...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Communion vs Eucharist: Much ado about nothing?

The in-laws were out of town for a couple of days this weekend, so we had the house to ourselves for a little while - a very nice preview of what it will be like when we move into our apartment next month (we signed the lease last weekend)! We went out to dinner with them last night after they came home and, surprisingly, my father-in-law started asking questions about Orthodoxy. He's asked a few questions here and there, but that's mostly happened when I wasn't around. Specifically, he asked about their nominally Catholic neighbors who are looking around for a church of any stripe and whether or not they would hear the Gospel if they came to an Orthodox Church. I affirmed that they undoubtedly would, though the emphases would obviously be different. We talked about this pleasantly for a few minutes before the conversation moved to communion.

My father-in-law basically stated that he felt it was a tragedy how we, as humans, had made such a big deal over communion and turned it into a point of division instead of unity. He said something about how we've taken Jesus' words and, I guess, read into them or made them into something they're not - he wasn't real clear on this, so I'm not sure exactly what he was saying. In the interest of maintaining a pleasant dinner I didn't reply to his statements, but I couldn't help but see the inherently Protestant perspective deeply inherent in that kind of thinking. The Protestant, especially the evangelical, understanding of the Lord's Supper is minimalistic, paring the biblical witness down and ignoring the patristic witness almost entirely. It is "mere communion" in line with Lewis' understanding of mere Christianity; the essential points on which all Christian groups can agree. Mere Communion is like that, as the memorial view is a part of the Eucharist, thus it is a small point of commonality. So why can't we all just agree on that and leave those other issues aside? Why do we have to make such a big deal about it and turn those peripheral issues into points of contention? I'm starting to understand why, in fact, this is position is untenable and why the proper understanding of the Eucharist is actually part & parcel of historic Christianity. These Eucharistic variances are important because they point to, and spring from, key differences that cannot be brushed aside so casually.


Can you spot the heresy?

Chase has posted a link to a rather fatuous article attempting to explain why Orthodoxy has actually gotten the whole icon-thing completely wrong, is really Nestorian and has, ahem, an insufficient Christology.


Do we worship the same God?

Adam Cleveland over at Pomomusings posted about a dinner at Princeton. The dinner was hosted by the History Department, which invited Muslims to break their Ramadan fast with a group of Christians in order to sponsor understanding and "unity", apparently. The event included accompanying the Muslims to their evening prayers. It wasn't clear whether the Christian participants actually prayed with the Muslims at that time, but Adam asks this question: "What would happen if Christians and Muslims met together in fellowship, in community, in unity, praying to the same God, coming from the same tradition, from the same faith of Abraham?"

My $.02 - we're not praying to the same God and no matter what they claim, Muslims are not of the Abrahamic tradition. To accede that point, to suggest that they are legitimate heirs of Abraham is to deny historical reality and worse, it is essentially denying Jesus' unique, salvific and divine role. If this kind of thing represents Emergent thinking, to me, its yet another nail in its coffin.

Unauthorized acts

A story originally from the Washington Post, that exposes almost 300 violations of secret surveillance operations, improper searches and seizures, including emails by the FBI over a three year period. The number is certainly higher because the records obtained under FOIA are incomplete and heavily edited.

There are those on the left who would see the spectre of "Big Brother" in these findings, that the evil Bush administration is using law enforcement to crack-down on dissenting voices. Oh that wily President! I don't see that at all. What I do see is the rather unfortunate consequences of human nature; most of these are probably honest mistakes or a simple bit of overzealousness on the part of men & women trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability. They've been given the authority and the mandate and in their minds, it probably seems like a waste of time to appease the pointless bureaucracy. And what's worse, the delays or even denials that could result from all that paperwork could result in terrorists getting away or attacks being executed. So they push the boundaries a bit, they overstep, the cut a corner hoping the good end will outweigh these relatively minor improprieties.

The problem is that these seemingly trivial details are precisely what the Constitution was meant to protect! It was established to prevent these abuses, whether they are big or small is irrelevant. Even well-intentioned violations undermine the Constitutional rights of everyone, which is why we need 1) a more efficent system so agents don't feel like they're fighting uphill against bureaucratic resistance and 2) much better oversight with real consequences to disincentivize this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, I have little doubt that this will not happen.



My mom called last night and told me that my dog Lady, a Char Pei with personality I got when I was 14, is on the verge of death. She has been going downhill for a while now; she's lost a lot of weight, her appetite has decreased and while she stille enjoys going for a walk, doing so has become exhausting for her. A couple of days ago she stopped eating almost entirely, has been vomiting a bit and has a hacking cough. It may be time to put her down. She's had a good run for a Char Pei, though - the normal lifespan is 9-10 years, so she's done much better than expected. I won't get too mushy. I'll simply say she was my dog and I love her. She was a good dog. She didn't do much in the way of tricks, but she was loving and very protective of our family. My mom would sometimes take her and the other dog up a field near our house and Lady would always position herself between my mom and anyone else who was there, making it perfectly clear that they were in for a wrinkly death should they get too close. When I was young, she would sleep on my bed at night and learned to head to my room when I'd say "go to bed." If I happened to be staying up late, around bed time she'd get up, walk halfway down the hall and look back at me as if to say "forgetting something?" She'll forever be the standard for any other dog in my life, though I doubt any will ever measure up.


The Untrodden Portal - II

In light of the Reformation, one of the central questions of Christianity is predestination - do we have any say in our salvation? Where does our own will factor in? In a similar vein, what will did Mary have? Did she have a choice in becoming the Theotokos? Yes: "The mystery [of Mary and the Incarnation] could not have existed as a divine plan without her free disposition and consent...Mary was 'full of grace,' the grace of the Holy Spirit, a condition that began even from her mother's womb. But this is not to say that she was born without free will, or that an enormous tide of grace overwhelmed her and made her powerless to resist this unique calling by God." In this, Mary typifies Orthodoxy's rejection of Calvinistic predestination. Gabriel quotes Theodoret of Cyrus' Commentary on Romans: "Let no one say that God's foreknowledge is the cause of men's acceptance of the calling to salvation. His foreknowing them does not cause them to become what they sall be. From afar [outside of time], He has seen beforehand the things that are to be."

Thus Mary's freely-chosen Incarnational "yes" becomes the prototype of our own freely-chosen salvific yes. As Mary responded to God in accepting his desire for her, so we too can respond to God in accepting his desire for us. Those desires, while driven by the same love, obviously mean different things in each of our lives - God has something different in store for each of us and though our role will never match that of the Virgin's, we can rest assured that we all have our part. In his discussion on this, I think Gabriel is starting to point to the prototypical role that Mary plays in Orthodox Christian thought. Much of the Church's thinking about humanity is reflected in its consideration of Mary - her responses, her qualities, her characteristics, her faith - all show us what our ideal responses, qualities, etc, should be. She is the ideal human, though not because of her own merit or her own work. She is the ideal because she has completely submitted to God as Adam & Eve should have, as all of humanity was designed to do, and through that submission she was transformed by God. God's activity in her is the only reason for her veneration.

Some of that last paragraph is not any argument presented by Gabriel, at least not in what I've read so far, but is the amalgamation of my other reading and consideration of Mary in light of the Liturgy & Orthopraxis. If I have come to any incorrect conclusions, I would ask that any Orthodox reading this offer their correction as I want to be as clear in my thinking as I can be. Which, as an aside, is why Gabriel's book is somewhat disappointing - overall the writing is not very clear. The sentences are lengthy and frequently contain too many clauses. Its almost as if the work is a translation.

From this point, Gabriel begins to present things that, to put it lightly, I find highly troubling, so I'm hoping for some help or clarification from my readers. Gabriel says:

"From her earliest years, she gave herself to God as no other man or woman was able to do. And she was chosen as no other was chosen by God's omniscience. She left her parent's house at the age of three to dwell in the temple's holy of holies in order to be nurtured by the angels and made into the living temple of God."

The only source Gabriel provides for this rather astonishing claim are 2 hymns; one from the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos and another from Great Vespers. I realize the High Priest only entered the Holy of Holies once a year, but I would have to think he would have spotted a young girl camped out in there when he did. I realize that this may not be a doctrine, perhaps just a pious belief, but I still find it very unsettling, particularly the lack of attributable source. I can work with the lack of discussion about Mary in the early church for the reasons presented in my previous post, but this seems to be going far beyond that.


Why Cuba?

I saw an item over on CS Monitor on some mild diplomatic row over whether the US is "sanctioning" or "blockading" Cuba. I'm sure I'm displaying some of my own ignorance in even asking this, but why are we still doing this? I mean, during the Cold War, yeah, lets go ahead and prevent an island 90 miles off our shores from being used as a nuclear weapons site of our biggest enemy - this makes sense. But why are we still doing it? The country is practically a 3rd world nation and while I would agree that Castro is a bit of a head-case, don't we have the means & intelligence gathering technology to prevent Cuba from ever becoming a threat again? Do we really have to maintain the majority of that nation in poverty for own security today? Yes, Cuba has a horrible human rights record, but so do Pakistan and China, 2 nations we seem to have normal relations with - why are we still picking on Cuba?


Frosh Spirituality

An article from the CS Monitor on a study of religious & spiritual beliefs among 100,000 college freshmen. Not too much meat to the article, really, but here are the relevant statistics:

• "Religious commitment" (following religious teachings in everyday life and gaining strength by trusting in a higher power): Forty-seven percent of African-Americans scored high on this scale, compared with 25 percent of whites, 23 percent of Latinos, and 22 percent of Asian Americans.

• "Spiritual quest" (interest in finding answers to the mysteries of life and developing a meaningful philosophy of life): African-Americans scored the highest on this (36 percent), with other groups ranging from 23 to 34 percent.

• "Ethic of caring" (commitment to helping others in difficulty and making the world a better place): Twenty-five percent of African-Americans scored high, versus 13 percent of students overall.

These issues are clearly breaking along racial/ethnic lines and the researchers also saw a significant difference between males & females - 30% of women vs 21% of men for "religious commitment" and 20% vs 10% on "ethic of caring."

Less than 30% of college freshmen have any committment to religious teaching which, of course, tends to be moral in nature, which is probably why the "ethic of caring" scores were so low. The question in my mind, given my recent stint as a youth pastor, is what the hell is the church doing wrong? We're obviously failing and failing badly - why?


Another reason for being slow...

Actually, there is another reason things have been a little slow lately - I've been engaging in a couple of different debates. One with Chase and another with Jeff, though the latter has kind of moved on. Chase suggested that the early church was sola scriptura, but I think his argument on this point was quite muddled. The debate has moved from that item onto wider issues of authority, particularly as it concerns the canon. And more importantly, I found an occasion to use the phrase "hoist by your own petard" - my senior English teacher would be beaming. That goes out to you, Mrs. Thiebert, wherever you are.


Things have slowed down here a bit over the last couple of weeks - that was mainly owing to my finally finding gainful employment and getting used to that schedule. Unfortunately, things are going to remain slow here at least this next week as well; I've got a psych midterm and a rather large anatomy test over chapters I haven't even touched yet. I may also have to write a rough draft of a communications paper. I'm also supposed to start working 3rd shift on Monday night, but was offered the chance to switch to 1st shift if I wanted it - I need to decide today and call work to let them know. If I stick with 3rd, which is what I agreed to when hired, I'll have the added bonus of trying to adapt my sleep schedule. If I'm able to post anything, it will likely be numb, mindless drivel, so don't expect too much out of me. Definitely come back in a couple of weeks - things should be less hairy by then.


Mary: The Untrodden Portal - Intro & Ch 1

I have been working on this post for a few days now and I never seem to find the time or clarity to get it all out. So I'm just going to post what I've got on the book so far, and then a couple of paragraphs on some insights I've gained over the last week as I've read this book and thought about the Theotokos.

Since the veneration of the Theotokos and the saints is one of the biggest hurdles for me and my wife on our current exploration of Orthodoxy, I decided to undertake a more complete study of the matter. In a previous post, Perry Robinson suggested George Gabriel's Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God, which I was fortunate enough to find in my church's library. I'm doing my best to work through it in the midst of a new job and a significant class load, so my blogging on it may be a bit intermittent.

In his introduction, Gabriel says "the single theme underlying this study is the indivisible oneness of the doctrine and veneration of the Mother of God with the single theology and biblical methodology of the Ancient Church and the holy fathers." He denies certain Catholic claims about Mary, stating "apart from [purification of the heart, enlightenment and theosis] Mary could not have become the Mother of God. Apart from this process there is no revelation, no theology." So Mary is human, just like you and me. In some respects, there is nothing special about her - the path of her theosis is the same one that we may pursue, though one could say she was the first to truly walk it. She is not saved apart from the salvific act of Christ and she is not honored apart from her connection to Christ. The respect and honor given to her have everything to do with the nature of God and the person of Christ and is not some misguided Mariolatry, or so the Orthodox position states.

One of the most oft-repeated arguments against the veneration Mary is that the Bible seems to relegate her to a rather minor role. Once her part in the conceiving, birthing and raising of Christ is complete (not a small part anyway you slice it), she is infrequently mentioned and not given a prominent place when she does pop up. Basically, after the first few chapters of the Gospels are over, she essentially fades into the background and is certainly not addressed with any of the honor of modern devotions. So how can the Orhtodox Church justify her veneration? How can it legitimately call her "Queen Mother", "Mother of Life" or "All-Holy One"? Gabriel responds with this quotation from St Basil the Great:

There are a great many things that are not written in the Scriptures with the same words but are proclaimed in the fathers and are of equal weight as the Scriptures. Indeed, the Son's being of the same essence with the Father, for example, is not found in the divinely inspired Scriptures; it was made clear later by the fathers, and likewise that the Holy Spirit is God, and that the Kyriotokos is Theotokos. There are other things also, and it takes a long time to enumerate them. If they were not professed, however, our true worship would be disavowed.

Thus, the true promincence of Mary may have been a hidden reality of the worship & praxis of the earliest Christians, which is a legitimate possibility. We don't really have a lot of detailed information about this area of the early church, particularly in the first century. Really, we don't start to see expositions of theology until the 2nd century; most earlier writings are far more pastoral or exhortational in nature. Detailed accounts of the how & why of worship don't come until later, for 2 primary reasons. The first was not to dishonor the gifts of worship given to us by the Lord by exposing them to outsiders. And the second was more protective; taking the writings of Celsus as an example, it is clear that the pagan public misunderstood the language of the Eucharist for some cannibalistic feast. This kind of misunderstanding only led to even more persecution. Given the secretiveness and exclusiveness of the early church (a 3 year catechumenate before joining, catechumens getting kicked out of the church prior to the celebration of the Eucharist during the Liturgy), it is a definite possibility that descriptions of Mary's role in the faith & praxis of the church may not have been clearly enumerated.

I am sure that there are those who find this argument unconvincing, that somehow the veneration of Mary is buried in a secret tradition that only later found full or public expression. I think Basil's argument is a powerful one, though. If we accept the Nicene formulation of the Trinity as a legitimate Apostolic teaching, by what right do we deny the Church's understanding of Mary, which has a similar pedigree? Regardless of whether or not the Apostles ever used the word homoousion, we accept that it accurately expresses their understanding of the Godhead. How do we know that the Church's understanding of and devotion to the Virgin is not similarly guided by the Apostolic example & teaching? Gabriel only touches on this briefly in the first chapter, but I'm hoping he'll explore it in greater depth later on.


Many Protestant understandings of the Bible hold that Mary had children after Jesus. She and Joseph went about the natural activity of married life and she produced an unknown number of little brothers and sisters for Jesus. From a certain point of view, then, Mary did little more than get pimped by God. I realize the vast, vast majority of Protestants would never use language anywhere near this, but if she isn't anything special and there were a bevy of other young girls with the right pedigree waiting as back-ups, then her interaction with God is purely transactional. He promises some spiritual rewards and some notoriety among future generations, she leases out space in her womb and agrees to provide some other care-taker duties as needed. It cheapens the whole thing.

Anyone setting foot on Mt Zion was to be stoned because it was God's holy mountain. The Holy of Holies was off limits all but one day out of the year and then only to a single person who was surely on the verge of soiling himself as he entered it. And yet we're to believe that Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior, whose womb is the holy place where the Incarnation occurred and who, in fact, was home to the Lord in a way far deeper than the Holy of Holies, was available for another? Once God was done with her, she was somehow cast aside and rendered common, profane? Every other example we have in OT shows God's exclusive demands for his holy places, but this somehow stops with her? What?!

Of any of Jesus' followers, Mary was present at more of the significant events in His life and ministry than anyone, including the Apostles. She was, in fact, chosen well before the Apostles. She was indwelt by God before the Apostles. She stayed with Christ at the cross. She was among the women who found the empty tomb. And yet we elevate the Apostles far, far above her? We show them great amounts of respect and relegate her to the dustbin? How can that be? And does it make sense to assume that the Apostles would have casually cast her aside, that they wouldn't have shown her tremendous respect and devotion for the role she played in their, and the world's, salvation?


Study & lunch

On Thursday night, the wife and I attended a Bible study sponsored by St Nick's. It was a good sized group of people mostly our age and mostly made up of converts - some recent and some not-so-recent. There is at least one couple that are cradle Orthodox and he is actually a doctor who has patients on my floor. A very nice man, he came up and talked to me on Friday - a senior doctor talking to a lowly nurses aide...I guess you have to have been in the military to understand how odd that kind of fraternization can feel.

The study was on Colossians 2 and it was surprisingly good. I had always wondered what an Orthodox Bible study would look like; I mean the Church kind of has a definitive understanding of things, so I kept picturing something rather more like a lecture. I was way off. Well led, good questions on meaning & application, personal reflection, etc. I will say it wasn't as personal as some Protestant studies I've been too - not a lot of talk about personal issues, struggles, doubts, etc. And that not in a bad way, since as I said, the study was quite good. I think its just a difference in emphasis, with that kind of thing being reserved for your spiritual father/confessor rather than a group of (semi)strangers. It was markedly different in that the leader delved into some key nuances of the original Greek text and there was, of course, a strong emphasis on the historical context that St Paul was writing from. There were a few things that made my wife uncomfortable, and myself less so. They mainly had to do with attitudes towards Protestantism or caricatures of some positions. We talked about it and I think we've come to the conclusion that, while her church growing up wasn't perfect, it was probably a bit of an exception and definitely different from my experience. (The negative attitudes of a few of the people got a lot clearer on Sunday - more in a moment.) We met a few new people, had some good conversations and were invited to lunch on Sunday after the Liturgy.

My experience of the Liturgy on Sunday morning was good - peaceful and focused. Last weekend I had trouble staying on track, so it was good to be back to normal. We had an inquirer's class shortly after Liturgy, which was only attended by us and one other couple. They were probably in their late 40's and said they had been involved in church planting in their evangelical denomination. I guess we all have our own reasons for being drawn to Orthodoxy and I'm hoping to hear more of theirs in future classes. Afterwards, we headed out to the restaurant and were treated to lunch - it was us, 2 other couples and a bevy of their respecive kids. We talked about a variety of things but all ended up sharing a bit of our lifestories; sort of a 'where we're coming from' kind of thing. Both of the guys had come out of a Reformed background. One had come to faith later in life, while the other had been raised in the church since childhood and had gone through the typical periods of rebellion. The latter had been all over the ecclesial map - Methodist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Lutheran (but was in a Reformed church the most) - and had been badly burned in each setting. He was ostracized at a Christian college here in Ft Wayne and those judgmental souls somehow managed to follow him to a couple of different local churches and sour a couple of romantic relationships. He became Orthodox about a year ago. The other guy had similarly hit some serious bumps in the road in his faith while Reformed in his thinking and wound up avoiding church for a good long while. These are the reasons for the negative attitudes towards Protestantism I mentioned above.

Neither really intended to become Orthodox - the first couple was church shopping and decided "what the heck?" and the other was invited by the doctor I mentioned above. They were all blown away by Orthodoxy and, obviously, eventually joined. What is apparently the typical fashion of most couple-converts, the wives took a little longer to warm up to the idea than the men - which is what the wife and I are experiencing right now. I'm definitely closer to diving in, while she is still dipping her toe in the water. And that's fine with me. I can be a bit impetuous at times, so her steadiness in things is a great brake for me to make sure I've really thought & prayed about something before committing. We complement each other very well in that respect.

It was nice to meet some people our own age and I really felt like they were genuinely interested in us as people, and not just potential converts. They were focused on it, though, but not in a creepy way. I've experienced that before. No offense to any Mormon readers, but I had more than a few Mormons stop talking to me after I expressed sincere doubt in their position. No, these guys were more like people excited about something huge in their life and wanting to talk about it, to share it and to get others in on it. I think there is some good potential for real friendships - something I haven't experienced in several years.


Why Orthodoxy? Part III

[I've moved this up to the top due to the interesting discussion in the comments.]

Initially, as I discussed previously, my interest in Orthodoxy sprang from a frustration with the hollowness of the worship I experienced at church and the weak teaching. It also came from the gradual dissolution of friendships that had cemented me to my church regardless of its failings. Once those bonds faded, the restlessness I was experiencing was able to push me forwad to look for something else, something more.

I was a religious studies major at a state university and one of my classes was "Formation of the Christian Tradition." It was a fascinating class for someone who had never looked into the history of his faith. The teacher was dynamic, friendly and a member of the Jesus Seminar. He was challenging, but not atagonistic and his lectures frequently left a fair portion of the class (mostly evangelicals or devout Catholics) sputteringly mad. I enjoyed the class as a kind of mental joust, pushing myself to counter his arguments as best I could. I adamantly refused to just learn it, regurgitate it on the test and then forget it as happens with so many classes. From this class, I had gained the perspective that much of modern, Protestant Christianity is actually a significant departure from the faith & practice of the early church. At the time, I did not see the questions this should have produced. As I began to explore Orthodoxy, however, the tensions this reality creates started coming to the fore.

What is the significance of this departure from the historic form of Christianity?

It is entirely possible to answer this with "nothing." It is possible that the early church's form & praxis were merely the results of convention, culture and pragmatism and have no significance for our forms & praxis which are, similarly, the results of a different set of convention, culture and pragmatism. However, this answer glosses over some very important matters. First, the early church, and by that I typically mean the church of the first 2 centuries, saw neither its theology nor its ecclesiology as arbitrary. An exploration of the role of the bishop will serve as an example. St Ignatius, in his epistle to the Ephesians:

St IgnatiusHence it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted to the bishop, as the strings to a harp. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.


The bishop then we ought plainly to regard as the Lord Himself.

There are 2 typical Protestant responses to this. One is that this is the result of an error that crept in to the church. The other, that this view represents only that of St Ignatius' community. Other local church communities did not hold similar views of the bishop. The former raises some difficult problems that I will address shortly, while the latter is demonstrably false.

From the 1st Epistle of Clement, ch 42:

St ClementThe Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.

From Clement we see the orderly appointment flow of authority. God sent Christ, Christ sent the Apostles, the Apostles appointed their bishops. The bishops represent, and derive their authority from, the Apostles. The Apostles represent, and derive their authority from, Christ. While the language does not match precisely, the deep similiarity is readily apparent.

I believe this brief exploration shows that the early church did not regard its form as arbitrary responses dictated by culture and their immediate needs. Indeed, how could this be the case if the bishop is representative of Christ and the office was foretold in scripture? This leaves modern Protestants with the duty of presenting a compelling case as to why it is permissible to abandon these forms and I have yet to see any such thing. (Though I'd definitely be interested in hearing one.) Which brings me back to the charge of error.

What other questions and problems does the view that error crept into the church prior to the close of the 1st century raise?

In my mind, this view is untenable for orthodox Christianity for several reasons, but let me start by quoting Jaroslav Pelikan:

For the doctrine of the Trinity was not as such a teaching of the New Testament, but it emerged from the life and worship, the reflection and controversy, of the church as, in the judgment of Christian orthodoxy, the only way the church could be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament. It did so after centuries of study and speculation, during which many solutions to the dilemma of the Three and the One had surfaced, each with some passage or theme of Scripture to commend it. The final normative formulation of the dogma of the Trinity by the first ecumenical council of the church, held at Nicaea in 325, took as its basic outline the biblical outline of the so-called great commission of Christ to the disciples just before his ascension. . . But into the framework of that New Testament formula the Nicene Creed had packed many other biblical motifs, as well as the portentous and non-biblical technical term for which it became known. . . . “one in being with the Father [homoousios toi patri].”...If the Protestant churches acknowledged the validity of the development of doctrine when it moved from the great commission of the Gospel of Matthew to produce the Nicene Creed, as all of the mainline Protestant churches did and do, on what grounds could they reject development as it had moved from other lapidary passages of the Bible to lead to other doctrines? (emphasis mine - read the entire passage here)

Though definitions vary, I believe orthodox Christianity would likely coincide with what CS Lewis called "mere Christianity." To me, this is Trinitarian, holds scripture to be inspired & authoritative and exclusivist in terms of salvation. This is not meant to be a precise definition, but from it, one can produce some useful analyses - Mormons aren't Christian because they aren't Trinitarian and don't hold to the authority of the Bible; various forms of universalism aren't Christian because they aren't exclusivist - you get my drift. Evangelical Christianity is orthodox by this definition and can only remain in some degree of continuity with the church established by Christ in the New Testament as long as it stays this way. However, it is clear that modern Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, does not match the form & belief of the early church. It is not hierarchical (as I explored above) and it positively rejects liturgy, sacrament and the authority of Apostolic tradition. As I said before, some dismiss these differences as meaningless, but I hope I have shown that this really is not possible. Or, at the very least, requires a great deal of justification and explanation. Others, however, dismiss these forms of the early church as error. Some would go so far as to say they were errors introduced by the devil, others only that they were wrong but not evil. There seems to be a tacit assumption amont most evangelical and conservative Christians that the church went seriously astray at some point and was only recovered at the Reformation. I don't think there is a universally agreed upon date for the church's falling away, but in my experience, it would appear most don't think the church survived past the end of the 2nd century. Some go later, some much earlier, but that is the average as I've encountered it. And however it is dated, most seem to assume the church started stumbling badly long before finally hitting the ground. But if this is the case, modern Christians are left with 2 glaring problems; the doctrine of the Trinity and the canon.