July 20, 2007 Length: 50:48
Part one of a four-part series on sola Scriptura. Steve and Bill discuss Hank Hanegraaff's (The Bible Answer Man) Christian Research Institute's piece on "What Think Ye of Rome" in which Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie defend sola Scriptura. In this series of programs they show how and why the anti-Roman Catholic arguments for sola Scriptura do not fit within an Orthodox framework.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power, and idle talk, but give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
Good afternoon, and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, whose coffee hasn’t quite kicked in yet, and I am in the studio with my co-host as usual, Bill Gould. Hi, Bill
Bill Gould: Hi, Steve. I don’t even like coffee, so you can imagine how I feel right now.
Mr. Robinson: How do you wake up?
Mr. Gould: Exactly.
Mr. Robinson: It’s Sunday afternoon, and welcome to all of our listeners who are taking time out on near-playoff Sunday, NBA basketball.
Mr. Gould: That’s right.
Mr. Robinson: A lot of things going on in the sports world.
Mr. Gould: It’s starting to get a little warm out there, too, here in Phoenix.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, it’s a beautiful day, hitting close to the 100-degree-mark already. Bill, we’ve got quite a show today. We’re going to embark on a series on the topic of sola Scriptura, one of the cornerstone doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. We’re going to talk a little bit—well, not a little bit.
We’re going to talk a lot about it, because there’s a lot of misperceptions, I think, out there, about the role of Scripture and the role of Tradition within the Orthodox Christian Church. This is one of those things that there is a third alternative view to that which is predominantly known in the Western world, among Protestant evangelicals, to the controversy between Martin Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and all those guys, and the Roman Catholic Church. This is part of the ministry of this radio program, to bring our listeners the Christian East which has not experienced a reformation, a restoration…
Mr. Gould: A calendar reformation…
Mr. Robinson: ... a revival…
Mr. Gould: ... an inquisition…
Mr. Robinson: None of these things have really happened in the Eastern Church. We believe that it’s because the Eastern Church has, indeed, held to that which the Apostles handed to faithful men who were able to teach other faithful men who taught other faithful men, and this continuous line of people who diligently sought to preserve that which was given to them by the Apostles and their successors, have really striven to do that and have in fact accomplished that—not on their own abilities and not by their own self-will, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit which guides the Church. Through their submission to the authority of Christ, who is the head of the Church, and these men and women have sought to conform their minds to the mind of Christ, and thus have preserved the apostolic faith for two thousand years.
Now, that’s a bold statement, Bill.
Mr. Gould: Yes, it is. But when you look out on the world today, and we see what’s happened just even recently with the death of Pope John Paul II, and we consider that the cardinals are going to gather in Rome and try to decide the new pope, this whole issue of the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and their view of Tradition, is something that’s on our minds as well, because we kind of wonder: what’s going to happen next?
Mr. Robinson: It’s interesting because not just we, but the Catholic Church definitely is wondering what’s going to happen next, but this is even getting play in the secular media, because this is going to essentially be a turning point, possibly, in the life of the Roman Catholic Church for the next however-many decades.
There’s all this talk about “Well, they want to select a pope who’s not going to live as long as Pope John Paul II did, because they don’t want somebody living that long that can have a long-term influence on the direction and path that the Church takes.” These are all things that people are considering. I was listening to the radio, and they were talking about how they’re taking away all the cardinals’ Palm Pilots, they’re sweeping the room for bugs, they’re taking away the laptops. Everything is being taken out of there so there can be absolutely no communication with the outside world, and no influence put into this decision that’s being made by the cardinals.
Mr. Gould: If you’re looking at this from a Protestant Evangelical point-of-view, this all just sort of seems like, “Man, why are they even doing this? How can they even do this?” Again, that comes back to this view of sola Scriptura and holding the Bible as the only authority in the Church. So you’re shaking your head at this point; you’re saying, “This is all wrong. How can one man, the pope of Rome, set the course of the Church?” And guess what? The Orthodox Church basically asks the same question.
Mr. Robinson: Well, we would ask that same question of just about every major Protestant megachurch. I was part of a Protestant denomination, and every time we went through a preacher search or a pastor search—and we did go through that quite a few times; that’s a long story—during the time I was there, we did about five pastoral searches for various ministers in that church. And every one of them, the eldership and the diaconate in the church, the members, they interviewed, they brought people out, they heard them preach, they looked at their resumes, they had them give teachings, and had the same fears, the same agenda.
Mr. Gould: “What’s he going to do to the church?”
Mr. Robinson: “What’s he going to do to the church and what’s this guy going to teach? How is this guy going to shape the lives of the Christians of this congregation for however many years he ends up staying here?” But the difference between a Protestant pastor and a pope is that you can’t fire the pope. And if he comes along and infallibly declares that priests can marry or…
Mr. Gould: ... women can be ordained…
Mr. Robinson: ... or we’re going to ordain gay bishops or whatever. And he just comes out and says, “I’m infallibly declaring this,” there’s not any machinery in place to undo that. So the selection has to be made extremely carefully.
Anyway, we’re kind of looking at this whole thing. We’re saying, “On the one hand, we have the issue of the infallible Pope of Rome, speaking ex cathedra and shaping and moving the Church not one direction or the other, but we have on the other hand the issue that the Protestant Evangelical world faces with sola Scriptura is we have what amounts to, not an infallible pastor, but a pastor who essentially speaks authoritatively about what the Scriptures teach and what they mean, and this guy can, in fact, steer the lives of people through that.
Mr. Gould: There’s a lot of influence in both these arenas.
Mr. Robinson: Of course you have in the Protestant Church the ability of any member to stand up and challenge any pastor’s particular interpretation of any passage because, well, they’ve got the Holy Spirit, too! So it’s a matter of who can stack up the most passages to prove a point, or who wields the most influence. So we have issues in both arenas of this camp. And the issue comes down to infallibility: the infallibility of the Scriptures, the infallibility of the Pope, or the infallibility of somebody’s ability to interpret the infallible Scriptures. This is an issue that the East faces.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. And again, make the point that this is a sort of third perspective that we’re going to try to explicate today and explain. But before we do that, we have a saying of the Fathers we want to try to get to get through…
Mr. Robinson: Before our first break.
Mr. Gould: ... before we embark. I’m going to read this. This is from Elder Paisios the Athonite, “Athonite” meaning that he is from the monastic community on Mount Athos.
The goal of reading is the application in our lives of what we read, not to learn it by heart, but to take it to heart; not to practice using our tongues, but to be able to receive the tongues of fire and to live the mysteries of God. If one studies a great deal in order to acquire knowledge and to teach others, without living the things he teaches, he does no more than fill his head with hot air. At most, he will manage to ascend to the moon using machines. The goal of the Christian is to rise to God without machines. —Elder Paisios
Mr. Robinson: I love that. Elder Paisios is actually out at St. Anthony’s, out in Florence, here in Arizona. He’s the abbot of the monastery there. This is a great saying, Bill. I think it comes down to essentially what we’re talking about right now: knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless, and everything that we’re saying and everything that we’re talking about is not for the sake, hopefully, just to hear ourselves talk and to just sit here and pontificate about any particular topic of the Scriptures, but this is about conforming our lives to the image and likeness of Christ.
This is about becoming Christians. This is about being in Christ. This is about living the Christian life, and how can we do that effectively? How can we do that better? How can we become what God has intended for us to be? And how we approach Scripture, because Scripture is our benchmark; Scripture is how we do that. That’s how the Holy Spirit teaches us, and the right attitude toward Scripture within the life of the Church is going to shape that, and it’s going to drive that for us.
Mr. Gould: It’s absolutely essential.
Mr. Robinson: Yes. So when we come back from our break: Sola Scriptura. Hang onto your seats!
Mr. Robinson: Welcome back to Our Life in Christ on 1360 KPXQ and Mea goofa, mea goofa, mea maxima goofa. Ryan, I gave you the wrong number of the wrong cut of that CD. We were reintroduced today!
Mr. Gould: In case you didn’t know who we were.
Mr. Robinson: We wanted to remind you. Anyway, Bill, let’s talk about sola Scriptura, because this is one of the cornerstones of the Reformation. Again, we have to look at Church history and contexts. You were telling me on the phone the other night that you were reading Martin Luther’s 95 theses that he nailed to the door of Wittenburg. It’s interesting, because you were talking about how we could agree and affirm, at least the ones you got through.
Mr. Gould: It focuses on the practice of indulgences, which the Orthodox Church knows nothing of, and purgatory.
Mr. Robinson: Purgatory, which we don’t know anything about either.
Mr. Gould: Nothing of that either. So when Martin Luther was protesting, he was actually being pretty Orthodox when he was saying these things. I think we could say with a certain amount of, well, certainty, certainly, that the progression of Protestant movement since that time has just left Martin Luther in the dust and just turned into how it’s progressed and what they believe.
Mr. Robinson: And I think it ultimately became a crisis of authority, and that’s the thing that really drove the Protestant Reformation, is that you either had, as we said before the break, either the infallible Pope or something else that’s infallible that teaches us and tells us about Christ and the life in Christ.
Mr. Gould: Martin Luther was correctly calling the Church back to the Scripture, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mr. Robinson: Absolutely not.
Mr. Gould: We would do the same thing.
Mr. Robinson: But, as you said, we have the modern Protestant landscape, and the fruit of sola Scriptura, the fruit of those who went even beyond Martin Luther in looking at what is the sole authority, the infallible authority, for living the life in Christ and for establishing doctrine, dogma, and praxis in the Christian life. So where have we come in the last 450, 500 years, Bill?
Mr. Gould: We’ve got 33,000 denominations all telling us what it really means to be a Christian.
Mr. Robinson: And basically what we have today is every Protestant denomination saying, “We believe nothing but the Bible.”
Mr. Gould: That’s right. So we have a little statement here that we’d like to read, to try to clear this up a little bit.
Mr. Robinson: This kind of frames the whole issue for us today.
Protestants frequently claim that they “just believe the Bible,” but a number of questions arise when one examines their actual use of the Bible. For instance, why do Protestants write so many books on doctrine and the Christian life in general if indeed all that is necessary is the Bible? If the Bible were sufficient for one to understand it, then why don’t Protestants simply hand out Bibles? If it is all-sufficient, why does it not produce consistent results? In other words, why do Protestants not believe the same thing? What is the purpose of lots of different Protestant study Bibles if all that is needed is the Bible itself? Why do they hand out tracts and other material? Why do they even teach or preach at all? Why not just read the Bible to people?
The answer is, though they usually will not admit it, Protestants instinctively know that the Bible cannot be understood alone, and in fact every Protestant sect has its own body of traditions, though again, they generally will not call them what they are. It is not an accident that Jehovah’s Witnesses all believe the same things, and Southern Baptists generally believe the same things, but Jehovah’s Witnesses and Southern Baptists emphatically do not believe the same things.
Now that’s pretty important.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Southern Baptists do not each individually come up with their own ideas from an independent study of the Bible. Rather, those in each group are all taught to believe it a certain way—from a common tradition. So then the question is not really whether we will just believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition. The real question is which tradition we will use to interpret the Bible.
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Gould together: Wow. Yeah.
Mr. Robinson: That’s from Fr. John Whiteford who used to be a Protestant pastor before he became Orthodox. I think, Bill, this is what drives a lot of people, is this crisis of authority, drives a lot of people to seek something other than their own infallibility or their own experience of the Holy Spirit or their own ability to interpret the Scriptures. It drives them to seek something of a benchmark outside of themselves, outside of the books that are on the shelves of their local Christian bookstore or their local pastor, to interpret Scripture.
I think that’s a legitimate concern for us when we look at the landscape of Christian doctrine and dogma. We talk about Hank Hanegraaff on the program. I listen to Hank every day, sometimes twice a day if I can hear it. And it’s interesting because here we have people who are calling in Hank, trying to get somebody to tell them what the Scriptures teach, because they hear a competing or a different thing from what they either understand themselves or they have a question about whether or not what they are hearing is actually Biblical, Scriptural, and true. So Hank becomes the infallible interpreter, although Hank would deny that. Hank would say, “All I’m doing is teaching what the Scriptures teach,” but so are the people who are teaching what Hank disagrees with.
What we have here is a lot of people who are studying the Scriptures, and we cannot descry or denigrate people’s sincerity. We can’t denigrate their IQ, their devotion to Christ, their ability to read and write, their education, all of those things, because everybody, from the simplest person who approaches the Scriptures to the most learned person with the most Ph.D.s and the most number of Biblical languages under their belt, are all looking at the same Bible. They’re all looking at the same word of God, and they’re all relying on the same Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, and yet they come up with radically different things.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. That just shows again the truth of the fact that everyone brings their tradition and their, as we say, “hermeneutic” with them when they come to the Scriptures.
Mr. Robinson: People come with a framework. They come with some preconceived notions of what they’re going to find there and how to approach the Scriptures and how to study them. This is what we always talk about on this program, that the Orthodox faith is all the Scriptures that you didn’t underline, because there’re just so many passages in the New Testament—at least while I was in seminary and while I was a Bible study teacher for 25 years—we just didn’t have a framework. We didn’t have a hermeneutic. We didn’t have an experience in the life of the Church, in the Christian life, to put those Scriptures in. They were just kind of either historical, interesting things or they were just glossed over, and we just didn’t deal with them.
Mr. Gould: Can’t explain them, so we just sort of leave them out.
Mr. Robinson: So this is what we’re bringing in this program: how do we look at the whole counsel of God? How do we look at all the Scriptures? How do we look at the whole Bible? Not just the parts that we like, not just the parts that we’re comfortable with, not just the parts we’re familiar with, and not just the parts that we, sitting down with our Bible without any guidance without any resources or books, how do we grasp those things? How do we understand them?
Mr. Gould: Well, we understand them again in the context of the life of the Church. And that is, for us, the Orthodox Church is the Church that has holy Tradition. We’ve said that before on this program.
Mr. Robinson: Now, Bill, when we come back from this break, we’re going to talk about tradition. We’re going to talk about how tradition plays a role in this. But I’d like to close this segment with a quote from St. John Chrysostom. We always get asked, “Does the Orthodox Church believe in the authority of the Scriptures?” And this is an answer given by St. John Chrysostom to somebody who was looking for the right Church in the fourth century. This is what he said:
If we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed, but if we bid you believe the Scriptures and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If anyone agrees with the Scriptures, he is a Christian. If anyone fights against them, he is far from the rule.
Now, when we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about what it means for the Scriptures to be plain and simple within the context that St. John Chrysostom is speaking here.
Mr. Robinson: We’re embarking on a discussion of sola Scriptura, the role of the Scriptures in the Orthodox Church, and the role of Tradition in the Orthodox Church, because this is the scary word. This is the big red flag that waves in front of people when we start talking about the ancient Church and how Scripture and Tradition, the traditions of men, intersect with the authority of the Scriptures.
Bill, as you were mentioning in our first segment, we have a third take. We have a third way of understanding how tradition and Scripture work together within the life of the Church. This is the ancient attitude of the Christian Church, as a whole, for probably the first eight or nine centuries of the life of the Church.
Mr. Gould: Actually, what we believe is that the Scriptures are, in fact, the reference, the written reference for our faith. So we’re not as far away from the Protestant view of sola Scriptura as some might think. But we also consider that the Scriptures are, in fact, part of the holy Tradition. Those two words get tangled up a little bit and mixed around a little bit in some people’s minds. The Orthodox Church has kept them straight. We understand the relationship between Tradition and Scripture, and we’re going to try to explain a little bit more of that as we go here.
Mr. Robinson: The thing that people think about automatically when they think of the traditions of men from the early centuries of the Church—you just say, “Tradition,” and the thing that pops into people’s minds are: papal infallibility, purgatory, indulgences…
Mr. Gould: They think of the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus, of course, rebuked because they placed their traditions in front of love or in front of the word of God in terms of its importance. Of course, those are things that we have to be aware of as well, no matter who we are.
Mr. Robinson: Again, the Orthodox Church has been very aware of that for two thousand years, and that’s why we can say, after two thousand years of living the Christian faith and holding this tension between the Tradition of the Church as we understand it being handed down from the Apostles themselves and preserved within the life of the Church and the role of Scripture within that life, that we have held this balance, that we have kept these things straight and we understand the proper relationship between the two.
We do not elevate the traditions of men and the things that are made up and kind of surround the Scriptures.
Mr. Gould: The things that are peculiar or particular to particular cultures or languages or even periods of history, these are all things that everybody gets really concerned about. Again, if you’re looking at it as a modern person, it’s kind of exotic to look at the Orthodox Church or, in fact, the Roman Church, and think, “How on earth can these people have kept the word of God?”
Mr. Robinson: That’s the thing that almost begs the question, because one of the questions I had to ask myself as I was studying the Orthodox Church is, “Would St. Paul, would Peter, would the Apostles recognize the Church as it’s expressed in a modern, American, Evangelical megachurch or home, house church, or something like that—would they recognize that as the Church?”
Mr. Gould: That is hard to imagine. We get to that a little bit later, but one of the things that the Christian Research Institute—that’s Hank Hanegraaff’s group—likes to do is to call up the Fathers when it suits them, and they forget completely about the fact that the Fathers probably wouldn’t recognize the Church in a modern Evangelical megachurch.
Mr. Robinson: We were talking with our producer, Ryan, just before the show came on, who had attended a Messianic Jewish seder last week. This is an interesting phenomenon, again of American Evangelicalism: trying to find the historic connection between Judaism and the Christian faith. So we have the phenomenon of Messianic Judaism. You know what? It happened in Acts 2, and it’s been happening for two thousand years since, and this is what we see in the Orthodox faith, the continuation of the Jewish, Eastern mind, the traditions in the godly sense of that term.
Mr. Gould: Bishop Benjamin, last week on our show, was mentioning how the first part of our Divine Liturgy is really taken directly from the Jewish tradition.
Mr. Robinson: Yes, Jewish synagogue.
These are things, again, that we have to look at. Bill, I’ve got a question here, and I think this addresses that issue in a very real sense, because it gives us the difference between the mind of the Apostles and what we find in Scripture, and the mind of the modern Protestant Evangelical today. I’ll just put this on the table right up front: this is a trick question, but let’s see if people find it…
Mr. Gould: Too bad we don’t have a way to get the answers from all the people that might be listening. We’ll give you the answer.
Mr. Robinson: Let’s just ask the question here. I’ve asked this of a lot of people 98% of the time, I get the same answer. The question is:
What is the pillar and foundation of the truth?
Mr. Gould: [Jeopardy theme]
Mr. Robinson: Let’s think about it: what is the pillar and foundation of the truth? I was on a bunch of websites this weekend while we were researching for this program, and in all these websites and all these people who were debating sola Scriptura, the consistent statement that I found in most of the Protestant websites is that the Scriptures, the Bible, is the pillar and foundation of the truth. And that phrase is used of the Scriptures.
Now, let’s go to the Scriptures, and see what the Scriptures have to say about what is the pillar and foundation of the truth. This is in I Timothy 3:15. Let’s find out what the Bible has to say about what the pillar and foundation of the truth is.
Mr. Gould: I’m sure you’re going to tell us!
Mr. Robinson: Yes. Paul says:
In case I am delayed, I am writing to you so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Now, Scripture says that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, not the Bible. This is the Bible on the Bible. This is the Bible on the Church. The Church is the pillar and the foundation of the truth.
Mr. Gould: The real, historical Church that you could find, the body of believers that were in those cities and the Apostles visited and brought under correction and their care. The real Church.
Mr. Robinson: This basically gives us the framework for the self-understanding of the Church through the Apostolic teachings of the first century. I guess the other way we could frame this question is: which came first? The Church or the Bible? How did the Church come into existence? Was it through the Bible or was it through the apostolic teaching? Was it through the apostolic ministry? Was it through the preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of the Gospel, being delivered to the saints, being delivered to those who were being evangelized by the Apostles for probably two, three decades, before a word was ever written down?
This casts the role of the Scriptures within the life of the Church in a whole different framework, Bill. It gives us this understanding that Scripture, as you mentioned before, is part of the Apostolic Tradition, but it is not the entirety of the Apostolic Tradition.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. It says in John 20, I believe, that Jesus himself did so many things that weren’t written down, that if you were to write them all down, you’d fill up all the books of the world with them. So we know that we didn’t get all of what happened in the gospels or the epistles of Paul. There’s a lot that isn’t in there that the Church actually has possession of, because it was delivered orally and in other forms.
Mr. Robinson: This is the passage in II Thessalonians 2:13, where Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to hold fast to the traditions. Now, “tradition” is the word, and you’ve heard this before on this program: “what I have handed over to you, what I have given over to you, the traditions that I have given to you, both in writing and verbally.”
Mr. Gould: The Greek word paradosis.
Mr. Robinson: Yes. I have handed things to you both verbally and in writing, and you are to hold fast to both of these things, not just one of them. So the Church’s understanding is that, yes, there is a written deposit of apostolic teaching, but, again, within the life of the Church, within the life of the early Christian faith, these writings were mostly corrective. They were not instruction books. They were not a book handed over to a book of people in the city and saying, “Here’s a blueprint. Use this and go start yourself a church.”
The Church was established by the Apostles based on their oral teaching, based on their personal evangelism, and then, once they got up and going, they fell into all manners of false teachings, of bad practices, of immorality, of factions. You name it, the early Christians fell for it, even under apostolic tutelage. So the Apostles, coming back to these people, write them these books and correct the things they got wrong from the oral teaching that the Apostles had delivered to them.
This really shapes an attitude and an understanding about the role of Scripture within the life of the Church, that Scripture has its place, that Scripture has indeed authority. It does indeed have apostolic force, but it has apostolic force for some things but not all things. That’s the big issue. That’s the big hump that people have to try to get over: how can a church exist, how could the early Church exist, without books? That’s the question that we have to address: how did people live the Christian life without having the canon of Scripture, without having the Bible as we have it in its form today in every household and every pew and every church?
Mr. Gould: The way we’ve decided to try to go about talking about the subject from this point going forward is that we’ve gone to the Christian Research Institute website, Hank Hanegraaff’s website. You can find it; it’s http://www.equip.org. We selected a piece that is a series: What Think Ye of Rome. In Part Three of that, Normal Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie have outlined a point-by-point refutation of the idea of tradition as espoused by the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, again, we’re saying that we have a third view of this, but a lot of the arguments that they bring up, we just want to run down and answer them, one by one, line by line, precept upon precept, as I’m sure Hank likes to say.
Mr. Robinson: “Mene, Mene, Tekel Upsin” or whatever that was written on the wall.
Mr. Gould: “... Tekel u-Pharsin,” yeah.
Mr. Robinson: You lived in Israel. I’m giving you the Gentile version of that.
Mr. Gould: So what we thought we’d do—you can even download that if you like from their website—we’re just going to run through what they say and then we’re going to answer what they say. Hopefully, we’ll get some more insight into how the Church, in fact, did survive and does exist with respect to keeping Tradition.
Mr. Robinson: And how we differ from both the Protestant tradition and the Roman Catholic tradition, because, again, this is an expression of the Christian faith that has been in existence for two thousand years that people just aren’t aware of. There are alternatives to the way that people usually think today and the culture and the tradition that they have grown up in in the Christian faith in this country.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, we were talking about sola Scriptura and the role of tradition in the life of the Church. You were telling the audience before the break that we have essentially downloaded a piece from the Christian Research Institute, Hank Hanegraaff’s website, in which Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie take on the notion of tradition essentially in relationship to the Roman Catholic Church and basically tried to, or they do defend the tradition of sola Scriptura over and against the notion of the infallibility of the Pope, the Church as it’s known in Rome to essentially set tradition or to espouse or create tradition that goes contrary to, at least as they understand it, or contradicts what we find in Scripture.
As we said, the Eastern Church has a third way of approaching these things. We believe that this is a balance, this is a way that the Scripture and Tradition within the life of the early Church was held in this very fine balance, and neither one of those things ever got elevated above the other. In fact, as you said, the Scripture and Tradition work hand-in-hand. A good illustration that I heard was somebody said, “Scripture is the peak of the mountain for the Orthodox Church, but you can’t have the peak of the mountain without the rest of the mountain underneath it.” So what we have is the entire Church, the entire apostolic experience, the apostolic teachings, the deposit of the oral and written tradition of the Church that shaped the life of the first-century Church and continued on in the life of the Church from person to person, century to century, on through the ages.
Let’s take a look at CRI and what they had to say about it.
Mr. Gould: They start out by saying just a simple statement: “All apostolic traditions are in the Bible.”
Mr. Robinson: And we say, “Of course they are.” We agree 100% with that.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. We do.
Mr. Robinson: There is not a problem with that statement at all. The issue there, Bill, is, as we come across this in our program all the time, we have all these things that we do like incense. We have Liturgy and we have these prayers and we pray to the saints and we have icons. Well, these things were all strange and foreign to the modern Protestant Evangelical, and yet, as we say, go to our website, listen to our programs. You will see that we have solid biblical evidence, solid biblical teaching for all of these practices and all of these things that we do.
You may not agree with the interpretations of the Scriptures, but the Scriptures are there.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. Your tradition may not be the same as our tradition.
Mr. Robinson: But the Scriptures are all there. We do have the passages.
Mr. Gould: Then we move along, and it says—again, this is the CRI piece—“It is true that the New Testament speaks of following the “traditions” of the Apostles, whether oral or written. This is because they were living authorities set up by Christ.” Of course, that’s true. “When they died, however, there was no longer a living apostolic authority, since only those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ could have apostolic authority.”
Mr. Robinson: Well, there’s a whole lot of assumptions that are wrapped up, and a whole lot of baggage wrapped up in that statement, Bill. This is where we encounter this baggage, and we need to unpack that. We need to challenge the assumptions here.
Protestants generally react violently to the idea of tradition established by the Church, and this is what he’s addressing here, the idea of tradition being established by the Church, because the only form that they are encountering this concept is found in Roman Catholicism. So they see these dogmas that have been put into place by the Catholic Church, like purgatory, like the infallibility of the Pope, the Immaculate Conception, these kinds of doctrines, and this in their minds is the worst abuse and the false teachings…
Mr. Gould: Real aberrations of what’s taught in Scripture.
Mr. Robinson: And they can only chalk this up to the notion that the Church has the authority to establish tradition apart from the apostolic authority. Is this something that is an issue in the Orthodox Church? Well, we would say absolutely not. The Orthodox Church does not believe that Tradition grows and changes.
Traditions, little-t, as you say, local practices, things like styles of vestments and church architecture—these things can change, but as we understand the true nature of Tradition, the apostolic deposit of the Gospel of Christ, has indeed not changed. The Church, when faced with heresy, when faced with false teachings, defines more precisely the Gospel. It defines the difference between truth and error, but the truth of the Gospel does not change. That’s an important point. We don’t change.
Mr. Gould: We might even add, too, that even Apostles, by themselves, can be wrong.
Mr. Robinson: They were. Paul had to confront Peter in Galatians I. We see that. He recounts the event when Peter was off and he was potentially dividing the Church into a Gentile-and-Jewish Church, and St. Paul has to confront a fellow Apostle.
Mr. Gould: And what is it that makes that right? What corrects Peter when he goes off, or Paul when he perhaps would go off?
Mr. Robinson: I think we have a good example of that in Acts 15, when we have the Church in this tenuous position in the very beginning of its life, where it could have developed into a Gentile and a Jewish faith. It could have divided the body of Christ right out of the gate. How did the Church resolve these issues? It was through a council.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. They all came together.
Mr. Robinson: The entire Church came together, both in its leadership and in its laity. They met together in Jerusalem, and they hashed it out. St. James, who was the bishop of Jerusalem, not an Apostle, not one of the Twelve, he is the one who finally stands up and says, “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit, that this is the proper interpretation of the Scriptures.” That’s what the issue was. They were interpreting the Old Testament: how do we apply the Law? How do we apply the Mosaic ritual to the Gentiles who were coming into the Church? And it’s the Church, the conciliar mind of the gathered Church together, that kept both the Apostles and the entire Church in line through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Mr. Gould: So the apostolic ministry is not a para-church ministry. The apostolic ministry is within the context of the Church. The Apostles are members of the Church.
Mr. Robinson: Christ is its head, not a single Apostle, not a single person. Christ is the head, and the Apostles submitted to the head as did every other members of the Church. The Apostles had authority. They had inspiration. They spoke infallibly at times. They wrote infallibly. And yet they were able to err. The thing that kept them in check is the same thing that keeps everybody in check, historically, through the ages in the Church, and that is the submission of every member to the head which is Christ…
Mr. Gould: ... through the Holy Spirit…
Mr. Robinson: ... and the entire Church submitting to the conciliar mind of the Church as it submits to the mind of Christ.
We’ve got about one minute left.
Mr. Gould: We’re running out of time already.
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to continue this next week, but I think it’s important to understand that apostolic authority has nothing to do with faithful keeping of the apostolic tradition and having it handed faithfully from generation to generation. You do not have to have apostolic authority to faithfully pass on the teachings that have been faithfully handed to you by a faithful person who has been faithful to the Gospel. You don’t have to have apostolic authority and infallibility to that.
Mr. Gould: In every generation.
Mr. Robinson: You just have to be faithful to the truth, and that’s what has happened in the life of the Church for two thousand years. So, Bill, next week we’re going to talk about all of the objections that the CRI has brought to the notion of tradition within the Church and how the Orthodox Church has balanced Tradition, Scripture, and the life of the Church, and a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for two thousand years in a way that’s foreign to our modern Evangelical American culture. Listen to us next week. Thanks for joining us today. Have a blessed week.