Being a Horizontal Christian by Loving Other People

lovedI finished reading Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader last week and feel like I now have a much better understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology. One notable difference from Protestantism that I have pondering is the heavy emphasis of the role of the universal Church as THE Body of Christ. While I know that Christians collectively make up the Body of Christ, I have been guilty of viewing Christianity as my relationship with God (vertical relationship) without much emphasis on my relationship with others (horizontal relationship). Tony Evans wrote an excellent book on the horizontal relationship of Christians with other people entitled Horizontal Jesus: How Our Relationships with Others Affect Our Experience with God, which taught me a lot about the “one anothers.”

Until the last few years, I believed I could live as an effective Christian alone in a cabin off the beaten path – just God and me. However, I have grown to realize that I cannot be an effective Christian if I am not interacting with other people. After all, the cross is both vertical AND horizontal. If all that mattered was God’s relationship with each individual with no connectivity among one another, then Jesus could have stayed in heaven and not have bothered to come to earth. After all, his relationship with God was just fine. He inconvenienced himself (to put it mildly) to connect horizontally with people, and Christians are supposed to follow his example, so Christianity involves interacting with other people … and that’s a big part of what makes the faith so challenging!

I have heard Joyce Meyer share the same story multiple times, and it never fails to elicit a chuckle out of me because I so deeply relate. She shared that she would be doing such a great job at being a Christian when she woke up – loving, thankful, etc. – until she had her first interaction with another person. Then, it all went downhill. The people are the hard part!

In this blog series, I will be focusing on some of the lessons I have learned – and continue to learn – about applying the Christian faith as we interact with the flawed people around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with a heart on her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Eastern Orthodox Church: Final Words

wordContinued from here.

I hope you have enjoyed my perspectives on some of what I have learned about Eastern Orthodox theology from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I want to reiterate that all I have written in this blog series is based on my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology based upon this book. I have no personal knowledge outside of reading this book. My goal was not to try to convince anyone of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of Eastern Orthodox theology. Rather, I was seeking to explore some perspectives on the Christian faith that, as a United Methodist, I had not previously considered.

I find it fascinating to learn about the perspectives of a segment of Christianity that went a completely different direction from the Roman Catholic Church and, by extension, Protestantism, over a thousand years ago. Eastern Orthodoxy comes from the same root and even shared the same stem for half of its existence, but it went its own direction. Even though I do not, personally, agree with all of the positions I have read about in the book thus far, I have learned a lot, which has helped me consider my own faith from a different perspective. I suspect some aspects of Orthodoxy are not “either/or” but, instead, “both/and.” Some of what I am learning about that aspect of Christianity may help me deepen my own faith without my having to convert to Orthodoxy to do so.

While I am only a quarter of the way through the book, my impression thus far is that Eastern Orthodoxy appears to agree with Catholicism and Protestantism in the most important elements – man was created good; man fell from God; Jesus restored man to God; and man can now be reconciled to God through Jesus. The rest is details. While I find some of those details interesting, what matters is the big picture. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to consider my faith from a different perspective, allowing that perspective to challenge some of my assumptions while never losing sight of the fact that it’s all about God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace rapping and wearing a necklace that says, “Word.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Eastern Orthodox Church: How to Transform into God’s Likeness

beautifulContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. The transfiguration plays a huge role in Eastern Orthodox belief. Jesus showed the disciples what to work toward when he revealed to them who he actually was, enabling them to see the divinity in Jesus that most people did not see. Transfiguration is the goal not only of the individual but for all of creation!

Sin is something external that interferes with the transfiguration process, resulting in interference with attaining fullness of life. Through Jesus, God’s gift of grace enables immortality to unite with a fallen world, bringing the fallen world into union with God, which results in divine beauty … hence the emphasis on divine beauty in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. As Jesus was both fully God and fully human, he was/is the perfect union of humanity and divinity. Through Jesus, mankind can experience the same transfiguration as we transform into God’s likeness by degrees.

Interestingly, I have found a couple of verses–2 Cor. 3:18 and Gen. 5:1— in which the New International version appears to use the terms likeness and image interchangeably whereas the Eastern Orthodox translation (I have no idea what version of the Bible they use) does not. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, image = God’s part (creating man with the capacity to choose harmony with God) and likeness = man’s part (choosing to enter into union with God).

The Eastern Orthodox church believes that transforming into God’s likeness requires choice. God gave man the capacity to transform into His image by creating him in His image. Man has the freedom to choose to do so or not. When man chooses to do so, he reverses the effects of the Fall, which not only delivers himself but also the universe from the disorder that resulted from the Fall.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the word, “Beautiful.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Eastern Orthodox Church: Man’s Responsibility toward God’s Likeness

mirrorContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I was particularly intrigued by this observation in Genesis, which I had always overlooked. Before God created man, he said,

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” ~ Gen. 1:26

However, when He created man, He did so only in His image, not in His likeness:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” ~ Gen. 1:27

The Eastern Orthodox position, as I understand it, is that making man in God’s image was God’s part, but making man in God’s likeness is man’s part. By creating man in His image, God provided man with the possibility of developing into His likeness. However, to grow into the likeness of God, man must take proactive steps to grow into unity and harmony with God.

I see this as the Old Testament explanation of and complement to Paul’s admonition to work out our salvation. Receiving Jesus as Savior is not the end – it’s the beginning. My job is not simply to receive Jesus as Savior so I can avoid hell and go to heaven: I am to “work out my salvation,” which takes effort as I transform day by day into the image of Christ.

So, how do we do that? The Eastern Orthodox perspective is that man unites himself with God, which not only affects his own soul but also everything around him. After all, man was created to rule over the earth, so as man grows in harmony with God, this not only affects his own soul but also his sphere of the world, bringing about not only the transfiguration of the person but also the transfiguration of everything under that person’s influence.

I’ll share more about the Eastern Orthodox perspective of how this works in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at herself in a mirror above the words, “Why am I the way that I am?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Eastern Orthodox Church: “Unhurried and Timeless” Worship Services

running_lateContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I confess that I knew nothing at all about this segment of Christianity and am fascinated by what I am learning in this book.

The first chapter of this book talks about the worship services because the way the Eastern Orthodox congregants worship is of central importance to their faith, prioritized over both doctrine and discipline. As someone raised in the Protestant church – sampling many different denominations along the way – this is such a different perspective from what I have experienced. With each new denomination I sampled, one of my first questions was what distinguishes this denomination from the others – immersion for baptism? services on Saturdays? specific restrictions for partaking in the Lord’s supper? So, I found it fascinating that in the Eastern Orthodox church, what’s of primary importance is form of worship, not doctrinal differences.

I won’t go into the details of the specifics for worship services, but I would like to talk about the end result: an “unhurried and timeless quality” of a service, which sounds like a slice of eternity to me. One of the ways Dallas Willard challenged me in some of his books was by admonishing me to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from my life. As an American with a Type A personality, hurrying is as natural as breathing. However, there’s no hurry in eternity because we have forever — there’s no reason to rush. So, the thought of attending a service in which hurry is removed altogether sounds attractive to me.

One aspect of God that I find intriguing is that He exists outside of time. Because time is such an important factor in my life (particularly while I am juggling work, school, and family), I cannot wrap my mind around an existence outside of time. From what I have read in this book, it sounds like the Eastern Orthodox church has found a way to provide a sense of this timelessness in its worship services. I can see how this could result in experiencing a slice of heaven during a worship service.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running above the words, “Running late.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Alternative Perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Church

I am taking a class on the survey of church history. One of the assignments is to read a book (selected from several options provided in the syllabus) and write a book critique. I selected Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader because I know next to nothing about Eastern Orthodox churches. I once asked someone in my local community about the Greek Orthodox church on “church row,” and the person told me that orthodox churches are “very different,” but I didn’t know what the person meant.

In this class, I learned that about a thousand years ago, the church split into two, with the Western church becoming what we know today as the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern church becoming what we know today as the Eastern Orthodox church. So, I was fascinated to learn about the beliefs of a large segment of Christians whose influences were completely separate from the Roman Catholic church (and, by extension, Protestantism) for a millennium. Considering the Orthodox church came from the same root as my United Methodist Church but grew in a different direction a thousand years ago, I thought it would be interesting to consider the Eastern Orthodox perspective on the same Bible that I follow.

I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but I have already been challenged by some of what I read, which I plan to discuss in this blog series. For the rest of this blog entry, I’ll simply mention some of the big picture differences that I have found interesting. The Eastern Orthodox church incorporates icons into its worship services, which are used as a visual aid in helping the congregation see past the material world and into the spiritual world. Orthodoxy also places much emphasis on divine beauty. Another big difference is that the emphasis is much less on doctrine (what they believe) and much more on how they worship. Considering the basis for the numerous Protestant denominations is differences in what they believe in relation to particular aspects of the faith, it’s interesting to read about a segment of Christianity that focuses on worship over doctrine.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary ReaderCourtesy Amazon.]