Response No. 2 to Pastor Steven Wedgeworth’s "What is Eastern Orthodoxy?"

Response to Pastor Steven Wedgeworth’s “What is Eastern Orthodoxy?” — Trinity Talk Interview No. 2 (16 November 2009)

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Trinity Talk
, an Internet radio blog, did a three part series with Pastor Steven Wedgeworth on the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The interviews took place on November 2, 16, and 30, 2009.  In this blog posting I will be  responding to Pastor Wedgeworth’s November 16 presentation.  This review will be structured along the lines of topics than chronology.  Given the large number of topics covered, I have grouped them into four broad categories: (1) Orthodox worship, (2) the Orthodox Church, (3) Converts to Orthodoxy, and (4) West versus East.  To facilitate the review I will be referencing his statements by minute and second in the pod cast.

 

I. Orthodox Worship: Icons Congregational Participation Visiting an Orthodox Church

Icons and Orthodox Worship

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church - Springdale, Arkansas

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church – Springdale, Arkansas

Wedgeworth describes what it’s like to enter an Orthodox church:

You walk into an Orthodox Church and to see an Orthodox sanctuary is an amazing thing. You see icons everywhere.  All along the wall.  You see large icons up in the front.  You see icons of the Virgin Mary (they call her the Theotokos), of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself. (6:33) 

He does a good job presenting the Orthodox understanding of icons:

It’s a portal.  It’s a connection between heaven and earth. (9:09)

Typically, the Orthodox answer is that you are not praying to the icon, but you are asking the saint pictured in the icon to pray for you. (8:30)  

He notes that some Reformed Christians might get anxious at seeing Orthodox Christians venerating icons:

Your nerves will get tight when you see people bowing, burning incense, praying to the icon.  Many Protestants will want to leave because of what they think is idolatry. (10:13) 

The problem comes when you’re actually participating in the use of icons in worship. (10:45)  

Pastor Wedgeworth did a good job of describing what one can expect to see upon entering an Orthodox church.  He does not see any problem with Evangelicals attending a lecture or Sunday School class at an Orthodox Church (10:34).  My advice to Evangelicals visiting an Orthodox worship service is: Don’t feel obligated to venerate the icons or to cross yourself.  The best thing is to just observe what is going on in the services and don’t be quick to judge.  Visiting an Orthodox service is a lot like visiting a foreign culture.  Be respectful of your host culture and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Let me offer an exhortation to first time visitors: Be slow to judge that which is unfamiliar to you. The ability to suspend judgment is critical to intellectual growth. Some people (Protestants included) are far too ready to make quick judgments before they understand both sides of the argument. Or, they believe they possess true understanding long before they have all the facts at hand. Remember, you cannot see or read peoples’ hearts or their motives.

Congregational Participation in Worship (7:51)

I wondered: Did Pastor Wedgeworth visit mostly Russian Orthodox churches?  He notes:

The Orthodox church service is completely chanted or sung. (7:51)  Other than that you’re not doing much.  You’re not reading Scripture.  You’re not engaged in lengthier prayers and responses.

It’s important to keep in mind that congregational participation vary across jurisdictions.  I often visit a nearby Russian Orthodox church.  Much of the services there are sung or chanted.  Congregational participation is also affected by the amount of non-English used.  The Greek Orthodox church I attend use a mixture of English and Greek.  My experience has been that the Antiochian Orthodox and OCA churches are most likely to have all English services and encourage congregational participation.

Remember that style of participation varies even among Protestants: you have sober Reformed services, elaborate Anglican liturgy, exuberant charismatic services, and the simple Plymouth Brethren services. Just because the Orthodox do not participate “just-like” Protestants, does not mean they are not engaged, body and soul, in worship, there is more going on than you might think.

Evangelicals Visiting an Orthodox Church

Wedgeworth has a somewhat open attitude to Evangelicals visiting Orthodox services.  It’s okay to attend Orthodox services, so long as you don’t venerate icons.  As far as Wedgeworth’s criticism of Orthodox veneration of icons as idolatry, I would encourage visitors to go to an Orthodox Liturgy with an open mind.  Go and observe what goes on in the Liturgy.  Feel free to ask questions about what is going on in the Liturgy and the role of icons in Orthodox worship.  And before criticizing the Orthodox approach to icons learn from both sides: the Reformed and the Orthodox.  Don’t get your information from one side only.  I’ve written a number of articles that attempt to explain icons to Reformed Christians who have reservations about the use of icons in Christian worship.  (Please visit my Archives section – Icons.)

 

II.  The Orthodox Church: Historical Development Church Authority Church Unity

Orthodoxy’s “Dirty Secret” — Historical Development (12:07)

Pastor Wedgeworth was likely mistaken when he inserted the word “exactly” into the statement: “This is the Apostolic Faith exactly as if you heard it from the Apostles’ mouths. (12:42)”  Those who are well versed in Orthodoxy, if they do make such claims, are simply saying that there exists a deep, organic or fundamental continuity between Orthodox praxis today and the ancient Apostolic church.  By ignoring these nuances Wedgeworth is setting up a simplistic dichotomy between “no change” versus “all has changed.”

I found Wedgeworth’s unqualified endorsement of evolutionary development disturbing:

We say some things now of necessity we would not have said earlier in the church’s history. (13:01)  

When I heard him saying: “If you’re saying the Nicene Creed, you’re engaging in doctrinal development,” I found myself wondering how far he would take this thinking.  He goes on to say that the controversy over Christ’s divinity was the result of Athanasius and Arius following a theological trajectory set by Origen (13:44).  Wedgeworth went on:

They (Athanasius and Arius) both represent different strands of that tradition and so they butted heads and through that infighting we got new language and new rules about what can and cannot be said.

He made similar observations about the Nestorian and the Monophysite controversies (13:37).  I found myself thinking: “Where’s the Scriptural teaching about Christ’s divinity?  And where are the primitive Christological confessions that formed part of the oral tradition?”  His cavalier treatment of the Ecumenical Councils strikes me as a risky position for an Evangelical theologian to take.  Belittling the Ecumenical Councils leads to the unmooring of Evangelical theology from the historic Christian faith.  Would it not be better to assume the Apostles really did receive the Truth promised from the Holy Spirit and that they delivered it to their disciples as Holy Tradition?  Isn’t this the logical understanding based on the promises of Christ found in Scripture?

Wedgeworth sounds at times like a secular historian with a shaky commitment to the eternal truths of the Gospel.  Are we think that after all twelve Apostles died that the church ended up as warring theological factions and that the Holy Spirit was not there to guide the Church into all truth?  Are we to infer that the doctrines of Christ’s divinity, his two natures, and the Trinity were all the result of one church faction prevailing over others?  Furthermore, Wedgeworth seems to ignore the well respected late Yale historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, who wrote about the traditioning process that goes on in the midst of doctrinal development.  Wedgeworth’s relativistic approach to historical theology reminds me of an aphorism I heard often in liberal Protestant circles: “Yesterday’s heresy, today’s orthodoxy.”  As a former member of a liberal Protestant denomination chills run down my back whenever I hear this aphorism.

Let’s pause and ask: How much has our theology influenced our reading of the New Testament and church history?  Most early churches started in the Jewish synagogues.  We also find the original Apostles and St. Paul continued to worship at the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 3:1, 21:26).  Wouldn’t it be natural for us to expect our Reformed friends who espouse a covenantalist approach to the praxis and polity of the early church with the assumption of a fundamental, organic continuity with the Apostolic Church? Where the Dispensationalists tend to wipe the slate clean between Covenants (called Dispensations) and see ‘Discontinuity’ in God starting something mostly new and different from before, Reformed Covenantalists see a fundamental ‘Continuity’ in the way God works between Covenants. They see in biblical history God maturing what He started before; that what blooms and flowers in the Christological Covenant was there in seed form in God’s covenant with Abraham. But when it comes to the early Church and the deposit of the Faith once and all received from the Apostles, we find to our surprise Reformed Christians reading church history like a Dispensationalist or a Roman Catholic – with all manner of discontinuities and innovations. Why is this?  The Protestant disavowal of apostolic continuity and the assumption of a Discontinuity between the Apostolic Church and the church of today bears a striking resemblance to Dispensationalism’s Gap Theory: the Age of the Church falls into a gap between the Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of national Israel and the literal millennial reign of Christ.

When we consider that the early Christians held the Apostolic Fathers and the early Church Fathers in high regard similar to the Apostles of Christ, we have to wonder where lies the Discontinuity by Wedgeworth.  The Apostles were viewed as the foundation stones of the Church and the Church Fathers were viewed as building on the foundations laid by the Apostles.  There is no hint of a widespread apostasy in church history.  In assuming such a Discontinuity Wedgeworth seems to understanding church history like a Dispensationalist.  If we regard the Apostolic Tradition handed down from the Apostles much like Moses’ Law and the Prophets – then our Reformed friends are being shy in applying the “General Equity” of the Law, and not only that, are acting more like selective, cherry-picking Anabaptist Antinomians! They mine the Apostolic Fathers for gems and nuggets they might like to keep for their use. But there is little regard for the binding validity of the Holy Tradition received by the Apostle from the Holy Spirit – and delivered once and for all to the Church (Jude 3).

This leaves me with the impression that paradoxically Wedgeworth does church history from the standpoint of a secular church historian and/or a fundamentalist dispensationalist.  I would argue that a more sound approach to church history and historical theology is to combine the Reformed Covenantalist reading of Scripture with the Orthodox understanding of a fundamental continuity between the original Apostles and the church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.

Church Authority (20:00)

Pastor Wedgeworth is technically correct when he states that apostolic succession is the basis for church authority (20:00).  However as I noted in my earlier blog posting, he neglects the role of Holy Tradition.  Authority in the Orthodox Church is not just institutional authority but is also grounded in Apostolic Tradition.  If a bishop were to deviate from Tradition, his institutional authority is nullified.  Furthermore, the authority of the bishop is catholic in nature.  He exercises pastoral authority as part of the church catholic.  There is no such thing as an independent bishop.  Any bishop who attempts to lead his diocese independently of the church catholic becomes a schismatic and the parishes under his leadership cease to be churches.  For this reason adherence to the Ecumenical Councils is an important indication of a valid church authority.

Wedgeworth presented accurately the Orthodox view of Protestantism: “We’re not the church.  We’re a schism from a schism.” (22:22)  This harsh assessment stems from the Orthodox understanding of the church described above.  For Orthodoxy the Church is not a human creation, an association of like minded believers who love Jesus.  For Orthodoxy the Church is a supernatural creation founded by Jesus Christ.  It is the household of God, the New Israel, the Pillar of Truth.

Wedgeworth asserts that apostolic succession in the Byzantine Empire became nationalized.  His insinuation that apostolic authority in Orthodoxy rests on the power of the state is misleading and wrong.  The authority of the church is a covenantal authority bestowed by the Suzerain, Jesus Christ, on his designated followers, the Apostles.  The Liturgy, especially the weekly Eucharist, is an act of covenant renewal; however, covenant renewal can only take place where there is valid covenant authority.  Picking up a Bible and preaching from it does not suffice.  One needs to be part of an unbroken chain of apostolic traditioning.

With respect to Apostolic Tradition Pastor Wedgeworth notes: “We Reformed Christians, we’re followers of the Apostles.  We teach the same doctrines.  And our pastors, priests, bishops come from the same line (20:44).”  The problem is that picking up the Bible does not make you part of Apostolic Tradition; just as picking up a copy of the US Constitution makes you an American citizen.  Nor does getting a law degree makes you an heir of the tradition of the colonial fathers!

Orthodox Unity in America and Abroad  (24:53)

Pastor Wedgeworth strongly denies that Orthodoxy speaks with one voice (24:53).  He notes that historically there were different patriarchates that operated on the basis of autocephaly — one being a head unto themselves.  He notes that Moscow does not have to submit to Constantinople and visa versa.  He notes that historically it was the Byzantine emperor who would have been the head of the church.  What he put his signature on would have been the unifying doctrine (25:23). He seems to assume that the unity of the early church was principally an external administrative unity and not an internal organic unity based on a shared Apostolic Faith.

But the fact remains that Orthodox across jurisdictions share in the Orthodox Tradition: the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the Divine Liturgy, and church leadership based on Holy Tradition. Regardless of jurisdictions, they  are united in faith and worship.  The key sign of this unity is the fact that a member of the  Antiochian Orthodox church can receive Communion at a Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox church.  Their priests often substitute for each other; they teach at each other’s seminaries. Wedgeworth’s criticisms seem to imply that he expects to see administrative and organizational unity along the lines of the Roman Catholic church.

This high degree of real doctrinal and practical unity is all but lost in the way Wedgeworth highlighted the administrative overlaps and redundancies. It is as if he would prefer they unify under a Pope who speaks with one voice! This sort of obfuscation all but bespeaks an intent to argue for disunity where real unity exists. One can only speculate why he wishes to paint such a view of Orthodoxy? Granted, most Orthodox Christians pray and long for even more unity in America, but to imply Orthodoxy speaks with a many-voiced disarray – is all but unconscionable.

 

III.  Converts to Orthodoxy (28:24)

Orthodox Convert in Hawaii

Wedgeworth relates that he saw an article about Orthodoxy growing as Protestants and Catholics convert to Orthodoxy.  He expressed surprise and skepticism at the claim that 70 percent of the priests in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese are converts (28:44).  He responds: “Let’s get real!  That’s a real challenge to uniformity.”  (29:39)  I find his dismissive incredulity insulting. If he finds the fact that so many priests are converts so hard to believe all he has to do is do further research.  He could contact a local Orthodox priest and ask: “Is it true that so many Orthodox priests are converts?  And how has it affected Orthodox tradition having so many converts from non-Orthodox backgrounds?”  It seems that he hasn’t taken the time to do the necessary follow-up. This I find disappointing.  His Protestant listeners deserve better.

Here in Hawaii the statistics hold up.  On the island of Oahu the priest of the Greek Orthodox church is a convert from the Episcopal Church.  At the Russian Orthodox church the rector is a cradle Orthodox, while the assisting priest is a convert from Roman Catholicism.  That comes out to 66 percent of the Orthodox clergy being converts.  If we factor in the OCA mission on the Big Island, we find that the priest is a convert from the Episcopal Church.  That changes the percentage from 66 percent to 75 percent.  And if the paper work goes through for another priest from Canada who grew up unchurched the percentage goes up to 80 percent!  So the empirical reality here in Hawaii matches the statistics cited elsewhere.

As far as converts attempting to bring in their own views and attempting to change things in the Orthodox church, Wedgeworth completely misunderstands the situation.  In most instances converts from Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are traditionalists.  They left churches where doctrinal or worship innovations were rampant and joined the Orthodox Church because of its doctrinal and liturgical stability.

 

IV.  West versus East: Anti-Augustinianism Original Sin Neo-Palamism   Fr. Schmemann

Anti-Augustine Orthodoxy (15:41)

Pastor Wedgeworth describes the anti-Augustinian tendency among Orthodox Christians, especially immigrants from Russia or from the monasteries of Mount Athos.  These Orthodox Christians want to be as far from the West as possible.  Such that if something is from the West it must be bad, e.g., original sin, the doctrine of grace, predestination and free will.  This strain of anti-Augustinianism is a post-1940s phenomenon and does not represent historic Orthodoxy.

My response is that in a forum like Trinity Talk, Pastor Wedgeworth should be discussing the mainstream views of Orthodoxy, not the more extreme versions.  What he is doing is promoting unfounded caricatures that will hinder Orthodox-Reformed dialogue.

The Orthodox View of Original Sin  (11:58)

It seems that Wedgeworth has encountered some Orthodox zealots who have branded the Western doctrine of original sin heretical (16:02).  Wedgeworth notes that when pressed what they find objectionable about the Western doctrine of original sin they start to hedge and qualify their position.  But to be fair it seems that these Orthodox Christians have been reading the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter VI.3: “They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed….”

Probably one of the biggest differences between Orthodox and Reformed Christians is not the question about the imputed nature of Original Sin, but the severity of the Fall.  Following Augustine, the West came to understand the Fall as meaning that Adam fell from a position of mature perfection into a state of absolute depravity and bondage to sin.  All of his descendants thereafter are now incapable of good desires, deeds, acts.  In contrast the East following Irenaeus of Lyons came to understand the Fall as meaning that Adam starting position was as a youth  fell from a state of undeveloped simplicity and that the image of God within us is distorted but not destroyed.  Probably, the most consequential difference is that where the West understands human nature as totally lacking in free will, the Eastern tradition believes that even after the Fall humans still possess free will. This can be found in Kallistos Ware’s excellent introduction The Orthodox Church (pp. 222-225).  For the Reformed the destruction of man’s free will is foundational for the doctrine of double predestination, and for the Orthodox the presence of free will even after the Fall is foundational to the Orthodox understanding of salvation as synergy — our cooperation with divine grace.

Fr. John S. Romanides article: “Original Sin According to St. Paul

Fr. Ernesto Obregon aticle: “Roman Catholic and Orthodox differences on Original Sin

Neo-Palamism as an Example of “New” Doctrine (14:35)

Pastor Wedgeworth’s claim that Neo-Palamism is a new and novel Orthodox doctrine shows his unfamiliarity with apophatic theology.  This is a rich strand of spiritual writings that Pastor Wedgeworth seems to unaware of.  When we compare Gregory’s theological method against his opponent Barlaam, who made use of the Western Scholasticism, we find him upholding a more ancient theological tradition.

Pastor Wedgeworth’s claim that Neo-Palamism is a new doctrine is flawed in more ways than one.  His logic in citing modern Orthodox theologians like Vladimir Lossky, Georges Florovsky, John Meyendorff et al. as proof of neo-Palamism makes no sense. Just because a spate of books by Reformed theologians came out recently about Calvin’s belief in the mystical union doesn’t make it a new doctrine.  Nor would it make it neo-Calvinism!  For the Orthodox a doctrinal novelty is a teaching that breaks from the teachings of the church fathers.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann a Heretic? (29:44)

Schmemann’s writings has been popular among Protestants and has helped many in their conversion to Orthodoxy.  I can still remember reading Schmemann’s For the Life of the World while waiting in line to confirm my plane reservation and being blown away by the sacramental world view Schmemann was presenting.

Pastor Wedgeworth concedes that many Protestants love the writings of the late Alexander Schmemann. This is a positive development and at the same time a curious thing in itself. There is little wonder why some Protestants from High-Church Reformed, Anglican and Lutheranism would enjoy Schmemann’s masterful elucidation of the Divine Liturgy in his For The Life of the World. But why Protestants pastors love and recommend it to each other without a thought of fallout is also puzzling. An elderly Greek Orthodox priest upon hearing that a Protestant pastor loved Schmemann’s book incredulously replied, “And he’s still Protestant?”

Fr. Schmemann with Alexander Solzhenitsyn

So I was dumbfounded to hear Pastor Wedgeworth claim that some bishops in Russia declared Fr. Schmemann to be heretic!  I searched the Internet and found no corroborating evidence in support of what Wedgeworth said.  I emailed several Orthodox priests and again came up empty.  I invite Pastor Wedgeworth to give us additional supporting evidence or else retract his libelous statement about Fr. Schmemann.

 

[Also, a quick Google search shows Fr. Schmemann to be held in high regard by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  See Solzhenitsyn’s letter about Fr. Schmemann.]

Conclusion

As noted in the first blog review, it is evident that Pastor Wedgeworth has done a fair amount of reading about Orthodoxy and has even taken the trouble to attend Orthodox services.  However, a similar pattern of weaknesses also recur: oversimplification, unbalanced presentation of the issues, unfamiliarity with Orthodoxy’s finer points, and some egregious errors that calls for correction or public retraction.  I will hold off until my review of his third and final pod cast Trinity Talk interview for an overall assessment of how good a job he did in presenting Eastern Orthodoxy to his audience.

 Robert Arakaki

 

23 comments:

  1. Note: There is nothing wrong with Anti-Augustinianism. It is the view of Orthodoxy. Augustine speaks against the doctrines of Orthodoxy; some of Augustine is okay; but some of Augustine is heretical at best. Including the Filioque, which Augustine defends as a speculation, not as a dogma, so he did not intend it, ISTM, as necessary for all Christians. But it’s still a heresy, speculation or dogma aside. In Erie PA Scott R. Harrington

  2. “There is no hint of a widespread apostasy in church history.”

    This was one of the things that hit me as I read “Defending Constantine” on your recommendation. At one point (and I don’t have the book in front of me), Leithart says that he doesn’t think the Church fell away in the first, or the sixth, or the sixteenth century. What that does to continuity, though, I’m not sure (maybe it is why the CREC sometimes styles itself as “medieval Catholicism”?).

    Part of the problem that seems to be coming up is that Reformed (and I’m speaking in very broad generalities here) do not attend to much Church history before 1516. When I read Aquinas in seminary (I’m Reformed Presbyterian but went to an Evangelical Anglican seminary…and might be doing doctoral work at a Catholic university…oy), I was amazed at how often he (and Karl Barth) reminded me of Cornelius Van Til — how in the world, I thought, could these people ever agree on anything? Because they share the Augustinian tradition. This has led me to try and understand and appreciate what we have received from Augustine (and how often he very much disagrees with us), but also it has led me to read and digest Romanides (both his article on original sin and his dissertation “The Ancestral Sin” — a wonderfully deep and thoughtful work worthy of Reformed consideration).

    At any rate, the question of “what went wrong” and “when,” which seem to be at least the foundations of popular understandings of the why of the Reformation, need to be asked. Was it the influence of Greek philosophy (this is what I previously held to — the real historical situation seems to be very nuanced)? Was it the Roman bishop calling himself “pope” (I’ve heard that argument)? Was it the Great Schism (i.e. the Filioque)? Was it the selling of indulgences (the proximate cause of the Reformation, in one way)? All very knotted and thorny questions.

    My hope, this summer, is to read Pelikan’s Church History. I think it will answer some very deep and troubling questions I have.

    Sorry for the long, probably not-connected-to-the-topic post. It seemed necessary.

  3. My thoughts on Schmemann: it’s not that people think he is a heretic; it’s just that a lot of his ministry was done in the context of liberal modernity ala Paris. I am not saying he is a liberal, but liberal rhetoric did rub off on him.

    On neo-Palamism as a new position: Read St Basil’s 234 Epistle. Basil explicitly identifies the “Identity Thesis of Divine Simplicity” and rejects it. One is getting awfully close to energies at that point. (Indeed, Basil says that’s exactly how we know God). I can marshal similar quotes from maximus and Nyssa.

  4. I’m thinking the ‘Schmemman was a heretic’ shtick comes from ROCOR’s reaction to his book on liturgical theology. I know Florovsky wasn’t very pleased with his theology either, but in any case I don’t think he was ever declared a heretic either colloquially, and surely never canonically.

    1. Indeed,

      From one of the accounts I read, Schmann looked a lot like a Protestant in his take on some Eucharistic themes. And then keep in mind Vatican II and the Anglican Church: anything remotely looking like “innovation” was frowned upon. See the death it caused to those communions.

      1. Also, towards the end of his journals, Schmemann condemned Holy Russia and praised the Jimmy Carter administration as how politics should be. It’s really hard to put a good spin on that. That probably irked traditionalists.

  5. Hey Robert,

    Interesting post. I appreciate your chiding us Reformed folk on the presuppositions and methods we bring with us to reading the patristic Church Fathers after the Apostles. However, I don’t think your “general equity” link gets to the sense most Reformed understand it. “General Equity” comes directly from the Westminster Confession of Faith, and ‘how’ the law of Moses should be applied in the New Covenant. Should it be applied literally as in Old Covenant Israel, ignored, or what?

    “To them also, as a body politick, he gave sundry judicial laws, which
    expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other
    now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” (The Confession of
    Faith Chapter 19 section 4.)

    Granted, “general equity” had been a technical legal term for years defined in a particular way, recognizing laws must be applied in context since the application of the ‘letter of the law’ may distort the real purpose of the law. It answered ‘how’
    the law-giver applies his law in this situation? In other words…yes the Law of Moses does indeed apply, but not literally but in its moral sense or “general equity”. It doesn’t mean that “…the whole judicial law of the Jews is yet alive and binding and binding on all of us who are Christians. One common analogy is that the “parapet around the roof of houses” in the Law of Moses, might call for fences around swimming pools…since the intent of the law was to protest life of those entertaining on their flat roofs.

    If I understand your blog post, you are arguing that ‘The Tradition’ received by the Apostles (from the Holy Spirit as promised) and handed down to the Church Fathers, might be likened to the Law of Moses? And that at least the “General Equity” found in this Tradition the Seven Ecumenical Councils, should rightly apply to the Church today…if not be in some sense binding upon us? As Protestants, of course, we’ll want to see strong indication of this argument in the Scriptures themselves…and history. So, what do you point to here?

    1. Earth To Robert….

      Do you plan to answer (or ignore) my concluding questions above? Tomorrow will be ten days…and some might begin to suspect you have no compelling argument(s) from Scripture…for the notion that Orthodox Tradition should be taken seriously, yea even authoritative? What say ye Robert? 🙂

      1. David,

        I haven’t ignored your concluding question. I hope to respond soon. I’m impressed you count the days since my last posting! I ask you and my other faithful readers to be a little more patient with me. I’ve been distracted by another writing project.

        Please be on the look out for Wedgeworth III which should be out soon.

        Robert

        1. No problem Robert. The ten days are since my post went up, not yours. And there are several question(s) in the concluding para. Perhaps you’ve answered elsewhere, but I forget & need repeats! 🙂

          On a related note (per dealing with Scripture) I was reading yet another diatribe by Orthodox Priests who were outraged at the scandalous, “juridical, vengeful, hateful-God Western” view of Salvation. I know you know, it all has to do with imputed guilt/righteousness and substitution atonement. I will grant this focus of Salvation, even to the making of an “Angry-God” (Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) is “over-played”. In some quarters of Protestantism this “Western” view of Salvation all but completely ignores/excludes the fullness of Salvation as Union with Christ in God, and sanctifying Transformation & Theosis are the Orthodox words here I think) Grace in the Beloved. Thus, some Protestants make Salvation an altogether external/abstract matter of judicial declaration – rather than a Personal Relationship with Christ that transforms and makes the Sinner experimentally righteous and holy. Calvin and many others, of course, would vehemently oppose this as the full ‘Protestant’ view of salvation. (I know, Calvin’s long-dead, and others have…taken center stage.)

          Okay, good enough. Though God is “angry with the wicked everyday” Ps 7:10-12 He is no “Angry” god”. God is Love, and loves mankind/the World. The issue of Salvation is mostly Man’s problem with Sin…then Death. Any view of ‘Salvation’ that neglects/ignores the primary, Human-Personal Union with the Triune God…true Communion, for secondary matters, is terribly one-sided.

          Nevertheless, the notion of “Substitution Atonement” on the Cross is all over the place in Scripture. Maybe Protestants ARE guilty of external/juridical over-kill here. But for some Orthodox to openly scorn ALL notions of “Substitutionary Atonement” is just silly. Why can’t they simply point out the over-emphasis, and call for a far better focus and balance? How DO they deal with the Scriptures, the whole Old Testament sacrificial system…replete with the pageantry of ‘Substitutionary Atonement”? One can challenge Augustine’s’ idea of “imputed/inherited guilt”…without throwing out the reality of human sin, and man’s real need for a perfect Substitute/Sacrafice (“very Man/very God”) to Atone for sins. One-sided overkill errors are hardly corrected – by another one-sided overkill. (Rant over) 🙂

          Sorry to change subjects on you here. Maybe a Blog post is in order here to strike the right balance and deal with the right issues. But to win the hearts/confidence of serious Protestants, the Orthodox must show they can, and are willing to deal seriously with ALL that we find in Scripture.

          1. David,

            Thank you for your patience.

            With respect to Orthodox criticizing Protestants’ belief in penal substitution and God’s wrath against sinners, I would say that you brought up an important issue that needs to be discussed in any Orthodox-Reformed dialogue. However, all too often people exaggerate or oversimplify the other side’s position. If I haven’t said much about penal substitution in this blog it is mostly because I’m still trying to work out how to frame the issue for discussion. There are differences between the two traditions but there are also common ground between them. I want both sides to be able to discuss the similarities and differences in a spirit of civility and charity and to come away from the discussion with a better understanding of where the other side stands.

            I also want to address the Protestant doctrine of sola fide and sola gratia, but I don’t want to rush into it and muddy the waters.

            Robert

      2. David,

        Initially, I thought your question about general equity would be fairly simple to answer but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the issue is much more significant and complex than I had thought. Furthermore, I can’t recall reading anything about the principle of general equity being discussed in relation to Orthodox Tradition. I concluded that rather than make a brief response in the comment section it would be more appropriate to devote a blog posting to answer your question. I hope to do that blog posting in the near future, either this spring or by summer.

        Robert

  6. On the Cappadocians and the Essense-Energy distinction see Bradshaw: Aristotle East and West. This was a real eye opener for me.

  7. Hi Robert,
    Excellent job as always. I wanted to submit a couple of links that Rev. Wedgeworth has posted elsewhere online. We have several real life friends on Facebook, and he posted this in a discussion to substantiate criticism of Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/schmem_men.aspx
    http://www.alexandermen.com/Alexander_Men:_A_Modern_Martyr,_Free_in_the_Faith,_Open_to_the_World

    I think it is the first link that would by the basis for his claim of a Russian bishop attacking Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is worth noting that neither the ROCOR or MP bishops referenced in the piece use the terms heresy or heretic.

    Rev. Wedgworth has also posted this:
    http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/pom_lit.aspx

    I maintain that Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann was an important voice in American and world Orthodoxy, and remains influential today in much of the Orthodox world today. That a small group of Reformed Presbyterians have taken a liking to his liturgical and sacramental reflections no more makes them Orthodox or him a Protestant than a baseball player admiring the skills of a cricket player (my apologies to N.T. Wright). Yet, I am also thankful to these Reformed men, as Peter Leithart’s use of Schmemann in his fine books, Blessed are the Hungry and Against Christianity, helped to place me on a path to Orthodoxy.

    It is of little consequence to me that a few Orthodox clergymen had problems with Fr. Alexander’s liturgical program. You can’t please everyone all of the time. It’s also worth noting, as an aside, that some of the undertones I hear in the above sited links seem to me to be somewhat related to the (past) controversy between the OCA-Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Thank God these historical divisions have been formally healed, and are healing organically every day!!!

    It is worth recommending to your readers The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church by Fr. Seraphim Rose. (Ironically, Fr. Seraphim takes a swipe at Fr. Alexander in this book, though stops FAR short of labeling him a heretic.)

    Your friend in Christ and His Saints,
    Jamey (Athansy)

    P.S. I have a similar three part series by Rev. Wedgeworth, with a fourth part by Rev. Steve Wilkins, recorded likely around the same time. If you would be interested in examining these, contact me by email.

  8. There is a along story behind this statement but the short response is, I cant become Orthodox due to certain life issues, so in context I understand the quote below, however it is not necessarily completely accurate. I long to be Orthodox, but for now I have “taken a liking to liturgical and sacramental practices of Orthodoxy.” Though I have not and may never be Orthodox, if this doesnt make me Orthodox, then the Lord knows and I still follow Him.

    That a small group of Reformed Presbyterians have taken a liking to his liturgical and sacramental reflections no more makes them Orthodox or him a Protestant than a baseball player admiring the skills of a cricket player

  9. Does anyone know of any protestant Church History book. I was at a church today and saw a bunch of history books by N.T. Wright? One caugh my eye titled, “The missing book of Thomas” N.T. Wright

      1. I thought about mentioning Walker. While slightly liberal, his book was the standard for half of a century, and it can be found for very cheap.

        And while most people don’t like him, eventually everyone is forced to reference Philip Schaff’s seven volume set. I wrote a ten page paper against Schaff one time, but I still turn to his churchhistory set.

        1. When I was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary we used Kenneth Scott Latourette’s 2 volume “A History of Christianity.” Volume 1 and Volume 2. Latourette’s work is standard seminary material. A quick and fun read for lay people is Bruce Shelley’s “Church History in Plain Language.”

          Another reference I find very useful and which I use quite often is J.D. Douglas’ “The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church.” When reading theological arguments that reference certain terms or groups I often find myself reaching for Douglas’ dictionary for the necessary background knowledge.

          Robert

  10. Do you mean key church history texts that were written by Protestants, or texts specifically arguing a Western take on history?

    While Pelikan went Orthodox, he wrote all of his books as a Lutheran. First and foremost I would consult his set.

    N.T. Wright’s books are fun, but he is more of a New Testament scholar than a historian.

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