Those "stubborn" Orthodox Christians

It’s a line of thought I’ve come across frequently from Western Christians: that the Orthodox are so “stubborn.” I’ve even heard one Protestant refer to the Orthodox as “bigoted.” To be honest, I had similar thoughts as a former Roman Catholic investigating Orthodoxy. It seemed to me like the dialogues between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were largely one-sided; it seemed like the Roman Catholics were making all the concessions and the Orthodox were making few, if any.

Since becoming Orthodox myself, though, I’ve realized something: this is exactly as it should be; and, to the thinking mind, it stands as a testament to the Truth of Orthodoxy. Whereas I was formerly disturbed by the unwillingness of the Orthodox to budge on even seemingly inconsequential matters, I’m now deeply disturbed by Western Christians’ insistence that the Orthodox should compromise on anything, or that they themselves should be willing to compromise in any way what they consider to be the Gospel.

Relativism is an ugly thing, especially amongst Christians. Unfortunately, though, the Protestant Reformation, and ensuing large-scale break-up of Western Christendom, has necessitated a form of “Christian” relativism. Outside of the Restorationist movement, each individual Christian sect knows that it individually has no legitimate claim, theologically or historically, to being the One True Church, and so they’ve had to invent the patently false doctrine of a “Church of all true believers,” in which all true Christians of whatever sect are the “real One True Church.” This, though, is a stark departure not only from historic Christian thought on the subject, but Scriptural injunctions demanding visible unity and commonality of doctrine.

Pentecostals, Methodists, and Baptists, to compare just three of the dozens of strains of thought in Protestanism, each hold to doctrines and practices, both essential and non-essential, in mutual contradiction to the others. Historically, Scripturally, and logically speaking, then, they cannot be members of the same Church.

And this is why the Orthodox are just so darn stubborn and bigoted. We’re so stubborn because we’re just not willing to compromise the True Faith; when we say we’re Orthodox (“right-believing”) we really mean it. And this is why we’re so bigoted; when we say we’re Orthodox (“right-believing”) we take this to its logical conclusion: if we’re right, anyone who disagrees with us is, necessarily, wrong.

I’ll admit; it sounds stubborn, even a little bigoted. But it’s how we’ve guarded the Gospel for the last 2000 years, and it hasn’t failed us yet.

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59 comments

  1. This isn't really a debative point, so I'm not backtracking.

    Rho,
    I have a proposal that will be mutually beneficiary to everyone. I'll read the best defense of Protestantism if you read the best critique.

    I will read Phillip Schaff's *Principle of Protestantism* (sorry, I won't read James White for a number of reasons. 1) Even when I was a Calvinist I cringed at his idea of tradition and scripture; 2) it is better to read the “big dogs” than…well, Schaff has more weight that James White; 3) I listened to White's radio program every day for several years).

    On the other hand, you can read the first chapter of each of the first three volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan's *History of the Christian Tradition.*

    You are getting off easy for a number of reasons: 1) my book read is longer; 2) When Pelikan wrote this he was a Protestant; 3) These books can be found at any university library.

    When you are reading Pelikan, note the following: the guys who are extolling tradition are considered heroes by many Protestants (St Ireaneus, St Maximus, Venerable Bede, etc., etc.). Does or does this not constitute a problem for the anti-tradition crowd, for they are not defining tradition as “what was merely later to be inscripturated?”

  2. Basically, Pelikan is trying to say this:

    “The supporters of the sole authority of Scripture, arguing from radical hermeneutical principles to conservative dogmatic conclusions, overlooked the foundational role of tradition”

    Pelikan, I: 119

    And he is writing from the standpoint of the Reformation at this time in his life. He unofficially converted to Mother Russia in 1988. Officially, in 1998.

  3. Why would what Pelikan, or the later early church, said about tradition concern a Sola Scripturist?

    And do you hear me saying that tradition has no role? I certainly don't mean to communicate that, but it can sound like it when I object strenuously to the blasphemous pedestal that EOdox and RCs place it on.

    I appreciate the reading rec, but I don't have time right now. Trying to read thru Owen's Mortification of Sin with a friend plus preparing Sunday School lessons on the Eucharist, upcoming. I've already read thru more than a volume of Schaff's Church History, JND Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, and various other works related to it. I only have time for so much. 😦

    Peace,
    Rhology

  4. And he is writing from the standpoint of the Reformation at this time in his life. He unofficially converted to Mother Russia in 1988. Officially, in 1998.

    I've noticed a definite trend that as Protestants (and, to a lesser extent, Roman Catholics) get to know the Fathers more and more they move more and more towards Orthodoxy. Not that I compare myself to a genius like Pelikan, but I'm amongst them.

  5. Regarding what Pelikan said: It's not really a “refutation” of the SS position, but if the discussion ever turns toward how the Reformed incorporate church history, then it's relevant.

    To be more fair, though, you continually link to White or somebody and expect us to read it (And between James White, Michael Horton, and RC Sproul, I've probably read at least 50 of their works). You even link to audio clips by White (which take up more time), expecting our interaction.

    In any case, what I recommended would take all of 90 minutes whereas mine is going to take about a week (since I plan on personally translating the Latin footnotes that argue for Protestantism).

    I don't know if I specifically said you deny tradition. I can't remember. But it's hard to see exactly what y'all believe on tradition. And if one identifies “tradition” with “what was only going to be later inscripturated” (cf Geisler, Schaff, et al), then practically there is no tradition.

    But not all Protestants go that route. Keith Mathison has a better take on it (ironically, Mathison's view of tradition and regula fide in *Shape of Sola Scriptura* is fundamentally Orthodox!).

  6. But it's hard to see exactly what y'all believe on tradition.

    Really?
    -Chicken dinner on Sundays
    -Baptism in a raised font overlooking the congregation
    -Meeting on Sunday morning
    -The music we use
    -Pastor generally preaches ~45 min, usually not more or less

    etc. Tons of things in any given Reformed or SoBap church are based on tradition!

    And if one identifies “tradition” with “what was only going to be later inscripturated” (cf Geisler, Schaff, et al), then practically there is no tradition.

    Ah, well I'm afraid that's a big misunderstanding there. When I said that, I was referring to the prevailing meaning of “paradosis” among ECFs, but “tradition” has a larger meaning today, and your question was in a diff context.

  7. Rho,
    It's not so much as a misunderstand, but difficulty in identifyng how tradition is used. Geisler and Co. take a lame “tradition simply is scripture spoken” view. Mathison takes a more robust tradition = regula fide (I actually agree with Mathison; I just wish he would be consistent). Rome has taken 3 differnet views on tradition.

    Orthodox has yet a different view of tradition over against the above view. Lossky does a good job on explicating what is and isn't meant by tradition.

    Dave,
    I know what you mean, and I've seen people go overboard. It's like reading RC Sproul say, “If you affirm a doctrine that hasn't been held in church history, then you are probably wrong” and then applying it to Luther. After reading Reformation21 blog and others, then going to the Patristics, it's tempting to overreact.

    But yeah, even Pope Benedict says that the late medievals got it wrong and the patristic model is better. And even though he doesn't disagree with Trent, Henri de Lubac has been another Catholic force in geting the conversation back to the Fathers.

  8. Hello David!

    I am an inquirer at an Eastern Orthodox Church. I ran across your youtube videos months ago and found them helpful.

    I frequent Christian forums and it's rare to find Orthodox Christians that participate. However, on most of these forums most of the dialogue on topics like, “sola scriptura, Constantine, etc” are between protestants and Roman Catholics.

    I would like to invite you and any Orthodox Christian reading this to realize (and I'm sure that you do) that the West really doesn't know much about Orthodoxy and that most of their preconceptions about Orthodoxy are just protestant beliefs about Roman Catholicism being juxtaposed onto the Orthodox.

    Knowing this I find it worthwhile to engage people both in life and on the internet that people might get to know more about it.

    Any “Christian” forum or chat site will do but some of the more protestant ones seem completely devoid of Orthodox Christians.

    The one forum I'm posting on currently is called, grace centered forums. You can google it, free to join. My handle there is Ryan2010.

    I hope you don't mind David but I did post your series on the myths of the council of Nicaea. People are beginning to reply to the subject but I often feel a bit overwhelmed because I'm just an inquirer.

    Also posted your series on Orthodoxy and scripture.

    I also have a few threads on sola scriptura, Apostolic succession, etc. and also engage on topics posted to the Roman Catholics section because it's a good opportunity to introduce both protestants and Roman Catholics to Orthodoxy.

    Anyway, love the blog david. Love the youtube videos. My entire family has benefited from those videos.

    God willing I'll be reading David Bentley Hart's work (thanks for the recommend) in hopes to more skillfully engage Atheists and those that perpetuate revised histories in order to slander the faithful.

    Hope to see more Orthodox out there on the interwebs! 😛

    Hope to see the West become more familiar with how Orthodoxy views herself in contrast to the presuppositions and reactionary rhetoric so prevalent out there.

    God bless!

    — Ryan

  9. Ryan,

    Thank you very much this message. I really appreciate the support — it's hard to stay motivated sometimes! 😛

    I'm very happy that my videos and posts were able to be of value to you. Thank you for posting them for others to see. I'll have to check out the grace centered forums sometime. 🙂

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