Christ is Risen! Hi, my name is Jason. I'm currently attending catechumen classes and, God willing, plan to be baptized this winter Pascha. I used to be a Southern Baptist, and many of my friends are Southern Baptists. I feel particularly responsible for forging the hardcore "sola Scriptura" mindset of one friend in particular. He and I spent 4 years discussing the faith daily. He is now a missionary in an orthodox country. The other day, I posted a note on my social networking site google plus. I was sharing my celebration about finally finding a new church. He responded and we had a bit of a friendly discussion. He asked a lot of questions. I hope I'm explaining things accurately to him.
One of my concerns is where I said, "The church had to determine the canon of Scripture... similar efforts were undertaken to establish true Apostolic tradition, and I think that is mainly expressed in the orthodox services like the divine liturgy and the creeds that are part of those services. I'm not sure about that though. I'm new to orthodoxy."
How does that sound?
If you're interested in reading or commenting on any other parts of the discussion, it is below. I'm not asking anyone to read it by any means.
Jason wrote -
I had a growing interest in orthodoxy back home, but I could never understand the services. When I moved here to my new home, little did I know I would end up just a 5 minute bike ride away from my new church, finally an orthodox church that has services in English! I'm really enjoying it. I'm so blessed. God is good. It's so nice to finally have that feel like I have a church home again, to be able to stop wandering. For about the last three or four years I've been trying to find a friendly church where Sunday consists of little more than scripture, songs, the body and blood, some prayer, and hopefully a shared meal. I felt like I was constantly getting "preached at" and rarely found myself agreeing with what was being preached at me. For the life of me, I just couldn't find a church I was comfortable in. It was hard on me.
I had almost given up when I stumbled onto this place. Here, the entire service basically consists of the clergy and the congregation singing Scripture passages and prayers back and forth to each other in really beautiful four part harmonies and chants. They share the Eucharist, and then they share a friendly meal after. The "sermons" are just a couple of minutes long and for the most, from what I can tell, just allow the Word of God to speak for Himself. It is just exactly what was looking for. It must leave a lot to be desired for most people because it is really small. However, the people I've met there identify with my search and with the feeling I had when I found the place... so it is very... "homey" to us all.
Southern Baptist Missionary wrote -
Hey Bro, grats on your new church. "Open minded" and "counter-cultural" are absolutely nothing to worried about; as long as they are well supported with Scripture. I will stand behind you on the Word against anyone who teaches without Biblical proof. I hope you hear the Word of God preached and held to in your new church more than the churches you come from. Like you said, and I FULLY agree: The last thing you want is a church holding beliefs and teaching doctrines that are not supported by Scripture. As Jesus said in regard to all this:
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-19 ESV)
So you see “counter-culture” and “Biblically based.” Praying for your growth in the faith!
Hey, just realized I missed your post before mine saying something similar. Yes, cold-preaching is not what you see in Scripture. You see fellowship around the Word with other believers, building each other up in the faith according to the Word. Yes, there are definite times of preaching, but that is not all and just preaching is not healthy. Our Sunday time together here in Macedonia has preaching, singing, prayer and then a lot of fellowship. Your post made me think of these two verses:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14 ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17 ESV)
Jason wrote -
Brother! Christ is Risen! It's been way too long. Thanks so much for the encouragement and for sharing your thoughts. Great to hear from you. I hope all is well in Macedonia.
There was sometimes lack of biblical proof at my former churches concerning some topics. However, that can happen at any church since Scripture can be used to prove many different things depending on how it is twisted. So to be honest that wasn't even the main problem. My conscience just disagreed with much of what was said and done. For one example, one big problem for me was the that the words of the preachers' sermons by far outnumbered the words of Holy Scripture proclaimed in the services. My conscience was hinting that should not be the case for the service on the Lord's Day. I can't put my finger on exactly why. I just knew that deep down I wanted to find a church that primarily read, prayed, and sang through the Scriptures on Sunday with only a relatively short "sermon." A few Scripture passages in the New Testament lent me some support. However, like so much in Scripture, they are far from absolute proof. (they were 1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Colossians 4:16-17 if you're interested)
Every church that has human pastors and teachers will teach without biblical proof at times. Human pastors will even teach without divine truth at times. They're human like you and I. A sermon could someday be given at my new church that wanders from the truth. However, at least it will only last for like five percent of the service there (instead of sixty percent). The rest of the time will surely be filled with prayers, songs, readings from Scripture, and the testimony of ancient Christian art hanging all over the temple, testifying to the Word also. If I want more of the priest's or deacon's teaching, then I can just get it after the service.
You said, "The last thing you want is a church holding beliefs and teaching doctrines that are not supported by Scripture." To be honest, that's actually not the last thing I would want. I used to think a church needed support in Holy Scripture for all of its beliefs. Then I asked myself: since when? Like literally: "since what year?"
The early Christian churches, without complete Scriptures and sometimes without any Scriptures at all, still taught the Word’s Resurrection, His Divinity, the Trinity, the holy Apostles’ teachings, and many critical Christian theological truths. This went on for many years, sometimes many hundreds of years, before the Bible was finalized and became more widespread. Had you and I gathered with them, we would have seen churches that proclaimed the Word just fine without Scriptural support; they had no Scripture! This was possible because the holy Apostles taught followers of the Way to hold to the traditions they had taught them, whether by word of mouth or by written word (2 Thess 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2). The right churches had the right teachings, some by way of the holy traditions and others by way of the holy Scriptures. One job of the church was to to guard those right teachings, both the right traditions and the right written words.
So, to be honest, if a doctrine doesn't have tremendous support in Scripture that isn't the end of the world for me. Truth exists outside Scripture; He exists in a sun beam and in the early church traditions too. The last thing I would actually want is a church that relies *only* on Scripture or even *primarily* on Scripture. Scripture is notoriously hard to understand at certain parts, as the many divisions in Protestantism show. The holy Apostle Peter also warned us about this in 2 Peter 3:16. He noted that Scripture can be twisted easily at many points and can become incredibly destructive. Therefore, I want a church based on the Word's Resurrection primarily, then on the holy Scriptures and the early holy traditions together.
Thanks for sending me those wonderful passages. John 17:14-19 does show counter-culture. Not so much "biblically based" though. It shows "word-based," which means "God-based" since the Word is God. That's how I'm beginning to see the situation, at least.
I'm always grateful for your prayers. I will continue to pray for our growth in the Word together and for our salvation. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
Southern Baptist Missionary wrote -
Okay, in order to understand this better and to form a response, I only want to ask one question: What is truth? In order to express that question better: What would you say about passages like Acts 17:11-12, 1 Timothy 3:not just 16, but 17, 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 John 4:1, I too like 2 Peter 1:16-21? Scripture also speaks about carrying out the tradition given to you. How can you determine if something/tradition/a teaching is from God or of man? What is John 17:17 mean? And as a side note, if Scripture is not the basis of truth then why all the fuss over abstinence? Do you not know that that too comes from church fathers? I know you so I know this is not true, but I sounds like you are saying there are multiple sources of truth or even versions? The reason for different denominations is because it is so important to seek the one truth. After all, the Catholic and Orthodox churches split because of that.
Jason wrote -
Truth is a person; Jesus Christ. "I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." God is Truth. We actually can't fully know all of the truth because God is infinite and we were created finite. That being said, we can learn and know some true things about God. We can practice his Life and become more like Him.
Regarding Acts 17:11-12, the Bereans are praised there for receiving God's Word eagerly. They examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. Remember that for the Bereans 'the Scriptures' were the Old Testament. That is what they had. Therefore, this probably means they looked to see if the passages Paul cited to show that Christ is the Messiah were really in the Scriptures. Keep in mind that certain parts of the message Paul brought were not in the Scriptures they had, for instance the new practice of the Eucharist (or Lord's supper). So if we want to be like the Bereans, this passage is not saying we must examine the Scriptures to make sure every single thing that is taught to us is also in the Bible. It simply praises those who read and know the Scriptures, those who use them as an aid while they are guided by the Spirit and Apostolic teaching. The passage certainly doesn't teach the sole sufficiency of Scripture.
Regarding 2 Timothy 3:16,17, the first thing to note again is that Paul is referring to the Old Testament primarily. That is primarily what Timothy had. The New Testament had not been completed at the time this was written, its letters were not very widespread yet, and it would not be completed, canonized, and spread throughout all the churches for hundreds of years. Many Protestants use this passage to claim the sole sufficiency of the Scriptures. However, it then follows that Paul was basically saying the Old Testament alone is sufficient, perhaps with a couple of his own letters. In this passage, Paul is mainly affirming the usefulness and authority of the old testament to Timothy. By extension we can also apply it, now, to the New Testament. However, it is certainly not saying Scripture is the sole authority in Christianity as many different Protestant groups have claimed for the last 500 years or so. It says Scripture is useful for teaching and training the man of God. The result of teaching and training is that the man of God may be prepared for every good work. However, Scripture is not the only tool to be used to teach and train the man of God. The Spirit, for instance guides and trains. Also, the oral traditions Paul encouraged people like Timothy to remember in addition to his letters will guide and train.
Regarding 2 Timothy 2:15, Timothy is encouraged to "rightly divide the word of truth." I take this to mean "teach the Word of God correctly." (Or you could say, to teach according to orthodoxy since "orthodox" is actually just an old world that means "correct" or "right.") This is actually one of the verses orthodox Christians have been praying every Sunday as part of the divine liturgy for at least 1600 years, and probably much longer. They pray that God would grant their Bishops and Priests the continuing ability to rightly divide the word of truth.
Regarding 1 John 4:1, Christians must test the spirits. I think this refers to demons, angels, and people. Just as we may encounter angels and not even know it (Hebrews 13:2) I believe we also we may encounter demons. Evil forces often masquerade as good (see 2 Cor. 11:14). We should test every teacher and spiritual being that attempts to teach us to see if they really are of God, are evil, or are deceived. A test John suggests immediately is found in verses 2 and 3... ask if they acknowledge Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Early on one heresy Christianity faced was the denial of Jesus' incarnation. Certainly there are many other deceptions that evil and deceived teachers have attempted to fool us into believing since then. We always must test what we are taught and compare it to what Christ taught. In my case, for the reasons I mentioned a couple posts above, I think we should use Scripture and holy apostolic tradition to do that test as reliably as possible.
I think the point of 2 Peter 1:16-21 is that Scripture originated with God. The prophets of old spoke and wrote the words of God. The writings and traditions the Apostles passed down originated from sitting at the feet of Christ.
"How can you determine if something/tradition/a teaching is from God or of man?" It is a process of learning and study. The church had to determine the canon of Scripture, for instance. It took a great deal of time and effort to finalize and agree on the New Testament throughout all the churches. Similar efforts were undertaken to establish true Apostolic tradition, and I think that is mainly expressed in the orthodox services like the divine liturgy and the creeds that are part of those services. I'm not sure about that though. I'm new to orthodoxy. I personally study the scriptures and the early church fathers to test the origin of teachings. The later church fathers start to get messy, in my opinion, and many start to veer off on their own personal tangents, in this direction or that, from the central tenants of early Christianity.
"And as a side note, if Scripture is not the basis of truth then why all the fuss over abstinence? Do you not know that that too comes from church fathers? " [NOTE: Here he is referring to an inside fact. He knows that one of the things that led me away from Baptist-ism was their frequent repetition of the teaching that sex, and even kissing passionately, is a sin. Due to problems that teaching caused in my first marriage I started to seriously question everything the Baptists had taught me. I read the Scriptures and prayed for a couple years without going to a church. Eventually, that led me to have a very "orthodox-y" theology.. which I joyfully then discovered in the orthodox church.]
The teaching that sex before marriage is a sin comes neither from Scripture nor from the early church fathers as far as I can tell. I haven't been able to find a single early Father that ever taught that it is sin. They certainly said to avoid "sexual immorality." However, as we've discussed before (I think) there is no biblical reason to think premarital sex is immoral (at least not in the context of courtship). So I don't think the Fathers were referring to sex during courtship when they said to avoid sexual immorality. Some priests may disagree with me. All will probably tell you it isn't the core of Christianity. For them, the core is expressed in Scripture, the creeds, and the services. Premarital sex isn't mentioned in any of those three places. I've recently re-written the article I once wrote on that subject, by the way. It can be found at http://www.unc.edu/~jasondm/sex.html
in case you're interested.
There are definitely multiple sources of truth. Even the Spirit of God is a source of Truth; He can and does reveal himself to people without anyone's help. The Apostles passed along traditions as well as writings (Scriptures), two sources of truth. There is tremendous unity in the orthodox church regarding both of those sources. As far as why the Catholic and Orthodox churches split, I can't really speak to that. In the brief time I've looked into the issue I've concluded it came down to power politics and the pride of one Bishop (of Rome) who wanted to claim he had more authority than all the other Bishops throughout the orthodox cities and lands to make some changes to certain practices and creeds.
I don't know much. I'm no orthodox priest by any means. I could be wrong about some of this stuff. A book I found helpful is The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church by Clark Carlton. He attended Southeastern Baptist Seminary as well. If you will send me your address I'd be glad to mail you a copy.