The following is a reply I wrote to Orthodox in another thread. I thought that some of you might find it, or portions of it, helpful, so I'm putting it in a new post here.
"There is no scripture saying which things are essential to the faith as a basis for a standard."
Passages like 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 and Galatians 1:6-9 tell us that some beliefs are essential. Protestants have a standard for unity from such passages.
"Yes, there was an odd group here, and a group there, who in a limited geographical area for a limited time broke unity, usually over one or two points of contention. I did originally say 'basically' one church. Why you think a few exceptions that prove the rule help you much I don't know."
No, your "basically" qualifier was added later. You originally said that there was only one denomination. See my documentation of what you said at the beginning of this thread. When you claimed that there was only one denomination, you surrounded that claim with criticism of "thousands" of Protestant denominations, and you went on to use the example of a church celebrating communion only once a year. As I explained to you earlier, you can't count "thousands" of Protestant denominations unless you include some relatively minor differences in the count. And how often communion is celebrated is relatively minor. Thus, to be consistent, you ought to include relatively minor differences among Christians of the first millennium as examples of significant disunity among them. And if you do that, then there were many divisions among Christians of the first millennium.
"And the church is capable of keeping Spain in the family if it so chooses despite a disagreement. The church decides what disagreement is tolerated and what isn't."
If you can "tolerate disagreement", then why can't Protestants? Earlier, you criticized the existence of disagreements. Now you're saying that disagreements are acceptable for Eastern Orthodoxy, as long as Eastern Orthodoxy is willing to tolerate them.
"Who would have thought someone claiming to be knowledgeable would want such a thing documented?"
You then cite men like Irenaeus and Tertullian referring to successions of bishops. That's not enough. For one thing, you claimed to be addressing what ancient Christianity as a whole believed, not just what was believed by some men from the late second century onward. Furthermore, you're assuming that your quotes mean what you were arguing for earlier. But that's a dubious assumption. There were multiple concepts of apostolic succession among the ancient Christians:
"Succession lists of kings, periodically appointed magistrates, and heads of philosophical schools were kept in the Hellenistic world. The Jews had lists of prophets and rabbis, but most importantly of high priests. Although early Christians had an interest in the succession of their own prophets and teachers (particularly in the catechetical school in Alexandria), special attention attached to the succession of bishops, who by the end of the second century incorporated much of the authority and function of prophets and teachers into their office. 1 Clement 42-44 taught the apostolic institution of the offices of bishop and deacon in the church. After the appointment of the first bishops and deacons, the apostles provided for the continuation of these offices in the church. This was not the same as the later doctrine of apostolic succession, and it is to be noted that Clement included deacons as well as bishops in his statement. Ignatius, the first witness to only one bishop in a church, did not base his understanding of the ministry on succession. The one bishop was a representative of God the Father, and the presbyters had their model in the college of apostles (Trall. 3). The first claim to a succession from the apostles in support of particular doctrines was made in the second century by the Gnostics. They claimed that the apostles had imparted certain secret teachings to some of their disciples and that these teachings had been passed down, thus having apostolic authority, even if different from what was proclaimed in the churches (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.2.1; cf. Ptolemy in Epiphanius, Haer. 33.7.9). Hegesippus, an opponent of Gnosticism, compiled a list of the bishops in Rome (Eusebius, H.E. 4.22.5f.). Irenaeus of Lyons drew on the idea of the succession of bishops to formulate an orthodox response to the Gnostic claim of a secret tradition going back to the apostles. Irenaeus argued that if the apostles had had any secrets to teach, they would have delivered them to those men to whom they committed the leadership of the churches. A person could go to the churches founded by apostles, Irenaeus contended, and determine what was taught in those churches by the succession of teachers since the days of the apostles. The constancy of this teaching was guaranteed by its public nature; any change could have been detected, since the teaching was open. The accuracy of the teaching in each church was confirmed by its agreement with what was taught in other churches. One and the same faith had been taught in all the churches since the time of the apostles. Irenaeus's succession was collective rather than individual. He spoke of the succession of the presbyters (Haer. 3.2.2), or of the presbyters and bishops (4.26.2), as well as of the bishops (3.3.1). To be in the succession was not itself sufficient to guarantee correct doctrine. The succession functioned negatively to mark off the heretics who withdrew from the church. A holy life and sound teaching were also required of true leaders (4.26.5). The succession pertained to faith and life rather than to the transmission of special gifts. The "gift of truth" (charisma veritatis) received with the office of teaching (4.26.2) was not a gift guaranteeing that what was taught would be true, but was the truth itself as a gift. Each holder of the teaching chair in the church received the apostolic doctrine as a deposit to be faithfully transmitted to the church. Apostolic succession as formulated by Irenaeus was from one holder of the teaching chair in a church to the next and not from ordainer to ordained, as it became....[In Tertullian] Churches were apostolic that agreed in the same faith, even if not founded by apostles. Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings. As so often happens to successful arguments, it came to be regarded as an article of faith, not just a defense of the truth but a part of truth itself. Hippolytus is apparently the first for whom the bishops were not simply in the succession from the apostles but were themselves successors of the apostles (Haer., praef.). When Eusebius of Caesarea used the lists of bishops as the framework for his Church History, he did not count the apostles in the episcopal lists. Cyprian, however, made an identification of the episcopate and the apostolate (Ep. 64.3; 66.4; cf. Sent. epp. 79 and Socrates, H.E. 6.8)....The sacramental understanding of ordination that grew up in the fourth and fifth centuries shifted the emphasis to a succession from ordainer to ordained, but the earlier historical type of succession was preserved in the lists of local bishops." (Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 94-95)
Furthermore, there were multiple forms of church government, with church leaders being chosen in different ways in different places, with different standards. For example, sometimes an apostle or his associate appoints a church worker (sometimes specified as a bishop, elder, etc.) in the New Testament or in post-apostolic references, but sometimes the appointment is referred to the church in general (2 Corinthians 8:19; First Clement 44; The Didache, 15; Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, 7). As Ferguson notes, "[In Tertullian] Churches were apostolic that agreed in the same faith, even if not founded by apostles. Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings....Election by the people was one of the methods of appointment known to Origen (Hom. 13 in Num. 4)....The will of the populace could prevail over clerical opposition (Sulpicius Severus, V. Mart. 9)." (Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 95, 366-367)
"If someone goes out of your congregation to that one in the Philippines you'd have to spend 6 months interviewing the pastors before you could make even a person judgement on whether your friend had 'gone out', and even then it would be just your individual belief and not 'standard'."
Why should we accept your unargued assertion about how long it would take to discern whether a person has left the faith? And where does 1 John 2:19 give us a time limit on such a process? As I told you before, 1 John was written in a particular historical context. Do you know what it was? As I told you earlier, the heretics John was referring to held highly unusual beliefs. He wasn't referring to people who had left one denomination for another, like going from a Baptist to a Presbyterian church. He was referring to people who adopted beliefs that undermined essentials of the Christian faith. You still haven't justified your interpretation of 1 John 2:19. You just keep asserting it.
"What I am pointing out is that John is assuming one 'denomination' if we want to use that term, because he is assuming that it is always clear when you 'go out' so that you 'may KNOW' they are not in the church."
Where does John say that it's "always clear"? Where does he say that he has denominations in view? You're reading things into the text that aren't there.
"We don't have unity with Roman Catholics. We do have unity with the other Orthodox churches. What is not clear?"
But you go on to say, concerning whether 1 John 2:19 applies to Roman Catholicism:
"this is not the time and place to get into the more difficult cases when the protestant case is oh so clear."
How can the case of Roman Catholicism be "difficult" and not "oh so clear" if 1 John 2:19 is teaching that it's "clear" who is and isn't part of the faith? You aren't being consistent.
You write, concerning Roman Catholicism:
"That's like asking how you can be a Christian under a tree in no church. The answer is, you will be in a severely impaired spiritual state."
But 1 John 2:19 doesn't refer to "being a Christian" who is "severely impaired". John is addressing heretics who he later refers to as "antichrists". He's not addressing "impaired" Christians. You're badly distorting 1 John. You can't have it both ways. You can't say that 1 John 2:19 is about making easy judgments concerning non-Eastern-Orthodox denominations, then turn around and refer to how it's difficult to judge how Roman Catholicism relates to 1 John 2 and refer to Roman Catholics as "Christians" who are just "severely impaired".
"But again, the church is not obligated to negotiate with schismatic groups."
If you can choose not to negotiate with some groups, then why can't Protestants do the same? And you refer to divisions you've had with some groups that have lasted for several hundred years. If you can take several hundred years to "negotiate" and remain divided, then why is the smaller amount of time for which Protestants have done the same unacceptable?
"But again, we're under no obligation to make unity work. You are under obligation to join The Church."
And we're under no obligation to make unity work. You are under obligation to join those who obey scripture.
"Sure there was, it was called the Jewish nation, which Moses brought out from Egypt. You didn't get out of Egypt in some schismatic group. Earlier on it was Noah's ark, and you didn't survive the flood if you were in a right believing group not in the Ark."
Nobody has denied that there was some unity and some organization in Old Testament times. What I said was that the unity and organizations took different forms. There was no one denomination throughout Old Testament history. And how do you know that men like Abel, Enoch, and Abraham were part of one organization comparable to a denomination, and that every other godly person on earth was a member of that same denomination? You don't.
"Israel was a denomination. From your point of view, a Jew could leave Israel, move to Australia, and still be part of Israel with all the promises and so on."
Israel was a physical nation for a while, but not throughout the Old Testament. Men like Abel and Enoch weren't part of the physical nation, and there were times when the organizational structure of the nation fell, like under the Babylonian captivity. As I said before, God worked in a variety of ways and through a variety of individuals and institutions in the Old Testament era. He didn't work the way you keep assuming He should in this New Testament era.
"So you look to a time in history that there is unambiguous agreement."
You still haven't proven your assertion that widespread agreement proves that a belief is correct. And you ignored the Old Testament examples I cited against your interpretation of Matthew 16. God also said that Israel wouldn't be destroyed (Jeremiah 31:35-37), yet Israel sometimes lost its organizational structure, went into captivity, engaged in widespread neglect of God's revelation (2 Kings 22:8-13, Nehemiah 8:13-17), misinterpreted Messianic prophecy, etc. If God could promise that Israel would never be destroyed, yet there could be widespread disunity and error and Israel could take a variety of organizational forms, then how do you supposedly know that the church must have the attributes that Eastern Orthodoxy claims to have in order for the church not to be destroyed?
"We understand there were some people who differed from the current standard, but without clear unambiguous proof that this is the catholic faith, believed everywhere, that is a nothing argument."
I've given you examples of people disagreeing with Eastern Orthodox belief in the early centuries, including widespread disagreement with Eastern Orthodox belief. Your doctrines weren't "believed everywhere" early on. In some cases, you can't document that a single person held your beliefs in the earliest generations. Why should we think that what allegedly was "believed everywhere" later on must be true? Was the general disobedience of the people of Israel described in 2 Kings 22:8-13 and Nehemiah 8:13-17 proof that such disobedience was correct? Are you going to add further qualifiers to your argument, without evidence, in an attempt to arrive at your desired conclusion?
"I am in contact with my priest who is in contact with the bishop who is in contact with the other bishops."
And how do you know that each person in that chain of contact is correct in his judgments? Are they all infallible in telling you who has unity and who doesn't? And does your local priest give you regular updates about who is and isn't part of your Eastern Orthodox unity worldwide? When's the last time he did that? What if some people or churches have joined Eastern Orthodoxy since then, and you don't know about it? When discussing 1 John 2, you suggested that we must be able to "easily" tell who is part of the unity and who isn't. So, how do you "easily" know who's part of the unity worldwide and who isn't from day to day? Do you get daily updates from your priest?
"I said that the kind of modern analysis that protestants do would have been unworkable before the modern age. That can't be said for evaluating the competing claims of Rome and Orthodoxy."
The same sort of historical analysis that Protestants apply to scripture and other historical documents is also applied by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic scholars to the patristic documents and other relevant literature that you use in "evaluating the competing claims of Rome and Orthodoxy".