...are the ones that make the biggest difference

10.01.2005

Why Orthodoxy? Part III

[I've moved this up to the top due to the interesting discussion in the comments.]

Initially, as I discussed previously, my interest in Orthodoxy sprang from a frustration with the hollowness of the worship I experienced at church and the weak teaching. It also came from the gradual dissolution of friendships that had cemented me to my church regardless of its failings. Once those bonds faded, the restlessness I was experiencing was able to push me forwad to look for something else, something more.

I was a religious studies major at a state university and one of my classes was "Formation of the Christian Tradition." It was a fascinating class for someone who had never looked into the history of his faith. The teacher was dynamic, friendly and a member of the Jesus Seminar. He was challenging, but not atagonistic and his lectures frequently left a fair portion of the class (mostly evangelicals or devout Catholics) sputteringly mad. I enjoyed the class as a kind of mental joust, pushing myself to counter his arguments as best I could. I adamantly refused to just learn it, regurgitate it on the test and then forget it as happens with so many classes. From this class, I had gained the perspective that much of modern, Protestant Christianity is actually a significant departure from the faith & practice of the early church. At the time, I did not see the questions this should have produced. As I began to explore Orthodoxy, however, the tensions this reality creates started coming to the fore.

What is the significance of this departure from the historic form of Christianity?

It is entirely possible to answer this with "nothing." It is possible that the early church's form & praxis were merely the results of convention, culture and pragmatism and have no significance for our forms & praxis which are, similarly, the results of a different set of convention, culture and pragmatism. However, this answer glosses over some very important matters. First, the early church, and by that I typically mean the church of the first 2 centuries, saw neither its theology nor its ecclesiology as arbitrary. An exploration of the role of the bishop will serve as an example. St Ignatius, in his epistle to the Ephesians:

St IgnatiusHence it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted to the bishop, as the strings to a harp. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.

And:

The bishop then we ought plainly to regard as the Lord Himself.

There are 2 typical Protestant responses to this. One is that this is the result of an error that crept in to the church. The other, that this view represents only that of St Ignatius' community. Other local church communities did not hold similar views of the bishop. The former raises some difficult problems that I will address shortly, while the latter is demonstrably false.

From the 1st Epistle of Clement, ch 42:

St ClementThe Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.

From Clement we see the orderly appointment flow of authority. God sent Christ, Christ sent the Apostles, the Apostles appointed their bishops. The bishops represent, and derive their authority from, the Apostles. The Apostles represent, and derive their authority from, Christ. While the language does not match precisely, the deep similiarity is readily apparent.

I believe this brief exploration shows that the early church did not regard its form as arbitrary responses dictated by culture and their immediate needs. Indeed, how could this be the case if the bishop is representative of Christ and the office was foretold in scripture? This leaves modern Protestants with the duty of presenting a compelling case as to why it is permissible to abandon these forms and I have yet to see any such thing. (Though I'd definitely be interested in hearing one.) Which brings me back to the charge of error.

What other questions and problems does the view that error crept into the church prior to the close of the 1st century raise?

In my mind, this view is untenable for orthodox Christianity for several reasons, but let me start by quoting Jaroslav Pelikan:

For the doctrine of the Trinity was not as such a teaching of the New Testament, but it emerged from the life and worship, the reflection and controversy, of the church as, in the judgment of Christian orthodoxy, the only way the church could be faithful to the teaching of the New Testament. It did so after centuries of study and speculation, during which many solutions to the dilemma of the Three and the One had surfaced, each with some passage or theme of Scripture to commend it. The final normative formulation of the dogma of the Trinity by the first ecumenical council of the church, held at Nicaea in 325, took as its basic outline the biblical outline of the so-called great commission of Christ to the disciples just before his ascension. . . But into the framework of that New Testament formula the Nicene Creed had packed many other biblical motifs, as well as the portentous and non-biblical technical term for which it became known. . . . “one in being with the Father [homoousios toi patri].”...If the Protestant churches acknowledged the validity of the development of doctrine when it moved from the great commission of the Gospel of Matthew to produce the Nicene Creed, as all of the mainline Protestant churches did and do, on what grounds could they reject development as it had moved from other lapidary passages of the Bible to lead to other doctrines? (emphasis mine - read the entire passage here)

Though definitions vary, I believe orthodox Christianity would likely coincide with what CS Lewis called "mere Christianity." To me, this is Trinitarian, holds scripture to be inspired & authoritative and exclusivist in terms of salvation. This is not meant to be a precise definition, but from it, one can produce some useful analyses - Mormons aren't Christian because they aren't Trinitarian and don't hold to the authority of the Bible; various forms of universalism aren't Christian because they aren't exclusivist - you get my drift. Evangelical Christianity is orthodox by this definition and can only remain in some degree of continuity with the church established by Christ in the New Testament as long as it stays this way. However, it is clear that modern Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, does not match the form & belief of the early church. It is not hierarchical (as I explored above) and it positively rejects liturgy, sacrament and the authority of Apostolic tradition. As I said before, some dismiss these differences as meaningless, but I hope I have shown that this really is not possible. Or, at the very least, requires a great deal of justification and explanation. Others, however, dismiss these forms of the early church as error. Some would go so far as to say they were errors introduced by the devil, others only that they were wrong but not evil. There seems to be a tacit assumption amont most evangelical and conservative Christians that the church went seriously astray at some point and was only recovered at the Reformation. I don't think there is a universally agreed upon date for the church's falling away, but in my experience, it would appear most don't think the church survived past the end of the 2nd century. Some go later, some much earlier, but that is the average as I've encountered it. And however it is dated, most seem to assume the church started stumbling badly long before finally hitting the ground. But if this is the case, modern Christians are left with 2 glaring problems; the doctrine of the Trinity and the canon.

(cont)

19 comments:

Ephrem Christopher Walborn said...

Nathan, excellent post!

alana said...

Yup, yup, yup!

Jeff Wright said...

Nathan,

Thanks for the read. Here are my thoughts:

1. Your departure from evagelicalism (where I think you would place the church in Phoenix) to Orthodoxy apparently came from factors very similar to the ones which led me from pragmatic, man-centered worship to a more reformed understanding of faith. I can empathize with you on those points.

2. Here is why I can't accept Apostolic succession through the Biships:
(1) The scriptures indicate that Christ is the "chief cornerstone" of the Church with the Apostles serving as the "foundation." (Eph. 2:20 is the clearest articulation of this, other passages could probably be cited but would also likely be debated) I can't find anything in the Canon that indicates this foundation would be continued through the Bishops.

(2) The Bishops themselves contradict one another. The Biship @ Antioch declared himself the greater authority, The Bishop of Ephesus did the same. Going through Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople one sees the same mutually exclusive claims to greater authority. I realize that the Bishop of Rome eventually won out through (what I believe to be) coincidence. However, how do you choose one Bishop over the other when they all have Apostolic succession regarding their office?

3. Also, I don't think the Canon and doctrine of the Trinity can be brought in to favor a more Catholic understanding of the church. As you and I have discussed already, I don't understand the Church councils to have produced those doctrines ex nihlo but rather recognized the truth that had already been presented and handed down by the Apostles through their writings, not through the Bishops.

I hope this gives a clear enough presentation of my position to encourage greater discussion.

Nathan said...

Jeff -

I suppose my church in Phoenix would be considered evangelical, to a relatively large degree. I do wonder, though, if seeker-sensitive churches ever really do fall into that grouping. Evangelicalism seems to entail certain ideas & commitments that many seeker churches just don't live up to. Reformed theology is definitely not man-focused, but neither is it the historical understanding of the faith. Aside from a few writers, such as St Augustine, it received no widespread acceptance until the Reformation.

"...I can't find anything in the Canon that indicates this foundation would be continued through the Bishops."

I think you'd agree that the building analogy would include a continuation of some kind (see verses 21&22) - a foundation by itself is pretty useless. Given the obvious historical development of the church and the Apostolic appointment of the leaders of the early church, I think the office of bishop is that continuation. This is particularly so in light of the clear scriptural teaching on the qualifications of the men who will hold that office.

I'm not really sure what you're talking about as far as it regards the second half of point 2. It is true there was some debate as to which see should be considered primary, but it really wasn't a debate about authority, per se, at least not as it came to be defined by Rome. It was about the first place of honor, not universal jurisdiction. Even now, Orthodoxy would happily give primacy to Rome as a first among equals, but not as the infallible, universal primate. We certainly both agree, as does Orthodoxy, in rejection of modern papal claims. In that sense, it cannot be said that "Rome eventually won out" because it only "won" in the Christian West, not the entire Christian world. Because of this, there is no need to pick one Apostolic See over any other - 4 of the 5 ancient sees are in communion with each other (or were while they still existed) and the 5th has clearly (to me, anyways) departed from the historic understanding of the bishop's authority.

I'll be addressing the issues of the Trinity and the canon in my next post - hopefully coming up tomorrow.

Jeff Wright said...

Reformed theology is definitely not man-focused, but neither is it the historical understanding of the faith. Aside from a few writers, such as St Augustine, it received no widespread acceptance until the Reformation.

Of course you are right - by definition "reformed" faith must have begun at the time of the reformation.

However, just because that label was applied at that point doesn't mean it isn't the closest tradition to the belief and practice of the early church, which I believe it to be (considering it's conformity to the pattern of the NT)

I think you'd agree that the building analogy would include a continuation of some kind (see verses 21&22) - a foundation by itself is pretty useless. Given the obvious historical development of the church and the Apostolic appointment of the leaders of the early church, I think the office of bishop is that continuation. This is particularly so in light of the clear scriptural teaching on the qualifications of the men who will hold that office.

The continuation is found in those verses as well. Paul writes "You are the household of God..." He's writing to the church, not Bishops in particular. The conclusion is pretty straightforward for me: Christ - Apostles - Believers. It fits that text (as I believe it does other texts that address the issue.)

I can't buy in to the development of the bishopric as a valid apologetic for the practice. Heresey developed as well. Not all the latter developments of the church indicate God's supernatural care/guidance...only the ones that conform to the commands and patterns of the NT.

Thanks for the reply. Looking forward to the next post.

Anonymous said...

Christian Century

May 18, 2004

Those Lucky Orthodox
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_10_121/ai_n6146631

THOSE LUCKY ORTHODOX: There are good reasons why Western Christians have difficulty communicating with Orthodox Christians, says Ellen Charry(http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3664/is_200404/ai_n9348839). The East had no Pelagian controversy, so the Orthodox could pursue the perfection of monasticism unhindered; theology never became scholasticized there, so they don't have the West's preoccupation with theological method: they experienced no reformation, so doctrinal differences are not for them the engine that drives institutional maintenance; and they never had to confront modernity, so doubt about God never shook their theological verities. Salvation for the Orthodox was never seen as an individualistic escape from hell, but as participation in God's restoration of the world, just as it had been understood in the patristic era. Orthodox theology is not captive to the academy; it is directed toward the life of the church, especially prayer and worship. Without having gone through the Enlightenment, the Orthodox are more confident about the human possibility of knowing and obeying God, and of God's restoration of the world

(Theology Today, April 2004).

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

At the risk of engaging in apologetics…

Even if one granted some fluidity in the model of Church polity described in St Paul’s letters, let’s recognize that even in the NT there is such a role as Episkopos, there is such a thing as the laying on of hands for the ordination to certain roles within the Church, and there is such a thing as an envisioned succession of teachers or leaders –of whatever name- within the Church (e.g. St Paul to St Timothy to those he would appoint after him to pass on the guidance and care of the community).

As I said, grant a certain measure of NT textual fluidity in the names and exact functions of those roles within the Church, if based on textual analysis alone. But then jump forward 30 or 40 years to the time when those whom the Apostles had raised up to lead the Church were older men. Take St Clement the bishop of Rome in his first epistle to the Corinthians, for example. Take St Ignatius the bishop of Antioch as another example, in the letters he sent to the churches of Asia minor and Rome as he went in chains to martyrdom. These were men who knew the Apostles. St Clement is mentioned in the NT. St Ignatius was a disciple of St John. In fact, during the time of St Clement’s letter, St John the Evangelist was still alive. When St Ignatius wrote his letters, St John had not been gone long. These leaders of the Church and Fathers in the faith describe Apostolic succession explicitly (Clement especially) and a Church polity that could be described as nothing less than monepiscopal (Ignatius especially). Jump forward another generation to St Irenaeus of Lyon who was a disciple of St Ignatius and St Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (who also had been a disciple of the Apostles) and he appeals explicitly to the Apostolic succession and passing on of Holy Tradition as the key to proper understanding of Scripture and the safeguard against the false claims and heresies of the Gnostics.

You basically have two options: Either these were expressing and upholding an understanding of Church polity that was consistent with Apostolic authority – or no one else got Church polity right or really understood what the Apostles were trying to pass on to us (whether through scripture or living tradition) until 1500 years later when the Calvinists came along.

Personally, I’m mystified how a Reformed could believe his faith and practice to more precisely coincide with the early Church –even the Church of Acts- than the faith and practice of those churches founded the Apostles and left in the care of their successors in the years immediately following the writing of the NT.

For some great reading on these and related topics, I highly recommend some essays drafted by a friend, Clifton Healy, that he wrote while pursuing the historic faith. Clifton is a professor of philosophy in Chicago and in process of becoming Orthodox:

http://www.geocities.com/chealy5/Learned.htm

One more note: your comments about bishops being in conflict with one another or being in error are certainly accurate, but they aren’t germane to the discussion. Why should it be impossible for any believers (bishops or not) to be in contact with one another or to be in error? When it comes to critiquing Orthodox polity specifically, you fall short here. Perhaps you have a Roman Catholic model more in mind. In Orthodox understanding, it is not necessary that bishops (or a specific bishop, as with Rome) be infallible (far from it). And just because someone can fill an Apostolic office badly doesn’t mean that one throws out the Apostolic office: it means that your bishop needs your prayers, and it may mean that you need a better man to fill the position, and may God provide if that is the case. In Orthodox understanding, the Church is not defined primarily by bishops, though they play an absolutely essential role, but each believer is responsible for the whole of the faith, all true obedience takes its value and power and force from our primary obedience to Christ, and it is the Church that is preserved as a pillar and ground of truth (as per St Paul) through the abiding presence of the Spirit, and not necessarily we (or bishops) as individuals that are so preserved.

-Doug

Ephrem Christopher Walborn said...

Doug, excellent comment. I learned a bit from it, too. I'm not all that well educated about the early church.

Nathan said...

"Doug, excellent comment. I learned a bit from it, too."

Doug is good like that and I wish he'd start up his own blog again! (hint, hint Doug)

Perry Robinson said...

Jeff,

Here is some food for thought from a former Calvinist.

Apostolic Succession: The doctrine isn't the teaching that Apostles continue but that a portion of their ministry is continued. So it is in perfect harmony with Eph 2:20.

The rivalries between episcopal sees were not claims to greater authority but of jurisdictional borders laregly. What is more, the episcopal system just was the polity of the early church, problems or no. There isn't any congregationalism or presbyterianism around.

Councils: The question to think about from a Reformed perspective is this. Are there any formal doctrines taught by your church that are not revisable and up for grabs? Is the Westminster Confession for example revisable? If doctrine is just what God teaches us, then it can't be revisable. It follows that those bodies that confess to teaching revisable theological formulas are teaching the teachings of men. The councils of the church operate with divine authority, which is why their judgments are not revisable. It is not a question of creating the doctrines ex nihilo, but of promulgating them with normative authority. They finally settle matters.

Perry Robinson
www.energeticprocession.com

Perry Robinson said...

Jeff,

Augustine wasn't reformed since he didn't believe in a penal theory of the atonement, sola fide, total depravity or limited atonement, among other things. Augustine's doctrine of nature and grace isn't identical with that of the Reformers. This is admitted by all sides. For example, see Alister McGrath's Iustitia Dei, on the history of the doctrine of Justification.

Perry Robinson
www.energeticprocession.com

Chase Vaughn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chase Vaughn said...

Perry said,
"The rivalries between episcopal sees were not claims to greater authority but of jurisdictional borders laregly. What is more, the episcopal system just was the polity of the early church, problems or no. There isn't any congregationalism or presbyterianism around."

Sweeping general statements. Bad. Bad. Bad. I will post a response i made to Nathan on Jared Moore's blog concerning this.


"I take issue with this statement due to its flagrant generalizations. I am in agreement if it refers only to AD 200 through to the Reformation. Yes, the episcopal form of government came to dominate during the 3rd century, but, to generalize the church government of the early church as hierarchical is to engage this question in a very superficial manner. Prior to St. Ignatius the testimony of the early church is in favor of two offices in the church: the office of elder/bishop and deacon (and maybe deaconesses, this is debated).

First, it must be pointed out that even if the testimony of church history from the apostolic fathers till the reformation shows the church as an hierarchy of bishops and elders, the testimony of scripture takes precedence. The scriptures are the very testimony of the Apostles. Now regardless of the testimony of church history, it can be shown very clearly that the NT form of government was plurality of leadership in which the titles elder and bishop are interchangeable. Episcopos, which is translated bishop/overseer, refers to the duty of the office. Presbuteros, which is translated elder, refers to the dignity of that office. A few scriptures will illustrate the interchangeability of these terms.

-Acts 20:17 “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders(presbuteroi) of the church to come to him” Speaking to this group of elders he said in verse 28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers(episcopoi).”

-Titus 1:5-7 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders(presbuterous) in every town as I directed you - if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer(episcopos), as God’s steward, must be above reproach…”

-In 1 Timothy 3 you have the qualifications of the two offices of episcopos and diakonos.

-Peter, an Apostle, wrote in 1 Peter 5:1, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…,” which shows that even Peter within the function of the local church government was a fellow elder.

-The elder/bishops are seen as a plurality in (Acts 20:17; Hebrews 13:7; James 5:14; Titus 1:5) The local churches were under the leadership of several elder/bishops.

-In 1 Timothy 4:14, the local churches collection of elder/bishops is called a “presbytery.” With all this stated, I move to the main contention.

Even though the NT church was not governed under separate offices of bishop and elder, I think you generalized the testimony of the apostolic fathers. It is clear that as early as AD 112, St. Ignatius mentions bishop and elder as two distinct offices. Later, in AD 185, Irenaeus gives an account of the apostolic succession of the bishops in Rome. He says, “we confound all those who in any way, whether for self-pleasing, or vainglory, or blindness, or evilmindedness, hold unauthorized meetings. This we do by pointing to the apostolic tradition and the faith that is preached to men, which has come down to us through the successions of bishops; the tradition and creed of the greatest, the most ancient church, the church known to all men, which was founded and set up at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. For with this church, agree every church…for in her the apostolic tradition has always been preserved by the faithful from all parts.” This statement was later used to support the see of Rome as the supreme see. Even later, in AD 259, we have Bishop Cyprian’s testimony that a quasiepiscopal system is fully established throughout the whole church. But, there are other early church writings that reflect a plurality of bishop/elders prior to Cyprian.

-The Didache (c.140): Chapter 15: “Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers.” -this shows a plurality of bishops and deacons, two offices.

Two writings from the western church:
Clement of Rome (AD 30-100); The 1 Epistle of Clement (c.90): Chapter 42: “The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons.” -notice the two offices and the plurality
Chapter 44: “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them.” - notice the plurality, the interchange between bishop and elder, and that they were there by the “consent of the whole church.”

The second western letter, though probably read in the east since it was written in Greek is The Shepherd of Hermas.
In Vision 2, chapter 4, a women added some words to the books that would be sent to Clemens and Grapte who would send the books to others while Hermas was told, “But you will read the words in this city, along with the presbyters who preside over the Church.” -It seems that the Roman church at this time was governed by a plurality of elders.

A shift in NT polity is seen in the writings of St. Ignatius, specifically Chp. 2, 3 and 7 of the Letter to the Trallians. He describes each church as being under one bishop and many elders. In chp. 2 he says, “It is therefore necessary, whatsoever things ye do, to do nothing without the bishop. And be ye subject also to the presbytery…” In chp. 3 he states, “And do ye reverence them as Christ Jesus, of whose place they are the keepers, even as the bishop is the representative of the Father of all things, and the presbyters are the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles of Christ. Apart from these there is no elect Church, no congregation of holy ones, no assembly of saints.” In chp. 7 he states, “He that is within the altar is pure, wherefore also he is obedient to the bishop and presbyters: but he that is without is one that does anything apart from the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons. Such a person is defiled in his conscience, and is worse than an infidel. For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ of God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop?”

While Clement of Rome during this same time period did not hold to St. Ignatius’s views on the bishopric, we have seen how he held to apostolic successionism. It is these two separate views that synthesize by the time Cyprian is on the scene in the mid-250s. It is then that he described the church in a quasiepiscopal form. It was quasi in the sense that all the bishops of the church were still viewed as equals and there was a certain amount of local church autonomy.

Your statement was a definite over simplification and generalization of the church structure of the apostolic fathers. Very early on there is clearly evidence of a NT and apostolic form of government; a government of a plurality of elder/bishops which was chosen by the local church body. Even if your statement were in fact true, it would have no weight against the NT, which reveals the authorized structure of the local church body."

Nathan said...

Chase -

"Sweeping general statements. Bad. Bad. Bad. I will post a response i made to Nathan on Jared Moore's blog concerning this."

It was actually on Jeff's blog, but who's counting? :) I had replied to your comment, but at that time, you were only able to respond to part of my reply. So I'll repost most of it here so you can respond if you have time. (My words are in italics, yours in quotes.)

While I will grant the importance of scripture, you are importing a Protestant standards into this debate - that in and of itself is ahistorical. The early church was not sola scriptura! This was especially so prior to the final formulation of the canon in the 4th century. The early church enjoyed the double gift of both scripture (definitively the OT, the 4 gospels and a fair amount of the rest of the NT that was generally accepted) and the oral tradition of the Apostles. We have to take the historical reality of the church into account and let that inform our intepretation of the Bible, granting that the Apostles provided teaching that was not wholly contained or communicated in their writings. You cannot start with the Bible and then reject history if you don’t know everything that the Apostles actually taught.

“Now regardless of the testimony of church history, it can be shown very clearly that the NT form of government was plurality of leadership in which the titles elder and bishop are interchangeable. Episcopos, which is translated bishop/overseer, refers to the duty of the office. Presbuteros, which is translated elder, refers to the dignity of that office. ”

Yes, the Bible uses elder & bishop interchangeably. However, it is not clear that bishop refers to the office and elder to the dignity of that office. Taking historical analysis into account, the monepiscopal office that we see starting in the 2nd century is largely presumed to be an outgrowth of the position of president in a council of elders. This president had specific liturgical functions & responsibilities as it regards the Eucharist. Given the centrality of the Eucharistic celebration to the worship of the early church, it is clear that such a position would carry with it certain distinctions, honors and authorities. The hierarchical nature of the church’s government is obvious and the very scriptures you presented bear this out. You’ll note that Titus, as an emissary of Paul, was set to appoint elders by extension of Paul’s authority. There was no voting, no congregational government - all decisions were made by the clergy and were final. This is what I meant by hierarchical and it is a historical fact largely unreflected in modern Protestant churches. There are some that do flirt with it, at least on an operational level, but it is clear that today’s Protestant clergy do not exercise the same spiritual authority that the elders/bishops of the early church did. To someone who rejects God’s continued guidance of the church after the Apostolic age, I’m sure the gradual defining of the office of bishop must seem like a corruption, but then again, such a view poses its own problems about the formulation of the canon and the doctrine of the Trinity in particular.

“Very early on there is clearly evidence of a NT and apostolic form of government; a government of a plurality of elder/bishops which was chosen by the local church body.”

As the verses you yourself demonstrated, the latter statement is incorrect. There may be instances wherein local church bodies appointed their own bishops/elders, but you have not convincingly demonstrated that this was the norm. You have one writing, the Didache, which seems to indicate this, while a host of historical & scriptural evidence points in the opposite direction. Clement’s epistle clearly references the appointment being done by “other eminent men”, not the local congregation. And the phrase “with the consent of the whole Church” need not refer only to the local congregation. Taken contextually, it is clear that Clement is speaking of the entire Body of Christ as represented by the specific bishops of local churches/regions, and those other bishops not present, but with whom they are in communion. Further, Clement references these individuals caring for the “flock of Christ” - not “their flocks” or “his flock” - a general statement about the church in her entirety. Thus, the “consent of the whole Church” is embodied in the consent of her bishops and does not refer solely to the local congregation.

“Even if your statement were in fact true, it would have no weight against the NT, which reveals the authorized structure of the local church body.”

And which reveals it to be hierarchical - you didn’t see too many people challenging the Apostles, did you? Does it follow that, after the Apostles’ deaths, the local congregations would reject the elders appointed by the Apostles and endowed with their authority?

Now I have to add something in regards to your statement on how Clement viewed the offices of bishop and elder - that he held them to be interchangeable. I will quote from "The Orthodox Liturgy" by Hugh Wybrew, who quotes 1 Clement 40 & 41: (Wybrew in bolded italics, Clement in bold)

Writing at the end of the first century Clement, Bishop of the Church in Rome, speaks in this way of the Eucharist, comparing some of the church's officials with the ministers of the sanctuary under the old covenant: To the high priest (i.e. the bishop) his special liturgies have been appointed, and to the priests (i.e. presbyters) their special place is assigned, and on the Levites (i.e. the deacons) their special services are imposed; the layman is bound by the ordinances of the laity...

So we can see quite clearly that Clement did not use the terms interchangeable, and indeed, saw a distinct difference in their roles. Of course, to equate the bishop to the high priest is a very significant thing since he was the highest religious official in Judaism's temple worship. What does this imply about the authority and position of the bishop among his flock?

Chase Vaughn said...

Nathan,

You said,
"Taken contextually, it is clear that Clement is speaking of the entire Body of Christ as represented by the specific bishops of local churches/regions"

I can see this since it is the same as reading Christ's words at the supper as "This is (representing and only representing) my body."

That's intended as a joke.

You said, "And which reveals it to be hierarchical - you didn’t see too many people challenging the Apostles, did you? Does it follow that, after the Apostles’ deaths, the local congregations would reject the elders appointed by the Apostles and endowed with their authority?"

More clearly, I am not trying to argue against a heirarchy of elders and congregation as much as I am arguing against a heirarchy of bishops and elders. The congregational form of government is more unsure due to verses that could be interpreted as church through representation (presbyterianism) instead of democratic voting (congregationalism). Again, while congregationalism is debatable, I definitely disagree with a hierarchy in the sense of bishops over elders due to the testimony of the NT.

You said, "So we can see quite clearly that Clement did not use the terms interchangeable, and indeed, saw a distinct difference in their roles. Of course, to equate the bishop to the high priest is a very significant thing since he was the highest religious official in Judaism's temple worship. What does this imply about the authority and position of the bishop among his flock?"

What does this imply? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. While I see Clement as benificial reading, as I said in my response, the NT is first-order. While Clement may use language of priest and levites, the NT nowhere in a clear and unambiguous way uses the language of priesthood for the formal ministry. It is used for Jesus Christ who is the High Priest and for the church who are a nation of priests unto God (priesthood of the believer). I say in a clear way because I am sure there may be some obscure and ambiguous passage in which that meaning can be eisegeted.

Second, you put so much weight on tradition. How do you know which tradition is right? Surely, you have to acknowledge that there are some contridictory teachings within the church's tradition. Actually, there are different traditions all together. You admit yourself that only one source I give (Didache, which is very early source) teaches the interchangability of elder and bishop. Why side with other sources against the Didache? Since there are different teachings found in the early church, which ones do you take as authoritative and not authoritative, right and wrong? Which ones rightly expand what was thought to be intended but not exactly taught by the apostles (according to the Greek Orthodox)?

Nathan said...

Chase -

"More clearly, I am not trying to argue against a heirarchy of elders and congregation as much as I am arguing against a heirarchy of bishops and elders."

Actually, over on Jeff's blog you took issue with my statement that the early church was hierarchical in any form. I have already granted that the role of the bishop was not explicitly defined in scripture. However, once you admit that the verses of the NT aren't in total agreement on the form & function of church government, you must turn to history to help inform your thinking. It is clear from very early on that the church was hierarchical and most scholars that I've read believe the council of elders was presided over by a president with special liturgical functions. This role developed into the episcopal office we see starting in the 2nd century where the role of the bishop is much more clearly defined. Now, as I see it, this development was the result of the guidance of the Spirit responding to the needs of the Church on the ground. When the movement was small and the believers more localized in any given geographic region, the authority of a bishop was likely not required. As the Church spread, however, the need for such leadership became more important. Now, you may reject that development on the basis that it is not explicitly found in the NT, but then you are squarely in the horns of a dilemma - neither is the doctrine of the Trinity. How can you accept the Trinity, which was not explicitly formulated until the 4th century, but reject the episcopacy which was clearly present by the 2nd? On what basis do you so discriminate between these 2 doctrines?

"What does this imply? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. While I see Clement as benificial reading, as I said in my response, the NT is first-order."

This is nothing but a dodge and you know it. It implies a great deal about the church's understanding of the bishop and demonstrates that understanding was present much earlier than you'd like to admit. Particularly as Clement is believed to have been a disciple of an Apostle. For Clement to use this kind of language, regardless of whether or not such language is present in the NT, implies a great deal about how the church viewed the bishop and when. Further, as I pointed out before, you are eisegeting your Protestant ideals into this discussion. The early church was not sola scriptura and thus you are not able to import that ideal into 1st and 2nd century thinking. Clement did not believe he was bound solely by the writings of the NT, particularly as he was discipled by an Apostle and moreso because the canon was not yet. For you to import your ahistorical understandings onto Clement's writings in order to dismiss the obvious challenge they pose to your argument is, to use your words, "Bad. Bad. Bad."

I'll have to respond to your second point later - I have a test to study for.

Chase Vaughn said...

Nathan

First, on another response you stated, "This lack of clarity & unity on a key piece of the puzzle is another strike against Protestantism, as far as I'm concerned."

That's clearly begging the question. Your arguing from an unproved assumption that consensus among a group somehow reveals the verity of a groups teaching. Clearly, Greek Orthodoxy and Catholicism are going to have much agreement within due to the authority of the magisterium, or from my perspective the tyranny of the magisterium. Protestantism is surely going to have more groups because protestant groups unite based on specific teaching and not upon apostolic succession(not saying GOrth. doesn't unite around teaching, just saying that the ultimate foundation for unity is apostolicity through succession). Protestants are going to have disagreements because they do not have a magesterium controlling the meaning but give the Bible complete ultimacy as the foundation for all religious belief. Does this mean persons can twist the Scriptures however they wish? Maybe not so easily within a reformation church that has united upon certain interpretations of the scripture, but outside reformed christianity it is surely easier. The Apostle Peter speaks of this when he says of Paul's writings, that "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction."

Second, you stated, "Now, you may reject that development on the basis that it is not explicitly found in the NT, but then you are squarely in the horns of a dilemma - neither is the doctrine of the Trinity. How can you accept the Trinity, which was not explicitly formulated until the 4th century, but reject the episcopacy which was clearly present by the 2nd? On what basis do you so discriminate between these 2 doctrines?"

There is no dilemma. Lurking within your argument is a proof-text fallacy and a false generalization.

First, you commit the proof-text fallacy by arguing that since there is no explicit proof-text for the Trinity in Scripture, it is proven that the doctrine is not found in Scripture and therefore we need church tradition. There is a place for inferential reasoning. There are things taught explicitly and by good and necessary inference in the Bible. Doctrines that are by inference taught in the text are just as much Scripture as explicit proof-texts. People commit this fallacy when they think that just because there is no proof-text for infant baptism(whether you agree or not), worshiping on Sunday, or the Trinity that they are thereby false doctrine. That is definitely not the case.

Second, upon that fallacy, you build a false generalization that the early church's teaching of the Trinity and the hierarchy of bishops and elders are identical matters. You argue that if I believe one then I should believe the other. While these teachings are similar, both being formulated in church history, they are also very different. The doctrine of the Trinity is a formulation of the clear teaching inferred from the whole of Scripture(reason is a gift from God). The separate offices of bishop and elder, while formulated in the tradition of the early church, has no grounding in the NT.

So, don't generalize these two teachings as being so similar that one must believe both or neither at all based on the assumption that since the Trinity does not have one proof-text it is not found in Scripture, therefore hanging on early church tradition just as much as the separation of the offices of bishop and elder. So am I dodging the issue? No! I would be if your link between episcopacy and the Trinity were sound. Though when fully examined, your argument is not sound. Therefore, I am not dodging the weight of Clement's witness on the teaching of the episcopacy. Clement is a great but fallible source. His writings do nothing for the separation of the offices of bishop and elder without the support of the NT.

I do not believe the Trinity because of the Nicene Creed or any other creed. I believe the Nicene Creed because I believe it correctly formulates the doctrine of the Trinity found in Scripture. If the Arians had won the day with homoi substance instead of homo substance, I pray that I would not base my belief only on tradition in error but also on the Word of God which teaches three persons, one substance.

Nathan said...

Chase -

"That's clearly begging the question. Your arguing from an unproved assumption that consensus among a group somehow reveals the verity of a groups teaching."

Were I speaking of some other discipline, such as psychology, then yes, I would be begging the question. We cannot look at the theoretical diversity of pscyhology, sociology, economics, etc, as proof that the entire discipline or thought-area is falsifiable. We are not, however, speaking of such things. I am not working from unproved assumptions. Rather, I am working from the words of our God and Savior (His prayer for the unity of His Body in John 17, for example), the words of His disciples (Ephesians 4, 1 John 1) and the testimony of the church they planted in His name. The distinct lack of unity among Protestant groups evidences an undeniable problem - such disunity is contrary to the Gospel. I will grant that disunity will exist in any church body due to our fallen humanity, but when it pervades as thoroughly as it does in Protestantism, it is clear that systemic failure has occurred. And since what separates Protestant groups is precisely their doctrinal positions, whether formally stated or not, then there must be something wrong with Protestant doctrine in general. This does not prove that all of Protestantism is false or that all should be discarded, but it reveals its ultimate failure. And we must ask ourselves - what other errors does this unity-error introduce? What other problems might there be? You speak of the Reformed churches as if they were immune to such things, but this is clearly not the case. There are many Reformed denominations - if you all believe the same thing, why aren't you unified? And we cannot separate the "true" Reformed churches from the rest of Protestantism - they are part and parcel of the whole.

"First, you commit the proof-text fallacy by arguing that since there is no explicit proof-text for the Trinity in Scripture, it is proven that the doctrine is not found in Scripture and therefore we need church tradition."

This is a straw-man of my argument. As you admitted above:

"Does this mean persons can twist the Scriptures however they wish? Maybe not so easily within a reformation church....outside reformed christianity it is surely easier."

Indeed, it was very easy for Arius to "twist the Scriptures" as he wished. The problem, though, is that he wasn't twisting them, not really. His reading of the Bible was legitimate, as is that of almost every arch-heretic in history. Most read the Bible quite well and exegeted it based on their own hermeneutical principles. That the Trinity is the proper hermeneutical lens is not an automatic given in Scripture! Thus there is no proof-text fallacy, as you admit when you allow that Scripture might be twisted by virtually anyone and as history demonstrates. Does the Bible support the Nicene formulation? Absolutely. Is that the only possible reading of Scripture as it regards the nature of the God-head? Absolutely not. Without an authoritative tradition telling us otherwise, we really could not prove the Trinity against the threat of the heretics. The Church successfully staved off Arius' attack by falling back on the Apostolic Tradition, which included the Scriptures but was not limited to them. It was that Tradition that said "Trinity" not subordinationalism, adoptionism, modalism, etc. It was that Tradition which provided the proper hermeneutic for understanding the Bible. You are putting the cart before the horse in a major way.

"Second, upon that fallacy, you build a false generalization that the early church's teaching of the Trinity and the hierarchy of bishops and elders are identical matters."

I don't believe they are identical matters, but they are clearly related.

"The separate offices of bishop and elder, while formulated in the tradition of the early church, has no grounding in the NT."

I'd say the grounding is limited, but not non-existent. Moreover, you are again importing sola scriptura into the early church - a doctrine it did not hold, and indeed, could not hold without a clearly defined canon. The fact remains that the NT actually doesn't tell us too much about church governance. We have the obvious authority (or is it tyranny?) of the Apostles, their appointment of leaders and the qualifications that those appointments should use in making their own appointments. Aside from prayer for the sick and teaching the flock, we don't really have much of any information on the specifics of their roles, how they functioned together & separately, how the various local church bodies interacted with each other, how they viewed the authority of the Apostles and the list goes on. With that dearth of information, you cannot definitely state that 1) the Bible precludes any such distinction and 2) that such distinctions were later developments and therefore non-Apostolic. What information we do have points to the adoption of the episcopacy very early and within the Apostolic age. You may dismiss this historical evidence as unbiblical, but then again, the central tenet of your faith, sola scriptura, isn't biblical either.

"So, don't generalize these two teachings as being so similar that one must believe both or neither at all based on the assumption that since the Trinity does not have one proof-text it is not found in Scripture, therefore hanging on early church tradition just as much as the separation of the offices of bishop and elder."

But it does. You have so internalized the Trinitarian understanding of God that you automatically see it as you read the Bible. To you it is a "clear teaching inferred from Scripture" but to our friend Keith over on Jared's blog it certainly wasn't. Nor is it to Jehovah's witnesses, Mormons and any other fringe Protestant groups. Since you think it is so clear, why don't you prove it to me? Give me your verses (at least some of them) and I will show you that, in fact, many of them can easily be read in a different way.

"So am I dodging the issue? No! I would be if your link between episcopacy and the Trinity were sound. Though when fully examined, your argument is not sound."

My argument is sound, especially as it becomes clearer that you are trying to impose modern Protestant standards on the early church. The fact of the matter is that no Protestant can definitely declare the whole of the Apostolic witness - they cannot delimit what is authentic and what is not based on Scripture alone because the early church did not have the canon and thus relied a great deal on Apostolic tradition which can only be accessed in her life and practice. For you to draw a hard & fast line between the NT and the history of the church that preceded it, defined it and authoritatively interpreted it, is obviously wrong.

Benedict Seraphim said...

Chase:

You make several unwarranted historical assumptions with regard to the reality of episcopal polity prior to A.D. 200.

At the risk of directing readers away from Nathan's excellent blog, but for the sake of brevity, let me point you to the following post on my own blog which deals quite specifically with the reality of bishops in the first century Church.

Eric Jay, “From Presbyter-Bishops to Bishops and Presbyters”: A review and response

My post is a review of Eric Jay's classical article on the development (he claims) from first century Presbyter-Bishops to late-second-/early-third century Presbyters and Bishops.

The problem with Jay's article--and this reveals the problems with your own account--is that Jay, and those with him, want to define a first century reality in terms of a second-/third-century reality. This is clearly fallacious.

But in point of fact, Jay himself cannot but admit in his own article that the four key characteristics of late-second-/early-third-century bishops existed in the first century, and we have evidence that they existed no later than the A.D. 90s. Those four characteristics are:

* the focus of the church's unity (Ignatios)
* the overseer of baptisms and eucharistic worship (Ignatios)
* the responsibility of implementing pastoral and disciplinary decisions of the presbytery (Clement)
* the important duty of communicating and maintaining good relations with other churches (Clement)

Now Jay, and others, want to call this single individual not a bishop but the president of the presbytery. I say, call it want you want, the fact remains: the reality is we have first-century bishops.