Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man”, has recently converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and apparently this is causing quite a stir in the evangelical community.
On returning from a trip to China several years ago, Hanegraaff remarked, “I saw Chinese Christians who were deeply in love with the Lord, and I learned that while they may not have had as much intellectual acumen or knowledge as I did, they had life. I was comparing my ability to communicate truth with their deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Since that time,” he added, “I’ve been impacted by the whole idea of knowing Jesus Christ, experiencing Jesus Christ, and partaking of the graces of Jesus Christ through the Lord’s Table.”
One of the recent articles I read on the subject was from Ed Stetzer. Writing on Christianity Today’s website, the focus of his article was on the possible reasons why the Orthodox liturgy is so appealing to evangelicals today. One of the things he says is,
The early church was indeed more focused on the Eucharist and was more liturgical in structure, nature, and expression. There are things we can learn from that today, but we have to also acknowledge that much of what we see was, indeed, cultural. As a missiologist, I’m not drawn into early Christian cultural forms and am concerned that some are equating them with eternal truth.
The evangelical bent towards Western individualism has opened the door to an ‘every Bible for itself’ mentality where, combined with the digital age, rogue armchair theologians can be equipped with major influence without proper ecclesiological accountability. It’s a bit of a “me version” world of Bible translation. Lacking a central definition and protection of truth can cause (and has caused) much of evangelicalism’s problems.
In Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, that is not typically the case. In these church structures, there are tighter reigns on vetting truth and defining orthodox beliefs. Some see the Church organizationally as a means to preserve biblical truth from the changing tides of cultural waves.
The question I want to answer: Are we looking for the right things? Do we want to model with exactitude the cultural form of the early church? Is that the ultimate value?”
Personally, I’ve not been drawn toward the Orthodox faith, but I can see the appeal in a return to the “structure, nature, and expression” of the first century church (or the few centuries after). The difference as I see it though is that the cultural aspect of these early churches is exactly why they appeal to me; this is one of their ultimate values.
Yes, I believe that all scripture is “God breathed”, though I interpret that to mean God-inspired, not God-dictated. What the Bible is is a library; a collection of sixty-six different books, historical narratives, poems, epistles, and so on, written by almost as many authors, all with specific backgrounds, with specific gifts and abilities, with a specific audiences in mind, all during specific points in time and history.
In other words, the Bible, to me, is entirely cultural. If we are truly “looking for the right things”, then we need to read the Bible through a lens of cultural and historical context: Who was speaking and what they were trying to say; who was listening and what they would have heard. These are fundamental keys to understanding this elusive Truth (big-T) that we all seem to be striving for in our rambling, stumbling walk with God.
As to whether or not we “want to model with exactitude the cultural form of the early church”, I am not sure. I wouldn’t be so quick to turn negative on the notion though, because gaining a proper historical and cultural perspective on scripture doesn’t automatically negate the relevance of the written gospel in 21st century America. On the contrary, it should give us a more detailed insight into what the writers of the early church were thinking, and the particular issues they were addressing. These issues, and the answers given by the likes of Paul, John, Moses, and Isaiah, give us a look at what the people of Israel struggled with, how they did (or didn’t) handle those issues, and what we can glean in application to our lives and times today. Is the Book of Revelation an apocalyptic tome of end times destruction? Or, did John have a specific audience (or audiences), and specific issues in mind in addressing the seven churches scattered throughout the then-known world? Was it all of this? Was it neither? Wrestling with these types of questions is both the difficulty and the draw these sixty-six books hold for us today almost 2000 years removed from the last known penning of scripture.
This pursuit itself draws us into a kind of tension, wrestling both with our own interpretations as well as the contradictory interpretations of others. This is the very nature of the Bible, and is indeed, in my humble opinion, one of the key factors that convince me of the “God breathed” aspects of scripture. The Bible is supposed to have this tension. We’re supposed to lean into this tension. We’re supposed to wrestle with conflicting understanding, and yes, with conflicting scriptures. In this regard, the 1st century Jewish scholars excelled.
I think the most difficult hurdle that we, as Christians (with a wide blanket covering the over 40,000+ denominations within the U.S.), face when wrestling in this tension is this: We hate to be wrong! We need our truth box (small t), and we need everything we learn to fit inside of it, including our interpretation of Truth (big T).
Of course we certainly don’t want to be wrong. We don’t set out to be mistaken (which is admirable). But even when confronted with differing interpretations, understandings, or perspectives of the same scripture, we struggle within our stronghold of “belief” and, instead of inviting conversation and debate (which the first century church/synagogue was all about), we throw up all these walls around our little, prideful viewpoint, lobbing truth bombs (small t) onto an already incendiary minefield of dialogue, reducing the entire exchange to a shouting match of he-said-she-said, right/wrong, good/evil, nanananana-I-can’t-hear-you-anymore nonsense.
This is what the world sees.
In fact, this is ALL the world sees.
As Stetzer wrote, “People are trying to find the way back to the practices of the early church, and all claim to have the roadmap to get there…We do not see all that God is doing in the world, and we certainly don’t determine who is or isn’t a follower of Jesus.”
To me, that means if Hank Hanegraaff and his wife feel closer to Faith and Truth within the Eastern Orthodox religion, then who am I to say he is wrong? And yet, thousands are rushing to do just that.
Hanegraaff himself says, “People are posting this notion that somehow or other I’ve walked away from the faith and am no longer a Christian. Look, my views have been codified in 20 books, and my views have not changed.”
Churches, evangelicals, Christians…When it comes to wrestling with the differing views of others–within and outside of our own faith–we can do better.
We MUST do better.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; by your love for one another.”
Jesus deserves better.
“I have come so that they should have life, and life to the full.”
And God certainly demands better.
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Stetzer challenges his readers this way: “I believe we need to go back to scripture for each and every generation of Christians and ask, ‘What would it look like to live out this timeless scriptural faith in this time and in this place?’”
Now there is a question worth contemplating.
Preferably of differing viewpoints.
You know, just for fun.
That would be a church service worth attending!
**Quotes are from the article “Hank Hanegraaff’s Switch to Eastern Orthodoxy, Why People Make Such Changes, and Four Ways Evangelicals Might Respond” by Ed Stetzer http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/april/how-should-we-respond-to-hank-hanegraaffs-switch-to-orthodo.html