A number of years ago, I read the book “Becoming Orthodox” by Peter Gillquist, which is the story of 2,000 Evangelicals, many of them members of Campus Crusade for Christ, becoming members of the Antiochian Orthodox Church during the 1980′s. As a former member of Crusade who took a similar journey (although mine ended in the Roman Catholic Church), I found it a very interesting read.
One thing that struck me about Gillquist’s story is that when he was exploring the Orthodox Church, he met resistance from many Orthodox bodies – most of them didn’t want him to join! Talk about not understanding the importance of evangelization to Christianity. However, one Orthodox body – the Antiochian Orthodox Church – welcomed the Evangelical converts with open arms. The Antioch Church traces it origins to the first place where followers of Christ were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26) and that Church has since become a haven for Protestant converts, as this recent article in the New York Times attests:
Yet in its broader outlines, his movement from the Protestant realm into the Orthodox one, specifically into the Antiochian branch, attests to a significant and fascinating example of denominational migration. Over the last 20 years, the Antiochian Orthodox Church — with its roots in Syria and Lebanon and its longtime membership in the United States made up almost entirely of Middle Eastern immigrants and their descendants — has become the destination of choice for thousands of Protestants of Northern European ancestry.
The visible shift began in 1987 with the conversion of nearly 2,000 evangelical Christians, led by Peter E. Gillquist and other alumni of the Dallas Theological Seminary and the Campus Crusade for Christ. More recently, a wave of converts has arrived from such mainline Protestant denominations as the Episcopalian and Lutheran.
Some 70 percent of Antiochian Orthodox priests in the United States are converts, according to Bradley Nassif, who, as a theology professor at North Park University in Chicago, is a leading scholar of the religion. A generation or two ago, Professor Nassif said, converts made up barely 10 percent of Antiochian clergy.
What is attracting these Evangelicals to Orthodoxy? For most, it is a reaction to two things in modern Evangelicalism: (1) the jettisoning of tradition; and (2) the diminishment of the importance of theology. In many Evangelical churches today the emphasis is on watering down both the worship and the doctrines of the Church in order to make Christianity more palatable to modern sensibilities. This is the exact opposite of Orthodoxy, which (proudly) does nothing to make itself attractive to the post-modern world; it revels in maintaining a worldview that lies somewhere between the 1st and 7th centuries. Whereas this might turn off many people with a modern mindset, this attitude can be very attractive to those who recognize the shallowness of much of modern Evangelicalism and want to dive into the deep waters of ancient Christianity.
I pray that more and more Evangelical Christians see the beauty and depth of ancient Christianity and find their home in one of the apostolic Churches.