Church, Tradition or Christ? :: by Dave Hunt

In a recent newspaper column, citing shocking statistics from Thomas C. Reeves’ The Empty Church, William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote, “Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians lose nearly half their young people….[A]t Harvard…the basic presumption is that Western religion is not good, and Christianity the worst. The new slur – like being homophobic – is being Christo-centric….At Princeton, the Episcopal chaplain [says]…he is not in the business of dispensing dogmatic answers…[but] to help students out of their parents’ faith and into their own.”

In 1992, 12% of Americans claimed to be evangelical. That dropped to 9% in 1993, and to 7% in 1994. The polls don’t confirm the great last-days revival touted on TBN but that today’s boasted “church growth” is largely a myth; 70-80% comes from transfers between churches. Absolute truth is rejected by 71% of Americans, 64% of “born-agains,” and 40% of “evangelicals.” Most Presbyterians and Methodists and 88% of Roman Catholics active in their churches believe one enters heaven by being good enough. And 30% of “born-agains” deny the physical resurrection of Christ!

Clearly those who make up these statistics know neither God nor His Word. They have religion but not Christ. Multitudes baptized into “Christianity” as infants do not personally know Him whom to know is life eternal (Jn 17:3; 1Jn 5:20). Loyalty to denomination substitutes for Christ. For example, Christian News, a Lutheran newspaper, offers some excellent articles, but its orientation is more often Lutheran than biblical. The standard is “true Lutheranism” rather than Christ. So it is with many other denominations.

No where is this sectarian spirit so evident as in Roman Catholicism and Eastern (Greek, Russian, etc.) Orthodoxy. Salvation is in the Church and its sacraments instead of in Christ. There is no approach to God or forgiveness of sins except through the priesthood. The Pope complains of the mass exodus from “the Church” into “Protestant sects” of those who have come to personal faith in Christ. Karl Keating’s Catholic Answers is the largest unofficial Catholic organization defending Roman Catholicism. Its mission is to entice non-Catholics into “becoming Catholic” and lapsed Catholics into “coming home to the Church.” He boasts, “We’ve brought countless people into the Church.”

There is nothing about bringing anyone to Christ, a concept unknown to Catholics, for whom Roman Catholicism is “the faith” to be defended. An ad for New Oxford Review in Our Sunday Visitor warns, “Catholicism in America could go down the tubes too if authentic Catholics don’t stand up for the Faith.”1 A Catholic leader states with great conviction, “Our ancestors brought Catholicism to this country. It is our job to bring this country to Catholicism.”2

So it is with the “Catholic Campaign for America,” founded by former Education Secretary William Bennett (now the darling of evangelicals) and Mary Ellen Bork, wife of former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Its stated purpose is “to increase Catholic [not Christian] influence on public policy issues.”3 There is nothing in its literature about bringing anyone into a saving relationship with Christ, but only into the Roman Catholic Church. Its board of directors includes leading industrialists and politicians of wealth and power “committed to advancing Catholic influence in public policy matters” in order to turn America back to “the Church.” Mrs. Bork’s letter of appeal for membership states, “Our mission is to…increase the Catholic electorate’s influence…[and to] defend the [Catholic] Church….[in] loyal[ty] to the Holy Father and Magisterium….”

Eastern Orthodoxy is the close twin of Catholicism. Richard John Neuhaus, Lutheran pastor turned Catholic priest and chief architect (with Charles Colson) of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT), declares, “The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are in essential agreement on doctrine, ministerial order and the sacraments.”4 Geoff Thomas, in the British paper, The Evangelical Times, agrees that the Orthodox Church’s “central beliefs are virtually identical to those of Roman Catholicism except that it rejects papal infallibility. Its priests may marry but its bishops are chosen from the ranks of the celibate.”

Orthodoxy and Catholicism trust in the same unbiblical, perpetually virgin and all-powerful Mary. For example, Traditions about the Earthly Life of the Most Holy Mother of God, published by a Russian Orthodox monastery in 1903, has a sinless Mary from age three serving for 14 years in the Holy of Holies in the temple (pp 55-56), fed by an angel (p 58) and giving birth to Jesus at age 15 (p 199). This “Queen of Heaven” inspired the Gospels and Epistles but was too humble to take credit. The first icon of Mary appeared miraculously in a temple in Lyddia which Peter and John had built in her honor (p 173). Christ’s descent in beams of heavenly light with patriarchs and prophets to take His mother to heaven is also told (p 188).

A friend born and raised as an atheist in Moscow, Russia, received Christ in her twenties a few years ago. Her elderly grandmother, a devout Russian Orthodox “Christian” all of her life, wept because she couldn’t understand “why God let that boy be crucified!” In the Orthodox Church for 81 years, she knew by heart every ritual and the order in which to kiss the icons and light the candles-but she had no idea that “that boy” had died for her sins on the Cross. Orthodoxy had so blinded her that she couldn’t understand when her granddaughter gave her the gospel!

The very heart of Eastern Orthodoxy is the call to become gods through Church ritual and good works. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity (Baker Books, 1994), Daniel B. Clendenin explains that in Orthodox theology “Deification…is the ultimate purpose of God’s creation.” He quotes Orthodox saints to the effect that we “become god through union with God by faith” (p 135). “The ‘science of stillness,’ contemplation, and the interiorization of prayer through constant invocation of the name of Jesus are also of chief importance” (p 136). We must also “participate faithfully in the sacraments… keeping the commandments of God is indispensable: ‘In the end they make a man god….'” (p 137).

Deification is a lengthy process in which the Church and its priesthood are absolutely essential. Salvation by grace through faith is vigorously opposed. Eastern Orthodox Theology, A Contemporary Reader, edited by Daniel B. Clendenin (Baker Books, 1995), explains Orthodox theology with chapters by a number of leading Orthodox scholars. Yet the index contains no listing for gospel, redemption, saved, salvation, etc.

Christoforos Stavropoulos, leading Greek Orthodox scholar, explains (p 184), “In the Holy Scriptures…we read of a unique call directed to us…: ‘You are gods…all of you’ (Ps 82:6; Jn 10:34)….As human beings we each have this one unique calling, to achieve theosis…to become a god, to be like God Himself….” Such was Lucifer’s ambition: “I will be like the most High” (Isa 14:14)!

Psalms 82:6 is not a call to become gods but a declaration that men already were gods through Adam’s rebellion (“the man has become as one of us” – Gn 3:22), which caused the expulsion from the Garden (vv 23-24). There is only one true God; all gods are false. God declares, ‘The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth [no man-god created the universe], even they shall perish from the earth…” (Jer 10:11). Yet Kenneth Copeland and Paul Crouch (like Shirley MacLaine) insist on TBN that they are indeed gods!

Similarly, in his celebrated book, Crossing The Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1994), Pope John Paul II explains that “salvation and divinization” are the “ultimate purpose” of man’s life. “The divinization of man comes from God” (p l95). Likewise, the new universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting St. Athanasius and St. Thomas Aquinas, declares, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God….The only begotten Son of God…assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (par 460).

Seventy-five percent of Russians claim to be Orthodox, yet 63% are atheists.5 In Tsarist times the Russian Orthodox Church was the official state church and its consent was required for any law to be passed. Russian Christian Radio (P.O. Box 1667, Estes Park, CO 80517) comments:

“The Orthodox Church was behind the persecution of evangelical Christians long before the communists came into power…- [Today] the same men [in the church] who cooperated with the Communist rulers …are still in power….

There are definite signs of a rising opposition by the Orthodox Church against Protestant evangelistic groups…. Protestants are being accused of proselytizing and are being warned not to try to change anyone’s church affiliation….”

The Dallas Morning News (7/l5/93) reported, “Dr. [Billy] Graham met with the Russian Orthodox patriarch and… [they] agreed that proselytizing was inappropriate.” Russian lawmakers later voted to ban proselytizing by foreigners. The Orthodox Church opposes the gospel throughout Russia. Every morning on Russian TV an Orthodox priest urges viewers not to listen to evangelicals from the West. In Moscow young Orthodox hooligans accompanied by their priest harass evangelicals, shouting, “We don’t need your Jesus, we have our own Christianity.”

Another friend writes, “Having lived and ministered in Russia for several years, I know how hard it is to get Christians in this country to understand that the Russian Orthodox religion is not Christianity.” A false view is being perpetuated by evangelical leaders. Early in June 1996, Franklin Graham, interviewed on CNBC, declared, “Whether it’s the Roman Catholic Church…the Orthodox Church …we’d all agree…it’s Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for sin.” That statement was tragically deceptive. Could Franklin be unaware that Catholicism and Orthodoxy, while using the same biblical words as evangelicals, mean something else?

In 1992, Robert Schuller launched a new organization called Churches United in Global Mission (CUGM), “to share positively the message of Jesus Christ …[in] a spirit of unity that is truly Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, evangelical and charismatic.” A friend of mine wrote from Moscow, “On his [Robert Schuller’s] Sunday morning telecast he said something like, ‘If being a Protestant means that I protest my Catholic brothers…[or] against my Orthodox brothers . . . [or] against believers of other religions, I am not a Protestant.”‘

Evangelicals coming from the West to evangelize Russians naively look to the Orthodox Church for help and are often duped. Jerry Falwell was part of a large evangelistic outreach in Moscow last year involving a tour which many Americans joined to see the “wonderful response to the gospel in the former Soviet Union.” Jerry was the principal speaker at a large gathering in Moscow’s Olympic Stadium. According to Russian/English-speaking attendees, he gave a clear gospel message, but the translator changed it to conform to Orthodox belief. When Jerry gave the invitation to receive Christ (offensive to Orthodoxy), the translator made it sound like a call for all who wanted to join in prayer. Many people raised their hands, leading Jerry and those with him to mistakenly believe there had been a great response to the gospel.

A further deception was the fact that a major purpose of the meeting in Olympic Stadium was to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of celebrated Orthodox priest Alexander Menn. There were pantomimes and speeches by Orthodox priests honoring him and the distribution of thousands of his books in Russian. Falwell and his team had no idea of the heresies in the Russian copies because the English copy they received deleted favorable references to Buddha and Confucius, that all religions lead to God and that God had spoken through every founder of the great religions. Menn promoted evolution and the power of icons as a window to God and, loyal to Orthodoxy, rejected the biblical gospel. Josh McDowell was also unwittingly involved in a meeting in Moscow where Alexander Menn was again celebrated.


Campus Crusade for Christ has long accepted Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as true Christianity. A former [Crusade] staff member who became an Orthodox priest testifies, “During my two-and-a-half years on staff [at Crusade headquarters]…I fully participated in the nearby Greek Orthodox parish, Saint Prophet Elias….Campus Crusade encouraged my active participation….”6 Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer) dedicates Dancing Alone (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994), the story of his conversion to Orthodoxy, to several former Campus Crusade staff members who are now Orthodox priests and who introduced him to the Orthodox Church.

Schaeffer confesses that the evangelical faith in which his famous parents reared him had to be renounced as a false religion in order to embrace the Catholic/Orthodox faith. Yet Colson, Bright, Packer and other evangelicals embrace Catholics as partners in the gospel! Schaeffer now calls being “born again” the Protestant’s “meaningless…magical instantaneous ‘silver bullet’ solution to sin.” He says we are not saved by “believing that Christ died on the cross for us [but] by struggling to become like Christ….We are gradually saved as we are deified.” (His emphasis)

We have a “church growth” and “prayer and fasting for revival” movement led by those who refuse to distinguish between biblical truth and error and who join in partnership with the proclaimers of a false gospel. No wonder the statistics reveal a growing counterfeit Christianity. Let us, by the power of God, resist the pressure to conform to today’s “Christianity,” and stand firmly for sound biblical doctrine. The destiny of souls depends upon it! TBC


1 Our Sunday Visitor (Aug. 4, 1996), 15.
2 Juli Loesch Wiley, “Time to Communicate What Catholicism Is & Is Not” (New Oxford Review, Jul. – Aug. 1996), 18-19.
3 Church & State (Oct. 1991), 16.
4 “The Religious Century Nears” (The Wall Street Journal, July 6, 1995).
5 Christianity Today (Dec. 12, 1994), 60.
6 Peter E. Gillquist, ed., Coming Home: Why Protestant Clergy are Becoming Orthodox (Conciliar Press, 1992), 64.