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1 Comment

  1. Ahmed

    Dear Robert,
    If you get chance, could you write on the issue of how we know ecumenical councils are ecumenical?

    I’m sure you have come across a recent interview between Gospel Simplicity host and Fr Peter Heers where this has come up. If not, here’s a relevant excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSsK0Gcb32k&t=234s

    One comment from an honest inquirer resonated me, as a reformed friend then asked me the same question a few days later. I would have loved to have had a better answer than “I don’t know”! The comment in full is:
    Well done! This is a great and important video.
    I want to ask a follow-up question (and I don’t want it to be received as an attack; it’s a sincere question; I am asking because I want to know):

    Presume for a moment that a pagan or atheist (or someone else with zero monotheist upbringing) in Year X (where X can be any year between the Ascension and now) suddenly becomes convinced by God’s grace that there is Exactly One God, that Jesus somehow is God, that Jesus rose from the grave, and that Jesus established a Church, which we should all join.

    How can such a person figure out which Church to join? …and, by what argument would that person ever “land on” the Greek Orthodox Church? …as opposed to the Russian (who aren’t currently in communion with the Greek), or the Assyrian Church of the East, or the Tewahedo, or the Catholic?

    Fr. Peter gives us an Orthodox principle for discerning which Ecumenical Councils are “real,” and that principle includes a council being “received” by “the faithful.” Okay…but, which “faithful” is he talking about? The ones who showed their faithfulness by rejecting the council? Or the ones who showed their faithfulness by accepting it?

    I mean, some groups rejected Chalcedon; others accepted it. If we start off assuming that the ones who accepted it were correct, then, fine: Those are “the faithful” and we should accept what they accept. But if they were wrong, and the non-Chalcedonian Christians are correct, then the “faithful” were those who rejected that council, and we should reject what they reject, since that council was not “received by the faithful.” Doesn’t that follow?

    In the end, it appears there is a Circular Logic Loop: I can know which teachings are true by locating the True Church and letting that Church teach me the true content of Christianity… AND, I can only identify which is the True Church by locating the group whose “faithful” accepted the councils you should accept, rejected the councils you should reject, and thereby ultimately wound up with the correct teachings… AND it’s necessary for me to first determine (to my own satisfaction) what the correct teachings are, so that I can discern which councils were right or wrong, so that I can find the “faithful” who accepted only the correct councils, so that I can locate the True Church, so that I can find out what the true teachings are… ARGH!

    The only sure guide I have is that Jesus won’t let the Gates of Hades prevail, and surely that means He won’t let the True Church go extinct. Therefore, we can all exclude the Montanists and the Tertullians and the Paulicans.

    But it doesn’t seem to help me to exclude the Assyrian Church of the East or the Copts or the Catholic.

    Imagine how confusing the choices would be, to my hypothetical former-pagan or former-atheist seeking the True Church in 87 A.D., or 125 A.D., or 305 A.D., or 490 A.D., or 730 A.D., or 915 A.D., or 1365 A.D., or 1620 A.D., or 1800 A.D., or now!

    It seems to me that Christ should have provided one principle, which my former-pagan or former-atheist could have used, in ANY of those time-periods, to choose Which Church. And, while it might require him to do some work, it shouldn’t be IMPOSSIBLE. It shouldn’t, for example, require that he suddenly become a great theologian and church historian, just in order to find the right Church. (We can’t all have PhD’s, after all. Someone’s gotta be the Plumber or the Kitchen Renovator.)

    What principle would Fr. Peter provide?

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