The Ecumenical Early Church: A Reply to Pastor Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth operates the Wedgewords blog and is the Founder of The Calvinist International website. Last week he wrote a thought-provoking article for the Calvinist International website titled “The Myth of the Ecumenical Early Church.”
This summer I plan to interact with Wedgeworth’s article in my columns at The Colson Center. However, before doing that I thought it would be helpful to pen some initial responses here in order to solicit some feedback and to give Pastor Wedgeworth an opportunity to correct me in any areas where I may have misunderstood his article.
Anyone who has read Pastor Wedgeworth’s writings will be aware that he has drunk deeply from the wells of Walter Lowrie. This is reflected in Mr. Wedgeworth’s frequent contention that

  • There is no patristic theology of the Church, only various theologies.
  • The emperors essentially created Orthodoxy by deciding who was “in” and who was “out.” It was only through legislation that the external unity of the Church was preserved.
  • The only type of unity that existed was a local unity, to do with getting along with those next to you.
  • Even after the Council of Nicea, Arians (people who denied the divinity of Christ) comprised much of the official leadership of the Church.

The last point is crucial, because it suggests that the Arians and other heterodox groups had legitimate standing in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, even after being officially condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325. Instead of allowing the experience and consent of the Church over time to determine, retroactively, what the conceptual boundaries of the Church always were, this narrative places heretical sects on essentially the same footing as Nicene Christianity.

This is exactly the line Mr. Wedgeworth has taken in his recent article “The Myth of the Ecumenical Early Church.” He opens the article by disputing the use of the definite article before early Church. There is no such thing, he argues, as the early Church, and he seems to be uncomfortable referring to “ecumenical councils.” All we have is various churches, rival brands of Christianity competing for power. The only reason Nicene Christianity was considered ecumenical is because it was backed by Emperors.

Mr. Wedgeworth makes a lot out of the fact that the Nicene Creed took a few decades to be widely accepted and that it was only fully solidified through the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (the convocation that produced the present Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed). He seems to treat it as a surprise that the councils sometimes took a long time to be widely recognized and he implies that it is a contested point that there were moments in time where it seemed that all was lost. Perhaps in the circles Wedgeworth moves there is a cardinal misunderstanding about these central facts of Church history, but frankly I have never read a book that presented the type of dehistoricized approach to creedal history that Wedgeworth has set himself up against.

The centerpiece of Wedgeworth’s article is a long list of numerous neo-Arian synods and confessions from the mid 4th century, proving that “the creed of Nicaea was an outsider.” Wedgeworth’s point is that the only type of ecumenical unity that existed was political and that the Emperor was the locus of Christian unity. Of course, many of the Emperors were heretics, so if it were true that the Emperor were the locus of Christian unity, then we must concede that there was never any real true Christian unity to begin with—which, I think, is precisely Pastor Wedgeworth’s point.

One problem with Pastor Wedgeworth’s view is that it is radically individualistic, for no historic Christian group has ever taught that the Emperor was the locus of Christian unity. The early Christians certainly did not think this way about their unity, as even a cursory read of St. Ignatius and St. Irenaeus will demonstrate. Rome teaches that the locus of Christian unity is and has always been the Bishop of Rome (who, by the way, was on the side of St. Athanasius), while the Orthodox Church sees the locus of Christian unity as the Faith itself and, by extension, therefore those bishops and laity who profess the true Orthodox faith at any given point of time. (Notice that the Orthodox Church does not believe Church unity to be located in a single, structural institution, despite the fact that many uninformed Protestants think the Orthodox believe this. The Orthodox Churches are unified in faith and in Eucharistic communion, but each autocephalous Church has its own structure and government.) But no group in the history of Christendom has ever taught that the Emperor was the true locus of Christian unity.

Now this does not, in itself, prove Wedgeworth’s thesis false. However, at a minimum it does suggest a certain strangeness that after nearly two thousand years of Church history we are only now in a position to appreciate the true nature of Christian unity as it existed in the apostolic Church.

Christians knew from earliest times that some separated themselves from the One Church thereby leaving the unity of the One Body of the One Christ.  By the fifth century there were already several groups who had so separated — Docetists, Gnostics, Marcionites, Montanists, Arians, Eunomians, Pneumatomachians, Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites, etc.  None of this disunity in Christendom broke the unity of the One Body of the Incarnate Christ. Nor does it imply that what unity did exist was a pseudo-unity generated by the contrivances of imperial politics.

Does this mean that there was always true ecumenical unity? It depends on what we mean by ecumenical, and part of the problem with Wedgeworth’s article is that he equivocates on this central term. In the early Church (and I employ the definite article unashamedly) the term ecumenical was used to designate an imperially convoked synod. But it is also used to denote a theologically authorized synod binding on the Church. Pastor Wedgeworth only acknowledges the first meaning. But imperial convocation doesn’t make a synod binding on the Church; it just makes imperial officers and those on the imperial payroll obligated to adhere to it. What made councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon binding on the Church was the fact that they were eventually recognized as being ecumenical in the second sense. That is, they were ecumenical to the degree that they were seen to define the boundaries of the universal, catholic faith/Church handed down by the apostles. Being allergic to ecumenism in this second sense, Pastor Wedgeworth has no difficulty referring to the Arian party as part of “the Church” without qualification.

The surprising ease with which reformed pastors like Wedgeworth (who are ostensibly theologically conservative) can stretch the category of “Church” to cover heretical sects that denied the deity of Christ might form the basis of an interesting sociological study. However, it isn’t really that surprising: should Pastor Wedgeworth acknowledge that the Arians actually constituted a heretical sect outside the boundaries of the apostolic Church, then the early Church begins to look much more unified than he wishes to allow.

With the perspective of the Church as a whole as it has been guided by the Holy Spirit over time, we should be able to look back and see that the Council of Nicaea and the councils which followed it were truly ecumenical. That is, they were truly inspired by God as marking out the boundaries, and therefore the unity, of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The fact that it took time to recognize this, and that the Council of Constantinople had to clarify the Nicene Creed, is not a new revelation to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Church history. No one disputes that ecumenical unity was a process back then as much as it is today. It has never been under dispute that it was only retroactively that many of these councils were ultimately recognized as being truly ecumenical and therefore binding. No one disputes that at the time of the ecumenical councils there was great confusion concerning the true faith, even among the faithful. And no one is saying that confused Arians in the 3rd and 4th centuries (before the boundary lines were fully recognized) were not Christian in some sense.

What I am suggesting, however, is that it would be very wrong for us to take as normative the confusion that existed then and appropriate it to ourselves now. Just because the process of solidifying the true faith was long and messy doesn’t mean that now we can’t look back and identify where the true Church really was. If we are not able, in hindsight, to do that, then we might well question what the purposes of the ecumenical councils even were.

Pastor Wedgeworth ends his article by saying “And it should be obvious to say that this truth is of more than academic value.”  Pastor Wedgeworth does not explain what he thinks the practical consequences of his thesis actually are, but it isn’t difficult to guess. By denying that the Church had any universal common faith, Wedgeworth has created the conceptual room needed to justify the kind of divisions that have become commonplace within Protestantism as well as the types of theological innovation that create these divisions in the first place. But I think the shoe is actually on the other foot. The fact that Church history has been such a messy affair is a vindication of an ecumenical church led by the Holy Spirit. It is confirmation of the miraculous nature of the Church and apostolic tradition that it has survived down to the present day.

35 comments:

  1. Ah, but here is where the sword cuts both ways. Who (humanly speaking) decides what degree of variation around core notions (such as the nature of the nature of Jesus Christ; or the nature and authority of Scripture vs. humanly constructed Church traditions; whether the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox Church groups, the Coptic, the Reformed Catholics [aka Anglicans and Protestants], the indigenous Church movements of the Southern hemisphere, the Pentecostals are the “true” Church or not parts of the “universal” Church we confess in the Apostle’s creed) is legitimate continuing debate between the “strong” and the “weak” in faith, what is less than ideal understanding but not heretical vs. what is indeed out of bounds of legitimate Christian faith? It has to be done. Doctrine does matter (as equally does practice and character). Are we not to “grow into the oneness of faith” or are we to suppose we have it all locked down, packaged, and delivered to us by some Pope, Bishop, Metropolitan or single Creedal statement and denominational communion? The reality of diversity in the early Church (whether one thinks of the Arians or the Donatists, the Nestorians or Ebionites) has correspondences to the diversity we see in the seven major traditions of the Christian movement of the present day. It is not a simple matter to insist we can infallibly draw lines of orthodoxy and heterodoxy then — and we have trouble today as well. Even if we must. Not a single major Christian tradition is fully unified. That should give us moderns pause. I may not agree with Wedgeworth (any more than I agree with the biased account of the New Testament and post-apostolic church of Bart Ehrman), but I’m not sure the opposite is true either.

      1. So how much diversity before unity is broken? What also must be acknowledged in any account of the early church is the role of the political dimension — there was a lot — in enforcing “unity.” It was not simply a meeting of the minds around a crystal clear doctrine. I agree that diversity and unity are not mutually exclusive but someone somehow has to decide how many standard deviations one way or the other is acceptable.

      2. Since the questions you raise are all personal, I cannot comment to a great extent, other than to say that the Church has always been able to deal with these sorts of things — on a personal, case-by-case basis. What unites us is our common faith and worship within the one Eucharistic Body of Christ, not necessarily a set of doctrinal checklists (or not entirely, at least).

        Certainly, “someone” has to decide where deviations are acceptable. And this is often done on a personal level; presbyters and parishioners; bishops and presbyters; bishops and bishops; the community of faith and Christ. Certain boundaries are more fixed than others. Ultimately, the way this all “works out” can only be understood by living and breathing it as part of the Body of Christ.

        Like many things in Orthodoxy, conciliarity doesn’t always “make sense,” nor is it always easily rationalized or understood, but it seems to work out, somehow. Because Christ promised that the Church He built would never fail; no matter what.

  2. Very good article. I admire Pastor Wedgeworth for attempting to connect his tradition with his forbears, this is so often not even on the radar for Protestants. However, as you point out it is not a very compelling vision. I see a few more holes in his accounting of the councils.

    One simple one, but very important one is that of coherence. Like Scripture, the coherence of the creeds and councils is the baffling and miraculous feature of the Church. Why do both the non-Chalcedonian, Coptic Orthodox church and say the Antiochian Orthodox church in my city in the year 2013 share a common view of the Trinity? Yes, there is not a exact definition shared, but neither are close to being Arian or any of the groups you listed.

    Is it because of an Empire dictating the dominant creed to these groups? No, the Copts and other Orthodox groups have had a myriad of relationships with empires over the years, including the years of the councils. In fact the Copts never built or inherited an Empire like Byzantium or Rome. Where is the controlling state there?

    1. This is a great point.

      A lot of time has passed since 1453, and yet the Orthodox tradition has continued, without State or Imperial influence (or support). In fact, it survived a century of intense persecution against the Orthodox tradition, where over 50 million perished for this Faith that Wedgeworth seemingly denies ever existed outside of an Imperial decree.

      And as he concluded his own thoughts, this truth has more than academic value.

      1. Yes, the Tewahedo too. Also, the St. Thomas church in… India! They are praying the hours, and celebrating the Divine Liturgy still to this day. They were connected with the Levant through various means over the centuries, but still, they are not a sect. For arguments sake, say that Wedgeworth is right and the dominating creed is at the whim of the Roman elite, then the orthodoxy of these disparate groups is not providential and is fluke! This is a possible argument, but it opens up a whole new set of questions for the Calvinists who are the ones proposing it, the most important one being, how was God present in the church in each and every century? Can Protestants give a clear picture of this? By the way, I am an Anabaptist Protestant.

  3. I’m not sure if Pastor Wedgeworth has contemplated this, but the premise of his historical argument may prove “too much” if one assents to it. Fr. Andrew acknowledges this, stating “Wedgeworth has created the conceptual room needed to justify the kind of divisions that have become commonplace within Protestantism as well as the types of theological innovation that create these divisions in the first place.”

    On a similar basis, one may argue against the validity of any historic “canon”: Orthodox, Roman, Protestant or otherwise. The canon of scripture itself (revered by even Calvinists), is called into question. Why one book and not another? I see the conceptual premise for an Elaine Pagels bestseller.

    1. I know only a little bit of history and theology. But this one argument is something I thought about often when moving into Orthodoxy from my non-denominational background. If I rejected Tradition and Orthodoxy, I wouldn’t even have the Bible left because it is a product of the Church. If I accepted the Bible, I was validating the authority of the post-Nicene Church fathers whom the Orthodox Church embraces as their heritage. It seemed to me I couldn’t have one without the other.

  4. All this is just insanity! What unity is there in any of the protestant faiths? The only unity is the fact they protested against the Roman Catholic Church, then, protested amongst themselves creating division after division. There is no unity.

    I was a Southern Baptist. I thought my church was the original church. I thought the Apostles walked around with their copy of the Holy Bible and preached and cited Scripture from this 1st Edition. Why? Because this is what I was taught or was allowed to think because no one really had any answers. In all my years as a Southern Baptist I had no idea my sect had only existed since 1606; 1,573 years after it all began. I had no idea protestants had taken books out of the Bible; I thought the others had added books to the Bible. I had no idea there was a body out there that had existed since the beginning of Christianity and they had died for the faith. I thought the martyr’s I had heard about (which was very rare) died to defend the Southern Baptist faith. I did not know these ancient fathers and laity had maintained the faith in its original form so all could come to the knowledge of the One True God, in unity. They defended it not just with their lives, but they made Canon Law and the Creed to combat heresies, for the sake of unity.

    I think many miss the point of the Creed. It was to combat heresy; not to make new rules. Hundreds of years later others were coming up with their own ideas and leading people astray; disrupting the unity. The Fathers had the foresight to say, “Ya know, we better write this down before one of these jack wagons create divisions in the church and disrupts our UNITY.” Why do you think so many protestant faiths actually make it a point to say there is no need for a creed? They say this because they don’t have unity with the original faith as set forth by Jesus to the Apostles. You can’t cite the Creed if you are not in communion; UNITY, with the ones who wrote it.

    This awful argument about autonomy and not following man made rules is just pride. Cut it up, dress it up, theorize it to death and you still have PRIDE. Without the unity of the Orthodox church the autonomy has changed to “I don’t have to listen to anyone except God” and not trusting in God fearing men of faith who made the Creed and Canon Laws turns into “I can interpret scripture anyway I want.” This has produced nothing but division after division; not unity. When I was a Southern Baptist I didn’t even know the difference between Calvinists and Armenians. I had no idea my own Southern Baptist Convention was divided between the two. The same group of people who are not even unified in the belief of how they will get into heaven; NO UNITY!

    I belong to a Western Rite Parish, but next door to our Parish is a Greek Parish. I can attend either service (and do on a regular basis) and there is no lack of unity. The only difference between us is the use of the Greek language in parts of the Liturgy and the food at coffee hour. Both groups believe the exact same thing and profess it at the Liturgy. The only difference is that I am not Greek.

    In that same situation I would venture to say about 80% of the people I work with are Baptists. They are Southern Baptists, First Baptists, Independent Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Primitive Baptists and even Cowboy Baptists. Where is the unity? The only unity is they all share the letters B.A.P.T.I.S.T. They don’t all believe the same things; no UNITY.

    Blessed be God who made us, loves us and gave every single one of us the possibility of having unity in one faith leading to our unified salvation. Praise God for Orthodoxy!

    1. Just a slight correction. Protestant was an outsider label. It is better and more accurate to say we are “Reformed Catholics.” Not being Baptist I cannot speak to a non-creedal tradition. As Presbyterian, we have confessions and creeds — and struggle to interpret them so that we find a unity of faith. Having worked with World Vision International and a now with another agency, I work with Coptics, RCs, Baptists, Pentecostals, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, African Independent, etc. etc. We find a lot of unity in practice and worship and work together that our denominations seem unable to find formally and organizationally. Christ and the Spirit bring us together beyond our theological, liturgical (and often cultural) differences in how we express and experience faith in Jesus Christ. Yet He is our common Lord. There is only One Lord. Praise God for the many folds that make up the one Flock.

      1. Actually, the term Protestant has only an accidental religious significance in its original use. It arose from the fact that the Diet of Speyer in 1529 revoked the more liberal edict of a Diet in 1529. 6 princes and 14 free cities protested the repeal of the 1526 edict that allowed for princes and the city burghers to organize religion along either Catholic or Lutheran lines. This is where the name came from, and it stuck.

  5. “Just a slight correction. Protestant was an outsider label. It is better and more accurate to say we are “Reformed Catholics.”

    Just a quick look on Wikpedia shows “The exact origin of the term protestant is unsure, and may come either from French protestant or German Protestant. However, it is certain that both languages derived their word from the Latin: protestantem, meaning “one who publicly declares/protests”. The same article shows that “any of several church denominations denying the universal authority of the Pope…” This would give us the “reformed Catholic” term. But later Protestants were not reforming from the Catholic Church they were protesting – I mean “reforming” – from themselves which gives us the definition according to Dictionary.com of, “Any Western Christian who is not an adherent of a Catholic, Anglican, or Eastern Church”.

    I don’t think Baptists were really reforming from the Catholic Church since they came around 89 years after Luther. And, according to my quick check Presbyterians came around about 43 years after Luther so was that really a protest – I mean reform – of the Catholic Church? I mean John Knox studied with Calvin, but they apparently could not find unity in their reforms.

    So, outside label or not Protestants are major divisions within Christianity, hence, lacking UNITY. Also, correct me, if I’m wrong, but I believe the original Protestants were also Liturgical? You would never know it today. Until I set foot in an Orthodox Church I had no idea what Liturgical even meant. I was so grounded in my Southern Baptists roots that it scared me. So, to further my point, Protestants are not even in UNITY with their own founding fathers.

    “As Presbyterian, we have confessions and creeds — and struggle to interpret them so that we find a unity of faith”

    This statement supports what I said, before. Confessions and creeds that come after are not in unity with the Orthodox Creed. And, I have to ask, why do you “struggle to interpret them”? Is there something wrong with them? This is just my opinion, but it seems to me the Orthodox Creed was instituted to fight heresies against the true faith as given to the Apostles by Jesus Christ. Any Creed that comes after it is a Creed to declare a group’s heresy and to show protest – I mean reform – of the original faith as declared in the Orthodox Creed. There is absolutely no need for another Creed. I’m pretty sure the Fathers even forbid anyone to change it.

    I applaud your efforts in working with World Vision International, but I don’t see how you can “find a lot of unity in practice and worship” with your Orthodox co-workers/volunteers. Maybe in the practice of charity and love for our fellow mankind, but no way you find unity in worship, with them. If you think you do I dare you to have a non-Orthodox clergy stand up and offer communion to an Orthodox person and witness, firsthand, the lack of unity in worship.

    You said “Christ and the Spirit bring us together beyond our theological, liturgical (and often cultural) differences in how we express and experience faith in Jesus Christ.” I would say you are only unified in your attempt to do good deeds for others which would go against the grain of Protestants in their idea of “without regard for the merit of his works”. I think there is even a name for that. I know it is covered in Fr. Andrew’s book.

    You said, “Praise God for the many folds that make up the one Flock.” I just don’t agree as I just don’t think God wants many folds making up one flock. He wants one fold and one flock. “Many folds” is not UNITY. Why in the world would He have given His only Begotten Son to die for us so that we could make up our own way of worship and ideas of faith, creating “many folds”? He gave us freewill, but he also gave us one church, without many folds. He gave us a church unified in faith and when the Apostles set out on their journeys they did not teach anything different, from one another. They were of one UNITY, one FOLD, one FLOCK.

    I really am not trying to bash your good works. I sincerely applaud them. I am merely trying to make sense of this lack of unity I discovered, after I was illuminated. There is no true unity outside of Orthodoxy and when I hear the feel good stories I still say, “They are doing good for others, but they don’t even believe the same thing.” There may be unity in charity and love, but there is no way there is unity in faith and worship.

    May the Lord be with you.

  6. We recently had a conversation with a reformed friend, in which he argued the same as Wedgeworth thereby giving legitimacy to the entire Protestant paradigm. Robin Phillips cut right to the heart of the issue very well. I always enjoy reading him via his blog, but was surprised to find him here on OrthodoxyandHeterodoxy. Did he finally make his way over to The Orthodox Church?

  7. I must apologize, Mr. Fraser. I had not read the article by Pastor Wedgeworth and I sure should of because it answers the question of UNITY in the article itself.

    It appears Pastor Wedgeworth developed his article from a list of Ecumenical Councils that are not recognized by the Orthodox Church. I actually compared the two lists which revealed only the first and second Ecumenical Councils recognized by the Orthodox Church which are 325 and 381.

    So, clearly Pastor Wedgeworth attempts to show disunity by listing Councils that are not recognized and would of course show the disunity of other churches to the One True Church.

    So, yes, Pastor Wedgeworth is absolutely correct in showing this disunity. The Roman Catholic Church chose to not be in Communion with the Orthodox Church and then set out Councils that were not recognized by the Orthodox Church. Other churches chose not to be in Communion with the Roman Catholic Church and set out to have their own Councils. These other churches have no unity with the Roman Catholic Church and no unity with the Orthodox Church.

    This just further supports my point that anything outside the Orthodox Church is not in unity, even within themselves, and never can be until they return to the one and only unified church; the Orthodox Church.

    I have one more thought on this disunity. Have you ever noticed that besides Orthodox and Roman Catholics ALL of the denominations have the name of a mortal man attached to them? Even with the Roman Catholics there is one mortal man in charge for very long periods of time. But, with Orthodoxy there is no mortal man’s name attached to it. The only name is Jesus, the founder of the church and the faith. Maybe, just maybe, this one mortal man founding a Christian faith is the source of the problem; the lack of unity.

    As I have said a few other times, I apologize for my seemingly bitter words, but I just feel so betrayed by Protestant leaders for not teaching me the truth about the history of Christianity. I know, now, all the denominations – many folds making one flock – were not what the Apostles set up and I know, for a fact, that the Southern Baptists did not suddenly become enlightened in the early 1600’s and finally get it right.

    May the Lord be with you.

    1. “I have one more thought on this disunity. Have you ever noticed that besides Orthodox and Roman Catholics ALL of the denominations have the name of a mortal man attached to them?”

      Anglicans. Yes, we’re a very heresy-ridden bunch in the West but there are still millions of us (mostly in the Southern Hemisphere) who seek to stick to the “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, and five centuries of Church Fathers” as stated by Blessed Lancelot Andrewes. Those of us in the GAFCON or Continuum would add the latter three ecumenical councils in conformance with the Orthodox.

      I know it is easy to judge us Anglicans based on the Episcopal Church and Church of England, but there is good fruit away from those dying vines. I pray that as the chaff is separated from the wheat, that the dialogue between the Russian Church and ACNA will bring us closer to reunion.

      1. I must profess my ignorance of the Anglican Church, even though my parish was started by a group of converted Episcopalians 18 years ago.

        I still hold to my comments that unity outside of the Orthodox Church is no union, period. I was bullheaded as a Southern Baptist and I guess I haven’t outgrown that.

        I think you will find if the dialogue continues and anything happens you will be either Russian Orthodox or Western Rite Orthodox. I heard there was some talk about the OCA taking over jurisdiction of America, but I’m not certain of that. I am almost 2 years converted and I am still learning, so I speak with no authority on these matters. All those years, as a Protestant, just wasted.

        I would like to be the first to welcome you home to Orthodoxy, if you decide to convert.

      2. Ed, I love your enthusiasm. I’m a convert, too, from Protestantism. Two things I want to say: First, your Protestant years were not wasted. Surely you learned something of the Scriptures, and those years were part of what got you here, were they not? My advice (unsolicited, sorry!) is don’t disparage your roots. Secondly, there’s no way the OCA will ever take over jurisdiction of the U.S.! (That’s a funny one.) I’m in an OCA parish, and we are the smallest and least recognized of the jurisdictions, world-wide. To get to one jurisdiction in the U.S. will take a sustained joint effort of the hierarchs and laity across jurisdictional lines, and I don’t see it happening any time soon (nothing moves quickly in Orthodoxy). Just my 2 cents . . .

  8. Great response! Has anyone had dialogue with the author or responded to the original posting? Will there be a podcast on this?

    1. Ofgrace,
      thanks for you advice. Have you been talking to my Priest? LOL. He tells me this, also.

      I know things move slow in Orthodoxy, which is one of the many draws, for me. Things don’t need to change on a whim due to some “new revelation” or catch phrase. I’m thankful things move slow.

      May the Lord be with you.

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the new post. I tried reading it, but through the entire paper I had one thought in my head, which was in his opening statements, which was,

      “We assume that the developments which we like were always a part of “the true faith” and those developments which we do not like were always “corruptions” or “distortions.” Sometimes this is demonstrably true. More often, it is entirely subjective, to be eventually backed by a later “official statement” (which statement itself is rarely free from dissent).”

      Would this statement not hold true for both sides of this coin? I mean Orthodoxy would assume the developments were always true and he (the author) would always assume what he likes was always true. I totally get that. This is the problem with a mortal man starting his own religion.

      I’m no theologian, but seems to me you can’t compare apples and oranges. He uses things that are not recognized by the Orthodox to show lack of unity. All it continues to show, to me, is the lack of unity in Protestants – I mean reformers.

      As an example, if I used something the Southern Baptists believe to compare to the Calvinists to show lack of unity, it would make no sense. They are not the same so you can’t compare the two to qualify a statement of disunity. What makes even less sense is that half the Southern Baptist Convention are Calvinists and they don’t even believe the same. And, how in the world did Calvinist theology get into Southern Baptist? Why are they not Calvinists?

      I spent my time in Southern Baptist and Independent Baptists churches, mostly due to where I was stationed and I can tell you the only unity that I saw was the fact you could walk the aisle and you were saved forever and didn’t have to ever do another thing about it. Now, obviously my churches were of the Armenian persuasion.

      I know I’m stuck on this word “unity”, but they started it.

    2. What, exactly, is Wedgeworth trying to prove? If he’s claiming that at no point has there ever been a Church united in faith and doctrines, he’s basically advocating relativism or a radical sort of doctrinal agnosticism. In other words, he’s basically on the same side as Katharine Jefferts Schori (she of the “Paul was an intolerant bigot because he didn’t see the demon-possessed girl as beautiful in her own way” nonsense) even though he doesn’t realize it.

  9. Thanks to Patristic Anglican for drawing attention to our English (now multicultural and multilingual) reformed catholic tradition. He made precisely the response to Ed’s challenge that I wanted to make.

    As to Ed’s question about why some Baptists would be Calvinists, there has been a Calvinist strain in Baptist churches since the early 17th century, when English Baptists were either Particular (Calvinist) or General (Arminian) in nature. While separate “denominations” through much of the 17th century, for the most part the two strains united in the Baptist conventions and unions of churches (congregations) that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in England, the United States, and much of the rest of the Anglophone world.

    1. Todd,
      I’m not sure I understand your reply. Which comment(s) of Patristic Anglican’s response are you referring?

      Is it the “we’re a very heresy-ridden bunch”, the, “, three creeds”, the “four general councils”, “Lancelot Andrewes”, the “would add the latter three ecumenical councils”, “there is good fruit away from those dying vines.” Or, “the dialogue between the Russian Church and ACNA will bring us closer to reunion”?

      I have to say I am still on this unity kick and all those comments do not show unity with Orthodoxy or even within themselves. And on your comment, “the two strains united in the Baptist conventions and unions of churches (congregations)”. This further shows the lack of unity when these two camps do not even agree on how one gets into Heaven, but still consider themselves unified. How?

      Again, I am not a scholar and will be the first to admit it. But, I don’t understand the “reunion”. The only reunion I understand that could happen is conversion, which would be a reunion to the true faith. Many Anglicans have already converted and, from what I have seen, many seem to be in the Western Rite. Also, I may be totally out of line or wrong, but I thought I heard, somewhere, the dialogue between the Russian Church and the Anglicans was finished. Again, I could be wrong.

      I was reading “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky along with my Bible and I came across a piece of scripture – John 10:15,16 – which says, “…and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

      My understanding is the other sheep are the gentiles which were to be brought into the fold with the Jews to be ONE flock. St. Ignatius even wrote to a church in the early second century who were using two separate Liturgies for Jews and Gentiles and said, “Be careful to observe a single Eucharist, for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup of His Blood that makes us one, and one altar, just as there is one bishop… This is in line with God’s Will.”

      So, I still see any group outside of Orthodoxy as being in disunity with God’s Will. There is just no way, in my mind – or St. Ignatius’ – that anything other than ONE Eucharist can have unity. So, if we are to be of ONE Eucharist how can we be “many folds of one flock”? Also, how can we be ONE when some of those, outside Orthodoxy, do not even believe in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist? I dare say, that is not ONE Eucharist and therefore not ONE fold or flock. I just can’t believe Jesus gave His life for many folds. After re-reading John 10:15,16, it seems very clear Christ said, “ONE fold…”.

      I had better stop before Fr. Andrew and Robin Phillips shut me down for hijacking this blog.

  10. Reblogged this on Orthodox Ruminations and commented:
    “The surprising ease with which reformed pastors like Wedgeworth (who are ostensibly theologically conservative) can stretch the category of ‘Church’ to cover heretical sects that denied the deity of Christ might form the basis of an interesting sociological study. However, it isn’t really that surprising: should Pastor Wedgeworth acknowledge that the Arians actually constituted a heretical sect outside the boundaries of the apostolic Church, then the early Church begins to look much more unified than he wishes to allow.”

  11. It seems the article by Wedgeworth is poorly argued from another standpoint as well. Having this thorough breakdown, I expected a complexly argument. Yet he so emphasized imperial authority, in my mind it merely reinforced the unity of the church in the face of imperial favor or animosity. And he seems oddly unwilling to criticize Arianism in order to attack unity. His whole emphasis on Constantius makes it look like Nicea was decided correctly but only because Constantius was Arian leaning that preserved some Arian favor. His examples largely indicate imperial authority did more to preserved heresy than politically unify the church.

  12. Some of this comment probably repeats some of the OP, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on how these two premises are self-defeating:

    “The emperors essentially created Orthodoxy by deciding who was “in” and who was “out.” It was only through legislation that the external unity of the Church was preserved.
    […]
    Even after the Council of Nicea, Arians (people who denied the divinity of Christ) comprised much of the official leadership of the Church.”

    If one grants that St. Constantine were an Arian, why is it then the case that he, as an emperor, could not create Orthodoxy by deciding the Arians were in? Why could not Leo the Iconoclast decide the iconoclasts were in and the iconodules were out? If Orthodoxy could be decided, then why could not the emperor successfully enforce a change of theology (i.e. monoenergism/monothelitism) in a compromise attempt of reunion with the non-Chalcedonians? It seems that an over-assertion of the role of the emperor is necessarily self-refuted.

    After all, if the emperor were really able to determine Orthodoxy and the boundaries of the Church, then why didn’t they when it came to Arianism, iconoclasm, etc. and in fact lost out to councils, synods, etc.? It shows that they simply weren’t this all-encompassing power that some posit the emperors to be.

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