And Alveus, I don't understand what it means to be Orthodox, you're right. But is it not a branch of Christianity, thusly a denomination?
Tradition is only necessary for worship. Isn't it a fundamental belief as a Christian to believe in the Bible as the true inerrant Word of God? Why would we need to look anywhere else if it was? And I believe it is.
Shouldn't doctrine be based on the Bible rather than tradition?
And why would you use Biblical verses to try and back up iconography and the Theotokos if you said it wasn't necessarily accurate (whoever did).
I'm quite confused by this whole thing; I came here to learn about Orthodoxy, and now I'm more confused and unattracted to it.
I'm no expert but may be I can help. I am a former Protestant Christian with a primarily Baptist/Charismatic background. I recieved my BA from a Baptist college where I studied NT among other religious subjects. So perhaps I can address some of your concerns.
Denominations: Were the Judaizers sent packing by the Apostles in the book of Acts another denomination of Christianity that had just a little different view on things? Why was their perpective not just as good as that of the Apostles and elders of the Church? It is a question of authority to say what is or is not the faith. The decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was characterized as both the will of the Holy Spirit and of the Apostles. Throughout the centuries a number of similar councils have convened when some major erronious teaching was gaining ground. The Christians of those times understood those decisions likewise to be the express will of the Holy Spirit for Christ's Church. Those councils solidified Christian teaching on the Holy Trinity, the full Divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Full Humanity of Christ as the God-Man among other things. Do you accept these beliefs as true, as consistant with the Scriptures? If so then you have accepted the authority of these councils, that are the councils of the Church, that are the express voice and teaching of the Holy Spirit in those times and to all times that followed...or do you feel free to deny the Holy Trinity or the full Divinity and Humanity of Christ based on your own interpretations? If those councils did express the will of God, then is it permissible to hold a faith other than what they held and still remain faithful as a Christian? Doesn't one automatically end up on the same side as the Judaizers if God's own Spirit given tools of governance are ignored as the "traditions of men?"
So if you look at the those faithful to the Apostles and those faithful to the Judaizers would you say then that there were two denominations of Chirstianity, or one church and one body of heretics? Does 1500 years and 1000s of other divisions from that one original body change anything so that everyone is now a denomination and all theologially equal? No. I don't think so.
Tradition: You say it is only necessary for worship but not anything else because it is not fundamental to Christian belief? What is more fundamental to the Christian faith than her worship? Do you not realize that the worship we have is not a human invention but is revealed from heaven? Go back to the OT to where Moses recieved instruction on the building and ordering of the tabernacle, of the worship offered there. Wasn't the form and order of worship along with those anointed to serve the altars of the Lord something revealed by God...or was it just a teaching tool to be done away in time. Look at the Prophets in their visions of God. Look at the Apocalypse of St. John. God is enthoned on an altar, antiphons of Holy Holy Holy flash back and forth between the living creatures, choirs of angels hymn and offer incense. Elder's fall prostrate, and at key times there is even an ordered silence. Does this remind you of anything? Our worship is worship precisely because it is modeled on, an iconic expression of, and a means of participation in the one and only worship there is in the whole of creation...that which occurs before Christ's throne. Our liturgy is an ascent to be united in the eternal liturgy of heaven. Moses didn't just invent his liturgy for the tabernacle, he witnessed it. So do we. Worship is very much foundational to the faith. What did Christ say to the Samaritan woman. "We know what we worship..." "The day is coming when you will neither worship in the temple or in the mountian but in Spirit and truth". Only the venue of worship is changed from earthly places to heavenly ones, it's character and importance do not.
Now consider that for all the detail included in the OT accounts of their worship, or the many indications in the NT of Christian worship, where are the step by step details that tell us how to worship? They are not written down in the Scriptures. Rather they were and are passed from generation to generation...the paradosis, the handing down, the Tradition. You could not worship at all and have any confidence that your worship was God pleasing were it not for the Tradition of Christian worship which is rooted in God's own revelation of what His worship is.
The Bible and Tradition. You ask why we need to turn to anything but the Bible. But what does the Bible say? Hear St. Paul speaking to the Thessalonians,"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." Consider what the Tradition is to St. Paul. It is not something seperate from what is written, but rather it includes it. The Church learns from St. Paul that we are guided by the Tradition. That tradition has both written and unwritten elements and they illumine each other. Consider who is to recieve the tradition both written and unwritten. Is it not the Church. Is not the Church then the proper context in which to encounter, understand, and apply the Scriptures? Is the Church without Spirit given teachers to rightly divide the Scriptures thoughout all her history? Or did her teacher's vanish with the Apostles? If we would then be faithful to Christ in His Church how can we do so without being faithful to the concensus of those teachers He has provided age to age and perfer our own readings or those readings championed by those who stand outside the Tradition and who teach at variance to it? The Bible is part of the Tradition, the head of its written part, but not the only part. We have apostolic command to keep both the written and the unwritten together. Either alone is insufficient, not whole.
Innerancy: Why must the Bible be inerrant as we calculate such things? How can it even matter whether it is innerrent or not if we, the readers are not inerrant in our interpretation? If we cannot be sure we rightly understand the Scriptures as we read them (and we should read them), then how can we know if our interpretations/applications are right or drifting into perhaps soul damning error? The Bible does have an answer. Consider St. Paul again speaking to his spiritual son Timothy: "1 Tim 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
What does the Apostle Paul call the Church? Does he not identify it as the very pillar and gound of all truth, its very foundations we might say? And given that the Church is the Body of Christ who is Head, and Christ is Himself the Truth, then such a statement makes sense. If you want the innerant truth about Christ, about how to understand and apply the teachings of Scripture then you don't turn to yourself, nor to any individual man, rather we are directed to the Church as the very foundations of truth. Trust the teachings of the Church. Look now at the end of the Apocalypse of St. John. Who is that sitting enthroned. Who is that who speaks with the very same voice as the Spirit of God? What does the passage say? "The Spirit and the Bride say come." Who is the Bride? Is she the Church or not? Does this passage echo the conciliar passage of Acts 15, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." You bet it does. So if your belief and teaching differ from that of the councils of the Church which speak with the voice of the Spirit, then how can one also be part of the Bride who likewise speaks the same thing as the Spirit?
How can you say you obey the Scriptures when in denying the authority of the Church, and the teaching of the Church, and the Tradition of the Church which are all expressly commended to us in those very same Scriptures.
Do not make the mistake of confusing the falible traditions of men with the Tradition, which is the Tradition of God.
Icons and Iconography: These things are part of the sacred history of the Church. They have solid anticedents in the Tabernacle of Moses and in the Temple. Go to the OT and look at the relevant passages. Just a few verses after the 10 commandments are given, the first of which is to worship only God and not make images of anything in heaven or earth to worship them, God gives instruction on the appointments of the tablernacle. It includes a lampstands shaped like an almond tree, images of angels woven into the curtains of the temple and two angels placed over the mercy seat. Soloman had images of bulls put under the Sea, and he had the four faces of the Cherubim placed on the side of the carts used to serve the altar...and God's glory so filled that temple the priests could not stand to minister. Apparently those images didn't cause him any problem.
Consider that according to the Tradition, the first painter of icons in the Church was St. Luke who wrote 2 books of the NT. If his writings are treasured in the Church why not his art? The Blessed Theotokos even said his work would be blessed by her Son. Then there is the tradition concerning the image Christ made of Himself on a towel for king Agbar of Edessa? Consider also that the making of funerary portraits were part of the burial customs of Egypt and Palestine in the era of the Apostles and thereafter. Just as the relics of the martyrs and holy ones were brought into the Church for veneration so were their images. The image identified the particular remains/relics. In time a particular churchly style of painting and labeling such images developed, but they have always been present as part of our veneration of saints who lived God pleasing lives and so often in that time offered them up as a willing sacrifice.
These things are testimony to the incarnation...that Christ really came, could be seen, touched, died and rose again and who will come again. They are testimony to the power of tranformation and transfiguration of the faithful by the Spirit in the service of and after the image and likeness of Christ. They are in line and colour for us what the Scriptures are in ink and paper. Same message, different mediums. One and the same Spirit in all.
I hope this is of some small usefulness. Forgive me.