In response to news that "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff left evangelicalism to join the Greek Orthodox Church, Answers in Genesis published an article arguing that the Eastern Orthodox Church is largely "ritualistic" and lacks the Gospel.
"Many years of missionary work in Eastern Europe and Russia have led me to conclude that the gospel is not often proclaimed in the Orthodox Church. Church services are ritualistic exercises that focus on the icons and the sacraments," Dr. D. Trent Hyatt wrote in a chapter for Answers in Genesis' World Religions and Cults book series.
"It is all too easy to trust in those sacraments to save one and on the icons to sanctify one rather than in the finished work of Christ on the Cross in our behalf," he argued.
"Though we cannot judge what is in the heart of another, we can certainly assume that most people in the Orthodox Church need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and need to turn to Him for forgiveness of sins and to trust in His work on the Cross for their salvation."
AiG, led by Ken ham, explained that it published the excerpt in response to "a number of questions" it has received in regard to the recent announcement that Hanegraaff has become a member of an Orthodox Church.
The Christian Post confirmed the news on Tuesday that Hanegraaff, a radio personality known as "The Bible Answer Man" and president and chairman of the Christian Research Institute, was formally received into the Eastern Orthodox Church on Sunday.
Considered one of the foremost apologists for the Christian faith, the now former evangelical who was raised in the U.S. in the Christian Reformed Church, was once strongly tied to D. James Kennedy and the ministry of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida.
Hanegraaff made his name on the nationally syndicated "Bible Answer Man" radio broadcast, where he answers questions about Christian doctrine, Bible interpretation, and theological differences between denominations.
Hyatt noted that while "Eastern Orthodoxy is indeed present in most parts of the world today," accounting for somewhere between 200 and 300 million worldwide, it "is to a great many in the West little known and even less understood."
Hyatt outlined how Eastern Orthodoxy differs from other Christian traditions on such views as the Trinitarian Godhead, the authority of the Bible, sin, salvation, and creation.
On salvation, the theologian said, "Eastern Orthodoxy places great emphasis on the 'sacraments.' Like Catholicism, Orthodoxy sees baptism as bringing about the regeneration of the person receiving the sacrament. ... Unique to the Orthodox is a second sacrament applied immediately following baptism, called 'chrismation.' ... According to Orthodox teaching, this sacrament brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the newly baptized individual.
"The Orthodox do not believe that faith on the part of the person being baptized is necessary in order for these sacraments to be effective. Indeed, Orthodox theologians take great pains to clarify and emphasize that the effectiveness of the sacraments is entirely independent of any faith or particular desires for God or sanctity."
Worship at Orthodox Churches also consists of "veneration of icons" (including images of Jesus, Mary and the saints). The importance placed on the veneration of icons "is clearly far beyond anything that can be justified by Scripture," Hyatt argued.
The theologian posed whether it is possible for a born-again believer to be a practicing member of the Orthodox Church.
"Of course it is as long as they repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and Resurrection," he stated.
He argued that there are "without doubt born-again believers in all kinds of places and churches," but challenged the claim that just being a part of one particular church or denomination means that one is saved.
"This certainly applies to the Orthodox Church, but it also applies to Protestant churches. Salvation and membership in the Body of Christ, the Church universal, is dependent on a personal relationship with the Christ of Scripture that comes about by personal repentance and faith in Him, not through belonging to any particular local church, denomination, or tradition," he stressed.