Is the Protestant Church Fragmented? A Response to Pastor Doug Wilson (1 of 2)

 

source: canonwired podcast 26 January 2013
source: canonwired podcast 26 January 2013

In a 26 January 2013 canonwired podcast, Pastor Doug Wilson was asked about the fragmented state of Protestantism.  One frequent objection to Protestantism is that it has over 20,000 denominations.  Pastor Wilson responded noting that if you look at the data in terms of tradition as oposed to independent polities, you will find Orthodoxy has 19 different traditions, Protestants have 21 different traditions (streams), and for Roman Catholics there are 16 different traditions.

Pastor Wilson’s analysis gives one the impression that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox are all in the same boat.  However, Pastor Wilson is confusing apples with oranges.  His 21 Protestant groupings are based on theological differences among Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Pentecostals etc.  His 19 Orthodox groupings are based mostly on national jurisdictions, e.g., Greek Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Bulgarian Orthodoxy etc.

Vincent Martini’s blog posting “How Many Different Orthodox Churches Are There?” in On Behalf Of All is more helpful by showing the overwhelming theological unity among Orthodox which is so sadly lacking among Protestants.  I plan to follow up in a few days looking at the striking doctrinal diversity within Protestantism and comparing that with the Orthodox Tradition.

Robert

Orthodox Bishops
Orthodox Bishops

How Many Different Orthodox Churches Are There?

     By Vincent Martini

It has been suggested by some that a conversion from other Christian traditions to the Orthodox Church is completely unnecessary, not only because of deficiencies in doctrine, but also because of the fact that the idea of a single, cohesive, Orthodox tradition is no more than a pious myth. But is this true?

It is true that there are 14 different Orthodox patriarchates and archdioceses in the world today. Aren’t these all different traditions (or even, different churches), in the same way that Baptists are different from Presbyterians, and Pentecostals from Lutherans?

Let’s take a look at these claims more closely.

When the apostle Paul distributed his various epistles, he did so by writing to a number of different, local churches (ἐκκλησίαι). Since there were several different churches throughout the world, is it safe to assume that there has always been — and indeed, always will be — multiple, different churches? Is this the “norm” of Christian experience, as protestants and those outside of a tradition such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy might claim? Or do we need to clarify what is meant by the usage of the word “church” throughout the scriptures and in Christian tradition?

Again, the apostle mentions multiple “churches,” such as “the church in Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), “the church of God sanctified in Christ Jesus that is in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the Laodicean church” (Col. 4:16), and so forth. In fact, Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians are addressed to specific, local churches, with his other letters being addressed to either individuals or to the Judæan Christians in general (Epistle to the Hebrews). One might come away from this thinking that the apostle is condoning something akin to modern day protestantism, where there are multiple different churches, each with their own “take” on Christianity. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, despite the fact that Saint Paul writes to a number of different churches throughout the Mediterranean world, the apostle continually speaks to the radical unity, communion, and similarities between them all. There are different churches for each city or region — and in some cases, multiple gatherings in a single, larger city, as with Rome — but these all constitute one, true Church, properly speaking.

As “church” is a translation of the Greek Ekklesia, it can be a reference to both the local, scattered assemblies (the “called out” ones of God), as well as the gathering as a whole; in other words, the one, true body of Christ. When the old testament refers to the theocratic assembly of Israel, the word Qahal (קהל) is used, which the Septuagint almost always translates as Ekklesia (a few times it is synagogen). There might be multiple “assemblies” of the people (multiple synagogues) throughout the diaspora, but there is only one, true Temple of the people of God (Elephantine excepted).

Going back to the apostle, then, he makes it clear on numerous occasions that, despite the many different churches, there is but one, true Church or body of Christ. The fact that the Church is scattered and organized in local, autonomous (yet conciliar, cf. Acts 15) communities does not negate this. For example, writing to the Ephesians, Saint Paul reminds them that there is “one body and one Spirit,” just as there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-5). He is reminding them of this, so that they might “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle pleads: “Now I exhort you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing and there not be divisions among you, and that you be made complete in the same mind and with the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10). Later, he warns, “where there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and do you not live like unregenerate people? For whenever anyone says, ‘I am with Paul,’ and another, ‘I am with Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” (1 Cor. 3:3). By becoming factious within the churches through loyalty to one apostle or bishop over another, the Church was acting contrary to its nature; as one, unified body of Christ. Warning against the formation of schisms and “other churches,” Saint Paul continues: “For no one is able to lay another foundation than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). In other words, it is impossible to form “another” church, because the foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ himself. He finally warns that to destroy the unity of the Church is to destroy “God’s temple,” and that such a destruction would result in God’s destruction of those responsible (1 Cor. 3:16-17)!

Beyond the notions of both unity and long-suffering within the one body of Christ, the apostle also indicates that there is a uniformity of both liturgical practices and doctrinal beliefs between the various churches. In one example, he warns: “We have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16). While many of Saint Paul’s instructions are tailored to the specific situations in each church to which he is writing (in other words, some instructions aren’t necessarily normative for all churches), some of the liturgical instructions and “high level” doctrinal beliefs are part of a single, unified, apostolic tradition, which he in turn warns bishops (such as Timothy) to carefully guard.

Most importantly, the locus of unity between the various, local/regional churches is found in the Mystery of the Eucharist — and, in turn, in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Writing to Corinth: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share from the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Despite the fact that there are churches in hundreds of different cities and homes throughout the world, they are all one because they all constitute the one body of Christ. Paul goes on to compare the eucharistic unity with that of the altar in the temple, as all who shared in the sacrificial meal were sharing of that one altar. It is the same for Christians, as there is only one Eucharist and only one body of Christ, despite the fact that it is celebrated in thousands of different parishes and cathedrals around the world.

Coming full circle, then, it is important that people unfamiliar with the Orthodox Church understand that, whether we are of Greece, Russia, Romania, Antioch, or Jerusalem, there is only one Orthodox Church. The 14 churches mentioned at the beginning of this post are merely regional gatherings of many different local churches (like Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus, for example), and primarily for the sake of conciliar organization and a pooling of resources at the “local” level. The way the Orthodox Church “governs” itself today is the same way the Church operated in its earliest of days; for example, the synod of Jerusalem in Acts 15, where the church leaders from around the world gathered together in order to make various decisions, which were then disseminated to all of the churches, as from a single “voice” or “mind”.

In the Orthodox Church today, the “local” designation is typically a national one: the Church of Greece, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church in America, and so on — just as the churches in the writings of Saint Paul are designated according to their location (usually the name of a city or region). Despite the variance in both name and location, these all constitute one Church, and they are all united in doctrine, liturgy, and — most importantly — the one bread of Christ. This is a far cry from protestantism, where the thousands of different churches might agree on the “basics” of the faith and yet disagree fundamentally in thousands of other ways (and, in fact, show far less cooperation than is readily admitted). These Orthodox assemblies around the world are not different, competing churches with fundamental disagreements over the faith; rather, they are a united whole (“catholic”) that constitutes the one, true body of Christ.

The fact that there are 14 Orthodox patriarchates and/or archdioceses in the world today is not the result of schism, in-fighting, or other divisive behavior, but is rather a testimony to the continuation of these churches from the same first century Church as witnessed to in the writings of Saint Paul — of churches that are organized not by major doctrinal disagreements, charismatic leadership, or other divisive reasons, but simply by where they happen to be located. They are separated by culture, language, and geography, not by division, dissension, or schism. An Orthodox Christian in America can travel to any Orthodox church in Greece, Russia, or Serbia, experiencing the same liturgy, prayer, and piety that they are accustomed to in their “home” church, while sharing full eucharistic fellowship with every single one of them.

The Orthodox Church models the unity of Christ, as we are collectively the one body of Christ, while being individually members of it. So while we might speak of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, or the Russian Orthodox Church, it is important that we understand the answer to our question above (How many different Orthodox Churches are there?): it is “one.”

 

34 comments:

  1. Too true. That is what surprised me so much about Daniel Clendenin’s article in Christianity Today awhile back (1997). He says, “The so-called Eastern Orthodox Church is actually not one but thirteen “autocephalous” or independent, self-governing churches.” This is in a section entitled “on their own turf.” Though I’m sure that Clendenin understands the true position of the Orthodox Church, he seemed to have slipped in his terminology and misrepresented how the Orthodox see themselves. The “independent, self-governing churches” in Orthodoxy are not like the difference between the United Methodists and the Wesleyan Church in America. Those are separate because of doctrinal issues, not for administrative reasons.

    I agree that the 21 streams in Protestantism are not the same as the 13 churches of Orthodoxy . . . except, perhaps, that many of them are in Eucharistic union! The basis of this union is theological. Some say, “if you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior,” others “if you believe and have been baptized into the name of the Trinity” you may take communion. There are various other formulations and there are also closed communions (which make little sense in Protestantism in my opinion).

    1. Prometheus,

      When I was a Protestant Evangelical I went to some big conferences where at the close of the conference there was a Holy Communion service. After that we went home to our respective churches. For the most part the eucharistic union you mentioned is based upon the belief that it is just a symbol and that there is no binding commitment to a shared creed other than “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin.” Also, this eucharistic union lacks the element of church discipline that the early Reformers regarded as a mark of the true church. So while you are right in saying that Protestantism is in eucharistic union, it is based upon a very different understanding from that of Orthodoxy and of the early church.

      Robert

    1. RVW,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!

      No, I haven’t read Machen’s “Warrior Children.” I have read his “Christianity and Liberalism.” Good book. Maybe you can give a brief summary of “Warrior Children” as to how it relates to the topic? Thanks.

      Robert

      1. Robert,

        The article is titled “Machen’s Warrior Children” by, I think, John Frame. It details the various splits and fissures that have happened since Machen himself (with good reason) split from the larger American Presbyterians. It would be of interest to the ideas presented here, especially since Wilson, coming out of the Van Til tradition, would have been influenced by some of these historical goings-on.

        BTW, this is Russ Warren. The earlier moniker was just because I was on an iPad and typing on those is a bit hard for me.

    1. Anyone going to respond? I’d like to hear a thing or two as I have only had some brief discussions with my priest and that wasn’t recent enough to put anything coherent together that furthers the dialog. Any additional comments by anyone are appreciated.

      John

      1. John,

        I think my next blog posting which is a follow up to Vincent Martini’s article should answer your question about the “True Orthodox.”

        Robert

  2. Robert,

    i’m familiar with Doug Wilson from my days of interest in Van Til’s work (i didn’t grow up reformed). But one thing i’ve always wondered is this: Why does Wilson get as much national attention as he does? i take it that his own denomination is a tiny one especially among the reformed groups. i see why the press talks to guys like Richard Land–he used to be head of the SBC and had a syndicated radio show. i see why the press talks to guys like O’Steen or Rick Warren who grew churches to previously unheard of numbers. i’m not saying Wilson shouldn’t get spotlight, i’m just saying i don’t see why he ever got shoved into the spotlight in the first place. What did he do to get on the national stage?

    –guy

    1. Guy,

      You asked some good questions.

      One of the purpose of the OrthodoxBridge is foster dialogue between Orthodox and Reformed Christians. While the Reformed tradition is quite broad, not all Reformed Christians are interested in Orthodoxy or talking about. But there seems to be considerable interest in certain smaller Reformed denominations like the CREC and I suspect the PCA. It seems that there is little interest in Orthodoxy in my former denomination, the United Church of Christ.

      With respect to your question why Pastor Doug Wilson has getting attention on this blog. He has been speaking out publicly and often to a Reformed audience about Eastern Orthodoxy. If we feel he has not given a fully accurate picture, we will respond with what we feel is a more balanced set of facts. The intent here is not so much polemical but educational. We want people to learn more about the Orthodox Faith.

      If you look at the Reviews & Responses page you will find the OrthodoxBridge responding to Michael Horton, Keith Mathison, Robert Letham and Anglicans like David Brattston. If you know of other Reformed or Evangelical Christians who are saying something about Orthodoxy, positive or critical, please feel free to bring it to our attention.

      Robert

      1. I am not an Anglican, but a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, since it formation in 1985.

  3. I agree that Protestants will have difficulty understanding how the patriarchates, autonomous churches and autocephalous churches all fit together in Orthodoxy. Wilson was wrong to classify these different groups as being distinct in the same way a Pentecostalism and a Calvinism are distinct.

    However, as an inquirer into Orthodoxy I am concerned that there is a level of pretense here.

    Orthodoxy ISN’T united as it claims to be. The Calendar issue, the multiple jurisdictions, . . . and all this talk that the non-Chalcedonians are really basically in agreement etc . . .

    In other words, if the Orthodox claim to be fundamentally united is true, why don’t they show the world and call a council and fix these problems. How many centuries does it take?

    1. Amen. The Calendar and True Orthodox issues were borderline dealbreakers for me. The The Orthodox guys said everyone else lacked grace, and given the compromises of World Orthodoxy at that crucial time, it was hard to challenge them. And the moniker of schismatic didn’t work, since at one time Maximus and Chrysostom were cut off from the then “World Orthodoxy.”

    2. Hinterlander,

      With respect, everything you mentioned is rather irrelevant when it comes to the Eucharistic communion shared between these Churches, the common liturgical calendar (despite differences outside of the Paschalion), the common veneration of Saints, the common theological and apostolic tradition, the common governance, and so forth. At the end of the day, we who are many are one body, for we all share of one “bread” — the bread of Christ.

      The objections you (and others here) bring up are objections in the realm of “thought” and “ideas,” which don’t actually exist. Persons exist, and communion and “unity” are matters of personhood, not “ideas.” Such an approach to “unity” is anti-Incarnational, and presumes that unity is in the mind, rather than in the body of Christ.

      There are certainly schisms from the Orthodox Church, and there are areas where we could — doctrinally speaking — have more consistency … but is that really necessary? By whose standard should we all be monolithic on any number of these aforementioned issues? Point of fact, things such as the calendar (the Paschalion excepted, since it was of an Ecumenical decision at Nicaea I), local Saints, local festal celebrations, and even THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE ITSELF, were decided at a LOCAL level for the first several centuries of the Church’s history. We need to keep historical context in mind, here.

      Perhaps you skimmed the post or I was unclear in my words if you are citing “multiple jurisdictions” as a sign of dis-unity in the Church. This is a sign of historical circumstance, and the spread of the Gospel throughout many different languages, cultures, and peoples — not a sign of dis-unity. Failing to appreciate the vast complexity of the issues around this (historical, political, etc.) is unfortunate, and does not show much charity to all the people involved.

      Consider the fact, for example, that the very leaders of common Orthodoxy in the Americas were all martyred for the faith (by the Communists in Russia, after the fall of the Tsar), followed by nearly two generations of “separation” from the “mother land” for many Orthodox immigrants in the US, and it is not hard to see how we could only recently be beginning the efforts to “sort things out” (e.g. SCOBA, the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North America, etc.). It will happen, but it will take time (more than a few decades).

      These are not issues, in other words, that have needed “centuries” to get sorted out. They are “issues” of our own lifetimes, if even that long (considering it was impossible to sort through these issues until the Soviet Union collapsed, not to mention the Ottoman empire). If you look at how long it took Arianism, Nestorianism, and other great heresies of the early Church to get “sorted out” (some never have…), then our less-than-a-century-old problem is hardly worth noting. It will probably only get a few paragraphs in future Church history books. Only pride would lead us to think our generation is unique, or that things must somehow suddenly change for us. The fact is, the Church (with great WISDOM) takes her time to sort things out. This is necessary for pastoral reasons, of course, and it helps to avoid further complications or issues in the long-run. Microwave culture cannot abide by this, but this is the way of the Church (and as it has always been).

      When it comes to non-Chalcedonian Christians, that is not for me to “rule on” or judge. It will be sorted out, eventually, through prayer, love, and kindness — not knee-jerk reactions or the pondering of Internet theologians (Lord, have mercy on me). For what it’s worth, they are received into “canonical” Orthodoxy (those 14 churches I mentioned above) through a profession of faith alone, and their clergy is received by vesting alone. We are much closer than many might realize, and the real “issues” that remain (in my estimation) are logistical and practical, not theological. But again … not my thing.

      Just a few thoughts.

      Vincent

      1. Thanks for the thorough reply. In hindsight, my comments were rather rushed off without much deliberation and I apologize for my flippancy. My inquiry into Orodoxy is still in its infancy and all the experience has done so far has complicated my own experience as a member of a refromed evangelical church. My frustration is heightened by the inaccessibility and rather limited extent of orthodox churches in my part of the country. I’d like to see Orthodoxy become more visibly united in my country and less obscure. I confess my impatience that this is not so!

        1. Hinterlander,
          I was raised in a Reformed communion and am now an Orthodox catechumen. I deeply resonate with your frustration and impatience in the beginnings of your exploration. It took me about 2 years of sustained, attentive listening and reading and conversation before I got to the point where I began to truly understand Orthodoxy on its own terms, and thus lost most of my frustration. Hopefully it doesn’t take you as long as myself – but I urge you to allow your assumptions and perspectives to be challenged!

          1. Joel,

            Thanks for sharing your story. For a long time I saw Orthodoxy as distant and strange but when I began to understand what it was saying then the tension within me started to rise. All this took about seven years. About 4 to 5 of curiosity and about 2 of serious wrestling with the issues.

            Robert

          2. Hinterlander and Joel,

            After a very unsettling experience jump-started a very intense exploration into Eastern Orthodoxy (the very last place, in my ignorance, that I expected to find answers to how to read and understand the Scriptures), it took me about 4-5 years to clear away roadblocks (both internal/doctrinal and external/family situation) to where I could be received into the Church. That was over five years ago. And I am still learning. Now, however, my search for greater understanding is grounded in the security of the Church and is very peaceful.

  4. This may seem like a rather specific question but if either Robert/Vincent or another Orthodox could offer their wisdom . . .

    I have purchased a number of books from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, MA which I later discovered was part of a group that is indeed out of “Eucharistic communion”, at least, as far as I can tell from the HOCNA website. (I apologize if I am mistaken or confused.) Which brings me to my question, how should materials of these groups be viewed and treated? Should they by boycotted? How is an Orthodox inquirer to comprehend this situation?

    1. Hinterlander,

      A while back I was bookstore manager for the local Greek Orthodox parish. When I discovered they were not in communion with the Greek archdiocese, I asked my priest whether I should discontinue ordering materials from them. He told me to continue doing business with them. I think he would have objected had I put on display materials that was critical of the Greek archdiocese and the other canonical Orthodox churches. In other words the problem with HOCNA is that they are schismatic (which means that they have a grievance) rather than they are heretical (teaching a strange new doctrine). I think Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a great place to buy Orthodox icons.

      If you are an inquirer my advice is that you balance your purchases from Holy Transfiguration Monastery with materials from mainstream Orthodox sources like Conciliar Press, Light and Life Publishers, and St. Vladimir Seminary Press. Read through the materials, get to know the core teachings and practices of Orthodoxy. To put it another way, major in the majors, don’t major in the minor stuff. Also, it is important that you enter into personal conversation with a local Orthodox priest. There’s only so much that can be done on the Internet. If you become seriously concerned about the issues that separate HOCNA from canonical Orthodoxy please feel free to contact me or Vincent.

      If you are Orthodox, my advice is talk to your priest about it.

      Robert

    2. Their translations are the de-facto English standard among most archdioceses in the United States. They are used extensively in the Liturgikon, which, in my personal opinion, has no true competitor in English.

      Are they a “schismatic” group? Sure. But again, these are not questions for me to settle or “figure out.” We can speculate, we can speak “as men,” but just like when wrestling over questions about the Godhead, our explanations and pondering often fall inestimably short (and become heterodox rather quickly). Looking for “logical” and “precise” answers to questions such as these are futile, and will never lead a person into the arms of Christ. We can speculate, we can adopt anthropomorphisms, we can do our best to clarify and distinguish, but, in the end, it is all left wanting. This was Aquinas’ experience, and I must pray that it ever be my own. We must know our limits, lest we become our own Tradition in-and-of-ourselves. Kyrie Eleison.

  5. Those who speak of the Church visible as if it once had absolute purity and unity are suffering a delusion. It is true that at the very beginning “all who believed were together, and had all things in common, “continuing daily with one accord” (Acts 2:44-46). But it was not long before “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected” (Acts 6:1). Thus, alongside the grandeur of the true Church, we also see its visible imperfections. The same apostle who urged Christians to “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among” them, but that they “be perfectly joined together in the same mind” (1 Cor. 1:10-11), immediately thereafter acknowledged that there were “contentions” among them. And he even acknowledged that such divisions were a necessity. “I hear that there are divisions among you,” he said. “There must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” ( 1 Cor. 1 1:18-19).
    As we study the apostolic writings, we clearly witness the difficulty with which the Church sought to manifest unity and purity. Evil men crept in unawares (Jude 4). They brought in damnable heresies (2 Peter 2: 1). Some apostolic churches were soon removed from the doctrines of Christ (Gal. 1:6; Rev. 2-3). Some fought against these evils more valiantly than did others. Some became indifferent or neglectful and were thus invaded and overcome. As John wrote from Patmos (Rev. 2-3), there were great differences among the seven churches in Asia. At least some were perilously near to outright apostasy. The question is: how do we know when a church reaches the “point of no return”? When must the believer come out of her and be separate, declaring her to be apostate?

    1. Mick,

      Your recitation of verses make for pretty grim reading. Don’t forget Christ’s promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). And that the Church is the Body of Christ in whom the Holy Spirit is at working causing it to grow into maturity and perfection (Ephesians 4:7-13). Christ has faithfully protected and guided His Church for the past two millennia and will continue to do so until he returns in glory (Matthew 28:19-20).

      As to your question about the “point of no return,” I would point to Acts 2:42 where the early Christian community consisted of those who devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the prayer, and to the Eucharist. The Eucharist unites the Church and the Orthodox Church has faithfully kept the Eucharist in her Sunday worship since the beginning. We have kept the teachings of the Apostles since the beginning. All this is due to God’s grace and mercy. The Church is the ark of salvation. So long as we are in fellowship (Eucharistic communion) with the apostolic Church we remain part of the Body of Christ. Another important indicator are the Seven Ecumenical Councils which defended the Faith and anathematized various heresies. So long as you or your local church body (parish) submit to the Ecumenical Councils then you are within the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

      Robert

    2. Mick,
      “Absolute purity and unity” is a strawman. We claim to be bereft of purity hence our incessant cry “Lord have mercy.” And our unity is in one eucharist (1 Cor 10:17) and in much diversity, not in some imaginary uniformity, yet it is the same faith.
      You will find no NT allowance for the sin of schism. It is everywhere forbidden. The evidence of heresies, fights and “divisions among” the Christians is not surprising, is it? Yet there is most certainly a church present that has the ability to issue that which is binding and normative for all believers, hence the NT writings, and the Counciliar church with real interpretive authority. Acts 16:4.
      Also, you will find no NT church that ordained their own leadership. It was always done FOR every church by those authorized to do so. Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5.
      St. John addresses the 7 assemblies in Asia as churches but warns them that their lampstand may be removed if they do not repent. He never tells those whose garments are kept white and have persevered, to commit schism. Elders/bishops can be deposed but folks cannot run off and start over. When a church reaches the “point of no return” they lose their eucharistic communion and their leaders are deposed. Athanasius didn’t start over when the church was infected with Arianism, he persevered Contra Mundum and ended up being a central figure at Nicea to restore true bishops and depose the false. One Lord, one faith, one baptism and one body organically connected to Christ her head.

      1. Good points, Canadian.

        Was James the spokesman for the council in Acts 15 because he was the bishop of the church in Jerusalem? As I’m mulling over RC and OC, I find myself wondering why Peter wasn’t the spokesman of the Acts 15 council if the RC perspective on the role of the Papacy is correct.

        Jeff

        1. James is the bishop, but I think this is really a secondary issue in relation to the Council. Acts 15 repeatedly has authority rest in “the apostles and elders” and not any single bishop or even just the apostles. Verse 22 even says “the apostles, elders with the whole church” and v 23 says that the “apostles, elders and brethren” are sending the letter to Antioch which says it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” which included them all. This is not an edict of the apostles alone but of the Council of “apostles and elders” as stated in Acts 16:4. The Council did not need approval by Peter specifically or James personally or just the apostles. The Council issues binding decrees because it is the occasion of providential synergy between a communion of Divine Persons and a communion of human persons.

          If you want to look at the interaction between a sitting pope and an Ecumenical Council, please look closely at the 5th Ecumenical’s handling of pope Vigilius. This was one of the final things that turned me away from Rome and to Orthodoxy. I made several comments regarding this on this thread:
          https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/why-i-did-not-become-roman-catholic-a-sort-of-response-to-jason-stellman/

  6. I’m going to resist the temptation to launch straight down the trail you’re offering in regards to Matthew 16:18, I’m quite habituated with being strung along into this breed of defense,  I know of the contention loaded into the passage,  your institution stands or falls by it, but lets backtrack.  You said my “recitation of verses make for pretty grim reading”. Through the conventional method of exegesis, please expound upon the variances in my understanding of the Scriptures, ( they of course being the exclusive praxis of mediation ), and how I may be erroneous in my demonstration of them to be consistent with my argument.

    1. Mick, you have some interesting points. I think the 1 Corinthians passages point to the fact that our natural unspiritual tendency is to head towards division and speculation and heresy. But on the other hand, Paul was at hand to warn them. God had sent people with apostolic authority to speak to the situation. In addition, when you look at the culture of letters in the early church, there seems to have been a community and unity there that is far more intimate than most people realize.

      You say: Evil men crept in unawares (Jude 4). They may have snuck in, but they were not completely unobserved. That is why Jude is writing, to remind the people and the churches to stand firm in the truth “once delivered.”

      You say: They brought in damnable heresies (2 Peter 2: 1). Same thing.

      You say: Some apostolic churches were soon removed from the doctrines of Christ (Gal. 1:6; Rev. 2-3). First, Paul does not say that the whole church has apostasized. Secondly, even if he had, it is clear that he is not writing them off, but warning them to stay in the faith. Thirdly, there is no indication that remaining faithful involves leaving the church. Even if someone was alone in believing the truth in a given city (such as Galatia), he had the universal church to turn to.

      You say: Some fought against these evils more valiantly than did others. Some became indifferent or neglectful and were thus invaded and overcome. As John wrote from Patmos (Rev. 2-3), . I’m not sure how this applies to the church universal. These were specific churches that needed help. The entire church did not have the same issues as the individual churches. The warnings were given with the hope of reconciliation.

      None of these passages specifically speak against the unity of the visible church. It seems to me that you need to invoke other passages than these to show that there is not a visible church.

      That said, as a Protestant, I still don’t see how it is obvious which church is the true church. Is unity based on communion with a particular hierarchical and historical church or is it based on communion with those who hold to the gospel? And if so, what is the gospel? I’m not always sure that Protestants agree with each other as to what the gospel is. And they usually don’t agree with the Catholic or Orthodox. We might say “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” But I think it is important to ask, “what shall I believe?” Then we get into the thorny issues of epistemology, authority, the relationship between church, tradition, and scripture, and a whole host of other issues which I think that most conservative Protestants have taken too lightly. Of course I don’t yet see that the Catholic or Orthodox churches have a solution to the problem, which is why I have not yet converted to either.

      1. I said, We might say “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” But I think it is important to ask, “what shall I believe?”

        I should have said at the end, “what shall I believe about him?” It is all good and well to say “believe” but sometimes we forget that the content of that faith needs to be defined.

    2. Mick,

      I was trying to balance out the biblical passages you mentioned. While the church may have its trials and challenges, God is faithful to his promises. You were emphasizing one aspect and so I wanted to highlight the other. Other than that it’s not clear where we disagree.

      Robert

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