Preface: this post is not an attack or meant to be an attack or any antagonism whatsoever against those of you who have joined or are in the process of joining the Eastern Orthodox Church in one of its many manifestations. This is merely an observation. If you have found your home in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I couldn’t be happier for you and don’t want you anywhere else but there. I’m not trying to get anyone to leave the Eastern Orthodox Church or to think ill of it or those who are members of it.
So I’ve noticed kind of a trend. Whenever there is an individual who is contemplating, or is in the process, or has already joined the Eastern Orthodox Church, and they are Protestant (formerly or currently), there are usually some very similar reasons for wanting to join the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the most part, there is an affection towards the Early Church; the desire is to have and practice Christianity as close to that practiced by the earliest Christians. There is nothing wrong with this, and I totally understand it. There isn’t much in modern Christianity that really closely resembles Christianity as was known earlier and history. What’s interesting to me though, is that those having these feelings and urges to be like the earliest Church are Protestants.
A brief history lesson: one of the driving factors of the Protestant Reformation, both liturgically and theologically, was a desire to go back to the ways that Christians had done things before. For the sake of brevity will call this desire primitivism. Essentially a lot of the Protestant reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church had made additions to Christianity, theologically and liturgically, and wanted to strip away those additions and get back to the beginnings of Christianity. Did the Protestant reformers do a very great job of returning back to a more “original” form of Christianity? I wouldn’t say so. Were they correct in suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church had made significant additions to Christian theology and practice? Once again, I don’t think so. Keep in mind here that you don’t have to necessarily agree with me on my conclusions, we’re all historians here, but you have to agree that the driving force behind a significant portion of the Protestant Reformation was this desire which we can refer to as primitivism.
Now, this desire for primitivism doesn’t ever really go away in Protestantism. You have much later Protestant groups that pop up that are still trying to “do things like the early church” (some non-denom “bible churches,” some Baptists, and some Church of Christ folks come to mind).
Now, history has shown that the Reformers (as well as modern Protestants who share their inclinations) weren’t great at their history and that the thing they were rejecting (Catholicism and Orthodoxy by association) was actually closer to the “older Christianity” than what they ended up with. But the Christian primitivist inclination doesn’t go away, and I would contest is the is a core presupposition (though probably subconsciously) for a lot of Protestants.
Enter the internet age where the history of the Church is readily available 24/7, literally at our fingertips. We have access to historical realities and facts that our Protestant forebears couldn’t dream of. So if you take the Protestant inclination towards a kind of Christian Primitivism, add in a better understanding of Church history and early Church source material, and also add the latent anti-Catholicism in a lot of Protestantism (thus removing it as an option), and you find a logical end to the Protestant experiment as it has been conceived of thus far: conversion to Eastern orthodoxy.
Now, I’m not saying that this thought process is representative of all Protestants. You actually don’t see this kind of thing happening to those who find themselves within more high-church or mainline Protestant circles. Those who do usually follow this line of thought, more often than not come out of more low-church Protestant backgrounds, and upon rejecting the story of Christianity as it has been given to them (usually because of a correctly perceived mis-teaching of Church history), find solace in the arms of the “true” older Christianity, which just so happens to be Eastern Orthodoxy.
Now to restate, I have no problem with people taking this path, I’m just trying to analyze it from the perspective of competing sociological realities. What is interesting to me though is how, when you begin to examine the factors involved, the popularity of shifting from Protestantism to Orthodoxy makes a lot of sense. It is, in some ways, the most Protestant thing one can do. Therein lies my issue more than anything else.
An attentive and close reading of Scripture and Church history (an attempted, though not necessarily successful, enterprise of the Protestant Reformers) can indeed lead one to the Eastern Church. There is no denying this. But where is the line between “studying and being captivated by the beauty and truth of the Orthodox Church” and “following very Protestant presuppositions (even subconsciously) one after the other until arriving at Orthodoxy, all for Protestant reasons”?
I’m not being critical of those who have made their way out of Protestantism; I myself am on that journey. But I know that for myself, I don’t want to cease being Protestant, leaving Protestantism, because of Protestant reasons.
That’s my take. As usual, comments, concerns, criticism, and alternative points of view are welcome. I don’t take much on Tumblr personally, but please, if you feel the need to respond/reblog (and feel free to do so!), be kind to one another.