michael harper goes orthodox

by Robert Brow   (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

Tomorrow we have our Easter services in the ancient Greek Orthodox building (Agia Kyriaki Politissa, often called the Church at St. Paul's Pillar) here in Paphos. The Orthodox Easter is a week later. We are grateful to the Greek Orthodox Bishop for welcoming us to this building. And I am grateful for the Nicene Creed which came to us from the Eastern Church. I also believe that the Greek Orthodox understanding of the atonement is far closer to the NT and Paul in particular than the model invented in the Latin world and carelessly continued in the Reformation. The idea of theiosis is far better good news than the obsession of the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer with wicked sinners being forgiven. I love the Orthodox model of the worshipping community serving the world (rather than condemning them) by celebrating the mystery of the Trinity and offering ordinary people God's windows into heaven.

So why on earth do I not follow Michael Harper ? I certainly hope to eat and drink with him in the tavernas (or is it "mansions"?) of heaven. Here are some reasons: I delight in being able to invite all and sundry to our family table. Michael Harper is now free to take communion in some Orthodox communities but is now required to exclude me from his Orthodox Communion table. He has also accepted his own exclusion from communion with millions of others at the Lord's table. The reason given by his hierarchy is that Christians cannot share in the Eucharist together until there is complete theological agreement. I can't think the Lord expected us to wait for the theologians.

The reason that seems to have convinced Michael Harper to leave was the ordination of women to be priests in the Church of England. I was convinced from the New Testament that women were baptized to begin learning as disciples, that they are called priests in several epistles, that they belong to our royal priesthood, and that there is no gender division in the variety of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ. By following Michael Harper I would have to exclude well over half the human race from exercising their gifts in the worldwide churches. When the Orthodox finally wake up to the great commission they will discover that nothing much will happen without women doing job. In Crete I did hear one Greek woman reading the Epistle but here in Cyprus the subordination of women in all aspects of ministry is total.

If Michael's real reasons for moving are because of laxity in doctrine, he could read the letters to the seven Greek Orthodox churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3. Holding fast to the truth is very important, but never a reason for dividing the Church. I have argued before that in the NT there is only one Church in every city, but it can meet in many locations and in due course will be served by many different franchises. Michael Harper has every right to choose an Orthodox form of franchise, but if he sets out his reasons in a book for all to read, he must expect a strong reminder from others that his arguments from tradition are hardly derived from the Greek New Testament.

Michael Harper responds ...

Here are some friendly responses to the above review of The True Light, 1998. They were headed ROBERT BROW GOES LIBERAL a mild "browbeat" from Michael Harper (20 Feb 1999).
 I too hope we will be dining together in heaven. But the background to your remarks on inter-communion is the modern western individualism and egalitarian liberal agenda, not biblical Christianity. -You- do the inviting - the communion table is -mine-? No, the table is Christ's. It is His Body and His Blood which is served to the people. We believe we are following the teaching of the apostles, which came to them from Christ, when we exclude heretics and schismatics. We do not accept your liberal agenda in inviting "all and sundry." Do you invite Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, practising homosexuals and unrepentant serial adulters, for example? Your dismissal of theologians is inappropriate so far as the Orthodox Church is concerned in the end it is the whole Church that establishes doctrine.

No ecumenical council was deemed "ecumenical" without the endorsement of the whole Church. When the parishes implemented a Council's decisions, that Council was accepted as one of the Church's Ecumenical Councils. With regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood , this was -not- the only or even the chief reason why I turned to Orthodoxy. Of course we believe that women as well as men are baptized and become disciples, part of the priesthood of all believers. I would be interested to know where women are called priests in the N.T. They are called "apostles' there - not priests, even if Junias is a woman, which is extremely unlikely. The Eastern Church has always recognised women apostles or "equal to the apostles" as they are called. They include St Mary Magdalene, St Nina of Georgia and St Thekla. But neither the Eastern nor the Western Church approved women priests until the 1960s. They were common in the early centuries in paganism, and heretical sects like the Montanists."

The Orthodox Church does not exclude half the human race. Women have responsible ministries as theologians, cantors, church council members, cousellors, writers, etc, in fact the whole range of ministries apart from the priesthood, including all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Priests' wives are given titles, presbytera, khouria, etc. There is some substance in your remark about the great commission, although it comes from Canada and I don't find in Canada a great zeal for evangelism!  But one does need to see this lack in a historical setting of the imprisonment of Orthodox communities in a sea of Islam. Turkish oppression and unparalleled persecution of Communism. But from 11th to the 19th century the Russian Orthodox Church engaged in one of the greatest missionary endeavours of all time across ten time zones from Moscow to the Pacific - into North America (Alaska and south as far as California). We need to salute the astonishing courage of the Egyptian Coptic Church, which suffers almost daily martyrdoms and yet continues to evangelise that country. My wife and I have witnessed this and also the same courage in Syria and Lebanon (Syria is an Islamic country and Lebanon is still rebuilding in great difficulty).

Finally your reference to Rev 2 and 3. The letters were not written to seven churches. You have left the angels out! The most likely explanation is that the angels were the bishops. This is supported by the writing of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a contemporary of St. John. The episcopal structure was well in place at that time -and Christ would certainly not have written to the Churches except through the bishops. The principle still pertains - one bishop for one city or geographical area. Sadly in the West the Orthodox Church has departed from this principle although efforts are being made to restore it in the USA.

Do you really believe that any Christian can set up his own "franchise" at any time, in any place? That a "Kentucky Fried Chicken" joint can be set up next door to "McDonald's? That it is in God's will, for example, that in Kenya there are over 700 "franchises," all with their own theological recipes?

Bob, reflect on what I have written - and please study a bit about Orthodoxy before condemning it. Sincerely in Christ. Michael Harper -------------------

Having given Michael Harper the opportunity to show why he thinks I am LIBERAL on this Model Theology web site, I hope I have the right to respond to his mild "Brow beating!" I will take up his points from the end and go backwards to the beginning as follows:

I gave two important theological reasons why the Orthodox churches have got it right concerning the atonement, and the idea of theiosis. I have given my explanation of this on my web site in articles on "Does Romans need Justification" and a Commentary on Romans, in the Introduction of which I express my huge debt to Orthodox theology. So I do not condemn Orthodoxy, only point out that it is not infallible in the rules it makes for access to communion and those who preside at the Lord's table..

The word "franchise" means "authorization to sell a company's goods in a certain area." Usually it includes the fact that the giver of the authorization expects to be paid an assessment for its services, and has the right to control the way the franchise is conducted. That is why it is an exact modern description of how any denomination operates. The fact is that Christians do feel free to start new denominations, and in some places there are obviously too many. Most of them die out as rapidly as franchises that have nothing much to offer.

But then all the main branches of Orthodoxy have now started their own denominations in North America, where there were too many denominations already. I cannot see the logic of saying that Orthodoxy is the one true Church and all others are heretical. and their members must be excluded from His table. It is the Lord who is building His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Is it reasonable to believe that all the other denominations except Orthodoxy are gates of hell, and it is Michael's task to help his helpless Lord against them?

In the above review what I said was that by excluding women from being ordained priest in the Orthodox sense half the human race is excluded from that possibility. I know there are women functioning in all sorts of subordinate positions in both the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox denominations, but in both all the levers of power are controlled by men.

Is that really what the Lord had in mind in view of Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-16? I am glad that is no longer the case in the Anglican denomination which Michael has rejected as "heretics and schizmatics."

Michael agrees that by being baptized women were made part of the Lord's royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9, see Romans 15:6). But Peter is quoting the Lord's words "You will be to me -mamleceth kohanim- a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), which at first (before the tribe of Levi was set aside for this duty) included women (Exodus 19:6). Now that our Lord has terminated the old Aaronic priesthood, and he is now the high priest of a new covenant (see Hebrews 7:23-8:13) it seems that all Christians both men and women are priests serving under him. In the New Testament there is not one use of the word "priest" in the Orthodox sense of particular males who have exclusive right to preside at the Eucharist.

Yes, I would be glad to welcome to an Anglican congregation all the people Michael Harper wants to exclude. That is because the best way for sinners of all kinds to learn from Christ is in a community where the Holy Spirit is doing His gracious work. The idea that people must get their behaviour and theology right before baptism is a second century idea that is not found in the New Testament where every recorded baptism is immediate. And I imagine that all the baptized were immediately welcome to communion at the Lord's table. As I read the NT I understand that all were invited to come and learn in the school of Christ, and when they began as disciples they knew very little. But if they wanted to be elder-bishop-overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9) in that school of Christ, the requirements included high moral and theological standards. I cannot see how women are by Orthodox definition lacking in those qualities.

Michael Harper correctly says that the communion table is Christ's, and Christ alone has the right to do the inviting. It is for that precise reason that I objected in my review to being excluded from communion in Orthodox churches on the assumption that their franchise has the right to control access to Christ's table. Jesus welcomed Mary Magdalene and Zacchaeus, but he has told the Orthodox to exclude me?

Happily he hopes "we will be dining together in heaven," which I suppose means that Michael Harper thinks he has to exclude me from taking communion with him now, but of course the Lord accepts me to the banquet of heaven.

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