Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Truth, The Bible, & The Church

In the 2nd decree of “The Confession of Desitheos,” the Jerusalem council authors continue to follow the same general format as the Protestant Reformers.  However, they express quite a different theology than the reformers.  The reformers were unanimous on one view above all others, that the scriptures, in and of themselves, were sufficient, "Sola Scriptura".

A typical example of this conviction can be found in “The Belgic Confession,” Article 7:

The Sufficiency of Scripture

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. …

Therefore we must not consider human writings-- no matter how holy their authors may have been-- equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.

For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.

In summary, the reformers state that they find all that they need regarding the revelation and the will of God in one place, the Scriptures.  A problem remains however, how can they be sure that they are not deceived, or errant in their interpretation.   Surely the word of God is perfect, but what about sects, and individual interpreters?

To this problem, the Orthodox respond:

Decree 2- The Holy Scriptures

We believe the Divine and Sacred Scriptures to be God-taught; and, therefore, we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic[1] Church has interpreted and delivered the same.

For every foul heresy accepts the Divine Scriptures, but perversely interprets the same, using metaphors, and homonymies, and sophistries of man’s wisdom, confounding what ought to be distinguished, and trifling with what ought not to be trifled with.

For if [we were to accept Scriptures] otherwise, each man holding every day a different sense concerning them, the Catholic Church[2] would not by the grace of Christ continue to be the Church until this day, holding the same doctrine of faith, and always identically and steadfastly believing. But rather she would be torn into innumerable parties, and subject to heresies. Neither would the Church be holy, the pillar and ground of the truth,[3] without spot or wrinkle; [4] but would be the Church of the malignant as it is obvious the church of the heretics undoubtedly is, and especially that of Calvin, who are not ashamed to learn from the Church, and then to wickedly repudiate her.

Wherefore, the witness also of the Catholic[5] Church is, we believe, not of inferior authority to that of the Divine Scriptures. For one and the same Holy Spirit being the author of both, it is quite the same to be taught by the Scriptures and by the Catholic[6] Church.

Moreover, when any man speaks from himself he is liable to err, and to deceive, and be deceived; but the Catholic[7] Church, as never having spoken, or speaking from herself, but from the Spirit of God — who being her teacher, she is ever unfailingly rich — it is impossible for her to in any wise err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and has perpetual authority.

What we are told by the Orthodox council is that the scriptures are in fact from God, and they are to be received as such. Yet, they are not to be understood by way of private interpretation. To permit private interpretation is to ensure the tearing asunder of the one church. History proves that they were indeed correct. The world's 7000 (plus) dominations are living proof.

Moreover, the Orthodox confession affirms that the same Spirit that inspired the Scriptures also dwells in the undivided church, and as promised by the Lord has made the church the ground and pillar of truth.

1 Tim 3: 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

For this reason, the Orthodox Church will not affirm that the scriptures are sufficient without the true church to accompany their interpretation. If one has any doubts as to the validity of this, simply start counting denominations formed after the great schism of 1054 AD.

In summary, the Orthodox Church teaches that the Scripture are perfect and the inspired word of God, and that the church is the ground and pillar of truth, the inspired interpreter of the word. To reject this Orthodox claim, is to ensure schisms, sects, and heresies, and worse; the delusion that some particular group has the truth, even when it is opposed to the undivided church.

[1] Catholic is used in its original meaning, and not to identify the Roman Catholic Church.  Catholic literally means, “undivided and of the whole”. The authors are referring to the Holy Orthodox Church when they use the term “Catholic”.
[2] “Undivided and of the whole”.
[3] 1 Tim 3: 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
[4]  Eph 5: 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
[5] “Undivided and of the whole”. The Orthodox Church.
[6] “Undivided and of the whole”. The Orthodox Church.
[7] ““Undivided and of the whole”. The Orthodox Church.

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