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I'm a recent convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but I've started to doubt the faith recently, and I’m really desperate for help. The doubt I have is really one I've had since the beginning of my conversion process, and one I have never seen anyone satisfactorily answer, and it is currently the biggest impediment to my fully believing, namely: what if I'm wrong? And I don't just mean about Christianity, although that's certainly a concern too, but just about the particular Church I belong to.

Historic Christianity (and all churches that currently exist from apostolic times, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Assyrian Church, etc.) all claim to be the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" founded by Jesus Christ, and outside of which there is no salvation. Similarly numerous Protestant groups claim that if you don't adhere to their interpretations of scripture, you're most certainly hellbound.

And my problem is this: why must I become a historical and theological scholar to believe in Jesus? Deciding between the historic Churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian churches, Protestant, etc.) requires immense amounts of historical and theological study, and at the end of the day I could still be wrong. There will ALWAYS be that doubt in my mind, “what if you’re wrong about X doctrine, and you’ve been a part of the wrong Church this whole time,” no matter where I end up, this doubt is always going to be there. There will always be people claiming that I don’t “really understand” some doctrine or historical event, and therefore my faith is completely wrong and I’m essentially damned.

Christians talk a lot about us “submitting to the Truth, and not claiming it for ourselves,” but how am I supposed to do that if everyone is claiming they have the one Truth, and everyone is saying everyone else is just being deceived by demons or something? How can I submit to the Truth, if I don’t know what it is? Even if God decided to “reveal” something to me, how could I be sure it’s of God? At the end of the day, no matter what I believe, I’m always just relying on my own interpretation of the data. What I believe is decided by me, no matter how much “evidence” I may have for it, I’m a fallible human being and I could totally be wrong. I’m not a theology expert, I’m not a historian, I’m not a philosopher, and yet even if I was, would it matter? There are scholarly theologians, historians, and philosophers who all think they have the one Truth and everyone else is wrong, while completely contradicting one another. The same is true of all historic forms of Christianity that have canonized saints claiming that their Church is only right one, and all those outside are damned.

We can’t even rely on this notion that “well our saints perform miracles, and I’ve witnessed some of these miracles,” because the same holds true in Roman Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy, Assyrian Orthodoxy, and even non-Christian religions, and they can’t all be right. In fact, according to each group, they’re the only ones who have valid miracles and everyone else is just being demonically deceived. I really don’t know if there’s any actual response to this question, and so far I haven’t found it, and I don’t expect to find it from anyone here but I’m desperate here. I really want to believe, I really do, but if I can’t be sure, what’s the point?

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    Hello and welcome to the site. Firstly, could you please edit this to add some paragraph breaks? Then to address your question, well each denomination will approach the question of confidence differently. But also, pretty much every denomination does claim scriptural support for their positions, and so our God-given intellects can evaluate the claims of each, even if not infallibly. – curiousdannii Sep 27 '19 at 3:05
  • Your question is very well phrased, and I truly empathize with your predicament. However, the short answer is that different respectable denominations like Eastern Orthodox offer different paths for LIVING THE FAITH, which ALL denominations will state as more important than choosing the right church. Yes, even for the denominations which are known to "excommunicate each other", will say that. Which one to choose? My answer is basically: it doesn't amount to much; just choose one respectable one and stick with it, focusing on God. See my answer for how I resolved it for myself. God bless! – GratefulDisciple Sep 27 '19 at 20:05
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    To paraphrase Matt Dillahunty, they can't all be right, but they could all be wrong. – huck_cussler Sep 27 '19 at 21:09
  • John 14:5-6. Thomas: "How can we know the way?" Jesus: "I am the way." Study his teachings. Study the law, prophets, and other writings of the "Old Testament", from which nearly all his teachings are derived. Pray diligently. And importantly, put his teachings into practice in your life. He is the Way. – wberry Sep 27 '19 at 21:56
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    This is a little late sorry, but I think it's still important to say: Welcome to the site, we're glad you took the time to post. Your question is a very important one and perhaps because of the way you've phrased it in particular, has generated a bit more interest than average. Unfortunately, the way this site works, not all good questions can actually "work" in the way the site is designed for especially if they are likely to elicit contradictory answers. If you have questions about this try browsing our Meta FAQ or coming to chat and we'd be happy to help clear things up further. – bruised reed Sep 28 '19 at 9:54

13 Answers 13

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Very simply put, your assumption here is wrong:

... founded by Jesus Christ, and outside of which there is no salvation. Similarly numerous Protestant groups claim that if you don't adhere to their interpretations of scripture, you're most certainly hellbound.

Salvation is in Jesus Christ, not the church. As a result of sin, everything on this earth is corrupt in some way, including the institutional church. As a protestant, I would not condemn you for being an orthodox Christian.

Truth is in the Bible, not the interpretation. Pursue discipleship - following Jesus. Trust the work He did for you on the cross. Join a church as a means of fellowship and serving Jesus. Try to find the truest doctrine you can, but don't think that you will be condemned if your church isn't perfect.

If you have doubts, pursue them. The study of apologetics can help you reason through them.

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There is a core set of beliefs that all branches of Christianity hold in common - such as Jesus being both God and man, dying on the cross for us, rising from the dead, and one day returning to end the world. And there are the things that different denominations hold different views on, but still consider each other as fellow Christians - episcopal vs congregational church government, for example. Or whether water baptism should be given to infants.

So it's not, or shouldn't be, an all-or-nothing, "either you agree with us 100%, or you are totally wrong" sort of thing. That's the mindset of cults.

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    I don't consider this an answer at all but it does address the "you're a demon" kind of mentality some have. I actually don't encounter this level of severity very often. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 14:58
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    Note that on this site non-Trinitarians are still considered Christians even though many Trinitarians would exclude them. – curiousdannii Sep 28 '19 at 3:47
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These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Acts 17:11 KJV

There is a simple way to know which church to follow and if it teaches based on the scriptures:

Scriptures teaches Salvation through faith in Christ (Rom 10:9-10) So if the congregation you are attending does teach any other salvation( through good work, through religion, through baptism) then it is a wrong church

Scriptures teaches about the Deity of the Lord Jesus, so church that claims otherwise are false doctrines

Churches that avoid tackling sin in fear of losing members are dying church Churches that introduce the world in the church instead of spreading Christ to the world. those are false church.

God gave us the Bible so we may know the truth

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  • Peter does say that baptism "saves you", but that's basically an expression of faith and obedience. To say that refraining from declaring one's faith publicly through baptism, supposing that one would have such an opportunity, but still having faith, is also kind of misleading. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 17:28
  • It is not. The thief at Christ side did not went through baptism but he was saved anyway. Baptism was always a step of obedience and as you said an expression of faith (outward action caused by an inward change) Baptism always comes after believing and getting saved. Never in the bible was stated that gentiles christians has to undergo baptism to get saved. – jaycee Sep 29 '19 at 22:41
  • Ah ah ah. The problem here then is the belief that salvation is only at a fixed point in time, when the person first believes. Very common. The Bible actually gives it both ways: it's a one-time event and also a lifelong (and arguably also post-life) process. The interesting part is how one can both already be saved and also be being saved by one's thoughts and actions (of faith) at the same time. I believe the idea is that those without a genuine belief or with an insufficient faith will not follow through on the actions of faith (given opportunity) and not endure to the end. – Andrew Sep 30 '19 at 13:49
  • See Hebrews 10:14; Matthew 24:13; Revelation 14:12; Philippians 3:8-16; 1 Peter 1:3-9 for the above, and on the Bible actually stating that Baptism "saves" us (again, should we have the opportunity), see 1 Peter 3:21. I believe what I have stated is the only way to reconcile all of these passages (and more) together. – Andrew Sep 30 '19 at 13:49
  • salvation is only at a fixed point in time. Christ told us that being saved by being born again. If you compare it to our physical birth we are not being born continually but being born once. Salvation is a one in a lifetime experience, being a christian is a process of growth. "I believe the idea is that those without a genuine belief or with an insufficient faith will not follow through on the actions of faith" If you dont have a genuine belief than you are not saved. Bible stated that to be saved you must believe. You don't work to get saved, but you work because you are saved – jaycee Sep 30 '19 at 14:04
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All forms of Christianity have to, at some point, base their beliefs in the Bible. If the Bible isn't true, then why are you bothering with any of its tenets, etc?

And my problem is this: why must I become a historical and theological scholar to believe in Jesus?

You don't need a theological degree to read the Bible. Indeed, most of its teachings are quite simple to understand and implement. That's why John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible. If you want to know more, reading the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is a good way to start.

Christians talk a lot about us “submitting to the Truth, and not claiming it for ourselves,” but how am I supposed to do that if everyone is claiming they have the one Truth, and everyone is saying everyone else is just being deceived by demons or something?

The Christian Church isn't as divided on that as, say, the Mormons are. Do Catholics and Protestants disagree on the Pope? Sure. But Catholics and Protestants have a lot of common ground. It's like music. Maybe you like classical or jazz, but they would all agree any music beats a world where music is discouraged or forbidden.

I can't tell if you're referring to near-Christian denominations there (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc), but truth is not something you invent. It's like a mountain in that sense: it stands because it is. At this point, it's incumbent upon you, the individual, to ask yourself this question:

What do you believe, and why?

This is where theology comes into play. Honestly, "theology first" converts are pretty rare for that reason. You're not the first person to ask questions and good, solid theology is what helps you get a better footing. Christianity is open to debate (it's been around over 2000 years after all). Beat it up, ask the hard questions, and draw your own conclusions. That doesn't mean you're guaranteed be right, but if you've sat at the feet of wise people who trod these paths before, you'll be far better off in your beliefs.

Get a prayer life going

Honestly, I could post a ton of books to read, but the basics of the Christian walk is to read the Bible daily and pray. If you have doubts, pray them. If you think God is put off by being questioned, read Job, who did nothing but question God. Job got rebuked for bad thinking, but he was not rebuked for having asked in the first place (contrast that with Islam, where even asking is heresy).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Caleb Sep 29 '19 at 5:31
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I can't speak for what each denomination/Church or individual believer may mean by "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church", but my understanding is that this phrase refers to the universal Church, not any individual denomination/Church. Though, to qualify that, the "apostolic" portion of that statement might be claimed by individual denominations/Churches (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, etc.), who may each claim direct succession from the original Apostles. Though rest assured that belonging to the Church that truly does have direct succession from the original Apostles (if there even is one) does not a true believer make. "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved..." (Acts 16:31).

For more on this phrase, check out this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Marks_of_the_Church

Hopefully you'll also find Paul's first letter to the Corinthians helpful. In it, he says, "For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere human beings?" (3:4). Some are aligning themselves with Paul and some with Apollos. In some sense, these would have been the forerunners to today's cacophony of denominations. He goes on to tell them that their faith's foundation is Christ, not Paul, Apollos, or some other mere man (3:11). He then says, "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?" (3:16). He says this to all true believers in Corinth, both to those who align themselves with Paul and to those who align themselves with Apollos. You're not saved by aligning yourself with a particular man, woman, denomination, or Church, but by aligning yourself with the God-man, namely Jesus Christ.

Let me finish with this: "So then, no more boasting about human leaders [or denominations/Churches]! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (3:21-22).

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Church membership, baptism, circumcision, obedience, theology, self sacrifice, and being a good person does not save anyone. God saves sinners by grace through faith in Jesus. Salvation is a gift to be received and not social club to become a member of.

Consider these verses: 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, Eph 1:13

So what is this gospel? 15 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Cor. 15

Jesus died for my sins and your sins, He rose from the dead. Have you trusted in Him and this act alone for your salvation?

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    While this is good and tells one how to be saved (vaguely), I don't believe it really answers the question. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:33
  • The first line answers the question. At least, it shows this is an XY problem. – amflare Sep 27 '19 at 20:26
  • Not really. Baptism, obedience, theology, self-sacrifice, and being good are all aspects of living a life of faith. Your claim that we are saved by grace through faith, although correct, is itself a theological claim. Thus, to say that e.g. theology does not save anyone is not quite true, because without knowing said theology to be the truth one cannot believe it. Hence why I say it doesn't answer the question, because the OP first needs to know and understand what is true before he can really believe in and trust it. – Andrew Sep 29 '19 at 1:00
  • In other words, why would the OP trust what you say about salvation and not the 10,000 other Christian faiths or denominations? Whether your answer is right is irrelevant, until there is a basis of justification that he himself can rely upon more than everyone else's. That basis would be apologetics->scripture->systematic, logical interpretation->obedience/faith, etc. – Andrew Sep 29 '19 at 1:04
  • Thanks for the comments. Baptism, obedience, self-sacrifice can be done by non believers and not save them. These are acts of obedience for the one who has believed in Jesus but if they do not obey, Jesus does not revoke what all changed the very moment the person was justified by faith. (Indwelling Holy Spirit, new creation, new position in God's eyes, etc) As far as debunking all of the other wrong options on salvation, it's easy to proclaim the simple, narrow, truth than to deep dive into all of the false religions. Something that I would be happy to do however it would take a single q – Lionsden Oct 4 '19 at 18:06
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I understand your plight completely, as I underwent it myself some years ago. I would hear a person say something, but then recall scripture that says completely otherwise. How can we really trust any man whatsoever to give us the truth? How do we know we are not being deceived or misled?

The answer is that you can't, there is no man alive today that you can trust, only yourself. That's what I realized. And that's when I determined that I would go and read through the scriptures thoroughly myself. After all, I do believe that they were written by men of God, who were carried along by the Holy Spirit, no?

I love that you're in Computer Science, as this will make my answer so much more relatable. The answer to your question about how one can know if they are of the truth - which I get asked all the time when I claim that I know it - is to read scripture. How do we know about Jesus? Even e.g. the Muslims claim Jesus to be a prophet, but how do we know who Jesus is? Only by reading about Him. Where do we read about Him? In the Bible, the 66 books.

But, as you say, you're not some theologian. Okay? So what? Are you incapable of reading? Are you incapable of understanding? I believe wholeheartedly that there is one truth and only one truth, and that we can truly rely on the scriptures to give us that truth. (If you feel otherwise, then I would suggest looking into apologetics. I would also suggest reading through the scriptures.) I hate when some people of faith (or "faith") tell us that only a few select men are capable of reading and understanding the Bible. That certainly isn't the way things are portrayed in the Bible!

Even better, though, we can know what this one truth is from our study of scripture, and we can do this by logic. Logic is at the core of everything, and we use logic to determine what is true and what is not. (This is where your Comp. Sci. type thinking will come in handy.) How one reads the Bible is indeed important, and it doesn't get resolved in a day. But you can figure it out. There are multiple interpretations of many passages, because language is inherently ambiguous; but, when you read the Bible systematically, the ambiguity goes away. The better you know the scriptures, by reading and studying them, the less ambiguous it gets. They tell us how to find salvation and be assured of it, and they are trustworthy accounts.

God will reward the one who seeks the truth in faith, if you really want to know it.

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  • And of course, if there's anything specific you want to know, I would happy to answer it, provide scriptural references, or point you in the right direction. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:31
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    I like the approach of reading yourself a lot. I am doubtful though whether there can be found "one truth and only one truth". The Bible is (also) a historical text and must be read as such. Things can only be understood in context, translation problems come into play ("virgin"?!) and advice must be "ported" (in a software sense ;-) ) to the operating system of the 21st century. There is not only room but necessity for interpretation which will arrive at different results for different people. (It's similar to the problem of applying the American constitution to today's problems.) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 27 '19 at 15:39
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    @PeterA.Schneider Yes, but there is one truth and only one truth. 2 + 2 only has one answer. Likewise with all things. A billion people could all disagree on something, but there is truth and then there are a bunch of lies, ways to distort or corrupt the truth or get it wrong entirely. That people come to different conclusions does not in any way detract from the Bible having one proper interpretation, it only means that it's more difficult. This is why I say that you cannot trust other people. You must determine the truth for yourself, and be wholly objective and earnest about it. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:43
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    I signed up here just to give you an up vote on this. If a person or a church is telling you something about God, Jesus, salvation or anything else, go read your Bible (one or more translations) to ensure what they're saying lines up with the Scripture. If it doesn't, it's not truth. If they're making a claim, ask them to back it with Scripture. If they can't find it in Scripture, then it's a claim of man, not of God. It's just that simple. There may be some areas of interpretation in what a verse says, but study it long enough and God will reveal the truth in it to you. – FreeMan Sep 27 '19 at 17:10
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I think that there's really only one thing you can do: ask God to guide you and help you find the truth and then follow whatever thoughts and feelings He gives you. That should include to some degree doing your homework of studying scripture and trying to align yourself to people and organizations that fit your best understanding of God's will. At the same time, if you don't feel that God is guiding you to become an expert on the history of Christianity and Catholicism, then don't.

The scriptures certainly contain a lot of guidance on what the true church and true Christianity look like, and you should spend at least some time studying that guidance and seeking alignment with it. Unfortunately, language is highly susceptible to ambiguity and interpretation and each sect has interpretations of the scriptures that align the sect with scripture, so you will have to ask God to guide you to the correct interpretations via feelings from the Holy Spirit.

In other words, there's a lot of potential to be wrong using history and scripture study alone, so use your own limited ability to find truth while learning much more heavily on God's ability to guide you to the truth.

The following scriptures illustrate God's willingness to guide you if you ask and the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit:

Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

The following scriptures provide some insight into how to know if you're being led by the Spirit (the latter is from when two disciples were walking to Emmaus with the risen Christ and did not recognize him or the accompanying feelings of the Holy Spirit until just as Christ left their presence):

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Luke 24:32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

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  • I generally agree, except when you talk about "feelings from the Holy Spirit". Yes, we should trust God, absolutely. But one can be deceived by "feelings" or appearances of godliness, and Jesus warns explicitly about false teachers in Matthew 7, as do many New Testament authors and Deuteronomy 13 and 18 (false teachers/prophets). At the end of the day, we have to rely on logic scripture and conscience as our guide. Once we've accepted Christ and are sure that we have the Spirit (as Ephesians 1:13 mentions - quoted in another answer), then we have another Guide. You'll know when you have It. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:37
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    We certainly can be misled by our feelings, but we can also be misled by misinterpretation of scripture. We must study scriptural guidance about how the guiding influence of the Spirit feels and then make sure that that guidance never contradicts the word of God. Logic is certainly a powerful tool in this effort. One way to look at it is that our own ability to reason about scripture and the thoughts and feelings that we believe to come from the Spirit are like checks and balances in government. We can't rely on only one to be guided correctly. Both must support each other to be reliable. – Robert Hickman Sep 27 '19 at 15:43
  • I suppose I can agree with that. I just don't like the use of the word "feelings" here, in any sense. Guidance is a much better word. There's also our own conscience and philosophy and the concept of natural law at play, all of which I attribute to the umbrella of logic (besides just rational thought). – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:49
  • Let me see if I can explain what I mean by feelings. It's definitely conscience in part. The example of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is perfect because they rely both on "logic" and "feelings": logic because Christ opened the scriptures to them so expertly and used the imagery of blessing and breaking bread, feelings where their hearts burned within them. You mentioned apologetics in a different comment. I can't give examples now, but I've heard plenty of logical arguments that are internally consistent with one interpretation but didn't align with my conscience. It's a tricky balance. – Robert Hickman Sep 27 '19 at 16:01
  • Ultimately the scriptures yield a logical outcome, once one has concluded to rely wholly upon them. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 17:11
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Looking back many decades ago when I was a computer science student like yourself I was under the same predicament. I didn't see the fallacy of my concern, that I put too much emphasis on matters of secondary importance, i.e. my incomplete and subjective theological, historical, and philosophical understanding of the Christian faith and institutions. I was setting myself up for failure if I, a computer science major with little background in humanities, have to compete on scholarly grounds with theologians, philosophers, and church history professors who spend their whole life carefully constructing their magnum opus.

After all, I saw how in 2007 even Francis J. Beckwith, a respectable President of Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the flagship evangelical research arm, has resigned his post to convert to Roman Catholicism and subsequently wrote a book about the decision reviewed here and understandably caused many to feel betrayed such as evident from a book review from the April 2013 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal; PDF version (pages 110-115) here. So yes, church membership can be controversial so what are we mere non-scholar mortals to do about it?

I have learned that what primarily matters is God's point of view of my life, how I enter into covenant with Jesus (by making Him my Lord and Savior) and how God sees me in obeying His 2 greatest commandments (love God and love neighbor) plus their corollaries (the Law of Christ). From God's point of view, ultimately there is only:

  • ONE Kingdom of God
  • ONE God who judges who goes into the Kingdom at the end of days
  • ONE true community of believers (a.k.a the universal church), however humans define the criteria
  • ONE Holy Spirit
  • ONE Messiah Jesus Christ
  • ONE crucifixion event
  • ONE Christ's resurrection event
  • ONE second coming, and
  • ONE resurrection of the body for believers.

I found C.S. Lewis's analogy in the Preface to his famous book Mere Christianity very helpful. He warned the reader of that famous exposition of the least common denominator of Christianity (the 80% in the 80/20 rule) how entering a room (a visible church) is essential (which you already did, CONGRATULATIONS!), rather than staying solo in the hallway. You can read more about the analogy in a book review for C.S. Lewis and the Church: review part 1 and review part 2. This means choosing one of the mainstream orthodox churches: respectable, historic, established denominations with open and "peer reviewed" interpretation of Scriptures and acceptance of at least one historic creed (like the Nicene Creed). So this excludes the cultic movements which tend to rely on "proprietary way" (non-open-source, in IT terms) as significant components in their teaching (like the Gnostic of the 2nd century or wacky movements in the 20th century). Ask yourself: would God require of His sons and daughters to have scholarly and precise understanding of the faith MORE than to have faithfulness of heart to Him?

So decades ago I didn't see the hidden assumption in my logic, which went like this: if I didn't hold the right, precise, definition of faith (of which belonging to a visible church is a part), then I can be damned to hell. The fallacy was that I was thinking like a computer science student: if I have a bug in my program, it's a failure. But God doesn't work like a computer. Reading the Old Testament prophetic writings there are MANY references showing how our faithfulness toward Him matters much MORE compared to rituals (see for example Hosea 6:6).

Oh yes, over the past few decades, watching the scholarly scene remains one of my passions, so like other prolific members of this community I too read a lot of theology, philosophy, and history as well as following debates happening in scholarly forum (journals & books) and blogs. Yes, I have grown more savvy to discern what types of arguments are a more fallacious and potentially heretical than others, which positions have more merit than others against the absolute standard of proper interpretation of Scriptures according to some established traditions. If we examine the 2000 year history of Christianity we can see long time held non-essential doctrines grew out of fashion, long time held way of reading the Bible was disproved because of the underlying philosophy of interpretation, etc. Most importantly we see how in the past 100 years church denominations changed their view of other denominations to be more inclusive but also how church denominations grew more heretical (like approving same sex marriage). To me this simply underlies just how SECONDARY church membership is compared to how God sees us.

Now I see theological traditions embodied in church denomination practices (which include prayer life, liturgies, homilies, Bible study) as AIDS for us Christians to grow in holiness and faithfulness to God. How God-given new life within us matures IS the measure, more so than our incomplete ability to verbalize our understanding of the process. As you deepen your faith within the Eastern Orthodox tradition, I encourage you to keep in the periphery of your mind how other major denominations see Eastern Orthodoxy in order to place your chosen faith in a greater perspective, so you can then have a sense of hierarchy of which parts of the faith are more essential than others. For example:

May God bless you and may you start living the wonderful life of faith that our good God has enabled us to do, Eph 3:14-21.

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  • Overall I like your answer, it's well thought out and mature. However, I see a minor contradiction with major implications: on the one hand, you declare e.g. approval of same sex marriage to be heretical (which I agree with), while on the other hand, you say that an imprecise definition of faith won't damn you to Hell. Well, which is it? The way I describe it is, if you maintain heresies and do not repent of them, then you are headed for Hell. To me the question is whether the bug is permanent or not, as bugs are obviously a given. 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 is a good example. – Andrew Sep 29 '19 at 0:43
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To see what constitutes the real Church, see if it has the following marks, enumerated in the 381 A.D. Nicene-Constantinople Creed (DZ 85-86), which professes the Church to be

  1. one (unity)
  2. holy
  3. Catholic (καθολικός = universal, in space and time)
  4. apostolic (having a lineage back to the apostles)

St. Robert Bellarmine enumerates 15 marks in his On the Marks of the Church:

  1. Catholicity
  2. Antiquity
  3. Long Duration
  4. The Multitude of Believers
  5. Apostolic Succession of Bishops
  6. Agreement with the Ancient Church
  7. The Unity of the Church
  8. Holiness of Doctrine
  9. Efficacy of Doctrine
  10. The Holiness of the Fathers of Religion
  11. The Glory of Miracles
  12. The Light of Prophecy
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    Most of the "historic Christian" churches claim these "marks". And probably the Protestants have their version that is distant from creeds and traditions. There's also the question of who authored these "marks" and how are we sure like the OP ask that this "mark" is the real deal? – iBenson Sep 27 '19 at 19:17
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The sets of rituals and dogmas of each church are certainly less important than how we conduct our lives, both living our faith in the message of Christ; and living in the community with our neighbors (to use the biblical term) and the creation.

The respective claims of being the only true church are pretty obviously vehicles of maintaining power and cannot be taken seriously in the grand picture, no matter how seriously their proponents take them.

Jesus would never "damn" anybody because they "don’t 'really understand' some doctrine or historical event". This idea runs contrary to all his deeds and teachings. Also consider that he himself was a rebel against dogma and authority.

The common Christian core is what counts and what we ought to live.

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  • What is the "common Christian core"? More importantly, how do we conduct our lives? This does not answer the question but actually perpetuates why finding the answer to it is so important. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 14:59
  • @Andrew The core, if we look at the quantum leap Jesus' teachings constitute, is certainly centered around love.-- The answer in my post is a bit implicit: Do not worry too much because there is no real chance of a mistake, even if some authorities want you to think that. If the church fits you and you can live your faith, go ahead. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 27 '19 at 15:07
  • According to you. "Don't worry about it" is the very last thing one should tell a person who is concerned about the truth and their salvation. I recommend you go and read what Paul has to say about salvation. There's more to our faith than love, a whole lot more. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:13
  • @Andrew Oh, I meant that more specific than it perhaps could be understood: Do not worry too much about being in the wrong church and therefore being a sinner and damned. That is an absurd idea (even if the Pope begs to differ). There are certainly lots of things to "worry" or rather be sincere about in leading a Christian life. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 27 '19 at 15:20
  • @BenCompSci (OP) Yeah so this is an example of bad/false teaching... Don't worry about being in the wrong church? Have you been around? There's all kinds of silly teachings, cult-like leaders, heretical beliefs, etc. out there. If you're in the "wrong" church, you're going to hear wrong teaching and be misled about salvation. Every single person ought to worry about their sin, the coming judgement, and whether or not they are saved. Period. And that entails worrying about what is true and what is not. And that entails worrying about whether one is in the right group hearing the right things. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 15:40
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“well our saints perform miracles, and I’ve witnessed some of these miracles,” because the same holds true in Roman Catholicism, Oriental Orthodoxy, Assyrian Orthodoxy, and even non-Christian religions, and they can’t all be right.

Thus you ought to have noticed that what is a saving faith is very broad compared to the denominations. I am Protestant and I have observed that the Pope has cast out a demon and it was recorded by a video camera (not clear it if it was an incidental news camera or a security camera, nor does it matter).

By a search of the scriptures we find over and over again things that read like this "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" and we perceive that the gate is narrow in comparison to the gate that leads to destruction but broad enough at least to cover all three major divisions of Christianity because the requirements are fundamentally simple. Being right on every detail is not what's called for.

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  • The scriptures warn of false prophets who perform supposed signs but lead people astray. It also warns (e.g. Matthew 7) of people who believe they have cast out demons but never knew God. Being right on every detail is actually important, because being wrong and sticking with it leads one into heresy, and this has happened in so many different ways. You may say, "Who is pronouncing heresy?" but just look at people who fall away from the faith or get caught up in false teachings. It happens, we must stay grounded in the truth or we will drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1; Galatians 1:6-11) – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 17:20
  • @Andrew: What you don't know is I expect to know the difference between those who would lead astray with signs and wonders and those who are of the fold doing signs and wonders, because there is a fundamental difference between the two. I am not at the point where I can teach it, but the signs and wonders and the pouring out of the spirit happen across a very broad range. – Joshua Sep 27 '19 at 18:02
  • Even if that may be somehow, that would not help the OP or others like him. And we do have a way to tell the difference, as mentioned in Deuteronomy 13 and 18, as well as Matthew 7. Look at their teachings, their guidance, their fruits. – Andrew Sep 27 '19 at 18:04
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The Eastern Orthodox Church, like other churches today, teaches that in order to be saved, a person must confess sinfulness and trust in Jesus’s ability to cleanse from sin, in order to go to heaven.

In other words, hell is the problem, and the solution is to get rid of the sins which caused a person's destination to be that hell.

However the problem recorded in the Bible is not hell, but death!

Genesis 2:16The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Luke 9:60But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God."

Just as a vehicle that will not transport you to your destination is "dead", a human being who can't function in a way, called the Kingdom of God, that completes creation, subdues it, because of separation from God, can also be described as “dead”.

John 3:1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

3Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

So to reiterate, the problem is living without the ability to compete the purpose of our existence, and the solution is to change from living to fill our stomachs, which has no permanent benefit, to living to gather heavenly treasure, which does result in permanent benefits. One is called Chayei sha'ah, futile living, and the other is called Chayei olam, living for eternal benefits, eternal living.

Chayei Olam – Eternal Life

Quote An interesting insight comes from how the term “eternal life,” chayei olam (Hi-YAY Oh-LAHM) was understood by Jews in Jesus’ time.1 While the phrase often had our understanding of life after death, chayei olam often had a different emphasis, when it was contrasted with “chayei sha’ah” (fleeting life). Chayei sha’ah, fleeting life, is living a life that is only concerned about everyday things – working, making money, eating, and sleeping. Chayei olam, “lasting life” or “a life of eternity” refers to living a life focused on matters of eternal importance.

How did the focus, from seeking fulfilment in our existence, change to trying to avoid hell? Judaism pays little importance to the afterlife, and Jews are free to believe whatever they want about it, even today. Believers were introduced to the importance of the afterlife in Babylon, and to dualism by the Greeks, the dualism which taught that matter was evil and only the spirit was good, and the aim in life was to leave the evil body, and free the spirit to ascend to heaven. This is the view that has passed down to us, because the Church shifted it's base from the East to the West, from Jerusalem to Athens and Rome.

Why does this weaken our faith?

Because if the Gospel is that God has blessed us with a way to escape hell, then proof of the blessing may not be possible to see. Then the possibility of losing faith is always present, because faith is depending only on hope, that all will be well in the afterlife, form which we are separated by an uncross-able chasm, eliminating all avenues of knowing with any certaintity.

However, faith in the Bible is dependent on proof, signs. Abraham’s faith was built up after witnessing God’s saving power from those who attacked him and Sarah. Israel’s faith was built up on seeing God’s saving power from dangers like food and water shortages, although only Caleb was born again:

Numbers 14:24"But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it.

Abraham and Caleb witnessed signs that increased their faith so that when God called them out to be blessings to the world, they obeyed. Abraham realised that God wanted him to be obedient, so that when he was rescued, he would inspire others to follow God, so fulfilling God’s promise to him to be a deliverer. He assumed this was how the promise, that he would be the way through whom the nations of the world would be blessed. God would resurrect Isaac and people would be motivated to follow God because He could deliver from all the dangers of leaving selfish living to serve God by living selflessly for others. Because Caleb obeyed God by picking up a cross in facing the enemy, Rahab was motivated to leave serving the world to serving God.

So why aren’t we seeing signs in our lives?

Because we haven’t understood the offer of the Gospel.

It isn’t “Believe in the Lord and you will not go to hell”.

It is God’s Way of saving: “Stop serving the world/mammon/self for self interest, and start serving others because this is how you follow God, and you will be a blessing to the world”. By living the life eternal, with benefits that are permanent, a life with real purpose, that Adam was supposed to live.

Genesis 1:28God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Genesis 3:17Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.

Genesis 3:15And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

Genesis 22:18"In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

Isaiah 35:5Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners,

Matthew 8:27The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

Matthew 11:5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.

All Scripture from the NASB

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