Saturday, May 13, 2017


Every religious system has its own traditions. I am not here talking about Holy Tradition as understood by Eastern Orthodoxy or even Catholicism, although there is some application.  Rather, I am talking about the rubric that is developed and used to explain how we got from there to here by other faith groups; specifically those as used by the protestants.  Holy Tradition certainly is used this way but it shouldn't be understood as being on the same level.  Holy Tradition is seen as encompassing the Truth passed down from God, to the Apostles and to the Church.  The traditions (lowercase 't') that I want to write about now doesn't have the force of producing dogma but certainly does hold important sway over the development and defense of doctrine within the protestant churches.

This is especially true when we begin to talk about Scripture and doctrines like Sola Scriptura. The gripe that I have with most protestant teachers and scholars is that they do not have the fortitude to admit that this is in fact what is going on. I've heard some fairly complicated defenses of the origins of the canon and for the sola doctrine, typically more complicated then most believers can follow, and yet in the end it always comes across like so much thrashing about.  The fact remains protestants believe what they do because they must. To believe anything else is to run the risk of admitting the Orthodox may have had it right all along (and they've been around a lot longer than the protestants). 

To state, "Scripture is to be the only source of doctrine", sounds elevated and grand and the defense for such a statement as complicated as you like but one word seems sufficient to bring at least some clouds to the picnic: "Why?".   It certainly wasn't what pre-reformation leaders believed, even though the church has always held Scripture in the highest regard and as pivotal in all she has done.  But it never held the centristic and exclusivistic flavor it held for the reformers until fifteen centuries after the founding of the church itself.  The New Testament, ironically enough, held absolutely no sway for the early church for the first few years for the simple fact that it did not exist.  Even after all the books were in circulation there was no such thing as "The Bible" for people to torment each other with challenges like, "Show me where that is in Scripture!  Chapter and verse".  And even afterward there would be quite a number of years before they were available as a canon, a few more years before the Church officially recognized the canon and then many more years before that canon would be available to the regular man on the street. 

But trying to explain the origins of Sola Scriptura and the Scriptures themselves isn't where Protestant tradition comes into full force.  It is when the matter of interpretation is brought up by the simple and unsuspecting masses. I say here simple not because they are idiots but because thy typically don't have an PhD or some other advanced degree in the Bible, theology or biblical languages to guide them into a proper interpretation of Scripture.  I say this tongue-n-cheek because even the biblical scholars cannot fully agree. And although I do not believe, when it comes to the matter of truth, consensus is alway deciding factor, the fact that many protestants believe it is only underscores their need and use of a consistent tradition to replace the Holy Tradition they and the Western church rejected.  And if the scholars cannot agree, with all of their years of study, how can we simple people hope to come to an understanding of the truth?

Some would argue that this is overstating the case and the importance of the disagreements.  In some manner this is true.  True Christians all agree about Trinity, the efficacy of Christ's blood, existence of God, etc.  Things we call essentials to true belief.  But that is small consolation when we can't agree on the nature of the communion elements, salvation, sanctification, miracles, prayer, icons, the priesthood, the nature of the Church, hell, etc.  When taken as a whole the differences far outweigh the similarities.   And although we could convince ourselves they really don't make that much of a difference, we should be at least ready to acknowledge the niggling in the back of our minds that should keep us asking, "But why are there so many differences in the first place?".

Luther decided (and I believe it was a novelty) that Scripture was to be the only source of doctrine and that every believer was, as a priest, to have ready access to a copy and make decisions concerning doctrine, faith and practice.  Luther believed that the Scriptures were so clear that everyone who read them would see the truths and, amazingly enough, all agree.  All agree with what?  The Scriptures?  No, with Luther!  But in the end Luther was greatly disappointed in the results.  Results that seems to have surprised him but looking back with hindsight should have been expected.  Not only did interpretations disagree with one another but each interpretation quickly took on the weight of papal infallibility.  As the Roman Catholic church pointed out, Luther had gotten rid of one pope and made everyone their own pope. 

Most people I speak to are turned off by the Orthodox Church because, among other things, it is full of traditions.  Here I am definitely speaking of Holy Tradition, but coming from an outsider looking in, they see little difference.  Fine, let us go with that.  Everything that is done in the Orthodox church that doesn't find explicit expression in Scripture can be called tradition (Even though, to be clear, the Scriptures themselves are a part of that Tradition).  But, and this is where my real criticism of protestantism comes in, so can her interpretation of Scripture where, by the way, all of those other things find final root and authority; and all this means to me is that the Orthodox Church has all along and at the very least, been willing to admit a fact that the protestants have, as far as I can tell, refused. 

It is this refusal that finally made me throw up my hands in despair and give up on protestantism all together.  I believe in Holy Tradition, but even if I didn't I would take no small amount of comfort in the fact that the Orthodox Church is living consistent with reality. And that, to me, is far more important then coming up with complicated theological frameworks to try and explain one's conception of reality.  If one has to go to that much work maybe it is time to admit that maybe you have the wrong picture in the first place.  Maybe it is time to dumb things down a bit and join the rest of us nobodies on the street and in the pubs.  The Orthodox Church has always ministered to the poor man and woman on the street, the farmer and the maid.   Oh, it has ministered to the king, prince and scholar too but the cost is much, much higher. A cost many are unwilling to pay.

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