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.

3 thoughts on “The Scriptures and the Church

  1. This is very good! I just must add that the Scripture compiled and authenticated by the Church was never meant to be understood outside of the Church, without the Holy tradition. Outside of the community of the faithful, the Body of Christ practising what was written in the Scripture was absolutely meaningless. And, so it is today.

    • From the article “Sound Doctrine:What’s the Basis” you will see: 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.”

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