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Why I Am Not Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic – But Am Very Clever

 

Well, to be sure, I was tempted by the Romanists in my late teens – and I felt the pull of the Anglo-Catholics when I was in my mid-twenties. But now a little older and fatter (mid-thirties), I find myself a boring ol’ Protestant – and a sassy one at that. Here are 12 lessons I’ve learned along the way – and if they help you along yours, great.

 

1. The church is God’s people called by God’s gospel gathered around God’s word. That’s it. And the implications are huge. There is no anxiety to be had about being unable to trace a series of institutions or a series of bishops back to the past. No, there is a series of “hearers and receivers” of Christ’s promise to forgive. That’s it. That’s church history. That’s our family. Nor is the history of Christian doctrine and practice the history of clergy doctrine and practice. Clergy is vocation, but it is not, as such, the church.

 

2. Related to this, all those cool-sounding Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church fathers? They’re our fathers too. Seriously. They are not one iota less our fathers than that of contemporary Roman Catholics. They sat at Christ’s feet. They listened to His voice. Did they get some stuff wrong? Sure. I’m sure we do as well. But we are gathered around the same Jesus – and it is He who defines the church.

 

3. This is, incidentally, true even if they could get in a time machine, come to the present, and disown us. Would all of the church fathers own the Protestants? Maybe not. Perhaps they’d say that since I was not in fellowship with a particular bishop, I was not part of the church. That’s fine. We forgive them. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox theology is the theology of all Italian families. If you have an Italian family recently immigrated from the old world, you can be sure that theirs is the only Italian family in the world, from the only real Italian region in the world, with the only real Italian culture in the world – whose traditions hail back to Romulus and Remus. But most of us can intelligibly talk about “Italian culture” without indulging in these (fun as they are) mythologies. Similarly, if a materialist defines a human being as merely a collection of atoms, it does not falsify the fact that a materialist is a human being precisely because he is more than that. Similarly, I don’t accept “church father Stan’s” belief that he is in the church because he is united to a bishop – but I do consider him to be in the church precisely because he is more than that.

 

4. I often hear of the benefits that obtain for those who have the consensus of the saints and in infallible church – and all the catastrophe that would and does ensue for those who do not. This used to bother me. But now I hear something like this: “Consider: If humans could fly, imagine how much we’d save on fossil fuel emissions. Imagine how many lives would be saved. How can you ever hope to save these lives and the environment apart from our ability to fly? To be honest, I don’t see how you sleep at night while denying the ability to fly.” Well, I do. The hypothetical benefits of an infallible church are just that – hypothetical. But the apocalyptic scenarios that allegedly obtain apart from these are, to be frank, pretty overblown. Sure, walking is limiting. But it’ll do.

 

5. These apocalyptic scenarios, by the way, often stem from observations of how many churches there are, how diverse interpretation in them is, and what little hope we have of ever “finding the truth” in such a case. This is, of course, all to be blamed on Luther. This does not falsify Luther’s correctness, mind you, but it is also bad history nevertheless. It makes complex what is simple and simple what is complex. With respect to the former, human beings are not Cartesian “thinking things” who use a toxic combo of voluntarism, nominalism, and any other “ism” as passive blocks of wood to disseminate the evil workings of “the man.” Sorry folks. Ideas matter, but not that much and not in that way. In general, human beings move along a far simpler axis. Show me the best food and the prettiest girls, or (alternatively) the most effective propaganda and fear-mongering, and I’ll find you the most people. This could be qualified of course, but don’t make it too sophisticated. With respect to the latter, belief is unified where there is a magistrate to unify it. Get a modern world with a bunch of independent magistrates and some freedom of thought and you’ll get 30,000 denominations. Sorry. Your options aren’t “Luther” or “Rome” or “Constantinople.” They’re “empire” or “non-empire,” “coercion” or “freedom to be wrong.” Allow the latter, and you’ll always have lots of opinions in this life.

 

6. These narratives, of course, have no teeth apart from the modern skeptical move which they are intended to evoke. “30,000 denominations!? How will I ever know which is the right one. I guess I can’t” – and thus begins the search for a surrogate reasoner (paradoxically chosen by – you?). The problem with skepticism is that it is a universal acid. Whether there are 30,000 links in the chain or just 1 link in the chain, a universal acid is a universal acid. And it will eat right through any confidence you can have in your own “finding” of your surrogate reasoner. And it will eat through all the judgments you made along the way. If the Protestant always has people smarter than him who disagree about the interpretation of the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox always has persons smarter than him who disagree about the interpretation of the fathers, the facts of church history, the veracity of their claims, the rationality of their theology, etc. It is worth noting that many who convert with this anxiety continue this same trajectory right out of the church and into the natural habitat of skepticism – agnosticism. At least it’s honest.

 

7. So what do we do? If the church fathers aren’t infallible and the lot of them can be wrong about something, what good are they? Imagine asking this same question to someone studying the history of philosophy, the history of science, the history of…anything? Why do we listen to the church fathers? Because they’re our fathers, for crying out loud! We don’t exist in a vacuum. And lots of them are smarter and more godly than us. Lots of them have great insight. And certainly the more consensus there is among them, the greater we should weight that opinion. That’s not an issue of infallibility. That’s common sense. In short, we listen to them because to not do so would be dumb. We listen to them for the same reason that we often listen to our own parents – not because they’re infallible, but because they’re part of us and they have lots to offer. And like our own parents, they also have problems. My children will, I hope, think of me the same way. Or, since it will be far more persuasive to quote a hip philosopher, church history is the “history of the interpretation” (both in doctrine and life) of the word (Gadamer).

 

8. Does this mean that everyone in the past can be wrong about something (say, gay marriage) and that a few blokes in the 21’st century might be right about it? Sure it does. Just as it means that everyone in the past could have been wrong about the existence of a spiritual realm, the objectivity of reality, and the importance of respecting your parents. Does this cause us much anxiety? It shouldn’t. Paul himself entertained the hypothetical implications of Christ not being raised in 1 Corinthians 15. I doubt Paul would object to someone saying, “Show me the body!” But does this hypothetical scenario make the apostle bite his fingernails? Hardly. Here’s one that is even better:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-9)

This text really is staggering. Note two things. Paul entertains a hypothetical scenario where an angel from heaven and even he himself preach a different gospel. He’s not anxious about this, of course. But it is the second point that is the most important. Paul expects ordinary Galatians to be able to tell the difference. He expects them to be able to “evaluate” the apostolic posse for themselves. They’ve received Jesus’ message. They should now know the difference between the real thing and its counterfeits.

 

9. Since we’re talking about evaluating Paul, maybe we should talk about the anxiety of anxieties – the question of canon. And let’s start with Galatians 1. Christians who have accepted Jesus’ message know God’s voice when they hear it. Why? Because it is God’s voice and creates its own recognition. That’s why there is so much consensus on the canon. Consensus? Yep. Most of the books are and always have been agreed upon. Are there some stragglers? Sure. There are several possible explanations for this: 1. Some people are better at hearing God’s voice than others. 2. God speaks more clearly in some places than others. 3. Some cases are more ambiguous because the criteria of canonicity are more ambiguous with respect to them. These objective (apostolicity) and subjective (hearing God’s voice) criteria have created a stunning level of agreement over time. We can argue about the details. But the argument at the fringes can never shake what is clear – and very clear to all who hear God’s voice through Christ.

 

10. Speaking of clarity, we should avoid an “a priori” concept of how clear something is supposed to be. God could always be clearer. Church history could be neater. But this is not an argument for or against a particular position. God’s existence itself could be clearer. Indeed, if God so desired, He could make Himself so clear that atheism and agnosticism were impossible. This does not mean that He is not clear. Nor does the fact that many persons mis-interpret Scripture mean that it is not clear. It means that God is as clear as He desires to be. He is clear enough for His precise purposes. Rather than having an abstract standard of clarity to which we seek to find an instantiation (and which could, in principle, always be one-upped) – it is better to ask how clear God has been in actual fact – and then to ask why and what for. These last two points lead to the most important point. To wit…

 

11. If I have learned anything along the way, it is this. Don’t ever ever ever ever ever let anyone tell you that the gospel of Jesus is not jumping off every page of the Bible. The gospel of God’s free grace through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, is clear enough for a child to grasp. And the basic manner in which we are to follow Him through loving God and our neighbor as the Spirit works to redeem this world through the kingdom of Jesus is right on the surface of the page. Damn skepticism. Listen to the Word. Obviously, this should be done with others (dead and living) simply because we are communal creatures who understand communally and who are spoken to communally – but God’s speech is the main thing for all of us. Gather with others around it and listen. Don’t tell it what to do or how to be. Let it speak and do its work.

 

12. Finally, that gospel is freeing. One cannot do theology or church history or exegesis if one is nervous that their eternal destiny is hanging in the balance of their conclusion – whether passed on to a surrogate or not. No. Rather, this is where I will insist to my bones that Luther is right. You must first be free in Christ. You must first know that all your sins are forgiven in Him. You must first know that He loves you and wages war against all your enemies and holds you in His hands. And then you can chill out. You can work through these things patiently and humbly with others. You can admit that you sometimes don’t know. You can avoid all those who seek to attack your fragile identity by standing on the unshakeable foundation of your identity in Christ. In other words, you can live in the real world. Indeed, you can even enjoy it.

 

 

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61 Comments

  1. eugenicus says:

    What is the church?

    Scripture: The Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the pillar and ground of truth.

    You: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Eugenicus,

      Actually, I said quite specifically, “The church is God’s people called by God’s gospel gathered around God’s word.” I’m not sure what you are specifically getting at in mentioning any of these metaphors. Obviously, the “pillar of ground and truth” passage is used for all sorts of purposes in these discussions – though I’m not sure it gets anyone very far. Those, as I put it, who are God’s people, called by His gospel, and gathered around His word, are certainly going to do what pillars do with respect to the truth – uphold it. And our structure is not yet complete, or to use another metaphor, we’re not quite without blemish (Eph. 4-5) – but we’ve upheld the truth and will continue to do so until Jesus returns. This in no way means that clergy or a particular succession of bishops has done so – precisely because the church is not essentially the bishops.

      Note that in the 1 Timothy 3 passage that the description of the church as the “pillar and ground of truth” comes right after the description of the church as a “household of God,” which implies that the church is, basically, everyone. It is the “assembly” (the Greek word corresponds to the OT Hebrew word). This household language, for Paul, is clearly about everyone when one looks at his detailing the roles of each in God’s house throughout the epistle.

      This same truth extends to the other two metaphors you mention. In Ephesians 4, the “body of Christ” language is explicitly present but explicated as logically prior to the offices which are given to it. Some of them are “foundational” (apostles/prophets) and the rest are ordinary, but it is nevertheless worthy of note that the text speaks of Jesus’ body as logically prior to all of them, that is, just as His people, called by Him, and given His word through these special organs of revelation and ordinary explication.

      Similarly with the metaphor of the “bride of Christ,” it exists logically prior to the offices which are to protect it. She has been purchased with His blood (Eph. 5) and the job of clergy is to protect that which has been purchased (Acts 20:28). We see Paul appealing to this language when he attempts to do just this at the beginning of 2 Cor. 11.

      • eugenicus says:

        Yes, I read what you wrote, which was more than that single sentence. And the sum total of your approach was, to this reader at least, a surprising indifference to what the Church is. My point in citing these verses was to highlight that the scriptural approach to ecclesiology takes the Church much more seriously than your broad and generalist rendering.

        As for “household of God,” I cannot at all follow the leap of reasoning that interprets this as “basically, everyone.” Not only is that reading not at all obvious or readily apparent, it directly contradicts other parts of the New Testament, such as when the Church is viewed through the metaphor of one flock, with one shepherd, within a single sheepfold (John 10). And when St. Paul writes to the Ephesians (4:4-5) that, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:17), “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The scriptural witness of the Church is far, far more than “God’s people called by God’s gospel gathered around God’s word.” Those are all good things, but not nearly enough. Even setting aside the Eucharist, which Christ says that if we do not eat we cannot have eternal life (John 6), where is baptism, without which we “cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5)? Your definition describes a bible study, not the Church.

        As for the rest, I agree that “the church is not essentially the bishops,” and no Orthodox should ever suggest otherwise. But while the church isn’t essentially bishops, bishops are essential. Without the bishop, there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church. Full stop. This is why you have someone like St. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, writing at the turn of the second century, “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live forever in Jesus Christ.”

        And, “Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father…For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ].

        Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.”

        And, “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.”

        Perhaps you’ll just reply that this is just one example of a Church Father that “got some things wrong.” But when that view leads you to condemn a first century bishop and disciple of an Apostle, does it not give you pause? I can at least sort of understand not trusting someone generations and centuries removed from the early church. But are you really suggesting that the very first generation taught by the Apostles after Christ’s ascension had already disfigured Christ’s teaching?

      • Joseph Minich says:

        It seems to me that “household of God” is fairly explicitly spelled out to Timothy. The elders and deacons function fairly similarly to fathers. Widows are fairly close to mothers. Young men and women should treat one another as “brother and sister.” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Just as a household is basically something like “the group,” so is the church. And like a household, it has institutional elements (though it does not reduce to these).

        It is this latter point which is especially important. As such,it seems to me that your use of the other Bible passages just begs the question. Israel was also a “household,” but not always a single institution. Analogous to John 10, Ezekiel 34 also calls Israel “sheep” under their king So are we – with King Jesus as our master. This is just the “body of the baptized in the world.” We are also one body – through (as Paul says) that body squabbles. Some sheep fight one another and tell other sheep that they are not sheep. Some parts of the body say that they don’t need others. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one body. It just means that some of its members can be schismatic.

        Finally, I don’t exclude baptism and the eucharist as being markers of the church. And those who refuse them are not “gathered around Christ and His word” precisely because they are refusing His wedding right and His meal. But the content of those things just is the content of the word (offered in a different mode). Note I did not say that the church is just gathered around “the Bible.” The word comes to us through liturgy, song, sacrament, preaching, and is even embodied in Christian love, etc. Ultimately, these all bring us into communion with a Person who meets in these as trysting places. “The Bible” is, more or less, the content which obtains in all of these in the form of God’s objective speech as a personal communication. So we are always gathered around the Person and message of Scripture (which comes to us in all these modes) – but this does not always mean that it is just “reading the Bible” or having a “Bible study” (though these are both great!). As well, the definition I gave initially does not describe any particular moment (whether liturgy or Bible study) but a certain people with a certain posture toward an object. There are corporate and institutional implications of this – but I take this basic idea to be the “essence” of the thing. Those who are called by the gospel and who respond to it are the church. That will take institutional and liturgical form. Inasmuch as any in the body of Christ fail to do this, one can question whether they ought to be considered members of the church in any sense. This gets into sticky business, of course, but I’ll try to keep this brief so that you can follow up if you so desire.

        As for Ignatius, have you read this? http://www.amazon.com/Church-Organization-Primitive-Catholic-Times/dp/1164415778/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1433795121&sr=1-1-fkmr1&keywords=lowrie+church+government My fear is that we are reading something into the word “bishop” that was not originally connoted. As well, I’m curious (in the case of Ignatius) how much of this is governed by circumstance and prudence rather than any statement concerning church polity for all time.

      • eugenicus says:

        I’ve not read that book, but I’m highly skeptical of the claims that we’re misreading “bishop” or that Ignatius’s words were merely contextual. Those are spurious suggestions never even countenanced until the need arose to justify dispensing with the episcopacy during the Reformation. Even the heretics of the first several centuries had their own bishops. And then there’s the fact that Ignatius’s view is repeated exactly by innumerable other fathers across the world and throughout the centuries (on through today). Ignatius, like the others, is clearly handing down a definitive understanding of the church, not temporary guidelines.

        In any event, even historical facts (which you seem content to ignore or dismiss on the basis of obscure minority pseudo-scholarship) will not convince someone who does not want to hear the truth. Let him who has ears to hear…

        God bless you and be with you in your journey.

      • Joseph Minich says:

        That’s an uncharitable read of me. And it is suspiciously well-suited to an ideology (hopefully not temperament – though one could always hope it was just a bad mood) that demands such a read. In any case, sometimes things are lost in translation and the internet is not a good medium for reading motives (much less whole persons).

        In any case, on the more substantive points, your word can be the last. I trust that any who would be interested in pursuing this line of inquiry further could find the appropriate sources on both sides and make up their mind.

        Cheers!

  2. Jacob A says:

    Excellent point about skepticism being a universal acid. That’s why when some of the convertskii leave Orthodoxy, they become nihilists, having already destroyed other foundations.

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Eugenicus,

      Thanks for this link. I think a lot could be discussed here about the nature of authority, but I wonder if there is something superfluous to the question of a sort of “broad circularity” as John Frame calls it (on issues of ultimate authority). The interesting bit in your post is the actual choice of orthodoxy. First, you exegete a few passages of Scripture about which there is tons of scholarly dispute. And then you give a description of various options (many details of which are open to scholarly dispute), and then opt for one option based upon a reading of it that is open to tremendous scholarly dispute. Now, this is all fine, of course. But when I referred to a “universal acid,” my question was, “If you can fallibly make these decisions without your skepticism eating through your confidence in your own judgments of these disputed points, why should I (in principle) worry about the skeptical challenge as it pertains to the understanding of Scripture?” It seems to me that the options are letting the acid eat through all the links, or getting rid of it. There is the possibility, of course, that the Bible is not very clear but that the facts of history are. But I doubt the claim would stand up. The facts of history upon which Orthodoxy rests are just as vigorously disputed as the interpretation of Scripture.

      • eugenicus says:

        The “acid” metaphor is fine, if you’re willing to fully embrace postmodernism and relativism, which, whether you want to admit it or not, is what your position [perhaps not so] tacitly endorses. The problem with it, however, is that it is epistemologically stunted. The whole point of the linked-to piece is that there is more to discerning the truth than reasoned choice.

        As for “the facts of history upon with Orthodoxy rests,” they are indeed disputed, but not particularly well or with any persuasive force. But regardless, their being disputed says little. The resurrection is disputed by many; are we to no longer rely on that as well?

      • Joseph Minich says:

        I think the threads of the conversation have been lost here. The “universal acid” metaphor was a reductio. I am not a hip pomo guy – but I was actually trying to say that EO converts often should be. That is, once you pull the skeptical move to critique Protestantism, there is no reason that it should not eat up your EO. If you don’t let it do the latter, you shouldn’t let it do the former. So it is extremely unclear to me how my position “tacitly endorses” this. I’m a pretty self-conscious fella, and I very much doubt it – though I’m willing to be schooled.

        Now, if the shoe doesn’t fit, there is no reason to wear it. There are many EO converts who do not make the skeptical move and who do not say that we could never understand the Bible apart from a surrogate interpreter because “there are so many interpretations” (ergo, skepticism & ergo, surrogate interpreter). And so my attitude about these things is very much like your attitude about alternatives to EO history. I don’t think the EO reading of the Bible is argued “particularly well or with any persuasive force.” I could be wrong about this, of course, but only for the same reasons and frailties that might make one wrong about EO history.

        In any case, if your attitude is, “Darn the skeptical move. The only thing that really matters and working through and evaluating the actual claims,” then great. This point does not apply to you. I do recognize, of course, that you are right that this is not entirely an issue of mechanically applied reason. But, in these comments, I’m addressing that aspect of one’s conversion or lack thereof that is related to reason and which can, in principle, can be falsified.

      • eugenicus says:

        Ah, gotcha. Yes, I think I misread you.

      • Joseph Minich says:

        No worries. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. yosinava says:

    How interesting. So, according to you, Christ LIED about infallible Church. What else did He lie about then? Salvation?

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Yosinava,

      Jesus did not lie about an infallible church because He never spoke about one in the first place. Indeed, through His apostle Paul, He rather speaks of the church as having blemish and in need of building to maturity and completion (Eph. 4-5). What Christ DID say is that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16). Obviously, this is a battle metaphor. Most people tend to read this as Satan attacking the church and our succesfully defending ourselves against him. This is possible, though the metaphor of “gates” does seem to suggest that it is Satan who is on the defensive and the church which is on the attack. This does fit nicely with Paul’s statement in Romans 16 that God will crush Satan under our feet. In any case, whichever is the better reading, I’m not sure it makes a difference here. In one reading, the only implication (with respect to this question) is that Satan will not win. On the other reading, the church WILL win. Jesus’ message exists all over the world today. His promise of forgiveness has survived persecutions, caused people to love their neighbors, and change nations (indeed – history itself). Hell has neither stomped out the torch nor been able to contain the spread of the gospel flame. This does not mean that the church has never failed. This is a battle. People die in battles. People get wounded. People do not do perfectly. Sometimes some of the soldiers (even leaders) betray the cause. But, precisely because the church is more than any one institution, we can speak of Jesus’ promise as true. It is true because there is a missionary in China right now telling someone that the king of this world has come and has given His life for theirs and that He will be either their Savior or their Judge – and that missionary is calling that person to respond to Jesus calling.

      Joseph

      • eugenicus says:

        Christ to the Apostles: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Ah. Right. And Jesus did guide the apostles into the truth and they have left the deposit of that to their spiritual posterity – us. And that deposit has not faded away but spread through the world like a wildfire, sometimes through the mouth of a bishop, sometimes through a random encounter with God’s word, and sometimes through the shared truth of a basket-weaver. In any case, isn’t the most natural reading here that the “you” is most directly the apostles rather than anyone else? Almost every “you” in the passage seems to be quite directly related to the apostles.

  4. Alex Langley says:

    Dear Joseph,

    Glory to God for all things!

    Your article’s title is “Why I’m not …”, but you don’t seem to explain what it is about the Eastern Orthodox or the Roman Catholics, et al, that you have presumably been rejecting or why. Instead, you share 12 opinions, which you call lessons. However, they teach me nothing.

    I am an Orthodox Christian, by conversion. I was born and raised “nothing”. By God’s grace, I got to have adventures into Christianity as a broad category starting around age 12, by reading Daniel and Revelation, you know, the exciting prophetic writings, secretly without my parents’ knowledge. Eventually through friends, religious TV shows (yup), travels, research and most importantly prayer, I found Jesus. About 20 years later I found the Orthodox Church, via 8-9 Protestant denominations, and was chrismated 17 years ago. So many experiences and people helped pave the way for me. I am grateful for my teachers, pastors and friends I had before I entered the Orthodox Church, but there’s no turning back for me. No regrets.

    Back to you and your article. For economy, as I write to you this comment on your provocative article, I will generally lump in Roman Catholicism together with Orthodoxy. Ok?

    To your points….

    Point 1. I challenge your whole premise and definition of Church, whose definition is not open to debate, really. The Church is 2000 years old, and it was in the works for thousands of years before that. Everything in the Old Testament looks towards and anticipates the Incarnation of Christ, and from the Incarnation God’s plan of salvation is further revealed in the flesh in Jesus and his establishing his Church.

    Did Jesus ask anyone his or her opinion on anything other than that regarding the face appearing on a coin? Oh, I suppose he did ask Peter “who do others say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Jesus replied “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

    Joseph, you have never sat at Jesus’ feet. How can you say that those who did, such as Peter, “got some things wrong”? Is that allegation a license to insert your opinions and preferences into “that rock” upon which Christ built his Church? Jesus knew he had at best a bunch of fallible, sinning men and women to choose from. Look at Peter! Look at Paul! Jesus knew he couldn’t wait for perfect people.

    Jesus built his Church. It is his. He sent the Holy Spirit to guide, protect and comfort the Church.

    Are you perhaps trying to discount the Apostles’ teaching because you would like to have some cake and eat it too?

    Here’s a question for you: Do you secretly hope some sins can actually be ok because that would be nice for you and your friends? So that some peoples’ feelings won’t get hurt? Do you hope that maybe the Apostles just misunderstood some things or were ignorant? Unenlightened? Be honest, at least with yourself. There’s a lot of wishful thinking we do as we resist the humiliation of confession and repentance. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. Jesus did not bend the rules. He did not do away with Torah. He fulfilled it!!! He said so himself!

    If the Apostles “got some things wrong,” then you are essentially saying that Jesus, the Logos, messed up as a Rabbi, a Teacher. I hope you don’t really believe that. But if you do, then you should just reject the Gospel utterly.

    I invite you to take a different approach to all of this. Instead of thinking the Apostles had got some things wrong, or that anyone today is smarter than them or their Master, or whatever the reason is that you feel you need to discount the Apostles and 2000 years of Church guided by the Holy Spirit and the bishops, how about asking God for forgiveness for your sins instead, and for God’s help and grace to “go and sin no more”?? How many times did Jesus say “oh, you sinned, that’s ok, let’s pretend it isn’t really sin. Have at it!” NO NO NO. He said “your faith has made you well, your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.”

    Do you see the difference?

    Does the Bible say that the day will come when people are going to be smarter and more enlightened than those who walked and talked with Jesus, better than the Apostles? Mo of course it does not. It is rather full of warnings of false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing,!secretly creeping in. Watch and pay attention!

    You mentioned Luther, so I would like to mention the three solae (or 5 if you prefer). They are a fallacy because they wishfully seek to render irrelevant the Church that Christ founded. Faith, Scripture, Grace……come to us via the whole Church and its Tradition. Martin Luther had a lot of great indictments in his 95 theses. He should have become Orthodox! Problem would have been solved.

    However, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9. Actually, read the whole chapter. So good!

    Unlike all other “expressions” of Christianity (i.e. all Protestant denominations and Anglicanism), Orthodoxy is not a denomination. Orthodoxy, and the Church itself, is pre-denominational.

    The Orthodox Church is not the result of some man’s opinion (e.g. John Calvin, John Knox), legitimate protest (Martin Luther), or self-importance (King Henry VIII). Similarly, the Orthodox Church is not defined by what you or any other person think it should be.

    The Orthodox Church gave you the Bible as you know it as well as the creeds and core dogmas, as established at the Seven Ecumenical Councils. (see link below with my response to point 9). Anything else is not the Church.

    Furthermore, do not fail to remember the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father since the Lord’s ascension! Do you trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church? If so, then when it comes to present day controversies, who is wrong? The Apostles? Or those who innovate heresies and want to say the the Apostles “got some things wrong?”

    Point 2. Agreed, and don’t forget your Church Mothers either! Mary, Elizabeth, St. Mary of Egypt, Helen (mother of Emperor Constantine), Olga (mother of Prince Vladimir), Pelagia, Barbara, Mother Theresa….

    You wrote, “but we are gathered around the same Jesus – and it is He who defines the church.” Right, he established with the Twelve Holy Apostles on the “rock” of Peter’s confession, and so on through all the bishops (overseers) from the Apostles to the bishops we have today, and those in communion with those bishops, and the saints.

    Which Apostles were not martyred? Are you willing to go that distance, Joseph? Be careful not to find yourself and your opinions to be too important.

    Point 3. What is this “own us” stuff? You are either purchased by Christ at a price, or you aren’t. I don’t think any Church Father or Mother, or Bishop, with pretend to “own” or “disown” anyone. They are teaching to us and praying for us! The Body of Christ is a set of people in relationship among those in Communion with the Church. If anyone owns us, it’s Christ, who has adopted us for His Father.

    You also wrote “Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox theology is the theology of all Italian families.” WHAT? You need to study Church history. Eastern Orthodoxy is Greek, Byzantine, Arab, etc. But not Roman, and not Italian.

    Point 4. What is this “infallible church” thing of which you speak? Never heard of it.

    If infallibility among humans were possible, we wouldn’t need God’s plan of salvation, Jesus’ death on the Cross, or his resurrection, which trampled down death by death. This is a red herring.

    By the way, perhaps you should brush up on your chemistry and physics. Energy is energy. Whether using fossil fuel for vehicles to fly in, or eating a lot more food to have the extra calories to flap hypothetical wings to get us off the ground, it will always take the same amount of energy to get you airborne and keep you there. But, I really don’t get your point with this flying business.

    Point 5. This is another distraction. Ideas might matter if they convey the Gospel authentically. Any ideas that don’t align with the Gospel are vanities. And most people’s opinions don’t matter at all, because God hasn’t requested them (few exceptions, always to teach us a lesson), except in so far as we choose to hear the Gospel and accept it, or not. God doesn’t need our ideas, and He hasn’t asked us for our opinions about how we shall be saved. At the same time, He gives us all free will and a BRAIN to use to make decisions. What a wonderful mystery! Glory to God for all things!

    Also, you cannot peg all heresy on Martin Luther. Again, please study Church history. You got Arius (whose face Santa Claus rightly slapped….google it) and Nestorius and Origen and Benny Hinn and Frederick K.C. Price. You might even question Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas.

    Point 6. This is so easy. The Truth is Jesus. Seek him or perish. The Gospel is God’s plan of salvation. Take it or leave it. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

    No need for Church shopping. Jesus bought you a Church, with his precious blood. You are welcome to inquire and join. It might not be 100% to your liking, but it’s real. You joining in?

    Point 7. “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” (St. Seraphim of Sarov) Stop worrying about the fallibility of others (“the speck in your brother’s eye). You just need to do you.

    Point 8. Marriage is best understood by reading the service of Holy Matrimony of the Orthodox Church. No vows and no conditions, other than affirming one is not already married. There is the betrothal, then the wedding. Please read. All Orthodox marriages are done with these.

    http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/betrothal
    http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/wedding

    It’s not for us to define marriage according to our lusts or to try to make the Church, not to mention our own anatomy, submit to what we think would be most pleasing to us.

    Are we to live to serve ourselves, or to serve our neighbors? Your answer is key to indicating your understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Point 9. The “evaluation of Paul” is simply not a thing. Again, the Church gave you the Bible. The bishops of the ecumenical councils are not waiting for you to chime in about Paul’s Epistles or any of the other books included. Your opinion of them doesn’t matter.

    “Bible” is from the Greek “Ta Biblia” which means “the books”, as in “the books that all those bishops agreed belong together and are divinely inspired.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_seven_Ecumenical_Councils

    You wrote “These objective (apostolicity) and subjective (hearing God’s voice) criteria have created a stunning level of agreement over time. We can argue about the details. But the argument at the fringes can never shake what is clear – and very clear to all who hear God’s voice through Christ.”

    How do you reconcile what you said there with the idea that some Apostles got some things wrong and some opinionated people of present day are right. How can it be that the Apostles that Jesus hand-picked, who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, “got some things wrong?”

    Joseph, hear this! “…The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4).

    Point 10. Please read “Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer.

    Point 11. All that and: don’t just listen to the Word. OBEY THE WORD.

    Point 12. Actually, the Gospel is binding. Every person has a master. Who is your master? Jesus who bought you and saved you? Or the devil? You will obey one or the other. That much is fate. Yet, you do get to choose your master. Choose wisely!

    Note: to this point I have not talked about who is saved, or who is not saved. Not my problem. Not your problem. Hallelujah I’m off the hook and so are you! Christ alone will judge souls. He will be the only one to “separate the sheep and the goats”, and no doubt both heaven and hell will be full of surprises on either side. And, I am not saying that being out of communion with an Orthodox Bishop means there’s no hope. All have hope! The truth is true wherever it is found. God will always do the right thing.

    Nevertheless why go solo when you have the Church? We are not to give up the fellowship of others who believers of the Truth!

    The Church has everything a person needs to make the most important decision of all: the Bible, tradition, the sacraments, the people, fallible though they be.

    So dear Joseph, your zeal for authenticity is to be praised. Why not come into the Orthodox fold? What holds you back or makes you prefer “other” or “none of the above”? I think if you were to answer those questions, then you would have an article worthy of the title that you gave to this one.

    Glory to God for all things!

    So be it.

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Alex,

      Thank you for taking the time to make an earnest plea. It would be difficult to address everything you’ve said, but I do want to clarify one bit where there is clearly some misunderstanding. When I said that the church fathers “sat at Jesus feet,” I was NOT talking about the apostles. In context, it is clear that I’m referring to post-apostolic church history. The “sitting at Jesus feet” was a metaphor. I do not judge the apostles or think that Peter and Paul “got some things wrong.” I’m saying that the church fathers very like “got some things wrong,” as I’m sure we all do. The apostolic writings are the common frame of reference by which we judge them and which similarly judges us. I hope that helps. If there is any particular point in the rest of what you wrote that you find particularly worthy of dialogue, let me know what it is, and I’d likely be happy to engage. Cheers!

      Joseph

      • alangley99 says:

        Dear Joseph,

        There is no “post-apostolic church history”, and there won’t be as long as we still have canonical bishops of apostolic succession.

        Do you mean, rather, Church Fathers after the first generation of Apostles? Even if you do mean that, I still take issue with any idea that the Holy Spirit has failed to guide the Church. Especially such that therefore it would be needful to have modern opinions redefine Church or doctrine at all.

        Again, I think your whole premise needs work.

        As for further dialogue, let’s delve into the irrelevance of man’s opinions, that is, relative to what our master Jesus Christ has already done, is doing, and will do with his bride.

        Or we can dialogue on Ecclesiastes chapter 1 if you prefer something easier.

        Sincerely,
        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Thanks, Alex.

        You said that there won’t be post-apostolic church history as long as we have canonical bishops of apostolic succession. Well, then I’d say we’re in post-apostolic church history. =) Of course, even without this, I reject the definition in any case. The apostles and prophets were the “foundational” ministry of the church and the rest (i.e. church history and its progress) is build on top of this (Eph. 4).

        Did I say that the Holy Spirit has failed to guide the church? Of course He hasn’t. That the church sometimes errs does not falsify this any more than that the church is with “spot” or “wrinkle” (Eph. 5) before the last day falsifies that the Spirit also purifies the church. Has the Spirit failed at that? Despite our continued sins, I’d say no. And despite our continued error, I’d also say that He has not failed to lead us into a growing knowledge of the truth. In the former post, I was just trying to get at the meaning of John 16 (which my reply to eugenicus should elucidate).

        In any case, saying that my “whole premise needs work” is not illuminating if one does not know the premise of which you speak, nor why it needs work beyond the fact that it is different from yours. My main premise (about the church), by the way, was not just an assertion, but an attempt to get at the reality of the church as we actually confront it. So, for instance, RC and EO ecclesiology both wind up having to do something with all the “irregulars” who “aren’t quite in.” I’d say this is because the definition is unworkable in the face of reality. The proliferation of “exceptions” says something about the essential thing – and I think it is just this which Protestant ecclesiology has raised to the level of a principle. It names a reality we all confront (that random dude who read the Bible, responded to the gospel, got baptized irregularly in a pool by a weird pastor, and loves Jesus and His gospel more than you or me. I think we’d both recognize that that dude exists. But your definition of the church would have have to create an ad hoc category to account for him. Protestant ecclesiology says he’s part of the body of Christ in the world, probably participates in one of its weirder institutional expresses, and likely attends a worship service that I wouldn’t want to send my neighbors to. But it’s still (spot or wrinkle) – church.

        I’m happy to talk about the irrelevance of man’s opinions, but I think that EO theology is basically “man’s opinions” and is no more innately authoritative than the prophecy views of a truck-driver named “Buck.” To be sure, it is probably more correct (and hence has more derivative authority) – but no more innate authority. If “Buck” thought that prayer to Mary was bogus because…you know… “the Bible,” I’d say that Buck had more derivative authority on that subject than a millennium of patriarchs.

      • alangley99 says:

        Regarding Buck and Mary that you mention down the page,, the Bible doesn’t mention Buck, but it does mention Mary:

        https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1%3A26-38&version=NASB

        https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1%3A46-55&version=NASB

        I ask you please to read verses 28, 42 and 48 closely

        You hopefully will be reminded of the first part of the “Hail Mary” with verses 28 and 42 of this passage. And only the first part; you can forget the second part, added by the Catholics to make it into a petition.

        As for Buck, Buck has authority to hear and accept the Gospel. But Buck does not have authority to define the Gospel itself, nor its messenger, the Church.

        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex,

        I do not get the sense that there is a genuine dialogue going on here, and since that would be my interest in continuing further, I’ll forego the attempt to engage in a merry-go-round of simple assertion making. Sans obscenity, I will (however) happily approve whatever further comments you might have to offer.

        Cheers!

      • alangley99 says:

        Hi Joseph,

        Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

        I’m surprised that you are not sensing a genuine dialogue with my responses.

        I got the sense you were trying to bash Mary with your hypothetical Buck and your words: “you know… ‘the Bible'”, so I presented for you a Biblical perspective of Mary and even conceded the disregard of the second part (Catholic addition) to the Hail Mary prayer, which begins literally with the Luke chapter 1 references.

        I would have done the same if you and I were sipping cool beverages on my deck some fine evening. What is not genuine about this?

        I’ll try it this way: You wrote ‘I’m happy to talk about the irrelevance of man’s opinions, but I think that EO theology is basically “man’s opinions” and is no more innately authoritative than the prophecy views of a truck-driver named “Buck.” To be sure, it is probably more correct (and hence has more derivative authority) – but no more innate authority. If “Buck” thought that prayer to Mary was bogus because…you know… “the Bible,” I’d say that Buck had more derivative authority on that subject than a millennium of patriarchs.’

        To that I say that a hypothetical Buck may find a “prayer to Mary” bogus, but doesn’t mean it’s universally bogus, or that the Church Tradition of requesting the intercessions of the Church Triumphant (the saints) is bogus. Whether a Church Tradition is bogus is not for any person to judge, except for a bishop, because he has apostolic succession. Whatever is Buck’s opinion is no more than his own opinion, and Buck’s opinion is not one that the Church is holding its breath for.

        Only Jesus’ authority is “innate”. He delegated his innate Authority to the Apostles: Please see Matthew 18:15-18 as well as John 20:19-29.

        When I quote Scripture or give references, I genuinely hope you will read them.

        Joseph, as Orthodox, we frequently recite the Nicene Creed, which says “we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
        Is the Nicene Creed one you would not be willing to recite as your creed as well?

        If my saying or asking any of the above is not “genuine dialogue” with you, then I hope you tell me what it is in your view. I’d rather keep this going.

        However, if I cannot be frank with you in this manner, or if you feel that dissenting comments are inadmissible, that is regrettable.

        My prayer would be, then, that God may bless whatever seeds be planted with those who read your article and these responses, that they may be edifying and unto salvation.

        Alex

        P.S. I hope that you will accept my comment for publication for the benefit of others, even if you find it disagreeable. Thank you.

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex, given your response, I see that I read more into your previous comment (in tone and content) than was intended and failed to discern its intended relation to my previous post. Please forgive me for this. And thank you for your kind reply. I will try to get back to you soon. Cheers!

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex, to return to this issue. My point concerning Buck is not that he has innate authority. It is that he has derivative authority, as do bishops. If what Buck argues is Scripture and what bishops argue is not, then Buck speaks with more “derivative” (not innate) authority than they do. I mentioned this in the context of a discussion you wanted to start about the irrelevance of “man’s opinions,” and then I used the analogy to indicate how I actually draw the line concerning “man’s opinion.” Buck and bishops can be speaking for Jesus or they could be speaking their own opinion. What makes their assertions (perhaps) more than an opinion is not any particular office, but only that they are speaking God’s word accurately.

        In plainer speak, I just mean this. If Buck’s view is biblical, then no authority can speak over that. Here’s perhaps a question that will get to the heart of the matter: If you asked a person who believe that a particular EO doctrine was contrary to Scripture, would the most important thing be to argue with that person from Scripture or to tell them that they had an authority problem? What if that person was not persuaded of your exegesis and thought that the plain reading was against EO? Would you then tell them that they should assume that their reading was wrong and that they should submit their reasoning to a surrogate? I suspect that the answer(s) to these questions will help spell out the essential issues.

        Cheers!

      • alangley99 says:

        Dear Joseph,

        I am happy that we can continue the dialogue.

        In the Orthodox concept, the hypothetical Buck has no authority in the Church. Unless Buck is a canonical Orthodox (or Catholic) bishop, or an ordained priest (deputy of the bishop) or deacon (assistant to priest or deacon). You see, in the One, Holy, Catholic (meaning universal) and Apostolic Church we have the hierarchy and good order as set up by Christ with the Apostles. Acts and the other epistles explain how the overseers (bishop/episkopos) and deacons are to operate. Priests (elders, presbyters) came later as the Church grew and bishops could not be everywhere all the time.

        Authority in the Church is from Christ into and through the Apostles and the bishops from them. By the laying on of hands of 3 canonical bishops another is duly consecrated a bishop. Bishops can delegate responsibility to priests and deacons, but priests and deacons cannot perform their sacramental functions without their bishop’s blessing. Also, only bishops can ordain or tonsure.

        The Church is not a set of autonomous people. It is one Body, and hierarchical.

        Sincere question: do you read NT Greek?

        Bishop is επισκοπος episkopos, often translated “overseer”. Overseer == Bishop.

        Titus 1:7 “a bishop (overseer) manages God’s household” (NIV)

        Philippians 1:1 is an example of Paul, an Apostle, having authority over bishops (overseers) and deacons, and calling out deacons and bishops as subsets of all the saints. Not all of “the saints” are deacons or bishops.

        Acts 20:17-28 is an example of Paul, an Apostle, calling specific Church elders (not all believers in Ephesus) to him, saying it is the Holy Spirit who made his addressees (those specific elders from Ephesus) bishops (overseers), to shepherd the Church. Not every Christian is an overseer.

        Acts 6:6 deacons were so ordained by the laying on of hands of the apostles

        Acts 8:14-17 it was by the laying on of the Apostles Peter and John’s hands that the newly baptized received the Holy Spirit. See also verse 20 showing that such a gift cannot be bought with money.

        Look at it this way:
        Do I have the authority to tell my VP, SVP or CEO they are wrong and must run their business as I demand, and submit to my opinion? Is every employee in a corporation his own boss? Of course not, and the Church is the same way. I might make a humble suggestion, but the real decisions at a Church level are up to bishops. The Holy Trinity is the CEO.

        On the other hand, it is my place (with authority ultimately delegated from the CEO through to hierarchy to me) to give direction to my employees. My employees don’t do whatever they please, they do what I have hired them to do. If I were a priest, I could do certain things with the bishop’s blessings, but not just because I wanted to. The only sacramental thing any baptized Christian can legitimately do (of not ordained and blessed for other sacramental work) is baptize another person.

        Protestants on the other hand, and I used to be one, might like to think that they should be able to elect their own overseers, or even be their own overseers. Or prepare Holy Communion after some fashion of their liking. In doing so, they break communion with the Apostles and their successors because of their autonomy. That is congregational behavior, but that is not how the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church works.

        So, I would say rather that for every “Buck”, there are another 29,999 Bucks that think they have authority. That’s how you get 30,000+ denominations. I feel that the Protestant predicament is a very unfortunate one, but in my opinion (just me) their very rejection of canonical bishops is why they have so many denominations. That’s very different from the Oneness of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

        And…..That is why I am no longer Protestant. I just could not rationalize all the denominations or pretend any longer that such fracturing to the umpteenth degree could have come from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I just could not believe that Jesus intended for there to be 30,000+ denominations, splintered, divided.

        Even Paul had to address such a thing with the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 3.

        See also 1 Corinthians 9:1-7. Paul’s “we” here means “we apostles.” Verse 5 proves this. Not everyone is an apostle.

        Note once again, I’m not talking at all about who is or is not saved. That is the Lord’s business alone.

        Respectfully,

        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex,

        The linguistic issues are pretty complex – and my knowledge of Greek is cursory at best (though I took a few years of it). But I am aware that the word-studies have been performed time without number. Here’s an interesting example which might be of interest to all: http://www.christmylife.info/Persecution/Persecution1-2/from.pdf. It is worth noting, for instance, that your mention of Titus 1:7 fails to include verse 5, which includes the word “presbyter” – almost certainly used interchangeably with verse 7’s “bishop.” My own view is that these words were used in several (rather than entirely) consistent ways and that these ways also developed before, during, and after the writing of the New Testament. Burtachelli’s “From Synagogue” to Church is an interesting read on one angle of this. And Alister Stewart’s “Original Bishops” looks like an important treatment of the NT and after on this – though I doubt his views fit in any box. Bavinck’s treatment of the issue is, in my judgment, extremely balanced and historically sensitive (RD volume 4 if you are interested). All this to say, I think that making an argument of this sort is more complicated than it would seem and it is likely best to use an individual example and then see what can be abstracted from it. In most cases, I don’t think the results are as impressive as any church-government theory wants.

        On the phenomenon of 30,000 denominations, I hear you. Now, I could quibble with this and that about the comparison, but I think that would be counter-productive. I think the main point to make is that denominations exist where there is the freedom to make them. In my view, the EO church is just another one, so there are really 30,001 denominations. “The Church of Christ” makes a similar claim about being the truth church (as to various apostolic groups and Baptist briders). I realize their claim to fame is not as great, but from my perspective, I look at EO the way that you’d look at them. Are they not part of the 30,000? No, they are. People leave their churches all the time and go to new ones. People leave EO all the time and go to new churches. And people leave Protestant churches all the time and go to EO, RC, or whatnot. Why? Because no-one is forcing us not to. Denominations exist less not when there is a particular model of church, but when there is a magistrate who does not tolerate dissent. Once you do, you’ll get 30,000 denominations, EO or not. It is also worth noting that this compares EO (concrete) to Protestantism (which is an abstract “ism”) rather than EO to, say, the PCA – which is a more “apples to apples” comparison. But then, discussion of denominations numbers is ameliorated – or at least reduced to mere rhetorical flare.

        Finally, it is important to insist on what “authority” means. When I speak of “innate authority,” I am distinguishing this from “political authority.” Buck has no political authority in most instances. He doesn’t teach, he might not have the right to administer word and sacraments, etc. But when He speaks Christ’s words, they’re Christ’s words whether anyone likes it or not. This is why the authority is derivative (from the word which is innately authoritative) rather than ascribed to his person. The authority of office (which is what you emphasize) is a different matter and is necessary for human community (including in the church). Ideally, this official authority and the derived authority of the word will go together – though they sadly do not always do so.

        With this distinction in mind, I’d like to ask you this: If you were an ordinary Christian in the 4’th century who had no real knowledge of church politics, and your bishop said to you, “There was a time when the Logos was not,” but your wife said to you, “The bishop is wrong. Saint John calls the Logos God and God is eternal,” would you be more obligated to listen to your bishop or your wife? What if almost every bishop agreed with your bishop? I think Paul would say this:

        “If I or an angel from heaven say otherwise than the gospel, let him be accursed.”

        I appreciate your reticence concerning the identification of the “saved.” =) I share your caution here.

        Cheers!

      • eugenicus says:

        There’s another question here that’s not being asked: what gives the bible authority and how? It’s not as if it just descended from heaven in its current form. Who collected all the books of the bible? Who decided what was in and what was out? Who, in other words, decided which writings had authority and which did not? The fact that the bible did not descend from heaven, that someone did have to decided what would and would not be in the bible, means there is an authority antecedent to the bible. Who is it?

        Turns out it’s the same bishops, councils, and church fathers we’re told sometimes “get some things wrong.” How do we know they got the bible right? By what criteria do we make that assessment?

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Eugenicus,

        You ask several questions, but I have one in response, because I think it will help determined where we’re coming from. Would you say that the criteria of “apostolicity” is a reasonable criteria for asserting which books belong in the canon? And if so, could one make a rational argument (apart from the authority of any bishops) that Romans was an inspired text?

      • eugenicus says:

        You’d have to define “apostolicity.” There are many works considered equally “apostolic” as the NT (The Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius’s epistles, the Didache, et al.), but that weren’t included in the canon. But again, who decides what is and isn’t “apostolic?”

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Could one make a rational case, apart from bishops, that apostolicity means that a book was written by one of the 12/Paul (original authoritative direct witnesses given a special office) or that was been written (basically) under their direct oversight and as an extension of their contemporaneous ministry? So Peter is looking over Mark’s back. Paul is looking over Luke’s back, etc. I’m sure this is putting it crudely, but the idea is that these writings (not just persons) are directly authorized by the apostles as representing their teaching.

        It seems to me that this criteria is Scriptural and rational and it basically gets you the NT we have. Of course, some of this took arguments over time, but the debate over criteria (and as you know, there was a debate) ended with some remarkable consensus precisely in light of it.

        This, of course, is the objective standard of canon. I would also argue that God’s corporate people hear God’s voice when He speaks. And so the very act of canonization produces its own recognition either immediately (90% of the case) or over time (10% of the case). That to say, the church recognizes precisely the canon that it does because it is where God has spoken to them.

        The book of Revelation was God’s own speech and could be related to as such even if a bishop in a particular region for a particular time did not happen to think it belonged in the canon.

      • eugenicus says:

        Using that definition of “apostolicity,” you’d have to give the same authoritative weight to Ignatius’s epistles, including my earlier quotes, as he was under the tutelage of John. And many other writings by others that aren’t in the NT.

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Really? Please school me if any of this is wrong, but I’m under the impression that Ignatius’ epistles were not written under the direct oversight of John nor as an extension of a contemporaneous ministry. Ignatius was taught by John, but his ministry was not “John’s ministry” in the same way that Luke’s was Paul’s or Mark’s was Peter’s (including their writing). I’m not saying he did, but Paul could have basically read Luke’s manuscripts. This is not, as I understand it, the case with John and Ignatius.

        Which gets back to the question, “Could one make a case for this without bishops?” Or is there no case to be made for the importance of apostolic writing and “direct” ministry (as I’ve defined it) apart from bishops telling us that it is important? And no case to be made for the Spirit-breathed nature of Paul’s epistles without a bishop telling us that they were Spirit-breathed?

      • eugenicus says:

        Well, Peter died in 64 AD and the Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written during the Nero persecution, between 66 and 70 AD. Paul died in 67 AD and the Gospel of Luke is generally held to have been written between 80 and 100 AD, if not later. So I’m not sure the theory that those works were composed under direct oversight of an Apostle holds up.

        As for your broader question, as to whether one could make a case for apostolicity without bishops, well I don’t know. I’m skeptical, but you’re welcome to try. I’m not going to do it for you 🙂

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Certainly a lot depends upon when you date the texts, though plenty argue that what we have are final redactions of editions that had been around for a long time prior. In any case, what I’m arguing doesn’t depend upon Paul or Peter having read the texts (as I noted below). The point is that these writings are an extension of the ministry of these apostles. That is, they are (more or less) recording the testimony of the apostles – rather than re-issuing their teachings on their own authority. In this, we would of course say that they are given a sort of prophetic gift in preserving things accurately. But the church thereafter treats their testimony not as a faithful application of the apostolic message to new situations (like a later epistle), but more or less as just the “single malt” preservation of the apostolic message itself. In other words, there is a qualitative difference between their relationship and their preservation of the apostolic message and what between John and Ignatius or Polycarp.

        What is more, the early church treats these texts as ones which are basically affirmed by the original apostles. Matthew and John, interacting with these texts, basically treat them as the “law” of the church. They’re part of the deposit. Of course, this criteria could easily spill into other books which is precisely why there was a debate about whether or not other books belonged in the canon. And the decision to include these and exclude the others was not arbitrary. It was a fitting decision for many reasons and clearly, it seems to me, related to the sorts of factors that I’m describing here. That is to say, and I think this is important, precisely the point you bring up was asked about precisely the books you mention. And precisely something like the point I’m making was adduced to include Mark and Luke and to exclude Ignatius and the Shepherd of Hermas.

        I should add that I don’t discount the testimony of Polycarp, Clement, or Ignatius as introducing all sorts of errors and as being basically “whatever.” Despite your response before during another line of inquiry, I think it is extremely important to take their testimony seriously. I actually just think that it would be very easy to read them anachronistically, as it would be to read the New Testament in this manner. The qualitative difference holds, but I would treat these early fathers as immensely valuable as it pertains to evidence of the apostolic message.

        As for the broader question, I think it is an important one. The testimony of the apostles is not just sure becomes their successors told us it was. Paul preached with authority and wrote with authority and expected his hearers and readers to accept his teaching and writing as one commissioned by God. If this is the case, it would seem illicit to hold to a theology which demands that Paul needs further authentication beyond Jesus’ commission.

      • Alex Langley says:

        Dear Joseph,

        Thank you for the further food for thought and points made. I must admit I look forward to your responses. I’d like to think this is like iron sharpening iron. I hope you agree.

        Regarding the linguistics: I am a linguist and have studied Greek and Hebrew (among other languages).

        As a minor digression, I think you would enjoy reading this…

        http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/in-which-passages-does-jesus-quote-the-septuagint-and-where-does-the-new-testament-al

        The Selby article was wonderful, especially what he says in the paragraph starting “My hope is that this recgonition…..” and the one following. Thank you.

        No doubt it took a few centuries and ecumenical councils to sort out details of ecclesiology. It took that long to sort out the canon of scripture, to narrow down choices of divine liturgies and the divine office overall. Due note, Rome and Byzantium had their own liturgies, music, artistic styles, but were all the while in communion (until 1054-ish). Such diversity can be completely fine, as long as heresy doesn’t creep in. How adjudicates on questions of heresy? Bishops!

        As to denominations, as I was saying above, for the first roughly 1000 years of the Church, it was One Church. Heretics got exposed and ejected. Very interesting thinkers indeed (like Arius, Nestorius, Origen), but anathema nonetheless.

        These days, we got us some Baptists, Southern Baptists, General Baptists, First Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A., just to name a very few Baptist expressions, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Baptist_denominations). I just cannot accept that that is at all on par with the Orthodox Church, or fruit of the Holy Spirit.

        How do you think all those Baptists got to a state of dozens and dozens of variations? Fighting, of course. Why did they fight? Because they disagreed and found each of themselves to be authorities in their own right. No bishop to come in and say “stop this nonsense, heretics, you leave.” No overseer.

        And look at the “Presbyterians”. They have “sessions” of “elders”. The ministers of word and sacrament are neither bishop nor priest. They have deacons, that kind of are sort of like the original deacons in job description. What hath John Knox wrought? PCA, PCUSA, BPC, EPC, OPC. I met an Orthodox Presbyterian once. She was wonderful.

        I lived through the early days of the PCUSA “re-imagining God” thing (what? why?)

        Wait. Let’s stop right here.

        Why in the world would there be any need to re-imagine God?

        Wouldn’t that be…..idolatry?

        Anyway….

        …..then I saw the start of the split on ordination of sexually active homosexual clergy (heaven forbid anyone be chaste like Paul), and their attempt to hold on, for a while, to the definition of marriage as that union of one man and one woman. Talk about watching a curtain rip in two!!

        That such could be debated at all shocked me. I could not accept that. While I am grateful for what I learned during my years in PCUSA (and some Four Square and some other “shopping”), I definitely could not stay there. It was the same Paul vs. Apollos thing Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians, over and over again. To rend the Church according to peoples’ opinions is wrong. The Holy Spirit does not divide people. Worship is all about God. Trying to put man at the center of worship is not unto salvation.

        How many holy spirits are there????

        So Joseph, I hope you understand that I’m not anti-denominational because I just don’t prefer it. I believe that there’s no need for it!

        I have friends that grew up “EO” and left (and I still love them and we are still friends), and I know their reasons. They left mainly because of 3 things: a) rampant “ethnocentricism” placing “festivals and culture” over theology, salvation, mission, evangelism, which is sadly a true problem in *some* parishes I’ve seen, b) clergy sexual abuse or financial misbehavior, also sadly true problems, which at least get dealt with rather quickly in most cases that I’m aware of, and c) they want some sin to be ok. In the case of c, the only choice is for the person to apostasize as far as I’m concerned. I would never argue with anyone leaving the EO because of reasons a or b. All are welcome back any time! But, it has to be an honest return, especially in the case of c, which would mean renouncing heresy, confession, and then come back. Humbling, yes.

        Funny thing, when I became “EO”, I lost quite a few friends. Some friends! They would say “But Alex, you know the Bible so well, and Hebrew and Greek. How could you possibly want to become Orthodox???” Well, gee if I’m that smart why were they doubting my decision? Maybe they should be have been asking themselves what was preventing them from seeing the same light.

        I also have friends that grew up Protestant and became “EO”. I am very well aware of their reasons as well. Mostly, among the coverts I know, they a) can’t rationalize all the innovation or “changing of the mind”, b) can’t rationalize the redefining sin to suit popular opinion, or c) really like the icons, the incense, the music, and all the Church history they are learning.

        Now let’s talk about wife vs. bishop. Love it! First of all, always listen to your wife! But also, “test everything and hold onto what is true.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

        Any bishop that teaches a heresy should be quickly defrocked and ousted by 12 canonical bishops. The solution isn’t “bishop so-and-so should just start his own church.” We’ll argue about plum perogis vs. potato perogis, without calling the whole thing off, but we will not abide a heretical bishop, or any heretical clergy. They may run to some joke of an off-shoot “jurisdiction”, but we know what they are doing.

        The Orthodox Church just doesn’t tolerate heresy like that. Arius, a bishop, slapped by St. Nicholas (yes, Santa Claus) for his heresy denying that Jesus is co-equal to God the Father in the Trinity. He was slapped by St. Nicholas and then was ejected from the Church. That’s how heresy is addressed. Bravo, seriously, way to go, and what a charitable rich man he was as well, buying girls out of sex-slavery. That’s how the Orthodox are supposed to roll. 1+1=2, and that will never change. Anyone who says 1+1=3, let him be anathema!

        Imagine, if instead St. Nicholas said, “hey Arius, I disagree, but you’re a nice guy. Go start your own church. Here, you can even take some of my elves and a couple reindeer with you.” Yeah. Didn’t happen like that.

        http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/bishop-nicholas-loses-his-cool/

        Fortunately for me and you, Jesus doesn’t need us to agree on any of this for him to be able to separate the sheep and goats. Hallelujah!

        I think soon we need to stop talking, meet up at “Feed My Starving Children” and pack some food for hungry people. You game?

        Sincerely,
        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex,

        I do appreciate this dialogue and am especially intrigued by your story. Thanks for sharing it. I would love to meet, though my proximity (Texas) to you is, I think, rather lousy. =)

        In any case, there’s so much that could be picked up on here. I very much appreciate your point that worship is about God rather than men. And I have no doubt that the therapeutic and shallow theatrical quality of most evangelical worship is perhaps more responsible than any other thing for much of the migration Eastward.

        I think a lot of difference in perspective, though, really would come down to definitions. You see a singular orthodox church because they are a singular institution over time. I am highly skeptical of the lack of substantive change (especially in the first few centuries), but the more important definitional point is that I locate continuity not at the institutional level but at the level of the corpus Christianum and the mutual recognition of churches based upon common affirmation of the same fundamental faith. And so the implication is that I see EO and RC as far more sectarian precisely because they don’t officially recognize other sheep and have all sorts of “additives” to the message which is the real point of continuity. Orthodox Protestantism is, in my judgment, the most principled catholicity precisely because of the focus on the fundamentals and the relation to other churches – not as a matter of agreeing on everything or having all the same practices, but more fundamentally as a matter of having the same relationship to God’s promises in Christ and their reaching us in word and sacrament. The point is that the continuity is fundamentally one of a message rather than of offices and I think that, to get somewhere here, we’d have to talk about why we give differing priority to these things.

        Back to the example of the person under a heretical bishop. I realize that the Orthodox church would likely deal with this person, but that was not quite the point of my analogy. I was asking about the question of “authority.” What is a person was relatively uneducated and knew little of “church government.” In other words, they didn’t know the official channels about how to deal with the bishop but nevertheless had a major respect for the office – fitting a good EO parishioner. Or, we can make it more challenging and ask about one of those times that entire regions of bishops were heretical. In any case, let’s say that a person is unable or unknowing with respect to responding to Arian bishops. Does the wife of that person speak with greater spiritual authority when they say, “The bishops are wrong because God’s word says otherwise?”

      • alangley99 says:

        Dear Joseph,

        In the situation of the wife correcting the bishop, it’s not about authority. The authority would come into play with the other bishops defrocking and laicizing the heretical bishop. The wife doesn’t have the authority to remove the heretic, but does have authority as well as the duty, as would any Christian, to expose and rebuke him and make the issue known to the authorities, i.e. the nearest canonical bishop.

        Christians are not called to be vigilantes. The Church has laws (canons) and spiritual/ecclesiastical courts, and due process.

        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Alex,

        Well, again, I’m distinguishing between political authority and declarative authority. When I say, “Jesus is Lord,” I speak with an authority which is not derived from my person or my office, but from the content of the message with which I speak. You “ought” to believe what I just said. You are obligated to listen to those words and to believe them, to obey them, and to live in light of their implications. If you don’t, my lack of political authority means I can’t “do anything” to you. I can’t excommunicate, etc. But there are spiritual implications to your refusal. Before God’s throne, your refusal to listen to the gospel would be held against you. And in this sense, the authority of the message is the authority of the message whether it is uttered by an Angel, by Paul, by your wife, by a bishop, or by a plumber. God’s word is God’s word.

        But the authority to “do something” in light of an un-truth or a refusal is a matter of political or coercive power. Church officers can discipline or excommunicate. In old Christendom (thank God this aspect of it is gone) the magistrate could discipline you for various heretical statements or actions, and in final judgment before God, one’s refusal to believe the gospel will be met with a power which can judge that decision with force.

        In some sense, I don’t see how one can avoid this distinction. In some ways, RC and EO theology admit that salvation and belief functions in some exceptional circumstances precisely because it is, I think, grappling with something like these distinctions. What I think the Reformers did was raise this issue to a matter of principle rather than exception and re-defined (not got rid of) what church polity and offices are doing, therefore, in the life of the church. They are vocations meant to protect the word in the Christian community.

        Cheers!

        Joseph

      • alangley99 says:

        Dear Jospeh,

        I hope we can meet in person some day. I get to Texas from time to time. You’re welcome here in Minnesota. If we get together, let’s please volunteer at a charity first, debate second.

        I must confess that the idea of different kinds of authority seems innovative to me. I’ve never thought about different kinds of authority. In skeptical. Innovation and Orthodoxy are like oil and water.

        Wife still wins over bishop 🙂

        Alex

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Sounds great.

        While I do think one could defend this notion of the term “authority,” I don’t think the essential point depends upon any word, but rather on the substance which a word attempts to communicate. And that substance is that a bishop can be wrong and a lay person can be right. The implication of this substantial truth is that, even apart from a bishop, an office, or an institution – a layperson can understand the gospel and receive it.

        This is not ordinary, of course. It is ordinarily the case that offices, institutions (etc) are tremendously involved in the dissemination of the truth and in forming us to receive it. But this exception (which I think everyone accepts) reveals to us the “essential” rather than the “ordinary.” And my argument has been that Protestant ecclesiology builds upon this essential and looks at the rest in its light. The ordinary is built on top of it and uniquely suited to it. But it is always suspended atop the very simple truth that risen and reigning Jesus extends His kingdom of forgiveness and life to sinners who will receive Him by faith. I strongly suspect that most EO theologians would admit that missionaries (who knew nothing of the EO church) who told a tribe in Papau New Guinea (who also knew nothing about the EO church) that a man called Jesus was the risen and reigning Savior and would forgive the sins of all who received His call to believe might, in fact, be preaching a redemptive message which one could expect the Spirit to bless in the conversion of many souls. This would immediately, of course, issue forth in baptism and the Supper (it always does) – but I think the EO acceptance of this reality is just a function of the fact that we’re all smashing up against the same reality. I just happen to think that Protestant ecclesiology calls it out for what it is – salvation (and consequently the new humanity of the church) just happens wherever the Spirit happens. And the Spirit happens where the word happens.

      • alangley99 says:

        Dear Joseph,

        I think this will be a quick reply….. 🙂

        “… that substance is that a bishop can be wrong and a lay person can be right. The implication of this substantial truth is that, even apart from a bishop, an office, or an institution – a layperson can understand the gospel and receive it.”

        I can agree with that, but that doesn’t disprove the authority inherent in the office of bishop. A bishop is still a bishop. A layperson is still a layperson. Bishops have authority that laity never will have (in the Orthodox ecclesiogy). And if a person consecrated as bishop becomes a heretic, then he is a heretic, and that will be dealt with. That such can happen doesn’t mean that suddenly lay people have authority they didn’t have before.

        When a corporation CEO is forced to resign due to some violation of policy, that doesn’t mean anarchy must ensue in the company such that all workers have become CEOs, or have some increased authority that they didn’t have until the moment the CEO screwed up.

        “This is not ordinary, of course. It is ordinarily the case that offices, institutions (etc) are tremendously involved in the dissemination of the truth and in forming us to receive it. But this exception (which I think everyone accepts) reveals to us the “essential” rather than the “ordinary.””

        I disagree. I think that is wishful thinking. It might apply to other contexts, but I do not believe that such applies to the Church.

        Jesus said, “you shall know a tree by its fruit.” The fruit of the Protestant “Reformation” has been anything but reformative. The 30,000+ “denominations” prove that, I believe.

        “And my argument has been that Protestant ecclesiology builds upon this essential and looks at the rest in its light.”

        I agree that has been your argument. I just think the premise is bogus.

        “I strongly suspect that most EO theologians would admit that …..”

        Joseph, I invite you to contact missionaries at http://www.ocmc.org/about/active_missionaries.aspx and ask them, rather than suspect. Perhaps their experiences can be helpful information for you.

        “…. which one could expect the Spirit to bless in the conversion of many souls. ” The Holy Spirit does what he wants, and you are probably right, but that doesn’t make the Orthodox ecclesiology crumble. It just means the Holy Spirit does what he wants.

        “This would immediately, of course, issue forth in baptism and the Supper (it always does)”

        I always does? How do you know this always does?

        I don’t know that the Orthodox Church would have much to say, other than possibly something positive such as “May God bless it!”, about non-Orthodox missionaries. We know that in the end Jesus will judge.

        ” – but I think the EO acceptance of this reality”
        I’m not clear on what it is that you think the EO needs to accept. What is the proposition?

        “is just a function of the fact that we’re all smashing up against the same reality. I just happen to think that Protestant ecclesiology calls it out for what it is – salvation (and consequently the new humanity of the church) just happens wherever the Spirit happens. And the Spirit happens where the word happens.”

        I understand what you’re saying and 25 years ago I probably would have said the same thing. In the course of my learning about Church History, as well as both good and bad experiences in Protestant realms, I have a different way of looking at things now.

        Alex

      • eugenicus says:

        Sorry for the long delay in replying–real life intervened 🙂

        You write: “The point is that these writings are an extension of the ministry of these apostles. That is, they are (more or less) recording the testimony of the apostles – rather than re-issuing their teachings on their own authority. In this, we would of course say that they are given a sort of prophetic gift in preserving things accurately. But the church thereafter treats their testimony not as a faithful application of the apostolic message to new situations (like a later epistle), but more or less as just the “single malt” preservation of the apostolic message itself. In other words, there is a qualitative difference between their relationship and their preservation of the apostolic message and what between John and Ignatius or Polycarp.”

        Actually, I don’t at all see how there is “a qualitative difference between their relationship and their preservation of the apostolic message and what between John and Ignatius or Polycarp.” That’s exactly my point. You may have reasons for why Mark and Luke are authoritative and Ignatius isn’t, but differences in their connection to the Apostles can’t be one of them. John may not have been looking over Ignatius shoulder, but neither were Peter and Paul looking over the shoulders of Mark and Luke. Rather, for all three, their writings were, to use your words, “an extension of the ministry of these Apostles.” Ignatius, like Mark and Luke, wasn’t just making stuff up on his own authority. Rather, he was simply conveying what he had been taught and heard preached by the Apostle John. So why are Mark and Luke in the canon and Ignatius is not?

        You also wrote: “And the decision to include these and exclude the others was not arbitrary. It was a fitting decision for many reasons and clearly, it seems to me, related to the sorts of factors that I’m describing here. That is to say, and I think this is important, precisely the point you bring up was asked about precisely the books you mention. And precisely something like the point I’m making was adduced to include Mark and Luke and to exclude Ignatius and the Shepherd of Hermas.”

        Yes, and my question is: Who made that decision? And by what authority were they empowered to do so?

        With respect to Paul, actually he did not expect his hearers to accept his authority simply because he had heard from God. Rather, after being called by Christ–despite being explicitly called by Christ–Paul then went to the Apostles to be baptized, chrismated, and ordained before going out to spread the Gospel (Acts 9 & 13). He was initially sent to specific communities. It was only after his ordination that he went where the Spirit led him. His authority to preach the Gospel was not based on his calling, but on his Apostolic confirmation and ordination.

  5. The word translated as Church is Ekklessia, it’s Greek and means a collective organization, as in a community or nation and was used as a governmental name (ex. Ekklessia tou Christos; *Authority* of Christ) for independent Jewish nations outside Y’srael and Yehudah during the Hellenic/Maccabees period. Acts 19:32 even goes into this, describing the government or council of the city even though modern English translations translate this as ‘Assembly’, while references to Christ’s government are translated as ‘Church’, despite both being Ekklessia [εκκλησια] in the original Greek. In effect, the Church is the doctrine, the Church is the Ecumenical and Pan-Church Councils and all under it, thus Christ’s government, his kingdom, his physical and presentable authority. Christ’s unconquerable Church then in Matthew 16:18, by this standard is an authority — some form of physical entity that can be observed rather than the common Protestant teaching of an invisible ‘congregation of believers’. An entity that can not be overcome; which nullifies any concept of a “reformation”. It’s a literal organization: “Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the [εκκλησια] was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” — “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

    Since every preceding covenant was structural, one would expect Christ’s to also follow this pattern. Since he proclaimed a kingdom rather than anarchy, more so. This authority then would be the Apostles, and their successors. Apostles who started a long procession of Councils with Jerusalem to define dogma and rule; a tradition that was kept as the final authority throughout the Church’s history. Since that establishes the Church as an actual authority — as opposed to some invisible body, one that can not be destroyed; we must accept another Biblical definition in 1 Timothy 3:15. That is, the Church is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth; not the Bible which came from the Church, which is authoritative because the Church said it was — but the Church itself: “but if I am delayed, 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.”

    Who preserved the scriptures? Who gave them their spiritual relevance and authority? Who was God acting through? These are questions I asked as a Protestant, the answer is of course the priests of both old and new; the Levitical and Apostolic authorities. Not random adherents or laymen, but authorities. Since the Councils are the authority, and since the Council of Jerusalem itself overruled even St. Peter’s authority, that means the authority must be conciliar rather than unilateral: no Pope, no Luther, no Calvin, no individual Bishops or persons. This leads to the third point of authority within the Church, John 20:21-23 states that the Apostles through the Church have authority even within spiritual matters. Meaning the Church isn’t just some symbolic structure that doesn’t ultimately matter, but a speaking authority that gives both scripture and salvation. This is mirrored in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 & 3:6 where St. Paul explicitly commands us to hold to the Church traditions, both written and unwritten: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” — “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” — “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Joshua, I appreciate your comment. It might take me a few days to get back to you. As you might be able to tell, this is many orders of magnitude more comments than I am used to getting. But you have well-articulated several important claims and I hope to find the time to engage one or two of them soon. Cheers!

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Joshua,

      Thanks for your comment. The Hebrew counterpart (kahal) has the similar meaning of “assembly,” and the primary image connoted would be something like Israel gathered before Moses. There is no question that the church is “visible.” The Protestant consensus almost always treats the “invisible” church as an aspect of the church rather than the “true thing” as opposed to the “proximate thing” of its visibility. In Luther, Calvin, Witsius, a’Brakel, Turretin, and many others – the visible/invisible distinction is treated as analogous to the distinction between soul and body in the human being. That the human essence is, in part, “invisible” does not suggest that the human is not also “visible” in a body.

      But this under-determines the precise nature of that visibility. RC, EO, and even some Presbyterian theologians tend to treat the visibility of the church as essentially located in offices or particular institutional models. My argument is not with the notion that the church is “visible,” but what the essence of that visibility is. As I’ve clarified in some of the comments, the church pretty much always has institutional form, but the church-qua-organism is logically prior. Whether this be a more familial form in the case of Abraham, a nation under Moses and David, or something more like the diverse polities of “the baptized” in the corpus Christianum, there is a moral continuity and visible continuity between all of these. In my judgment, the best way to get a handle on the church’s visibility is to think of it as something like a worldwide family or community, a single organism of all of those baptized into and confessing the gospel. This community takes many institutional forms depending on place, location, understanding of Scripture, etc. And like all extended families, there are in-fights and those who dispute whether such-and-such are “really” members of the family or just half-breeds. Such is life.

      In any case, we can speak of one “assembly” of Israel during the time of Moses (pre-monarchy) and say that it underwent political/structural transitions and even that there were times when there was no clear singular institutional rule. And this falsifies, in my judgment, the claim that the word necessarily connotes such a thing. Even if Israel was “supposed” to have this, the fact is that it didn’t always have this but could still meaningfully be called a “church” etymologically. The New Testament church, of course, is even less a polis than OT Israel (given the distinct stages of redemptive history) – and so I would say that the institution/organism distinction (both aspects of the visible church) becomes even more prominent. I could spell this out more, but I’ll forego that for the moment. All this to say, I don’t see how you get from the basic meaning of “collective organization” to “pan-church councils and all under it.” The church does represent the authority of Christ and His kingdom. Absolutely. But His authority is larger than its institutional aspect. I’d highly commend Bavinck’s treatment of the church as “organism” and “institution” in Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4 if you are interested in seeing this alternative paradigm spelled out in detail.

      You write that “every preceding covenant was structural.” I’m not sure what you mean by this, but I suspect what I said above relates to it. You write that he proclaimed a “kingdom” rather than an anarchy and what “one would expect” in such a case. Of course, I do believe Jesus reigns from heaven through His word by the Spirit in the visible church (organism and institution), and I would argue that any comparison between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church (even as I define it) suggest that He’s doing a good job. But there’s still war in our hearts and in the world. You go on to write that the authority in this kingdom will be the apostles (agreed) and their successors (also agreed). Wait. What? The church is “apostolic.” Where I disagree is that such succession is necessarily one of office. The succession is one of word and where that word is rightly proclaimed, there is authority (derivative authority). In the apostles, a charismatic and political authority were united. After them, these things might be united, but are not necessarily so. The political authority can err, but the word cannot. As for “pillars,” my point is to highlight that the church is not itself the truth. Indeed, it can be a bad pillar and fail to hold up the truth, just as it can fail to live like the family of God (which is precisely why Paul gives these instructions). The truth is distinct from the church which upholds it – though I believe Christ both preserves and matures the church (Ephesians 4) – which does not imply anything about a particular institution. Lampstands can be removed (Revelation 1-5).

      I’ll forego responding to the last paragraph for the moment, since I’ve already said a lot. If you are interested in teasing this out at all, I might try to get more specific in a further response, since addressing so many things at once has the liability that nothing is covered very well. I suspect we could both learn from one another more easily if our target was more specific. In any case, I appreciate your willingness to comment upon these things.

      Cheers!

      • Kahal isn’t the word used in the New Testament, ekklessia is. Ekklessia means authority, an institution or nation not some “assembly”. Your entire argument rests of the historical revisionism that the word translated as Church doesn’t mean a structural authority like that of Rome or Orthodoxy. That makes Apostolic Succession institutional, that voids any concept of “Reformation”, Protestantism is historically and etymologically irreconcilable with the Christian Church.

        Also, ancient Israel was in fact institutional from the beginning, that’s what the Levites and Judges were. The secular government wasn’t the Covenant, the Priesthood was.

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Joshua,

        Actually, ekklessia is a very common LXX translation of the Hebrew kahal as well and would have been extremely noticeable as such to early Christians engaged with the Greek version of the text. To be sure, the word also has precedent (as you described) in the Hellenistic context, though it did not have a singular meaning even there. This link seems to be a (perhaps dated) but relatively even-handed treatment of the usages: http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/archives/1950s/vol_2_no_4_contents/ward.html. It is interesting to note that Josephus could even interchange synagogue and ekklessia – which one could exploit for all sorts of theoretical ends. In any case, I’m betting that most Eastern Orthodox commentators would agree that the entire case can’t be pinned on an etymology – and I’m also fairly confident that they’d see the OT parallel as (at least) etymologically significant.

        As for your comments about ancient Israel, I can’t make heads or tails out of your statements. Though note quite a nation, one can still speak of “God’s people” under Joseph, suffering under slavery in Egypt, and then delivered in the Exodus. All of this was prior to the Levitical priesthood and period of the Judges. There were some bits of government, of course. There is frequent mention of “the elders” in the Pentateuchal narrative – and we’re never really told where they came from. I’d suggest that this implies, very simple, that Israel was organized the way that normal human communities are organized in the normal circumstances in which they organize. It was a nomadic tribe in Genesis. It was more of an ethnic group in Exodus with leaders (probably chosen from family relations), and then it emerged into a nation after Exodus. But the point is that one can still speak of “the group,” of “the people” as continuous through these stages and apart from some sort of singular arch-rule or institutional aspect.

      • The Hebrew Masoretic isn’t regarded as authoritative or reliable by the majority of Christians, including Orthodoxy. It’s post-Christ development under the anti-Christian Masoretes in the 8th and 9th century disqualify it from our radar.

        Even if the Hebrew was relevant in a Christian context, I found with a few simple searches that kahal is not an assembly as you claimed. Kahal like ekklessia is an organizational structure, as in government or authority. As per Google and Wikipedia, the Qahal/Kahal (Hebrew: קהל‎) was a theocratic organisational structure in ancient Israelite society, according to the Masoretic Text of the Bible. In later centuries, Qahal was the name of the autonomous governments of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Meaning there’s no context whatsoever for “assembly”, not in Greek or Hebrew. In fact, as per Encyclopedia Biblica’s “Assembly” entry, the word Assembly when translated in the Bible means the same form of organization that I stated for kahal and ekklessia. So not only does the Greek and Hebrew mean and authority, but so does the English assembly. It would appear that modern Protestants and modern English have deviated on the original meaning of the word Assembly.

        Church is an authority by every historical and etymological standard, and was seen as such in Christentum for 1,500 years. So thank you for giving me further information to back my point in future situations.

        http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Encyclopaedia_Biblica/Asaramel-Assyria#ASSEMBLY

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Joshua,

        I believe the argument of the article that I previously posted (which was actually quite scholarly) was that the word, in both Hebrew and Greek, sometimes did and sometimes did not have the connotation of any political event. What was interesting was to note that the uniqueness of the Christian usage is that the “qahal” and the “ekklessia” actually transcend the individual event of gathering. The author argued that the OT and LXX do not use the term to refer to Israel apart from an actual individual act of assembling together. By the way, this might have implied a theocratic moment (i.e. before King YHWH), but this does not correspond, as at Sinai, to any particular Israelite polity, which came after. In any case, this is mostly followed in the NT usage of the term and in Greek discourse. However, in the NT, there is the interesting fact that Paul uses the term to refer to “the church” even when it is NOT in the act of gathering. On further reflection and after reading Ed Clowney’s wonderful summary of the etymology (in his book, The Church), it seems to me that this likely has to do with the NT interpretation of the believer and the church as being assembled before God’s presence at all times – post-Pentecost. That is to say, we are corporately indwelled by the Spirit and individually indwelled by the Spirit. As such, we are (in a unique fashion) like little temples and hence, even in our daily lives, constitute part of the assembly of God’s people coram deo. I’d highly commend the article. It is very illuminating.

        Three other bits: 1. It is important to remember that a word is not its etymology but rather its use – and a use is determined over quite a variety of contexts and not just a single one. 2. Even though I find many of the claims you are making quite ad hoc, they do not touch the substance of the issue. If one does not want to focus on the word “church,” one could always look at words like “people of God,” “sons of God,” “the seed,” etc and find plenty of instances wherein God’s people who were called out by Him and who were given the covenants were not politically organized in the manner that you insist upon. In the theology of the Christian church, these terms are basically used interchangeably (family of God, people of God, church, house of God, body of Christ, etc) – but if their usage in the Bible is often more technical and fuzzy, one could always say that their aggregate is not.

        I’d encourage, if you intend to be honest with a tradition, to read the best of the other side. Forgive me if I press unduly, but the confidence that you exude seems disproportionate to your giving the other side a fair hearing. This is not, of course, to say that you haven’t read any of the other side. Perhaps you have. But one must also be able to repeat it in a way that they’d own it as well as admit the aspects of the dispute which are not as simple as you imply. A rule of thumb I have is this: If tons and tons and tons of people (many of whom are far smarter and insightful than me) can be easily refuted in a single line, then I probably haven’t understood them. Usually the debate is more complicated than that. And, of course, pursuit with prayer is always to be advised. Jesus and His gospel are bigger and better than any of our squabbles and attempts to grasp Him. I commend you to His Spirit through His word for guidance. As Alex reminds above, we can all agree to test all things in (at least) this manner. Cheers!

      • The majority of documented uses are in the context of an authority or polity, while every Biblical reference is in that context. Except for the Church, according to Protestants. Gathering and Assembly have nothing to do with it as I pointed out that the English word itself for Assembly changed in meaning since it was translated; the Bible was again calling it authority even in the original English context. What Children of God means is irrelevant to the use of Ekklessia and Qahal in the Bible, which is a polity or organization in every instance. I know what the other side claims, I was raised in it, and I definitely feel betrayed by it with every preacher and pastor I’ve known from various denominations either outright lying or concealing something about the faith. The point of addressing Ekklessia is that it alongside Matthew 16:18 shatters the Reformist notion of the Church, I’m a minimalist and I address each denomination on their key arguments, if one or two is all I need, such as in the case of most Protestants and Catholics, then that’s all I rely on. Otherwise I have 441 detailed notes on Evernote to choose from, from etymology to scripture and history. Most facades are easily dismantled by pulling away one block. Why exert myself dismantling something that’s already fell?

      • alangley99 says:

        Very good point about the diachronic change of the translation target: assembly.

  6. I am an evangelical Anglo-Catholic, but not nearly as clever as you.

    • Joseph Minich says:

      Thomas, don’t be so sure. Anyone who can be BOTH an Anglo-Catholic and an evangelical has to be pretty clever. =)

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Thomas, I appreciate this link.

        It is possible that I am used to Anglo-Catholic being associated with a particular “flavor” which also denies being Protestant or Reformational. So, for instance, there are those who go by the title of Anglo-Catholic who don’t just make the historical claim that the Anglican church can be traced way back (which is perhaps true) – but who make the claim that this is necessary for their claim to being a “church.” In other words, they don’t just argue that they have a succession to be linked back to the apostles, but that they need one to claim “catholicity.”

        Does that make sense? The historical claim might be right, but it doesn’t necessarily imply the theological claim. My own novice sense is that there might have been a tension between the two aspects of this claim in the 16’th century and that two streams have since developed. Paul Avis’ “The Church in the Theology of the Reformers,” however, suggests to me that many of the heavyweights in the English church did not subscribe to the theological claim and basically had an evangelical view of “the church” theologically – even if they thought they had some privileged history.

        In my use of Anglo-Catholic, I’m referring to the theology. And if you don’t subscribe to it, then you’re not very clever after all! =D Of course, nor am I. I was just trying to channel my inner-Nietzsche. In an even more shameful disclosure, I just thought it sounded cool for some reason.

      • “Why do I know more things than other people? Why, in fact,am I so clever? I have never pondered over questions that are not questions. I have never squandered my strength. Of actual religious difficulties, for instance, I have no experience.” —Nietzsche

      • TO briefly answer your questions about my personal opinions, I used to identify with a reformed baptist theological position. Incidentally, I grew up in suburban Maryland and still live in the D.C. suburbs. Are you also a native? I used to go to church with a fellow named Brandon who shares your surname.

        There were a few reasons why I took the Anglican road. In the beginning, I realized that to view the sacraments as effectual means of grace was actually more compatible with my Reformed convictions. In the process of working this out my understanding shifted past Calvin’s and now occupy the position more or less shared by Lutheran and Anglican churches: that Jesus is present in such a way in and through the sacramental elements that it is proper to regard them as his true body and blood.

        Second, the nondenominational church in which I grew up, as well as others I heard about and observed, all had a strong degree of dysfunction and contradiction in the area of spiritual authority. On the one hand, we were told that ever believer was a priest unto God, and that Christ alone was our great High Priest. On the other hand, unaccountable and often self-appointed “leaders” typically received much more obedience and privilege than I have ever seen anyone give to a priest or bishop in my Anglican experience.

        I came to believe that the independent church model was an aberration from the teaching of Scripture and church tradition. I think I would not say that every denomination which does not have an episcopal structure is not a true church; only that it is missing something which it ought to have.

        I do not think the sacrament of the Lord’s Table can be practiced rightly outside of the apostolic authority. The question is whether this authority consists primarily in the rites of institution or also pertains to the ordination of the officiant? I do not know, but it seems best to err on the side of caution. However, most protestant churches I have seen don’t acknowledge the spiritual essence of the sacrament in the way I do, so it’s a non-issue for them.

        None of these convictions at all interfere with being “evangelical,” the way I understand that term, and I don’t think my definition is overly clever. 🙂

      • Joseph Minich says:

        Thomas,

        Alas! I am no longer in that area (in Texas now). My wife is from there but I was raised in CA and TX. And I don’t think I know the person of whom you speak. Was hoping for a small world moment, but just missed it. =)

        In any case, thanks for sharing your story. You are absolutely right about the spiritual abuse that often goes on in these models. The alleged “priesthood of all believers” often involves their service to a “pope in every pulpit.” And I can see how certain polities are reasonable ways of ameliorating these issues. This would, incidentally, be my own attraction to such polities. I’m not sure I believe there is a “one polity for all time from heaven” sort of thing in the Bible or available to plain reason. But there are good ideas and bad ideas and basic Scriptural principles/common sense. And I think that their combo will address a lot of the issues that you are talking about. You might be interested in a lot of my pal’s work in Richard Hooker studies, who really put all of this together in a principled fashion perhaps better than anyone else. There is lots available on this at “The Calvinist International” if you’ve never visited that website.

        And this does motivate me to clarify precisely where I do see the role of offices. When I emphasize the immediacy of the saint’s union with Christ by faith and the “derivative authority” that believers have in respect of the word, I distinguish this from a political authority which is involved in offices and to which the authority of the word is ideally united. That “succession of word” is very often tied to offices precisely for obvious commonsensical reasons. And the political authority exists even when the officer is in the wrong. My principles are an attempt to relate all of these things together in a way that gets at both of these dimensions. I am influenced here by the folks at the TCI website (mentioned above) and particularly their work on the “two kingdoms” (which are not what many think they are). I think you’d very much enjoy particularly those posts.

        As for caution, I can understand this and I think that perhaps a Hooker might go along with this. As long as one has it that the saint is immediately united to Christ through faith and that the spiritual authority of the offices are derivative from the word, I think we have an evangelical. The moment we tie the existence of the church to a succession of offices, I don’t think we can consistently hold to this immediacy. That a particular sort of government is traditional and wise is another matter and that we care about the continuity of institution is another matter still. But this could be grounded in wisdom rather than a principle that, sans this, we have no church.

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