Searching for the Historic Christian Church: The Allure of Eastern Orthodoxy

In the past five or six years, I have known several people who have left Reformed Christianity for Eastern Orthodoxy. Their reasons for making that decision varied. Some were mesmerized by the beauty of the Divine Liturgy. Others found Eastern Orthodoxy (hereafter EO) to offer a greater appreciation for mystery and religious experience than what they had known as a Protestant. All of them, however, were attracted by and eventually convinced of EO’s claim to be the original church founded by Christ.

While I do not agree with their decision to depart the confessional Reformed churches of which they were members, I sympathize with their desire to be part of the historic Christian church, one that stretches back to the days of the early fathers. Many Protestants and evangelicals attest to feeling disconnected with the ancient church, and desire greater certainty that the church they attend has not been drastically changed by the world over the passing centuries. I remember feeling that way when, as a young Christian, I left Calvary Chapel (a movement that began in Southern California during the 1960s) to join a Reformed church that confessed the ancient creeds and Three Forms of Unity.

These are legitimate concerns, ones to which leaders in Reformed churches should listen with charity and pastoral sensitivity. Then, having listened, how should we respond? What does the Protestant Reformation have to say about EO’s claim to antiquity? Does Reformed Christianity have anything to offer the believer in search of the historic Christian church? How can we do a better job of showing the Reformed church’s continuity with the ancient church?

I do not pretend to have all the answers to those questions. But I believe there are good reasons for Reformed Christians to be confident that they belong to the historic Christian church. What follows is a brief survey and Reformed critique of some of EO’s claims to be the church unchanged since the days of the apostles. Rather than make exegetical arguments for the Reformation doctrines of justification by faith alone or the authority of Scripture (as necessary and worthy as those arguments are), I want to explore the allure of EO’s claim to antiquity with a view to showing what the Reformed tradition has to offer, as well as how we might improve.[1]

The Quest for the Ancient Church

If you listen to the testimonies from Protestant and evangelical converts to EO, you will inevitably learn of their deep sense of dissatisfaction with the modern evangelical church. As they retell their stories in books, blogs, and Youtube videos, people who have made this journey describe how they found their evangelical or, in some cases, Reformed church to be shallow and unfulfilling, partially because of its apparent severance from the ancient church.

For many of these people, this frustration involves more than feelings of nostalgia. Some express a genuine desire to know what happened in Christian history before their particular tradition emerged, and how their tradition connects to that history. Some complain that the Protestant narrative of church history makes an illegitimate jump from the era of the apostles to the Reformation, as if the Christian church barely existed during the centuries in between. As one convert explains, “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.”[2]

Three areas where many people long for this sense of connectivity to the historic church are worship, doctrine, and church government.

Concerning the first of these three areas (worship), many converts to EO explain how they desired to worship God in the way of the early church, and that modern Protestant worship did not satisfy those desires. Burned out with worship services that reflect far more of popular culture than the liturgical practices of the historic church, many find the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church attractive. Even some who have attended Reformed churches see its appeal:

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. 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.[3]

A second area where many Christians complain of feeling an historic void in their faith is doctrine. Just as they want to be confident that they are worshiping God the same way the apostles and early church did, they also want to be sure that the teachings and beliefs of the church they attend conform to that history as well. Many former Protestants describe how their church seemed to have little to no continuity with the beliefs of the past, at least not further back than the Protestant 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.”[4]

A third area of disconnection to the ancient church is ecclesiastical government. Given the plethora of different practices of worship and standards of beliefs among the thousands of different Christian churches and denominations today, some wonder how biblical worship and doctrine can be preserved in every generation apart from some form of apostolic succession in its ecclesiastical government. Many turn to EO for this very reason.

The Church Unchanged: Eastern Orthodoxy’s Claims

Concerning these three areas of disconnection from the ancient church (worship, doctrine, and government), EO makes claims which many troubled souls find comforting. In the first place, EO contends that its worship has not changed since the days of the apostles. They claim that the Divine Liturgy “was in practice right after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples of Christ on the 50th day after His Resurrection.”[5] While they admit that the Divine Liturgy saw subsequent development and did not take its final form until the fourth century, they maintain that the basic structure of their worship has not changed since the early church. As one Orthodox monk put it, “You have to understand, the words we are saying in today’s liturgy are the same words that Christ was saying, the same words that saints from the first century, the second century, the third century, the fourth century [were saying].”[6] Unlike American evangelicalism that undergoes constant updates and changes in its musical and liturgical styles, the Divine Liturgy appears to remain untouched by the passing fads and whims of popular culture.

The two essential components of the Divine Liturgy are the Liturgy of the Catechumens (or Word) and the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Liturgy of the Word consists of Scripture readings, preaching, and a series of chanted litanies, prayers, and verses from Psalms and hymns. The Liturgy of the Faithful is another series of litanies, prayers (including the Lord’s Prayer), and songs, but instead of Scripture reading and the homily, includes the recitation of the Nicene Creed and the celebration of Holy Communion. EO’s representatives are apt to point out that it was the practice of the early church to receive the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, often citing New Testament passages such as Acts 2.42 and 20.7, as well as first- and second-century sources as the Didache and Justin Martyr.

Incorporated into EO’s worship is the veneration of icons (images depicting Christ, Mary, saints and angels) and the observance of twelve special feast days that honor key events in the life of our Lord and his mother Mary. These practices have a long pedigree and play a prominent role in the life of the Orthodox Church.

Secondly, while EO describes itself more as a way of life than a system of belief, it nevertheless claims to represent the unbroken succession of apostolic Christianity in its doctrine, which is summarized in the seven Ecumenical Councils (Nicea [325], Constantinople [381], Ephesus [431], Chalcedon [451], Constantinople [553], Constantinople II [681], and Nicea II [787]) and their respective creeds and canons.[7] For the Orthodox Church, these Ecumenical Councils constitute its confession:

The Orthodox Church of Christ is the Body of Christ, a spiritual organism whose Head is Christ. It has a single spirit, a single common faith, a single common and catholic consciousness, guided by the Holy Spirit; and its reasonings are based on the concrete, definite foundations of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Apostolic Tradition. This catholic consciousness is always with the Church, but, in a more definite fashion, this consciousness is expressed in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church…Such Ecumenical Councils the Church recognizes as seven in number. The Ecumenical Councils formulated precisely and confirmed a number of the fundamental truths of the Orthodox Christian Faith, defending the ancient teaching of the Church against the distortions of heretics. The Ecumenical Councils likewise formulated numerous laws and rules governing public and private Christian church life, which are called Church canons, and required the universal and uniform observance of them. Finally, the Ecumenical Councils confirmed the dogmatic decrees of a number of local councils, and also the dogmatic statements composed by certain Fathers of the Church…In this way, the decrees of the councils concerning faith express the harmony of Sacred Scripture and the catholic Tradition of the Church. For this reason these decrees became themselves, in their turn, an authentic, inviolable, authoritative, Ecumenical and Sacred Tradition of the Church, founded upon the facts of Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.[8]

In addition to the seven Ecumenical Councils, EO recognizes as authoritative the writings of the early church fathers. This is “for guidance in questions of faith, for the correct understanding of Sacred Scripture, and in order to distinguish the authentic Tradition of the Church from false teachings.”[9]

EO claims that, unlike western Christianity, it has experienced doctrinal unity and harmony over the past two millennia. According to one of EO’s bishops and leading theologians, Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Orthodox Christians “have known no Middle Ages (in the western sense) and have undergone no Reformations or Counter-Reformations; they have only been affected in an oblique way by the cultural and religious upheaval which transformed western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”[10] Through the eyes of Orthodox Christians, the Protestant Reformation was merely a schism within the Roman Catholic Church, which itself departed from the historic church (the Orthodox Church) by exalting their bishop (the pope) over all other bishops, and unilaterally altering the words of the Nicene Creed by adding the Filioque clause. These acts led to the Great Schism of 1054.

Finally, EO offers connectivity to the ancient church in its government through its claim of an unbroken succession from the apostles to the current bishops of the Orthodox Church. EO has three tiers of church hierarchy in its government: bishops, presbyters, and deacons. These offices, EO claims, have direct lineage to the apostles, that is, the men who serve in these offices today were ordained by men who were ordained by men (and so on) all the way back to the apostles. Without this apostolic succession, says Orthodoxy, a church is not a true church: “The succession from the Apostles and the uninterruptedness of the episcopacy comprise one of the essential sides of the Church. And, on the contrary: the absence of the succession of the episcopacy in one or another Christian denomination deprives it of an attribute of the true Church, even if in it there is present an undistorted dogmatic teaching.”[11] In defense of this claim, they appeal to several ancient sources, namely, Irenaeus (c.130 – 202), and Tertullian (c.155 – c.240), and Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260 – c.340).[12]

A Critique of Orthodoxy’s Historical Claims

Is it true that EO represents the unbroken chain of apostolic Christianity in its worship, doctrine, and government? How should Reformed Christians respond to these claims?

With regard to worship, it is true that the Divine Liturgy of EO enjoys a rich and impressively lengthy pedigree. Millions of people today worship according to the traditions that can be traced back to the liturgical practices of the Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire (330-1453). However, regarding EO’s claim to unbroken succession in its worship, I make two observations. First, the notion that the Divine Liturgy has been in place since the days of the apostles is misleading and grossly oversimplified. While it is true that certain components of the Divine Liturgy were present in the liturgies of the ancient church (i.e. Scripture reading, weekly communion, the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and creeds, etc.), there is no evidence that the basic form of the Divine Liturgy was used by the apostles or universally practiced by churches in the first few centuries. The nearest example in the New Testament of an apostolic liturgy is found in Acts 2.42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” But this, of course, is not a liturgy; rather, it describes the four main elements present in the weekly worship of the apostolic church: Word, fellowship, sacraments, and the prayers (which includes the singing of Psalms and hymns).

Likewise, the most reliable documents from the post-apostolic early church, such as the Didache (c. 2nd century) and Justin Martyr’s First Apology (c.155-157), provide us with evidence that worship in the ancient church consisted of Scripture reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s Prayer, and weekly communion. These, however, show no signs of looking identical to the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. In fact, the oldest surviving liturgy in use by EO today is the “Liturgy of St. James,” which dates no earlier than the 4th century. EO’s claim that its liturgy has remained unchanged since the days of the apostles is unsubstantiated and overstated.

My second observation regarding EO’s claim to historic continuity in worship concerns their use of icons. Like the Divine Liturgy, the icons of the Orthodox Church boast an impressive historicity, dating back to at least the 4th century. There is ample evidence, however, that images of Christ were not tolerated in the early church and viewed as a form of idolatry. For example, Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century, spoke against making images of Christ and honoring them “after the same manner of the Gentiles.”[13] From the 4th century, we have the Thirty-Sixth Canon of the Synod of Elvira (c.305-306), which says in part, “There should be no pictures in church, lest what is reverenced and adored be painted on walls.”[14] Also from the 4th century (394) is the letter from Epiphanus, the bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, to John, the bishop of Jerusalem, in which he tells his colleague about his shock in finding a curtain with a painted image of Christ hanging in a church. Ephiphanus tore it down and rebuked the elders of that church, explaining that such images are contrary to Christianity and “shall not be hung up in any church of Christ.”[15]

The Reformed interpretation of the Second Commandment – both in its regulatory principle of worship and its prohibition of manmade images of our Lord – is not an idiosyncratic view unique to the Calvinistic tradition of the Reformation. The historical evidence shows that EO’s Divine Liturgy and the use of icons were not used in the worship of the early Christian church, at least not before the 4th century. Throughout the Middle Ages, icons (as well as crucifixes and statues in the west) became fashionable. In fact, one is hard pressed to find any sort of image of Jesus – for use in worship or otherwise – before the time of Constantine.

Turning to EO’s claim to represent the unbroken chain of apostolic doctrine, I (again) make two brief observations. First, EO’s claim only works if one accepts the Orthodox notion of the church’s infallibility, and, specifically, that the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils are infallible.[16] If the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils are infallible, as EO claims, then they possess the same weight and authority as Scripture. On the other hand, if the church and its various councils are fallible, then it is possible that the church has erred in its rulings from time to time since the days of the apostles. We believe, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states, that “all synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”[17]

Second, it is important to understand that essential Christian doctrine is not limited to the seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient church. While it is true that there exists a “catholic consciousness” in the ancient creeds, confirming “a number of the fundamental truths” of Christianity, we must also recognize that the history of the Christian church continued after the 8th century, giving rise to crucial questions and debates that required more clarity than the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils provide.

The 16th century disputes over matters of authority and justification are good examples. These became matters of essential Christian doctrine as evidenced in the confessions of the Reformed churches as well as Rome’s canons and decrees of the Council of Trent. What a Christian believes about the authority of Scripture and how a sinner is made right with God matters. Yet, Orthodox theologians typically dismiss these discussions as idiosyncratic to the Western Church, a church they see as schismatic from the true historic church. As Timothy Ware notes, “Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers. In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different – the questions themselves are not the same as in the west.”[18] However, the debates surrounding the doctrines of authority and justification are hardly western in their origin. These in fact were the debates “at the heart of Jesus’ controversy with the Pharisees, of Paul’s controversy with the Galatians, and of the writer of the book of Hebrews’ controversy with the Judaizers who wanted to return to the shadows of Jewish temple ritual.”[19]

Thus, it is difficult not to find EO’s claim to uninterrupted continuity in its doctrine to be superficial as they possess no unifying confession on matters of essential Christian doctrine beyond the seven Ecumenical Councils. It is unsatisfactory and unfair to ignore debates on important biblical teaching simply because those debates arose in the west after the 8th century.

Finally, a brief response to EO’s claim to apostolic succession in its government, that is, that their current bishops have a direct lineage to the apostles. While such a claim is in itself dubious, even if it could be proven it is no ground for the believer’s confidence that EO has preserved the truth over the past two millennia.[20] As Michael Horton has stated, “Orthodoxy’s appeal to a direct line to the apostles is surely no greater ground for confidence than that which the Galatian churches could have claimed. Yet they were wrong. It is on the basis of the apostle’s own rebukes that we know they were wrong, and that their lofty place in the history of the church could not save them from the apostle’s anathema.”[21]

In other words, if the apostolic church itself was fraught with problems and sometimes deviated from the truth, how does EO’s claim to apostolic succession of its bishops give us confidence that the truth has been preserved pristinely over the centuries? The true apostolic succession is not one of men, but of apostolic ministry – ministry of the Word of God, which alone is the final authority for the Christian’s faith and life. “The treasure that the church carries in earthen vessels is the gospel – the announcement that God has done for us in Christ that which we could never do for ourselves, even with his help. This is all we have at the end of the day, and without it our ancient pedigree and customs, liturgies and rites, ecclesiastical offices and powers, are worthless.”[22] It is not upon an apostolic succession of men that Christ has built his church, but upon the gospel that the apostles proclaimed.

 “I Will Build My Church:” The Catholicity of Reformed Christianity

What does Reformed Christianity have to offer the person in search of the historic Christian church? How should we respond to the weary pilgrim who desires continuity with ancient Christianity in areas of worship, doctrine, and church government?

Concerning worship, it is commendable for modern day Christians to desire worship services that conform to the practices of the apostolic and early church. I sympathize with believers who find themselves dissatisfied with the trends of contemporary worship, which are often shallow, worldly, and irreverent. In view of this, I can understand why some have found the rich history of the Divine Liturgy attractive. But Reformed worship offers an alternative that is not only more biblical than EO, it also maintains great continuity with the worship of the early Christian church. In fact, maintaining such continuity was a great concern of Calvin and other early Reformers, such as Bucer, Knox, Oecolampadius, Capito, Le Fevre, and Musculus. They had no desire to be innovative in worship by starting new traditions or practices, but sought to recover the simplicity of Word and sacrament that was central in the early church. As they made reforms to the worship of the western medieval church in the 16th century, they drew upon their knowledge of the early Father and their liturgies.[23]

It is for this reason that Calvin wrote into the title of the Genevan Psalter of 1542 that the Reformed liturgy was “according to the custom of the ancient church,” and produced a simple liturgy of Word, sacrament, and prayers, which ran as follows:

Call to Worship
Invocation
Confession of Sins
Prayer for Pardon
Absolution
Singing of First Table of Ten Commandments
Prayer of Commitment
Singing of Second Table of Ten Commandments
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Lesson
Sermon
Prayer of Intercession (concluding with the Lord’s Prayer)
Singing of the Apostles’ Creed
Lord’s Supper
Singing of a Psalm
Benediction

Calvin’s liturgy bears striking similarities to some of earliest liturgies of the ancient church, as evidenced by documents such as the Didache (1st century) and Justin Martyr’s Apology (2nd century).[24] Psalmody, Scripture lessons, preaching, the Lord’s Prayer, and weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper were regular elements in the liturgies of the first five centuries, both in the east and west. [25]

Thus, when Reformed churches maintain these historic practices in their liturgies, they are preserving a connection to the worship of the ancient Christian church. Just as it is important that Reformed churches do not deviate from these rich historic practices in order to be more appealing to the modern culture, it is also important that we do not think of Reformed worship as a new tradition that began in the 16th century. Rather, we must have the same concern of the early Reformers themselves and seek to uphold continuity with the ancient church. By retaining ordinary practices such as the Lord’s Prayer, Psalmody, and weekly communion, we can be confident that we are worshiping God in the same way as the ancient church, and have not merely followed a new tradition.

Turning to doctrine, here too it is commendable for modern day Christians to desire a church whose teachings and beliefs have not radically departed from those of the ancient church. This was also a great concern of the early Reformers. As they defended their views on doctrines such as Scriptural authority, justification by faith alone, and the sacraments, they drew heavily upon the ancient Fathers in order to show that they were not departing from the historic Christian church (a claim made by Roman Catholic apologists in the 16th century). For example, one cannot read Calvin’s Institutes without noticing his frequent citations of early and medieval writers, including eastern theologians such as the archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom (c.349 – 407) and the Cappadocian Fathers.

Moreover, as evidenced in Belgic Confession Article 9, the Reformed churches have always confessed the great creeds of the ancient church, namely, the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. The Heidelberg Catechism includes an exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. The Reformers were careful to maintain their confession and adherence to the historic and orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ.

As a Reformed minister, I will be the first to admit that we could do a better job today of showing Reformed theology’s continuity with ancient and medieval theology. While it is indeed important to highlight the discontinuity between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology, we must avoid giving the impression that we read the narrative of church history as beginning with the Reformation, or jumping from the early church to the Reformation, as if the medieval church (both western and eastern) had nothing to contribute. Reformed pastors – including myself – need to become better versed in the ancient Fathers and medieval theologians, and, when possible, highlight the continuity of Reformed doctrine to that of the early and medieval church. This is in keeping with the spirit of the Reformers themselves, and equips us to dialog pastorally and intelligently with the troubled soul who is looking for historic Christianity, whether in EO or Roman Catholicism.

Finally, I get why some have found EO’s claim to apostolic succession to be attractive. Such a claim seems to offer stability to the believer in a tempestuous sea of churches, denominations, and sects declaring themselves to be Christ’s purest church. I am convinced, though, that Reformed ecclesiology offers far more stability and safeguards to the believer than EO. But here too it is important that we educate our members on how the apostolic succession of gospel ministry has been preserved in the Reformed tradition through our ecclesiastical assemblies, church orders, and confessional subscription.

In conclusion, it is important that Reformed leaders take seriously the desire of those who are looking for continuity to the ancient church. We need to instruct the members of our congregations on how they can be confident that they belong to the historic Christian church. We need to help everyone see how Christ has been faithful to his promise to build his church, and why we believe Reformed Christianity is a full and robust expression of that spiritual building.

 

[1] The material in this article is taken from my contribution to the report of the study committee on Eastern Orthodoxy of Classis Southwest U.S. of the United Reformed Churches in North America.

[2] http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2012/05/07/reformed-calvinist-converts-to-orthodoxy/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] This is according to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7117

[6] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mt-athos-a-visit-to-the-holy-mountain/

[7] “Many misunderstandings and prejudices concerning the Orthodox Church thus go back to a wrong approach as students try to form, merely with the help of sources and scholarship, a picture of Orthodoxy, which is not really doctrine but a way of life, with its own system-related criteria and thought forms.” Anastasios Kallis, ‘Orthodox Church,’ in Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eeardmands, 2003), 3:866-8.

[8] Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1983, 2009), 40-42. In his survey of EO, Robert Letham concurs: “Insofar as the Orthodox Church has a doctrinal standard, these councils provide it.” Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 23. See also Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1969), 25-8.

[9] Ibid., 43. See also Ware, Orthodox Church, 22, where he states that the Orthodox Church possesses a “Patristic mind” that considers “the Fathers…as living witnesses and contemporaries.”

[10] Ware, The Orthodox Church, 9.

[11] Ibid., 257-8. Pomazansky adds, “The Apostles established in the Church the Grace-given succession of the episcopate, and through it the succession of the whole Grace-given ministry of the Church hierarchy, which is called to be stewards of the Mysteries of God, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 4:1.” Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 247.

[12] Pomazansky writes, “From the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea we know that all the local ancient Christian Churches preserved lists of their bishops in their uninterrupted succession. [Moreover,] St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes; ‘We can enumerate those who were appointed as bishops in the Churches by the Apostles, and their successors, even to our own time.’ And, in fact, he enumerates in order the succession of the bishops of the Roman Church almost to the end of the 2nd century (Against Heresies 3.3). The same view of the importance of the succession is expressed by Tertullian. He wrote concerning he heretics of his time: ‘Let them show the beginnings of their churches, and reveal the series of their bishops who might continue in succession so that their first bishop might have as his cause or predecessor one of the Apostles or an Apostolic Father who was for a long time with the Apostles. For the Apostolic Churches keep the lists (of bishops) precisely in this way. The Church of Smyrna, for example, presents Polycarp, who was appointed by john; the Roman Church presents Clement, who was ordained by Peter; and likewise the other Churches also point to those men whom, as being raised to the episcopacy by the Apostles themselves, they had as their own sprouts from the Apostolic seed.’ (Tertullian, “Concerning the Prescriptions” against the heretics).” Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 247. See also 301-2.

[13]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.26.6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 10 vols. (1885; Peabody, Massachusetts: Henrickson Publishers, Inc., reprinted 2004), 1:351.

[14] As found in Robert Grigg, “Aniconic Worship and the Apologetic Tradition: A Note on Canon 36 of the Council of Elvira,” Church History 45.4 (December 1972): 428-433. Grigg provides some helpful commentary on the Synod’s ruling: “What they seemed to have feared, by their own testimony, was the act of painting that which is reverenced and adored upon walls. They did not simply fear that images of God or Christ might be worshiped, as if one could distinguish between a proper and improper use of such images. Their fear was evidently based upon a more fundamental consideration. The very act of circumscribing divinity by painting it on walls was a self-evident sacrilege. It was an insult to God, who had no need of such images.” Ibid., 429.

[15] The letter was translated by Jerome and is found in Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, 14 vols. (1893; Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., reprinted 2004), 1:351.

[16] For more on EO’s claim that the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils are infallible see Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, 29-49, and The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895.

[17] Westminster Confession of Faith, 31.4.

[18] Ware, The Orthodox Church, 9.

[19] Michael Horton, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? No: An Evangelical Perspective,” in Stanley N. Gundry [ed.], Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 134.

[20] The claim itself is dubious, given both the history of Orthodoxy and its ecclesiastical structure. As Robert Letham has observed, “The Eastern church in the Byzantine Empire had no systematic ecclesiology. Unlike the West, there was no coherent body of canon law, due to the fact that the Byzantines never considered the church in a juridical manner.” Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Geanies House: Great Britain, 2010), 121. Throughout much of the Byzantine Empire (c.330 – 1453), the Orthodox Church was not held together by a magisterium and final authority as was the Western Church with its College of Cardinals and Papacy in Rome. Not only did its center shift from Constantinople, which fell to the Turks in 1453, to Moscow, but under the pressure and persecution of Islam since the 7th century, the Orthodox Church gradually dispersed into a monastic movement of ascetics, mystics, hermits, and recluses. While this does not disprove EO’s claim to apostolic succession, it does seem to make the claim more difficult to prove than the similar claim of Rome, which has, for the most part, remained seated in one place for 2000 years, and developed a highly structured ecclesiology.

[21] Michael Horton, “Are Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism Compatible? No: An Evangelical Perspective,” in Stanley N. Gundry [ed.], Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 142.

[22] Ibid., 142-43.

[23] For an excellent analysis of the Reformers’ knowledge and application of the ancient Father and liturgies, see Hughes Oliphant Old, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 1975).

[24] See Early Christian Fathers, trans. and ed. by Cyril C. Richardson (New York: Touchstone, 1996).

[25] Like the early church, Calvin saw the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace and integral to the ordinary ministry of the Word, firmly believing that it should be served to the congregation at least weekly: “That such was the practice of the Apostolic Church we are informed by Luke in Acts, when he says, that ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42). Thus we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms.” See Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 4.17.44. For more on Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper and how he believed weekly observance conformed to Scripture and the practices of the early Church, see Michael Horton, “At Least Weekly: The Reformed Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and of Its Frequent Celebration,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 11 (2000), 147-169, and Keith Mathison, Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002).