Be Thankful

tank man

67 Responses to Be Thankful

  1. Andrew says:


    Gentiles weren’t allowed into the Temple. It didn’t matter who they married. But I can tell this point is going nowhere.

    You can say there is nothing of “substance” and “rhetoric” but that is usually an indication of dodging a point. It is also fairly insulting for you to assume that you are smarter than me. A word to the wise- that assumption has put me in some hard places in the past. You don’t need to insult me, and I am not in any way meaning to insult you. We can discuss our differences with humility and grace. I view you as a brother in Christ, and am doing my best to treat you as one. You may not view me as such, but at least view me as a traveler on the same spiritual journey. I don’t defend myself or my views as authoritative, but am truly looking to learn from others and study the Scriptures in the proper light.

    The fact of the matter is we can both agree about JWs and Mormons. Nothing more needs to be discussed there. The issue at hand is Protestants/Evangelicals, and I don’t see the need to discuss any one else if we can agree already on who they are.

    Have I ever said truth was relative? Truth is not relative at all. Man’s interpretation of what is truth is what is in question. Who interprets what is truth and how do we judge these men as being authoritative? These are the questions we have to ask. Your belief is that this is to be done by leaders of the Orthodox Church because it is the one true church. You say the Orthodox Church is the one true church because it is connected to the Apostles. Does a historical connection to the Apostles validate all doctrines of the Orthodox Church as truth? Not even close! To prove its orthodoxy the Orthodox Church must always show that it is still in line with the teachings of the Apostles. It will never, and should never be a stated fact. Parroted theology repeated over thousands of years loses meaning if we do not continually investigate to fully understand it for ourselves.

    A simple question about Apostolic lineage… when did it stop in the line of Protestantism? Was it when Luther left the Roman Catholic Church? Was it the man in Luther’s lineage that went with Rome in the schism? Where exactly was this line broken?

    As to my “silly” doctrinal development, you again take the assumption that the doctrine of the Orthodox Church is unchanging and the exact doctrine of the Apostles. How and why is this so? How did we get icons, the divine liturgy, incense, etc. from the Apostles? It was you who told me “God became man that we might become gods.” Where is that in the doctrines of the Apostles? Remember Orthodoxy does not automatically equal orthodoxy. It must be continually demonstrated as such.

    I wasn’t saying scientific knowledge and theological knowledge were completely analogous as much as I was trying to present a picture of someone 2,000 years ago trying to picture the Church today. What specific rules do the Scriptures give for worship and the Church as the Orthodox understand it? What are the rules about divisions and unity? How can we properly lay out these rules and understand the Scriptures they are based on? When did the doctrine of the “one true church” develop? Was this a pro-active or a reactionary doctrine?

    Did I say I believe in Sola Scriptura? I don’t think I did. I place Scripture near the top of the list because it is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and I believe it to have authority in all it teaches. Obviously, one has to place some importance on early church fathers and councils. Without which, we don’t have a canonized Scripture. I simply regard these as men speaking, through the Holy Spirit many times, but men nonetheless. I have found my life in Christ. But again, to get where you go with this, I must take literally that the Church is the Body of Christ. You have given me no reason thus far to do so. Is there a reason I should? Your doctrines are hollow without taking the Body of Christ literally every time it is mentioned. Do you believe the bread of the Eucharist is literally the Body of Christ as well?

    What is your understanding of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17? Could we be having a similar quarrel?

    The words of Christ you cited in John 5 imply that I have not found life in Christ… that I am still searching the Scriptures looking for him. I found him! Now I search the Scriptures to learn from him… his words… his deeds… his teachings… That is what I trust Scripture for. I don’t need a church to give me salvation. I need the Church to fellowship and worship with, and be taught about the Scriptures.

    There’s the long version since you didn’t like my short post.


  2. Mark Krause says:

    Andrew, Ruth married a Jew, lived in Israel, and worshiped with the people. She was accepted as a part of Israel. Gentiles occaisionally became part of Israel. It isn’t seen often in the Old Testament, but it happened.

    I don’t even know where to begin here man. There is really nothing of substance in what you’re saying. It is pretty much all rhetoric and you fail grasp/deal with my major arguments in any real way.

    It should’ve been clear what I meant given the context, but the post should have read “Why don’t you consider Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses Christians?” Given your methodology and the implicit theory of truth you have in your arguments (truth is merely a function of an individual reading and interpreting the Scriptures form themself), there is no reason to rule them out. If there is no authoritative interpretation, then any interpretation is possible. Do you consider One-ness Pentacostals (modalists who deny the Trinity) to be Christians? Why or why not. Glossing over this by saying that they are simply not Christians is not the same as answering the question of why they cannot be considered Christians given the views you’ve laid out.

    Relativism is not a moral thing, it is a truth thing. Moral relativism follows from a relativistic view of truth. The implicit view of truth found in your posts is relativistic for the reasons I’ve stated. Please respond to this charge.

    Your view of doctrinal development is really a silly caricature of Evangelicalism. Why would ecclesiology be Orthodox for a thousand years, and then change? Do understand ecclesiology better than the apostles? Why would someone farther removed from the time, language, and context of the apostles have a better grasp on what they meant? This doesn’t make sense to me. Why would scientific knowledge and theological knowledge be analagous? (just so you know…the correct answer is that they aren’t)

    Yes, the Christ words apply to you and anyone else who believes in Sola Scriptura. Life is not to be found in the Scriptures. Life is to be found in Christ; the Scriptures merely testify about Him. The life of Christ is found in the Church because it is the Church that is Christ’s body. Where else would one expect to find His life?

    The last bit of your post is just empty rhetoric that really doesn’t merit a response. Why do you want so badly for Mormons to not be your brothers in Christ? (See, two can play the empty rhetorical appeal to emotion game). Seriously, I don’t want to seem like a jerk Andrew, but if you don’t show some sort of effort to really grasp my criticisms of your position and offer a response with substance to it, I’m just not gonna engage with you anymore.

  3. Andrew says:

    How did Ruth join Israel? She was still a Gentile. Would Israel have accepted Ruth as one of their own? I don’t know that they would have… she couldn’t have entered the Temple.

    I never said Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses were Christians. I merely said that they are so far off base that we don’t need to enter them as evidence. Picture this as a case to convict Protestantism. If I were to appear in court on a charge, would you submit evidence from another crime? There isn’t much need for an authority to tell Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses they are wrong. They have pushed themselves far enough away from anything resembling Christianity that “their folly is obvious to all.”

    Relativism is far from what I am espousing. Relativism is more a moral response to the Bible’s teachings. The relativist says “that may be true for you, but it’s not for me.” I say the Bible is true for everyone. But that does not mean all interpretations are equal. If you look at the book of John where Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches and say Jesus is a literal vine and we are literally branches, I’m going to tell you to look up metaphor in the dictionary. The same applies to your understanding of the Body or Bride of Christ. Your understanding is a literal, exclusive understanding. I read it as a metaphor because it does not make much sense literally. Read the early church fathers all you want on this, but that is like reading Da Vinci for a theory on aeronautics. He had an idea what it might look like, but could not fully grasp what a jumbo jet could do because of the limited innovations of his time.

    Christ’s words to the Pharisees in John 5 that you cite don’t stick. The Pharisees denied that Jesus was the Messiah. I am not denying that in any way! I affirm that with all I am! Why do you so badly want me to not be your brother in Christ?


  4. Mark Krause says:

    Yeah…but Ruth joined God’s people. She joined Israel. I don’t see your point. I don’t think that this analogy can really do the kind of work you want it to.

    So you think that it doesn’t matter how man applies the Scriptures so long as he uses them? Doesn’t there seem to be intuitive problems here? Relativism…anyone…anyone? Again I would ask you why Mormons and the Watchtower loonies are Christians then? If they are using the Scriptures, and there is no authority to tell them that their interpretaitons are wrong, and there is no authority to establish the boundaries of what can be considered canon in the first place, then anything belief can basically be justified on this view.

    Pilate’s famous question seems appropriate here: What is truth? I think that truth is something more than the function of someone interacting with a text. To support my relativism charge, consider this: there is no clear method of Biblical interpretation found in Scripture. Broadly speaking, the Bible does not outline a method for how to interpret itself. Furthermore, it does not have an explicit theory of semiotics, nor does it even answer the question of where meaning is located in the first place. Is meaning located in the author’s intent? In the text itself? In the reader’s interaction with the text? In God’s intent behind the writer? Scripture doesn’t answer any of these question.

    Thus, unless there are authoritative interpretations of Scripture, anything goes. An infinite amount of contradictory things can end up all being true give the relativistic defintion of truth implicit in what you’ve said. Doesn’t this just seem clearly wrong?

    I leave you with some relavant words of Christ to the Pharisees in John 5:39-40: “You search the Scriptures because you think that it is in them that you have life, and it is they that testify about me. Yet, you refuse to come to me that you might have life.”

  5. Andrew says:


    I say creeds don’t matter for one simple reason. Creeds are man’s way of applying the scriptures. They are all flawed in one way or another. I do my best not to subscribe to one creed that limits my understanding of my faith. God never calls us to creeds. He calls us to believe in Him, having faith in Jesus Christ. Creeds are only an expression of our belief. I think we can all agree Mormonism is a false teaching and move on from there. The creed of Protestantism was really no creed at all. Its conception was begun as an understanding that Roman Catholicism had moved away from worshiping God and teaching the faith of the New Testament, and the time came to “have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim 3:5).

    Ruth was an example of the inclusion of the Gentiles. I will agree with you here. There is also, I think, more to this example. Most of Israel would have excluded Ruth. They would have looked down on her as the Orthodox Church looks down on Protestants. Could there be more to the message here? Perhaps that God is including people in His plan you might overlook? God used Ruth because she placed her trust in Him (Ruth 1:16). If I place my trust in Him, can He not use me as well?

    Acts 15 does not prove anything for your point. Yes, there was one Church at that time. What does the eating of certain meats and sexual immorality have to do with the Church or salvation? Protestant churches wouldn’t disagree with these commands. I don’t see your understanding of the Church explicitly stated anywhere in Scripture. The more I hear talk of the “one true church” the more I find people reading things in Scripture passages that just aren’t there.

    What does it actually mean to believe in Christ? Does it not mean what the Scriptures say? To believe he was, and is, and always will be the Son of God… God in human flesh? To believe he died on the cross, was buried, and rose to life on the third day? To confess to being a sinner… hopeless without Christ? What more should a person confess? Can you honestly say every new Christian in the NT understood more than this? Many of these new Christians knew little of the OT. Adding more requirements to salvation is what the problem was (“Judaizers”) in Acts 15 that the Church had to address.

    I think we’re still stuck on the point that when God established His Church, He either established “the Church” (universal, bound by faith in Christ) or “the [Orthodox] Church” (bound by doctrines, dogmas, a liturgy, and an interpretation of the Eucharist). Personally, I don’t think God cares much for dogmas (though I don’t diminish their importance). That’s why Christ was so hard on the Pharisees. They had all the dogmas, but God wanted their hearts.


  6. Mark Krause says:

    I don’t think you really grasped what I was getting at with the Mormons. It actually does have a lot of bearing on the conversation. You said that creeds didn’t matter, all that mattered was “following Jesus.” Mormon’s claim to follow Jesus, why aren’t they included in your conception of the church? I would have an answer, but I’m not sure you would. I would guess that ultimately it is because you do hold to some sort of creed, but it is a creed of your own making, not a creed of the Church.

    Also, the Ruth example is pointing towards the eventual inclusion of Gentiles in the promise. That’s been fulfilled. I don’t understand how this example is supposed to funciton as an argument against what I’ve stated.

    The part about believing in Christ, and that God raised Him from the dead is right, but taken out of context. If you study Acts, to be saved, one needed to believe, be baptized by an authority of the Church in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in so doing, they were admitted into the Church. Acts 15 seems to be a paint a picture of the Church as one, universal, identifiable, organization with clear authority positions. Thus, I would say that unless this phrase is understood in this context (unless one knows what it actually means to believe in Christ) then the interpretation is illegitimate.

  7. Andrew says:


    I would agree with you that the Church is not man made. That is one reason why I would not consider the Orthodox Church as “the Church.” I would consider her as part of “the Church.” The covenant you speak of exists. It is not a covenant to serve the Church, but to serve God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are not “lone rangers” at all. It is when you disconnect anyone who is not an Orthodox Christian from “the Church” that you make them out to be a lone ranger. God’s covenant was made with all who would ‘confess with their mouth Christ as Lord, and believe in their heart God raised him from the dead.’

    When you talk of covenants being handed down from the Apostles, and the Church as the new Israel, perhaps you should read and ponder this in light of the ancestral records of the Old Testament. Jesus’ ancestors include Ruth, a Gentile. By your own understanding of the faith being passed down, would you not disqualify Jesus as the Messiah since he was not 100% Jewish? You are essentially saying if I am not 100% part of your church, I’m not a part of “the Church.”

    I would not consider Mormons to be a part of the body, but for different and more obvious reasons. That is a whole different argument and doesn’t have any bearing on what we are discussing.


  8. Mark Krause says:

    Andrew, the Church is not man made. We could all agree with the statement that Jesus is Lord, but what does one mean by that? If we do not also mean the same thing, than our agreement is in words only. Thus it is vitally important that we be of the same creed, or else we are not of the same faith.

    The Bible is not God’s Word. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. The Bible is a collection of words of God through holy men. The Bible is not, nor was it ever meant to be the sole deposit of revelation. After all, John says that Jesus said and did many more things than were mentioned in his gospel and the apostle Paul taught many things that were not in his letters. Furthermore, the Bible does not establish the canon. The Church had to do that. Either you believe that the choice of what is to go in the canon is based on the wisdom of men (and so ultimately would be your faith to some degree) or you recognize that the Church is not a man-made organization but is the body of our Savior and is guided by the Holy Spirit.

    When you talk about covenants, covenants are made with people groups, not with various unconnected sets of lone rangers. The Church is the continuation of Israel. The Church is God’s people whom He has made covenant with. This family is not a physical family, but a spiritual family connected by a common faith handed down from the Prophets and Apostels who are our spiritual ancestors. If one does not have a spiritual father that is traceable back to the Apostles, or one does not have one that teaches what the apostles taught, then they are not part of this family.

    If you want to follow Jesus than become part of His family. Become part of His body.

    Would you consider Mormons to be part of the invisible, universal church you espouse? If not, then why not? Do they not also claim that Jesus is Lord and try to follow Him?

  9. Andrew says:

    Robert, were you going for Jude 1:3 or are our verses numbered differently? I find this for verse 4:

    4For certain men whose condemnation was written about[b] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

    … ironic… Freudian slip?

    To the “Orthodox”,

    Aren’t we all followers of Christ if we “confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God has raised him from the dead?” (According to Paul) Isn’t the Church only a result of believers following Christ together? I understand and submit to having rules to guide the Church and individual bodies, but our unity is to be our love ALWAYS over our dogma. I am all for believing right things (orthodoxy), but can’t we begin with faith in one Savior and Lord? Aren’t we all part of the Church if we are believers?

    I am Protestant… because I am not Roman Catholic… because Roman Catholicism “change[d] the grace of our God into a license for immorality and den[ies] Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4… thanks Robert!)

    I am orthodox in as much as I can possibly discover orthodoxy at this point in my walk. I am always reforming as I grow in my faith. Is this not enough? Has man created a standard that I must adhere to as well? Why is this standard not in the God’s Word- the Bible? Not a single convert in the New Testament was required even to be baptized or take communion. They did, but I find not a single example of a command to do so or not be saved.

    I follow no creed. I am affiliated with no denomination. I confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I believe he died and was raised again. I am baptized by water and given the Holy Spirit. I take communion as Christ commanded. I worship in Spirit and in Truth. I am practicing my faith in love and generosity… loving my neighbor and my enemy, as Christ commanded. I am circumcised in the way of the Old Covenant and freed from the chains of the Law in the way of the New Covenant. Is this not enough?

    Show me I am not a follower of Christ. And who is the Church, but those who follow Christ? All members of One Body. A body that knows no denomination, creed, nationality, race, or any other man-made barrier, but knows intimately the hearts of men who have chosen to serve Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.


  10. […] Why I am not Orthodox December 3, 2007 In response to this. […]

  11. Rob G. says:

    ‘I’ve been thinking over the past few days — “why exactly do I find Orthodoxy so stifling?”’

    Ben, properly understood, Orthodoxy is not stifling at all! There’s a great freedom in giving up the burden of having to figure everything out for yourself, first of all. Also, the Orthodox Church is like the barn at the end of Lewis’s The Last Battle — infinitely bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. After spending time as a Baptist (childhood), a Pentecostal (teens into young adulthood), and an Episcopalian (eight years of my adult life), I’ve been Orthodox now for over a dozen years, and have never felt stifled or cramped whatsoever.

  12. Ben says:

    No, I definitely understand that you are not trying to condemn; my own mode of expression frequently comes across more harsh than I intend it on forums like this.

    I appreciate the responses; they are good food for thought. I will, I think, need to do some soul searching / studying before composing any sort of response. That is, I’ve been thinking over the past few days — “why exactly do I find Orthodoxy so stifling?” Etc. Unfortunately, it’s a very busy week for me at work, so it could be a while.

  13. Ben G. says:


    To expand on what Rob G. said, the inner practice of the Church would have undergone change and, perhaps more importantly, would be inconsistent with itself.

    To take the Protestant approach to the Nicene Creed as an example, we might say that the Apostolic deposit was nothing more than the very basics of the creed and that it was as vague as it would seem to someone encountering the Creed for the first time, without any connection to the Apostolic practice of the Church – without any part in the Incarnate Logos. For the Church, on the other hand, the more recent dogmatic disputes have been about the very same life and teaching described in the Creed.

    Here we run into the problem with the Protestant understanding of the Incarnation in the Church, the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and the inability to escape the captivating intellectual concepts which stem from man’s improper use of his rational faculty. If we come up with new practice and teaching in such a way that we don’t live in consistency with what has gone before, then the Incarnation is not applied to the Church in a meaningful way, and the Holy Spirit’s life in the Church is either never reliably apparent and/or coterminous with divine providence and created nature a la Calvinism/monenergism, which – no surprise here – is the original Protestantism.

    I see your point and I empathize with your concern, but the alternative is a faith which is determined by every man as an individual using his rational capacity as an ultimate arbiter of truth, with various mixes of circumstantial predispositions such as philosophical paradigms, emotional, psychological, and physiological conditions, and sinful passions – various evil desires or misapplied good desires – which are suggested, exacerbated, and brought to fruition by demonic influence. It is a faith that is disincarnate and, with varying degrees of exception at different points, in perfect step with Adam’s attempted glorification of himself.

    Oh, and as an endnote, I think I should say that although my language is harsh, I don’t mean to ‘defeat’ or condemn you or to vindicate Orthodoxy in a spirit of triumphalism, but if you can empathize with me here, just know that I can’t really tell you what I think is the right answer, to help, without telling you what I honestly think is wrong.

    Hope that helps,

    Ben G.

  14. Rob G. says:

    “Obviously I’m not going to win any arguments here, but that statement seems pretty self-indulgent. As in, wishful thinking. That’s probably the biggest reason I would not become Orthodox … historical tunnel-vision. It’s more obvious with the Protestants, but it seems like the Orthodox church practices it just as much.”

    Ben — I think you have misunderstood Ben G’s statement. He’s not saying that the Apostles were knowingly, or even crypto-Eastern Orthodox. What he’s saying is that there is such a thing as “the faith once delivered to the saints” and that the Fathers, following the Apostles, guarded it and handed it down. In the process of this “traditioning,” heresies were refuted and certain aspects of the Tradition were applied, at some times with one emphasis and at other times with a different one, depending on the needs of the time, to the various questions that arose in the Church. This was done without innovation and without adding any new ‘material’ to what was handed down.

    Therefore, to say that the Apostles were Orthodox is simply the flip side of saying that Orthodoxy is Apostolic. There’s no “tunnel vision” or wishful thinking involved.

  15. trvalentine says:

    All of these folks being referenced … the Fathers, etc., they thought about these things for themselves, didn’t they?

    ‘Following the Holy Fathers’ . . . It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this. The Decree of Chalcedon opens precisely with these very words. The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons in a more elaborate way: ‘Following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church.’ The didaskalia of the Fathers is the formal and normative term of reference.

    The above paragraph is the beginning to Fr. Georges Florovsky’s St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers. The rest can be read at


  16. Ben says:

    “That is to say that every Apostle was a Trinitarian, diophysite, diothelite, iconophile, hesychast, Orthodox Christian.”

    Hm. Obviously I’m not going to win any arguments here, but that statement seems pretty self-indulgent. As in, wishful thinking. That’s probably the biggest reason I would not become Orthodox … historical tunnel-vision. It’s more obvious with the Protestants, but it seems like the Orthodox church practices it just as much.

  17. Ben G. says:


    The issues were dealt with and interacted with prior to their repudiation by heretics on a larger or more influential scale. The arguments of the Fathers, just like the Orthodox arguments of all times, are explanations of practices and inner dogma which is already universally practiced in the Church. The christological, triadological, and soteriological disputes were dependent on what had gone before. This is why Augustine’s innovations were questioned; they reveal inconsistencies in the application of previously affirmed dogma.

    The Fathers never came up with their own teaching or practice. They simply explained the existing, accepted, Apostolic tradition according to the needs of the day. Their linguistic constructions were part of the practice of bending or redefining contemporary thought in order to explain what has been passed down.

    That is to say that every Apostle was a Trinitarian, diophysite, diothelite, iconophile, hesychast, Orthodox Christian.

  18. robert says:

    Orthodoxy: not new, not improved.

    There is an idea for a bumper sticker.

  19. Rob G. says:

    Cassian, Vincent, et al, argued that Augustine’s take on these issues was a novelty. Yet for both sides these particular things weren’t seen as de fide doctrinal issues, but as opinions. (Compare this with the way that both sides jumped on the Pelagians.) The key point here is that “coming up with their own stuff” was seen as the problem. The Fathers tried very carefully to avoid novelty, or theological ideas with no pedigree. “If it’s new, it can’t be true. If it’s true, it can’t be new,” was the operating principle.

  20. Ben says:

    Ok, so what about Augustine’s writings on original sin or the aforementioned writings against personhood in salvation? You folks don’t seem to think that he was spot on there. These were ideas that were new, had not been interacted with, there was no creed to tell them what to think, no fathers to reference. And when St. Cassian disagrees with him, what is his authority? Simply, “reference the Fathers”? Obviously I am not familiar enough with the Fathers to build a cogent defense of my position, but it is equally obvious that these giants of faith were coming up with their own stuff, guided by scripture and tradition of course, but still thinking for themselves in the sense that they take ideas and evaluate whether they are, shall we say, “kosher” or not. And, judging by what you said about Cassian et al and Augustine, there was not always total agreement even among “friends”.

  21. Rob G. says:

    “All of these folks being referenced … the Fathers, etc., they thought about these things for themselves, didn’t they? They looked at the Bible and figured out what they thought it said.”

    No, that’s what the heretics did. The Fathers studied the Scriptures guided by the mind of the Church, i.e., the ‘Rule of Faith’ or the ‘Tradition.’ There wasn’t a sola scripturist among them. This is why, after the Arians had presented all their Biblically-based arguments, Athanasius was able to ask them “But where are the fathers for your beliefs?” In effect, “What’s your pedigree?” And St Jerome, when asked about a certain interpretation of a Scripture passage, was able to respond simply, “The Church of God does not allow that interpretation.” End of story.

    Read Irenaeus on interpretation of Scripture, or St Basil’s treatise ‘On the Holy Spirit’ to get an idea of the Fathers’ methodology of interpreting Scripture according to the mind of the Church.

  22. Ben says:

    Well, shouldn’t you take responsibility for your own beliefs? I don’t “clear away” creeds and confessions, necessarily. In a world of conflicting ideas, if, say, St. Augustine and St. Cassian disagree about personhood, I will ask the church what it thinks, but must ultimately decide for myself.

    All of these folks being referenced … the Fathers, etc., they thought about these things for themselves, didn’t they? They looked at the Bible and figured out what they thought it said. This is how Augustine can decide that the Pelagians are wrong (there was no creed to tell him what to believe) and it is also how St. Cassian can decide that Augustine is wrong, though he is lauded by the Western Church. Once again, I have no claim to being in the same league as any of them, but if I have a personality that interacts with these issues, and live in a world where there are (apparently, even among the Fathers and etc.) a multiplicity of opinions on different subjects, why do I have to give up my right to decide for myself? This is the very essence of what Paul does in Galatians 1 and onward. He submits to the council to start with, but he follows his conscience when it diverges.

    I don’t think I am advocating full “free thought” … and I also agree with you when you say that relying on the Bible is to rely on your own interpretation. However, from an epistemological perspective, you know, we are not assured of any data. Like Descartes, we could take this to mean that all data is suspect and cannot be trusted. But in real life, everyone trusts the data before them, within reason. The same could be said for interpretation of the scriptures. You cannot be assured of a correct interpretation, but that does not mean that there is no possibility of arriving at truth. It just means that you are not infallible.

  23. Rob G. says:

    “to me the Orthodox church seems, like so many other hegemonic Christian systems I’ve encountered, to require that everyone meet God in the same way.”

    On the contrary, the Eastern Church has fought against this tendency for centuries. One of the reasons the East has had problems with St Augustine and his tradition is that it tends to view humanity as a mass, which God has in turn dealt with as a mass. St Cassian, St Vincent of Lerins, and the others who took issue with Augustine in this regard were attempting to safeguard the idea that God deals with each person as a person, and not simply as a member of the group called ‘humanity.’ The East in this regard is very ‘anti-systematic.’

    “This is the essence of the evangelical recast of Sola Scriptura: listen to tradition with humility, but weigh it against the Scriptures (or, more pointedly, reason, faith, and ‘divine and supernatural light’ interpreting the scriptures.”

    The problem with this view is that when you weigh tradition against the Scriptures, you are of necessity weighing it not against the text, but against your own understanding of the text, since, as someone said above, texts in and of themselves have no authority. They need to be read and interpreted by persons. So what it all boils down to for the evangelical, after every mediating influence (appeals to creed & confessions, citations of umpteen commentaries & systematic theologies, etc.) is cleared away, is simply the individual and the text. I decide for myself what the Bible means. There may be a lot of helps and aids to assist my doing so, but ultimately it’s still MY understanding that holds the trump card.

  24. Rob G. says:

    >>to me the Orthodox church seems, like so many other hegemonic Christian systems I’ve encountered, to require that everyone meet God in the same way.<>This is the essence of the evangelical recast of “Sola Scriptura”: listen to tradition with humility, but weigh it against the Scriptures (or, more pointedly, reason, faith, and “divine and supernatural light” interpreting the scriptures.<>I view the Baptists and the Orthodox on the same plane — that is, they are both competing systems that are telling me to hand over my ability to reason / to serve in the “priesthood of believers” as it were, and asking me to think exactly as they think.<<

    Well, as one who started life as a Baptist but is now Orthodox, I think you’re incorrect here on more than one account. First of all, neither group requires one completely to be in lockstep — there is freedom within the parameters that each group sets up, once one accepts the fundamentals. Also, neither group asks you to hand over your ability to reason; they simply require that you cease being a freethinker, as does any tradition of Christianity. There are tenets that, if one wants to call himself a Christian, he must accept, his own reason notwithstanding.

    But the real error here is to ignore the difference between the Baptists’ and Orthodoxy’s SELF-understanding. You are looking at both groups from the outside, as it were, and judging them not according to what they teach about themselves, but according to your own individual perception of what they are. This is the same mistake many Evangelicals and other Protestants make when studying the early Church. They look at it from the outside, without ever asking or considering the question, “What did the early Church actually think about itself?”

    I think that if you really looked at the Baptists and the Orthodox in this way, you wouldn’t be nearly so quick to compare them to one another.

  25. Ben,

    Ah the old tension between the individual and the group. But it doesn’t have to be a dialectic one! : ) (where to yall get those smiley’s?) I don’t think the Orthodox conclusively say that God wont save the unbaptized even, we’re just sure we do it right. ; )

  26. Golly gee, All I wanted to do with this post was to give people something to reflect on for Thanksgiving!

  27. Ben says:

    I should probably write a second post on that [defense of individualism]. I knew I should never have commented on this post. 😉

    Andrea: I guess I was framing it as a conflict of epistemologies rather than a single problem with the Orthodox church (though I do have a few). Meaning, the question is perhaps, as I stated earlier, one of “How much trust should I place in the thought of the church (universal or specific), past and present?” I don’t think you turned in your brains at the door, but at this point in my life, I view the Baptists and the Orthodox on the same plane — that is, they are both competing systems that are telling me to hand over my ability to reason / to serve in the “priesthood of believers” as it were, and asking me to think exactly as they think. The Orthodox have the advantage of age, of course. But since I don’t believe (as you do?) that the Holy Spirit sustains the whole thought and every choice of the Church (Orthodox or Baptist), I don’t feel that it would be right to submit reason / inspiration fully to either system, especially because I have a responsibility for my own actions and beliefs before God. This is the essence of the evangelical recast of “Sola Scriptura”: listen to tradition with humility, but weigh it against the Scriptures (or, more pointedly, reason, faith, and “divine and supernatural light” interpreting the scriptures). It sounds a little hubristic, of course, but I don’t think it is without precedent or without value. The same God can work differently with Jeremaiah, David, or Paul — to me the Orthodox church seems, like so many other hegemonic Christian systems I’ve encountered, to require that everyone meet God in the same way.

  28. David Richards says:

    Here is a question (slightly off-topic, perhaps the subject of its own post?) for Perry, Photios, et al:

    Does the key to understanding the spiritual divide between Eastern and Western Christianities lie primarily in their cognitive paradigms, doctrines of God, both, neither or something else?

    To unpack this question a bit, should we start with a consideration of the external influences which served to shape early Christianity, i.e. Judaism and Hellenism, or with the doctrine of God proper? From what I understand, Orthodoxy has an ontological, energy-based and personal understanding of reality, whereas the Franco-Latin theology of the West tends to view reality through a deontic, juridical lens. Even the Eastern concept of God seems to be a product of their ontological understanding, so which comes–or came–first? These two poles seem to ‘feed off’ eachother, and the circle is one which I, for my part, find dificult to pin down with any precision. Insight on this point would be much appreciated.

  29. Ben,

    Everyone has to have their own needs, concerns, and disagreements addressed when approaching these matters. Conversion/salvation does not happen against our will or through disengaging our minds.Through inquiry, I was convinced in my own mind that infant baptism and real presence communion was “Biblical enough” before I converted and my then 3 year old was baptized. My problem was more with venerating Mary, the Saints, and icons. That took more mental processing, study, eventual trust in the leadership, and finally being thrown in by full emersion to find out that the water is fine instead of shark infested, than did the other issues. At first I loved Orthodoxy so much that I was willing to forgive these unbiblical venerations and do what I could to change them from inside. I’m still being convinced that it is indeed I who needs the changing.

    Your last still seems like radical individualism from this side of the Bosphorus, as you think you as an individual are best qualified to even determine how much individualism is exhibited in the Bible. Since my perspective has changed, the Scriptures sound more communal to me. Did all Moses’ people interpret the law on their own? The Bereans were convinced to trust the leadership through their understanding of the Scriptures, and I have come to personally believe that the Orthodox Church has more regard for the careful and correct handling of Scriptures, not that that is convincing to anyone else. I guess I feel it’s worth mentioning because the process of conversion to trusting the Church over my own deeply entrenched Sola Scriptura approach was dramatic for me who had formerly considered myself sufficient. But I think I gave you the impression I turned my brains in at the door. No, I was intellectually convinced, then the peace and trust came.

    And if you are saying you trust your Bible more than a system, then don’t you need to show that the system is unBiblical?

  30. “Robert was incorrectly characterizing the Protestant viewpoint.”

    No, my friend, that is the protestant view point. No as many are as quick to throw the Church fathers under the bus as baptists are, but eventually that is where they wind up in the end. I know this, I was there, I have the t-shirt to prove it. =)

    “I do mean that I trust my own judgment more than that of a system that may or may not be correct.”

    That is a pretty scary place to be. I mean, scripture tells us that not many of us should be teachers, but we can all teach ourselves? How do you know you are judging correctly? That is the problem with protestantism, every man is for himself Pope, Church and Magesterium (Sounds like Luther… wait, it is!) This is my question, how do you know? At the end of the day, how do you know and how can you have any assurance that you are in fact judging correctly? By what standard?

  31. Ben says:

    I’m not a baptist, and I didn’t intend to bring the discussion into the realm of baptism questions. I merely wished to reference a discussion I had had previously with a friend of mine who is staunchly Protestant, and how he defined his approach to tradition; Robert was chastising Protestants, as I remember, for a double standard in approaching tradition. I wished to point out that, for my friend at least, Robert was incorrectly characterizing the Protestant viewpoint.

    Andrea: I understand your frustration with the being unable to trust leadership. I would say, however, that although the idea of not having to constantly question yourself and others on issues such as these is attractive, I do not find that to be a strong enough argument for Orthodoxy that I would accept it on those grounds. Personally, though it gets you into problems of ecclesiology (that is, how do I deal with leaders or friends who disagree?) I still find that I prefer to interact with these issues for myself.

    I do not mean that this path is for everyone, or that there are not inherent problems with denomenationalism. Neither would I promote a radical individualism, beyond the individualism that is exhibited in the Bible. I do mean that I trust my own judgment more than that of a system that may or may not be correct. In short, I do not find the “it’s easier / more stable” argument for Orthodoxy to stand on its own merit, for me at least.

  32. When you examine the evidence offered against infant baptism in the early Church, it was by those who not only didn’t believe in infant baptism, but also didn’t believe in teenage baptism, young adult baptism , etc. They believed that baptism should be put off till in late in life as one could, even death bed if one was able. While they did oppose infant baptism, they nonetheless did believe that infants who could die should and must be baptized. Baptist apologist who appeal to this sect never explain how it is that they see them as being (small o) orthodox when even on baptist principals they would reject them and they’re understanding of baptism.

    It is at this point that the historical argument offered up gets thrown under the bus and an appeal to sola scriptura gets applied.

    On an interesting note, those who were of the belief of death bed baptism never argued that infant baptism was an innovation and unknown practice that had not been part of the apostolic faith that had been passed. They just rejected the belief and practice and history in favor of their own novel understanding. When I was a baptist oh so many years ago, I was never told this, I was always told that there were those in the ancient church who opposed infant baptism. But I was never told why they opposed and what they believed was the proper time and reason for baptism.

  33. Ben,

    The only evidence he gave that the early church slipped into error and was therefore untrustworthy was infant baptism. Proponents, even Protestant, justify it Scripturally by the household baptisms that are recorded. Spiritually we believe grace is conferred on baptism so we see it as a nourishing, beneficial thing that infants should not do without. Experientially, there is anecdotal evidence to its effectiveness, which we rely on less than the witness of the early Church.

    I read your arguments with painful familiarity. I remember feeling like I had to pick and choose for myself what was true and what wasn’t, and how every protestant preacher seemed to only partially have it together. The acceptance of and desensitization towards the untrustworthiness from leadership is a sad thing. I have since come to be more impressed with Tradition than my own feeble ability to reinvent the wheel. It is a restful thing to find a trustworthy, stable, consistent, God-preserved witness of the Truth.

  34. Ben says:

    “what value does it have? etc”: I think this was explained in the comments.

    One way of looking at it might be to compare it to the authority of your parents when you are an adult. You may respect that they have a great deal of wisdom to bear on the situation. You may recognize that they have knowledge and experience you don’t. This does not mean you accept what they say blindly, or cannot disagree with them. Does that make sense? I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but there is a half-way point between treating something as authoritative and not valuing it at all.

  35. Lee says:

    Perry – have you posted at least a thumbnail sketch of your conversion to Orthodoxy somewhere on EP in the past? I’d be very interested in reading it, if so. (I’ve done some poking around in the archives, but haven’t come across it yet, if you have done so…)

  36. “Heritage does not have authority. But it does have value.”

    What value can it have if it doesn’t have anything to contribute? They never explain what the value is, or in what way it can be used.

  37. Interesting, it has been my experience that when history is not on your side, then history doesn’t matter. I have been amused at the amount of baptists who will quote church fathers to bolster their case, but then when they are shown that they have misused the fathers, and that they took one statement of a church father and tried to use it to prove a point, then they appeal to “Scripture is all that matters, not history.” Well, if scripture is all that matters, then why did they even bring up the fathers in the first place if scripture is all that matters.

    We are told to contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. If we cannot use history to check a claim of doctrine, then how are we to know if what we are being told is true if we cannot find it anywhere in history?

    It is all card tricks, they will hide the historical ace of history in the sleeve if it will help them win the hand. But when they are up against the wall and shown to hold to a-historical doctrines, then they will not play it.

  38. Ben says:

    Robert (“why can Protestants appeal to non-biblical sources but we can’t?”): You know, I posted the same question to a friend of mine who is a Baptist. He had an interesting response for me. You can read it here:

    Some thoughts on the Value of Heritage

  39. “What is an appropriate way to determine Christian truth?”

    Call me simple, but I always thought Jude 1:4 was a pretty sure guide.

  40. Ben says:

    Perry: You make an interesting point, and one I think I’ve run across before with you, that is: what do the NT passages about the authority of the community mean. I think you mistake me when you say that I would deny these passages, but I have generally assigned a different meaning to them. So, if I get time this week (which right now is looking unlikely) I’ll probably post something explaining my position / thoughts / examinations of the text (with a trackback of course).

    And I agree with you folks that the Protestant churches can be hypocritical about their epistemology; but I think the question of normativity of epistemological sources should be decided outside of “he said, she said” type accusations. So often we all fail to live up to the standards that God sets; if we are going to answer the question, “What is an appropriate way to determine Christian truth?” I think it would have to be in the abstract, for that reason … that is, failure of a person’s execution of a system for arriving at truth does not in and of itself condemn the system.

  41. The issue is that Sola Scriptura falls flat on its face when it is put to the test. When they disagree on a text, they do their word studies, then when they don’t agree on the word studies, they appeal to their confession of faith. IOW, when you get into a debate on the bible, and you cannot agree on what the bible says, then settle it by appealing to a non-biblical source.

    Now, why is it that when we Orthodox do that, that just shows how unbiblical we really are, yet, when they do it, it is legit.

    The protestant do what we do, they just don’t call it the same thing. For the Orthodox, the 4 big ones are Scripture, Tradition, Councils and Fathers. For the Protestants its Scripture, tradition( They just don’t refer to it as such, but a rose by any other name etc) , confession of faith and favorite theologian. So, what is the difference between us concerning our practice? They have 400 years to draw from whereas we have 2000.

    I believe it was Fr Gilquest who stated that he had a friend who was Presbyterian, and was brought up on charges of heresy (AKA Orthodox teaching) and when he was examined by the session they couldn’t nail him on the scriptures, he had them on the ropes, so they got him on the confession of faith. They could prove he violated scripture, so they got him on violating their tradition. So much for Sola Scriptura.

  42. Subdeaon Julio C. Gurrea, Jr. says:

    “What I came to see as a protestant was that when a doctrine couldn’t be defended by word studies, they held to them anyway.”

    Because it is what they have received from their *tradition*. They wouldn’t recognize this of course, but at the end of the day their method is not very different from the Orthodox Church’s method, only it is 1500 years younger and man-made.

  43. Just my 2¢.

    As a former Calvinist in recovery I can say I was always amused at the science of word studies. When I was converting to Orthodoxy my reformed friends would point me this verse, will all the Greek word studies etc to prove their point. But these were the same people who were so convinced by their word studies, that when one of their experts taught something they didn’t agree with, and even had their word studies to bolster their position, my friends just wouldn’t agree with them.

    One question I asked, that still hasn’t been answered was this. If words have meanings, and studying those words can give us the idea of what the author meant when he wrote them, then how much did God pay Pharaoh? Scripture tells us that God ransomed His people from the land of Egypt. Well, Pharaoh was the only one holding them, and if God ransomed His people, then He must have paid a price, because that is what a ransom is. If God didn’t pay a ransom, then why did the text just say that He took His people, He went into Egypt, kicked ass and set his people free and brought them out to Himself in the wilderness.

    Like I said, I was always amused, and still am by those who play the word study card to get around history to defend their doctrines. What I came to see as a protestant was that when a doctrine couldn’t be defended by word studies, they held to them anyway.

    Again, I am not against word studies, but they are not the end all be all and make a poor substitute for history.

  44. Ben,

    Put it this way. Do you get to decide the meaning of any term in the language you speak? No, obviously not. Why? because language has a social component to it and so if you want to speak this language you can’t be in that kind of position to judge. In an analogous way, doctrine, divine teaching or even church discipline, that which can bind the conscience is not capable it seems to me to being produced or effected by my own power. I am just not up to the task.

    It seems to me that in the NT lots of people get to decide for others. In Acts 15 the apostles and presbyters get to decide for everyone else. The apostles regularly issue decisions to the churches they “rule over” (heb 13:7) and they do it claiming divine power/authority. Paul excommunicates people doing much the same. And Jesus seems to place in the hands of the community a power of judgment that is not in the hands of any layman.

    So what conditions would have to be fulfilled for the biblical situation that Jesus talks about to come about? That is, what would have to be true such that the church judged contrary to you and you would submit to its judgment? On your view of things it doesn’t seem possible. You seem to think that you shouldn’t be bound by another’s judgment if you don’t see or agree to it or its importance. But on what biblical grounds, in the context of a dispute, is that idea derived? It can’t be that you do in fact think something is opposite of the church, since that is a given. The kind of judgment implicitly appealed to is beyond that of grasp, recognition or understanding. On your view it seems to me, the power of judgment invested in the church is no more so than your own since it stops at your doorstep and can go no further. Why is that?

  45. Subdeacon Julio C. Gurrea, Jr. says:

    ‘…the Orthodox church must decide for me, even if it be a concept so abstract as to make almost no difference in my practice, belief, or view of God.’

    Everything makes a difference, even if the only difference is in the level of submission that your will and your opinions have towards the will of God. The voice of the Church will not *decide* in the sense that a person decides. She will either bear witness to something that has been revealed to Her by the Holy Spirit, or She will remain silent and say that we can’t know for certain about a particular issue since God has not revealed it to the Church. When the Body of Christ *decides* on an issue, it is not the same as a person or group of persons making a subjective decision based on personal opinion. It is instead bearing record to a transcendent Truth that no man could know if it had not been revealed… “for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

    “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” either the Body of Christ- the New Israel- is a visible, tangible presence in this world as the Old Israel was, or it is not. Believing that the Church is what She says She is ultimately becomes a matter of faith. The same way that you have faith that God is a Trinity or that your New Testament contains *only* the books which were Inspired by the Holy Ghost, we Orthodox have faith that the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church is THE same Church founded by Christ on Pentecost. Arriving at that faith is a work of the Holy Spirit within your heart.

    But be cautious. To all those outside the Church, someone, someday will eventually come speaking with the type of Apostolic authority that only God’s Church was ever meant to exercise. It may be a pastor, a Bible study leader, a televangelist, or simply your own individualistic mind acting upon those theological texts that were most appealing to you. The point is that all of us will always be living the Christian life in accordance with someone’s “traditions”. Whether these traditions are the Holy and Apostolic Traditions or some vain traditions of men is what you have to decide.

  46. trvalentine says:

    Incidentally, thanks for letting me know that Protestants believe we read the Bible without any cultural or historical influences on us. I sure wasn’t taught it in the actual Protestant churches I’ve been part of.

    Having been raised in the Bible Belt and attending a Protestant college, in my many years of experience with Protestant Christianity, I have consistently encountered the claim that they are indeed reading the Bible without any cultural or historical influences and with neither assumptions nor preconceptions. I don’t think Perry’s comment was particularly off the mark.

    As for bypassing Tradition and Apostolic Ministry…Well, “sola Scriptura” means that the Bible is the sole infallible authority, not the sole authority, period.

    Perhaps this was written too hastily, but this is basically the blatantly false assertion I so often receive from Protestants, that the Bible is the ‘authority’.

    A text cannot be an ‘authority’; at best it can be authoritative. Only a person can be an authority.


  47. trvalentine says:

    In response to Perry’s

    Of course Pentacostals get persecuted often, though not always because they make themselves an annoyance or they inject themselves into countries in which there is already a Christian Church.

    jugulum wrote:

    Do you have a problem with the latter, or are you just recognizing that some do? (I don’t get annoyed when I hear about missionaries from other countries coming to America. Quite the contrary.)

    For me, even leaving aside that Pentecostals and other Protestant Christians are preaching a defective form of Christianity, I have a major problem with their cultural imperialism which encourages fundamentally anti-Christian values such as individualism.


  48. Ben says:

    Yeah, I don’t think I meant that comment about pentacostalism to be directed at you, and of course I am familiar enough with your view of the church to be unsurprised at your characterization of pentacostals. Just commenting with my perspective.

    You are definitely right about Protestant epistemology being a hydra. I guess I should have said, “Current American Intellectualy-Oriented Evangelical Protestantism,” which is the tradition I am most familiar with.

    I see what you mean about normativity, I think. I guess that reading all of the philosophical tangents that you embark on (many of which are over my head) I tend to assume that rather than establishing normativity of tradition as a primary source of knowledge, you are establishing a particular “school of thought” in opposition to Thomism, etc., as the “Christian” school of thought … that is, rather than framing an epistemological approach, you are casting the Orthodox church as an arbiter of questions that perhaps cannot be answered.

    I can understand arguing for the rightness or wrongness of a particular aspect of Thomism or Calvinism (I personally find little to be correct about Calvinism). I guess, though, that my individualistic outlook balks at what seems to be a very monolithic philosophical framework — that is, to be your kind of Christian, I can’t read Aquinas on an esoteric issue and decide for myself, but rather, the Orthodox church must decide for me, even if it be a concept so abstract as to make almost no difference in my practice, belief, or view of God. Maybe that’s not what you think, that’s just the impression I get.

  49. Ben,
    I don’t know why you’d think I was afraid of Protestantism. Am I afraid of Catholicism too? If I try to be exhaustive it is not out of any fear. I am like this with my students. “If I say this, then I am going to have explain that and then this other thing too so they get the “big picture.” I think to see how things work, hence I enjoy chess. It could also be the influence of Augustine on me since he had to answer every argument. I suppose there is some of that left in me, though I tire of arguing with everyone so I gave that up. Some people aren’t profitable dialog partners, for themselves, for me or the audience or all three.
    I sympathize with professing Christians who suffer for the Name. Which is why I added the links without comment. Someone asked me so I commented. I don’t think signaling that I put Pentacostalism on some outer ring of Christianity is either controversial from my ecclesiastical location or necessarily condemnatory and if it is, Pentacostals are all too happy to say the same about me it seems.

    As for Protestant epistemology, does Protestantism have an epistemology, let alone one of them? I suspect even if there is such a beast that it is surely a hydra. In any case, Classical Protestants took historically their exegetical methods as a means to bypass tradition and this was so if they were Lutherans or Calvinists or even Calvinists with a good deal of Thomism like Bucer. Last I checked Ockhamism, Scotism and THomism, which were the grids that the Reformers drew on when they did epistemology, weren’t the same by any means.

    Modernist is somewhat loaded. Modernism qua philosophy implies a host of concepts, most of which I don’t think the Reformers would be happy with, even though I think many of their ideas gave impetus to them. Moderni in the scholastic sense, yes, I think they were modern in that sense. Perhaps not completely but in general.

    Tradition for me means something more than just what people thought in the past, but people who knew God taught, lived and passed down, which of course would include the Scriptures. I don’t take my own perspective to be global, but that wouldn’t be my own concern anyhow. My worry isn’t one of scope, for that is obvious to everyone, but of normativity which isn’t obvious to all.

  50. Tim,

    Protestants are trying to get back to the “original” unmediated, pristine faith. Some attempt to do this by stripping away all practices that seem to them to be “traditions” thinking themselves to be not significantly influenced by their time and culture. This is a more gross picture and ends up just constructing something that is nothing other than a manifestation of the zeitgeist. The Classical Reformers took themselves to be doing the same thing but by virtue of a method. The method supposedly gives access to the semantic content of the text because the method is non-theory laden. But this is false. For it is not a question of more or less presuppositional influence, for there is no such ting as an interpretation that isn’t at least in part a function of some presuppositions. Facts are anatomic in terms of their meaning or interpretation. Consequently the meaning of any fact depends on the meaning not only of every other fact but in part the method and its undergirding presuppositions as well.

    So my point is that the method being theory laden guides the interpretation of the facts. Change the method and the facts change in meaning, even sometimes to the extent of changing what constitutes or counts as a fact. This is in part why Protestants have a different canon of Scripture for example. Maccabees teaches something contrary to Protestant theological presuppositions, so its out. The context is the interpretative practices and/or hermeneutical principles operative in reference to scripture.

    The point is that one comes to this or that interpretation because of the paradigm and not because of an appeal to the facts. So the method has to be argued for on a non-factual basis, in this case, a non-scriptural one, since scripture functions as the factual material the method is applied to. The Grammatical-historical methodology doesn’t float free of wider paradigm concerns or Christology for that matter. That method doesn’t get you to the meaning of the text if by meaning we mean referents made apparent by the proper application of rules. First because the method has already in principle ruled out a priori some possible interpretations so that all possible interpretations are a function of the method. Second, because natural languages don’t follow strict rules. Third because meaning “ain’t in the head” and isn’t reducible to reference. Fourth, because semantics outruns syntax. A competent grasp of rules and symbols isn’t sufficient to access the meaning of a given text. If it were, computers could be language users. A computer can’t discriminate between bark and bark for example or cool and cool.

    Now of course this all seems absurd since in fact using the Grammatical-Historical method we do in fact, so it seems, access the meaning of the text. Putting aside worries about induction and “play” between the sign and the meaning, things can work for reasons other than what we think. Utility doesn’t imply truth value.

  51. Ben says:

    Egad, Perry. If I didn’t know better I would say you were afraid of Protestantism. Yours is not the disaffected “they are more to be pitied that censured” of someone who disagrees but is confident in their own beliefs. I get the feeling that you couldn’t sleep at night if you hadn’t defeated every argument you ran across for value in Protestantism.

    I am not a pentacostal, but if I hear about people who are suffering for their choice to follow Christ, even if they are mistaken about the right beliefs and way to live, I sympathize with them without condemnation. I feel the same way about any person who is mistreated unjustly, especially those who follow the same God that I do and suffer for His name. Of course, I have a very different view of the church than you do.

    I believe you were making charges against Protestant epistemology? They “bypass” tradition because their modernist view of truth gives them the hubris to think they can establish Christianity without it. I agree with you there. However, I think that your reliance on tradition is equally hubristic; the true wisdom of God recognizes that my own perspective cannot be all-encompassing and says, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” rather than the other way around.

  52. George says:

    Tim (jug),

    “I wouldn’t dream of denying that restorationist & reformational zeal can be (and often is) expressed in naive ways.”
    I’ll grant that some of what I saw while Protestant was expressed in naive ways. My question became, where does naivete end, how does one know, and how do any two people agree on which side of a line of credulity they’re on?

    “I hope you work hard to hold yourself back from the easy emotional path of dismissing reformation on those grounds.”
    I wasn’t much affected, personally, by the fringe movements. They sought to remedy something in silly ways, and more scholarly Protestants sought to remedy something in more responsible ways – the point became that there was something that required remedy.

    “The phenomenon of people following the latest trends in restoration does not imply anything about the issues involved in the Protestant Reformation.”
    I would agree that the phenomenon says little or nothing about the issues originally addressed by the Reformation, but I think the phenomenon illustrates something fundamental to the nature of what the Reformation immediately became, being rooted in humanism.

    “There are always people being carried about by every wind of doctrine; that does not imply that the theology and practice formulated in the eastern sees a thousand years ago needed none of the correction offered by Protestants.”
    That there is never lack of those carried about by every wind of doctrine is exactly why we need the Orthodox Church. Looking at it anecdotally, lets compare the number of sects in existence pre-reformation to the number that now exist, and we would be in our rights to ask whether the reformation gave strength to these winds. I’m not suggesting that reformation wasn’t necessary – it seems as fundamentally a necessary component of Roman Catholicism as it is to Protestantism.

  53. jugulum says:


    Today’s my last day visiting my family for the holiday, I’ll be away from the computer for the rest of the day. For now, I’ll just ask you to clarify something.

    OK, so when you said that the method is seen as non-theory laden, you didn’t mean what you said in your first comment–that we say we can read without any cultural or historical influences on us. What’s your point in saying that the method is seen as non-theory laden? I’m familiar with that terminology in scientific contexts–“All facts are theory-laden”–but there it speaks of the observations that are made. And you say that you didn’t mean we believe our interpretations are not affected by theory. It’s not clear to me what you mean in this context, with a method being non-theory laden. When you imagine Protestants cackling gleefully in our confidence that our method is not encumbered by theory, what’s the context?

    Particularly, how is it relevant to your basic claim that our methods won’t get us to the meaning of the text?

  54. I believe my specified claim was that Protestants believe that they have a non-theory laden METHOD for accessing the meaning of the text primarily via grammatical structures consequently by passing Tradition and the Apostolic Ministry. Earlier I wasn’t clear because I was thinking of the Emergent types more than the Classical Reformed so I can see how my initial comments could be taken to say that they take themselves to be non-theory laden per se. But nonetheless, even on Classical Reformation principles, the idea of a non-theory laden methodology is still present. That seems to be what they in fact think. I then drew out the implications in later posts. I should have been more clear to distinguish between various forms of Protestantism. Classical Reformation thought is more precise but I still think it commits you to the claim that the method is non-theory laden.

    What I deployed in terms of paradigms was not postmodernism, just good ole Calvinist Apologetics via Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, et al. In any case, I don’t think anything you put forward “climbs” the cliff which is why I tried to trace out my reasons for thinking so, namely that paradigms are incommensurable and there is no neutral position from which to judge. This doesn’t imply that there is no correct position. Just that there are no bare facts and there is no neutral method to employ. In any case, I think even without these considerations natural languages just don’t work the way that humanists of the reformation period thought they did. It’s built on a rather bad theory of language in any case. Appealing to meaning is rather vague since there are lots of theories of meaning to be had.

    So I never claimed that we can’t garner the meaning of the text. I just don’t think you can do it on Protestant principles in the way that Protestants think they can. You can’t get here from there. So yes, I did say why the tools won’t work. There are no bare facts that are clear all by themselves making “sufficiency” with respect to clarity irrelevant. The text of Scripture isn’t a neutral fact. The fact that you think you can deploy such a method I think demonstrates that my finger is on the button.

  55. jugulum says:


    “I haven’t presented a caricature but rather drawn out the implications.”

    What you are doing is making an argument about the implications. I maintain that what you did was present a caricature.

    I was replying to your comments posted at 5:17pm and 11:38pm. You did not say anything about what our views reduce to; you made claims about what we say and think, taking the most ignorant fundamentalistic attitude and painting all Protestantism with that brush.

    We do not believe that we are uninfluenced by history & tradition. We do not believe we are capable of pure access to the text. We seek to reduce those influences, and believe that language is sufficiently clear to communicate just as you and I are doing now; that God was able to use human language to successfully communicate to us, through the written word made active by the Spirit; we do not claim perfect neutrality. That is what we “think” and “say”.

    If you disagree with our view or think that it reduces to vacuous absurdity, it does not allow you to put words we would deny into our mouths.

    I must say, I find your first paragraph puzzling. You start by saying I mistake you for someone who wasn’t once a genuinely well informed Protestant. Then you proceed to discuss hermeneutics in terms of the kind of post-modernistic antithesis of which Emergent types are so fond—making an unmountable cliff out of the fact that the meaning we perceive is influenced by our present worldview. And yet, I had just talked about “merging the horizons of understanding”, “asymptotic approach”, and “the hermeneutical spiral”—all concepts responding to the argument you put forth, specifically discussing how that cliff is climbed. Did you respond by explaining why our mountain-climbing tools don’t work, why we can’t reach great heights of understanding? No…You just pointed out (superfluously?) that there’s a cliff there—and we don’t ever reach the exact meaning. I don’t understand; it seems to me that you didn’t phrase your response in a way that addressed the issues I raised.

    Incidentally, if anyone is lost, I can recommend some fabulous lectures by D.A. Carson discussing this question of how we interpret a text. I thought they were delightful to listen to, and probably far more lucid than I’m being. It’s a series called Sacred and Sure, available at the following archive of Carson mp3s. Scroll down to section 2, item 3.

    P.S. Goodness, this post took me a while. I seem to write much more slowly than you do, Perry. Like I said before, I probably won’t be able to put much more composition time into our discussion. Sorry.

  56. jugulum says:


    I don’t think it’s terribly paradoxical–at least, it’s easy to understand. With the background you describe, I might well have been tugged down the path you followed. I wouldn’t dream of denying that restorationist & reformational zeal can be (and often is) expressed in naive ways.

    I hope you work hard to hold yourself back from the easy emotional path of dismissing reformation on those grounds. You’re most likely aware that bad experiences can lead to bad conclusions, like a pendulum swinging too far the other way. The phenomenon of people following the latest trends in restoration does not imply anything about the issues involved in the Protestant Reformation. There are always people being carried about by every wind of doctrine; that does not imply that the theology and practice formulated in the eastern sees a thousand years ago needed none of the correction offered by Protestants.

    If you simply meant it (as I think you did) as a caution for those who try to discern the original, then OK.

  57. I think you have me confused with someone who wasn’t a genuinely well informed Protestant prior to becoming Orthodox. It matters not what the aim of the grammtical-hisotical method is, but rather whether it is itself non-theory laden or not. It’s not, so it is impossible for it to attain its proposed aim. Following Van Til, there is no neutral perspective on the world and hence all methodologies are theory laden. Meaning is therefore a function of one’s paradigm. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the practitioner is since this is an in principle problem and therefore applies to all whether they be fundies or trained in the languages.

    Perspecuity is a fairly useless device since you can make the Bible as perspicacious as you like and it won’t matter for two reasons. First, clarity is a function of presuppositions and second, what matters is not the perspicuity of the text but of the mind of the reader. You can’t have an ape looking in and an apostle looking out.

    Sola Scriptura entails lots of things. One of them is that the Bible and all of the interpretations thereof are revisable. The Bible because the canon is revisable and interpretations because there are no infallible interpretations. Consequently, the Bible may be the only infallible rule but there is no infallible judge. So, every teaching is in principle up for future revision. Hence semper reformada-always giving a new form.

    Moreover, put in place as many tiers of ecclesiastical authority as you like and it will at the end of the day reduce to every man binds his own conscience by the normativity of his own judgment. There is no Creed, Confession, or judgment of any kind that can absolutely bind the conscience on Sola Scriptura, so that every Creed, Confession or Council, even the canon of Scripture itself since it is formally fallible can be trumped. That is, the WCF is only binding in so far as I judge it to be scriptural and if I can persuade others in a body that it is mistaken in its understanding of Scripture it too can be legitimately overthrown. It only takes one person to do it so that at the end of the day all of the other tiers of teaching authority in Protestantism are just collections of leaky buckets, fallible authorities that cannot bind the conscience since they are merely human institutions operating with human authority. Consequently, Sola Scriptura does reduce to the bible and me since every authority is a mere collection of atomic individuals with merely human authority. Introducing intermediate steps just makes it seem like its not because it delays the ultimate consequence. But if you think about it, there isn’t any ecclesiastical authority in Protestantism that can’t in principle be legitimately over thrown and that means that private judgment trumps all ecclesiastical authorities at bottom. Church authority in Protestantism is the judgment of like minded human beings to either permit or kick you out of their club, but they could never perform acts of scriptural excommunication for example where one is handed over to Satan and kicked out of the kingdom. That takes divine authority and not human authority.

    I haven’t presented a caricature but rather drawn out the implications. If Scripture alone, whatever the canon of Scripture ends up being at a given historical moment, is the sole rule, every man, is capable of normatively binding his own conscience because he is the sole judge. Protestants often conflate the concepts of rule and judge in their thinking. If Scripture is the rule, who is the judge? Well anyone is because we are all merely human because no one is infallible. There is no final arbiter to any theological dispute. It would be akin to having a Constitution but no Supreme Court.

    To say that there are no infallible interpretations is equivalent to saying that all interpretations are legitimate and in principle revisable. My intuitions, amng other things, for example lead me to think that there are some interpretations beyond revision which is one reason why I reject Protestant ecclesiology because it lacks the necessary conditions to undergird that conviction. That is, I don’t believe in humanism.

  58. jugulum says:


    The picture you paint is mistaken insofar as it is absolutized.

    The effort & goal of Protestant grammatico-historical exegesis is to minimize the influence of the exegete’s cultural & historical context on his reading of the text; to distance himself from his theological presuppositions; to merge his horizons of understanding with the author’s; to asymptotically approach the meaning of the text, or to loop inward along a hermeneutical spiral. (Those of an uneducated, fundamentalistic mindset will ignore all this, if they’re even aware of it. By default, they’ll adopt a “me and my Bible alone in the woods” approach, think they have no traditions, and assume that all their interpretations are only what the Bible says.) Have you encountered discussion of these issues in your reading of Protestant sources?

    We do also believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, and that may be where your “non-theory laden” idea is coming from. But that clarity has limits–you seem to think we don’t recognize that fact. People often apply “now we see in a mirror dimly” to our understanding of Scripture. Some things are indeed abundantly clear, some things are more obscure—but the common view is that “The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.”

    As for bypassing Tradition and Apostolic Ministry…Well, “sola Scriptura” means that the Bible is the sole infallible authority, not the sole authority, period. It doesn’t mean church history & the Early Fathers should be ignored. It probably plays out that way too often, but it doesn’t define Protestantism.

    My purpose in this and the previous comment is not to argue for these views, but to correct what looks like a caricature of Protestant views. If you want to comment on their merits, I will most likely not respond. I’m afraid I won’t have the time to engage in the kind of in-depth, thoughtful discussion that would be required, and I don’t want to give you half-baked throwaway arguments.

  59. George says:

    oops – I said “Thomas” – I meant “Jug” (Tim).

  60. George says:


    Speaking as a former Protestant, and for most of that time a Pentecostal to boot, it was my experience that every so often we went through a re-inventing phase, and those tended to include some form of “getting back to original meanings”, understanding scripture the way the audience of the time would have, etc. Sometimes that would result in various “messianic” congregations splitting off. After leaving pentecostalism and joining a Bible Church, I saw the same kind of process going on. After leaving that and attending a Presbyterian church for a short time, I saw the same thing again – the pastor even tried throwing holy water on the congregation because that’s “what they used to do”.

    All of this paradoxically helped me in my path to Orthodoxy, as the constant reinventions made me wonder “why are we making this up as we go”, and “doesn’t anyone have some authoritative connection to the way the Apostles did it”?

  61. Jug,

    Since I think the Orthodox Church is THE Church evangelizing other schismatics isn’t problematic.

    I have studied enough Protestant theology to know that Protestants think that they have a non-theory laden method to accessing the meaning of the text primarily via grammatical structures consequently bypassing Tradition and the Apostolic Ministry. Every new Protestant group usually does a replay of this idea of getting past tradition and getting to the “real” meaning. You can see this with say the Emergent stuff where all they are doing is creating another version of Protestantism in the image of their culture as did the Reformers in terms of the humanism of the times.

    If you think that picture of Protestant principles is mistaken, please point out where, but you can leave the sarcasm behind in the interests of a meaningful discussion.

  62. jugulum says:

    Hmm, we have a misunderstanding. I wasn’t asking whether you have a problem with Pentecostals evangelizing those who profess to be Orthodox Christians; I was asking whether you have a problem with them evangelizing in countries in which there is already a Christian Church. Bit of a difference. Apparently you were mainly thinking of Orthodox people being evangelized–not just people who live in a predominantly Orthodox country. If I’d realized that, I probably wouldn’t have asked–it’s less surprising.

    Incidentally, thanks for letting me know that Protestants believe we read the Bible without any cultural or historical influences on us. I sure wasn’t taught it in the actual Protestant churches I’ve been part of. Next time I’m in a Bible study of some kind, I’ll make sure to let everyone know what they believe!

  63. I take Pentacostals to be heterodox consequently I don’t think they should be evanglizing people already professing to be Orthodox Christians. Of course I think the Orthodox Church is the true Church so obviously I think they have no significant role to play in countries where Orthodoxy was dominant but isn’t any longer due to say Marxist exterminations.

    I think it would have been better for Russia for example to have excluded new religious groups for a number of years rather than adding to the post-soviet chaos, not to mention the fact that I think Russia should regain its place as an Orthodox country.

    I don’t have a problem with the Orthodox evangelizing Protestants or Catholics since I think they aren’t true churches. And Protestantism I think has shot its theological wad. It just keeps reinventing itself trying to do theological time travel. “Ah yes, this time we will read the NT without any cultural or historical influences on us and get back to the real meaning.” In this way Protestantism endorses the thesis that doctrine develops, which is how they justify doctrines like sola fide. Catholics do the same thing of going back to older sources and finding new meanings that were “implicitly” there. The only major difference at bottom between them is that Catholics have a referree and Prots don’t.

  64. jugulum says:

    “Of course Pentacostals get persecuted often, though not always because they make themselves an annoyance or they inject themselves into countries in which there is already a Christian Church.”

    Do you have a problem with the latter, or are you just recognizing that some do? (I don’t get annoyed when I hear about missionaries from other countries coming to America. Quite the contrary.)

  65. David Richards says:

    Happy Thanksgiving all.

  66. Thomas,

    I don’t support them. I just linked a story. Of course it seems they put the suffering of Christians of a pentacostal variety bove that of others. Of course Pentacostals get persecuted often, though not always because they make themselves an annoyance or they inject themselves into countries in which there is already a Christian Church. Of course they don’t view such bodies as Christian at bottom. So I suspect VOM takes the suppression of Pentacostals and other types of sects in Catholic or Orthodox lands as anti-Christian persecution, which it may be. Of course, I don’t think, though I don’t know that, that this ever amounts to executions, torture and such things as it does in the case of Marxism or Islam.

    Of course, I think that Pentacostalism is a extremly diminished form of Christianity if it is Christian at all. In truth I consider them Montanists with a strong dose of docetism. Feel free to edit the post to include stuff on Kosovo, since I forgot to include it or just post some links. Truth be told I demonstrated against US military intervention in Kosovo when I was an undergrad.

    It is strange that people now wish to withdraw from Iraq because it is a “civil war” when they do not have a problem injecting the US into another Civil War which has lasted longer than Vietnam in the case of Kosovo. Of course, I suspect it had to do with covering Clinton’s morally vicious character.

  67. trvalentine says:

    Sorry, Perry, but I don’t understand patronising (let alone supporting) the anti-Orthodox website.

    These people have nothing positive to say about Orthodox Christianity, criticise it whenever it suits their purpose, and consistently ignore the persecutions of Orthodox Christians. There isn’t a single mention of Kosovo on the entire site.


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