The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: West Syrian (Jacobite)

November 10, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: West Syrian (Jacobite)

The Jacobites viewed the presence of the Holy Spirit in three prime settings. Firstly, He is the agent of the original ex-nahilo creation and the spiritual re-creation in the second birth. Secondly, He is present in the baptism and chrismation. Lastly, He is the Transfigurator of the Eucharistic elements representing the body and the blood of Christ.5 [1]

Our prime source of information on the corporate ecclesiastical Coptic tradition is a document entitled The Odes of Solomon. Interesting to notice in this context of this writings is the fact that the Spirit is referred in a feminine gender.[2] However, this conception declined as the devotion to the person of Mary grew.[3]

Such a devotion is extraordinary noticeable in the life and writings of Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306-373). He further compares the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary as the Spirit’s descent over both the water baptism and the elements of the Eucharist.[4] This is why in the Syriac baptismal service; the holy oil is powered onto the water.[5] For the same reason, Ephrem states that the Eucharist means involvement with the hosts of heaven.

Ephrem recognizes Spirit-activity through the entire panorama of salvation. The Spirit is present in the transformation of the fallen human creature into “the pristine of paradisiacal state.”[6] The gift of the Spirit is received in the water baptism where the believer receives a divine armor.[7]

A follower of Ephrem is Philoxenus of Mabbug (ca. 440-523). Among other issues, in his writings, he states that the life in the spirit is nothing else but a process of sanctification. He refers to it also as the spiritualization of the body, which is expressed through the domination of the body by the soul. The above results are possible only after fasting and prayer.[8] A contemporary of Philoxenus by the name of Severus of Antioch (ca. 465-ca. 539) adds to the above process the presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church as a sign of God’s divine election. In this sense, the Jacobites are carriers of the already-not-yet idea.[9]

[1] J. H. Barnard, The Odes of Solomon, Texts and Studies 8:3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), 120-21.

[2] Ibid., 67, note on verse 17.

[3] Robert Murray, “Mary, the Second Eve in the Early Syriac Fathers,” Eastern Church Review 3:4 (Autumn 1971): 373.

[4] Ephrem, Nisibene Hymns 37.4 in CSCO 241, Syr. 103:13, and NPF 2nd Series 13:295.

[5] Ephrem, Hymns of Paradise 11, in CSCO 175, Syr. 79:43-46.

[6] Jean Danielou, From Shadows to Reality (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1960), 23-30.

[7] Ephrem, Hymns of the Epiphany 3.1-3, in CSCO 187, Syr. 83:18-19.

[8] E. A. Wallis Budge, The Discourses of Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabbogh, AD 485-519 (London: Asher and Co., 1894), “Eleventh Discourse on Assistance,” Budge 264.

[9] Burgess, 178.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Coptic

September 20, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Coptic

The connection between the Egyptian Church and the Holy Spirit can be traced back all the way to the birth of Jesus in the beginning of the Gospel narrative. Following the early ecclesiastical history, the development of the church continues with the desert fathers, among who Anthony of Egypt is a prime example.

In this context, the Coptics focus on anointing with oil, laying on of hands, and even laying on of the Bible or other holy objects on the sick person as a healing method. Because of their teaching about the connection between demons and deceases, exorcism is practiced along with healing.[1]

This is consistent with the writings of one of their prime writers by the name of Shenoute of Atripe (4th-5th century), who believed that the Holy Spirit is a life-giving force needed in order to obtain victory in both the spiritual and material worlds.[2] Impacted by the problems of the monastic life, his theology further reflected on the Spirit as “a consistent vigilance.” [3]

The Spirit is also the one who maintains the walls of the individual’s heart. In this sense, the spirit is the agent of continuous victory in the life of the Christian. Shenoute’s teaching of momentarily and continuous victory is similar to what we consider today as sanctification of the believer. This is further revealed in his belief of the fruits of the Spirit being manifested as a result of the believer’s victory over evil.[4] This element of Shenoute’s credo integrates a continuation with the previously discussed positions on the fruit of the Spirit by Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Narek.

Even wider range of mystical experiences in the context of the Coptic Church is provided by Pseudo-Macareus (4th c.). In his view, the Spirit is the one who nourishes the Church, and as such He is also the source and the provider of the pneumatic experiences.[5] Similar to John Cassian, he describes the Spirit in the means of light and “inflammation.”[6] In his description of the pneumatic experience as ”intoxication,” Pseudo-Macareus is consistent with the previously discussed example of Isaac of Nineveh.[7] Analogically to Symeon the New Theologian, Pseudo-Macareus claims that the above experience is strictly personal.[8] And along with John Cassian, Maximus the Confessor, Seraphim Sarov, Narsai and many others he holds “that a true communion with God is possible only as an individual takes time to enter a quite place for solitary prayer.”[9]

[1] Otto F. A. Meinardus, Christian Egypt: Faith and Life (Cairo: American University Press, 1970), 224.

[2] Johannes Leipoldt and W. E. Crum, eds., Sinuthii archimandritae vita et opera omnia, CSCO 73 Coptic 5 (Paris: e Typographeo reibulicae, 1913; reprint Louvain, imprimerie orientaliste L. Durbecq, 1954), 12-.31-32.

[3] Dimitri Cozby, “Abba Shenute of Atripe: First Homily on the Patriarchs,” in Dwight W. Young, ed., Studies Presented to Hans Jacob Polotsky (Bacon Hill: Pirtle and Polson, 1981), 17-20.

[4] Leipoldt and Crum, 81.2-21.

[5]Granville Penn, Institutes of Christian Perfection (London: John Murray, 1816), 5.12.

[6] Ibid., 5.4.

[7] Inst., 66.

[8] Burgess, 148.

[9] Ibid.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Ethiopian

September 5, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Ethiopian

The Ethiopian Church is not a significance source of information in our study, because the Holy Spirit is not a prime issue there until the fourteenth century.[1] Surprisingly, gifts and fruits of the Spirit are not mentioned. For the Ethiopians, the Holy Spirit the one who teaches us the nature and unity of the Godhead.[2] Similar to the teaching of Hazzaya, the Spirit is the Perfector of the creation.[3] Like the Father and the Son, He blesses the believers and speaks to the church.

The experience of the Spirit for the Ethiopic saints is a vision of the Trinity. In one occasion of such a vision, a man received the elements of the Eucharist from the Trinity.  In a similar pattern, nine of the fourteen anaphorae of the Ethiopic church refer to the Holy Spirit changing of the Eucharistic elements into the Body and the Blood of Christ.[4]

[1] Getatchwe Haile, “Religious Controversies and the Growth of Ethiopic Literature in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” Oriens Christianus 65 (1981): 102-36.

[2] G. W. B. Huntingford, “Saints of Medieval Ethiopia,” Abba Salama 10 (1979): 287-89.

[3] Mingana, 148.

[4] O. H. I. Hadji-Burmester, “A Comparative Study of the Form of the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis in the Anaphorae of the Ethiopic Church,” Eastern Churches Quarterly 13:1 (Spring 1959): 41.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Armenian

August 15, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Church: Armenian

The Armenian Church claims to be found by St. Bartholomew in the midst of the first century.[1] The Armenian faith practices focused on preservation of the apostolic doctrines and habits. In this act it links its story with history and remains not only a discoverer, but also a preserver and a carrier of the past Christian tradition.[2]

Remarkable remains the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Armenian tradition. A prime example is the number of congregational songs dedicated to the Holy Spirit, in which the Spirit: (1) descended from heaven upon the apostles, (2) filled them all, (3) arming them with “fire by miracle,” (4) giving them “diverse tongues,” (5) and “manifold gifts.”[3] Because of the hardship in its long history, the Armenian Church has developed an extraordinary pneumatic heritage.

An Armenian apostle, patron and national saint by the name of Gregory the Illuminator (ca. 240-325), led the restoration of the Armenian Church. His studies were focused on the theology of the Holy Spirit and catechism shows examples of deep and concentrated pneumatic research.

For example, he includes a study of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the former, He is present in the band of the prophets, as a sign of their office.[4] In the later, He is present in the baptism of Christ signifying His purity and sinlessness.[5]

In this context, Gregory the Illuminator describes the Spirit is described as a furnace, which burns sin away.[6] Fire is the sanctifying agent of the Spirit.[7] Only after the twelve were led through the fire experience, they received divine knowledge and supernatural interpretation of the Old Testament prophesies, in order to reveal the mysteries of the Word.[8]

Similar view in this tradition holds Gregory Narek (ca. 950-ca. 1010), who claims that the Spirit pardons our sins, and thus gives birth of the Church.[9] He further states that the Spirit equips the Church with both spiritual gifts and fruits, which coexist only in the ecclesiastical environment.[10] Interesting in this context is his description of “intoxicating joy” through which he comes close to a number of experiences from different cultural and ethnical settings among which the already discussed Seraphim Sarov and Narsai.[11]

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.13 in NPF 2nd Series, 1:100-2.

[2] Burgess, 113.

[3] Ibid., 115-16.

[4] Gregory the Illuminator, Cathehism parag. 502., in Robert W. Thomson, ed., The Teachings of St. Gregory: An Early Armenian Catechism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970)., 116.

[5] Gregory the Illuminator, Cathehism parag. 418, 420; Thomson, Teaching, 91.

[6] Gregory the Illuminator, Cathehism parag. 682; Thomson, Teaching, 170.

[7] Gregory the Illuminator, Cathehism parag. 676; Thomson, Teaching, 168.

[8] Gregory the Illuminator, Cathehism parag. 661-63, 672; Thomson, Teaching, 164-65, 167.

[9] Robert W. Thompson, “Gregory of Narek’s Commentary on the Song of Songs,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 43:2 (October 1983): 453-96, 6.8, 7.13, 8.5; Thompson 484, 490-92.

[10] Mischa Kudian, Lamentations of Nerek: Mystic Soliloquies with God (London: Mashtots Press, 1977), 3.1, 15.1.

[11] Thompson, “Song of Songs,” 4.10.

The Orthodox Church after AD 1054

August 5, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News, Publication, Research

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Orthodox Church after AD 1054

The development of Pneumatism, in this latter period, is directly linked to three major political processes in Eastern Europe. The first one was the schism of 1054, after which the unity of the Church would never be the same. The ecclesiastical division, which is based more on the political situation than doctrinal differences officially completed a separation, which had started centuries ago.

The second one includes the mission to the Slavs. What Burgess[1] fails to mention is the fact that the brothers Cyril and Methodius were born in a wealthy Bulgarian family and sent to Thessalonica to be educated early in their lives. After extensive study and research, they were able to invent an alphabetic structure called Glagolitza, which was the first Slavic alphabet. This success was dated as early as 881-882 A.D. Their work was not left unnoted by King Boris I, under who Bulgaria had adopted Christianity twenty years earlier in 863 A.D.[2]

Thus, the work of “Thessalonica brothers,” as they are often called in the Bulgarian tradition, was not only “a great missionary effort,” as Burgess claims, but also rather a patriotic and nationalistic return to their roots in an attempt to adjust Greek ecclesiastical tradition to the needs of Slavs and Bulgarians. Their revolutionary plan included the formation of the Slavic alphabet, which was to be used as an instrument to translate, write and distribute liturgical literature in the language spoken by the Slavs in the land of Bulgaria. With this they not only fulfilled their original purpose, to limit the Greek influence on the Bulgarian Church, but also became a steppingstone in the development of the Bulgarian culture by the means of the written literature.

The last major conflict was the invasion of the united Islamic armies to the Balkans. The Turks were cruel and in their aggression. In a typical Oriental model, their purpose was not only to conquer, but also to exploit the conquered lands. In their attempt to do so, they did not stop to only physical conquest, but attempted to change the culture, religion, customs, ethnos and national belonging of the conquered nations. Thus, preserving Eastern Christianity and Orthodox liturgical practices became the means of survival for the Balkan nations.

The focus in the writings of this period’s pneumatologists is the idea of representation of the Holy Spirit as energy. This belief is so extreme that it leads to the conviction that divine energy is present even at the graves of dead saints.[3] This is in continuation with some of preceding writings from the pre-schism period.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) is a major example of this link with the past and preservation of the pneumatic experience. Living in the very beginning of the Turkish conquest over the Balkans and great political changes, Palamas wrote that the only way to know God is through an inner change, a transfiguration done only by the Spirit of God.[4]

This act is the initiation of deification. The Holy Spirit is viewed as light in the process of edifying the church.[5] The believers are instruments in the hands of God.[6] They are led by the Spirit through the means of the spiritual gifts, which Palamas reports as possible and active in his days. He further lists three different categories of gifts: word of instruction, healing and miracles. The gifts are obtained only through “intense mental prayer.” Laying on of hands, after the example of the apostle Paul, is also required.[7]

At the same historical moment, similar position is supported by Nicholas Cabasilas (1320-1371). While differs from Symeon the New Theologian, that there’s a special experience outside of the established sacraments, Cabasilas reports the practice of spiritual gifts.[8] He also claims that gifts are signs for the power of God being active in the world. The church is to partake into the gifts and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit.[9]

Palamas’ prime mystical focus, however, is on the essence and energies of the Holy Spirit. He claims that God is known through energies, and not essence.[10] Similar position is taken by Irenaeus[11] and Athenagoras[12] as early as the second century. Basil,[13] Gregory of Nissa,[14] and later on Pseudo-Dionisius[15] and Maximius the Confessor[16] also distinguish understanding of God between energy and essence. Thus, through this position, Palamas becomes a preserver of centuries of theological research and experience, and provides a link with the doctrinal past of the early Eastern Church.

Seraphim Sarov has a similar role.  Sarov lives in the later part of this period in eighteenth century feudal Russia. Although, his surrounding is primarily monastic, limited by Eastern sacramental tradition and severe ascethism, his experiences are of intense mystical nature and divine inspiration. For Sarov, the purpose of Christian life is “acquisition” of the Holy Spirit.[17] The Spirit is to be acquired as “a financial reserve,” which is done through prayer and is available to both monks and laity.

Both the idea of financial reserve and equality between clergy and laity are definitely reflect on the present situation in Russia during the time of Sarov. While the former is clearly a reflection on the economical crises in the monarchy, the latter reflects on the structural, hierarchical crisis of the Russian church. The above ideas are both prophetic and revolutionary, especially viewed in the context of the Bolshevik Revolution, which follows shortly after being published by Nicholas Motovilov in a 1903 issue of Moscow Gazette.

The above publications are our main source of Sarov’s experiences. They are recorded as a conversation one of Motovilov’s visit in November 1831.[18] The climax of this conversation is a moment of transfiguration of both Sarov and his guest. The glory of the Lord was visible as light. This was explained as grace viewed through eyes of flesh. The experience was accompanied with odours and “joy inexpressible.”[19] This encounter is analogical to the experiences “untold ecstasy” and sweet smell portrayed by Pseudo-Macarius and Symeon the New Theologian.[20] Sarov further related the transfiguration experience as what Pseudo-Macarius claimed to be the fullness of the Spirit. It is interesting to notice, that the pneumatic experiences Sarov had were not only a preservation of the experiences of pneumtaics prior to his time, but also a reflection of his present political and economical surroundings.

[1] Burgess, 67.

[2] Milcho Lalkov, Rulers of Bulgaria (Sofia: Kibea Publishing Co., 1995), 21.

[3] Carmino J. deCatanzaro, Nicholas Cabasilas: The Life of Christ (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 106-7.

[4] Burgess, 71.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Meyendorff: Gregory Palalmas: The Triads (Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1983), 88.

[7] Ibid., 52-53.

[8] Burgess, 77.

[9] deCatanzaro, 107.

[10] Ibid, 77-111.

[11] Fragment 5, PG 7:col. 1232.

[12] On the Resurrection 1.

[13] Letter 234, PG 32:col. 869.

[14] Against Eunomius 12 PG 14:col. 960.

[15] On the Divine Names 2.7, PG 3:col. 645.

[16] To Nikandros, PG 91:col. 96.

[17] Burgess, 79.

[18] Valentine Zander, St. Seraphim of Sarov, trans. by Gabriel Anne and Boris Bobrinovsky (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963), 83-94.

[19] Ibid. 95.

[20] John Cassian, Collationes 4.5, PL 49:col. 589.

Jacksonville, FL: 2020 Bulgarian Church Conference (Sept. 1-5)

August 1, 2022 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

InJOY Church of God Leadership Study 20 Years Later

July 25, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Source: COG Leadership Development: The Consultant’s View
Dated: 7/12/2002

For the past two years, the Church of God has benefited from an association with INJOY denominational consultants Dr. Conrad Lowe and Dr. Ron McManus. Recently they presented a comprehensive report with the Church of God Executive Council, which is shared here with COG News readers. John Maxwell Denominational Partnerships wishes to thank God and the leaders of the Church of God for the privilege of working closely together in the leadership development initiative. This endeavor has been a highlight of our ministry.
During Phase I, we witnessed this great vision cast across the entire Church of God in North America. Visionary leadership was modeled by the Executive Committee and the Executive Council. State overseers have invested in extensive training. Approximately 2,000 pastors and lay leaders have been trained in various ministry skills. Mentoring groups have begun in most states. Many growing churches have begun to grow, and many declining churches have accelerated, many plateaud churches have begun to grow, and many declining churches have stabilized. Finances, conversions and membership have increased. Church health and “excellence” have also improved for many churches.
The future goal is that additional pastors and churches will be added as we move to more intensive leadership training. In addition, the leadership development initiative will add leadership “coaching” to the mentoring strategy.
One of our tasks as consultants is to bring awareness of potential barriers to the vision of the Church of God. At this juncture in the process, we suggest there are five areas that should be addressed by the Church of God.
Church of God DNA
From our observation, the Church of God has at least three prominent formative influences—holiness, Pentecostal experience and a predominant rural culture.
· The holiness lifestyle defines your character.
· The Pentecostal experience empowers you through the Holy Spirit.
· The rural culture gives you your mental model of ministry.
The dangers we envision are as follows: (1) the importance of holiness may not be passed to the next generation; (2) the Pentecostal experience may lead you to focus on the gifts and neglect the disciplines of ministry; (3) a rural model of ministry is not readily transferable to other cultures, including ethnically diverse, suburban and urban cultures.
RECOMMENDATIONS
1. A plan of education in your heritage holiness must heavily influence your next generation. It may take place in institutions, distance learning, books, tapes, seminars, and so forth. At this point, we observe many Church of God pastors receiving their theology from external sources rather than their denomination.
2. Focus on you Pentecostal experience as your distinctive relationship with God, but add the disciplines of ministry to your gifts. For example, the training offered by the International Executive Committee during the spring and fall events focused primarily on ministry disciplines such as evangelism, assimilation and change management, along with others. Eventually, Church of God leaders will excel in the exercise of the gifts and the disciplines of ministry.
3. Learn how to plan and grow churches in diverse cultures.
Leadership Rotation
It appears that you believe you can “lead by taking turns.” The theory is based on the belief that every leader who is voted into offices next is as productive and skilled as the one being replaced. This organizational model works only if all leaders are equally capable. That theory is never true. This system always produces a roller-coaster effect of good and bad leadership. There is never time for the accomplishment of a vision; instead, each new leader is determined to leave his personal mark. The new leaders then feel free to change everything every time there is an election. If any group is lead by a great leader, they should do everything possible to keep the same leadership in place for sustained success. If not, the quality of leadership in the Church of God will always be “peaks and valleys” depending on whose “turn it is this year.”
Imagine any local Church of God. If they get a great leader and the church is prospering, they would do anything to keep that leader because they know one thing from experience—we have fine leader, but if he leaves, the next one may not be as good. We encourage the Church of God to rethink this underlying assumption about how your denomination is led. Major ministries are led by (1) great leaders and (2) those leaders stay long enough to build something that lasts. For great leaders, the longer they lead, the better the organization will become.
RECOMMENDATION
Focus on productivity instead of “taking turns leading.” As John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” The local Church of God churches will “rise and fall” on the quality of the leadership in your pulpits, your state and regional offices, and the international offices. The future of your movement depends on your ability to attract and keep our most gifted and productive leaders in your positions of influence.
Leadership Skills
The present system of choosing leadership in the Church of God encourages “political skills” instead of “leadership skill.” The regular votes for leaders (state, national and international levels) express the will of the minority. This is true because the majority do not vote in most political systems.
RECOMMENDATION
Hold the elected leaders accountable for the improved ministry of the churches they serve instead of “popularity votes.” Choose the best leaders among you. Then give them the resources to do the job. Support them with prayer and cooperation. Finally, hold each leader accountable for the results of their leadership and measure how well the churches are doing under their leadership.
We encourage the Church of God to continue its dependence upon the leadership of the Holy Spirit in making decisions which improve the church. As consultants, we find few people who are purely political, but we raise a major warning that the present system encourages “patronage.”
Structure
The Church of God is historically structured as a “hierarchy.” It can be visualized as a pyramid with pastors and churches at the bottom, state overseers in the middle, and international executive leaders at the top. As one moves upward in the pyramid, renown, finances and power increase. Under the leadership of Dr. Lamar Vest, the pyramid is being inverted. The principle is Biblical “servant leadership.” The international executive leaders serve as a resource for the state overseers, while the state overseers serve as a resource for the local pastors and churches.
We encourage the Church of God to “stay the course” moving in the direction of servant leadership. Jesus said, “He who would be greatest among you, let him become the least among you.” In the body of Christ, we must focus attention and resources on those who labor in the fields of the Lord’s vineyard.
RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Focus on the right group. Every successful structure must align the members to achieve the ultimate goal. The goal of the Church of God is to reach the lost and to train fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. In most organizations, the structure evolves to benefit the people who make the policies. Improvement occurs when they focus on the right people, the lost and those being involved in ministry.
2. Make decisions at the level closest to the work. The correct consulting term for this is empowerment. The Church of God must organize the denomination to develop the potential in every church. Ephesians 4 clearly describes the congregation of the church as “ministers,” not “spectators.” The Bible then says those lay ministers should choose laypeople to lead their ministry. The task of the pastor and staff is to equip the people in the congregation to build a great ministry. Structure the future to develop strong lay ministries with everyone else serving as a resource for that local ministry.
3. Make the structure flexible enough to meet current challenges. The foundation of the Church of God is its holiness, Pentecostal experience and Biblical authority. They are the bedrock principles that should remain the same. Structure, however, is temporary and changes as the organization grows and faces new challenges. A denomination plateaus or declines when it treats structure as if it were a foundational principle. You cannot confuse structures with foundational principles. You improve the Church of God when the structures serve the people instead of the people being saddled with an outdated structure.
4. Form Follows Function in Structure. The Church of God must find what God is blessing and then structure itself to join Him. Most denominations begin to decline and decay when they retain their present forms even if they can no longer be successful within those forms. It is time to simplify structure, increase flexibility to encourage innovation, and form your structures to fit your functions.
State/Regional Overseer Productivity
After consulting with the Church of God for almost two years, it is our conclusion that the key to transformation for the future rests primarily in the leadership of the state/regional overseers. They are the denomination’s primary influence on the field of ministry. If the state/regional overseer provides resources; models visionary leadership; and implements the strategies of “mentoring, coaching, consulting, modeling and teaching churches,” that state or region will experience health and growth.
RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Choose only your best leaders in the Church of God as state/regional overseers. They should have sterling character, be holy in their reputation, and have a “track record” of successful leadership; and train them to move from “doing” to “coaching”
2. Evaluate state/regional overseers solely on their ability to move their churches to new levels of quality and quantity.
3. Increase the training for state/regional overseers with one goal: our most productive leaders are overseers.
4. Leave them in place long enough to make a major, positive difference in their state or region. Instead of inheriting a stronger state or region, require the state/regional overseer to build a better state or region.
Leadership Trust
It appears that some Church of God policies have been established as a reaction to leadership failures in the past. Large organizations are notoriously slow to personally address misbehavior. When they do, they often make a general policy that punishes everyone rather than addressing the specific leader involved. The result is “leadership suspicion.” Those within the organization begin to mistrust all leaders and make broad defensive policies. The result is tragic—leadership for the organization is diminished.
RECOMMENDATION
Elect and appoint leaders who meet Biblical standards and who are recognized as people of Christian integrity. Then take the risk to trust and honor them as Scripture requires.
CONCLUSION
We believe the Church of God must address these issues in order to move boldly into the leadership role God has offered you. We do not offer detailed solutions at this point. It is simply our duty to help you recognize some of the issues that will determine the future.
We believe that you must minister as if your dreams are bigger than your memories. Your past has been glorious, but it is no place to live now. Your leaders are being endowed with vision fro God for your denomination, every state or region, and every local church. We encourage you to grow into those visions and resist being defined by the past.
Most important, we believe the church is poised for an unprecedented time of spiritual harvest. The great news is the issues you must address are all issues of growth, not of decline. The difficult news is, you must give serious consideration to some strategies changes. We believe every denomination in America needs to see one leadership group experience miraculous reformation. The rest will gladly follow. We are praying that you—the Church of God—are the group willing to learn enough, work enough, receive enough and pray enough to respond to God’s great promise—that your ministry will multiply “like the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky.”

Bulgarian Church of God splits in 10

July 1, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

The Bulgarian Church of God has split in no less than 10 since the early 2000s as following:

  1. Bulgarian Church of God (27.12.1990)
  2. Church of God in Bulgaria (23.01.2006)
  3. God’s Church (13938/2006: 07.02.2007)
  4. Church of God-12 (Sofia, Rodostono)
  5. New Generation Church of God (05.04.2000)
  6. Bethesda Church of God (27.12.2010)
  7. BulLiv Church of God (15.01.2000)
  8. New Life Church of God (06.11.2000)
  9. Bulgarian Church of God – Sofia (4996/2003 Sredetz, E.Georgiev Bul. 2, apt. 4)
  10. Bridge Church of God (50/2013)

The East Syrian (Assyrian) Church

June 15, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The East Syrian (Assyrian) Church

The Assyrian Church is viewed in direct connection with the Jacobites.[1] The church grows in the context of Nestorianism and Assyrian practices.[2] Yet, the literature of the Assyrian Church is full of pneumatologay including symbolic language and profound spirituality.[3] For example, Narsai’s (413-ca. 503) pneumatology is strictly in the boundaries of liturgical and sacramental practices. An immediate contrast, however, is Isaac of Nineveh (7th c.), who, during sacraments, would suddenly fall on the floor, repeatingly rising up and kissing the cross.[4]

For Narsai the Spirit sanctifies and edifies the church through baptism.[5] In a similar manner, Hazzaya (d. ca 690), another Assyrian writer, views the Holy Spirit not only as Edifier, but also as Perfector of the Church.[6] As such, He brings transformation in the life of the believer.[7] This state is reached with beyond the conscious prayer.[8] It is accompanied with sweet odors,[9] tears of joy[10] and sound of glorification heard in the soul of the individual.[11] This description fits the previously discussed experience of Symeon the New Theologian.[12] Isaac of Nineveh also describes the ecstasy in the Spirit in the means of tears of joy[13] and “a state of drunkenness.”[14]

The above is strictly a personal experience.[15] In a corporate, ecclesiastical context, the union of individual experiences builds the Kingdom of God. In this sense the Kingdom is an already-not-yet reality, in which the direction of the Holy Spirit is essential. [16]

The gifts are essential for the life of the Kingdom. According to Narsai, the they are received through laying on of hands.[17] Healing is obtained through a similar ritual.[18] Isaac claims that they are bestowed in a time of prayer.[19] They are accepted in humility out of which comes as burning compassion for the creation.[20]

Hazzaya, furthermore, gives five practical signs for recognition of the works of the Holy Spirit: (1) love of God burns within the heart of the believer, (2) growth in humility of the soul, (3) kindness to all people, (4) true love and (5) vision of mind. His main tool to recognize demons and demonic visions from God and divine revelations is the peace of heart, which follows the heavenly presence.[21]

Peace can be also reached through reading of Scripture. According to Isaac of Nineveh, Scripture delivers us from every evil thought and turns our minds to good.[22] Scripture is to be read not by chapters, but a passage at a time with prayerful desire for understanding.[23] This is one of the first recorded attempts explaining the connection between pneumatic experiences and Scripture.

[1] Burgess, 85.

[2] Ibid., 88.

[3] Ibid., 89.

[4] A. J. Wensinck, Mystical treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. From the Bedjan  Syrian text (Amsterdam: Koninklijke akademie van wetenschappen, 1923), 95-96.

[5] R. Hugh Connolly, The Liturgical Homiletics of Narsai, Studies and Texts 8 (Cambridge: University Press, 1909), 46, 49-50.

[6] Alphonsi Mingana, “Joseph Hazzaya: The Shortest Path that Leads us to God,” Early Christian Mystics, Woodbroke Studies 7 (Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1934), 148.

[7] Ibid.,149.

[8] Ibid., 171.

[9] Ibid., 148-49.

[10] Ibid., 183.

[11] Ibid., 183.

[12] Disc. 3329.5, 313.

[13] Wensinck, 330.

[14] Ibid., 253.

[15] Mingana, 157.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Connolly, 8, 21, 34, 40, 49, 53, 63.

[18] Ibid., 35, 44.

[19] Wensinck, xxxix, 116-17.

[20] Ibid., 388.

[21] Mingana, 173-74.

[22] E. Kadloukovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, Early Father from the Philokalia (London:  Faber and Faber, 1954), 242.

[23] Wensink, 84.

The Orthodox Church before AD 1054

May 15, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Research

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Orthodox Church before AD 1054

The experiencing of the Spirit in this period is characterized with the existence of spiritual gifts, the quest for spiritual knowledge and an experiencing of the kingdom of God. Beside attempts to explain the nature and existence of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical writings contain passages on sin and prayer (John Cassian), creation and re-creation (Maximus the Confessor). The main focus in this context remains on the mystical experiencing of the Spirit. A motto statement of this era is the expression of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagate that “God can be approached experientially beyond the bounds of sense perception and reason.”[1]

From a similar perspective John Cassian believed that spiritual knowledge comes only through the presence of the Holy Spirit.[2] It is a result of one’s inflammation with the desire to possess the wisdom of God. This search for spiritual knowledge is accompanied by a personal quest for ethical and practical knowledge. The process contains one’s deliverance from the evil of the world and humility of heart as the fruit of the Spirit.[3]

The fruit of the Spirit is the context in which the gifts of the Spirit operate. They are not a product of one’s efforts, but rather acts of God’s grace. Cassian divides the list of existing spiritual gifts in three categories: (1) gifts of healing, (2) gifts for ecclesiastical edification and (3) gifts contrived by deceiving devils.[4] The latter probably resembles a problem with false teachers and false prophets experienced within the Eastern Church of the late third and early fourth centuries.

Cassian further claims that the spiritual gifts are given for a season, after which only love continues.[5] Yet, on the other hand, he reports the experiencing and practice of spiritual gifts in his time.[6] It seems appropriate to assume that Cassian did believe in the operation of spiritual gifts not only through the apostolic time, but also in his own time. Thus, his postulation for the disappearance of the Spiritual gifts refers to a rather latter period when the church will not be present in the world any longer and spiritual gifts will not be needed in the context of the Kingdom of God. Love, however, will remain.

Another writer who focuses on the nature and the existence of the Kingdom of God is Maximus the Confessor (ca.580-662). Maximus was born and lived in the aristocratic circles of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. He was exiled in Thrace for opposing the heresies of monotheletism and monoenergism.[7]

In the pneumotological context of his claims, he assumed that the kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit. He proves the former by an interesting analogy between the kingdom, where God dwells, and the temple of the Spirit, which are the Christians. The spiritual temple is consisted only of the believers who have rejected evil and thus have accepted the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit.[8] Since they have the kingdom of God inside of them, Maximus concludes that the Spirit and the Kingdom are identical equivalents.

The Kingdom of God, according to Maximus, is realized only in a state of continues prayer. It is only then, that the mind departs from all human knowledge and worldly ideas. Separated from all human perceptions, one receives understanding of God, but “only without the human senses.”[9] This state is an ecstasy in which one abides in God in a complete, but rather momentary deification.[10] The eternal deification is preserved for the ones who maintain a righteous life, and is reached only in the eternal union with the Trinity.[11]

The process and act of deification is described as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit by another systematic writer of this early period, by the name of Symeon the New Theologian. Burgess describes Symeon as the most mystical writer in description of his personal pneumatic experience.[12] The New Theologian, claims that baptism of the Spirit opens the door for a continuous theosis. Thus, deification is impossible apart from the spiritual baptism.[13] Denial of the fact that the Spirit baptism and deification cannot be experienced today is blasphemy or unforgivable sin.[14] In this context, one can be neither saved, nor deified without the baptism of the Spirit.

Furthermore, the baptism of the Spirit is received only after extensive process of preparation and purification, which comes close to our modern-day, Pentecostal understanding of sanctification. During this process, one grows in meekness and humility, being aware of his/her sins.[15] The final stage involves purification with many tears, without which no one can receive the Holy Spirit.[16] Symeon understands the above process of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a return to a radical living of the Gospel in analogue to the primitivism of the first century Church.[17]

[1] Burgess, 38.

[2] Conf. 14.16, NPF 2nd Series 11:444.

[3] Colm Luibhead, John Cassian: Confences, CWS (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 14.10, NPF 2nd Series 11:440.

[4] Conf. 15.1, NPF 2nd Series 11:445-46.

[5] Conf. 1.11, NPF 2nd Series 11:299-300.

[6] Conf. 15.4-5, NPF 2nd Series 11:447.

[7] Burgess, 40.

[8] Ibid., 44.

[9] Ambigua 10, PG 90:col. 1113.

[10] Ambigua 7, PG 90:col. 1076.

[11] Ambigua 10, PG 90:col. 1196.

[12] Burgess, 38.

[13] Ibid., 61.

[14] Disc. 33.3-5, 341-43.

[15] TGP 3.23, 87.

[16] Disc. 3329.5, 313.

[17] Burgess, 62.

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