Essay. Eastern Orthodoxy, part 3

Posted by 2 on September 18, 2006
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When encountering adherents to Eastern Orthodoxy, the issue of authority is pivotal.  Orthodoxy and Rome agree, at least formally, with Protestants on at least this much: God is the final authority and only he is in a position reveal himself to mankind.  Thus if we are to know anything about him –– or, indeed, anything about ourselves and the world around us –– he must reveal himself to us.  The doctrine of divine revelation necessarily plays a central role in all Christian traditions. But where is this revelation to be found?  The Protestant answer is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.  Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”

While God reveals himself through his creation (general or natural revelation) and this revelation leaves men without excuse, the corruption of sin has made men unable to interpret this revelation correctly.  Consequently, God gave special revelation through many means to his people to declare to them the way of salvation. And though this revelation previously came by many means (theophanies, prophets, signs, miracles), it culminated in Jesus Christ.  With the accomplishment of redemption through Christ and the (speaking through his authoritative apostles) God reveals no more to mankind.  In order to ensure that he previous revelation would not be lost, God inscripturated it in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments.  This now is our only source of special revelation.  This recognition of Scripture’s supreme authority was the battle cry of the Reformation.  The reformers taught and defended the view of sola scriptura; Scripture alone is the final authority for the church. The reformers contended that this view of Scripture is taught by Scripture itself.  And if they are correct, the debate between Protestantism and Rome (and so also Eastern Orthodoxy) is effectively over since each of these traditions recognizes Biblical authority.  That is, if this recognized authority teaches its own sole authority, all other purported authorities are thereby invalidated.

But proponents of Orthodoxy do not concede this point.  They dispute the Protestant interpretation of Scripture and insist that there are other ways God reveals himself.  The nature of this dispute is the very heart of the issue that divides Protestantism and Orthodoxy.

Authority and Tradition in Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy agrees with Basil of Caesarea in affirming that there is authoritative tradition outside of Scripture: “We do not content ourselves with what was reported in Acts and in the Epistles and the Gospels; but, both before and after reading them, we add other doctrines, received from oral teaching and carrying much weight in the mystery of the faith.”

This is confirmed by all Orthodox theologians.  Panagiotis Bratsiotis, professor of theology at Athens University, is representative.  “In Orthodoxy the sources of Christian doctrine are the Bible and Tradition.  Together they form the treasure-house of supernatural revelation.”

The problem with oral tradition, however, is that it is notoriously unreliable.  There is always the possibility, indeed likelihood, that such tradition will distorted in transmission.  The further one is from the source of the oral tradition, the less reliable that tradition is.  This problem of passing information on orally is well attested by our common experience.  How often have we heard a story or rumor that, when we track down its source, turns out to be completely different from the original?

Indeed, Scripture itself provides an example of the distortion of an oral tradition.  At the end of his Gospel, the Apostle John felt it necessary to clear up a misunderstanding regarding a statement Jesus made concerning him (John).  Speaking about John, Jesus said to Peter, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22)  The other disciples misunderstood Jesus to mean that John would not die, but John takes the opportunity to correct this error (John 21:23).

In a similar vein, Paul praises the Corinthians for holding fast to the traditions (1 Corinthians 11:2), but then goes on to correct them for departing from tradition (see 11:3, 17; 12:1-3).  What is remarkable is that while Paul ministered in Corinth for over a year he still needed to send at least three letters to correct their errors.  Thus even in the apostolic age, oral tradition is shown to be unreliable.

Not only is oral tradition easily distorted because of human frailty, but men often have a motivation for misunderstanding what was said.  Parents know this very well.  When Mommy chastises little Johnny for not cleaning his room, Johnny’s excuse is predictable, “I thought you wanted me to clean it tomorrow.”  Johnny is motivated to intentionally distort the clear instructions of his parents in order to escape culpability.  How much more do wicked men (and the evil one) wish to corrupt and suppress God’’s clear revelation in order to escape divine judgment.

More sophisticated Orthodox theologians recognize this inherent problem of oral tradition (though not nearly to the extent that they should) and understand that there needs to be a way to test such tradition for authenticity.  Bishop Timothy Ware concedes: “Not everything received from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received from the past necessarily true… There is a difference between ‘‘Tradition’’ and ‘‘traditions’’. [The Orthodox Church has had to] distinguish more carefully between Tradition and traditions.  The task of discrimination is never easy.’’

To help in the task of discrimination, Ware asserts that the Orthodox Church recognizes a hierarchy of Traditions.  At the top is Scripture and the doctrinal definitions of the ecumenical councils.  These traditions are used to test lesser traditions for authenticity and value.  Let us concentrate on the authority of ecumenical councils for the moment.

The Authority of Church Councils

According to Bishop Ware, “The doctrinal definitions of an ecumenical council are infallible.” Recall that Orthodoxy recognizes seven councils as ecumenical. Rome, however, recognizes twenty-one.  Given this disagreement, there must be some criterion to distinguish ecumenical councils from other councils.  This criterion is typically said to be that the council is representative of all the church, having bishops from all, or at the least, the vast majority of patriarchates and dioceses.  The first six councils have relatively strong credentials in this regard since they were attended by bishops from all over Christendom.  Nevertheless, this criterion of ecumenicity and thus authority is shown to be faulty for at least two reasons.

First, since both Rome and Orthodoxy endorse this principle, and since they come up with a different number of councils, this criterion is in itself insufficient.  Because Rome and Orthodoxy each claim to be the true apostolic Church, their application of this criterion is quite different.  Rome, of course, deems a council ecumenical when it is represented by bishops from diocese under the Pope’s authority, for Orthodoxy, the bishops must be in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Second, there have been church councils that satisfy the criterion of being ecumenical, but are rejected as such because their pronouncements were heretical.  The most notorious of these is the Council of Ephesus in 449, the so-called Robber Council.  At this council the monophysite heresy (Christ has only one nature) was endorsed.  Two years later at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 this heresy was repudiated.  Nevertheless, on the basis of the ecumenical criterion alone, the pronouncement of the former council should have just as much authority as the latter.  Indeed, five eastern churches (the Syrian Church of Antioch, the Syrian Church of India, the Coptic Church, the Armenian Church and the Ethiopian Church) sided with Ephesus over Chalcedon to accept the pronouncements of Ephesus and reject the Symbol of Chalcedon.

Another embarrassing example of this criterion of ecumenicity being met is the second reunion council of Florence between Rome and the East (1438-9).  At this council the East, in order to obtain aid in fending off vicious attacks from the Turks, acknowledged papal authority, the Double Procession of the Holy Spirit and the Roman doctrine of purgatory.  Dogmas which Orthodoxy has before and after rejected as heretical.

These examples clearly illustrate that the criterion of ecumenicity, by itself, is insufficient in establishing a council as authoritative.

Ultimate Authority of the Church

At this point the obvious recourse is to fall back on another criterion to establish a council as authoritative.  Protestants, of course, maintain that the authority of a council’s pronouncement must be based upon the superior authority of Scripture.  Orthodoxy offers a different defense of conciliar authority.  According to the Eastern Church, the authority of a council is established when its ecumenicity is recognized by the Church itself.  Thus the ecumenicity of a council can only be established by the Church. Indeed, not only councils, but Scripture itself derives its authority from the Church’s

According to the Orthodox theologian George Florovsky, “The church is ecclesia, an assembly which is never adjourned. In other words, the ultimate authority –– and the ability to discern the truth in faith –– is vested in the church …… The teaching authority of the ecumenical councils is grounded in the infallibility of the church. The ultimate authority is vested in the church, which is forever the pillar and the foundation of truth.”  Thus, the domain of the Church’s authority does not range merely over the councils and other traditions, but over Scripture as well.  According to Ware, “It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority.”

Putting the remarkable nature of its claim that it is the church that establishes Scripture rather than vice versa aside, how does Orthodoxy defend this contention that it, and it alone, is the one true catholic and apostolic church?

The Orthodox Church as the one true church

The initial problem with its assertion that it alone is the true church is that many other churches make the same claim.  The Churches of the East, Rome, and many cults say the same thing.  And so the question is not whether Eastern Orthodoxy views itself as the apostolic church, the question is whether it is the apostolic church.  What proof does it offer?  While the Protestant church appeals to Scripture at this point, Orthodoxy cannot make such defense since it is the church that is the basis of Scripture’s authority.  Thus the Orthodox Church must appeal to itself, the mystical body of Christ, as establishing its own claim to supreme authority.

Thus, we have come at last to Orthodoxy’s ultimate self-attesting authority.  And in order to analyze this claim we must engage in transcendental reasoning.  We must offer an internal critique in order to discover whether its ultimate authority avoids inconsistency and arbitrariness and whether it provides the necessary preconditions of human experience.  In my next (and final) installment on this study of Eastern Orthodoxy, I shall offer such a critique and try to demonstrate that it fails, on its own terms, to make good its claim to be the one true church.

36 Comments to Essay. Eastern Orthodoxy, part 3

  • Dear in Christ Mike,

    I will again attempt ot explain.

    1- Authority and Tradition in Orthodoxy: The Tradition of the Church is not oral but written. Holy Scripture is part of it, and so are the writings of the Church Fathers, including the ecumenical Councils. Of course there is a hierarchy of authority, primacy being given to Scripture. Similarly there is a primacy of authority within the Bible itself, more weight being given to the 4 Gospels.

    2- The Authority of Church Councils: A council is ecumenical only if it confesses the truth and is accepted by the conscience of the Church in future generations. There is absolutely no legalistic, external, or human criterion that makes a council ecumenical. Only its conformity with previously revealed and established truth makes it valid, which should be discerned in the Holy Spirit. Since Rome fell away from the church in the 11th century, all its subsequent councils cannot be ecumenical or be part of the true Church.

    3- Ultimate Authority of the Church: It is the Church which decided which writings to be included in the Bible, and which others to be excluded. The Scriptures derive their authority from the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This has its precedent in the first Church council in Jerusalem, which took place to decide what part of Moses’ Law had to be kept by the gentiles. “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). Ultimate authority in the Church belongs to God, who established it through the Holy Tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers. Any new decision has to be consonnant with all the previously established Holy Tradition of the Church, which includes the Bible. A Patriarch, Pope, the see of Constantinople, or any majority of any bishops, clergy, or laity, cannot change the truth. If they depart from the boundaries of Orthodoxy, they FALL AWAY from the Church and are cut off. A very important canon of Orthodoxy enjoins the clergy AND laity to separate themselves from any bishop teaching heresy BEFORE he is condemend officially by any synod. By doing so, the canon says that the faithful have not created a schism, but have rather prevented it by separating from a false shepherd. This has to be doen through discernment and is the responsibility of every Orthodox Christian, laity or clergy. To the degree that each orthodox christian is in the truth, he can defend the truth against false bishops who may appear externally orthodox, but are inwardly wolves in sheep’s skin.

    4- The Orthodox Church as the one true church: Any church can claim that is is the true church, but this of course does not make it so. Two criteria are needed to make this assertion:
    – organic continuity with the early church, which is apostolic succession
    – spiritual continuity with the early church, which is the unchanged teaching of the original faith.
    Ultimately, a seeker will not perceive the true Church unless he has purified himself to some degree of his passions through God’s grace, and is seeking the truth with a pure heart. The truth is perceived spiritually, rationally, and supra-rationally. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt.16:17)

    In Christ Yahweh Who unites us,

  • I appreciate your posts on the subject. Did I miss it, or have you yet posted your next installment? For various reasons, I would actually appreciate an even more in-depth look at Eastern Orthodoxy if you have the time to do it. I would also appreciate if you were able to address Western Rite Orthodoxy in a post, since that seems to be the way many who entertained some Reformed notions end up sliding away from them.

    Thanks, this has been a valuable service. You also couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to demonstrate the problems of Eastern Orthodoxy than with Jerjis’ own statements in defense. He demonstrates amply why it should be rejected “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak.


  • Dear M.A.B.

    I am sorry to see that you have missed most of what I have taken the time to explain. Hopefully some good seeds have been implanted there for the future.

    “Well spake the Holy Spirit by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Acts 18:15-27)

  • Jerjis,

    I have not missed what you have said, but rather I have comprehended it, I believe, pretty much completely.

    In discussions and debates it is my experience that often someone will exclaim “You just don’t understand!” when in fact that is not the case. There is understanding, and that understanding leads to a rejection of the position.

    I don’t disagree with you because I do not understand you, but precisely because I do, and I believe what you are saying is false.

    That’s a good quote from Acts, and I wonder that you don’t see the irony in your using it. I wish you Godspeed in your journey, and hope in God’s providence it will lead you to a faithful church in time.


  • “In order to ensure that he previous revelation would not be lost, God inscripturated it in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. This now is our only source of special revelation. ”

    No, it is not. There is a ‘HOLY Tradition,’ which is ALSO mentioned in Scripture. [“Therefore, brethren, HOLD FAST to the TRADITIONS which you were taught- wther by word (ORAL) or our epistle (WRITTEN).”- IIThess. 2:15. So, either you must admit that there existed a TRADITION different from that of the apostate jews [Mk. 7:3], or you lump it with the false tradition, to ease your conscience. If you are honest, you DO admit that TRADITION that St. Paul commends, but then you have to admit that you DON’T FOLLOW it, for, if you did, you’d have to also admit you cannot follow it, simply because your group (whether Baptists, Methodists, calvinist, or other) DID NOT EXIST until 1500 years AFTER the Formation of the ONE, Holy, Catholic Church!

    Of course, this the Protestants will not admit to (as they are a-historical, and cannot claim a linear descent from the Apostles, thus, no one can, and therefore, Orthodoxy is ‘just as good as we are,’ which is a false construct, built on a false foundation, dommed to error..

    “They dispute the Protestant interpretation of Scripture and insist that there are other ways God reveals himself. ”

    You confuse heretical romanism, and her filioquist theology (which you all share, as bastard children of Rome) with Patristic, Orthodox theology. Orthodox do NOT consider there to be ‘other ways’, she considers only ONE way to be valid, as opposed to the Arians, Nestorians, Eutychians, Originists, etc. ALL OF WHICH she defended the Apostolic Faith from, before you were even ‘born’ !! ONLY the Orthodox manner of interpreting Scripture is valid, because it is the ONLY one continuously handed down from the Apostles! You cannot claim that, so you make a ‘paper pope’ out of only 4/5ths of Scripture, to avoid the Apocryphal books, which make a mockery of your ‘sola scriptura’ mentality. Luther wanted to exclude james and Revelation. IMAGINE if he had succeeded! YET, YOU accept them. So much for your ‘sola scriptura’ leader. Bah.

    “And so the question is not whether Eastern Orthodoxy views itself as the apostolic church, the question is whether it is the apostolic church. What proof does it offer? While the Protestant church appeals to Scripture at this point, Orthodoxy cannot make such defense since it is the church that is the basis of Scripture’s authority. ”

    your filioquist rationalism sickens me more and more, as I deal with the self-sufficient of Calvinism. You avoid the first question you ask, because you KNOW you cannot claim it for yourself. You therefore posit a ‘break’ between the witness of Holy Writ, and the witness (which Scripture makes of it, cf. above!) for a TRADITION handed down. YOU rupture the space-time continuum for your balderdash attempts at legitimacy, because the Scripture confirms the Church, just as much as the Church confirms the Scripture! You Calvinists do the same, but pretend the 1500 years of COMPLETE ABSENCE of your ‘communion’ is NOT IMPORTANT.

    It is, and you are without grace, without sacraments, without elders, presbyters, or intelliegence. Anathema sit to such views.

  • Fr. John– just to address one of your points, viz., that Protestantism “started” in 1500 or thereabouts.

    This is only plausible if church reform is excluded. The German, Swiss, and Scottish reformation was not a matter of starting new churches, but of cleaning out the superstitions, casting out unbelieving prelates, and continuing in a more pure form. Likewise, the church I am a member of has direct continuity from the Scottish reformed church.

    We grant presbyterial succession and deny the right to auto-bootstrap a new “church.” Thus, we would join you in criticising bogus autonomy-churches such as the CREC and a hundred thousand “evangelical” churches in America, but we don’t believe it applies to us.

    I’d be curious how you could refute our claim in principle. It would seem that you would either have to deny that reform is ever possible, or say that a thorough-going reform within a nation is not legitimate unless ratified by the church in all the other nations. But the latter would be tantamount to denying that reform is possible.

  • Tim,
    To quickly answer your question, I would say, that yes, reform is possible, when an individual, group, or nation, abandons the heretical dry wells of catholicism, protestantism, nestorianism, or monophysitism, and seeks baptism in the One Orthodox Catholic Church. Reform “from within” a heretical denomination is impossible, because the grace of the Holy Spirit has to be aquired from the True Church. One has to leave his father’s house, and be grafted into the True Israel of the Church, like Rahab and Ruth of old.
    In Christ Yahweh,

  • John and JTA,
    Ephesians 4 defines the only kind of true ecumenicism there is. As the fifth and sixth verses point out, there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in us all.
    Your false accusations of heresy are a source of grief, but not of worry. We have the Word of God. Our Lord is Christ. Our Faith is in Him. We are baptized in the Triune name. And our God is the one-week Creator of the World.
    The one who calls himself “the WORD,” the logos.

    If you have another baptism to offer than that – or another faith – then we must believe you have another lord.

    If the same baptism, the same faith, and the same lord, then you already one with us, not politically, but by membership in the one body of Christ.

    Tangentially, as someone who understands Orthodox theology, I have to express a degree of amusement at theological dogmatism from apophatics and mystics, and accusations of heresy or tradition-breaking from followers of the council, so called, of 783. The words of the Psalmist, Psalm 97:7, or the Beloved Apostle, Revelation 9:20, should at least produce some small pause before accusations of departure from the HOLY tradition are hurled against baptized, faithful, trinitarian saints. Instead, join us in praise the one Lord of All:

    O sing a new song to the Lord,
    for wonders he hath done:
    His right hand and his holy arm
    him victory hath won.


  • Well, JTA, from the standpoint of argument, that is simply question-begging. The point I want to drive home is, do you see that it is missing the point to claim that “protestantism didn´t start until 1517”?

  • Turretinfan anf Tim,
    All the Orthodox Holy Fathers teach that the Triune God has created the heavens and the earth in 6 litteral days, each 24 hours. We have no differences there. Evolution or “theistic” evolution are great deceptions by the devil and his minions.
    However we orthodox, the true Israelites, believe that protestant baptism is not grace-filled, because it is not done by tripple immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity, and it is not performed by a canonical successor of the Apostles.
    In addition, all protestants do not believe that the bread and wine are truely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the very Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore we do not have the one Lord, One Faith and One Baptism, sad to say. All the Early Church Fathers teach the true presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist. So this begs the question, who has deviated from the Truth and from Holy Tradition???

  • JAT,
    On Baptism:
    With respect, you seem to be unable to separate the essential from the non-essential aspects of baptism. While triple-immersion by an ordained priest (arch-priest, bishop, etc.) is certainly the preferred method of baptism, you would be hard-pressed to establish on patristic or similar authority any of the principles:
    [*] the number of wettings being three (as opposed, for example, to one or seven);
    [*] the mode of wetting being dunking (as opposed, for example, to sprinkling, or pouring); or
    [*]the moderator of the dunkings being an Apostolic successor (as opposed, for example, to a so-called “layman”).
    Certainly, you will not find Scriptural authority for making any of those necessary as opposed to accidental traditions.
    Indeed, the so-called Orthodox permit laity to baptize by sprinkling with water in the Triune name in emergency situations, as most so-called Orthodox are well aware, and – as I understand – agree the Papists.
    The permission by the so-called Orthodox tradition of emergency baptisms requires that the grace-conferring power is not in the man who dunks, in the act of dunking, or in the three-ness of the dunking. For if such power resides in those things, what would be the use of an emergency baptism, except to pass the time of the baptizer?
    Therefore, we can reject, with all the Orthodox, your claim that the Protestant baptisms are not grace-filled because they do not accord with the preferred manner of administration set forth in the traditions of the so-called Orthodox.
    Furthermore, of course, we recognize that it is God who gives grace, not the rites we perform. Thus, grace is properly primarily ascribed to the Giver of grace, not to an outward sign of its application and bestowal.

    On the one True God:
    It is good to acknowledge the Creator as Creator, and to acknolwedge also His Most Wise Providence for His creation. Sadly, while most of the so-called Othodox acknowledge the former (and you are indeed correct in acknowledge the absurd notion of evolutionism as being Satanic), many of the so-called Orthodox have failed to acknowledge the latter (and in doing so, have departed from the Tradition).

    On the Mystery of the Eucharist:
    The so-called Orthodox declare this sacrament (as both we and the Papists call it) to be a mystery. It would interesting to see what Othodox authority you believe you can find that teaches that “the bread and wine are truely transformed … into the very Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ” while explaining that “true transformation” is not a matter of iconography. That is to say, it will be hard to find any Orthodox writer (and here I clearly exclude the post-schism papists) prior to the 1680’s who denied that the elements of the Lord’s Supper were transformed into the very body and blood of Christ in a non-iconic manner.
    Even the heterodox council of the late 700’s (frequently refered to as the “seventh ecumenical council), which sinfully promoted the making and using of supposed images of Christ for the purpose of worship (acts of allegedly representational iconography), did not deny what the previous council of thirty years prior had stated, which is that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are a divinely appointed icon of Christ.
    Indeed, Reformed Christians do believe that the elements are the body and blood of Christ, as can be seen from an examination of, for example, the Westminster standards.
    On the “True Presence”
    All of the Early Fathers who spoke on the subject spoke of the elements after the blessing as bread and cup while acknowledging the presence of God in the sacrament. Be careful to distinguish between the Orthodox mystery, and the papist heresy of physical transformation. The Reformed doctrine is an explanation of the mystery that is not inconsistent with the traditions of the so-called Orthodox. It simply goes beyond what the so-called Orthodox explain. Certainly there are Protestants who depart from both the Reformed and so-called Orthodox explanation.

    As for raising the question of departure from Tradition:
    The Reformed view that the elements of the sacrament are an icon of Christ, not Christ’s genetic material, is confirmed by earlier Christian writings than the heresy of physical transformation. So also is the Reformed rejection of representational iconography confirmed by an earlier council than its affirmation.
    Thus, the burden of establishing consistency with “tradition” should be placed on the apparent innovators.
    Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the Reformed position depends on the Scriptures, and claims the authority of the Scriptures. Taking the Reformed claims at face value, the question is not who has departed from tradition (for Scripture is certainly the highest of Traditions, if there are Traditions) but whether the non-Scripture traditions are truly apostolic.
    In other words, outside of Scripture, which are truly the Apostolic Traditions?

    It’s not a trivial question, since not only the so-called Orthodox, but also the Armenians, the Ethopics, the Coptics, and the papists (not to mention many others) all allegedly follow apostolic tradition, and yet differ in many points.

    Furthermore, the traditions of the so-called Orthodox churches have changed over the years, and it is increasingly rare in the United States, for example, to see women observing the tradition of head-covering (both in Reformed and so-called Orthodox churches – we are both guilty of deviation from that tradition), and it is exceedingly rare that the so-called Orthodox tradition of separating the sexes is maintained.

    So, what is the point? The point is that TJH’s comment that your claims of adherence to apostolic tradition beg the question in the logical sense. They engage in “petitio principis,” if my memory of the Latin serves me well. They assume the point to be proved.

    Furthermore, since we, Reformed Christians, know that we serve the God revealed in the Bible, and you claim that you are not at oneness with our Lord, Faith, and Baptism, we urge you to reconsider your position.

    For we preach the same one-in-four gospel as Irenaeus, and exhort examination of the same inspired Word of God as did Justin Martyr. Likewise, we encourage, with Jesus, men to Search the Scriptures.

    Therefore, do not separate yourselves spiritually from us, but come near and sing the praises of Scripture:

    Moreover, they thy servant warn
    how he his life should frame:
    A great reward provided is
    for them that keep the same.

    Who can his errors understand?
    O cleanse thou me within
    From secret faults. Thy servant keep
    from all presumptuous sin:

    And do not suffer them to have
    dominion over me:
    Then, righteous and innocent,
    I from much sin shall be.

    The words which from my mouth proceed,
    the thoughts sent from my heart,
    Accept, O Lord, for thou my strength
    and my Redeemer art.


  • Ontologically, the Word of God conferred His “authority” on people, not parchments. The disciples had the O.T. at their disposal…some of whom were probably knowledgeable of it’s content.

    But Jesus never appealed solely to the O.T. for His authority. He appealed, also, to His works. What’s more, the baptism by John, the descending of the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the Father from heaven were all extra-scriptural testimonies to the Word of God; which, again, conferred authority to the message of the Word.

    However, the “scriptures” are in the hearts of all men and women because we are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; Deut. 6:4-6; Psalm 19:1-6; Rom. 10:15-18; Matt. 5:8; Luke 17:20,21).

    Christian experience and spirituality is not, first and foremost, an exercise in literacy and intellectual engagement. It is, first and foremost, an encounter and engagement with the Living God.

    Saul may have had his biblical “facts” straight…or maybe he didn’t. But whatever the case may be, it was his encounter with the risen Christ on the Emmaus road that transformed him into the Christian Paul. A person cannot truly understand the scriptures unless, and until, he/she comes to the actual, personal Word of God….not just come to linguistic descriptions within an ancient book called “the Bible”.

    Also note a poster whom deviates from the Reformation “sola scriptura” doctrine, which pertains to matters of “faith” and “practice”:

    “they engage in ‘petitio principis’, if my memory of Latin serves me well. They assume the point to be proved.”

    Sola scriptura and Aristotle? Interesting.

  • There are some true statements in your post. Note that the Westminster Confession, chap 1 on the Holy Scripture, acknowledges that God has revealed himself in ways other than the written word.

    The point at issue, however, is whether we have publicly-verifiable access to such revelation.

    Even you, Gregory, would, I suspect, be outraged if I were to say, “I have the Holy Spirit; therefore I am right in saying that you must become a Protestant.”

    “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” Is 8:20.

  • That’s a very honest and revealing post.

    If you really believed in “sola scriptura”, then why do you bother consulting the Westminster Confession of Faith?

    You haven’t provided an answer to that question yet; and I haven’t read through all of your blogs to surmise what you would say. But I expect something like this:

    “We read the Westminster Confession of Faith because it summarizes the ‘teaching’ of scripture, explicates the rich meaning of the scriptural text, as well as provide a reason why we believe these things.”

    Or something like this. I hope that’s a fair assessment of your view.

    So, in a significant way, the historic “Reformed” and “Lutheran” churches agree with Eastern Orthodoxy in this sense: that there are “correct” and “incorrect” ways to understand scripture; therefore, a “creedal” statement is necessary, in order to correctly understand and defend the “Faith”.

    The fundamental disagreements that Protestants and Orthodox have is not over “authority” (i.e. whether it’s Apostolic, ecumenical, Papal, scriptural, etc..); but rather over how we interpret the Faith.

    Eastern Orthodox are, contrary to the opinions of some, still “people of the Book”. We regard the scriptures highly in Liturgical veneration, as well as by “praying” the scriptures in our personal devotional times. Furthermore, it was the Orthodox who gave, preserved and authenticated (i.e. canonized) the New Testament. Therefore, let it not be said that Orthodox devalue the scriptures.

    However, the scriptures were not meant to be interpreted individually (2 Pet. 1:20). St. Peter gives warning about “private interpretations” in the following way:

    “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2Pet. 2:1)


    “as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the scriptures” (2Pet. 3:15,16)

    The New Testament has come to us today, first and foremost, in the actual events that surrounded the Incarnational life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ to His Father. Next, the New Testament came by those who were eyewitnesses, knew eyewitnesses and even commissioned by the risen Lord Himself (i.e. Saul of Tarsus), to write about the events surrounding the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, the scriptures were preserved by the Church; which has given all of us the verdict on what was to be counted as “scripture”. This is in accordance with the words of the Lord, which say:

    “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19)

    If there is to be talk of “authority”, let it be said that it was the Church to whom it had been granted. Not just the Apostles and the proceeding Bishops, but the whole Church. Orthodox call all of it’s member, clergy and laity, to know, practice and defend the “faith, once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 3).
    That you and I have a bible today is evidence that the Orthodox Church did just that.

    2 Corinthians 3:1-3 is another reason why my previous post said this:

    “the scriptures are in the hearts of all men and women”

    Again, I will reiterate my point that it is the people, not the parchments, which are the testimony of God. And by “people”, I mean the entire Church (2 Cor. 3:1-3).

    I would credit a disbelief towards my argument, if there should be any, to a “lens” which is colored to see the Incarnation, exclusively, in a legal sort of way: that is, the rectifying of guilt and punishment by the offering of a Divine bailout. This is especially true, if you happen to be a monergist.

    But this leads in to a host of hermeneutic questions that can only be answered within a Tradition or communal point of view. And should you hearken back to the scriptures, just remember that it’s the testimony of many who happen to agree; despite the fact that the inspiration comes from One.

    My point would be this: which Tradition is more likely to have upheld the Faith? Is it the one that’s continuous with the Ancient Church or the one that arose in the 16th Century?

  • A clarifying note:

    Since Protestants interpret the Incarnation in a legal/juridical way, there is no escaping the radical disconnect that occurs between monergistic theology and the zealous pursuit of holiness. What you wind up with is a testimony to the Faith that’s found, not in an important way in the individual’s life (“Saint” is damnable Catholic speak), but rather entirely in scripture.

    And if there is any talk about “holiness” and “saintliness”, it’s always in the context of the micromanaging power, knowledge and will, of God. To say otherwise means your a “Pelagian” heretic. Nevermind the fact that Pelagius was condemned, precisely, because he was a monergist!! For him, being a saint was entirely within mans power, knowledge and will.

    Of course, the Eastern Orthodox view is, and always has been, “synergy”.

    The original Reformers really picked a lousy theological point (i.e. underscoring the movement with anti-synergy) to serve as vindication for the move towards ecclesiastical revolt.

    Luther’s monergism is what led him to question the authenticity of some of the New Testament books (notably the book of James). It is impossible to escape the overt synergy of passages like these:

    “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? Thus also faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…..Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:14,17,18,22)

    I can think of one Protestant whose testimony, both in words and deeds, is as close to being a “Saint” as any the West has yielded: C.S. Lewis

    And he’s venerated by Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox alike. He has a sort of “catholicity” about him, you might say.

    The Incarnational work of the God-Man was, among other things, a bridge between God and man so that man could live Godlike….like Jesus Christ. That the same aroma that attracted the masses to Jesus, for both good and evil, is, likewise, given in measure to those who follow Him (I am speaking metaphorically, of course). That’s what being a “human epistle” is all about.

  • I see that I spoke to this poorly-formed article some two years ago. I also see that (in my haste) I overlooked something that is very important to note, for those not versed in Orthodox polemics.

    That is, your sources are inherently LIBERAL sources. Timothy Ware, a converted Anglican, is now called Bishop KALLISTOS [Ware], has deeply imbibed the modernist rhetoric of the EU-seeking Greeks. His rather good book, “The Orthodox Church” has been through a number of revisions, as he has travelled further and further from an authentic Orthodoxy, to a pan-ecumenicist version of same, and his book has done so likewise.

    (Imagine if I were to say Reformed theology is best exemplified by Barth!)

    Also, Florovsky is better, but he has his problems as well.

    You DO quote some of the Fathers, which is commendable, but then you presume that which you do not possess, in analyzing same. What I have surmised from these entries, is that there is the assumption that you all have the ‘pnevma’ of the Holy Spirit in discussing the Church; when it is clear from the writings of the Apostles and the Fathers, (all of whom knew each other in an unbroken line, with oversight, teaching, and didactic intent intact) that you don’t. NOt because you don’t want it – for ‘no man can call Jesus, LORD’ apart from the [common grace] of the HS, but you don’t have the [electing grace] of that same Spirit, in that you don’t have the chrismation of the Orthodox and catholic Faith of the Ages.

    One of the marks of the Orthodox phronema (mindset, but it goes deeper than that- perhaps Rushdoony/North’s use of the term “Weltanschauung” is more to the point) is that it acknowledges the ORGANIC nature of the Church practically above all else- at least in the still-ethnic enclaves wherein Orthodoxy has not succumbed to the modernist INSTITUTIONAL model, (derived from Rome, BTW).

    While both the Reformers and the Orthodox call Rome heretical, we do it from different motives: You, to legitimate a position that is not antithetical to that of your whoring mother, (at least where it counts- the North aphorism of the “First Church of NOT this or that” applies here) but is merely one of degree, and not of ‘kind.’

    Holy Orthodoxy (and that is not to be confused with modernist Orthodoxy, as I said before – the SCOBA churches in the USA, for example, who are members of the NCC/WCC) sees herself as THE Body of Christ, that St. Paul says was to be ‘without spot or wrinkle.’ While her adherents are sinful, it has that ‘already and not yet’ descriptor that (if memory serves) Hendricksen noted of the Pauline epistles’ view of the church in his commentaries- but that’s going back thirty years…. THE Church is not.

    Because THE Church ( and note the same delimiter of not more than ONE, but only ONE used in the WCF quote…”to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of THE Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world…”) IS Organic, there cannot be MANY of them, but only ONE. This then asks the question, “WHICH ONE” is THE one?

    The Reformers were MUCH more honest than many modern adherents of their theology in answering this, because THEY KNEW they were ‘stepping into quicksand’ in presuming that Rome was NOT that “ONE Church.” Indeed, Luther’s fear and trembling were for that very reason. IT was only the ‘hotheads’ who came after [Calvin, Knox, and even cautious Cranmer] that had lost that ‘fear of God’ when it came to the ‘THE Church’ question- and therefore, all her heirs to this day.

    There was a definite HUBRIS when the Tubingen theologians approached Jeremias II of Constantinople soon after 1517, to seek an ‘umbrella’ against Rome.- the Lutherans were ACTIVELY seeking that ORGANIC connection with the Church of the ages, and clearly did NOT want to ‘go it alone’ (for the branch severed from the vine will die….even if it is five HUNDRED years aborning.) But what they did was so ‘cheeky’ they didn’t even realize it. They came as fully equals to Constantinople, instead of ‘…a suppliant at thy feet.’ (to quote W.S. Gilbert)

    That the EP (Ecumenical Patriarch) did NOT listen to them, was clearly because he read in their confessional standards THE SAME HERESIES THAT ROME PREACHED, and therefore, KNEW that the Reformation was NOT a) a return to the Fathers or the Primitive Church but was b) a FILIOQUIST, RATIONALIST offshoot of Rome’s errors.

    Why should the EP consider that this was ‘canonical’ or even ‘evangelical’ when it held to the same FAULTY PNEUMATOLOGY that Rome had made official long before 1054, and had actively taught for over three hundred years, via Aquinas and Scholasticism, of which both Luther and Calvin were avid students?

    So, when you analyze either a) the Fathers or b) the Scriptures, I will not be so uncharitable (and for my earlier outburst, I do apologize, but error gets me RILED!) as to say you do not have ‘common grace’ as the sons of Christendom to at least see a BIT of the light ‘that enlightens every man’ etc.- but to ASSUME that that is the same light as the ELECTING Grace of “THE Church” is to compare a candle to the sun.

    Even the Scriptures cannot be understood, apart from the Church’s praxis and commentary! For that is ALSO of the ORGANIC nature of Christendom: (Because Benny Hinn now is an Evangelical, his ‘scriptural eisogesis’ comes fully from the Reformation camp, even if YOU say it is the accursed Dispensational wing of said camp!) THE Church says it (Dispies et al) that is, heresy, is due to the FILIOQUIST error that such aberrancies occur- indeed, she [THE Church] is not surprised that more and more Western Protestants aren’t worshiping a variant of the Antichrist already…oh, wait, you just elected Obama, didn’t you?

    So, to seek to claim that you ARE ‘THE’ Church, [when you are not-shades of Rev. 2:8,9] is to be (whether you want to, or not) a ‘synagogue of Satan.’ Again, the Dispensationalist error vis a vis Hagee comes to mind……

    While I (for one) am willing to see good in the West (I am an Anglo, and a Celt!) and even in her Church forms (I am Western Rite-friendly far more than Byzantine) I can see, after ten years or more within this fold, that the Orthodox are correct- the West denies the Faith in almost every action and theological construct she engages in, due to a false Trinitarianism, grounded in the Filioque. While we have much in common, and even share an ethnic background, your stances end up (when let to their own devices) to a heretical position not much different from the Arians, the Monophysites, or the Nestorians.

    Indeed, much of modern Protesantism is actually proto-Nestorian, and anti-Incarnationalist, in that they DENY the BVM ANY human involvement in the Incarnation! The KINISTS are closest to the Orthodox- I mean, the HISTORIC Orthodox- but they, too (as this same discussion over at showed) heretics under the skin, when you prick too hard with the ‘medicine of immortality,’ the Sacramental rites of THE Church.


  • Gregory (#15-16) – My former pastor, Dr Robert Letham, once gave an interesting lecture discussing the three main branches of Christendom in which he showed how each of the three possible “pairings” has something in common in contrast to the third pole. Many people erroneously assume that the Rome-Orthodox pair stands united in all points in contrast to Protestant; the Orthodox show that in some respects (e.g. filioque) it is them versus the Rome-Protestant (i.e. “Western”) axis. But there also some matters in which Protestants and Orthodox have a common view in distinction to Rome. A question is whether the points you raise here once clarified and perfected might be an example of such.

    Obviously, we differ in the matter of what Scripture teaches. But is there the possibility of formal or methodological agreement? You say,

    So, in a significant way, the historic “Reformed” and “Lutheran” churches agree with Eastern Orthodoxy in this sense: that there are “correct” and “incorrect” ways to understand scripture; therefore, a “creedal” statement is necessary, in order to correctly understand and defend the “Faith”.

    Creeds (or we say: Confessions) are not necessary to correctly understand, but they can be helpful to that end, much as a good textbook might be helpful, even necessary for this or that individual to come to understand quantum mechanics; but that textbook does not define the laws of Nature as if legislating those laws.

    Now it goes farther than that for us: our church officers must swear that they agree with the Standards, but this does not make the Confession a supreme norm; it remains a normed Norm, normed by Scripture. The use for examination of candidates for the ministry is a way for the church in its own succession to speak distinctly. The conversation between the Church and the Candidate goes something like this:

    Church: Do you believe what the Scripture teaches?

    Candidate: I think so; but how will you know if what I believe is what Scripture teaches?

    Church: By examining you according to a statement we have prepared that summarizes what Scripture teaches; called the Confession.

    So for Scripture to communicate, it is required that there be an awakened people that listens, just as with human communication. Where the communication “breaks down,” it is always the fault of the human refusing to listen, or listening incorrectly.

    Nevertheless, I love it that Luther struggled for a time with recognizing the voice of God in James and Esther. This shows that he was asking the right question: is this the voice of God, or the voice of men? That “the church has spoken” on this is weighty, but not eo ipso decisive.

    That God has raised up, in all ages, a people grafted into his continuing church, that hear his Word, means that I should be very reluctant to assert a hearing, a way of listening, an interpretation, that contradicts that united voice. Yet, in the end, one must believe what one hears; language is not chaos. If there is an aspect of the Will involved with belief, then the orientation of that will should be to obey what he clearly hears the Father say, not what his children report that his Father said.

    The difference between the Confession as subordinate standard versus norming standard may seem small in the description; but it is a chasm, not a small crack.

    Your rhetorical question, “which Tradition is more likely to have upheld the Faith? Is it the one that’s continuous with the Ancient Church or the one that arose in the 16th Century?” we find to be a false dilemma. The Reformation recovered the faith of the Ancient Church, at least where that Church was Scriptural. Thus, we are the church “continuous with the Ancient Church.” That statement, as well as yours, are both question-begging and thus not very helpful. Thus, “to the law and the testimony.”

  • “I wonder if Fr. John think there will be race in Heaven?- Scott

    Scott, what do you mean, exactly? I’ll be a bit mind-reading, and posit two option for you to choose from:

    A) That we will be a polyglot mess of hues and tones, aping (!) the modern Multiculturalist mindset-

    B) or that we will see ourselves as Belloc pithily put it ‘The Faith is Europe; Europe, the Faith.’ We must be (if He is, as Scripture says, to ‘save His People from THEIR SINS- Matt. 1:21) of the same ‘kind’ as Christ- the Second Adam – that word from Genesis that translates into ‘fair, ruddy, able to blush’?

    I actually tend to believe the second of the two. DO I believe that only those Europeans will be in Heaven? No. But just as the OT people were confined (BY AND LARGE) to the “Sons of Heber” – and while ‘kissing cousins’ did join from time to time (see Seabrook’s analysis of Ruth the Moabitess’ ethnic relation to the Hebrews) they were not a large part of that “Chosen People.”

    So, too, we have our St. Moses the Black, etc. But I don’t expect a miscegenated mulatto skin tone to suffuse our heavenly realms, as though al the Saints are to be ‘like unto their Head,Obama’ to bastardize (!) Scripture on this point.

    No, I consider that POV to be more ‘anti’ than ‘pro’ the Christian Weltanschauung.

  • TJH- You noted I mentioned a ‘credal agreement’ in my post earlier. I was referring to the NICENE Creed, and not a rationalist ‘how many angels dance on the head of a pin’ ‘Confession of faith’.

    The Orthodox consider such Confessions to bespeak the Filioquist mindset, and therefore, are not consonant with the ‘pnevma’ of the Church, in that the ‘Mysteries’ are apophatic – i.e, ‘unknowable.’
    For, as Van Til(?) said, “If we knew all there was to know about God, we’d be God, for we would know Him – exhaustively.’ Or something to that effect.

    Thus, when you wrote, “Your rhetorical question, “which Tradition is more likely to have upheld the Faith? Is it the one that’s continuous with the Ancient Church or the one that arose in the 16th Century?” we find to be a false dilemma.’

    But that is exactly the point. Because you will not acknowledge that the very forms you use confesionally, liturgically, and theologically are all tainted with the infection of Rome, you are like the speaker in the OT that says, “I am not weak, poor, in need of God,’ etc. And that is the Pride that St. James says keeps us from God.

    Therfore, to assume that ‘ The Reformation recovered the faith of the Ancient Church, at least where that Church was Scriptural ” is to be laughable, in that you never possessed the Scriptural mindset to UNDERSTAND it in the first place, nor the Tradition of its’ exegesis, since you DERIVED FROM ROME IN BOTH your theology as well as your study of the Church. You don’t HAVE the ‘pnevma’ of the Church, for Rome did not have it for 500 years before Luther et al, and therefore, you are like the Ethiopian eunuch- unable to bear fruit, not understanding the Scriptures, etc.

    And, my reference to the Tubingen Theologians, as well as to the Anglicans approaching the Russian Church in the XIXth Century, was to approach as EQUALS. I am trying to be nice, here, and to show you that you possess a great treasure, and are ‘not far from the Kingdom of God’ as St. Paul says. But when one will not even acknowledge that the MINDSET is erroneous, how can one ‘talk theology’ with those who TRULY ARE the “King’s kids’ when you are merely a Pauper wanting to be Prince?

    That’s the great gulf fixed between the West and the East, whether Roman or Genevan. It’s not an easy gulf to breach- it took me ten years of study to even come to this point. But one has to say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” whether that is to the Risen Christ before the Ascension, or to the Theanthropic Body known as THE Church, ever after.

    I would merely ask you to be Bereans, and DIG DEEPER on this and other matters, for the Orthodox Church has much to offer. And the West WAS once part of that “Ecumene” as well.


  • Fr John — no, my post #19 addresses Gregory’s points, not yours (unless that is an alias for yourself). I have not yet addressed your point about pneuma, but will in due time.

  • I am not Father John and he is not me; just wanted to mention that, lest your “hermeneutics of suspicion” run amok ;-)

    This is taken from another post that I replied to, since it’s apropos for this discussion:

    Turretinfan writes:

    “In other words, why is your interpretation any better than say, John Calvin’s, John Doe’s, or Augustine’s?

    After all John Calvin is undoubtedly a greater scholar than you are, and he was ordained to teach. Augustine is undoubtedly more esteemed as a teacher even within the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, John Doe has all the same credentials that you have.

    And then, of course, if the answer is that there is no reason that your interpretation is better, then why should we listen to what you have to say?”

    Gregory’s response:

    1) Theological “knowledge” has been kept from the “wise” and, instead, has been given to the “pure of heart” (Matt. 5:8); even unto “babes” (Matt. 11:25).

    Therefore, hear what the scriptures elsewhere say:

    “‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’.

    Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of the age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God….” (1 Cor. 1:19-21)

    2) The same question that you pose to Orthodox believers is the same question that illustrates the incoherence of Protestant “hermeneutics”. Since you reject communal or ecumenical “authority”, questions about the meaning of certain scriptures is left to the whims of personal imagination. There is no “hermeneutic spiral” for Protestants…instead, there exists a “hermeneutic pit with no bottom”.

    3) I have offered a defense of the Orthodox position on “authority” elsewhere. Feel free to peruse my responses in Part 2 or 3 of these blogs on Eastern Orthodoxy. But let me summarize:

    The issue of “authority” was settled by the fact that Christ bestowed His authority on the Church. You already mentioned Matt. 16:17-19. But here’s some more to think about:

    “As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth….And the glory which You gave Me, I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:18-19,22)

    “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore…” (Matt. 28:18,19)

    “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church….” (Eph. 3:8-10)

    “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15)

    That is why I had said this:

    God gave his “authority” to people, not parchments. It is also why I pointed out that the Church did, in fact, use her authority to make known the “truth” via writing and preserving scripture, binding mankind with the New Testament canon, giving a clear and unambiguous “interpretation” of that canon (i.e. Nicene Creed, or just The Creed), a plethora of commentaries from the Church Fathers, as well as the miraculous lives and testimonies of the Saints down through the ages.

    The Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches are Johnny-Come-Lately pretenders to the Apostolic throne.

    And so, all doubts about the “authority” of the Orthodox Church are really doubts about the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, attacks to the lower extremities of the Body are, likewise, also attacks against the Head.

  • In my zeal, I forgot to include the Ecumenical Councils as a further example of the Church “binding and loosing” (i.e. Matt. 16:18,19). Please forgive this boneheaded omission.

  • Fr. John (#17) — first off, your information on sources, even if controvertible, is appreciated. The analogy to Barth is well-taken as a warning. I for one will check into the sources you recommend as time allows.

    I fear that your use of the term filioquist is a broad paint brush that fails to illumine those not already plugged-in to your trajectory of thought. I am a filioquist, while also regretting that the creed was altered without consent of the eastern branch, but what does this have to do with the doctrine of total depravity, irresistible grace, and so forth? It seems (though much reading between the lines is necessary to get it) that your point is that the filioquist construct of the doctrine of the Trinity shifts the center of gravity from the unity-principle to the diversity-principle, and this sets the stage for individual interpretation not tethered to the church. However, couldn’t one equally well argue that the strict mono-origin of the divine persons would properly work itself out in a popish, monarchical model of the church? In any case, you will need to supply a great deal more argument and clarification for that particular paint brush to resonate with us.

    Even more serious is your statement, “you presume that which you do not possess… there is the assumption that you all have the ‘pnevma’ of the Holy Spirit in discussing the Church; when it is clear … that you don’t” in which you also make go on to make an “Orthodox” distinction between electing and common grace! The problem is that while it is true that one cannot know anything without the Spirit of God, it is most unhelpful to presume to win a particular debate by declaring that your adversary lacks that Spirit. When we engage in apologetics, we “know” in a regulative sense that our opponent cannot accept the truth by his natural disposition, but that insight can hardly stand alone as an argument. It must be coupled with a call to repentance based on elucidation of the law of God, or of an intellectual dishonesty or hypocrisy, or failure to account for his own position. The genius of van Til was to show that willful rebellion is at work even in much incorrect belief, so that his apologetic calls the sinner not just to rethink, but to repent and therefore rethink. Nevertheless, this is not a fideistic manifesto, but is organically part of an argument.

  • Jim, in Post #25, has asked:

    Has The Church ever made a wrong decision?

    I understand the question, but I think there needs to be clarification of the word “Church”.

    The Church is the “body” of believers in both heaven and earth, past as well as present; with Christ Himself as her Head (Eph. 3:8-12; 5:23,30; Rev. 5:11-14).

    Therefore, to claim that the Church has made a wrong decision is tantamount to saying that Christ Himself is fallible!!

    Have there been schism, factions and heresies that arose among the ranks?? Yes. But that was true, even in St. Paul and St. John’s day (2 Cor. 11:12-15, 1 John 2:18,19). It should not be surprising, then, that the Church would continue to experience such things, beyond the 1rst Century A.D.

    But when the Church (i.e. everybody in heaven and on earth) makes a decision, it is expressing the mind of Christ and, therefore, is bound upon the conscience of all; because it is Christ Himself, qua Head, who is speaking.

    Regarding TJH response in Post #26:

    I understand why St. Augustine was proposing it but, in truth, the doctrine is poison.

    The filioque is anti-Trinitarian. In the attempt to rescue the Divinity of Christ from the Arian heresy, by allotting the procession of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son, the filioque inadvertently abandoned the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. The filique strategy merely pushes the problem back. Does the Holy Spirit not send Himself??

    The problem with the “filioque” doctrine is that it dissolves the hypostatic relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father is the Father precisely because He begets a Son and sends the Spirit. To allow the Son a share in the sending of the Holy Spirit would, ultimately, mean abdicating the Father’s role qua Father. In this case, Father+Son= Father; and we are then left looking at a Monarchian modal view of God.

    In the East, the Father qua Source defines and establishes the foundation, reality and interdependency of the hypostasis’, and hence the Deity of Christ. It was clear that if there was a time when the Son was not the Son, then there was a time when the Father was not the Father (1 John 2:23). The Son was eternally God, because the Father was eternally the Father. To deny the Divine ontology of the Son is, at the same time, to deny the nature of the Father qua Father….so the Arian Godhead is not Being (i.e. “I AM”), but rather Becoming (i.e. “I WILL BE”). That’s plainly absurd. It’s also heresy.

    Furthermore, the Filioque ends up making the Holy Spirit a third wheel.

    Regarding “unconditional election”, “sovereignty” and “irresistable grace”:

    In what way, from a Calvinist perspective, is it believed that Christ was “fully man”?? Was Christ Himself not truly “free”, in a libertarian sense?? To put it another way, if Christ is “free”, in the libertarian sense, in what way is it said that Christ’s “will” is human?? If you say that Christ only had one will (i.e. a Divine will), then how can you escape the charge of Apollinarianism??

    The implications of Calvinism lead to Christological heresy….which will become more evident upon cross-examining the Reformed responses to my post.

  • Gregory — re infallibility of Christ/the Church:

    Exegetically, the indicative/imperative structure of Scripture reflecting the already/not-yet temporality must be taken into account. Thus, “we have the mind of Christ” [already!] 1 Cor 2:16. Yet, Paul beseeches them, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1:10) i.e. this “mind” is not yet fully realized, though it ought to be striven for. You acknowledged this partly, but then appeal to “when everybody in heaven and on earth” as a way to vouchsafe infallibility; but there are two problems with this idea:

    1. Such a formulation is begging for a thousand qualifications. The neophyte? No, we mean those that are well-instructed. The heretic not yet recognized? No, the pious member as type. Any bishop? No, only when in union with all bishops. Etc etc. The final set of qualifications has the mark of establishing a conclusion that was in search of an argument.

    2. It is probably unknowable “when everybody in heaven and on earth” is in accord; so it becomes just a formal principle, without practical benefit. Even on so basic a doctrine as the Trinity, it is saying something we do not know to assert that “everybody in heaven and on earth” affirms, for example, the Nicean formulation.

    Instead, we should say that Christ does preserve his church in all ages, despite her frequent confusion and wandering, and that there is safety in the church, even though not inerrancy. This is our situation in the already/not-yet.

    We agree that there is “something like” the consensus of the church and that no one should have confidence about his spiritual or eternal state if he departs from that. The Reformers bent over backward to show their continuity with that consensus. But at the end of the day, “to the law and the testimony” Is 8:20. Otherwise, we are arguing about the prism not the light.

  • Gregory — continuing on #27 to your comments on filioque.

    More clarification of your logic is needed. When you say Father+Son=Father on the filioque premise, does your symbol indicate set-union arithmetic — so that, since the Father sends and the Son sends, the Son is then redundant?

    Our Confession identifies the distinguishing mark of each Person as to origin, namely “of none,” “begotten,” and “proceeding.” Defined that way, there is no overlap of marks.

    So then the identifying marks anchoring each Person and guarding against any kind of modalism or modal interchangeability, now I wonder if your set-theory arithmetic is still valid?

    I think the filioque does achieve an insight into the grammar of persons. Namely, the Trinity must exhaust the 3 persons and 2 quantities of the conjugation table. The filioque insight shows how the plural is filled in both first and second person: “we” send thee, “You sent me” (as well as “Thou sent me”). Whereas, on the eastern construct, it seems like the persons are left dangling so to speak. There is no principle of “we” over against a third as gegenstand.

    Likewise, the eastern view would seem to lack a principle for divine fullness: what is this “begotten” and “sending” from a single pole, and why does it stop there?

    At the end of the day of course we must rest on Scripture and not our own speculations.

    Nevertheless, there is surely a speculative “resting” in a formulated doctrine, in that when it is done right, a great deal of light is shed where there was darkness before. Biblical mystery illuminates; pagan mystery darkens.

  • For completeness I should mention that some languages e.g. Hebrew have a third quantity, the “dual.” The dual typically is used for pairs that consist of equal but opposites, like hands. This case is also filled by the Trinity, I would argue, but it might be more subtle. It could be that the duality would be manifest as the “same in substance” of any two Persons, yet there being distinct hypostases with unique marks. Or perhaps one could argue that the dual is a subset of the plural. That approach would seem to leave something out of dual, namely, the reciprocity. However, that aspect (further reflection might show) may be something embedded in the necessary dualities of finite creaturehood.

  • Gregory: Finally, to the last argument of #27, namely, a reductio of the Calvinistic ordo salutis by reference to the human nature of Christ.

    I commend you, in that this is an interesting way to pose the problem, one that I have not seen before. Here are a few reflections:

    1. Christ was like us in all respects except for original sin. His will was thus in the estate of “posse non peccare,” just as Adam before his fall. More generally, the circumstantial differences as well as similarities must be taken into account when using Christ’s nature to build an anthropology.

    2. The problem with an appeal to “libertarian freedom” will be a definition that takes into account all the qualities of freedom. Generally, an extremely radical view of freedom devolves into randomness. In seeking to avoid Newtonian determinism, people are driven to a “flip the coin” view of freedom. But random behavior is not free behavior. It is at this point that Jonathan Edwards is helpful. Natural freedom means not being constrained from doing what one wants. Moral freedom, on the other hand, refers to having a disposition to align one’s actions to God’s righteousness. Man lost his moral freedom with the fall, and has a disposition that is at enmity with God as a result. He “freely” acts in terms of that evil disposition. Christ as the second Adam, not morally corrupted, had a disposition capable of alignment with God’s will.

  • TJH:

    It’s puzzling why you quoted from St. Paul’s 1rst letter to the Corinthians 1:10. It’s a very good reason to reject the Protestant Reformation; a “movement” whose very foundations were, and are, schismatic.

    There is no “one mind” amongst Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, etc. What you find among these groups, even within their own synods, is persistent bickering and dividing over competing exegetical, hermeneutic and theological traditions… a word, a perpetual schismatic “Reformation”. The “Reformers” instilled in the proceeding generations anarchy and rebellion on two fronts:

    1) Amongst “Christians” who find perpetual faults within their own, and other, Christian sects/denominations.

    2) Amongst the “Enlightenment” and “Post-Modern” intellectuals who advocate and pioneered “revolution”…a secularized version of “reformation”.

    Concerning the “Reformers” exegesis:

    They offered little or no substantive insights beyond the Church Fathers they were reading in their monastic communities. For instance, “Bondage of the Will” is decidedly pro-Augustinian. But what else would anyone expect from a person who had taken vows to live within an “Augustinian” commune.

    As to the “filioque” and the Orthodox view of the Trinity:

    The terms “only Begotten” and “Procession” denote the personal “distinctions” within the Godhead. It is not necessary to assign a mutual “sending” of the Holy Spirit, in order to show that Christ was God. If God the Father, from eternity, is Father, then it’s painfully obvious that He has a Son from eternity. No “created thing” is eternal…period!! So if the Son is not eternal, then the Father (qua Father) is not either. Keeping this in mind, ponder what this scripture means:

    “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22,23)

    John’s point is that if you deny that Jesus Christ is the eternal God, then you have denied the essential Fatherhood of the first Person of the Holy Trinity. The Arian god is an evolving Monad.

    I am not appealing to mathematics or Cantorian logic to make a point. The hypostasis of the Holy Trinity is established and denoted by the terms “only Begotten” and “proceeds”. With those two terms we can clearly see the personal distinctions within the Godhead.

    The “filoque” is confusing, only begins to surface in Augustine (i.e. 4th Century) and is wholly superfluous. The true heirs of Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Cappadocians got it right. Augustine got it wrong.

    Concerning the nature of “freedom”:

    Orthodoxy affirms the essential freedom of mankind. We see this throughout the writings of the Church Fathers; like St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocians and, most especially, in St. Maximos the Confessor.

    It’s an important component of salvation because, in the Incarnation, Christ has redeemed all of mankind; in both body and soul.
    Christ possessed a human “will” and a divine “will”. Apollinarians dispute the former, while the Arians dispute the latter.

    The scriptures do not negate the facts of:

    1) Christ, in his human nature, possesses a human nature that is free; yet without sin.

    2) Humanity possesses true freedom, yet is sinful.

    How could Christ have “represented” beings who were not also “free”, as He is free? How could it not be but blasphemy to say of the Creator that His “image” did not possess the freedom the He Himself has and has bestowed upon us all; as though any creature under heaven had the power to negate His “image”?

    Sin has abolished our “likeness” to God; but it never abolished God’s image…nor the freedom inherent within that image.

    Christ never told apostate Israel:

    “Oh how I long to gather you together, as Hen gathers her chicks, but I was not willing”

    But what does it say:

    “Oh how I long to gather you together….but you were not willing”. (Matt. 23:37)

    Since some people are “willing”, and some people are not, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world….and separate the “willing” from the “unwilling”….the “just” from “unjust”….the “righteous” from the “wicked”.

    As the scripture says:

    “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Rev. 22:12)

    How can He be said to “reward” those to whom possessed no “will” to work? Or how could he chastise the man who squandered his talent? Or how could he upbraid those who did not give unto others (Matt. 25)?

    Does not scripture say to “take hold of eternal life”? Does not scripture offer instruction in avoiding the folly of sin, and so avoid spiritual shipwreck? Does scripture warn of greater punishment to those who had come to know the “way”, but then depart from it? That those, with greater knowledge, receive more severe lashes than him who had no knowledge?

    That is why Moses wrote:

    “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply….I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:15,16,19).

  • Gregory:

    1. You say, “It is not necessary to assign a mutual ‘sending’ of the Holy Spirit, in order to show that Christ was God.”

    That is not our motivation. Our motivation is to reflect what Scripture teaches, not to define a minimalist ontology.

    2. re free will. Calvinists do believe in free will. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith devotes a whole chapter (9) to it, beginning, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil.”

    Your Scripture citations remind me of Wesley’s rant on the same subject. He listed dozens of pages of Scripture containing threats, inducements, etc. The problem is, if that logic is sound, then only one or two verses would be necessary; and if it is not sound, then two dozen pages of citations do not add to the case.

    Threats and promises are congruent with the natural liberty of man’s will, and are appropriate even when his sin has so twisted his disposition that he will not choose for God even under such inducements. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”

  • TJH says:

    “That is not our motivation. Our motivation is to reflect what Scripture teaches, not to define a minimalist ontology.”

    But that is precisely what I would say about the Orthodox view of the Trinity. And no one would fault you for attempting to “rightly” understand scripture. It’s simply not true that you have understood the scripture aright (2 Peter 1:20 and 3:16).

    But where is the doctrine “sola scriptura” found in scripture? I will relieve any reader suspense by saying: it’s not in scripture

    I find it interesting when Protestants comb the Church Fathers for quotes affirming the idea of “sola scriptura”; sometimes to prove to themselves, as it were, that the Church has always believed this. But that contradicts the meaning of “sola scriptura”. However, that’s the only place where someone might adduce that doctrine.

    The “dogma” of the “filioque” arose during the Reformation; not the “Protestant Reformation”, but Rome’s attempt to “reform” the entire Church, circa 1054 A.D. A necessary part of the foundation of Roman reform was the revision of the Creed with the inclusion of the “filioque” clause. The Church, for roughly 1000 years preceding the schism, did not accept this concept; although the idea germinated and grew in the writings of Augustine. But Augustine did not begin to articulate this doctrine until, about, the 5th Century. But his view, in this matter, was not taken to reflect Orthodoxy; thus, the Creed remained unchanged.

    The problem with dialoging with Protestants is that Protestants have an a-historic, jaundiced and anachronistic way of looking at the Ancient Faith. But the bedrock of the Protestant Reformation, via anti-ecclesiastic authority, iconoclasm and “sola scriptura”, is a state of unchallengeable, perpetual reform. And, as I pointed out, the Reformation has resulted in nothing less than a two-pronged anarchy in the West; religious and secular. Which is why there is a million headed Chimera of Protestant faiths in the west, along with a million headed Chimera of non-Christian and secular faiths and ideologies.

    But to illustrate my point, with scripture, would not mean much to you. For instance, 1 Corinthians 3:3 says:

    “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men”

    Is St. Paul advocating an ecumenical free-for-all, concerning false doctrine. No, of course not. For he, himself, also said:

    “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel other than we preached, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8)

    But the upshot of Roman Catholic and Protestant “reform” has resulted in, not just unprecedented division, but a flood-gate of false doctrine and heresy in the west; such, that all the Protestant counter-cult organizations, combined, are wholly impotent to prevent the spread of new cults and religions. And, ironically, they [Protestants] are rooted in a tradition that offers justification for any doctrinal wind of change.

    How can any Protestant, with sincerity, fault the “reforms” of Joseph Smith; who thought that the Church needed to be “restored” because, according to him:

    “Their churches were corrupt and their creeds were an abomination”

    But notice that your own concept of “freewill” is propelled, not by scripture, but by pagan metaphysics (i.e. Stoicism and Neo-Platonism). In fact, most Calvinist, today, are eager to read and assimilate the opinions of A.J. Ayer, Harry Frankfurt and Bernard Berofsky, on this subject. For instance, I dialoged with a Calvinist who objected to libertarian freewill on the grounds that it doesn’t “provide the necessary control conditions for choice because..x,y, and z.” But he failed to realize that “compatibilism” is premised upon naturalized metaphysics; particularly, it’s over reaching notion of “causality”. Causality and causal explanation are the presuppositions which drive the entire Calvinist world-view.

    Since when did secular philosophy and natural science dethrone theology, among Christians, as sources which may speak down to, and at, theologians? Of course, I’ve already explained this above.

    Also, I think it would do a person some good to consider reading, if they haven’t already, John Feinberg’s essay “And the Atheist Shall Lie Down with the Calvinist”.

    But getting back to what I initially said:

    What the Orthodox object to is the ascription of “paternity” to the Father and the Son. The filioque, unequivocally, blurs the distinction between the Father and the Son. But, moreover, the filioque has the Holy Spirit as a kind of training wheel, in relation to the larger wheels (i.e. Father and Son). Hence, a lop-sided understanding of the Holy Trinity.

  • “What the Orthodox object to is the ascription of “paternity” to the Father and the Son. The filioque, unequivocally, blurs the distinction between the Father and the Son. But, moreover, the filioque has the Holy Spirit as a kind of training wheel, in relation to the larger wheels (i.e. Father and Son). Hence, a lop-sided understanding of the Holy Trinity.”

    Gregory, very well said. But it is more than that. In attempting to dialogue with Caucasian brethren in Christendom, the non-Orthodox often just say, “I don’t GET what you all are arguing about. The filioque means nothing to me…” and then they dismiss YOU because THEY don’t ‘GET IT.’

    When I try to point out that, if Thomistic categories are correct (they’re not, but follow on with me here….) the H.S. is the ‘LOVE’ between the Father and the Son- which then makes the Third Person of the Trinity a CREATED THING.

    The non-Orths look at you, and say, “So?” – And that’s when I finally get it. They truly don’t (the vast majority of them) have the ‘pnevma.’
    But I soldier on….

    IF the H.S. is a created THING, HE is not GOD.

    IF the H.S. is not GOD, then SOMETHING has to take it’s place. Thus, your ‘training wheel’ analogy, but it goes further than that.

    IF something ELSE supplants the HS as God, then that ‘something else’, ALSO IS CREATED…and we have IDOLATRY masquerading as Christianity. Whether that ‘idol’ is the Pope, the State, European Man, or even ‘the Non-White Native’ of Multiculturalism, it is still ALL idolatry.

    That NOT ONE of the Reformers of the 1500’s sought to eliminate the Filioque from the Creed is telling; what is MEANS is that the Reformers were merely postponing the errors of the Papacy for a few hundred years, rather than tearing it out, root and branch.

    Until real Calvinists, Traditionalist Anglicans, Confessional Lutherans, and others that TRULY believe the Bible is the Word of God, understand that; at the point where their ignorance of the filioque is yet one more example of a ‘tradition of man’ their ancestors swore to abolish, when it comes to John 15:26, they are still ‘idol worshippers.’ And until they ‘get it’ about the filioque, and all its’ attendant philosophical baggage, we shall not talk TO one another, but merely AROUND one another.

    And because of that, Satan smiles. I’d rather talk to my brother, and hit Satan in the teeth. St. Nicholas smote Arius during the First Ecumenical council, and was praised for it. That’s what I want again- Christianity with manliness….

    Yet all we have is Rick Warren, Michael Jackson, Schmuley Boteach faggotry.

    Misericordie, Domine.

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