Saturday, August 25, 2007

Evangelicals Turn Toward ... the Orthodox Church?

Jason Zengerle, "Evangelicals Turn Toward ... the Orthodox Church? The Iconoclasts" in the August 27th issue of The New Republic.

The New Republic, a generally left of center magazine of opinion, focuses on an interesting phenomenon: the conversion of former evangelicals to Orthodoxy. Movement from such a non-liturgical, even anti-liturgical religion to quintessentially liturgical Christianity is interesting. Jason Zengerle chronicles the journey of Wilbur Ellsworth, once pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois, the heart of evangelical Christianity. This journey ended with Ellsworth a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Antioch is one of the Patriarchal sees. Antioch was where we were first called Christians. Peter was the first bishop.

Zengerle writes, "Ellsworth's story is hardly unique. Most of the approximately 150 members of the Orthodox parish he now leads are former evangelicals themselves. Even Ellsworth's transition from evangelical minister to Orthodox priest is not uncommon. Of the more than 250 parishes of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, some 60 percent are led by convert priests, most of whom are from evangelical backgrounds. And, according to Bradley Nassif, a professor at North Park University and the leading academic expert on Evangelical- Orthodox dialogue, the Antiochian Archdiocese has seen over 150 percent church growth in the last 20 years, approximately 75 percent of which is attributable to converts.

While it's unlikely that the Orthodox Church--which, according to the best estimate, has only 1.2 million American members--will ever pose any sort of existential threat to evangelical Christianity in the United States, it is significant nonetheless that a growing number of Southern Baptists and Presbyterians and Assemblies of God members have left the evangelical fold, turning to a religion that is not only not American, but not even Western. Their flight signals a growing dissatisfaction among some evangelicals with the state of their churches and their complicated relationship with the modern world."

At the First Baptist Church, the church's interior holding the minister, choir, and congregation is called "the sanctuary." Zengerle reveals either his own Evangelical background or limited knowledge of other traditions. I would be most surprised to hear the Orthodox refer to the part of the church in front of the iconostasis as "the sanctuary."

Thanks to Robin Moroney of the Wall Street Journal for the lead.

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