Orthodox America

  When Opportunity Knocks

Too often, when confronted by a Mormon missionary, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a representative of one of the other many sects, we retreat into annoyance and turn away with a standard, “Sorry, I’m busy,” or “I’m really not interested” line.  True, as Orthodox Christians, we have the fullness of the Faith and we have no need to listen to divers and strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9). But why is it that we do not look at the situation from another angle, as an opportunity for us to introduce someone to true doctrine, true worship – for this is what “Orthodoxy” literally means.    

     Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (II Tim. 4:23) 

      Holy Scripture commands us to be ready to give our witness at all times, whether or not it is “convenient”. Indeed, it is a privilege to witness to the truth of Orthodoxy. But this means that we must do some work; we must roll up our sleeves and educate ourselves a bit – not that we have to be patristic scholars or fact-filled historians, but we must know and be able to communicate the “basics” of our Faith: its Divine origin and fidelity to the Apostles. Especially we must understand the Orthodox teaching regarding God Himself, the All-Holy Trinity, and what Christ intended when he founded a visible Church. Almost all the errors of the sectarians rest on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Who God is, as well as a profoundly biased reading – if not plain ignorance – of early Church history.

     Sectarians often try to “open the door” by talking about the terrible state of the world, the increase in immorality, attacks on the sanctity of the family, and so forth. You must, however, firmly steer the sectarian to the subject of God and His nature, and how He has revealed Himself to man. Strive for precise explanations (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons will tell you they believe in Jesus, but this does not mean they believe in Him as the Christ in Whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily – (Col. 2:9) and counter his errors with the correct Scriptural and Apostolic teaching.

     Secondly, the Orthodox Christian must know the fundamentals of early Church history. This is important because the basic justification for all sectarians – beginning with the Protestant “reformers” – lies in their belief that very soon after the time of the Apostles, most – if not all – of Christianity apostatized and the Gospel was then distorted; the Church became “tainted” with the traditions of men (here, blame is frequently heaped upon Emperor Constantine). In their view it therefore became necessary for God to “restore” His Church through chosen men and women like Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), Ellen G. White (Seventh-Day Adventism), etc.

     The Orthodox Christian should challenge the sectarian on this point, using the very ground he (the sectarian) is most comfortable with: the Bible. What, after all did the Lord mean when He said: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20)? Or when He said: I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18)?

    Sectarians commonly criticize Orthodox Christians or Roman Catholics for their esteem for the writings of the Church Fathers. “Our only source,” they claim, “is the Bible.” Yet it is a fact that in most cases these groups also have their own more recent church fathers, who guide and instruct them in their belief-system. Among Christian Scientists, for example, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are considered “divinely inspired”. The sectarian will invariably try to convince the prospective convert that “We use only the Bible, and you should, too” – when, in fact, this is not at all what they do.

    Under the general influence of Protestantism, most sectarians have great difficulty accepting any explanation that is not directly stated in the Bible, routinely categorizing it as a “man-made tradition” (Col. 2:8).  They overlook  passages such as II Thessalonians 2:15 in which St. Paul exhorts believers to hold the traditions which: ye have been taught whether by word, or our epistle. The Orthodox Christian can use this passage to introduce the subject of Holy Tradition, and the fact that the New Testament scripture comes from the Church, whereas many sectarians claim that their Faith came from the Scripture. A good understanding of the relationship between Scripture and Holy Tradition is a must if the Orthodox Christian is to successfully communicate with the sectarian.

      And there arc other key passages which Orthodox will find useful in missionary situations He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved (Mark 13:13); Except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you (John 6 53); The effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16)._

      Likewise, sectarians rarely understand the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, usually considering the Orthodox to be just one of the many evil spawn of "the whore of Babylon" (their favorite pejorative for the Church of Rome). The Orthodox believer is in a unique position to enlighten them about the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome- but this obviously means that the Orthodox Christian must himself understand what the differences are. 

I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:20-22)

       Perhaps even more important than the knowledge we can impart is the manner in which we are to give our witness, if we react to the sectarian with sarcasm, ridicule, condemnation or pity; if we display arrogance or impatience we will lose a chance to gain a soul. We must, in fact, show maximum love and kindness. We must welcome them; after all, they are sent to us by God!), initially accept them in their own terms and then gently but firmly begin to question them about their doctrine as a way of introducing them to the incomparable treasures of the holy Orthodox Faith.

      There may be times when the Orthodox Christian is taken off-guard by the sectarian missionary in his doorway, in that case, best to take the free literature they are offering and say, "Thank you. I'll read this over and then I'd like you to come back later so that we can discuss it together." (The leaflet "Heaven on Earth"" is recommended as an exchange hand-out.) This gives you an opportunity to do your own homework and talk to your priest before engaging the sectarian in any further conversation.

      The Orthodox Christian should never feel intimidated when confronted by a sectarian. For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord (II Cor. 4:5). We repeat: it is a privilege to witness to the truth of Orthodoxy. And this privilege carries an eternal reward, for the Lord Himself promised:

Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God (Luke 12:8)

Fr. Alexey Young, Editor