Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eastern errancy

I'd like to respond to this comment about the inerrancy of the Scripture from my Eastern Orthodox friend David Bryan, and as always, to ask him please to correct any misconceptions I've incorporated about EOC. I understand whenever you have to cut this off; moving cross-country is no easy task. But I think the problem for your position is deeper than you realise, I really do.

Men wrote the thing, yes, but "men carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Don't you believe that your church is guided by the Holy Spirit? Why can't someone turn the same objection back on your church? I mean, it's made up of MEN.
What's really funny to me is that it's your church that believes in theosis, faithful believers' partaking in the divine nature. These 4 Evangelists were, I'm sure you'd agree, much, much farther along in their being conformed to the image of Christ than you or I will ever be (until we die). Thus they would have been much closer to God, better, deeper partakers of the divine nature than you or I. And yet, here you are
1) correcting them according to your far-removed, 21st-century perspective.
-The irony here is that EO-dox are usually the ones criticising Reformed believers for looking at early writers and the Scr from a far-removed, future perspective.
2) making a powerful distinction between man and God.
-The irony here is that EO-dox are usually the ones who, from a Reformed perspective, shrinks and blurs the distinction between man and God.

All that to say, in this line of reasoning, you are acting like a liberal Protestant. That's not a good thing, but unfortunately it's not the only area in which EO-dox do so.

Maybe it's not as apparent to you for another reason. I've asked both you and Anastasios about the role that evangelism and apologetics play in the life of the semi-serious and serious EO layman, and you've told me that the former is inadequate and the latter is barely existent. Anastasios in particular let me know that he'd never heard of an EO apologist engaging, say, an atheist in public debate. I could be wrong, but I'm not at all sure you have encountered many atheists or skeptics and really talked turkey with them about stuff like this. So let me come at it from another angle.

You're talking to Joe American Skeptic. You tell him you believe that Jesus Christ instituted a church while He was walking the Earth, and entrusted it to His disciples, and His disciples spread the good news of Jesus all around the world and appointed other people to take their places when they died in the churches and to celebrate the sacraments of Christ, like baptism and the Eucharist. So, this church has come down to us through the years with successions of bishops, which is kind of like what you'd call "pastors".

You tell him you believe the Bible, that you believe what the Bible says and also what the church has always believed down through the centuries. You know, b/c the guys who were handed down the tradition of the church from the apostles and then on down through their successors, they all taught the same things.

So he wonders if it is true? For example, what would you say the sign above Christ on the Cross actually said, in its entirety? Each gospel account stated something explicitly regarding what the sign said, when in reality only one of the four was actually right, at best, and the other three (or all four) were (in some cases drastically) in error as to what the sign actually said after all, right? (He hadn't read Seth's comment, which clears up the misunderstanding.)

You'd say you're fine with one gospel saying one inscription and another saying sthg else, because men wrote the thing. Inspiration doesn't necessarily produce airtight, factual data synchronization. There's still far and away enough agreement as to the major events (Nativity, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost) that Scripture very strongly stands as a faithful witness to the Advent of Christ and the reality of His Church.

He wonders if inspiration doesn't necessarily produce factual data, how do you know that the Resurrection, for example, actually, factually happened?
You'd answer that you have the faithful witness of the church down thru the centuries. It's a lot of people.

Here's where it gets sticky. He thought that "a lot of people" is what caused the problem in the first place - multiple ppl write these varied accts of what was written above the Cross. But suddenly more people is a good thing?

So, what will you say? That you have a succession of people who heard from the teachings of the apostles themselves, no?

But hadn't the Gospel writers also heard from them? Weren't at least a couple of them eyewitnesses? Why do you rely on early church writers when the earliest ones are untrustworthy?
Or do you trust them for SPIRITUAL truth but not other kinds of truth? How do you make the distinction when the truth in question is not only spiritual in nature, such as
1) the Crucifixion
2) the Resurrection
3) the promised Parousia
4) the new Heaven and the new Earth
5) the theosis of the faithful
etc.

On what basis do you assert that those are indeed faithfully transmitted, while other things, such as the Cross inscription, were not? Is it just b/c you don't understand how the Cross inscription accts could fit together (even though Seth explained how)? Why is it better to ascribe error to a production of the Holy Spirit rather than to admit that you don't understand how it could all work together, but God knows and, while often He does make that knowledge and understanding available to humans, sometimes He just doesn't. You talk about mystery an awful lot in EOC; why do you abandon it in this arena? Where does the Bible itself distinguish between "OK, here's some spiritual truth, so this is really the real truth, for real," and "Here's some other stuff about, you know, the physical surroundings, the historical narrative. This isn't really a big deal. In fact, you could probably skip over it, b/c 21st-century archæologists will be able to totally reconstruct the whole thing WAY better than I'll be able to tell it here. So yeah, just fuggedaboudit (2 Maccabees 15:38-39)"?

The same questions go for early church authors. Only, there were alot more of them! You think the 4 accts are irreconcilable, but 40 different early church authors all saying different things is a better situation? Will you retreat to "oh, well, ____ was just speaking as an individual, private theologian, and the church's reaction to it over time bore out that he was mistaken"? But when all the church fathers hold the Scr in highest regard and ascribe no error to it thru hundreds and hundreds of years and thousands of pages, somehow *you* know better, with your 21st-century wisdom and insight?

Is this where following EO tradition leads someone? Is it really that far out of the vein of EOC tradition to hold to the inerrancy of the Bible?
And of course, we must ask, if it is, how would anyone know for sure? After all, if God-breathed Scripture is errant, what hope have non-theopneustos writings from men who were *not* "carried along by the Holy Spirit"?

(Cross-posted at Beggars All)

35 comments:

Lucian said...

Do You believe in, say, the descent of the Holy Fire on Easter in Jerusalem this year, or past year, etc.? (Thousands of witnesses, etc.) Then why do You believe in the resurrection 2,000 yrs ago on the same spot in Jerusalem? (500+ witnesses tops on one day: Ascension, if I remember correctly).

I am a very rigid man (key-word being 'man') and a mathematician as well... and there's a third word that goes hand in hand with 'male' and 'mathematicians': it's 'authistic'. So, yes, I always obsessed with Truth. And I still do. Just that I'm understanding the uselesness of it all: did I convert You, or any of the atheists, homosexuals, Protestants, Neo-Protestants, or Catholics I was discussing with? No. It's useless really. No one will change their mind. And for good reasons, I guess.

Rhology said...

1) Do you have evidence for this event? I'm genuinely curious.
2) The resurrection has tons of evidence - the 500 witnesses, the 4 Gospels, the later NT epistles, the existence, tenacity, and explosive growth of the early church, etc.
3) Again we see where EO dogma leads someone. Lucian wants to put God-inspired Scripture to the test and equate it to a modern event. He apparently thinks human senses and apprehension of an event is to be put on par with the certainty of theopneustos revelation. No wonder he ends up talking like a liberal so often; he has the same epistemological foundation as they.

did I convert You, or any of the atheists, homosexuals, Protestants, Neo-Protestants, or Catholics I was discussing with? No. It's useless really. No one will change their mind.

My answer to this is the same as I recently gave in Roman apologist Mark Shea's combox - people and their convictions or persuasions are not the standard of truth.

Lucian said...

people and their convictions or persuasions are not the standard of truth.

I'm glad we agree on that, at least... But You were making some affirmations in Your article about Orthodox people not caring too much about spreading the faith, or apologetics.. and about tellin' people 'bout the Resurrection and other miracles.. to atheists no less, expecting them (who don't even believe in God) to put their trust into ancient documents testifying about this or that one-time miraculous even, when there's one happening today, in front of our very eyes, repeatedly and with regularity, kinda like the one at the Bethesda pool, and NOT EVEN YOU -who are at least a Christian- belives in it... (and rightly so! Maybe it's from the devil; maybe it's a trick worthy of David Copperfield and David Blaine; etc)

Basically, what I'm trying to say here is: I've just learned my lesson regarding this (the hard way). And I just have to keep my mouth shut and respect other people's conclusions and opinions.

David Bryan said...

I'll respond...sometime this week...at Beggars All.

David said...

There's a lot to respond to here in your post and, unfortunately, I don't have time to tackle even a portion of it. I'll try to make that time eventually as I think you raise some good points which need addressing.

The one thing I would like to address, though, is your concern about lack of missionary activity (in the evangelical sense) and apologetics by Orthodox Christians.

I think that the biggest reason that these things don't exist in quite the same way or proportion amongst Orthodox as amongst Protestants is that the Orthodox have realized, over the last 2000 years, that they generally don't work and, sometimes, they are even counterproductive.

The second century saw a huge proliferation of Orthodox apologetics from Fathers like St. Justin the Martyr and St. Irenaeus of Lyons. While the writings of these holy men are wonderful to read and I couldn't be happier that they preserved the Faith in their writings here, these writings generally had little or no effect within their lifetime and even for some time after. What eventually made Christianity the religion of the Mediterranean world was not its apologetics; in the end, it didn't matter that Christians could win arguments against Jews, Pagans, and heretics (although, the often lost stupendously, as well...). What attracted people to Christianity was the fact that Christians acted like, well... Christians.

Pagans were shocked (sometimes even horrified) to see Christians sacrificing their own lives for their convictions or, as in the case of the plagues in North Africa, for instance, to care for their neighbors.

Ultimately, writing and arguing hits a brick wall eventually. The ultimate (and, ultimately, Orthodox) way of evangelism and apologetics is to live a Christian life. And, as was demonstrated in the first few centuries of Christianity, others will follow.

David said...

One more thing (and I apologize for my multiple comments!!) -- you can look up pictures and videos of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem online. There are also many firsthand accounts stretching back over a thousand years.

Before the Patriarch goes into the Tomb, he is checked by Israeli (that is, Jewish) police for a lighting device. Those who have been there also report that many other peoples' candles light spontaneously than only the Patriarch's. Interestingly, some of the firsthand accounts from the late Middle Ages, by Roman Catholics even!, claim that this would only happen to the candles of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics who were present had to light their candles from those of the Orthodox. These reports may be the reason why the Roman Catholics no longer participate in the festival even when their Easter aligns with our Pascha.

The best evidence, though, is to go to Jerusalem on Pascha (Orthodox Easter) and see for yourself. "Oh Taste and See," right?

But, since plane tickets are expensive right now...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qPZW8pkBEs&feature=related

Seth said...

The best evidence, though, is to go to Jerusalem on Pascha (Orthodox Easter)...

So I'm booking my airfare to go to Jerusalem on "Pascha" - shall I read the scripture and thus assume you're referring to biblically mandated Nissan 14? Would the fire happen then, or, should I check wikipedia to find the orthodox/RCC/church-father's "Pascha" date?

What are the criteria by which EO dogma (or fill in that of your own church, perhaps we all do it) is allowed to rewrite scripture?

David said...

Seth,

I'm not sure I really understand your questions, but I'll try my best to answer them.

>>"Pascha" - shall I read the scripture and thus assume you're referring to biblically mandated Nissan 14?

DW: No, we're not Quartodecimans. Please point out where (in the New Testament) we are "biblically mandated" to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on 14 Nisan.

>> Would the fire happen then, or, should I check wikipedia to find the orthodox/RCC/church-father's "Pascha" date?

DW: No, it happens on Orthodox Easter (we call it "Pascha," which is the Greek word for "Passover," the same word as the Jewish festival of the same name). I'm not sure why you would check the RCC's date for this as it's different from the EO date (the Pope of Rome altered the calendar a little bit in the late Middle Ages, producing the Gregorian calendar; the EO still use the Julian).

>> What are the criteria by which EO dogma (or fill in that of your own church, perhaps we all do it) is allowed to rewrite scripture?

DW: We don't rewrite Scripture... I'm not sure what you're implying here. Nor do I know what this has to do with the Holy Fire... Please explain.

Rhology said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Rhology,

I think you're confusing me for David Bryan. :P

Rhology said...

Doh! Sorry about that. I'll delete and reinput the corrected comment.

Rhology said...

My thoughts on the holy fire.

David, I'm simultaneously gladdened and confused to see your comment about mission work.
Gladdened b/c I believe your Gospel is a false one and I don't want it proliferated.
Confused b/c there are hundreds of people groups out there who've never heard the name of Christ. Do you think that they'll be "attracted...to Christianity (by) the fact that Christians (act) like, well... Christians" when there aren't any anywhere near them?
Also, since when has "well, it didn't work" been a valid excuse for disobeying a direct command (Matthew 28:19-20) by Jesus Christ?

David said...

I think you are misinterpreting my comments here. I didn't mean to imply that the Orthodox don't conduct missionary work. We do, a great deal in fact. My parish priest's daughter is a missionary in Tanzania. We have another family leaving soon to go abroad for missionary work. One of our members, a college student, does a little "sidewalk preaching" at a place for that purpose on campus. He's attracted quite a few students from the local college to our church.

I know of other churches in the area that have their own missionary activities as well. One rents a stand at the state fair every year where they sell icons and books and pass out brochures.

My point in my last post was that daily living a Christian life is the best witness to Christ, not the only witness. Even with all of the active outreach that churches in our area do, the one thing that seems to attract the most inquirers is when the local churches gather at a public lake near here every Theophany to worship and bless the waters. That is the witness to Christ that I'm talking about...

I'm also talking about the tens of thousands of Orthodox who were martyred for their Faith under the communists and the millions under the Muslims. These are real witnesses for Christ.

Seth said...

Please point out where (in the New Testament) we are "biblically mandated" to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on 14 Nisan .

I didn't say anything about celebrating Jesus' resurrection. Celebrate it whenever you want to. I asked about Pascha.

the EO still use the Julian...

See above. Celebrate holidays based on the Chinese calendar if you like. My question is regarding:

we call it "Pascha," which is the Greek word for "Passover," the same word as the Jewish festival ...

So, the pope changed your calendar... Nicea changed the original calendar. Who cares, right? Apparently regarding the RCC the EO does. And I care that the forefathers changed the date of Passover. Please understand the greater point: the EO is characteristically more interested in tradition than scripture. Thus, tests of "errancy" are on based on forefather X's interpretation rather than scripture, which has led to some major problems (e.g., deviation from the gospel message). I believe that was the crux of Rho's original comments.

We don't rewrite Scripture... I'm not sure what you're implying here. Nor do I know what this has to do with the Holy Fire... Please explain -

I provided an example, Passover is defined in scripture:
"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD's Passover." The EO does not use this definition. You say the "Holy Fire" is linked to the Passover. Are you linking it the the Passover on which Jesus was crucified or the one which the EO celebrates as Easter? Shall I test a miracle to see if it is true based on scripture or EO tradition?

David said...

I didn't say anything about celebrating Jesus' resurrection. Celebrate it whenever you want to. I asked about Pascha.

Pascha is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection...

So, the pope changed your calendar...

He didn't change ours, he changed the Roman Catholics' and Protestants'.

Nicea changed the original calendar.

Really? In what canon? The controversy between the Alexandrian and Quartodeciman schools had been ongoing since the 2nd century. Nicaea gave rather tacit recognition to the Alexandrian school, but Quartodecimanism continued (amongst Orthodox Christians) long after Nicaea, possibly as late as the 7th century.

the EO is characteristically more interested in tradition than scripture. Thus, tests of "errancy" are on based on forefather X's interpretation rather than scripture, which has led to some major problems (e.g., deviation from the gospel message). I believe that was the crux of Rho's original comments.

Scripture is a part of Holy Tradition. Tradition is the living experience of the Church as it lives, interprets, and applies Scripture.
Also, the way you describe here is not the way that the Orthodox do Patristics. We don't proof-text; we look for the phronema of the Church, the consensus of the Fathers. To quote (from memory) Augustine: "Believe that which has been believed at all times in all places by all Christians." It's how we avoid innovation and heresy like you find in Protestantism.

"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD's Passover."

I knew you'd bring this forward. That's why I specified that I wanted a quote about the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. This refers to the Jewish Passover. We are not Jews. We do not go by the Jewish calendar.

Shall I test a miracle to see if it is true based on scripture or EO tradition?

There is no difference between the two. They are one and the same.

David said...

To add to my comments on apologetics:

I'm more than willing to engage in a "public debate" with you on any key point of difference between Protestantism and Orthodoxy. We can even standardize it if you like. You choose the topic (as I said, I'd like to debate key points of difference not addendum) and we can each post our respective positions on the subject. I'd be more than happy to discuss the Septuagint vs. the Masoretic, which was brought up on David Bryan's blog, if you like.

Rhology said...

We don't proof-text; we look for the phronema of the Church, the consensus of the Fathers.

Which is apparently a compendium of errancies. Normally, this is known as a crowd of fools, but in EOC, it equals truth from God. Amazing.

Hmm, debate. I go back and forth on stuff like this. I guess I probably could do that, but honestly, you've been putting fwd some pretty poorly reasoned things, like the bat/bird thing and the "which is inerrant, the Maso or LXX?" statements. I'll have to think about it.
Besides, it's my experience that errantists usually end up retreating to "well, that's where the text was wrong", and that is worthy of zero respect. And little more engagement.

David said...

I've given my invitation; it's on you to accept or decline. You are the one, after all, who said that the Orthodox don't engage in apologetics. Well, here I am.

Rhology said...

Actually, I was quoting a priest who told me that.

Which brings up an interesting point, actually. You're not a rep of the EOC; what would make anyone think that you are competent and qualified to speak on EOC's behalf?

David said...

Every Orthodox Christian is a representative of the Orthodox Church and of Christ. I don't always live up to this calling, but it is what an Orthodox Christian is called to do.

Seth said...

Pascha is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection...

Stating a dogmatic tenant is not the same as making an argument.

The controversy between the Alexandrian and Quartodeciman schools had been ongoing since the 2nd century...

Oh yes, I forgot that believers in YHVH didn't have a calendar before then. Was Jesus an Alexandrian or Quartodeciman - maybe that'll help me to choose?

"believe that which has been believed at all times in all places by all Christians" .

Or, when that doesn't work, excommunicate them, as was done to stamp out the Asian Church in 2nd and 3rd century Antioch who appealed to following the customs (and holidays) handed down by the Apostle John. Again, celebrate whenever you like, but selling dogma for scripture only works if you're alread sold on the dogma.

We are not Jews. We do not go by the Jewish calendar.

This is not an argument. I am not EO. I do not go by the EO calendar. Now we're getting somewhere!

There is no difference between the two. They are one and the same.

Stating a thing by appealing to a dogmatic belief is not the same as making an argument. Oh, but you can't reference scripture because that'd be proof-texting! It is convenient, but does little to ease my concern for the state of the EO church.

RE: Debate

But to whom will you appeal if scripture is off limits? I don't see the fruitfulness of philosophizing the merits of the untouchable Church Fathers.

Rhology said...

But how will anyone know whether you're speaking what is in accord with Sacred Apostolic Tradition®?

David said...

Seth,

I honestly can't understand you. I can't respond to something that doesn't make sense. I'm sorry.

Seth said...

David,

Sorry for being unclear. What do you not understand, I will try to restate it.

David said...

Rhology,

I'm not going to sit here and go back and forth on all of this. I've issued my invitation and it's up to you to accept or decline. As I said, please choose a topic which you see as a major bone of contention between Orthodoxy and Protestantism and we can address it in a big more standardized format.

Biblical versions; Tradition; Real Presence; Sola Scriptura; Faith and Works; Prayer for the dead; prayer to the saints; Choose whatever topic you want. Until then, you can have the final word.

David said...

Seth,

I think we're talking about two different things and misunderstanding each other. I'm not "arguing" that Pascha is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection, I'm stating a fact: "Pascha" is the name we Orthodox refer to the celebration by. There's no debating that point.

The way the Quartodecimans were treated in the early Church in some quarters is scandalous, I agree. Many of the Fathers were Quartodecimans and I have no doubt that the Apostle John handed down the practice. It's not the practice that was given by the majority of the Apostles, however, as even the Quartodecimans acknowledged that Peter and Paul had given a different date to those in Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.

Am I to understand that you are a kind of modern Quartodeciman?

Seth said...

David,

Yes, I understand the Orthodox usage of Pascha, and I don't debate that's how you define it. My point is that it is a problem if an appeal cannot be made to scripture to test the validity of a belief or an apparent contradiction, since we would obviously disagree about the authority of the traditions. I.e., I have challenged the "Holy Fire" as being a true Passover phenomenon, since I dispute the Orthodox definition of Passover.

I suppose I am a Quartodeciman, though I don't typically couch it in that language. It is true that here I differ from many other protestants as well. A source is that I dispute the infalliability of the Church council(s), and am willing to debate which cannons were good ones and which were lousy. This is not so much touting "Sola Scriptura" as arguing that we ought not perpetuate bad decisions for the sake of unity.

David said...

Seth,

The Holy Fire occurs on Orthodox Pascha. There's nothing to debate here. It's when it happens. If you want to see if it will appear on 14 Nisan, go try it, I guess.

I don't have a problem with Quartodecimanism, although I think that trying to revive it today, when it has been dead for over a thousand years, is irrelevant and irresponsible.

Seth said...

The Holy Fire occurs on Orthodox Pascha. There's nothing to debate here. It's when it happens ...

Then the question is if it is (a) a natural phenomena that should not be glorified, (b)true and from the Lord, or (c) a supernatural deception from the enemy used to encourage would-be believers to depart from the true faith (Rev. 13:13). Seems like it'd be good to know which is the case.

I don't have a problem with Quartodecimanism, although I think that trying to revive it today, when it has been dead for over a thousand years, is irrelevant and irresponsible.

Revive: The belief that Jesus is coming back "soon" is 2000 years dead, should we revive that one too?

Irrelevant: Not if it is correct.

Irresponsible: Let me understand you - It is irresponsible to argue in favor of something that might be true (that the traditions promulgate some bad decisions that should be challenged), but it is responsible to argue in favor of something that is probably not true (that the traditions are dogmatically indisputable). That's wacky!

Rhology said...

David,
How about debating the topic of the inerrancy of the Scripture?

David said...

I think we've already covered that. And it doesn't fall within the category I care to address, which is, once again: key differences. As you've seen on David Bryan's blog, this is a point that not all Orthodox agree upon. Perhaps we could do a general appraisal of the way Holy Scripture is understood and treated in our respective churches? It really wouldn't be a debate, but it would give us a chance to look at where we're both coming from.

By the way, which one of the 23,000 or so groups of the "Reformation" do you belong to? You knowing my affiliation and me not knowing your's put me at a distinct disadvantage if we're going to do this.

Rhology said...

Well, let's be clear.
1) The actual substantive differences between self-named Protestants do not add up to 23000 different combinations of beliefs. More like several hundred.
2) I claim little or no teamship/brotherhood/communion with people that don't hold to Sola Scriptura. And that cuts it down VERY significantly. Now we're talking only a few dozen denominations, if that.
3) And between those, I don't know of very many who believe that the other Sola Scrip churches are another religion, not worth working together with, etc. We go to different bodies and different localities and different physical buildings. So what? EOC experiences the same thing. So we need to compare apples with apples.

And I am a Calvinist Baptist, a member of a conservative elder-led Southern Baptist church.

Would you be interested in debating Sola Scriptura?

David said...

Absolutely. I'll work on something this week and try to have it up Friday or Saturday.

Rhology said...

Well, hold on...
I was thinking more along the lines of:
We come up with and agree on a structure, with a word count, and a time limit around 2 weeks per entry, something like that.
Or we could ask each other a series of questions, say, 10, for which each question has a word count and each answer a higher word count. An example might be: Each question=200 words or less. Each answer=800 words or less.

Or a structure like:
Opening/Position Statement 1200 words
Rebuttal 1200 words
2nd Rebuttal 1000 words
Cross-ex of 3-5 questions
Final rebuttal
Final statement

Something like that.
What do you think?
Tell you what, I'll email you.

John said...

"Shall I test a miracle to see if it is true based on scripture or EO tradition?"

I remember reading about a miraculous icon that weeps myrrh on Christmas day. When it was moved from a Russian church to a Greek church, it changed its calendar along with the prevailing custom.