Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some Examples of “Tradition” versus “Scripture” Identified

“Orthodox” wrote: “Remember, I defined "workable" in the thesis of this debate to mean being able to find the truth, to be able to do so easily, and to be able to do so consistently enough that it works as a rule in the church. Therefore, whichever is clearer is going to be more workable.”

As I’m the one affirming the thesis, it seems I should have the privilege of defining the terms. This, however, is not the place for a dispute over the definition, for reasons that will become apparent as the debate progresses.

Additionally, there is an important difference between objective and subjective clarity. What constitutes “tradition” is objectively less clear than what constitutes “Scripture.” Likewise, Scripture’s teaching on the divinity of Christ is objectively clearer than Scripture’s teaching on the order of decrees. Moreover, the teachings of the “Orthodox Church” on the use of icons is objectively more clear than the teachings of the “Orthodox Church” on the necessity of women’s head coverings. Nevertheless, when we try to compare the teachings of the “Orthodox Church” to the teachings of “Scripture” with respect to clarity, a subjective component may be introduced. The present author has tried to minimize that subjective component in the answers that follow, particularly by following the instructions:

“Orthodox” also wrote: “In other words, let's say for example you are a new catechumen, searching for truth, you've done say a few months study of scripture and a few months study of the teachings of the Orthodox church. On these topics, are you going to be clearer where the bible stands, or clearer where the Orthodox Church stands?”

If “Orthodoxy” were historically Christian, there should be no dilemma: in other words it should be clear from the teaching of the Orthodox Church where the Bible stands. Furthermore, if a catechumen (a person under instruction of the church) is the example, then whether the Bible or the Orthodox Church is more clear may to a significant degree depend on the method of catechesis, and the church in which catechesis is performed. For example, a catechumen in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) may have a pretty clear understanding of where the Bible stands on each of the following topics and practically no knowledge of what the Orthodox Church states. In contrast, a catechumen of a Greek Orthodox Church in Detroit, Michigan may have almost no knowledge of what the Bible teaches, but a pretty good idea of what his instructor thinks the Greek Orthodox Church teaches.

“Orthodox” continued: “What we need is either SA (scripture alone) or OC (orthodox church) for each of the following...”

With the caveats noted above, and additionally noting that knowing what the “OC” teaches (or more specifically what one’s local priest or bishop teaches) is not necessarily the same thing as knowing what tradition says, both because it is not necessarily the case that “tradition” means the teachings of the church in general, and because it is not necessarily the case that the teachings of the Orthodox Church are authentically traditional, the following answers are provided:

“1) Baptism. For believers or for all people in the Church (infants).”

Unbaptized infants (or other unbaptized persons of any age) are not “in the Church.” Furthermore, the present author is not aware of any dogmatic definition in Orthodoxy on the issue. In practice, all the Orthodox churches the present author has seen baptize catechized believers and infants of baptized believers. Presumably catechism class in an Orthodox Church would tell a person what that bishop believed. In short, while it may be unclear whether the local “Orthodox Church” is conforming to tradition (for a neophyte catechumen), it may well be clear after a couple classes that the local Orthodox Church is paedo-baptistic.

If the present author is supposed to contrast how clear it is that his local Orthodox Church practices paedobaptism with how clear it is that Scripture teaches paedobaptism, the former is more clear than the latter.

“2) Given the conflicting biblical data: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Exodus 20:4 vs “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat." Ex. 25:18, is it appropriate to have images in a religious setting?”

With all the caveats and clarifications noted above, it is both perfectly clear that Scripture condemns worshiping God with images and that the Orthodox church commends the same practice. Your question, though, is not quite that: it is “is it appropriate to have images in a religious setting.” That question is sufficiently vague to leave open that: images are ordinarily how the heathen gods were worshiped, and consequently their use would be appropriate in that religious setting. That would be perfectly clear either way also. Likewise, if we are asking about the hidden things in the Holiest of Holies, both Scripture and the Orthodox Church would be perfectly clear on the issue. In fact, the only thing unclear here seems to be the question.

3) Worship. Should it be liturgical, or should it follow the regulative principle, or should it adapt to the prevailing culture like modern protestant churches?

This question has an overlapping categories problem, as well as a vagueness problem. The categories overlap because “liturgical” is not inherently contradictory to the regulative principle of worship and is also not inherently contradictory to cultural adaptation. Likewise, the regulative principle is not inherently contradictory to cultural adaptation. In other words, the choices are ill defined.

In any event, it seems to be much more clear that the Regulative Principle of Worship is the teaching of Scripture than that it is the teaching of the “Orthodox Church.” It is about equally clear that public worship in Orthodox churches is “liturgical” and that Scripture does not require any specific liturgy. There is a split in Orthodoxy over cultural adaptation, but Scripture’s clarity on the issue depends on the sub-issue. Thus, Scripture is more clear on the issue as a whole. Nevertheless, a new catechumen may be led to believe something very specific by his local priest / bishop about what the “Orthodox Church” teaches on the subject: which could result in the catechumen being very clear, even if the collection of all Orthodox churches are not in agreement.

4) Is the Lord's supper, the communion, purely a symbol as [Zwingli] taught, or is Christ "with, on or under" the elements as Lutherans teach, or is it really the Lord's body and blood?

It’s worth pointing out that this is not a complete list. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear on the issue. There is no dogmatic definition in “Orthodoxy” on the issue, although the prevailing sentiment I’ve seen is to call the elements “mysteries.” A new catechumen who hears that explanation would be much less clear what the Orthodox Church teaches (because “mysteries” would suggest the unknown to a neophyte) than what Scripture teaches. Possibly, though, a priest or bishop might assert that it is “really the Lord’s body and blood,” in which case the catechumen would have a clear, if inaccurate, opinion as to the options listed above.

5) The Canon. Is the exact boundaries of the canon clearer from scripture, or from the Church?

The Orthodox Church has not dogmatically defined the canon, and various “Orthodox” churches accept different books as canonical. A Bible ordinarily has a table of contents that lists the books. Even if it does not, one could write a list if one had the Bible in front of one, with or without a table of contents. Accordingly, “from Scripture” is perfectly clear, whereas “Orthodoxy” is not. Again, though, a new catechumen might be handed a list by his bishop and consequently have a crystal clear notion, even if it is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

6) Church polity. Is the organization of the church clearer from scripture's teaching, or in the Orthodox church?

Scripture is much clearer, if only because there are so many fewer offices in Scripture.

7) That God is one in being and three in persons. Is it clearer in scripture or in the creeds and councils of the Orthodox Church?

It’s perfectly clear from Scripture, but it is stated more explicitly in some of the creeds.

8) Given the sketchy data in the bible concerning Sunday worship, let alone as a Sabbath day of rest, is it appropriate to abandon Saturday as the Sabbath?

That the data is “sketchy” is not a given. Scripture is clear. Orthodoxy is somewhat less clear: at least one canon of the 7th Ecumenical council seems to suggest that no Sabbath at all should be observed, though perhaps it should be interpreted only with respect to Saturday Sabaath observance by converted Jews.

9) Does the Holy Spirit normally come after receiving rites of the elders in the Church, e.g Chrismation or Acts 8:17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.

This question is pretty vague: “normally come”? Scripture is clear that the charismatic (extraordinary) gifts of the Holy Spirit were conveyed by the laying on of hands, the same as church office was conveyed. The present author has no basis for supposing that the coming of the Holy Spirit is something that is addressed with great clarity in the Orthodox Church.

10) And finally, is the role of tradition itself clear from sola scriptura? This very argument we're having now, over the meaning of following the oral tradition in verses like 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Whose view on the role of tradition is clearer, scripture or the Orthodox Church?

As noted above, it seems we are having some amount of trouble even deciding what “tradition” means, and what “tradition” is, much less what the role of “tradition” is. Scripture is fairly clear in its teaching regarding “tradition” as Scripture uses that term. In one way, the Orthodox Church is clear as to the role of “tradition” (paraphrased as: “it means you have to do what we say”) and other ways the Orthodox Church is completely obscure about the role of “tradition” (paraphrased as “how significant are the lives of the saints as compared with, say, the architecture of the church”). In other words, “tradition” in Scripture is relatively clear, whereas “tradition” in “Orthodoxy” is a confused mess.

Praise be to Him who is not the author of confusion,


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