Today’s posting is by “Nicodemus.” Welcome Nicodemus!
Doug Wilson is Pastor at Christ Church and instructor at New St. Andrews College, in Moscow, ID. He is a leader in the Reformed community that is carefully re-thinking, to our delight, the Church’s history and worship. Though Pastor Wilson is very capable, his short YouTube video (June 13, 2011) ad-lib comments simply got the better of him. In this video he makes several blunders that are quite frankly, embarrassing. The question posed to him is whether Orthodoxy has a valid claim to a continuous history linking them with the early Church Bishops, that neither Roman Catholicism nor Protestantism have?
Pastor Wilson first blunders saying point blank: “The idea that the Eastern Orthodox Church goes back before the Roman Catholic Church is just laughable.” He partly salvages the blooper by saying the Church was “all together” before the split. What he fails to portray is a lucid understanding of Church history. The One, Holy Apostolic, Catholic Church did exist in unity for over a thousand years. No, it was not a perfect or an absolute unity as if there were no disputes. In solid, unified marriages, husbands and wives have disputes, minor and major, that are worked out over time. So did the Church. There were big disputes with Gnostic and Arian heretics over the nature of Christ’s Incarnate body and deity, the Trinity, establishing the New Testament Scriptures, and later on with Icon. These were resolved over the early centuries by Church Councils. Historic Creeds were formulated and the Church embraced a unity under five Patriarchs. This history is not obscure, rather it is well documented. Protestantism’s assumptions, and a studied ambiguity about the early Church, have led it to grossly neglect a historicity overwhelmingly embraced by Patristic Church scholars. Even the book Pastor Wilson recommends (unread) later in the video Through Western Eyes, by Robert Letham confirms this history against him. (See Mr. Arakaki’s Blog review of Letham’s book below)
Pastor Wilson tells a story about of a letter from Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis to Jerome about tearing down an Icon of Christ in a Church. Does Pastor Wilson seriously believe this Bishop’s disapproval of Icons speaks for the entire early Church? Conclusions made from anecdotal evidence are unreliable because they do not follow from the evidence and might easily be incorrect. This story proves about as much as a letter from Anabaptist leader Thomas Muentzer, proving how blasphemous it is to baptize infants after the Reformation. Or, perhaps a letter from Martin Luther establishing how outrageous it is that James, Revelation and Hebrews were included in the New Testament Cannon of Holy Scripture! Such issues were resolved over time, by the collective wisdom of the Bishops, via the active guidance of the Holy Spirit in Church Counsels, against all the above authors. (more on Icons latter)
It is a historic fact that Roman Catholicism separated itself from the established Church. The causes of the rift are not disputed. Rome’s Bishop asserted supremacy over all other Patriarchs, Bishops, and Churches, and unilaterally inserted the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed. This initiated the Great Schism around 1054. The other Patriarchs refused, arguing that Rome never had, and does not possess any right to such new and novel usurpation of authority and doctrine. So, Rome went her own way, splitting off from the One, Historic, Apostolic and Catholic Church that had existed for over a thousand years. The diagram below accurately depicts how the Orthodox Church pre-dates a later distinctively Roman Catholicism. Rome continued its evolution after the Great Schism – ultamately falling into a corruption from which the Protestant Reformers themselves found cause to separate. (This is why some Orthodox scholars consider Roman Catholics, to be the first Protestants!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqRHoC9v-94
Most embarrassing is Pastor Wilson’s misunderstanding of the Icon issue. This is surprising as his friend and colleague Wes Callahan wrote an article on Icons for Credenda Agenda (the magazine Wilson edits and also contributes to) years ago. Mr. Callahan later publicly apologized to Patrick Barnes, who had taken him to task for his article. The letter is printed below (link publicly available via google search) because it is such an excellent, instructive example of how to respond humbly when you have been publicly careless. Mr. Callahan’s gracious letter also contains a link to Patrick Barnes’ excellent refutation article for your reading. Sadly, Pastor Wilson seems to have learned little from this exchange.
|Dear Patrick, Thank you for responding so quickly. I’ll try not to be long-winded here. I should never have written that article [“Presumptuous Icons”] in Credenda/Agenda. You said in your article, “That Mr. Callahan’s argument arises from careless, perhaps willful ignorance of Orthodoxy has been relatively easy to demonstrate.” You were quite right. I was ignorant. Not willfully but certainly carelessly. I knew nothing about Orthodoxy but what I’d quickly read in a couple of short books and I didn’t understand the issues at all, nor did I try very hard.You also said, “Therefore, in considering how to respond to Mr. Callahan we do not assume that our reasoning will ultimately sway him unless and until the foundational questions of ‘What is the Church?’ and ‘Where is the Church?’—questions that are integrally related to the subject of truth—are resolved.” Those questions have occupied my studies more deeply over the past couple of years than any others, and I understand now why you said this.And finally, you said, “We can only encourage him to read the works cited herein and seriously reflect upon what we have said. To do otherwise and remain an iconoclast would indeed be the height of presumption.” Again, you were quite right.
I’ve started: over the past two years I’ve read Ware’s “The Orthodox Church,” Sherrard’s “The Greek East and Latin West,” Schmemann’s “For the Life of the World” (and begun his “The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy”), Schaeffer’s “Dancing Alone” (sorry, but I hated that one!), Gilguist’s “Becoming Orthodox,” lots of Athanasius, Nyssa, Nazianzen, John of Damascus, some Gregory Palamas, and more or less of many others. I read them all as carefully as I could and loved them all (except Schaeffer’s, but I’d love to meet him—I’ll bet he’s a terrific guy).
Although I cannot honestly say I believe I will join the Orthodox Church, I’ve come to love a great deal of what I’ve learned about Orthodoxy. But the real point of this letter is that I am deeply sorry that I wrote such an ignorant article about things about which I knew nothing and had no right to speak. I needed to write you and let you know this, since you had taken the trouble to respond to my foolishness; and I want you to know that I would be willing to offer a public retraction on your website if you like.
Wesley J. Callahan
Nor, has Pastor Wilson learned from Mr. Arakaki’s irenic interaction with John Calvin’s Institutes, on Icons in this Blog below. The fact is, the Seventh Ecumenical Counsel dealt meticulously with the issues surrounding the use of Icons in Christian worship. (Yes, these Bishops actually had heard of the second commandment!) In fact, they even studied how the Jews historically understood the 2nd commandment, especially in light of abundant “physical imagery” used in both the Tabernacle and Temple. Following the Apostles and early Church Fathers, they meditated also over how the monumental nature of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ in the flesh had import, and how the Apostles and early Fathers understood Icons in the light of the New Covenant. You can read all about it here in highly honored Patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine Vol 2: the Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). (Doctor Pelikan, a life-long Lutheran, converted to Orthodox in 1998 at age 74, only to repose eight years later in 2006.)
Contrary to Pastor Wilson, the issue is not so simple as kissing women other than his wife. Even here I suspect Pastor Wilson affectionately kissed his late Mother, and rightly kisses any sisters, grown daughters, and on occasion, other non-relative women, in a very different way and context than he kisses his wife (yet without worshiping any of them)! Which partly makes the point about Icons! What is disappointing is, though certainly able, Pastor Wilson has refused thus far to do the reading and study easily available to him needed to understand the issue of Icons before making specious public declarations. After doing so, we pray Pastor Wilson will display a similar courage and humility as his friend Mr. Callahan (who likely would help him compose his own letter of apology) and become more carefully studied in future public remarks.
Check Out Pastor Doug Wilson’s Response To “Nicodemus”!