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Answer to Doug Wilson 13 June 2011 YouTube Video

Pastor Doug Wilson 13 June 2011

Today’s posting is by “Nicodemus.”  Welcome Nicodemus!

Doug Wilson is Pastor at Christ Church and instructor at New St. Andrews College, in Moscow, ID. He is a leader in the Reformed community that is carefully re-thinking, to our delight, the Church’s history and worship. Though Pastor Wilson is very capable, his short YouTube video (June 13, 2011) ad-lib comments simply got the better of him. In this video he makes several blunders that are quite frankly, embarrassing. The question posed to him is whether Orthodoxy has a valid claim to a continuous history linking them with the early Church Bishops, that neither Roman Catholicism nor Protestantism have?

Pastor Wilson first blunders saying point blank: “The idea that the Eastern Orthodox Church goes back before the Roman Catholic Church is just laughable.” He partly salvages the blooper by saying the Church was “all together” before the split. What he fails to portray is a lucid understanding of Church history. The One, Holy Apostolic, Catholic Church did exist in unity for over a thousand years. No, it was not a perfect or an absolute unity as if there were no disputes. In solid, unified marriages, husbands and wives have disputes, minor and major, that are worked out over time. So did the Church. There were big disputes with Gnostic and Arian heretics over the nature of Christ’s Incarnate body and deity, the Trinity, establishing the New Testament Scriptures, and later on with Icon. These were resolved over the early centuries by Church Councils. Historic Creeds were formulated and the Church embraced a unity under five Patriarchs. This history is not obscure, rather it is well documented. Protestantism’s assumptions, and a studied ambiguity about the early Church, have led it to grossly neglect a historicity overwhelmingly embraced by Patristic Church scholars. Even the book Pastor Wilson recommends (unread) later in the video Through Western Eyes, by Robert Letham confirms this history against him. (See Mr. Arakaki’s Blog review of Letham’s book below)

Pastor Wilson tells a story about of a letter from Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis to Jerome about tearing down an Icon of Christ in a Church. Does Pastor Wilson seriously believe this Bishop’s disapproval of Icons speaks for the entire early Church?  Conclusions made from anecdotal evidence are unreliable because they do not follow from the evidence and might easily be incorrect. This story proves about as much as a letter from Anabaptist leader Thomas Muentzer, proving how blasphemous it is to baptize infants after the Reformation. Or, perhaps a letter from Martin Luther establishing how outrageous it is that James, Revelation and Hebrews were included in the New Testament Cannon of Holy Scripture!  Such issues were resolved over time, by the collective wisdom of the Bishops, via the active guidance of the Holy Spirit in Church Counsels, against all the above authors. (more on Icons latter)

It is a historic fact that Roman Catholicism separated itself from the established Church. The causes of the rift are not disputed. Rome’s Bishop asserted supremacy over all other Patriarchs, Bishops, and Churches, and unilaterally inserted the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. This initiated the Great Schism around 1054. The other Patriarchs refused, arguing that Rome never had, and does not possess any right to such new and novel usurpation of authority and doctrine. So, Rome went her own way, splitting off from the One, Historic, Apostolic and Catholic Church that had existed for over a thousand years. The diagram below accurately depicts how the Orthodox Church pre-dates a later distinctively Roman Catholicism. Rome continued its evolution after the Great Schism – ultamately falling into a corruption from which the Protestant Reformers themselves found cause to separate. (This is why some Orthodox scholars consider Roman Catholics, to be  the first Protestants!)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqRHoC9v-94

Time Line of Church History

Most embarrassing is Pastor Wilson’s misunderstanding of the Icon issue. This is surprising as his friend and colleague Wes Callahan wrote an article on Icons for Credenda Agenda (the magazine Wilson edits and also contributes to) years ago. Mr. Callahan later publicly apologized to Patrick Barnes, who had taken him to task for his article. The letter is printed below (link publicly available via google search) because it is such an excellent, instructive example of how to respond humbly when you have been publicly careless. Mr. Callahan’s gracious letter also contains a link to Patrick Barnes’ excellent refutation article for your reading. Sadly, Pastor Wilson seems to have learned little from this exchange.

Dear Patrick,    Thank you for responding so quickly. I’ll try not to be long-winded here. I should never have written that article [“Presumptuous Icons”] in Credenda/Agenda. You said in your article, “That Mr. Callahan’s argument arises from careless, perhaps willful ignorance of Orthodoxy has been relatively easy to demonstrate.” You were quite right. I was ignorant. Not willfully but certainly carelessly. I knew nothing about Orthodoxy but what I’d quickly read in a couple of short books and I didn’t understand the issues at all, nor did I try very hard.You also said, “Therefore, in considering how to respond to Mr. Callahan we do not assume that our reasoning will ultimately sway him unless and until the foundational questions of ‘What is the Church?’ and ‘Where is the Church?’—questions that are integrally related to the subject of truth—are resolved.” Those questions have occupied my studies more deeply over the past couple of years than any others, and I understand now why you said this.And finally, you said, “We can only encourage him to read the works cited herein and seriously reflect upon what we have said. To do otherwise and remain an iconoclast would indeed be the height of presumption.” Again, you were quite right.

I’ve started: over the past two years I’ve read Ware’s “The Orthodox Church,” Sherrard’s “The Greek East and Latin West,” Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” (and begun his “The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy”), Schaeffer’s “Dancing Alone” (sorry, but I hated that one!), Gilguist’s “Becoming Orthodox,” lots of Athanasius, Nyssa, Nazianzen, John of Damascus, some Gregory Palamas, and more or less of many others. I read them all as carefully as I could and loved them all (except Schaeffer’s, but I’d love to meet him—I’ll bet he’s a terrific guy).

Although I cannot honestly say I believe I will join the Orthodox Church, I’ve come to love a great deal of what I’ve learned about Orthodoxy. But the real point of this letter is that I am deeply sorry that I wrote such an ignorant article about things about which I knew nothing and had no right to speak. I needed to write you and let you know this, since you had taken the trouble to respond to my foolishness; and I want you to know that I would be willing to offer a public retraction on your website if you like.



Wesley J. Callahan 

http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/presumptuous2.aspx  http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/presumptuous.aspx

Nor, has Pastor Wilson learned from Mr. Arakaki’s irenic interaction with John Calvin’s Institutes, on Icons in this Blog below. The fact is, the Seventh Ecumenical Counsel dealt meticulously with the issues surrounding the use of Icons in Christian worship. (Yes, these Bishops actually had heard of the second commandment!) In fact, they even studied how the Jews historically understood the 2nd commandment, especially in light of abundant “physical imagery” used in both the Tabernacle and Temple. Following the Apostles and early Church Fathers, they meditated also over how the monumental nature of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ in the flesh had import, and how the Apostles and early Fathers understood Icons in the light of the New Covenant. You can read all about it here in highly honored Patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine Vol 2: the Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). (Doctor Pelikan, a life-long Lutheran, converted to Orthodox in 1998 at age 74, only to repose eight years later in 2006.)

Contrary to Pastor Wilson, the issue is not so simple as kissing women other than his wife. Even here I suspect Pastor Wilson affectionately kissed his late Mother, and rightly kisses any sisters, grown daughters, and on occasion, other non-relative women, in a very different way and context than he kisses his wife (yet without worshiping any of them)! Which partly makes the point about Icons! What is disappointing is, though certainly able, Pastor Wilson has refused thus far to do the reading and study easily available to him needed to understand the issue of Icons before making specious public declarations. After doing so, we pray Pastor Wilson will display a similar courage and humility as his friend Mr. Callahan (who likely would help him compose his own letter of apology) and become more carefully studied in future public remarks.


Check Out  Pastor Doug Wilson’s Response To “Nicodemus”!


  1. Triadic Reality

    Good response, Nic. I’m no prophet nor the son of one, but I bet that you will get critics who will react, not to any point or counter-point made above, but simply that you are suffering from some psychological dis-ease. 3, 2, 1…

  2. Matthew N. Petersen

    Just one point: On the first issue, I think it’s important that we recognize that the Catholics claim the Orthodox broke away from the one Church, and the Orthodox claim the Catholics broke away. The question of who is correct, is, of course, a very important, if not the most important question. However, I believe we do wrong when we presuppose either side. And this, I believe was Pr. Wilson’s point. If we have determined which split away, the one that did not split is older. Or if both remain Churches (the Protestant, and something like Catholic view) neither is older than the other. However, prior to questions of who split, we should not presuppose either side. And so I believe Pr. Wilson’s point is quite correct. The Orthodox can score no apologetic points against the Catholics by claiming to be more ancient, since, prima facie, the Catholics can make the same claim. Indeed, the whole Orthodox Catholic debate is over who split away from whom. It is viciously circular to presuppose an answer up front.

    • David

      Hey Matthew,

      Perhaps I’ve read it wrongly, but it seems to me Nic’s point in the Roman vs Orthodox claims IS the real historicity of Orthodox claims — (the rule of Bishops under the five Patriarchs, how the Bishops really worded the Nicean Creed before a Franco Bishop added to it some 500 years later…then centruies later was embraced by the Bishop at Rome for openly political-power reasons). Is this not the history that seems clear to Patristic scholars, but is typically subjected to Nic’s “studied ambiguity” by RCs and Protestants? How does making bogus “claims” somehow become “prima facie” evidence?

      Shall we be honest with history? This all seem so much like how Yankees concocted a ‘new history’ about secession. Despite the secessonist nature of the Declaration of Independence, the 10th ammendment, Rawls book on the Constitution taught at West Point (secessionist), the New England States contemplation/threat of secession during the Mexican War a the Hampton Convention, Lincoln’s own defense of secession then…only thrity years later to turn peaceful secession into ‘treason/rebellion’ and cause for military invasion — is simply dishonest. Men lie about history to justify their actions and self-interest. I really don’t see why we Protestants can’t readily and openly embrace “prima facie” evidence of Orthodox Patristic history against Rome’s claims? Why some Protestants seem quick to defend Rome’s clearly self-serving historic revisionisms is puzzeling to me.

      Perry, do you have a link to that Carmen Fragapane article?

      • Matthew N. Petersen


        Thanks for the reply. My point was more that the claim that Orthodoxy is more ancient is circular since that is precisely the question at hand. If the ancient Church is the Orthodox Church, and not the Catholic Church, then Protestants and Catholics are in a difficult position (though perhaps not an untenable one). However, if the ancient Church is the Catholic Church, or if it is not sensible to talk about “Orthodox” and “Catholic” prior to the split, or to ask which one was really the Church, the situation is completely different. Indeed this, precisely is the issue at hand, and we ought be careful not to beg it. However as Baroque points out, it is true that Pr. Wilson is working with an anti-Irenaean presupposition.

        • David

          This article response to Doug JONES…not Pastor Doug Wilson.

      • David

        Thanks Matthew,

        I’m obviously missing something here. How can answers of historic fact be “circular”. Why aren’t they either true, false or we don’t know. I was born in Magnolia, AR…or I wasn’t — what’s the evidence say? What “did” the Nicean creed originally say? Do we not know? Was the Church ruled by 5 Patriarchs in a general submission to each other and the E-Councils, or not? Did they routinely submit to Rome’s singular rule declared…or not? Do we really NOT know the answers to these questions? In what sense are these answers “circular”. I’ve loved and respected Doug Wilson for years and am willing to be shown. But for now I’m sorry, “cirularity” looks like another self-serving “argument” to hide behind like “studied ambiguity”. Pastor Peter Leithart challenges the dominance of “pacifism” so-called, in the early Church contra mennonite Howard Yodel — with historic evidence. Bring forth the historic evidence to be examined. Or, have not Patristic scholars like Jaroslav Pelikan’s life-study of not done this for us? I’m really not trying to be difficult here…just honest with fact largely not in contention.

        • Matthew N. Petersen

          Do you really think Pope Benedict believes the Catholic Church split off from the Orthodox Church? The question at hand is whether the Orthodox Church is in fact the Church of the Apostles. If it is, all Christians ought to be Orthodox. If it is not, then other things follow. Now it may indeed be. But that is precisely the question at hand. We can’t prove Catholics or Protestants wrong simply by stating that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Apostles. That’s the issue at hand, and the one which must be argued for.

          Pelikan, who became Orthodox, obviously is on the Orthodox side. And the fact that he did so is an argument in favor of the Orthodox position. But it is not a sound deductive argument–one which produces truth without fail. And, obviously, some, like say, Pope Benedict, would disagree with Pelikan, which is an argument for the other side.

          As to whether we can verify questions of historic fact, often no.

          Regarding more complicated historical questions, often we cannot determine accurately the answer, and often there is more than one legitimate answer which “fits the facts” and we must choose between the options on grounds other than historic. You point to Dr. Leithart’s interaction with Yoder. Who is correct? Or are neither of them?

          Your last point is burden of proof shifting. If you make an assertion and I ask you to prove it, the burden of proof is on you, not me. I need not provide evidence disputing the thesis, I need not even have a thesis. You must provide evidence in support of your thesis. You have the burden of proof.

          • David

            Matthew said,
            “As to whether we can verify questions of historic fact, often no.”

            Of course, ALL facts of history are not open to us. (Who has asserted/disputed this?) I asked specific historic questions…not hypothetically how much of history is open to us.

            Are you suggesting we don’t know what the original Nicean Creed said? And what Pope Benedict ‘believes’ about the Schism is really irrelevant…what is true? Does what the Pope “believes” set historic fact? Really?

            My specific hisotric questions (what the Creed said, was their unity under 5 Patriarchs, did they all & the Bishops routinely submit to Rome…) are germane specifically to “the question at hand” but more to Pastor Wilson’s assertion that Orthodoxy’s claim of being the original Church before the Schism is laughable. You ignore or avoid the non-obscure answers, or HOW they are “circular”. If you seriously believe we don’t know IF the Bishops & Patriarchs routinely submitted to the Pope over the centuries in matters of doctrine and polity…why not just say…”we don’t/can’t know”?

            This, of course, would means you’ve dismissed Professor Pelikan’s scholarship and any concensus amongst Patristic scholars. Why?

            I’m sorry Matthew, but I sense that when questions of history ARE clear, we obfuscate because we just don’t like the answers. And I’m still perplexed at our readiness as Protestant to come to the defense of the Roman Catholics –when the history seem clearly to favor the Orthodox. Why?

          • Matthew N. Petersen

            Well, ok, if you mean simply that everyone agrees with certain “facts”

            –The original Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed did not contain “filioque”.

            –There was (relative) unity among the patriarchs.

            –The other patriarchs did not regularly submit to the Pope.

            But what is disputed is the interpretation of these facts. With certain presuppositions, and after certain arguments they can be used to support the Orthodox position. But in themselves, they do not do so. There are other interpretations which also fit the facts.

            But as far as I can tell, the question isn’t whether those facts are true, but whether St. Paul was Orthodox, or Catholic, or simply Christian.

            I suppose (and I admit I didn’t realize this) the confusion may stem from two different readings of Pr. Wilson’s statement: did he mean “the Orthodox are making a ridiculous claim when they claim to be the Church of the Apostles” or “the Orthodox are making a ridiculous apologetic appeal when they try to convince someone to convert by asserting that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Apostles.” If he is making the first claim, I agree that he is being ridiculous. But if the second one, I’m on his side.

            But that is not to say that I’m not sympathetic to the Orthodox position. But I’m not making this point to get at Orthodox, but in favor of good reasoning. I think I’d make the same point even if I were Orthodox.

          • David

            Thanks Matthew,

            And I do agree that you (van til) that ‘brut-facts’ don’t speak for themselves but must be interpreted in context. I’d also agree that these facts make NO conclusive apologetic appeal by themselves for conversion. Of course, the subject of ‘conversion’ was not even broached w/Pr. Wilson – Orthodox historic claims were.

            The three questions you chose relate directly to “whom departed from the historic Church — Rome or Orthodoxy”. Rome added the Filioque clause, usurped authority heretofore not granted, broke a general unity. How do you not ‘interpret’ these concessions to Orthodoxy any other way than that Rome broke from the historic Church…retaining much of what she liked, jettisoning much and adding much? If the question answered in the reverse…would that not matter? We can’t honestly argue these facts to means whatever we like. So the Orthodox are making NOT making a (“laughable”) historic claim “when they claim to be the Church of the Apostles.” And for Pr. Wilson to deny this, “he is being ridiculous.” Agreed.

            Now, to the question “Was the Apostle Paul more Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant” is another question — one the historic Church he left might at least help in determining. I know it is not simple. Here, the quesiton of presuppositional assumptions from ALL Scripture is critical…but that will have to await another time. God keep you brother.

          • robertar

            [Received from “Nicodemus”]

            Matthew and David,

            “I sympathies with, but am sincerely grateful for your, at times, frustrating discussion. Working through these issues is never easy, at least in my experience. Yet it does appear you now have some tentative agreement that Orthodox does have a clear historic claim to be the Church of the Apostles. Rome is simply the one who “departed” from an imperfect historic consensus. As their history demonstrates, they have continued their theological innovations in any number of areas, while Orthodoxy has remained stable, with little if any substantive change.

            I also empathize greatly with young sincere Protestant men like you who have invested their emotional and intellectual energies so completely into being distinctively Reformed. Then they discover they’ve not had some very pertinent facts, nor have their presuppositions and assumptions about the Patristic disciples of the Apostles helped them work through the facts properly. Little wonder they are slow to comprehend the fullness of Orthodoxy. I know there is plenty of Pride to cover all ages — yet it seems especially hard for bright young men, when they are compelled to admit publicly they have been historically and perhaps theologically wrong.

            It sometimes takes years for one to be able to visualize a happy life for themselves outside the comfort zones of the Reformed Community, and within a new and strange Orthodox Community. Of course, seeing only what they might lose, often blinds us from seeing what would clearly be gain. This is why I so greatly admire and respect Prof. Pelican’s conversion and other older men like him, along with Fr. Peter Gillquist and the former Campus Crusade community. It took courage and integrity for them to walk away. But life is a Journey, and we all traverse it at our own pace. May God bless you both on your Journeys to please our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Incarnate Word. And “Lord have mercy on us all.”


            PS “One final suggestion for you and any other lurkers reading and thinking quietly along with us over these blog posts. As time permits you, should attend at least six Divine Liturgies, to personally experience the content and occasion of Orthodox Worship. My preference is an OCA Orthodox Liturgy in English, without pews or instruments. This will expose you to a beautiful, multi-sensory Worship unlike any you have had before, while giving you a good taste for what Orthodoxy is like in practice.”

        • Jnorm

          Pacifism vs non-Pacifism is a hard one. The evidence would show that both co-existed within the Church. There are two good books that talk about this very thing.

          The Pacifist Option: The Moral Argument Against War in Eastern Orthodox Theology

          Virtue Of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West

    • Sue

      It seems accurate that to debate who is older or more ancient is a futile debate. What has not been mentioned however, as far as I have read, is the guiding principal that Christ gave to the Apostles as a guide. We see it in action in Christ’s behavior, words, and later in the Acts of the Apostles. The position of Peter. It was always clear that he was the head of the Apostles. I would point out the scripture verses alone that support this, but for those of you who are avid readers, you will also see it supported in the Apostolic Father’s writings. So, it is not a debate as to age of either the Orthodox or Catholic Church, it is all about who has continued to follow Apostolic succession under the Chair of Peter and the Apostles. Peter is the deciding fact here. The Church is built upon Peter, the Rock. Without Peter, there is no true Church. So, to say Rome broke off of the true Church is ironic because Peter, Christ’s assigned leader of the Apostles, was centered out of Rome. And so Rome has been the official center of the Holy Catholic Church.

      And one last piece, for anyone who does not know the Catholic Church is made up of some Orthodox rites, and various other rites, the Roman Catholic is only one of the various rites found within the universal Catholic Church. How is this possible? Because it is the Chair of Peter, the continuous position of the Pope and all these rites’ united under him that makes us the Catholic Church. The Orthodox who are still not in union with the Catholic Church are only not so because they do not yet accept the Chair of Peter, the Pope, as the authority upon which Christ’s Church is founded. Maybe you will see then why Christ assigned Peter to be the head, and why the Apostles all understood this to be true by their behaviors…the Chair of Peter is the deciding factor for all of us to know what Church is the True Church of Christ.
      Thank you.

      • Robert Arakaki


        Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge. From what you’ve written my guess is that you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church. What unites the Orthodox is Holy Tradition which we have received from the Apostles and kept without change. It is unfortunate that the Pope has taken the liberty to amend the Nicene Creed by inserting the Filioque clause. If he were to remove it from all liturgical usage within the Roman Catholic Church that would be a small but positive step towards Rome returning to the the historic Pentarchy which consisted of Rome in communion with Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

        God bless.


  3. Baroque Norseman

    ****The Orthodox can score no apologetic points against the Catholics by claiming to be more ancient, since, prima facie, the Catholics can make the same claim. ****

    That’s kind of true, but we also need to identify Wilson’s own anti-Irenaean prespposition: there is no continued, identifiable ancient unity.

    Now to the issue: I agree. And that is why claims like the Filioque and Absolute Divine Simplicity are so important. It changed how we talk about God, and as Gregory Nazianzus said in his third theological oration, when you do that you also change how you talk about the church.

  4. Perry Robinson

    Steven Bingham’s book on Epiphanius of Salamis does a fine job of showing that the passage that Wilson appeals to are probably later iconoclast forgeries.

    Also of note Carmen Fragapane handed Wilson his head on a platter with his response on Theosis and Salvation to the credenda agenda hit piece. It is well worth the read.

    • Karen

      Did you mean to say Carmen Fragapane handed *Doug Jones* his head on a platter (see earlier comment in this thread by David in response to the link to this article provided by Baroque Norseman)?

  5. Baroque Norseman

    It is also odd, as Nic’ mentioned, that Wilson refers to Letham’s book. Despite all of the scholarly howlers in the book, Letham actually defends some form of icon-use, while not in worship, at least in the home: which is precisely Wilson’s issue under contention!!!!!!

  6. Baroque Norseman

    Thanks, Perry, for the Bingham reference. I was looking for the title of that work but couldn’t find it.

  7. Baroque Norseman

    ***Pelikan, who became Orthodox, obviously is on the Orthodox side.****

    That’s a moot point, since Pelikan didn’t convert until decades after he wrote these volumes. He wrote them as a Confessional Lutheran.

    • Matthew N. Petersen


      My point was not to discredit Pelikan, but to concede that the fact that the Lutheran Scholar Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy was a point in favor of Orthodoxy.

      But I realized a few days ago where the miscommunication was. I took Pr. Wilson to be talking about institutional unity between the Early Church, and the Orthodox Church of today: thus the question is was St. Paul Orthodox. But I believe David took Pr. Wilson to be talking about dotrinal unity between the Early Church and the modern Orthodox Church on the points of division from Rome.

  8. Alison B. Sailer

    Nice. I was wondering if someone would respond to Doug’s video.

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