On June 25, 2011, Tim Enloe posted an article in response to my Contra Sola Scriptura series in his blog Viator Christianus [formerly available at http://viatorchristianus.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/an-interesting-defense-of-sola-scriptura/]. I did not respond immediately because I was unaware of Tim’s posting. Tim’s paragraphs have been numbered for the reader’s convenience.
Note: Tim has brought to my attention that the original source was Wesley’s comment to my article: “If Not Sola Scriptura, Then What?: The Biblical Basis For Holy Tradition.” In light of that I’ve reworded the posting addressing my comments and questions to Wesley.
Part I. Wesley’s Response
¶ 1 You are right that 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say Scripture’s nature as God-breathed elevates it over tradition, but it doesn’t have to say that in order for my position to hold up. Sola Scriptura does not teach that everything we believe must necessarily come from the Bible and nowhere else. It is the Bible Onlyism position I outlined which maintains that view. The claims of sola Scriptura are less radical than that. We don’t need for the Bible to teach sola Scriptura in order for sola Scriptura to be believed. We do, however, believe the Bible leads us inevitably to the conclusion of sola Scriptura, again, as I said, because of the very nature of Scripture.
¶ 2 You make an interesting argument for the God-breathed nature of church traditions that are not contained or passed down in Scripture. The Holy Spirit was certainly active in multiple ways in the church beyond the composition of the documents that constitute the New Testament and beyond the death of the apostles. I want to affirm that I agree with you on that point. I believe strongly that the Holy Spirit is active in the church today. If you believe he is as well, tell me, is he inspiring any traditions today? Anything God-breathed coming from the Spirit in the church in this generation or any time near it? If not, why not? You suspect I limit the Spirit’s ministry to the Bible after the death of the apostles, but I suspect you limit the ministry of the Spirit (in the way you say I do) to the early church. Am I wrong?
¶ 3 The fact is that the activity of the Spirit is not restricted to inspiration. The Holy Spirit can be active without inspiring something. Just because the Holy Spirit is at work in a given person or a given church function or activity, it doesn’t mean that the result is God-breathed. You gave three biblical evidences for why tradition should be viewed as God-breathed. I don’t think any of them individually, nor the three taken together, make your case or lead to your conclusion.
¶ 4 John 16:13 is a promise given to the apostles, not the whole church in all ages. The promise was fulfilled, for I believe the apostles were indeed led into all truth by the Spirit. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 presents several flaws for your use of it and your position. I’ll mention just three. First, it wasn’t the bishops alone gathered in council, but the whole Jerusalem church, the laity included, along with those disputant parities in the debate. The conclusion was reached on congregational grounds, not episcopal grounds. Second, the final voice that wins everyone over is that of James, and James rests his case on the confirmation of the Old Testament. It is only after the Scriptures are consulted to corroborate and confirm James’ position that it seemed good to the church and the Spirit. Third, the decision of the council was significantly ignored by Paul himself in a number of his post-conciliar letters. Paul wholeheartedly agreed with the substance of the council’s decision (that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians), but some of the particulars (e.g., the Jewish dietary restrictions) he felt free to ignore. Paul felt no such freedom to ignore what he himself proclaimed to be the God-breathed Scriptures, which means he probably didn’t consider the decision of the council to be of the same nature and authority as conciliar tradition.
¶ 5 The final text you mentioned, Ephesians 4:7-13, tells us about the different spiritually gifted offices given to the church. But in no way does the establishment of a church office or function entail or prove or guarantee that the things that result from those offices will be inspired and equal with Scripture in nature and authority. Do you believe that the pastor in your local church is giving you that which is God-breathed and equal with Scripture when he opens his mouth to preach and teach? Being spiritually gifted to fill and/or fulfill a divinely established office or function in the church does not mean one is delivering anything God-breathed when he operates in his gifts in his appointed office. It certainly can mean that the Spirit is powerfully using him and mightily working through him, but that isn’t the same thing as delivering divinely inspired special revelation to him or through him, which is what Scripture is. So I think the biblical line of reasoning you provided is extremely unsuccessful and unconvincing.
¶ 6 I have no doubt that you are uncomfortable with my insistence that either the Bible or the church must ultimately be primary over the other. Your position looks good on paper, but it just doesn’t work that way in reality. In the end, either Scripture or the church and her tradition is going to have the final word. Ultimately, either Scripture will dictate what the church’s tradition must be, or the church will dictate what the Scriptures must say and teach. You will find yourself saying, “Scripture mandates that the church believe and practice this,” or you will say, “Tradition mandates that Scripture teaches this.” This will be the key. Is the ultimate authority that is appealed to in any matter of controversy, dispute, confusion, or question Scripture or church tradition? And if the church has decided and established that a given tradition says or mandates x, are the Scriptures ever give the place to reform or change or annul the church’s decision? If not, my point is proven, uncomfortable as it may be.
¶ 7 To conclude, I am very glad you provided me with some purely oral, extra-biblical traditions that you take to be God-breathed and of equal and binding authority with Scripture. Notice what they are: weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts; communion without a bishop is invalid; special fasts during Lent; weekly recitation of the Nicene Creed at Sunday worship. Two things here: First, I find absolutely no reason to believe those things are God-breathed and equal with the Bible. Second, those things are completely unnecessary. By ‘unnecessary,’ I do not mean they are worthless or wrong or anything of that sort. I find absolutely nothing wrong with observing and practicing those things.
¶ 8 What I mean by ‘unnecessary’ is that none of those things are essential, fundamental, or foundational to the core of the true Christian Faith (we obviously don’t lose any of Christianity if we lose any of those traditions), to our salvation (no one’s salvation rests on the observance of special fasts, for example), or to living a godly life. They are adiaphora, indifferent, neither to be taught nor forbidden. The church may receive them or not at her own discretion, but the church may not bind them upon conscience since they are unnecessary.
¶ 9 These sorts of customs and observances are usually what some Orthodox have in mind when they speak of tradition, and I don’t see the necessity or the tremendous importance of holding on to them at all cost. If they aren’t essential to the Faith, they may come and go as time and circumstance dictate. It isn’t ultimately important. Have we lost the Faith without them? I don’t think we have.
Part II. Robert’s Response
As I read your article I found a number of misunderstandings about Orthodoxy. I see these misunderstandings beneficial in the sense that they make explicit certain assumptions that Reformed Christians have about Orthodoxy. By clearing up these misunderstandings I believe we can advance reasoned dialogue between the Reformed and Orthodox traditions.
What Is The Basis For Sola Scriptura?
You wrote in ¶ 1:
We don’t need for the Bible to teach sola Scriptura in order for sola Scriptura to be believed. We do, however, believe the Bible leads us inevitably to the conclusion of sola Scriptura, again, as I said, because of the very nature of Scripture.
First of all, I commend you for holding to the classic doctrine of sola scriptura which is more balanced than the later extreme version, the Bible Onlyism position. What I appreciate about the classic sola scriptura position is that it is open to the historic Christian faith, e.g., the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Formula, an appreciation for the early Church Fathers like Athanasius the Great. This places Calvin and the other Reformers much closer theologically to Eastern Orthodoxy than the popular Evangelicals and the Pentecostals.
In my blog posting I made two kinds of arguments. The negative argument was that the Bible did not teach sola scriptura. You are right that this is not sufficient grounds for rejecting sola scriptura. However, I then advanced the positive argument showing that what we find in the Bible is the traditioning process whereby the apostles preserved the teachings of Christ and passed on these teachings to their successors the bishops. If you want to really refute my blog posting you should engage in an extended exegesis showing how the Bible really teaches sola scriptura. Furthermore, you should set two benchmarks, one for identifying sola scriptura and the other for identifying the Orthodox traditioning process, then show how Scripture supports the former and contradicts the latter.
In the above quote I believe you uncritically accepted the Protestant paradigm for doing theology. This can be seen in your use of the word “inevitably”; for the critical reader words like “inevitably” almost automatically raise red flags in their minds. To show how problematic the word “inevitably” is let’s look at the broader context of II Timothy 3:16. Paul refers to a multi-generational traditioning process that runs in the family (II Timothy 1:3, 5) and in the church (II Timothy 2:2). Paul instructs Timothy to safeguard the apostolic tradition (II Timothy 1:13-14). In II Timothy 2:14 to 3:9 we find Paul warning Timothy about false teachings and exhorting Timothy to be a careful worker who skillfully handles the “word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). One might assume that this refers to Scripture but a look at Ephesians 1:13 shows that the “word of truth” is something heard (see also James 1:18). One looks in vain in II Timothy for evidence of Paul invoking the principle of sola scriptura — the superiority of Scripture over other sources — for Timothy’s ministry. As Paul draws to the close of his letter he notes that Timothy has in the past “carefully followed” Paul’s doctrine and his way of life (II Timothy 3:10) and exhorts Timothy to “continue” in the things he learned from Paul (II Timothy 3:14).
Then Paul segues to the Jewish Torah reminding Timothy that he was brought up with a knowledge of the Torah. He reminds Timothy that the entirety of the Old Testament was divinely inspired and for that reason is “profitable” for teaching doctrine, for correcting those going astray, for discipleship. This is congruent with the Orthodox understanding of Scripture as being divinely inspired and very useful for Christian living and ministry. What is missing here is any hint of Scripture’s superiority over other sources of knowledge or how one’s life and ministry must be biblically based. Therefore, a close reading of II Timothy does not lead us “inevitably” to the Protestant sola scriptura but towards the Orthodox traditioning process.
Wesley, you can no longer just assume sola scriptura, you must argue your case for sola scriptura providing evidence and citing sources. Failure to do so will result in blind faith.
Is The Holy Spirit Inspiring Any Traditions Today?
You asked in ¶ 2: Is the Holy Spirit inspiring any traditions today?
That’s a very broad question that can be understood in many different ways. Keep in mind that for Orthodoxy there is Tradition with a capital “T”, and tradition with a small “t” which refers to more local and recent practices. The seven Ecumenical Councils defined many of the major theological issues relating to Christology and the Trinity, and the early Church developed much of the Liturgy that we use today; these fall under the category of big “T” Tradition. The significance of big “T” Tradition is that they apply to the entire one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. As an example of small “t” tradition there is the icon stand in the nave. Slavic Orthodox churches typically have an icon stand in the middle of the nave — the main part of the church. Greek Orthodox churches tend not to have icon stands. Slavic churches sing the Beatitudes in the Sunday Liturgy, Greek churches do not. Moving the sermon from the Liturgy of the Word to after the Liturgy of the Eucharist falls under small “t” tradition. Ethnic festivals which are quite popular among Orthodox churches in the U.S. fall into the category of local custom.
In response to your suspicion in ¶ 2 that I limit the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to the early church, my response is that I do not confine the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the early church. I can think of several examples of the Holy Spirit inspiring traditions after the early Church (let’s say after Nicea II in AD 787). The Orthodox Church accepts and recognizes the tenth century saint, Symeon the New Theologian, for his teachings on the possibility and reality of experiencing the Divine and Uncreated Light. The Orthodox Church also accepts and recognizes the fourteenth century saint, Gregory of Palamas, who defended the possibility of experiencing the Divine and Uncreated Light of God by drawing a distinction between the essence and energies of God. Another fourteenth century saint is Andrei Rublev whose Holy Trinity icon has had a tremendous influence on Orthodox iconography. These mark major advances in the Orthodox Church’s theology.
One of the more visible examples of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is in the lives of the saints. Among the more recent saints are: Xenia the Holy Fool who lived in eighteenth century Russia, Herman of Alaska another eighteenth century saint, the nineteenth century Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion, the nineteenth century martyr Peter the Aleut, the twentieth century saint St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, and St. Tikhon who died under Soviet rule. A very recent possibility is the late Fr. Daniel Sysoev who was assassinated in his church in 2009. If it is found that he was killed because of his evangelistic outreach to Muslims then it is likely that he will be recognized as a martyr saint. The recognition of a particular person as a saint is not a top-down decision made by the church hierarchy but involves the whole church, both laity and clergy. There is an organic quality to the canonization of Orthodox saints that stands in stark contrast to the more bureaucratic approach taken by Roman Catholicism. It begins on a local level but in time become accepted by the entire Orthodox Church. When someone is recognized as a saint then an icon is made and a hymn (troparion) is composed in honor of the saint. It then becomes permissible for the saint’s icon to be displayed in the church sanctuary and the saint’s troparion sung during the Liturgy. It is in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church that the Holy Spirit’s creative presence in the Church is most evident. These may seem extraneous to you but for Orthodoxy the lives of these saints have become part of the liturgical component of big “T” Tradition.
The Holy Spirit Acting But Not Necessarily Inspiring
In ¶ 3 you wrote something that I found a little puzzling.
The fact is that the activity of the Spirit is not restricted to inspiration. The Holy Spirit can be active without inspiring something. Just because the Holy Spirit is at work in a given person or a given church function or activity, it doesn’t mean that the result is God-breathed.
You seem to be under the impression that in my blog posting that I asserted that actions of the early Church after the apostles were just as inspired and equivalent in authority as Scripture. I didn’t say that. What I asserted was that according to I Thessalonians 2:13 and II Thessalonians 2:15 oral apostolic tradition was equivalent in authority and inspiration to written apostolic tradition. Then using John 16:13 I asserted that the same Holy Spirit who inspired apostolic tradition also guided the church into all truth. This is important because the activity of the Holy Spirit is needed for both the reading and the writing of Scripture. Man cannot apprehend Scripture apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 3:12-18).
I think the fundamental difference between you and me is how we understand the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church. Both the Reformed and Orthodox traditions recognize the miracle of Pentecost, and both traditions recognize the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in the church. Let me describe what I think the critical difference between the two.
Reformed Tradition. The Reformed tradition is clear about the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The source of Scripture’s preeminent authority is its being divinely inspired (cf. II Timothy 3:16). The underlying assumption for Protestant theology is that where Scripture is divinely inspired, extra-biblical traditions like the creeds (Nicene, Chalcedonian Formula, Westminster Confession), orders of worship, sermons, and theological treatises (the writings of Luther and Calvin) are not divinely inspired. There seems to be a deep divide running through Protestant theology between divinely inspired Scripture on one side and the creations of sincere faithful men who seek to understand Scripture to the best of their understanding on the other. The Reformers may have done theology prayerfully, but the Reformed tradition would not describe their works as inspired. Protestantism has had some vigorous debates about the role of the Holy Spirit in individual believers, but seems to have been silent with respect to the significance of the Holy Spirit indwelling the church as a whole. This is my general impression and I am open to being challenged on this. While the Protestant tradition closes the book on the Holy Spirit’s ministry of inspiration with the completion of the New Testament, it opens the door again with the teaching of the need for regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This has given rise to the tendency to individualism among Protestants and the emergence of self-taught theologians forming their own denominations.
Orthodox Tradition. The starting point for Orthodoxy is the Incarnation of the Word of God. Holy Tradition in Orthodoxy is based upon apostolic tradition in both oral and written forms (I Thessalonians 2:13; II Thessalonians 2:15). From the apostolic oral tradition we get the Divine Liturgy, the sign of the cross, the fasting disciplines, the episcopacy etc. One can even say that the New Testament writings emerged out of oral apostolic kerygma. Orthodoxy believes that the Church as a whole is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout history, especially through various crises: the early persecutions resulted in the great heroes of the faith, the martyrs; the Arian controversy resulted in the Nicene Creed, the Nestorian controversy resulted in the Chalcedonian Formula and Mary being recognized as the Theotokos (Mother of God), the iconoclastic controversy resulted in the affirmation of icons. The Orthodox Church believes that the Nicene Creed is an authoritative and inspired decision on the question of Jesus’ divine nature binding on all Christians. Its binding nature flows from three sources: (1) the bishops are the successors to the apostles, (2) because it was ecumenical, the church as a whole made this decision, and (3) the Holy Spirit was guiding the bishops in their decision making.
The difference between the Protestant and the Orthodox positions can be summarized by the following syllogisms:
Protestant Sola Scriptura
Major Premise: The Bible is the divinely inspired word of God.
Minor Premise: Everything else is man-made tradition.
Conclusion: The Bible is superior to man-made traditions.
Eastern Orthodoxy is based upon a different set of premises. These premises are based upon the teachings of the Bible. I urge you to show how these arguments are contrary to Scripture.
Orthodox Holy Tradition
Major Premise: The New Testament writings are authoritative because the apostles wrote them.
Major Premise: The oral teachings of the apostles are authoritative because they were taught by the apostles.
Conclusion: Both the New Testament and oral traditions are equally authoritative because they share the same source.
Orthodox Apostolic Succession
Major Premise: Christ commanded his apostles to pass on his teachings.
Minor Premise 1: The apostles passed on the teachings of Christ to their successors, the bishops.
Minor Premise 2: The bishops passed on the teachings of Christ to their successors.
Conclusion: The church that has this line of apostolic succession has the teachings of Christ.
The New Testament Scriptures are basically the teachings of the apostles in written form. The teaching ministry of Christ and his apostles were predominantly oral. The New Testament writings emerged out of this oral tradition and there is no evidence it was intended to supersede oral tradition. Neither the written nor the oral form of the apostolic teachings are opposed to the other or superior to the other because both share a common source: Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word.
Protestantism’s sola scriptura results in Protestants attributing infallibility to Scripture but denying this attribute to the Church. Orthodoxy attributes infallibility to Scripture and to the Church, the interpreter of Scripture. The Church is infallible because of the Spirit of Truth who indwells the Church. Please bear in mind that Orthodox has an organic and mystical understanding of the Holy Spirit’s guiding of the Church. It does not mean that everything a church father says is infallible; we look to the patristic consensus for the dogmas of the Faith.
One can have a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture but someone has to interpret what Scripture means. To use an analogy, the decision of an Ecumenical Council is like the Supreme Court rendering a ruling on the Constitution. The US Constitution is not self-interpreting but requires an authoritative interpreter in order for the country to be legally coherent. This leaves us with three options. One, an infallible Papacy interpreting Scripture for all Christendom — the Roman Catholic position; two, infallible Scripture interpreted by fallible men — the Protestant position; and three, the Scripture interpreted by the Church according to Tradition — the Orthodox position. Lacking a coherent magisterium Protestantism has fractured along the lines of a multiplicity of rival readings of Scripture.
Because Protestantism attributes infallibility solely to Scripture a deep divide runs through its epistemology. On the one hand there is a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture and on the other hand there are fallible men who seek to understand Scripture as best they can. This means that where the Orthodox Church recognizes the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Reformed tradition recognizes a plethora of confessions, none of them providing a doctrinal center for the entire Reformed tradition. Protestant confessions are basically opinions by learned men; they are not authoritative binding interpretations. They may be binding upon a particular denomination but not the Church catholic. There is a tentativeness to Protestant theology. This has also endowed Protestant theology with a contested nature much like modern science. Protestant theologians work with the biblical data and from that data develop theories (doctrines) about God, Christ, human nature, church, and society. Unlike Orthodoxy, Protestantism cannot lay claim to a right and authoritative interpretation of Scripture. If it did one would could point to a theological confession recognized and accepted by all Protestants.
John 16:13 — The Holy Spirit Guiding the Church
Let’s talk about the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church then and now. You asserted that in ¶ 4:
John 16:13 is a promise given to the apostles, not the whole church in all ages. The promise was fulfilled, for I believe the apostles were indeed led into all truth by the Spirit.
If the word “you” is understood restrictively for this passage then this restrictive understanding should also apply to John 14 to 16. Are we to understand Christ’s promise of his peace in John 14:27 to apply only to the Twelve? Are we understand the metaphor of the vine and the branch in John 15:1-8 to apply only to Christ and the Twelve? Are we to understand that Christ’s command to love each other in John 15:12 to apply only to the Twelve? I think a better way to read John 14 to 16 is to read it on several levels: to the Twelve directly and to us, the Church, indirectly.
The key reason why your restrictive understanding is incorrect is found in John 14:16-17a:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. (NIV)
The Holy Spirit didn’t guide just the apostles “into all truth” (John 16:13), but obviously if the Holy Spirit is to be with us “forever” then the Holy Spirit continues to guide us, the Church, into all truth. To assert that the John 16:13 passage only applies to the apostles is to assert that God has abandoned the Church, leaving us as orphans which contradicts John 14:18. Therefore, I believe that your restrictive understanding of the pronoun “you” for this passage for John 16:13 is driven more by theological bias than with grammar and linguistics.
Acts 15 – The Jerusalem Council
First, let’s clear up who was present at the Council. You’re right that the laity were present along with the ordained clergy that can be seen in Acts 15:22 which states that following the Council the “apostles, elders, with the whole church” selected delegates to communicate the Council’s decision to the other churches. But Acts 15:6 says: “The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” (NIV) This means your assertion that the decision was made on “congregational grounds, not episcopal grounds” is incorrect.
Second, you note that the Scriptures were consulted to corroborate James’ position and that it seemed good to the church and to the Holy Spirit. All this is very Orthodox. Scripture is an essential component of Tradition and much of Orthodox Tradition consists of an exegesis of Scripture based on a received understanding of Scripture. Acts 15 describes a very Orthodox process and provides a biblical precedent for the Ecumenical Councils. You see the gathering of the apostles and their successors, James the Bishop of Jerusalem, the witness of Scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the reception of the Council’s decision by the church as whole, including the laity. Is there any indication that the Jerusalem Council invoked the principle of sola scriptura?
Third, you asserted that Paul felt free to disregard the Jerusalem Council’s decision but provided no evidence in support of this claim. You will have to do better than that if you want to persuade me that your position is correct.
You misunderstood my interpretation of Ephesians 4:7-13. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit’s indwelling gives the local pastor or the bishop an inspiration equivalent to the original apostles. The original apostles ministered under a unique inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Their successors possessed a similar but lesser inspiration by the Holy Spirit. This can be seen in the Orthodox stress on patristic consensus. We do not consider individual church fathers on the same level of inspiration or authority as the original apostles. We believe that the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the post-apostolic period is most evident in the actions of the Church Catholic. Where Protestantism assumes a sharp either-or distinction between Scripture and man-made traditions, Orthodox takes a more inclusive approach that sees varying degrees of inspiration among the various components of big “T” Tradition.
When it comes to doctrinal issues, the work of the Holy Spirit is most evident where there is a consensus among the church fathers. This means that one cannot just read the church fathers to learn Orthodox theology. The Orthodox approach involves collective discernment. Tertullian and Origen were a brilliant theologians but because of certain flaws are not church fathers. Then one has to learn which parts of the fathers’ writings has been recognized as valid and of lasting value. While there is a place for academic scholarship in the study of the church fathers, the Orthodox approach is fundamentally ecclesial. To be Orthodox means accepting as church fathers those whom the Church recognizes as church fathers. You can read the church fathers independently as a Protestant but holding to an independent stance means you will remain outside the Orthodox Church.
Scripture vs. the Church
You write in ¶ 6:
In the end, either Scripture or the church and her tradition is going to have the final word. Ultimately, either Scripture will dictate what the church’s tradition must be, or the church will dictate what the Scriptures must say and teach.
You seem to be assuming that Scripture and Tradition are two distinct and separate things. But for Orthodoxy that makes no sense. For the Orthodox Tradition with a capital “T” has its source in the original apostles just as much as the New Testament writings. Orthodoxy interprets Scripture from the standpoint of Tradition which goes back to the original apostles. This reliance on apostolic tradition stands in contrast to the Protestant reliance on biblical scholarship and the scientific understanding of the Bible. This reliance on reason makes sense in light of the fact that Protestantism has lost access to the oral apostolic tradition. Where Orthodoxy approaches the Bible from an exegetical tradition with apostolic roots, Protestantism approaches the Bible independent of an ancient exegetical tradition.
Your question about who has the greater authority — Scripture or the Church — is based upon what A.N.S. Lane calls the ancillary position. This view assumes that the church as a whole can and has fallen into error and that the appeal to Scripture is needed to reform the church. The assumption that the church can be at odds with the teachings of Scripture is conditioned by the Reformers’ struggle to reform the medieval Roman Catholic Church. This position is understandable in light of how medieval Roman Catholicism developed an exegetical tradition that diverged from the patristic consensus and adopted novel doctrines and practices at odd with Scripture. Eastern Orthodoxy did not engage theological innovations like papal supremacy, purgatory and indulgences. It rejects them because they are unbiblical and not part of the received apostolic tradition. Therefore, the ancillary position does not apply to the Orthodox Church.
Does Orthodoxy Work In Practice?
You write in ¶ 6:
Your position looks good on paper, but it just doesn’t work that way in reality.
After a decade of being Orthodox, I can say: “Yes, it really does work that way in the Orthodox Church.” This is because Scripture permeates the Orthodox Church. For example all of Sunday Liturgy are permeated by Scripture: the litanies, the Nicene Creed, the Eucharistic prayer. I would urge you to visit a local Orthodox parish and listen for biblical themes and ideas in the Liturgy. Read the church fathers and see how they do theology on the basis of Scripture. Read the Ecumenical Councils and observe how they exegete Scriptures.
Are Traditions Equal To Scripture?
In ¶ 7 you wrote:
… I am very glad you provided me with some purely oral, extra-biblical traditions that you take to be God-breathed and of equal and binding authority with Scripture.
When I gave you examples of extra-biblical traditions, I did not say that they were of equal authority or inspiration as Scripture. I don’t think you intended to put words my mouth. Instead, you were going on the assumption that as an Orthodox Christian I put extra-biblical traditions on the same level as Scripture. I don’t put them on the same level as Scriptures but I do believe that the practices of fasting and the weekly Eucharist came from the apostles.
Are Extra-Biblical Traditions Unnecessary?
Then in ¶ 8 you elaborate:
What I mean by ‘unnecessary’ is that none of those things are essential, fundamental, or foundational to the core of the true Christian Faith….
The question must be raised: Necessary for what? If you mean necessary for faith in Christ so that one is justified by grace and therefore go to heaven when one dies, then, ‘Yes’, the fasting and the creeds are unnecessary. But that shows how different your understanding of what Christianity is compared to the early Church.
Your assumption is that the essence of Christianity is intellectual assent to a set of ideas about Christ and his death on the cross. But being a Christian is more holistic than that, it involves right worship, following a moral code, belonging to the Eucharistic community, and living under the leadership based on apostolic succession. Without Tradition one ends up with an intellectualized faith.
Your concern with the “core” of the true Christian Faith introduces a subtle bias. It assumes a minimalist approach to Christianity and implies the question: “What are the minimum requirements for being a Christian?” It is like a husband-to-be asking the pastor: “What are the minimum requirements for being married?” Rather, he should be asking: “What is the ultimate way I can show my beloved how much I love her?”
The weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts and the Lenten fasts don’t apply to you because you are not a part of the Orthodox Church. As a Protestant you are free to follow your conscience with respect to tradition, but if you want to be a part of the Orthodox Church then accepting the fasting practices is not an option. The area of spiritual disciplines in the Reformed tradition is a matter of individual preference. This goes back to Protestant Christianity rooted in an individualistic religion — the individual believer’s faith in God.. As a Protestant you are free to follow the Wednesday and Friday fasts if you wish; no one in your church is going to disagree with you or commend you for it. But as a Protestant who affirms the authority and inspiration of Scripture, where do you stand with respect to Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:16-17? Do you feel that it applies to Christians today? If so, can you describe your approach to fasting?
By following the fasting practices of the Orthodox Church I participate in the ascetic disciplines of the Church. But one must understand how Orthodoxy views the fasting disciplines. It is not an attempt to earn merit for getting into heaven, rather the discipline of fasting is part of our spiritual healing. Spiritual healing and growth in Christ are a major themes running through Orthodoxy. Fasting is also part of our spiritual growth. There are degrees of fasting. There are beginning levels of fasting for those who just converted to Orthodoxy and more advanced levels for monastics. It’s a struggle to keep the fasts so I admire those who are able to keep the fasts. At the same time fasting apart from prayer and the spirit of humility and charity is just a diet. If done properly the spiritual discipline of fasting combined with prayer can result in spiritual growth. There is a growth in controlling one’s bodily passions one gets in fasting that one normally will not get from just reading the Bible. So when you write: “no one’s salvation rests on the observance of special fasts” I suspect you have a rather narrow forensic understanding of salvation. Orthodoxy has a broader view of salvation in Christ.
But when you continue with “or to living a godly life” I would strongly disagree as an Orthodox Christian. But I will wait for you to explain what you meant by that. How do you define “godly life” and what practices do you believe are needed in order for a Christian to have a “godly life”? More importantly, who gets to decide what constitutes a “godly life”? You, your pastor, or the Church catholic? Or is a “godly life” a matter of individual conscience?
You write ¶ 9:
If they aren’t essential to the Faith, they may come and go as time and circumstances dictate.
The fact that Orthodoxy has held to the fasts, the weekly Eucharistic gathering, and the episcopacy for two thousand years shows how important they are to the historic Christian Faith. These were not added on but handed down from the beginning of Christianity.
The advantage of the Orthodox approach is that it removes the element of arbitrariness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said twice in Matthew 6:16-17 “when you fast.” Here he assumes that his followers will fast, not that they might fast if they chose to. Do you follow this passage or do you regard it as adiaphora? If you want to be biblical with respect to fasting then there is the problem of no clear instructions about how or when to fast. As a Protestant I did not know how to put this passage into practice and my church said nothing about this passage. When I became an Orthodox Christian this passage took on a relevance it did not have before. When I learned that the Orthodox Church’s Wednesday and Friday fasts were also taught in the first century document, The Didache, I was impressed with Orthodoxy’s faithfulness to tradition. Protestantism on the other hand seems to have jettisoned this ancient spiritual discipline and evolved into an almost cerebral religion where intellectual assent to doctrine takes priority, and individual choice often overrides catholicity.
Probably the most glaring example of arbitrariness in Protestantism is the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist. Just twelve years after the Reformation began, the Protestant Reformation became divided over the Eucharist. Luther and Zwingli had the Scripture text in front of them and still could not come to an agreement. The failure of the Marburg Colloquy stems from Protestantism’s lack of an exegetical tradition that goes back to the apostles. A Protestant might label the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist as adiaphora but for the Orthodox the Eucharist lies at the heart of the Christian Faith. Where do you stand? Do you regard the real presence in the Eucharist as adiaphora or an important doctrine? Where does your local church stand on this issue?
No Faith Without Tradition?
You closed with the question in ¶ 9: “Have we lost the Faith without them?”
As a Protestant you have parts of the historic Christian Faith but you don’t have the entire package. As a classical Protestant you may have accepted the Nicene Creed without the Filioque, your church may celebrate the Eucharist every week and even have an episcopacy like the Anglican tradition does but for Orthodoxy all this is not the “the Faith” received from the apostles.
I’m not sure how you understand the Faith with capital “F” but for Orthodoxy capital “F” Faith is more than a set of doctrines, and more than a system of practices. It is life in the Church, the body of Christ, the guardian of the apostolic deposit who has been given the mandate to teach the nations. Kallistos Ware, quoting Father Lev Gillet, gives a very nice summation of the Orthodox Faith: “An Orthodox Christian is one who accepts the Apostolic Tradition and who lives in communion with the bishops who are the appointed teachers of this Tradition” (in The Inner Kingdom, p. 14; emphasis in original).
Christ promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. The inspiration of individual bishops or individual church fathers are not on the same level as that of the apostles. But when taken as a whole, either in the form of patristic consensus or through an Ecumenical Council, we find the Holy Spirit working in the Church Catholic on a level similar to the apostles. The Holy Spirit will lead the Church deeper into the truths of the Faith but will never lead the Church into a new or different Tradition.
Tradition for the Orthodox consists of the “whole package” based on the written and oral apostolic tradition interpreted by the bishops the successors to the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is not read objectively but from within a received exegetical tradition. This exegetical tradition is can be found in the early liturgies and in the writings of the church fathers. Orthodoxy is not concerned about defining the bare minimum necessary for salvation but rather living the fullness of the Christian life in the Church.
My apologies, I haven’t gotten to read the whole post yet (it is long, after all), but I look forward to doing so.
My question, knowing that you may have answered it later in the post:
Would the hymn that has the line, “O Most Holy Theotokos, save us…” be considered Big “T” Tradition or little “t” tradition? Considering Protestant scruples to over emphasizing Mary (many of us do know that she is more blessed than all women!), could this hymn be left out of the Liturgy with no damage to Tradition? (I have a feeling if sentiments like these, which seem very close to worshipping a creature — no other being is addressed in prayer with words such as these in Scripture except God — were omitted from the Liturgy, you’d see many more Protestants becoming Orthodox…)
Thanks, as always, for your gracious responses to my queries. May Christ be glorified forever, by everyone, in every place!
Good question! Let me first say that for a Reformed Christian to explore Eastern Orthodoxy is a lot like visiting a foreign culture. When we visit a foreign culture and we see a cultural practice we are not familiar with we need to be cautious about jumping to conclusions. I would urge you to look for the theological and Scriptural rationale Orthodoxy gives for practices and doctrines that appear to be at odds with Reformed Christianity.
Could the line “O Most Holy Theotokos, save us….” be omitted from the Liturgy? According to Deacon Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers (publisher of the NKJV Bible), some parishes do leave it out but he also goes on to show how the ideas behind that line are very much part of the Orthodox Tradition. Here’s the link to his podcast which is part of his series “At the Intersection of East and West” for Ancient Faith Radio.
May God bless your exploration of Orthodox Christianity!
This podcast is excellent as well.
Excellent post brother.
I do find it very interesting that the publisher of my Bible of choice, the NKJV, is Orthodox!
I will listen to the podcasts as soon as I am able. Thanks for linking to them for me.
That issue was one of my major concerns as well. Orthodoxy uses the word “save” in the same way as the Prophets and Apostles.
1Sa 10:26-7 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.
2Ki 13:4-5 Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the LORD, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. Therefore the LORD gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly.
2Ki 14:27 But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
Neh 9:27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.
Oba 1:21 Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.
1Co 7:16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1Co 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
1Ti 4:16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Jas 5:15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Jud 1:22-23 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
To use the word “save” only in reference to God and only in the ultimate sense is not scriptural.
Thanks for this — very helpful.
I am wondering, though, how the term can be used in the present tense for the relation of Mary, Theotokos, to us now? Certainly, given the evidence you put forth (and in line with St. Irenaeus), it could be said that she saved us by bearing the Lord — but how does/would she continue to “save” us after the fact of the Incarnation?
In some ways, Orthodoxy does feel like a foreign country — I am trying to get acclimated, as I don’t want to be an “ugly American” (as it were).
Two thoughts: First, I’m not entirely sure that it would be inappropriate to make the referent to “save us” to be the bearing of God the Word. If we can speak with a Liturgical Present, can we pray with one?
But also, Mary would be perfectly capable of saving us, now, if Christ grants her that power. He may not have, though there are, I believe, good arguments (though not necessarily conclusive ones) that He has.
The article by Jenson in this book is excellent:
This is an excellent article.
I hope I’ll do this quote justice, I can’t find it on the web; I heard or read it somewhere, but I don’t remember where.
A Protestant went to see Elder Paisios and was asking him about how is it possible for the mother of God to save us.
Elder Paisios told him this example:
“Suppose a great king, the emperor is coming to your city. Someone you love is in jail, who didn’t commit the crime that he is in jail for. You wish to speak to the king, but the crowd throngs about him and you do not receive an audience. However, the king’s mother, whom he loves very much, is standing next to you. You gather up the courage to tell her of the injustice, and a few days later, your friend receives his freedom. Of course, the king’s mother has no power to get your friend out of jail, but when you talk to people you’re going to tell them that SHE is the one who saved him. She relayed your request to the king.”
Welcome to the Orthodox Bridge! I’m not sure how this lesson from Elder Paisios relates to this discussion about sola scriptura but I do want to welcome you to the discussion.
Thank you Robert. Actually it was my mistake by clicking on the wrong “Reply”. This is in reply to the inquirer about “Most Holy Theotokos save us”. I think it’s Russ Warren.
Through her prayers and care for the members of her Son’s body. Remember, His body is derived from hers. Also, the Incarnation is dynamic:
Gal 4:19 …my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
She prays that we would all be “more honorable than the Cheribum and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”.
Does this mean that we could call on any other Christian to save us, since they pray for us as well?
(I am asking this in a spirit of genuine curiosity thirsting for understanding.)
In the “Old Orthodox” prayerbook I have, one of the prayers says: “Holy guardian angel, save me…” If I am remembering correctly, the whole “Theotokos save us” phrase comes from when she delivered the city of Constantinople from foreign invaders. She was patroness of the Queen City.
Fr. Aris Metrakos: ‘Once people have been fully converted to Christ, the love of the Panagia follows naturally. The pious believer knows firsthand that Jesus is his Savior, but the drowning man does not cry out to the lifeguard, “Intercede for me!” ‘
For the sake of clarity, I would like to point out that the post on my blog is not made up of MY words. If I remember correctly, the body of the post is a comment made on this very blog back in June of this year by someone under the name “Wesley.” I found his arguments interesting, but they are HIS arguments. Thanks.
Tim is right. He pretty much just copied Wesley’s comments posted on June 25th. And he was naturally surprised when I told him that I had written a response to “his” blog posting. In the flurry of comments I often lose track of who said what. I did respond to Wesley’s comment but in this more recent posting I developed my position further. I would like to thank Wesley for his thoughtful questions which contributed substantively to the Reformed-Orthodox dialogue.
Tim’s blogging again? Cool. Back in the day he had some really awesome blog entries, but would often shut his blog down after a few months and then resurrect it later.
I want to add another unbiblical tradition to paragraph 7: the canon of scripture, particularly the New Testament canon. I want to add a corollary to the above point: the criteria for the New Testament canon.
Thanks for your efforts here, Robert. I think this is one of the clearest and most succinct statements I have read of the respective ways the Orthodox, Protestant/Reformed, and Roman Catholic traditions understand the source of spiritual authority in the Church.
Just wanted to confirm that the above piece from Tim’s blog to which Robert has responded in this article is indeed my own original work (for better or worse!), which Tim quoted in full from a comment on this blog some time ago. I appreciated Tim posting my comment on his site, and I thoroughly appreciate that Robert has found it worthy of such a substantive response at this time. I have not read this article yet, but I would like to read it soon and respond if I can find the time. (I’m busy as an assistant pastor and a full time seminarian these days!)
Robert, it may be a good idea to provide your readers with a link to that previous discussion where my above comment was originally placed, just to give some context of what came before and after. That could be beneficial. Thanks very much!
Grace to you and peace,
Thank you for the suggestion. I’ve added a note to the introduction of the blog posting that provides a link to your original comment. I look forward to your response.
Very interesting, and I’m anxious to see how Wesley or Tim answers you. It reminded me of discipleship discussions I had with leadership in military/campus org. over thirty years ago. I’d been given the BookTable responsibility at a small conference and had included Howard Snyder’s _The Problem of Wineskin_. The book intimated that the Bible intended for Disciples to be made IN and BY the Church (of all places)! Don’t know if it would read as good today but he championed the novel idea that the Apostles obeyed Christ’s Great-Commission…by planting CHURCHES…with government, worship and sacraments…all very much like each other (instead of each Apostle starting his own entrepreneurial para-church ‘ministry’ targeting his favorite niche). The book got canned and I decide not to pursue a Staff position, but find a ‘Disciple-making Church’! 🙂 Obviously, the Reformed Church has a different vision for just What Christian-discipleship looks like…and How to go about producing them, than does the Orthodox Church. Your comments about Minimalism of the Christian Faith to core issues (fundamentals?) in contrast to Wholism (especially as it relates to Liturgical-Sacramental life IN the Church) with the place of apostolic Tradition — together opens up a very different world of ‘discipleship-training’. Perhaps you could sketch or contrast how you see this playing out in the life of the individual and family. I think I have the Reformed vision down pretty good. But how would you see (and we should see) ‘how’ a pious/zealous Orthodox man orders his live to become Christ’s disciple (with his wife and children)…in contrast to a Protestant husband and father? Maybe this is too much for the comments section, but should be a separate post?
Thanks for your thoughts! When I was in college I belonged to the campus organization that published Howard Snyder’s The Problem of Wineskin. Rather than answer your questions here, I think I’ll use your questions for a future blog posting.
‘We don’t need for the Bible to teach sola Scriptura in order for sola Scriptura to be believed.’
If that’s the case, then aren’t you really appealing to a reformed tradition, and not the Scriptures, as a justification for Sola Scriptura? If the Scriptures don’t teach that the scriptures ALONE are authoritative, then this ‘doctrine’ is self-refuting. And this is the major reason I am now a reformed believer, leaning in an Orthodox direction. Protestants have not been honest about their own commitment to various newer traditions.
Being Reformed, I have seen more and more folks start to speak the language of tradition — note the latest fracas over infant baptism caused by MacArthur. Sola Scriptura is known, as far as my experience has allowed me to see (and I’m a professor of Bible at a Reformed college), as a tradition — but with Biblical roots (it derives from “good and necessary consequence”: WCF 1.6), since the Bible is the infallible Word of God, whereas tradition is carried along by men. So any tradition, the argument goes, can be either good or bad — Sola Scriptura, which posits that the Scriptures hold sway over all and any traditions, can be turned into Solo Scriptura/Biblicism, in which only that which is mentioned in the Bible is authoritative. The doctrine was never meant to say that only Scripture was authoritative, but that it was authoritative over any tradition: if the tradition disagrees with the Scriptures, so much the worse for the tradition! (Of course, the Orthodox — and many others — can rightfully respond: whose reading of the Scriptures?)
Sola Scriptura does not say that the Scriptures must teach that ONLY the Scriptures are authoritative. This is a misdefinition of the principle. For that matter, is sola Scriptura even really a doctrine, or is it just a principle about where doctrines come from? The idea that ONLY the Scriptures are authoritative breaks down on many levels, most especially that of where the canon came from. This is why it’s essential to make a distinction between sola Scriptura as it was formulated by the Magisterial Reformers and as it was formulated by the Radical Reformers – the latter of whom are the real spiritual progenitors of most modern Protestants.
If you’re going to reject sola Scriptura, please make sure you’re rejecting what it actually is, not what modern Protestant distortions have made of it.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that sola Scriptura, even classically defined as “Scripture is the only *infallible* rule of faith” (not distortively as “Scripture is the *only* rule of faith”) is false, because certain sectors of the Church have, via their episcopal succession, maintained oral traditions that came straight from the mouths of Apostles.
Even given that scenario, how can we reconcile it with 2 Timothy 3:16-17’s apparent notion that Scripture is not just “useful” for all things in the Christian life, but actually able to “thoroughly equip” one for the Christian life? Even if the Protestant accepts that there are other traditions of Apostolic origin (as a Protestant, I have no inherent problem with this idea) that have been preserved outside of Scripture, the above passage seems simply to disallow any idea of said traditions being in any way *necessary* for a godly life. Perhaps said traditions might be said to be *useful* for certain modes of pursuing a godly life, but they can in no way be said to be *essential*. And if that is the case, what becomes of Orthodoxy’s claim to be a “fuller” expression of the faith than we poor red-headed-stepchildren of Rome, herself a defector from Apostolic Truth, have?
Sola scriptura is not false because a certain sector of the Church had maintained oral tradition via apostolic succession. Sola scriptura is false because it’s not taught in Scripture. Moreover, if the Bible does teach the traditioning process and apostolic succession then we have two choices available: Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.
You seem to be reading 2 Timothy 3:17 in isolation from the rest of Paul’s letter of Timothy. That one verse by itself can be interpreted to mean sola scriptura, but within the broader context it points to a church in which Scripture is read, proclaimed, and exposited by the successors to the apostles. In 2 Timothy 1:13 Paul tells Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…. In 2 Timothy 3:10 Paul reminds Timothy of his teaching and way of life. Orthodoxy doesn’t really keep the traditions because they are “necessary” or “essential” but because it is what Orthodox Christians do; it’s part of the pattern of living we received from the apostles. It’s the Orthodox way. Orthodoxy is about wholism, not minimalism. Minimalism can be a sign of spiritual sickness. If an Orthodox Christian thinks: All I need to do is go to church Christmas and Easter, or go to church on Sundays, or fast only during Lent etc. then that person is stuck in their spiritual growth. They are satisfied or complacent with where they are at in their growth in Christ. The minimum or essentials in Orthodoxy should be understood from the standpoint of spiritual growth or spiritual healing, not legal compliance. That is why I am not comfortable with your questions about what is “necessary” or “essential” for godly living.
Robert, I was trying to grant maximum benefit of doubt to Orthodoxy by framing the truth or falsity of sola Scriptura as I did. Isn’t the basic point Orthodoxy makes against sola Scriptura precisely that there is additional revelatory material that has been preserved in the episcopal succession but not in Scripture, and that this additional material is equally authoritative for the Christian? If that is so, “sola” Scriptura even on its classical definition is false – hence why I framed the issue that way.
At any rate, you seem to imagine that sola Scriptura means the life of the Christian is nothing but intellectual comprehension of the Book. That is false. Sola Scriptura means that the source and regulatory authority for doctrine is only Scripture. It doesn’t mean that there is no liturgical life. Obviously there is in Protestantism, though Orthodoxy claims it is “invalid.” In other words, sola Scriptura is not what you are calling “minimalism” for the Christian life. It’s rather “wholism” with the proviso that the other elements of the life are subject to the correction of Scripture. Hence, claims to “apostolic tradition” have to at least congrue with Scripture, if not be found directly in it. Liturgy can take all kinds of shapes, but can’t transgress what Scripture says about it.
Sola Scriptura is not some mere “legal compliance” view as opposed to a “spiritual growth and healing” view. Orthodoxy does not have a corner on those things, sorry.
Tim, The key to maintaining a good healthy dialogue between two different traditions is the avoidance of exaggeration of differences. Let me say that I agree with you that sola scriptura is more than an intellectual stance. One thing I admire about Evangelicals and conservative Protestants is their attempt to read the Bible diligently and to follow the teachings of the Bible. Let me also affirm that there is some liturgical life in Protestantism. While much of Protestantism in recent years has abandoned the historic forms of Christian worship there are a few church groups that have sought to retain or recover the more liturgical approach to worship. There was a time when I was looking into the Episcopalian (Anglican) tradition. Eventually, it was Mercersburg Theology that caught my attention. I identified with Nevin and Schaff’s emphasis on catholicity and the Eucharistic until I became Orthodox.
The question as to whether or not sola scriptura gives rise to a minimalist approach to Christian discipleship (godly living) is an interesting one. I plan to write an article comparing the Orthodox and Protestant approaches to Christian discipleship. I’m sure you will have something to say about that.
I don’t know if I’ll have anything to say about that, but since there are 25,000 different kinds of Protestantism, perhaps someone will! 🙂
Not sure just how the Orthodox would reply, but allow me to make two points. Arguing that Holy Scripture is the only “infallible” rule of faith solves nothing. WHOM gets to decide what Holy Scripture “infallibly” says/teaches…Calvin, Zwingly, Luther…who all disagreed? (Or Sproul, Wilson, Wright, Jordan, Leithart, Piper, Lusk…who all disagree at points…this month?) This seems to take you either to each man his own Pope…OR…on a search for some “group” highly enough esteemed to merit our trust and confidence…like the complex of Apostles, Fathers, Councils and laity-saints that comprises Orthodox Tradition?
Secondly (for sake of argument) what IF Orthodoxy readily granted Scripture IS indeed the ONLY “infallible” rule for faith? Yet…Holy Scripture itself grants equal authority (infalliblity?) to Church Tradition…thus establishing them? Each (Scritpure & Church/Apostolic Tradition) are mutually self-affirming of the other. So, in practice, arguing that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule really does collaspe on itself…either by need of some subsequent infallible interpreter(s) (avoiding each man his own pope)…OR by Scripture’s OWN infallible internal-testimony to the Church’s Apostolic-Tradition’s place or “ground” of authority.
I think these are good points worthy of discussion. Maybe another way to look at it (one I’m inclined to) is: both Scripture and Church (I’m using that term instead of Tradition for the moment) are from the Spirit, the Scriptures are “God-breathed” and the Church is where/in whom the Spirit dwells. So, both Church and Scripture must, in the end, agree with each other — the Spirit cannot contradict Himself. This, I think, is the real basis of Sola Scriptura: which do we prefer when/if there is a discrepancy between Scripture and Church? When the Tradition (to argue Westernly for a moment) says papal supremacy, yet the Scriptures claim no such thing, which is given precedence? Can the Church leadership err in its reading of Scripture?, etc.
Now, much of Sola Scriptura has been taken too far and in too minimalist of a direction, but there seems to me to be no real quarrel between the Orthodox and the Reformed traditions at this point: Scripture and Church are given and maintained by the Spirit and so, ultimately, cannot contradict one another.
Good points Russ,
I returned here to do an “oophs” granting there is a 3rd option to 1) each saint his own infallible pope and 2) some form or Church/Tradition becoming our magisterium — the #3) would be the Roman view of one man being a pope for us all.
But I think you are on the right track…which is very close to the Orthodoxy position if I understand rightly…that the Church (Tradition) Spirit and Scripture must ultimately agree. But…where does that leave Protestantism?
We see Scripture as the Primary aspect of Tradition. I know one school of thought within Rome makes a distinction between Scripture and Tradition, but we try not to(well, most of us try not to. There are a number of Orthodox that use the main Roman Catholic modal)
I see your train of argument, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But let me try to engage what you said.
“Who gets to decide what Scripture infallibly says?” Here the first line of defense is the classical doctrine (and by “classical” I mean that the Church Fathers in general held it, and transmitted it to the Medievals and the Reformers) of the perspicuity, or clarity of Scripture. Like sola Scriptura itself, this notion is greatly abused by modern Protestants, particularly those who have sectarian beliefs about their own purity relative to others. The classical doctrine of perspicuity says that the words of Scripture regarding matters essential to salvation are clear enough for any ordinary person using ordinary canons of interpreting written texts to understand.
I can’t speak for the Orthodox (though I’ve noticed that some Orthodox converts do this, whatever their Church says), but many Catholic converts look at the interpretive mess amongst Protestants and draw the same skeptical conclusion that Late Medieval papalists interested in an interpretive monopoly did, namely, that texts can’t be understood except by experts. On the contrary, the Scriptures are not this big book crammed full of opaque mysteries that only Specially-Approved People With Proper Bureaucratic Pedigrees, Who Wear Fancy Costumes and Mumble Incantations in Foreign Languages can understand, and the poor benighted hoi polloi are just out of luck without them. (Don’t misunderstand – I don’t mock vestments and historic liturgies, mind you – I’m just being rhetorical to make a point – too much is made of the Apostolic Successors by many of these converts, and not enough of God speaking in the Scriptures.)
The basic message of the Scriptures regarding salvation is very clear to anyone who isn’t mentally retarded. It’s found, among other places, in 1 Corinthians 15, which doesn’t require a college degree in hermeneutics or a scroll with the names of all one’s bureucratic predecessors back to St. John Himself to understand. Special fast days and ornate liturgical practices alleged to have been handed down by the Apostles in a hierarchical succession are not part of that basic salvific message. Such things may indeed be helpful to one’s growth in grace (and there’s no reason as Reformed people that we have to simply reject them) but they are in no way essential to it. To borrow terms that Robert used with Wesley, the lack of such things may mean that we have a “less full” faith, but it certainly does not mean that we do not have faith simpliciter. To be balanced, by the way, I’d say against Reformed Rationalists that a proper parsing of Romans and Galatians so as to avoid all errors about justification and predestination is also not essential to the basic salvific message of the Bible. If it was, what would people do who could grasp “I am a sinner and Christ died for me and if I believe in Him He will save me” but not pass a Systematic Theology exam? God isn’t Euclid, and he doesn’t require us to be, either.
Now, on this basis, the question “Who gets to decide what Scripture infallibly says?” loses much of its skeptical sting (and make no mistake about it – converts to forms of the Faith that magnify Centralized Authority frequently make use of a simplistic, and really self-refuting, skepticism to try to justify their own doubts and make others doubt, too). Sola Scriptura, classically understood, does not demand that each and every individual “plowboy” be able to figure out each and every conceivable issue of theology all by his lonesome, just clutching his own personal copy of the Bible. I don’t have to create a biblically sound Christology or eschatology or what-have-you all by myself, alone with my Bible in my “prayer closet.” That’s not what the classical doctrine of sola Scriptura and its corollary, the clarity of Scripture, mean.
Unfortunately, this is what Protestants widely believe, because as a general rule, thanks to the democratic dumbing-down of the 19th century and of Fundamentalism in the early to mid-20th century, we are so ignorant of history and philosophy. Here I will deploy the second line of defense, the classical Protestant doctrine of church councils, as found most notably in WCF 31. Most Presbyterians quote only WCF 1 about the final arbiter being the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, but this turns out to be little more than a way to underwrite their own hermeneutical autonomy. Very infrequently is WCF 31 cited, which says that the final arbiter of disputed issues is the whole church meeting in Councils and decreeing decisions that are consonant with Scripture. According to this section, even individual cases of conscience are subject to the decision of a council. (Try this on any given Protestant, and you’ll immediately discover just how deep our defection from the Reformation goes, even while we pay lip service to our fidelity to it.)
Because I am short on time, I must conclude. First line of defense against the skepticism of converts regarding discerning the meaning of Scripture: the classical (meaning patristic, Medieval, and Reformation) doctrine of the clarity of Scripture only on the things essential for salvation. Second line of defense, the classical doctrine of Church councils. Obviously much needs to be said about the latter, since I spent most of my space above on the former. In brief, there are two modes of authority in the classical Protestant doctrine of Scripture: magisterial (the Holy Spirit as the teacher, or magister) and ministerial (the Church as the subordinate authority executing what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.) I’m out of time, and don’t know when I can get back to this, so I hope this helps somehow.
Will you include the topics of Christology, Water Baptism, and the Eucharist when it comes to the issue of the Bible being clear in the area of Salvation? You mentioned the Church Fathers and what they believed about the perspicuity, or clarity of Scripture. But what did these same Church Fathers believed the Scriptures to teach in regards to Salvation and Water Baptism? What did they believe the Scriptures to teach in regards to Salvation and the Eucharist?
What does the Bible say about Salvation and the issue of Schism? What does the Bible say about Salvation and the issue of heresy? Is the Bible clear in that area when it comes to the issue of Salvation? Also, how did the Church Fathers interpret such Scriptures? And why don’t you see Christology as a Salvation issue?
Who gets to decide what passages are included in the discussion of Salvation? Who gets to decide what topics are included when it comes to the issue of Salvation?
“That’s not what the classical doctrine of sola Scriptura and its corollary, the clarity of Scripture, mean. “
When it comes to the issue of Worship and if I was talking to a Lutheran then yes, I would agree! That’s not what the Classical Lutheran doctrine of Sola Scriptura mean. However, if one looks at the Reformed Protestant regulative principle of worship then it would seem as if Sola Scriptura means me and my New Testament Bible alone!
So on one hand when the topic is about something else, the Reformed want to say Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean me and my Bible alone, but on some topics, it would seem as if Sola Scriptura means just that!
“Unfortunately, this is what Protestants widely believe, because as a general rule, thanks to the democratic dumbing-down of the 19th century and of Fundamentalism in the early to mid-20th century, we are so ignorant of history and philosophy. “
Is it true that Zwingli refused to stop eating sausages during Lent because he couldn’t find the practice in Scripture? Is it true that when Zwingli argued with the Roman Catholic clergy in his town that they were handicapped because in the debates only Scripture was allowed to be used?
If so, then didn’t Zwingli at times use a Solo Scriptura approach? And so it would seem as if modern protestantism in America went back to what Zwingli was going. If this is what Zwingli did at times then how can this be a wrong interpretation of Sola Scriptura?
I mean, where did the Anabaptists get their version of Sola Scriptura from? It just didn’t fall from the sky and into their lap one day.
And so the Reformed tradition seems to have two competing views of Sola Scriptura.
“Because I am short on time, I must conclude. First line of defense against the skepticism of converts regarding discerning the meaning of Scripture: the classical (meaning patristic, Medieval, and Reformation) doctrine of the clarity of Scripture only on the things essential for salvation.”
Who gets to decide what passages of Scripture are included? Will you include what Scripture has to say in the area of Salvation when it comes to the issues of Water Baptism, the Eucharist, Schism, heresy, ……….etc.?
Also, if the Church Fathers said that Scripture was clear in the area of Salvation, then why not see how they interpreted those quote on quote clear Scriptures?
“Here I will deploy the second line of defense, the classical Protestant doctrine of church councils, as found most notably in WCF 31. Most Presbyterians quote only WCF 1 about the final arbiter being the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, but this turns out to be little more than a way to underwrite their own hermeneutical autonomy. Very infrequently is WCF 31 cited, which says that the final arbiter of disputed issues is the whole church meeting in Councils and decreeing decisions that are consonant with Scripture. According to this section, even individual cases of conscience are subject to the decision of a council. (Try this on any given Protestant, and you’ll immediately discover just how deep our defection from the Reformation goes, even while we pay lip service to our fidelity to it.)”
Who gets to decide what is quote on quote “consonant with Scripture”? The conscience of individual?
“Second line of defense, the classical doctrine of Church councils. Obviously much needs to be said about the latter, since I spent most of my space above on the former. In brief, there are two modes of authority in the classical Protestant doctrine of Scripture: magisterial (the Holy Spirit as the teacher, or magister) and ministerial (the Church as the subordinate authority executing what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.) I’m out of time, and don’t know when I can get back to this, so I hope this helps somehow.”
When you mentioned Church councils, did you have in mind the council of Nicea and Constantinople 1? Or did you only have in mind the synods of Reformed protestantism?
If you had in mind Nicea and Constantinople 1 then why don’t you believe in Baptismal Regeneration? Also, why don’t you believe in the concept of Schism from the Church? Why do you believe in the filioque?
If the Reformed truly adhered to the ancient councils then they would have to believe like those who gathered at those counsels when it comes to those issues! You guys call Baptismal Regeneration a heresy! Yet, the Reformed wants to embrace Nicea and Constantinople 1!
How in the world can they embrace the canons of those councils? They obviously can’t! For how can they if they call Baptismal Regeneration a heresy? So do they really embrace ancient church councils?
Jnorm, I haven’t had time to read your whole comment (I’m writing this with a semi-fussy baby on the bed next to me, and the other three girls about to get out of the bath and need their “Daddy time” before bed). But quickly:
The word “salvation” needs to be qualified if we’re to make a decent stab at your questions to me. In the Magisterial Protestant view, “salvation” has three aspects: justificaation (how we are made right with God), sanctification (our growth in grace after we are made right with God), and glorification (the end result of our life of faithfulness: transformation into the image of Christ).
On this scheme, no, having correct views about many of the issues you mention is not necessary for “salvation.” God did not make everybody an Athanasius, nor does he expect everybody to try to be one. If you want to be saved, try the Gospel of John, written in the simplest everyday language of its day, and setting forth all things that are essential to get right with God through His Son. Can you mess up some of it in there and still be saved? Sure. God remembers our frame, that we are but dust. He doesn’t require an “A” on a systematic theology exam for one to be saved. It’s the duty of the pastors to contemplate, articulate, and defend the high expressions of theology. Those who claim that “Protestantism” requires that are deluding themselves, likely because they are intellectual eggheads who have little sympathy, let alone love for, for the masses, who are not. All you have to do to be saved is be like a little child. If you don’t understand that some view you hold is a form of modalism or Monophysitism, or if you don’t quite understand how water can be said in 1 Peter to “regenerate” you, you may be a heretic in the eyes of the formal judiciary organs of the Church, but you may most certainly still be a child of God through simple child-like faith in Jesus Christ. Do you disagree?
As for a couple of other remarks that caught my eye, pray tell how do you know what I believe about baptismal regeneration, or what synods I accept? You’re also incorrect as to what Reformed people can and can’t accept regarding baptismal regeneration. And no, it isn’t the conscience of the private individual that decides what councils are consonant with Scripture. Each individual has to decide to accept authority claims over him – this is true no matter what religion you hold, even Orthodoxy. But that does not equate to the individualism that you and others here seem to perpetually charge us Protestants with. Lastly, to the Fathers. I love and honor them and read them as time permits, but unlike you Orthodox, I don’t pretend that theology stopped in the patristic age. Frankly, I don’t understand Orthodoxy’s attitude at this point. I’m willing to be instructed, but to me, the West seems right on this issue. Each generation, as I think Hugh of St. Victor said, stands on the shoulders of giants so that it can see farther than they.
Thanks for your remarks.
Tim, I admire your zeal for dialoguing with us even as you struggle to be a good father to your children.
I think where Orthodoxy diverges from the West is with respect to medieval scholasticism. My guess is that you view medieval scholastic theology as marking an advance in theology while Orthodoxy views medieval scholasticism as a breaking away from the patristic theology. Is that correct? Also, do you view medieval scholasticism as standing in continuity with the church fathers or do you view is it as another step up in the staircase? I’m trying to bring clarity to our often complex discussions.
Distracted by said semi-fussy baby, I made an error above. The sentence that starts:
It’s the duty of the pastors to contemplate, articulate, and defend the high expressions of theology. Those who claim that “Protestantism” requires that are deluding themselves
It’s the duty of the pastors to contemplate, articulate, and defend the high expressions of theology. Those who claim that “Protestantism” requires that each and every private individual Christian do that are deluding themselves….
Sorry about that.
I don’t have a monolithic view of Medieval Scholasticism. That is, I neither think it was all good or that it was all bad. As well, it came in stages – the early writers, like Abelard and Anselm, who were quite concerned to interact with the Fathers and remain faithful to their witness, were not like the later quacks that Erasmus lampoons as sitting around arguing about whether Christ could have been incarnated as a pumpkin instead of a man.
But that said, I don’t share what I see as the very odd tendency of Orthodox in polemics against the West to attack the very notion of using reason to understand revelation. This seems utterly counterproductive to me, since Athanasius was certainly not some anti-rational mystic, nor do complex distinctions about Essence and Energy arise from some supposedly higher virtue of not using one’s mind but “just believing the Fathers.” Whatever problems there are with Scholasticism (and they are many) I don’t understand this Orthodox anti-rational polemic, and I can’t countenance it at all since it’s self-defeating.
I also don’t buy the critique that the West is distortively all into development but the East just virtuously maintains what was merely handed down. That’s silly. The Ecumenical Councils quite obviously develop the theology of Christ in response to developing heresies, and if it took until, what, the 14th century for the Essence/Energies distinction to be stated, what is that but development? It’s trite and misleading to complain that the West isn’t just humbly satisfied with the Fathers but the East is.
Let me first say that any claim that Western Christianity is “all into development” and that Eastern Orthodoxy remained static is patently false. I will say though that the emergence of a claim to papal supremacy over all Christendom and the papal insertion of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed marked significant breaks from the patristic consensus that unified the Church in the first millennium. Would you agree or disagree?
Thank you for responding to my question about Medieval Scholasticism. I asked because I wanted to bring clarity to what I perceive to be a major area of difference between Western and Eastern Christianity. I believe that the magisterial Reformation owe much of their theological methods to Medieval Scholasticism. I’m hoping to look further into Medieval Scholasticism so we can more clearly define our theological and methodological differences.
Lastly, regarding your statement: “I don’t understand this anti-rational polemic….”, I suspect you are reacting to something outside this particular blog. If I’m wrong on this, please point to a particular posting that I wrote including the date. Orthodoxy is not so much anti-rational as we are keenly aware of the limitations of theology. I very much appreciate the importance of the study of Scripture and the discipline of theological reflection, but ultimately we come to know God through worship, especially through the Eucharist. I can spend the whole week reading a well written theology book but this cannot compare with participation in the LIturgy, especially the Eucharist. One can be very pro-theology while being keenly aware of the inadequacy of theology for knowing God. Orthodoxy asserts that genuine knowledge of the living God comes through mystical union, not through intellectual analysis.
Robert, I applaud your commitment to look further into these issues. However, if you go looking in Scholasticism for the genesis of the Reformers’ theological method, you’ll be looking in the wrong place. Try Renaissance humanism, with its profoundly anti-Scholastic orientation first. Luther called reason “the Devil’s Whore” because he was convinced that theology in his day was captive to Aristotle rather than to biblical exegesis (and, ironically from your point of view, to the Fathers). Calvin also is in no way a Scholastic, preferring authors like Cicero and Plato to Aquinas.
As for my remarks on the anti-rational nature of much of Orthodox polemics, I am speaking from experience – though not wide and deep experience. You guys are not the first Orthodox I’ve talked to, and years ago I ran into convert after convert who announced with reckless zealotry that the problem with the West is that it loves the “rational” more than the “mystical.” Orthodoxy is different, they said. Perhaps you’re more nuanced than that, but it just goes to show that Orthodoxy has its unbalanced defenders same as Protestantism, and anyone out for really substantial and constructive discussion has to contend with the horrendous messes the unbalanced have made practically everywhere.
You are likely right that some Orthodox over-play the skeptical sting of “who get to decide what the Scripture infallibly teach” in daily practical living. But then, we weren’t discussing daily practical living, or the “plow-boy’s” need to pass theological exams – but ultimate theological authority and infallibility. Yet, the discussion has taken us to see these are not altogether separated from each other. Lest we fall into a reductionism of the Faith to “I get to heaven by trusting Christ’s dying on the cross for my sins”…we DO need to know: How Shall We Then Live? And who decides?
This quickly takes us to the wholeness of life, faith and practice, and then invariably to someone’s tradition…and authority. Modern Protestants have become intentionally very loosey-goosey about these “non-essential” opening the door to a “do what seems best/wisest to you” mentality. You rightly object to this, but seem reticent to fully embrace others who have, or are currently are trying, to re-invent Worship, Liturgy, Sacrament, the Calendar, in a more historic and Biblical-attentive manner. To me you do mock, then excuse it for “rhetorical” point-making the older historic Traditions while wanting to respect them…so long as they do not infringe upon your autonomy and freedom for self-regulation.
I share this tension and duplicity because I’m in the same pond (almost) with you. Nor is it a bad pond. Indeed, I have been most happy, comfortable and blessed in this Reformed pond for decades. The question before us, when it comes to the fullness of Life in Christian Discipleship, when it comes to Liturgy, Sacrament, Confession, Fasting, Scripture, Church authority and Tradition…is there a better, wholistic pond, one carefully grounded in history and preserving ancient Apostolic practices…that is not leaking, or straining against history?
David, I gave the start of an answer to your question about ultimate authority and infallibility. From the Magisterial Protestant point of view, there are two interlocked authorities: the supreme magisterial authority (Scripture, which alone is infallible), and the subordinate ministerial decisions of the Church meeting in council, so long as those decisions are in consonance with Scripture. Of course, what it means to say a conciliar decision is “consonant with” Scripture is a matter needing a great deal of discussion, especially in the extremely confused situation of modern Protestantism, awash as it is in sheer radicalism.
I’m not reticent to embrace those trying to have a higher and fuller liturgy. I worship every day (*every* day) with a group of Anglicans, and the way things are going, it is likely I will become Anglican before long. In fact, it is precisely the higher liturgy and the regularity of all manner of things that Presbyterians (especially those snootily committed to the RPW) think are foolish and dispensable (such as “smells and bells,” and the presence of icons here and there) that is a key attractor for me to Anglicanism. If you know anything about Anglicanism, you know that it too claims Apostolic Succession and to be preserving many traditions from the times of the Apostles that others do not.
So no, my words above were not mockery of such things. You have to remember, again, that I spent over 10 years arguing with Roman Catholic converts, whose excesses, and really, extremes, regarding authority and the so-called “fuller” life in Catholicism have left a lasting mark on how I articulate my own faith. I find myself walking a very tough tightrope with converts in general: on the one hand, I’ve been there myself and don’t wish to be haughtily dismissive of people’s trials on their journey, but on the other hand, as a serious and widely-read student of Church history and theology, I have very little patience for the reams of caricatures such people have about “Protestantism.” Sometimes there is an “edge” to my remarks, and that is because of my experiences with such people. Perhaps I’m just coming from a different place than you in this regard?
***I have very little patience for the reams of caricatures such people have about “Protestantism.”***
What if people take their analyses of Protestantism from guys like Pelikan? He’s not caricaturing, is he? His comments to Protestants in volumes 1 and 4 aren’t very flattering (even as he writes from a Lutheran perspective).
While you are correct that some guys are caricaturing Protestantism, on the other hand, guys like you, Wedgeworth, Escalante and Kevin Johnson tend to reduce any kritique of Protestantism as simply mindless caricatures, and thus rarely interact with the issues.
I do not reduce “any” critique of Protestantism to simply mindless caricatures. I do reduce the critiques of most converts who pour out their lives arguing on the Internet to mindless caricatures. For every Robert Arakaki, there’s 10 “I hadn’t even heard of the Church Fathers 6 months ago, but now I’m qualified to speak intelligently about them” propagandists whose driving concern is to justify the major upheavals they made in their lives by getting in the faces of others.
Anyone who (a) is a serious reader of wide varieties of serious (not popular level) intellectual material, particularly historical and theological, and (b) who has spent a lot of time interacting with converts knows this to be true, so I don’t apologize for saying it.
Thanks Tim for a gracious answer,
I think we likely agree that “consonant with” Scripture is all but an impossibility amongst “modern Protestantism, awash as it is in sheer radicalism” and this says nothing about Modern Anglicanism…who often don’t even care what Scripture says, much less the Fathers.
But I wish you well in your noble and good-hearted attempt to make Anglicanism work for you and your family. Thinking generationally though, I wonder and fear for your children?
And yes, despite our similarities, we have different baggage, experiences, battles and are at different stages in life and family. Somehow the Lord spared me from ever reading or seeing Orthodoxy through the lense of Roman Catholicism (thanks be to God). Where ever you land, may God keep you and your family…in His tender mercies.
David, I have more fear for my children in Presbyterianism, actually. Of course Anglicanism has its problems, but so does everything. Yea, even Orthodoxy.
Btw, I don’t see Orthodoxy *itself* through the lens of Roman Catholicism. I see many (but not all) *Orthodox converts* through the lens of Roman Catholic converts. This is a critical clarification about my views and approach that I hope you will remember. Most of the arguments that I have seen given on this Orthodox blog, especially about authority, are exactly the same as Roman ones – only the identity of the Teaching Authority changes.
The reason for this is threefold: (1) most of these converts come from precisely the same unstable background and are influenced by the same basic idea of authoritarianism, and (2) the basic top-down theme of “Nobody but the Approved Hierarchy can figure out truth; the layman are sheeple whose only duty is to follow” is the same in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and (3) although they frequently target the Reformation, 80% of the time they demonstrate very quickly they have never read any serious works of Reformation history, theology, or scholarship.
I guess you don’t have to simply take my word for this, since you don’t know me all that well, but I’m not the only one who has noticed these three basic similarities between Catholic and Orthodox converts. I would like to say for the record, though, that there have been a few commenters here, along with Mr. Arakaki himself, who do not fit the above paradigm – at least not generally. I have been pleasantly surprised on a few occasions these past few months here by arguments (particularly expositions of Paul’s view of “tradition”) that are definitely not the usual quality I’m used to from converts.
To be fair to the converts, they are often, somewhat legitimately, going after Evangelicalism, and only speak of the Reformers because they have been told their whole life that the Reformers founded Evangelicalism. Because of the distortions–were they not so systemic they would simply be lies–about the Reformers, in many Evangelical circles, someone can come to believe in Baptism and the Eucharist, and therefore reject Luther. The irony–Luther condemned precisely the position they are leaving for precisely the reason they do–is not lost on me. However, the fault is not theirs, but the teachers who say nonsense like “If we are saved by faith alone, what’s the purpose of sacramental grace? And even more important, why does one need a church to administer that grace?” (Liberty magazine, quoted by Fr. Neuhaus, here.) It isn’t the convert’s fault that he has been lied to. He’s attacking Evangelicalism, and calling in Protestantism, because that’s what he’s been taught his whole life.
Indeed, often we Protestants can agree with his attack, and could accept it, with only a few modifications. I sometimes wonder if we would be more successful if instead of accusing them of straw-men, we agreed with them that their attacks hit the modern “Luther”.
Peace be with you.
I’m a recent convert to Orthodoxy from a mix of Reformed thought and Messianic Judaism, yet I was born to a Catholic and an Episcopalian, and raised (somewhat) nondenominational. I go to the same Reformed school at which the above-posting Russ Warren teaches (I’m proud to say he’s both my teacher and friend). Today I stumbled upon this site again after awhile, being overwhelmed by a rather unwanted theological discussion with a Reformed person)–and sort of seeking some sort of asylum of peace and encouragement in how best to love those out of communion with me… I want to learn and understand more, both about the traditions I’ve moved away from and about Orthodoxy.. I apologize for the egocentrism of this post, but I wanted to let my voice be known somewhere. I’m very thankful for those who have helped contribute to this discussion. May our arguing about the Truth at least be a mutual affirmation of Him.
And may He who is peace be with you always.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! Having been on both sides of the bridge I’m sure you will bring an interesting perspective to our discussions.