Bible Answer

How to refute claims of the Orthodox Church?

A friend has joined the Orthodox church, and believes it is the historical church that was begun in Acts. She argues that each and every believer up until Luther and the Reformation were either Catholic or Orthodox. I know this cannot be right, but how best am I to refute her claims?

Your friend’s defensiveness over your concerns for her new-found allegiance is typical of Orthodox and Roman Catholics (both religious systems are nearly identical). These religions are not Christianity, and therefore virtually all who pursue these religions are unbelievers. They act out of their flesh because they lack the Holy Spirit. For the unbeliever, religion is an affiliation (like choosing a favorite sports team), so they defend their allegiance the way people defend their allegiance to a favorite call club. 

Obviously, true saving faith shares nothing in common with this fleshly attitude. If your friend sincerely agrees with Orthodox church teaching concerning salvation by works, then we can say she is not a born-again believer. For more information on how the Orthodox Church differs from true Christianity, please read: Is the Orthodox church a true Christian church?

Both Catholics and Orthodox return frequently to their claims to being the “first and true church,” yet their claim is both wrong and irrelevant. The Catholic Church was actually formed several centuries after Jesus during the waning stages of the Roman Empire, while the Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church several centuries after that. 

Furthermore, their claim is irrelevant since no human institution can have exclusive control over the Spirit of God. He goes where He wishes and saves whomever the Father appoints, therefore it’s meaningless and purposeless to engage in arguments over the “true” church. The only discussion that matters, is what is the "true Gospel?” Believing in the true message of salvation is all that matters, and any church that teaches and holds to the true Gospel is a true Church. 

Ironically, by that standard the Orthodox and Catholic churches are not true churches at all. The true Church (according to Romans 8) are all those who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by faith in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ; the Orthodox and Catholic Churches can’t meet this test (as our article above explains). 

Therefore, we advise you to not get dragged into the useless arguments your friend seems interested in pursuing, as Paul commands:

2Tim. 2:14  Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.

2Tim. 2:16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,
2Tim. 2:23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.

Instead, we recommend you invite conversation about the true Gospel. Specifically, ask your friend what she believes will bring a person into Heaven? Listen carefully to what she says. If she includes any degree of personal effort or merit as part of salvation (i.e., doing good works, being a good person, etc.), then you know she doesn’t understand the true Gospel and mostly likely is not saved (i.e., born again). 

In this case, spend your time explaining the true Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. Do not leave that topic or become distracted in meaningless debates over issue of the “true” church or interpreting the Bible by ourselves. The words of scripture are not hard to understand (they were written to be understood by 1st century believers), and your friend can understand them too, provided the Spirit is leading her to an understanding. 

You may find the first few lessons of 1 Corinthians helpful. Please listen to Lessons 1B & 1C.

Remember, do not allow yourself to get sidetracked into debates about other matters until, and unless, the Gospel is settled in your friend’s heart. If she will not believe the word of God concerning the Gospel, then you will not have success in any other question, nor will it matter. Only the Gospel saves souls.