A Brief Apologetic for Orthodoxy in Light of Recent Negative Publicity

by Scott D. Hendricks

Quite recently Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Man, joined the Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday just a few weeks ago.

To be quite honest I had never heard of Hank before, but I was grateful to learn that someone else had found their home within Orthodoxy. I’m not one to put too much stock in the importance or publicity of well-renowned folks joining my religious group; much less would I tout any popular conversions as even good publicity – something which the past few weeks have proved to the contrary. Since his ‘conversion’ to the Orthodox Church, Hank Hanegraaff has been accused by folks online for “leaving the Christian faith,” and other such nonsense.

In particular, Ed Stetzer wrote a piece in Christianity Today commenting on the phenomenon of Evangelicals converting to Orthodoxy. And more recently in Pulpit and Pen, Jeff Maples made a poor attempt at polemicizing the Orthodox Church after he visited our Easter/Pascha service. I am not ambitious enough to here go line by line, point by point and mount a defense against these posts. However, I do want to say something in response, so I would like to offer the following points as humble observations:

  1. Hank Hanegraaff has himself said that he has not really changed or altered his faith in joining Orthodoxy. While it may be true that Orthodox Ecclesiology differs greatly from that of Evangelicalism, it is true that many Evangelicals join the Orthodox Church because they find it proclaiming the same faith that they themselves have believed, and that the ancient church has preached for 2,000 years. For many, it is described as a coming home precisely because faithful folks feel and believe they have arrived at the living, historical source of the faith they already have.
  2. I can sympathize with folks who think Orthodoxy to be a strange cult. For people who are used to white-washed walls and austere sanctuaries, Orthodoxy can be a striking contrast in worship style.But I would like to make a simple observation in this regard: The more austere, white-washed sanctuary is a product of the Protestant Reformation. We have archaeological evidence that ancient house churches and synagogues were covered with frescoes as early as the mid-third century. So what really is strange and new is Protestant worship (though not totally without connection to ancient worship, nor without merit), not ancient, liturgical Orthodox worship.
  3. The piece in Pulpit and Pen is really very sad. The author makes a long list of poor bullet points with unfounded accusations against the Orthodox Church. It seems clear to me that this person has no sense of a historical perspective, and is very myopic.
  4. For my fourth and last point I merely want to comment and elaborate on my first point: Orthodoxy is not a new religion, it is not an outdated religion. It is the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. It may be true that Orthodoxy has its own unique liturgical character, but that is to its own credit, not demerit. People joining Orthodoxy are looking for a theological, liturgical and ecclesiastical home, somewhere they can grow deeply in Christ, and become the best versions of themselves – selfless, God-centered creatures grounded in humility and pouring forth love. So it is really offensive, and quite sad, when people say things like “they have left the Christian faith.” Friends, the Christian faith is deep and wide, and it takes a lot of hard work to actually leave it. What I myself have found to be true is a timeless faith and a liturgical mystery whereby I encounter the living God, the burning coal from the altar, and wings by which my soul might fly upward to the Holy, Holy, Holy.