A conversation between a proselyte (A) and a man on the bench (B).
The proselyte, a rather recent convert to protestantism, spots a lonely figure sitting on a park bench. He figures this is a good person to speak with about Jesus Christ and salvation. He feels drawn to this seemingly lonely person in rather bland and unexciting clothing. He approaches, not with a "Hello how are you" but a question, "Are you washed in the blood of Jesus?" The man on the park bench, looks at the proseltye with a confused look and gaping mouth void of words, thus beings the conversation.
A: My dear friend, how is it that you do not believe in Jesus Christ?
B: I believe Jesus Christ existed.
A: Is there a particular reason for this? I mean, you say you believe that Jesus existed, what is stopping you from completely accepting Him and becoming a Christian?
B: Believing in the existence of Jesus is not necessarily recognizing his deity, it is recognizing the fact that He existed as a person in history. I believe there is sufficient evidence for the existence of Jesus, and therefore I must accept that he indeed existed, however, it is a matter of faith to believe that Jesus is God.
A: How exactly is that faith? You know Jesus existed, it is more likely that He is who scripture says He is than Him just being a man. Besides what do you have to lose by being Christian?
B: It is faith because there is no evidence that proves Jesus is God. As a theological matter I understand it can be proven, but theology requires faith. Is it more likely that Jesus is God because facts exist to support this or simply because scripture says so. What do I have to lose? That is a loaded question, in my opinion. It is not about believing out of fear, which is what that question is hinting at, that by not believing I will lose, so I may as well believe. Let me ask you something, which is more pleasing to God, an honest unbeliever or a dishonest believer? Belief by forced submission is not acceptable, in fact, it is deplorable. The same goes for believing because you are hedging your bets or because you fear going to hell. According to scripture, God is a God of love, not a tyrant in the sky looking for terrified slaves.
A: Jesus says that He is the only way, so I guess it is better to believe no matter how you believe. I think that if one believes out of fear or forced conversion even, although I reject the latter, eventually they will come to fully understand Christianity and then be honest in their belief. If you don't mind me asking, have you ever been Christian, at any point in your life? And if so, why did you change?
B: I can understand your answer to my question, however I do not feel it is satisfying. Regardless we will move on to avoid any kind of heated argument. Yes, early in my life I went to protestant churches with my parents although I wouldn't say that I was a Christian, just a kid who did not understand what he was doing. What made me question Christianity as a whole was the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of denominations, many are vastly different from one another, others differ in a more subtle way. This I found to be in direct conflict with Christian principals. Why are there so many different beliefs and practices if we are all one?
A: Well, look, we are all one family we all just have different ways of doing things, but ultimately they all lead to the same place.
B: I disagree with that statement. How can something be one when there is no union of belief and practice? If there is no standard by which to measure what is Christian, than anyone who claims to be Christian is Christian. I can understand some minor cultural differences, but many of these differences are not minor. For instance, if you have a human body, you expect the human body to have certain parts, right?
A: Yes of course.
B: Exactly. And while there certainly are minor variations between humans, the human remains human. These differences in denominations often make each other unrecognizable as if a human had one body part that was not human, would it still be regarded as human simply for being attached to the body in some way?
A: Of course not, it would be an animal part grafted onto a human body, or an animal part that is attached in some way to a human.
B: Exactly. You cannot say that because this is the same part as the human, but animal in nature, that it is the same thing. Likewise you cannot say that because these denominations slightly resemble the early church in a few minor ways, but differ vastly in every other way, that they are Christian. Its absurd.
A: I understand what you mean, however, over time things do change and that is how we account for these variations.
B: Please explain.
A: Fair enough. At some point in history Rome had perverted the true faith, filling it with meaningless traditions of men, and restricting their people from reading scripture, and extorting them out of their money. So in the 16th century Luther came and freed the church from Roman tyranny. That's the short version.
B: So you mean to say that at some point in history the church Jesus had established was overcome?
A: Yes, I am not sure exactly when or the minute details, but that is the way of it.
B: How then do you explain Jesus saying himself, "Upon this rock I will found my Church, that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Mt. 16:18?
A: Rome says that Peter is the rock, we reject this interpretation. They say that this proves that they are the head of all Christianity.
B: I am not speaking on that, I am speaking on the part where Christ says plain as day that his church wont be overcome. Since you said that it was overcome, how do you explain Christ saying that it will not be?
A: Well by church Jesus is referring to His people, not some religion.
B: I am well aware of the Greek that is used, ekklesia, which has 3 definitions. Any other time this word is used in the New Testament each and every definition is utilized. The belief, the people, and the building in which they congregate.
A: I am not sure about that, however this is what we believe.
B: Fair enough. Let me ask you, what exactly is your denomination and why do you believe in that specific denomination?
A: I am non-denominational. I was saved a few years back and we are a bible based church that believes Jesus Christ came and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, even for your sins. I believe we are exactly like the early church.
B: I can tell you with certainty that non-denominational is a recent phenomena born out of the 16th century protestant reformation. While scripture has always been viewed as authoritative by believers, it was never viewed as being the only authority, this is a 16th century invention and cannot even be found in scripture. Exactly like the early church?
A: Yes, well there are some differences in how we practice, which is usually with more modern music, but for the most part yes, we have gone back the early church, to like, the book of Acts.
B: So can we focus on this for a bit?
B: Ok, so according to Acts 11:26, it was in Antioch that they (the apostles) were first called Christian, right?
B: Ok good, now, we know for a fact that Ignatius of Antioch was ordained as the first bishop of Antioch by the apostles, and most likely was taught by them. We have his letters which have survived and were written during the apostolic age, as far as we know. Now, if the definition of Christian is tied to Antioch, and the first bishop ordained by the apostles, would you agree that the writings of Ignatius would give us an idea of how the early church practiced and what they believed?
A: I guess so, but that is not as authoritative as scripture in my opinion.
B: I agree, however, the point is to shed light on the practices and beliefs of the early Christians, and since Ignatius was ordained by the apostles, that should give him credibility. In reality Ignatius had no reason to falsify anything in his letters.
A: Alright, Lets review his writing then.
B: I think one thing we can start with is church authority. Protestantism outright denies the priesthood, so let us see what Ignatius of Antioch has to say on that subject:
"I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the harmony of
God, the bishop having the primacy after the model of
God and the priests after the model of the council of
the apostles, and the deacons (who are so dear to me)
having entrusted to them the ministry of Jesus Christ,
who from eternity was with the father and at last
appeared to us." (Letter to the Magnesians, Ch.6)
A: That is interesting, I am not sure of the significance though.
B: Well, Ignatius shows us here, and several other places, that there is a heirarchal structure to the church, this of course is during the time of the apostles further proving its legitimacy.
A: Yes but scripture doesn't say anything about bishops and priests.
B: On the contrary, there are several places in which they are mentioned, namely in Paul's letters. 1 Tim. 5:17 refers to "elders" which in the Greek is "presbyter" and priest is derived from that very word. 1 Tim 3:1 Paul speaks to us that if a man desires the office of a bishop it is a "good work". In the following verse he lists the qualifications for becoming a bishop. So to assert that the priesthood is not in scripture is false. Here are more examples of Ignatius speaking on the priesthood:
"Now, therefore, it has been my privilege to see you in the person of your God-inspired bishop, Damas; and in the persons of your worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius; and my fellow-servant, the deacon, Zotion. What a delight is his company! For he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ" (Letter to the Magnesians 2)
"Take care, therefore, to be confirmed in the decrees of the Lord and of the apostles, in order that in everything you do, you may prosper in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in Son and in Father and in Spirit, in beginning and in end, together with your most reverend bishop; and with that fittingly woven spiritual crown, the presbytery; and with the deacons, men of God. Be subject to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the apostles were subject to Christ and to the Father; so that there may be unity in both body and spirit." (Letter to the Magnesians, 13:1–2)
"Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in his death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore—and such is your practice that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, in whom we shall be found, if we live in him. It is necessary also that the deacons, the dispensers of the mysteries [sacraments] of Jesus Christ, be in every way pleasing to all men. For they are not the deacons of food and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They must therefore guard against blame as against fire" (Letter to the Trallians, 2:1–3)
B: This last one clearly shows that Ignatius equated unity with the bishop as being Christian. Obedience to the ecclesiastical authorities was a Christian way of life, not only that, it seems to be essential to the Christian spiritual life to submit to the bishop. This idea is outright rejected by protestantism, opting for sola scriptura, which we see was not taught by Ignatius in the slightest.
A: So you are saying sola scriptura is incorrect?
B: Exactly, I am not only saying it is incorrect, I am saying it is not a Christian doctrine. We find no mention of this doctrine or even hint of the teaching until Martin Luther in the 16th century.
A: So Ignatius did not mention this at all?
B: Actually in a way he does mention the doctrine, not by name, but he states: "There are some whom I heard say, 'Unless I find it in the scriptures, I do not believe in what is preached.' When I said, 'It is the written word,' they replied, 'That is what is in question.' For me, Jesus Christ is the written word; His cross and death and resurrection and faith through Him make up untampered documents. Through these, with the help of your prayers, I desire to be justified." (Letter to the Philadelphians, Ch.8)
A: That is difficult to argue against, however, it does lend credibility to sola fide or faith alone.
B: That would be the common protestant miconception, the same thing often arises from their reading of selected passages of scripture. What protestants generally do is selectively embraces passages instead of reading scripture as a whole. Most pass over the epistle of James 2:24 which says: "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." The epistle of James is somewhat of an overview of the new testament teaching as a whole, a summary if you will. Its like Peter's confession of faith in Mt. 16:18 that we discussed earlier, that is what the church was built on, not Peter himself, but the confession of faith which is where the salvation of the individual begins.
A: You seem to know an awful lot for being an atheist.
B: I am not an atheist, I am an Orthodox Christian.
A: What exactly is that?
B: Orthodox is a Greek word meaning "correct" or "right way". Orthodoxy has its roots in Christ through the apostles, in fact I can trace the lineage of our patriarch in Alexandria all the way back to Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark. Not only can I trace the ordination, I can also demonstrate the practice and beliefs have also successively been passed down from Mark, to now, unchanged.
A: So you could say that protestantism, which in your estimation is untrue, led you to truth? This means that protestantism must have some truth.
B: How can untruth lead to truth except through means of rejection of the untruth? I did not start as a protestant and slowly work towards Orthodoxy by means of growing through protestantism, rather, I saw the untruth in protestantism and rejected it. Therefore through my rejection of what is untrue I came to see what is true. The elements of protestantism which may be true are not inherently protestant but merely adopted by protestantism from the true source in the Orthodox Church.
A: So what you are saying is that protestants are going to hell and only Orthodox go to heaven?
B: Only God can make those types of decisions. In my estimation the Orthodox will be judged to a much harsher degree than others, but that is my personal opinion. I cannot speak on the individual as that is the place of God, not man. I can however say without a doubt that protestantISM is not Christian in any sense and is empty and void of salvation.
A: How can you say such a thing?
B: Because salvation lies with the church founded by Christ, not by man. The sacraments were given to us as a means to achieve salvation. The church tends to mans salvation much like a hospital tends to wounds. A hospital cannot care for individuals if it has no doctors and no medicine, would you still consider it a hospital if it had no means of curing the sick?
A: But that is different.
B: No it is not. You cannot just make a church based on what you think. Christ even addresses this in Mt. 7:22-23 "Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" Christ clearly addresses those who believe themselves to be Christian but He accuses them of being "lawless." If there is lawlessness then there is law, and you cannot just create your own law apart from the law and then say it is part of the law. That is madness.
A: I see your point but I am not sure I agree.
B: That is because you cannot get past yourself. You see, you believe in what you want Christianity to be and not what it is. Christ tells us in Mt. 16:24 "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." You must deny yourself, your wants and your desires for that which is pleasing to the Lord. How can you please God if you cannot deny yourself?
A: Well that is a matter of interpretation.
B: Which interpretation would you estimate to be correct, the Orthodox interpretation which has been here since the beginning or that of protestantism which came from the 16th century?