Well Said Indeed!

Folks,

I received this comment from Matthew on 11 July 2017.  In it he describes how his thinking about sola scriptura has changed and how this sparked his journey to Orthodoxy.  It should be noted that his mind changed gradually.  The inner conversation described by Matthew is probably like that of many others.  This article can be of help to new visitors wondering: “Why on earth would a sincere Christian relinquish sola scriptura?”

Matthew’s comment was insightful and thoughtful that I thought that instead of burying it in the Comment section it should be posted as an article by itself.  Thank you Matthew for your excellent contribution!

Robert

 

Hi Robert,

Just a quick note to say that I’m on my own journey to the Orthodox Church, and your posts have played a significant part in that. Especially your posts on sola scriptura. The first time I read your arguments against sola scriptura I wasn’t convinced. But I still felt at the time that there was something in your posts, something about the general thrust of what you were saying, that attracted me. I instinctively felt, ‘There is something to this,’ and I liked it. I came back again to re-read and re-think.

I began to think about the canon of Scripture and that was a big blow to my sola scriptura view. The canon is absolutely necessary for Protestants, of course, because tied up with sola scriptura is the sole sufficiency of Scripture. For sole sufficiency to work, you need an infallible canon – you need to know precisely which books are in the Bible. But I realised – to my amazement – that you cannot establish precisely which books should be in the Scripture via sola scriptura. I basically realised that this is the same as saying that the Bible doesn’t tell us what it itself actually is (which books are in it); we need the Church for that. But by depending on the Church to tell us what the Bible itself actually is, we have to abandon the principle of sola scriptura. In other words, sola scriptura is self-refuting, because to get a Scripture in the first place, you need an authority besides the Scriptures to tell you what the Scriptures are… That I think is an unanswerable argument against sola scriptura.

Another reason I felt sola scriptura cannot be true is because it cannot help Christians to be united on what heresy is and is not. Sola scriptura cannot tell Christians what they absolutely must believe and what they don’t necessarily need to believe. I began to think that you really need an objective authority to inform you on such a fundamental matter, not just your own opinion on what Scripture is saying. Of course, the objective authority is the Church and her ecumenical councils.

Ultimately, I believe sola scriptura is a myth, and as you say in one of your posts, ‘Sola scriptura won’t work and hasn’t worked because it cannot work.’ I think what Protestants really follow is ‘sola my view of what I think Scripture is teaching’, which is really just ‘sola my reason’. It’s ‘sola myself’. It’s trusting yourself, in other words, not God. Which is why sola scriptura often breeds arguments, divisions and arrogance and stubbornness, none of which are from God, but come from trusting in yourself. What helped me to be more willing to give up this attitude is that I personally witnessed again and again my own mistakes at interpreting the Bible, even on really important matters. I was having to change my mind so much on what Scripture actually says. So in the end, I concluded I’m not good enough to be trusted with interpreting this Bible; I need to be told what it means. I’d rather trust the Church and her fathers than myself. She is much more trustworthy.

I was also staggered when I read Ignatius’ letters and discovered how very similar they were to the Orthodox church and how very different they are to Protestantism. I am amazed at how willing some of my Protestant friends are to simply abandon the Church fathers when their views differ from their own interpretation of Scripture, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with doing this. Especially with Ignatius, because he’s so early, and was a bishop for 40 years, ordained in the apostolic era, and a disciple of apostle John. And here he is, saying the Eucharist is ‘the medicine of immortality’ and the real body and blood of Christ, that the Church is a visible body and you’re either in or out of her, that visible disunity is a terrible sin, that the Bishop is the presence of God amongst us, and having a full-blown sacramental theology. Hardly ‘evangelical’, to say the least! The unity between the Church fathers and Orthodoxy has been one of the main reasons for me accepting the Orthodox Church as the true Church of Christ.

Another big influence upon me was seeing that the Bible so clearly teaches a sacramental theology, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:26-27, John 6:53-57, 1 John 1:9. The Bible makes the sacraments necessary for salvation, which means of course that justification by faith alone is not true, and that we need the Church if we are to be saved.

One of my last convictions came when I realised that the Church must be a visible, concrete body, not a spiritual, invisible body. I think baptism (and the Eucharist) is a real Achilles’ heel for Protestants at this point. And I think 2 Timothy 1:6 is teaching apostolic succession, in the form of a sacrament. Something really did happen when Paul laid his hands on Timothy, and I’m sure something really did happen when Timothy laid his hands on his replacement…

Anyway, enough for now. Take care and keep writing your posts! You’re having a great impact over the world (I’m from the UK).

Matthew

 

 

12 comments:

  1. Wow! I am amazed. I was chrismated only three weeks ago, I am still learning a lot and this post blew my mind. I came from a southern Baptist background and this real realization of something I held so dear really affirmed my descision to join the Orthodox Church.

  2. I have been in Protestant (mostly Presbyterian and Anglican) churches my whole life, but from research over the past few years am also sympathetic to many of the teachings that are present in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, for example, the Church being the interpreter of Scripture, the stressing of our unity with Christ rather than merely Salvation=sins paid for, etc.).

    However, what I have trouble with what is the notion that those churches not under the Orthodox church are not a part of the Church (or that we cannot know if they are). While I do not have that much experience interacting with Orthodox believers I have seen Orthodox believers and churches who seems to reduce their faith to nothing but attending church on Sunday and the veneration of icons. Contrast this to, say, an Anglican church where their life of the church more completely lives out its following of Christ. That is, they are constant in prayer, they look after the orphan and widow, they are serious about putting to death their sinful desires, they partake of the Eucharist regularly, etc. Now I find it very hard to believe that if we were able to take an Apostle from the first century and put him in this context that he would say that the Orthodox church is the only one that can be sure it is a part of the true Church because it believes in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (perhaps I should have used a Lutheran church as the example to make this more interesting) and was established by Apostolic succession. I cannot imagine that someone from the first century would even think to ask these questions. Is it not be self-evident which group of believers is being truer to Christ? Would not the Apostles prefer a church that more holistically adhered to the church’s original teachings and see that as a better marker adhering to the Apostles teachings and tradition? If they saw a church living like this I do not even think it would cross their mind to ask whether they were established by Apostolic succession.

    Basically, my point is that isn’t it better to look at the practices of a church in a more holistic manner rather than saying that another self-proclaimed church is probably not part of the true Church merely because they fail to adhere to Orthodox positions on a couple of matters? When I hear Orthodox people do this it looks to me as if it is the Orthodox who are the ones who are actually causing disunity, not the other denominations. What also makes me feel this way is how, according to Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church”, he talks about how the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches have met in the past few decades and basically agreed that their split originated because of a misunderstanding of terminology. (This seems to put the fault of the split at least partly on the Orthodox Church, and would this not also be admitting that the Church can and has erred?) Is it not better to say that one can be in a disagreement over some issues–such as terminology using to describe the Trinity–and still truly be Christ’s body here on earth?

    Also, on a related note, if there were ever a split in the Orthodox Church where the sides were nearly even on numbers (unlike the Great Schism where it was essentially Rome vs the rest of the world), how would one determine which side was the true Church? The side with more bishops? The side with more laypersons?

    1. Jonathan,

      Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge! From reading your comment, it appears to me that you and I have different approaches to the question of where the capital “C” Church is to be found today. Your phrase “churches not under the Orthodox church” is not consistent with Orthodox ecclesiology. It is not so much a local congregation being “under” the Church as its holding on to the same Tradition as the Orthodox Church. In other words, a local Orthodox Church is a recipient of the Apostolic Tradition – indicated by its being under a bishop the guardian of Tradition who can trace his office back to the Apostles and who is in communion with other bishops and patriarchates, especially the historic patriarchates of Constantinople and Antioch. This relatinship with the bishop is contengent on the bishop’s fidelity to Apostolic Tradition. It is Holy Tradition that defines the relationship between the local Orthodox parish and its bishop just as it defines the Orthodox Church as a whole.

      You seem to be approaching the real presence in the Eucharist as if it was just a doctrine, but it is more than that. If the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ then there is an ontological – not ideological – unity that binds the local Orthodox parish to the Orthodox Church around the world today as well as in history going back to the original Apostles. Crucial to the real presence is valid covenant authority given to the bishop at his elevation to the episcopacy. Without this covenantal-apostolic authority held by the bishop, a Holy Communion service would be “just a symbol” as many Evangelicals today would say.

      To be Orthodox is more than just affirming the real presence in the Eucharist; it is being faithful to Tradition. Apostolic Tradition is a “package deal” so to speak. One cannot deconstruct Holy Tradition and select which elements one will accept and which ones one will leave aside. That is not how Orthodoxy operates. The Sunday Liturgy and the Eucharist can be viewed as the crown jewel of the crown of Holy Tradition. They all work together as one cohesive whole.

      You wrote that you cannot imagine someone from the first century asking questions about apostolic succession. I don’t see why not. Underlying apostolic succession is relationship. If I met a stranger who claims to have attended the same school I did, I would ask questions like: “Do you know so-and-so? Or did you take Math or English from so-and-so?” I did something like this when I ran into a girl whom I knew as a Protestant. We hadn’t seen each other for a few years then one day I saw her with a baby stroller and she told me to my surprise that she had become Orthodox. At the time I was still a Protestant but I had been visiting Orthodox services. So I asked her: “Do you know Fr. So-and-so? Have you been to this or that church?” I did not focus on church buildings, or on impressive name of the church, or on the lively activity going on at the church; rather I focused on the relational elements, especially who the church leaders were. This explains why Apostolic Succession is so important to Orthodoxy.
      Church disunity is indeed unfortunate. How this situation is to be remedied depends much on how one understands the cause of the problem. If Orthodoxy has indeed kept Tradition for the past two millennia, it would be unfair to accuse her of being the cause of disunity. We are very much in favor of church unity but we will not compromise on Holy Tradition. This brings mind an article I wrote: “Which Path to Church Unity: Recognition vs Reception?” I suspect that yu favor the mutual recognition path to restoring church unity.

      I think His Eminence Kallistos Ware is overly optimistic when it comes to the healing of the schism between the Oriental Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox. I have met with several Coptic priests and asked them if they agreed with the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and I have yet to meet one who could tell me: yes. This reticence indicates that there is something more than misunderstanding of terminology. If it were, then why don’t the bishops of the Oriental Orthodox commit themselves on paper to the Seven Ecumenical Councils and promise to work out the practical differences with the Orthodox hierarchs? I visit a local Coptic church a number of times and have come to admire their adherence to ancient Christianity. In many ways they are much closer to Orthodoxy than Roman Catholicism which has drifted quite far from the patristic consensus. So I remain cautiously optimistic with the emphasis on the word “cautiously.”

      You asked what one should do if there ever was to be a split within Orthodoxy. Your proposed criteria of more bishops or more laity — is for the Orthodox — sheer nonsense. We don’t think like that. Our concern is fidelity to Apostolic Tradition. I became Orthodox prior to the healing of the schism between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). My decision was to recognize as valid the church body in communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. There happened to be a ROCOR church in Honolulu and I would attend their services from time to time but I kept a certain distance in light of the schism. I respected ROCOR for their devotion to Holy Tradition and so regarded them as Orthodox caught in a difficult situation. In light of the troubling things I heard about what was happening in the Soviet Union I did not consider the Orthodox churches in Russia to be more Orthodox than ROCOR. It was, as I said, a difficult situation. But thanks be to God! The schism has been healed and I feel free to visit the local ROCOR parish and on occasion receive Communion there.

      In closing, I encourage you learn more about how Orthodoxy and the early Church Fathers understood Holy Tradition. It seems to me that your approach reflects the mindset of modern day Evangelicalism and not that of the Early Church. I have friends who are members of Presbyterian and Anglican churches that have a lively congregational life and whose members diligently seek to obey Scripture but I would say their churches do not have the fullness of the Faith. Furthermore, lacking apostolic succesion they lack the covenant authority necessary for a valid Eucharist. I accept that they are happy with their Protestant affiliation and are not ready to embrace Orthodoxy. I understand. Becoming Orthodox is very demanding and challenging, but also very rewarding.

      Robert

  3. Jonathan you ask good questions. The answers however does require a bit of adjustment to your perspective. That is the hard work Robert is alluding to in part.

    The Orthodox life in the Church has outward signs many of which you point to. There are many Orthodox parishes in the U.S. that have these signs. But the real work for we Orthodox is the interior struggle for communion with Jesus Christ. Every practice of the Orthodox Church is for that reason.

    The fruit of the struggle is saints. People who show forth God’s mercy and wisdom even if they are invisible to other people.

    An excellent little book I can recommend on the topic is “The Struggle For Virtue” by Archbishop Averky.

    The absolute best place to get the book or any other good Christian book is http://www.eighthdaybooks.com.

    By purchasing there you will be supporting an Orthodox Christian ministry of the type you mention as well.

    May God bless you in your journey.

    1. Thank you Robert and Michael for your responses. I realize that we are approaching this from different perspectives and that mine is more biased toward Evangelicalism, but this is because I have not yet been convinced that I should accept the Orthodox approach as the correct one (though I am open to the fact that I may be wrong!). There are already a number of good discussions going on in other posts on this site so I won’t say too much here as I think David Roxas has covered the main objections I have in his comments in the previous post–specifically, the approach of the Bible as well as the earliest Fathers to roles that Scripture and Tradition are to play in the life of the Church.

      Also, I realize that the criteria of Orthodoxy is to Apostolic Tradition, but my question was more to the effect of “what would happen if each side sincerely believed they were being faithful to Tradition and yet also sincerely disagreed with the other side?”

      Finally, thank you for the book recommendation, Michael. I was not able to find the book on that site but I did manage to download a Kindle version of it.

      1. Jonathan,

        In situations like the one you described — where two sides sincerely disagree even as they seek to be faithful to Tradition, I counsel that we treat each other with courtesy and respect. In addition, I would advise that both sides devote more energy to listening to the other side carefully and to seek common ground where they can discuss their differences. Here, I suggest that you examine the early Church Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons and see if their approach to Scripture and Tradition is closer to Evangelicalism or to Orthodoxy. If you find that Ignatius or Irenaeus is closer to your Evangelical tradition, I would be very interested in your findings. The more pressing issue here is not Evangelicalism versus Orthodoxy, but which tradition is more closely aligned with the early Church? Thank you. I appreciate your openness and sincerity in engaging the Orthodox Tradition.

        Robert

  4. Jonathon, navigating competing theological claims is tricky. We all tend to select and prioritize facts based on our own bias and interpret them from within our own context. Remember that an train of thought can be perfectly logical but entirely untrue because the premise is wrong.

    I was neither Protestant, nor Catholic when I came to the Church. Nevertheless I had imbibed a lot of false ideas from the mileau of “spiritual” conversation in the 1960’s.

    I found the Orthodox Church refreshing because there were authoritative answers to both Biblical and praxis questions that had long bothered me. I needed those questions answered despite the fact that the living presence of Jesus Christ was palpably in the Orthodox services I attended.

    The key is to ask your questions with as much purity of heart as you can manage. Ask like Mary not like Zechariah.

    What I have found in my life in the Orthodox Church is what the love of an incarnate God looks like and what it is like to be drawn into that life and be transformed by it.

    I am still a sinner but His grace, mercy and presence allow me to face my sins and allow Him to overcome them.

    At Baptism, I united myself to Christ. That continues to be the work. I am able to do that because He united Himself to us first, taking flesh from the Virgin Mary.

    That is why in Luke she says “All generations shall call me blessed”.

    If God makes 10000 species of spiders is it reasonable to assume that He offers only one thing to us as an avenue of salvation?

    God seems to rejoice in revealing Himself constantly in a plethora of ways. He certainly does in the Orthodox Church: in Holy Scripture; in Sacraments; in the Episcopal hiearchy; in icons; in vestments; in holy temples; in the lives of the saints; in the lives of my fellow parishoners; in conversations such as this; in pain and suffering and loss, but most importantly in Himself permeating all of those created things (and the Bible is a created thing) with His eternal life. He is the way.

    No faithful Orthodox would ever deny the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Indeed all of our services are made up of Scripture. But that authority flows from the fact that He took flesh and dwealt among us AND He aecended to the right hand of the Father still in that flesh, now glorified. He is not absent. He continually offers Himself to us that our union might be perfect.

  5. Jonathan, you wrote:

    “While I do not have that much experience interacting with Orthodox believers I have seen Orthodox believers and churches who seems to reduce their faith to nothing but attending church on Sunday and the veneration of icons. Contrast this to, say, an Anglican church where their life of the church more completely lives out its following of Christ. That is, they are constant in prayer, they look after the orphan and widow, they are serious about putting to death their sinful desires, they partake of the Eucharist regularly, etc. ”

    I guess I see this exactly the opposite of the way you see it. I was a lifelong Evangelical but I grew tired of what I termed the least common denominator approach to Christianity. Mind you, the Evangelical churches I attended are ones that would be termed “solid” or “hard hitting”. But to me, believing that Salvation is an event that happens at a moment in time, combined with the Calvinism that was prevalent in the E churches I attended, directly lead to a very laissez-faire approach (in essence….I’m saved, so now I can just hang out and enjoy the good life here, and then when I die, I get Heaven too!!). This approach bothered me greatly for years. When I encountered Orthodoxy, I found people that were very much pursuing Christ through ascetical efforts and this more than anything else drew me to The Orthodox Church. It was the only church where I found people fighting against their passions/flesh, striving to pray continuously (as St Paul talks about), fasting (from my experience, every other branch of Christianity has totally abandoned the practice), giving to the poor, and on and on.
    I suspect that if you took the time to visit an Orthodox parish or two, you would find the same things that I did.
    All the best to you. Please forgive me if I’ve caused offense.

  6. Good post. I agree with your general point. But I think it’s off-putting and off the mark to blame “sola scriptura.”
    Remember Luther himself, while using that phrase, questioned the canon a lot and used pretty traditional interpretations of the scripture.
    And of course, he also used the phrases “faith alone,” and “grace alone,” and at times “Christ alone.”
    As in many things with Luther, these were polemical and preaching points, to teach a certain thing; not so much fulsome analytical phrases meant to convey the whole idea.
    (Of course, in translation, “sola scriptura” usually comes to us in English as “Word alone”; raising another whole issue of the importance of distinguishing between the Word of God – logos- and scripture – graphe, or the writings. )
    The real problem of which you speak has arisen later in church history, mostly in the past 200 years or so, with a post-Enlightenment reaction among Protestants to find some tangible authority in the face of growing disbelief in the supernatural.
    It led to fundamentalism and bibliolatry, and “Standing on the Word of God,” or Standing on the Bible,” which makes us laugh with the image of getting all “literal” about that…!
    So you are right that a large swath of Protestants have a poor way of talking, preaching and teaching about what the Bible is, what scripture is, what the Word of God is, and how do we use the scriptures, how do we we understand them? And the key role of the church in bringing us the scriptures, the Bible, the biblia…
    But Luther himself spoke and thought mostly like a church father, I think, about doctrine, about truth, about the scriptures.
    And he used the phrases (wonder what they were in German?) sola scriptura, sole fide, sola gratia….. as polemics against the abuses of the Catholic Church of the day…. but he seemed to implicitly, if not explicitly, accept the church fathers, the councils, the church, as the authority, ultimately, for what was scripture and how it should be read…..
    The way “sola scriptura” is used as you are using it to make your point is perhaps a 20th century gloss….

    1. PS: One of the weakest points of the fundamentalist/evangelical stress on the Bible as the only authority in faith and practice and as infallible and inerrant (in its original text) they then have to rely on scholars to give them that history and text and translation, who believe way differently than them about the nature of scripture, and often are unbelievers. As I understand it, there aren’t many if any, scholars don’g the most basic and deep scholarship in scriptures who believe anything very near to what most fundamentalists and evangelicals do about the Bible.
      One of the poor results is, as the Rev. Billy Graham popularized, the way of saying “The Bible says…..”
      It’s at the lease, a poor way of starting out any doctrinal truth…..

    2. Tim,

      Thank you for joining the conversation here at the OrthodoxBridge. I’m sure Matthew can speak for himself but I’ll give you my two cents here. Your distinction between how the original Reformers understood sola scriptura and how later Protestants understood sola scriptura is quite valid. Keith Mathison did a good job in his distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptua. Please see my review of his book: “The Shape of Sola Scriptura.” However, even with this distinction, both Protestant understandings represent a break from the early Church Father’s understanding of Scripture within Tradition. Luther may spoken and thought much like an early Church Father but in the end he was a Protestant.

      Robert

    3. Tim, your last point is quite interesting. I do agree with Robert though. In the end, he was a Protestant. But that’s not my main point here. Let’s assume for the sake of argument, that you’re correct about ML accepting (at least on some level) the Fathers, the councils, the church, etc.
      That simply leads to a point I often try to make to Protestants. How can modern day Protestants hail ML as a hero, while at the same time, rail against so many teachings and beliefs today, that he himself held to? I feel like so many modern day Evangelicals think that on Nov 1, 1517. ML held a church service that had a rock band on stage complete with fog machine and light show and that Luther preached that day while wearing a flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and black rimmed glasses (complete with lenses with no prescription). It really is staggering to see how far modern day Protestants have drifted from what ML believed.

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