I respect that you are here not just to argue for argument's sake, and I'm going to try to give this another shot--hopefully a more thorough one this time.
The reason i can't accept the orthodox position on many issues is simply because i don't accept the visible church. It colours everything i read and makes it impossible to view certain topics any other way.
The church that's being built is a spiritual one. It's all about having the law written on our heart not following the law as the Hebrews used to. It's about what makes a person clean or unclean which is determined by what's in a heart and what flows from a mouth.
I believe the Church to have both visible and invisible elements. My thoughts on this fall into three categories: scriptural, traditional, and philosphical. With regard to the Church being both visible and invisible, this ultimately springs from the relationship of Christians with God. Christians are members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), but there is some type of connection that goes beyond the physical, for St. Paul says that we are not only one body (which could be interpreted as simply being a category) but also "members one of another." (Rom. 12:5) We also are supposed to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), though often this doesn't seem to be the case. As for the visible element of the Church, I think there is actually more evidence for that than for the invisible connection.
As I mentioned earlier in the thread, St. Paul wrote to specific groups of people in specific places (ie. local, visible church communities), so that addresses his epistles "To all that be in Rome" (Rom. 1:7), "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2), and so forth. Jesus also addresses specific churches in the Apocalypse, such as "the church of Ephesus" (Rev. 2:1), "the church in Smyrna" (Rev. 2:8), and so forth.
This Church, it seems to me, was founded by Jesus Christ, who specifically picked twelve disciples (Matt. 10:1-4; 28:16-20; etc.), and was especially close with three of them in particular (Matt. 17:1-9; 26:37; Mk. 5:37). In Matt. 16 we find him explicitly saying he had a church: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:18-19)
A few things about this passage come to mind. First, this was a public (ie. visible) declaration of the founding of a Church. Second, the power to bind and loose was given, this prerogative being again mentioned in Jn. 20:23. I think this "binding and loosing" makes the most sense, exegetically (taking into consideration this whole post), if we assume a visible Church with visible authorities in charge. There is also mention of "gates of hell". The early Church fathers and writers saw in this phrase numerous things, including 1) worldly persecution, 2) heresies and schisms, 3) corporate and widespread sin in the body of Christ, and 4) personal sin in each of us. If these are accurate understandings of the meaning of the passage, I believe a visible Church structure makes the most sense of how this prophecy would work out practically in the life of the Church.
At the beginning of the Church one of the first things the leaders did was replace the fallen Judas (Acts 1:15-26). They later chose seven deacons to minister to the Church (Acts 6:2-6), so they could focus on their mission. And because their work was essentially missionary, and they often did not stay in one place their whole lives, they would appoint leaders for the local Churches to guide the body of Christ. So for example St. Paul says: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Tit. 1:5; cf 1 Cor. 7:17).
Strikingly, even though St. Paul received his gospel by divine revelation (Gal. 1:11-12), he still felt the need to verify his teachings with the leaders of the Church. He says: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Gal. 1:18-19) Why just these two? Why not the rest of the Church? And even this was not good enough for St. Paul, for he goes on to say: "Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." (Gal. 2:1-2) So Paul checked a second time, after doing ministry for years, only with the leaders or those "of reputation," to check and make sure he had not run in vain.
An important early Council was also called (Acts 15) to deal with issues and disturbances, and the leaders of the council seemed to expect their decisions to be followed by the other Christian communities (Acts 15:23-31). Also notice that there were specific leaders--"apostles and elders"--at the Acts 15 council (Acts 15:6-31). This type of guidance was not only from councils, but also on the local parish level, so we find in Hebrews the words: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation... Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb. 13:7, 17) Even people who weren't in the Church, but sought truth and salvation, sought guidance, as for example with the Ethiopian eunuch, who when reading the Old Testament was asked by St. Philip: "Understandest thou what thou readest?" and to which he replied: "How can I, except some man should guide me?"
This guidance continued into the early Church, this guidance being protected partly through apostolic succession. It is true that we are all members of the holy temple of Christ (invisibly), and Christ is the chief corner stone, but it is the "apostles and prophets" that are the (visible) foundation (Eph. 2:19-22). So when there was a problem in the Church in Corinth in the late 1st century, St. Clement of Rome advised them that they could not rightly dismiss their leaders since they had done nothing wrong:
The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith...
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.
-- St. Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 42-44
St. Ignatius, writing a decade later, was of an even firmer belief about the importance of the visible leadership, saying things like:
"See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
-- St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8; cf Epistle to the Magnesians, 6 and Epistle to the Trallians, 3
And St. Ignatius, writing at the end of the 2nd century, said that: "we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times" (Against Heresies, 3, 3); and he further said that: "it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles" (Against Heresies, 4, 26). And for one further reference he says: "True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]." (Against Heresies, 4, 33)
Now, as for a philosophical (or epistemological) reasons, St. Vincent of Lerins brought up one when he pointed out that people argue over the meaning of Scripture, and thus we must follow what tradition and the Church teach when there are disputes (Commonitory, 2). The Church, for him as for all the early Christians, was not a do-it-yourself thing, but something done in community--both the local community, and the larger community of the Church wherever it was in the world. Not only do people with no visible Church have to make a subjective judgment on what traditions to consult and follow, and what Church to be a part of and follow, bu they also have to make an arbitrary decision about what books are in the Scripture. They can only hope that God is guiding them, and that those who disagree are simply misled or misunderstanding the will of God.
If the church were a visible church then it would be easy to tell the wheat from the tares but it isn't easy because we can't see and judge another's heart.
Even though things aren't always clear, we do judge today (1 Cor. 6:4) and will judge even angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Sometimes people are not uprooted, but at other times they are (Tit. 3:10). God knows the end for each of us, and will guide the theanthropic body of Christ to do as it can, should and must for the salvation of our souls.
It seems to me that only the overview of Orthodoxy is different to Protestantism -- the external dogmatic shell. The internal mess seems remarkably similar to how the rest of Christendom claim to be guided by the Spirit and believe a multitude of different things backed up with the odd patristic quote or two from various denominations jurisdictions.
I don't think this is a fair evaluation of either Orthodox doctrine and dogma, or Orthodox history. Perhaps it seems clear to me just because I went a different route (?). I was a biblical studies major at a Protestant school, and after studying history and theology on my own (I never did get to take many actual theology classes there) I came to the conclusion that God had indeed founded a Church, and that it was visible--and I came to this conclusion not just based on history but also on the witness of Scripture. Eventually I found my way into Orthodoxy... and then in and out and in and out and in... but I think that just makes me better at this kind of post, because I've been there, I've been the devil's advocate, the skeptic, the one arguing against.
I do apologize for the length of this post. I realise people sometimes make long posts as a sort of debate tactic, but that was not my intention here. I just wanted to be as detailed as possible with my thoughts.