A Misconception between Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians

I recently read a reformed Christian give reflections on why a particular evangelical had become Orthodox. In his reflections, he pointed out that often the question that most evangelicals who become Orthodox often come to is the question of authority. This reformed Christian said that often when one no longer holds to sola scriptura that this is an appropriate question. He referenced how this former evangelical had answered his question,”by whose authority?” by joining the Orthodox church. To this reformed Christian, the former evangelical had traded his authority from “sola scriptura” (Bible alone) to “sola” church/Tradition. In reformed Christian’s mind this was where all liberalism begins. In his mind, it is also, correctly so, where he and his Orthodox friend part opinions.

What struck me about this was the misconception that I often find among protestant Christians when trying to understand the Orthodox view of the Bible. In a protestant framework, the emphasis is “bible, bible, bible” and anyone who tries to go outside the bible is heretical. It is very much understood as it is the Bible Alone or else…..you fill in the blank. This is a misconception regarding the Orthodox understanding of the Scriptures. It is not the Bible alone or the Church alone that is the authority. It is the Bible, written in the Church, by the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the Church. Without this Church, the Bible, specifically the New Testament, loses the framework it was meant to have. Thus, Orthodox, or many early Christians, would not use words like “alone” when referring to the Book of the Church, i.e. the Bible. Fr. John Whiteford makes a necessary point regarding this, “Let no one misunderstand the point that is being made. None of this is meant to belittle the importance of the Holy Scriptures. God forbid! In the Orthodox Church the Scriptures are believed to be fully inspired, inerrant, and authoritative. “* The argument then is not if the Bible is authoritative but is it the only authority? This leaves the question of interpretation.

Those who hold to “sola scriptura” claim that the Bible is their only authority. However, what is any book without an interpreter? Especially one that is ancient and from another context/culture? Ultimately, the question then becomes by what interpretation does the Bible get it’s authority. Interestingly, not all those Christians who hold to the Bible alone even agree or believe the same things. Each group/sect/denomination of Christians all teach to believe a certain way “from a common tradition.” So the question no longer becomes Bible alone or church alone. It now becomes by “who” alone?! While I do not disagree that it is important to have the Scriptures accessible to the common people, I do not think that many realize that when you take them and isolate them that YOU become the authority….so in essence it becomes “me” alone.

Fr. Whiteford states:

“the question is not really whether we will just believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition. The real question is, which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? Which tradition can be trusted—the Apostolic Tradition of the historic Church, or the modern and divergent traditions. . . .which have no roots deeper than the advent of the Protestant Reformation?”*

In closing, beyond all the misconceptions that lie between evangelical and Orthodox Christians, I think that the one area we can agree is that we do as Blessed Augustine says in On Christian Doctrine (books i-iv). He spends more time talking about the kind of person the study of the Scripture requires than about the intellectual knowledge he should have. Augustine says that such a person:

1-loves God with his whole heart, and is empty of pride;
2-is motivated to seek the knowledge of God’s will by faith and reverence, rather than pride or greed;
3-has a heart subdued by piety, a purified mind, dead to the world; neither fears, nor seeks to please men;
4-seeks nothing but knowledge of and union with Christ;
5-hungers and thirsts after righteousness; and
6-is diligently engaged in works of mercy and loves

“We must read the Bible; it is God’s Holy Word! But to understand its message, let us humbly sit at the feet of the saints who have shown themselves ‘doers of the Word and not hearers only’ (James 1:22), and have been proved by their lives worthy interpreters of the Scriptures. Let us go to those who knew the Apostles, such as Saints Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp, if we have a question about the writings of the Apostles. Let us inquire of the Church, and not fall into self-deluded arrogance.”*

*All Quotes taken from book shown “Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of the Reformation Theology” by Fr. John Whiteford, available through Conciliar Press

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4 Responses

  1. That was EXCELLENT!!!!!
    I love the question you came to, “by who alone?”….so true!

    And Augustine’s analysis certainly narrows the field. Lord have mercy.

  2. This was good Jenni. I like how you ended it. Let us humbly sit at the feet of the saints who were doers of the word….

  3. Very nice post, Jeni. Thanks for it.

  4. Rock on!!!

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