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From Evangelical Protestant “orthodoxy” to Eastern (Greek) “Orthodoxy”: Leading Apologist Converts to the original “Historic Church”

May 17, 2017

I’m over a month late on this, and the big clue was the CRI e-mail about the question of whether president Hank Hanegraaf “left the faith” http://www.equip.org/article/left-christian-faith. I get these in a side-email that I only read on the phone, usually on breaks at work. For some reason, I brushed it off, thinking maybe it was some late April Fool’s joke, or perhaps some radical movement saying he’s gotten too soft on some point of doctrine or morality or something (like IFB’s have long said CRI was too soft on Catholics and “separation”; the “psychoheresy” critics say he has “compromised” in the issue of “counseling”; the KJVO’s of course will think he errs on translations, etc). I was still getting CRI/Equip e-mails from him, so he wasn’t ousted from that organization. I think I did actually glance at that article, and all it was, was him reaffirming the universal doctrines of the “historic Church” that he always championed: The deity of Christ, original sin, the Church and the scriptures, the Trinity, Jesus as incarnate savior, salvation by “grace through faith”, making one a “new creation”, and the resurrection of the dead and the life to come.

So on that same side e-mail, today, where I also get notifications from the old Baptistboard about ongoing threads, I see a new one saying directly, “Hank Hanegraaff Converts to Greek Orthodox”. In it, someone points out the topic was already covered, in a month old thread matching his own blog article, “Has Hank Hanagraaf left the faith?”. (Both of these were in “Baptist only” sections which always seem to have the most interesting topics, but non-Baptists are not allowed to post there). Now, I find on CRI his direct Q&A about Orthodoxy: http://www.equip.org/questions-answers-orthodoxy/ There was a link to this on the other page, but I thought “Ask Hank: Questions and Answers About Orthodoxy” meant what he formerly considered “orthodoxy”: evangelical Protestant “orthodoxy”!
Wow!

It was right there on the BB, over a decade ago, where I had heavily debated several Eastern Orthodox believers, and some Catholics. (One EOC “catechumen” was for some reason rejected from admission, and ended up Anglican instead. There was another Anglican as well, and they argued on the side of “catholicism” on most of the points, especially Eucharist and “tradition”). For a time, they had swarmed the board, and gotten pretty aggressive, until the admins began cracking down on it. This is what led me to put up a page answering “Catholic” arguments, and consisting in part (the second half) of the key points copied from those very debates: http://www.erictb.info/tradition.html

To reprint the opening text:
I myself always looked with interest at the Eastern Orthoodox Church, since becoming acquainted with the claims of an “original true Church” through the literature of the Church of Christ years ago, and then finding similar claims by the Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even some Baptists use it. I always found the claims of those groups being preserved through such small sects as the Waldensians, Catharii, and Anabaptists to be farfetched, as those groups were vastly different from these modern groups. I quickly realized that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches had more of a stake to that claim, since they were the historical “Church” stemming from the original Churches planted by the Apostles. And I further figured out that the EOC has an even greater claim than the RCC, because the latter was actually one single patriarchate of the original five of the Church, which broke off because it was continuing to add new doctrines the other four patriarchates did not accept.

Still, I do not believe that the EOC of the 11th century and after was the same as the first century Church either, as is assumed by EOC advocates. However, some have now begun to become aggressive in claiming to be the true Church, and condemning Protestantism and “sola Scriptura”, “with its thousands of splinter groups”, instead of “just following the [oral, apostolic] traditions of the Church”. Many of those groups that claim to be the original Church had a point in pointing out that the Church rapidly began changing after the death of the apostles. You can even see the warnings of apostasy in the writings of the apostles themselves.

This reflects a time just before I started moving toward the Fulfilled View, and so still believing the “end” was future, and that the “falling away” was something starting in the first century, and continuing down through all of Church history, to our time and beyond. It was these debates, including the point that was mentioned, of all the “thousands of splinter groups”, that made me finally grow weary of futurism. Yes, that fit into the so-called “falling away” it was plugged into, but it fell so far away that nobody can really agree on much of anything regarding what the truth of scripture is; everyone just claims to be scriptural and reads their doctrines into scripture, and it seemed anyone could make scripture say anything they wanted. There’s no longer any central [spiritual] body representing the original truth like there was under the apostles, though some organizations are claiming to be that body; again, reading their doctrines and institutional structures into scripture.
So it seemed like that “body” was never designed to go on through centuries of changing leadership and political influence, and without the supernaturally guided original apostles. It was only designed to last a “short time”, —which is precisely what we see promised by Jesus Himself and the apostles!
So when the preterists next began to turn the volume up on their doctrine on the board, I likewise fought hard against that, but later found the “pantelist” variation or “Fulfilled view”, and it all finally clicked. It’s the only thing that explains why God would allow “His Church” to spiral out of control like this, as the watching world takes it as the ultimate evidence that the whole religion is just a human fabrication.

I still thought about the EOC in the back of my mind, passing the St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria every day right next to the elevated N and W trains I worked back then, and feeling the pull of and “ancientness” of a cathedral that leads many others to “catholic” churches, I then decided to scout out the EOC’s counterpart to the RCC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the head of the denomination for the NYC area), and find it’s the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is a rather small, modest basilica wedged sideways in the middle of the block on E 74th St. between a row of old Civil War era tenements and a newer highrise and with a Presbyterian Church on the other side of that. I swing by at the end of a service, to get a sense of what it’s like (would be much easier to get to now, being near the brand new Second Avenue line), but the people seemed rather distant and just into their own little cliques.

Anyways, Hanegraaf’s move would mean he no longer believes in at least two of the “core essentials” he once defended, of Grace alone through faith alone, and “sola scriptura”. (Even though he did claim to still believe in the former). The “Catholic/Orthodox” position on the role of “works” in “faith” is similar to that of several of the “cults”, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, radical sabbatarians such as Armstrongism, and the Church of Christ.

As he was the de-facto number one “apologist” for the general body of evangelical “orthodoxy” (as understood in the “Protestant” form), this is very surprising. So the perhaps next leading evangelical apologist, James White of Alpha & Omega ministries, quickly began commenting on it.
https://youtu.be/ezaECk7cBQs (this video even shows the tweet of Hanegraaf being received into the Church via chrismation!)
You would think the two ministries would be pretty much in lockstep agreement on most doctrines; since they uphold the “basics” of evangelical doctrine, but apparently, there was a bit of a light “falling out” between the two fourteen years ago, when White realized it would be his last invitation to the Bible Answer Man, as he described what he calls a pre-planned “ambush” to promote “synergism” (which is basically the technical term for “free-will” cooperation in salvation), which he says “backfired” on the hosts. White is of course, solidly Calvinist (monergistic), where Hanegraaf always seemed to be more neutral on that dispute. (I can remember him describing a “racist” attack, when some hyper-charismatic “revival” leader whom he had denounced fired back something about him being an “intellectual Calvinist” or something like that, which was assumed simply from him having a Dutch background).

White addresses the issue of the “catholic” definition of “faith” in this second video on the subject: https://youtu.be/F5EPs9EqIsc He points out how the single word “alone”, as in “grace/faith alone” makes a big difference. Removing it and substituting something like “faith working through love” (taking from Paul in Galatians, but using it differently from what he originally meant), as a Catholic he cites does, “opens the door” to the entire sacrificial system of Rome, and all the doctrines that go with that (baptismal regeneration, different kinds of sin, etc. Already, Hanegraaf can be heard in a clip talking about how [canonized] saints pray for us, though he says we can’t pray to them. White shows how the still professed “sola scriptura” is actually redefined, and around 20 minutes in excellently points out how the EOC “traditions” were “frozen” or “fossilized” in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries [and not the 1st, 2nd or 3rd], by the threat of the rise and rule of Islam, which forced them to maintain “this is what we believe and we must defend it”; where the Western Church had the freedom and increased power to continue developing its doctrine).

I’m actually not as totally surprised as you think I would be. He is so into the “historic” aspect of the “faith”; “historicity” seemed to always be the ultimate arbiter of doctrinal matters, including how to interpret scripture, which is of course the official final authority, but as we see all too often, does get interpreted differently by nearly everyone. I always pictured him having a soft spot for some form of “catholicity” (which again, he was always criticized for not being hard enough on. He does have articles on “Catholicism” http://www.equip.org/category/catholicism, but these seem to be more focused on the specific Roman branch of catholicism. Again, the EOC doesn’t have quite the same stigma as the RCC; as it didn’t add some of the really bad doctrines like purgatory, indulgences, etc. Also, it not being as familiar here in the West. It was the RCC that Protestantism broke away from).

This is truly a major shift in evangelicalism!

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One Comment
  1. With all the stuff going on in the world and in nature, and most of the evangelical leaders take the time to go after the homosexuals, Hanegraaf now is doubling down against the “global threat” of Islam, in just about every e-mail.

    So this one:
    https://www.equip.org/broadcast/hank-unplugged-mary-eberstadt-muslim-qa/
    [audio src="http://streaming.integrationworks.com:3000/archive/BAM20170919.mp3" /]

    mentions
    •Christians being labeled as bigots and a damaging decrease of dialogue in society
    •The anti-Islamophobia motion in Canada and their censorship of Hank with the release of MUSLIM: What You Need to Know About the World’s Fastest-Growing Religion
    •How the Sexual Revolution helped yesterday’s sinners become today’s secular saint

    It’s basically about how the Christians of the exceptional “western civilization” are heading for persecution, by the modern culture here, which “trips over itself” pushing “all-inclusiveness”, which in turn will help the Muslims fulfill their mission to terrorize us. It’s the typical negative forecasting, based on taking their loss of power (as others claim equality), but then generalizing this to a total flip-flop, where they will now have done to them, what they in the past used their power to do to others.
    It’s partly guilt, and part, as a meme points out, that to those in power, equality feels like oppression!

    So the broadcast focuses on stuff like polygamy, and even though it was obviously allowed in the Old Testament, and never officially ended (though Paul’s pastoral instruction reflected a move away from it); Hanegraaf claims it (as practiced by the OT “kings”) is “repudiated” in both testaments, just from the scriptures showing the problems that could arise from it, most notably in Solomon’s life. That, again, may teach us the wisdom of monogamy as God’s design (as seen in the Creation), and the problems of polygamy, but it is not a “repudiation”. (Implying it is so important as in the argument being used against the gays). This is what they call “inferential doctrine” (scripture doesn’t have to actually say it, but if it can be inferred in some way, then you can say it “clearly teaches” it), and this is what other movements, sects, cults, etc. who may criticize Hanegraaf over various doctrines, often operate off of. It then becomes impossible to agree on what scripture teaches about anything.
    Overall, the general sense I get is “the Muslims (and our own “secularists”) are all bad, and against the good Christians (and their exceptional “culture”)”.

    Again, the starting premise, while not using the term “exceptional”, is pitting Islam against the Bible as fused with western civilization (and of course, Islam claims to be based on the Bible, so it too owes its existence to the western civilization it is fighting against!)
    CRI traditionally focused on cults and religions from a purely scriptural point, and did not get so much into politics, and so now, it seems to have become just another pro-“West” (read white Christian) advocate, like CBN and countless others in the past. (It seems as Robertson has gotten a bit bizarre in some of the stuff he says, CRI is now filling in the void as the leading Christian “culture”-defender. Ironic, as he’s technically not even “evangelical” anymore, but rather Eastern Orthodox, don’t forget; and I guess what better to represent the “church” as the shaper of “western Civilization”, than what is technically the original [institutional church] denomination!)

    Tying the Bible to Western culture will only lead the Islamists, or anyone else, to just dismiss it by simply saying “we don’t believe in your Western ideology”, and then throw up all the evils done by the West, starting, naturally, with the Crusades (which of course will lead the Christians to claim to be unfairly blamed for it, and then come up with all sorts of rationalizations that only further prove a mindset of a “superiority”-assuming “providentialism”).
    So, as usual, they will be talking past each other, and the Christians, who claim to be preaching God’s Gospel, are the ones clouding up what that Gospel is, but always making their own [human] “culture” the center of it. This is not a God-centered world-view, but is just as man-centered as everyone else we point at. If the Christian leaders, from the top down, who talk about how the rest of the Church has become so “biblically illiterate” (as he also mentions in there) can’t even see that the Gospel is not about “western culture”, but instead includes it in the “all” human cultures that it has “concluded in sin” (Rom.3), then how can they expect to lead this wayward church or culture they keep criticizing?

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