discernment of the spirit moving a group is not the private judgement of this or that person but a judgement of the Church based on Tradition.
And so it is with all of these various manifestations: it is the Church that judges what is the Holy Spirit and what is not.
It’s a mixed bag. Only the Orthodox believe as the Orthodox believe. Other churches believe other things.
Is the Orthodox Church the truth? As we have pointed out, it is a closed book to Westerners: they see empty ritual where we see the vivifying presence of the Holy Spirit. However, once a person is baptized into the Orthodox Church and has received the Holy Spirit, then he too lives the vivifying presence of God.