Is the Orthodox Church the One True Church?

A Critique of Frank Schaeffer’s Book Dancing Alone


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A recent portrait of Frank Schaeffer



  Schaeffer’s discussion about today’s churches thinking they know more about what the early church was like causes me to ponder a point not addressed in the book but that continually amuses me.  I don’t know how many churches I’ve heard claim that they are a “New Testament” church.  They make a big deal about having a church that emulates the church of the New Testament.   But I have never seen one that does.  Do you find in the New Testament where people have large scale meetings with a sermon being preached?  I do not see that as a major focus, at best, if you can find it at all.  And conversely, can you think of a church today in which all the members share their belongings?  Where some sell all their belongings and bring the money to support the church?  Where people meet daily and eat together?  There are so many things present in these so-called “New Testament churches” that are not found in the New Testament, and conversely, things I see in the New Testament churches that I do not see present in today’s so-called “New Testament churches.”  They are deluded.  They claim to be something they are not; they are actually products of American culture, with people isolated from each other the majority of the time, working their jobs, watching TV or surfing the Net, building their version of the American Dream.  Not only the isolation of our culture, but how about the grand evangelism of the New Testament?  How many of these churches that claim to be “New Testament churches” are out preaching on street corners like the New Testament church was?  How many are walking down the street, healing crippled beggars?  I could go on and on with this, but I think you get my point:  The claim that “our church is a New Testament-style church” is nearly always bogus.

I wrote this on February 6, 2003

I was so strongly struck and influenced by this book that I wanted to write in depth why it had such an impact on me.  The first half describes the main points of the book, and in the second half I respond to it. While this is mostly a book review, the book has been influential in changing the direction of my Christian faith, so I include it here rather than with my book reviews.


    You may remember back in the 1970s Frank Schaeffer’s “How Then Should We Live?” was a powerful statement about the decay of our society.  I remember reading something many years ago about his son, then called Frankie Schaeffer, titled, “An Angry Young Man.”  I have just read a book written by [now called] Frank Schaeffer, entitled Dancing Alone: The Quest For Orthodox Faith In The Age Of False Religion, and certainly he remains someone who is very forceful in his writing.  One thing you don’t have to worry about:  he is not going to say something nice just to be polite.  He gives you his opinions with an overpowering forcefulness that enables him to retain his title, “Angry Young Man.”

    Schaeffer begins the book by introducing his thesis, that today’s moral decay was brought about by Protestantism’s birth and rise to wide acceptance.  The reason?  By the Protestants declaring the authority of the historic Church to be invalid, and that the Bible is the ONLY authority of Christianity--thus each person decides for himself what the Bible means--they opened the door to relative truth in society overall.  The overthrow of authority brought us our current state in which all authority is suspect, and no one is allowed to criticize anyone else because of their personal beliefs.

    And here I thought all this stuff started with Darwin.  Well, first of all, I used to attribute it to the 1960s, when the stability of society was tossed into turmoil and all things traditional and authoritarian were seen as the ruination of the enjoyment of life.  But as I began to read about things from earlier in the twentieth century, I found that the ideas underlying the ’60s revolution were developing under the radar screen long before that.  So I traced it back to Darwin, whose theory of evolution eradicated the idea that God is the creator and therefore the one we answer to, thus man is free to choose his own destiny.

    But Schaeffer sees it going way back to Protestantism.  Actually, he takes it back further than that.  He blames the Roman Catholic Church for setting the stage for Protestantism to happen to begin with.  I’ll come back to that in a minute.

    Schaeffer says that this book is only a record of his personal journey.  In his foreword, he states, “I am a novelist and a film director, not a historian or theologian.  I have no research staff.  I am not a scholar.  I offer this book merely as the record of a personal journey, from Protestantism to the Orthodox Church, not as a work of history, theology, or scholarship.”  Good thing he states that, because even having read that statement before beginning the book, you’d never take it that way.  Throughout the book, he sets out to show why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have caused the horrors we have today, and that the way to save our society is to restore the leadership of the Orthodox Church in Christianity.

    The first few chapters of the book, he goes over all the things that are wrong with our society--so wrong, in fact, that he believes we are entering a new Dark Age.  Although I am familiar with most of the societal ills he addresses, these chapters were still difficult to plow through because they were so utterly depressing--example after example of how far our society has fallen.

    There’s one item, though, that despite how sad it is that people in this society are going this direction in their thought, it’s also rather funny:

  “The unfavorable comparison of man with cockroach has become a familiar staple of biological discussion--although Steven Jay Gould [media personality and Harvard University biologist] is ready to take a stunning step even further down the scale:

      “‘Evolution is a copiously branching network, not a ladder, and I do not see how we, the titular spokesmen for a few thousand mammalian species, can claim superiority over three-quarters of a million species of bacteria, who have shown remarkable staying power for more than three billion years.’

  “Here we have very nearly the ultimate demotion of man, the inferior not only of primitive peoples, other mammals and the cockroach, but even of bacteria.” (p. 25)

    Whoa, that’s low!  We humans are lower than the cockroach AND bacteria!  Frank Schaeffer goes on to show the determination of today’s secularists to change society into their way of thinking:

   “It seems to me that a political gun has been put to the head of American society: the threat of social chaos.  According to most ‘progressive’ political theories, things must be made worse before revolution, or social engineering, can make them better.  The more threatened and bewildered people are made to feel, whether by exaggerated environmental doom-saying, the threat of a ‘population explosion,’ neighborhood crime or educational chaos, the sooner they will abdicate their self-government to the political, academic or media ‘experts’ who stand in the wings ready to help restore order with their utopian statist social engineering programs.  ...  In a sense, these secularists who often shout the loudest for new programs and initiatives to combat our growing social anarchy are like stone-throwing window-smashers who also happen to own the only window repair shop in town.  The failure of their own coercive and intrusive programs seems only to provide them with further ‘evidence’ for the need of even more intrusion into people’s lives in order to create a ‘new society,’ a ‘new man,’ a ‘new woman,’ a ‘new world order,’ a ‘new multi-cultural, gender-neutral utopia,’ in which everything will be tolerated except politically incorrect, ‘old-fashioned,’ ‘regressive’ religious ideas.” (pp. 31-32)

  He doesn’t only attack the Lefties, though.  He has an entire chapter entitled, “The Failure Of The Secular Right.”  This chapter is well-summarized in this paragraph: 

“While Conservatives may bewail the moral decadence of our age (for instance, in speaking of ‘family-breakdown’), they seem largely incapable of offering a solution beyond calling for supply side economic measures, right to work laws, improved teaching methods, defense spending, longer prison terms for criminals, ‘family values’ (a term that conjures up images of Disneyland as the New Jerusalem), more research and development spending, more savings, more (or less) consumption, lower taxes, reduced welfare spending--scarcely the medicine required to heal millions of ailing souls made sick by large doses of secularist American hedonism.” (p. 47)

   After the early chapters of fully describing all that’s wrong with Western Civilization, particularly America, he then begins his argument into what has brought us to this dreadful state.  He starts with the beginnings of the church in his chapter, “The Roots Of The Cultural War.”  He briefly goes over the major disagreements that developed between the Church in the East and the West, the first one being in the first few centuries when the Western church wanted to add the words “and the Son” in the Nicene creed (in an attempt to combat the Arianism heresy), to make the wording state that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”  Another major one soon followed (this one is not mentioned in Schaeffer’s book), in 451 A.D., when the Western church declared that Christ was made up of two natures, one fully human and one fully divine, whereas the Eastern church, who also believed Jesus was fully human and divine, thought it better to still consider Him to be one nature.

    But it seems that things really began to break down when the Roman civilization collapsed, leaving a political void, at a time when the church was strong.  Along with this, the Western bishops were beginning to assert that there should be one bishop who was the head of all others, while the Eastern church believed that no one person should be above all others, but rather the bishops should lead the church as a body of leaders.  Schaeffer describes the results this way:

    “When successive heads of the Roman Church refused to submit to the collegial authority of their brother bishops, and the break was formalized between Rome and Byzantium, far more was at stake than mere politics.  In the East the historical Church’s traditions were maintained, including the mutual collegial shared authority, established by the Apostles, of all the bishops of the world.  In Rome, a powerful ‘papacy’ evolved in which the natural checks and balances of a collegial system of Church governance gradually eroded.

    “The consequences of the politicizing of the bishopric of Rome, and the accumulation of political power by one Roman Pope after another, had devastating results for the historical Church as a whole.  Its final result was the Reformation and the shattering of Christian unity that followed in its wake.

    “Unlike the Patriachate in Constantinople, which was balanced by--not to say in competition with--the power of the Byzantine Emperor and the other bishops of the Eastern Church, the Roman Pontiff was both the head of the Roman Catholic church and the Papal States.  Stripped of the collegial system of church governance the bloody, chaotic competition for the throne of Peter finally culminated in a divided papacy--between Avignon and Rome--which took on the murderous trappings of a struggle to control lands, armies, and cities.  The results were predictable: the degradation of both Church and state and finally a backlash--the Reformation.” (p. 63)

    Another factor at play as Schaeffer sees it is the influence of St. Augustine.  There are a number of people that are often seen as important in church history, but that get brutal criticism from Schaeffer, and St. Augustine is his prime target.  He sees St. Augustine’s influence as not only destructive to the Catholic church itself, but even more destructive as planting the seeds for Protestantism. As for the negative influence on the Catholic church, Scheaffer sees his writings as planting the seed for the pursuit of explaining God and everything about him intellectually, to the point that the mystery of God is destroyed, and He is reduced to whatever attributes that we can define Him to be.  As for St. Augustine’s influence on Protestantism, Schaeffer sees his writings as planting the seed for the dreadful Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and the view of God that developed as a result of such a doctrine.

    Here is how Schaeffer sees the chain of thought from Augustinian ideas to Calvinism to today’s secularism.

  “With God portrayed as a fatalistic, cruel force of nature, with the Incarnation reduced to nothing more than play acting, since ‘The Elect’ were already chosen before Christ came to earth, with Christ’s death reduced to a sacrifice to an angry, vengeful ‘God,’ with man reduced to a creature without free will, Calvinist Reformed theology logically, if unintentionally, opened the door to the Enlightenment’s demotion of humanity and religion. 

    “Since the truth about God could apparently be reduced to a few, almost Darwinian, dogmatic propositions and since God could be stripped of His mystery, not to mention His loving character, and since humanity was seen as having no particular consequence and, ironically, at the same time, such power as to be able to debunk all the Church’s Holy Tradition and to describe the character of God, then why not complete the circle of reductionist rationalism?  Why not systematically attempt to explain everything?  Why not follow science and progress to some new utopian future unencumbered by old-fashioned religious tradition?  Why not overthrow all hierarchy?  And, if one took the Augustinian theological proponents of the Dort council [the council that defined Calvin theology in five points] at their word, why not reject their easily explained and monstrous ‘God’ with his cruel natural selection of the fittest “Elect,” and lead mankind beyond the constricting belief that it need be subject to an arbitrary system of cosmic triage?  Since God had ordained everything beforehand, so that what mankind did was ‘right,’ in the sense it existed as part of God’s will (since humanity had no free will and no choice), then why not dispense with moral absolutes altogether, stop playacting, as if moral choices had consequences, and just do whatever it was one wanted to do in the first place and call that ‘God’s will’?  This was precisely the logic that, I believe, gave rise to the Enlightenment.” (pp. 88-89)

  Speaking further on this point, Schaeffer writes:

    “The Reformers had rejected the ancient Holy Tradition of the Church and replaced it with the slogan of ‘Sola Scriptura!’  They said that they needed no tradition by which to interpret the Scriptures.  They held that by using their reason alone, the Bible was intuitively self-explanatory.  The philosophers of the Enlightenment took the ideas of the Reformers further--they rejected not only the historical Church, liturgical worship, the Holy Mysteries, the sacraments and the Holy Tradition, but the Bible as well.  All they were left with was the Reformers’ faith in the individual’s intuitive ability to interpret life’s big questions unaided.  They reduced the Reformers slogan ‘Sola Scriptura’ to merely, ‘Sola!’” (p. 91)

   Most of the middle part of the book is spent showing this relationship between the beginnings of Protestantism and how it opened a can of worms that led to today’s entry into a new Dark Ages.  He spares none of the early Reformers--Luther, for example, is shown at his worst for how he “rejoiced” at Zwingli’s death, calling it a “triumph for us.”  He repeatedly calls the Anabaptists “anarchists” who because they have no central authority, are the worst at making the Bible mean whatever they want it to mean, and because of doctrinal differences, keep splitting up into factions.

    After this, he travels to colonial America, and shows how the influence of the Enlightenment, the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Anabaptists caused the USA to be a land of countless Protestant denominations, each claiming to be the true interpreter of Scripture.

    Besides Schaeffer’s objection to the way Protestantism led the path to the secularization of society, he also vehemently objects to the “desacralization” Protestantism has brought upon the Church.  (Oh, and also his fierce dissatisfaction with the fact that there are 23,000 Protestant denominations, when the Church is supposed to be one.)

    However, he even sees the desacralization as being not only a problem within the church,  but as being part of the reason secularization got such a strong foothold.  By eliminating all the physical features of worship--religious art, incense, candles, icons, and most of all, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist--and meeting in plain rooms, holding meetings with no beauty to them, they have become almost a type of Gnosticism, separating the physical from the spiritual.  From there, it was an easy turn over to separating the religious from the secular.  (As so many in society say today, “Religion is a personal thing and should be kept out of the public square.”)

    Actually, Schaeffer does believe America has a religious quality to it; he describes it like this:

    “ ‘God’ has His place in American society, but He is reduced to one more component of the glorious new whole--the ‘American Dream’--in which Protestants, protestantized Roman Catholics, and not a few secularized Orthodox can continue to claim the mantle of ‘Christianity’ and at the same time devote most of their attention to what they regard as the only real game in town: economic prosperity and political, ideological crusades to reshape mankind in a new utopian image in order that the human race may become even more ‘prosperous.’” (p. 137)

    Schaeffer sees Protestantism as a kind of free-for-all that leads to nothing but selfishness.  Don’t like what your church is teaching?  Leave it and go find one that says what you want to hear.  That’s how we got “name it and claim it” charismania (my term) and the plethora of evangelical “feel-good” churches that just want to make people feel happy and good about themselves.

    Schaeffer also finds the Protestant idea of seeing no value in Holy Tradition as incredibly arrogant.  What right did the Reformers have to think that they, 1500 years removed from the time of the Apostles, knew more about what Christianity should be like than those who have passed the practices of the Church down through the ages?  How ludicrous of today’s Protestants to ignore centuries of teaching of the Church and to claim that they, so far removed from the early church and without even a knowledge of early church history, are more like the New Testament church than the Orthodox or Catholic churches.

    To me, one of the most striking portions of this book is found in this passage regarding Bible interpretation.

    “We should ask how we might understand the Bible in the context of sacramental, liturgical worship, rather than as an egocentric exercise in ‘Bible study.’  Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians seem to read their Bible only as a mere personalized, “devotional” or “inspirational” book, not as a book of truth to be interpreted consistently in the light of the Church’s Holy Apostolic Tradition, Sacraments, liturgies, and teaching.  They seem to superstitiously believe that each verse, word and line, whether in or out of context, correctly translated or not, meant as history or allegory, is addressed to them individually in some magical way.  The Church has taught that Bible study without prayer and outside of the context of authentic worship is, as St. Evagorios the Solitary taught, the ‘theology of demons.’

    “This type of spiritually arrogant, anti-communitarian, ‘intuitive’ reading of the Bible, without regard for history, liturgical worship, context, or interpretation by the historic Church reduces the Bible to personalized mush, not very different from the astrological charts printed daily in the tabloid newspapers.

    “Such astrological devotional reading treats the Bible not as a block of truth, history, allegory, mystery and spirituality, with a long and distinguished history of authoritative interpretation, but rather as a sort of fortune cookie in which we get personal, magical messages.  It seems to me that the motivation for this kind of star-gazing ‘Bible study’, and the sort of ‘prayer’ that accompanies it, may be the same one that drives tens of thousands of misguided spiritualists to mediums and palm readers.  It is the total privatization of religious truth.  It may be, in fact, the final blow to claims of the historicity of Christianity.  It is the sort of ‘Bible study’ of which Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Romantics would have approved.  It is also the most damning testimony available to the secularistic scoffer; Biblical Christianity is an irrational religion for the emotionally unstable and gullible.

    “Worst of all, such a personalized, subjective approach to the Bible removes its reading from the context of the community of believers.  When the Bible is studied outside the context of the Church, when each person expects God to address them individually, the practice of such religiosity sinks to the level of just one more selfish exercise all too typical of our selfish world.”

    One problem I have with this book is Schaeffer’s view of the situation of Protestantism.  Again and again, he makes it sound as if Protestants just make up any old thing they please, and because somebody wants to make up some new interpretation of the Bible, they start a new denomination.  I don’t see it like that at all.  If you look at all the Protestant denominations across America (I can’t speak for the rest of the world; I don’t know what all is out there, but I don’t imagine it to be much different), there really isn’t a whole lot of difference in their beliefs.  You have some broad categories which are highlighted by certain beliefs or tendencies, but nothing on a large scale that is truly out of a common understanding of Christianity.  Charismatics emphasize things like speaking in tongues, healing, and casting out demons, but other than that, their beliefs are similar to the rest of evangelicalism.  (Well, some charismatic churches suffer from supporting the prosperity gospel...)  Fundamentalists don’t really have any beliefs in the Bible that are all that different from the others; their main difference is that as a group they tend to interpret worldliness more legalistically than other groups do.  Evangelicals are the “center” of all this--Fundamentalists to the right, the mainliners to the left, and charismatics off to the side neither right nor left; the beliefs held by evangelicals tend to be held by most Christians in America.  The mainliners are mostly different in liturgical-style worship being found more often, plus unfortunately, an increasing tendency to try to “update” Christianity by changing its moral stands, but even these tend to come from individual congregations and less from the denominations as a whole.  Common to all is a belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the only way to God is through Jesus (although this, too, is weakening due to the influence of multiculturalism).  Other things such as interpretation of Jesus’ teachings, Paul’s letters, rites such as baptism, having singing and sermons when meeting together, etc.--the differences overall are minor, particularly if you pull out the mainline denominations from the equation.  In my years, I have visited and regularly attended lots of different churches -- Church of God, Assembly of God, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Christian Church, Mennonite, Vineyard, Willow Creek, and gobs of non-denominational churches, and I see very few differences; I feel just as much at home in nearly any of them.  So I don’t find the existence of 23,000 denominations troubling like Schaeffer does, and I do not see the fracturous fighting that he does.  In fact, I often gush about the Palm Sunday city-wide worship service we have here in Ann Arbor each year.  Fifty different churches, in denominations from Vineyard and Assembly of God to Catholic and Lutheran and everything inbetween--come together to worship God and pray for the city.  That’s the unity I see that Schaeffer somehow misses.

    In the third part of the book, Schaeffer describes the Orthodox church, quoting much from the early church fathers to support his point that the Orthodox church is the only true Church of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.  The Roman Catholic Church is better than the Protestants because it is at least historic and apostolic, but has fallen by the wayside mainly because of its pope-culture and also--especially in America--because it has desacralized worship almost as much as Protestants have.

    While I find his argument convincing that the Orthodox Church is truest to the roots of the early church fathers, there are some practical reasons why I cannot buy his argument 100%, to the point of saying that the Orthodox Church is the only true church that is ordained by Christ and that everyone should convert to Orthodoxy. 

    First of all, if the Orthodox Church is Christ’s living Body, then where is it?  I cannot in my entire life ever remember meeting a current Orthodox Christian.  (I have met one former Orthodox Christian.)  Meanwhile, I have met countless Catholics, and even many cult-people--the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I have a hard time believing that Christ’s only receptacle of truth and life is the Orthodox Church when it’s nowhere to be found!  Yes, Christ said that the way to Him is narrow and few will find it, but I don’t envision it being so narrow that it’s nearly non-existent.  The thing is, there ARE Orthodox churches in nearly every city, but even so, you never hear about them and as I’ve said, I’ve never met a current Orthodox Christian.

    In the last chapter of the book, Schaeffer finally addresses this point, going over all the pathetic ailments of the Orthodox Church in America.  But to him, that does not detract from his argument that the Orthodox Church is the one true church, nor does he believe that it should detract one from becoming Orthodox.  Since the Orthodox Church is the true, historical church, then one should become Orthodox despite the Orthodox church’s present problems in America.

    Clearly, Schaeffer made a strong case showing how Roman Catholicism and then Protestantism contributed to today’s secularization and moral decline.  But I couldn’t help but wonder, what if?   What if Protestantism never happened, and the Roman Catholic church remained the only church in the West?  Wouldn’t such secular ideas have gained ground anyway?  Or, what if...what would have happened if those secular ideas had not gained ground?  Would there even be the scientific and governmental advances in Western Civilization that we see today?  Or would we still be a civilization ruled by the Pope as monarch?  Of course, I’m sure Schaeffer’s view would be, if you view those things as more important, then you are a secularist at heart, for what could be more important than experiencing the sacramental life in Christ? 

    Another what if...what if Roman Catholicism had never occurred and the church in the East had prevailed?  Could it have avoided a Protestant backlash someday?  After all, Protestantism only occurred in the territory where the Roman church was, not where the Orthodox church was.  If the Eastern church had prevailed, would it have been able to keep a unity?  Without a pope making a final decision on things, could it have kept from breaking up into schisms?  Actually, in reality, it has not done such a great job of that. One of the problems of American Orthodoxy that Schaeffer admits to is a fracturization based mostly on ethnicity, but sometimes even based on theological matters.

    While Schaeffer was unable to convince me that the secularization of society wouldn’t have happened anyway even without the Protestant revolt, certainly this book provided an outlook to history I had not considered before--how Roman Catholicism sowed the seeds of the Protestant revolt, and how the birth of Protestantism sowed the seeds of today’s relative truth and moral decline.

    Also, Schaeffer was not able to convince me that the Protestants are totally outside of the valid Church,  mostly because of what I see in practical terms throughout the world.  Granted, numbers don’t prove spirituality, but when does Christianity really take off?  From Catholic influence?  From Orthodox influence?  No, from Protestant influence.  There are people’s lives who are genuinely changed by Protestant Christianity, and I don’t mean just a change from secular selfishness to “Christian” selfishness.  Truly there is a lot of shallowness in the American church.  I think it’s also true of America of what a Nigerian leader said of the church in Nigeria:  “It’s a mile wide and an inch deep.”  There are many who go to church and go through all the motions of Christianity but who have not taken their faith beyond the idea of Jesus being their Santa Claus in the sky.  But there are also many who were in the pits of sin, their lives a total mess, their spirits in deep distress, who have through repentance found lives of holiness, peace, and joy.  I cannot agree with Schaeffer that Protestant denominations are so way off that they’re nearly cults.

    What Schaeffer was successful in, though, was introducing me to the idea of the sacramental life.  In both this book and a previous book I’ve read, there is continual reference to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and this is a central focus of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the historical churches.  This is seen as a central focus to worship.  Schaeffer also writes about the meaning of salvation in the Orthodox church vs. the cheezy “born again” theology of most evangelical churches, something I had already found myself saying, “There’s something not right about that” as I’ve thought about the Bible’s teachings.  Another part of sacramental worship that Schaeffer talks quite a bit about is confession to a priest; he views confession merely to anyone else in the church as being no different from just going to a psychologist.  True confession, he says, the kind that really brings healing to one’s soul, can only be done with a priest.  This was also an intriguing concept.

    Finally, the emphasis the Orthodox Church places on the unity of the physical world and the spiritual world was appealing.  Protestants have so separated the spiritual from the physical that the beauty of the physical world and the physicality of God’s presence on Earth through Christ tends to get lost.

    When my wife and I were in Mexico City almost two years ago, we went to a Catholic cathedral in the city’s central square.  I was struck by the incredible ornateness of all the inside of the building--gold everywhere, shaped into beautiful, ornate designs.  There were a series of side rooms in this cathedral, with each one featuring a different saint.  As I looked at a life-like mannequin of St. Paul in a glass case, in an extremely ornate room all dedicated to his memory, I couldn’t help but think, “What would Paul think if he knew that 2000 years later, he would be venerated in a church in this way?”  I also couldn’t help but think, what would he think of this cathedral, all this ornate decor and the style of worship here?  Would this seem normal to him, or would he think it to be a corruption of the true ideas of Christianity?

    On the other hand, at another display was a life-like mannequin of Jesus, all bloody from his crucifixion, laying down as if in his grave.  The visual effect of this was powerful.  It was so meaningful to see a visual representation of what Christ went through to buy forgiveness for my sins.  It gave me a new appreciation for all the icons found in Catholic churches.  And the statues of the apostles in every Catholic church I have been in have this mysterious way of making me feel closer to the time of Christ and the Apostles.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem so far back in history, but something that is living and continuing...a faith that is alive many centuries after God came to Earth as a man.

    This book refers again and again to the beauty of worship in the Orthodox Church, as it doesn’t rip out everything physical leaving only a bare, lifeless room, but rather uses our natural, God-given physical senses to lead us into worship of God.

    So, this book has succeeded in getting me to begin an investigation into the historical church, particularly the early church, to see if it’s what I’ve always imagined based on my Protestant upbringing, or if it’s something different from what I’ve always assumed.  I borrowed a book at the library of writings of the early church fathers to see if that can bring any knowledge to me.  So far what I’ve read, probably due to translation style, has been tough reading.  But certainly this book has had an effect on me as I think about the worship of God and the meaning of the historical church.

   Here’s a review I found at that explains better than what I have in how I feel that the fruit of the Protestant Church is the “proof” that it is blessed by God and a part of his Body.  

Authority in the Church: Orthodox and Evangelical viewpoints

September 8, 2001

Reviewer: L. Joe Gaietto from Grove City, OH USA

    In Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion, Frank Schaeffer argues that the Orthodox Church is the only church that has remained faithful to the ancient Christian Church. All of the evils that we are experiencing in America today are a result of the paganism of our culture on the one hand and the relativism generated by an array of false religions on the other hand. Notably, these false religions include the Roman Catholic Church and its invention of a "papal dictatorship" and the various schismatic Protestant churches who have "rebelled against the Holy Tradition of the Church.” The cure for much of the evil that we are currently experiencing is for Roman Catholics and Protestants to return to the Truth and the true worship of Jesus Christ which can only be found in the Orthodox Church.

    Faithful Protestant and Catholics would agree with Mr. Schaeffer's critique of the immorality of our generation and the need for people's lives to be transformed by Jesus Christ. But as a person whose life has been changed by Jesus, whose faith has been established and nurtured in one of the Evangelical Protestant churches, it might not come as a surprise that I can't accept all that Mr. Schaeffer has to say.

    While his viewpoint is theoretically possible, it fails an important test: it doesn't agree with reality, that is, the reality of God's Spirit working in the other Christian churches. If the exclusive claim he makes for the Orthodox church was true, we should not see the things that we do see occurring outside of the Orthodox church: people trusting in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord when such faith did not exist before, people acquiring a thirst for the Word of God when it did not exist before, people displaying the fruit of the Spirit when it did not exist before, relationships being healed that were broken before, people being physically healed who were previously afflicted with disease or disability. For example, our church supports a native missionary in India who has witnessed tens of thousands of Hindu converts to Christ in his lifetime. In some cases, entire villages have been converted as the result of physical healings by the Holy Spirit. Seeing the fruit and power of this ministry is like witnessing scenes right from the book of Acts. These observations remind me of Jesus comparing the Holy Spirit to the wind. The Spirit operates in a mysterious way that is not subject to human control or the exclusive claims of men.

    Mr. Schaeffer addresses many doctrines of the faith but the dispute over authority in the church is the heart of all of the issues. Mr. Schaeffer argues that because the Protestant churches cannot trace a physical succession of Christian leaders back to the apostles they are not legitimate inheritors of apostolic authority and are rightly characterized as "false churches".

    Let me compare the Orthodox view of authority, as it has been vigorously stated by Frank Schaeffer, with the Evangelical view of authority that I have been instructed in. There is a tendency in people to elevate form over substance. To insist that a church must be a part of a physical succession of Christian leaders going back to the apostles before it can be regarded as having apostolic authority is one example of elevating form over substance. For example, John the Baptist rebuked the Jewish leaders who prided themselves as being physical descendants of Abraham. He said, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." (Luke 3:8) The substance of the matter is this: having apostolic authority is contingent on fidelity to the apostle's teachings as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures.

   Evangelicals do not throw out the authority of the Church, the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds, or the wisdom of previous generations of Christians. The dispute between the two viewpoints concerns the relationship between the authority of the Church and the authority of the Scriptures. The Orthodox view of authority is that the Church and the Scriptures are intimately related sources of authority standing together on the same plane. Moreover, the canon of Scripture was established by the Church when she accepted certain books and rejected others. By contrast, Evangelicals understand that the Church's authority is always subordinate to the authority of the Scriptures. For example, the creeds of the early Church are authoritative because they are in agreement with the Scriptures. Evangelicals understand the canon of Scripture in this way: Just as Isaac Newton did not create the law of gravity, the Church did not create the canon of Scripture. The Holy Spirit enabled the Church to recognize the canon of Scripture that God had already sovereignly determined. Therefore, God and His inspired Word is always the primary and absolute authority. The Church's judgments are authoritative when she speaks and acts in agreement with His inspired Word. For example, Saint Paul asserts "but even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8) This passage implies that the gospel message itself has an antecedent authority to the apostle who delivers the message.

    Both Orthodox and Evangelical Christians esteem the Scriptures as the Word of God. But I choose the Evangelical viewpoint because it does not deny the work of the Spirit that is indisputably present in other Christian churches. I don't disrespect the Spirit's work in the Orthodox church. But I am unpersuaded that the exclusive claim that Frank Schaeffer makes is true.


You can also read my review of the book at  Please give me a “helpful” vote to, if you find it to be so!

A more recent book by Frank Schaeffer, where he repudiates his role in starting the Religious Right

All about music!  My Annual Music Awards, my music Hall Of Fame, and other writings about music and musicians I like are found here.../Music_Central/Welcome.html
An index to my writings about movies, books, and the media in general, such as news coverage and media bias../J_Lee_The_Media_Critic/J_Lee_The_Media_Critic_Index.html

My political and religious beliefs, and my commentary
 on society and politics.../Society_Central/Society_Central_Index.html

Photo albums from some of my travels outside of Michigan.  Eventually I hope to include travelogues too.

                     Various photos
                           I’ve taken
                     not connected
                            to any of
                            my web-
                            site pages.

What does it mean to follow God?  What should the church be like?Statement_Of_My_Religious_Beliefs.html

A list of all the churches I’ve attended, plus full stories about some of them.,_Part_1.html


Stories about churches I’ve visited,_Part_2.html
The “Home” section: my front page, the descriptions for each of my sub-websites, and the descriptions of all the places where I hang out on the web.../Bananaleaf_Central/Front_Page.html
  1. Bullet Waking The Dead by John Eldredge

  2. Bullet The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

  3. Bullet Creative Prayer by Chris Tiegreen

  4. Bullet The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins

  1. Bullet Bruce Almighty

  2. Bullet Dogma

  1. Bullet Good News Translation (formerly known as Today’s English Version)

  2. Bullet

  1. Bullet Kings

  1. Bullet Revelation

  1. Bullet Jeremiah

  1. Bullet Jonah

  1. Bullet Luke

My Blog

J Lee’s Soapbox is my “official” blog, where I post my latest thoughts on various topics.

Web  Communities

You can find me camping out at the web communities listed below.  If you are a part of any of these communities, please let me know.

Currently where I’m most active, since many members of my extended family, my friends from church, and some old college classmates are all         on here.

This has been my major blogging community since October 2004.  Most of my online-only friends are here.

My Home Page

I have written reviews for over 100 CDs and books at Amazon. You can find these plus my Listmania lists and Wish Lists at this page.


My Twitter ID is “songsequencer.” I only tweet about music, mostly what I’m listening to at the moment.

I’m only here so people can find me.    And somewhat for the underground music.

A community for alumni of Anderson University.  Includes reminiscing of college days and current discussions.


This is a place where you post your opinions about different products.  See my reviews here!

Trip Advisor

A place for travelers to review hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing attractions.  I plan to add my own reviews as I have time.


There’s not much to see here; this is just where I’ve posted my profile at

I joined this when I worked at Borders because they have a presence there.  I intended to make it
a place I’d chatter about books, but now I’m out of the book industry and my page is dormant.  It’s billed as a “MySpace for adults,” but I don’t like the community atmosphere there very well--people are too sensitive.