Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Riding the time machine back to AD 33

Jason Engwer recently did a prescient post about Hank Hanegraaff plugging Eastern Orthodoxy:

At one level, I don't care about Hanegraaff's deconversion from evangelicalism. What he does with his life is his own business. I'm not responsible for his choices in life. I don't have to live his life for him. 

In fact, I think some deconversions are good. Hanegraaff was always a controversial successor to Martin. He was a second-rate spokesman for evangelicalism. So the EO are welcome to have him. There's a natural pruning process. 

The only larger significance to his deconversion lies in the fact that he headed what at one time was world's premier countercult ministry. That gives him an institutional prominence he'd never enjoy on the merits. Likewise, that raises questions about the future direction of CRI. 

I initially said:

i) A basic problem with EO is that it fosters the notion of salvation through the sacraments and salvation through "the Church"–rather than trusting directly in Jesus for salvation. It substitutes something in place of Jesus. People put their faith in "the Church" or the sacraments rather than Jesus. 

ii) EO simply disregards the forensic character of redemption in Pauline theology.

iii) EO has changed. As I've documented in the past. EO has quietly capitulated to liberal Bible criticism and theistic evolution. 

Jason's post has garnered a flurry of comments from EO enthusiasts. In years past I did a lot of posting on EO, but stopped doing that after it became repetitious. In addition, there's a lot of overlap between arguments for/against Catholicism and arguments for/against EO. But I'll respond to some of the comments on Jason's post, since they're representative of a certain mindset. Most of these comments aren't directed at me. 

All the sacraments rely on Jesus. In most direct possible way. I will take the Eucharist for example - how are Christ's very own Body and Blood 'something in place of Jesus'?"

It's not as if I unfamiliar with traditional prooftexts for sacramental realism. Try raising an objection that hasn't already been refuted. For instance:

Also, to use your line of logic, do Protestants foster the notion of salvation through the Bible? Last time I checked, a fair deal of Protestant church websites have a statement of faith, and often, that same statement does not begin with Trinity / Jesus / God, it begins with inspiration / infallibility of the Scripture.

A disanalogous comparison. Most Christians know Jesus by description rather than acquaintance. We weren't around to witness his public ministry in 1C Palestine. 

So, yes, our faith in Christ is mediated through the record of his life. There's no problem with the notion of salvation through the Bible inasmuch as the object of faith concerns historical and revealed truths. 

No Orthodox begins his or her creed with 'I believe in sacraments.'

i) What it begins with is a red herring. And you're confusing the order of being with the order of knowing. The fact that God is the ontological starting-point doesn't make God the epistemological starting-point. Knowledge of God begins with revelation.

ii) Moreover, you skirt the issue that Orthodox believers trust in the sacraments for salvation rather than Jesus.

but there's something indicative when a huge majority of Protestant sites begin with the Bible.

Indicative of the fact that Protestant theology takes revelation as its frame of reference . 
Remember that the Church of the Councils gave us the Canon of Scripture.

i) Actually, Jewish and Christian scribes gave us the scriptures. Because Catholics and Orthodox imagine that their denomination provides a shortcut to the canon, they don't stop and think about the actual historical process. Ironically, they take the same position as Bart Ehrman and Dan Brown. They act as though the Bible is a miscellaneous collection of books, and it requires some external authority to draw arbitrary lines, since there's nothing about the books themselves that selects for that particular collection.

ii) But stop and think about it. In the early church you had uncontrolled transmission of Scripture. Scribes producing private copies of Scripture. This wasn't coordinated. So you have many streams of transmission. Many chains of custody. Many copies of Scripture in circulation. And these go back to the originals. Back to the original authors. 

iii) In the NT, we have four Gospels with titles. Two are attributed to apostles. Two are attributed to members of the Pauline circle. Moreover, Mark was a native of Jerusalem during the public ministry of Christ. And the mother church was located in his hometown. 

Unless there's good reason to believe the authorial ascriptions are pseudonymous, which would pose a problem for Orthodox believers no less than Protestant believers, our acceptance of the Gospels isn't contingent on church councils. 

iv) Over and above the titles, there's external testimony to the traditional authorship of the Gospels. And respecting internal testimony, John's Gospel was written by an eyewitness and member of Christ's inner circle.

Unless there's good reason to reject these lines of evidence, which would be problematic for Orthodox believers no less than Protestant believers, our acceptance of the Gospels isn't contingent on church councils, but multiple lines of independent evidence.

v) Acts is a bridge. Written by the same author as Luke's Gospel. Acts supplies additional background information regarding the authors of the Gospels, as well as the authors of the epistles. And conversely, the epistles supply additional background information. The NT canon is cross-referential and cross-attesting.

vi) We have a collection of letters written in Paul's name. Two letters written by two stepbrothers of Jesus. A letter (Hebrews) written by a member of the Pauline circle (Heb 13:23). Two letters written in the name of Peter. And three letters which clearly come from the same hand as the author of the Fourth Gospel. Finally, we have an apocalypse by a man who calls himself "John" and has a ministry in Asia Minor.

Unless we have good reason to think the authorial ascriptions are pseudonymous, which would be problematic for Orthodox believers no less than Protestant believers, our acceptance of this literature isn't contingent on church councils, but multiple lines of internal and external evidence. 

vii) Even if, for the sake of argument, you think 2 Peter or Jude are poorly attested, nothing essential is riding on those particular books. 

viii) Moreover, this collection is pretty much self-selecting by default, because there's precious little if anything from the same generation. It's all from first-generation Christians. Most of it, and maybe all of it, arguably dates from sometime before 70 AD. The primary exception would be the Johannine corpus, but if authentic, that goes right back to a member of Christ's inner circle. 

This literature as virtually no competition for canonicity. The only Christian literature from roughly the same period are a few items from the apostolic fathers. But even they lack the same historical pedigree, although they are useful historical witnesses to the state of Christianity at the time and place of their composition. 

Then, from about the mid-2C and beyond, we have a profusion of unmistakably apocryphal literature. That's not real competition for the NT canon. 

ix) Evidence for the OT canon comes from Jewish sources as well as the NT. That's not from church councils. 

There were some church fathers like Jerome who were conversant with Jewish witnesses. Guess which side they come down on? 

There was no other church than this original Apostolic Church at the time. It's a bit hard for me to see how they miss that simple fact....there WAS only One Christian Church for the first 1000 years - until the branch at Rome broke off and made additions and subtractions from the original, and 500 years later until Luther made further changes, some good, some bad, but not going all the way back to Christianity's Apostolic root teachings and traditions - and then hundreds of denominations since then...

That just begs the question of whether, and in what sense, there was "only One Christian Church for the 1000 years". You're simply giving us EO propaganda. What about Donatists, Novatianists, and monophysites?

They [church fathers] have been deified by God and are guided by the same Holy Spirit that guides the Church and the Scripture.

What's your evidence for that assertion?

It is revealed that God had a special link with them.

Where was that revealed?

but the very fact that you need to have interpretation dumps the whole idea of Sola Scriptura into water. Whose interpretation will it be?

The interpretation with the best exegetical argument. If you disagree, then you disqualify yourself from arguing for your own position. How do you establish the claims EO in the first place? After all, there are competing interpretations of ecclesiology.

The issue in Protestantism is that it doesn't have a method of resolving an issue that that is caused by (NOT solved by) Sola Scriptura. Snake handlers fall well within the confines of Sola Scriptura.

i) Since that's based on the textually dubious Long Ending of Mark, it doesn't fall well within the confines of sola Scriptura. Sola scriptura only applies to Scripture, not scribal interpolations. 

ii) John Meyendorff didn't think the case for EO was reducible to a "method". Rather, he appealed to the voice of the "living" church.  

Sola Scriptura rejects well-established Christian tradition of interpretation, replacing it with a momentary flight of fancy - the supreme rule of ego, impression and personal taste.

Clearly, this commenter hasn't bothered to study how Protestant commentators actually exegete the Bible. 

I'm not saying that you can't have a schism without Sola Scriptura, but Sola Scriptura is a catalyst for schisms.

Ecumenical councils are a catalyst for schisms. Ecumenical councils disenfranchise dissenters. Excommunicate dissenters. 

I'm not saying if that's good or bad. Depends on the issue. But when you have an organization that presumes to be the gatekeeper of orthodoxy, that in itself becomes an engine for schism by excluding people who don't tow the party line.  

Having gone over this entry a couple of times, it appears the writer approaches the issue from the a priori notion that a religious tradition begun not 500 years ago (and yet to be defined) is the final arbiter of all things. 

That's such a superficial criticism. The salient question is not the date of the Protestant movement, but the date of the sources (Scripture) to which they appeal. Does our theology correspond to 1C Christian exemplars? 

Apostolic on the thin basis of being "Protestant." Such shallow reasoning is in direct accord with Flat Earth-ism and every other attempt to set private interpretation…

Except for the awkward little fact that Orthodox apologists must rely on their independent judgment to determine which claimant is true. 

...and identity politics above all that God has revealed throughout history, beginning with the word of God. 

Aside from the fact that EO groupthink is a fine example of identity politics, what God has revealed throughout history didn't end with the seventh ecumenical council. Church history actually continues on the other side of the so-called ecumenical councils. If you think church history is revelatory, then that includes the Protestant Reformation. So the appeal cuts both ways. 

Somehow the bishops of the Church were smart enough to choose the books for the bible yet not smart enough to properly understand them or teach on them...

i) I don't base the canon of Scripture on the judgment of bishops. The evidence for the canon isn't confined to any one class of witnesses. Rather, there are multiple lines of evidence. 

ii) This is not a question of who's smart, but who had access to good evidence or a reliable chain of custody. 

'By contrast, the EO church, church councils, confessions and creeds, and the like aren't infallible.'

If this is true, then the canon of the Scripture isn't infallible as well, so you're left with just the 'Sola' without 'Scriptura.'

If the books of the Bible are individually infallible, then the books of the Bible are collectively infallible. If every cookie in a a cookie jar is peanut butter, then all the cookies are peanut butter. It's a jar of peanut butter cookies rather than chocolate chip cookies. 

If the bible is infallible, then the Church council which chose it must have been infallible in the act of choosing it.

How would the infallibility of Isaiah depend on a church council 1500 years later (give or take) choosing Isaiah? That's like those time-travel paradoxes. 

And which of the seven ecumenical councils issued a definitive list of the canon? 

The Church chose the Scriptures ... Without her you have no official bible.

i) I don't need an "official" Bible. Just a Bible with the right books. 

ii) An obvious problem with using church councils as your criterion of truth is that it only pushes the issue back a step, because you now need a criterion to distinguish ecumenical councils from local councils or orthodox councils from heterodox councils. 

Likewise, an obvious problem with using church authority as your criterion is that it only pushes the issue back a step, because you now need a criterion to distinguish "the One True Church®" from "schismatics" and "heretics". 

Never mind that Sola Scriptura is a Islamic influence on Christianity.

Islam is not a Koran-only faith. Islam is a religion steeped in tradition. The Sunnah. Haddith. Traditional schools of jurisprudence. So the true analogy would be…Eastern Orthodoxy!

The Bible calls the Church 'the pillar and foundation of truth', it doesn't call itself such. Have fun figuring out the Sola Scritura and disparaging the Church with such a verse.

i) Paul is referring to the situation of mid-1C churches planted by apostles and overseen by apostles. It's not a prophecy or retractive validation regarding institutions claiming to be "the Church" centuries later. 

In context, Paul isn't referring to future developments. How do Orthodox apologists determine that 1 Tim 3:15 is even applicable to their denomination? 

ii) Did Paul think the Corinthian church was a "pillar and foundation of truth"? Did Paul think the churches of Galatians, which were tottering on the brink of apostasy, absent his intervention, constituted a "pillar and foundation of truth"? 

iii) What does the metaphor mean? Paul doesn't say the church is the source of truth. And he doesn't say the church has the authority or prerogative to dictate what is true. Rather, the church is tasked with the responsibility of upholding the truth. 

Take mid-1C churches planted by Paul. It was incumbent on individual members comprising the congregation to uphold what Paul taught them. They received the truth from St. Paul–in person or by letter. Their duty was to remain faithful to what he taught them–or in some cases his handpicked deputies.

iv) Notice the bait-n-switch. When Orthodox apologists refer to "the Church", that's code language for church fathers or bishops or councils. So they're excluding most Christians from their definition of "the Church". 

Oh no! Hank Hannegraff isn't promoting 500 year old protestant innovations anymore, and has turned to the Faith of the Apostles! Whatever shall we do?

"Protestant innovations" like Paul's theology of justification by faith?  

They do not seem to get that this is the Church of the Apostles. You know, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul...those guys. They seem unable to get past the Catholic Church, which left original Orthodoxy in 1054 a.d.

The church of the Apostles was the 1C church or churches existing at the time of the Apostles. It's an unwarranted extrapolation to simply take institutions from centuries later, and equate that with the "church of the Apostles". The anachronism is glaring.  

Evangelicals' interpretation likes to claim to "take the Bible literally", but when it comes to Eucharist, they deny the obvious, literal meaning of what has been repeated for centuries.

No, literally interpretation is not my hermeneutical principle. Rather, original intent is my hermeneutical principle. 

The real reason I believe that motivates Calvinist denial of the Real Presence is that Reformed Protestants are a more rational-critical branch off of the early Christians. They do believe in the resurrection, but they revised Christianity to avoid what they considered the "superstitious" mindset of their predecessors, who believed in all kinds of miracleworking, holy people, saints, relics, supernatural communion bread, casting out of demons, sacred space, apparitions of Jesus, etc. The intense miracle supernatural mentality is really only preserved in the Charismatic branch of Reformed Protestantism. If you need someone to literally "cast out a demon" like in the early Church times, you are de facto stuck going to a Catholic priest or to a Charismatic minister.

That is indeed parallel to the modern charismatic movement. And there are three options: you can accept it in toto, reject it in toto, or exercise critical discernment. 

Most Orthodox believers are content to go with the words of Christ alone - "Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have in part in me." 

That just begs the question of whether Jesus was scolding Jews about the Eucharist. That would be a head-scratcher for Jews who had no background regarding a rite that didn't even exist at the time of the discourse. 

There is only one Church, the one Christ founded in 33 AD. A cursory look at history, and the ecclesiology of the different so-called "denominations" will show you what Church adheres to the "faith once delivered to the saints." 

Ah, yes, if you were to attend a 1C house church, you'd first walk into a narthex. From there you'd proceed to the nave. The nave would be decorated with icons. 

Inside the nave, you'd see the iconostasis separating the nave from the sanctuary. Behind the iconostasis you'd see an alter. Priests in vestments would be incensing holy objects and reciting the divine liturgy of John Chrysostom or Basil the Great. 

Eastern Orthodoxy hasn't undergone any theological innovations since 33 AD. Just step into the time-machine, dial it back to say, 50 AD, and attend a worship service just like I described. 

Likewise, the way Greek Fathers adapt Neoplatonism to formulate theology goes straight back to the faith once delivered in 33 AD. No theological innovations whatsoever! 

Only the Eastern Orthodox preserve that faith which we can read about in the works of Ignatius, Clement, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius.

I'm more concerned about preserving the faith we read about in biblical revelation. 

In order to avoid the real conclusion that Calvinists don't actually believe that the Eucharist is really Jesus' body like he directly says...

Like Jesus directly says that he's a lamb, a vine, a gate, and sunlight. 

BTW, I don't believe Jason is a Calvinist. 

Christ said that even the gates of Hell won't prevail over the Church

And what is the church? Wherever you have Christians, you have the church. The church is the fellowship of the faithful. 


  1. "there WAS only One Christian Church for the first 1000 years - until the branch at Rome broke off and made additions and subtractions from the original"

    That's not how the RCs tell it, and since their church was founded by Peter, the first Pope...well...so much for that tradition stuff...

  2. "The Church chose the Scriptures. Without her you have no official bible.


    So...Israel had no Scriptures? Why is it so hard for the Orthodox and RCs to think beyond cliches?