Source and copyright: Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church
The Waco horrors [a fatal assault by U. S. Agents on the Branch Davidians, a heavily-armed apocalyptic cult, in February, 1993] remind us that millions of Americans of Christian background have left mainstream Christian Churches for non-Christian or pseudo-Christian religious movements. Some have gone to other world religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, or American imitations of these. Others have embraced one of several large religious movements founded here in America, such as the Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still others are involved to various extents in a vast number of movements or experiences which have been called “New Age.” All these movements, while outwardly quite diverse, have a lot in common, and are certainly not new. They bear much resemblance to what was called Gnosticism in the early Christian world. A detailed analysis of them is beyond the scope of this article, but certainly they are not Christian as Orthodox, (or Roman Catholics or Protestants) have understood the term. It is confusing or even deceitful that many of these movements use Christian terms like “Christ,” “Holy Spirit,” “salvation,” etc. to mean things completely different from what these things mean in historic Christianity. The god they speak of is not the ‘One God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible’ as spoken of in the Creed. He is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who led Israel out of Egypt. Furthermore, Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, is not the center of these movements. For them He is not the unique Son of God become man, and His Cross and Resurrection is not the unique object of their faith.
All this is rightly deplored by many Christians and certainly we need to be on our guard against it. What I want to speak more about in this article, however, is that having seen the error of these beliefs, we also need to ask, what is it that attracts people to them? What would a person reared in a Christian Church be looking for that leads him in this direction? I will suggest a few possibilities.
1. A deeper sense of community. We are told of the first Christians that ‘the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul, neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common’ (Acts 4:32). This is very different from seeing people an hour or so on Sunday morning among hundreds of others and forgetting about them the rest of the week. Our parish churches can and should be true extended families. Furthermore, in traditional Christianity many who seek a more communal life find it in monastic communities; Christian Churches which don’t have this “life style” available within the church should not be surprised if people look for something like it elsewhere.
2. Teaching on spiritual growth. Many Christians seem to feel that if they can get someone to say he believes in the Lord, their work is over. Certainly it is imperative to call people to faith in Christ. But people yearn for more than this; they were made for union with God and their hearts are restless until they rest in Him (St. Augustine). We are told in the New Testament to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:48), to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thes. 5:17), and that we may be ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (1 Peter 1:4). There is a tremendously rich heritage of Christian teaching on the life of prayer, from the desert fathers of Egypt to people of our own day, that most Christians are completely unaware of. It is surprising they look elsewhere for it?
3. Authentic teaching on doctrine. Many people were drawn to Our Lord because He ‘spoke with authority, and not as the scribes.’ But many Christians consider doctrine of little importance; others teach only a few doctrines they consider critical. But ideas have consequences; can we say that what one believes about God is unimportant? Furthermore people have a God-given desire to know more about their Creator. The great heritage of the Church Councils and Fathers is never taught in many Churches. If they knew Athanasius and Basil, would they be impressed with Joseph Smith?
4. True worship. Many Christians don’t understand what worship is, and confuse it with instruction or entertainment. But in the Bible worship is accounted as essential. People yearn to ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96); they fall down and worship Him because if they did not, ‘the stones themselves would sing.’ The word “Orthodox” means “true worship”; worship is the glue that binds the Church together and authenticates its life. If worship is not adequate to God, there is a void in people’s hearts that will be filled. They will worship something or someone; what will it be?