• Edit (Jan 20, 2010): Six months after the fact, this post still seems to get a lot of traffic, which is why I feel I should explain that the objections I raised in this post are no longer objections I hold. Just keep that in mind as you read it, and pray for continued grace and understanding on my part.

In Christian circles, there are two basic narrative takes on church history.

The first is that some time after the apostles died the church in general took a turn for the worse, and that the protestant reformation did a lot of corrective work for that.

The second is that following the death of the apostles, the church stayed steady and random groups with bad ideas broke off from the church, some small and some quite large, but because of its physical and spiritual ties to the apostles and their teachings via apostolic succession, the church remained steady and maintained the apostolic faith.  (Who is that group, be it Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox is still up for debate, of course.)

Until yesterday, I was fully prepared to accept that second proposition, thanks in part to the mess the whole of American Christianity has become and in part because, even after dropping the supposition of apostolic succession, I believe that dogma is necessary.

But there’s one big flaw in the Orthodox worldview that stops me: the idea that the Orthodox Church is the only church, and all other Christians are — to borrow a phrase from the Roman Catholics, who believe the same thing — ecclesial communities.

(There are several smaller issues, as well, such as, how do we know the saints can hear us?)

I know where the Orthodox and Catholics are coming from, both theologically and historically when they make their claims about being the Church, but to say, “The Bible says the Church is one, therefore the true Church can only be tied to one ecclesiastical structure” — I can’t do it.

I can’t look at a body of believers, wherever two or three are gathered, and say, “Nope, you guys are not part of the Church.” That’s a deal breaker, and it is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Sunday, when I was in my evangelical church contemplating becoming Orthodox, I began to grow more and more uneasy to the point of nausea about the thought, especially considering Orthodoxy’s claims about itself. After all, it’s not like becoming Orthodox is the same thing as becoming Methodist.

I still long for a connection to the ancient Church, and still can’t really endorse a cowboy-ish “me and my Bible” approach to things with no regard for the mind of the early church, who were, as the Orthodox and Catholics point out, the disciples of the disciples.

I think Orthodoxy has done a tremendous job of preserving the post-apostolic and patristic spirituality of the church, and I think Orthodox worship —patterned after the heavenly worship in the book of Revelation — is beautiful.

But I don’t think Orthodoxy is the church, and I can’t accept that them having a line of bishops  (some of whom were, ahem, heretics) all the way back to the apostles automatically regiments the majority of Christendom, including myself, to the status of Christians outside the Church.

Also, as someone who has read just enough Church history to be really dangerous, I have a problem with the idea that the Church is protected by a charism of infallibility.

So where does that put me now?

I am staying with my church (which is, warts and all, filled with people  I love), and holding a sort of third version of the two readings of history I presented earlier, one that can be termed “essentially Orthodox” — I believe in something akin to Holy Tradition (albeit broadly defined and somewhat muted without apostolic succession), shaped by the patristic mind of the early church but keeping in mind that, just like scripture, you can make the early Church fathers say whatever you want when taken out of context.

So, basically where I was.