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Top 11 Things Every Mormon Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy

lds-jesus-with-pantocratorDavid J. Dunn recently posted an article on his blog which he called “Top Ten Things Every Protestant Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy.”  I liked the idea, and have always felt that there are a number of things that Mormons ought to know about the Orthodox, so I have  decided to create this list.  It’s not meant to replace Dunn’s article since I think Mormons would like to know all those things, too (in fact I think you should all read that one first), but I think there are some things that Mormons would be particularly interested in.

1. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in priesthood authority, and “common consent.”  Priests are given the authority to lead their parishes, baptize, bless, and help their parishioners repent.  Bishops oversee priests.   There are also deacons in the priesthood who assist the priests.  However, as Dunn mentioned in his article, there is no “Pope” of Orthodoxy – rather a group of bishops and self-governing churches that are equal in authority, and the lay people have a say in how the church is run as well (thus you could consider Orthodoxy to be more democratic and republican in government than Catholicism or Mormonism).

2. The Eastern Orthodox Church is built on a foundations of Apostles and Prophets.  Many Mormons, when talking about the belief in authority from the Apostles, have quipped, “It’s either us or the Catholics!”  That’s not necessarily true.  The Eastern Orthodox claim Apostolic Succession in almost the same way that the Roman Catholics do (as do a few other churches).  A full explanation of Apostolic Succession requires a messy romp through history, but suffice it to say that Orthodoxy traces its authority to the same source as the Roman Catholics, and the Catholics and Orthodox both recognize this.  The Orthodox do not believe that the 12 Apostles and Old Testament Prophets needed to be replaced, because they believe they are still living in Christ, are with us right now, and we can still talk to them!

3. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in eternal progression and deification (theosis), and have taught it since the very beginnings of Orthodox written theology.  However, it is different from the “traditional” Mormon theosis.  Many Mormons read Patristic literature as confirming the Mormon view, but this is not fair.  The Orthodox have always accepted that human beings who are faithful in Jesus Christ are transformed into the likeness of God, or join in union with God, and will continue to be transformed in this way in the afterlife.  However, the Orthodox do not believe this means we become the same as God.  If you are a Mormon, but you reject that God was once a man who “achieved godhood,” and reject that man can become a God and create in the same way that God does, and instead you believe that man can slowly attain a likeness of God and be transformed through his Grace into a divine being, then you already believe in Orthodox theosis.  Therefore, the Orthodox don’t just believe that “all you have to do is believe in Jesus and then you’re saved.”  Rather, salvation is an ongoing process of repentance and transformation into the likeness of God which is our eternal destiny.

4. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in continuing revelation, visions, and miracles.  Orthodoxy fully accepts that people can receive personal knowledge from God, visions from God, and that God continues to work miracles to this day.  What they reject is that there is more revelation that is necessary for salvation.  They believe that all the revelation necessary for salvation was given to the Apostles and that this was passed down to the Church.

5. In Orthodoxy, priests can be married.  While there are some celibate priests in Orthodoxy, many are married and have children.  There are celibate monks in Orthodoxy, and the bishops are taken from the monastic ranks, but there is no overall requirement for celibacy in Orthodoxy for priests.  Orthodoxy believes in families and that families will be together after this life.

6. There is no Penal Substitutionary Atonement in Orthodoxy.  If you, as a Mormon, have ever been confused about the Atonement, or wondered why God (or the Universe) literally required a physical punishment so severe that it caused blood to hemorrhage from Jesus’ skin, and why God was willing to let an innocent man suffer this punishment instead of us, just know that this view is a late, Western theory that was not taught in Christianity for hundreds of years.  In Orthodoxy, Jesus was not sacrificed to satisfy God’s wrath, and God did not need Jesus to bleed from his skin in order to forgive us of our sins.  The whole idea that all sins have an equal eye-for-an-eye physical punishment is entirely absent from Early Christianity and modern Orthodoxy.

7. The Orthodox are not Bible literalists.  Neither do they read the Bible allegorically; at least, not in the way we typically define allegory.  The Orthodox reject the simple literal-allegorical distinction of the post-Enlightenment West and focus more on the mystical truths of reality as they are taught in the Bible.  Therefore, the Orthodox need not be concerned, nor have their faith shaken, about questions regarding when human souls were inserted into ape bodies during human evolution, or whether Noah really built an ark with two species from every insect, mammal, bird, and reptile on the entire Earth, etc.  Also, the Orthodox do not believe that the Church comes from the Bible, but rather that the Bible came from the Church – and they should know, since they compiled it to begin with!

8. The Orthodox believe in fasting and prayer.  In fact, a faithful Orthodox will fast many days of the year, and might give at least one 20-60 minute prayer every day, if they keep a prayer rule.  The Orthodox have a long, structured prayer tradition that has been tried and tested for 2000 years.  A faithful Orthodox will spend a large amount of the year fasting and praying!

9. The Orthodox believe in temple worship.  However, they do not have temples that are built separately, with long checklists of behavioral requirements in order to enter.  Rather, the Orthodox believe that the modern church serves the same function as the Jewish temple, and are also built with the same form:  there is an altar where “sacrifice” is offered (with the Lamb being the physical body of Jesus Christ who died to serve that purpose), a veil that is opened for the service (just as the original temple was “rent” when Jesus died), and a floor plan that roughly mirrors the Jewish temple (with an inner and outer courtyard and pictures everywhere).

10. The Orthodox do not believe that Constantine ordered the Ecumenical Councils to “guess at” or “make up” Christian doctrine in order to settle political disputes.  Nor do they believe that Orthodoxy was “corrupted” by Greek philosophy.  These are common arguments in Mormonism against the councils and philosophies of Early Christianity, but in my opinion they are naive views that gloss over the realities of those events.  Yes, the councils could be messy events, but this was the nature of the world at the time.  The Orthodox don’t believe the councils were political (though they had political ramifications), nor that the doctrines they set forth were “guesses” at 1st Century Christianity.  The Orthodox believe that the councils were precisely clarifying what it had believed since the beginning.  The councils were not inventing doctrine in a vacuum – they had the oral and written words, traditions, and beliefs of the church still in existence from the beginning.  Likewise, have those Mormons ever considered that Greek philosophy might have been right?  And if so, why shouldn’t the church take advantage of the best philosophical and scientific thinking of its time?

11. The Orthodox believe in mysteries, but not in incoherence.  What I mean by this is, the Orthodox fully accept that there are some things that are hard to understand about God, but not that these things are completely incoherent.  For instance, the Trinity.  Most Mormons (and sadly, many modern Christians) have a very dim view of what the Trinity doctrine actually is.  But it is not that there are “one God in three Gods,” neither do they believe that Jesus “talked to Himself” when he prayed.  Rather, they believe that God can be one essence, but three persons.  It is complicated, but not incoherent.  In fact, for the Orthodox, the doctrine of the Trinity actually sets up the foundation of all our relationships and love for our fellow men and women.  It’s not just a coherent doctrine, it is also a powerful mode of thinking.

According to the Orthodox, none of these things needed to be revealed or restored because they were never lost in the first place!  If there are any more things you think should be added (or any points you would dispute, either as a Mormon or an Eastern Orthodox, please say so in the comments).

Special thanks to those who helped me tweak this post for accuracy and clarity.

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30 thoughts on “Top 11 Things Every Mormon Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy

  1. Welcome! Thanks for visiting and commenting. Please feel free to share your perspective in future posts. This blog is not just reserved for Mormons or Eastern Orthodox.

  2. If you have the time, something to consider, what about a post about the different types of Orthodoxy, their similarities, their differences, etc…?

    I have attended Greek Orthodox services, but being an Arabophile, I would be more inclined to join an Antiochian Orthodox community if it were available (and were I not LDS). I know a few of the differences, but many would be surprised how a slightly less hierarchic and more democratic leadership would interact, likely fight a little, but still interact and make things work.

    Just a thought and I would personally be interested in the topic.

  3. That’s one thing I don’t know much about. I’ve attended Antiochian, Greek, and OCA Orthodox churches, but as far as I can tell the only substantive differences in the liturgies are the notes sung in the choir. I will say that out in “the world” the various Orthodox churches actually don’t interact much at all – the Russian church stays mostly in Russia, the Bulgarian church stays in Bulgaria, etc. They only interact in what we might call the “mission field,” especially in America, where many jurisdictions watch over many groups of people. But even here they usually keep to themselves.

    In theory, all the Orthodox churches would only need to interact on a large scale when an Ecumenical Council is called. But that hasn’t happened for a while…

  4. That is odd, I swear I heard something about a big Orthodox communal meeting sometime in 2014? It sounded like a big deal and I remembered thinking I should learn more about it, but I have been so busy it fell off my plate, and now I cannot find the information. I will look for it and see what I can find.

  5. Well, there are definitely meetings between bishops and patriarchs now and then, but none of them have the same universal-type status as the “Ecumenical Councils” back in the day.

  6. All of the various Orthodoxies mentioned (Russian, the other Slavic churches, Greek, Antiochian, OCA) are part of the Eastern Orthodox communion. Together, they comprise the Eastern Orthodox Church, the largest group of Orthodox churches. This is the church most people think of when they hear the word ‘Orthodox’. Almost all of the US Orthodox churches (except the Copts) are part of this church. Sorting out which churches are and are not part of the communion can be difficult. See this essay by Kallistos Ware for some help (http://www.antiochian.org/node/25438). His book “The Orthodox Church” will also help and includes a list that provides some stats (though the numbers are now a decade or so out of date). As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I can enter any of the churches that Bishop Kallistos mentions and receive communion.

    There are other Orthodoxies which are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox, nor are they in communion with Rome. This might account for some of the confusion. The split between Eastern Orthodoxy and the others occurred in the 5th century during the Christological disputes, when a group of Eastern churches in Egypt and Syria did not accept the decisions of the third and fourth ecumenical councils, in Ephesus (431 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD), respectively. These churches consider themselves to be Orthodox but are not in communion with the larger group of churches that did accept Ephesus and Chalcedon. This larger group evangelized Russia and the other Slavic territories and is the Eastern Orthodox Church. The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox are commonly grouped under the label Oriental Orthodox. This includes the Coptic Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Eritrean Orthodox and the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox. The Church of the East (Nestorian) also considers itself to be Orthodox, but is also out of communion with the Oriental Orthodox churches, which accepted the decisions of the third ecumenical council in Ephesus (431 AD) while the Nestorians did not. It’s all very complicated. Everything can be traced to the divisions within Orthodoxy produced in the 5th century. A study of the ecumenical councils and the Christological debates can help sort it all out. In the interest of keeping it all straight, we’re lucky in the US in that the vast majority of Orthodox churches are Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Antiochian, OCA, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, etc.). The only exception I’ve ever seen is the smattering of Coptic churches found wherever there are a lot of Egyptian, Eritrean, and Ethiopian immigrants.

  7. Good job on the article, Arthur. The only thing I would add is to clarify that the Orthodox define church differently from Mormons (Catholics and Protestants, too). This distinction ties into and permeates all eleven of your points. In a nutshell, in the Orthodox view the church is literally (in a mystical sense) the Body of Christ and every baptized, chrismated Christian is a member of that body. The Divine Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate in Jesus, who lived, dies, and was resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ becomes incarnate for us now in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Receiving Christ in the Eucharist adds us to and makes us part of His body, as we receive Him into ourselves through the consecrated bread and wine. The Eucharist thus constitutes the Body of Christ (the Church) in the world. The Church is therefore not an organization, like the LDS Church, but really is Christ himself, acting mystically in the world through the members of His body (us). It’s the Eucharist that creates this reality, the post-Resurrection incarnate Christ acting through material means to heal the entire cosmos. The Eucharist can only be consecrated by the Bishop (or his delegates, the priests), who represents Christ within the Church. Wherever the Bishop, the Eucharist, and baptized Christians are found, there is the entire church, the entire Body of Christ, whole and entire. That’s why the Orthodox view LDS claims of a Great Apostasy to be incomprehensible. The Body of Christ is One. There are no parts or divisions in the Body of Christ, even though the earthly church is organized into dioceses and parishes for the sake of administration. A single bishop, a body of baptized believers, and the Eucharist constitutes the entire church. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote about this. This mystical theology drives everything in Orthodoxy. For instance, you can see how this determines how the Orthodox view priesthood. Unlike the LDS view, the priesthood is not power given to men to bless, lead, teach, and consecrate. In Orthodoxy, all of these powers belong to Christ alone. It is Christ who baptizes, consecrates, and blesses. The bishop and priest is only Christ’s material representative through whom Christ does all of the work. That’s why we Orthodox kiss the priest’s hand. We’re not kissing the priest; we’re kissing Christ. The reverse is also true. As Christians, members of the Body of Christ, we carry Christ within us. When the priest greets us, he’s greeting Christ. This is why St. Seraphim of Sarov would greet everyone by calling them ‘My Joy!’. He saw the face of Christ in every person who came to him.

  8. Besides Andrew’s most eloquent and educated response, there are many others who could speak with greater authority and accuracy here regarding this matter, but if you will, allow me to simplify things for those of us who are less than academic about this subject and pardon any errors I might commit. The main difference between the different jurisdictions are language, culture and hierarchy. For the most part, Orthodox is Orthodox is Orthodox. As far as I know, the majority of jurisdictions (by that I mean country, archdiocese, or lineage) are in communion with one another, even though they may have their own Bishops and Metropolitan. If one has been baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, s/he is welcome in any other Orthodox Christian church, and vice versa. There has been, for over a decade at least, a movement toward greater Church unity among the Orthodox of North America, and there have been a series of meetings on the subject, an effort which continues. I believe all jurisdictions have a relationship also with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey but I will admit, I’m not real clear on how that works. In most locales, if more than one Orthodox church exists, there will be some fluidity among those individual houses of worship and the clergy (and laity) will often be in regular contact, attend each others patronal feasts and other events, and support each other socially as well as perform local community service together. In the US, and maybe Canada, there are a number of larger “Pan-Orthodox” church ministries including IOCC – International Orthodox Christian Charities, OCMC – Orthodox Christian Mission Center, and OCF – Orthodox Christian Fellowship (college ministry), OCL – Orthodox Christian Laity, Ancient Faith Radio, and FOCUS North America – Fellowship of Orthodox Christians Organized to Serve. There are no doubt a number of others that I cannot name at this time. I hope this bit of info is found helpful. You can also feel free to access the websites for the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese (www.antiochian.org) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (goarch.org) for more insight.

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  11. Great post.

    Just a couple of additional points. The Councils were there primarily to settle theological disputes. This often led to more precise statements concerning the nature of God, Christ, Mary, Icons and so on. This was the main point of the Councils. You are right in what you say about Orthodox understanding of the Ecumenical Councils being sourced from the Apostolic deposit. The great tragedy of American religion is that it was divorced from the history of the Church. Many who settled in the new world were of the Radical Reformation like the Puritans. They simply assumed the Councils were making stuff up to suit themselves. However, in reality, the Councils were dealing with weighty issues that were of paramount importance for the faith.

    Concerning Greek philosophy, many of the Fathers were schooled in the various theological schools of thought. Rather than adopting these, they simply used the language of Greek philosophy and used it as a tool to convey Christian ideas. No one asserted that this was reality, but rather a means for us to understand better what had been revealed. Many of the Fathers adopted Platonic language – indeed the author of Hebrews also employs dualistic rhetoric to make a point. But this mustn’t be confused with some kind of contamination of the Apostolic faith. Furthermore, the irony of this accusation is that it is precisely many American expressions of Christianity that are dualistic in reality and are very close to Gnosticism. In fact Mormonism is a quasi-Gnostic religion in my opinion. And there are many Gnostic tendencies in most Protestant denominations. As a side note, I’ve seen that FARMS tries to make a case for Gnosticism over against the Church of the time, precisely because Mormonism finds so many parallels with the former.

    In summary, whilst I can understand why Mormonism came about in the context of the confusion that was American evangelicalism at the time, I feel it is completely unwarranted and aberrant once we find out that the faith once delivered has never been lost. This faith is most fully expressed in the Eastern Orthodox Church I believe. But it is right there in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church and High Church Anglicans. It is clearly the Protestant Reformation that led to these aberrant forms of Christianity – particularly the more radical elements which ended being dominant in the United States. It’s no surprise to find that most of the unusual sects have arisen there. I myself was brought up in a fringe Protestant sect that originated in the US. However, I think that I’m no my way to the Orthodox Church.

    But thanks for a really good post. Very balanced and great content. Mormons are to be commended for their clear thinking and balanced views.

  12. As I haven’t seen a Mormon response to this article I thought I would take a crack at it. I apologize in advance for the length, but writing this actually helped me hash out some ideas for a blog of my own, if I ever get around to it. Anyway, I agree with your item #4 in the sense that church-wide revelation ended with the death of the apostles, leaving only personal revelation. However I don’t agree with the common Christian belief that church-wide revelation ended because God had deemed it complete. Continuing revelation is not only about doctrinal development, it’s also very much about preserving existing doctrine—which as we read in Acts and the epistles, was a task that kept the apostles working overtime. One of the primary purposes of the foundation of prophets and apostles (Eph 2 & 4) was to keep the church from shifting as a result of the storms of false doctrine that were beating up against the structure. This is why a program of apostolic succession existed, as evidenced by Matthias’ replacement of Judas–because preserving the doctrine at the apostolic level was not a job that could ever end without disastrous consequences. Unfortunately it did end, but not because revelation was “complete”. If God ever meant for revelation to be complete, He wouldn’t have continued calling prophets for the entire ~4000 year span of the Bible. Revelation simply ended as a tragic result of the overwhelming opposition against the church. Many claim that God would never let such a thing happen, however we know that persecution of prophets very often resulted in their martyrdom, as Jesus and the apostles many times reminded the Jews (Matt 23:31-37, Luke 11:47-51, Acts 7:52, Romans 11:3, 1 Thes 2:15). Clearly by saying this they were trying to get the Jews to see that they were on the path to repeating history once again, which is exactly what ended up happening. The source of this opposition, of course, is that prophets have always been about dispelling false beliefs and traditions–and humans are often violently opposed to such change. It’s no different in our day—have you ever thought it strange how Christians so confidently claim that God is done calling prophets? Where in the Bible does it say that God would only call prophets during the first ~4000 years? If anything the Bible teaches that calling prophets was God’s ongoing pattern–and when they were rejected, He would ALWAYS eventually call another. To claim that God is done calling prophets is a perfect example of humans imposing their will over God’s, because humans are pridefully set in their ways. Is this not the same pride that we read about in the NT, which caused the majority of Jews to reject Christ’s original church because it didn’t perfectly align with their deeply entrenched traditions? Then and now, only the “pure in heart” humble themselves enough to let go of old ways and embrace the truth. This is who you and I were seeking out on our missions.

    Item #1 on your list closely ties in with revelation, because the apostolic authority to lead the entire church would have been meaningless without the ability to receive revelation at that same level–i.e. revelation for the entire church. A bishop, in contrast to an apostle, had authority only over a certain region, and thus was only entitled to receive revelation to shepherd those who lived in that area. Christ organized his church in this hierarchical manner so that God’s will for the church could reach all its members. Now consider the RC/EO/OO etc. claim that the apostles at some point started passing on their authority to bishops. Because a program of apostolic succession was in place, passing apostolic authority to a bishop could and likely did occur–but those who received this authority would then be apostles! So it makes no sense to claim that at some point this process changed, in that a bishop could receive the apostolic authority but somehow remain a bishop. And to claim at the same time that apostolic (church-wide) revelation ended because it was no longer needed? That would mean God was authorizing bishops to lead his church, then depriving them of the necessary revelation to do the job. Without church-wide revelation, man (not God) is at the helm.

    We see the evidence of man being at the helm in the writings of Christian Fathers in the centuries after the apostles. In the absence of revelation, it’s no secret that they often resorted to “theological speculation”, which logically led to disagreement on many points of doctrine. I’ve read official EO statements acknowledging that the Fathers didn’t agree with each other, yet they somehow fail to trace that back to the loss of apostolic leadership and revelation. If none of the Fathers were prophets, how could they ever know which if any of the disparate doctrines were correct? Obviously they couldn’t, which is why they had to gather in councils to vote on what would become canonized. We know some participants in these councils had more power and influence to gain votes for their positions, but it definitely wasn’t prophetic power–so there was no possible way these “messy affairs”, as you so accurately put it, could ever result in pure unadulterated truth. And we can’t say they were “collectively” inspired, since doctrinal development definitely falls into the category of church-wide revelation, which we know had ended with the apostles. This entire process was completely foreign to God’s age-old pattern of revealing doctrine through prophets. And to claim that the councils were just clarifying what they had always believed just doesn’t hold up. The patristic writings make it extremely clear that they were developing new ways to define the Christian faith—the problem being that different people were coming up with different ideas. If the goal of the church had been to do all they could to adhere to and preserve the plain and precious truths of the gospel as taught by Christ and the apostles, they wouldn’t have been getting themselves into these big conflicts that created the need for councils in the first place.

    Even when they did gather in councils, it didn’t always end in consensus. Consider the split off of the Oriental Orthodox church in 451 AD, followed by the Eastern Orthodox in 1054 AD. I find it interesting that some of the most divisive arguments within the church were delineated by geography. Is this not a strong indicator that doctrine was changing? Representatives of these isolated branches of the church would show up for councils and get blindsided by new ideas that were often totally foreign to them. For example, between the council of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, Christological terminology and doctrine had evolved to the point that Jesus was defined as “one person in two complete natures”, one human and one divine. The (soon to be) Oriental Orthodox showed up to the Council of Chacedon and cried “foul”, claiming that doctrine was being changed. After much haggling and debate, they would only accept the terminology “of or from two natures” but not “in two natures”, so they were collectively excommunicated. The main catalyst for the Great Schism between EO and RC in 1054 was similar in that the East’s isolation from Rome led to differences in interpretation of doctrine, in this case on the question of how the “divine substance” got divided up into the Trinity–i.e., whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father only, or from both the Father and the Son. To say that one or the other view was correct is ridiculous—arguments over such minutiae simply revealed just how far they had all extrapolated themselves away from the simple truths of the Bible. Does it ever bother you that the Bible never once mentions a single thing about God being an immaterial, incorporeal, substance/essence? If anything, the Bible contradicts it from start to finish—yet somehow every single reference to God’s anthropomorphic features, as well as man being created in His image and likeness, gets conveniently passed off as allegory. Call me crazy, but I think decisions on what is allegory or not, or any Bible interpretation for that matter, is only safe in the hands of a prophet—not uninspired philosophers and theologians.

    Not only is the characterization of God as an immaterial, incorporeal substance/essence nowhere to be found in the Bible, but it just happens to VERY closely mirror how metaphysical Greek philosophers like Plotinus classified their versions of divinity. Is it a coincidence that the writings of Origen, Augustine, and many others indicate an undeniable respect and appreciation for these same philosophers? In the Hellenized culture that the Fathers lived in, it was very “un-PC” to believe anything physical could occupy the so-called metaphysical world. Origen, who for this reason completely rejected the idea that Christ resurrected with a physical body, revealed his allegiance to the philosophers’ view of God in “Homilies on Genesis”: “The Jews indeed, but also some of our own people, supposed that God should be understood as a man; that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions”. He sounds almost embarrassed that the common Judeo-christian belief in a corporeal God didn’t “measure up” to the philosophers’ view, which is why he and others worked so hard to abolish it. Granted, many don’t consider Origen a Church Father because of some of his other beliefs, but many of his ideas (such as his classification of God as “one genus of ousia while being three, distinct species of hypostasis”) definitely played a large part in the development of the Christian canon. In “Confessions” Book 7, Augustine wrote that his view of God as incorporeal substance came as a result of his conversion to Neoplatonism: “I no longer thought of thee, o God, by the analogy of a human body. Ever since I had inclined my ear to philosophy I had avoided this error.” You mention that these philosophers “may have been right:…well unless they were prophets of God, the best you could hope for is a little truth mixed with human error. It’s great that Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, etc. improved upon earlier Greek philosophers like Democritus and Epicurus by claiming there was more to life than our earthly existence–but if you asked them now about their ideas on an immaterial, formless God, I’m sure they’d readily acknowledge that they were speculating due to a lack of observable data. Speculation is very much a part of what these philosophers did in their never-ending quest to answer all the big questions. The Fathers’ failure to stick to the simple and sublime truths taught by Christ and the apostles is not only explained by the influence of Hellenistic metaphysics, but also by the emphasis the Hellenists placed on using philosophy to speculate on the answers to every mystery of life. This same philosophical hunger for answers is what compelled the Fathers to branch out into doctrinal subjects that went WAY beyond what the Bible taught.

    Fortunately, when the conditions were right, God once again resumed his Biblical pattern by calling Joseph Smith as a prophet, through whom he restored the fullness of the gospel. I totally agree with you that the EO has more similarities to the restored gospel than other churches. Because its physical (and spiritual) distance from Rome shielded it from many RC corruptions (like the Augustinian original sin), it would make sense that it would have more in common with the restored church. The fact that the EO accuses the RC of corruptions means they acknowledge that the post-apostolic (post-revelation) process of hashing out doctrine in councils created a potential for error. But remember that the Eastern church accepted the councils of the first 1000 years (granted, usually not before plenty of haggling had occurred), during which time they were just as vulnerable to error. It just happened to be in those first few centuries when the Hellenistic ideas on the immateriality of God, heaven, etc. really took hold. You mentioned the EO emphasis on the doctrine of theosis, which indeed is one evidence that the EO is closer to original Christianity. However it lost its original meaning once Christians began to classify divinity in terms of a substance that was inherently different from humanity. As early as 1830, Joseph Smith had learned that we are the spiritual offspring of God (Acts 17:29, Heb 12:9), and that we lived with him before the creation of the earth. Knowing that we are not a separate species, but literally God’s spirit children, it made perfect sense that we could progress to become like Him. It was for this purpose that God created the earth, because gaining a body and passing through the opposition of mortality were indispensable steps in our development. I find it very compelling that Mormonism is the only church that believes the Fall of Adam was supposed to happen. Most Christians know in their heart that the challenges, temptations, mistakes, consequences, etc. of mortality instill in us the kind of wisdom and experience that really soaks in and becomes a part of us. But at the same time, their churches teach them that the Fall was an unplanned, unfortunate cancellation of God’s plan for an eternal Paradise—meaning the opposition that allows them to learn so much was never meant to happen. You mention that theosis comes through a process of improvement through repentance, etc. I wholeheartedly agree, but this line of thinking only holds up if the Fall were part of God’s original plan—which is not the EO belief. The predominant Christian belief is that man was perfect until they messed up by partaking of the fruit. Perhaps they were perfect in the sense that they hadn’t sinned, much like an innocent child is perfect. But could that be all that God desired for us? When Joseph Smith learned that “the glory of God is intelligence”, and that as his children we could inherit that same glory through a process of learning and growing, it all started to come together. So it is my belief that the doctrine that man can become like God only works in the context of the eternal perspective provided by the restored gospel.

  13. I appreciate your comments. I think everyone should read Mormonism’s best responses to this – but probably not for the reasons why you wrote it down. Suffice it to say that, before I had really read church history, and the arguments of the philosophers you mention, I might have argued the same way.

  14. Syphax,
    Great post. The only thing you got backwards is about the creeds. The popular belief is that they were just finishing touches to what was foreshadowed in the Bible. In contrast, the informed view, held by most theologians, is that they were the outgrowth of the councils. Constantine did not care about theology but wanted peace in the kingdom.

    Great synopsis of theosis. I agree that it was quite foolish for LDS apologists to quote the Church fathers in support, when theosis for them, unlike for the LDS, was within a monotheistic framework. One of the greatest discoveries in Biblical studies was that of ancient Israel’s polytheism/henotheism. Especially remarkable was the fact that there was no polytheism in Joseph Smith’s milieu.

    Some of our [and I mean LDS] critics have tried to argue that polytheism is nothing novel as the Church Fathers believed in theosis. You pretty much destroyed this argument. I think it is better for Mormons to leave it at that, that it was an idea way more ancient that Joseph Smith recovered.

    best,
    Pedro Brando

  15. Syphax — your response to my above post was pretty cryptic. You mention that everyone should read Mormonism’s best responses but not for the reasons I wrote them down. What reasons did you have in mind? Light beach reading ;-)? The fact is that your “top 11” list reveals that you haven’t grasped the real depth and beauty of the restored gospel, in fact you downright misunderstand it–as I tried to portray at least in part in my above post. I have no way of knowing if it just never came together for you, or if you are intentionally misrepresenting it–maybe I would understand you better if you provided some feedback on why my explanations of continued revelation, authority, God’s nature, theosis, etc. are not worth reading for the reasons I wrote them down–which as you are well aware, was to defend the truth against detractors like you who only serve to cloud and confuse the restored gospel for some who may have otherwise embraced it.

  16. Yikes, and now the claws come out. For the record, I didn’t respond in depth because I didn’t think it was necessary (as well as for the fact that I’m a doctoral student with two jobs and simply don’t have time to sit around on the internet more than I already do). I think you completely misunderstand the purpose of the “Top 11” post. You say I don’t grasp the beauty of Mormonism and I misunderstand it, but the post wasn’t really about Mormonism at all. I was giving the Orthodox view of those issues. When you came and gave your response I thought, “Good, now we have a Mormon response.” The end. Now I see that you want some kind of apologetic firestorm. Sorry to disappoint, but I just don’t have the time or energy. I’ll respond to your comment and then that’s it.

    To give some background, I have walked the Mormon walk for 30 years. To say that I misunderstand Mormonism is, to me, laughable. I grew up in the Church, went on a mission, taught both Seminary and Institute for CES (not as a paid employee but a local teacher, at least one semester for each of the Standard Works, sometimes more), married in the temple, etc. Not only that, I have always been regarded by my peers in the church as an “expert” in early Christian history. On my mission I had a copy of Talmage’s Great Apostasy alongside my Standard Works and Preach My Gospel, and when investigators from other nearby zones or areas had issues with the church from a historical standpoint, my district leaders and zone leaders authorized me to cross teaching boundaries just so I could go talk to them. Furthermore I am a published author in Mormon history, having written an encyclopedia article on the history of Mormonism (even though it’s out of my area of professional expertise). So I totally agree that it’s possible I misunderstand Mormonism, but I sure had a lot of people fooled – including CES directors, Bishops, mission leadership, encyclopedia editors, etc. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying it to point out that for you to say I misunderstand Mormonism is only one possible explanation for why I disagree with you.

    To more fundamentally answer your comment, on my mission, I just thought it was completely obvious that the Great Apostasy happened. It was obvious that prophets led the church using priesthood authority and that priesthood was taken off the Earth. The whole standard apologetic narrative in Mormonism regarding the early Christian Church, I swallowed hook line and sinker, because it just made so much sense to me. I wondered why Bible scholars weren’t just joining Mormonism in droves. It took a lot of hard work and reading to realize that the reason the whole thing isn’t “obvious” to other Christians is that, in my opinion, people who know enough about the Greek philosophers and early Christians on their own terms know that the Mormon reading of church history is extremely eccentric, reading its own definitions about prophets and priesthood and philosophy into it, and cherry-picks quotes and information from that era only to bolster its own narrative. But Christian history, when taken on its own terms, and interpreted on its own terms, makes the Mormon narrative, at best, extremely idiosyncratic.

    So the reason I said everyone should read Mormonism’s standard historical/philosophical narrative – the one you parrot pretty closely in your comment – is because most people familiar with actual church history will see that it’s just a series of question-begging events, strung together with the sole purpose of supporting the Mormon narrative. So when you say “Anyway, I agree with your item #4 in the sense that church-wide revelation ended with the death of the apostles, leaving only personal revelation. However I don’t agree with the common Christian belief that church-wide revelation ended because God had deemed it complete.” Of course you don’t – that’s why you’re Mormon. The purpose of the post wasn’t to give the Mormon side, just the Orthodox side.

    When you say “If God ever meant for revelation to be complete, He wouldn’t have continued calling prophets for the entire ~4000 year span of the Bible.” This is just question-begging. If God meant for revelation to be complete, he would have called prophets until he didn’t need them anymore (for around 4000 years, and then stop), which is what Christians believe. Your argument doesn’t mean anything for those who believe revelation was complete.

    When you say things like, “In the absence of revelation, it’s no secret that they often resorted to “theological speculation”, which logically led to disagreement on many points of doctrine.” As if Mormonism doesn’t have just as much speculation and disagreement (Journal of Discourses anyone?) – or even on a bigger level, look at the literally dozens of Mormon denominations on the Earth (from CoC/RLDS to FLDS to Bickertonites, Cutlerites, etc. as well as modern disagreements/sects like Reform Mormonism, the Ordain Women Movement, Mormon Stories communities, etc.) and you see that having a prophet doesn’t actually solve that problem like you thought it did.

    And your whole big long thing against Greek philosophy – you should be telling me why the philosophy was wrong (using evidence and arguments) not whether it influenced Christianity. Why should I believe that the philosophy corrupted the Church, instead of that the Holy Spirit guided the Church to true philosophy? You’re question-begging if you fall down on one side without any arguments or evidence. Just disagreements between theologians don’t mean anything because the Orthodox Church doesn’t demand that the Fathers agree on everything – and Mormonism doesn’t actually solve that problem anyway.

    I’d write more but I’m already late for class. Suffice to say once I read Christian history on its own terms, the Mormon narrative just seemed less and less plausible, and now it doesn’t seem plausible to me at all.

  17. And when you say things like, “However it lost its original meaning [meaning theosis] once Christians began to classify divinity in terms of a substance that was inherently different from humanity.”

    What is your evidence? This is why your post is question-begging. What is the evidence that 1) God is material, and 2) the EO theosis doctrine is a corruption of a theosis doctrine that was closer to Mormonism? On Mormonism, the only “evidence” is “Joseph Smith said so.” Suddenly, non-evidence is somehow evidence – if the Church Fathers didn’t teach it, that’s evidence that it disappeared. If they taught something slightly similar, that’s evidence that it was corrupted. If they taught it, that’s evidence that they retained it from the “true church.” No matter what evidence you uncover, it’s somehow supporting Mormon claims. But to me, that’s just circular reasoning and question-begging.

    And when you say things like, “In the Hellenized culture that the Fathers lived in, it was very “un-PC” to believe anything physical could occupy the so-called metaphysical world.”

    You seem to completely overlook the possibility that it was “un-PC” because it was just flat-out wrong, and (correct) Hellenic philosophy gave arguments to show why it’s wrong. If you want to show why the philosophers were wrong, I want to see arguments for why God must be material, or why Aristotle’s (for instance) arguments for an immaterial Unmoved Mover are wrong. Just saying that they’re wrong because Aristotle wasn’t a prophet doesn’t tell me anything – that’s not an argument. Einstein wasn’t a prophet, does that mean he’s wrong about the Special Theory of Relativity? Darwin wasn’t a prophet, does that mean he’s wrong about Natural Selection? Why is the question of whether Heavenly Father is composed of atoms outside the expertise of people who study atoms? I think the arguments are pretty persuasive that there is most certainly a God, but that He cannot be composed of atoms, cannot be moved like other objects, is not a combination of act and potency, etc. It doesn’t take special revelation to know that God cannot be material for the same reason that you don’t need to be a prophet to know that God cannot be made of sand, or God cannot be made of electricity, or God cannot be incredibly stupid and/or weak. Those questions can easily be answered by people who study sand, electricity, and philosophy. So if you really want me to believe you that Greek philosophy was just this hipster movement but couldn’t possibly know anything about God, I need ARGUMENTS.

  18. (Oh and I’m using those terms as you use them – every philosopher will tell you that the Greeks believed that physical things could occupy the metaphysical world. The metaphysical world is one that contains the physical world as a subset – even humans simultaneously occupy physical and metaphysical worlds. I’m going to assume you were just using those terms in a sloppy way for the purpose of argument, and I’m going to be REALLY charitable and NOT assume you put it that way because you have no idea what the Greeks even argued or why – though I think I’d be well within the evidence in assuming that. After all, as I’ve mentioned, I used to feel the same way about Greek philosophy, before I actually knew what the Greeks said.)

  19. Oh and as to the charge that I’m deliberately misleading people, that’s even more laughable. Why would any faithful Mormon with a 4th-generation faithful Mormon family on both sides benefit AT ALL from leading anyone away from the Church. I have literally no incentive to do anything but stay a faithful Mormon my whole life. Just breathing a word that I doubt some things about the church has caused a huge problem in my family on both sides – in fact, it’s caused my father to send FAIR apologists to badger me on my own anonymous (I thought) blog. If you think anyone would willingly do that to themselves then I just have to laugh. What, am I some kind of masochist with a desire for everyone in my family to be mad at me? That’s nuts. You have neglected to tell me what, exactly, you think I got wrong ABOUT MORMONISM in my post ABOUT EASTERN ORTHODOXY. Just telling me the standard Mormon Great Apostasy narrative isn’t going to help – the point of the post wasn’t to tell the whole Mormon story, it was a post to let Mormons (who already know the Mormon narrative) know things about Eastern Orthodoxy – stuff that’s the same, stuff that’s different, stuff that separates the Orthodox from Roman Catholics and Protestants, etc. To jump from that to the charge that I’m willfully misleading people, that I’m a “detractor,” etc. is insulting, and a complete distortion of what the original point of the post was. That’s not only insulting, it’s laughable because those are the same tactics that makes everyone (except a small number of conservative Mormons) hate Mormon apologetics – everyone who disagrees is a detractor, “No True Scotsman,” or a deliberate misleader. This is how you talk to the 1 sheep out of the 99?

  20. Syphax–I appreciate your responses. I know time is precious, especially if you’re a student. In my case, I should be working right now but all I want to do is write another overly-long response to you! I’m sure it will prompt a groan or two, and for that I apologize. But I just have to ask, why are you insulted by my calling you a detractor? The way your latest responses are so quick to tear apart my defenses of the restored gospel, you are most obviously not someone sincerely struggling to overcome a few doubts–you are quite firmly against the church! Why not just embrace this reality instead of hiding behind all the ambiguity about which side you’re really on? Either Joseph Smith was a true prophet in the same sense as Moses and Isaiah, or he was a total fraud–it really is that black and white. So I don’t get how you can vehemently reject so much of what he restored, then claim you just doubt a few things (implying you believe other things he revealed)? Jesus clearly taught that there’s no middle ground. I called you a detractor simply because anyone who reads your blog, especially investigators of the church or those trying to strengthen fragile testimonies, are going to walk away not edified and excited about the church, but confused and filled with doubt. In this sense you serve the same purpose as any anti-Mormon, who prey on the uninformed because they know that’s where they can do the most damage. On that note, I found your disdain for Mormon apologists very telling, since their job is to provide balance by informing people there’s another side to the coin. It’s no mystery which side of the coin you’re on, even though you cloak it in ambiguity. I think your style of criticism can be particularly dangerous because it’s not the sensationalistic, wildly-biased type of anti-Mormon material that most people are smart enough to take with a grain of salt. But for you to deny that you are detracting from the church just begs the question–why do you publish your doubts and criticisms for all the world to see, instead of writing them in your personal journal or discussing them in a limited forum?

    I also question why you would even WANT to call yourself a faithful Mormon? Again I feel you’re not being true to yourself. The term “faithful” includes the word “faith” for a reason–i.e. it is our faith in the restored gospel that motivates us to strive to follow its teachings–faith in action. I’m sure you would agree that your words don’t exactly exude any sort of faith in Mormonism. Living the gospel for reasons other than faith is more accurately termed “going through the motions”, which never ends well. On that note, shouldn’t faithfully living the gospel include obeying the fundamental commandment (and temple covenant) to build up the church instead of tearing it down?

    Faith is a tricky subject for many, but it is truly at the heart of the matter. Real faith (not the blind kind) is always built on a foundation of knowledge, but it still requires one to reach out into the void and accept/live something without complete evidence (evidence being something you repeatedly asked me for). Like Christ said to Thomas, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” This concept used to bug the heck out of me–I just couldn’t figure out why in the world God would want us to believe without seeing! What end purpose could it possibly serve? Mainline Christianity certainly didn’t have the answer–on the contrary it taught that God’s plan for us was to live in an eternal paradise where there was absolutely no need to live by faith, because we were not separated from God. Following this line of logic would mean it was never God’s original intent for us to live by faith at all.

    The fact is, only in Mormonism was I able to find the answer to this burning question, and it couldn’t have been more satisfying. It answered the question of questions:”what is the purpose of life”–and not in the vague, speculative, philosophical mumbo-jumbo way this question is usually answered. The Mormon answer was wonderfully coherent and logical, finally explaining things like the real reason why God allowed evil and opposition to be part of our lives. Does it really make sense to say evil exists for no other reason or purpose than because Adam and Eve made a very unfortunate choice? A cursory reading of Genesis would lead anyone to believe this was the case, so I can see why it’s a basic tenet of Christianity. This is a perfect example of why a prophet is needed in every era of the Christ’s church—not just in the first ~4000 years. Through the prophet Joseph Smith, God restored the principle that the Fall was not an unfortunate change of plans, rather it had always been an essential part of His plan. As such, it was always God’s will that we learn to live by faith—not just an afterthought prompted by the Fall. The scriptures (especially Christ’s own teachings) strongly support this view, teaching in no uncertain terms that faith is an eternal principle. Incidentally, it’s interesting that the principle of the Fall being a good thing actually appeared quite early in Joseph Smith’s tenure as a prophet, when he translated 2 Nephi 2 in the Book of Mormon (around 1828). This was years before JS had said anything about our divine potential, etc., so he obviously wasn’t yet aware how this principle fit into the bigger picture. On that note, it’s truly amazing how concepts that JS produced little by little (line upon line) over many years so perfectly integrated with each other in the end. If he were a fake, this would imply that he had it all planned out from the start, since it would never have fit together the way it did if he were just randomly adding things as he went along. And it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as beautiful.

    In 1830, a couple years after translating 2 Nephi 2, JS started to gain the perspective that would answer the “why” of faith. Between D&C 29 and Moses 4-6 (further clarified in in D&C 76 in 1832, and in Abr 3 in 1835), JS learned that we are part of a heavenly family—spirit children of God, and that we lived with Him before coming to earth (explaining the many Biblical/BoM references to a pre-existence). It also taught of a pre-earth council in heaven, where we rejected Lucifer’s plan to redeem all mankind by depriving us of our agency. Instead, we chose Christ’s plan, which would allow us to progress by making our own choices between right and wrong. Knowing this meant we would all sin and thus be unworthy to return to God’s presence, Christ offered to be our redeemer. Resenting his rejection, Lucifer rebelled, along with a third of God’s spirit children (Rev 12:4,7-9 and Jude 1:6). As a result, God cast them down to earth as spirits. The rest of us chose to come to earth the right way (gaining a body), trusting that the heartaches of mortality would be worth the rewards. D&C 76 (1832) specified these rewards, stating that all but the sons of perdition would receive a degree of glory, the highest of which led to godhood(!) Sounds crazy to a Mainstream Christian who views divinity as an entirely different species, composed of a divine substance that is nothing like man. But because JS had learned in 1830 that we are NOT a separate species or substance, but part of the same family, it only made sense that we could grow to become like our Father.

    The next year, in 1833, D&C 93 really added some perspective by declaring that “the glory of God is intelligence” (not an immaterial divine substance), and that we can progress toward that same fullness, from “grace to grace”. So now it was clear why opposition, as well as our agency, were so key to this earth life–because we are here to learn! My love of learning makes this my favorite part. In 1835, Abraham 4 taught that God organized the world from existing matter. Now here’s the clincher–JS’ First Lecture on Faith, written the winter of 1834-1835, taught that the “principle of power” by which God organized all these things was FAITH. What a simple but revolutionary idea–God exercises his power through faith, which is why we as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16-17) need to learn how to harness this same power. Number 3 on your “top 11” list asks the reader to “reject that man can become a god and create in the same way that God does.” This comment makes me wonder why of all the scriptures that Jesus could have quoted, he chose Psalms 82:6 “ye are gods” (John 10:34). And in Matt 5:48 why didn’t he just stop at “be ye therefore perfect”—instead of adding, “even as your Father which art in heaven is perfect.” The reason is that Jesus knew that we had the potential to become like our Father in Heaven. Imagine the potential Jesus was seeing in us when he taught that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could tell a mountain “be thou removed and cast into the sea” (Matt 21:21), and it would obey us. Some interpret that as allegory, yet we know from the BoM that the Brother of Jared actually did move a real mountain (Ether 12). If such a thing could be done with faith the size of a miniscule seed, imagine what you could do with faith the size of a marble, or a golf ball? Even a basketball is still rather small, but it’s millions of times larger than a mustard seed. The power to move a million mountains kind of starts to sound like what it would take to organize an entire planet from existing matter! Jesus was pleading with his disciples to be on the path to developing this kind of faith. In this context, the power inherent in the faith we exercise when we write out a tithing check, or accept a difficult church calling, or just BELIEVE and LIVE the gospel despite not having all the answers, starts to take on new meaning. Obviously it’s not easy to develop faith, and it’s very much human nature to fight against it. But remember “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19), so it’s our job to be working to overcome human nature. If it were easy to develop this stuff, would it be worth it? Would it really stick with us and become a part of us if we never put it into practice? Obviously not, which is why God set up the world the way he did.

    The revelations that came soon before JS’ death in 1843 were really just icing on a cake that had been baking from the start. This included the principle that God had a physical body, and that spirit is matter. In one of your other posts you wrote that the Mormon belief in God’s physical body wasn’t based on any logic, rather it was believed solely because JS had declared it. I couldn’t disagree more! Based on the big picture restored through JS, the fact that God had a physical body is a natural extension of the principle that we are all part of the same family. In other words, we resurrect and receive a glorified, immortal body simply because that is what our Father has. You have to admit that the resurrection became an awkward doctrine once the Greek philosophies on the immaterial God and heaven really took hold. In the context of Hellenism, resurrecting with a physical body no longer made sense, and it suffered as a result. I’d offer some quotes pointing to the early Christian contention over physical resurrection but I don’t want to be accused of cherry picking. In reality, the evidences of similarities between Mormonism and early Christianity, as well as indications of apostasy and post-apostolic corruptions, are purely secondary to the beauty and cohesiveness of the message itself. But these evidences serve as an extra bonus by further confirming that JS was a true prophet. It’s highly unlikely that JS had much if any access to early Christian writings in order to latch onto these similarities. So not only is it extremely unlikely that over time a fraudulent JS could have come up with this perfectly coherent picture of the meaning of life, but it would be even more mind-boggling to find that his false prophetic claims just happened to undeniably parallel tenets of early Christianity. Also think of the many Bible verses that are completely lost on Mainline Christians, which make PERFECT sense in the context of Mormonism. One good example is Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead to support his defense of the resurrection to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:29), as well as Peter’s two references to Christ preaching to the spirits of the dead before he resurrected (1 Pet 3:18-20, 4:6). The Christian explanations I’ve read on these verses are extremely weak to say the least. But in the context of Mormonism, they fit in beautifully with the restored doctrine of salvation for the dead—which served to fill in that huge hole in Christianity that condemned the majority of earth’s inhabitants (even the nicest, most sincere people) to suffer in hell for eternity just because they never had the chance to accept Christ. This concept alone would be enough to convert me to atheism! As ludicrous as the thought of a person undeservedly suffering indescribable torment for eternity may be, it again is the logical conclusion gained by a cursory reading of the Bible—just another example of why God’s pattern was to continue calling prophets.

    I mentioned that faith must be based on a foundation of knowledge, otherwise it’s blind. For me, the beauty of the big picture restored through JS is my foundation. It’s what makes me happy, and gives me a reason to live. It’s how I teach my children not to get discouraged over failures or mistakes, because overcoming such things is our purpose here. Christ taught us how to distinguish between true and false prophets when he said “by their fruits ye shall know them”. By saying this he strongly implied the future would hold both types of prophets (contrary to the Christian belief that revelation reached its intended completion soon thereafter). I honestly don’t think JS could have produced any more wonderfully exquisite fruits than he did. Does it mean you or most others will accept it? Of course not. No matter how much sense it makes, or how satisfyingly it answers the big questions of life, or how unfeasible it would be to think that JS could have just “come up with it” on his own, it still takes a lot of faith to accept. The prophets Alma, Paul, and Moroni taught that a big part of faith was hope—which to me, means you can’t have faith in something you don’t want to be true. Do you think that mountain is ever going to budge if inwardly you don’t really want it to? Lack of desire is the ultimate faith-killer. Many who leave the church do so based not on the gospel itself, but on reasons why they really don’t want the gospel to be true, whether it be an unwillingness to make the many sacrifices, a lifestyle choice not accepted by the church, a social position they don’t agree with…or whatever. I can’t say what applies to you, but the strong bias you showed in outright rejecting so many of my points (as if they were inherently illogical or unfathomable) makes it very clear that you really don’t want the restored gospel to be true. Why not own up to it?

  21. Syphax–I had meant to respond to your comment about the Mormon church having offshoots, because I think you really hit on an important point. Of course there are offshoots from the true church, as I’m sure there probably has been in every dispensation of the gospel. The point is that despite the offshoots, the true church continued to stand strong and uncorrupted on its foundation of apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). While this foundation still remained, any decision concerning a matter having a bearing on the entire church could be addressed through revelation by the council of the twelve apostles (those authorized to receive church-wide revelation). Those who chose to disagree with these inspired decisions were free to walk away and create their own church—which would be a church inspired by humans.

    But once the foundation of apostles was gone, what did that mean for the many disagreements among the Christian fathers? At least one Mormon-turned-Orthodox I spoke to said the fathers were guided by the Spirit to come to the right decisions in their councils. You implied something similar when you said the Spirit could have led the fathers to the works of the philosophers for doctrinal answers. But there’s just one problem with that—the Orthodox church teaches that church-wide revelation had completed, and thus ended, with the death of the last apostle, leaving only personal revelation (the same idea as your #4). So unless you can argue that doctrine is somehow not church-wide, this means that NO development of doctrine after the death of the apostles could have been inspired by God! So if anyone claimed to receive revelation for something having a bearing on the entire church, they would by definition be declaring themselves a prophet. Or if a council claimed to receive revelation to settle a doctrinal dispute, they would by definition be declaring themselves a council of prophets, as was the council of the twelve apostles. As far as I know this never happened, which is how we can be 100% certain that every doctrinal decision (not to mention policy, organizational, or anything else concerning the entire church) made after the death of the apostles, whether within or without a council, was 100% made by humans. I don’t say this to start a fight, in reality it should restore one’s faith in God to know he isn’t the author of incredibly horrific doctrines such as an eternal hell for the majority of God’s children (see 1 Tim 2:3-4 for God’s true opinion on the matter). It’s very reassuring to know that the author of such absurd ideas is most definitely man—not that it wasn’t obvious already.

    It’s all well and good that you can pray to the twelve apostles (as per your #2), but unfortunately they can’t inspire you on questions of doctrine, as per the Orthodox belief that church-wide revelation was completed. So how does this in any way allow the original apostles to still be the foundation of the church, other than in the sense of a nice-sounding honorary title? The foundation of apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20) was built to keep the storms of opposition from causing the church to shift and break apart, as illustrated in Christ’s parable of the man who built his house upon the sand (Matt 7:25). Throughout the NT we read of their valiant efforts to counter the storms of false doctrine beating against the church, from both within and without. But once they had all been eliminated, there was no longer a foundation in place to stop the church from shifting, which is most definitely what started to happen.

    Regarding your comparison of Aristotle to Einstein and Darwin–think of it this way: as Bertrand Russel wrote, Aristotle’s books “Physics” and “On the Heavens” were “extremely influential, and dominated science until the time of Galileo. The historian of philosophy, accordingly, must study them, in spite of the fact that hardly a sentence in either can be accepted in the light of modern science” (Wikipedia.org). So if Aristotle’s works on topics that were often observable and testable have been proven to be incorrect speculation, what hope does that leave for topics he wrote about that were COMPLETELY beyond the observable and testable? Aristotle’s book “Metaphysics” was also extremely influential, but the ONLY way it contained the truth about God was if Aristotle had been called by that same God to be one of his prophets. Einstein and Darwin used scientific tools such as observation, mathematics, etc. to create and back up their ideas and theories. Can these same tools be used to learn the mysteries of God? Well, we know prophets like Moses and Isaiah were definitely blessed to observe many of these mysteries, but only because God chose to show them those things!

    Well I promised myself I’d keep this short so I’ll stop there. But I’d love to hear your feedback on some of these ideas, thanks.

  22. I have no idea why I’m dignifying that last comment with a response, but all I want to do is point out for everyone reading (if they didn’t already realize this) that your last comment proves that you are completely misinformed and confused about what every other church teaches about revelation and prophets. I’m going to have to spell things out for you because I see now that you really can’t wrap your head around what other churches say about revelation.

    The Orthodox view is that the Apostles had a similar calling to the Founding Fathers of the United States. Apostle just means “one who is sent out” and in a broad sense anyone who went out as a missionary of Christ was an apostle, but in a stricter sense the 12 had a specific mission to found the church and to structure it in a way that it would weather all the storms that beat against it. The 12 did so by delivering everything necessary for salvation to the church, and they got this information either from Christ in mortality (they were all eyewitnesses to the life of Christ) or through revelation afterward.

    But the United States doesn’t have a new election every four years to elect more Founding Fathers. Once the FFs did their job, we didn’t need any more Founding Fathers.

    Once the 12 did their job all the revelation that would ever be necessary was delivered to the Church. After that, it was the job of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to PRESERVE what was once delivered to the Saints. The job of the Ecumenical Councils was to tap into the gift of the Holy Spirit and put a fence around doctrine that was already there – they weren’t inventing anything new. So there were no new “doctrinal developments” after the death of the apostles because that would mean that the Saints in 100 AD would have a better chance at achieving salvation than those in 50 AD, and the Saints in 1000 AD would have a better chance at achieving salvation than those in 100 AD. But of course that’s silly – everyone who heard the Gospel after Christ should have an equal opportunity to get salvation. So everything anyone needed to know in order to reach Heaven was delivered to the apostles and stayed there, and has stayed there ever since.

    Of course the Holy Spirit can still guide the Church to preserve it, and of course the 12 Apostles could even visit members of the church and guide it – the only thing they can’t reveal is some new doctrine that is necessary for salvation – because that would not be fair to all the Saints that went before.

    That is why comments like this:

    “So if anyone claimed to receive revelation for something having a bearing on the entire church, they would by definition be declaring themselves a prophet. Or if a council claimed to receive revelation to settle a doctrinal dispute, they would by definition be declaring themselves a council of prophets, as was the council of the twelve apostles. As far as I know this never happened, which is how we can be 100% certain that every doctrinal decision (not to mention policy, organizational, or anything else concerning the entire church) made after the death of the apostles, whether within or without a council, was 100% made by humans.”

    Make absolutely no sense, and reveal that the writer is completely unable to define words (like prophet, revelation, apostle, etc.) in any other way other than the way the Mormon church defines those words.

    And your comment about Aristotle is so misinformed that I won’t even dignify it with a response. His physics were wrong (according to Bertrand Russell, of all people) so his metaphysics must obviously be wrong because they’re not quantifiable (or whatever?). Go read The Last Superstition by Edward Feser and then come back and see if you can honestly ask the same question.

    And to answer your previous comment, I don’t call myself a “faithful” Mormon. I merely showed you that I have “walked the walk” of Mormonism for 30 years, and don’t particularly feel like damning my spiritual growth for another 30 years. If Mormonism works for you, then great, but I think you’ve demonstrated here that it works for you mainly because you haven’t even begun to understand the religions you’re trying to criticize.

  23. Syphax–I’m glad you’re not “damning your spiritual growth” by abandoning Mormonism. Don’t you wish your church provided that same opportunity for the majority of humans that died without a knowledge of Christ?

  24. You’re beating at straw men. Orthodoxy fully accepts that God can save any whom He wills, whether they had an explicit knowledge of Christ in the flesh or not (this includes those who Christ visited who died before the Gospel went to the Gentiles, or those in lands where missionaries had never visited, etc.). This is why Orthodox Christians pray for the souls of those who have died. Mormonism came up with the “solution” for a problem that only existed in the minds of Protestants to begin with. This is the story with a lot of Mormonism’s “solutions.”

    Really, you’re arguing against a version of Orthodoxy that doesn’t exist, using words and concepts that only make sense if you accept Mormon definitions of things (revelation, prophets, apostles, etc.).

  25. Syphax–it’s great that Orthodox Christians hope and pray that God will save those who died without taking the steps to be saved, but from what I have read, the Orthodox doctrine dictates that faith and works are both essential to salvation–which includes baptism. If I am incorrect and the Orthodox doesn’t believe baptism is essential, how do they explain the scriptures that affirm that it is? A good example is Mark 16:16, where Christ’s final words before he ascended into heaven included the following: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It’s quite normal to hope that the doctrine of eternal damnation for the unsaved is not as horrific as it sounds on paper–I’m sure most Christians have felt that way from time to time. But such hopes are meaningless unless backed up with real doctrine, and real action. That’s what those “which are baptized for the dead” (1 Cor 15:29) were doing in the original Christian church. Also from what I’ve read, the Orthodox don’t believe that Christ’s visit to the spirit prison (1 Pet 3 and 4) was to start up missionary work, so how do these spirits learn the gospel? As illustrated by the annual Orthodox ceremony of the “Harrowing of Hades”, the EO seems to adhere to Augustine’s analysis that 1 Pet 3:19-20 was “more allegory than history”, even though the context of those verses doesn’t hint of allegory at all (and you know, this to me sounds a lot like a Christian Father establishing doctrine by way of Bible interpretation). So if your claim about salvation for the dead is true, how do they back it up, other than just hoping and praying it’s true? Wouldn’t it take some action on the part of the “savee”, or are they saved in total ignorance, based not on their own actions and choices but on the prayers of others? That’s starting to sound like infant baptism–i.e. the candidate is deprived of the right and privilege to make the choice for themselves–completely in contrast to God’s plan for us to choose for ourselves.

    In contrast, Joseph Smith’s restoration of the doctrine of salvation for the dead actually provided a framework that made it all perfectly feasible, without compromising doctrines like baptism being essential. At the same time, he just happened to inject a world of meaning into scriptures like the ones I mentioned above (among many others). If that all just happened to be coincidence, it’s a hard one to swallow. Especially when you consider how these principles were restored–it all started when JS was just a teen, when he claimed that the angel Moroni had recited Malachi 4:5-6 to him in order to advise of the future return of Elijah. If JS were a fraud, these scriptural recitations would have just been fluff of a kid trying to sound convincingly churchy and prophet-like. But then Malachi 4 appeared again, in the translation of 3 Nephi! Then, sure enough, a few years later JS claimed that Elijah had indeed returned, the purpose of which was to restore the keys of the sealing power to bind children to their ancestors, which paved the way for the work in temples that would allow those who hadn’t received the gospel on earth to be saved with their families. Ordinances like baptism for the dead didn’t start until a few years later, but isn’t it fascinating how the groundwork was being set from the beginning?

    If JS really were a fraud, isn’t it bizarre how nicely all these pieces revealed over time ended up fitting together (this being just one of many “amazing coincidences”)? Not only did these principles provide a perfect explanation for Moroni’s words many years before, but it finally provided a coherent solution for the problem of salvation for the dead–a solution that didn’t just involve hoping and praying, but real action on the part of both the living and the dead (faith and works). And by doing things like genealogy and temple work, I can testify to you that our hearts really are turned to our ancestors, and in the process we all progress and are edified together. The spirit of Elijah is real, just like Joseph Smith was a real prophet.

    The other huge windfall on Hell that God revealed to JS was that it is temporary for ALL who go there after they die, aside from a small number of “sons of perdition”, who rejected Christ despite having a full consciousness of the implications of their decision. Suddenly, scriptures like Rev 20:13 made sense, as did David’s declaration in Psalms that God wouldn’t leave his soul in Hell. Acts 2:31 nicely elaborates on this principle, tying it to the doctrine of the resurrection in the exact same way that it was later restored to JS–i.e. that Hell ends once one is resurrected, at which time they ALL receive a degree of glory, which Peter compared to the glory of the sun, moon, and stars (1 Cor 15:41). Most important of all, this taught us that God actually IS perfectly just, in that he doesn’t inflict an eternal punishment for a finite number of sins committed–rather, suffering stops once the sinner has paid the “uttermost farthing” for his sins (Matt 5:26). We also know that those spirits who accept the gospel at any time prior to paying the uttermost farthing are able to repent and invoke the atonement of Christ, relieving them of the burden of sin.

    But enough of that. What I really want to know is this — what is it about Aristotle that affirms to you that his ideas on God were correct? If he wasn’t a prophet, it couldn’t have come from God himself–so where did he get his information? You at least agreed with me that doctrine must be established by a prophet (though we differ greatly in our views as to whether or not any new development of doctrine occurred after the apostles died). I would definitely call Aristotle’s ideas on God as breaching the realm of doctrine, so how exactly did he collect this data? I have read many of his writings, and studied him in college, and I have to say from what I learned, it sure sounded like a lot of speculation/reasoning was going on.

  26. Listen, I really don’t have time for Orthodoxy 101 and Aristotle 101. You’ll notice this post went up last year and I have not posted on this blog at all since January. You’ve made your arguments, and it should be really, really plain at this point to everyone reading whether your arguments hold up. It would be especially clear to my Orthodox readers whether you fully understand Orthodox teachings. This should be enough.

    I spent a long time trying to argue for Mormonism like you are now and at this point I’m just way beyond even arguing about it. As soon as I really put in the 10 years necessary to really understand and practice Orthodox theology, and classical philosophy, I came to the conclusion that it made so much more sense than anything I ever came across in Mormonism – and that the so-called “answers” and “solutions” of Mormonism were never really problems to begin with in the Ancient Church. They only make sense if you define and interpret the Bible the Mormon way (if you define any teaching about God to be “doctrine,” if you define prophets as “the only person who can administratively receive global guidance from God about anything,” if you define apostle as “a calling of the church that was intended to be filled perpetually and the church cannot function without it”). But there’s no reason to define those terms the Mormon way.

    As far as baptism goes, Orthodoxy just doesn’t believe that God is legalistically bound by the ordinances he gave to the world – people can learn about Christ and the Gospel by living, even if they never heard about the Gospel. The teaching of Orthodoxy is that the Sacraments are just the normal way for grace to be administered. It’s only Mormonism that binds God to legalistically apply the letter of the law even when it’s non-sensical or inconvenient to the max.

    If you really want to understand Orthodox doctrine, go back through your previous comments and look for the phrase “from what I’ve read…” What follows is almost always wrong. Start there. This blog was not created to teach the basic doctrines of Orthodoxy, it was intended for those who understand philosophy and theology well enough to have a basic conversation about them.

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