Bishop Thomas on “Liberal Christianity”

The following is excerpted from an email from His Grace, Bishop Thomas (Joseph), in response to this post from Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev).

I hope that liberal Christianity does not survive for long. Quite frankly, I have a problem applying the name “Christianity” to the religious philosophy known as “liberal Christianity.”

We know from the Book of Acts that “Christians” were first called by that name in Antioch. Receiving the name “Christian” implied a destiny of great glory, yet a destiny often costing the bearers of that noble name a great price. In the world, we have many groups of people who refer to themselves as “Christians.” There is, of course, only One True Christianity: Orthodox Christianity. I challenge the liberal groups who wish to associate themselves with Christianity to give themselves a litmus test against the early Church of the Apostles. Are these liberal Christians faithful to the teachings of the Holy Scripture? Are they faithful to the spirit of the canons of … the Christian Church? What sort of link exists between these so-called “liberal Christians” and the Church that was founded on the Day of Pentecost and its Faith?

The last ten years I have been invited to visit of few countries around the world where I have been involved in various conferences that deal with Christian issues, most especially in the field of bioethics. Bp. Hilarion mentions that these “liberal Christian” groups do not hold to the Church’s teaching on Christian life. Most especially, he mentions their positions on homosexuality and abortion that clearly oppose the teachings of the Orthodox Church. In discussions with leaders of these “liberal Christian” groups, one can learn that the theological problems that plague these organizations are far more deeply rooted than the issues I have mentioned. These issues result from philosophies and worldviews incompatible with traditional Christianity. “Liberal Christian” groups may deny the Incarnation, deny the Resurrection, deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and/or deny other defining doctrines of the historic Christian Faith. Some have even attempted to make the Trinity appear more feminine and less patriarchal, according to contemporary “politically correct” thinking. My question is this: “If members of a group deny the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, deny that Jesus rose from the dead after descending into Hades to release those in bondage, design innovative interpretations of Holy Scripture in radical conflict with Holy Tradition, and compromise the integrity of the most basic traditional teachings of the Christian Church, how can they identify themselves as ‘Christians’ in good faith?” Strange ideas accepted within “liberal Christianity” as normal prove unrecognizable to Orthodox Christians as aspects of the True Faith. Can we, as Orthodox Christians, properly apply the same name that was bestowed upon the Holy Martyrs to those people who say that there is no Holy Trinity, no Incarnation, no Risen Christ, and who claim that much of the story of our Faith, which we preserve and continue to live, is ultimately a creative fairytale, one myth among the many diverse, humanly-created mythologies of the world?

We should be very selective and careful when applying the name “Christian” to groups outside of traditional Christianity. At the same time, I encourage us all to consider how we live up to that honorable name. Let’s make sure that those of us who have rightly inherited this name and who confess Christ live in a way that reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ. Let’s make sure that those of us who sing, “Ye Holy Martyrs who have fought the good fight and have received your crowns,” and who walk around the Holy Table with the Martyrs, confess Christ with our lips and also confess the True Christian Faith through our daily lifestyle.

Yours in Christ,

+ Bishop THOMAS
Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic

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