Lord’s Day, November 4, 2012

    1. Those nefarious Early Christians!
    2. Sola Scriptura – a periodic revisit.
    3. Berry’s Camera Shop closing.
    4. It is written that “God is man’s greatest idea.”
    5. Rastafarian to Orthodox.

1

Religious conspiracy theories didn’t start with the Da Vinci Code, but they’re certainly prolific now.

One of the most popular theories now is that contents of the New Testament were selected by a improbably powerful and diabolically effective religious faction that ruthlessly suppressed all the other wonderful Gospels and epistles that didn’t suit the doctrine of the suppressers. Thus, the story goes, was born Christian “orthodoxy” (I’m not sure whether it’s capitalized here, since it’s usually spoken, but I’m sure it’s spoke with scare quotes).

A recent example comes from Stewart Brand‘s (think “Whole Earth Catalog”) “Long Now” podcast series. Brand usually has informative shows while his Foundation, as he says, tries to remain neutral (of course, topic selection itself can introduce bias, but that’s another topic). He commented on that neutrality as he introduced Elaine Pagels, a liberal religious scholar who expressed some astonishingly crude oversimplifications and characterizations that I consider false (though it’s no surprise to me that the matters are controversial), as Brand presumably knew she would.

If you’re enthralled by to the notion of alternate Gospels, or if you want ammunition against those who are, it would almost certainly be helpful to check out a few resources I’ve stumbled onto because of my light venturing into the topic:

2

From “what is New Testament Scripture?”, it’s an irresistible step for me to ask “what is the role of Scripture?”

I grew up on sola scriptura, and have been astonished at Protestant leaders who had never heard the term until I uttered or wrote it. So I’ll grab a Wikipedia definition:

Sola scriptura (Latinablative, “by scripture alone”) is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.

Over time, my view morphed into what some have called nuda scriptura. Although sola scriptura was one of the foundations of the Protestant enterprise from its earliest days, I now acknowledge that nuda scriptura is not what Luther meant by sola scriptura nor is it what mainstream Protestant intellectuals believe today. Yet the idea of “Sola Scriptura is so foundational to Protestantism that to them it is tantamount to denying God to question it,” as the essay I’ll be discussing put it.

But I respectfully submit that nuda scripture is pandemic in Evangelical pews, that it arguably is the logical conclusion of sola scriptura, and that I was no outlier in my views.

A longish essay on Sola Scriptura from an Orthodox Deacon, now Priest, John Whiteford, produced the first epiphany that catapulted me down the road to Orthodoxy 16+ years ago. It has been widely reprinted on the internet.

Perhaps the most daunting feature of Protestantism — the feature which has given it a reputation of stubborn resiliency is its numerous differences and contradictions. Like the the mythical Hydra, its many heads only multiply, and though it is a worthy task to seek to understand and confront these heresies individually, this is not the key to their defeat. In order for one to understand the unique beliefs of each individual sect, it requires a knowledge of the history and development of Protestantism in general, a great deal of research into each major stripe of Protestant theology, worship, etc., as well as a lot of contemporary reading in order to understand some of the more important cross-trends that are currently at work (such as liberalism, or emotionalism). Even with all this, one could not hope to keep up with the new groups that spring up almost daily. Yet for all their differences there is one basic underlying assumption that unites the amorphous blob of these thousands of disparate groups into the general category of “Protestant.” All Protestant groups (with some minor qualifications) believe that their group has rightly understood the Bible, and though they all disagree as to what the Bible says, they generally do agree on how one is to interpret the Bible — on your own! — apart from Church Tradition. If one can come to understand this belief, why it is wrong, and how one is rightly to approach the Scriptures, then any Protestant of any stripe may be engaged with understanding. Even groups as differing as the Baptists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are really not as different as they outwardly appear once you have understood this essential point — indeed if you ever have an opportunity to see a Baptist and a Jehovah’s Witness argue over the Bible, you will notice that in the final analysis they simply quote different Scriptures back and forth at each other. If they are equally matched intellectually, neither will get anywhere in the discussion because they both essentially agree on their approach to the Bible, and because neither questions this underlying common assumption neither can see that their mutually flawed approach to the Scriptures is the problem. Herein lies the heart of this Hydra of heresies – pierce its heart and its many heads at once fall lifelessly to the ground.

If we are to understand what Protestants think, we will have to first know why they believe what they believe. In fact if we try to put ourselves in the place of those early reformers, such as Martin Luther, we must certainly have some appreciation for their reasons for championing the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura (or “Scripture alone”). When one considers the corruption in the Roman Church at that time, the degenerate teachings that it promoted, and the distorted understanding of tradition that it used to defend itself — along with the fact that the West was several centuries removed from any significant contact with their former Orthodox heritage — it is difficult to imagine within those limitations how one such as Luther might have responded with significantly better results. How could Luther have appealed to tradition to fight these abuses, when tradition (as all in the Roman West were lead to believe) was personified by the very papacy that was responsible for those abuses. To Luther, it was tradition that had erred, and if he were to reform the Church he would have to do so with the sure undergirding of the Scriptures. However, Luther never really sought to eliminate tradition altogether, and he never used the Scriptures truly “alone,” what he really attempted to do was to use Scripture to get rid of those parts of the Roman tradition that were corrupt. Unfortunately his rhetoric far outstripped his own practice, and more radical reformers took the idea of Sola Scriptura to its logical conclusions.

(Emphasis added) Father Deacon John systematically addresses three false assumptions underlying sola scriptura:

  1. The Bible was intended to be the last word on faith, piety, and worship.
  2. The Scriptures were the basis of the early Church, whereas Tradition is simply a “human corruption” that came much later.
  3. Anyone can interpret the Scriptures for himself or herself without the aid of the Church. [This one is assumed even by the New Atheists who use “the Bible” – i.e., their interpretation apart from that of any Church – to attack Christians and the Bible itself. Even the New Atheists are Protestant!]

My abandonment of sola scriptura in favor of the Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy was based mostly on two propositions:

  • Since scripture doesn’t teach it, it’s self-contradictory. Indeed, scripture teaches respect for unwritten tradition:

[L]ike the boy in the fable who had to point out that the Emperor had no clothes on, I must point out that there is not one single verse in the entirety of Holy Scripture that teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. There is not even one that comes close. Oh yes, there are innumerable places in the Bible that speak of its inspiration, of its authority, and of its profitability — but there is no place in the Bible that teaches that only Scripture is authoritative for believers. If such a teaching were even implicit, then surely the early Fathers of the Church would have taught this doctrine also, but which of the Holy Fathers ever taught such a thing? Thus Protestantism’s most basic teaching self-destructs, being contrary to itself. But not only is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura not taught in the Scriptures — it is in fact specifically contradicted by the Scriptures (which we have already discussed) that teach that Holy Tradition is also binding to Christians (II Thessalonians 2:15; I Corinthians 11:2).

  • It produces denominational cacophony that appears contrary to Christ’s prayer “that they all may be one.”

Dissuade me on those two points and show me that an invisible Church is what the Nicene Fathers had in mind by “one holy catholic and apostolic church” and (almost?) thou persuadest me to be a Protestant again.

3

A local camera store, born the same year as Tipsy, is closing. Berry’s Camera Shop was going to try to make it to the “traditional retirement” age of 65, but Amazon and digital killed it.

I have bought almost all of my photography equipment and cameras from Berry’s, and I don’t think I’ve bought any from Amazon. I’ve “window shopped” big box stores, but they pay sales tax, so Berry’s was competitive with them and much more knowledgeable. It’s true that I don’t print many pictures since digital arrived.

An interesting take on Amazon came from Chuck Marohn of the Strong Towns blog and podcast – a guy who likes true communities and presumably likes truly local business. He and his guest were enthusing about Amazon Prime, wherein one pays Amazon an annual fee and then gets goodies like free 2-day shipping, unlimited streaming video (many free, it appears), and one borrowed Kindle book per month.

Their theory went like this (as I recall it a few weeks later): it is greener and more convenient to buy from Amazon Prime than to drive across town in your car to buy from the big box store. It also helps kill the big box stores sooner. I believe they would support continued buying from the Mom and Pop Shop on the corner by you.

You know the one.

You don’t?!

Well that opens up a whole new topic of how we must get in our cars to do just about anything these days.

4

How can atheist Camille Paglia in 2012 rail against “secular humanism”? Because, she thinks, there’s zero nourishment there. In contrast to Chritopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great,” she quotes her favorite source (herself) that “God is man’s greatest idea.”

For my money, you can skip the first 7:20 (but I would say that, since I’m a visual art philistine). Then it gets interesting and comically self-congratulatory in about equal measure.

Some of it is quite bogus, of course. I have trouble seeing “fundamentalism,” however defined, as attractive or spiritually sustaining. It may have the rush of a semi-coherent ideology, and that rush may last a long time, but I don’t think delusional rushes are “sustaining.”

But someone said “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” She makes you think, even if part of what you think is “will she ever just shut up?”

5

Road to Emmaus, one of the best magazines I’ll not recommend to just anyone, occasionally has odd conversion stories. Here’s a couple of Caucasians, Michael and Teresa Wilson, who really, really got into Bob Marley, embraced Rastafarianism, and then figured out that to get really close to God, they needed Orthodoxy.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.