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Should Christians be a “People of the Book”?: a response to Father Stephen Freeman

01 Apr

Scripture-Scroll1The Eastern Orthodox priest and popular blogger Father Stephen Freeman recently wrote about the place of the Scriptures in the life of the Church.  The whole piece, People of the Book, is worth reading, but here is a clip that particularly stood out to me:

The Scriptures are not a source of authority (as in the three-source theory espoused by some Anglicans). They are a manifestation of the Divine Life within the believing community. The New Testament writings are quite clear about this – they are written by the Church and for the Church. 

But the Reformation brought about a new understanding of the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is a novel idea – itself not the teaching of Scripture. Saying this in no way lessens the authority of the Scriptures – but it places that authority within its proper context – the believing community.

The notion of the Bible, distinct from the community of believers, as a source for Divine guidance and belief, is not Christianity – at least not any traditional form of it…

I resonate with Father Freeman somewhat here – after all, as I have been saying, ideally, the Church is not meant to be so much a vehicle of faith, but an object of faith (the late Richard John Neuhaus said something similar).  We don’t say the church is a sacrament as the Eastern Orthodox do, but it is sacramental.  Further, in the traditional Lutheran view, the Scriptures are seen as being one of the traditions in the life of the Church (see here).

Not only this, but as one of the commenters on Father Freeman’s article put it, we read the Scriptures to find and meet Christ.  Amen!  As Luther said, the Scriptures are the cradle that holds Christ.  For example, I would say that particular Scriptures – although often written to particular congregations – are indeed God’s “love letters” to His church – His bride – today.  In them we experience the Triune God speaking to us about who He is and what He has done, who we are as His creatures, the love we have and share in Him, and our lives in this fallen world – and the life of the world to come!

That said, I suggest that sometimes, depending on the situation, the Scriptures must be presented by the church as having the final word as an authoritative source.  But this is not because the bride would be a “person of the Book” in the sense that Father Freeman outlines it in his article!  Rather, it is because the written word is indeed capable of preserving the precious beliefs of past members of the body – who by the Holy Spirit spoke with God’s authority in the past.  Are we to assume that the early church did not see the Apostle Paul’s letters, for example, as capable of conveying his authority?

Some do not believe that writing in general is capable of carrying the meaning of the original author (the most hard core postmodernists are formally represented in the field of linguistics by the school known as “integrationism”), and some do not believe that the Scriptural writings in particular can do this.  On the contrary, I believe that writing is a gift from God that can indeed do this (though it cannot always do this for particular persons who do not have the necessary background knowledge [language, vocabulary], and in some cases the contextual knowledge that is needed may not be available – nor the persons who could provide it if it were potentially available) whether we are speaking of sacred or secular texts.

This is, in general, what man understands as one of the capabilities of writing, and this is why we talk about the importance of “putting something in writing”.  Luke speaks in a similar way when in regards to his own writing of the Gospel (chapter 1), when he talks about “safeguarding” it.

So when Father Freeman says that the Scriptures “may be read by anyone (chanted, shouted or otherwise), but read with understanding only within the context of the believing community”, I can only agree with him in part.  We would assert that the Scriptures are certainly clear enough so that a genuinely curious [and educated!] atheist could discern their primary message (i.e. regarding how man first receives eternal life with God and how he may grow in that faith).  On the other hand, he could not, for example, produce the theological content of the Nicene Creed – determining what is essential and non-essential doctrine cannot be done satisfactorily without the true rule of faith (and perhaps certain historical circumstances).  Such teachers are needed in order to draw out all the treasures and riches that are contained therein.    

Is the “literal [level] the lowest level of interpretation” as one commenter put it?  Even if this were the case, would that not also make it “foundational” in some sense?  This issue is certainly important, and with another prominent Eastern Orthodox blogger, Aidan Kimel (formerly the Pontificator) recently citing an Eastern Orthodox saint in defense of a hell that is not everlasting, these questions become all the more pressing!

I submit that the message of Christ’s incarnation, righteous life, bloody cross, and glorious resurrection – whereby eternal life is shared by His ambassadors with fellow sinners – is the key that holds all of the Scriptures together.  This is testified in the church by the Spirit of God though the Word of God, whether it be written words or otherwise. 

+Nathan

Update: this post was slightly altered for the purpose of clarification.

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25 Comments

Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

25 responses to “Should Christians be a “People of the Book”?: a response to Father Stephen Freeman

  1. fatherstephen

    April 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Nathan,
    I disagree with your confidence about Atheists and the Scriptures. I think nothing there is that obvious (especially in a culture that is becoming removed from Bible-knowledge). Even the general theme of what the nature of sin is and why we need salvation, has to be drawn out of the Scriptures (by the Church). That many Christians teach this in a distorted manner (the forensic imagery) is testimony of the fact that the Scriptures cannot and should not be removed from the context of the Church.
    The EO’s do not think that Scripture is one of the traditions, or any such thing. The Scripture is a manifestation of the life of the Church, but not something independent. The Scriptures do not exist and have never existed apart from the Church and the Church is the necessary context for their understanding.
    That they might be clear enough in some places to be understood in a manner is simply the nature of language – but not in the nature in which they have been given. There are many assumptions about the Scriptures made by those who want an independent reading that are simply false. There’s as much “unlearning” that needs to take place these days as “learning.”

     
  2. infanttheology

    April 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Father Freeman,

    Thanks for responding to my post. I agree the Bible is the church’s book – albeit for the life of the world.

    “There are many assumptions about the Scriptures made by those who want an independent reading that are simply false. There’s as much “unlearning” that needs to take place these days as “learning.””

    That is true. Listening that attempts to keep one’s biases in check is very important.

    “That they might be clear enough in some places to be understood in a manner is simply the nature of language – but not in the nature in which they have been given.”

    I am not sure if I get your meaning here. Are you basically saying that in places they may get the truth part, but not the “spoken in love” part? Or something different?

    “Even the general theme of what the nature of sin is and why we need salvation, has to be drawn out of the Scriptures (by the Church).”

    Here of course we would point to Psalm 51, John 3:5-6 and Ephesians 2:3. These seem quite clear.

    Finally, as regards forensic justification, is this helpful?: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/lutherans-as-weaker-brethren/

    +Nathan

     
  3. fatherstephen

    April 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Basically, I mean that the most basic teachings of the faith are not actually accessible in the Bible if removed from the Church. The Scriptures must be taught and interpreted. God has not given us a self-interpreting book.

    I use the example of the forensic model as an illustration that many Christians claim to see something in Scripture which is simply not there. So apparently the Scriptures aren’t even clear enough to keep people from inventing things and reading them into the Scriptures.

    The Scriptures are the Church’s book, and God has given to the Church the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20).

     
    • infanttheology

      April 1, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      Father Stephen,

      In your article you said, “I have read many ancient writings – some of which are considered sacred by non-Christians. But I don’t read those writings in the manner in which I read the Scriptures.”

      I simply do not understand why you insist a non-Christian reading a Bible in an effort to understand is not able to get the gist of it. Would you say that about any other writings as well? Again, I am not saying full understanding, but that he can begin to understand it. There are many who have come to faith through reading the Bible – are you insisting that this process had nothing to do with the regular process by which a person reads and understands?

      Do you believe that the absolving Word of the pastor to the penitent gives real peace with God? If so, I would call that “forensic justification” – where all the benefits that are Christ’s are also given to us as well. This is not a one-time event, but something that the Christian continually needs and seeks out – namely forgiveness in word and sacraments.

      +Nathan

       
  4. todd

    April 2, 2013 at 1:09 am

    Nathan,
    I have heard that in China, intellectual property laws are effectively non-existent. One result is that there are restaurants bearing the famous Golden Arches, making hamburgers, and even calling themselves “McDonald’s”- yet that’s where connection to Ray Kroc’s chain ends. Forgive my limited and crude example: Imagine that the owners of these Chinese “McDonald’s” got their hands on an authentic McDonald’s handbook. They might assume that they get the ‘gist’ of it, and decide to use it as the rulebook for their own employees. But not everything intended and known to the original McDonald’s folks would have been spelled out, and the Chinese owners would inevitably bring their own biases into the matter. For instance, if the intent of the owners was ‘to make sure to do things the McDonald’s way’, then the Chinese restaurants might even end up being “more McDonald’s” than a real McDonald’s. They would probably get a number of things ‘right’. In no case, however, would their use of the handbook be legitimate. The book would have been written with the assumption that it was for use within a specific company, to meet those objectives of that company for which it was written.
    You write that you “do not understand why [Fr. Stephen] insists [someone] reading a Bible in an effort to understand is not able to get the gist of it.” But I noticed that earlier you also wrote, “We don’t say that the church is a sacrament as the Eastern Orthodox do, but it is sacramental.” This is part of ‘the gist of it’ that seems to me the People of the Book do not understand. To the People of the Book, Scripture may carry a ‘sacramental’ quality. But for the Orthodox, the Scriptures exist inextricably within the sacrament of the church, for operation within this sacrament, and not for independent purposes. The Apostle Paul’s letters indeed convey authority- within the experience of the historic community for which they were written. But the authority being conveyed through him is that which belongs to the church. It is not as though his letters constitute a set of propositions upon which one can build a ‘church’ (or theology, etc.), any more than the Chinese businessman can build McDonald’s from some handbook he acquired.
    There is little that the variety of past and present heretical groups could all agree upon. But one thing that so many of them alike claim is that their own faith is ‘based on the Bible’. Each sect takes captive the Scriptures, as though an independent source. Each derives its soteriology from this verse and that. But, as some inspired soul rightly said, “salvation is the Church”.

     
  5. infanttheology

    April 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Todd,

    Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for commenting.

    Of course your first paragraph is right on. As Michael Polanyi said “We know more than we can tell”. Of course it is all not written down.

    That said, your comments are also built on the assumption that it is the Lutherans who are a “false McDonalds”: “It is not as though his letters constitute a set of propositions upon which one can build a ‘church’ (or theology, etc.), any more than the Chinese businessman can build McDonald’s from some handbook he acquired.”

    I would have no trouble calling the Church a sacrament as you do. The fact of the matter is that in the context of the 16th century debate, Luther, in order to counter the abuses of the RCC, explicitly defined a sacrament as a specific promise of God for forgiveness, life, and salvation attached to a specific physical element. You and Rome would simply say these are the primary sacraments, while we simply call these sacraments and everything else “sacramental”. In many ways, since the term Sacrament was never clearly defined in the Scriptures or tradition, I see this as a non-issue of sorts. With Rome and the Lutherans in the 16th century, it is interesting that neither called the Church a sacrament. That said, on further reflection, I think we could certainly do just that. It simply means expanding the definition of a non-biblical word.

    Is salvation the Church? Of course it is. Salvation is Christ. Christ is the head of the Church. And that Church is certainly visible in the world.

    If you did not already take a look at this, it may be helpful for you: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/update-on-my-humble-contributions-to-honest-ecumenical-dialogue/

    Also, in this post’s comments, some helpful things were said that show how different the Lutheran view is from the Reformed and evangelical views of the Bible (not to mention RCC):
    https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/rc-convert-jason-stellmans-perception-of-lutheranism/

    Thanks again,
    Nathan

     
  6. todd

    April 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    The links you provided, with links to yet more links, are truly dizzying. If I am being brutally honest, I simply cannot maintain the interest in the subject to do more than skim through the posts.
    I do personally regard Lutheranism as effectively being the product of the fore-mentioned Chinese business practices. The manner in which you use such words as ‘unbiblical’ or ‘unscriptural’ in some of your posts reinforces this impression of mine. I do feel sympathetic to the plight of the various Reformation movements- that they exist as a reaction to error.

     
  7. infanttheology

    April 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Todd,

    Sorry about causing the nausea. Yes, I can do that sometimes.

    “The manner in which you use such words as ‘unbiblical’ or ‘unscriptural’ in some of your posts reinforces this impression of mine.”

    Unbiblical in this sene would simply mean that something actually contradicts the Bible’s teaching – not that something needs to be explicitly sanctioned in the Bible for it to be practiced.

    “I do feel sympathetic to the plight of the various Reformation movements- that they exist as a reaction to error.”

    Yes. That said, some did more than just try and correct and actually tried to start fresh – bad idea.

    +Nathan

     
  8. infanttheology

    April 2, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Todd,

    The main thing I wanted you to see was this:

    “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

    That does not have to be so dizzying, I think.

    +Nathan

     
  9. Chris Jones

    April 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Nathan,

    I have to come down on Fr Stephen’s side of this discussion. (I haven’t read the exchange between you & Todd; it was added recently while I typed up the following comment off-line.)

    We would assert that the Scriptures are certainly clear enough so that a genuinely curious [and educated!] atheist could discern their primary message

    I find this very doubtful. In the first place, I do not think that it is true (that a “curious atheist” can discern the primary message), and secondly I do not believe that we as Lutherans would make this assertion.

    To take the second point first: you obviously know the Lutheran Confessions better than I do, but I don’t find any suggestion in the Book of Concord that true knowledge of God is to be found through an individual’s private reading of the Scriptures apart from the Church.* To the contrary, article 5 of the Augustana says that “in order to obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith.” The context for receiving the Gospel (according to AC 5) is the public liturgical and sacramental ministry of the Church.

    As to the first point (whether it is true — as distinct from being Lutheran — that a “curious atheist” could discern the primary message of the Scriptures): the Scriptures are in fact a vast library of writings, of different genres, by many different authors, and written over millennia. To expect someone who is entirely unfamiliar with the Scriptures to identify the central stories, important people, and key ideas out of that vast corpus, without anyone to set context for him, is unrealistic if not preposterous. The curious atheist who approaches the Scriptures without any guidance from the Church would have no way of knowing that Jesus of Nazareth is more important to the overall story than David, Moses, or Isaiah, nor even something as simple as that the New Testament provides the interpretive lens for understanding the Old Testament.

    That indispensible context-setting, which identifies the key persons and the key stories and tells us where the sedes doctrinae are, is provide by the Church’s rule of faith; and that rule of faith is given to us by Tradition. More specifically, it is given to us liturgically, as AC 5 specifies. The curious atheist who wants to learn the primary message of the Scriptures must come to the Church (specifically in her public ministry) to learn it.

    * I hasten to add that I do not find any such notion in the Scriptures themselves, either.

     
  10. Chris Jones

    April 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Todd,

    Your analogy of the Lutheran Church to a faux Chinese McDonald’s restaurant suggests that you are unfamiliar with the ways in which the Lutheran Reformation was different from the development of other Protestant groups. In particular, the idea of “starting from scratch” and reconstructing Christianity anew based on “Scripture Alone” is utterly foreign to Lutheranism.

     
  11. todd

    April 2, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    I do not regard the Bible to be the Word of God in written form, nor tradition to be a verbal form. These notions make no sense to me at all. The Word of God is the person, Jesus Christ.

    As far as I can tell, Chemnitz’s analysis of eight “different types of traditions” may be reduced to two items, what he would call ‘scripture’ and ‘tradition’, and the ways he believes these two may be used as independent ‘sources’. So perhaps the Chinese restaurant has discovered two documents, rather than just one. In any case, Chemnitz’s goal seems to be the recovery and careful filtering of some bits of antiquity, to assess how these might best be implemented in the Lutheran(?) construction project.

     
  12. infanttheology

    April 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Todd,

    I don’t know what you mean when you say you don’t regard tradition to be a verbal form. Could you explain more what you are responding to?

    Jesus is the Words, but we also live on every word that comes from God’s mouth and Jesus’ words themselves are Spirit and life. Are you saying that it is not possible for these words to be written down and shared?

    Why are you assuming that Chemnitz believes the written tradition (Scripture) and the oral tradition may be used as “independent ‘sources'”?

    What Chemnitz actually believed is that there is always a dynamic interaction between the verbally transmitted Word, and the Word committed to writing.

    +Nathan

     
  13. infanttheology

    April 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Chris,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m disappointed we don’t agree here.

    “The curious atheist who approaches the Scriptures without any guidance from the Church would have no way of knowing that Jesus of Nazareth is more important to the overall story than David, Moses, or Isaiah, nor even something as simple as that the New Testament provides the interpretive lens for understanding the Old Testament.”

    Well, if our curious atheist reader is willing to entertain the possibilility that the Scriptures are a coherent whole because they were organized as such by the church through Divine Providence, there is no reason that passages like John 5:39 and 40 and Luke chapter 24 will not “pop” out to him as being of great importance – as far as giving him an interpretive key.

    Therefore, there is the guidance of the church. The church recognized those New Testament books that should be included in the canon. And even if the antilogomena are accepted as Scripture but being of a lesser authority, in this case they are not used to establish any doctrines. We keep in mind that the Ethiopian eunuch did not have the New Testament, which is the primary thing that Christ was talking about in John 16 when he promised to guide the church though His disciples by things He would reveal by His Spirit.

    And my comments above make clear that in spite of this, this does not mean that an authoritative church, particularly an authoritative holy ministry, is not essential as well:

    “On the other hand, he could not, for example, produce the theological content of the Nicene Creed – determining what is essential and non-essential doctrine cannot be done satisfactorily without the true rule of faith (and perhaps certain historical circumstances). Such teachers are needed in order to draw out all the treasures and riches that are contained therein.”

    I maintain that this actually comes down to a debate over the nature of language and its limits. Are there things that are “essential” that can be communicated across time through written texts? Or is God’s communication to man on a plane where all this ceases to really matter?

    +Nathan

     
  14. infanttheology

    April 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Chris,

    Luther’s own view on the matter of the clarity of Scripture can be seen in the Bondage of the will. Flacius developed these views in his Clavis Scripturae Sacrae and to my knowledge, confessional Lutherans have historically generally tracked with what was said there. As to the Confessions I do not recall them speaking of the perspicuity of Scripture, although I could be wrong. Of course they do recommend Luther’s Bondage of the Will, though in a different context.

    +Nathan

     
  15. todd

    April 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I think that on several key terms we are using the same words, yet with meanings that are understood differently, so that we talk past one another- like you’re talking apples and I’m talking oranges. The most prominent of these differences seem to be how we respectively understand ‘church’ and ‘tradition’.
    In my previous post, I was responding to two things: First, I was objecting to ideas assumed in the opening statement: “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form”. God the Word does not exist in any -corrupted- form, as God is incorrupt. Nor does God exist in the ‘form’ of tradition, nor in the ‘form’ of Scripture. If we are to use the terminology of ‘form’, as applying to God’s existence, it is that God is the Holy Trinity, the Word of God being the Person who took upon himself the ‘form’ of man. Yes, the Life of God may be encountered through Scripture, His words are living, some of which are recorded in Scripture. But this is quite different from saying God exists in a written (or oral) form.
    Second, I at first had suspected that when Chemnitz was listing eight ‘types’ of tradition, maybe what was really intended was eight ‘aspects’ of tradition. But as I read them, I did get the impression he really did mean ‘types’, and that these were to be used as various sources which may be used for guiding the ‘corrections’ of the Lutheran project. While I would agree that some of these ‘types of traditions’ do correspond to aspects of the Apostolic tradition, embedded within the descriptions of some of these, are indicators that he is proposing that scripture and tradition are to be used as though independent sources, especially [3], [5], [6], [7], and his grounds for rejection of [8].
    One thing that confuses me about the Lutherans is that you would draw from, and rely upon ‘verbal tradition’ as a source, but yet seem to overlook the concept of ‘church as communion’, which is a major element throughout the writings of many of the church fathers. St. Ignatius’ insistence, for example, to do nothing outside the authority of one’s bishop- this is plainly a critical component of tradition. I would regard the state of the modern Roman See as being the first among the faux McDonald’s chains. In their case, it was as if the most prominent and prestigious franchise manager came to assume that he should wield authority over the operational policies of the all the other franchise managers. The others did not agree, so he struck off on his own. When this lone franchiser (pope) started implementing new and strange policies, some of the store managers within his chain sought return to previous policies, but ultimately they started yet a new chain of faux McDonald’s- and this chain gave rise to yet more… Tradition tells me that it is necessary to be in communion with the bishops who preside over the ancient community of the one faith.
    One last note: While I do regard Lutheranism to be a faux church (as with other -ism’s), there are likely to be found plenty of true Christians within her. (As Christ said- that he has other sheep that are not of this pasture.) I really don’t think I am talking down at Lutheranism with a sense of triumphalism, but I’m trying to be honest about the way I understand Church. As for myself, I am the faux Christian striving in my pathetic way, and hoping somehow to be made a true Christian.

     
  16. Nathan

    April 15, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Todd,

    I had forgotten about your reply. My apologies.

    “But this is quite different from saying God exists in a written (or oral) form.”

    I agree. Not sure why you think this would be an issue.

    “embedded within the descriptions of some of these, are indicators that he is proposing that scripture and tradition are to be used as though independent sources, especially [3], [5], [6], [7], and his grounds for rejection of [8].”

    No, I don’t think so. The sources all work together and are interdependent.

    “Tradition tells me that it is necessary to be in communion with the bishops who preside over the ancient community of the one faith.”

    Yes. God knows who are His and who are connected in the faith perfectly while we do not due to our sin. But we can still seek to discover one another, and perhaps, in time, the “right hand of fellowship” will be offered. But en route to this we must be honest about what we believe and were we seem to be divided.

    Thanks Todd!

    +Nathan

     
  17. todd

    April 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    “Not sure why you think this would be an issue.”
    What I was responding to is the impetus that seems to have driven Chemnitz to come up with his proposed list of types of tradition. Apparently, his list was developed in the face of: “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form”. I am simply saying that this very concept itself is fallacious. God does not exist in a verbal form, nor in a written form (except that one might say that he was ‘written’ in the flesh)! Therefore, the subsequent list he created, was “spawned” in reaction to a bit of nonsense, and I’m left wondering what the point of all his proposals is.

    “The -sources- all work together and are interdependent”
    ‘Independent’ or ‘interdependent’ is not the point. ‘Sources’ is the point. ‘People of the Book’ seem to make use of the Bible (or tradition, or whatever) in similar fashion to the way Muslims relate to their quran.

    “God knows who are His and who are connected in the faith perfectly while we do not…”
    The witness of the fathers is pretty clear that the ancient community of the Church is a visible one, regardless whether there might be false sheep within her midst. Then, along came new, Lutheran communities which hitherto had never existed.

     
  18. Nathan

    April 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Todd,

    “God does not exist in a verbal form, nor in a written form (except that one might say that he was ‘written’ in the flesh)! Therefore, the subsequent list he created, was “spawned” in reaction to a bit of nonsense, and I’m left wondering what the point of all his proposals is”

    No one is saying that. Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus speaks the Word of God. You don’t need to capitalize “Word” in that second sentence. We live from every word that comes from the mouth of God, and in these last days, through the Word of God in whom the Father has spoken. His words are spirit and life.

    “‘Sources’ is the point. ‘People of the Book’ seem to make use of the Bible (or tradition, or whatever) in similar fashion to the way Muslims relate to their quran.”

    Please explain what you mean.

    “The witness of the fathers is pretty clear that the ancient community of the Church is a visible one, regardless whether there might be false sheep within her midst. Then, along came new, Lutheran communities which hitherto had never existed.”

    Todd, are you trying to have a conversation? We do say the church is visible. We are truly church indeed. We contend the “Lutheran communities” were communities that continued in the Apostolic train, and that when we look at church history, it supports our view. See my series on the Coming Vindication of Martin Luther. Part IV specifically makes reference to the Eastern Orthodox.

    +Nathan

     
  19. todd

    April 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    I am sorry I am not making sense to you. Yes, I have been trying to converse, but I don’t think we are understanding one another’s terminology, or something.
    For example, Chemnitz based the rationale for devising his list upon “…the existence of the Word of God in a corrupted, verbal form…” I objected repeatedly, saying that this is nonsense; God does not exist in a corrupted, verbal form. You say, “No one is saying that.” Honestly, as far as I can tell, Chemnitz just did say that. If I were to venture to guess that maybe what Chemnitz is trying to do is label the sort of tradition that Lutherans have inherited as ‘a corrupted, verbal form’ of God’s word (?), even then, such would be very strange to my ears. The way you describe tradition seems quite different from what I would regard as Holy Tradition (which is not corrupted, nor an oral form).
    I read most of your ‘Coming Vindication of Martin Luther’. As I wrote earlier, I am sympathetic to the plight of the reformation. He lived under some terrible circumstances, trying to recover something that had been lost before he arrived on the scene. Some of his points seemed to be on the right track, most notably, the ‘consensus principle of church authority’. But, as his project was to fix the broken house he was living in, and that in the end, Lutherans launched out on their own, in an unprecedented direction, I don’t understand how there have been ‘Lutheran communities’ continuing in ‘the Apostolic train’. I’ll take your word for it. I believe that when Luther wrote his letters to the East, he would have done well to have used the response as a means of correcting his theories.
    Anyway, I wish you all the best. I will stop commenting, as there does not seem to be any progress to be made, and I am likely only feeding my passions.

     
  20. infanttheology

    April 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    todd,

    Thanks for the continual engagement.

    “Chemnitz based the rationale for devising his list upon “…the existence of the Word of God in a corrupted, verbal form…” I objected repeatedly, saying that this is nonsense; God does not exist in a corrupted, verbal form. You say, “No one is saying that.” Honestly, as far as I can tell, Chemnitz just did say that. If I were to venture to guess that maybe what Chemnitz is trying to do is label the sort of tradition that Lutherans have inherited as ‘a corrupted, verbal form’ of God’s word (?), even then, such would be very strange to my ears. The way you describe tradition seems quite different from what I would regard as Holy Tradition (which is not corrupted, nor an oral form).”

    My point is that yes, Jesus is the Word. We depend on this Word. That said, he also speaks words that are spirit and life. “Word” here is Jesus in one sense – it is Jesus talking. In another sense, it is His words and not His person. What Chemnitz is saying is that oral tradition has undergone corruption – the words passed down are not always those that are from Jesus or His Spirit. I do not see what is remarkable about that. Chemnitz is saying that Rome had strayed from good words – much like the Nestorian churches did, for example in the East (despite having a valid Apostolic succession).

    “Luther wrote his letters to the East, he would have done well to have used the response as a means of correcting his theories.”

    Luther himself did not write letters to the East, I think, but other Lutherans soon after his death.

    todd, I’ve enjoyed the conversation and am said to see you backing away from it. You are welcome at any time. God’s richest blessings in Christ to you!

    +Nathan

     
  21. todd

    April 25, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    I had intended not to write again for fear of fueling my sinful tendencies with fruitless talk, and that I was likely becoming a pest to you. Thank you for your kind words. Previously, you had asked for an explanation of something- I felt I had already beat the issue to death, so I took a pass on the explanation. But I am thinking that our conversation could be more fruitful if some terminology were clarified.
    (Please try to overlook the obvious fact that I am just some ‘Joe average’ layperson, and so my ‘definitions’ will lack theological precision:) When I think of Holy Tradition, I regard it as the living force of the Holy Spirit moving within the historic church, or the synergistic divine/ human interaction of Christ throughout the members of his body. I think of tradition as more of a ‘practice’ or a ‘path’, than as a ‘list’. I suppose the ‘handing down’ aspect of tradition does involve a conservative effort to preserve fragments of antiquity, but more than this, tradition gets fleshed out, as it is embodied, and consequently expanded, by holy men and women. I could go on and on with examples, but some that immediately come to mind: The church calendar, with its commemoration of the Saints, feasts, and prescribed readings, or the ascetic disciplines practiced in common throughout the church, especially as lived out in monasticism, the historic councils, the brotherhood of bishops, the canon of Scripture, iconography, hagiography, the baking of holy bread, making the sign of the cross in prayer, the theology of Trinity… all of these are ‘developments’ within Holy Tradition, and all of these are -indispensable-. They are, like you said, ‘interdependent’, so you cannot remove any without injuring the whole. But I regret having set these in the format of a ‘list’, as this might be misleading. Holy Tradition, for us, is the mode of existence, the way the church moves together. Also, none of these, when properly exercised in Christ, are at all corrupt, even if there is some variation in the manner in which they may be practiced at various times and places. Notably, our tradition does not include secret, orally transmitted information handed down through generations that might get distorted over time; our tradition is overt. The whole of tradition flows organically from the experience of worship, and the proclamation of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. A distorted, or corrupted, tradition equals heresy.
    We would not regard Nestorius as having retained a ‘valid Apostolic succession’, as we don’t exactly use the category of ‘valid’. From a Catholic point of view, an Anglican priest would be considered a ‘valid’ priest, yet illicit. But for us, he would be a non-Orthodox ‘priest’. We do not have the same top-down hierarchy of the Roman Catholics, with the magisterium. Our bishops are subject to, and must represent, the common faith of the people. Departing from the faith of the laity renders one’s ordination void. We have actually had ‘councils’ that were ratified by the attending bishops, but subsequently nullified by the body of the laity, for not conforming to the common faith held everywhere.
    You are right. Martin Luther did not write the letters. I should have known, but was off by a few years. (But I sure wish his fellows would have changed their minds on a few points- that would have been an awesome turn of history.)
    Anyway, getting back to tradition: If Chemnitz admits to being an inheritor of a corrupt oral tradition, this is extremely “remarkable” to me. For me, this would indicate that he lives in a house that might have extra stuff that shouldn’t be there, as well as things that should, but of which he is unaware. So his list of traditions seems to me to be used as ‘sources’… as though these were manuals for determining what may or may not belong. But this is not what tradition is. The traditions he points out are all things you could pull out of a book. But tradition, as I understand it, is more like a path through the woods that you have to walk, and then over time, get to know.
    Finally, I understand Scripture to be a very important component of tradition, not a separate thing from it. I would agree that the living out of tradition must be in conformity with Scripture, but also, the understanding of Scripture is subject to the whole light of the rest of tradition. So, for example, I reject Trent not because it was “commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture”, but because it is wrong. It just doesn’t fit with our tradition on numerous points: the indelible character of ordination, the withholding of the chalice from laity, purgatory, indulgences, required clerical celibacy, the pope wielding final authority on Scriptural interpretation- to name but a few. I cannot our bishops ever making such decrees, but if they had, we would reject such a false council.

     
    • infanttheology

      April 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Todd,

      “When I think of Holy Tradition, I regard it as the living force of the Holy Spirit moving within the historic church, or the synergistic divine/ human interaction of Christ throughout the members of his body. I think of tradition as more of a ‘practice’ or a ‘path’, than as a ‘list’.”

      Yes. We see it the same way. The point about Nestorius is that he was validly ordained and was in the holy tradition – until he was not. Did the East ever anthematize the Lutherans? The idea is that the Lutherans reformed the church that had become more like Israel than Judah…. there had always been good pastors preaching rightly, but they had not necesarily been the ones making the decisions in the highest quarters. Nevertheless, their testimony is there, as Flacius showed….

      Thank you for continuing with me Todd. Christ’s blessings to you!

      +Nathan

       
  22. todd

    April 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I have come across statements by individual bishops where they have uttered ‘anathemas’ against various Protestant groups, and possibly Lutherans were among those listed. Possibly, there have been local synods that have done similarly. But I personally find such actions as rather bizarre, and not representative of our church as a whole.
    I understand the point of anathemas as drawing a line in the sand, clarifying that this group or that one has departed from our faith (apostatized as a group), and is therefore no longer part of our community. I cannot call to mind any anathemas ever levied against any group other than those which had originated within our own community, which had departed specifically from our communion (though there probably is some obscure example of anathema against such a foreign group). To me, it makes little sense to anathematize Lutherans, as from our general frame of reference, Lutheranism originated in Catholicism, which itself had already departed, and had subsequently been anathematized (though apparently these anathemas have recently been officially lifted, to facilitate brotherly dialog). Anathematizing Lutheranism, to me, would seem excessively confrontational- against a potential friend.
    It is the case that I am committed to the conviction that there is only one, historic, Apostolic Church- and that we recognize the Orthodox Church as being that visible church. But this conviction does not mean that our Lord does not have other pastures and other sheep over which he is the shepherd. This conviction, I think, is similar to a comment that you had posted somewhere else in your blog- where you mentioned that it is the Lutheran Church to which you belong, and those in communion with her, which are the ones teaching the gospel correctly and in its fullness. I can really respect the ability of your communion to set clear, doctrinal limits. Boundaries such as these are necessary prerequisites for meaningful dialog. This sin of division among Christians is such a scandal. God, save us.

     
  23. Nathan

    April 26, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Todd,

    Thanks for your comment. Maybe more from me later. Have a good weekend!

    +Nathan

     

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