“The Reformers did not see themselves as inventors, discoverers, or creators. Instead, they saw their efforts as rediscovery. They weren’t making something from scratch but were reviving what had become dead. They looked back to the Bible and to the apostolic era, as well as to early church fathers such as Augustine (354–430) for the mold by which they could shape the church and re-form it. The Reformers had a saying, ‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,’ meaning ‘the church reformed, always reforming.’”

– Stephen Nichols (Historian)

I mentioned in my first post in this “series” that I, and I feel like many other people, feel a need to get back to the early church. To restore something that has been lost. Frank Viola felt that way and his solution was organic church. I didn’t mention it in my last post, but that was really what the Restoration movement was all about as well. And as you see from the above quote, it’s also what the Reformers were all about, and from their efforts, we got Reformed theology, and more generally the Protestant church. So clearly this sense of needing to find the early church is strong among many Christians. But the Reformation was now over 500 years ago, so evidently they didn’t figure it out. I’d imagine to some degree nearly every Protestant denomination (and non-denomination) represents at attempt at restoring the true way of doing church.

At the time and place of the Reformers, there was only one church, the Catholic church (the Eastern church existed as well, but they were completely cut off from each other. If you were a Christian and you were in the West, you were Catholic). As you’re probably aware, the Reformation is generally considered to have begun with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of Wittenberg. What this represented, really, was a call to debate the practice of Indulgences, which, along with the notion of Purgatory, was a medieval invention of the Catholic church, and quite clearly a way to make money off of the faithful. It’s not too different from a lot of those TV evangelists, I suppose. It was never Luther’s intent though, to break away from the Catholic church. He sought to change things from within. It wasn’t until he was excommunicated that he just sort of embraced it and started what ultimately became Lutheranism.

So, since we’re interested in the early church, let’s take a look at a high level timeline:

Now, on a timeline like this, “Early Christianity” looks pretty nebulous. What does that mean? The timeline above is a pretty typical layout used by Protestants. If you go to Catholic or Orthodox sources, it differs a bit:

Note that the different between getting this from a Orthodox perspective or a Catholic perspective will change whichever church continues on the straight line, and which one branches off.

The text is small, but note that the First Ecumenicial Council was in 325, and is where the Nicene creed was first developed (finalized at the Second Ecumenical council). The Biblical canon was established by the 5th century. All of this is happening during that nebulous period.

So why did it take almost 300 years from Pentecost to have a council to establish a creed? Did Christians just not know what they believed for 300 years? The real problem is that for 300 years the church was forced to largely operate underground in the Roman empire. The Church was able to establish itself somewhat even in the very early days we see recorded in the New Testament, but it wasn’t really until Constantine, the first emporer who was really friiendly to Christianity, came to power that they were able to operate more freely. Note that I’m not a historian and even with that caveat, I’ve only got a high level view of the history of this era, and I may be simplifying this. Nonetheless, all the Church structure that many Protestants don’t seem to like, such as Bishops and Patriarchs, etc, were all pretty much established in the first 500 years. A lot of Protestants object to “priests”, but that title was in use by the 2nd century.

All of this is really just to say that there was a real and unified Church during this time period. Yes, there were heresies, and there were some schisms, but the Church was largely united up until 1054 AD (though the seeds of this had probably been in place for awhile before it officially happened).

Here’s this relatively short but helpful video (Made by a Catholic, but it seems to me like it’s a pretty fair treatment)

There’s plenty more to be learned about the Great Schism, but, I’ll suffice it to say that in my opinion it seems to me that the Bishop of Rome was the one who forced the split, and that it was largely because of his insistence that he should have more power. And I do think that Catholics seem to have added a great deal to the faith – and that those were in part things that led to the Reformers wanting reform, and also in part things that forced further schism as how do you argue against Papal supremacy from within? If one guy has all the power, how do you affect change?

I think that Protestantism was probably the logical end of Roman Catholocism, and I think that the endless denominations and non-denominatiions of Protestantism is the logical end of Protestantism. And I don’t think it’s a good end, because the prayer of Jesus was:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

John 17:20-23

Christians are hopelessly divided, and that almost entirely comes from the seeds of the Reformation. The Reformation still strikes me as being necessary, and yet, the consequences are very dire.

All that being the case, it seems to me there is a very strong case that the Orthodox church is, as they would say, the fullness of the faith. That it has continued unbroken and in unity since the beginning of the faith. And so, I’m deciding to give Orthodoxy a try. I almost want to use stronger language than that, but I’ll be honest, I’m still in the early days of entering it… I’ve only been into an Orthodox church one time so far, after all.


Apologies for the delay on this followup to my previous post. I was a bit sick this week and as a result haven’t had a chance to write again until now.

I mentioned previously that one of the things I’ve had a big focus on for years is this idea of getting back to the early Church. I think that it’s something that a lot of Protestants have a sense of… but that we don’t really know what that means or what it looks like.

For a brief period, I thought I had figured it out: House church. Back in the days of Borders (RIP), on one of my many explorations of their shelves, I came across a book called Pagan Christianity. It was written by a guy named Frank Viola (and co-written by George Barna, whom I generally paid less attention to). Now, it called into question a great many common church practices, citing pagan origins for them (hence the name of the book). I unfortunately seem to have the book stored away somewhere that makes it difficult to access it, so I can’t really reference it to cite the exact arguments he made. But, I can see on Amazon’s preview chapters such as “church building”, “order of worship”, “the sermon”, “the pastor”, etc. I do think it’s important to note that he didn’t come down on the position that these things are inherently bad – but he did, as I recall, have either strong criticisms regarding aspects of them, or otherwise note that it was not the best thing. At any rate, the position that you really land at when you get to the bottom of it and say, “OK, Frank, what’s your point? What should we be doing?”, is what he called “Organic Church”. Don’t know what that means? Read his books, and then you still probably won’t really know what it means – but you’ll kinda sorta have some vague idea.

So then I moved on to his next book, Reimagining Church, which was more specifically about this whole organic church thing. And he had a couple more books too, including Finding Organic Church. I sort of followed him for awhile, I definitely enjoyed the books at the time and found them helpful. Anyway, remember at the end of the last paragraph when I said to read his books if you don’t know what organic church means? Yeah, you probably shouldn’t bother. Spoiler alert, here’s what appears on his website’s FAQ these days:

I also stopped using term “organic church” because it’s meaningless today, and I’m not an advocate of “house church.” I’ve not written on the subject of “church” for many years, in fact. While I stand by every word of my earlier books from 2008 and 2009, I’ve moved on to focus on my broader ministry of the deeper journey, which is relevant for all believers regardless of their view of “church.”

Frank Viola

You could also see this link if you’re interested where he “explains” the difference between house church and organic church: House Church vs. Organic Expression

You might think it’s a pretty poor explanation, so do I. And despite writing 2 entire books on the subject, he never really seemed to explain it well enough so that people could generally figure out what he meant by organic church, but the house church movement certainly did latch onto his writings. That said, that also was not a widely successful movement – depsite a lot of efforts on my part I was never able to track down a functioning house church that I could be a part of. It was very disappointing. And when Frank Viola stopped championing organic church, well, I have to feel like that was functionally the end for that.

At this point, I have to say, I think that Frank Viola’s real definition of organic church was really essentially house church as he happens to prefer house church to be, though I’m sure he’d tell you no, it’s all scriptural. But hey, Lutherans are going to tell you the way they do church is all scriptural. I bet Frank and the Lutherans can both cite Bible verses to back up their respective points. We’ll circle back to this point eventually… maybe not until the next post, we’ll see

I should also mention, when all this was going on I was sort of getting more and more distant from the church. Not in terms of beliefs or anything, just in terms of attendance. I think there were probably a lot of reasons for that, but it’d be off topic for the moment. I was primarily going to the young adults group that my church had, but within a few years of college ending, the things that I liked about that group were no more. So I quit going, and I guess you could at that point say I was in some sort of exile.

Then an interesting thing happened. I had this period where I started to feel like there was something wrong with the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment. It bothered me, a lot, like, to the point where I was almost willing to say, “You know what? If that’s what God does, maybe I don’t want to serve this God.” One of the things that I came away from Pagan Christianity with though, is an idea that Rome had fundamentally changed the nature of Christianity (but don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Viola has taken the position that Hell is not a place of eternal torment, so far as I know, he has not done that). The person who did write a book on that at about that time though, was Rob Bell.

Because I’ve been reaching for a video to work in here, check out this promotional video for the book:

It’s been awhile since I read it, but I feel like I recall the contents of this one a bit better than Viola’s works. If Hell is a struggle for you, I think it’s a good read. Really though, Rob Bell doesn’t tell you what to think in the book, he just asks a lot of questions. Now, that said, Rob Bell believes something about Hell, and while I don’t know specifically what he believes, it would be disingenuous to suggest that he believes in the eternal torment view. That just doesn’t seem likely to me from reading his book.

Interestingly, I saw this quote pop up on my Facebook feed today as something I had shared however many years ago back when this whole thing was very controversial:

“Many of the Christians who have been fussing over this subject have been uncharitable, uncivil, and ungracious in their discourse. This, to my mind, is an even greater issue than the actual controversy. How we treat those with whom we disagree speaks volumes. If we disagree with other Christians, let us disagree in Christ.”

Frank Viola

Still very good advice today when dealing with anyone we disagree with.

Now this is where I’d say I entered my period of deconstruction. I started to seek out writings from folks in the Emergent Church movement – another thing that I always found to be kind of nebulously defined. This period isn’t totally disconnected from my wider long term goal of finding the early church.. but I think the thing is, I thought I’d find real Christianity by getting rid of the stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there. This was all sort of predicated on the idea that the early church had in fact been lost to humanity; that it could not be found by discovering it where it exists, but only by taking some piece of the church and cutting away at it until everything that wasn’t the “true church” was gone. Then of course there was that whole pesky thing where perhaps the Romans had fundamentally changed the nature of Christianity, and so I also became a bit interested in books about the very early church, and also with books that had not been canonized (after all if Rome corrupted Christianity, it had likely happened by the time the canon was established). I read some books about some early heretical groups as well, really nothing that I found to be particularly compelling – though I did think iut was interesting to read about.

During this time I was also going to a church near where I was living in Burbank, CA: Central Avenue Church. For a person in deconstruction it was kind of the place to be. I don’t know if that’s still true – maybe if you’re well along the path and are somewhere near the same space that they are, and also on board with leftist politics and/or generally mixing political messages with your church. Suffice to say, if I still lived in Burbank, I would not be attending there. I could say more on that, but, I feel like I’m getting off topic.

While I was attending there, I was exposed to some books by a guy named Pete Rollins. Some folks may recognize the name. I actually met him a few times as well as he did a couple things at the church there. I found some of his work pretty interesting, but ultimately I sort of concluded that his “pyrotheology” stuff is kind of just a lot of bluster. I mean look, he’s a smart guy, but I don’t think he’s onto anything here. Maybe what he does will be helpful to some folks – there are some interesting insights in the books I read.

The problem with deconstruction in general is that it sort of forces you eventually into this place where beliefs don’t matter. It’s not just that you don’t have to be certain about everything or have answers for everything, but that you can pretty much believe whatever it is that you want. It may not be what these types teach, but I do see that it’s where it seems to lead. For a brief period, I was starting to think of myself as sort of a Christian agnostic. What I meant by that was, I was interacting with God and spiriituality through the Christian tradition but that I wasn’t really sure what I meant by God, etc. I eventually realized I didn’t want to stay in that place, and I started reconstructing. And I think that’s where the other problem with deconstruction lies: Most people forget to reconstruct. They just stay in that nebulous state of “well, I don’t know…” Of course you cannot know everything, and you shouldn’t try to be certain of things you can’t be certain of, but you should absolutely make the effort to know the things that you can know.

In any case, I had moved away from Burbank and back to Maryland. I briefly attended the church Brian McLaren (of Emergent Church fame) had started in Spencerville, MD – Cedar Ridge Community Church. He was long gone by that point, but, I did enjoy sermons I heard – though, again, they struck me as a bit political. Ultimately though, I stopped going, because I was going by myself and not a single person (aside from the Pastor the very first time) ever so much as said hi to me or shook my hand. If I was an extroverted guy, perhaps it wouldn’t have been an issue, but, well, I’m not. So, I stopped going.

Then ultimately I ended up where I am now, Collective, which I already linked to in the last post, so… one and done. As it was explained to me, they are part of a group connected to the Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement). The quote given me associated with that movement is “In essentials unity, in everything else liberty.” Sounds good right? I thought so too, and that combined with sort of seeing them just be really authentic and really be there for people and being willing to show brokenness, is why I started attending, and also serving there. It’s a good place.

However, here’s the problem with that quote: Who decides what is essential? I mean, we could probably pretty easily list off a few things everyone calling themselves a Christian would agree with, but we’d pretty rapidly run into problems I think. You don’t even need to look outside the movement to find the problem. The original movement, calling themselves “Christian Church” split into “Churches of Christ” and “Disciples of Christ”. It was over various things, but among them were congregatings beginning to use instruments (interestingly they were against instruments in church for the same reason Frank Viola is) as well as approaches to ministry. Are either of those things “essentials”? I don’t know, who gets to decide?

Originally, this post was going to be about something a bit different, but then I realized I had a lot to say about how I got to where I am now. Since we’re basically caught up, I’ll continue on with a bit of a focus on history next time. Specifically, I’m going to talk about the church in the first few centuries a little bit, and then the Great Schism – and why, if you’re a Protestant (and if you’re reading this you probably are), you’ve been seriously cut off from a huge portion of Christian history.


A couple months ago, I happened upon a YouTube video. I think it probably showed up there because I was searching for things along the lines of “history of the early church” or “early Christianity”. Otherwise, not sure what would have caused YouTube to put it in my recommendations. Here is the video. Watch it if you want, I haven’t watched it since that first time but I thought it was good then:

Like I said, I haven’t watched it since then, so I don’t recall exactly what it was, but something about it intrigued me and I started searching out more regarding the Orthodox Church. I started just searching for other videos on YouTube, and then also just doing generalized Google searches, wondering what the Orthodox doctrine regarding some specific issue was. The thing that started to stand out to me the most about Orthodoxy was really that it asks different questions than the Western church does. And it’s much more comfortable with mystery.

A lot of what I was reading seemed to click in my mind – it just sort of made sense to me. And so I continued to delve in. One of the things I had discovered during my Google searches was Ancient Faith. I at some point realized that they have a huge collection of podcasts in addition to the blogs and such I had been reading. I tried to figure out what a good place to start would be, and at first started going through what is listed in “New To Orthodoxy“. It starts off right off the bat with some things that are pretty different as compared to Protestantism… Icons, Saints, the Theotokos… (I had no idea what that meant at first, so I’ll help you, that’s Greek for Mother of God – that is to say, Mary). I’ve still not listened to most of those, probably still under 10.

I also discovered pretty quickly on there a podcast called Amon Sûl. I was immediately intrigued by that, because it was obviously a podcast about The Lord of the Rings. If it’s not so obvious to you, Amon Sûl is another name for Weathertop. If it’s still not obvious to you, then, you’re probably not much of a Lord of the Rings fan. I started listening and it was a nice mix of something I was familiar with (the lore of Middle-Earth) and things I was less familiar with (Orthodox theology). I did a bit more research to see what people online recommended regarding podcasts I could listen to… One of the things that seemed like a must-hear was a podcast called “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy”. So I grabbed the first few episodes, started listening, and thought to myself… “Hey, this guy sounds really familiar.” Turns out, both of those are hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick. I devoured all of them (Amon Sûl was easy, there were only like 3 episodes at the time, up to 5 now), moved on to another called Faith and Philosophy hosted by someone else whose name I can’t recall offhand, and then after burning through all of those started on “The Aeriopagus”, which, again, is hosted by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, as well as a Pastor of a Protestant denomination named Michael Landsman. This was another that really hit the right notes for me as again I had a little more that I was familiar with. Really something about Fr. Damick’s voice is just nice to listen to as well – this time around I specifically picked the podcast because I saw his name on it.

If you can’t tell, I’ve listened to a LOT of audio content related to Orthodoxy – specifically, Ancient Faith is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Which is a whole other thing with Orthodoxy… Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, etc… Now, all of these are just regional part of the Orthodox Church, but due to an “accident of history” as I’ve heard some Orthodox folks say, there is no American Orthodox church as such, and there are various Diocese that are under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned groups. But, all these churches are in communion with each other – and it’s worth noting, this is the second largest (Roman Catholic Church is largest) group of Christians that self-identify as being part of a single church (I’m not sure if I worded that the best way possible, but I think you’ll get what I mean). So in regard to doctrine, it’s not actually relevant which one the information comes from, they are all in agreement with each other.

So at some point during all this, actually it was probably at least a month ago, I decided to see if there were any Orthodox churches near me that I might possibly go to visit and see what it was like. As the Orthodox are fond of saying, “Come and see.” I did some Google searches and discovered two such churches in my immediate vicinity (that is, within a 15 minute drive). First was Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church, and then there was St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church. It took me awhile, because as some of you know I run lights every other week for Collective Church, which I’ve been attending for the last year and a half or so, and also had a half marathon one of my off weeks, etc, but I did finally make a visit yesterday.

I ended up visiting St. John the Baptist. I had initially felt inclined to go to the Greek Orthodox church because it is a bit closer and also larger, but then I learned (if I recall, from reading Yelp reviews) that they do a large portion of their service in Greek, and well, I do want to understand what is going on, so… I decided on the other. Now, it’s also worth nothing that having grown up going to an Assemblies of God church, then a few non-denominational churches, that I had never really been to anything resembling a liturgical service (there’s kind of an exception as during the brief period I went to a Catholic high school, they had 1 or 2 services I was around for). But honestly, it’s all foreign to me. So knowing that, and having researched what to expect, I was highly intimidated about going. Also, while I have some vague recollection about dressing up for church when I was a kid, I couldn’t have told you when the last time I dressed up for church had been. Now I can, it was yesterday. I’ve never been much for dressing up. For the past couple decades it’s been for job interviews and… well, that’s it. But doing so is part of the Orthodox tradition, and so, I did it.

So I go to bed on Saturday night knowing that I will be going to the church the next day. I wake up, still feeling a bit anxious about it, but get myself to drive over there. I pull up to the church and realize it’s smaller than I had even thought it was. And there was no parking lot, just parking along the side of the road. And there were not nearly enough cars. This was not a place I could go in largely unnoticed. So, I wasn’t really sure what time I should arrive – let me explain why. On a Sunday morning, an Orthodox church will first have Matins- morning prayers – and this will flow into the Divine Liturgy, which I guess you could call the “main service”. So, since I was “just checking things out”, I decided to arrive just before the Divine Liturgy started. This was another thing I realized as I was getting ready to go in – no one else seemed to be arriving at this time really. So, it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but, I walked in, and let me just say… I have never felt so lost in regard to what I should be doing… haha. I don’t doubt that everyone there knew it was my first time ever being in an Orthodox church. But, a nice lady, who I later learned to be the Pastor’s wife, helped me find where they were in the service so I could follow along. I was grateful for it, because I was completely at a loss… haha.

So, here was my initial reaction to it – I thought, “This is weird”. Now, as I’ve said, my interactions with the Catholic church have been pretty limited, so I’m not sure if the same is true of their services, but the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is largely sung. And that felt very weird to me. That’s on top of the other various things going on that aren’t part of any Protestant service I’ve ever been to. But with all that said, I made it through, went up front as they took communion (not being Orthodox, I could not partake, but instead received a blessing) – then returned to my seat and the Pastor spoke a bit and welcomed me as well as a couple other visitors (though they were Orthodox). I had a good talk with him after the service as well.

This is quite long, and it’s getting late, so I’m going to end this here for now. Tomorrow, or whenever I next have time, I’ll continue on in my thoughts on this.