The Scriptures and the Church

Everything someone needs to know is in scripture. This is the declaration that is heard often from the vocal and sincere believers that fill the Evangelical churches as well as most Protestant churches in America today. Numbering over 30,000 different groups, this can get confusing to most. They each claim authority to say what is “of God” and what is correct but none of them claim exclusive authority but tend to exclude other groups by passive-aggressive statements of “that’s not what GOD tells US” or “we don’t believe that way because it’s not IN THE BIBLE” however, what IS of God?

Nothing is valid as “Of God” if it isn’t prescribed in scripture. This is the premise of many today and I feel compelled to address it. This brings several major questions to mind. One is “Why?” Where does this idea come from? There’s no specific verse in scripture that says this. The next question is “Who decides what constitutes ‘Scripture’ that can be depended on?” And “Where did the ‘Scripture’ come from?” I suppose that the other question is “What came first, the Church or the scriptures?” (Sounds like a chicken or the egg question doesn’t it?)

This premise that only when it is directly prescribed in the New Testament (primarily the assertion of those in this discussion) is it valid as being “from God” which declares that sacraments are man’s invention, organization is man’s invention, just about everything that ties the first century Church to the modern day is conveniently “man’s invention” which then declares it as invalid.

The first question in my mind is “Why?” Why would we want to disregard everything as “Man’s Invention and NOT God” that currently ties us to the historical Church? I’m only able to guess. I cannot imagine, for myself, wanting to disconnect from history. If you disconnect from history then you must spontaneously create the Church in each timeframe. This does give you distinct advantages because no one can tell you that you’re incorrect because you recreated the Church in your own image. This also makes it possible to accept or reject just about anything taught because if it isn’t specifically written in the New Testament (incidentally there are few specifics in the New Testament) then it is “just man’s invention and therefore not really binding today” which really makes “me” the ultimate authority.

Where does this come from? There is no verse in the New Testament that says this. I can analyze it and understand it but really I’m at a loss for how it is justified.

So who decides what IS scripture? This is really sticky since the New Testament was CREATED by the very organized Church that this belief structure declares invalid. The hierarchy decried as only “man made” was the body of people that decided what books were included in the New Testament Canon. This seems to bring the most dichotomous association into the belief system. If one rejects the hierarchy in the Church, and claims the hierarchy was man’s creation and not God’s, then why trust that the product of that same hierarchy is really scripture?

This does lead me to ask, do the people that believe like this know that the New Testament is actually a product of the Church?

The pivot point in all of this is the belief in “inerrancy” and when that is examined I find something unique. The only people that seem to stand firmly and cry inerrancy are speaking English or perhaps in some Protestant mission from an English speaking group. Why would this be tied to this discussion? Because without a doctrine of complete inerrancy of scripture, directed to the specific language version the speaker is using, then the scriptures become secondary to the revealed God that is written about.

So what do we say? God is revealed in what was written but God is not that which is written. While we revere the scriptures, even treat the book itself as Holy, it is not the scriptures that are without flaw but our God who speaks through them. The scriptures were written, passed around, copied and read in the early Church. The epistles, originally written as pastoral guidance to the spiritual children of the writer (often Saint Paul) were seen as having universal application. The Gospels, originally reproduced as the Apostles Memoirs, were also seen as having universal (catholic) applications. These were also quoted by the Fathers of the Church as early as Ignatius and Polycarp in their own letters to the churches. However, until the Protestant reformation, the idea of inerrancy was never found in the Church.

As a matter of historical fact, the doctrine of inerrancy took on a life of its own in the 20th century, in a conference in October 1978. Concerning this the following is from Wikipedia: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was formulated in October 1978 by more than 200 evangelical leaders at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), held in Chicago. The statement was designed to defend the position of Biblical inerrancy against a perceived trend toward liberal conceptions of Scripture. The under-signers came from a variety of evangelical Christian denominations, and include Robert Preus, James Montgomery Boice, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul and John F. MacArthur.”

I have studied under several of these men in the past, and have known some who were signatories personally. I once stood with them on inerrancy but I have concluded that the ancient Church has the correct approach.

The Holy Scriptures, the Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostles, the Apocalypse (otherwise entitled The Revelation of Jesus Christ) are contained in what the Church produced. These documents were revered early in Church history as were others. After the second ecumenical council in 381 AD there was a commission to collect and judge all of the texts that the Church had collected and promulgated throughout the previous 350 years of history. The bishops that were assigned to this task worked from approximately 386-389 AD and produced what was later accepted as the New Testament Canon.

The Orthodox view of the Bible is summarized by looking at a statement written by a conference between Orthodox and Anglican leaders in Moscow in 1976. “The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of Himself in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and in the whole history of salvation, and as such express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.”

Two centuries before that conference, Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724–83),wrote “If an earthly king, our emperor, wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with great rejoicing and careful attention…You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven. And yet you almost despise such a gift, so priceless a treasure…Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him.”

From the article by Bishop Kallistos, Bishop of Diokleia, in the Orthodox Study Bible we are instructed: “Such exactly is our Orthodox attitude to the reading of Scripture. I am to see the Bible as God’s personal letter sent specifically to myself. The words are not intended merely for others, far away and long ago, but they are written particularly and directly to me, here and now. Whenever we open our Bible, we are engaging in a creative dialogue with the Savior. In listening, we also respond. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears,” we reply to God as we read (1Kg 3:10); “Here am I” (Is 6:8).

The one thing you will not see in these statements about the Bible is the belief that the Bible is inerrant and that the Bible is the ONLY source for sound doctrine. The reason is because to the Orthodox, the entire Bible in context and the entirety of Holy Tradition passed down from the beginning teach us the doctrine of the Church.

We do not create doctrine rather we discover it. The teachings passed down from the Apostles to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” 2 Timothy 2:2 OSB were entrusted to the bishops so ordained to oversee the Church. They consistently conferred, compared and remained faithful to God for those teachings. They didn’t invent or innovate because of societal acceptance but remained faithful. If they were not faithful then the words of Jesus to the Apostles could not be true when He said, “… I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 OSB

Jesus built His Church on the foundation of the testimony of the Apostles that HE was the Christ, the Son of God. Without the overseers being faithful, Jesus could not keep the Church and build it. He kept these men faithful by the Holy Spirit whom He said, “…However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come…” John 16:13 OSB

Martin Luther, a 16th century Roman Catholic priest and friar, created the doctrine he termed “Sola Scriptura” “scripture alone” and in order to wrest control of his parish from the control of Rome he decided to translate a German language Bible and so that he cut another tie to Rome he rejected the Latin Vulgate and opted to use the Hebrew language Old Testament (8-9 century translation) and the Greek New Testament. He also used context and linguistics to make sure yet his doctrine of Justification by Faith ALONE made it into his Bible. Tyndale was influenced by this translation when he translated his English New Testament.

I conclude that only with a belief of total inerrancy tied to the English language Bible can I support the idea of Sola Scriptura. Only with Sola Scriptura can I then reject historical fact, and the hierarchy that the Church set up to administer the actions taken throughout the centuries. With this position, one can ultimately create the Church in the corrupt image of modern man. This seems to be the case of the thousands of churches calling themselves Christian today. Disconnected from the ancient Church, rejecting her leadership, picking and choosing what they want to believe; simultaneously condemning any practice or teaching that they have not chosen as their own. This might be the reason that over 50% of all Americans claim to be Christian while at the same time millions of babies are killed in abortion clinics every year.

I was witness once to an exchange that was between two people both claiming to be Christian. They were disagreeing over a practice, the specific isn’t important but, one said this was okay and another said this was sin or wrong. The result was, “We will just agree to disagree.” This is far from where anyone should be. We know that the Apostles didn’t “agree to disagree” they were clear that “… I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment…” 1 Corinthians 1:10

Many will claim that they believe that the scriptures but they pick out snippets that they build their lives or teaching around but then forget that the Bible is God’s letter to us. We must take it all together because Context matters. We cannot reject any one part and we must find out what we are being told. That’s why the Apostles who walked with Jesus were guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth, and why they ordained bishops to hold fast to sound doctrine that they provided. The bishops then taught others and organized the Church as a clear Body of Christ.

Can Christ have many bodies? Can there be new bodies spring up constantly? Some think that a person can become a Christian at one group, leave that group, walk down the street, start a new group, attract believers and eventually the conclusion is the second group is just as much the “Body of Christ” as the first. This may even be when one preaches things vastly different. Is God divided?

The Church is the Body of Christ and as such is not simply an “organization” but is a living body, the Body of Christ. The Holy Scriptures are a product of the Body of Christ. The Body IS Christ in the earth and the entirety of the Body is infallible. The scriptures do not stand alone, they are a part of Holy Tradition, the written record of God as He is revealed in the Church. The Scriptures express the teachings, the doctrine of the Church.

To those who teach inerrancy of the written scriptures ARE necessary to support the invention of Sola Scriptura because without inerrancy there’s little support for Sola Scriptura. The doctrine of inerrancy is a 20th century invention to find support for Luther’s doctrine which he invented to spearhead his a time-Rome bias. He was rebelling against Rome which had been in rebellion against the Church for 500 years. Luther’s rebellion from Rome was the seed of the Protestant reformation. This is why Protestants are so anti-Rome. They reject anything that, to them, appears Roman Catholic. They cannot differentiate between “Roman Catholic” and simply “catholic” meaning universal.

Tied up in all of this is the deductive approach to scriptures. That is approaching scripture with a predetermined belief and simply finding scriptures that will support this belief. If it is inerrancy then one simply latches onto 2 Timothy 3:16 and claim it is inerrant so one proves his predetermined belief. He might find other verses that alone can be pieced together to prove the belief one chooses.

With the Church, the living Body of Christ, the doctrine of the Church was taught by the Apostles to the bishops who faithfully taught it throughout history. The Church faithfully kept the doctrine throughout history and we have it today. Nothing new comes into the Church that doesn’t replace something. New doctrine is not created only discovered because all that we need was taught by the Apostles.

The Holy Scriptures, one part of Holy Tradition, are a product of the Church which is why it was enlightening for me when I found the Church. Remember from my previous writings, my quest was completed when I found the Church because the Church was she who produced the Scriptures not the group that was founded ON the Scriptures. God’s Holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded By Christ our True God brought about the Truth of God into the world redeeming the world and teaching all men repentance through faith in Christ our True God.

How did the Church get Organized?

Often in my life since I started this journey in Christ, seeking the Church, I have encountered others with no real understanding of Church History. I knew nothing of Church History and it took me over twenty years before I realized that fact. I used to think that the only history of the Church I needed was contained in the book of Acts. That’s a nice neat thing to claim but it is false. While the Acts of the Apostles contains much of what occurred in the early Church, it isn’t everything that happened. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts opened it with, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3 NKJV

So we see that Luke recognized that what he wrote before was a beginning and that after Jesus was taken up “He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the Apostles” so Jesus continued to lead and guide the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. This is one point to note for us since we often hear that “If it’s not written in Acts then it didn’t happen” but we see that Jesus still gave guidance to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. 

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness there were about 2 million people plus all their stuff and much of Egypt’s treasures. Moses was the only leader they had. He was judging disputes of all levels and it was taking up his time. His father-in-law Jethro was the means that God used to give him input. This is what we see, “…And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.  If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.” Exodus 18:13-26 NKJV

Jethro, gave his advice then he also allowed for Moses to clear these ideas with God before putting them into practice. This is no small thing since Moses was God’s Prophet and so when Moses did as Jethro had suggested we can assume that God approved. 

Now let’s look at the Church because Israel is simply a picture of the Church. After the resurrection, the Church WAS and IS the fulfillment of Israel. So when we look at the Church we must realize the Church is Israel. When Luke began the Acts of the Apostles he made it clear that Jesus was still commanding the Apostles when he said, “after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles” so we know the Apostles were still being directed, commanded and taught by Jesus so when they chose a direction, we know Jesus was involved in the choice. 

Did the early Church have a hierarchy? Was there some form of Church Government or Administration? If it isn’t in scripture, how can we know?  

Saint Paul spoke in his Epistle to the Romans of spiritual gifts. One of those gifts was listed in the King James translation as “Ruling” in the New King James the word was rendered “Leading” and most of the English translations render it “Lead” as a gift. 

In 1Corinthians 12 Saint Paul also listed some spiritual gifts in a list of priority. In that list he identified “administrations” as a gift. In many of the English translations this is a common rendering. Administration, administrative, or guidance all are used. 

Let me tie this up with something that keeps coming to mind. When Israel was in Egypt they were slaves and made bricks. They weren’t great artisans with skills taught them by Egyptians, they were slaves making bricks. When they got out of Egypt, God commanded that Moses make a tabernacle in accordance with God’s directions, God showed Moses what it would look like. I am sure the question in Moses’ mind was “How’s this going to happen?” “How do we make these things?” Well, God already has the answer, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. “And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle— the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”” Exodus 31:1-11 NKJV

So God gave gifts to men to accomplish his will by being artisans and to have wisdom to make everything for the Tabernacle. In the Church, God gave gifts to men to accomplish his will also. We saw spiritual gifts of leading, administrations or ruling mixed in with other gifts and even in a hierarchical ranking. That gift would never be given if God had not intended it to be used. 

One other thing ties this up for me, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” I Corinthians 14:40 NKJV because as he had said just a few verses prior, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” I Corinthians 14:33 NKJV

If God is not the author of confusion, and wants everything done decently and in order, and he has gifted some men with gifts of ruling, leading, leadership or administrations, then the Church, when it grew to a size where it became practical and necessary, must create an administration to lead the Church. When the number of the names (as it says in Acts 1) was about 120, the Apostles could easily guide them. When there were 3000 added in one day, perhaps they could still handle it. But when the Church grew and the Apostles planted groups in each geographical location, and the groups began growing, the Apostles ordained Bishops, Elders (presbyters) and Deacons for their ministries and along the way we see that the Church organized to be able to administer this growing body of believers. 

As a reminder Ignatius of Antioch made it clear why we are to do nothing without the inclusion of the clergy. From the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians:

As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”

This unity in the Body of Christ with the leadership is important because our example is our Lord. When Our Lord Jesus did anything he didn’t act alone. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” John 5:19 NKJV

The unity of the body to the leadership is something that makes the Church unique. The bishops came from among the people, they weren’t imposed from outside, they were known as Godly men that adhered to sound doctrine. Just like the qualification that Moses sought in his leaders, they weren’t covetous or able to be bribed, so to the Church looked to men of good report both inside and outside the Church. 

So what shall we conclude? Should we conclude that the Church created a leadership hierarchy because the body needed structure? Should we conclude that somehow the Church that Jesus built on the foundation of the Apostolic Confession that He was the Christ and that the Holy Spirit was guiding could not be maintained by God? Should we conclude that the installation of a hierarchy was apostasy?  
I think it is clear both from scripture and history that the hierarchy of the Church, founded on the Apostolic Confession, maintained by the Holy Spirit, stands to this day as a testament that the Gates of Hades cannot prevail against the Church. 


Worship In The Congregation

The basis for the life of the Church, once we understand that the authority of the Church comes from the setting in place or ordination of the leaders; and once we understand that sound doctrine emanates from the totality of Holy Tradition and was not just conjured up from someone’s interpretation of scripture; then Worship is the outcome. What about worship in the Congregation?   

Congregation, as used in the Orthodox Christian Church, refers to the assembly of faithful, a Eucharistic community, associated with a specific ecclesiastical community: a parish church, chapel, mission, or such. This is the accepted description as recorded in Orthodox Wiki as commonly used. The life of the Church comes with gathering together of the faithful for the Divine Liturgy. From the earliest time of the Church, worship was focal in the life of the Church. “…And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…” Acts 2:42 NKJV

As the Church grew, the Apostles ordained (set in place) bishops to oversee the Church. The Apostles also set in place Deacons to handle some of the more rudimentary functions such as caring for the widows and orphans, and serving the Church with the table of the Lord, or communion. While it is mentioned rarely, from history of the Apostolic Fathers, presbyters were also ordained from among the people. The leaders of the Church were not imposed from outside the local congregation but rather were those who had shown themselves to be faithful and were already leaders in the family of God.

The Didache, the teachings or doctrine of the twelve Apostles, the earliest record we have of teachings not contained in the Holy Scriptures, concerning ordaining Bishops, says, “Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers. And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.”

These bishops were set in place or ordained to lead the Church and the Church was instructed by Saint Ignatius of Antioch to do nothing without them. In his letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius said, “As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”
Saint Ignatius also exhorted the Church of the Ephesians to meet frequently for the Worship of God, “Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.

The Didache, has various instructions for the Church. It says, “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.””

Let’s not forget that in Hebrews we are encouraged this way, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25 NKJV

So what is this worship, this gathering together? Is it simply a planned time to hang out? Can we just do anything in this gathering?

From the earliest time of the Church, we see throughout our history, this gathering to be liturgical. This gathering we also see as sacramental. Sacrament denotes something Holy. In the Church, everything done in and by the Church is considered sacramental. While the English word sacrament is derived from the Latin word “sacramentum” which is defined as “a consecrated thing or act” and that was derived from the Greek word “mysterion” for mysteries. They are mysteries, according to Saint John Chrysostom, because what we see is different from what we believe is happening. Let’s look at that in this way: when there is a baptism, what we see is a priest dunking someone in water, a ceremonial bathing. What we believe is what Saint Paul said was happening when he wrote, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 NKJV and in another place Saint Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” I Corinthians 12:13 NKJV

The mystery in this is, while we see a priest immersing someone, God the Holy Spirit is really baptizing the convert, burying the person with Christ as a dead man because he is dead to sin, raising the Christian from that death to walk in a new life, and making that person part of the Body of Christ, the Church. In Orthodoxy, the baptizer is simply the instrument God uses to accomplish His will. While in some newer traditions, the baptizer declares “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit” in Orthodox baptism the baptizer declares “The servant of God IS Baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Recognizing that it is God who baptizes not the man; the man is the instrument that we see. So this is a mystery or a sacrament.

I use baptism as an example but there are several sacraments, all part of the life of the Church. The life of the Church is where the mysteries are practiced. They are mysteries because what we see is not what we believe is happening. Communion is another mystery; what we see is bread and wine, what we believe is that they become the body and blood of our Lord. We don’t try to come to some scientific or even theological explanation of how this happens, we just accept that it does happen.

From the Apologies of Justin Martyr:

“Chapter 67. Weekly worship of the Christians

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”

Today, our Liturgy mirrors this description. The Divine Liturgy celebrated today was written in the fourth century by Saint John Chrysostom. The best description is that it is prayers and readings of scripture separated by hymns. Justin described the Church assembly reading from the memoirs of the Apostles known as the Gospels or the writings of the Prophets, taking communion, and taking an offering to care for the poor, widows and orphans. Justin also discussed why the Church met on Sunday also.
When we enter worship, it’s not anything less than entering Heaven. In the book of Revelation chapter four we see, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”” Revelation 4:1-11 NKJV

This worship is going on, according to John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, all the time. The four living creatures “do not rest day or night” and when they worship God, the elders fall down and worship God. Since worship is continuous then when we enter our temple here to worship, we are entering a worship service already in progress. There is only one Church, not a visible one on Earth and an invisible one in Heaven, the one Church worships continuously. So where do we start? If we are spontaneous then we will be disruptive. I see now why the liturgical style of worship has been so orderly for us. The priest and the people face the Altar together, and the priest leads us into a heavenly experience.
In Orthodox Church Worship, it appears chaotic at times because while the attitude of worship exists, some are involved in prayer or reconciliation with others, perhaps in prayer for friends or family as they seek the intercession of a particular Saint. The only time that no one moves is during the reading of scripture. The order for each service is clear. In the early days of the Church, as missions spread throughout the world, the missionaries gave more attention to translating the Services into each language rather than translate the Scriptures. Since most people didn’t have advanced education, the services were used to teach the scriptures and theological truths.

Incorporated into the services, the worship of the Church, are truths about repentance (Psalm 50 is prayed during the censing of the Church by the priest, for instance) there are prayers of repentance to prepare the people to receive Communion as well. There are scripture readings assigned to the day that teach us principles and the hymns for each Saint, feast, and some about specific stories also teach the people. We use candles at times, when a specific Saint’s intercession is requested by a person, that person might light a candle in front of the Saint’s icon to remind the Saint of their need. That brings me to Icons.
What is an Icon? What about the prohibition on graven images? Why do the Orthodox bow and kiss the Icons? Are the Orthodox worshipping the Icons?

Icons are a Holy art form, two dimensional and they are either depicting a person, or an event in Church history. The very first icon that we know of was of the Theotokos, the mother of our Lord, and was created by Luke the Evangelist. We even sing about it in the Supplicatory services when we remember the Dormition of the Theotokos.

Icons are now consistently part of Orthodox worship and have been since 787 when the Second Council of Nicea settled the issue for the Church. Previously the Emperor Leo III had prohibited the display and veneration of icons about 726. We celebrate on the first Sunday of Great Lent the Sunday of Orthodoxy to commemorate the return of icons and the use of icon. Most people who reject icons do so misinterpreting the prohibition of idols. Icons are not idols, we do not worship them. Interesting that those who reject them citing the commandment refuse to acknowledge that the Jewish Tabernacle and later Temples were decorated with images and the Tabernacle itself was an image. Icons are often viewed as windows, a place where we can view a Saint, or an event where we can teach the theological truth.

From we find this: “Veneration (gr. doulia) is a way to show great respect and love for the holy. It is to treat something or someone with reverence, deep respect, and honor. Veneration is distinct from worship (gr. latreia), for worship is a total giving over of the self to be united with God, while veneration is showing delight for what God has done. There can be confusion because one may venerate what one worships as well as venerate others. Veneration is part of worship to the Orthodox faithful, but they show love and respect to more than the God they worship.”

We venerate Icons, we bow and kiss them, recalling the person or event depicted in the icon. They are like windows into Heaven where the Saints are seen and where the “great cloud of witnesses” might view us and our communication. We do not worship them nor do we worship the Saints depicted in icons. The distinction might be a fine line to those outside but not to the Orthodox. When we communicate with the Saints, since they are part of our Church, we aren’t “Praying To Them” but rather asking for them to pray for and intercede for us with God. Since Saint Paul said, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

Since the Saints are present with the Lord, we trust that they can, and will pray for us knowing that they will pray according to the Will of God and by joining us in prayer there will be at least two in agreement asking God for something according to His Will. The promise that Jesus made was that if there were supplications in agreement with God’s will and there were two in agreement that God would grant our request. So we ask for prayers from people we see and from the Saints whom we do not see, all within our worship life in the Church.

Worship provides us experience of Heaven, the ability to interpret scripture, understand and communicate sound doctrine and to receive from God his blessings. Jesus said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” John 6:56-57 NKJV so when we worship, and we take Communion, Jesus is consumed and becomes part of us and we abide in him by this action. This is another mystery, what we see and what we believe is happening is different but nevertheless it is our reality.

So we see that worship unites us with each other because we are instructed to make sure not to have disagreements therefore not to profane the sacrifice of the Church. Worship unites us with the WHOLE Church including those who have preceded us to heaven. Worship instructs us in theology, biblical truths, historical facts and in scripture. Worship opens us up to receive God through faith each time we gather, and by doing that we are able to give alms to care for those in need. Worship is the life of the Church and therefore the life of the Christian.

Sound Doctrine: What is the Basis?

I saw recently a statement that caused me to pause and think. Someone said, “The New Testament is the only book people read one sentence at a time.” This seems accurate. What seems to be the problem with this? Context matters. If one reads the Bible in context then the whole seems to be full but not as easy to connect with bumper sticker-type slogans.

Interesting in itself, the interpretation of Holy Scripture within Orthodoxy has many accepted guidelines, one such guideline is “Only within the community of the Church can the Bible be understood. It was written by the Church, in the Church and for the Church. Thus, it is a “family document” which is the highest point of Holy Tradition, taken with faith alongside the writings of the Fathers, the Liturgy, the Icons, the Lives of the Saints, and so on.”

Slogans are often part of our life here in the USA and they might work well for tee shirts or bumper stickers but doctrine was never that simple. Doctrine, teachings, are collective in nature that the Church has developed over time. When the Church began in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost 33AD we see that the new converts “continued in the Apostles’ doctrine” but nothing is said to define what that was. Many will declare what that was but really nothing in scripture has ever defined the Apostles’ Doctrine.

The Church existed for 353 years with the only scripture being what modern Christians call “The Old Testament” and if we look into history we find that the one version the Church had was the text called the Septuagint. This text was translated about 299BC during the reign of Alexander who was trying to subdue his entire empire. He knew that as long as the Jews had their ancient language their culture wouldn’t completely submit to his rule. As dictators do, he tried to eliminate the sacred writings that were in Hebrew by translating them into Greek. After the 70 scholars (some records say 72) translated the Jewish scriptures into Greek, he ordered the Hebrew language scriptures to be destroyed. To a great extent that was accomplished. The common scriptures in use in the first century Israel was the Septuagint.

When the Apostles read scripture, when they taught scripture, when they worshipped, the scriptures they used was the Old Testament and was the Greek Septuagint. None of the Apostles knew that anything that they wrote would be called scripture. Saint Paul did not sit down and declare “I’m going to write scripture, okay God, give it to me.” On the contrary, he was giving pastoral guidance to his children. He said to the Corinthians, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” I Corinthians 4:15 NKJV

What are we to say? Is the New Testament not the inspired Word of God? Of course it is. We have known it to be scripture since approximately 389AD. That was when the council of bishops, after three years of consideration, filtered through writings from all over the known world, that had been collected by the Church. Judging them by objective standards that all agreed to, the bishops canonized what we now know of as The New Testament.

What many people do not realize is that the written New Testament scriptures we have today, for 353 years was the oral Holy Tradition of the Church. Today many disrespect the title “Tradition” and some even reject the title outright. Tradition is not evil, nor is it to be rejected simply because of the name. Tradition is simply something handed down from one generation to another. The disrespect for the term “Tradition” comes from the 15th chapter of Matthew where Jesus was calling out the hypocrisy of the Jews who had nullified the commandments of God, specifically “Honor your father and mother…” by the tradition they had erected over the course of time. Odd how this one line, taken out of context, is often used to disrespect Holy Tradition that was taught by the Apostles.

So what is the basis for doctrine? How do we understand doctrines? Where does scripture fit? If scripture is used, how do we interpret scripture?

Many people in today’s religious world follow the doctrine or teaching first popularized by Martin Luther, Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. To simplify it, this doctrine declares that the only basis for doctrine is the Holy Scriptures. This can be quite a circular discussion because nowhere in Scripture does it say this. Therefore the DOCTRINE that declares that doctrine is only valid if it is taught in Scripture is not taught in scripture.

It is interesting, only as a side note, that Martin Luther was a Roman Catholic Friar and Priest, and since he originated the doctrine of “Scripture Alone” he also took it upon himself to decide what WAS scripture. He didn’t like the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate and wanted scripture in the common vernacular of his native German followers. If you teach that doctrine can only be derived or discovered from scripture you must provide a way for everyone to have scriptures that they can read. Martin Luther decided to translate the scriptures himself. This gave him an amazing opportunity to decide what books were accepted and even the language of the text that he translated. One other item of note is that Tyndale used Luther’s German Bible as a comparison text when he translated his English Bible. Anything introduced into the text by Luther would likely also color the English Tyndale Bible.

The Church used the Old Testament in the Septuagint text, a Greek text. Luther chose to use the Hebrew text, most notably originating in the 8th century AFTER Christ. In the “Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs” of 1848, which was a reply to the epistle of Pope Pius IX, “To the Easterns,” the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, along with the other assembled bishops stated: “Our Church holds the infallible and genuine deposit of the Holy Scriptures: of the Old Testament a true and perfect version, of the New the divine original itself.” And so we have always held that the Septuagint is the authoritative version of the Old Testament.

The Apostles had doctrine. In the book of Acts we see, “…And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42 KJV. So we see that the Apostles had doctrine the new converts continued steadfastly in this doctrine and try as we might, we never see anywhere in the New Testament the clear statement that this or that was the Apostles’ doctrine.

I have extensively searched the New Testament and was really interested. Nowhere is there step-by-step instructions, clear teaching on the following subjects that most Churches have doctrine concerning: baptism, weddings, communion, funerals, ordination, or even how to worship.

From 33AD the Church took what was passed down by the Apostles directly and passed it from bishop to bishop for centuries. Timothy was left behind in Asia Minor to ordain (set in place) bishops. He was given instructions about how to identify the men that were qualified to be bishops. These bishops were to come from among the people. They weren’t to come from outside the area. They were to have a good reputation and to have only one wife. They were to be able to teach others. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2 KJV

These bishops, received doctrine from the Apostles, some directly, others received doctrine from other bishops but I believe that we can expect that they were faithful. These men were judged by those close to them. The community testified, by their words and actions, that these men were faithful. So to accept that, I must also conclude that they were able to teach others. Over the years and centuries these bishops were faithful to teach exactly as they were taught.

In 325AD the Church was faced with a heresy that said Jesus was a created being and NOT God. The ramifications of this heresy would dismantle the Church. To deal with this heresy, the bishops met in a council in Nicea. Each bishop declared what he had been taught from the beginning. In reading the text from the Council of Nicea we see a record of consistency that the Church had passed down sound doctrine from the beginning. The conclusion of the Council of Nicea found the Church bishops writing the first two sections of what came to be known as the Creed. It was the first written doctrine published throughout the Church.

The first two sections of the Creed say:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;

And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father;

And He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

In 381AD due to another challenge of a heresy in the Church, the bishops met in a great council again. This time it was held in Constantinople. The latter half of the Creed was written and the Creed was finalized. The bishops, after prayer, consideration and discussion declared the Creed finished. They also decided that the CREED itself was not to be edited further, no additions or subtractions were to be allowed. The last part of the Creed reads as follows:

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Live, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets;
And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sin.

I look for the Resurrection of the dead;

And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

This is an example of doctrine, that was consistent with Holy Scripture, and has been written down and included in the Church teachings.  This Creed forms the basis of the Church and is a collection of the teachings passed down by the bishops over the centuries. Saint Paul held that his oral teachings were to be taught equal to his written epistles placing oral tradition on equivalent stature when he wrote, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” II Thessalonians 2:15 NKJV

After the Council of Constantinople the bishops commissioned the collection of writings that the Church revered in various places and the bishops were to judge what text was scripture and what was not. The canonization of the New Testament was finalized in 389AD and ultimately distributed throughout the Church.

So then, how do we interpret scripture? Many will say “scripture interprets scripture” but really is that enough? Can we interpret scripture in a vacuum? Outside of the life of the Church can we truly understand scriptures? The Divine Liturgy provides us clarity to understand scripture. We read the scriptures in the context of the worship of the Church, this is the primary interpretation of scripture. We don’t interpret scripture apart from the life of the Church otherwise trying to do so will lead to much error.

The Fathers of the Church wrote, as they had been taught, the wisdom that had been passed to them. Some, like Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp were with John the Theologian on Patmos where he was exiled. Later Fathers had only what was passed down through writings and by word of mouth of the bishops that taught them. They also were able to confer with each other, bishops could check each other for sound doctrine and like in the larger councils they could pray and compare pastoral guidance. The pattern is consistent throughout the history of the Church.

Outside of the body, without guidance from those who have been entrusted as overseers when we find scripture passages that are not clear, it is good to get guidance. The Fathers’ writings give us much guidance. Can’t we understand it without them? Sometimes but when looking for the account of an event that I was not alive to remember I would trust someone who was there or knew someone who saw it rather than trust the word or recollection of a guy that knew a guy that knew a guy whose mother’s father thinks he worked with a guy that read a book about it or heard a sermon about it once.

So for doctrine, sound doctrine, the basis should be and can be anything in Holy Tradition. The highest form of Holy Tradition is the Bible, but there are the deuterocanonical books of the Apocrypha which was part of the Old Testament that Jesus read. History shows us that the pattern of worship from the Church of the first century is recorded, Justin the Martyr who was martyred in about 125AD in his apologetics to the Emperor described the worship of the Church. The Divine Liturgy currently celebrated in our parishes was written in the fourth century and with only minor changes remains the same. The life of the Church, its worship, its iconography, the writings of the Fathers, its bishops, and the congregation of the people all work together to build sound doctrine. This sound doctrine requires that in order to properly interpret Holy Scripture, one must be progressing toward Godliness. It’s not simply a work of literature, and while many will read it as such, proper interpretation requires us to be progressing toward Theosis. If we are not applying it, the interpretation is simply empty exercise of mental gymnastics for the vanity of the individual.

Authority: Presumed or Inherited Through Ordination 

Authority: Presumed or Inherited Through Ordination
Jesus was challenged for his authority and turned it on his challengers. “… By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:28-33 KJV
Jesus taught as one having authority, He was, in fact, God and confirmed that fact through signs and wonders. Throughout his ministry we see that He healed and cast out demons, restored people afflicted in many ways. These signs were what he used to convince John the Baptist that He was genuine. “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Matthew 11:2-6 KJV

Jesus used the fact of these wonders, these miracles, that He was genuine. This was how he told John’s Disciples to convey the truth to John who was in prisoned and John’s response was clear: “John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:27-36 KJV
When Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the Gospel he also ordained (set in place) them. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” John 15:16 KJV
When Judas fell away, and after the resurrection the Apostles sought to replace him. Peter speaking said: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick (Episkopen) let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:20-26 KJV
By ordination, Jesus, gave His authority to the twelve. They were entrusted to found the Church on the confession “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and He promised to build His Church on that foundation. He also promised that the Gates of Hades (powers of evil) would not prevail against the Church.
So let me look into that authority. The Church, in antiquity, accepted the Apostles as the original Bishops of the Church. While the hierarchy evolved a little later, toward the end of the first century into the second century, they were seen as the first Bishops, overseers, pastors and guides of the Church. It was their doctrine that was followed, they taught the Church and instructed the Church in how to live according to righteousness as found in the Holy Scriptures which for them was the scriptures that Jesus taught from.
John the Theologian, in his memoir, today known as the Gospel according to John, theorized that if everything that Jesus said and did was written that he supposed that the world could not contain the books that would be written. John the Baptist, above reference, said that God had given everything to the Son.
In Acts we are told that the believers “continued in the Apostles’ Doctrine…” And interestingly, we aren’t given “in scripture” what that was. History gives us some clear understanding but if we ignore history, we will miss it completely. The Apostles did write some things down but let’s also consider how they passed things on to those they ordained to follow them.
Saint Paul left Timothy in Asia Minor to “…the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also…” 2 Timothy 2:2 KJV And also he left Titus on Crete “…For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:…” Titus 1:5 KJV
If we can infer from Saint Paul’s actions as an Apostle that all the Apostles followed that same pattern, then each overseer or bishop ordained by them, as well as elders (or presbyters) and deacons were taught the Apostles’ doctrine. History tells us this is the case. We have history recording the actions of the early Church Fathers. When a dispute arose between Saint Paul and Saint Peter over evangelism of the Gentiles and the Jews abroad, the two went to Jerusalem, to the company of the Apostles, for a council. This was the pattern that advised the Church when in the early fourth century there was a dispute because some were teaching that Jesus was a created being. This was judged as heresy and all of the Bishops participated in the council. The Church recognized the Bishops (mainly the Patriarchs) but to a larger consideration all bishops were “sitting in the seat of the Apostles” and the grace given them through ordination was given so that they could oversee and guide the Church.
Jesus told the twelve, concerning the Holy Spirit, that: “…I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father…” John 16:12-16 KJV
He was not speaking to only one of them, the word he used for “you” who will be guided was collective and plural by context and so we see that the group will be guided by the Holy Spirit. So without the entire “Body of Christ” our guidance can be misguided. We are individually guided by our conscience and by our understanding of the Holy Spirit but to be certain our understanding is not clouded, we need each other and the wealth of knowledge left us in the historical records. The writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Apostles and those they taught, and the holy men that followed are available to guide us.
How can I know that the bishops that followed the Apostles had authority? How can I know that the bishops of today have such authority? I look at the historical record and I can search the patriarchs of the Church and connect today’s patriarchs with the Apostles by an unbroken line of succession. Were there attempts to hijack the Church by changing patriarchs? Yes, but the Holy Spirit was powerful and faithful to preserve the lineage even when an emperor tried to hijack God’s Church. So historically we have that connection.
So what about someone who comes along later? I’ve known many teachers, preachers, those who claim authority to interpret the Scriptures that have no connection to the ancient Church. How do I view them? How do I judge their words? How can their teaching and preaching be judged?
Saint Paul told the Church in Corinth that when prophets (preachers) had something to say: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” 1 Corinthians 14:29 KJV so we see that even in the early Church the guidance from the Apostles was to let speakers preach but be judged by those who were known to be gifted. So the preacher of today, absent the guidance of proven overseers has no real authority. Can they sometimes pick out truth? Certainly they can since they’re reading the same scriptures but as they say, even a stopped clock is correct twice per day.
Where does a person gain authority to teach scripture? Can someone just decide they can instruct others without consulting the historical records? In today’s world many have. The most interesting thing is the claim of authority. A man or woman will say, “God has shown me this in scripture” and if it is not immediately challenged, soon it is a doctrine that builds a new “church” and often it becomes a movement.
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have seen this countless times over the years. My aunt went to school with a man that became a very widely followed preacher. I have known many such men personally. Their names are well known to much of the Christian world. Odd that I never saw that the greater group of the Protestant world has developed a doctrine that someone can enter their church, study for some time, and go out from their group and start another “work” or “mission” and if they decide that God has revealed something to them, they are just as valid as where they came from. Many “churches” have been started thusly and while they might be as valid as where their founders started, are they really able to claim authority? Well, I must also ask is their authority, or the authority of the church they began with the same authority that the ancient Church possesses?
If someone comes from the ancient Church, and judges the doctrine taught by some teachers, they often find the doctrine in the new churches in disagreement with the doctrine taught by the Apostles. How should I view such? Saint Paul gives us guidance in this: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9 KJV So we do have some guidance. Saint Paul also wrote: “…But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 KJV So the Apostle was concerned that his spiritual children might be lead astray by another preacher giving them a different gospel or a different Jesus.
The presumptive authority to preach leaves me often wondering, “where did you get that one?” Concerning teaching that disagrees with the ancient Church. Ultimately then I must have a way to judge and the Church gives me that.
I have written that I found the Church after much searching. I found that history gives me that link from the beginning to the current day. So can I judge this?
To judge someone who claims authority to teach, I must look to see if they teach the same things taught by the Apostles.
Let me provide an example. Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic friar and priest in Germany, came to some doctrines that he found inconsistent with his understanding of scripture. What many fail to realize is that if he were not a priest in the Roman Catholic Church then he would not be listened to by anyone because he had no authority. At that time, the end of the 16th century, the Roman Catholics were over 500 years after their own schismatic departure from the ancient Church. The Ancient Church not only still existed, she still kept the ancient historical doctrine. So Luther, was departing from doctrine already schismatic and therefore heretical.
Luther found some doctrines to be wrong according to how HE decided God revealed scripture to him. When someone declares that, they use the statement “God revealed this to me” as a way to insulate themselves from criticism. If Luther were to be truly a teachable servant of Christ, he would have sought out the ancient Church for clarity. He did not do that. He decided that he, himself alone, had some secret guidance from God and he was trying to reform the Roman Church. When the Roman leadership expelled him, his followers ultimately, started their own “church” and others began to follow that course of action.
I will look into Luther’s doctrines at another time as it will be a lengthy review. The two main points he settled on we’re that the only source for doctrine was scripture, sounds good to a point, but when he is examined we see that HE got to decide what was scripture. He ignored the guidance of the Fathers because in his mind they were the Roman Catholic Church. He was, seemingly, unaware that the Roman Church had departed from the Ancient Brotherhood of the Church Fathers.
Luther also, in reaction to heresy of the Romans that sold “indulgence to sin” for money, that only through Faith Alone could one be forgiven. It’s not that justification does not come by Faith, however, he inserted his own thought that the scripture said “justification by faith ALONE” into that statement. If we ignore all of the knowledge of the Fathers, these mistakes happen and soon we find ourselves far from the Jesus preached by the Apostles, far from the Gospel preached by them.
I will continue my study as should you but never underestimate the knowledge derived by theologians from the company of the early Church fathers. There is a wealth of knowledge, often ignored, that has been passed down to us from the early Fathers. The patriarchs of today, sitting in the seat of the Apostles, are here to consult all previous patriarchal writings so that we continue in the Apostles’ Doctrine.