Saturday, October 6, 2007

Opening Argument by Orthodox

The topic of which system "works" must be evaluated on its own terms. 2000 words does not allow me to divert into topics such as whether the use of icons is consistent with scripture. Since the patron saint of our parish is depicted in his icon as smashing idols, clearly one man's interpretation of an idol is not the same as another, which in itself is illustrative of the problem at hand.

I would take "workable" to include: (a) A basis on which Christians can know the truth. (b) It ought not require a seminary degree to fulfill (a). (c) It works as a rule of faith in the church, not just for individuals.

Tradition is a Superset
I would put forward is that Tradition is more workable because it is a superset of scripture. Remember, we're not debating here whether it is a consistent or a true superset, that's a debate for another day. If it's a super-set then it contains more data than a mere part. That means that with the full Tradition you know at least as much as you know with scripture alone. No matter what problems you have with Tradition, it doesn't take anything away from scripture.

The Canon
The first section of the Westminster Confession outlines the canon of scripture, listing the protestant canon, and excluding the deutero canon. Here immediately my opponent's thesis fails, because the canon of scripture is not in scripture, much less is there a list in scripture of what is NOT scripture. And this is no empty argument since there are churches with both larger and smaller canons than the WC.

Tradition is Clearer in its Teaching

Some accuse Tradition of being "vague". But let me ask you this: Which proposition is clearer, either that the bible teaches infant baptism (as the WC would have. substitute believer baptism if you are inclined), OR that the Orthodox Church teaches infant baptism. Clearly the latter is a clearer proposition.

When people say tradition is vague what they really mean is that the boundaries are vague. However we've already established that the boundaries of the canon of scripture are vague based purely on the factual evidence. But in what actually matters, the important issues of the faith, Tradition is clearer.

When the WC was penned it was rejected already by major portions of the protestant movement. Baptists rejected its teaching on baptism. Methodists and
general Baptists rejected its Calvinist leanings. Quakers and baptists rejected its polity and ecclesiology.

Since then, it's only been downhill in the protestant movement. The proportion of protestants identifying themselves as evangelicals that would even substantially agree with the WC is only a tiny rump from the whole.

My opponent might say, "but these people didn't do proper exegesis". If it's true, which is a debate in itself, does it really matter? Apparently then, people aren't very good at exegesis, and all the wishing that they were doesn't change the reality that it isn't workable.

Contrast this to Orthodoxy, where everybody has the same teachings on certain things that are nowhere dogmatically defined in the formal way the West would like. "The Bible says it" has led to myriad of opinions (and denominations) on every conceivable issue. But "Tradition says it" has retained unity. The reason is that tradition and consensus are two sides of the one coin. "The Bible says it" is individualism.

The Bible is not a Textbook
If "the bible says it, we believe it" was enough, why would we even have the WC? The existence of the WC is an acknowledgment that simplistic reasoning doesn't work. Even assuming the WC teaches the truth, it was the result of a great many learned men engaging in debate and discussion in all likelyhood beyond the abilities and/or time constraints of the common man to evaluate the arguments and counter arguments. Perhaps it should be restated as "the bible says it, and with a decade of seminary education you might believe it too". The bible was not written as a theological text book, thus it is not written with the intention of being a rule of faith by itself.

As Chrysostom put it:

"The sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at the time. It was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition." - Homily I on Acts.

In Orthodoxy, tradition is consensus. It is always working towards agreement. It is conciliar. The chances that your particular priest isn't teaching Orthodoxy and you are completely ignorant of a dispute are slight since he is talking to the other priests who are talking to the other bishops who are talking to the other synods. As soon as you
meet a second priest, the odds they are both off the wall are greatly reduced again. Contrast the WC, which can only ever be opinions, no matter how many agree.

The Early Church wasn't instructed to abandon tradition
The early church didn't and couldn't follow Sola Scriptura either before the NT being written or before canon being settled. They received a lot of apostolic teachings not found in the old testament. "The bible doesn't say it, therefore I don't believe it", would have got you kicked out of the early church since the whole movement was extra scriptural. Neither would it work until the canon is settled. There is very little you can state based on sola scriptura as certainly true, if you acknowledge there is the possibility you could be missing a book that contradicts you. Since the early church didn't and couldn't follow sola scriptura, and since the apostles never counciled a time when the church ought to cut over from the old way of following the oral traditions to the new way of scripture alone, the cut over was UNWORKABLE, since nobody taught it, and thus (surprise surprise) it never happened.

Chrysostom acknowledges that the apostles never followed sola scriptura, in his commentary on 2 Timothy 3:8 where he suggests the possibility the apostle knew the names of the magicians by tradition, since they are nowhere previously mentioned in scripture.

Contrast Orthodoxy, where tradition is an organic set of beliefs held by the body. It requires no change of direction when scripture is written or when the canon becomes finalised. These are just fine tuning to the mechanism which is the faith once delivered in the church. The teachings can remain the same, but the media can change and is in fact ever expanding. By avoiding the conundrum that it is only part of the faith when it is written and bound in a book the church avoids any unworkable cutover.

Consensus vs Individualism. Scripture Alone Can't Bring Unity.
If consensus (tradition) in the Church is not part of the mechanism of truth, then there is no hope for unity beyond the most basic of propositions, either the church local or universal. Clearly not in the universal church as when we discussed protestant denominations. But also the local church.

My opponent would know that these days, Calvinists such as himself are a tiny minority of protestants. And yet protestants join churches often for more practical reasons, like where their friends are, who has the best Sunday school etc. So what stops a Calvinist church becoming non-Calvinist in its membership, then appointing a non-Calvinist pastor and ceasing to be Calvinist?

(a) You could make a particular confession like the WC a pre-requisite for membership. But now you have ruled out any future reforming - Semper Reformanda and all that. The confession then becomes set in stone. Isn't this what the reformers criticised Rome for? Setting in stone things that are not themselves scripture? Isn't this the Pharisaical error? If hypothetically there is a budding Martin Luther, all ready to reform an error that crept into the WC, the reform will never happen because you will exclude him from membership straight away. Besides which, you would then be excluding the elect from church membership, which can't be a good thing and would have no scriptural warrant. Instead of at least attempting to reconcile the visible and invisible churches, you would have only an elite church in which the supposed super-theologians can join.

Or you could (b) let people into membership who only hold to more basic standards of belief. But then your church will be overrun by the prevailing view, and/or become a hotbed for never-ending infighting.

Or you could (c) just lower your standards altogether.

And we see all these things happening in reality. A few reformed groups have become fossilized in 1646. So they had better hope that those church men of 1646 were the greatest theologians of all time, eclipsing all the church fathers combined, since no more reforming is going to happen there. But most groups have gone down the path of (b) to be non-Calvinist and then many have gone further to point (c). The one thing that there is certainly not much going on of is Semper Reformanda. It aint working.

Scripture Doesn't Teach Sola Scriptura
Sola Scriptura fails to "work" because it fails to teach the very principle itself. That scripture doesn't teach scripture alone has caused not a few to leave the protestant fold altogether since scripture failed to teach the protestant foundation.

And since it fails to teach itself, it leads to various schools of thought. A strict school as exemplified by those holding to the Regulative Principle of Worship, who would say that if scripture doesn't teach it, don't do it. And the more charismatic group who would say if scripture is silent on the possibility, then you are free in Christ to do it.

The application of sola scripture itself fails because the chosen hermeneutic comes not from scripture but from ones own opinion. While scripture itself may sometimes hint towards a particular hermeneutic, more often than not the interpreter himself is the one determining the result. So there are those more predisposed to taking passages in a more literal fashion, and others less literally.

Contrast this to Orthodoxy where there is an interpretive tradition. So the Lutherans and Zwinglians argued back and forth about the reality of the body and blood of Christ, neither side able to win, since the outcome was always determined by the hermeneutic. Eventually the Lutherans dogmatized their "in, on or under" doctrine, and put all debate at an end.

Tradition is Alive and Self-correcting.
Biblical misinterpretation reoccurs again and again. Generation after generation makes the same mistakes. By rights, a sola scriptura church would have to be regularly getting together and debating the issues to see if the last mob got it right. (of course, if you only let in those holding to the confession, you'll just have a mono-cultural view anyway).

Tradition, being a process we believe led by the Holy Spirit, can identify and correct misunderstandings that are liable to crop up over and over. My opponent thinks that tradition can't be reliable, but he ignores the Spirit and providence of God. Sola scriptura on the other hand is a process that over time leads to more and more opinions. People think up more and more possible interpretations, a recent one being open theism, or new perspective on Paul. Morally, the proponent of sola scriptura would be compelled to examine and evaluate each of these new ideas on its own merits, in case a budding Martin Luther has stumbled onto something. At the rate they are being generated, that is considerable work. If all protestants actually did this, no doubt many more would be led astray than are already (which is not a few).

Tradition and scripture alone are two approaches that seek clarity in one truth. But in reality, sola scripture has led to either just a different set of authoritative traditions, or else a continuing and uncontrollable expansion of individual interpretations. Lacking a mechanism for removing wrong interpretations from the pool, confusion is ever expanding. This has led among protestants to a kind of doctrinal fatigue. They are exhausted dealing with these problems on so many fronts. When they know what they believe they are tired of fighting those in their own church who believe different. When they are a bit uncertain what to believe they are bamboozled by the number of opinions and the vastness of the literature on the subject. This is compounded by the fatigue of the continuing rapid evolution in protestant worship practices. The fatigue inevitably leads to an abandonment of doctrinal meat in favour of having no statement of faith at all. Those worn out by the process seek the calm waters of Orthodoxy.

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