Hank Hanegraaff’s Switch to Eastern Orthodoxy, Why People Make Such Changes, and Four Ways Evangelicals Might Respond

As someone with loved ones who have rejected evangelicalism for what I consider a more legalistic faith tradition -something other than Orthodoxy or Catholicism- I appreciate the call to unity and understanding in this piece. I agree with about 2/3 of what is offered here.

Intentional Faith

Follow Jesus, focus on the Bible, and think like missionaries.

This past Sunday, the ?Bible Answer Man? Hank Hanegraaff was welcomed into the Greek Orthodox Church. For a man who has built a valuable ministry on clear answers, this has sparked some questions within the evangelical community.

Now, I don?t know Hanegraaff, though I have benefited from his ministry at times. And I don?t know his motivations or concerns?though we get a glimpse of his reasons in the Christianity Today article on his change.

However, I have given thought over the years to the tendency of some to convert to Orthodoxy (for reasons that will become clear in a moment). Not all will fit the descriptions I give, and Hanegraaff may not, but perhaps it might give some context to Hanegraaff?s decision and to how evangelicals might respond.

Of course, I?m not giving every reason for every person…

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9 thoughts on “Hank Hanegraaff’s Switch to Eastern Orthodoxy, Why People Make Such Changes, and Four Ways Evangelicals Might Respond

  1. That piece was lovely. The trend that I see is that many in the church are tired of weak, milky pablum, and are converting to stricter (indeed, more legalistic) subsets of our faith because they’re hungry for some structure already. The other thing folks are hungry for is beauty and continuity – tradition, if you will. (My denomination runs to folks converting to Messianic Judaism, rather than Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Same hunger, IMO. )

    Our world is uncertain – and it becomes increasingly obvious that the future isn’t friendly to serious Christians, of whatever stripe. Clinging together, finding certainty in rules, finding certainty in history, trying to return to times we perceive as more pure – these are a natural reaction to the winds of change. And weak, worldly churches actively repulse the serious Christian. Our brethren hunger for more meat, more truth, I’m not going to get in their way!

    My position is this: 1 Corinthians 10: 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. As long as folks don’t think those outside things are salvic, more power to them. I’m all for more beauty in this world, and every time our church breaks out the old hymns, you can hear the incredible response. (Last night our singer performed Come to the Garden during the offering… ach, lovely). Yeah, we do a lot of Hillsong, but the old hymns carve themselves into your heart.

    We want that from church. Maybe it’s time that our evangelical churches started cluing in.

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  2. “… the old hymns carve themselves into your heart.”

    Would that not be the “culture” issue raised in the article? I get your point about the hymns (which I love for several different reasons). But the larger question would be this: what did worship in church look like before those hymns were composed? Was that worship worth less, was it less effective, than the worship offered up during the era of the hymns? (this, the ongoing debate I had with my father)

    It seems that the author of the article is calling for us to make a clear distinction between the spiritual truths, the ideas that the Bible teaches us about God, and the cultural expression of those spiritual truths / ideas. The concept of the chair, and the physical object called chair are never the same thing. The concept of the chair (something to sit on) is always that. But the form that the physical object called chair takes is almost unlimitless. So it is with the distinction between spiritual concepts / ideas and their cultural expression.

    Not to be cheeky, but I’ve sometimes wondered after a presentation of magnificent worship like, say, Handel’s Messiah, if God has to struggle to pay attention to the more meager offerings of worship from an uneducated, unmusical christian living in a village in some underdeveloped country. I think we get into dangerous territory if we think that God inhabits one form of praise more fully than he does the other – simply because we think one form is more magnificent than the other. It is the condition of the heart from which the praise eminates that I I think God pays most attention to, not the cultural form that the expression of praise takes (the outward appearance vs. the inner state).

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  3. Yes, I have concluded that not only do people want structure and depth of history, they also see a fair level of lawlessness in the Protestant church as every man does what is right in his own eyes and calls it “Biblical interpretation”. I believe Alte used to call it “A boy and his Book”.

    If there is one thing that marks Protestantism, it’s the mistaken belief that the NT offers us “freedom in Christ” to do whatever., and a lot of people -myself included- are lost in the maze of such a wide berth. Thankfully my husband is grounded and understands that the berth really isn’t all that wide when you really take a look at Scripture. There problem comes in when the lack of detailed instructions on “how to do church” or “how to be modest” or “how to live in submission to your husband” or even “what can we eat”.

    Because we don’t live in the culture and time when the Bible was written and while I found myself slightly uncomfortable with this author’s appeal to missiology, I fully understand the theological implications and rational for it.

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  4. Hearth is more than capable of expressing herself Richard, but I didn’t read her saying that the old hymns are more spiritual or valuable to God because of our response to them. She was simply noting her experience.

    I agree with you that God does not see as we sees. While mankind judges fleshly (our eyes, our responses, our preferences), God looks at and judges the sincerity of the heart.

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  5. FWIW, I grew up in a church that was both liturgical and contemporary in its worship meetings.

    The Baptist church I grew up in began with the same recitations. This was one. Did you catch that part about alcohol (that VERY few men in the church adhered to)?

    The other was the 1 John 4: 7-14. We recited those two EVERY Sunday.

    The service went like this:

    -Prayer
    -Hymn (there were about three hymns in the rotation my whole 21 years of life there and they were NEVER accompanied by music
    -Recite the church covenant
    -Prayer
    -Recite 1 John 4 passage
    -Prayer
    -Communion (every other Sunday). The other two there was what was known as a mission offering where money was raised specifically to send the gospel around the world). If there was a 5th Sunday, the local Missionary Baptist churches all gathered together at one of the churches in the network for worship.
    -Prayer
    -Announcements
    -General offering

    And the the service turned on a dime (it seems that way in retrospect at least) into something much resembling a contemporary worship service. Singing of more contemporary songs, more animated worship People “shouting in the spirit”. No tongues. Missionary Baptists don’t do tongues, LOL. A fiery sermon followed by one more song, and invitation to discipleship, and benediction.

    Our Sunday school classes were rigorous. I knew more Scripture by 10 than my own kids knew by 18. Yeah, that’s OUR fault. It is what it is.

    All that to say, the milky, watered down, feelings based Protestantism that seemed to take hold in the 80’s and beyond was not a part of the Protestantism I knew as a child and young adult.

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  6. I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few mini-sermons about how the “worship is good” when I’m actually worshipping, not there for aesthetic appreciation. And I’ve done better worship to the Hillsong contemporary stuff than I have to the old hymns, just because of where *I* was in that moment. But the old hymns are easier to sing, have more words, and are deeper. Mostly. Some of the Hillsong stuff is excellent.

    I might love those old hymns (which have been around long enough that we’re only re-listening to the very best), but you’ll note that I show UP to a church where you can pick up earplugs at the sound booth if you want them.

    Anyway, I agree with you.

    We set up the electric guitar worship in the first place because we were alienating the youth. That’s actually where my denomination comes from, and why we mix strict Bible study with worship any-old-how. Which is sort of what we’re talking about here – the Bible says that God loves worship in song, not which instruments to use, or how loud it should be, so – why not get where people’s hearts are, help them to worship from the heart?

    But is that moment of “we have to be more relevant” over? The Jesus Freaks who loved God and didn’t want to dress for Sunday Service were back in the 70s. That’s 40-50 years ago. It might be that the hunger of hearts now is a more solemn service. Pounding Skillet on the radio in the car and singing Amazing Grace in the chapel can both live in the same life. I’m down for some Gregorian Chant too – worship the Lord, please.

    It may be that I’m sensitive to this because the church of my youth was American Baptist, but my current church *looks* like a standard evangelical mega-church until the preacher starts talking, and you realize you’ve hit Bible study. Until you stir around and realize … they were serious about this place being run by the Holy Spirit.

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  7. Having some tendencies to appreciate messianic Judiasm myself, and having thrilled to the constant reminders of faith one sees on many of the streets of Europe (not just the churches–sometimes a tiny little shrine in honor of some grace from God in an obscure place), and having had some fun conversations with both Orthodox and Catholic priests, I totally get the appeal of the “old” churches. They pay attention to the little details in a way that my wing of the church doesn’t, generally speaking. In doing so, they convey that the congregant is not just there to hear the current pastor, but is taking part in a conversation that has been going on for millenia.

    And despite my clear allegiance to the Solas, that is quite frankly inspiring. We Protestants need to get more of that mojo going.

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  8. One other thought; per Richard’s comment, it strikes me that the most meager expressions of praise I’ve seen do NOT come from developing countries. They’ve all been saved from any number of things, and even if most of them couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, the passion would be amazing to begin with. Plus, given that many of them are from oral cultures, a great portion of them know how to sing in a way that…..

    …..puts MY church to shame. (I carry a bucket to church to see if it’ll help, but evidently I need more than that)

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  9. “We Protestants need to get more of that mojo going.”

    It isn’t “mojo”, it’s tradition handed down through apostolic succession from Christ Himself. You can only get that one way. It’s not just “details”. In spite of the supposed correctness of “the solas”, you find something missing, which is tradition. Wouldn’t this call into question the entire premise of “the solas”?

    The question is rhetorical; I do not need anyone to answer it for me, it is simply the obvious question that comes out of what I wrote.

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