Baptismal Boundaries. Part 2

Part 1

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In my previous blog piece I examined the question of how converts to Orthodoxy should be received. One set of criteria which suggested that non-Chalcedonians should be received by confession alone, that those “who previously have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity in a manner recognized as authentic” should be received by chrismation alone, and that those “from non-Christian religions who do not believe in the Holy Trinity, or those that do not baptize with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” should be received by baptism. Those in this third group were said to include “Baptists, Buddhists, and Jews”. I suggested that this set of criteria was inadequate given current ecclesiastical complexities, and that the counsel of St. Basil might be of help in addressing our current situation.

This counsel is found in Basil’s letter to a friend in which he offered his opinion about a number of canonical questions. In one section of the letter (preserved by posterity as “Canon 1”) St. Basil dealt with the issue of how different groups were to be received upon returning to Orthodoxy. He distinguished between 1. heresies; 2. schisms; 3. unlawful congregations. By “heresies” he meant groups that had “altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith”. These were groups which required full baptism before they could be admitted to the Church. By “schisms” he meant groups that “separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution”—groups such those which “disagree with members of the Church about repentance”. The Church could accept the baptism of these schismatics, so that they required only chrismation before being admitted. By “unlawful congregations” he meant, a man “convicted of crime, and prohibited from discharging ministerial functions, [who] then refuses to submit to the canons, but arrogates to himself episcopal and ministerial rights, and persons [who] leave the Catholic Church and join him”. People from this group were readmitted to the Church “after they had been brought to a better state by proper repentance and rebuke”.

In all these decisions, Basil’s rationale seemed to be the degree to which the group had become “alienated in matters relating to the actual faith”. In Basil’s words, “The old authorities decided to accept that baptism which in nowise errs from the faith”. He did not focus narrowly upon their theology of baptism or whether or not they offered a verbal confession of the Holy Trinity, for the Encratites of his day were orthodox in their Trinitarian theology (Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies, VIII, xiii refers to them as “acknowledging what concerns God and Christ in like manner with the Church”) and yet Basil still advised that their baptisms be rejected. It seems that he examined the group’s faith and life as a whole and not simply one aspect of it. (Scholars, feel free to weigh in.)

Note too: what counted was the faith of the group in which the candidate had been baptized, not the candidate’s own personal views. A candidate might dissent from the erroneous views of his former church, but what counted was that church’s faith itself. Obviously economia was required in some cases (Basil himself cited the example of the followers of Izois and Saturninus whom he received without rebaptism), but the akribeia or norm looked at the views of the baptizing church, not the idiosyncratic views of the individual who had been baptized by them.

I suggest that this ought to guide our approach as well. We should consider the faith and life of a group taken as a whole and not simply their stated understanding of baptism or their confession of the Trinity. The Orthodox Church would therefore look to the dissident group and try to discern whether or not it can recognize its own Faith there. Obviously that faith will not be identical with that of Orthodoxy in all respects, but the important and broad outline of the Orthodox Faith should be the focus, and not simply the group’s baptismal theology and practice. Thus the fact that Bishop Spong’s Episcopal Church baptizes with water in the name of the Trinity and confesses that this baptism is sacramentally transformative cannot be the deciding factor if that Church has been so marred by liberalism so as to effectively be another religion. If we make this patristic approach our own, certain conclusions follow.

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Firstly, our Evangelical Protestant friends must be received by baptism, since Orthodoxy cannot recognize its own faith among them. It is happily true that they share our acceptance of the divinity of Christ and the Holy Trinity (apart of course from the issue of the Filioque), and much of our moral praxis and standards as well. That is cause for celebration and allows us to regard them as brethren in Christ who partake of His salvation and His Holy Spirit (whether from or apart from their sacraments I here offer no opinion).

Please note: I emphatically believe that these Protestant evangelicals are saved and are therefore our brothers and sisters in Christ. Receiving them into Orthodoxy by baptism does not, to my mind, imply that they were not born again prior to their Orthodox baptism any more than receiving them by chrismation implies that they had not received the Holy Spirit. All it means is that their previous spiritual experiences were received in schism, and that baptism or chrismation is the door into the historical Church and the way out of schism. What is undeniable from the patristic perspective at least is that they reject so much of the Orthodox Faith that it cannot be said that (in St. Basil’s words) they “in nowise err from the faith”. Given their sometimes heated and emphatic rejection of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ there, their rejection of the regenerative power of baptism, of the necessary place of asceticism within the life of the Christian, of the role of clergy and of sacramental confession, of prayers to the Theotokos and the saints, of veneration of their icons and relics, and (in many cases) the total transformation of liturgical worship into religious entertainment, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we have here in many ways a different religion.

Here one may pose an historical question: if St. Basil could arise today and walk into an Evangelical Protestant church service and familiarize himself with their doctrine, praxis, and spirituality, does anyone deny he would have trouble recognizing their spirituality and life as the Christianity with which he was familiar? Would he say that this church does “in nowise errs from the faith”? Would he not rather reluctantly conclude that it erred from the faith in practically everything, so that people coming from this church to Orthodoxy must be received by baptism?

Secondly, I suggest that mainline Protestants should be received by baptism as well. It is true that much of their historical teaching and morality was consistent with traditional Orthodoxy—which is perhaps why Orthodox bishops in the past had been willing to receive converts from them by chrismation alone. But that was then; this is now, and most of the Protestants of today look nothing like their ancestors. Orthodox churches receiving those converts in the past (were there ever very many of them?) made a number of assumptions which no longer hold. Formerly they believed (perhaps a little naively) that these denominations were strictly confessionally based, so that if their Confession or Statement of Faith made a pronouncement regarding the faith, then everyone in that denomination regarded the pronouncement as binding and they therefore believed it. The bishops also believed that these churches were untouched by a liberalism of theology and morality so that they looked a lot like the Orthodox. These things might have been true at the time those Confessions were drafted, but it hasn’t been true for some time now.

The Anglicans have not formerly repudiated their Thirty-Nine Articles, but any member of the Church of England appealing to them as a binding authority now would be laughed out of court. Their Creed may state that they believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ” who is “light from light, true God from God, of one essence from the Father”, but that never stopped Bishop Spong from denying it long and loudly—or, come to that, bishops like Christopher Pike (d. 1969) before him. My own former United Church of Canada has been overwhelmingly and effectively Unitarian for at least a generation, despite the fact that it still formally subscribes to the Creed. Such formal subscription is easy and costs nothing—and therefore tells you nothing. One can tell whether or not the subscription possesses reality by what the church does when someone openly denies the teaching. For example, if a clergyman openly expresses a view denying the divinity of Christ, is he or she disciplined or deposed? If a layman does so, is he or she excommunicated? If not, then the verbal and historical subscription to the divinity of Christ in the Creed is worthless. A Church’s discipline is everywhere a test of its true views. The actual state of a denomination can be gauged by this, and not simply by what is written on a piece of paper somewhere.

The truth is that most of the mainline Protestant churches have been so liberal as to allow its people to deny practically anything they like with no ecclesiastical consequences whatsoever. Indeed, adherence to the older traditional faith is more likely to be an impediment to promotion. This overwhelming surrender to theological liberalism is the elephant in the ecumenical room. Many if not most of these churches have accepted women clergy and blessed homosexual practice, and are now in the throes of accepting transgenderism as well. This in itself disqualifies them from being considered anything that St. Basil would recognize as remotely Christian. Individuals from these denominations may not agree with their churches when the churches embrace such liberal heresy, but a person’s reception into the Orthodox Church must depend upon their former church’s life and praxis, not the (happily orthodox) idiosyncratic views of individuals within her. There is always room for economia to deal with such situations, of course, such as in cases wherein their former church bears a great resemblance to Orthodoxy or when other pastoral considerations arise. But our normative akribeia must base itself upon the actual state of the other churches themselves and not upon individuals within them. Please note that I am her referring to Protestant denominations that are liberal enough in their theology to embrace gay marriage, not to conservative denominations which are holding the line against the rising tide of liberalism.

What then of our Roman Catholic friends and our non-Chalcedonian neighbours? I suggest that the latter be received by chrismation, and be treated as schismatics, for I agree with the theologians who regard the differences between our respective Christologies as merely verbal. As for the former, it all depends upon how one answers two questions: 1) Are the differences between liberal and conservative Roman Catholics sufficient for us to say that we cannot recognize our faith among them? And 2) Should the mode of baptism by affusion rather than by immersion be regarded as an impediment to accepting their baptism? These are good questions, which unfortunately cannot be dealt with in this already overlong essay. But a beginning must be made somewhere since the drift of these churches away from Orthodoxy continues to escalate. The praxis of the past cannot provide a precedent for our present action so that it is no good citing it as if it now should have binding force. Too much has changed.

Used with permission
John9/21/2018 4:47 pm
Been there, done that Protestant thing. I was even immersed in their waters.

Later, I was baptized into the Orthodox Church.

There is no comparison.

The nearest analogy that I can think of is the difference between splashing in a wading pool versus jumping into the ocean.
Alex9/21/2018 4:14 am
A well-worn topic to which Fr. L manages to add nothing new, while still offending people on both sides. How about, instead of yet another opinion on this fraught issue, we get some substantive (but new) analysis of the canonical tradition, a real look at the patristic and medieval sources, and actual engagement of the two-thousand-years-worth of evidence? Aren't we all tired of "articles" that do nothing more than reveal what a given, individual priest thinks about this or that? Great, he thinks Protestants are baptized and saved without Orthodoxy. Aren't we edified!
Steve Cox9/18/2018 1:40 pm
Yes to one baptism for the remission of sins! For the protestants who believe in sola scriptura, show me one place where someone was baptized by someone outside of the Church. It started with Christ and his disciples and continued on. Non-baptized people did not baptize people into Christ. It is something from and through the Church.
Rdr Andreas Moran9/18/2018 12:53 pm
John may be right as far as baptisms in heterodox confessions since recent developments in them are concerned, but as to earlier times, we might remember that Blessed Grand Duchess Elizabeth, for example, was received by Chrismation from Lutheranism.
John9/17/2018 10:17 pm
I agree withthe earlier poster:

"Baptism for everybody!"

Since Baptism is a holy Mystery of the Orthodox Church, any potential convert can with all honesty answer their priest's or hierarch's question: "Have you been baptized?" with "No. I have not been baptized yet."

It should not matter how many well-intentioned immersions this pilgrim had suffered previous to his/her conversion.

I confess one baptism for the remission of sins in the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Luke Nieuwsma 9/17/2018 5:46 am
Dear Anthony et al.,
You might find the reflections on the heterodox by the renowned, holy, and strict saint of our own times, Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina, very intriguing.

His thoughts match my own experience, and he certainly was no ecumenist.

God be with you,
Steve Cox9/16/2018 11:14 pm
That all who call themselves orthodox are saved doesn't seem to be the issue at hand.That's a good topic for later maybe. The issue at hand is about the validity of non- orthodox baptisms. Is it real or not?
John9/16/2018 10:30 pm
"The ecumenical movement, often blurring the lines between the Orthodox Church and those bodies outside of it, continues to this day." This is a from the introduction of:

The Idea of “Baptismal Unity” and its Acceptance by Orthodox Ecumenists

Might this site consider substituting Fr. Lawrence's Orthodox-ecumenist tract with this one in order to avoid confusing both the faithful brethren and honest seekers who seek to be educated about the Orthodox Church ("one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church")?

Rdr Andreas Moran9/16/2018 3:43 pm
As to salvation, it may be that not all Orthodox who call Christ ‘Lord’ will be saved. Orthodoxinfo says: ‘With reference to the above question [salvation of heterodox], it is particularly instructive to recall the answer once given to an inquirer by the Blessed Theophan the Recluse. The blessed one replied more or less thus: "You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins...”’
Rdr Andreas Moran9/16/2018 3:36 pm
Many former Anglicans (and they are older people) who are now Orthodox had an Anglican baptism back in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. Then, the Anglican and Episcopalian and Lutheran denominations were not as distant from Orthodoxy as now so that those baptised then could be and mostly were received by Chrismation. Does Fr Lawrence have in mind a year after which baptisms in those denominations cannot be accepted so that converts ought to be baptised?
Steve Cox9/16/2018 3:14 pm
Also, the question arises of who performs the baptism. I know this question brings more questions, but it would seem to be from a baptized Christian and not from a person who has no faith in baptism except as a ceremony showing that the person was already saved without baptism. But I know this brings more questions. Steve
anon9/16/2018 2:07 pm
Editor, it absolutely is NOT unclear he means saved BEFORE Orthodoxy as he states right after he means BEFORE they are Orthodox they are reborn, etc. This is absolutely an ecumenist article. Just because it isn't as horrific as others doesn't mean it isn't ecumenist.
Anthony9/16/2018 11:41 am
@Mrs anon- totally agree. Shows how bad this site's become. Think of this statement by LF: ''Please note: I emphatically believe that these Protestant evangelicals are saved and are therefore our brothers and sisters in Christ. Receiving them into Orthodoxy by baptism does not, to my mind, imply that they were not born again prior to their Orthodox baptism any more than receiving them by chrismation implies that they had not received the Holy Spirit.'' - How can any Orthodox priest be qualified to say this. At the most all Orthodox can say is that we make no judgement of heretics since their lot has not been revealed. Full baptism by immersion must be for all former heretics including latins
Editor9/16/2018 11:15 am
It's true, it's a little unclear in the article. It almost sounds like he is saying he believes they are saved without becoming Orthodox, but the article is about them becoming Orthodox, and how they are received into the Church. And the article is no doubt against ecumenism rather than for it.
Steve Cox9/16/2018 5:16 am
Father, your article brings questions to mind, but one in particular. You say you believe protestant evangelicals are saved. My question is if they are saved already then why teach them about Orthodoxy? If they are saved and are heaven bound then what is the point of it all? Jesus talks about judgement and says that many will come to him calling him Lord and that they have done many great things in his name. And he tells them to depart, that he never knew them. They obviously claim to be Christian as they did these things in his name. So people can do good things and claim to be Christian but evidently are not. How do we know what to believe. Thanks, Steve
Paul Bartlett9/15/2018 11:21 pm
Can the non-Orthodox be saved? That is a matter I must leave up to God. There is an old Latin saying, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus: Outside the Church there is no salvation. I myself believe that the Orthodox Church is the true and only One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church outside of which there is no salvation, by which I understand that there is no church outside Orthodoxy. The fate of individuals, outside the true Church but moved by the the Holy Spirit, who do not know the truth of Orthodoxy, is in the hands of God.
anon9/15/2018 8:35 pm
Why is Pravoslavie posting this?

He says, "I emphatically believe that these Protestant evangelicals are saved and are therefore our brothers and sisters in Christ." Since when are Protestants part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic orthodox Church of Christ? And how can they be considered saved while even now in schism and heresy? The saints, such as Sts Justin, Anthony, & Paisios, etc, never speak of them this way!

He then says the difference between us and the Orientals is mere semantics-- which is obviously not true as they still reject the 4th Ecumenical Council and following such logic-- some even consider theosis a heresy!

Baptism is the standard for all.
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