Imagine kneeling before an altar holding a candle and answering affirmatively to these questions:
Wilt thou renounce the errors and false doctrines of the Roman-Latin (or Armenian, or Lutheran, or Reformed) Confession? Dost thou renounce the false doctrine that, for the expression of the dogma touching the Procession of the Holy Ghost, the declaration of our Saviour Christ himself: “who proceedeth from the Father”: doth not suffice; and that the addition, of man’s invention: “and the Son”: is required?
Dost thou renounce the false doctrine that the predestination of men to their salvation, or their rejection, is not in accordance with the Divine foreknowledge of the faith and good works of the former, or of the unbelief and evil deeds of the latter; but in accordance with some arbitrary destiny, by reason of which faith and virtue are robbed of their merit, and God is held accountable for the perdition of sinners?
Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief that in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist the bread and wine are not transmuted into the Body and Blood of Christ, and are merely emblems of the Body and Blood of Christ?
Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief of the Reformed teachers, who reject five Sacraments: Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, Anointing with Oil, and the Priesthood itself, which administereth the other Sacraments, and presume to administer Baptism and the Eucharist, never having received, through the laying-on of hands by a Bishop, that Ordination which hath been transmitted from one to another, even from the holy Apostles?
Dost thou renounce the erroneous belief of the Reformed teachers who receive not the traditions of the Holy Church, reverence not the Saints, and deprive the dead of spiritual aid, and the living of consolation, in that they reject prayers for the dead?
Dost thou acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold?
Dost thou believe and confess that it is proper to reverence and invoke the Saints who reign on high with Christ, according to the interpretation of the Holy Orthodox Church; and that their prayers and intercessions before God avail with the beneficent God unto our salvation: and that it is well-pleasing in the sight of God that we should do homage to their relics, glorified through incorruption, as precious memorials of their virtue?
Dost thou confess that the images of our Saviour Christ; and of the Ever-virgin Mother of God, and of the Other Saints are worthy of being possessed and honoured; not unto idolatry, but that, through contemplation thereof, we may be incited unto piety, and unto emulation of the holy persons represented by these images?1
Then imagine that, having made such a confession, the priest says,
Enter thou into the Orthodox Church: and cast away all the errors and false doctrines wherein thou hast dwelt: and honour the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and his Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, one true and living God, the holy Trinity, one in Essence and indivisible.2
Following this, the priest anoints you with holy chrism, and says, “Thou art justified. Thou art illumined. Thou art sanctified; in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.”3
Such a ceremony, or similar, Hank Hanegraaff, the president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and the host of the popular radio show, “The Bible Answer Man,” together with his wife Kathy, and two of his twelve children, underwent on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, in St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The “Bible Answer Man” has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy (EO)!4
Hanegraaff explained his conversion in a recent episode of the “Bible Answer Man” broadcast:
I am now a member of an Orthodox Church, but nothing has changed in my faith. I have been attending an Orthodox church for a long time—for over two years…. And so I learned that while truth matters, life matters more…. I was comparing my ability to communicate truth with [EO’s] deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ…. One man, by the way, said to me, truth matters but life matters more…. I’ve been impacted by the whole idea of knowing Jesus Christ, experiencing Jesus Christ, and partaking of the graces of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist or the Lord’s Table. And that has become so central in my life, but as far as the statement that you mentioned, that I’ve left the Christian faith—nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact I believe what I have always believed, as codified in the Nicene Creed, and as championed by mere Christianity.5
What is amazing—and troubling—about this is that Hanegraaff seems to think that he can still be the “Bible Answer Man” while confessing the doctrines (errors) of EO. Hanegraaff believes that his faith is essentially the same, despite the fact that to become EO he had to renounce the “errors” of Protestantism or Evangelicalism. Although Hanegraaff was never actually a child of the Reformation (he was prior to his conversion to EO an Arminian and hostile to the Reformed faith), he has now renounced the Reformation in its entirety, for EO rejects all of the fundamental truths of the gospel.
Hanegraaff claims to embrace “mere Christianity,” by which he means the “historic Christian faith,” which, as EO teaches, is codified in the first seven ecumenical councils of the Church.6 He confesses the Trinity and the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, but to be EO he must reject justification by faith alone, substitutionary atonement, and regeneration, to name but three cardinal doctrines of the gospel of grace.7 As an EO member, Hanegraaff is now forbidden to interpret the Scriptures contrary to the bishops of the EO Church and he repudiates sola Scriptura. This will curtail his activities as the “Bible Answer Man” somewhat, and we will see him increasingly answer as the “EO Answer Man.” Indeed, that process has already begun. Recent broadcasts have shown Hanegraaff fudge answers on sola Scriptura and sola fide.8
EO is perhaps unfamiliar to many SB readers. The church experienced a traumatic schism, the so-called Great Schism, in 1054. The EO Church, rejecting the primacy of the pope, boasts (like Rome) of apostolic succession—not succession from Peter, but an unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles. In addition, EO rejects the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed: the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, not from the Father and the Son (filioque is Latin for “and the Son”). EO worships through icons (pictures) of Christ, Mary, and the saints—through the contemplation of icons, which are like an extension of the Incarnation, one becomes one with the divine. Moreover, salvation in EO is through theosis or deification, the idea that by cooperating with God’s grace, sinners become partakers of the divine nature— not of the divine essence, which is incommunicable and indivisible, but of the “divine energies.” If Rome confuses justification and sanctification, EO confuses justification and glorification. Hanegraaff explained theosis to one of his listeners who in March asked a question about EO, which was before the “Bible Answer Man” revealed that he was on his way to becoming the “EO Answer Man”:
We become Christ-bearers since His Body and Blood are distributed throughout our limbs, as Cyril of Jerusalem said…. The whole idea being that we become by grace what God is by nature…. We become, as Peter put it, partakers in the divine nature.9
Hanegraaff went on to wax lyrical about EO:
[It is] well within the pale of orthodoxy…compatible with the essentials of the historic Christian faith…. Orthodox is fantastic in that it uses earthly perceptible realities to point to spiritual verities, so it is constantly pointing you to the worship of God…. It’s the early church. That was the church up until the split in 1054 between East and West, and essentially what the church was teaching up until the time of the Reformation, and even afterwards.10
What would attract a Protestant Evangelical to EO? Some years ago, the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) commissioned a report on EO in which they identified four main reasons why people are leaving true churches for EO churches: (1) mystery; (2) history; (3) beauty; and (4) experience.11 A few citations from the report will illustrate this:
EO theology and life does not feel to many like seeking the right answers for an exam, but rather like an artful and earthy journey to heaven in company of its God. EO has appeal to those yearning to be lost in something bigger than themselves, to those who say they are not so much seeking answers as they are meaning, purpose, experience, community, and connection….
Three areas where many people long for this sense of connectivity to the historic church are worship, doctrine, and church government. Concerning the first of these three (worship), many converts to EO explain how they desired to worship God in the way of the early church, and that modern Protestant worship did not satisfy those desires. Burned out with worship services that reflect far more of popular culture than the liturgical practices of the historic church, many find the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church attractive….
It was fantastic. I remember our first divine liturgy… and so I watched this whole thing. I was enamored by it, and bewildered, and confused, all at the same time. I didn’t know what all exactly was going on, but I liked what I saw…. I think that when you go into an Orthodox Church, and you open your eyes to see the robes, to hear the chanting, the Psalms, the incense, the prayers, the presence of God there in the midst of his people, it’s like you’re reading the book of Revelation and you’re seeing how worship happens in heaven.12
In other words, those attracted to (or, bewitched by) EO seek the “authentic early church” of the apostles. EO boasts antiquity, which is her claim that her doctrines and practices have not changed since the apostles. But the early church was not as idyllic as EO imagines, for the early church very quickly departed from the gospel of grace (), was filled with errors and divisions (read I Corinthians), and was threatened with the removal of her candlestick and other judgments ( , etc.): “EO’s claim that its liturgy has remained unchanged since the days of the apostles is unsubstantiated and overstated.”13
Tragically, the “Bible Answer Man” has rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of justification on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith alone. Such a man cannot be allowed to answer Bible questions in the future—he is not a safe guide.
1 “The Office for Receiving Into the Orthodox Faith Such Persons As Have Not Previously Been Orthodox” in The Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church (compiled, translated, and arranged from the old church-Slavonic service books of the Russian Church and collated with the service books of the Greek Church), trans. Isabel Florence Hapgood. endors. Patriarch Tikhon (New York: Association Press, repr. 1905, 1922), 454-460.
2 Service Book, 461.
3 Service Book, 466.
4 We might not be very familiar with Hank Hanegraaff. Perhaps his best known and most useful book is Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), which is an exposé of the prosperity gospel. As far as can be ascertained, the service book cited above is still used in EO today. Although EO priests have some freedom in the language used, the Chrismation ceremony requires converts to EO to renounce the errors of their former communion. There is no reason to believe that an exception was made for Mr. Hanegraaff.
5 Cited in a pro-EO website, https://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2017/04/bible-answer-man-hank-hanegraaff-joins-the-orthodox-church.
6 The first seven Ecumenical Councils are Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople (553), Constantinople II (681) and Nicea II (787). These, with their respective creeds and canons, constitute the heart of EO doctrine. In fact, EO has not really developed doctrinally since the eighth century, which means that the Reformation bypassed EO, so that the debates concerning justification, freewill/predestination, and other issues are seen as largely irrelevant in EO.
7 In 1672, an EO synod formulated “The Confession of Dositheus,” of which the Thirteenth Decree states: “We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which works through love, that is to say, through faith and works. But [the idea] that faith can fulfil the function of a hand that lays hold on the righteousness which is in Christ, and can then apply it unto us for salvation, we know to be far from all Orthodoxy” (http://www.crivoice.org/creeddositheus.html).
8 For insightful analysis of the “Bible Answer Man’s” recent answers, especially on the subjects of sola Scriptura and sola fide, listen to Dr. James White’s podcast, “Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Believer Be the Bible Answer Man?” on “The Dividing Line,” April 13, 2017, http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2017/04/13/canconsistent-eastern-orthodox-believer-bible-answer-man.
9 Cited in https://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2017/04/bibleanswer-man-hank-hanegraaff-joins-the-orthodox-church.
10 You can watch the clip here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/bible-answer-man-hank-hanegraaf-leaves-evangelicalismjoins-greek-orthodox-church-180035.
11 Report of the Committee Appointed by URCNA Classis SWUS to Study Eastern Orthodoxy, http://www.oceansideurc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Eastern-Orthodoxy-Study-Committee-Report.pdf.
12 URCNA Report, 4, 9, 25. 13 URCNA Report, 13.