Category Archives: Ecumenicity

Rod Dreher – Orthodox and Not

Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, Rod Dreher.  New York: Sentinel, 2020.  Hardcover, 240 pages.

Rod Dreher’s latest book has gained as much interest as his previous work, The Benedict Option.  This new offering explains the new world we’re in, the “brave new world” looming on the horizon, and how it all connects to the recent past of Eastern Europe.  Live Not By Lies also wants to provide guidance for Christians as we descend into the darkness of “soft totalitarianism.”   It looked like a promising read.  However, it turned out to be less than what I was hoping for.

The strength of this volume is in its first part:  Understanding Soft Totalitarianism.  This part is more descriptive, historical, and analytical.  Dreher explains that totalitarianism is about complete state control over actions, thought, emotions, and even what is and isn’t true.  Soft totalitarianism “is therapeutic.  It masks its hatred of dissenters from its utopian ideology in the guise of helping and healing” (p.7).  Soft totalitarianism “masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavoured demographic groups to protect the feelings of ‘victims’ in order to bring about ‘social justice’ (p.9). 

Dreher helpfully draws historical lessons from the Eastern European experience of totalitarianism during the Cold War era.  He interviews people who lived through that horror and who see disturbing parallels developing in western democracies today.  Chapter 3, “Progressivism as Religion” is the best chapter.  It explains how the Christian faith and totalitarianism, particularly manifested with today’s woke leftists, are “best understood as competing religions” (p.56).  So far, so good.

The subtitle is “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.”  Dreher desires to help Christians dissent from the deepening soft totalitarianism.  This is the focus of the second part of Live Not By Lies, How to Live in Truth.  In this section too, there are valuable insights to be gleaned from the experiences of others who’ve endured communism in Eastern Europe.  Nevertheless, this is the weaker section of the book. 

I say that for two main reasons.  One is because I’d expect “A Manual for “Christian Dissidents” to offer authoritative guidance based on what the Bible teaches.  The Bible is mentioned here and there.  There are paraphrases from a couple of Bible passages and one direct quote.  But the Bible doesn’t appear to be foundational to Dreher’s manual.  The lived experience of people who were dissidents during the Cold War seems to be more so.

The second reason I found this section of the book weak is because of what it does, and doesn’t do, with the gospel.  In some places Dreher mentions the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  However, there’s no mention of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone.  In fact, there are places where that biblical teaching is denied by some of those interviewed by Dreher (e.g. Alexander Ogorodnikov on p.196).  Moreover, the book doesn’t emphasize how it’s the true gospel of Jesus Christ which can actually transform not only individual lives, but also entire nations.

These points won’t be surprising to those who know something of Dreher’s background.  He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993 and then to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006.  Sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church led to his departure.  However, Dreher continues to have a mostly positive view of Roman Catholicism. 

That leads me to one of the other major issues in Live Not By Lies:  its false ecumenism.  When Dreher says “Christian,” his definition includes Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.  It’s a definition that can’t be swallowed by a confessionally Reformed Christian.  I can grant that many of the people interviewed in this book are religious, as is Dreher.  I can grant that, in sociological terms, they and their churches are often described as “Christian” in the broad sense of being distinct from other religions.  I can grant that totalitarian persecutors don’t care about our theological differences — they will persecute the devout Roman Catholic as a “Christian” just as readily as they will the Bible-believing Protestant.  What I cannot grant is that any person who holds to the gospel-denying tenets of Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy is truly a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  As an Orthodox believer, Dreher holds otherwise.  This is a dangerous lie which we ought not to live by.    

His Orthodoxy surfaces at certain points in the book.  Dreher describes “mystical awakenings” by which God is supposed to have revealed himself (p.197).  He speaks of a prisoner who “was able to be an icon” to others (p.204) and an Orthodox father-son duo canonized as saints whose icon hangs in Dreher’s home (p.178).  Dreher quotes a Romanian Orthodox priest who says, “You, my friend, are the unique bearer of your deification in Jesus Christ…” (p.160), referring to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

Finally, Dreher’s focus is on more recent totalitarian movements.  However, a Reformed reader can’t help but think of other historic forms of totalitarianism, especially those connected with Roman Catholicism.  I think of what the Huguenots endured in France during the two centuries following the Reformation.  What Reformed believers need today is a “manual for Christian dissidents” primarily based on Scripture, but also explaining how our Huguenot brethren dissented in their day.

Live Not By Lies is worth reading, but with discernment.  It requires a cautious eye and a thoughtful mind.  To be sure, Dreher has helpful insights to offer.  But it has to be recognized that he’s not coming from a Reformed perspective, not even a Protestant or Evangelical perspective.  He has an understanding of what it means to live not by lies that’s not entirely acceptable to a Reformed Christian.  For us, living not by lies means we need to live by the truth of God’s Word as our ultimate standard.  Living not by lies means we need to uphold the truth of the biblical gospel – that there’s salvation through Jesus Christ alone.  Living not by lies means we need to experience unity with other believers only on the basis of a biblical faith.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (3)

We now have some provisional Acts to survey.  For those interested in the details, the Acts can be found here at the CanRC website.  Let me just mention a few of the highlights from the last few days.

In article 23, the synod considered a request to update the Lord’s Supper forms.  This is in regard to the use of masculine pronouns.  The synod decided to mandate the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise (SCBP) to study the matter and propose any linguistic changes they might think necessary.  From my point of view, that’s a good development.  The use of the masculine pronoun in the Lord’s Supper forms grates on me (along with other infelicities in the forms).  However, I will be interested to see how the SCBP will work around this.  An easy way to fix it would be to switch it all to first or second person:  “Let us all consider our sins and accursedness that we may humble ourselves before God” or “All of you ought to consider your sins and accursedness so that you may humble yourselves before God.”  It shouldn’t be difficult to fix.

In article 41 we find the decision about the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  I’ve already commented in general about that decision.  Now that we have the full text, I find the following consideration noteworthy:

Ecclesiastical Fellowship is extended to churches where we find the marks of the true church (Article 29, Belgic Confession).  The presence of the marks of the church are premised on a given church accepting the authority of the Word of God.  Now that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands approve of developments contrary to the Lord’s instruction in his Word, the marks of the true church cannot with confidence be said to be consistently present in these churches.

This is well-worded.  It doesn’t go to the extreme of saying that the RCN are a federation of false churches.

Last of all, I would note the synod’s discussion of an item from the Blessings Christian Church in Hamilton, ON.  This is in article 64.  Blessings sent a “request for revision” of a decision made by Synod 1983 regarding the forms for baptism and public profession of faith.  They asked Synod 2019 to judge that Synod 1983 erred in inserting “confessions” into the questions where once stood “articles of the Christian faith.”  Synod 2019 decided that this request had come improperly — Blessings has to go back and follow the ecclesiastical route of presenting a proposal via classis and regional synod.  The proper process needs to be followed.  Now I have to say that I don’t have the “request for revision” from Blessings in front of me — I haven’t seen it.  All I have is what we find in the Acts.  The quoted summary in 3.2 of article 64 reads:

In light of new research, the emergence of a new ecumenical landscape, and the conviction that previous appeals to synods (1986, 1989, 1992) were inadequately considered and therefore unjustly denied, the Blessings Christian Church requests a revision of the 1983 (Cloverdale) General Synod’s decision to modify the questions in the liturgical forms for Baptism and Profession of Faith by replacing the phrase “articles of the Christian faith” (or the tentatively approved “Apostles’ Creed”) with the term “confessions.”

I would be curious to know what this “new research” is, as well as details on how we now have a “new ecumenical landscape,” to say nothing of how previous synod decisions fell short.  Previous synods decided that “confessions” is a linguistic revision (improvement) upon “articles of the Christian faith.”  It clarifies what was meant by “articles of the Christian faith.”  Because of the use of a similar expression in Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism, it could have given the impression that CanRC members only commit to the Apostles’ Creed.  So why would anyone want to go back to the ambiguous expression?   Clarity is always better.  What we read in the Acts of Synod 2019 could give the impression that Blessings wants to move the CanRC away from confessional membership, i.e. the communicant members commit to the Three Forms of Unity.  I’m glad that it didn’t go anywhere this time and I pray it never will.


Another Farewell to the RCN

Not a lot of news has been coming out of the CanRC Synod in Edmonton.  So far, they’ve published some Acts from the beginning of the assembly, but there’s nothing really substantial in there.  The live-streaming has only been happening for the sessions with the speeches from fraternal delegates.  However, they did publish this announcement on the official CanRC website:

With sadness the General Synod 2019 of the Canadian Reformed Churches decided unanimously to discontinue the sister church relationship with the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (GKv) and to implore the CanRCs to remain in prayer for the GKv. May the Lord have mercy on them and on us.

This isn’t surprising.  We all knew it was coming.  Yet it is still lamentable — not the decision itself, but that the RCN didn’t listen to repeated admonitions from Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

What’s going to happen from here?  Like with the Aussies last year, the Canadians and the Dutch go their separate ways.  Meanwhile, there is a movement in the RCN to get the next RCN synod to revise the decision about women in office.  This is their website.  On Saturday there was a meeting in Bunschoten for concerned people in the RCN.  According to this news report in Reformatorisch Dagblad, the meeting saw about 325 people in attendance.  One of the speakers was CanRC seminary professor, Dr. Arjan de Visser.  He was the most sharply critical of the decision about women in office.

Is it possible to roll back this decision in the RCN?  In principle it would be.  But practically speaking, it would seem to have some insurmountable obstacles.  What do you do with local churches that not only decided to have women in office but have already implemented it?  According to this story from September 2018, there are at least 50.  What do you do with the women who have been ordained?  Do you defrock them?  Or do they get “grandfathered” (or maybe “grandmothered”) in?  From where I’m sitting, it seems next to impossible to put this back together when it’s already fallen apart this much.

Speaking historically, how often does a church with women’s ordination later on repudiate it?  It is rare.  Historically, the only realistic way forward for those who value the authority of the Word of God in such matters is separation.  You can’t be part of a church or church federation that insists on undermining the Scriptures.  This is why the United Reformed Churches exist in North America.  There were people who lingered in the Christian Reformed Church because they thought they could perhaps sway the church back the right way.  Did it happen?

Moreover, just like with the Christian Reformed Church, it would be short-sighted to think that overturning one synod decision about women in office would salvage the RCN.  There are more things going on that undermine the authority of Scripture — I think particularly of issues connected to homosexuality.  There’s also the whole problem of a compromised Theological University and the relationship with the NGK.  One revised decision doesn’t magically undo all that.

My heart goes out to the faithful brothers and sisters still in the RCN.  You’re in a tough spot.  You love the RCN.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to leave — but I also can’t imagine how much worse it would be to stay.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (2)

A short while ago I finished watching the live-stream (it’s archived here).  A couple of note-worthy items:  the delegates from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands gave their addresses.  Rev. Rinze Ijbema, who previously served in the CanRC, gave a short, but well-worded address indicating the desire of the RCN to continue in their relationship.  As he did at the FRCA Synod last year, Rev. Dr. Melle Oosterhuis explained the decision of Synod Meppel concerning women in office.   The Reformed Churches of Brazil had Rev. Adriano Gama extend greetings.  Finally, the chairman officially announced that Rev. Dr. William DenHollander (from Langley CanRC) has been appointed as the next professor of New Testament at CRTS.


CanRC General Synod Edmonton 2019 (1)

The synod is underway, however up till this point we haven’t seen any Acts released.  They do have some live-streaming video being offered here (with archives). I’m told that there have been a few decisions, but nothing public on any of the major items of interest yet.  Apparently in the next few hours, the Synod will announce the new professor of New Testament at CRTS.