And it occured to me that we can look at doctrinal development in Christianity in the same way we look at common ancestry in evolution.
My Protestant brothers in our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ…here is my thought…
As far as I know, the Syrian Church of the East is probably the first Church still around that broke off from the church at large in the Nestorian controversy. Next would be the Oriental Orthodox Church, which broke from the church at large in the monothelite controversy in 451. Next would be the split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in 1054/1453 (take your pick).
All these Churches believe in Holy Tradition as authoritative and the idea of Sola Scriptura is very foreign to them (as far as I know! Though I know very little about the Syrian Church of the East.)
This means that a belief in Holy Tradition was at least as early as the 300s and seemed to be universal in the church. A belief in Holy Tradition was present in the the LUCA of Christianity and yet most (maybe not Anglo-Catholics) Protestants reject Holy Tradition.
I see this as strange and implausible. Why trust a group that emerged 1500 years later rather than these Christian groups that were around much closer to the birth of Christianity?
Because many Protestant Christians feel much more comfortable with those whose beliefs (and culture and language and you name it) are closer to their own. Fifteen hundred years is a very long time, so in a nation like the USA with long traditions of independence and “pioneer spirit”, it is much easier trusting in a John Darby or a William Miller or a John Wesley who lived just a few generations ago and who “seem much like us.”
Yes, that’s a short and simplistic answer but it is late at night and time for me to retire to sleep.
(Think in terms of nested hierarchies. The great grandson of a German Dunkard Brethren and the great grandson of a Grace Brethren in the northern Bible Belt of the USA are much more likely to attend the same church and believe similar things—and far less likely to attend a Roman Catholic church or an Episcopal Church. People tend to be tribal.)
Two responses to this:
First, you seem to misunderstand the mindset of Protestants. For Protestants, it is not about trusting a particular church or group. A foundational plank of the Protestant mindset is going to Scripture and discovering truths for yourself. Tradition is only a guide, not an authority. I’m not trying to argue here that this mindset is superior to the Catholic or Orthodox mindset, with its reverence for tradition and authority. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides. I’m just saying these kinds of arguments fail to connect with the basic Protestant impulse.
Secondly, as I understand it (someone more versed in church history can clarify or correct me), another basic impulse of the Reformation was to attempt to go back to the birth of Christianity and recover the original faith, in contrast to the practices of the Catholic church at the time, which were viewed as having deviated from the original Tradition. Today, 500 years after the fact, when Protestantism has developed its own set of traditions, this may not be so clear, but you can still see this historical impulse in some groups such as Anabaptists. So, Protestantism is about going closer to the original faith.
Is this to be a discussion about religion or biology?
Maybe we can extend the analogy. When we do coalescence or draw a phylogenetic tree, we follow the similarities backwards, until we come to one lineage, one LUCA, the one creature that all derive from. But what makes them all share together in LUCA? Whatever the core that can be distinguished as shared is LUCA. (Though people usually do it with DNA these days, and I am not really sure how it’s done all the way back to LUCA.)
So by analogy, rather than looking for the things that make us different, we should look for the things we share, that go back to our common roots.
God as Creator of all,
Christ’s incarnation, teaching, suffering death and resurrection for us, that we might have eternal life,
The gift of the Holy Spirit.
There may be some who read this who maybe won’t agree with even this minimal list. But all the Christian denominations that I know of hold to these things, I think. And they go back to the beginning, before the New Testament had been written. Read Acts. That is pretty immediate, recording the events right after the resurrection and Pentacost, with Peter and the disciples, and then Paul. His journeys are there, and reflected in his letters.
Everyone is too ecumenical on here! Haha. I was basically using LUCA to draw biologically minded people into a discussion of ecclesiology so I could make an argument in favor of Church Tradition as binding as opposed to Sola Scriptura. More later.
Here is one way St Basil the Great describes Holy Tradition:
Basil the Great
the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from
written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the
apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any
rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed,
were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority,
we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term” (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).
“[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had
its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their
writings” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23 [A.D. 400]).
Tradition is the Holy Spirit safeguarding the essential truths of the gospel that are binding on all believers through ecumenical councils, which are accepted into the Church through their integration into the liturgical life of the Church. Contrast this with William Lane Craig’s brushing aside the authority of an ecumenical council, which Basil would say has equal force as tradition:
“While one disagrees with the promulgations of an Ecumenical Council only with great hesitancy,
nonetheless, since we do not regard these as invested with divine
authority, we are open to the possibility that they have erred in
places. It seems to me that in condemning Monotheletism as incompatible
with Christian belief the Church did overstep its bounds.”
This is one reason why I love Craig. He takes concepts to their logical conclusion. Sola Scriptura lets him set HIS judgment over against the judgment of the entire Church of the 7th century because he doesn’t see scripture as agreeing with them. But their entire purpose was to faithfully interpret scripture. It’s this principle, I feel, that is partially responsible for groups that claim to not find the Divinity of Christ, or the Holy Trinity in scripture.
Craig’s belief does not seem to be the belief of Basil, or Augustine, so when in the early Church WAS it the belief? Was Sola Scriptura ever in the early church as Protestants claim?
Irenaeus- “That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while
cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the
Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the
apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary
to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom
they entrusted the churches?” (Against Heresies
3:4:1 [A.D. 189]).
It doesn’t seem to be in Irenaeus either. Keith Mathison in his book “The Shape of Sola Scriptura” (I think that’s it) does a good job of trying to make Irenaeus sound like he ultimately agrees with Sola Scriptura, but I think he fails.
“As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this
faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet
guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes
these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart;
and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them
down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the
world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one
and the same” (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).
Which ecumenical council? If I ask a Catholic, he will say there are 21 or so councils… do you hold to all 21?
Or are you talking only about the first 7?
And do you count the council of trullo as ecumenical?
According to you, where does the ecumenical council draw authority from? The scripture?
Or do they have an enablement from the Holy Spirit to infallibly interpret scripture?
And what constitutes an ecumenical council?
Most Orhodox would agree that there are seven. Catholics agree on this but accept more because they had more after they split with the Orthodox. Some Orhodox say eight and count the stuff with Gregory Palamas in the 14th century and the essence/energy distinction as another council. All Orthodox accept the essence/energy distinction but it is controversial whether the council regarding this should be considered ecumenical.
Orthodox also disagree with one another regarding WHAT makes a council authoritative. We all agree that there are seven authoritative councils, but as to why there are, there is some disagreement. There have been robber councils so I reject the idea that councils are ecumenical simply because they were held. It seems that what makes a council ecumenical is that the dogmatic proclamations of the council are accepted into the liturgical life of all churches that consider themselves orthodox. So the local clergy, bishops, and to some extent, laypeople of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Rome (before they split), etc. must ACCEPT the council as ecumenical. This took a long long time with the Arian controversy but it eventually became clear that The Church had rejected Arianism. If you go to any Catholic or Orthodox Church today, they all have accepted Nicea. So councils need interpreting just like scripture, and this is done through the liturgical life of the Church and through subsequent councils. You’ll find that after Nicea, FURTHER interpretation is done on the meaning of the proclamations of Nicea.
Trullo is not really considered an ecumenical council because there wasn’t much doctrine being discussed, BUT the Orthodox Church, and as far as I know, the Catholic Church DO see the canons of Trully as still in force (which, of course, need interpretation).
I see the Church as infallible (which Catholics would identify as the Catholic Church, Orthodox identify as the Orthodox Church), and it is the Church’s ultimate acceptance of councils (in the process described above) that gives them authority.
By the way, I would define Christianity how most Protestants would define the Church. So I see Orthodoxy as the fullness of the Faith but this doesn’t mean that other churches are completely devoid of that fullness. In fact, I think many Evangelicals exhibit many more truly Orthodox virtues than many Orthodox, and so other Christians are certainly not excluded from being Christians, and from salvation. I would define a Christian as a baptized person (in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who believes in the Divinity and resurrection of Christ, and the Holy Trinity.
I see a lot of “I” here…
Is it fair to say there is not consensus on why the ecumenical councils are authoritative and how many/what constitutes the accepted ecumenical councils?
How does this work? If local priests, bishops etc disagree with the council… aren’t they kicked out… for example the controversy connected to Arianism… it’s not like churches didn’t disagree… in fact pretty much every council resulted in some group or other being declared heretics unless they repent and come in line.
Isn’t a natural consequence that these councils declarations are accepted in the liturgical life of the church?
Isn’t this a tautology? The church gives authority to the council… while the church is under the authority to the bishops/priests etc that constitute the council?
All this assumes that God has something special invested in the orthodox church as opposed to all other churches… because this is not going to work unless God himself ensures the right faction wins all the time.
What do you believe makes the orthodox church so special or the “real” church?l as far as God is concerned. That’s what it all boils down to.