Recovering the Ancient Paths
Dennis L. Corrigan
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever”
The following is a revision of a letter (article) we wrote to the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel to explain our decision to withdraw from that organization in order to pursue our being catechized unto Chrismation into the Orthodox Church. We have revised it to make it more useful for a more general distribution by members of our congregation who may want to help in explaining our decision to families and friends.
The Carpenter’s Company is in the process of becoming a part of the Orthodox Church. This obviously means that we have had to withdraw from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel which we did in early May, 1996. All this is actually the culmination of a journey which began for us in 1987 when the Holy Spirit commanded us to ask for the “ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16).
A Journey Begins
Our quest for the ancient paths did not actually get underway until June 17, 1989 when we began to meet every morning at six o’clock for prayer. We soon called it Vigil, the name given to the night office of prayer for over fifteen hundred years. We could not possibly have anticipated where this path would eventually lead us. Nor could we have foreseen that Vigil would last so long or become what it has.
When we began Vigil, the Lord’s Prayer was our prayer outline. About a month later, the Holy Spirit led us to begin to celebrate the Eucharist. Later worship was added. And as this process continued, now adding a certain element, now eliminating another, Vigil gradually became a different kind of meeting. Although its form was changing, one thing remained constant: the meeting began on its first day and has continued to the present with a strong, abiding, palpable sense of the Lord’s presence concerning which every visitor has remarked. However, the longer we maintained our daily Vigil, the further our path diverged from the path we had once traveled with Foursquare. Although we recognized we were becoming somewhat unique among Foursquare churches, we have always been confident that our conduct was well within the boundaries of Foursquare’s tolerance for diversity. More recently, however, especially since our encounter with Orthodoxy, we’ve become aware that we have been straining those boundaries.
A Spiritual Focus
By the time two years had passed, we had become a people with an intense spiritual focus. I suppose that is to be expected of a people who meet every day for prayer. We were beginning to give focused attention to issues to which we had only given lip service before.
We had all become faithful in maintaining a consistent, daily quiet time with the Lord. This was the first time that any of us had experienced consistent, long-term faithfulness in this regard.
We had become the kind of community we had only dreamed of before. We were learning what it really means to be “the family of God” as a matter of daily, practical reality.
Meeting daily as a prayer community meant that we could no longer tolerate in one another the “little” sins and acts of disobedience we’d learned to ignore when we used to meet weekly. Consequently we allowed the Holy Spirit to restore church discipline among us.
We became a people who gave themselves to the discipline of Scripture memorization. We have memorized I John, Romans, John and are now memorizing Galatians.
A Liturgical Direction
Meeting every day also made impossible the kind of innovative creativity a weekly schedule allows. Consequently, our daily worship became patterned. To our amazement, however, the more we repeated the prayers and songs we were using, the more meaningful they became to us. The result was predictable: our daily Vigil gradually became liturgical.
Enter, The Church Fathers
In 1992 on a personal retreat at St. Andrew’s Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery, I bought a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict (sixth century). Upon returning home, the leadership team began to read it together. What we discovered astonished us: The Rule dealt with situations we were facing fight then, but for which we had found little if any help from contemporary authors.
In the Introduction and footnotes were references to many others of the Church Fathers, most of whom we had never heard of before. Finding and reading these Church Fathers, particularly the Apostolic, Desert and Monastic Fathers, has perhaps been our most significant discovery. Their writings, though ancient, were more relevant and immediately applicable to our experience than anything we had ever heard or read. As a church which was becoming spiritual in focus, we had found an ocean of resource.
The Carpenter’s Company had become a church whose emphases had become prayer, strong and joyful worship and a commitment to learn obedience to God’s Word. Rather than “fulfillment” and “being affirmed” we put much more stress on “putting to death the deeds of the flesh and its passions and desires,” a consistent theme of the early Church Fathers.
A Growing Discomfort Results
When we began keeping Vigil, people who heard about it seemed to be impressed and were very complimentary. Without exception, they would say “If you keep this up for a year, you are going to have revival!”
However, as we did continue, they began to question why we were apparently neglecting the programs one might find in most churches. We assured these detractors that not having these programs didn’t mean we had neglected any of the areas of need these program customarily addressed. On the contrary, we had begun to discover that these things were more effectually dealt with by the things we were doing. Nevertheless, by stressing the things we did, we found ourselves more and more at variance with the prevailing Evangelical and Charismatic/Pentecostal culture.
While we’ve been walking on this increasingly spiritual pathway, we began to observe one thing after another in what was our own Foursquare denomination that caused us growing concern: Although we noticed these things with regard to the denomination with which we were then affiliated, they were and are nonetheless true of most Evangelical groups as well. Five examples follow:
1. The “Painless” Emphasis: About a year before the L.E.A.D. Seminars (a program promoted by Dr. John Holland, the President of the Denomination, for the “enrichment” of Foursquare ministers) began, the ICFG circulated a survey on “Fulfillment in Ministry” among all Foursquare ministers in the United States. I was alarmed at its focus on academic achievement and management style and its almost total neglect of more directly spiritual/devotional matters. I wrote a letter to this effect to Dr. John Holland. He didn’t like the letter. It was “disappointment” to him, and he asked that we get together for lunch. We did. During our conversation, Dr. Holland said, “Dennis, we don’t want to cause our people pain when they come to church. They have enough pain in the world.”
I was stunned. After pondering Dr. Holland’s response for quite a while, I could no longer avoid concluding that Foursquare had embraced and now espoused the “feel-good doctrine” of the 90’s. Is not pain the result of our sin? Although confronting sin causes pain, will not such confrontation, in the long run, lead to a more godly and joyful life? Therefore, aren’t ministers supposed to cause pain by confronting sin? Didn’t Christ our God cause pain in His spiritual directive to the rich young ruler? Did not Paul cause pain in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians?
2. Self-Esteem: Although not Foursquare himself, Dr. James Dobson has most certainly had as significant influence on the thinking of the contemporary Foursquare denomination as he has had on any other Evangelical group. Several years ago he wrote that virtually every human problem could be solved if we could build high self-esteem in both ourselves and others.
According to Romans 6-8, our problems emerge out of our sinful, flesh nature, not out of our lack of self-esteem. Dr. Dobson’s opinion contradicts this. Yet nowhere in the Foursquare movement or Evangelicalism at large, to my knowledge, was a significant voice raised to oppose Dr. Dobson’s variance. On the contrary, as far as our pastoral counseling practices are concerned, most Evangelicals have embraced and adopted this teaching.
3. The Addiction Doctrine: At the L.E.A.D. Seminar two years ago Dr. Ted Roberts taught about “sexual addiction.” We have but to assume that became of his role as a L.E.A.D. instructor Foursquare thoroughly endorsed what he taught. According to the implications of what Dr. Roberts was teaching, sexual misconduct is to be considered a kind of disease to be dealt with therapeutically by some twelve-step type program.
Have we not missed Paul’s clear message in Romans 6:16 – “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” What Ted Roberts and others call addiction, Paul calls slavery to s/n. Those who give themselves to sexual sin, become slaves of sexual sin. Freedom isn’t restored through therapy, but through confession and repentance. That is clearly not what Ted Roberts was teaching.
Compounding his error, Dr. Roberts said that King David was a “classic sexual addict.” Though challenged from the floor, he defended and maintained his position. His statement was blasphemous. David did sin sexually, once, with Bathsheba, but ultimately repented (Psalm 51 – the Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament). He has always been known as “a man after God’s own heart,” a type of Jesus’ Kingly Ministry and Jesus Himself was called “Son of David.” Calling David a “sexual addict” (pervert) reflects blasphemously on the Father who endorsed him and the Son who came in fulfillment of his type, and on David who turned from his sin.
4. Majoring on Theological Minors: At one of the panel discussions at last year’s Southwest District Pastors’ Conference, a recently appointed pastor asked whether children should be allowed to take Communion if they haven’t yet been baptized. I was aghast at our District Supervisor, John Watson’s answer. “It’s not an issue? he said, “If you make it an issue, you’ll end up pastoring a church of twenty people. Making those things an issue will narrow your base and we are about broadening our base.” John’s meaning was clear: such secondary, non-essential issues must not get in the way of making our churches as big as we can.
Since when is either Water-Baptism or Communion, a secondary, non-essential issue? Has not, rather, church size always been considered of secondary importance, at best, until the very recent Church Growth movement?
5. Capitulation to Feminism: The more recent turn taken by Foursquare Women International away from being an auxiliary missionary service organization to being focused on the “affirmation” of women in a role of leadership and ministry, we believe is a clear capitulation to the subtleties of the spirit of feminism which is abroad in our land, a surrender to the spirit of this present age. Certainly Foursquare is not alone in this drift. Other Evangelical and Charismatic groups are years ahead. Although the languages used are the various dialects of “Evangelese,” the elements of the Feminist Agenda are clearly in place. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. historian to recognize that in this regard Evangelicalism as a whole is embracing a not too latent or embryonic feminism today just as mainline Protestantism did just twenty years ago.
A Turning Point
It has been a source of no little concern for us that although we have remained deeply confident that what we have been doing has been right and pleasing to the Lord; nevertheless, the more we pursued our course, the more estranged we became from Foursquare in particular and from Evangelicalism in general.
Recently, two things brought all of this to a head: Last year, we sent Robin and one of the wives of our Church Council to the Foursquare Women International Conference in Dallas. They returned with a video. I was stunned at the wholesale endorsement that Foursquare leadership at that conference gave to the ‘Toronto Blessing,” a movement so spurious that even John Wimber has disclaimed and dissociated himself from it. Is our anxiety for renewal so undiscerning that while we strain the gnats or by-law infractions, we are willing to swallow a camel of such an obvious spiritual deception as the “Toronto Blessing?”
The second thing happened about the same time. One of our members picked up a copy of The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It1 by someone called Theophan the Recluse. He wrote exactly the same thing as the Church Fathers. So we were very surprised to learn that this man had lived in nineteenth century Russia.
We sent to the publisher and received a catalogue of many more writers from this tradition, all of whom wrote and taught like the Church Fathers. They were not only Russians, but Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, Arabs and Egyptians as well. Unbeknownst to us, we had discovered the spiritual writers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
After spending several months reading these writers we came across The Orthodox Study Bible published in 1995 by Thomas Nelson. It’s not unusual to find an obscure press publishing works like these. But a major publisher like Thomas Nelson publishing a special Bible for the Orthodox is something else. Who are, these Orthodox, anyway? Having this and several other questions, we wrote to Conciliar Press2, the people behind its publication, for answers and to open dialogue.
Five days later I received a call from Father Peter Gillquist. I knew Peter Gillquist as one of the regional directors of Campus Crusade for Christ who surrounded Bill Bright when I was on part-time staff in 1963. Now he is an Orthodox priest. Father Peter sent me a copy of his book Becoming Orthodox which tells the story about how he (and other regional directors of Campus Crusade I had known) discovered Orthodoxy and recounts their journey which resulted in their conversion to the Orthodox Church.
Although different in several of the particulars, our journeys were parallel. As we spoke further with Father Peter and read his and Jon Braun’s book, Divine Energy, we discovered that, although substantially different in liturgical form, the spirit and faith and doctrine that had developed among the Carpenter’s Company was in fact, Orthodox. As diverse from Foursquare as we had become, we had become like the Orthodox.
Our unanimous decision to become an Orthodox Church, therefore, is simply the logical conclusion of the decision we made in June, 1989. Although our pursuit of Orthodoxy is only less than five months old, we have been “becoming Orthodox” for the past seven years. We just didn’t know it until now. In finding Orthodoxy, we have found “the ancient path, where the good way is” (Jeremiah 6:16). Metropolitan Philip, a hierarch of the Orthodox Church has said that the Orthodox Church is the best kept secret in America. Our conviction is that we haven’t found just another church, we’ve found the Church, the one true Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of history. In the words of a young man who recently found salvation through Orthodoxy:
… at last, I finally began to see how everything did fit together, how Truth was not “scattered in a thousand pieces,” but was preserved, intact and unchanging, in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church …. I had finally, through all my searching, found the key, the ultimate source of Revealed Truth in pure, undistorted form. Something had always kept me looking for the “hardcore,” no-compromising Christianity, because I knew down inside that, if Jesus Christ is God, then Christianity had to be the most radical belief in the world. And it’s not surprising that the most hardcore, radical, all-or-nothing message I’ve ever heard comes not from anything “modern, new and revolutionary,” but from the “original thing” – the One Church, the only Church, the true Church the Orthodox Christian Church, the mystical Body of Christ ….
Indeed, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever!