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.

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.