Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Interfaith debates

Interfaith debates tend to artificially restrict the range of options. Depending on who we’re debating, we have rotating opponents. In inter-Protestant debates, the Anabaptist tradition is frequently generally sidelined, which isn’t fair.

In Catholic/Evangelical debates, Eastern Orthodoxy is generally sidelined. Also, a Catholic apologist will try sof-tpeddle intra-Catholic debates involving dissidents on both far left and far right ends of the spectrum.

In Catholic/Orthodox, or Evangelical/Orthodox debates, the Oriental Orthodox churches are generally sidelined.

This selectivity arbitrarily limits the range of actual options, leaving the misleading impression that there are only two sides to every debate, so that if we knock out our immediate opponent, then we win by default. But the options are more diverse.

Take Eastern Orthodoxy. For convenience, we may refer to The Orthodox Church in the singular. But, of course, there is no such thing as The Orthodox Church. It never existed.

What we have, instead, is a loose affiliation of autocephalous churches that share some historical and theological commonalities. But being national churches, they have also branched out over time, undergoing varying degrees of internal development and dissension.

As a result, you have both intra-Orthodox and inter-Orthodox dissensions. Who speaks for Greek Orthodoxy? Cyril of Alexandria or Theodore of Mopsuestia? Doesn’t Constantinople outrank Alexandria?

Who speaks for Russian Orthodoxy? The Old Believers? The hierarchy under the Bolsheviks? Or the expatriate church?

Going back the Oriental Orthodox, in Evangelical/Orthodox debates this tradition is generally ignored because Evangelicals are ordinarily opposed to Monophysitism, and so the Oriental Orthodox are summarily excluded.

But this is misleading, and gives the Eastern Orthodox an unfair advantage. And that’s because Evangelicals don’t necessarily oppose Monophysitism for same reasons as the Eastern Orthodox. We oppose it because it’s unscriptural.

But the Eastern Orthodox oppose it because it’s contra-conciliar. And that, in turn, is bound up with a high-church polity and apostolic succession.

Yet if you grant high-church assumptions, then the Oriental Orthodox have just as good or poor a claim to apostolic succession as the Eastern Orthodox. So we shouldn’t be giving the Eastern Orthodox a free pass on this issue. They need to fight and win on more than one front. They need to beat the Oriental Orthodox at their own game before they’re in any position to mount an attack on Evangelicalism, or some particular tradition thereof.

They also need to explain who speaks for Eastern Orthodox, and why.

9 comments:

  1. Steve asked:
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    They also need to explain who speaks for Eastern Orthodox, and why.
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    You mean it's not Orthodox?!?! :-o

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  2. hostus twinkius5/30/2007 11:51 AM

    C'mon Steve, just ask an Orthodox priest. It's simple.

    Unless the Orthodox priest disagrees with the Orthodox layman who has been trying to defend the EOC here in the combox. Then, well, it gets complicated.

    Besides, you're not Eastern Orthodox and you just don't understand anyway...

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  3. "Besides, you're not Eastern Orthodox and you just don't understand anyway..."

    Heh, that's one of the reasons people like James White have not debated Eastern Orthodoxy. It's hard to define, and most of its proponents would rather talk about "the prayers and liturgy" and "mystery" rather than exegete a passage.

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  4. What an excellent post, if just for the comment about the Oriental Orthodox. Very presuppositional.

    If we grant their high-church presuppositions, how can we decide between the two?

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  5. I definately see the point you are trying to get at. There might be a problem with Orthodoxy for this reason.

    I don't mean to sound inflammatory, (which is how questions like these sometimes sound...) but doesn't your argument cut both ways? Can't I even use your argument to point out the vagueness of Christianity in general? So for instance I could ask this: who speaks for Christians?

    Again, Im not trying to sound like a jerk. But I do want to know why these kinds of questions don't put all Christians in an equal amount of trouble.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

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  6. Who speaks for Greek Orthodoxy? Cyril of Alexandria or Theodore of Mopsuestia?

    Actually, none.

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  7. there is no such thing as The Orthodox Church. It never existed.

    This reminds me of that very short, 20-something word story of Arthur C. Clarke (or was it Isaac Asimov?). It ends in "Cancel program. It never HAD existed".

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  8. Strange posting. Who speaks for a particular Orthodox Church? Each church speaks on things that they want to speak on. Who speaks for Steve? Maybe Steve? What is the point?

    Oriental Orthodox: Meetings between the Oriental Orthodox and other churches, protestant, reformed, Catholic and Orthodox, a consensus seems to be emerging that the Oriental Orthodox now consider the whole split to be a misunderstanding. e.g.

    http://www.warc.ch/dt/erl1/21.html
    "Now the misunderstanding that happened during the Council of Chalcedon is being removed and Christological agreements are being reached among Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches."

    So I don't see a great deal of comfort coming to protestants from the Chalcedonian split. And if there is any free pass going on with this split, then there are ten thousand free passes in protestantism with all their splits.

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  9. orthodox said:

    "Who speaks for a particular Orthodox Church? Each church speaks on things that they want to speak on."

    Which confirms my original point: there is no such thing as the Orthodox Church, only Orthodox churches.

    " a consensus seems to be emerging that the Oriental Orthodox now consider the whole split to be a misunderstanding."

    A 1500+ year old "misunderstanding"? So what possible confidence can there be in having a true understanding?

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