Why Jeff Maples Fails to Understand Divine Liturgy
In the Defense of Ritual
In my last post, I responded to Jeff Maples’ many slanders against the Eastern Orthodox faith. In that time, Maples has made a couple more posts. For his latest post, he decided to make a trip down to Charlotte, NC and visit Hank Hanegraaff’s new church. Reporting on his trip, he’s had a lot of choice words for the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Here, I’ll just give some brief responses. His first criticism is,
1.) I have sat through many Catholic masses. I was married in a Catholic church, and I can definitely say I’ve “been there done that.” But I’ve never sat through anything so long and tedious as the Greek Orthodox mass. Perhaps being a special Saturday night “resurrection service,” this wasn’t the norm, but it was excruciatingly long. 2 1/2 hours in and no sign of slowing down.
That’s right, his first criticism essentially boils down to ‘can you believe they spend 2 1/2 hours praising and adoring God?’. He is correct though, a liturgy lasting that long is not the norm. However, given that it was a Passover service, celebrating the resurrection of the Lord our God Jesus Christ, why wouldn’t you want to devote more time to remembering such an event? I mean it’s only the day which marked the salvation of man and victory over the grave.
What follows is Jeff’s most laughable criticism,
2.) The cliche, “bells and smells” is actually a true reality. The burning of incense and ringing of bells was a noxious combination. It reminded me of being in a college dorm smoking weed and blowing the smoke through toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer sheets.
For a man who prides himself on his knowledge of scripture, Jeff fails to take into account that the use of incense and bells within scripture was actually pleasing to God, as he commanded it in chapter 39 in Exodus,
They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the Lord had commanded Moses~ Verses 25–26
It goes onto read,
and the gold altar, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the veil for the doorway of the tent; the bronze altar and its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils, the laver and its stand; the hangings for the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords and its pegs and all the equipment for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; the woven garments for ministering in the holy place and the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests. So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses. And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the Lord had commanded, this they had done ~ Verses 38–42
Now, while I’m sure Jeff will make the claim that such actions do not need to translate to Christian forms of worship since we’re no longer under the old covenant, the fact of the matter remains, this was a pleasing enough style of worship for God to instill, so would he also claim that God was instilling a “noxious combination”? Maybe instead of smoking weed in college, he should have been studying The Book of Exodus.
3.) The liturgy was vain and repetitious. Literally, the same ritualistic prayers and chanting were sung over and over. Every prayer included an invocation of Mary and the Saints.
To address the claim that the chanting and prayers are repetitious, why is that in itself a bad thing? The Book of Revelation it reads, commenting on the throne room of God,
in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. Chapter 4, Verses 1–8
To challenge the claim that those chants are vain, Revelation also claims,
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose up before God from the hand of the angel ~Chapter 8, Verse 4
Furthermore, since the prayers come from the Saints, I don’t see how they are useless.
4.) While there was actually quite a bit of Scripture reading, there was absolutely no teaching. In fact, the vast majority of Scripture reading was sung in the eerie Byzantine chant. You’d really have to pay attention and try to listen really hard to even understand what they were reading or reciting.
I can’t comment on that particular service myself, however, I have found the divine liturgy, when done right, to be one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. In fact, scripture calls upon the priestly class to be singers and musicians,
When the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord ~2 Chonicles; 11–13
This is the way God himself had the priest praise and worship, and the Orthodox church does a good job reflecting that. Furthermore, what better thing to sing than the very words of God? As for lack of emphasis on teaching, Sunday service is not meant to be a Bible study, it is meant to capture the aesthetic and beauty of the word of God. Besides, if Jeff’s Sunday services present him his scriptural knowledge, I have little faith he gained much from it, otherwise he’d be more familiar with the word of God to compare God’s sanctioned form of service to being in a college dorm, smoking weed.
5.) The facility was adorned, literally, wall to wall, floor to ceiling in graven images of the saints. The images were painted in such a way that the expressions on their faces were devoid of any emotion. They looked like lifeless figures just floating around in space.
Like I wrote in my last post, images are not a bad thing, as God instructs his people to put angels on the tabernacle. As to the images of the saints being emotionless, the idea of painting the icon is to construct the saint in question not with great detail, but rather in creating an archetypal representation of the saint, this is also why they lack shadows. Small details like smiles, and other bodily expressions take away from that intent since we focus more on those detail than the saint.
6.) The enthusiasm of the clergy and participants in the service was extremely low. Those participating in the rituals walked around with lifeless expressions on their faces. The entire ritual was empty and dead.
I’m sorry Jeff, we tend to call that solemnity. This is a quality lost on many protestants, which is why they keep throwing faux-rock concerts as piss poor excuses for worship services.
7.) There is obviously little to no pursuit of holiness in this church. Several times during the service, the ushers and deacons could be seen stepping out to take smoke breaks. Many of the women and even some of the younger girls were dressed less than modestly.
If true, I think this is a valid enough criticism, but the problem here is not the liturgy itself, but with those particular observers. In no forms of Christianity are there people who don’t end up leaving, or committing mistakes in worship. In my own experience in Orthodoxy, I have never had a deacon or usher walk out the church to smoke, I even remember being disciplined for sticking my hands in my pocket. We even had a dress code for women.
8.) Repeatedly, the chanting and liturgy included a summons to God to perform certain acts. It was clear that they believe that God works through and is dependent upon these rituals to activate the work of the Holy Spirit.
The same criticism could be levied at someone simply praying to God for something, that God needs our prayers to make an outcome simply because we don’t trust the holy spirit to do it alone.
9.) The Greek and Eastern Orthodox church is clearly a lifeless church. There was absolutely no gospel in this service. A lost person could not walk into this church and walk out a changed man. It was literally a Pagan practice. Like a seance. Pure witchcraft was going on in this place. In this religion, salvation doesn’t come through Christ’s imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross, it comes through these dead rituals that they believe ontologically changes them into divine beings. It was truly one of the most wicked experiences I’ve ever seen.
While such rhetoric might pass as intellectual argumentation at Pastor Jim’s diploma mill and emporium, I can say I remain unimpressed. First off, a “lost person could not walk into this church and walk out a changed man”? Yeah, I don’t know what church Jeff goes to, but I’m sure it doesn’t have a 1:1 record of converting unbelievers. Second of all, the divine liturgy was what convinced the pagan prince Vladimir the Great (and subsequently all of Russia) to convert to the religion,
The story of Vladimir’s choosing Orthodox Christianity is part legend, part fact. According to the tradition, Vladimir didn’t like the dietary restrictions of Islam and Judaism. Catholic Christianity was all right, but what impressed the grand prince was the dazzling worship his ambassadors described seeing in the great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty.”
So Vladimir opted for Orthodoxy because of its beautiful worship. The name of Vladimir’s chosen religion was, in fact, Pravoslavie, a word which meant “true worship” or “right glory.” Orthodoxy was also the religion of the most powerful, wealthy, and civilized of Russia’s border nations, the Byzantine Empire. And if Vladimir was impressed by Orthodoxy’s beauty, he also was impressed by another beauty: Anna, sister of Byzantine emperors Basil II and Constantine, who offered her to Vladimir as a bride with the condition that he be baptized. ~ Christianity Today
This is the saving power of the divine liturgy of the East, which God, by his grace blessed it with.
He reiterates an earlier claim, that “It was literally a Pagan practice. Like a seance. Pure witchcraft was going on in this place”. However, as I pointed out, to call the liturgy pagan because of its use of incense and bells would also be to call the practice of the priests of Israel the same thing.
He claims, “In this religion, salvation doesn’t come through Christ’s imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross, it comes through these dead rituals that they believe ontologically changes them into divine beings.” First of all, the claim that Christ’s death is “imputed” is basically immoral, it makes no sense to say an innocent can be punished for the evils of someone else. Rather, Christ by infusing his life, death and resurrections into us, making his work our works, makes far more sense, as justice and holiness are real properties that exist. They are transferred over to us and transform us, as Saint Paul says,
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:1–2
The process does not make us divine beings, but beings transformed by the divine to participate in the will of the divine.