Thursday, September 06, 2007


“…if we have the ability to understand the Scriptures, it also stands to reason that so also could the Christians who came before us. So one of the dilemmas with sola scriptura is this question: what do I do when my own common sense reading of the text is contradicted by 20 centuries of seemly unanimous and uninterrupted belief that a certain passage of holy Scripture means something entirely different? In other words, the question that sola scriptura can't answer for me is when I am correct and when I am not, and this is due in part to the fact that Scripture does not itself explain how it is to be interpreted. So what do I do when the meaning of a passage seems obvious to me and yet I can find not a single Christian who agrees with me before the 16th Century?”

Wow…oh how I wish to God that all of the people I pastor, all the people who I’ve met preaching in various local churches and all of the people who faithfully read Semper Reformanda would ask me questions like these. Wow is the proper word, undeniably.

I almost feel like leaving this hanging and provoking all of you to think about what Zac both asked and stated. This type of questioning and line of reasoning is called in the sports world a “grand slam” or a “slam dunk”…he just nailed the issue! This is a legitimate question, a fair question and is one that ought to stop each one of us dead in our tracks in order to process. It is shocking how few evangelicals even think along these lines.

Here’s the dilemma we face…we believe that every single born again believer is indwelt by, led by, sanctified by and illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God. We further believe that the Holy Spirit does not, nay, can not ever change. Therefore the Holy Spirit that fills me fills every other born again believer. That being said…if the same Holy Spirit that fills me fills you…then why is it that you and I can read the same Bible and come to a different conclusion on a certain topic? What would make me so sure that I’m not the unspiritual one not “hearing” the Spirit? How do I know that you wrong if we’ve both prayed, read the same Bible and have come to contradicting positions?

And as Zac asked…what are we to make of the generations upon generations of Christians prior or the Reformation? We only have a few choices. Maybe there were no born again theologians and either no or almost no born again laity prior to the Reformation. Maybe they were all apostates who wallowed in depraved drudgery apart from God despite all their so called religious piety. I guess that could be on the table…but not for very long. Because Christ promised that the gates of hell itself would not prevail against His beloved Church. You’ll have a real hard time convincing me that Christ’s bride was an apostate harlot for thirteen or fourteen STAIGHT centuries…and that not equating to the gates of hell prevailing…lol! If such a thing does not count as the gates of hell prevailing then good golly…I don’t know what would!

The other choice is better I suppose…and the one I’d take…but not all that much more comfortable as we will see. The other prime option is that…well…His Church was wrong, as a whole, about certain things…some very key things…for many, many, many centuries. Generation after generation after generation of born again believers simply misunderstood certain elements of the gospel, tradition and authority. Zac’s question is very legitimate…how can we now say that countless Spirit filled believe…thousands…millions perhaps…ALL missed the boat so drastically. Of course there are always tares and goats in the mix…but we’re talking about countless wheat and sheep here…ALL having the same Holy Spirit that we have…ALL reviewing the same texts we are reviewing…and ALL coming to a different conclusion than we do.

No wonder honest men like Zac stand with their mouths wide open and hands thrown up in the air…incredulously flabbergasted at us! We brush off century upon century of born again believers like they don’t even count! Like their voices are not worthy of hearing!

I go to bed every single night of my life thinking about this...many nights I can not or have a real hard time sleeping because of it...

My justification is three fold I suppose. First…I do not believe that Christ promised an infallible Church. I’ll just toss that out there. I believe that is forced upon the texts and such thinking does not spawn from the text. Second…I do not believe that unity means complete doctrinal or dogmatic uniformity. I have no problem whatsoever calling Arminian’s, Pentecostal’s, Charismatic’s (even the strange ones) and of course the various stripes of Calvinists…brothers. I can not tell you how strongly I disagree with Arminianism and the hyper Charismatic movements…yet…my disagreements do not center upon the person nor the work of Christ and they are therefore, I believe…my brothers. Third…I simply do not criticize the primitive Church for their lack of advanced scholarship. To do so would be an absolute outrage! I believe that we stand upon the shoulders of giants and I am honored to be in this family! Those primitive believers spilt untold amounts of blood for the Son of God! How can anyone sit in judgment of their lack of technical theological sophistication when those early brothers were underground, threatened, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, thrown to lions, burnt to death and crucified? Their children tortured…their women raped…my heart breaks in humble gratitude! Here is what they understood…Jesus is Lord…and Jesus is Savior…and that Jesus must save me or I am doomed. They took Him very woodenly when He said that the elements of Holy Communion were His body and blood and did their level best to worship and honor Him. I do not for a second criticize them for that belief…when exactly were they to have the time or the luxury of wresting with the minutia of words…each word “Jesus”, “Lord” and “Savior” are all LOADED with all kinds of theological allusion! They simply did not have the time, energy or ability to reflect or chew on all the implications surrounding their simple faith…

It was not long after the end of the first century that illiteracy was nothing special all over the Roman world…the Church was beset daily…all the letters of what we now commonly call the New Testament were still in the process of circulation…once the concept of Apostolic authority on going after the death of the Apostles settled in…the circular reasoning began…for centuries…

…hey…wait a minute…when did this broad brush end up in my hands?
.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 niv

19 comments:

derek said...

"what are we to make of the generations upon generations of Christians prior or the Reformation"

they didnt agree on everything and you make it sounds like they did which isnt true except for some things and even then there was disagreement

irreverend fox said...

hey derek!

of course heretics arose and therefore controversies existed...

but I'm not referring to the heretics.

do you have any examples of major diverse viewpoints within Orthodoxy during the first 15 centuries? I would seriously be interested in some solid examples.

Zac said...

Hey Gary,

Yeah you will be surprised, I think, to find the level of concord and dogmatic agreement in the history of Orthodoxy-- while still allowing for creativity and differences of opinion on unsettled matters. Such is the "catholicity" of Orthodoxy.

I don't know what disagreement Derek is trying to highlight. St. Theophan the Recluse in the 19th Century mused that what struck him most about the Fathers was their consistent witness to the same Christian truths. I think you will be surprised if you read down through the centuries of Christian history as to the level of their agreement.

Nice icon by the way!

irreverend fox said...

zac...

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! do you want all the baptists around here to realize that I posted an icon?

are you crazy or something?

lol

derek said...

the creeds were created for that very reason because some people who thought they had it right didn't according to the other group who thought they had it right. you can say only one had it right to begin with but we dont know that like how war history is always writeen by the winners and stuff

irreverend fox said...

I guess, when referring to the early creeds, I believes Christ's Church was the winner...

Zac said...

Derek,

That's right-- the truth of the Gospel ultimately prevailed. This is the Orthodox contention, at least. Otherwise, we shouldn't even trust the Scriptures-- since these were preserved (hand-copied, again and again and again over the centuries) and defended by the same "winners."

Does that makes sense to you?

derek said...

the catholic church a winner for awhile too. see what i mean???

brian said...

God's spoken. Everything else is commentary, including tradition.

Zac said...

Derek,

Forgive me-- actually, I don't see what you mean. Perhaps you could explain?

thanks,
zac

Zac said...

Brian,

This is an excellent point. In fact one Orthodox priest and theologian has said that the holy Tradition is nothing more than the Scriptures, rightly understood.

And assuming for the sake of argument that God only spoke the words recorded in Scripture, whose commentary is correct? Insofar as commentary means an explanation of the correct understanding of God's message, then whose explanation is more credible?

irreverend fox said...

Brian...I’m not exactly sure how to take your comment…you don’t seem to trust much “commentary”…please explain to me how you come to understand God’s Word apart from “commentary”…or are you above instruction?

Derek...I'm not following you at all either my friend.

zac...don't bite my dog...lol...

irreverend fox said...

ok theologs...I'm heading out of town for a week and I will not, Lord willing, even get online ONCE...

so that means that I hope the dialog continues...my fellow Southside elder, Tim, will be lurking...and cussing or off the wall disrespectful attacks...anything lewd...sick...or anything that really troubles Tim...will be taken down by Tim...

be nice to Tim if you want to be around...lol...

remember boys and girls...Jesus loves you…but then again…He loves everybody, right?

have a GOOD NIGHT EVERYBODY!

Anonymous said...

I think it is very simple to know whether what or how the bible speaks to us is truth or not. We are known by our fruits. We also know that if we walk in the light as He is in the light then we have fellowship with God. God is a personal God, and we are all on our own journey in this life. I believe that there are areas of our lives that reveal God. For instance, I met a man several years ago, and after talking to him for 5 minutes I knew that he was a believer. The subject had not yet been mentioned. As you duly noted, we all have the same spirit living in us. Why do you think greatest gift is that a brother would lay down his life for a friend. It is all about love. As concerning tradition, the only tradition I have found that we are to follow is Christ. I think we often try to complicate what God intended to make simple. Did God use the intelligent, educated men of the early Church to spread His word? No, He instead used tax collectors and fisherman. With the exception of Paul, these were men who worked with their hands. Paul himself stated to follow me as I follow Christ. It is not a matter of what would Jesus do, but what did he do. He loved to the uttermost paying the highest price that could possibly be paid. The reason for division and complications in the church is that instead of loving one another, we tear each other down, or are too busy shining our own armor. To love one another the way Christ loves us and to live as His servants and be obedient to His Word (which will never pass away) is sufficient.

Zac said...

Gary,

I know you won't get this until you return from your vacation. Btw, your pup is doing very well! He's overcome much of his shyness, and is enjoying his daily walks as much as our own dog does. We hold and pet him and reassure him that you guys will be back soon.

I will just briefly re-respond to your post by respectfully disagreeing with the premise that the reason the early Christians were capital O Orthodox is that they didn't have the time for serious scholarship. Please examine this belief in light of the writings of people like St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Justin the Philosopher, etc. These were classically educated men who thoroughly knew the Scriptures and their apostolic meanings-- some of them, as Bishops, would not ordain priests who had not memorized all four Gospels and the Book of Psalms (the Orthodox Church's hymnbook).

So yes, I'm trying to take that plank out from under you-- it's not out of ignorance. Call it apostasy, call it willful blindness, but the evidence overwhelmingly refutes any sort of picture that would make the early Christians out to be illiterate lion-fodder! =^) I say that only to mention the great St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, ordained by Peter and Paul-- read his writings: letters to the same churches John and the other apostles are writing to in the New Testament. They show anything but a lack of deep theological reflection!

Anyways, I hope your vacation is going well!

irreverend fox said...

hey Zac! thanks for watching Jericho...you guys did such a great job with him!

a couple things and then I'll attempt to draw this particular series to a conclusion...

first you said...

"the premise that the reason the early Christians were capital O Orthodox is that they didn't have the time for serious scholarship."

I'm sorry for not being clearer...that is not the premise I espouse...perhaps it your premise and you read it into what I wrote. I'm not at all convinced that the primitive Church was altogether Orthodox...I believe Orthodoxy has developed in clarity...again...I'm not totally sure that Paul would have articulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as you or I would today...right or wrong...that is my premise. Theology I believe always contains tremendous tension and is, not being developed, but being clarified throughout Church history…I believe that will continue in this life…and the next frankly…

Also...without a doubt men of God such as St. Cyril, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin were all brilliant, deep, spiritual and articulate. But I would suppose for every one of these men there were ten thousand not formally educated men...yet equally spiritual, valuable and Spirit filled (another of my premises I suppose) as those men who were formally educated and perhaps more naturally intelligent. The one thing, if nothing else, that Calvin for example had on those men...was time...and the ability to read the struggles of history. No matter how brilliant, gifted, spiritual and intelligent those giants were…they did not have the luxury of hundreds of years of Church history to study, debate and reflect upon. I can not stress how firmly I believe that a man like Calvin stands on the shoulders of giants such as Augustus...and hundreds of others.

I would never infer that my brothers and sisters in the early primitive Church were fodder...their blood proves their ultimate knowledge of and by Christ far more than the technicalities of the most precise theologian in 2007! However...while I do not believe they were altogether as doctrinally Orthodox as we are today I assume that if they were to have had the privilege of true teaching that they would immediately recognize it as it is...Orthodoxy. In other words...they would not deny the Holy Trinity for example. I also do not believe the majority of those primitive believers would have, if fairly taught, denied the Inerrancy or Infallibility of the Bible or Justification by Grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone…obviously those are, from my tradition and perspective, the three main hallmarks of Orthodoxy…our more conservative teachers would strongly suggest that those three doctrines ARE Orthodoxy…include me in that group!

As the Body became more literate and educated in such things as history...philosophy...logic...the Reformation was sent by God...and continues today...SEMPER REFORMANDA!

irreverend fox said...

oh...include THE BIBLE at the top of that last list...

SHEESH!

Zac said...

Gary!

Welcome back. Jericho was a joy to have around!

I suppose we shall have to agree to disagree on what constitutes Christian orthodoxy, and yet I am thankful that we both have come to believe in Christ's life, death, and resurrection. I think that despite our disagreements, we cannot forget our significant point of agreement. The one thing I think that we can both agree on is that Orthodoxy, whatever it is, is about Jesus Christ and the new life in God which He alone can give. Glory to Him!

irreverend fox said...

hey Zac!

we will do our best to get together and have doggie play dates...but keep in mind...I've got to other dunder heads as well...lol...

all I can say after reading your follow up is...well put. excellent. and I agree.

let us be careful however...we must maintain a healthy balance between tolerance and concern...because I do believe that at least one of us is out of fellowship with Christ's Holy Church (I suppose it is possible that we are both radically deceived and out of fellowship and we both should submit to the pope...possible but not very probable wouldn't you agree, lol!) and to be out of fellowship with His Church is thin ice...if not damnation...indeed...

so our love, care and friendship must guide us...not to be carelessly or arrogantly offensive...yet being honest when appropriate…always honoring God first and our friendship a close second…

I would like to turn the remainder of this comment away from Zac and I would like to instruct our new(er) Christians who are following this. I want you to note here that at the surface we all agree with Zac's last comment. Rightly understood (from the Reformed perspective) I TOTALLY agree with it. Here is what I want to make clear to the young theologians reading this...Eastern Orthodox, Reformed and Roman Catholic scholars use those terms and sentiments all the time...yet loaded within those words can contain (at times) vastly different implications. For example...we all would agree that the "new life" Christians experience comes only from God...as Zac indicated. This is true…VERY true. YET...what that means to Reformed Christians is not exactly the same as our Eastern Orthodox friends..."how" that "new life" is applied is not agreed upon. That is a problem. I mention that simply as an example.

Of course Zac was simply, as a wonderful gesture that I deeply appreciate...truly...expressing his desire not to debate or argue or be ugly. PRAISE GOD!

The reason I dare 'nit pick' that comment has NOTHING to do with Zac, rather, it is to warn again my Reformed/Evangelical family of the dangers of ecumenicalism. Ecumenicalism is the philosophy that the differences between the various “Christian” groups are small and are mostly based on misunderstanding, fear and arrogance. That all “Christians” are “brothers” together. While of course all Christians are brothers is true…the details of answering the basic question “how does one get to heaven” all drastically and fundamentally vary between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Evangelism…therefore we ought not be formally indorsing each other’s message by embracing apostates as brothers! Remember Christ instructed us…”Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39 niv (wow…I wonder when the last time Joel Osteen busted that passage out and preached it! Pastor…when was the last time YOU did?)

Of course all three “groups” hold to basic Judeo-Christian ethics, morality and worldviews and we therefore can get along (or I should say…SHOULD or MUST get along) in day to day “practical” living and interactions easily. Devote Eastern Orthodox people do not lie, cheat, steal…they strongly oppose abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality…they deny atheistic (and theistic) evolution and believe in Creation just as the Bible explains it…and so on. Zac and I have a TREMENDOUS amount of social and practical beliefs in common…we have become, are and I strongly believe will continue to become closer and closer friends…BUT we do answer that basic question (one any five year old could/would/do ask) drastically different once the first layer of generalities are uncovered and the messy details are dealt with.

Just to be clear…Zac and his wife Arlie have become dear friends of Naomi and I…we do not argue...we are ALL on a journey…and I am as open to him and where he is coming from as I hope and assume he is to me…and I hope that we’ll be eating sushi together again SOON!