279 Comments

The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology

I am unashamedly a Protestant. I believe in sola scriptura, sola fidei, solus Christus, and the rest. I am convinced that Luther was on to something when he articulated his view of justification succinctly: simul iustus et peccator (“simultaneously justified and a sinner”).

But with the birth of Protestantism there necessarily came a rift within the western church. By ‘necessarily’ I mean that Protestants made it necessary by splitting from Rome. Jaroslav Pelikan had it right when he said that the Reformation was a tragic necessity. Protestants felt truth was to be prized over unity, but the follow-through was devastating. This same mindset began to infect all Protestant churches so that they continued to splinter off from each other. Today there are hundreds and hundreds of Protestant denominations. One doesn’t see this level of fracturing in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Not even close.

“But unity in falsehood is no unity at all,” some will protest. To a degree that is true. If the unity of the church meant that we would all deny the bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person, then that would be unity against an essential of the Christian faith. But there is no thinking Christian who agrees lock, stock, and barrel with what his pastor teaches. Yet, he is a part of that church. In this respect, he has prized unity over truth. We all have to do this. If we didn’t, each Christian would be his or her own church. The fellowship would be awfully predictable and quite boring!

Several evangelical scholars have noted that the problem with Protestant ecclesiology is that there is no Protestant ecclesiology. In many denominations—and especially in non-denominational churches—there is no hierarchy of churches responsible to a central head, no accountability beyond the local congregation, no fellowship beyond the local assembly, no missional emphasis that gains support from hundreds of congregations, and no superiors to whom a local pastor must submit for doctrinal or ethical fidelity.

Three events have especially caused me to reflect on my own ecclesiological situation and long for something different.

First, I have spent a lot of time with Greek Orthodox folks. It doesn’t matter what Orthodox church or monastery I visit, I get the same message, the same liturgy, the same sense of the ‘holy other’ in our fellowship with the Triune God. The liturgy is precisely what bothers so many Protestants since their churches often try very hard to mute the voices from the past. “It’s just me and my Bible” is the motto of millions of evangelicals. They often intentionally forget the past two millennia and the possibility that the Spirit of God was working in the church during that time. Church history for all too many evangelicals does not start until Luther pounded that impressive parchment on the Schlosskirche door.

In Protestantism, one really doesn’t know what he or she will experience from church to church. Even churches of the same denomination are widely divergent. Some have a rock-solid proclamation of the Word, while others play games and woo sinners to join their ranks without even the slightest suggestion that they should repent of anything. Too many Protestant churches look like social clubs where the offense of the gospel has been diluted to feel-good psycho-theology. And the problem is only getting worse with mega-churches with their mini-theology. This ought not to be.

Second, a man whom I mentored years ago became a pastor of a non-denominational church. Recently and tragically, he denied the full deity of Christ and proclaimed that the Church had gotten it wrong since Nicea. He got in with a group of heretics who were very persuasive. The elders of the church had no recourse to any governing authority over the local church; they were the governing authority and they were not equipped to handle his heterodox teaching. It smelled wrong to them and they consulted me and another evangelical teacher for help. It took some time before they could show the pastor the door, and they were bewildered and troubled during the process. The congregation wasn’t sure which way was up. Doubts about the cornerstone of orthodoxy—the deity of Christ—arose. This cancer could have been cut out more swiftly and cleanly if the church was subordinate to a hierarchy that maintained true doctrine in its churches. And the damage would have been less severe and less traumatic for the church.

Third, a book by David Dungan called Constantine’s Bible makes an astounding point about the shape of the canon in the ancient church. Dungan discusses the passage in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (6.12) when this church father famously spoke of four categories of literary candidates for the canon—homolegoumena, antilegomena, apocrypha, and pseudepigrapha. Dungan mentions that for Eusebius to speak of any books as homolegoumena—those twenty books that had universal consent in his day as canonical—he was speaking of an unbroken chain of bishops, from the first century to the fourth, who affirmed authorship and authenticity of such books. What is significant is that for the ancient church, canonicity was intrinsically linked to ecclesiology. It was the bishops rather than the congregations that gave their opinion of a book’s credentials. Not just any bishops, but bishops of the major sees of the ancient church. Dungan went on to say that Eusebius must have looked up the records in the church annals and could speak thus only on the basis of such records. If Dungan is right, then the issue of the authorship of certain books (most notably the seven disputed letters of Paul) is settled. And it’s settled by appeal to an ecclesiological structure that is other than what Protestants embrace. The irony is that today evangelicals especially argue for authenticity of the disputed letters of Paul, yet they are arguing with one hand tied behind their back. And it has been long noted that the weakest link in an evangelical bibliology is canonicity.

So, how do we deal with these matters? I once wrote a blogpost at Parchment & Pen called “The Ideal Church.” In it I said, “The ideal church can’t exist. And a large part of the reason it can’t is because we’ve made a terrible mess of things.”

I’m not sure of the solution, or even if there is one. But we can take steps toward a solution even if we will never get there in this world. First of all, we Protestants can be more sensitive about the deficiencies in our own ecclesiology rather than think that we’ve got a corner on truth. We need to humbly recognize that the two other branches of Christendom have done a better job in this area. Second, we can be more sensitive to the need for doctrinal and ethical accountability, fellowship beyond our local church, and ministry with others whose essentials but not necessarily particulars don’t line up with ours. Third, we can begin to listen again to the voice of the Spirit speaking through church fathers and embrace some of the liturgy that has been used for centuries. Obviously, it must all be subject to biblical authority, but we dare not neglect the last twenty centuries unless we think that the Spirit has been sleeping all that time.

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279 comments on “The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology

  1. Dan our independent ecclesiology has problems other than a broader ecclesiology that supports the Canon. In the Bible Churches of the Dallas/Fort Worth area the last 20 years has witnessed local church lay elders trash-canning their pastors for less than biblical reasons. Have we made a mistake in making lay-elders the final arbiter in the local church rather than a cooperative consortium of pastors of like faith? As a victim of such activity, it has caused me to rethink the concept of the autonomy of the local church.

  2. Thank you very much for this Dan. I am very excited about your new site. My Orthodox and Roman Catholic friends will enjoy reading this.

    • of course that your “orthodox” and RC friends will enjoy reading this, as Dan is serving yeasts that corrupt the real Biblical call of the church and leads to ecumenism.

  3. Larry, you are quite right that Protestant ecclesiology has more problems than canon. I’m sorry that you have suffered. As for final arbiters, that’s a difficult issue to address and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. I wonder why it is that in evangelical churches we often refuse to let those who are seminary-trained be on elder boards. I believe that elder boards should indeed have laymen on them, but I think they also should have those who have gone through the rigors of theological education and understand what it means to be committed to the scriptures. In evangelicalism especially the priesthood of the believer means a pooling of ignorance, which is quite different from the Reformation or biblical principle. More than one elder should have an MDiv or ThM.

    • “More than one elder should have an MDiv or ThM.” This is a strong and likely necessary statement yet the condition of many extant local churches is one wherein the “pastor” is the only “elder” with any formal bible training. One church from a major evangelical denomination I no longer attend had untrained teaching “elders” who brought in damnable heresies from Don Piper and The Shack. Today’s Church certainly needs elders trained in right doctrine, but the Church in every generation screams out for elders armed with spiritual discernment.

    • Daniel,

      Perhaps the real problem with Protestant ecclesiology is there is too much dependence on formal theological education in our churches. How much of the Scriptural ignorance in church “laymen” is likely the result of over-dependence on seminary-trained pastors? Move away from this system and laymen will actually be required to learn the Bible for themselves. Also, you commented, “More than one elder should have an MDiv or ThM.” Really? So before God chose 12 uneducated fishermen in their twenties to lead the early Church, we should have demanded that some of them do 6 – 10 years of seminary.

      The fact is, the lack of unity amongst Protestants has to do with,

      a) Carnality (1 Cor. 1)
      b) A lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 20:22, Eph 4).

      No man-made solution is going to cut it; the only Scriptural way to maintain the faith is through individual believers allowing themselves to be taught and controlled by the Spirit. As Paul said to Timothy, ” Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” 2 Tim. 1:13-14

      • bh: Where the heck did you get the idea that the disciples weren’t demanded to do something even more intensive than 6-10 years of seminary?

        First off, they were all Jews of one sort or another, and would be quite familiar with the Scriptures, and the jewish liturgy born from the Scripture to start with, even if ignorant of the inner meaning until Christ opened their eyes. True, they were uneducated in the classical sense. But Liturgy and constant hearing of the word as in the Temple and Synagogues, respectively, have a way of permanently embedding things in your thought patterns and memory that is quite effective.

        Above that, they all did 3 1/2 years living, working, eating, sleeping, waking, and breathing with the Savior Himself. Not only that, He personally opened their eyes that they might understand the Scriptures.

        In fact, one of the requirements set forth in Acts 2 for the selection of an Apostle was that the candidate have been with the group “from the beginning” — that is, for the whole 3 1/2 years.

        So the idea that we should not require some seminary training, or at least a doctrinal exam, prior to letting people be in an official teaching position such as eldership, based on some supposed lack of education on the disciples’ parts, is just preposterous.

        And if that weren’t enough, additionally to the Disciples let’s look at some other prominent leaders of the early church, including a few they themselves chose, and see if these were “uneducated” either.

        Well, the most prominent would the Apostle Paul. Fact is, though, he -was- educated as the top student at the top “seminary” (to use the modern term) in his day, and then after his conversion spent an additional three years learning from Christ in the desert prior to beginning his Christian ministry.

        Stephen quite clearly knew the Scriptures, as is evidenced by his romp through them (by memory!) in his final sermon. And not only did he know the Scriptures, he -understood- them, being “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. That kind and depth of knowledge and faithful life doesn’t come automatically or swiftly.

        Apollo was an educated man, and mighty in the Scriptures, although he had to be brought up to speed at the beginning of his ministry by a faithful couple. No biggie: he didn’t require much “seminary” because he’d already gotten it from somewhere, and they just had to fill in the gaps. But he definitely wasn’t “uneducated”.

        Luke spent many years with Paul, learning everything he knew, and carefully examining the eyewitnesses of Christ before ever writing his letters to Theophilus. Additionally, he was a doctor to start with, and so not an “uneducated” man by any stretch of the imagination.

        Timothy knew the Scriptures since childhood, having been taught by his mother and grandmother. And on top of that, he also spent several years traipsing around with Paul prior to being given his own ministry.

        In fact, Paul commands that Timothy not lay hands suddenly (that is, without examination or preparation) on anyone. Earlier in the same letter, he requires that candidates for the bishopric must not novices in the faith, and that the deacons must likewise be “proven”. An elder, he says (Tit. 1:9, cf. 1:5), is to “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” That kind of rhetorical skill isn’t just poured into you at your ordination. It takes time with a teacher, else he would not say, “as he has been taught”.

        So to use the Jewish leadership’s erroneous use of the terms “unlearned” and “ignorant” in reference to the Apostles as an excuse to justify letting people become elders and teachers who have no business being either elders or teachers, based on their real ignorance of the Scriptures, or without examination to determine whether they are ignorant or not, and without requiring them to get themselves taught, is itself ignorant and unlearned. And that not in the “miraculous” sense used in reference to the Apostles (e.g. “these are unlearned and ignorant men, but they speak so powerfully!”), but rather in the sense used by Peter [2 Pet. 3:16] and Paul [2 Tim. 2:23], which if persisted in will get you into the company of heretics destroying themselves.

    • Not at all knocking a solid foundation based upon higher education, but having a leadership with multiple graduate degrees specific to theological training is unrealistic and perhaps unnecessary. There are numerous people with those degrees who are not committed to scripture and thus should not serve on any eldership. The key ingredient aside from Paul’s qualifications is the ability to lead. Minus that all else is rendered mute.

  4. Dr. Wallace,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. A lot of what you have written has run through my mind for the past 2 years (or so). I love the symbolism of the Eastern Orthodox liturgies, just take issue with some of their theology. It wasn’t too long ago that I was listening to a podcast on AncientFaith.com where a Greek Orthodox priest was pointing out a problem with our Protestant position of “Sola Scriptura.” The priest’s point was that the Church didn’t have the 27 books of the NT listed out until the heretic Marcion (~150 AD). Somehow the Church managed to survive without the full of the NT for a century and a half! Would love to hear your thoughts on this sometime.

    Yours in Christ,
    Matt

  5. Matt, the priest is right in one sense–the Church managed to survive without the full canon for sometime. He’s wrong that the Church had all 27 books in their canon when Marcion was around; it took much longer to recognize the full canon of the NT. Of course, that doesn’t hurt his position. But the Church ‘managed to survive’? Is that the criterion of a healthy church–that it managed to survive? Even saying that, I’m not sure what he means by it. There was both an emerging canon consciousness in the second century AND a recognition that what the apostles wrote was uniquely authoritative very early on, even if the Church did not yet call it scripture. The authority of the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John was recognized and acted on as far back as we have data. The Muratorian Canon (second half of second century) spoke of these books as suitable for reading in church. It doesn’t call these books scripture but it does see them as bearing an authority that was different from all that followed. The opinion strikes me as something that had been true for a long time (and is confirmed largely even as early s Ignatius, c. 110); thus, the ancient church had most books of the NT, used them, and saw them as authoritative.

    On the other hand, I could argue that the Church also didn’t articulate the Trinity in any official creed until 381 and that the church managed to survive until that time. I don’t know any Orthodox who would think that pre-Trinitarian theological articulation was just fine and that we really didn’t ultimately need Constantinople and Chalcedon.

    • Thank you for responding! I do believe that he was being sarcastic when he said “managed to survive.” He was trying to make a case that the church functioned (thrived?) largely on tradition until the Church had defined the full of the NT.

      I do appreciate your response and you make an excellent point about the dates when certain texts were recognized as authoritative.

    • First Matt is correct, the phrase “managed to survive” is sarcasm aimed at the idea that all we need is the Bible and tradition has no role to play in the life of the Church (or “the life of the believer” as many Protestant Evangelicals like to say, since they essentially have no Ecclesiology). In the church I grew up in “tradition” was even a bad word, something to be avoided. So from a “Sola Scriptura” point of view, the phrase makes perfect sense: somehow they “managed to survive,” somehow by God’s grace maybe, unless of course they were all apostate (since the bishops were power hungry and the people didn’t have a bible). From a Catholic/Orthodox perspective it’s all silly. They didn’t somehow “manage to survive” like some lone blind sheep. Rather they were illuminated by the “The Faith which was once delivered unto the saints” that is the Churches Tradition, just the same as today.

      However, on the issue of Marcion, I suspect that Matt is confused. I believe I know the podcast he is talking about. The speaker was referencing the fact that the cannon took centuries to form and the first person to define a cannon was the heretic Marcion (whose cannon, a subset of the 27 books we know today, was obviously rejected). During this time there was no going back to “see what the Bible says” when dealing with heresies. It was the received Tradition of the whole Church (the Church Catholic) that the Bishops in counsel deferred to when defining Trinitarian Theology, Orthodox Christology, the Cannon of Scripture, etc. and not the other way around.

      Of course the 27 books of the New Testament existed prior to their canonization, but it wasn’t until Athanasius the Great that the 27 books we know as the New Testament were even listed anywhere (the 27 books we know today weren’t fully and completely recognized until the 4th century for the west and 5th century for the east). There were many writings flying around, some very reliable, some less so, and some not at all. It was the tradition of the whole Church that helped the Bishops decide what writings were reliable and should be read in the Church and which were not.

  6. It’s impossible to have statistics on this, but I wonder if we’d agree that for all our ecclesial uncertainty and divisions, it’s a lot more typical to have organic unity in Protestant churches. I don’t mean to imply Catholics/Orthodox cannot enjoy unity nor do I think all Protestant churches have unity; but, by and large, the Catholics I know differ on so many social, political, and theological issues – I wonder if the formal unity they have under the institution of the Church really is more important than the functional unity I have with a good 80-90% of my church on Sunday mornings. I mean, at the end of the day, we want both functional and formal unity, but a Church with formal unity (Pope, cardinals, bishops, catechism, etc) without functional unity (real life “one-anothering” of breaking of bread, fellowship, prayers, and single-mindedness) is lacking a whole lot.

    By the way, very excited to see your blog!

    • Hi Damien,
      I’d quibble with some of your wording, but overall, I think I know what you mean about formal vs functional/organic unity, and I agree that in many cases that is true. I too have seen single-mindedness in some Protestant groups that accomplishes impressive things and is a good example for us all. But, I think precedence must be given to the formal unity. In other words, the formal unity is, over the long term, foundational to “functional” unity. Isn’t this demonstrated over history, by the long term stability and fruits of the Catholic Church, compared to the ever more splintering Protestant part of Christianity? (So the apparent functional/everyday unity may not be all it’s cracked up to be)

       

      • Hi, Irene. Feel free to quibble :)

        It would be interesting for this distinction to be hashed out at greater length; perhaps it’s been done or perhaps it calls for a new treatment. But as I think about it just casually here, I’d say it’s hard to place a precedence on either aspect of unity – I think we both agree a church needs to be formally unified in structure as well as functionally/organically unified in spirit and mission. Jesus didn’t say the world would know we’re his disciples by our magisterial structure, but by our love for each other. It’s hard for me to admit that formal unity, then, takes precedence over functional. However, if I put too much weight on the latter, I could see how this can lead to (and has led to) the chaotic state of much of Christendom. Truth be told, we should all pray for the day that the church of Jesus Christ is formally and functionally unified.

      • Good point, true, about how the world recognizes us as disciples. I should refine my thinking to the functional unity being the fruit/result of the formal unity. I grant that on an individual level, that fruit is not always realized. But I still think that at least on a corporate level, functional unity is short-lived without formal unity ( the church is is pillar and foundation of the truth ).
        Amen to the prayers, friend!

  7. Damien, you make an excellent point. I could take it a step further and note that Roman Catholics often let heterodoxy and immorality sneak in among the priesthood when they should be guarding against such and taking a more active role in doctrinal and moral purity. But I think that the form that is in place in RC and Orthodox confessions is superior to what is found in Protestantism.

  8. Dr. Wallace,
    Really enjoyed the blog. Many non-denominationalists I know (including myself) are non-denominational so that we can have unity with all who embrace the tenants of Orthodoxy. Non-denominationalism is a way to have unity with the universal church without a denominational affiliation getting in the way of this. I believe that non-denominationism can facilitate unity rather than disunity. I find that many denominalists are unaware if this motivation for being non-denominational.

    • Pete, you are quite right. There *can* be a strong sense of unity among non-denominational fellowships, but of course there are unspoken restrictions on this: Calvinist churches may not fellowship with Arminian, cessationist with charismatic, or complementation with egalitarian, for example. And even though there are several universal movements within evangelicalism–such as PromiseKeepers–many evangelical churches shun such groups. And there is still the problem of lack of accountability to others outside the local body.

  9. Dr. Wallace,
    Your post reminds me of when Jeff Bingham said in class that the Reformation threw the baby out with the bathwater. Doctrinal accountability is the Achilles heel of most of evangelical Protestantism. A body such as the Southern Baptist Convention (basically a huge confederation of churches) is a big improvement improvement over the solitary church body but is still very inadequate at ensuring orthodoxy, or even consistent doctrine, among its constituent congregations. The best that can be said is that it provides a “cultural orthodoxy” but there is no real solution to divergent doctrine in a specific church other than the objecting members leaving that church. That solution does nothing to protect the less informed of the congregation.

    The other side of the issue is that, sadly, most of the denominations that have strong ecclesiastical structures have drifted into doctrinal error that those structures could not prevent and now cannot correct. Indeed, it can be said that their structures even perpetuate the problems since their courts and councils are no longer guided by Scripture or even the major creeds.

    Personally, I see much good in the Presbyterian model but the liberalism in the largest American Presbyterian body demonstrates that is does not ensure orthodoxy or Scriptural practice.

    • Tony, I agree with you that the organization-over-organism model within many denominations has allowed for doctrinal and ethical defection. In eastern Orthodoxy, doctrinal defection is not particularly common, though ethical and moral defection is much more so. I’m arguing that the *ideal* church would embrace the accountability, fellowship, and wide-scale missional thrust of the larger confessions, while strictly maintaining doctrinal and ethical fidelity. Non-denominational churches inherently miss out on several key aspects of how the body of Christ is supposed to function, while denominational churches miss out by prioritizing organization over organism, form over fellowship. In short, there is no ideal church, nor can there be today, because we’ve all made a mess of things since the eleventh century when Rome and Constantinople went their separate ways. But if we are all aware of the limitations of our own communions at least we can try to work with others for the sake of the gospel. Just think what would happen if the Church worldwide were to focus on spreading the gospel and pool its resources to do so! That of course is wishful thinking since Christians can’t even agree on what the gospel is! And yet, there are certain essentials that the historic church has always embraced, including the death of Christ that atoned for sin, the bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person, and the second coming of Christ. It’s a good place to start!

  10. Dan: Great post! I whole heartedly agree with you, and it is my strong belief that a significant contributor to the Protestant dilemma is that we have lost the sacramental understanding of “Church.” Each in their own way, the Catholic and Orthodox churches have an “organic” understanding of “The Church” which is lacking in the greater Protestant community. This organic, dare I say ontological, understanding of what the church “is” forms the glue which binds individual churches to the whole. Until we Protestants recover this type of organic understanding of what the church “is,” I fear we’ll never get beyond the apparent attitude that “it is our local church, and our local church alone that is faithful to God’s truth.”

    Again, thanks for your post!

  11. Dr. Wallace,

    It’s great to actually hear from someone that knows a thing or two about history. It saddens me to see the lack of unity among believers and denominations. As a member of a living and active church. I wish we would quit arguing about scriptures that have yet to be fulfilled. I wish we would quit discouraging other believers but rather encourage them. I wish we would look more to our history to see our ancestors, and to find out why we are here and why are things this way. The truth is, people just need jesus and a personal relationship with him, it is very simple. I am a student at NDSU in Fargo, ND. At NDSU we have around 3,000 international students. A common cry among atheists, internationals, and non-believers is that Christians are hypocrites. To this I reply, “Too many are, but not all!” People need to encounter the power of God and the love of Christ. So who is fighting? How can we fight for the Lord Jesus when we can’t stop fighting ourselves??? It truly is sad that people have to look through all the denominations and everything to find Jesus, but it is still quite simple. If we want change for the better, then we need leaders that can address such problems. We need to be a people that live and breath for Jesus and the glory of God, not be a people that is confined to the walls within our churches, leaving only to stir fights and accomplish nothing. Also, some churches claim that if you are not a part of their church, you are going to hell. NO GRACE AT ALL! NO MERCY AT ALL! Clearly such people have blinded themselves. We need Jesus and more of him, it’s as simple as this. It’s good to hear from someone that is historically educated like you! keep it up
    Steven

  12. Thanks for the article Dr. Wallace. I’ve just started reading “Retrieving Nicaea” by Khaled Anatolios which seems to be very instructive for this conversation. What would you say our exegesis might look like engaged with a more historically informed ecclesiology? Should there be some type of connection between ecclesiology, and exegesis?

  13. Mark, that’s a great question. Ultimately, I believe that the Bible must be our final authority but not our only authority. Luther appealed to reason and conscience. And for twenty centuries the Spirit has been teaching the Church. Calvin recognized the inner testimony of the Spirit as having a massive role in our understanding of the text. And Barth quotes from Church Fathers unremittingly in his magisterial Kirche Dogmatik (English translation, Church Dogmatics [http://www.amazon.com/Church-Dogmatics-Karl-Barth/dp/1598564420/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332211631&sr=8-1]). As much as Protestants tend not to care much for tradition, it really does have a place in our hermeneutic. The seven universal creeds of the ancient Church articulate especially a high Christology. They are not adding to scripture, but are, as Alistair McGrath wrote in The Genesis of Doctrine (http://www.amazon.com/The-Genesis-Doctrine-Foundation-Doctrinal/dp/0802843166/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332211172&sr=8-1), examining, interpreting, and systematically laying out what the deposit of revelation in the Bible is giving to us. We need to examine sympathetically yet critically what the Fathers have said—including modern Fathers of the Church—and glean from the wisdom that the Holy Spirit has imparted to them. The Nicene Creed is one of these traditions that needs to be examined in detail and wrestled with. In general, I can say that unless we see rather compelling evidence to the contrary in the scriptures, we should embrace what these universal creeds are teaching. In that respect, as my beloved professor, S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. would say, “Theology exercises a quality control on our exegesis.”

    • Dr. Wallace,

      I am glad to see this particular blog from an Evangelical that takes scholarship seriously – but also an Orthodox believer that views the relational aspect of intimate relationship with Jesus just as seriously (if not more). With this in mind, I am a young father of two, struggling through school to pursue an M.A. in Philosophy from an evangelical Seminary. I have thought hard about “the best of both words”, so to speak – a robust and rich history that takes the Christian tradition seriously, and holds it as having something to offer (as when you mention above concerning the Spirits not being asleep) and an emphasis on Evangelicalism. I say that to say this, What are your thoughts on the Anglican Church (of course, I mean that still holds to Orthodoxy)? I do have some reservations concerning Eschatalogy, Israel and the Church, and so on… But what are your thoughts, and have you ever considered joining their ranks?

      Thank you Dr. Wallace,

      Russ

      • Russ, I have thought about the Anglican Church quite a bit actually. I love the liturgy, the symbolism, the centrality of the Eucharist, the strong connection with the church in ages past, and the hierarchy. And yes, I have seriously considered joining their ranks–and still am considering it. There are some superb Anglican churches in the Dallas area. Quite surprising to me has been my choice of academic interns at Dallas Seminary in the last few years. Over half of them have been Anglican, and yet when I picked them for the internship I didn’t know what their denominational affiliation was. Exceptional students, devoted to the Lord and his Church, and committed to the highest level of Christian scholarship. And they have respect for tradition and the work of the Spirit in the people of God for the past two millennia.

    • I disagree that the Bible should be the ultimate authority because the Bible is rather a collection of documents of various genres written for various purposes: history, poetry, pastoral teaching, prophecy, and apocalypse. But nowhere do we find in it an exhaustive manual on Christian life. That is why we look to the Early Church and the Early Church Fathers as well. The Reformation was a rebellion against “tradition” and how the Roman Catholic Church abused it.

      Paul notably commands believers in Thessalonica not merely to read the
      Bible, but to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word [of mouth] or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). That is, Paul expects them to hold to church tradition, whether it is written (Scripture) or passed on by oral teaching. The Protestant translators miss this, because the NIV and other Translations translate the Greek word paradosis (“tradition”) as “teaching” when it is used in a good light but as “tradition” when used negatively. This approach distorts what the Bible actually says, distinguishing between two different kinds of paradosis, that of man and that of God.

      It is true that the Bible speaks very highly of the value of Scripture (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16), but never does it say that it is exclusively authoritative. Ironically, the Bible describes the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

  14. […] The problem with Protestant ecclesiology […]

  15. R. Catholics refuse to give communion to non-RC; most evangelical churches will offer communion to whomever claims to be Christian. Who is creating division and a loss of unity?

    The strength of doctrinal unity and eviction of wrong teaching in a formal organization is both a blessing and a curse–depending on which side of the argument you are on. It is very difficult to change a large organization whether for good or ill. Hence it is nigh impossible to change RC teachings that are in error, or those in large structural formal denominations that have gone liberal or accepted sin (Presbyterians, United, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.). It’s a two edge sword, an I’m not convinced that either is the better cut. Hmm, and even having a hierarchical power structure in place did not prevent widespread doctrinal experimentation.

    Also pertinent to this discussion is whether the early charismatic church with a flat structure is where we should aim and stay ecclesiologically, or whether we see the development of a centralized bureaucracy and power structure as Spirit led.

    • It is not intended to cause division in withholding the Holy Eucharist from a non-Catholic. We pray that all may be one, and partake of the body and blood of our Lord! Catholics believe in the “real presence”, or “transubstantiation”– which is that Christ is fully present, body, blood, soul, and divinity,in the Eucharist after consecration has taken place. So if one does not understand and fully embrace this belief, then from a Catholic perspective, they would be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord– 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29, and also: 1 Samuel 21:4. “That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses,’ says St. Thomas, ‘but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.’ For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (‘This is my body which is given for you.’), St. Cyril says: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.'”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, 75, 1;cf. Paul VI, MF 18; St. Cyril of Alexandria, In Luc. 22, 19: PG 72, 912; cf. Paul VI, MF 18–CCC # 1381.

      • We are, of course, not going to resolve the argument over transubstantiation here. But I will state that those of us who disagree with Roman doctrine do not consider ourselves to be doubting the statement of Jesus, rather the Roman understanding of those words. We look at the scene of the Last Supper, and when Jesus says, “This is my body,” we see his physical body already fully present, unchanged before, during, and after the Supper. And we recognize that since Christ died for sins “once for all” (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27), the Eucharist cannot be a re-enactment of his death (which is unnecessary as well as impossible), but a “remembrance,” as Jesus explicitly states (Luke 22:19, also 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25). So we seek to honor the Lord’s Table in a fashion consistent with the whole testimony of Scripture, unencumbered by the additions of later writers which vary from the sacred deposit.

      • The problem is nobody ever doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for over. 1500 years . It seems that the early church did absolutely nothing right according to Protestants. It got the Eucharist wrong . It got salvation wrong. It had a flawed ecclesiology. It got the idea of Sacraments wrong. The church had a great and glorious beginning and suddenly blinked off only to blink on again 15 centuries later. Obviously the apostles were total failures because they didn’t pass on to their successors anything Protestants hold dear. Maybe we should examine our theology in the light of history and ask the question why do I believe novel doctrines that nobody believed for the vast majority of church history.

      • “So we seek to honor the Lord’s Table in a fashion consistent with the whole testimony of Scripture, unencumbered by the additions of later writers which vary from the sacred deposit.”

        The “sacred deposit” includes not only the written canon of scripture, but necessarily the “sacred tradition” as well the interpretative authority of the church itself (bishops in union, etc.). BTW: BOTH the Orthodox and Catholic Church have a common understanding of the “real presence” in the Eucharist — although they describe it in different ways (In fact: Roman Catholicism formally accepts the Eastern Orthodox church’s Eucharist as valid). BOTH can trace this understanding of the Eucharist back to the first century, and is repeated over and over again in the writings of the church fathers, the councils, etc.

        The scriptures you referenced below weren’t even widely available to the early church for the first century. The canon itself was not even firmly established until at least a couple centuries later. The idea of “sola scriptura” determining every single affair/practice of the church was unheard of. There is ultimately only ONE source of authority in the Church — and that is Jesus Christ himself. But he has passed ON his authority to the apostles and their successors (as the early church unanimously affirmed). It is not scripture alone, but Christ’s CHURCH that is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15)

        Note that Jesus didn’t even explicitly state “how often” believers were to have the Eucharist — and yet in I Corinthians 10 and 11 you essentially have an implicit “tradition” of Christians meeting regularly (typically Sunday).

        See also John 6: And the entire “bread of life” discourse:

        “48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

        52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

        53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”

        ——————-
        And I Corinthians 10, 11 — where the Lords supper is described as a “participation” in the sacrifice of Christ and “proclaiming the Lord’s Death”
        ——————–

        I Corinthians 10:14…
        “14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

        18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”

        I Corinthians 11:
        “23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

        27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.:

  16. I’m glad to see your entry into the blog world. I’ve enjoyed many online blessings from your writings, from your case for the plurality of elders to the head covering in 1 Cor 11 to the Bible & alcohol. (Not that I always agree, but I always am challenged and learn something.)

    Regarding “The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology,” what would you say the “third way” groups of the Radical Reformation have to add to our understanding of ecclesiology? Or perhaps you are already including them in your broad Protestant category?

  17. Thanks for a great post, Dr. Wallace. I agree with what you have written and would love to see more unity in the Protestent church. However, I’m wondering whether you would agree that the proliferation of churches has had a positive effect aswell. For example, splinter groups tend to have a unity that the larger Church lacks, and this seems to allow (at least initially) freedom from disractions and more focus on their strengths and impressive fruit (I’m thinking evangelistically for example). I wonder if this is also why reports of revival seem more frequent in Protestantism. Do you think that God is using a crooked stick to draw a straight line, even as he oversaw the splintering of Israel?

  18. […] like this particular article from him. (Can it be true that we Protestants have no ecclesiology at […]

  19. Convincing and well-written post, Dr. Wallace! The more I think about and study these issues, the more I’m convinced of what you say. I’m very glad to see you in the blogosphere! Perhaps it will help me keep up with my Greek you taught me 5 years ago ;)

    • Oh, I rather doubt that your Greek has diminished, Luke! You were a superb student! Have your PhD yet?

      • My final year at DTS I decided against getting my PhD and instead went for 2 more years of school to enter the healthcare field (occupational therapy to be exact). I began to see the world less dualistically and see the redemptive value of other professions. I have a passion for academics but a greater passion to see academics brought to the church; in other words to try to bridge the gap that exists between academy and church. As a lay leader at a future church I think it will be a wonderful opportunity to do that. A seminary-trained guy working a “secular” job perhaps teaching classes (deeper, academic-style classes) at a local church to help the laity dig deeper in their pursuit to know Jesus. That’s the dream at least. We’ll see how it goes! If a PhD happens it’s years in the future. You’ve been doing some great work by the way. I’m definitely proud to say you’re my former professor! I brag about it :)

  20. Wow, I could barely have put it better myself, but it means so much more coming from a Protestant. This is exactly one of the main reasons I became Orthodox. One of the others is that I grew weary of always sitting in judgement of the church. Canon, theology, Luther was always asking me to judge the church. I’m an active participant in so many theological Internet debates, that I know the pros and cons of all the arguments, and after a while doubt my own ability to sit in judgement of not only the church, but also of the historical church. That’s too much burden for me.

  21. […] Norelli), which is definitely something I plan on following closely into the future.  He put up a post the other day highlighting issues I’ve touched on in the past (1, 2), and I can only say: […]

  22. Dear professor Wallace, my name is Emerson and I’m christian apologist in Brazil. I’m very fan of yours. See my channel: http://www.youtube.com/logosapologetica.

  23. […] can read the entire post here. It is a fascinating read. Catholics and Orthodox will be pleased with much of what Wallace writes. […]

  24. This resonates with my heart and experience so much that I was on the edge of my chair from the beginning. Thanks so much for putting into words what we (Protestants) so desperately need to hear. Though the unity Jesus prayed for seems so elusive (John 17:11, 23), somehow I suspect that his prayer will be answered…..someday.
    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

  25. […] post The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology is a must read for every believer who claims allegiance to the Protestant tradition. There he lists […]

  26. I have wondered and discussed many times what a power for good the believing church would be in the world if we didn’t waste so much time, energy and effort squabbling among ourselves.

    I attend a church where we have a minimal requirement for membership (I guess some would think we are too loose); we seek to cooperate with other churches on service projects who also want that kind of inter-group contact; and we are seeking to help encourage a small evangelical group in Bosnia. It is so enjoyable to meet and work with other believers without having to check out the details of their practice, eschatology, or theological bias. So far, so good and it gives a glimpse of what might be accomplished for the kingdom.

  27. Dr. Wallace: My son Zach is enjoying writing his thesis under your assistance. Thanks for your help. The field of textual criticism seems wide open and full of promise. Hopefully, he can continue the digging at Cambridge. I myself ran out of $ to continue my Ph.D. at DTS, alas. But we are grateful for the opportunity Zach has in front of him.

    Thanks also for the blog comments on the problem of evangelical ecclesiology. A few pregnant observations after serving as a teaching shepherd in a Bible Church here in Florida for almost a quarter of a century:

    1) I met with my Elder Team and Elders-in-training for seven years every week early on in my tenure here. We journeyed through the Bible and unpacked what it meant to be an Elder/Overseer/Shepherd of God’s people. The training has paid off. I am now meeting with three new Elders and doing the same thing.
    2) I received a jump start while taking a Ph.D. seminar to use a canonical/literary approach to understanding Luke/Acts. I had used the technique much earlier while doing a dissertation under Dr. John Sailhamer back in the late 80’s. So, in order to answer the question, “Who is in charge of Jesus’ Church today?”, I began examining Luke/Acts together as one book in stereo. Now, after examining the text and thinking it through for some years, I think I can prove that for Luke, the Elders/Overseers/Shepherds are the inheritors of many aspects (how many? Not sure yet) of the apostolic office. In other words, the changing of the guard pattern we see in demonstrated from Jesus to the apostles is intentional reproduced in Paul to the Elders. The pattern is repeated over and over again in order to gain acceptance.

    I know that is a mouthful. But the Luke/Acts text conveys this message is so many places and ways. It’s exciting to discover it. Wish I could communicate it. Thanks for listening. Tim Cole

    • Tim, I have grieved over the fact that you don’t have the funds to finish your PhD. If funds were available, would you get back into the program? From what I know about you, you are close to the ideal pastor—one who is committed to the Word, exalts Christ at every opportunity, trains elders to become the spiritual leaders and teachers that scripture requires of their noble office, and is a godly influence in his realm. We need guys like you who are pastor-teachers to guide the church in the 21st century.

      • Dr. W: Thanks for your very generous words and question. Yes, if funds were available, I would finish the Ph.D. The distance between Florida and DTS is the problem. 16 airline flights per semester is what drives the price up beyond my reach. I managed it for a few semesters. But you can do the math of what that would cost.

        My vision is to find a Pastoral Ministries position somewhere and a church pulpit (keep one foot in the church and one foot in the academy), and thereby finish a Ph.D. Then I feel passionately about using the school as a platform from which to hold seminars and conferences for Elders and also gather a team of writers to produce a series fo books on the subject. I’ve served as a Teaching Shepherd for 30 years and have never heard of a conference or seminar or read a well-written book/series of books on what it means to be an Elder/Overseer/Shepherd/Pastor in a NT church. Never. Yet, Pastor’s conferences are held continually. But nothing for the most important office in the church: the office of the Elder=Overseer=Shepherd=Pastor: Guardians of the Gospel, Guardians of Jesus’ flock, Guardians of themselves. As I mentioned in the previous post, I can prove–from Luke/Acts–that Elders are the rightful heirs of the apostles. What the apostles were charged to do, the Elders are charged to do as well.

        Elders deserve some training and development. I’ve seen our Elder team rise from minimal understanding to fulfilling the NT job description. Funny thing: it works.
        Thanks for listening and caring. tim cole

  28. The first comment of this blog was by Dr. Larry Lucas and his comment struck a chord with me. However I don’t think the problem is with the local church having autonomy. The problem is with the sinfulness of the people involved. Many a local church is served very well by wise God fearing and humble “lay” elders (I don’t like that word) but there sure are many examples of elders having caused pain and suffering by not being wise, God fearing or humble. Local church autonomy should go together with voluntary accountability to the other churches in its denomination. (I don’t know the situation in which you were involved but I wonder if this accountability would have made a difference.)
    Thanks for starting and interacting in this great discussion Dr. Wallace.

  29. 1) Generally, your arguments sounds like so-much traditional Romanist apologetics. Once you cross over, you’ll find far less harmony that you envision.

    2) I think you may be confusing too much American Non-denominational Christianity (such as that DTS is commonly associated with) with the historic Protestant movement, at large. American dispensational/revivalistic/etc. movement is not the sum total of Protestantism. Protestantism is, properly and historically speaking, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Reformed. Those historic churches have more in common with what you are searching for than you describe above.

    3) I’m surprised to read these types of statements regarding church authority and tradition, given that you have probably done more than anyone else in modern evangelicalism to promote a non-traditional text of Scripture.

    • Andrew, you are of course right that historically Protestantism is related more to those denominations—at least through the 18th century. But beginning in the 19th, and getting a full head of steam in the 20th, things changed. The Protestant church in America today especially does not resemble its historic forbears in the way you describe. That is what I am addressing. And yes, to a large degree I think that the Protestant church would be better off if we were to have fewer denominations with stronger accountability. But I don’t get your point about finding less harmony than I envisioned once I cross over. As for the supposition that I have done “more than anyone else in modern evangelicalism to promote a non-traditional text of Scripture,” I think that you are quite wrong for three reasons. First, if the most traditional text of scripture is the autographic text, then all I have done is to help the Church (in a very, very small way) to get back to it. Second, the standard Greek NT text that is used in seminaries today is one that I made ZERO contribution to. Third, those who did contribute to it represent all three branches of Christendom.

      • Dr. Wallace –

        If your argument, then, is against non-denominationalism and revivalism, I’d like to see you aim your critique at them. There is no Protestant ecclesiology, per se. The Protestant movement has more to do with Justification than organization.

        By ‘crossing over’, I meant Rome. Rome tries to be all things to all men. It is a moving target. You’ll find no certain rock there. Others can argue this far better than I can.

        Regarding the traditional text statement, I am responding to the “It’s just me and my Bible” attitude that you are critiquing above. You recoil against a believer who thinks he can just sit down and work out his theology without the benefit of 2000 years of teaching – “They often intentionally forget the past two millennia and the possibility that the Spirit of God was working in the church during that time.”

        I’m accusing one of having the same spirit when he claims, it’s ‘just me and my parchments’. Can one sit down with his fragments and re-create the Word of God, sometimes forgetting the past two millennia and ignoring the possibility that the Spirit of God was working in the church? I don’t mean this as an apologetic of the traditional text, but rather to state that the science of textual criticism is a very Protestant undertaking in itself. (Do the EO use the NA27 in their liturgy?)

        By the way, I hope you don’t underestimate your influence in this area. How many an unnerved country preacher feels comforted in their use of critical texts because such eminent evangelical scholars promote them?

  30. Great entry on your blog Dr. Wallace, I was raised Roman Catholic and now, after a long time in non-denominational Churches, am Reformed. I have to say though, I don’t believe there is a solution to all of the problems. But if I were to come up with the best solution, put theologians at the helm of the individual churches: gracious men willing to serve the “least of these”. But I’m afraid the power of sin as described by Paul in Romans 7 is too great a force to really clean up the mess. I leave with this paraphrase from Ecclesiastes: don’t be overly-righteous and die before your time. As Luther expounded this text, he explained it to mean, don’t try to make everything right in the world but just do the best you can and leave the rest to the Lord.

  31. Dr. Wallace, I was just made aware of your blog and want to express my appreciation for the time you take. It will be a benefit to this Pastor.

    My entry to the blog was the post on Protestant Ecclesiology and I was most appreciative of your studied and wise thoughts. I was also most grateful for the comments. I am a 1981 DTS grad who has struggled greatly with the issue you address. It was after a series I did on the “Apostles Creed” in our church that I became increasingly convicted about ‘the Holy catholic church’. I left independency for the SBC and while it has been a positive move for me, I have run into the poor ecclesiology regularly in that venue.

    As you have time, I offer one observation with the hope you might offer me some further food for thought. You say: “the cancer could have been cut our more swiftly and cleanly if the church was subordinate to a hierarchy that maintained true doctrine in its churches.” I certainly appreciate the wisdom of that observation but I observe one weakness in the assumption–IF there is subordination to a hierarchy THAT MAINTAINED TRUE DOCTRINE. As I listen and watch our Roman Catholics and Orthodox brothers (and I believe wholeheartedly there are brothers there just as I assume there are some brothers in the SBC!) the challenge is when that heirarchy maintains doctrine without the truth. In some senses, the Protestants didn’t split from Rome–they were driven out. There might be a case for the value of ‘poor ecclesiology’ in some instances?

    • Everett, I agree: ‘IF’ they maintained true doctrine is a big ‘if.’ I wonder, however, if the history of Protestantism is all too much the history of splitting away from others rather than working from within to correct the damage done. Protestants broke from Rome in the 16th century, and evangelicals broke from liberals at major seminaries in the early 20th century. We lost revenues, libraries, and good faculty who were on the fringe of the theological debates. Evangelical seminaries are still playing catch-up: professors at conservative schools have to teach more courses, get less pay, don’t attract the very best students because of less tuition assistance, and don’t have nearly the resources for scholarship that their liberal counterparts do. In order for evangelicals at such schools to make much headway in serious biblical scholarship, they have to work much harder than others. For a long time I have thought that our departure from mainline schools was a mistake and that we should have stayed and fought the system from within. I’m glad to see some stellar evangelicals do just that, but there aren’t many of them–especially in America.

      • Thank- your for taking the time to respond. As to the staying, I am torn. In part because I am probably incapable BUT Schaffer in his little book on the mark of the Christian noted positively those who stayed in the Presbyterian church when he left with Machen. I am finding it more beneficial–not easy though–staying in the more lattudinal arm of the Baptists in VA than going with the ‘conservatives.’

        Can’t thank-you enough for your work in this blog. Pray for you and gives thanks for men with the gifts to do the kind of battles in which you are engaged.

  32. […] The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology « Daniel B. Wallace. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  33. Dr. Wallace,

    Thanks for an interesting article. I grew up Evangelical (Peninsula Bible Church, which you will know), but moved toward Orthodoxy in the last few years. At the foundation of my change was your comment here: “but we dare not neglect the last twenty centuries unless we think that the Spirit has been sleeping all that time”.

    When I discovered how “catholic” the Early Church was from the 1st Century onward–in ecclesiology, sacraments and liturgy–I could no longer be a non-denominational Evangelical. How could the Spirit allow the Church to become so “catholic” so quickly if this were not authentic apostolic Christianity? I attended an Anglican church for a few years, but eventually found my home in Orthodoxy.

    What I do not understand is your continued insistence on “Sola Scriptura”. You write “Obviously, it must all be subject to biblical authority”, but your third point regarding the canon of the NT is precisely that its selection was not “subject to biblical authority” but rather subject to the consensus of the Church, especially the Bishops. This suggests there is obviously an authority–i.e. the Church, which is the deposit of Apostolic Faith, as reflected by the consensus of the Fathers– that coexists with biblical authority and antedates the NT canon. If that is true, Sola Scriptura cannot be true.

    • Eric, you ask some very good questions. I do not see the canon as as subject to the consensus of the Church, but rather as that which was discovered by the Church at the direction of the Spirit. The issue here is this: Did the ancient Church determine the canon or discover it? Another way to put this: Is the canon an authoritative list of books or a list of authoritative books? Protestants regard it as the latter and for very good reason: there never was a universal council that confirmed what books belonged in the Bible. As William Barclay once commented, the reason why the 27 books became the New Testament is because nothing could stop them from doing so. Further, the ancient church didn’t have unanimity about seven of the NT books, and yet they got ‘in’ just the same.

      • ” Did the ancient Church determine the canon or discover it? Another way to put this: Is the canon an authoritative list of books or a list of authoritative books? Protestants regard it as the latter and for very good reason: there never was a universal council that confirmed what books belonged in the Bible.”

        Three problems. When our side talks about the authority of the church in this matter, it was never a claim that the church was acting independently of God.

        Secondly, our side has never claimed that a universal council is required to determine doctrine. So what you say is a “good reason” looks to us like a non-sequitur.

        Thirdly, the problem always breaks down to how you as an individual knows the canon, and in this matter, you must look to the church, and just how active or passive the church is in promulgating this authority, it still remains that it has this authority, and if you read Protestant sources carefully, they end up conceding this.

      • Chris,

        It’s remarkable to me that you keep making historical assertions (telling us what Eastern Orthodoxy “never claimed”, etc.) when you think there’s something you can appeal to in history to support your position, yet you tell us about how little we can know about history, how we shouldn’t rely on our judgments about history, etc. when you sense that a historical discussion isn’t going your way. You keep contradicting yourself.

      • Dr. Wallace,

        I am not at all sure that the “determine” versus “discover” distinction here helps your argument. Let’s suppose for example that this is a distinction with an important difference. The first question is obviously this: how was the canon discovered? Was the canon written on a golden tablet long since destroyed? Was it revealed by miraculous revelation? Your “discovery” requires logically a discoverer. Why should we trust this discoverer?

        However the canon was discovered (which you do not explain), this notion undermines the very argument you have made above in the third point that the canon was “settled by appeal to an ecclesiological structure that is other than what Protestants embrace”. If the canon was simply discovered and that discovery was ineluctable–“because nothing could stop them from doing so”, you say–then no appeal to an ecclesiastical structure would be necessary at all. Since I assume you are not trying to undercut your own argument, I do not think your distinction is helpful.

        But really whether it was “discovered” or “determined”, you are implying that some discoverer–some authority other than the Bible–was doing the discovery or determination. So, if (i) everything must be subject to biblical authority to be considered orthodox and (ii) the canon was not discovered in or determined by the Bible, thus the canon based on your premise cannot be orthodox and the Bible cannot be authoritative. Since we would both agree that the Bible is indeed authoritative, Sola Scriptura is found to be self defeating.

        If the NT canon was “discovered”, it was discovered through a process of trial and error during 5 centuries during which time the Holy Spirit illuminated the Church to reject certain books that were initially part of the canon of books that could be read in Church, such as the Didache, I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas, as well as to accept books that were not, such the Pauline epistles and Hebrews. The Church which is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (I Tim 3:15) also had the authority to determine and refine the canon.

  34. Dr Wallace: I do not think your appeal to Eusebius was helpful, and I outline my reasons at Triablogue: Dr Wallace’s Problems with Protestant Ecclesiology

  35. The charge of widespread disunity among professing Christians was raised by Celsus in the second century (in Origen, Against Celsus, 3:10-12). The Christians of the early centuries often acknowledged widespread disunity among themselves, including organizational disunity, even though they affirmed unity on other grounds at the same time. We do the same today.

    We’re more aware of disunity in our day, for a variety of reasons. We have more information about modern times than we have concerning ancient history. We have a tendency to focus on the unity of the ancient Christians while neglecting the disunity they often acknowledged and which we can discern even where they didn’t acknowledge it. Etc. How much of our disunity is to be expected with the passing of time? How much of it can be attributed to changes that have occurred in our political systems, increases in literacy, etc.? I think people often underestimate how much disunity existed prior to the Reformation and prior to the eleventh century. Protestantism and its principles are often blamed too much.

    • But the pre-Reformation Church at least has a principled way to resolve problems of disunity. Protestantism, by its very nature, lacks any stabilizing structure ensuring ecclesiastical unity. Confessional churches who hold to The Westminster Confession, The Book of Concord, or some other interpretive framework, might come close. But Scripture alone has never worked historically to restore unity.

      For example, see St. Vincent of Lérin’s from his Commonitory (434 A.D.)

      “But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?
      For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (p. 5) (2:5).”

  36. Regarding Eusebius, it looks to me like Dr. Wallace meant to cite section 3:25 of his church history rather than section 6:12. And I don’t think we should single out bishops as Eusebius’ sources on canonical issues. He repeatedly cites non-bishops when addressing the canon (Origen in section 6:25 of his church history, for example). He uses a variety of phrases to describe the sources he’s citing on canonical issues, like “the early fathers”, “the traditional catholic writings”, “the ecclesiastical authors”, and “the earliest writers” (3:3). Those phrases are too broad to be limited to bishops. Just after the section of his church history that Dr. Wallace cites, Eusebius goes on to discuss Clement of Alexandria and his use of various New Testament books (6:13-14). Clement wasn’t a bishop.

    Even as far as Eusebius appeals to bishops, how is such an appeal anti-Protestant? There’s nothing inherent in Protestantism that denies the value of the testimony of bishops, as historical witnesses and otherwise. As far as their role as historical witnesses is concerned, they would lose relevance with the passing of time. The testimony of a modern bishop doesn’t carry nearly as much evidential weight as the testimony of somebody like Papias or Irenaeus. Eusebius began work on his church history in the third century, and he cited sources going back to the first century. It doesn’t follow that later bishops would have the same significance. It doesn’t even follow that Eusebius viewed the earliest bishops the same way that groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy do.

    For those interested in an overview of Eusebius’ view of the succession of bishops, see Robert Lee Williams, Bishop Lists (Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005), 179-226. I see no reason to equate his view of bishops to a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox perspective. If Eusebius’ position differs from a given Protestant view, that Protestant could still agree with much of what Eusebius says about the testimony of those bishops without agreeing with every element of Eusebius’ ecclesiology.

    • Protestants need a firmly defined canon to establish doctrine. If there is a book missing, or a book too many, who’s to say you’re not a heretic? Eastern Orthodox don’t need a firmly established canon to establish doctrine, making all the words you wasted on the topic, moot.

      • Chris,

        A probable judgment about the canon is sufficient, just as we rely on probabilities on other matters. Are you claiming that you know for certain that Eastern Orthodoxy is true, which books belong in your Eastern Orthodox canon, which extra-Biblical traditions you should accept, etc.? If so, why should we believe that you’re correct? If you aren’t certain, then why is your situation acceptable, whereas mine isn’t?

      • To claim a probable knowledge of the canon you first have to have knowledge of the criteria for canon, which you cannot have without piggybacking off of our epistemology. You tell us your source of authority for the criteria for canon, then we can discuss if you have any kind of probable knowledge of what fulfills it.

      • Chris,

        I discuss my view of the canon at length on the web site I linked above. See the entries on the Old and New Testament canons on the page I linked.

        Why don’t you offer us a justification for Eastern Orthodoxy like the one you’re requesting for opposing views? You keep objecting to my beliefs and asking me to support them without offering much support for your own. So far, I’ve done more to establish my position than you’ve done to establish yours.

      • “I discuss my view of the canon at length on the web site I linked above. See the entries on the Old and New Testament canons on the page I linked.”

        So you argue for apostolocity as a criterion. Why? By quoting the church fathers. And having taken the criterion, who then is an apostle? The 12? The 70? Anybody who the church ever sent out? Anybody the church accepts as such? If so, which church? So you end up back quoting the church fathers to justify that stance. Then you have to decide what writings are apostolic approved. Something there isn’t much direct evidence for, only the general opinion of the church fathers.

        “Why don’t you offer us a justification for Eastern Orthodoxy like the one you’re requesting for opposing views?”

        Hey, I don’t need to now. You just demonstrated that you had to appeal to my church continuously to arrive at your canon. You didn’t appeal to any number of other groups: the Gnostics, the Marcionites, etc etc. you had to accept an ecclesiology of one holy catholic church to differentiate appealing to members of that religion rather than the myriad other pseudo-Christian groups.

      • Chris wrote:

        “So you argue for apostolocity as a criterion. Why? By quoting the church fathers. And having taken the criterion, who then is an apostle? The 12? The 70? Anybody who the church ever sent out? Anybody the church accepts as such? If so, which church? So you end up back quoting the church fathers to justify that stance. Then you have to decide what writings are apostolic approved. Something there isn’t much direct evidence for, only the general opinion of the church fathers.”

        Not only is that an unreasonable objection to my position, but it also ignores what I said explicitly and repeatedly in my material on the canon. One of my articles is about canonical implications in John’s gospel, for example. I also discuss passages in Paul’s letters and other New Testament documents. I cite non-Christian sources, like Josephus. And it’s not just me citing those sources. Protestants have appealed to such sources in their arguments for the canon for hundreds of years. How could you not know that? Patristic documents are among the sources I cite, but why would that be a problem?

        If you were to attempt to make an objective case for Eastern Orthodoxy, which is something you still haven’t done, you’d likewise have to appeal to a variety of historical sources. And when you’d appeal to the church fathers, you’d have to have a reason for appealing to them. Why should we be concerned with what they wrote? How do you know what they did and didn’t write? How do you know how to interpret them? And so on. You would be relying on a lot of historical evidence outside of your rule of faith, a lot of fallible scholarship, including non-Eastern-Orthodox scholarship, etc. All of us use such means to make an objective case for our view of Christianity.

      • ” it also ignores what I said explicitly and repeatedly in my material on the canon. One of my articles is about canonical implications in John’s gospel”

        What I see here seems incredibly inadequate. Even ignoring they major problem of appealing to the source you wish to prove, your argument seems to come down to, well these documents seem to be written with the intention of stating the Christian faith, and they seem to be written with the intention of conveying the apostolic authority. Ok, but so what? Chrysostom’s writings are written with the intention of conveying the faith and with the authority of a bishop in the church. Neither case really says if it is “scripture” or not. One might ask if the apostles writings have a certain authority without being scripture, just as Chrysostom’s writings could have authority without being scripture. Or maybe they’re both scripture. You don’t know without appealing to the opinion of the church.

        “I cite non-Christian sources, like Josephus.”

        Why stop at this non-Christian? Why not quote others claiming the name of Christ like the Gnostics?

        “And when you’d appeal to the church fathers, you’d have to have a reason for appealing to them. Why should we be concerned with what they wrote? How do you know what they did and didn’t write? How do you know how to interpret them? And so on. You would be relying on a lot of historical evidence outside of your rule of faith”

        I doubt I’d have to venture outside of my rule of faith, since the Orthodox rule of faith is pretty comprehensive.

        I Have a much better reason for appealing to them. I expect to find an unbroken succession of a faithful church that can tell me what the faith is. You don’t expect to find such a thing, and in fact, your very existence assumes that there won’t be such a thing. Thus your presuppositions betray your epistemology.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Hey, I don’t need to now. You just demonstrated that you had to appeal to my church continuously to arrive at your canon. You didn’t appeal to any number of other groups: the Gnostics, the Marcionites, etc etc. you had to accept an ecclesiology of one holy catholic church to differentiate appealing to members of that religion rather than the myriad other pseudo-Christian groups.”

        Once again, not only is that an unreasonable objection to my position, but it also ignores what I said explicitly and repeatedly in my material on the canon. In my series of posts on the New Testament canon, I have an article on hostile corroboration of the New Testament. In that article, I do what you claim I haven’t done. I appeal to corroboration of the canon in heretical and non-Christian sources. I do the same elsewhere, like when I cite Josephus concerning the Old Testament canon. And, once again, I’m not alone in doing things like that. Protestants have been using such arguments for centuries. You weren’t aware of that?

        And why should we think every patristic source is “your church”? You tell us that you “don’t need” to argue for your claims about Eastern Orthodoxy, but then you assert, in the next sentence, that every patristic source was part of your denomination. If you aren’t going to argue for that conclusion, why are we supposed to believe it?

        Why should we think the Didache, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, etc. were Eastern Orthodox? I reject that identification. You’ve given us no reason to agree with you.

        Even if I did think every patristic source was Eastern Orthodox, how would it follow that I’d have to accept their ecclesiology in order to accept their testimony relevant to a canon? Do you accept the ecclesiology of every historical witness you trust about something? If you trust what a Roman Catholic source tells you about events in a medieval Roman Catholic nation, does it follow that you must also accept that source’s Roman Catholic ecclesiology?

      • ” I have an article on hostile corroboration of the New Testament.”

        The extent to which corroboration of our NT predominates over that of other early sects is really just a commentary on the early unity and success of the one holy catholic church over and against myriad of their sects and voices unconcerned with the unity of the official church. Unfortunately for you, you don’t get to go back in time and redo history and see what happens to the canon in the event the early church had had a Protestant ecclesiology.

        “but then you assert, in the next sentence, that every patristic source was part of your denomination. If you aren’t going to argue for that conclusion, why are we supposed to believe it?”

        Orthodoxy is the religion of those who’ve committed themselves to the fathers of the church. It’s not so much that they are part of our demomination, as we have committed ourselves to be part of theirs. Since you don’t even really aim for such a thing, it’s seems pretty obvious to me. And I haven’t even yet got into issues of apostolic succession that you know I could get into.

        “If you trust what a Roman Catholic source tells you about events in a medieval Roman Catholic nation, does it follow that you must also accept that source’s Roman Catholic ecclesiology?”

        But the canon is a theological issue. Knowing that historically a particular church predominated and thus dominates the historical record, doesn’t tell you that this church was right over and against the other sects, unless you expect to find the continuity of the true church. If you don’t expect such a thing, hey check out Mormons, JWs, 7th day Adventurers, Islam, etc etc.

      • Chris writes:

        “Unfortunately for you, you don’t get to go back in time and redo history and see what happens to the canon in the event the early church had had a Protestant ecclesiology.”

        Again, I don’t need to agree with the ecclesiology of a source in order to trust what that source reported relevant to a canon of scripture. I haven’t been arguing that we should “redo history” or that the early church “had a Protestant ecclesiology”. You keep burning straw men.

        The patristic Christians, like modern ones, had a variety of ecclesiologies. We can agree or disagree with those ecclesiologies to differing degrees, yet accept some claims that all or many of them made regarding the canon of scripture. Similarly, we trust what Josephus reported about ancient Jewish history, what Tacitus reported about ancient Roman history, etc. without agreeing with them on every subject.

        I keep explaining such things, but you keep ignoring what I’ve said. It’s bad enough that you aren’t aware of these facts in the first place. It’s even worse when you keep ignoring them after repeatedly being corrected.

        You write:

        “And I haven’t even yet got into issues of apostolic succession that you know I could get into.”

        And I already have material addressing that subject on the web page I linked earlier.

      • “Again, I don’t need to agree with the ecclesiology of a source in order to trust what that source reported relevant to a canon of scripture.”

        Of course you do, otherwise all you have is an accurate reporting of an error. Without the early church’s ecclesiology, you might as well say the Gnostics, Marcionites etc etc we just equally valid denominations that have an equal right to be heard.

      • Chris writes:

        “Even ignoring they major problem of appealing to the source you wish to prove”

        I can appeal to John as a historical source without assuming that his gospel is scripture.

        You write:

        ” your argument seems to come down to, well these documents seem to be written with the intention of stating the Christian faith, and they seem to be written with the intention of conveying the apostolic authority. Ok, but so what? Chrysostom’s writings are written with the intention of conveying the faith and with the authority of a bishop in the church. Neither case really says if it is ‘scripture’ or not.”

        An apostle is different than a bishop. And my series on the canon explains why we should think that apostolic authority has canonical implications.

        You write:

        “You don’t know without appealing to the opinion of the church.”

        You keep making such claims without supporting them. You tell us what you believe, but you offer no supporting argument. Why are we supposed to believe that “You don’t know without appealing to the opinion of the church”? And why are we supposed to think “the church” is equivalent to Eastern Orthodoxy? And where has Eastern Orthodoxy given us a canon or a criterion for canonicity? As I documented earlier, Eastern Orthodox disagree with each other about the canon of scripture. They also disagree with each other about the canon of extra-Biblical tradition.

        You write:

        “Why stop at this non-Christian? Why not quote others claiming the name of Christ like the Gnostics?”

        You initially said that I didn’t cite any non-Eastern-Orthodox sources. Now you’re asking why I didn’t cite more non-Eastern-Orthodox sources. You keep moving the goal posts. You don’t seem to be arguing in good faith. Instead, you keep quickly moving from one objection to another, often contradicting yourself in the process, in an attempt to justify your bad decision to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

        And I have cited Gnostics and other heretical groups. Again, see my article on hostile corroboration of the canon in my series I referred to earlier.

        You write:

        “I doubt I’d have to venture outside of my rule of faith, since the Orthodox rule of faith is pretty comprehensive.”

        In other words, you just assume that anything you want to believe in this context is part of your rule of faith. But why should anybody find that approach convincing?

        You write:

        “I expect to find an unbroken succession of a faithful church that can tell me what the faith is.”

        You’ve given us no reason to share that expectation. And, as I pointed out earlier, Eastern Orthodoxy fails to meet your standards even if we were to begin with the assumption you describe above.

      • “And my series on the canon explains why we should think that apostolic authority has canonical implications.”

        Implications? Oh how vague. Even if we ignored all your circular reasoning, and wholesale acceptance of the church fathers in contradiction to your normal practice, “implications” really doesn’t tell us anything. Maybe it means the apostles had the ability to make scripture without proving that they actually did, and without proving that everything we now have of theirs is thus. Maybe it means they had the right to accurately record the Lord’s words without meaning that all their words are direct from God. Quoting the most tenuous book of 2 Peter to strengthen the other books doesn’t work either. To try that you’d have to start from the stronger books to prove the weaker.

        “As I documented earlier, Eastern Orthodox disagree with each other about the canon of scripture.”

        As I pointed out, and as I think you know, that matters a lot less to us.

        How can you hope to be more certain of the canon than us? All you can hope for is less certainty, but never more. Either an authoritative church has something to say on the point, in which case we’ve got something you don’t, or else there is no authority and we’re all equally in the dark, or at least we are all equally at the mercy of our individual presuppositions, scholarship abilities, and abilities to weigh evidence, in which case you are at the mercy of your own humility or lack thereof,

        “And I have cited Gnostics and other heretical groups. ”

        Not with any kind of seriousness of willingness to take their claims seriously, only with an attitude of trying to prove what you’ve already decided. Saying that Eusebius (himself a polemicist for the catholic church) didn’t find their interpretations credible is just levering off catholic sources unquestioningly.

        “In other words, you just assume that anything you want to believe in this context is part of your rule of faith.”

        No, not “anything I want to believe”. As a pure matter of reporting the facts, the Orthodox rule of faith includes the entirety of the Christian tradition.

        Why is that approach convincing? Lots of reasons kinda beyond the scope of this forum. One reason is it answers questions that desperately need an answer, yet are not answered by other approaches. Another is that it is more consistent for reasons we are discussing here. Another is that produces more Christians who can focus on living the Christian life rather than making every believer continually in the middle of a polemical war on issues settled a long time ago.

        Why should I expect an unbroken succession of a faithful church? Because you need such a thing to maintain the faith. At the most basic level, even you needed us to store the manuscripts for you. Or to store manuscripts of church fathers so that you can have any external corroboration about them. Then you need the church to be that witness to the canon. If the church had died in 100ad when the last apostle died, who would you quote for the canon, even if you somehow got a copy? You’d have nothing, not even hostile witnesses to the true church. You’d have qumran manuscripts in one hand and NT manuscripts in the other, and would have no way of rating one over the other.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Even if we ignored all your circular reasoning, and wholesale acceptance of the church fathers in contradiction to your normal practice, ‘implications’ really doesn’t tell us anything. Maybe it means the apostles had the ability to make scripture without proving that they actually did, and without proving that everything we now have of theirs is thus.”

        You accuse me of “circular reasoning”, “wholesale acceptance of the church fathers”, and such without demonstrating any of those charges. Similarly, you assume the truthfulness of Eastern Orthodoxy without demonstrating it. You’re giving us lengthy strings of one unsupported assertion after another.

        I’ve addressed issues like the ones you’ve raised above in my series on the canon. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel every time you decide to shift to other objections, after your previous ones failed. If you’re going to ignore so much of what I’ve already said, and you aren’t going to make any significant effort to argue for Eastern Orthodoxy, you’re in no position to expect me to keep addressing every objection you want to raise.

        You write:

        “How can you hope to be more certain of the canon than us?”

        Your alleged certainty about the canon depends on the truthfulness of your view of Eastern Orthodoxy. And you’ve given us no reason to think Orthodoxy is what you claim it is. I’ve argued for my view of the canon at length. In contrast, you’ve tried to avoid making a historical case for Orthodoxy, but instead keep telling us how little we can know about history, that we should be looking to “the living church”, which you assume to be Orthodoxy without demonstrating it, etc. My historical case for my canon is better than your unsupported assumption that your undefined canon is correct. We don’t even know what your canon is. Different Orthodox have held different canons. But you tell us that we should trust Orthodoxy. We don’t know what we’re trusting it for in this context, since we don’t know what canon it’s allegedly given us. And we don’t know why we should trust Orthodoxy. But you assure us that we should trust it.

        You write:

        “Either an authoritative church has something to say on the point, in which case we’ve got something you don’t, or else there is no authority and we’re all equally in the dark, or at least we are all equally at the mercy of our individual presuppositions, scholarship abilities, and abilities to weigh evidence, in which case you are at the mercy of your own humility or lack thereof,”

        Again, we all rely on personal judgment. I addressed that subject earlier. You haven’t refuted what I said. Instead, you’re repeating an argument that’s already been refuted.

        You write:

        “Not with any kind of seriousness of willingness to take their claims seriously, only with an attitude of trying to prove what you’ve already decided. Saying that Eusebius (himself a polemicist for the catholic church) didn’t find their interpretations credible is just levering off catholic sources unquestioningly.”

        Now you claim to know my “seriousness” and “attitude”, and you offer no evidence to support your assessment. And your reference to Eusebius doesn’t make sense. I didn’t dismiss heretical groups on the basis that Eusebius “didn’t find their interpretations credible”. You keep attributing arguments to me that I’ve never made.

        You write:

        “At the most basic level, even you needed us to store the manuscripts for you.”

        Eastern Orthodoxy has preserved some manuscripts, but so have other individuals and groups. Similarly, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other groups Jesus and the apostles condemned were involved in preserving Old Testament texts. Many Protestants have been involved in discovering, preserving, translating, and publishing Biblical manuscripts and patristic documents. As I said before, we can trust a source in one context without trusting it in every context. The involvement of Eastern Orthodox in preserving manuscripts doesn’t refute anything I’ve said.

      • Yes well Jason, everything on your web site is refuted by various Orthodox books and sources and the church fathers, and which I could point you to, but this isn’t really the appropriate forum to clog up with a thousand cross refererences of why my guys can beat up your guys. There’s nothing worse than folks who come into forums and basically say “everything you say is wrong, I’ve documented it on my web site, and unless you refute 50,000 documents here and now, clearly I’ve won and you should shut up”. And furthermore “you haven’t provided a wholesale defense of your own position in this blog article that refutes my 50,000 pages, so you lose”.

        That attitude is not only idiotic and unreasonable, it also tends to make you enemies rather than convincing anyone of your position. My suggestion is that you chill a bit and try and discuss a few issues without all the attitude.

        Furthermore, whether I can or can’t defend Orthodoxy, it doesn’t actually make your own position defensible. So answering everything with “yeah but you haven’t proved your position”, doesn’t actually get you over the line.

        The reality is, and you’re probably well read enough to know this, the canon was historically defended on a number of basis, one of the major ones being usage within the official church. It is therefore extremely pertinent to point out that if you don’t define the official church the same as it was historically, then you are pulling out one of the major pillars that held up the canon. Despite your valient attempts to bolster the remaining legs, there’s no way of knowing if those legs can take that weight because that simply isn’t the way that history played out. When doubts were raised about certain books, the arbiter was usage in the church.

        You keep complaining that I’ve given no reason to trust Orthodoxy ( as if this forum is a good place for such a thing), but you’ve given us even less reason to trust your canon. At least I’ve pointed out that we claim something which is a prerequisite, namely the authority to do so. You don’t claim that, so you don’t even get up to the plate. All you can do is say that some guys agree with you, some ancient and some modern. None of them do even you assign the authority to state the canon.

      • My comments below somehow ended up in the wrong place within the thread, so I’m reposting them here.

        Chris wrote:

        “You keep complaining that I’ve given no reason to trust Orthodoxy ( as if this forum is a good place for such a thing), but you’ve given us even less reason to trust your canon. At least I’ve pointed out that we claim something which is a prerequisite, namely the authority to do so. You don’t claim that, so you don’t even get up to the plate.”

        I’ve cited a series of posts I wrote about the canon, and I’ve defended some of that material in this thread. By contrast, you haven’t supported your claims about Eastern Orthodoxy, but instead have offered excuses for why you shouldn’t be expected to support your position. You then assert that I’ve offered less support for my position than you’ve offered for yours, since I don’t claim to have a source of authority that’s allegedly needed. Whether such a source of authority is necessary is one of the issues under dispute. You can’t just assume that your position on the issue is correct. You have to argue for that conclusion. If the teachings of Jesus and the Biblical authors imply a canon, as I’ve argued in my series I’ve cited, then the authority of Jesus and the Biblical authors stands behind my canon. If you want us to believe that some other authority is needed, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, then you’ll have to argue for that conclusion rather than just asserting it.

  37. Since the canon and Eastern Orthodoxy have been mentioned in this thread, it should be noted that Eastern Orthodox disagree with one another on the canon to this day. For example:

    “The Reformers influenced some OT canonical approaches in the Eastern churches. In 1627 Zacharios Greganos, a Greek who had studied at Wittenburg, rejected the deuterocanonical books. Although similar views were held by a few others, the Gk and Slavic branches of the Byzantine church continued to maintain those books. The Synod of Jerusalem, convened at Bethlehem in 1672 by the patriarch Dositheus to repudiate tendencies toward Calvinism, specifically decreed that Tob, Jdt, Sir, Wis, 1-2 Macc, and the additions to Dan are to be considered canonical. At that time the decrees of the synod were intended to be representative of Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole. Within the Gk church, despite occasional demurrals by theologians, the longer OT canon has been accepted, including 2 Esdr and 3 Macc. Since the 19th cent., however, Russian Orthodox theologians generally have not accepted the deuterocanonical books. Yet a Moscow-published Bible of 1956 contains them. A draft statement for the proposed Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Towards the Great Council [London, 1972] 3-4) opts for the shorter canon, as does the negotiation between the Orthodox and the Old Catholics (Beckwith, OT Canon 14).” (Raymond E. Brown, et al., eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990], 1043)

    Though the book of Revelation seems to have been widely accepted in the East initially, it was widely rejected among Eastern churches in later centuries. Just within the last few years, I had a discussion with an Eastern Orthodox who suggested that Revelation shouldn’t be part of the canon. If people are going to suggest Eastern Orthodoxy as an alternative on canonical issues, they should explain which Eastern Orthodox canon they have in mind and why we should trust an alleged Eastern Orthodox position on the subject.

    Also worth noting is the fact that the early post-apostolic Christians often contradicted modern Eastern Orthodox beliefs on other issues, like prayer to the dead and the veneration of images. For documentation of some examples, see here.

    • And they even more often contradicted Protestant doctrine. How does this help you when you don’t have a mechanism to resolve the problem, unlike Orthodox?

      • Chris,

        Protestants make different claims about church history than Eastern Orthodox do, so we carry different burdens of proof. If you don’t want additional responsibilities, then stop making additional claims.

        And the degree to which the church fathers and other ancient sources were consistent with Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy varies widely from one case to another. On some issues, like the examples I mentioned at the end of the post you’re responding to, one patristic generation was inconsistent with another. And sometimes there were inconsistencies within a single generation. You’re just giving us your own vague and unsupported overview of church history, whereas I’ve gone into far more detail in the material I’ve linked above.

      • Chris –

        Which book of the Protestant Cannon do you think is not the World of God? Give me a list so I can see how my doctrine would be impacted.

      • “Chris –

        Which book of the Protestant Cannon do you think is not the World of God? Give me a list so I can see how my doctrine would be impacted.”

        Not sure how your question relates to anything that I said.

  38. Daniel,

    I am on my second decade being Orthodox (GOACH), as a convert from Anglicanism. While I agree with your assessment in the main it is important to remember, as you do, that practically speaking there is no ideal ecclesial situation. We have good bishops and bad bishops, same with priests and so forth. We have nominal members, more than we should, and preaching is often less than mediocre. There are parishes where this isn’t so, which are very healthy and vibrant, but too many in my limited experience function as Greek country clubs. People have to choose based on theological as well as practical considerations. All of this is to say that for us apostolic succession and Eucharistic unity are necessary conditions on our view for being a true church, but not necessarily a sufficient condition. Vigilance is required.

    As for the other commentators as far as unity, ISTM that at least a serious candidate in the NT for an essential mark of unity is the eucharist and until Protestants, classical or otherwise achieve something similar or close to it, their ecclesial life will remain sub-biblical.

    As for Luther, Calvin and such on canonicity, try Rupert Davies, The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers.

    As for a high Christology of the ancient church, I think Reformed writers like Richard Muller in his, Christ and the Decree, might disagree. They tend to follow Theodoret rather than Chalcedon and Constantinople II.

    As for the “seven” universal creeds, I do not know to what you refer so perhaps you can clarify.

  39. Here is a CATHOLIC response Article to this Post HERE if anyone is interested.

  40. Jason: since my church considers church history to be a source of authority, and yours does not, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we are basically more in line with the patriotic witness than you are, not withstanding that there were some instances of inconsistencies.

    Of course the radical skeptic can throw their hands up and say its all too hard. But you can do that with the canon too, and the interpretation thereof even more easily. Personally I read the church fathers and came to a slow and uncomfortable realization that more or less they were the same as Orthodox. Not really surprising since Orthodox revere them in a way that nobody else does.

    • Chris,

      You keep making vague comments that could be accurate or inaccurate to some degree or another, depending on how you’re defining the details. How do you “consider church history to be a source of authority”? You don’t agree with the historical sources who contradicted your beliefs, like the historical sources I’ve cited above. If you’re saying that you agree with some historical sources while disagreeing with others, so what? Evangelicals do the same. The prophets, apostles, patristic sources we agree with, New Testament manuscripts we use, non-Christian sources we agree with, etc. are historical sources. We all rely on and agree with historical sources to some extent. And we all consider various historical sources to be authoritative in some manner. We disagree over the details, but your vague reference to “considering church history to be a source of authority” doesn’t address those details in any significant way.

      And repeating your claim that you’re “more in line with the patriotic witness” than I am doesn’t address what I’ve already said in response to that assertion.

      When you say that the fathers were “more or less the same” as you, the significance of that comment depends, once again, on what details you have in mind. What issues are you including? Which are you excluding? As I’ve argued on the web page I linked above, the evidence suggests that the earliest Christians widely disagreed with popular Orthodox belief regarding images, prayer, Mary, baptism, and other subjects. Even where it appears that only a minority disagreed with you on an issue, you would still need to explain why that minority would think it was acceptable to disagree and why other Christians considered that minority’s behavior so acceptable.

      • ” If you’re saying that you agree with some historical sources while disagreeing with others, so what?”

        If there’s no difference, one would be justified in being a modern day gnostic or Marcionite, and follow their view of history.

        Most of the folks you quote on that blog to justify your position, you quote as members of, and often leaders within the catholic church, as opposed to various other ancient pseudo-Christian groups in existence.

        Having accepted the delineation between the real church and the pseudo churches, you have to accept *that*church’s opinion on any differences of opinion. If you don’t, you are left to individually reassess the canon. Throw out a some books, maybe add some in, depending on your views. Then Protestantism’s only remaining pillar comes down.

        “When you say that the fathers were “more or less the same” as you, the significance of that comment depends, once again, on what details you have in mind. What issues are you including? Which are you excluding?”

        I wouldn’t exclude anything at all. But what I would point to most importantly are the things the fathers point to as important. Most importantly of all, mindset. The Orthodox church keeps the mindset of the fathers.

        “Even where it appears that only a minority disagreed with you on an issue, you would still need to explain why that minority would think it was acceptable to disagree and why other Christians considered that minority’s behavior so acceptable.”

        People disagree. The great thing about being Orthodox is we have a way to resolve such things. That allows me to worship without constantly feeling the necessity to explain every detail of everything to everybody. Do I get to challenge you that unless you explain why a majority of, and/minority of Christians disagreed about this or that book in your canon, then your epistemology falls apart? Otherwise, the request is a bit hypocritical, is it not? Maybe half the sermons in your church are complete rubbish because they are based on disputed books that Christians have disagreed on, like revelation, 2 Peter, James, 2,3 John, Jude, etc etc. At the end of the day you have to fall back onto consensus, no matter how much you try and pretty it up with the gilding of scholarship.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Most of the folks you quote on that blog to justify your position, you quote as members of, and often leaders within the catholic church, as opposed to various other ancient pseudo-Christian groups in existence.”

        In your 9:36 P.M. post today, you claim that I only cited Eastern Orthodox sources. Now you claim that “most” of my sources were “quoted as members of, and often leaders within the catholic church”. Would you explain that difference between your two posts?

        And where did I say that I was citing patristic sources “as members of, and often leaders within the catholic church”? If you consider somebody like Irenaues or Tertullian an Eastern Orthodox, it doesn’t follow that I would classify them in that manner. Nor does it follow that I’m citing them only or primarily because they were church leaders or part of a catholic church. As far as I cite them as Christian sources, it doesn’t follow that Christianity is equivalent to Eastern Orthodoxy, nor does it follow that I have to agree with the sources on every other issue in order to believe what they said relevant to the canon. When you agree with a historical source about something, do you think you have to agree with him on every other issue as well? Surely not.

        You write:

        “If you don’t, you are left to individually reassess the canon. Throw out a some books, maybe add some in, depending on your views.”

        Why do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that He founded a church, that the church is Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.? How do you know what is Eastern Orthodox tradition and what isn’t? How do you know how to interpret the traditions you accept? Etc. All of us rely on personal judgment. Your choice to be Eastern Orthodox is just that: your choice. It’s a fallible choice you made, and it’s one that billions of people disagree with.

        If you accept a canon of scripture because some alleged authority told you to accept it, then you’re only pushing the questions back a step. How do you know what that authority consists of (its canon)? Why do you trust it? How do you interpret it? There’s no way to avoid relying on your own judgment. That’s the nature of life. We’re individuals. Our interaction with others is filtered through our own minds. You can’t avoid it, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

        You write:

        “The Orthodox church keeps the mindset of the fathers.”

        That’s a vague assertion that you haven’t supported and which I’ve already argued against in depth. See the web page I linked at the end of my 1:25 A.M. post on March 30.

        You write:

        “People disagree. The great thing about being Orthodox is we have a way to resolve such things.”

        Saying “people disagree”, then telling us that your denomination has a way of resolving disagreements, doesn’t explain why the sources in question disagreed with you and how you reconcile those disagreements with your view of church history.

      • “You don’t agree with the historical sources who contradicted your beliefs, like the historical sources I’ve cited above.”

        Sources of authority have to be filtered through the cognition of the people of God.

        ” In your 9:36 P.M. post today, you claim that I only cited Eastern Orthodox sources. Now you claim that “most” of my sources were “quoted as members of, and often leaders within the catholic church”. Would you explain that difference between your two posts?”

        There is no difference. They are equivalent.

         “nor does it follow that I have to agree with the sources on every other issue in order to believe what they said relevant to the canon. When you agree with a historical source about something, do you think you have to agree with him on every other issue as well? Surely not.”

        Surely it’s not an historical question at hand, but rather a theological one.  I could probably state with a high degree of historical probability what the Marcionite canon was, and you might agree with me historically speaking, but not accept it theologically.  The only reason to accept the church fathers on these issues, and not other voices is because you realize on a deep level, that there was a one authorized church, capable of being distinguished with other groups. It’s no use saying you accept those folks as Christians, because that assumes they were right about the canon, which would be deeply circular. Ultimately you piggy back off our ecclesiology, that there was a real church as opposed to fake churches.

         “It’s a fallible choice you made, and it’s one that billions of people disagree with. If you accept a canon of scripture because some alleged authority told you to accept it, then you’re only pushing the questions back a step. ”

        Even if it were simply a case of me pushing questions back a step,  you would be faced with a task of showing why you haven’t simply pushed the question forward a step.  After all, where the question rightfully sits is historically and practically, undeniably in the place that we put it, and not where you do.  Or to put it more bluntly, as a matter of reality, almost no individuals decide themselves what their own canon will be, rather they abrogate that decision to their church and/or its leaders. So being as a matter of reality, everyone is doing that anyway, we can say that this is where the question rightfully belongs. And so I have to ask you to justify your stance of pushing it forward a step.

        “Saying “people disagree”, then telling us that your denomination has a way of resolving disagreements, doesn’t explain why the sources in question disagreed with you and how you reconcile those disagreements with your view of church history.”

        The fact is, neither of us can say with even the slightest degree of precision why ancient sources disagree with you, nor disagree with me. What comes down to us through history is like one of those peek holes on your front door. It gives you a tiny, distorted and ultimately limited view of what was going on. While that view is extremely important and enlightening, ultimately it can’t take precedence  over the living church. Now who was that Roman Catholic who said something to the effect that church history is a betrayal of the living church. He had a point, even though one wouldn’t want to push it too far. It’s a fruitless exercise, so much so that few Protestants have dared to do much about reevaluating the canon, without being accused of descending into liberalism.

      • Chris wrote:

        “There is no difference. They are equivalent.”

        First you said that I’ve only cited Eastern Orthodox sources in support of my canon of scripture. Then you said something about “most” of my sources. I asked you to explain the difference between those two assertions. Now you tell us that the two assertions are equivalent. No, they aren’t. Every source isn’t equivalent to most sources. You still need to explain why you referred to every source in one place and most sources in another place.

        You write:

        “The only reason to accept the church fathers on these issues, and not other voices is because you realize on a deep level, that there was a one authorized church, capable of being distinguished with other groups. It’s no use saying you accept those folks as Christians, because that assumes they were right about the canon, which would be deeply circular. Ultimately you piggy back off our ecclesiology, that there was a real church as opposed to fake churches.”

        There are multiple reasons to accept the testimony of the church fathers. Even if they weren’t Christians, their testimony would have value. That’s why Christians also cite Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Celsus, and other non-Christian sources. And when a source is cited partly or entirely because he was a Christian, it doesn’t follow that the source was Eastern Orthodox. As I said before, you can’t just assume without argument that Christianity is equivalent to Eastern Orthodoxy. And your suggestion that it’s exclusively Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology to believe that “there was a real church as opposed to fake churches” is absurd. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other groups also believe that there’s a true church that’s distinct from false ones. They define that church differently than you do, but it’s not as if belief in a true church is unique to Eastern Orthodoxy.

        And how does believing that an individual was a Christian “assume they were right about the canon”? A person can be a Christian without believing in a canon or while believing in a wrong canon. As I documented earlier in this thread, Eastern Orthodox have disagreed with one another about the canon of scripture. They also disagree with each other about the canon of extra-Biblical tradition. Does it follow that you can’t identify them as Christians? The canon of Tertullian is different than the canon of Athanasius, which is different than the canon of Augustine, etc. Does it follow that you either can’t identify any of those church fathers as Christians or can only identify one of them as a Christian?

        You write:

        “Or to put it more bluntly, as a matter of reality, almost no individuals decide themselves what their own canon will be, rather they abrogate that decision to their church and/or its leaders. So being as a matter of reality, everyone is doing that anyway, we can say that this is where the question rightfully belongs.”

        I reject your claim to speak for “everyone”. And even when an individual initially accepts a canon as a result of trusting his parents, trusting a Sunday school teacher, etc., it doesn’t follow that he has the same reason for accepting the canon for the rest of his life. He can reevaluate his position, even multiple times, later on. It’s the same sort of process that occurs in other contexts in life. When you’re seven years old, you might believe what your parents and others tell you about American history based on a general trust in the individuals involved. As you grow older, your reasons for maintaining the same view of American history develop. You become aware that other sources are saying the same things about American history, you come across some of the arguments supporting that view of American history, etc. Your belief that George Washington was the first American president is the same when you’re forty years old as it was when you were seven years old. But you’ve developed better reasons for holding that belief as time has passed.

        Furthermore, if we’re to just uncritically accept whatever our church tells us, then why did you convert to Eastern Orthodoxy? Did your former church tell you to convert to another church? I doubt it. You made that decision in opposition to the individuals who were leading the church you belonged to at the time. Yet, now you suggest that we should just believe whatever our church leadership tells us. Should a Mormon remain a Mormon, a Catholic remain a Catholic, a Baptist remain a Baptist, etc.? If our ancestors had followed that line of reasoning, there would be no historical church and individuals like the church fathers. Why convert to Christianity or form a Christian canon of scripture in the first place if we can’t make individual judgments on such matters?

        You write:

        “The fact is, neither of us can say with even the slightest degree of precision why ancient sources disagree with you, nor disagree with me.”

        That’s an assertion, not an argument. You keep making claims that you don’t, and can’t, back up.

        The historical sources often tell us why they believed what they believed. And we can evaluate the credibility of their claims by means of comparing their claims to the claims of other sources, examining their willingness to suffer for what they were saying, looking at the ethical standards reflected in their behavior, etc. Historians and other scholars make such judgments frequently. All of us do it. We make such historical judgments about our relatives, neighbors, co-workers, etc. It’s part of our everyday lives. Your suggestion that we can’t do such things in the context of ancient Christianity is irrational. It’s also self-defeating. How do you make a historical case for Eastern Orthodoxy if we can’t know the things you claim we can’t know?

        You write:

        “It gives you a tiny, distorted and ultimately limited view of what was going on.”

        You keep contradicting yourself. On the one hand, you keep making historical claims about Eastern Orthodoxy, the church fathers, the history of Protestantism, etc. On the other hand, when historical discussions are more obviously not going the way you’d like, you try to cast doubt on our ability to discern what happened in history. You can’t have it both ways.

        Your attempt to defend Eastern Orthodoxy and argue against Protestantism is a failure. It’s taken less than a week to get you to retreat into vague assertions that you don’t back up, appeals to uncritically believing whatever a church tells you to believe, our alleged inability to discern what happened in ancient history, etc.

        You write:

        “While that view is extremely important and enlightening, ultimately it can’t take precedence over the living church.”

        How do you identify “the living church”, and why should we be looking for such an entity in the first place, if we can’t appeal to evidence from ancient sources? There are many claimants to the status of a “living church” in the modern world. Why should we be concerned with any of them, and how do we distinguish among them, without appealing to evidence from ancient history? You can do something like make an appeal to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But Protestants, Roman Catholics, and others can do the same. If you want to make a more objective case for Eastern Orthodoxy, which you keep failing to do, you’ll need to appeal to ancient history.

        You write:

        “It’s a fruitless exercise, so much so that few Protestants have dared to do much about reevaluating the canon, without being accused of descending into liberalism.”

        That’s a ridiculous claim that’s easily demonstrated to be false. Protestant schools frequently have their students read material that reevaluates the canon, Protestant publishers have repeatedly published books on such issues, Protestants frequently discuss such matters in online forums, etc. Dr. Wallace is an example of that. One of his books, Reinventing Jesus, reevaluates the canon and does so for a popular audience. Not only have Wallace and his co-authors not been categorized as “descending into liberalism”, but the book has sold well and has been widely recommended in Evangelical circles. Many other examples could be cited.

      • Well Jason, you cite some sources in the church, and some sources out of the church but who are witnesses to what was happening inside the church. It all eventually comes down to what happened in the church. Not sure the point of your nit pick.

        You seem to equate non-Christian and Christian witnesses as functionally the same, as mere witnesses to history. the trouble is, they are witnesses to “the winners” as Bart Ehrman would no doubt characterize it. The only reason your non-Christian witnesses have weight is as a witness to one sect, the catholic sect. If you can’t admit to the special nature of that church, then all sects are the same. Then your canon crumbles.

        Yes, Protestants have a notion of a true church. But they define it based on scripture. ( though they cant agree on how to apply it). Which scripture? The scripture of the catholic church whose unity and ecclesiology produced that consensus in a way that protestant ecclesiology could not. Give Dr Wallace his due here. He’s a smart well informed guy, and he can see what you refuse to see.

        That’s right, church fathers could disagree on the canon, yet recognize each other as Christian. How? Because the tradition of the church is clear enough. But then we have Protestants anathematizing each other because they have the wrong kind of millennialism at one extreme, and at the other extreme think Mormonism is just another denomination. Then all the shades of grey in the middle.

        If the reason for accepting the canon initially is good enough, why shouldn’t it always be good enough? How stupid to say to a new Christian, I know you just accepted the canon on the church’s say so, but that ain’t good enough no more. You’re going to have to reevaluate everything you trusted and decide it all over again, possibly coming up with a new canon, maybe even a new gospel if that’s where the evidence leads. How ridiculous,

        Why reject what Protestant churches told me? Because they all contradicted each other, and none even claimed to speak authoritatively. All of them had good arguments to one degree or another. I could have talked myself into various contradictory positions. But I realiized that my sitting in judgement of the church of God all by my lonesome was neither good for my humility, nor wise, nor within my abilities. Protestants in general, no matter how exalted their scholarship, are fooling themselves if they think they have the ability to sort out the answers without an authoritative church. But this is exactly what Protestantism calls them to.

        “That’s an assertion, not an argument. You keep making claims that you don’t, and can’t, back up. ”

        Well of course. My assertion is that history does not record everything. I suppose you want me to prove it by showing you some history that was not recorded? That would indeed be a neat trick.

        Yes historians often make judgement calls. Often they are wrong, as is discovered when more evidence comes to light. If the faith was entirely dependent on the latest scholarship, then we are in trouble. Obviously I’m not claiming we can’t know anything. I’m saying we can look at the overall character of the early catholic church, and say many things for certain. We can’t always say for certain what was going on with issues that were not discussed extensively. Later they become a controversy and people comb the earlier writings for clues with varying degrees of success. If I had to be 100% convinced of every issue either by history or by scripture before I joined a church, I’d never join any. So I join the one that is the most plausible on the issues I know most about, and give some benefit of the doubt on issues that are arguable.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Well Jason, you cite some sources in the church, and some sources out of the church but who are witnesses to what was happening inside the church. It all eventually comes down to what happened in the church. Not sure the point of your nit pick.”

        You misrepresented the sources I cited. I corrected you. Now you ask what “the point” of my correcting you is. If the identity of the sources in question isn’t significant, then why did you make an issue of it to begin with? You made an issue of it. I corrected you. But now you’re telling us that it’s an insignificant issue. You keep moving the goal posts.

        And no knowledgeable Evangelical denies that the apostles are within the church. Thus, when we try to discern a canon of apostolic documents, we’re trying to discern something within the church. But the apostles aren’t equivalent to the church. And the church isn’t Eastern Orthodoxy. Similarly, the apostles were humans, Jews, etc., but we don’t conclude that discerning a canon is a matter of uncritically accepting whatever humans, Jews, etc. tell us.

        You write:

        “The only reason your non-Christian witnesses have weight is as a witness to one sect, the catholic sect. If you can’t admit to the special nature of that church, then all sects are the same.”

        No, the non-Christian sources I cited are testifying to apostolic documents. They aren’t testifying to a church. You keep confusing categories. The apostles were part of the church, but not equivalent to it.

        You write:

        “Give Dr Wallace his due here. He’s a smart well informed guy, and he can see what you refuse to see.”

        You don’t speak for Dr. Wallace. Why should I assume that he disagrees with me in this context? Even if he does, his overall position surely is closer to mine than yours.

        You write:

        “But then we have Protestants anathematizing each other because they have the wrong kind of millennialism at one extreme, and at the other extreme think Mormonism is just another denomination.”

        And there were many disagreements among the church fathers. There are many disagreements among Eastern Orthodox. I’ve already given some examples.

        You write:

        “How stupid to say to a new Christian, I know you just accepted the canon on the church’s say so, but that ain’t good enough no more. You’re going to have to reevaluate everything you trusted and decide it all over again, possibly coming up with a new canon, maybe even a new gospel if that’s where the evidence leads. How ridiculous,”

        See my George Washington illustration I discussed earlier. We all do the sort of thing you’re criticizing, in many contexts. You did it when you decided to reject your previous church’s claims and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. But now you tell us that it’s “ridiculous” for us to do what you did.

        You write:

        “Protestants in general, no matter how exalted their scholarship, are fooling themselves if they think they have the ability to sort out the answers without an authoritative church.”

        The judgment that there is an authoritative church to begin with, identifying that church, interpreting it, etc. are all matters of personal judgment. You’re trying to “sort out the answers” yourself. You keep condemning us for doing what you’ve been doing.

        You write:

        “If I had to be 100% convinced of every issue either by history or by scripture before I joined a church, I’d never join any.”

        That’s a straw man. As I said earlier, we don’t need certainty. Probability is good enough, as it is in other contexts in life. But you’ve gone beyond rejecting the need for being “100% convinced”. You haven’t even offered a probable argument for Eastern Orthodoxy. You keep making historical claims for which you offer no argument, and you keep raising objections to historical argumentation in general, not just argumentation involving certainty.

        You seem to want it both ways. Sometimes you suggest that you’ll accept historical probabilities, like the rest of us do. But other times you suggest that historical probabilities aren’t enough, that we should just uncritically accept whatever “the living church” tells us, etc. Your posts are an unsalvageable mess. You offer little support for your claims, and you keep contradicting yourself.

      • “If the identity of the sources in question isn’t significant, then why did you make an issue of it to begin with? You made an issue of it. I corrected you.”

        I read what you wrote, and I see absolutely no reason to believe that there are any hostile witnesses that have independent knowledge of the authorship of any NT documents. All such knowledge would have come from the claims of the documents themselves, or else the church. Perhaps you believe the apostles had an inordinate number of heretical friends who passed down an independent account of the truth through non-Christian sources? Yeah, right.

        “You don’t speak for Dr. Wallace. Why should I assume that he disagrees with me in this context?”

        Because you are here commenting in his blog, for the reason that you are offended that a Protestant would state that Protestant ecclesiology gives Protestant a canon “problem”, or as Dr Wallace out it, a ” weak link”.

        “And there were many disagreements among the church fathers.”

        Now you’re arguing both sides against the middle. You already claimed that the church fathers could recognize who is a Christian without knowing the canon. When I say, yeah that’s true, unlike Protestantism, you say nah, they just disagreed about such things.

        “You did it when you decided to reject your previous church’s claims and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. But now you tell us that it’s “ridiculous” for us to do what you did. ”

        No, you didn’t listen. The ridiculous thing is to teach people things on the church’s authority, and then tell people later to ignore the church’s authority and find better reasons. I don’t do that.

        “The judgment that there is an authoritative church to begin with, identifying that church, interpreting it, etc. are all matters of personal judgment. You’re trying to “sort out the answers” yourself. ”

        You’ve got a funny notion of what it means to sort out problems yourself. By your logic, if I don’t understand my legal problems, and I therefore seek out experts in the legal fraternity, that is just as much doing it by myself as reading the law books myself, or even trying to figure out myself even which laws are in force myself. In both cases, I myself had to choose a course of action. But in one scenario I was wise and realised that there are probably people who are authorized to give me better information. Yes, I have to be smart, and not seek out quacks issuing nonsense. But with a little care, and by cross checking sources, I’ll probably get better advise from the people who’ve been in the business before.

        “Probability is good enough, as it is in other contexts in life. But you’ve gone beyond rejecting the need for being “100% convinced”.

        Ok, I’ll revise my statement: “If I had to be 51% convinced of every issue either by history or by scripture before I joined a church, I’d never join any.”

        BTW, I think your posts are an unsalvagable mess, that you offer little support for your claims and you keep contradicting yourself. But I’m polite enough to realize that stating the same isn’t a valid argument, but just looks like bluster from someone without something more substantial.

      • Chris wrote:

        “I read what you wrote, and I see absolutely no reason to believe that there are any hostile witnesses that have independent knowledge of the authorship of any NT documents. All such knowledge would have come from the claims of the documents themselves, or else the church.”

        Non-Christian sources are relevant for reasons you aren’t addressing. As I documented in my series on the canon, non-Christians often possessed copies of the New Testament documents. They therefore were witnesses of the text of those documents at that time. They were witnesses of the authorship attributions associated with those documents. An author’s name would often be attached in the title of a document or by some other means, such as on a tag or on the spine of a codex. Even without having known an apostle, non-Christian sources would have been in a position to know when the document was circulating, who it was attributed to, and how it was received among Christians. Such issues are significant in identifying the status of the documents and the likelihood of theories that depend on dating the documents late or assuming that the documents initially circulated anonymously, for example. If a document attributed to John was written thirty years after he died, and it circulated anonymously for forty years afterward before being attributed to John, a non-Christian wouldn’t have to have known John in order to be in a position to object to later Christian claims about the document. And Christians who had met an apostle could communicate with non-Christians, even if those non-Christians didn’t know an apostle themselves. For these and other reasons, non-Christian testimony is highly significant in a discussion of canonical issues. Maybe you’d better appreciate that fact if you’d spend more time studying and defending Christianity and less time trying to undermine alternatives to Eastern Orthodoxy.

        You write:

        “The ridiculous thing is to teach people things on the church’s authority, and then tell people later to ignore the church’s authority and find better reasons.”

        I didn’t say that the canon should be taught “on the church’s authority”, nor did I say that the church’s authority should be ignored later. Rather, I said that people often accept a canon on the basis of what parents, a Sunday school teacher, or somebody else tells them. Sometimes it’s a combination of sources. And when one or more of the sources is a church source, it doesn’t follow that “authority” is involved. Some people trust a pastor because of his education or experience, for example. They might trust him concerning the canon because he seems like somebody who would know a lot about the subject. It may not be a matter of authority. Or it might be authority combined with something else. There are different circumstances involved with different people.

        Even when church authority is involved in some way, it doesn’t follow that it’s the same type of authority that you’re attributing to Eastern Orthodoxy. Many entities have authority of some type: parents, government officials, deacons, elders, etc. People can be authoritative in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. If somebody believes something about the canon or some other subject on the basis of authority, and that authority is authentic in a relevant way, I don’t object to holding that belief on the basis of authority. To return to my George Washington example, it’s reasonable for a seven-year-old to trust the historical knowledge of a parent or teacher. But it’s also reasonable to seek further evidence later in life, and it’s to be expected that he’ll gain further evidence regardless of whether he’s seeking it. Similarly, a Protestant who trusts what his Sunday school teacher says about the canon can and should seek further evidence later in life and probably will come across more evidence with the passing of time.

        You write:

        “By your logic, if I don’t understand my legal problems, and I therefore seek out experts in the legal fraternity, that is just as much doing it by myself as reading the law books myself, or even trying to figure out myself even which laws are in force myself.”

        You’re moving the goal posts again. I was responding to your claim that we shouldn’t try to sort out the answers without an authoritative church. I was pointing out that you have to do a lot of sorting out of answers in order to identify an authoritative church to begin with. And you have to do more sorting in order to follow that church after identifying it. As I’ve mentioned before, Eastern Orthodox don’t even agree with each other about their canon of scripture and their canon of extra-scriptural traditions. Once you judge that there is a God, that Jesus is who He claimed to be, that He founded a church, etc., you still have to sort through more evidence to determine that the church Jesus founded is Eastern Orthodoxy, what the canon of Orthodoxy is, etc. After you’ve done all of that sorting, you’re not in much of a position to tell Protestants that they need an authoritative church to do their sorting for them. And the church you’re recommending to us doesn’t even have a canon of scripture that its members agree about. Why would anybody look to Eastern Orthodoxy for a canon of scripture?

        And Protestants haven’t objected to seeking help in sorting through issues. That’s why we consult historical sources who can give us information on the canon, look to scholars to translate documents for us, read books that scholars have written about issues related to the canon, etc. We don’t look to Eastern Orthodoxy to give us a canon, but it doesn’t follow that we aren’t seeking help elsewhere.

        You write:

        “But with a little care, and by cross checking sources, I’ll probably get better advise from the people who’ve been in the business before.”

        But earlier you told us that we can’t know much about ancient history, that we should look to the “living church” instead, etc. How are you reliably “cross checking sources” if you can’t know much about ancient history and you’re trusting what the living church tells you instead of sorting through such issues without that church?

        You write:

        “BTW, I think your posts are an unsalvagable mess, that you offer little support for your claims and you keep contradicting yourself. But I’m polite enough to realize that stating the same isn’t a valid argument, but just looks like bluster from someone without something more substantial.”

        My comments about the poor quality of your posts have been accompanied by arguments for my position and against yours. I’ve also linked you to material I’ve written that argues for my view of the canon and other issues in a lot of depth. You haven’t given us anything comparable or better to support your position. Instead, you’ve repeatedly told us how little we supposedly can know about ancient history, that you don’t have to argue for Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. I’ve done far more to support my claims than you’ve done to support yours.

      • “have been in a position to know when the document was circulating, who it was attributed to, and how it was received among Christians.”

        You mean how it was received among folks who called themselves Christians, but who could have been Gnostics, Marcionites, etc. non-Christians are unlikely to be precise in their terminology the way we would like them to be. It’s like today, if a Mormon comes in touch with a pagan and calls himself a Christian, the pagan isn’t going to question it.

        And attribution isn’t very significant. Most falsely attributed documents are falsely attributed from their inception. Furthermore, non-attributed documents tended to have a much lower status, and so would be far less likely to be a topic of comment, let alone non-christian comment.

        ” I didn’t say that the canon should be taught “on the church’s authority”

        So you think people coming into the church must be taught to defend 3 John as canonical historically, before they should rely on it? Little old lady comes to church and says to tell her about Christ, but you say hold your horses, firstly we’ve got to convince you our canon is right, then we’ll be in a position to tell you what is says?

        “Some people trust a pastor because of his education or experience, for example.”

        And should that be normative or not? Because there’s a ton of Mormons with good education. As far as I see you’ve got 2 absurd options, to teach history before preaching to the little old lady, or else accept as reasonable that people should trust individuals because they “seem well educated”. A much more sensible option is that there should be an authoritative church who appoints authorized leaders who you can trust because of that.

        “Once you judge that there is a God, that Jesus is who He claimed to be, that He founded a church, etc., you still have to sort through more evidence to determine that the church Jesus founded is Eastern Orthodoxy, what the canon of Orthodoxy is, etc. After you’ve done all of that sorting, you’re not in much of a position to tell Protestants that they need an authoritative church to do their sorting for them.”

        I would argue that we’re not now in a normative period. For at least a thousand years, there was no such sorting options. The catholic/orthodox church was the only viable option. Well, you could claim that various sects that went in and out of existence at various times like Gnostics etc were options, but I don’t see them as options. Groups that pop into existence then disappear again don’t seem viable to me. Protestants are just the latest in a long line of such things. If this difficult “sorting” simply means ruling out the fly by nighters, it ain’t that hard.

        “But earlier you told us that we can’t know much about ancient history”

        I never said any such thing. For somebody so vocal about claiming that I misrepresented you, you’re doing an awful lot of misrepresentation. What I said was that there are gaps and distortions in what we know about ancient times. People didn’t discuss things in writing that weren’t a controversy. The best efforts to discover what lived in those gaps can be wrong. Half your web site is about over reliance on your abilities to discern what was going on when something was poorly documented. Then you use that to overturn the things that were well documented, because oh well, there were disagreements, so I can make a new religion or of whole cloth.

      • Chris wrote:

        “You mean how it was received among folks who called themselves Christians, but who could have been Gnostics, Marcionites, etc. non-Christians are unlikely to be precise in their terminology the way we would like them to be.”

        You began by claiming that all of my sources were Eastern Orthodox. I asked you to demonstrate that claim, and you still haven’t done so.

        Now you’re acknowledging that I cited some non-Eastern-Orthodox sources, but you’re objecting that the non-Eastern-Orthodox sources I cited in the context of the New Testament canon aren’t of much significance. But that’s inconsistent with your previous claim, and it doesn’t address the non-Eastern-Orthodox sources I cited regarding the Old Testament canon.

        You tell us that non-Christian sources might have been referring to heretical groups as Christians. But not all of their comments relevant to the canon involve identifying a particular group as Christian. When they refer to Christians in general, the inclusion of heretical groups in that reference doesn’t change the fact that non-heretics are included as well. Even when only heretics are being referred to, we’d still be getting information about early non-Eastern-Orthodox sources. If early Christian sources, early heretical sources, and early sources that don’t even profess to be Christian agree about a matter related to the canon, that sort of widespread and diverse agreement is significant.

        Christians have been appealing to that sort of hostile corroboration for hundreds of years. Men like Irenaeus and Origen appealed to it in ancient times, and many scholars and others appeal to it in our day. If you were in a dispute with an atheist, Muslim, or somebody else who didn’t claim to be a Christian, you’d be able to establish a lot of valuable information by means of appealing to hostile corroboration. Yet, instead of acknowledging the significance of the argument, you’re trying to undermine it. As I said earlier, you might better appreciate the significance of this sort of hostile corroboration if you’d spend more time studying and defending Christianity and less time trying to undermine alternatives to Eastern Orthodoxy.

        You write:

        “Most falsely attributed documents are falsely attributed from their inception.”

        The earlier a New Testament document was being attributed to a particular author, the more significant the attribution. The early attribution demonstrates a higher degree of consistency of attribution, and it tells us that the attribution was circulating at a time when people would have been in a better position to judge the matter.

        You keep trying to undermine arguments that you yourself would have to use if you were to make a good argument for Christianity or attempt to make a good case for Eastern Orthodoxy. How do you know that Ignatius actually wrote the letters attributed to him, what Irenaeus wrote, etc.? You’d have to use arguments similar to mine. But you’ve already tried to undermine my arguments, and you’ve told us how little we supposedly can know about ancient history. Your objections are unreasonable, but if you were to apply those objections consistently, you’d be undermining any historical case that could be made for your own belief system.

        You write:

        “So you think people coming into the church must be taught to defend 3 John as canonical historically, before they should rely on it?”

        No, I’m saying that a historical argument for the canon, like mine, should accompany other means of persuasion. See my George Washington illustration that I discussed earlier. See, also, my May 16, 2009 Triablogue post titled “The Means Of Identifying A New Testament Canon”. It’s part of the canon series I cited earlier. (The reason why I keep referring back to that earlier link rather than linking it again is that I’ve repeatedly tried to post more links, but those posts haven’t gone up. For some reason, I was able to link earlier in this thread, but my more recent posts with links aren’t being published.)

        You write:

        “A much more sensible option is that there should be an authoritative church who appoints authorized leaders who you can trust because of that.”

        Again, in order to know that there is such a church, what authority it has, etc., you’d have to do the same sort of research and detailed examination that’s involved in my historical argument for a canon. If the “little old lady” you refer to can’t follow a historical argument for a canon of scripture, why think she can follow a historical argument for Eastern Orthodoxy?

        You write:

        “For at least a thousand years, there was no such sorting options. The catholic/orthodox church was the only viable option. Well, you could claim that various sects that went in and out of existence at various times like Gnostics etc were options, but I don’t see them as options. Groups that pop into existence then disappear again don’t seem viable to me.”

        The issue isn’t what’s “viable to” you. I’ve argued against many of the historical claims of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on the web page I linked earlier. You can’t just assume, without argument, that your view of church history is correct.

        You write:

        ” If this difficult ‘sorting’ simply means ruling out the fly by nighters, it ain’t that hard.”

        Before you even get to the point of distinguishing between different professing Christian groups, you have to believe that Christianity in general is correct. And that involves sorting through a lot of disputed issues (God’s existence, Jesus’ identity, the reliability of early Christian documents, etc.). Once a person is convinced of Christianity in a general sense, he’d then have to make the sort of choice you refer to. And even at that point, the dispute between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox alone is a dispute that’s lasted for centuries and has motivated the writing of many millions of pages of material, lengthy and sometimes complicated arguments, etc. So far, a lot more people are Catholic than Orthodox. If you’ve only been able to persuade a minority of people, and you’ve been using a lot of lengthy and complicated argumentation in the process, then what does that say for your appeal to that “little old lady”?

        You write:

        “Then you use that to overturn the things that were well documented, because oh well, there were disagreements, so I can make a new religion or of whole cloth.”

        Where did I say that?

        And here’s what you said earlier about the limitations of our historical knowledge:

        “The fact is, neither of us can say with even the slightest degree of precision why ancient sources disagree with you, nor disagree with me. What comes down to us through history is like one of those peek holes on your front door. It gives you a tiny, distorted and ultimately limited view of what was going on.”

        As I said before, you keep trying to have it both ways. You claim to have a lot of knowledge about ancient history at times (e.g., your absurd claim that all of the patristic sources were Eastern Orthodox). On other occasions, though, when a historical discussion isn’t going the way you like, you tell us about how little we supposedly can know about ancient history.

      • “it doesn’t address the non-Eastern-Orthodox sources I cited regarding the Old Testament canon.”

        We don’t have to speculate there, those guys are definitely heretics.

        “the inclusion of heretical groups in that reference doesn’t change the fact that non-heretics are included as well.”

        And you know that how?

        “early heretical sources, and early sources that don’t even profess to be Christian agree about a matter related to the canon, that sort of widespread and diverse agreement is significant.”

        Classic special pleading. If the Gnostics have a bigger canon than you, well at least they include what you do, so you’ll count them as your supporters. If the Marcionites have a smaller canon, well at least it is a subset of your canon, so you’ll count them as your supporters. Anything and everything can be pressed into service of supporting your preconceived position, regardless of the facts.

        “consistency of attribution, and it tells us that the attribution was circulating at a time “when people would have been in a better position to judge the matter.”

        And is that decisive? Attribution of Hebrews to Paul goes back as far as we are able to go. So did Paul write it? What do you say?

        “How do you know that Ignatius actually wrote the letters attributed to him”

        Purely on an historical basis, there’d be question marks in my mind if Ignatius wrote it. I give it the benefit of the doubt because the church tells me to.

        “in order to know that there is such a church, what authority it has, etc., you’d have to do the same sort of research and detailed examination that’s involved in my historical argument for a canon”

        Not if we returned to the previous normative position of one church. It worked for a long time, who are you guys to upset the apple cart?

        “If the “little old lady” you refer to can’t follow a historical argument for a canon of scripture, why think she can follow a historical argument for Eastern Orthodoxy?”

        Apostolic succession is pretty easy to grasp compared to arguments pro and con 2 Peter.

        “you have to believe that Christianity in general is correct. And that involves sorting through a lot of disputed issues”

        Some people might, but it’s not the normative way things happen in the NT.

        “And even at that point, the dispute between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox alone is a dispute that’s lasted for centuries and has motivated the writing of many millions of pages of material”

        None of those issues are likely to affect the new believer.

        “As I said before, you keep trying to have it both ways. You claim to have a lot of knowledge about ancient history at times (e.g., your absurd claim that all of the patristic sources were Eastern Orthodox). On other occasions, though, when a historical discussion isn’t going the way you like, you tell us about how little we supposedly can know about ancient history.”

        That’s what history is like. Some things we know an awful lot about. Other things we don’t know much about and are debated endlessly by historians. It’s not like sola scriptura solves this for you. Witness baptists and Presbyterians endlessly debating the historical sources on baptism. It seems reasonable to assume the apostles had a position on this issue, but purely based on history, you can’t prove satisfactorily to a room full of Protestants which one it is. The most important of all Christian sacraments and ceremonies, and you can’t tell how to do it based in scripture alone, not even scripture plus the earliest church fathers.

      • Chris wrote:

        “We don’t have to speculate there, those guys are definitely heretics.”

        First of all, calling my non-Eastern-Orthodox sources heretics doesn’t refute my point that I’ve been citing non-Eastern-Orthodox sources.

        Secondly, the concept of hostile corroboration involves sources that are hostile. Their hostility makes their corroboration more significant. Therefore, objecting that they’re sources hostile to Christianity, such as by calling them heretics, misses the point.

        Third, the non-Eastern-Orthodox sources who give us information about the Old Testament canon include the Old Testament authors and some of the authors of the Apocrypha. Do you consider them “heretics”?

        You wrote:

        “And you know that how?”

        When a source refers to Christians without qualifying that reference, we don’t assume that only one segment of Christianity is being discussed. If you want us to assume a narrower definition of the term, the burden of proof is on your shoulders.

        Some of the sources in question, like Trypho and Celsus, tell us that they’re addressing Christianity in general. And their assessment is corroborated by the men who responded to them, namely Justin Martyr and Origen. Why do you think men like Justin and Origen wrote responses? Was Trypho only criticizing Gnostics, but Justin decided to respond anyway, even though he wasn’t a Gnostic? Was Celsus only criticizing Marcionites, but Origen decided to respond anyway, even though he wasn’t a Marcionite? Celsus will sometimes single out groups within professing Christianity for criticism, but at other times he refers to Christians in general, without that sort of qualification. Again, if you want us to assume that he had a narrow group in mind when he referred to Christians without qualification, the burden of proof is on your shoulders. That’s how language works. We don’t assume that unqualified language is meant to be qualified. If you want to add a qualifier, you have to argue for it.

        And what do you think you’re accomplishing by disputing who these non-Christian sources were addressing? Even if they had only been addressing groups like the Gnostics and Marcionites, we’d still know what non-heretical sources believed by reading their writings. If people like Trypho and Celsus tell us how the New Testament documents were received in heretical circles, and men like Justin and Origen tell us how they were received in sources you’d consider orthodox, then we have information about the acceptance of the documents in both heretical and non-heretical contexts.

        You wrote:

        “Classic special pleading. If the Gnostics have a bigger canon than you, well at least they include what you do, so you’ll count them as your supporters. If the Marcionites have a smaller canon, well at least it is a subset of your canon, so you’ll count them as your supporters. Anything and everything can be pressed into service of supporting your preconceived position, regardless of the facts.”

        You’re missing the point. If we’re examining how widely a document was accepted, we include all of the sources. Saying that a source also accepted other documents or rejected other ones that I accept doesn’t change the fact that there’s some overlap. The non-overlap is taken into account as well. We then look at the end result, how widely accepted each document was. If a Gnostic group accepts a document rejected by the vast majority of other professing Christians, whereas a document like Matthew’s gospel is accepted much more widely, that’s a significant difference.

        Similarly, if the early Jewish opponents of Christianity claim that Jesus’ tomb was empty because the disciples stole Jesus’ body, that corroboration of the empty tomb is significant. To respond by pointing out that the Jewish opponents disagreed with Christians about how the tomb became empty is to miss the point. Both Christian and non-Christian scholars take the Jewish corroboration of the empty tomb as significant evidence for the empty tomb’s historicity. But if we were to apply your reasoning, we’d have to conclude that they’re engaging in “classic special pleading”, that they’re reaching conclusions “regardless of the facts”, etc.

        As I’ve said before, your reasoning isn’t just anti-Protestant. It’s also anti-Christian and, if you were to apply it consistently, anti-Eastern-Orthodox. Try making a historical case for Eastern Orthodoxy that’s consistent with the ridiculous standards you’re applying to Protestantism.

        You wrote:

        “And is that decisive?”

        A historical argument doesn’t have to be decisive by itself in order to add weight to a cumulative case.

        You wrote:

        “Attribution of Hebrews to Paul goes back as far as we are able to go. So did Paul write it? What do you say?”

        You keep making excuses for why you won’t defend your claims about Eastern Orthodoxy, yet you expect me to address new topics that you keep bringing up along the way. That doesn’t make sense. Now you want me to address the authorship of Hebrews. I’ve argued for my view of Hebrews in my series on the canon. If you want me to discuss the issue further in this thread, then you should first demonstrate the claims you’ve been making about Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s absurd to expect me to keep addressing additional topics when you’ve been so negligent about the topics already on the table.

        You wrote:

        “Purely on an historical basis, there’d be question marks in my mind if Ignatius wrote it. I give it the benefit of the doubt because the church tells me to.”

        Where has Eastern Orthodoxy told you to believe in Ignatius’ authorship of those documents? And why should we believe something just because Eastern Orthodoxy says it?

        You wrote:

        “Not if we returned to the previous normative position of one church.”

        How does “returning to the previous normative position of one church” allow you to avoid having to make an argument for the alleged identity and authority of that church? And since we haven’t returned to the “previous position” you refer to, what’s the relevance of telling us what would happen under circumstances different than the ones we’re living under? Furthermore, how do you know what occurred “previously” without examining historical evidence? And if you’re examining historical evidence, then you’re once again in the position I’ve said you’re in. You have to sort through historical controversies, as Protestants and others have to. You can’t avoid it.

        You wrote:

        “Apostolic succession is pretty easy to grasp compared to arguments pro and con 2 Peter.”

        That’s an assertion, not an argument. Why are we supposed to agree with you? The notion of apostolic succession is highly controversial. There are disputes about valid and invalid ordination, true and false bishops, whether particular behavior or doctrines have invalidated a claim of succession, etc. Many differing and contradictory groups have claimed some sort of succession from the apostles. A vague appeal to apostolic succession doesn’t single out Eastern Orthodoxy. You need more of an argument to lead us to Orthodoxy, and that doesn’t go well with your appeal to that “little old lady” who supposedly can’t handle such arguments.

        You wrote:

        “Some people might, but it’s not the normative way things happen in the NT.”

        Your view of the New Testament is itself something you have to arrive at through a series of disputed historical judgments.

        You wrote:

        “None of those issues are likely to affect the new believer.”

        If the “new believer” isn’t affected by the dispute between Catholics and Orthodox, then why should we assume that he’ll be Orthodox? If he’s not Orthodox, then why would be become one?

        You wrote:

        “Some things we know an awful lot about. Other things we don’t know much about and are debated endlessly by historians.”

        You’ve told us that all of the patristic sources I’ve cited were Eastern Orthodox. That’s not a conclusion that historians agree about, however. So, should we conclude that your view of the patristic sources is something “we don’t know much about”? What about your other beliefs that are disputed among historians and other scholars? Does it follow that those beliefs that you hold are things we “don’t know much about”?

        You wrote:

        “The most important of all Christian sacraments and ceremonies, and you can’t tell how to do it based in scripture alone, not even scripture plus the earliest church fathers.”

        You keep shooting yourself in the foot. If the existence of a dispute proves that an issue is undiscernable, then the existence of disputes over the truthfulness of Orthodoxy prove that the truthfulness of it is undiscernable. Since atheists continue to dispute God’s existence, do you conclude that we can’t discern whether God exists with the resources we have? After all, why would atheists keep denying God’s existence if there was sufficient evidence for His existence? The evidence must be insufficient, according to your dubious reasoning.

        I don’t need paedobaptists to agree with me about infant baptism in order for me to consider the evidence against their position sufficient.

      • “Their hostility makes their corroboration more significant.”

        Not always. Hostility is not a cure for ignorance. Hostility can be the cause of misrepresentation.

        “If you want us to assume a narrower definition of the term, the burden of proof is on your shoulders”

        I don’t see why your set of presuppositions puts the burden of proof anywhere. If someone hostile to Christianity is writing in Utah, and I read it in a thousand years when the history of Christianity in Utah is now lost, I shouldn’t assume that Christianity in Utah is normative.

        Furthermore, even if someone in Utah criticized Christianity in a way that was applicable to mainstream Christianity and Utah Christianity, it doesn’t follow that he has a correct knowledge of the canon from people in Utah. If someone out of Utah responded, it still wouldn’t validate it.

        “Some of the sources in question, like Trypho and Celsus, tell us that they’re addressing Christianity in general. And their assessment is corroborated by the men who responded to them, namely Justin Martyr”

        On the contrary, Justin Martyr responds to Trypho by saying that the people he is referring to as Christians are just Christians in name only, and are in reality heretics. (e.g. dial 80.2-3). So if you want your proof, there it is.

        “If people like Trypho and Celsus tell us how the New Testament documents were received in heretical circles, and men like Justin and Origen tell us how they were received in sources you’d consider orthodox, then we have information about the acceptance of the documents in both heretical and non-heretical contexts.”

        That’s fine for me, but for you, the whole lot of them are heretics. None of them are even close to believing what you believe. They’re just random voices calling random things from antiquity from which you arbitrarily pick the things you like.

        “We then look at the end result, how widely accepted each document was.”

        So then you essentially start from the presupposition that the majority are right. Perhaps because the majority are likely to be inheritors of some kind of authentic tradition about their apostolocity. But if you trust this line of reasoning, you have to trust these sources on the apostolocity of their interpretation of scripture and traditions external to scripture. However you inconsistently say that you think you have good reason to trust them on one issue, whilst rejecting other facts which ought to be accepted or rejected on the exact same basis. Either authentic traditions were passed down about various things, including authorship, or none of it can really be trusted. You can’t consistently pick only one bit to trust because it suits your preconceived Protestant theology.

        I see on Hebrews you characterize the authorship as disputed and uncertain in the early church. But then you jump from there to saying, oh well, it must have had apostolic sanction since there was widespread belief the source was Pauline. This is not good enough to make it scripture. That’s not a provenance that gives one sufficient confidence to declare it the word of God based purely on historical facts. Even if we accepted that Paul at least read the book and liked it, doesn’t make it the word of God. Paul was very widely read, and he quoted approvingly lots of stuff. Since the Protestant world view is that the early church couldn’t retain apostolic teachings for more than 5 minutes without corrupting them, what are the chances in a Protestant world view that the early church could pass on the correct distinction between a book Paul quite liked, and a book that Paul had declared infallible? That’s assuming Paul was in the business of declaring books infallible and the word of God, which in itself seems implausible.

        “Where has Eastern Orthodoxy told you to believe in Ignatius’ authorship of those documents?”

        They are accepted as such. The attitude to disputing things is different in Orthodoxy.

        “And why should we believe something just because Eastern Orthodoxy says it?”

        I didn’t invite you to believe in Ignatius. You seem to have done that on your lonesome.

        “How does “returning to the previous normative position of one church” allow you to avoid having to make an argument for the alleged identity and authority of that church?”

        Isn’t it obvious? Quite a few prominant Protestants are making the argument that the canon is correct based on the consensus of the church. To which a thinking objector would reply “which church?”. If there’s only one, then there is no such objection. Of course if you don’t think such an argument is needed, one wonders why so many Protestants feel the need to make it.

        “And since we haven’t returned to the “previous position” you refer to, what’s the relevance of telling us what would happen under circumstances different than the ones we’re living under?”

        Since you guys are prominent in the cause of changing the status quo, you should have to establish that it is a defensible position that doesn’t result in a mess of self contradictions.

        “There are disputes about valid and invalid ordination, true and false bishops, whether particular behavior or doctrines have invalidated a claim of succession, etc. ”

        Our theology of succession has no such problems. Your argument is akin to saying there are disputes about valid and invalid faith, true and false faith, and therefore justification by faith can’t be held.

        “If the “new believer” isn’t affected by the dispute between Catholics and Orthodox, then why should we assume that he’ll be Orthodox? If he’s not Orthodox, then why would be become one?”

        The point is, the new believer will get all the essential basics of the Christian faith regardless of the disputes between orthodox and catholic. The same can’t be said once you venture outside if that.

        “What about your other beliefs that are disputed among historians and other scholars? Does it follow that those beliefs that you hold are things we “don’t know much about”?

        On a purely historical basis, sure, there are beliefs we hold that can’t be established purely on an historical basis. Just like Presbyterians and Baptists can never defeat each other. When history fails, who are you gunna trust?

        “You keep shooting yourself in the foot. If the existence of a dispute proves that an issue is undiscernable, then the existence of disputes over the truthfulness of Orthodoxy prove that the truthfulness of it is undiscernable.”

        There’s a difference between being undiscernable on its own merits, cut off from theology, cut off from authority, and cut off from a rational ecclesiology, and not being discernible at all. On a purely historical basis can you establish that Moses parted the red sea? Of course not. But you can believe it, because it’s the only rational belief within a much larger and consistent world view.

      • Chris wrote:

        “You keep complaining that I’ve given no reason to trust Orthodoxy ( as if this forum is a good place for such a thing), but you’ve given us even less reason to trust your canon. At least I’ve pointed out that we claim something which is a prerequisite, namely the authority to do so. You don’t claim that, so you don’t even get up to the plate.”

        I’ve cited a series of posts I wrote about the canon, and I’ve defended some of that material in this thread. By contrast, you haven’t supported your claims about Eastern Orthodoxy, but instead have offered excuses for why you shouldn’t be expected to support your position. You then assert that I’ve offered less support for my position than you’ve offered for yours, since I don’t claim to have a source of authority that’s allegedly needed. Whether such a source of authority is necessary is one of the issues under dispute. You can’t just assume that your position on the issue is correct. You have to argue for that conclusion. If the teachings of Jesus and the Biblical authors imply a canon, as I’ve argued in my series I’ve cited, then the authority of Jesus and the Biblical authors stands behind my canon. If you want us to believe that some other authority is needed, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, then you’ll have to argue for that conclusion rather than just asserting it.

      • “I’ve cited a series of posts I wrote about the canon”

        You’ve cited them in the sense that you’ve pointed them out. Just as I’ve pointed out what the church fathers said about these issues. If its just a matter of pointing to what can beat your guys up, which you seem to think it is, then 2000 years of my guys can beat you up.

        “By contrast, you haven’t supported your claims about Eastern Orthodoxy”

        Hang on, you’ve just claimed that pointing to a list of articles is a good argument. I’ve pointed you to the church fathers from the 1st through 20th centuries, and you haven’t refuted them all. I guess I win.

        “I’ve defended some of that material in this thread.”

        And I’ve pointed out problems with your material in this thread.

        “Whether such a source of authority is necessary is one of the issues under dispute. You can’t just assume that your position on the issue is correct. ”

        Obviously I’m not just assuming it: I’m pointing out lots for reasons why it is necessary, and we’re having a discussion about it, in case you missed it.

        “If the teachings of Jesus and the Biblical authors imply a canon, as I’ve argued in my series I’ve cited, then the authority of Jesus and the Biblical authors stands behind my canon.”

        Wow, that’s a jump in logic. Jesus implies a canon, therefore he stands behind MY canon. Never knew this debating stuff was so easy. Jesus supports me so there.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Hostility can be the cause of misrepresentation.”

        The issue is what’s probable, not what’s possible. Telling us what “can” happen isn’t enough.

        When evaluating ancient non-Christian sources, we take the same factors into account that we consider when evaluating other sources: the general reliability of human memory, the general reliability of human eyesight, hearing, and other senses, potential motives for the source to be honest or lie, etc. And we compare one source with another. If non-Christian sources A, B, and C agree that a particular gospel was accepted by Christians in general, and Christian sources X, Y, and Z say the same thing, we don’t assume that they all collectively had unreliable memories at the same time and on the same subject. We don’t assume that they all collectively mistook something that was true in only one location for something that was true more broadly. And so on. If you want us to assume that all of these sources collectively had a memory lapse, lied, or were unreliable in some other way, the burden is on your shoulders to make that case. It’s not what normally happens. We don’t begin with such a position as our default. It could be that all of the sources are mistaken. But you would have to make an argument for that conclusion rather than just mentioning it as a possibility.

        For similar reasons, the Utah example you go on to cite is irrelevant. I haven’t just cited sources in one location, and you’ve given us no reason to think that the sources I cited were addressing just one location. Irenaeus, for example, is addressing global Christianity when he appeals to hostile corroboration in book 3 of his treatise Against Heresies. That’s why he cites a broad variety of churches, in West and East, and all Christians, from the least to the most educated. When he says that the scriptures of Christianity are corroborated by the heretics, it would make nonsense of his argument and language to suppose that he’s only referring to heretics in one, two, or a few locations. And he was in a good position to have a lot of information on the subject. He traveled widely. He was in frequent contact with Christians in other parts of the world. Christians from other locations visited his church. He had studied the writings and the belief systems of some of the heretics in the process of composing his treatise. And he tells us about the background of some of those heretics. He sometimes tells us where they’re from and where they operated, so we know that he wasn’t addressing only, say, one or two locations. Some of the same observations could be made about Josephus, Justin Martyr, Origen, and other ancient sources I’ve been citing. You aren’t just disagreeing with me. You’re also disagreeing with Irenaeus, Origen, and others who used the argument from hostile corroboration before me. And you’re disagreeing with its widespread use in modern scholarship.

        As I’ve pointed out many times now, the irrational skepticism you’re applying to the historical beliefs of Protestants must also be applied in other contexts. You can’t exempt Eastern Orthodoxy or your own historical beliefs on other matters. You’ve made many historical claims about Eastern Orthodoxy and other subjects in this thread without applying the same sort of irrational skepticism to those claims that you apply to Protestant claims about history. You need to be more consistent.

        If you’re going to claim that my combination of Christian and non-Christian sources is insufficient, then you’ll need to explain why your frequent appeal to Christians alone supposedly is sufficient. If you can appeal to the church fathers alone as evidence that the early church was Eastern Orthodox, then why are we supposed to think that my combination of the fathers and other sources isn’t enough? The church fathers were a tremendously small percentage of the hundreds of millions of individuals who lived in ancient times and the Christians who lived then. If you can extrapolate from the fathers to reach conclusions about ancient Christianity in general, then what sense does it make for you to object that the larger number of sources I’m citing aren’t representative enough?

        You write:

        “On the contrary, Justin Martyr responds to Trypho by saying that the people he is referring to as Christians are just Christians in name only, and are in reality heretics. (e.g. dial 80.2-3).”

        I’ve already addressed that objection in my comments on Celsus above. Like Celsus, Trypho can address smaller groups within professing Christianity at one point, but address a larger group elsewhere. Citing an example of his addressing a smaller group doesn’t prove that he was addressing a smaller group in all of his comments. Your objection is specious.

        And you’re misrepresenting the passage you’ve cited. In section 80, Justin acknowledges that what Trypho has said accurately represents his beliefs and the beliefs of other Christians. He goes on to say that some Christians hold a different view, however, and he mentions that there are other individuals who hold other views and are heretics. Justin doesn’t say that Trypho has only represented the views of heretics, much less does he say that everything Trypho has reported is only true of heretics. Your reading of this passage in Justin’s Dialogue is incorrect, and the suggestion that Trypho was only addressing heretics throughout the entire Dialogue is even more absurd.

        For example, Trypho takes the gospels to be representative of mainstream Christianity, as opposed to common misconceptions about the religion reported by other sources (Dialogue, 10). Justin agrees with that assessment and goes on to repeatedly cite the gospels as representative of mainstream Christianity. To ignore such agreements between Trypho and Justin, while pointing us to section 80 of the Dialogue and distorting what’s said there, is highly misleading.

        And I’ve already explained why Trypho’s testimony would be significant even if he had only been addressing heretics. Why do you keep repeating arguments that have already been refuted?

        You write:

        “That’s fine for me, but for you, the whole lot of them are heretics….Since the Protestant world view is that the early church couldn’t retain apostolic teachings for more than 5 minutes”

        Those are ridiculous distortions of my position. I’ve never even suggested the ideas you’re putting in my mouth.

        You write:

        “So then you essentially start from the presupposition that the majority are right.”

        No, that’s not what I said. A majority view can be overturned by other evidence. But if there isn’t other evidence to overturn it, then a majority view carries evidential significance, for reasons like the ones I discussed at the beginning of this post. If you want us to believe that the majority I’ve appealed to was wrong, then you need to produce an argument to that effect. Simply mentioning that it’s possible for a majority to be wrong isn’t enough.

        You write:

        “They’re just random voices calling random things from antiquity from which you arbitrarily pick the things you like.”

        Try applying that reasoning to other historical contexts. When historians who study the Roman empire appeal to what a majority of sources tell them, when they single out sources like Suetonius and Tacitus as reliable, etc., are they acting “randomly”, based on what they “like”? No, they’re following criteria like what I’ve been outlining: the general reliability of human memory, the general trustworthiness of human testimony, hostile corroboration, etc.

        You write:

        “However you inconsistently say that you think you have good reason to trust them on one issue, whilst rejecting other facts which ought to be accepted or rejected on the exact same basis.”

        Tell me, specifically, where I’ve done what you claim. When I reject a majority view on one issue, but accept a majority view on another, I give reasons for making that distinction. I don’t claim that we should always agree with the majority. Similarly, you agree with the majority on some issues while disagreeing with the majority on others. Does that prove that you’re guilty of what you accuse me of doing?

        You write:

        “They are accepted as such.”

        Yes, some Eastern Orthodox believe that Ignatius wrote the letters attributed to him. And some Orthodox have believed things you disagree with. If a lot of Eastern Orthodox in previous centuries believed in geocentrism, does it follow that you should accept geocentrism? Or that it was taught by Eastern Orthodoxy? When ancient Christians accepted a forged document, does it follow that the authenticity of that forgery was a teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy? And how does the fact that Eastern Orthodoxy taught something prove that we should believe it? Or how does the popularity of a belief among Eastern Orthodox prove that belief’s truthfulness? You keep making appeals to what Orthodox believe without explaining why we should accept a belief on that basis.

        If you’re going to appeal to the church fathers as evidence for Eastern Orthodoxy, then you can’t assume the truthfulness of Eastern Orthodoxy as your basis for accepting the authenticity of the patristic documents. Rather, you’ll have to first establish the patristic documents on some basis other than the alleged authority of Eastern Orthodoxy. And how would you do that in a manner consistent with the standards you’ve applied to the Biblical documents?

        We have far more early sources corroborating the authorship of the New Testament documents than we have corroborating the authorship of Ignatius’ letters. Yet, you keep trying to cast doubt on the evidence for the New Testament literature. Ignatian authorship of the letters attributed to him is discussed more widely in later centuries than it was in earlier centuries, but what sense would it make to argue that those later affirmations of Ignatian authorship outweigh the earlier and larger number of affirmations of New Testament authorship? How are you going to establish the authenticity of the patristic literature if you apply the same irrational skepticism to it that you’ve applied to the Biblical documents?

        You write:

        “If there’s only one, then there is no such objection.”

        The mere fact that there was a church in the past doesn’t tell you that Christianity is true, that the church in question was Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. Your appeal to “if there’s only one” doesn’t make sense.

        To conclude that there was one church in the past, you first have to make a series of disputed historical judgments. To identify that one church as Eastern Orthodoxy, and to accept Eastern Orthodoxy’s authority claims as true, you have to make a series of further historical judgments that are disputed. How is the “little old lady” you referred to earlier supposed to do that? How would she know to not trust all of the people who deny that God exists, deny that Jesus existed, deny that Jesus was the Messiah, deny that He rose from the dead, etc.? How would she know to not believe those who claim that the apostles founded differing and contradictory churches? How would she know to trust Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, or some other alternative?

        You write:

        “Our theology of succession has no such problems.”

        Yes, it does. Since you’ve claimed that all of the patristic sources were Eastern Orthodox, then you have to address problems in both the East and West during that timeframe. Thus, the early disputes over who were the legitimate bishops of Rome and who the legitimate bishops were in other locations are all relevant here. Then there’s the issue of monespicopacy. It isn’t just Protestant scholars who argue that the monepiscopacy was a gradual development. Some Eastern Orthodox scholars have done the same. You have to take into account all of the differing definitions of apostolic succession in the early centuries, with all of the various qualifiers added by different sources (as I’ve documented in my series on apostolic succession that I referred to earlier). The mere existence of continuous church leadership within a city doesn’t prove that apostolic succession has existed there as you define it. The existence of Communist leaders in China today doesn’t tell us that the leaders of China a thousand or three thousand years ago were Communists or would approve of the leaders who succeeded them. It doesn’t even tell us that the offices held by modern Chinese leaders are the same as the offices that existed in the past. Even where there’s continuity of leadership in a vague sense, there can be many changes in details with the passing of time.

        You write:

        “The point is, the new believer will get all the essential basics of the Christian faith regardless of the disputes between orthodox and catholic.”

        First of all, you’re changing the subject. You had said that a little old lady wouldn’t be able to follow my historical argument for a canon of scripture. I responded by noting that the same little old lady wouldn’t be able to follow a historical argument for a canon of the Eastern Orthodox rule of faith. And now you’re responding by saying that a “new believer” could have “the essential basics” without having something like a historical argument for the Eastern Orthodox rule. But how is that relevant to what I’ve argued? As I’ve said before, I acknowledge that somebody could become a Christian without having something like my historical argument for a canon of scripture or without having a canon by some other means. Yet, that didn’t keep you from raising your little old lady objection. If the objection applies to me, despite my belief that a person can be a Christian without having something like my historical argument for a canon, then the objection applies to you as well.

        Second, are you saying that it’s not essential to identify and be part of the one true church, which is what you consider Eastern Orthodoxy to be? When you converted to Orthodoxy, were you converting over a secondary issue? If that your position?

        You write:

        “There’s a difference between being undiscernable on its own merits, cut off from theology, cut off from authority, and cut off from a rational ecclesiology, and not being discernible at all.”

        You haven’t demonstrated that Protestants are cut off from those things. You just assert it. The idea that we don’t have authority, just because we don’t have a system of authority like yours, is absurd. Scripture is an authority. And even lesser authorities can’t be dismissed just because they aren’t infallible. Do you deny that parents and government officials have authority, for example, since they’re not infallible?

        And you keep putting the cart before the horse. Eastern Orthodoxy depends on concepts like God’s existence, the Messiahship of Jesus, and His founding of a church with attributes like the ones Orthodoxy claims to have. Those are highly disputed issues. You can’t appeal to Orthodoxy to settle those disputes, since Orthodoxy assumes a particular position on those subjects. You can’t settle a dispute with an atheist over God’s existence by appealing to the authority of Eastern Orthodoxy. You can’t appeal to Orthodoxy to settle a dispute over whether Orthodoxy is the church Jesus founded. If such disputes can’t be settled without an appeal to an authority like Eastern Orthodoxy, then there’s no way to settle those disputes.

        You write:

        “You’ve cited them in the sense that you’ve pointed them out. Just as I’ve pointed out what the church fathers said about these issues.”

        There’s a difference between a supported argument and an unsupported assertion. When I link you to articles I’ve written with hundreds of references to primary sources and modern scholarship, while you make vague references to how the church fathers as a whole supposedly support your position, those are two radically different things. Your refusal to acknowledge that difference reflects your frivolous mindset.

        You write:

        “Wow, that’s a jump in logic. Jesus implies a canon, therefore he stands behind MY canon.”

        That’s another distortion of what I’ve said. My series on the canon argues that my canon is implied, not just that “a canon” is implied. You’re criticizing me for an argument I never made.

      • “If non-Christian sources A, B, and C agree that a particular gospel was accepted by Christians in general, and Christian sources X, Y, and Z say the same thing, we don’t assume that they all collectively had unreliable memories”

        Thats assuming that the real Christians were the predominant group. I get to assume that, YOU DON’T. You are the inheritor of a tradition starting with Luther who stood alone against the world. You are in sympathy with various groups who started from nothing, claimed to be the only ones with the truth, and for centuries only comprised a percentage point or two of those professing Christ. You don’t even get the right to presume that the truth rested with a sizable minority, or one of the more prominent heretical groups.

        If a modern and widely read Roman Catholic addresses many heretical groups, but does not address baptists, should we then assume that baptists don’t exist, and/or are wrong? Does your blog address all heretical groups? Should we assume that heretical groups are wrong on the basis that your blog does not address them?

        “Irenaeus, for example, is addressing global Christianity when he appeals to hostile corroboration in book 3 of his treatise Against Heresies.”

        It’s well known that the canon wasn’t settled by Irenaeus’ time. I hardly need demonstrate this. In fact Irenaeus’ apparent canon is not yours. So if Irenaeus’ is so clever, so informed, even to the extent of knowing about ALL heretical groups in the whole world, how come he doesn’t know the canon? And if he doesn’t know the canon, how can you know it on a purely historical basis?

        Very clearly, whatever we might make of Irenaeus, we can’t make it to mean that everyone in that time (including heretics!) knew the canon and agreed on the canon. If you think it must mean that, I want to know when you are ripping the books out of your bible that weren’t in Irenaeus’ canon.

        “As I’ve pointed out many times now, the irrational skepticism you’re applying to the historical beliefs of Protestants must also be applied in other contexts. You can’t exempt Eastern Orthodoxy or your own historical beliefs on other matters”

        Yes I can, because I’m not the one whose tradition rests on the presupposition that one man can have the truth “contra mundum”.

        “Justin doesn’t say that Trypho has only represented the views of heretics, much less does he say that everything Trypho has reported is only true of heretics.”

        Irrelevant. The point is that Trypho did not discern different “Christian” groups the way that Christians themselves to. Justin had to point this out to him, though no doubt the subtleties were lost on a Pagan. We know that Trypho was in contact with some (apparently) orthodox Christians, and some heretical ones. We’ve got zero reason to believe Trypho did a survey of all “Christian” groups.

        “example, Trypho takes the gospels to be representative of mainstream Christianity”

        Again, assuming that “mainstream Christianity” is ipso facto, true Christianity. I get to assume that, you don’t.

        “A majority view can be overturned by other evidence. But if there isn’t other evidence to overturn it, then a majority view carries evidential significance, for reasons like the ones I discussed at the beginning of this post.”

        Being as the canon is more a theological construct rather than an historical one, you can’t tell us what that evidence might look like, were it to exist. Nor why the majority view shouldn’t carry the same “evidential significance” in other areas, like interpretation of scripture or apostolicity of traditions.

        “When historians who study the Roman empire appeal to what a majority of sources tell them, when they single out sources like Suetonius and Tacitus as reliable, etc., are they acting “randomly”, based on what they “like”?”

        History tells us there were other competing canons, both wildly different and subtley different. You can’t compare it to purely historical statements. Purely historically, there are other canons. You’ve simply inconsisteny decided that in this matter (and only in this matter) majority rules.

        “When I reject a majority view on one issue, but accept a majority view on another, I give reasons for making that distinction.”

        But… It seems like you have set up majority rule as the defacto right position on this issue, that must stand without a very very good argument to the contrary. The Protestant ethic of every man as his own Pope, means that it is impossible to consistently weigh the value of these other considerations which apparently make you go one way on this, and the other way on every other issue. No wonder Protestantism is in disarray as Dr Wallace laments, it is set up to fail.

        ” Similarly, you agree with the majority on some issues while disagreeing with the majority on others.”

        I’m not aware of being in a minority on any theological issue whatsoever, as judged by the majority at the time of, and soon subsequent to when that issue was resolved by the church.

        ” If a lot of Eastern Orthodox in previous centuries believed in geocentrism, does it follow that you should accept geocentrism? ”

        If Geocentrism was an important liturgical and theological construct then I would probably keep my doubts about it private. Of course it is no such thing.

        “How are you going to establish the authenticity of the patristic literature if you apply the same irrational skepticism to it that you’ve applied to the Biblical documents?”

        Firstly, it’s not my irrational skepticism. I’m just leading you towards recognizing your own inconsistencies, by pointing out your presuppositions.

        Secondly, there is not earlier or better attestation of all NT documents compared to Ignatius. I mean, for a start, you won’t tell us who wrote Hebrews. People argue all the time about which James wrote James, which Jude wrote Jude, which John wrote Revelation, etc etc. Nobody at least argues about what Ignatius is the subject of discussion.

        ” To identify that one church as Eastern Orthodoxy, and to accept Eastern Orthodoxy’s authority claims as true, you have to make a series of further historical judgments that are disputed.”

        Yes well, as far as I see, that judgement call is infinitely easier than identifying who wrote Jude, and other similar questions that Protestantism requires me to answer, before I can sign up to its rule of faith. You might argue your case on that, but on what basis can you say definitively that I’m wrong? You see, Orthodoxy is a lot about majority rule, which you reject. Orthodoxy is what it is due to a long history of that. So there’s a long long history of Christians who seemed to think they can’t figure out this canon thing or this theology thing on their own, they need to do it in the existing community. Then you come along and say, hey it’s easier to figure out our way. History doesn’t agre with you, and neither do I. When it comes to a judgement of what is possible for individuals to figure out, who better to settle it than all the individuals acting collectively?

        “Thus, the early disputes over who were the legitimate bishops of Rome and who the legitimate bishops were in other locations are all relevant here”

        Not really. You have a poor sense of Orthodox theology in this matter.

        “Then there’s the issue of monespicopacy. It isn’t just Protestant scholars who argue that the monepiscopacy was a gradual development.”

        What is seemingly certain is that mono episcopacy existed within the lifetime of the apostles. What is far less certain, is the opposite, whether plurality of elders existed. And this is where sola scriptura founders. Scripture is at best unclear on the topic, but either way it doesn’t tell us what the surviving apostles instituted after the NT was written, but before they died.

        “You have to take into account all of the differing definitions of apostolic succession in the early centuries, with all of the various qualifiers added by different sources”

        Why should I overly concern myself about that? That is surely the moral equivalent of me saying to you that you should give up completely on a canon because of disagreements about it in the early centuries.

        “The mere existence of continuous church leadership within a city doesn’t prove that apostolic succession has existed there as you define it. ”

        And how do I define it? I suspect you’ve spent too much time talking with the Romans.

        ” As I’ve said before, I acknowledge that somebody could become a Christian without having something like my historical argument for a canon of scripture or without having a canon by some other means. Yet, that didn’t keep you from raising your little old lady objection. If the objection applies to me, despite my belief that a person can be a Christian without having something like my historical argument for a canon, then the objection applies to you as well.”

        No it doesn’t, because I believe that the authority of the church is an appropriate starting point for the faith of the little old lady. Just because other people *could* deceive the little old lady with false claims, and the little old lady might be wise to check them out, nevertheless her faith would be built on an appropriate foundation, that does not need revising later on. You on the other hand reject such authority claims and require a scholarly assessment of history before declaring that the epistemology is a sound one. You’d be leading the little old lady down the epistemological garden path, even if your ultimate message was truthful.

        “Do you deny that parents and government officials have authority, for example, since they’re not infallible?”

        Authority is only as good as what stands behind it, and the provenance of its claims. Authority in a Protestant context is only useful for spending the church budget. If you think it has theological applicability, would you refuse to baptise an infant if you were a baptist in a Presbyterian church?( or vice versa if you lean the other way).

        “Orthodoxy depends on concepts like God’s existence, the Messiahship of Jesus, and His founding of a church with attributes like the ones Orthodoxy claims to have. Those are highly disputed issues. You can’t appeal to Orthodoxy to settle those disputes”

        Can’t I. I guess then you can’t appeal to the bible and ask a sinner to repent for exactly the same reasoning.

        “When I link you to articles I’ve written with hundreds of references to primary sources and modern scholarship, while you make vague references to how the church fathers as a whole supposedly support your position, those are two radically different things. ”

        So what exactly are you claiming? That the church fathers don’t make references to support their conclusions? Or that you are not well read enough to be able to locate where the church fathers discuss said topic? Because at least the church fathers are a well known, well indexed and well commented on body of literature, which is more than can be said for your blog. I could say maybe your pastor could help you with your problems in the church fathers, but realistically, you were joking, right?

      • Chris wrote:

        “That’s assuming that the real Christians were the predominant group. I get to assume that, YOU DON’T.”

        How does my argument “assume that the real Christians were the predominant group”? It doesn’t. My argument would stand either way. And you don’t get to assume your view. You need to argue for your position, which you’ve repeatedly failed to do. You just assert that the early Christians were Eastern Orthoodx, then refuse to demonstrate it.

        You go on to describe what my view of church history supposedly is, and you misrepresent my position. You don’t even attempt to document any of your claims. You make the ridiculous suggestion that whatever percentage of the population I think was Christian during particular periods of church history must also be the percentage I assign to earlier centuries. How does that follow? Since you think the large majority of professing Christians today aren’t Eastern Orthodox, does it follow that you must also believe that the large majority of professing Christians in the earliest centuries weren’t Eastern Orthodox? You keep shooting yourself in the foot. And you learn so little in the process.

        You write:

        “If a modern and widely read Roman Catholic addresses many heretical groups, but does not address baptists, should we then assume that baptists don’t exist, and/or are wrong?”

        What does that have to do with my argument?

        You write:

        “It’s well known that the canon wasn’t settled by Irenaeus’ time. I hardly need demonstrate this. In fact Irenaeus’ apparent canon is not yours.”

        You haven’t even told us what your canon is. Eastern Orthodox disagree with each other on the subject. Irenaeus couldn’t agree with all Eastern Orthodox regarding the canon, since Eastern Orthodox have contradicted each other on the subject over the centuries and continue to hold differing views.

        Regardless, I haven’t cited Irenaeus with the premise that “the canon was settled by his time”. A canon can be arrived at either as a large collection accepted at one point in time (all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, for example) or by arguing cumulatively for individual books or small collections of books. If Irenaeus never comments on the canonicity of 3 John, for example, he can still give us evidence for the canonicity of other books. As the evidence accumulates, from Irenaeus and other sources, you can eventually arrive at the full canon.

        You write:

        “So if Irenaeus’ is so clever, so informed, even to the extent of knowing about ALL heretical groups in the whole world, how come he doesn’t know the canon?”

        For reasons I’ve explained, Irenaeus doesn’t have to be exhaustive (addressing “ALL heretical groups”) in order to give us some significant evidence.

        And you’re shooting yourself in the foot again. Your claim that the early church was Eastern Orthodox depends on extrapolating from the writings of a small percentage of the population of the ancient world. You’re in no position to turn around and tell us that I need to cite sources that give us exhaustive information, such as by demanding that Irenaeus address “ALL heretical groups”.

        You write:

        “And if he doesn’t know the canon, how can you know it on a purely historical basis?”

        I know the canon by the means I’ve explained in my series on the canon that I cited earlier. Telling us that Irenaeus doesn’t argue for the full canon doesn’t refute my argument, since there are many sources other than Irenaeus that are relevant and that I’ve cited.

        You write:

        “Yes I can, because I’m not the one whose tradition rests on the presupposition that one man can have the truth ‘contra mundum’.”

        Your feet are looking a lot like swiss cheese. Keep shooting away.

        Your objection hasn’t been limited to the idea of “one man” having the truth. Earlier, you also criticized the notion that only a small percentage of people had the truth. Given how dismissive you are of the concept of a faithful remnant, involving one individual or a small group, I guess you reject the Biblical account of Noah. I guess you also reject the portions of scripture that refer to losses of truth that lasted for multiple generations (2 Kings 22:8-13, Nehemiah 8:13-17). I guess you think Jesus was mistaken when He criticized His generation for not understanding Messianic prophecy. Athanasius and his remnant who resisted Arianism must have been wrong. Then there are the Eastern Orthodox beliefs you hold that aren’t found anywhere in the earliest generations of Christianity, as documented here.

        But you’re missing the point again. I said that your irrational skepticism needs to be applied consistently. You need to apply it to Eastern Orthodoxy and apply it in other contexts, not just apply it to Protestantism. When I told you that you can’t be inconsistent, by only applying your irrational skepticism to Protestants, you responded with your comment quoted above. But how does that comment justify your inconsistency? It doesn’t. There’s no logical connection between the point I was making and your response. You still haven’t justified your inconsistency.

        You write:

        “The point is that Trypho did not discern different ‘Christian’ groups the way that Christians themselves to.”

        You’re changing your argument. Here’s what you initially said about Trypho:

        “On the contrary, Justin Martyr responds to Trypho by saying that the people he is referring to as Christians are just Christians in name only, and are in reality heretics.”

        Now that I’ve demonstrated that you were wrong, you’re acting as if you were only saying that Trypho referred to a combination of Christians and heretics. You initially claimed that Trypho referred just to heretics. Now you’ve abandoned that position.

        And I’ve already explained why Trypho corroborates my position regardless of whether he’s referring to heretics, Christians, or both. You’re ignoring the larger issue while changing your position on the lesser issue you initially wanted to focus on.

        You write:

        “You’ve simply inconsisteny decided that in this matter (and only in this matter) majority rules….The Protestant ethic of every man as his own Pope, means that it is impossible to consistently weigh the value of these other considerations which apparently make you go one way on this, and the other way on every other issue.”

        I’ve already given many examples of issues on which I agree with the majority. Are you saying that I would be in the minority in early church history by affirming monotheism, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.? The notion that I only think the majority was right on the issue of the canon is spectacularly absurd. Conservative Protestants and conservative Orthodox agree on the large majority of issues. If my position on every issue other than the canon is a minority position, then the implication is that you hold a minority position on most issues.

        When I disagree with a majority view, I give reasons for it. If you want us to believe that I should disagree with the majority on the canon, then you need to explain why. If there’s no good reason to not agree with the majority, then why should I be criticized for agreeing with the majority?

        Your comment about “every man as his own Pope” is likewise ridiculous. We all rely on our own judgment in accepting Christianity, choosing a rule of faith, interpreting that rule of faith, etc. Were you “your own Pope” when you made a personal judgment that God exists, that Jesus founded a church, that Eastern Orthodoxy is true, etc.? And how does my reliance on personal judgment make it “impossible” for me to consistently sort through the evidence? Was it impossible for you to consistently sort through the evidence before you became Orthodox? If so, why trust your decision to become Orthodox in the first place?

        You write:

        “I’m not aware of being in a minority on any theological issue whatsoever, as judged by the majority at the time of, and soon subsequent to when that issue was resolved by the church.”

        Are you saying that Eastern Orthodox beliefs could be absent or widely contradicted for a while, as long as that occurred before the beliefs in question were “resolved by the church”? If so, then how do you explain why such beliefs were absent or widely contradicted earlier in church history? And what does that say about Eastern Orthodox claims about holding the faith that was always held by the church? If your beliefs can be absent or widely contradicted for centuries, but become popular later, why should we think that those beliefs were always held by the church?

        Don’t you think the deity of Christ was taught at Nicaea? Why were Arians a majority for a while after Nicaea, then? And why is Eastern Orthodoxy a minority today? Did the church never resolve the identity of the church? Is the identity of Eastern Orthodoxy as the one true church an unresolved issue? If so, how do you know that Orthodoxy is the one true church? If the church has never taught that alleged truth, how do you know that it’s a truth? If the church has taught it, then why has it been a minority view for centuries on end?

        On the other hand, if you’re just saying that a majority of Eastern Orthodox have agreed with Eastern Orthodox doctrine once that doctrine has been settled by Eastern Orthodoxy, then so what? Why should anybody be impressed by that? Once somebody rejects your beliefs, he can leave Orthodoxy if he wants or you can claim that he’s no longer Orthodox. The fact that most Orthodox agree with Orthodox teaching isn’t of much significance.

        You write:

        “If Geocentrism was an important liturgical and theological construct then I would probably keep my doubts about it private.”

        How do you supposedly know that Eastern Orthodox are correct in whatever they believe about “important liturgical and theological constructs”? The issue I asked you about was Ignatius’ authorship of the letters attributed to him. Is that subject “an important liturgical and theological construct”? The Bible comments on issues related to cosmology. Skeptics often accuse the Bible of teaching geocentrism. So, it’s a subject that’s relevant to Christianity on issues like Biblical inerrancy and Biblical interpretation. Why should we think that Eastern Orthodox opinion about the authorship of Ignatius’ letters is important enough to meet your standard, but something like geocentrism isn’t?

        You write:

        “You might argue your case on that, but on what basis can you say definitively that I’m wrong?”

        All that’s needed is a probability, not a “definitive” judgment. What’s your alternative? That we reject a probability because it supposedly doesn’t qualify as “definitive”?

        You write:

        “You have a poor sense of Orthodox theology in this matter.”

        You’re changing the subject. I wasn’t addressing “Orthodox theology”. I was addressing the difficulties involved in evaluating claims of apostolic succession. Whether the Orthodox view of succession is the correct one is one of the issues that has to be judged. You can’t just assume the correctness of the Orthodox view from the outset. If your “little old lady” you referred to earlier can’t follow my historical argument for a canon of scripture, then why think she can follow the historical argument for apostolic succession?

        You write:

        “Why should I overly concern myself about that? That is surely the moral equivalent of me saying to you that you should give up completely on a canon because of disagreements about it in the early centuries.”

        You keep arguing against yourself without realizing it. You objected to my historical argument for a canon by citing a little old lady who supposedly wouldn’t be able to follow my argument. I responded by noting that she also wouldn’t be able to follow a historical argument for your position. Now you’re replying by saying that our circumstances are a “moral equivalent”. That’s my point. If your little old lady wouldn’t be able to follow your historical argument for Orthodoxy (if you were to give one, which you haven’t), then what’s the point of objecting that she wouldn’t be able to follow my historical argument for a canon?

        You write:

        “No it doesn’t, because I believe that the authority of the church is an appropriate starting point for the faith of the little old lady.”

        In other words, you’re saying that the little old lady could discern the truthfulness of your position without having a historical argument for it. And I’ve said the same about a canon of scripture. I’ve told you, repeatedly, that my historical approach to the canon is one approach among others. So, what’s the relevance of your little old lady objection?

        And why should we think “the authority of the church is an appropriate starting point”? Why would anybody start with a church without first believing in God, a Christian view of Jesus, and other beliefs that are prior to belief in a church? And how is “the church” equivalent to Eastern Orthodoxy? Why couldn’t it be Roman Catholicism? Or some larger entity that includes multiple branches of professing Christianity? If “the church” you’re citing as the “starting point” isn’t Eastern Orthodoxy and nobody else, then you still aren’t explaining why the little old lady would be Eastern Orthodox. If you’re not saying that she would be Eastern Orthodox, then how is that relevant to your position? You’re Eastern Orthodox. How would the little old lady become what you are? Through historical investigation? By sorting through the arguments among Orthodox, Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, etc.? But you’ve already suggested that it would be too difficult for her to do such a thing. If you’re going to appeal to some sort of guidance of the Holy Spirit that would lead her to Orthodoxy, then why can’t a Protestant make the same appeal with regard to the canon of scripture? Again, how does your appeal to the little old lady supposedly give Orthodoxy an advantage?

        You write:

        “Because at least the church fathers are a well known, well indexed and well commented on body of literature, which is more than can be said for your blog.”

        The issue isn’t whether the church fathers’ writings are accessible. The issue is whether your claims about them are correct. I’ve argued for my view of the fathers, with hundreds of citations of primary sources and modern scholarship (at the web site I linked earlier). By contrast, you’ve been making vague assertions about the fathers without arguing for your conclusions. Your claim that all of the fathers were Eastern Orthodox, for example, is absurd and remains unsupported by you. Telling me to go read the fathers isn’t a sufficient argument for your position.

      • “How does my argument “assume that the real Christians were the predominant group”? It doesn’t”

        Of course it does. Partly because you assume the true Christians were big enough to even be recorded and transmitted by history, and partly because you reject various groups with both bigger and smaller canons than you via special pleading.

        Why even believe true religion is preserved? You’ve already tried to make a point about 2kings saying truth can be lost for long periods. But once you go down the road of thinking, well maybe God actually wanted true religion preserved, why think you’ve now got it? Why not wait a few hundred years more until maybe someone digs up an even more plausible religion and/or canon? But if you think this is implausible, why go for a religion that assumes truth was lost for 1000++ years?

        Telling us that Irenaeus doesn’t argue for the full canon doesn’t refute my argument, since there are many sources other than Irenaeus that are relevant and that I’ve cited.

        See how arbitrary you are? When I suggested maybe Irenaeus might not have known everything – not about the topic of even real Christianity, but actually heretical Christianity, you tried to shoot that idea down about how wonderful Irenaeus was, how knowledgable, how well travelled, etc etc. then if I suggest that this implies he must then have known all there was to know about the canon in his time, you say oh well he wouldn’t have known everything about such things.

        Basically your attitude is that you need every ancient source to be exactly as knowledgable as you want them to be, no more or no less, or else your position crumbles.

        I guess you reject the Biblical account of Noah. I guess you also reject the portions of scripture that refer to losses of truth that lasted for multiple generations (2 Kings 22:8-13, Nehemiah 8:13-17). I guess you think Jesus was mistaken when He criticized His generation for not understanding Messianic prophecy. Athanasius and his remnant who resisted Arianism must have been wrong.

        Did the people of Noah’s time claim an alternative truth, or we’re they just acting like pagans? Did the 2 kings episode involve alternative factions claiming contrary truths? Do you have any evidence that trinitarianism was only a remnant when considering the world wide beliefs of the church ( considering that when all bishops came together in Nicea they voted for trinitarianism). Can you justify the argument that common misconceptions about Messianic prophesy in Jesus time is equivalent to the church settling a controversy?

        Then there are the Eastern Orthodox beliefs you hold that aren’t found anywhere in the earliest generations of Christianity, as documented here.

        And here again you carpet bomb with a massive list of documents, half of which aren’t even applicable to Orthodoxy. But then you complain if I point you to the church fathers.


        You initially claimed that Trypho referred just to heretics.

        Nonsense. Just because I made reference to Trypho referring to Christians as heretics, doesn’t mean I said that Trypho ONLY refers to heretics. Nothing I said ought cause you to assume that, and nothing about my argument would require that. You seem to have an argument technique where you attempt to look for minor inconsistencies which aren’t even there in order to mask the glaring deficiencies in your own argument. It’s a subtle form argument not far removed from ad-hominem and other logical errors.

        I’ve already given many examples of issues on which I agree with the majority. Are you saying that I would be in the minority in early church history by affirming monotheism, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.? The notion that I only think the majority was right on the issue of the canon is spectacularly absurd.

        Why, is your belief in monotheism and the virgin birth caused by deference to a majority opinion? Don’t be a joker, if I were to ask you where you got these beliefs, majority opinion wouldn’t even rank. The fact is, majority opinion only rates with you on this one issue, and that is your inconsistency.

        If you want us to believe that I should disagree with the majority on the canon, then you need to explain why.

        Well you do disagree with a majority on the canon, which is another inconsistency.

        We all rely on our own judgment in accepting Christianity, choosing a rule of faith, interpreting that rule of faith, etc. Were you “your own Pope” when you made a personal judgment that God exists, that Jesus founded a church

        There’s a distinction you don’t seem to grasp between utilizing your own judgement, and being beholden to it in a way that is prepared to ignore the wider church in history. So no, I wasn’t try own pope on these issues.

        Are you saying that Eastern Orthodox beliefs could be absent or widely contradicted for a while, as long as that occurred before the beliefs in question were “resolved by the church”? If so, then how do you explain why such beliefs were absent or widely contradicted earlier in church history?

        I don’t see much point in discussing what could have been absent, since proving a negative would be an impossible task for you or anyone. Certainly some things were absent in Christian history, up until the point they were changed. Witness Peter’s changes to the dietary laws. Quite likely there were believers all over the world who didn’t find out about the changes and/or didn’t believe in the veracity of the news when it did reach them for any number of reasons. This could have resulted in the majority being in the wrong on this matter for a very long time. So it is with many truths. The apostles could have taught one thing at one time, and something else later on. Only if you believe in the spirit of God leading his church can you know which is which, because nobody can know through natural means which teaching is the final word.

        If so, how do you know that Orthodoxy is the one true church? If the church has never taught that alleged truth, how do you know that it’s a truth? If the church has taught it, then why has it been a minority view for centuries on end

        It’s never been a minority view in the church. Or are you including people outside the church like yourself?

        The issue I asked you about was Ignatius’ authorship of the letters attributed to him. Is that subject “an important liturgical and theological construct”?

        Somewhat important yes, but not critical.

        Skeptics often accuse the Bible of teaching geocentrism. So, it’s a subject that’s relevant to Christianity on issues like Biblical inerrancy and Biblical interpretation. Why should we think that Eastern Orthodox opinion about the authorship of Ignatius’ letters is important enough to meet your standard, but something like geocentrism isn’t

        Err, because the church doesn’t teach Geocentrism, even of some skeptics think the bible does? You do get that we distinguish between atheist skeptics and the church right? I thought you had come far enough to grasp that.

        Whether the Orthodox view of succession is the correct one is one of the issues that has to be judged.

        You claimed that some church fathers put some conditions on succession that we don’t. Unless there is some rival group who claims succession in contradiction to us based on these very technicalities, then I fail to see the relevance.

        In other words, you’re saying that the little old lady could discern the truthfulness of your position without having a historical argument for it.

        No I’m not saying that at all.

        Let’s use an analogy. First scenario: A policeman in the parking lot tells little old lady she is parked illegally and to repent. Little old lady moves her car. This story seems normal and proper. This is how we expect life to work.

        Second scenario: random person comes up to little old lady and tells her she needs to move her car. Random person may or may not be brandishing a document that he claims is the city parking code. After some arguments, more people join in the conversation. Some claim that the copy of the parking code is the wrong one. Others claim it is the right one, but the complaintant is interpreting it wrongly. Others say the interpretation is ok, but it doesn’t apply to this parking lot. Little old lady doesn’t know what to do. Little old lady has to enroll in law school to settle the matter.

        Third scenario. Impersonator dresses up as a policeman and tells little old lady to move her car because it is parked illegally, and to move. Little old lady moves her car. Scenario 3(a) impersonator was right about the parking situation, and little old lady thinks nothing of it. Little old lady lucked out, but it was pure luck. If she later finds out about the impersonation, she’ll be forced to do her own legal investigation to reevaluate her parking habits, even though she might not be equipped to do so. Scenario 3(b) impersonator was wrong about the parking, and old lady should have checked his badge number and the city parking code, and the city parking maps. Yes you could argue that little old lady in scenario (1) should have done the same thing, but the fact that she didn’t, doesn’t mean she wasn’t acting reasonably and correctly. Neither can you, as an example of one of the travelling impersonators (even if one with good intentions) justify yourself by pointing out that oh well, you could be wrong, but it’s little old lady’s responsibility to check the policeman’s badge and check for themselves the parking code, because that’s the only way little old lady can be sure anyway. Yes sure, little old ladies would be well advised to check lots of things. By being as little old lady is normal, there is nots of things she doesn’t check. So when she trusts the authorities, she is acting reasonably. You by impersonating an authority forces the little old lady to recheck the whole parking situation when she finds out that you had no authority to be making those judgement calls. Little old lady might come to different conclusions about the parking code ( because after all, it is a document with a long history of disagreements ) and then is angry that you presented as fact what was merely opinion, without authority. Nor does the mere possibility of impersonators excuse you from being one, and thus forcing all little old ladies to enroll in law school, when normal society would realize that this ought to be unnecessary.


        And why should we think “the authority of the church is an appropriate starting point”? Why would anybody start with a church without first believing in God, a Christian view of Jesus, and other beliefs that are prior to belief in a church?

        I never said it was the only reasonable starting point. I only said it was a reasonable starting point. How do I know that? Because it seems to be the scenario we find in the bible most often.

        And how is “the church” equivalent to Eastern Orthodoxy? Why couldn’t it be Roman Catholicism? Or some larger entity that includes multiple branches of professing Christianity?

        Lots of possible answers to this. Since you’ve already expressed a taste for majority rule, let’s take that one to its logical conclusion. If we assume that majority is right, and every time there is a split, majority is right. And if we assume that right can’t turn into wrong (I.e. we don’t revise the canon when it is settled, so we don’t revise other things either), then we arrive at eastern orthodoxy. orthodoxy is what you arrive at when we follow your instincts about the canon to ecclesiology and follow the history of the church through all it’s controversies, always siding with the majority or the side which adheres to what was settled.

        I’ve argued for my view of the fathers, with hundreds of citations of primary sources and modern scholarship (at the web site I linked earlier). By contrast, you’ve been making vague assertions about the fathers without arguing for your conclusions.

        You seem to assume (with some massive ego I might add) that your body of work and references is superior to the church fathers and their references. Sorry, but vague references to any body of work are equivalent until you enjoin the battle in actual discussion.

      • Chris wrote:

        “Partly because you assume the true Christians were big enough to even be recorded and transmitted by history”

        That’s a different issue than I was addressing. If I believe there were X number of Christians during a period of history, but my argument for the canon would be valid even if there were Y number of them instead, I don’t have to address the dispute between X and Y in order to defend my argument for the canon.

        You wrote:

        “and partly because you reject various groups with both bigger and smaller canons than you via special pleading.”

        Saying that I’m engaging in “special pleading” isn’t the same as demonstrating it.

        You wrote:

        “Why not wait a few hundred years more until maybe someone digs up an even more plausible religion and/or canon?”

        For the same reason we don’t wait in other contexts in life. Using your reasoning, we should ignore the evidence for historical events in general – including evidence in court cases, science, etc. – since future discoveries might change our conclusions. If you want a belief system that doesn’t concern itself with evidence, that tells us something about your mindset and the weak hand you’re playing with. Since Christianity is a historical religion involving historical events, built on evidential concepts like fulfilled prophecy and eyewitness testimony, a person who claims to be a faithful Christian doesn’t have the option of disregarding evidence the way you have.

        And raising the possibility that future discoveries will change my conclusions doesn’t make such a scenario probable. It doesn’t make sense to abandon my beliefs just because I might be proven wrong in the future. Are you claiming that you’re infallible, that it’s not even possible that you’ll be proven wrong?

        You wrote:

        “But if you think this is implausible, why go for a religion that assumes truth was lost for 1000++ years?”

        The phrase “truth was lost” is highly ambiguous. The significance of what you’re describing depends on details you aren’t providing.

        You wrote:

        “Did the people of Noah’s time claim an alternative truth, or we’re they just acting like pagans?”

        People who believe everything that’s true don’t normally behave the way Noah’s generation is described as behaving. Jesus describes them as lacking in “understanding” (Matthew 24:39). God’s revelation of the coming flood as a judgment on sin was a matter of truth, and it was one that Noah’s generation rejected even after he warned them about what was coming. Noah is referred to as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) whose truth claims were rejected by those who perished in the flood.

        You wrote:

        “Did the 2 kings episode involve alternative factions claiming contrary truths?”

        You’re changing the subject. You suggested that the truth can’t be lost. Now you’re trying to shift our focus to whether a loss of truth was accompanied by “alternative factions claiming contrary truths”. When I disprove your false argument, you move the goal posts by adding a qualifier.

        You wrote:

        “Do you have any evidence that trinitarianism was only a remnant when considering the world wide beliefs of the church ( considering that when all bishops came together in Nicea they voted for trinitarianism).”

        You keep telling us that the sources I cite on the canon might only be representing highly limited groups of people, that their beliefs might not have been as widespread as they thought, etc. Yet, now you’re claiming to know “the world wide beliefs of the church”. You keep contradicting yourself. You disingenuously apply irrational skepticism to my arguments while not applying it to yours.

        And your comments about Nicaea are misleading. The council wasn’t attended by “all bishops”. The bishops of the West didn’t have much of a presence there, and many from the East were absent. It was a controversial council that was accepted and interpreted differently by different sources. It took a while for the council to persistently receive the sort of high regard it had in later times. The Eastern Orthodox patristic scholar John McGuckin writes:

        “The Nicene Creed, the canons, and a synodical letter are all that exist from the council itself, as no acts have survived, and we only have accounts of it from partisans. Athanasius (Ep. Afr. 2) says that 318 bishops were present (a symbol based on Genesis 14.14); modern scholars have revised this to probably between 220 and 250; all except 8 Western delegates were Easterners….Theologically the council proved highly controversial. Although all signed on the day, Constantine himself soon drew back from the homoousion policy he himself had proposed, and many of the bishops demonstrated throughout the remainder of the fourth century a great vacillation in regard to the Nicene doctrine. In many instances the Nicenes were a minority in the East, but were sustained by support from the West, and eventually carried the day at Council of Constantinople I in 381….Nicaea was retrospectively regarded as an ‘Ecumenical Council'” (The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], 89)

        Athanasius acknowledged that his opponents had control of the churches for the most part, even though he and his faithful remnant possessed the true faith. As he put it:

        “I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith.” (Festal Letter 29)

        Jerome wrote:

        “Valens and Ursacius and others associated with them in their wickedness, eminent Christian bishops of course, began to wave their palms, and to say they had not denied that He [Jesus] was a creature, but that He was like other creatures. At that moment the term Usia was abolished: the Nicene Faith stood condemned by acclamation. The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” (Jerome, The Dialogue Against The Luciferians, 19)

        You wrote:

        “Can you justify the argument that common misconceptions about Messianic prophesy in Jesus time is equivalent to the church settling a controversy?”

        That’s not my argument, so why would I try to justify it?

        I was addressing your suggestion that the truth in its entirety would always be held and would be held by many people, not just a small remnant. Jesus criticizes His generation for not rightly understanding the Messianic prophecies. Even His disciples have to repeatedly be taught, corrected, and rebuked for failing to understand what was predicted. Other ancient Jewish sources, outside of the Bible, give us further confirmation that much of what Jesus did to fulfill prophecy wasn’t expected in the Judaism of His era. Speaking more generally, and not limiting Himself to prophecy fulfillment, Jesus repeatedly makes comments to the effect that His followers were initially just a small flock, that few people were finding the narrow way that leads to life, etc.

        You wrote:

        “Just because I made reference to Trypho referring to Christians as heretics, doesn’t mean I said that Trypho ONLY refers to heretics.”

        You said that Trypho referred to “just Christians in name only”. Now you want us to believe that you meant to say that Trypho also referred to Christians, even though you didn’t mention that initially.

        You wrote:

        “Don’t be a joker, if I were to ask you where you got these beliefs, majority opinion wouldn’t even rank. The fact is, majority opinion only rates with you on this one issue, and that is your inconsistency.”

        Not only do you offer no evidence for your claim, but the claim is also demonstrably false. I’ve been writing about doctrines like the virgin birth and the resurrection at Triablogue (and elsewhere) for years. In my material, I repeatedly appeal to patristic Christianity and the widespread nature of the beliefs in question. Regarding the resurrection, for example, here’s something I wrote in 2010:

        “Majorities can be wrong, but the more widespread a traditional Christian view of Jesus’ resurrection was early on, the more difficult it is to argue that so many people misunderstood or rejected what the resurrection witnesses taught….I don’t think Licona gives enough attention to group testimony and the significance of the widespread nature of the Christian claims about the resurrection.” (source)

        I could cite many other examples of similar comments I’ve made over the years. Not only are you wrong, but your accusation is easily shown to be false and is ridiculous on its face. Appealing to the widespread nature of a belief is a common argument in historical research. The notion that I would only use that argument on the issue of the canon, while ignoring it when I agree with ancient majorities on so many other issues, is absurd.

        You wrote:

        “There’s a distinction you don’t seem to grasp between utilizing your own judgement, and being beholden to it in a way that is prepared to ignore the wider church in history.”

        Again, beliefs such as that there is a “wider church” and that it has the attributes you assign to it are themselves personal judgments you made. By your own standards, you were acting as “your own Pope” by deciding to become Orthodox.

        And you’ve repeatedly “ignored the wider church in history”, such as when you accept Eastern Orthodox beliefs that were widely contradicted in the earliest generations of church history.

        You wrote:

        “Only if you believe in the spirit of God leading his church can you know which is which, because nobody can know through natural means which teaching is the final word.”

        How do you come to believe in the church to begin with if you can’t judge such matters without the church telling you what to believe? How do you know that the alleged authority of the church isn’t something that will later be corrected, since it isn’t “the final word”?

        There are many ways to discern truth without having something like an infallible church. That’s why historians can reach thousands of conclusions about what happened in the ancient world, including on issues that are disputed. They don’t abandon the attempt to discern historical truth just because they don’t have an infallible church to tell them what to believe. All of us make probability judgments in many contexts in our everyday lives, including on highly important matters.

        You wrote:

        “Err, because the church doesn’t teach Geocentrism, even of some skeptics think the bible does? You do get that we distinguish between atheist skeptics and the church right?”

        You’re missing the point. You said that you believe that Ignatius wrote the letters attributed to him because that belief is popular among Eastern Orthodox. I’m asking if the popularity of geocentrism and other such things that you presumably reject would also lead you to accept those beliefs. Are you saying that you agree with every such belief that’s ever been popular among Eastern Orthodox? If so, why? If not, then why do you think that Eastern Orthodox belief about authorship of the Ignatian letters is correct?

        You can’t demonstrate that Ignatius wrote the letters in question merely by appealing to popular Eastern Orthodox belief. You have to rely on the same sort of historical judgment that I’ve been applying to the Biblical documents. Yet, you’ve been applying an irrational skepticism to the arguments for the Biblical documents that you haven’t been applying to Ignatius and other patristic sources.

        You wrote:

        “Nor does the mere possibility of impersonators excuse you from being one, and thus forcing all little old ladies to enroll in law school, when normal society would realize that this ought to be unnecessary.”

        Not only does your analogy assume what you need to prove, but it also misses the point I was making. I’ve repeatedly said that the canon and other aspects of Christianity can be known without something like my historical argument for the canon. I’m not “forcing all little old ladies to enroll in law school”. My point is that your little old lady objection to my historical argument for a canon would also apply to a historical argument for Eastern Orthodoxy. If you say that the lady could be led to Orthodoxy by means of trusting what she’s told by somebody who seems more knowledgeable of history than she is, or by following the leading of the Holy Spirit, for example, Protestants could say the same about how she could be led to their belief system. How is your appeal to the little old lady giving Orthodoxy an advantage?

        You wrote:

        “I only said it was a reasonable starting point. How do I know that? Because it seems to be the scenario we find in the bible most often.”

        If you derive your belief in the church from the Bible, then why are you looking to the Bible to begin with?

        You wrote:

        “If we assume that majority is right, and every time there is a split, majority is right. And if we assume that right can’t turn into wrong (I.e. we don’t revise the canon when it is settled, so we don’t revise other things either), then we arrive at eastern orthodoxy.”

        I haven’t been “assuming the majority is right”. Rather, I’ve said that majorities add weight to a case, but can be overturned by other evidence.

        And your claim that Eastern Orthodoxy has always been the majority needs to be demonstrated, not just asserted. Has Eastern Orthodoxy ever been a majority of humanity? No. Has it been a majority of professing Christianity in recent centuries? No. Is it the majority of Trinitarians? No. A majority of those who accept the most popular ecumenical councils? No. Is it the majority among what are commonly defined as the three branches of mainstream Christianity? No. Is Orthodoxy a majority among those who believe in some form of apostolic succession? No. Do most people who think there’s one true church think that the church is Eastern Orthodoxy? No. If you’re going to claim that Orthodoxy was a majority during the earliest centuries, then prove it. And when you try to prove it, make sure you apply the same sort of irrational skepticism to your own arguments that you’ve applied to my arguments for the canon.

        You wrote:

        “orthodoxy is what you arrive at when we follow your instincts about the canon to ecclesiology and follow the history of the church through all it’s controversies, always siding with the majority or the side which adheres to what was settled.”

        There were times when Eastern Orthodox belief was in the minority in ancient church history, as I’ve documented. And your definition of what “settles” an issue is a matter of dispute.

        You write:

        “You seem to assume (with some massive ego I might add) that your body of work and references is superior to the church fathers and their references.”

        You keep misrepresenting the issue. I’m not contrasting my view of the fathers to the writings of the fathers. Rather, I’m contrasting my view of the fathers to your view of the fathers. I’ve argued for my view in depth, with hundreds of citations of primary sources and modern scholarship. You, on the other hand, keep making vague assertions about the fathers that you don’t substantiate.

  41. Chris –

    Which church history book (or interpretation thereof) is the infallible source to turn to?

  42. Dr. Webster, I wonder if the problem with Protestantism is not the lack of “hierarchy” or lack of “accountability beyond the local congregation” per se but rather it’s understanding of the Church. In Orthodox Christianity, for example, it is not the hierarchy per se that ensures orthodoxy but rather the Church, guided by the Spirit of Truth (JN 14:17). As Alex Khomiakov wrote:

    “The pope is greatly mistaken in supposing that we consider the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy to be the guardian of the dogma [of the Church]. The case is quite different. The unvarying constancy and the unerring truth of Christian dogma does not depend upon any Hierarchical Order; it is guarded by the totality, by the whole people of the Church, which is the Body of Christ”.

    The Orthodox laity plays an important role in guarding truth. Unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, an Orthodox priest requires the presence of the laity to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and their assent (“Amen, Amen, Amen”) for the eucharistic elements to become the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The same goes for the elevation of a new bishop, priest or deacon, which requires the acclamation of the people (“Axios”). Moreover, even the Orthodox bishops at an ecumenical council cannot speak on behalf of the Church if their decisions are rejected by the Church (e.g. The Council of Florence 1438-39). So whereas in Protestantism, the defender of truth is the individual believer armed with Scripture and in Roman Catholicism, it is the Pope (speaking ex cathedra), in Orthodoxy, it is the Church. As John Meyendorff writes, “For Orthodoxy, the sole ‘criterion of truth’ remains God Himself, living mysteriously in the Church, leading it in the way of the Truth”.

  43. Thanks for the insights Dr. Wallace. I have benefitted from your work on textual criticism for several years now and am happy to see you blogging. 

    I especially appreciate that you are encouraging all of us who seek to serve the same Triune God to try to learn (gasp) from each other.

    By the way, according to some of the comments, you’ll soon be Catholic. Were you aware of this change, or are you happy someone else has pointed it out for you? ;-)

    • Yes, I’m aware of those comments. It’s interesting that this was suggested but not that I might become Orthodox! Yet, the basis for the comment is that at some point I will no longer hold to sola scriptura. That’s about as likely as the Pope becoming Protestant.

  44. I took the time to write this on another blog that linked to your article so I thought I would throw it in the fray….just curious of your thoughts if you have any….I was in your advanced Greek Grammar back in 01 I think.
    “I thought this was an interesting thought about ecclesiology. I often do feel quite alone in a non-denominational church. The autonomy seems at once freeing and unsettling. Floating out there on your own as a church, it seems ripe for going astray theological or methodilogically. Non-denominational churches seem to find themselves chasing fads of one sort or another and I think we find a sort of high school form of cliques among our non-denominational churches: the edgy crowd, the nerds, the willow-creekers, the missionals, the purpose-driveners, etc…
    However, the flip side is unsettling because top down structures can be even more damaging when they fall into the wrong hands….like the Presbyterian branch that began to introduce homosexual pastors into the mix that affected a small church in upstate NEW YORK….and various other progressive maneuvers. For that small church, they were having decisions imposed on them from the very structure that was supposed to protect doctrinal purity (in similar fashion I am sure to the Roman Catholic Protestant saga of Luther’s time). The churches under that umbrella found out that the umbrella can close on you quickly. If the history of the church tells us one thing, it is that authority structures can become corrupted as quickly as individuals on their own. In particular, look at the power plays happening at the time of Constantine and a bit later with John Chrysostom…..whoever wins the emperors ear, can win the bishop spots and bend the church to Arianism or other forms of corruption (be it character or materialism). Who knows what to do? I do crave a theological sounding boards and fail-safes in churches, but I don’t think a modern liturgy is the answer. There seems like there should be some way to ensure theological cohesion without imposing liturgy that restricts creativity of ministry (I grew up in the Lutheran church and love aspects of the liturgy…but I didn’t when I attended that Lutheran church). This may put us in danger of placing theological accuracy above the freedom to adapt the gospel in a myriad of ways to the many people we meet. Jesus seems able to have theological integrity and yet adapt the style and delivery of his message in a thousand different ways….customizing his message to the needs of those before Him. Yet how can you manage allowing adaptive freedom in method and yet impose theological checkpoints? I suppose I have no answers….just more questions.

    • Gavin, you have articulated the problem we as the body of Christ face today. The abuses of the hierarchical church are legion. It comes down to practicing what one preaches. I have seen vicious attacks between Orthodox priests. For example, consider the problems with the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem who was hammered by fellow priests in 2005 when he was leasing Orthodox property in old Jerusalem to non-Orthodox, a forbidden activity according to the status quo rules of the city; it made international news with his face on the cover of multiple magazines. I was there several times during the fracas, and saw a CNN news crew at the patriarchate on more than one occasion. The ad hominem attacks between the priests were really ugly. What I have been arguing for is, in one respect, impossible for the body of Christ to accomplish. We’ve already wrecked the unity by our divisions, yet there are good reasons for *some* of the splits. That is why I am a Protestant: even with our defective ecclesiology, I believe that the Protestant evangelical faith comes closest to the truth of the gospel. But we can do better, much better.

      • Yeah….I suppose we can do better…as a lowly Adult Pastor in my current church I wonder what that “better” looks like. And having just finished a wonderful, and thorough biography on Constantine….I found myself ill to scenes from history that are just like what you describe from your Orthodox friends. Christians are tough to keep unified, always have been….I strain to know what Jesus expects of us in terms of the “unity of Spirit and the bond of Peace”. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • ” Yet how can you manage allowing adaptive freedom in method and yet impose theological checkpoints?”

      Suggestion: it cant be done. Lex orandi, lex credendi. How you worship is how you believe and vice versa. legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi

      • Do you mean that we should not allow freedom in method or that there is already freedom in method because there is diversity in belief? Just curious….thanks.

      • Do you mean that we should not allow freedom in method or that there is already freedom in method because there is diversity in belief? Just curious….thanks.

        Variation in method – yes, but freedom in method, no. Depending on what you mean by freedom. There is some freedom in method, sure. But it is limited, not open ended.

  45. Dr. Wallace,

    This is a jolly interesting exchange between several posters here, albeit a bit jaded given that myriad threads on http://www.monachos.net/forum/forum.php or http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php have addressed many of these objections ad nauseum.

    Regarding the Fathers, you wrote this:

    “Third, we can begin to listen again to the voice of the Spirit speaking through church fathers and embrace some of the liturgy that has been used for centuries. Obviously, it must all be subject to biblical authority, but we dare not neglect the last twenty centuries unless we think that the Spirit has been sleeping all that time”.

    I agree with you on the importance of the Fathers and liturgy. However, you say in your second sentence above that you follow “Sola Scriptura” but then admonish us to listen to the “church fathers”? I do not understand how you square this.

    If one follows a Sola Scriptura epistemology, he runs into the same problem with the Fathers as he does with the NT canon or our understanding of the Trinity—i.e. except for those few such as Clement and Barnabas that the Bible does mention, our knowledge of the Fathers has come to us from extra-Biblical sources of Tradition. Whilst the Orthodox would say that the Church Fathers are “Fathers” because the Church recognises them as such and has spent up to 2000 years contemplating their writings, there is no such recognition by Evangelicals. For the adherent of Sola Scriptura, early Christian writers are only orthodox in so far as they confirm some preconceived notions of orthodoxy arrived at using a Sola Scriptura epistemology. So, a priori, Fathers such as Clement of Rome or Ignatius of Antioch–who knew the Apostles, whose writings were widely circulated, who died deaths as martyrs, and who have been recognised by the Church as Saints–have no more authority than the Gnostic or Arian authors. Since relying on Sola Scriptura leads to widely differing views on issues as basic as the nature of the Eucharist (e.g. the Marburg Colloquy), Evangelicals cannot even agree amongst themselves about what teachings from the Fathers should be accepted and what should be rejected. I have read some Charismatic Evangelical authors even defend Montanism as true Spirit-filled Christianity. Why not? If the Church itself became heretical, then its anathemas are irrelevant.

    How can you justify reading “church fathers” whose authority comes from a Church which adherents of Sola Scriptura cannot recognise as being authoritative?

    Are you having your cake and eating it too

    • Eric Todd wrote:

      “If one follows a Sola Scriptura epistemology, he runs into the same problem with the Fathers as he does with the NT canon or our understanding of the Trinity—i.e. except for those few such as Clement and Barnabas that the Bible does mention, our knowledge of the Fathers has come to us from extra-Biblical sources of Tradition.”

      We gain knowledge about the church fathers in the same way we gain knowledge about other ancient sources. We consult ancient documents, archeological artifacts, etc. It would be misleading to categorize those sources as “Tradition”, with a capital “T”, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

      Irenaeus gives us a lot of our information on Polycarp. Do you consider the writings of Irenaeus infallible? Surely not. Not only do you not think his writings are infallible, but you also disagree with him on some points. Thus, the writings of Irenaeus aren’t just outside of scripture. They’re outside of the Eastern Orthodox rule of faith as well.

      All of us rely on sources outside our rule of faith in order to identify our rule of faith and in order to attain information relevant to our rule. For example, the non-Christian historian Josephus gives us a lot of information relevant to how we understand the Bible and early church history. Many ancient non-Christian sources give us information about the Greek language and other languages, which we then use to help us translate and interpret the Bible, the church fathers, the documents of church councils, etc. If Protestants are violating their rule of faith by going outside the Bible in such a manner, then Eastern Orthodox (and Roman Catholics) are violating their rule by similarly going outside it in such contexts. The sola in sola scriptura isn’t about the means by which we arrive at our rule of faith or whether anything outside of our rule can help us understand and implement that rule. Rather, the sola qualifies the identity of the rule itself. Perhaps it would be helpful to think of it like this: in this context, the Bible is to us what your rule of faith is to you. Just as archeology, ancient non-Christian sources, modern scholarship, and other sources outside your rule of faith can help you identify your rule and understand and implement it, the same is true for Protestants.

      By the way, the notion that the Barnabas of the New Testament wrote The Epistle Of Barnabas is dubious. And the accounts of Clement of Rome’s martyrdom come from significantly late sources. The same is true of the claim that Ignatius was a disciple of the apostles. If you’re getting information on such issues from the Eastern Orthodox web sites you linked above, you might want to consult better sources.

      You tell us:

      “Evangelicals cannot even agree amongst themselves about what teachings from the Fathers should be accepted and what should be rejected.”

      The same is true of Eastern Orthodox. I’ve already cited the example of disagreements among Orthodox regarding the canon of scripture. And the church fathers often disagreed with each other and frequently contradicted Eastern Orthodoxy. See here for documentation of many examples.

      • ” The sola in sola scriptura isn’t about the means by which we arrive at our rule of faith or whether anything outside of our rule can help us understand and implement that rule.”

        So that is how you get around the constraint of Sola Scriptura: just relax the constraint when it is inconvenient!

        No two Protestants on this thread, it seems, have the same definition for Sola Scriptura. The Westminster Confession states:

        VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

        If the canon is authoritative due to an authority separate from Scripture, then Scripture is not uniquely authoritative for Christian doctrine and praxis. It may contain all things necessary for “salvation”, but by your premise there may be other rules of faith arrived at from the same non Scriptural authority that contain all things necessary for salvation.

      • Eric Todd wrote:

        “So that is how you get around the constraint of Sola Scriptura: just relax the constraint when it is inconvenient!”

        Whether the constraint you refer to is in place is one of the issues under dispute. You can’t just assume your conclusion without a supporting argument.

        And, as I explained above, Eastern Orthodox also identify their rule of faith, interpret it, etc. by means outside of that rule. If that practice violates sola scriptura when Protestants do it, then it violates the Orthodox rule of faith when Orthodox do it. You’ve ignored that point, even though it was so prominent in my earlier comments. Why would you repeat a bad argument you used earlier after having it pointed out to you that the argument would defeat your own system if applied consistently?

        You write:

        “If the canon is authoritative due to an authority separate from Scripture, then Scripture is not uniquely authoritative for Christian doctrine and praxis.”

        Your language is misleadingly ambiguous. I don’t know of any knowledgeable Protestant who denies that there are authorities outside of scripture. God exists outside of scripture, and He’s an authority. (He also exists outside the Eastern Orthodox rule of faith, the Roman Catholic rule of faith, etc.) Parents have authority. So do government officials. And so on. The issue isn’t whether there are authorities outside of scripture. Similarly, there are authorities outside of the Eastern Orthodox rule of faith. Does that prove that the Orthodox rule is insufficient? And those authorities can lead us to a rule of faith, help us interpret it, etc. For example, we’d expect a parent to teach his children about his rule of faith and how to interpret it. If a child believes what his parent, an authority figure, tells him on the subject, it doesn’t follow that the rule of faith is being violated because the child is consulting an authority outside of that rule in order to arrive at and implement that rule. If Eastern Orthodox parents teach their children about the Orthodox rule of faith, the child isn’t violating that rule by accepting the testimony of his parents, who are authorities outside the rule of faith of Orthodoxy

        Furthermore, why even use the term “authority” here? If we reach a historical conclusion based on information from an archeological artifact or an ancient document, for example, it’s ambiguous and can be misleading to call that source of information an authority. It’s not as though I think the archeological artifact or the ancient document I’ve read is infallible. It’s not authoritative in that sense. If I think Polycarp gives me some reliable information on a subject, it doesn’t follow that I’m accepting what Polycarp said because I think he’s infallible, nor does it follow that I would accept anything he said in any context. I’m not believing him because he’s equivalent to scripture. Rather, I’m believing him due to a combination of factors that make him believable in a particular context, much as I also believe Josephus, Suetonius, and other non-Christian sources in some contexts.

        And who said that scripture is authoritative “because of” the historical sources in question? Scripture is authoritative even if I’m not aware that it exists. If a historical source makes me aware of scripture and its authority, it doesn’t follow that scripture and its authority were created by that historical source. Similarly, if you have a friend who convinces you to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, does it follow that your friend is “an authority” and that your following his authority violates the Eastern Orthodox rule of faith?

        It would help if critics of sola scriptura would apply their reasoning to their own belief system. Before posting another criticism of sola scriptura, ask yourself

      • The last part of my post above was cut off. Here it is:

        It would help if critics of sola scriptura would apply their reasoning to their own belief system. Before posting another criticism of sola scriptura, ask yourself what the implications would be if you were to apply the same reasoning to Eastern Orthodoxy.

  46. Eric, I disagree. Sola scriptura means that we measure all truth claims against the scriptures. And when the fathers say one thing, we measure what they claim against the scriptures. The task of the Church is, in part, to systematize, organize, and articulate the theology of the Bible. Since the biblical documents were all ad hoc, they were not meant, in their original historical settings, to do this. The Church’s task is NOT to invent doctrine, but to put the scriptural testimony in such a way that makes sense of all the data in an elegant, simple form (using Occam’s razor). But because there are different viewpoints about a number of theological issues, it is important for us to get the perspective of these hoary saints of days gone by. And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support.

    As to the participation of the congregation in the divine liturgy in Orthodoxy, this is not always the case. I once was in an Orthodox worship service in Constantinople in which Patriarch Bartholomew and other Patriarchs participated. It was only the priests who partook of the elements. One person commented, “I guess in this service we were supposed to cheer for our favorite priest as if this was some kind of sporting event!”

    • “The task of the Church is, in part, to systematize, organize, and articulate the theology of the Bible. Since the biblical documents were all ad hoc, they were not meant, in their original historical settings, to do this”.

      So the task of the church is to take the scriptures and press them into doing the very thing that they were not designed to do. Hmmm.

      Maybe the first lesson of the grammatical historical method should be not to attempt what the scriptures weren’t designed to do in their historical setting: I.e.what Protestants do with them.

      “And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support”

      It would be great to have a discussion about that, starting from your own personal list of what you think there is a consensus about in the fathers.

      “I once was in an Orthodox worship service in Constantinople in which Patriarch Bartholomew and other Patriarchs participated. It was only the priests who partook of the elements.”

      Sometimes priests do this when they know that nobody in the congregation is entitled to partake. E.g. If none of them are baptized Orthodox and/or none of them are in right standing as far as their recent confession. I can probably imagine the Patriarch is not concerned with a personal congregation, and therefore is not in a position to regulate giving the elements to who turns up, since he wouldnt know any of them. Out in the normal churches though, it would be pretty unusual.

      • “So the task of the church is to take the scriptures and press them into doing the very thing that they were not designed to do. Hmmm.

        Maybe the first lesson of the grammatical historical method should be not to attempt what the scriptures weren’t designed to do in their historical setting: I.e.what Protestants do with them.”

        You’re putting words in my mouth, Chris. Do you really think that because the NT documents are ad hoc that we can’t derive from them that the writers believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ? Or consider the Trinity. Talk about theological articulation! I think the Orthodox would see this one as something that is found in the deposit of revelation which is the Bible, and yet it is not articulated as neatly as it would be in 451.

      • “Do you really think that because the NT documents are ad hoc that we can’t derive from them that the writers believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ?”

        Why, is that one of the things that you previously described as “systemization that the scriptures weren’t designed to do”???

        “Or consider the Trinity. Talk about theological articulation.”

        But that is not articulation that is claimed to be a pure exercise in biblical systemization and exegesis and authority. The council of Nicea discussed many other arguments besides exegesis of scripture, like the faith of the church and the tradition and the fathers, and it promulgated it’s decision with more authority than merely “this is what we think the bible teaches”. So you can’t really say that the articulation of the trinity was a pure exercise in systematizing scripture like a sola scriptura proponent advocates.

        I mean, that is the argument, right? Whether scripture by itself is a suitable target for systematization, or whether the exegetical framework of the living church needs to be added. I’m not seeing how pointing to the orthodox articulation of the trinity makes your case.

    • Dr. Wallace.

      You said “Sola scriptura means that we measure all truth claims against the scriptures”. This is not how most Protestants define it, or how the Westminster Confession defines it. By you definition, Sola Scriptura is self defeating, since the claim of what is Scripture–the canon–cannot be measured by Scripture.

      All Protestants who embrace the authority of Scripture also rely however unwittingly on the authority of the Church.

      “And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support.”

      I really value your perspective here. If all Protestants adopted this epistemology, doctrinal differences amongst Protestants would all but disappear. I say “all”, because you still leave open the door for the scenario when I, armed only with my Bible and sitting here in the 21st century, argue to overturn a doctrine or praxis that the Church has embraced for up to 2000 years. If the Church is the “pillar of truth” and the Body of Christ, why assume she became heretical? Because of you understanding of Scripture which came from Her? Does evidence from the canon of Scripture selected by the Church convict Her of heresy?

      • Eric Todd – let me give you some staccato-form answers to match your questions here. Rest assured there has been a lot of analysis behind my quick answers, and I’ll try to provide some quick links.

        You said “Sola scriptura means that we measure all truth claims against the scriptures”. This is not how most Protestants define it, or how the Westminster Confession defines it.

        This is a blog, and Dr Wallace has provided a good working definition. Only Scripture is “God-breathed”. No other “truth claims” bear this unchanging mark of truthfulness. Augustine says, “God alone swears securely, because He alone is infallible”. In this case, God is promising a covenant. Only God can promise a covenant, because only what He says will always come to pass. But indeed, only God can reveal Himself. He does this in the Old Testament and most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).

        No appeal to “apostolic succession” assures that the revelation of God that we have in Christ occurs anywhere else but in Scripture. As I noted in my previous response:

        In other words, the fixing of the canon [of the New Testament] necessarily excludes from the “apostolic witness” what “the unbroken chain of bishops” proposes to bring to it. “The establishment of the Christian written canon indicates that the Church itself at a definite time drew a clear line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the time of the church, between the time of the foundation and the time of the superstructure, between the apostolic church and the church of the bishops, between the short apostolic [tradition] and the ecclesiastical tradition. This occurrence would be meaningless if its significance were not the formation of the canon (citing Cullmann on Tradition).

        No one of us, or no group of us, can claim to represent the “true revelation” of God in Christ that will never fail. Only the Scriptures never fail. Further, if you suggest that there is some source that we may trust with the same trust with which we trust the Scriptures, then it is incumbent upon you to say where and how this is so. You, or a pope, or your Metropolitian, or “the whole church together”, not only do fail, but they can be relied upon to fail more often than not. Only the Word, the promise of God, can be relied on never to fail, never to be untrue.

        And so if you or I or a council makes a promise or definition, it may be true insofar as it is consistent with God’s word. However, we are always to “measure those truth claims against the Scriptures”.

        more

      • ” This is a blog, and Dr Wallace has provided a good working definition. Only Scripture is “God-breathed”.

        Really? So if God spoke to you directly it wouldn’t be God breathed? If an angel told you God’s words, it wouldn’t be God breathed? You’ve gone out on a limb here which totally contradicts scripture.

        “In other words, the fixing of the canon [of the New Testament] necessarily excludes from the “apostolic witness” what “the unbroken chain of bishops” proposes to bring to it.”

        That’s pure assertion, that contradicts both logic and history. There’s so many problems here it’s hard to know where to start. What is this “fixing of the canon” concept? Is that a concept in scripture? When did it happen? When could people know that it had happened? What did they do before they knew it happened? Who told you that it happened? Assuming it happened, how do you know what the result was?

        “The establishment of the Christian written canon indicates that the Church itself at a definite time drew a clear line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the time of the church, between the time of the foundation and the time of the superstructure”

        Even if we assume some “demarcation” that doesn’t tell you the meaning of the demarcation. It’s very clear in the new testament that the apostles drew a line between the revelation given by Jesus and their own era. So what? It doesn’t mean the teachings of the apostles are to be ignored, any more than the teachings of the church ought to be ignored.

        “Further, if you suggest that there is some source that we may trust with the same trust with which we trust the Scriptures, then it is incumbent upon you to say where and how this is so.”

        You’re a bit like those in the early church who didn’t trust the apostles, but instead wanted to only go directly to the source – Jesus. The result was heresy after heresy and disagreement after disagreement. Why should we trust the apostles as infallible? Sure, they we’re good guys. So we’re the church fathers. Sure they were closer to the source. But so the fathers are closer to the source than you are.

        ” If the Lord enables Lutherans and the Reformed to have differences in “doctrines” over these things, then the differences cannot be critical differences.”

        Are you extending the logic to JWs and 7th day Adventists?

        ” Look at Luther and Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper? If the Lord enables Lutherans and the Reformed to have differences in “doctrines” over these things, then the differences cannot be critical differences. That is, the Scriptures say, “do this”, but they don’t precisely say *how* to “do this”, then whatever *how* is adopted by the church, absolutely does not “rise to the level” of one of those “truth claims” that we started talking about”

        But that’s not what Luther and Zwingli believed. They believed that scripture was specific enough, and that they were right. If mere disagreement about the meaning of the text was enough evidence to say that scripture doesn’t say clearly, then you aren’t left with much. Maybe monotheism, and that’s about it.


        We also need to leave open the door for a scenario in which the early church adopted doctrines and practices from, say, Pagan cultures, which have been embedded in, say, “orthodox” doctrines and practices for nearly 2000 years. ”

        And you have no way of discovering what they are, or determining if in fact the apostles sanctioned those practices. And if you don’t trust the church to preserve information about those sanctions, then I don’t know why you would trust the church to preserve information about what texts are apostolic.

        “For [the Apostles] wanted those whom they left as successors, and to whom they transmitted their own position of teaching, to be perfect and blameless (1 Tim 3:2) in every respect. If these men acted rightly it would be a great benefit, while if they failed it would be the greatest calamity (Robert Grant translation). There is no promise of “infallible transmission of doctrine” there. ”

        There’s noting in the text or in Irenaeus that says the church is not the pillar of the truth if some elders fail in their personal morality. In fact the opposite, Paul has said in many places that elders were already failing in their morality, but they were still in God’s church, the pillar of the truth. There is absolutely nothing in the context that suggests something could make the church cease to be the pillar of the truth.

      • Eric Todd said: All Protestants who embrace the authority of Scripture also rely however unwittingly on the authority of the Church.

        Rather, we rely on God’s promise to guide the church.

        (Citing Wallace): “And when there is a consensus among the fathers, we must have very, very good reasons to argue against that consensus, with plenty of scriptural support.”

        Eric Todd: I really value your perspective here. If all Protestants adopted this epistemology, doctrinal differences amongst Protestants would all but disappear.

        If all are “united to the vine”, and vines are seen to have many branches, what is so important about a “doctrinal difference”? Look at Luther and Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper? If the Lord enables Lutherans and the Reformed to have differences in “doctrines” over these things, then the differences cannot be critical differences. That is, the Scriptures say, “do this”, but they don’t precisely say *how* to “do this”, then whatever *how* is adopted by the church, absolutely does not “rise to the level” of one of those “truth claims” that we started talking about.

        I say “all”, because you still leave open the door for the scenario when I, armed only with my Bible and sitting here in the 21st century, argue to overturn a doctrine or praxis that the Church has embraced for up to 2000 years.

        We also need to leave open the door for a scenario in which the early church adopted doctrines and practices from, say, Pagan cultures, which have been embedded in, say, “orthodox” doctrines and practices for nearly 2000 years. We should feel free to jettison such things.

        If the Church is the “pillar of truth” and the Body of Christ, why assume she became heretical?

        You need to understand in what sense the church is “the pillar of truth”. What’s in view in 1 Tim 3:15 is “how you ought to behave”. It is the behavior of the church which supports its own claims to be “supporting the truth”. No church which is behaving badly can be said to be speaking the truth. Or, conversely, a church which is behaving badly can be seen to be “the pillar of truth”.

        That statement is based on exegesis. However, if you want an early church father, consider what Irenaeus said, which is very rarely repeated by Roman Catholics or Orthodox who want to talk about succession, For [the Apostles] wanted those whom they left as successors, and to whom they transmitted their own position of teaching, to be perfect and blameless (1 Tim 3:2) in every respect. If these men acted rightly it would be a great benefit, while if they failed it would be the greatest calamity (Robert Grant translation).

        There is no promise of “infallible transmission of doctrine” there. Rather, Irenaeus supports the notion that the church is “the pillar of truth” by “being perfect and blameless”, by living according to the truth. If they do not do this, it is “the greatest calamity”. However, we can see, in every era of church history, how those claiming the highest leadership positions in the church have not done so.

  47. “I don’t know of any knowledgeable Protestant who denies that there are authorities outside of scripture. God exists outside of scripture, and He’s an authority.”

    Exactly. I am glad you admit that. God choose to found a Church, not a book. That Church contains a Holy Tradition that is authoritative and includes Scripture, the councils, creeds, and the Fathers. That Holy Tradition communicates the apostolic faith, which the Church faithfully transmits from generation to generation.

    “Evangelicals cannot even agree amongst themselves about what teachings from the Fathers should be accepted and what should be rejected.”

    The same is true of Eastern Orthodox. I’ve already cited the example of disagreements among Orthodox regarding the canon of scripture.”

    Fortunately, Orthodoxy predates the canon and thus does not depend on the definitive canon. Not so Protestantism.

    The differences between Orthodox are so trivial compared to those amongst Evangelicals that I wonder if you really are familiar with Orthodoxy. Evangelicals cannot agree on baptism, fasting, the nature of the Eucharist and how to prepare for it and whether to celebrate every Sunday, ecclesiological hierarchy, and liturgy. These are all described in the 1st C. Didache so we can assume they are fairly authentic aspects of the apostolic faith. Orthodox are in agreement on all these, the Creeds, the Ecumenical Councils and many other things. No comparison with Evangelicalism, which can accurately be described as “hermeneutical chaos”, as this article explains. http://orthodoxbridge.com/?p=451

    ” And the church fathers often disagreed with each other and frequently contradicted Eastern Orthodoxy. ”

    Which Orthodoxy recognises and has a neat way of resolving called Ecumenical Councils. Both Scripture and the Fathers come from the Church and should be read through the eyes of the Church. Protestants by contrast have no consistent way of resolving differences in understanding Scripture and the Fathers apart from splitting apart, which they do with much greater frequency than Orthodoxy.

    • Eric Todd,

      You’ve ignored, again, what I said about how your objections to sola scriptura could also be applied to Eastern Orthodoxy. You’ve chosen, instead, to focus on other issues.

      You make some claims about church history that you don’t support. I’ll point the readers, again, to a web site where I’ve argued at length against Eastern Orthodox claims about church history. See here.

      You argue that Eastern Orthodox are more united than Protestants. There are some problems with what you said, though. I’ll discuss a few of those problems.

      For one thing, you’re changing the subject. Here’s what you initially argued:

      “Evangelicals cannot even agree amongst themselves about what teachings from the Fathers should be accepted and what should be rejected.”

      The issue was whether agreement exists about what should be accepted and what should be rejected from the church fathers. In response, I made the point that Orthodox, like Protestants, disagree among themselves about what to accept from the fathers and what to reject. For you to reply by addressing whether Orthodox are more united than Protestants is to change the subject.

      Secondly, you haven’t said much about the disagreements that exist in Eastern Orthodoxy. In addition to disagreeing with each other about the canon of scripture, they disagree about the canon of extra-Biblical tradition, Biblical inerrancy, Biblical historicity, the authorship of the Bible, creation and evolution, eschatology, soteriology, Marian doctrine, etc.

      Third, Protestantism is a movement involving many churches and denominations, much like Western Christianity, medieval Christianity, African Christianity, and other such entities consist of multiple independent organizations. A Presbyterian denomination doesn’t have much control over what’s done by a Baptist denomination. Similarly, medieval Eastern Orthodoxy can’t be held responsible much for what was done by medieval Roman Catholicism, even though both were part of the larger movement known as medieval Christianity. If a Methodist pastor teaches a false doctrine, for example, what is a Lutheran denomination supposed to do about that? On the other hand, when Eastern Orthodox err in some manner, we can hold their fellow Eastern Orthodox more responsible for doing something about it. Your organizational unity gives you advantages in some contexts, but it also makes you more responsible for the disunity and corruption that exist among you. A Baptist isn’t as responsible for a Methodist as you are for your fellow Eastern Orthodox.

      Fourth, if we’re going to look for a church with attributes like the ones you’ve highlighted, why not go with Roman Catholicism rather than Eastern Orthodoxy? You appeal to the advantage of having ecumenical councils to resolve disputes, for example. Catholicism has more councils that it considers ecumenical than you do, and it’s defined its beliefs more than you’ve defined yours (by means of ecumenical councils and by other means). And Catholicism is larger than Orthodoxy, so there’s a larger amount of unity already in place in that sense. Why don’t we all become Catholic, then? Or maybe we should all join some Protestant denomination that’s maintained unity within itself better than Orthodox and Catholics have within their own ranks. Why should we unite around Eastern Orthodoxy rather than one of the alternatives? You would say that Orthodoxy is preferable, because it’s true. But a Protestant would say, correctly, that it isn’t true. And Catholicism isn’t true either. The Protestant alternatives have some disadvantages, including in the context of unity, but they have advantages in other contexts that make them better overall.

      • “In addition to disagreeing with each other about the canon of scripture, they disagree about the canon of extra-Biblical tradition, Biblical inerrancy, Biblical historicity, the authorship of the Bible, creation and evolution, eschatology, soteriology, Marian doctrine, etc. “

        Most discerning folks recognize that to discuss disagreement, you have to take into account quality and quantity. For example, if I come across a few folks belonging to the baptist church who are non-trinitarian, is it reasonable to conclude that baptists haven’t agreed on that? And if there were minor variances in the Orthodox rite of baptism, would that equate to protestant disagreements about the age and qualification of the subject of baptism, and immersion vs sprinkling? I think not. That’s why nobody would ever argue, expect for polemical purposes, that protestant disagreement is in any way comparable to disagreements in Orthodoxy. Speaking of hostile corroboration, thanks Dr Wallace!

        Your organizational unity gives you advantages in some contexts, but it also makes you more responsible for the disunity and corruption that exist among you

        Sure. That’s why we have less disunity.

        Catholicism has more councils that it considers ecumenical than you do, and it’s defined its beliefs more than you’ve defined yours (by means of ecumenical councils and by other means).

        That assumes the ecumenical council as the only way of defining things, which of course we don’t accept.

        And Catholicism is larger than Orthodoxy, so there’s a larger amount of unity already in place in that sense.

        I don’t follow.

        Or maybe we should all join some Protestant denomination that’s maintained unity within itself better than Orthodox and Catholics have within their own ranks.

        Who would that be I wonder. Anglicanism? We can both laugh about that. Lutheranism? Equally as laughable. Baptists? There’s more variance between two random baptist denominations than there is in all of Orthodoxy. Presbyterians? Are there any believing ones left? Not in my part of the world.

      • Jason,

        You seem very keen to engage with Orthodox and direct them to your website, as if your isolated quotations of the Fathers were somehow novel or problematic for Orthodoxy. You will pardon me for not wanting to take up your tired arguments, many of which on your website seem directed toward Rome. If you really think your innovative ideas about the Early Church are defensible, I urge you to discuss them on a serious patristics forum such as http://www.monachos.net/forum/forum.php. Based on your comments here, I suspect you are more interested in reassuring yourself of your preconceived theology or winning debating points than really understanding the Fathers. If I am wrong, forgive me and I’ll see you on Monachos.

        I think we both can agree heartily that your approach to Holy Tradition, including Scripture, the Fathers, Creeds and Councils, is very different from the approach of Orthodox Christianity. The approach of Jason Engwer appears to be the following: employing a Sola Scripture hermenuetic, you first develop your doctrine based on your idiosyncratic understanding of Scripture. Then you adduce a few isolated quotations of the Fathers taken out of context to show how one or several of them agree with your ideosyncratic ideas. In short, your personal understanding of Scripture precedes and filters your understanding of Tradition. In practice, we know that following the same Sola Scriptura hermeneutic, the three Reformers Luther, Zwengli and Calvin couldn’t even agree on the nature of the Eucharist and modern Evangelicals are even more divided on important issues.

        The Orthodox Christian approach is very different. Scripture comes from and makes up Holy Tradition and should not be separated from it. We look to the Fathers, the Creeds, and our ancient liturgies that date from the 2nd-5th centuries to understand how the Church has always read Scripture. In practice, the Church is united in it’s understanding of the sacraments, the liturgy and ecclesiology. Where the are differences of opinion in doctrine or praxis, we either accept those differences as theologoumenon of doctrine and economia of praxis or we call an Ecumenical Council. Differences amongst Orthodox are usually trivial or esoteric. The is no liberal, post modern movement in Orthodoxy, unlike in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism and there is no room in Orthodoxy for innovators like Rob Bell, Bishop Spong or Hans Kung.

        One more thing you and Orthodox Christianity agree about: Scripture is God’s holy and infallible word and Christians should do nothing contrary to Scripture. However, clearly your understanding of Scripture is very different from that of Orthodox Christianity, due to your different hermeneutic which divorces Scripture from the rest of Holy Tradition.

      • Chris wrote:

        “For example, if I come across a few folks belonging to the baptist church who are non-trinitarian, is it reasonable to conclude that baptists haven’t agreed on that?”

        You’re ignoring the context I was addressing. I was responding to Eric Todd. He’s been citing Protestant beliefs in general, including ones as unpopular as “defending Montanism as true Spirit-filled Christianity”. He didn’t limit himself to beliefs that are more popular.

        And why should we limit ourselves the way you’re suggesting? If Eastern Orthodoxy allows its people, even its leaders, to deny Biblical inerrancy or affirm it, believe in evolution or not believe in it, assign a late date to Biblical books like Daniel or hold the traditional view, hold widely differing views of Mary, etc., why should we overlook such diversity just because one of the differing views that’s allowed in each case is only held by a small minority? And why should we think that only small minorities are involved in each of these disagreements among Orthodox?

        You write:

        “That assumes the ecumenical council as the only way of defining things, which of course we don’t accept.”

        I specifically said that I wasn’t limiting it to ecumenical councils.

        You write:

        “Who would that be I wonder. Anglicanism? We can both laugh about that. Lutheranism? Equally as laughable.”

        If a Muslim, atheist, or Roman Catholic came into this forum and dismissed Eastern Orthodoxy as “laughable”, I’m sure you’d find that convincing.

        You write:

        “Baptists? There’s more variance between two random baptist denominations than there is in all of Orthodoxy.”

        Why are we supposed to believe that?

        Regardless of how two Baptist denominations compare, let’s take one Baptist church as an illustration. Let’s say there’s a Baptist church attended by fifteen people. And those fifteen people have more unity among themselves than Eastern Orthodox have among themselves. Should we all join that Baptist church, since it has more unity within itself? No, because we’d take other factors into account, not just the unity a church or denomination has within itself. Similarly, Protestants have good reason to reject Eastern Orthodoxy even if they were to consider Orthodoxy the best model of church unity that’s ever existed.

        You write:

        “Presbyterians? Are there any believing ones left?”

        Let’s take one Presbyterian denomination as an example, the Presbyterian Church in America. Do you think it’s a reasonable possibility that nobody in that denomination is a believer? None of the pastors? None of the laymen?

      • Eric Todd wrote:

        “Based on your comments here, I suspect you are more interested in reassuring yourself of your preconceived theology or winning debating points than really understanding the Fathers. If I am wrong, forgive me and I’ll see you on Monachos.”

        Whether I post at a web site of your choice isn’t what determines the quality of my material. Should I assume that your arguments are insufficient if you haven’t yet posted those arguments at a web site of my choosing?

        You go on to make vague assertions about my alleged approach toward the church fathers. You don’t offer any documentation. You just make vague, unsubstantiated claims. And you keep ignoring my specific counterarguments to the claims you made in previous posts.

        You write:

        “The is no liberal, post modern movement in Orthodoxy, unlike in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism and there is no room in Orthodoxy for innovators like Rob Bell, Bishop Spong or Hans Kung. One more thing you and Orthodox Christianity agree about: Scripture is God’s holy and infallible word and Christians should do nothing contrary to Scripture.”

        You’re mistaken. One of your fellow Eastern Orthodox, Perry Robinson, acknowledged earlier in this thread that some Orthodox churches are “Greek country clubs”. Here’s an Eastern Orthodox scholar commenting on Biblical inerrancy:

        “To make literal inerrancy a necessary component of the gift of inspiration is, after all, foreign to the New Testament message itself. The gospels bear witness to the Truth and to the power of God, not to their own freedom from error. They are free from falsehood or deception, but not from natural human errors. The evangelist Mark, for example, maintains that Abiathar was high priest during the reign of David (Mk 2:23-28), but according to I Sam 21:1-6, Ahimelech, not Abiathar, was high priest. This ‘error’ had no effect on the meaning of the passage. The concept of inerrancy conflicts with the incarnational approach to the Bible, and with the New Testament concept of the synergetic activity of the Holy Spirit. The charisma of inspiration does not imply a new revelation which transports its recipient into a sphere entirely different from his own. The concept of inerrancy reveals more about our desire for absolute certainty than it does about the inspiration of a biblical book.” (Veselin Kesich, The Gospel Image Of Christ [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992], 69)

        Here are some other Orthodox authors, commenting on the dating of Daniel and other issues:

        “The most likely conclusion is that Daniel was written at a relatively late date, not just accepted into the canon late….Typically an apocalypse’s author attempts to make it sound as though it was written in a previous age, forecasting as if they were future events things actually happening in the present for the book’s author.” (Paul Nadim Tarazi, The Old Testament: Introduction, Volume 2: Prophetic Traditions [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991], 207, n. 3 on 208)

        “the books of Daniel and Baruch may have been composed as late as the second century B.C….From the standpoint of the Orthodox Church, ‘the entire Bible is inspired by God,’ and this means that it ‘contains no formal errors or inner contradictions concerning the relationship between God and the world.’ The overall message of the Bible, that mankind has fallen under satanic bondage and that God has graciously acted in and through Christ to save us from that bondage, is infallibly true. According to the Orthodox doctrine of infallibility, the Church as a whole is the guardian of ‘the eternal spiritual and doctrinal message of God’ and is protected from error by the Holy Spirit. The Bible, therefore, as a testimony and proclamation of the Church concerning God’s revealed plan of salvation, is without error in its central theological themes and affirmations. It is not necessary, however, for the Orthodox Christian to insist upon the literal truth of every statement contained in Holy Scripture. Many Orthodox scholars believe that the Bible may contain ‘incidental inaccuracies of a non-essential character.’…But these kinds of historical and scientific inaccuracies do not undermine the coherence and validity of the essential theological message of Holy Scripture. The Orthodox Church, in affirming the divine inspiration and infallibility of the Holy Bible, does not exclude the possibility that the Bible might contain some minor errors of fact, but she insists upon the absolute truth of scripture’s overall message of salvation.” (George Cronk, The Message Of The Bible [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982], 18, 21-22)

        Notice that Cronk refers to “many” Orthodox scholars being open to the errancy of the Bible.

        You mention Rob Bell. Are you aware that universalism is found in some of the Eastern fathers?

        What about all of the Eastern Orthodox politicians who have been publicly and prominently liberal on abortion and other issues? What has your denomination done to discipline them?

        So many more examples could be cited, like the ones discussed here.

  48. […] Wallace has some interesting thoughts on ecclesiology. Worth a read if it’s a topic you care about. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  49. Thank you, Dr. Wallace, for your thoughtful post.

    I was tracking with you until your final paragraph, where the word “don’t” surprised me.

    You wrote: “Second, we can be more sensitive to the need for … ministry with others whose essentials but not necessarily particulars don’t line up with ours.”

    I’m assuming you mean that in order for ministry with others to be effective, each party’s particulars don’t necessarily need to align. (The sentence currently seems to suggest that the essentials themselves don’t need to line up. But that wouldn’t make sense in light of other parts of your post.)

  50. The problem is that an ecclesiology reformed along the lines Dr. Wallace has come to understand is necessary will not support the Protestantism to which he wishes to hold. Invoke it, and all that will be left of Protestantism is what agrees with Orthodoxy and Rome, or with one of them against the other, a “third way” that is none of the above finding existence impossible (as a practical matter) anywhere near the gravitation of Rome or the East.

    Once an Episcopalian, I thought I had found a successful middle way between catholic and protestant faith, but my intimate observations of the fall of the Episcopal Church gave me the deep impression that seed of a church’s death is not only present, but obvious, in its birth–in the case of Anglicanism, its parturition in King Henry’s bed progressing similarly to its death in sexual transgression, first in egalitarianism and finally to official toleration and approval of homosexuality. If “justification by faith alone,” taught nowhere in the Bible, is the distinctive doctrine of Protestantism, how can the movement stand when this maxim is explicitly denied in St. James’ Epistle? When I hear Protestants preaching that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone, I will begin to believe that the necessary strength and insight for the reform of its ecclesiology is at hand.

  51. Wow! Quite a controversy. Guess we can see why there’s so many Protestant Churches. I guess I look at it this way. God spoke to the 7 churches of Asia in Revelation. Who founded those churches? Why did He reprove 5 of them? The 5 had problems. Those problems were all different. Hopefully the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ to God the Father was at their center. Hopefully most of those “many Protestant Churches” also have Christ as their center. If there were 7 different churches in the early life of Christianity why is it so hard to believe there are so many now? Was the Eastern Orthodox Church present then? Was the Catholic Church present then? We don’t know. Is the variability we see in Protestantism the norm?
    I am Catholic and am not so blind to see the this church has changed it’s positions on many doctrines and principles (Vatican’s) over many years. There is a reason why one scholar interprets one way and another scholar interprets differently. Both are in search of the truth. If the buck stops at the foot of Rome why has the foot changed over the years? Is variability in faith the norm as long as The Lord Jesus is the center? Let’s stop looking at the negativity of variability and strive towards what we are all looking for. The one true way.

  52. A motto of a former pastor comes to mind: “Your strength is your weakness.” The Greek Orthodox liturgy, for instance, unifies the various local expressions of the church; but it also fossilizes the expression of devotion to God. The vast majority of prayers recorded in historial passages of the Bible are not formalized, like the Lord’s Prayer, but extemporaneous, like that of the apostles after being hauled before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24ff). And doing liturgy in a language that the congregation barely (if at all) understands may enhance the sense of the “otherness” of God, but at the cost of inhibiting the sense that we can call God “Abba,” which best translates into English as “Daddy.” (Attend a church service in a language that maintains the distinction between familiar and formal “you”, and you’ll discover that in prayer, you use the familiar form with God–it rather blew my mind when I lived in France in college, particularly since I otherwise almost never used the “tu” form of address. I came home and definitively broke with using the King James and original RSV for devotional reading and memorization, as “thee/thou” has taken on a meaning exactly opposite to its original use.)

    I’m not picking on Greek Orthodox, though. The same principle applies to the rest of Christendom. For Protestants, the strength is standing for truth over a formal but meaningless unity; the related weakness is splitting over everything (one church I knew split over, as best I could determine, whether the music was being sung at a properly worshipful slow speed). For Catholics, the Magisterium provides continuity, yet its claim of infallibility means turning into dogma beliefs that are utterly without a breath of Scriptural support (such as the Assumption of Mary), not to mention dogmas based on extremely thin Scriptural reeds (Purgatory, for instance).

    I don’t know what the solution is. The church always has been and always will be (until the Second Coming) filled with sinners who congregate and separate for a variety of reasons, sacred, profane, and mingled. We certainly reduce our risk of error if we are informed by the past, yet there is no pristine age to point to (the church in Corinth certainly had its problems), and Paul in the flesh seemed to have no less difficulty being listened to than in some circles today. Yet, amazingly, we are the Bride of Christ, which he will present without spot or blemish at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. What wondrous love is this.

    • “”The Greek Orthodox liturgy, for instance, unifies the various local expressions of the church; but it also fossilizes the expression of devotion to God. The vast majority of prayers recorded in historial passages of the Bible are not formalized, like the Lord’s Prayer, but extemporaneous, like that of the apostles after being hauled before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24ff). And doing liturgy in a language that the congregation barely (if at all) understands may enhance the sense of the “otherness” of God, but at the cost of inhibiting the sense that we can call God “Abba,””

      Well prayers in “historical” passages are recording significant events outside of church services, not everyday church services. The Psalms are a better indication of what went on in regular services.

      Liturgy in non native language is a problem, but one that Orthodox are mostly aware of and mostly working towards fixing.

  53. Well, the Orthodox had a major spilt in the 6th century over the nature of Christ. The Severus of Antioch was exiled by the emperor Justinian because of Pople Agapetus and later Justinian had a fight with Pope Vigilius over the three chapeters adn probably Justinian’s beloved Theodora held to the Oriential Orthodox position from the referances from John of Ephesius, Procopius and John Scholarlatius. So, Protestant fighting in modern times and splits are mild compared to earlier church history that involved Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.

  54. Jason, a lot of Orthodox admire Byzantium which would not be conservative in the modern sense, it was mainly like a lot of medieval soceities a land aristocracy which also form apart of the civil and military aristocracy. Some emperors like Basil II gave the peasants the land back that they lost to the aristocratics so he could get them to fight in the army. Some Orthodox because of this practice by some emperors tend to be politcally on the modern left thinking the state should heavily intervene between the poor and wealthy. On the other hand, both the Justinian Code and Eclogia Code of Basil opposes abortion and homosexuality, a lot of Orthodox who like the Byzantine and Russian Empires don’t like to apply the moral teaching of either Empires and like to adopt a modern liberal view.

  55. There was some allegory in some early fathers, so the Orthodox like Roman Catholics don’t need to take everything literal but in medieval society in Western Europe and the Eastern Roman Empire they believe that God had done what he said he done in the bible at least among the commom man. They believe that God was punishing them during the Justinian Plague for their sins, not a belief that modern orthodox today might hold. Granted, their are Orthodox that take things more literal out of the bible even today.

  56. It is very good for the Church that Chistendom is crumbling. It will be up to us to develop something different as Church.

  57. Dr. Wallace so glad to see this blog. I’m one of your former students and have recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy for several reasons. One being very issues you address in this blog. Also, please don’t group Orthodoxy together with the Roman Catholic church. We look the same but are vastly different. From the Orthodox perspective, Protestantism has much more in common with the Catholic church than does Orthodoxy. Both are children of the west deriving their anthropology & sotiereology primarily from Augustine & Anselm. Great blog!

    • Would be curious to know more about the differences you see with Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Because they seem far closer to each other than either R.C.C. or E.O. shares with Protestantism.

      As I have learned (and I’m still learning), The Roman Catholic Catechism does not strictly follow Augustine everywhere. As far as I understand, they do NOT even hold to the doctrine of “total depravity” as taught in Calvinism — but teach something in between. (See for example, the response to the heresy of Pelagianism in the COuncil of Orange).

      Both R.C.C. and E.O. accept the first 7 ecunumenical councils. (Protestants generally only accept small parts of each).

      Both both R.C.C. and E.O. share the sacraments (including holy orders), both believe in the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist — although Catholicism goes to far greater lengths to try to define it. Both accept infant baptism as well as Apostolic succession of authority — with the main exception being that Orthodoxy does NOT accept the primacy of the succession of Peter. (Ironically — there are who Protestants DO believe in the primacy of Peter among the other apostles — but reject Apostolic Succession!). Both R.C.C. and E.O. would reject the “solas” of Protestantism (“faith alone”, “scripture alone”, for example). In BOTH R.C.C. and E.O., there is NOT the artificial distrinction between justification and sanctification as found in Protestantism.

      As far sharing in the Eucharist — the R.C.C. recognizes the E.O. Eucharist as valid and invites Orthodoxy to share in it (although sadly — the E.O. has not yet returned the favor). Still, R.C.C. and E.O. has far greater hope for reunion than either of them do with Protestantism (except possibly high-church Anglicanism and other confessional/creedal churches)

      I could be corrected on a few points above (bear with me) — but that’s how I understand it.

      I’ve considered Anglicanism (high-church), Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism for the last couple years myself. In the last year, I narrowed it down to between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism — leaning towards Catholicism.

      • @Dan Carollo: You are making Western observations about Western centres of concern about the similarities between Rome and EO. Of course EO are not oblivious to these issues or uncaring about them, but I think EO see them as comparative navel gazing compared to the serious business of worshipping God and living the Christian life. We can call it mysticism. The differing mindset is hard to explain, it can only be slowly absorbed.

      • There’s a great book out called “Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy” by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick that compares Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism and Protestant denominations. He’s not trying to convert you he just compares and does a wonderful job showing how historically after the schism in 1054 how Roman Catholics doctrine and theology went astray from the Early Church instead of when the churches were united. A lot of RC doctrine theology came from Jerome’s mistranslation of Romans 5:12, and created St. Augustine’s concept of “Original Sin” and judicial/legal terms of guilt. Jerome mistranslated that verse, and St. Augustine took that and effected Roman Catholic Theology, and the Medieval Ages and affected Medieval Theology which views Salvation in legal/judicial terms. That affected a lot of Protestant Theology with Calvanism etc.

        Also, some examples of how RCC went astray with papal authority, papal universal juridiction, papal infallibility, immaculate conception. Also, a lot of current Protestant/Evangelical theology stems from the 1500’s ie the “Sola’s,” and a little later the individual Pietism of the Restorationists and Radical Reformationists with “once saved always saved,” and “accept Jesus in your heart.”

  58. A somewhat rambling thread – I wonder if those focusing on the sources of authority on both sides aren’t misreading history for their own purposes. Behr in the Mystery of Chist shows persuasively that The “canon” or rule used to establish Scripture was the person of Christ in light of His Passion. Yes that was safeguarded in the Church but we’re talking about something more fundamental than the opinion of an authority. That simple book was probably the most important one I have encountered for thinking about these complicated issues apart from polemical stands.

    • @Greg “Behr in the Mystery of Chist shows persuasively that The “canon” or rule used to establish Scripture was the person of Christ in light of His Passion.”

      Greg, I think you’re misunderstanding the conundrum. The question is not where the rule came from, the question is how you and I can know what it is.

      • Not really – the canon of the Apostles was recognized as the person of Christ crucified. The Church safe guarded and applied that canon. They did not start from Scripture or claim infallibility as Church – they safeguarded the teaching they received about the person of Christ, which opened up Scripture. The Scriptures bear witness to Him – as he opened the eyes of his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

        Strikingly that “opening” occurred in the breaking of the bread. We see strong proof for the early Christians about who Christ was from the Eucharist as well – something one virtually never hears in these chicken-egg discussions.

      • Err… they did not start from scripture. What exactly did they start from? What do you suggest as our starting point? What is your epistemological starting point?

      • I am not suggesting anything myself – I am saying that the starting point for the earliest Christian reflection was Christ and more spefically in the light of the Passion. When they opened the Scriptures it was in the light of Christ crucified that they understood the Law, Psalms and Prophets contained a “thesaurus” of Christ images, types and pointers.

        Should we do the same – read the Scriptures backward from the Passion? Are our eyes opened in the breaking of the bread?

  59. @Greg : That’s great, but I’m not sure what it has to do with the topic here.

    • Sigh. The long thread degenerated into the inevitable “which came first, the chicken or the egg”, in response to the main post on ecclesiology. My original observation was that there was something largely anachronistic about this line of argument – anything beyond that was me evidently meandering further and further from the original comment. And now, I am out of here.

  60. It is very important which came first the chicken or the egg. In the case the church or the New Testament. We know that the Church came first. The Church for the first centuries of existence fought against heresies. How did it know what was truth & heresy? What was the dividing line? If you read history (something most Protestants are willfully ignorant of), was did it conform to the oral tradition that the Apostles handed down & to the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul admits to a vibrant oral as well as written tradition in 2 Thess 2:15. This oral tradition that was passed on in the Church is expressed in the infamous Vincentian Canon – Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus].” By this triple norm of diffusion, endurance, and universality, a Christian can distinguish religious truth from error. In our modern world with 30,000 denominations & 7 new ones being formed daily it is literally impossible to imagine a time that the Church was in unity and that all people in all places believed one thing. The Church was this way until 1054 in the year of the Great Schism. The Ecumenical Councils divided error from orthodoxy based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the written Scriptures and the oral traditions passed down through the generations from the apostles.

  61. […] Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary (perhaps the leading dispensational seminary in the world), wrote a thoughtful blog posting: “The Problem with Protestant Theology.” […]

  62. […] March 18, Prof. Wallace blogged The Problem with Protestant Ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is doctrine about the Church. Almost of necessity, Protestant ecclesiology is weak, […]

  63. You’re aware of what John Henry Newman said, right? “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” Once people start taking a close look at the early church fathers, for example, you come to realize that — whatever they were — they certainly were NOT Protestants. I wonder if Luther or Calvin (if they had a time machine to come back to the present) would they even recognize modern Protestantism as resembling anything remotely what they originally had in mind?

    • I suspect if Luther had been Orthodox instead of Roman Catholic the intense guilt he personally felt and this idea of a vengeful God that needed to be appeased by killing his Son would have been totally absent. In regards to history I have this to say. While I was at Dallas Seminary I was required to take 4 out of 122 hours in history only 2 of which focused on history prior to the Reformation. What does this say about what we really value? A lot! Protestants don’t really care about history. In fact it’s irrelevant to most of them. They just make it up as they go. It’s sad because it’s akin to an American not even knowing who the likes of Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin were or the fact that there was a Civil War.

      If I walked into a contemporary evangelical church and asked folks if they had ever heard of people like Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Symeon the New Theologian I would get weird looks & blank stares. If I asked them about the Ecumenical Councils or any of the major heresies of the church I would also get blank stares.

      I suspect the reason my theological education was so light on history is because my handlers were afraid that should I learn church history it would contradict the theology I was learning. In that case somebody’s got a lot of explaining to do.

      This is precisely what lead Pete Gilquist to lead 2000 evangelicals out of Campus Crusade and into the Orthodox church.

      • Almost 30 years ago, I too earned the coveted Th.M. degree from DTS, majoring in Harold Hoehner. The only instruction I received in the area of worship–during my four years there–occured during a “brown bag” session in Lamb Auditorium given by Professor Allen P. Ross in October 1983. To this day, I still reference the 18 page single-spaced handout titled “Patterns for Worship” Ross shared with the participants. His paper was heavily nuanced towards the Canterbury Trail. That mid-day brown bag session helped spur me to pursue doctoral studies after entering the Pastorate under Dr. Robert G. Rayburn in the area of trinitarian worship. After DTS, I could expound the text of Scripture. But I was a novice when it came to understanding and building worship services. Ross motivated us to examine liturgical worship rooted in the English Reformation. Rayburn motivated us to examine Reformation worship rooted in the Scottish Reformation.

        Then, in the mid-90’s, while teaching trinitarian worship for a Graduate School in Chicago (still Pastoring full-time), Peter Gilquist flew into my radar scope. His book, Becoming Orthodox, was fascinating. Father Peter lectured in some of my graduate school classes, offering the Orthodox perseptive on worship. There was even the suggestion, that I too, could become an Orthodox priest. I was encouraged to examine the church as far back as the Great Schism (1054).

        Father’s Peter’s venture into the Antiochian Branch of the Orthodox church was driven by the desire to find the one true Church, the true heirs of the Apostolic Church. In his mind, that church was the eastern orthodox church. Yet, when I worshipped and mingled with cradle Orthodox folk, the only thing they knew was their liturgy; few knew the Savior is a personal way. None read or knew the Scriptures. None knew anything about church history.

        Then along my worship journey–still pastoring full-time–I spent some meaningful time with Warren W. Wiersbe. At the time I was preparing to leave for my sabbatical at Tyndale House, Cambridge; I wanted examine the high priestly role of Jesus in the book of Hebrews as it pertained to public worship. Wiersbe, after listening to my worship story, with a twinkle in his eye, asked a question: How far back do you want to go? Back to the English Reformation? Back to the Scottish Reformation? Back to the Great Schism? In other words, he was asking, why stop there?

      • “Yet, when I worshipped and mingled with cradle Orthodox folk, the only thing they knew was their liturgy; few knew the Savior is a personal way.”

        Not saying you are right or wrong, but…. HOW DO YOU KNOW?

      • Don’t let externals fool you. Lots of those Greek ya yas pray and do something most Protestants never do- fast. Your experience verifies what we all know- all of us are in constant need of spiritual renewal. My experience with the Orthodox Church has been positive. I’ve been encouraged to read the Scriptures, pray, give, take the claims of Christ seriously and make fasting a regular part of my spirituality. If that doesn’t qualify as a personal relationship then I don’t know what does

    • Seriously? Sounds like you’re taking Henry Newman’s word as your final authority. I thought scripture was. And what about so many great Protestants who have been steeped in church history? One thinks of Luther, Calvin, Barth, Hengel, and Oden, for example.

      • I don’t think anyone said all Protestants weren’t stepped in church history. My comment was that modern evangelical Protestants are totally ignorant of any history. You can decide why for yourself. I’m not speaking of theologians but the folks in the pews and those that pastor them. My thesis is that if you go far back enough in history it contradicts the most cherished evangelical doctrines. Better to keep the masses ignorant. Also, the evangelical church has essentially cooped contemporary culture and piggybacked Jesus on top of it. Why does it need history? It has no relevance for a church with this mentality. The latest worship CD or hottest selling book will do. Meanwhile the real means to union with God – intense prayer, fasting, denying the world, mortification of the passions and a sacramental lifestyle are ignored.

      • What does “scripture alone” tell us about the merits of Protestantism?
        DId the early church hold to the “five solas” or Protestantism?

        What I’m suggesting here — is not that Henry Newman is “final authority” — but only that he touched upon something important here. Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism have the much stronger claim to continuinity to the early church. One thinks of ALL the sacraments, apostolic succession of authority, etc. — most of which are conspicously absent in Protestantism today. Most modern Lutherans and Calvinists don’t realize that both Luther and Calvin were “more Catholic” in their thinking than they would like to admit. Mark Driscoll, for example, claims to be a “Calvinist” — and yet rejects Calvin’s teaching on the “Real [Spiritual] Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, or Calvin’s view on infant baptism.

        See also this article from Carl Trueman of Westminister Theological Seminary, in his response to Mark Noll’s book “Is The Reformation Over?”

        http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/is-the-reformation-over.php

        “When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room.”

      • @carollo: sorry, I thought you wrote that, but you were just quoting. My bad.

      • You could always be Orthodox. Orthodox see Proteatants and Catholics as 2 peas in a pod. The Great Schism happened between east and west. Proteatants are heirs of the Augustinian / Anselm tradition in the west. Doctrines such as original sin, total depravity and the satisfaction theory of the atonement are unknown in Orthodoxy. For the Orthodox, the spiritual life is therapeutic rather than the legal declarations of the west.

      • First, I don’t mean to offend or accuse you of anything but, this comment seems a little childish to me. You yourself quote others and on this very blog entry quote yourself (regarding the ideal church) in an authoritative way, but I don’t see anybody accusing you of sounding like you take yourself as a final authority.

        Now, I admit that he does come across rather forceful in his quoting of John Henry Newman, but I really doubt he takes Newman’s words over the scriptures (especially since there isn’t anything unscriptural in Newman’s quote that could be regarded as overriding the scriptures). So please let’s not do this. Instead let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, which is what we would want others to give us.

        Second, I’m fairly confidant that neither Luther nor Calvin would recognized the myriad of Protestant churches today as resembling their vision of the Church. Yet, of course, it it quite possible to be steeped in Church history and remain Protestant. One could simply believe that the Christian Church for the most part apostatized from 90-110 A.D. I’m quite confidant that Newman himself would recognized this point. None the less, to be steeped in Church history is to recognize that the early church looked very different Protestantism on the whole. So, if the reformers where on to something and the early Church simply apostatized that begs a question how do we know when we’ve really recovered pure Christianity? So it suddenly becomes clear why we see thousands of Protestant denominations and why the man you mentored suddenly came to believe that Christ really wasn’t God. After all, there were a group of very early (Jewish) Christians who denied the deity of Christ and the Virgin Birth (the Ebionites). Who’s to say they represent pure Christianity?

  64. @carollo: That was an interesting post. You seem to be an almost reluctant Protestant.

    Since you seem to have 2 reasons not to be Catholic, I’m curious if you have the same 2 reasons not to be Orthodox? Can you point me to the Orthodox dogmatic statement about salvation in relation to faith that prevents you going that direction?

  65. Orthodox believe in the beautiful doctrine of theosis. Rather than resting in presumption or mudddling in despair we do wild and crazy things- pray, Fast , pursue holiness, crucify the passions and participate in the sacramental life of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. We tend to leave all judging to Christ where it truly belongs.

  66. Reblogged this on Orthodox Ruminations and commented:
    One of my biggest beefs with Protestantism being called for what it is by a PROTESTANT! I’d love to see their schisms healed and for unity to be found with us, the Orthodox Church. Same goes for Rome who is also in schism from us.

    “This is a very interesting post, but please note, it is by a Protestant, not an Orthodox writer. Dr. Dan Wallace is a VERY big name in Protestant circles. I find it very interesting to hear him voicing these sorts of doubts. Like many other Protestants Dr. Wallace is deeply concerned about the rampant schism in the Protestant community. Sooner or later it becomes too much to square with the Scriptural view of the Church.”

  67. You are always welcome to come into communion with us Orthodox folks ;) This issue of Protestant ecclesiology was one of the thigns that helped drive me to Orthodoxy. glad to hear you call it out.

    • Dear Orthodox, I appreciate the offer! I have a very profound and deep appreciation for many Orthodox people I know. As you may know, I travel all over the world in search of Greek New Testament manuscripts, many of which are at Orthodox monasteries. What sweet fellowship I have had with these Orthodox priests!

      As I’ve written over at Parchment & Pen, I not only think there is no perfect church today, there’s not even a possibility for such unless the three branches of Christendom can reunite. But at what cost? I do stand with (most) Protestants on the importance of justification by faith and scripture as our final authority. At bottom, for me, sola fide and sola scripture must be maintained if there is to be true unity among believers.

      • Dr. Wallace, I am one of your former students who is now Orthodox. Orthodoxy believes in salvation by faith but not faith alone. Interestingly enough the only time the words “faith and alone” appear together in Scripture is to refute the very doctrine many Protestants try to embrace. In regards to sola Scripture, whose interpretation/lens/hermeneutic are we to interpret Scripture by? Mine of course. This why each Protestant is a pope unto himself and Protestantism is fragmented into many denominations. Since we have bought into modernism and are products of the Enlightenment, it’s the individual not the church that has the authority to interpret Scripture. This is especially dangerous since most Protestants, especially Evangelicals, have disconnected themselves from the first 1500 years of church history and have no theological moorings except their own hermeneutic.

      • I like what Chris had to say. I understand your presumption of no perfect church, but I disagree with it. It is not about the perfection, but the holding together of teh Faith has it was delivered to the Saints once and for all. I grew up Protestant, went to Mt. Mission School in Grundy VA, and attend Johnson University. I am well aware of the Solas and such. But it was the direct refutation of all of them by the Orthodox faith and the lack of their being taught by the Apostles that I knew I could no longer be a Protestant. The Solas, especially Scriptura, are simply this: Protestant Tradition. They lack Scriptural basis. And for the Orthodox we refute them and reject them, that is why conditions for unity are honestly met on our terms. We all have those conditions for unity, however, the Orthodox above all have the strongest claim of apostolic succession and historicity. Hence why I am Orthodox now. I say the same thing to Rome. We will never see unity between Rome either. But for those who want to come our door is open. The Church of the NT and 1st century never went anywhere. It has been here, strong and surviving, all along. It is the Orthodox Catholic Church. I hope that all the common ground between Catholic and Protestants we have can be a building block for better relationships, but I do not think they’ll be unity. Not many are willing to completely give up their presumptions after they are challenged in order to become something they find foreign and weird and maybe even non-Christian.

        However, I deeply appreciate your love and respect for Orthodoxy and our rich, beautiful liturgy and history. Many Younger Evangelicals that Robert Webber writes about are coming back to a place of appreciating the Church Fathers and connecting to ancient Christianity. This is a good thing. I was once an Anglican and a Younger Evangelical in that position. That position however allows Protestants to pick and choose what parts of Holy Tradition they want to submit to and which ones they do not. And I got tired of ignoring the Tradition in its entirety. Americans have a hard time submiting to anything that is authority. THat’s why Sola Scriptura and the individualism in America make Protestantism what it is: a breeding ground for schism. Submitting to the Bible alone is not going to work or solve anything. The Bible itself is part of the Tradition of the Church. We wrote it, canonized it, and defend it. But it requires proper interpretation which is what Tradition does. It is not Tradition, Scripture, Reason fighting one another or being trichotomized. They all three are a beautifully woven tapestry that makes the Faith the Faith. The Bible requires this interpretation. It has no authority on its own, but reveals a bigger authority. Mainly God’s.

        But as I said, the door is always open and we welcome all to come Home :) THanks for taking time to respond to my comments. Again, I really do appreciate you calling out this deep problem Protestants have. I hope they listen to you, sir.

      • Great post! Protestants don’t realize their view of salvation is much closer to Rome than they think. This is an East/West divide . Protestants and Catholics are both coheirs of the theology of Augustine & Anselm. Both view man born with inherited guilt (Augustine) that has so offended the honor & justice of God that the only way he can forgive man is to kill his own Son (Anselm). In this system God is not free to freely forgive man but is compelled by a higher law of justice and honor that operates outside and above him. The difference between Catholics & Protestants is how an individual appropriates the merits of Christ’s penal sufferings. For Catholics the merits of Christ are obtained through the Sacraments. For Protestants the merits of Christ are obtained through a momentary faith experience. However, both are based on the same premises – merit, punishment and appeasing God. Essentially Jesus saves you from the Father in both systems.

        These concepts were totally foreign to the early church and to Orthodoxy. If they were to be “the” defining issues of the church as Luther stated, then the apostles did a terrible job in passing this western sotierology on to their successors. Salvation is best understood not in terms of satisfaction or obtaining merit or the avoidance of hell but of healing. In Orthodoxy the soul is wounded by sin. This sin doesn’t need to be covered it needs to be healed. Thus salvation is a process not an event. Just as a patient cooperates with the doctor who heals him, we can choose to cooperate with God to heal us bring us into union with him. Salvation has a beginning but no ending sense God is infinite. Thus a therapeutic rather than legalistic theology emerges. One based on the language of the hospital not the courtroom. We aren’t sinners in the hands of an angry God who needs to be appeased but sinners who need to be healed and restored to the image of God which lost by the first Adam and restored by the second.

        BTW, Orthodoxy in America is thriving. Many are searching for a connectedness to the historic Church and its Holy Tradition. There is great diversity in my particular parish but I would say we are about 75% converts from Evangelicalism.

        Christ is risen from the dead. Trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

  68. Chris Maeaux, You are obviously a thinking believer, and I respect that. I, however, must disagree with your characterization of the Protestant “interpretation/lens/hermeneutic” (your post on 22 March 2013). Yes, Protestants emphasize the authority of Scripture over tradition/history, but I would caution against throwing the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes. Poor application is not a reason to abandon ship. Protestant hermeneutic emphasizes Scripture, but interpretation—properly done—should be done within community. This community includes those in present times and throughout history. The community of the church does provide some boundaries, if you will, to beliefs. So, why do Protestants hold that “it’s the individual not the church that has the authority to interpret Scripture” (your post on 22 March 2013)? It goes back to Scripture. It’s the New Testament that teaches the priesthood of the believer, not the Enlightenment (see 1 Pet 2:5, 2:9; Rev 1:5–6). This is also why every believer in the Lord Jesus (i.e., saint) is a ‘minister’ (see Eph 4:11–12).

    You’ve also previously made the claim, “Protestants don’t really care about history” (your post on 3 Dec 2012). The point is understood, but properly done, history/tradition is subordinate to Scripture. Our Protestant churches have that correct. Their execution of studying early church history and allowing that knowledge to impact current interpretation within community may be lacking. It’s an area of weakness that needs to be strengthened. I think you are reading too much into the construction of your curriculum at Dallas Seminary to hint that they were trying to hide the truth of historical theology (your post on 3 Dec 2012). To the contrary, the history class that you mentioned was included in the curriculum to point you in direction of the importance of church history (apparently they were successful in your case), but the overall curriculum emphasizes the study of Scripture because they are a ‘Protestant’ seminary. Although not perfect, Protestant ecclesiology has a lot right in its practice.

    • John, this is indeed the reason why there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations and growing by the week. Protestants make a claim for the Scripture that it does not claim for itself. First, it was never to be an exhaustive treatise on truth. It is a collection of history, epistles written addressing specific pastoral problems and apocalyptic literature. In Orthodoxy, Scripture and Holy Tradition are not set in opposition to one another. Scripture is part of that Tradition. The Bible is a book written to the Church by the Church and for the Church. For a Protestant, 1 Tim 3:15 cannot possibly be true. The Church (not the Bible) is the foundation of truth. This begs the question which of the 30,000 denominations that all believe different things is the foundation and pillar of truth??

      Orthodoxy contends that there was indeed a deposit of faith and doctrine given to the Church by the apostles. Some was written down some was passed on by oral tradition. Paul is in fact very explicit about this fact (2 Thess 2:15). I know in our modern culture – with hard drives, computers and instant access to information that it’s hard to believe thatoral tradition would be one of the main ways truth would be handed down but it was. In fact, the writings of the early Church Fathers testify to this. Thus doctrine is not developed it is handed down.

      “Of 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”.. St Basil the Great A.D. 375

      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…Irenaues of Lyons A.D. 189

      The early Church believed in an authoritative tradition handed to them by the apostles which they preserved and handed down. It’s not our job to innovate but to preserve. The question for Protestants is do they believe the testimony of these earliest witnesses of the Church? Can they accept that not everything was written down but some things were passed down? If the testimony of the early church is to be believed, then one has to ask themselves this question, “Am I in the same church as people like Irenaeus, Ignatius of Antioch, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom?” Where is this church? Did the gates of hell prevail against it? Did the church blink on and then blink off only to be “rediscovered” 1600 years later by one man? Is the modern church free to innovate and “discover” new doctrines that nobody saw for over 1500 years of the church. Quite frankly, I asked myself those questions and didn’t like the answer. Thus, began my journey to find the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church of the Nicean Creed.

      • Chris Mayeaux — the notion that there are 30,000 (or some similar number of) Protestant denominations has been debunked for a long time. See this link:

        http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=2218

        There are in fact a really small number of different Protestant variations. There are “denominations” which have differences in organizational structures. But that’s the case with the autocephalous Orthodox denominations as well as the various Roman Catholic “orders” (along with the tremendous amounts of theological liberalism that are evident in both).

        I don’t have a lot of time to get involved in an extended discussion here, but you really should check your facts.

      • Ok, you win on the unknown number of denominations. My points are valid regardless of the actual number. Orthodoxy doesn’t have denominations or orders. They have jurisdictions. Every church believes the same thing while leaving room for regional differences in praxis.

      • Chris — Protestants largely have “jurisdictions” too. Most Protestants believe a fixed set of core doctrines, such as the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Scriptures, the doctrine of Christ (person and work) — differences among Protestants are largely “differences in praxis” — things that are peripheral to those core doctrines. See especially the “Christ Alone” at this link (click it to see a larger image):

        http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2013/01/michael-liccione-interpretive-paradigms.html

      • “Most Protestants believe a fixed set of core doctrines”

        I guess you are free to define away the problem. Protestants all believe there is a god. Everything else is either trivial or praxis.

        The trouble is, Protestants themselves don’t tend to believe that, judging by how fiercely they defend their own idiosyncrasies.

      • Xpustomos: My point is that Protestant ecclesiology is not so bad, and Orthodox and Rome have serious issues that make Protestant problems look even less bad. It’s not a bad thing to defend “idiosyncracies”, or distinctives, if you believe them firmly. God is the creator of this, and he is creating a mosaic of beliefs (and believers). Ask yourself, why didn’t he just create the same person over and over again?

      • ” It’s not a bad thing to defend “idiosyncracies”, or distinctives, if you believe them firmly”

        Sure, you can say that the 234th Baptist denomination is the true church because it has just the right and correct set of idiosyncrasies. But I think the point is, and fairly made, is that there are a ton of Protestant or pseudo-Christian groups out there, usually claiming that their beliefs are what the bible teaches, and they are in fact defending their idiosyncrasies. And I think the point is well made that this is actually quite bad. Whether Orthodoxy or Rome have worse problems is a different debate, and subjective. From a Protestant viewpoint it’s just another interpretation and set of differences to argue against. I think from one viewpoint, from one way of counting, there are in fact 30,000 or so Protestant denominations with separate authorities, whereas orthodoxy and catholic groups do not consider themselves autonomous in the area of doctrinal authority,

      • Xpustomos: The Orthodox have problems that are even more fundamental: According to Bruce Metzger (Canon of the New Testament), the 781 “Orthodox” denominations have not yet even agreed upon the Biblical canon. “According to a tabulation made by Wescott, in the tenth century no fewer than six different lists of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were received in the Greek Church” (Bruce Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997,
        pg 217). They have not yet gotten that all worked out.

      • ” According to Bruce Metzger (Canon of the New Testament), the 781 “Orthodox” denominations have not yet even agreed upon the Biblical canon”

        Assuming that’s true ( I happen to think it isn’t true ), it misses the point. The point is not to set an arbitrary threshold for how much must be defined. The point is that whatever orthodoxy considers as authoritative, it does so as a group. Perhaps we don’t consider this question as fundamental as you. That would be rather subjective for you to claim that. If Orthodoxy thinks something needs to be said authoritatively about the canon, it will do so as a group. The church knows where the church is, and therefore it knows who would be involved in such discussions. Each of the 30,000 or whatever number of Protestant groups decides such questions alone, or worse still, each of the members within each group decides alone.

      • Xrusostomas, Orthodoxy has never felt the need to codify a canon but that doesn’t mean they don’t agree on the canon of Scripture. The NT canon we all use was ironically determined by St Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who sent a letter to all his priests stating this is what we consider authoritative. The church as a whole came to accept this. So it was the Holy Spirit working through the Church that formed the canon. Again, not everything we believe is dogmatized in the Orthodox church.

      • “There are in fact a really small number of different Protestant variations”

        I don’t really see any refutation in that article, other than to distance himself from various groups and throw them under the bus because they are not “Protestant” from his viewpoint, because they are too weird for his liking. It’s a bit beside the point though, from one viewpoint any group not catholic and orthodox is protesting the historical church. As for “Protestant variations”, again beside the point. I realize exactly how you slice and dice Christendom is rather arbitrary, but even similar Protestant denominations are actually separate and adrift under their own authority, and thereby typically develop their own doctrinal idiosyncrasies. That is not the case for various sections within Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

      • Let’s see there are doctrinal differences within denominations and even seminaries. One can hear one way to be saved at one Baptist church and go down the street and hear a very different presentation. In fact my beloved sotierology prof at DTS was accused by a former prof of heresy. This same prof (now deceased) also stated he felt there were current profs @ the seminary who weren’t saved. So much for unity and speaking the truth with one voice.

      • Chris — I didn’t say Protestants “speak the truth with one voice”. You are exaggerating.. What I’m saying is that, whether or not they defend their beliefs properly, Protestants understand the same doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ, Man, Sin, etc., and God is not going to damn anybody because they are a particular baptist or a Reformed baptist. They both call upon the name of Christ, they both preach the same Christ — they don’t turn Christ into an evolved man for example. And as Paul said, what matters is that they preach “Christ and him crucified”.

  69. “Since I graduated from DTS, your comments are more interesting to me than if someone else posted them. I’m in the Reformed Episcopal Church, formed in 1873, but our orders go back to the Apostles. Yes, we have apostolic succession. We have the liturgy you’re talking about and the hierarchical ecclesiology, but we also have good Protestant theology, the 39 Articles, including justification by faith only. Our hermeneutic self-consciously goes back to the early fathers, which is one reason I’m not dispensational anymore. Would love to talk to you in person some time about hermeneutics and mss. I have not made a career out of herm and mss, but I dearly love studying in those areas. If you appreciate the early fathers on the canon, it would seem to me we should appreciate them on their herm., which further means, there was a providential preservation, which I know you don’t adhere to. Instead of Bart Erhman’s skeptical position in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, I would think we should trust God and His providence and trust the early fathers, whom he despises. It is inconceivable to me that Ehrman, at least 1,500 years removed from the fathers and some even more remote, are wrong, but he, as an alleged neutral scholar living today, can reconstruct the NT text almost 2,000 years removed, living in a foreign culture. I definitely don’t trust him, but I do trust the orthodox fathers. Athanasius’s work On the Incarnation, written before 325 Nicaea, is still a classic, and I’m struggled through much of his Greek, which I’m sure you could easily read.”

    • “Yes, we have apostolic succession. We have the liturgy you’re talking about and the hierarchical ecclesiology, but we also have good Protestant theology, the 39 Articles”

      I find it a little odd that you would claim apostolic succession AND Protestant theology. I mean, the whole point of claiming apostolic succession is to claim that you have mystically passed down the faith in unbroken succession. But the word Protestant implies you are protesting against your predecessors. Did you get passed down the faith from your immediate predecessors, or are you protesting them?

      Even if you *think* you agree with church fathers, it’s not apostolic succession unless there is a plausible claim to an unbroken succession of people who agreed with your interpretation if the church fathers. If that’s true, where were they in… Oh say 1400AD?

      • I’m not surprised that an Eastern Orthodox person would challenge my statements. Luther, Calvin, and especially Cranmer were constantly quoting the early fathers and the councils to demonstrate theological continuity, but only Anglicanism actually has orders back to the fathers. All three groups, including the Reformed Presby. and others, hold to the Nicene Creed. We’re aware of differences regarding the filioque, but the Reformed Episcopal Church, now part of the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) is in formal talks with Metropolitan Jonah and others, like Russian Orthodox.

        Of course, Orthodox pick and choose which fathers they follow, like rejecting St. Augustine.

        As for penal substitution and doctrines like that, Anselm was a father, too, just later so why did you reject him? Where is the cut off for your “deposit of faith”? Why is it that Orthodoxy is fossilized back there some where and has not developed much? Anglicans hold to the fathers, and like Protestants, we have developed, basing our theology on the fathers, but learning from Holy Scripture and the fathers, development without contradiction, building on a foundation but laying another one.

        But here are some questions for you: Where is the cut off for you among the fathers? How do you know which ones have the true faith if not from Scripture? Which of the 14 or so Orthodox Churches is the true one? Why do some of your groups accept the Chalcedonian statements on the two natures of Christ and others reject them? How will you ever decide who is right, by counting the heads of some fathers but not others? As for synergy between the fathers and the Bible, who will decide which fathers and which interpretation? Who will interpret the fathers to you? If they are self-interpreting, why can’t we see the same in the Bible?

        The fact of the matter is that we Anglicans agree up to a point with considering the fathers, but Holy Scripture is our final authority, but not the only authority. What is your final authority and who decides? Rome has a final authority, which is their magisterium, but we ask who interprets that to their people, and which magisterium at what point in time? We and Rome agree on the three creeds, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, but Orthodoxy holds to only their version of the Nicene Creed. Anglicans have a long history of agreement with Orthodoxy in considering the removal of the filioque. See the fine article by our ecumenical bishop: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/26609/ .

        I’ve read Orthodox material over the decades and find it anywhere from wonderful to strange. Lossky’s works are very short on scripture and long on philosophy, and he seems to hate anyone who might not reject filioque. I find Clendenin interesting, Ware much more amenable, especially on filioque, and Schmemann very helpful, and so on. I just finished reading Siecienski’s magisterial work The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy, who may have found a way to agree. But he thoroughly covers the history.

        Anyway, thanks for your response. I don’t have time to pursue this further.

        Curtis Crenshaw

      • To read through the Book of Acts, and also St Paul’s letters and epistles to various congregations, is to behold, in one sense, the photograph of a baby. We see the Church not in a state of realized fullness, as if it was suddenly birthed into perfect maturity, but with its perfection in germinal form. We see the Church there as we see Adam – created in perfection, yes, but relative perfection. Spiritual growth, the preservation of purity, union with God, proper use of free will – these were still choices that Adam had to make in the Garden of Eden, just as they were choices that the early Christians had to make in Jerusalem.

        To read the New Testament is also to see the ascended Christ abide with His people in the Holy Spirit. And if, as we read in I Corinthians chapter 12, the Church is the “Body of Christ,” and if, as we read in Luke chapter 2, the Christ child “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” then we accept that the Church after Pentecost also increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

        In his book Credo, Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan would call this increase not change, but continuity: as time passes, the Church does not grow more and more into something it was not intended to be, but more and more into something it already is – what St Paul calls “the pillar and ground of the truth” and “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

        The growth of an acorn into an oak tree is continuity; the growth of an acorn into a giraffe is change. Every development of Christendom in history may be understood as either another growth in continuity, or a new detour into change.

      • Precisely my point; amen to the growth of an acorn metaphor. As for selective quoting of the fathers, there is no one innocent, including the Orthodox who do not like St. Augustine. If you’ll read the article at the link I sent you, you’ll see Anglican’s history and our agreement with Orthodoxy, even basically on the filioque. Though we have affinity with Protestants, we’re the only Reformation church with roots all the way back, and so we are not synonymous with what you may think Protestantism is. Our ecclesiology did not start over at the Reformation, but we continued our bishops, reworked some of the liturgy, and our acorn blossomed. Enough said; we’re not going to solve a 2k year problem.

  70. Apostolic succession presupposes apostolic faith. Many groups can lay a claim to having some family tree back to the apostles (episcopalians, anglicans, roman catholics), however not all possess the deposit of apostolic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints and referenced in the Nicean Creed as the “one holy catholic and apostolic church”. This deposit of faith exists today unchanged and unbroken in the Eastern Orthodox churches.

    BTW, no Protestant agrees with the Church Fathers or they could no longer be Protestant. All the Fathers referred to a vibrant oral tradition that was equal to the writings of the New Testament ( no sola Scriptura). They taught a beautiful doctrine of synergy in which man doesn’t earn or merit salvation but cooperates in a partnership with God to restore what was lost in the garden (no sola fide). There is no belief in penal substitution which came later with Anselm and developed by the Reformers. The atonement changes man not God. In Protestantism it’s the other way around.

    Protestants typically pick and choose which quotes and doctrines of the Fathers they hold to based on a theology derived apart from most ancient historical considerations.

  71. Curtis Crenshaw: “Luther, Calvin, and especially Cranmer were constantly quoting the early fathers and the councils to demonstrate theological continuity”.

    Yes, yes, yes, but they quoted the fathers with the aim of showing that their immediate predecessors – aka, the Roman church, was wrong. That’s not continuity. That’s a gap between the fathers they agree with, then the period they don’t agree with, then a (supposed) attempt to REstore and REform. In other words, they are explicitly repudiating the idea of continuity as an argument about who has the true faith. This is in contrast to you, who are having a bet each way, that you have a succession which guards the true faith, while also arguing for a gap in a succession of people guarding the true faith. Which is it?

    “Of course, Orthodox pick and choose which fathers they follow, like rejecting St. Augustine.”

    Well, Orthodox take some issues with Augustine when he wanders off on his own away from the consensus. Nobody claims that any particular father is infallible on all points.

    “As for penal substitution and doctrines like that, Anselm was a father, too, just later so why did you reject him?”

    Well he was a guy after the notional date for the east west split. But putting that aside, he put forward a theory that has no consensus, which is why his thoughts are speculation at best.

    “Where is the cut off for your “deposit of faith”?”

    There is no cut off date.

    “Why is it that Orthodoxy is fossilized back there some where and has not developed much?”

    Surely you’re not arguing that “development” in and of itself is some kind of virtue? Like the more development you can show, the better it is? Otherwise Mormons have really got us all nailed. Furthermore, you have to show that the development is not actually a departure. Certainly a lot of went on in the west in the 2nd millennium looks like a departure, and Anglicanism inherits a lot of it.

    There is some development in Orthodoxy, in rather different directions and on different topics than the west got interested in.

    “How do you know which ones have the true faith if not from Scripture?”

    From consensus. Scripture solves little, otherwise why aren’t Anglicans the same as Baptists?

    “Which of the 14 or so Orthodox Churches is the true one?”

    An odd question, if you’re referring to the churches in communion with each other, holding the same beliefs.

    “Why do some of your groups accept the Chalcedonian statements on the two natures of Christ and others reject them?”

    Well, the non-Chalcedonian groups are not “our groups”, they are a different group. It’s a good question, but I’m not sure how it helps your cause. Like, why do YOU hold to it? Probably the same reason as us, because the vast majority, “the consensus” holds to it.

    “Who will interpret the fathers to you? If they are self-interpreting, why can’t we see the same in the Bible?”

    Because the church is living, and interprets the bible and the fathers when some controversy arises. Why do you need Jesus to tell you how to interpret the OT, when you can just do it yourself? Why do you need Paul to interpret Jesus? Why do you need the Fathers to interpret Paul? Because new controversies arise from time to time.

    “The fact of the matter is that we Anglicans agree up to a point with considering the fathers, but Holy Scripture is our final authority, but not the only authority.”

    With all due respect, what a lot of nonsense.

    Are the fathers an authority, yes or no? There is no middle ground. There are many many issues in which the bible can legitimately be interpreted a number of ways. Sure, some ways might be, purely on the basis of the text, to one degree or another more or less likely, but many are nevertheless possible. The question is, do the Fathers break the deadlock or not? Your biblical interpretation might be 60% likely compared to mine at 40%, but if the fathers are 100% on my side, who wins? That’s the big question.

    BTW, if Anglicanism has the same reservations about the filioque as Orthodoxy, why is it still in the prayer books? This is where the rubber hits the road, and Anglicanism doesn’t know what it is doing.

    • It never ends, which is why I said I would not comment anymore, but I did. Of course I disagree with most of what you’ve said, but bye.

    • Besides the caustic tone of your reply, there is virtually nothing in you statements for me to respond to because you have not addressed Anglicanism. You have invented one straw man after another, and misunderstood Anglicanism when you got close.

  72. RE: “And it has been long noted that the weakest link in an evangelical bibliology is canonicity.”
    Daniel- I’ve been looking for a place to ask you this question. To keep it short and without a lot of qualifiers, in your opinion, which books outside of the 66 should be considered for canonization and are profitable for reading?
    I’m just a layman who follows your works and respect your opinion, although I’m no academic and have a tough time wading through some of the heavy stuff. Thank-you for your diligence and thanks in advance!
    -Dave

    • The only candidates are what Protestants call the Apocrypha and Catholics call the Deutero-canonical books. It’s 14 or 15 books that basically cover the intertestamental period (between OT and NT). But Protestants follow the Hebrew Bible canon for the OT and none of these books is in it.

      • Daniel, surely as a student of Greek manuscripts, the other 2-4 Orthodox books would also be in the same category as candidates.

        It seems to me, Protestants follow “a” Hebrew bible canon, rather than “the” Hebrew bible canon. Because the evidence suggests that the Septuagint, as a product of the Hebrew community, while not fully consistent in its variations, most likely in general was passed down to the Christian community as a collection (aka “canon”) that contained the deteros, in one form or another.

      • But it would seem it begs the question why Protestants would use the later Hebrew canon.

        I know there are folks here more knowledgeable about this than I, but this is just what I picked up when I first started considering the claims of both Orthodoxy and Catholicism last year (by the way — I have since joined the Catholic Church, but have deep respect for my Orthodox brothers and sisters)…

        As I understand it, The Greek Septuagint contained the deuterocanonical books –The same O.T. canon used by the apostles, and quoted from by the early church fathers. The same list of books affirmed by the Apostolic Church at the Synod of Rome in A.D. 382, the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419). The same canon of books listed out by St. Augustine and printed in the Gutenberg Bible. It is the same canon preserved today by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church.

        Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly writes: “It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the [Protestants Old Testament] . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha or deutero-canonical books.. . . the Church seems to have accept all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement and Barnabas. . . Polycarp cites Tobit, and the Didache [cites] Ecclesiasticus. Irenaeus refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon [i.e., the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel], and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary” (Early Christian Doctrines, 53-54).

  73. […] I’m not sure of the solution, or even if there is one. But we can take steps toward a solution even if we will never get there in this world. First of all, we Protestants can be more sensitive about the deficiencies in our own ecclesiology rather than think that we’ve got a corner on truth. We need to humbly recognize that the two other branches of Christendom have done a better job in this area. Second, we can be more sensitive to the need for doctrinal and ethical accountability, fellowship beyond our local church, and ministry with others whose essentials but not necessarily particulars don’t line up with ours. Third, we can begin to listen again to the voice of the Spirit speaking through church fathers and embrace some of the liturgy that has been used for centuries. Obviously, it must all be subject to biblical authority, but we dare not neglect the last twenty centuries unless we think that the Spirit has been sleeping all that time. ( refer the primary article from Dr Daniel B Wallace  website:  http://danielbwallace.com/2012/03/18/the-problem-with-protestant-ecclesiology/) […]

    • You have articulated well what the problem is and what we Protestants need to do. I am still very much committed to the Protestant faith, though I also recognize that there is a great deal to learn from Catholics and the Orthodox. I just hope they feel the same way about Protestants.

      dbw

      • Well put. I am a DTS grad now Orthodox. I just met yesterday with a man who was on Navigators staff who is now Orthodox. I think the Orthodox (some not all) are open to learning methods of outreach and discipleship from evangelicals. We can learn nothing on doctrine from you (sorry). On the flip side the evangelicals can gain a fresh appreciation, respect and love for this thing we call the church, an increase in ascetic practices such as fasting and communal prayer and a willingness to take a hard look at how the patristic fathers interpreted the Scriptures.

      • What I find perplexing about this thread is the sheer incompatibility of your thinking on this, dbw.

        For your main conclusions: (*) There is no possibility of Protestant churches ever converging in liturgical practice, because they all think their church service is great. If they didn’t, presumably they wouldn’t be having it that way. If there was a standard, who would proclaim the standard? (*) Continual slides into heterodoxy is part and parcel of living in Protestant land. Half of Protestantism exists because of doctrinal disputes with other parts of Protestantism (e.g. Pentacostals). Even if you want to live in the relatively more stable confines of some hierarchical denomination, like Anglicanism, or Presbyterianism, they are frequently going off the rails too, because the hierarchy itself has no commitment to church tradition. Tradition is nothing, therefore the hierarchy is all powerful to change whatever. (*) You agree that canonicity is a “weak point”, but that “point” is the foundation stone of Protestantism in a way that it isn’t for Orthodox. You seem to be saying that your strongest commitment, which seems to be sola scriptura, is actually the weak point in your foundation.

        How can you “learn” from Orthodox to make a stronger Protestant church? You can’t tack on a belief in One Holy Catholic Church in order to acquire liturgical consistency, orthodoxy in unity, and a justification of canonicity. These things have to be buried in the foundation, or they are not there at all. You can’t retrospectively say that Protestantism is the One True Church, therefore its proclamations about the canon are authoritative over and above the original church. You can’t impose a hierarchy on the length and breadth of Protestantism to impose some liturgical consistency. You can’t define orthodoxy in church leadership without sacrificing sola scriptura and thus a Protestant’s right to self-interpret, which is the very thing seemingly holding your back from escaping Protestantism.

        Should Orthodox learn from Protestants dbw? If so, how? Sure, sometimes our churches can be less friendly and less inviting than some Protestant ones. Is there anything else we should learn? Should we learn sola scriptura and sink into the same mire that you are stuck in?

      • Well let’s see. In the mid 80’s 3000 evangelicals came into the Orthodox Church. Prior to that the American Church was basically an ethnic ghetto. Per the Metropolitan the Church has learned many things from evangelicals: tithing,passion for evangelism,a love of the Scriptures. To say we have nothing to learn is arrogant and foolish. While we can’t adopt Protestant doctrines that never existed until the 16th century, we can learn from their praxis and passion.

      • Certainly, all Christianity communities can learn from each other — but to be perfectly honest, I really cannot thinking of anything that is unique and central to Protestantism (sola scriptura, sola fide, a truncated sacramental theology, a truncated ecclesiology — mostly new innovations in the church) that Orthodoxy or Catholicism can learn from.

        I left Protestantism over a year ago while exploring both Orthodoxy and Catholicism (I eventually went with Catholicism). It was precisely due to some of the same disenchantments that Professor Wallace discusses in his original post!

        I do admire the creative energy, strong emphasis on evangelism and personal conversion, a strong laity, and the strong tradition of “preaching the Word” in Protestant communities. But again, it seems it’s more of a matter of emphasis — rather than something unique (and more “true”) that Protestantism itself has to offer.

        I sometimes miss the enthusiastic, 60-minute-long sermons. But the thing that particularly impressed me about Catholicism (and I believe is the same with Orthodoxy) — Is how MUCH scripture is actually read in any given mass.
        I know Anglicanism, traditional Lutheran and some other Protestant traditions follow the lectionary, and retain a better balance between “hearing” and “preaching” — but it is a rare find these days, as each of these communities have become internally split themselves — with no guarantee you’ll find a liturgical/sacramental center to the life of the church. When you’re forced to re-invent the wheel, and differentiate your own church from the 30,000+ denominations out there — it seems all things are possible (and not always for the good)

  74. Chris, does Orthodoxy need to learn a legalistic commitment to giving 1/10th, the major turn-off for people in Protestant denominations? Does the Orthodox Church need to learn to love the scriptures? Individuals may well, but the church itself? Is the Orthodox church devoid of passion? How did you measure that?

    And how does Orthodoxy learn a passion for evangelism? It may well be that Protestantism puts Orthodoxy to shame at various times in this area, but that’s different to saying we have something specific to learn. Mormon missionaries put all of us to shame, if you want to talk about it, but that doesn’t mean I need to study them and learn the specifics of how they did it. Orthodoxy knows plenty well how to carry out evangelism. That it is often slack in practicing it is a different issue.

  75. Thank God I am Catholic. Human error aside…they hold the truth. I was going to leave and, while in my ignorance, the Holy Spirit held me in the capable arms of the Church as I began to study. A brief reading of just some of the writings of the early church fathers along with John 6 made me weep with relief that I didn’t follow ‘my’ path. How anyone could live in this world without the sustenance of the Holy Eucharist is beyond me.

    • Thanks God I am a believer in Jesus Christ. John 3:16. Everything else is gravy.
      That is all.

      • And yet church remains visibly divided among 30,000+ denominations filled with “believers in Christ”. Non-believers notice. We are “saved” as part of a body — not just individual believers. A divided, fractured Protestant ecclesiology cannot be a good witness in the world.

        John 17:20-23
        20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

      • Ahh. Spoken like a true American evangelical – individualistic, proud & confident. Exactly the issue that Prof Wallace is addressing here. Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God (Jn 17:3). Can God be known apart from connection with His Church? Can Christ be known alone without others? Is the Church just extra or is it essential? The paradigm of conversion in Acts would seem to refute that as people were not converted to a theological proposition but to a community (a Church). I don’t know if the early Church Father’s hold any weight with you but Ignatius of Antioch – a personal disciple of the apostle John had these words to say about this thing you call “gravy”.

        “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8

        “note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God… They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 6

      • ” Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.”
        Oh yeah, thank God for Luther.

  76. “Ahh. Spoken like a true American evangelical – individualistic, proud & confident.”

    I guess I should be less simplistic on this type of forum. I embrace John 17. I remember as a kid my pastor telling me about the Baptist church down the street, “We cannot play basketball with them…they use the NIV!”

    • Indeed, one must wonder how the church possibly survived the first 1500 years without Martin Luther! Speaking of which, even Luther himself lamented the problem of isolated individualism…

      “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.” – Martin Luther

      • Luther actually tried to reform the church not break from it.
        Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther

        I believe God raised Luther up to either reform the Church or break from it as it was completely corrupt in the 1500s. However, according to your logic, perhaps Jesus Himself errored by breaking from the traditional Orthodox Jews, which by the way, put him to death.

      • “I believe God raised Luther up to either reform the Church or break from it as it was completely corrupt in the 1500s.”

        You mean the hierarchy was completely corrupt, or the the whole church from pope down to new born babe?

        The church Luther spawned, the Lutheran church is by now in many ways and in many instances more decrepit than the church it broke from.

    • And if Ignatius is not convincing, see the other church fathers on the apostolic tradition — as it was passed down through bishops (a succession recognized to this day by both the Orthodox and Catholic Church)…

      Pope Clement I

      “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

      Hegesippus

      “When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord” (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).

      Irenaeus

      “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

      “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).

      Augustine

      “[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

  77. The real problem is in the word PROTEST which bears within itself the implications and consequences.Hard questions are waiting those who embrace that word.

    • Hard questions await those who burned at the stake fellow Christians who tried to rid the church of indulgences and thievery.

      • Hard questions probably await anyone who burned anyone, of which quite a bit happened on both sides.

      • xpusostomos, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get from that.
        But while I’m contemplating your equivocation try this:

        http://bit.ly/1bhK6oC

      • “anyone who burned anyone, of which quite a bit happened on both sides.”

        Um, no. Burning for heresy was very rare among non-Catholics, and I’m not aware of any Catholics being burned by Protestants (as a judicial execution, that is, excluding those who might have been caught up in the battles of the Thirty Years War and the like). Those few burned by the Church of England or the city of Geneva had rejected both Catholicism and Protestant theology. Not to say that Protestants didn’t do things we would consider reprehensible, but this wasn’t really one of them.

      • ” I’m not aware of any Catholics being burned by Protestants (as a judicial execution”

        Here is some info about Catholics burned and executed by protestants.

        http://www.martyrs.faithweb.com/LondonMartyrsList.pdf

      • Thanks for the list. I stand corrected; I see two Catholics burned–and 100 Protestants. However, I don’t think that supports a claim of “quite a bit [of burning] happened on both sides.” There was no shortage of Catholic martyrs, but it wasn’t by burning; frankly, I’d much rather be hanged or beheaded than burned. But I’m glad we have less destructive ways to deal with our differences today.

      • “frankly, I’d much rather be hanged or beheaded than burned.”

        You know what hung drawn and quartered means right? They were disembowelled while still conscious, and worse. It was considered the worst punishment, even worse than burning.

        Is arguing about which form is the worst really useful? Protestant before judgement seat: “yes we tortured them and disembowelled them, but hey we didn’t burn them”????

      • No, I don’t think arguing over the best/worst ways to disobey God’s commands to love both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is particularly useful. But you’re still avoiding that your claim that “quite a bit happened on both sides,” referring specifically to burning, was incorrect.

      • No, it was correct. Calvin burned dozens of people for religious reasons. I’m not aware of any of them being catholic, but that’s not what I said. I said “anyone burning anyone”.

  78. One real issue for Protestants is who determines truth. For most evangelicals, since the church is just “gravy” & simply exists to serve them, the individual determines truth for himself. It’s just me and my Bible. I am an island. History is irrelevant. As long as I believe in Jesus that’s all that matters. My church exists to nourish my faith. See how individualistic this is? No Protestant can truly affirm 1 Tim 3:15. The Church cannot possibly be the pillar of the truth. No, the Bible is. But who interprets the Bible? I do of course or my particular denomination or sect. Having severed themselves from the apostolic tradition as expressed in the Church, each evangelical is in essence his own pope choosing for himself under the alleged guidance of the Spirit what to believe. Very dangerous indeed.

    • Luther: “I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.” When your church is burning it’s greatest scholars because they’re pointing out the sins the church is committing, I don’t think the word protest is out of order. Reflect on what they were protesting.

      • I have no issue with being a prophetic witness against sin and corruption. Being surprised there is sin in the Church is akin to being surprised there are sick people in a hospital . Might I remind you there was corruption in Christs inner circle. Luther’s issues were with the western church. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never held to doctrines such as purgatory and never saw the need for indulgences. It might surprise you how much in common you have with Rome in the areas of anthropology and sotiereoligy.

      • “Being surprised there is sin in the Church is akin to being surprised there are sick people in a hospital.”
        No one is surprised by sin in the church. But when the leaders are taking your money and killing you if you disagree with them it makes it hard to take communion with them.
        “The Eastern Orthodox Church has never held to doctrines such as purgatory and never saw the need for indulgences.”
        What? You mean the EOC disagreed with Rome? They disagreed with THE CHURCH?

      • The issue is more complex than can be addressed here. The Orthodox would say that Rome is out of communion with them. There was this little thing in 1054 called the Great Schism in which the east and west split.

  79. “The Orthodox would say that Rome is out of communion with them.”
    That’s how it always is. I’m reformed Presbyterian (PCA). We broke from the Presbytery (PCUSA) in 1973 when they began accepting ministers that refused to acknowledge the virgin birth, accepted female ministers, and other outrages. This tenancy began in the 50s and many tried to stop, plead, pray, reform, to no avail. You cannot support and continue in such heresies and something has to give. My point is maintaining a scriptural church is hard work when Satan fights so hard against it. I lament that we cannot have a unified church in this age but we will eventually when Christ comes back to rule, and reunify His church.

    • Dave: Have you checked out the “Called to Communion” blog?
      It is mostly former PCA or OPC pastors, professors, writers, etc. who have joined the Catholic Church. The site was started to start respectful dialogue with mainly Reformed Christians.

      http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

      For an Orthodox dialogue, consider checking out http://orthodoxbridge.com/

      • My friend, if you think I can’t worship God respectfully and correctly in a PCA Church then we certainly do not see eye to eye. I’m with Daniel on the sola scriptura. I do not need the Vatican.

      • “Whose” sola scriptura is it, anyway?
        If you’re PCA, then you follow the interpretive framework of the Westminster Confession of Faith. You either believe their confessional statement is binding or you do not. On in other words, when it comes down to it in practice — there is never really such a thing as “sola scriptura”.

        Recall that the earliest church had to get on for over a generation without any written New Testament canon. They were not just sitting around impatiently, waiting for Paul, Peter, Luke, James, John, Matthew and Mark (possibly Barnabas: Letter to the Hebrews) to finish writing and distributing the New Testament so they could finally get on with starting “Church”.

        Christ gave his authority to his disciples, as well their successors — preserved and guided into truth by the Holy Spirit. There is a reason the Nicene Creed (which I’m pretty sure is part of the PCA order of worship) says “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

        Coming into communion with either the Catholic or Orthodox Church does not require having a lesser view of Scripture by any means — it only requires having a greater view of The Church (and its Sacred Tradition). Both have a common source, which is Christ himself.

        ———

        Basil the Great

        “Of 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]).

        John Chrysostom

        “[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further” (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

  80. God Bless you Dan Caroll , I was also confused before when I saw the newly flourishing modern churches especially in the west that modify themselves along with the worldly constitutions like approving homosexual marriage in the church, translating the bible in a way that suits the Caesars constitutions, unlike the early Christian churches who preached martyrs to give their lives to the Glory of the Lord rather than being conformed to the world .So dear brethren let us pray to the Lord to direct us in to the truth ,as He promised to his disciples that he would be with them till the end of the world , he sent the Holy Spirit to direct the church in to the truth since the foundation of the church . Christ never left the church alone up until the sixteenth century reformation, to wait for reformation. The apostolic church established by Christ himself since his resurrection whose life is the Holy Spirit and THE Body is Christ Himself that doesn’t change. He never said that it would be overcame but he said that the gates of hell can’t prevail against it ,no matter how strong the gates of hell were none of them overcame the church , For Christ is her body.. It never ever needed reformation. Dear beloved of Christ our lord has his own way when he chose the apostles , and when the apostles were exercising their powers and handing down of their authority by laying of hands from generation to generation .
    Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.

  81. Evangelical ecclesiology creates evangelical hermeneutical issues. Each person is essentially a pope unto himself interpreting the Scriptures according to his own choice of
    “experts” within his own tradition. Since there are a myriad of Protestant traditions all based on the Scripture alone, there leads to an interpretive quagmire. The historical, grammatical method is helpful but isn’t supreme. The Scriptures were written by the church, to the church and for the church. They are best interpreted within the church. See this post on liturgical hermeneutics. Good read. http://onbehalfofall.org/liturgical-hermeneutics-and-the-meaning-of-scripture/

    • Yes, the scriptures themselves don’t limit themselves to the historical, grammatical method, therefore sola scriptura can’t be said to advocate it. But then sola scripture can’t function, even in theory, without an agreed upon hermeneutic like historical, grammatical.

    • Catholic traditions and thoughts have changed over the centuries and so too have the Pope’s breaking from truth in word and deed. The only quagmire among people are people not listening to the scriptures but going thier own ways and then putting this as doctrine and then separating based on the lines of dissent.
      While there was many words spoken that wasn’t in the letters, Paul writes letters to remind them of the words he has spoken. So the letters and the oral words are the same in context.

  82. If given the choice between sola scriptura or reliance on man, then I will go with scripture every time, because man is not reliable, unlike scripture. The truth is that the Catholic and the protestant both have things wrong and many run counter to the scripture, so there is no earthly church that is correct. Which is OK because scripture when talking of the church, the term is congregation and the main congregation is spiritual. Christ is the King and the head and the cornerstone in heaven which is where the membership is also. Christians make up the body, not earthly bound churches. No earthly church is a representitive of the heavenly congregation.

    And while it took awhile for canonization, the people still had the scriptures as they were copied and passed from people to people. The letter of Phillipi was read to the people in another city and so forth, which is why there are so many identical pieces of manuscripts to be had.

    • Sola Scriptura is really a logical fallacy. What people really mean when they say I believe in sola scripture is they believe in their own ability and particular hermeneutic to correctly interpret the Bible. In fact, I could take most Protestant churches in the phone book and ask the question, “do you base your teachings on the Bible alone?” and their reply would be a resounding “yes”. However, they all teach different things and cannot all be correct.

      At issue is who interprets the Bible? For so many evangelicals they are the sole interpreter of the Scriptures disconnected from what the church has always believed. The Scriptures themselves state that the Church, not the individual, is the pillar of truth. It also states that the gates of hades would not prevail against this Church. No Protestant can affirm either of those biblical truths.

      So who can we trust to interpret and apply the Scriptures correctly? The Protestant answer is the individual. The biblical answer is Spirit speaking through the Church.

      • Hi Chris,

        Doesn’t the RCC have the same problem of fallibility? Historically all institutions are fallible.
        In context of the church as pillar and support of truth is reference of localized congregations and their officers. Truth here is also limited in scope it seems and refers to the confession (in context) to the recognition of Jesus as the Christ.
        Further, the promise of the New Covenant provides a personal relationship with God and the attending Holy Spirit as an anointing for individual instruction (see 1John 2.27).
        Protestants and Separatists for the most part are in general agreement on the significant biblical issues. This fact allows for personal refinement and growth (discipleship).

      • I’m not RC but Eastern Orthodox. The Church sees no individual as infallible. The Church is a theanthropic organism, meaning there is a synergy between man and God. The Church does hold that the decrees of the 7 Ecumenical Councils are true doctrine and are an example of the Spirit guiding the Church to function as the pillar and ground of truth. However, these pronouncements are surprisingly small in scope when compared to most Western doctrinal statements since the Eastern church takes an apothetic approach to theology. The Church also believes that the writings of the Church Fathers, the lives of the Saints and the Ecumenical Councils give us a hermeneutic in which to interpret and apply the Scriptures. Thus, we are generally suspicious of any recent beliefs that can’t be historically verified in the ancient church. Both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are replete with theological innovations.

        Why do you believe that Jesus is equal to the Father? You believe than not because of Sola Scriptura but because several Orthodox bishops had the nerve to stand up to Arius at Nicea at a time when the whole Church was in danger of lapsing into heresy. Why do you have the canon of the New Testament that you have? Because the Church that is rejected by Protestants gave them the very canon they claim to base their teachings on.

        I would also take issue with your statement that Protestants are in agreement on significant biblical issues. I lived and pastored in that world for many years and I can tell you from experience that isn’t the case. I can go to churches of the same denomination and hear different gospel presentations that contradict each other. I could provide many other examples.

        Finally, this whole idea of competing Christian groups all claiming to be “the Church” was totally foreign to the mind of the Apostles and is foreign to the mind of our Lord. Protestants define a church by the least common denominator of “all people who believe in Jesus”. This is neither biblically nor historically accurate. The Church is a living and visible organism that can be traced back to the Apostles and their successors.

      • Again, Chris, The 7 church councils were not authoritative in the the sense like the apostles’ writings. The pillar and support of the truth cannot be ascribed to the church councils as I tried to explain 1Tim.3.
        Jesus embodies “truth” (Jn.14.6) and the scriptures are “truth” (Jn.17.17). However, the scope of “truth” being spoken about in 1Tim. 3 is limited to the broad confession of the recognition of Jesus as the redemptive seed promised in Gen.3.15, the seed of Abraham (see Gal.3.16), and of David. Jesus clearly fulfilled these and other prophecies. So groups of redeemed believers uphold this confession spoken about in 1Tim. 3.16ff. I think it is not accurate to to press “truth” further in 1Tim.3.
        What I believe does not come from the church councils though some things they got right, not everything is correct.

      • So who decides who got it right?

      • You need to define “it”
        The Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus led the disciples in all truth during the transitionary period recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles. James the Just says in Acts 15: “it seemed good to the HS and to us”. So the HS guided the apostles in foundational truths. The rest (fine points) is up to us as we study the scriptures. Again, “sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth” (Jn.17.17).

      • What is the “transitionary period” and when did it end? The early church knows of no such “transitionary period” when apostolic authority ends and “Sola Scriptura” suddenly takes over. There was no established canon of Scripture for at least the first two centuries. Christ passed on his authority to his apostles — and to their successors down the ages. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are in agreement on this. (And as I understand it, Roman Catholic Church even recognizes the Eastern Orthodox succession as valid). Both Scripture and Sacred Tradition have a common source for its authority — which is Christ.

        Check out the “Commontory” by St. Vincent de Lerins.
        Here, he describes the real test of Catholic unity and orthodoxy is the faith that is believed everywhere and by all — That is — a faith that is informed not only by Scripture, but also by the living, interpretive tradition of the Church itself. That may not necessarily mean all Protestants immediately become Catholic (Eastern Orthodoxy also has a very strong claim to the antiquity and continuity to the early church) — but it might mean re-thinking some cherished Protestant notions about authority and the way in which it is passed on and preserved in the Church.

        “…owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another.

        Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. (p. 5)”

        …Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (p. 6)”

        See article:  http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/05/the-commonitory-of-st-vincent-of-lerins/

      • Hi Dan,
        The transitionary period is derived from the understanding of Jn.16.12-13. This promise is specifically for Jesus’ disciples who were the apostles of the 1st. century church. Sola Scriptura didn’t suddenly take over but was always held. The 1st. century church used the OT and then Peter equated Paul’s letters with scripture. So it was these “foundational Christians” upon which Christ is building His living organism. Also, 1Cor.12.28 lists an hierarchical order of people gifts to the church. The apostles and prophets as gifts have passed on now that the “foundation” is laid.
        As for the canon, as I mentioned, the apostles’ writing were considered scripture and widely read along with the Greek OT (LXX).
        I think I have laid out my position sufficiently and I need to go to my doctor’s appointment. I am not interested in perusing every bit of literature you refer me. I have enough on my plate.
        Sincerely,
        a.

    • Dwight: If Christ passed on his teaching authority to his apostles and their successors through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then you are not “relying on man”, as both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture have a common source — which is Christ.

  83. @Chris: great post. Oh, and for clarity..it’s “apophatic”, not “apothetic”. :)

    Christ is risen!

  84. Dwight: “Paul writes letters to remind them of the words he has spoken. So the letters and the oral words are the same in context.”

    That doesn’t follow. All that indicates is that there is some overlap of material between the two. I can write something to you to remind you of what I said in person without fully expressing every single detail that I spoke the first time.

    “If given the choice between sola scriptura or reliance on man, then I will go with scripture every time, because man is not reliable, unlike scripture. ”

    But the question is, what is of man, and what is not of man? If traditions came from the apostles they are not of man. On the other hand, which writings to rely on is chosen by men, and scriptures were copied by men (with errors too).

    “The truth is that the Catholic and the protestant both have things wrong and many run counter to the scripture”

    How can this be, that Protestants abandoned all tradition (to one extent or the other) and they STILL can’t get it right? How do you know nobody has it right? Do you have better insight than BOTH all the Protestant exegetes AND all the traditional fathers of the church?

    “And while it took awhile for canonization, the people still had the scriptures as they were copied and passed from people to people.”

    Don’t you need to have canon before scriptures are useful? Otherwise you don’t know which writings to follow and which ones to ignore.

    Alex the Less: “Protestants and Separatists for the most part are in general agreement on the significant biblical issues.”

    If that were true then there wouldn’t be separate denominations, surely. You would put aside your supposedly minor differences and unite.

    “What I believe does not come from the church councils though some things they got right, not everything is correct.”

    So in opposition to thousands of bishops and 1500 or so years of consensus and agreement, you Alex tell us they got stuff wrong. And we should believe this, why?

    “James the Just says in Acts 15: “it seemed good to the HS and to us”. So the HS guided the apostles in foundational truths.

    If you actually read the context of Acts 15, the “us” refers to a council of presbyters AND apostles. At least according to the text, the “us” is not apostolic, it is a presbytery decision.

    “This promise is specifically for Jesus’ disciples who were the apostles of the 1st. century church.”

    In the Gospels, the “disciples” doesn’t always mean just the 12.

    “Sola Scriptura didn’t suddenly take over but was always held. The 1st. century church used the OT and then Peter equated Paul’s letters with scripture.”

    But their distinctly Christian rather than Jewish behaviour predated any scriptures to support it, whether you include NT scriptures or not. For a start, scholars would believe that the gospels come after most of the epistles. So here they were following Jesus’ words by word of mouth, and not by “it is written”. And no doubt the decision of the Jerusalem council was held for decades before it was written down. (And I might add, its decisions were contrary to all then-existing scripture). And the church, with all its christian teaching, baptism, the lords supper and whatever else existed at least for many decades before there was any scripture to support it. How were these early Christians following sola scriptura by following such undocumented teachings?

  85. […] a while back, a helpful discussion of the Protestant doctrine of the church from Dan […]

  86. […] thoughts on the Septuagint, the Bible of the first […]

  87. Dr. Wallace, I hope you were able to observe the problem with Mars Hill Church’s ecclesiology when you preached there last week. I spent 8 months attending that church. It needs some major healing. In fact, The problem you noted in the fourth paragraph above is precisely what has happened at Mars Hill!

    (quote) “Several evangelical scholars have noted that the problem with Protestant ecclesiology is that there is no Protestant ecclesiology. In many denominations—and especially in non-denominational churches—there is no hierarchy of churches responsible to a central head, no accountability beyond the local congregation, no fellowship beyond the local assembly, no missional emphasis that gains support from hundreds of congregations, and no superiors to whom a local pastor must submit for doctrinal or ethical fidelity.” (quote)

  88. Ecclesiastical forms carry with them built in weaknesses. The battle field lies with the leadership and spiritual depth. Many in our area, Puget Sound, who have had their clothes singed with the smoke of division in the assembly are well aware of the brokenness within leadership of elders and among pastors. Accountability holds us who wear the cloth to a path of integrity. Knowing much of the inner workings of these battle fields, I watch the violation of the Principles carved out of History being violated regularly and often ignored.

    The present culture is more excited about the thrill of exponential growth and the dynamics of leadership than integrity and historical principles hammered out in the crucible of great difficulties.

    There are times when good men are overwhelmed by unscrupulous leadership and the same about good leaders being overcome by the mob action of a few broken believers.

    Establishing a workable leadership team and building a life of integrity takes time. Mentors are greatly needed by us in the trenches to guide us through the quagmire of conflict. I was mentored by men of great integrity. In times of conflict and personal struggle they were my mainstays.

    I wrote a document in the mid 1980’s about mind control and manipulation in the local assembly after the “Kool-aid” debacle. I asked several pastors if they would like to talk. 70 men showed up and we had passionate communication about the battles of Truth and Power and Abuse in the local church. The History of the Church is filled with lessons and principles for which we would be wise to implement.

    Thank you, Dr. Wallace for your faithful communication and walk with the Lord. I am deeply indebted to men like yourself who stay the course and give us examples to follow in scholarship and skill in communication. Thinking is painful but the rewards are eternal. Please continue to stand tall on your knees. Thanks.

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