Archive | Eastern Orthodox

Credo House Dispute – Our Discussions Today with an Eastern Orthodox Priest

Today, Tim Kimberley and I had the privilege of meeting with an Eastern Orthodox priest here at the Credo House in Edmond, OK. The meeting was called because there is a young man who desires to work as an “under-monk” (barista) at the Credo House. While we are a Protestant Evangelical organization, we often call ourselves Evangelical “on the last notch of the belt.” In other words, in the spirit of Evangelicalism, we don’t want to unnecessarily divide over non-essential issues. While devoted to his Eastern Orthodox church, this prospective employee loves the Credo House and what we stand for. As discussions went on behind the scenes about whether or not I wanted to deal with the PR of explaining to everyone why we had an Eastern Orthodox employee (along with all the charges of postmodern doctrinal relativism, etc.), as well as the laborious discovery of whether this guy was truly an Eastern Orthodox or an Evangelical attending an Eastern Orthodox church, Carrie set up a meeting between this young man, his priest, Tim, and me.

The following took place at approx. 2:15 CST at the Credo House, 109 NW 142nd St. Suite B, Edmond, OK.

We made cordial introductions and exchanged some background information The priest was a former Evangelical who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy during college.

The Credo House doctrinal statement was the subject of dispute, as the priest sought to distinguish the Eastern Orthodox position from that which is represented by our doctrinal statement. The potential employee sought both the permission and wisdom of his priest to see if working for Credo House was acceptable. I had already determined that, barring some unforeseen (and potentially delightful) complications, Credo House would not be willing to offer employment to a committed Eastern Orthodox.

There were not really any surprises.

Below is a point by point account of the dispute using our doctrinal statement as an outline:

Bible and Revelation: We confess that the Scriptures are verbally inspired and true in every respect. We also confess that the rightly interpreted Scriptures are the only infallible source of revelation.

It may surprise many to know that the issue of sola Scriptura (rightly defined) is not a major point of departure between Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. The subject of church tradition was brought up. We both agreed that tradition stands guard beside the interpretation of Scripture but does not stand in front of it. We also agreed that tradition does not add anything to the Scripture, but is a tradition in which the Scripture is to be interpreted. Tim called this the regula fide (common terminology here at Credo). I was amused when the priest said  he did not use the Latin terminology (i.e., it was in western theological language). But we both agreed that there was no living infallible interpreter of Scripture. Scripture is the final source, yet we look toward history to aid in our understanding.

He did ask what we meant by “verbally” inspired. I informed him that this means that the Bible is inspired down to the very words, not just the concepts. However, this does not mean that we believe in “mechanical dictation.” He agreed. He just wanted to clarify that we did not hold to a view of inspiration like the Muslims.

God: We confess that there is one God, creator of all things, invisible and visible, who eternally exists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal in power and dignity. We also confess that God is all-knowing and is sovereign over all the affairs of His creation. Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Five: Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” As explained in the first part of this series, Peterson quotes from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, an unnamed Jewish source, and a few church fathers to illustrate the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation restored an ancient doctrine. Specifically, Peterson says:

“With this doctrine of exaltation or human deification, though, Joseph Smith wasn’t actually moving away from Judeo-Christian tradition. He was returning to a forgotten strand of it. For ancient Christians and Jews also had a doctrine of human deification, which scholars call ‘theosis.’”

Scholars do indeed use the term theosis for what can be called a doctrine of human deification. Continue Reading →

An Eastern Orthodox View of Predestination

The Synod of Jerusalem (different than the biblical “Council of Jerusalem”) was an Eastern Orthodox council which was convened in 1672 to deal with the influences of Reformed theology (particularly that of Calvin) on the Orthodox Church. While this council is not without its modern Orthodox retractors, it was at the time thought to be a definitive and dogmatic pronouncement of the Orthodox faith. It was the Eastern Orthodox “Council of Trent.” From this Synod came the Confession of Dositheus.

Let me give you a brief overview of the Orthodox faith concerning Predestination according to this council.

Having affirmed their commitment to the authority of the church as being equal to that of Scripture (“Wherefore, the witness also of the Catholic [Orthodox] Church is, we believe, not of inferior authority to that of the Divine Scriptures”), the statement then proceeds to give an Eastern Orthodox understanding of Predestination:

“We believe the most good God to have from eternity predestinated unto glory those whom He has chosen, and to have consigned unto condemnation those whom He has rejected; but not so that He would justify the one, and consign and condemn the other without cause.”

The key here is that while believing in predestination, they do not believe that it is “without cause.” The agent of the cause is not God’s sovereign will, as is the case in the “unconditional predestination” of Calvinists, but in man’s free will.

“But since He foreknew the one would make a right use of their free-will, and the other a wrong, He predestinated the one, or condemned the other.”

Man’s “right use” of their own freedom is the boundary line which ultimately decides the predestination and fate of the individual. Here, there is no difference between the Orthodox, Arminian, and Catholic understanding of predestination. 

All Christian traditions have rejected Pelagianism. Therefore, they don’t believe that we are born neutral, like Adam in the Garden. Every Christian tradition believes in what is called “inherited sin.” Inherited sin is the “infection” of sin that is part of our nature. We sin because we are sinners (or corrupted). It is who we are. In this we inherit death. While the Orthodox have always rejected the concept of “imputed sin” (i.e. we are condemned for Adam’s sin), they accept that we are born with a debilitating sinful nature that makes us unable to willfully choose God without divine assistance. Therefore, in order for one to make “right use of their free-will” there must be some type of “mediating” grace that makes the person able to choose God. In this vain, the confession goes on: Continue Reading →

51% Protestant

Best of Parchment and Pen
On the flight back from Athens last week, I sat in front of a gregarious Irish gentleman. He was a medical doctor in Dallas, but didn’t even come close to losing his native accent. We talked theology most of the flight.

He was fascinated by CSNTM’s work of photographing ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. And he was a good student of church history. This gentleman affirmed a lot of my most precious beliefs: Jesus Christ, the theanthropic person, died for our sins and was bodily raised from the dead; by putting our faith in him we are saved indeed, we are saved exclusively by God’s grace; there’s nothing that we can bring to the table to aid in our salvation. The good doctor called himself an evangelical. And he also called himself a Roman Catholic. Continue Reading →

Why I am Proud to be a Protestant

See updated version here.

Protestantism is not perfect. No informed Protestant would claim such. Evangelicalism has major problems. This is nothing new. But Protestants have always thought the strengths of Protestantism outweigh the weaknesses. Otherwise, we would not be Protestant!

While I often write about the weaknesses of our system, sometimes complaining about Evangelical shames, I want to do something different here. I am going to give a short list of what I believe to be the major strengths of Protestantism:

1. Celebration of diversity: Protestants can appreciate and celebrate the diversity in the Christian faith unlike any other tradition. Whether it be in worship style or liturgy, house churches or mega churches, Protestant recognize that all people are not alike in their subjective preferences. Protestantism, as a movement, cannot dogmatize the way people should be in areas that are based in non-essential personal preferences. We can recognize that God has created people differently—and this was intentionally. If people have a personality that does not respond well to one style of worship, they are free to celebrate their diversity without feeling the obligation of adapting their style to some traditional norm. Therefore, to be Protestant is to be able to celebrate diversity. Continue Reading →

In Defense of Sola Scripture, Part 9: A Biblical Defense

Now I will start to give a brief positive defense of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura.

The Scripture implicitly and explicitly speaks of its unique authority and sufficiency.

2 Tim. 3:14–17
“You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Notice here that the Scriptures are sufficient to give Timothy “wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” So they are sufficient for salvation. Notice as well that the Scriptures are to be used for “training in righteousness” so that the person dedicated to God may be capable of “every [pan]good work” (emphasis added). If Paul truly believes that Scripture is sufficient for every good work, then this gives much credence to the basic foundational principles of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. This says that the Scriptures are sufficient for sanctification as well as salvation. The Scriptures are sufficient and,therefore, lacking in nothing.

Three things this passage teaches us:

  • Scriptures are sufficient for salvation.
  • Scriptures are sufficient for sanctification.
  • Scriptures are uniquely God-breathed (theopnoustos). Please note: Tradition is never given this designation or any similar designation.Ps. 119
    This Psalm is an acclamation of the Scriptures, made up of 176 verses (longest chapter in the Bible) mentioning the Word of God 178 times using 10 different synonyms. The Scriptures are presented as being totally sufficient for the follower of God in all matters pertaining to instruction, training, and correction. It is significant that though Scripture is mentioned 178 times, the concept of unwritten Tradition is never mentioned once. In fact, there is no acclamation of or meditation on unwritten Tradition in such a way anywhere in Scripture. This would be problematic if one were to believe that the concept of unwritten Tradition is on equal footing as Scripture, yet the Bible never mentions it. It would be the greatest case of neglect that one could find unless one could present the case that Psalm 119 is speaking of the Law which includes both the written and unwritten form. This is possible, though difficult to maintain for many obvious reasons related to the previous posts.

    Acts 17:10–11
    “The brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea at once, during the night. When they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.”

    This is a clear illustration of a commendation and example of the sola Scriptura method in practice. The Bereans were praised for testing the Apostles’ teaching against the witness of Scripture. Don’t miss this significance. It was not merely the theoretical magisterial authority in succession with the Apostles, it was a living authoritative Apostle they were testing—and Luke commends them! This is the very essence of sola Scriptura and perhaps the most significant example of the doctrine in practice.

    What is interesting is that Roman Catholics are forbidden from testing the bishops according to Scripture, but they are required to do just the opposite—test the Scriptures according to the bishops—since they are told that they don’t have the ability to responsibly interpret Scripture. It must be noted that the twentieth century saw some great and encouraging developments in the area of personal Bible study among Roman Catholics. However, they are still required to interpret Scripture in light of the Magisterium, not vice-versa as the Bereans were.

  • In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight – What about all the divisions?

    The fifth argument against sola Scriptura:

    Without the infallible authority of the Church, the Church would be hopelessly divided on matters of doctrine and morals. This would not be the Church that Christ started.

    The idea here is that when doctrine is left to the “private interpretation” of the individual, this leads to doctrinal anarchy. Catholics and Orthodox alike often appeal to the thousands of Protestant denominations as a witness against the doctrine sola Scriptura.

    Answer:

    There are a few problems that I see with this argument. I will deal with the first to in brief and spend more time on the last one in the post that follows.

    Problem 1: We don’t advocate “private interpretation”

    This argument often assumes that sola Scriptura promotes an unbridled “private interpretation” that gives no authority to tradition. This is not the confession of sola Scriptura, but of nuda Scriptura, which I have spoken about previously. Advocates of sola Scriptura do not believe in this sort of private interpretation. We must interpret the Scriptures along with those who have gone before us, even if we might have warrant to question or disagree with their theology from time to time. Those who read the Scripture, as Alexander Campbell once advocated, “As if no one has read them before” are not following in the tradition of the Reformed view of sola Scriptura. Those must be judged on their own merit without association to the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

    Problem 2: Everyone has divisions.

    Protestants disagree about what the Scriptures say, Catholics disagree about what the Church says, and (as the saying goes) the Orthodox don’t say enough to disagree! Simply because one is put under a more definite designative umbrella does not make true unity. I, for example, have witnessed just as many disagreements among Catholics about what the Church means by “outside the Church there is no salvation” as I have among Protestants about any issue. All one has to do is to go spend some time on the Catholic Answers forum and see that they don’t function with much more unity than a Protestant forum. There would seem to be just as many disagreements, differing interpretations, and needless anathmatizing among Catholics as among Protestaants. The point is that simply because one functions under a unified name or confession does not mean that you have a unified belief.

    It is agreed, however, that Protestants tend to have more divisions, but I would not say that this is the case with Evangelicals to the same degree as other Protestant traditions.

    See this article for more on the overstatement of Protestant divisions.

    Problem 3: Division is not always a bad thing

    I will save this for a post tomorrow as it will take a little time.

    In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Seven – What About the Canon?

    The next argument against sola Scriptura:

    Without the infallible declaration of the Church, there would be no way of knowing what books belong in the canon of Scripture. Since there is no inspired canon of Scripture, the “Scripture alone” is not even enough to establish what Scriptures are truly Scripture. Therefore, the doctrine of sola Scriptura is self-defeating.

    This is true. I am looking on page 23 of my Bible and it has the list of books. The books all together number 66, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. This is often referred to as the “canon” of Scripture. “Canon” (Gk. kanon) means “rule” or “measuring rod.” The canon of Scripture is the collection or a “rule” of books that Christians believe belong in the Bible. There are some variations among Christian traditions concerning the number of books. The Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches all use different canons (as well, some eastern churches will vary still). The Catholic and Orthodox include a group of books in their Bibles referred to as the Deuterocanonical books (”second canon”) or, as Protestants would call it, the “Apocrypha” (although the Orthodox church is not quite as settled upon the status of the Apocrypha).

    The question How do you know what books belong in the Bible? is a significant one indeed and presents, what I believe to be, the most persuasive argument against sola Scriptura that there is. The Catholics and Orthodox will normally refer to the establishment of these books as part of the canon by fourth century councils. Catholics would further refer to the teachings of the council of Trent (1545-1563) which dogmatically and infallibly declared the current Catholic canon (including the Apocrypha) as being authoritative.

    I believe that the 66 books of the Protestant canon belong in the Bible, no more no less. I believe that all 66 books are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Yet the list on page 23 of my Bible is not part of the canon. In other words, the list itself is not part of the inspired word of God. I am using the New American Standard Bible, but it is the same in any version of any language. Even the NET Bible does not have an inspired list—even in the footnotes! There is no early Greek or Hebrew manuscript that solves the problem either. Therefore I have a potential difficulty. Since do not believe in an infallible human authority that has determined what books belong in the Bible, how can I be certain what books belong in the Bible and still profess sola Scriptura?

    It would seem that the Scripture alone is not sufficient to establish the Scripture alone!! Do we have an fallible canon of infallible books?

    It was R.C. Sproul who first made the claim that Protestants have a fallible canon of infallible books. A fallible canon of infallible books? What good is that? Catholics often jest about the seemingly ironic situation in which advocates of sola Scriptura find themselves. Catholics claim that they, due to their belief in a living infallible authority, have an infallible collection of infallible books, and that we are just borrowing from them!

    Not only this (as an aside), but what about interpretation? Not only do Protestants not believe in an infallible authority to dogmatize which books belong in the Bible, but they don’t believe in an infallible authority to interpret the Bible. Therefore, we can take this to the next level. Protestants have a fallible interpretation of an fallible canon of infallible books. Ouch! Sounds like it is time to convert to Catholicism, eh?

    Not so fast. In the end, this is an issue of epistemology. Epistemology deals with the question “How do you know?” How do we know the canon is correct? How do we know we have the right interpretation? Assumed within these questions is the idea of certainty. How do you know with certainty? Not only this, but how do you know with absolute certainty?

    The question that I would ask is this: Do we need absolute infallible certainty about something to 1) be justified in our belief about that something, 2) to be held responsible for a belief in that something. I would answer “no” for two primary reasons:

    1. This supposed need for absolute certainty is primarily the product of the enlightenment and a Cartesian epistemology. To say that we have to be infallibly certain about something before it can be believed and acted upon is setting the standard so high that only God Himself could attain to it. Outside of mathematics and analytical statements (e.g. a triangle had three sides), there is no absolute certainty, only relative certainty. This does not, however, give anyone an excuse or alleviate responsibility for belief in something.

    For example, I believe that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. I prepare each day with this belief in mind. Each night, I set my alarm clock and review my appointments for the following day, having a certain expectation that the next day will truly come. While I have certainty about the sun rising the next day, I don’t have infallible certainty that it will. There could be some astronomical anomaly that causes the earth to stop its rotation. There could be an asteroid that comes and destroys the earth. Christ could come in the middle of the night. In short, I don’t have absolute infallible certainty about the coming of the next day. This, however, does not give me an excuse before men or God for not believing that it will come. What if I missed an early appointment the next day and told the person “I am sorry, I did not set my alarm clock because I did not have infallible certainty that this day would come.” Would that be a valid excuse? It would neither be a valid excuse to the person who I was supposed to meet or to God.

    We have a term that we use for people who require infallible certainty about everything: “mentally ill.” Remember What About Bob? He was mentally ill because he made decisions based on the improbability factor. Because it was a possibility that something bad could happen to him if he stepped outside his house, he assumed it would happen. There are degrees of probability. We act according to degrees of probability. Simply because it is a possibility that the sun will not rise tomorrow does not mean that it is a probability that it won’t.

    The same can be said about the canon and interpretation of Scripture. Just because there is a possibility that we are wrong (being fallible), does not mean that it is a probability. Therefore, we look to the evidence for the degree of probability concerning Scripture.

    2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium) disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility. No one would claim personal infallibility. Therefore it is possible for all of us to be wrong. We all have to start with personal fallible engagement in any issue. Therefore, any belief in an infallible living authority could be wrong. As Geisler and MacKenzie put it, “The supposed need for an infallible magisterium is an epistemically insufficient basis for rising above the level of probable knowledge. Catholic scholars admit, as they must, that they do not have infallible evidence that there is an infallible teaching magisterium. They have merely what even they believe to be only probable arguments. But if this is the case, then epistemically or apologetically there is no more than a probable basis for Catholics to believe that a supposedly infallible pronouncement [either about the canon or interpretation of the canon] of their church is true” (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, p. 216).

    Here is a graph to illustrate what I mean:

    This means that we are all floating in the same river, just different boats. Catholics (Dual-Source Theory) have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; Advocates of sola Scriptura have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. Both authorities must be substantiated by the evidence and both authorities must be interpreted by fallible people. In the end, what is the difference? Advocates of sola Scriptura just cut out the infallible middle man.

    Do advocates of sola Scriptura have a fallible collection of infallible books? Yes. We concede such. When all is said and done, all of our beliefs are fallible and therefore subject to error. But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error. We have to appeal to the evidence to decide. God would [probably] accept nothing less. :)