Eastern Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism

The famous Gerald R. McDermott, known for his recent dialogue with LDS, writes in The Baker Pocket Guide to World Religions:  What Every Christian Needs to Know  (Baker Books, 2008 ):

Eastern Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism

Until recently Christianity has been said to be divided into three main groups–Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.  But in the last two decades, with the explosive rise of Pentecostal Christianity in China and the Global South, Pentecostalism is becoming a fourth main branch of the worldwide church.

The Eastern Orthodox comprise 220 million believers in Russia, Serbia, Greece, Poland, Georgia, and other areas of Eastern Europe, under “patriarchs” of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  They reject the authority of the Pope at Rome, look to the seven “ecumenical” councils (from AD 375 to 787) and Greek church fathers for teaching, reject the Roman filioque in the Nicene Creed (the Spirit proceeded “also from the Son,” as well as from the Father), have married priests but only celibate bishops, and revere icons.  Icons are paintings of Christ, his apostles, and the saints that are painted by artisans trained both spiritually and artistically, and are regarded by Orthodox as “windows into the divine.”

Pentecostalism represents the fastest growing religious group in the world at six hundred million believers.  It is the largest variety of Christianity in China and may comprise the world’s largest national church (eighty to one hundred million).  It is so named because of its use of the “Pentecostal gifts” described in I Corinthians 12-14 and the book of Acts:  tongues, prophecy, discerning of spirits, healing, and others (95).

Tell me what you think about this brief summary, Greg.

And let me tell you what I think about this:

Evangelicals versus Fundamentalists

. . . While both groups preach salvation by grace,  fundamentalists tend to focus so much on rules and restrictions (dos and don’ts) that their hearers can get the impression that Christianity means following behavioral rules.  Evangelicals, on the other hand, focus on the person and work of Christ and personal relationship with him, as the heart of Christian faith (102).

I think that closing summary statement is sloppy broad brushing.  Let me put forward a sincere, earnest question to Gerald:  “Which American evangelicals and which fundamentalists are you listening to in 2009 to make this generalization?”

(*Two sidenotes: (1) No mention of Mormonism within this small book (2) Interesting definition of Neoplatonism on page 142 in the glossary)


  1. As far as the Byzantine Orthodox (Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Antiochians, etc.) go, this is fair enough as far as it goes. There are also the “Oriental Orthodox” (Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians, Indians) who accept only three Councils as being fully Ecumenical (universal: binding on the whole Church), those of Nicea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), and Ephesus (AD 431). The OO reject Chalcedon (451) outright, but are not “monophysite”, believing and teaching that Christ is indeed both truly and fully human and truly and fully God, united in one Divine Person “without change, without confusion, without separation, without division”: the disagreement has to do with the fact that Chalcedon defines the humanity and the deity of Christ in terms of “nature” (“physis”) instead of “essence” (“ousia”) and because of the definite nestorianizing of the Tome of Leo, the acceptance of which at Chalcedon also went a long way toward launching the Roman Church on the trajectory that led to the decrees of the RC First Vatican Council, which defined papal infallibility and the alleged ordinary universal jurisdiction of the papacy. The OO also venerate ikons and therefore embrace the teaching of the last of the seven councils, Nicea II (787), in this regard, without holding it to be fully ecumenical. The decrees of the Second Council of Constantinople (553) are seen as positive, in moving away from Chalcedon in re-affirming the singleness of Christ’s (Divine) Person; however, this synod too is not held by the OO to be fully ecumenical. It is this latter Oriental Orthodox tradition out of which my Church comes: unlike the mainstream Orthodox Churches of either type, we do allow married bishops, and, in general, we do not think that the “errors” of either the Byzantines or the Romans sink to the level of outright heresy.

    One other thing needs to be mentioned: for either branch of Orthodoxy, the primary vocation of the Church is worship; hence, the community is understood to be most fully realized as Church, the Body of Christ, when it is assembled in the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist.

    Wow! The summary concerning Pentecostalism is painted with a pretty broad brush too. No mention of Trinitarians vs. non-trinitarians, or of the so-called “prosperity gospel”. No mention of the “latter rain” folks. Also no mention of charismatic renewal within mainstream Western churches.

    Also, regarding Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism: here is what Greek Bishop Kallistos Ware writes in “The Orthodox Church”:

    “But the Church is not only hierarchical, it is charismatic and Pentecostal. “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thes. 5:19-20). The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all God’s people. There is a special ordained ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons; yet at the same time the whole people of God are prophets and priests. In the Apostolic Church, besides the institutional ministry conferred by the laying on of hands, there were other charismata or gifts conferred directly by the Spirit: Paul mentions ‘gifts of healing,’ the working of miracles, “speaking with tongues,” and the like (1 Cor. 12:28-30). In the Church of later days, these charismatic ministries have been less in evidence, but they have never been wholly extinguished. One thinks, for example, of the ministry of ‘eldership,’ so prominent in nineteenth-century Russia; this is not imparted by a special act of ordination, but can be exercised by the layman as well as by priest or bishop. Seraphim of Sarov and the startsi [“elders”] of Optino exercised an influence far greater than any hierarch.

    “This ‘spiritual,’ non-institutional aspect of the Church’s life has been particularly emphasized by certain recent theologians in the Russian emigration; but it is also stressed by Byzantine writers, most notably Symeon the New Theologian.”

  2. BJM, the first quote in the post is for Greg. I am thinking of connections between Orthodox and Pentecostal on the Spirit, especially in light of the filioque debate. It is interesting how Gerald puts these two groups together in a sidebar in his book on page 95. And in regards to the biblical text that I am studying, I think John 14, John 15, John 16, etc. are a central vortex in the discussion.

    The second quote is not connected with the first quote. And I am troubled as you can see by the lack of distinctions Gerald reveals toward the various streams of biblical fundamentalism. The way he puts it in the summary: as a fundamentalist, I am just a moralist concerned only about externals.

    Does he read any fundamentalist blogs? (laughing)

    Greg, thanks for the info. That is helpful.

  3. It is interesting that he puts them together. I consider myself more Pentecostal than anything else, but of the three big authority churches (LDS, Catholic, Greek Orthodox) I’ve always liked the Greek Orthodox best. Not enough to convert though, obviously.

    I’ve never thought of Pentecostalism as a new strain of Christianity apart from Catholicism, E. Orthodox and Protestantism. That’s going to screw up my quest for Christian self identity even further.

    I haven’t done enough reading on the filioque debate to understand the significance of it. My uninformed view right now feels like it’s a lot of fuss about nothing.

  4. Todd: while you may so self-identify, I don’t consider you a Fundamentalist. You are not, for example, a Bob Jones or a John R. Rice. While you may prefer the KJV, you do not insist that it alone is the Word of God in English. You are not, as far as I can tell, a rigid dispensationalist, and certainly not a hyper-dispensationalist.

    In my view, “Fundamentalism” is, first, an historical phenomenon of the early twentieth century which over time split and morphed in various directions, some more “fundamentalist” than others, including those mentioned above, as well as neo-Evangelicalism, and also recombining with other influences such as the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism.

    More broadly, I see “fundamentalism” as a construct which is not confined to Protestanism, or even Christianity, in which “words” (such as those of the KJV, for example or, in the case of certain Roman Catholics, those of the old Latin Mass) are confused with The Word.

    Bridget: Many of us, coming out of a Western mindset, initially felt that way until we started looking into the matter more deeply. I will grant that it is not the most important question around, but given the state of Western Christianity in general, it is significant.

  5. Greg, I would do battle royal for the fundamentals of the Christian faith. And may it be in love.

    Sadly, my active fellowship and service with some of the wider stream of “American evangelicalism” is impaired due to the indifference or disobedience toward the nature and work of the Holy Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit.

  6. Todd, I understand that you embrace “the fundamentals” as you understand them, and I applaud you for that. I also empathize with your ambivalence towards mainstream evangelicalism. However, I see a distinction between embracing the fundamentals and being a fundamentalist. To paraphrase the late J. Pelikan. who spoke concerning tradition and traditionalism: the fundamentals are the living faith of the dead, while fundamentalism is the dead faith of the living.

  7. I have heard that provocative quote before.

    Yes, I wouldn’t die for the movements of men. But I would, by God’s grace, die for the big ideas, the core fundamentals of the faith delivered to the Saints.

  8. Sir, praise the lord
    I am a church Evangelist I am looking for some supportes who willingly support our cause to carry on our visin among North Indians . I am a Hindu Convert who accepted Christ as saviour in the year 1995 and I am working among Punjabi Hindus. I have a vision to start a new ministry registered with the Government rules. I am looking for someone to help me to carry it in and pls pray for me,and help me..
    With much love
    your’s in Christ
    Darpen masih

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