This past Palm Sunday, a well-known evangelical leader and radio personality and his wife officially and publicly joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. This news left a sizeable segment of American evangelicals scratching their heads. What was going on? Why would a professed Bible-believing evangelical Protestant abandon his long-standing convictions to associate with a highly liturgical religion, many beliefs of which are contrary to the plain teaching of the Word of God? But there was a broader question, because over the past three or four decades there has been a movement out of Protestantism back into the liturgical tradition—to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. But why? Is there a rational explanation for this?
I was among many who did a little research into why this is happening. Among the reasons behind this defection is the desire for a religion with a long tradition and with an authoritative structure that leaves no room for private interpretation of Scripture. In other words, everyone (at least in theory) believes the same thing. Thus the intentional connection to tradition and respect for the ancient church fathers. There’s also a desire for a religion with a greater sense of mystery, and in particular, a religion immersed in sensory experience—described by some critics as “smells and bells.” That’s the explanation for the liturgy, the vestments, the stained glass, the chants, the incense, the altar, and the Eucharist. Thus, seems to be a reaction against the excesses of the megachurch trend and the evangelical/fundamentalist heritage; they want a return to reverence. Frankly, this way of thinking, often referred to as “ancient-future Christianity,” sees the way forward as back—returning to the traditions of the ancient church.
The real problem with this return to ancient liturgical traditions, however, is the errant doctrines they advocate. Obviously, not everything they believe is wrong—otherwise they couldn’t claim to be Christian. But to accept these religions is to accept a whole host of clearly non-biblical teachings, the most grievous errors of which concern the New Testament’s teaching that salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and apart from meritorious human works. I urge you to read again, Ephesians 2:8-9.
The Apostle Paul warns us against turning to “a different Gospel.” To the Galatians, he writes this warning: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9). That’s very strong language! Simply put, God approves of no other truth than that which the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, properly interpreted, teach. But warnings like this aren’t popular today; they seem too exclusive—not sufficiently tolerant for our politically correct religious environment!
So here’s the thing. We should examine our own religious traditions—and we all have them—to see if they reflect New Testament truth. Where we’re wrong, we should make changes. But throwing out evangelical beliefs altogether in favor of opting for a tradition laced with heretical teachings is not the answer. Truth matters. Shun the allure of these “different gospels”!
This year, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—the single greatest revival in the history of the Christian Church. The ancient-future movement regards the Reformation as a huge mistake and attempts to reverse it. We must not be misled, however. The Reformers recovered the great truths of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, based on Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. That’s the biblical Gospel! And it’s too precious to surrender to a religion of “smells and bells.”