I didn't know too much about Eastern Orthodoxy before preparing to move to Romania. While I still have much to learn, I have spent the last year picking up pieces of information, talking with individuals who identify as Orthodox and making my own observations. There are many aspects of Orthodoxy which stand out - aspects of theology, worship, traditions, etc. But perhaps the first and most apparent aspect which will stand out to any onlooker is the Orthodox church buildings. Orthodox buildings are far more ornate and opulent than Catholic and Protestant churches. They catch the eye with the glimmer of gold you can see from miles away. Learning about Orthodoxy has lead me to believe that one of their major emphases is on the beauty and experience of God. Their architecture is meant to accost your senses and the sensual experience only grows from the outside in, as your entrance into the church greets you with many colors and the smell of incense.
"Ce e bun, e rar."
That which is good, is rare. I was introduced to this Romanian phrase the other week at Bible study, when our Romanian leader for that week put this idea forward and asked whether everyone agreed with the statement. Such a statement seems true on its face. Yachts, diamonds, vintage wines, and front row seating at a concert are wonderful things, but extremely rare. They're something you savor when you experience them, and often pay a high price to obtain them. The more magnificent something is, the rarer and harder to obtain it will be.
For the most part, all of us agreed with the phrase. While I typically shy away from universal statements, it at least seemed generally true. It does seem like the best things are rare. After discussing the Romanian phrase, our leader then asked a tough follow-up question. "If the love and grace of God is so wonderful, how could it be so plentiful?" The implication, of course, was that if God's love was so amazing, it would be rare and difficult to obtain, but we know that God's love is endless and readily available. Our leader pointed out that a grace like that presented in the gospels seems like something that would devalue itself. Flooding the spiritual market with grace, like flooding the economic market with money, would make the value, wonder, and power of grace diminish. I appreciated this question, as our Romanian leader had grown up with a very strong emphasis on merit. This notion of free, unmerited grace was new to him. It seemed like he found it interesting and compelling, but couldn't figure out how such a thing could be real.
If you don't want to have to read this in parts and click through all the links below, you can download the whole file here.
Part 1: Circumcision and Baptism - Introduction, importance, and the connection of baptism's symbolism and application between the Old and New Testaments
Part 2: Sprinkling and Consecration - The connection between the mode of consecration in the Old and New Testaments as well as the identification of the person of the godhead responsible for cleansing and consecration, the Spirit.
Part 3: The Family and Federal Headship - Explores how God has deemed the children of believers holy, and how representation through federal headship is a beautiful aspect of God's grace to us as seen particularly through God's view of our holiness via Christ. This provides a framework for how we, in our independent, decisional culture can baptize individuals before their own faith in view of their parent's faith.
Part 4: Contextual Evidence - Addresses some of the problematic logistics of immersion, specific baptism events in the NT, and some of the "problem passages" for sprinkling as the mode of baptism (e.g. Jesus's baptism and the Eunuch's baptism)
Part 5: Church History - Church Father quotes from (approximately) the first 350 years of church history following the writing of the first NT books. I also very briefly address a few key archaeological points.
Part 6: Counter-Rebuttals - I very briefly address what I believe to be some of the most common and/or strongest counters to the case I laid out (Israel vs. the church, one verse zingers, Greek word baptizo, circumcision practiced alongside baptism, and "just because").
Part 7: Conclusion and Resources - Self-explanatory