Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dead Men Hold No Debates

O: “Protestants like to characterize tradition as an amorphous and constantly evolving set of innovations, that are a source of instability in doctrine.”

This really does not look like a cross-examination question windup. My previous response titled “chained to a wall” does not suggest that “Orthodoxy” is constantly evolving. In other words, this post seems to have set up a straw man.

In fact, previously in this debate I pointed out that “Orthodoxy” has not had an ecumenical council in well over a millennium. It may be amorphous and certain aspects of “Orthodoxy” may be changing, but “constantly evolving” is not the issue.

O: “But is that actually what it is like?”

Now, it appears, we are about to see the straw man chopped to pieces.

O: “Or is that just a presupposition based on an unbelieving heart?”

This seems to be coup de grace: if you reject Orthodox tradition you have an “unbelieving heart.” Whether this is arrogance or simply a fact the reader can determine for themselves.

O: “Listen to the Sunday, September 16, 2007 episode of The Illumined Heart Podcast from here:
From Wittenberg to Antioch

This is a half-hour-long program, and it’s not really part of the question at all. It’s patently an argument from example, inviting the reader to make a hasty generalization based on the experience of one man, the man being interview.

For the readers of this debate, the program is an interview with a man who was raised Lutheran, briefly left Lutheranism because he did not like the liturgy. The man discovered that Presbyterians also have liturgy. The man read a convicting sermon by Jonathon Edwards and took refuge in a view that if one is baptized one is saved, that the man attributes to Luther. Thus, the man returned to Lutheranism, eventually becoming ordained.

Shortly after ordination, however, the man discovered that there were some odd things going on in the Lutheran church, such as laity being involved in ordinations, and a deaconess blessing newly ordained people.

There is a segment on the visible versus invisible church, with the Antiochian Orthodox host suggesting that his church believes the two are the same, and suggesting that the “invisible church” concept is a convenient excuse for many denominations. The subject came up because apparently the Lutheran church in which the man grew up claimed to be the true church. The man being interviewed corrects the host as to the origin of the “invisible church” concept be agrees that it is a source of comfort in the face of many denominations.

The man’s concern about identifying the true church allegedly springs from Jesus’ promise that the “gates of hell will not prevail against” the church. To be in the church, therefore, according to the man, is to be in the place where the promises of God have been kept.

Next, the conversation turns to an assertion that Lutheranism has divided itself its defining statement, the Augsburger Confession and related documents. The focus of discrepancies were the inappropriate roles in worship by laity, the use of non-liturgical worship, and the widespread denial (or at least doubt) of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The man who was being interviewed speculated that the reason is that “every plant that my heavenly father has not planted will be pulled up.” In other words, that Lutheranism is not part of the true church. The man also said that the problems in Lutheranism are genetic: (1) Lutheranism adopts sola scriptura (you see, there was something in the half hour about the topic of this debate), and (2) Lutheranism lacks bishops.

One interesting claim that man makes is that “the wheels came off the wagon very quickly.” There are Lutherans all over the place, almost 500 years after Luther nailed his 95 theses (in Latin) to the chapel door at Wittenburg. I haven’t bothered to get the exact numbers, but there must be at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Lutherans: especially in Germany. This is not like a 3rd century group of heretics that died out after a few generations.

The man who was being interviewed identified two primary triggers for leaving the Lutheran church: the first was a recognition that the people in his congregation would not necessarily hold his views after he was gone, and the second was a feeling that the gospel preached at a ROCOR outreach in someone’s garage was the purest gospel he had ever heard.

Interestingly, this man asserted that the gospel of Orthodoxy and the gospel of Lutheranism are the same. The man also suggested that Luther was closer to Theosis than to Lutheranism. Also interestingly, the man asserted that if someone leaves Lutheranism for Rome, he is saying that the Reformation was fundamentally wrong, but if someone leaves Lutheranism for Constantinople, he is saying that the Reformation was fundamentally incomplete.

Fundamentally, the man seemed to be suggesting that the liturgy of Orthodoxy anchored in the Gospel so it could not be changed. Unfortunately, the man did not recognize that it anchors in both undesirable things, such as the use of icons, and desirable things, such as the breaking of bread, the baptism with water, and the singing of psalms.

Oddly, the man did not seem to recognize that the liturgy has evolved. Fewer and fewer “Orthodox” churches maintain the separation of the sexes to take one example, and more and more women are coming to pray in “Orthodox” churches with their heads uncovered.

O: “Then tell me why it is that the sola scriptura churches are constantly evolving and changing,”

Well, first of all, the sola scriptura churches are not constantly evolving and changing in important ways. Most importantly, of course, sola scriptura churches are anchored to the Scriptures. Secondly, the use of the standard of Scripture helps to define what is important and what is unimportant. The clear things in Scripture are important and the unclear things are less important. For a Sola Scriptura church, the mode of baptism and the seating arrangement is largely unimportant – but an “Orthodox” church does not have the luxury of considering any aspect of its own liturgy more or less important: “it is a tradition, seek no farther.”

O: “and tell me why this Presbyterian/ Lutheran couldn't find peace and stability until he became Orthodox.”

The sad answer to this question, based on the man’s own comments is that it is probably because he was convicted of sin by the preaching of the gospel in the Presbyterian church and recognized the lack of care for doctrine in the Lutheran churches with which he was affiliated. The former answer is gleaned from his comment regarding Edwards’ sermon, and the latter from his comment that his own views while he was a Lutheran were just considered eccentric, but no one really seemed to care.

O: “This seems to be a common theme for protestants becoming Orthodox.”

The same is also common for Protestants becoming Roman Catholic, though they do not make the comment this man made about the Reformation not going for enough.

O: “They've seen their own congregations "blow up", doctrinally a number of times and run out of options in protestant land, coming to see that sola scriptura doesn't work.”

So, they go to a place where the church has not made any official statements on doctrine in over a millennium. It is a place of peace, but they have overlooked something: there is no fighting in a cemetery. In other words, as illustrated by “Orthodox” previous “iceberg” analogy, sometimes the doctrinal debates and “blow ups” are a sign of health and life. A corpse never gets a fever: but a living body gets a fever as it fights off infection. When people stop caring, doctrinal disputes move to academia, and we have – more or less – the Roman Catholicism that set the stage for the Reformation.

O: “For all the theological back and forth in this debate, isn't it a fact that when it comes to actual real life, and in the field experience, tradition gives stability and sola scriptura, supposedly based on the unchanging word of God, leads to constant disputes and innovation?”

I’d rather drink from river than a swamp. The latter may be more calm, but the former is clean. The process of debate, discussion, and discourse brings heresies to the surface and exposes them for what they are. Vomiting is unpleasant, but it cleanses the stomach.

Furthermore, tradition does not give “stability” – the “tradition” based churches have undergone major division, most notably the “Great Schism” and the “Reformation.” The only way the appearance of stability is consistently maintained is by the way that “Orthodox” has done in this debate, namely by asserting that those who are not part of one’s sect are not the people of God. Of course, the problem is that it is easy to see that there are people of God outside the “Orthodox” churches. If that is so, it is clear that “Orthodoxy” has not maintained unity, but has grossly exaggerated sectarianism.


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