There is a glaring problem with the “Protestant view” of reading the Scriptures in isolation–how does one resolve differing disputing views of the Scriptures? We have only one explicit example of this in the Scriptures themselves, which is a council of the Elders and Apostles of the Church in Acts 15. At the time, Christians asked whether Gentiles needed to follow the Law and become Jews to be saved. They disagreed over applications of the Old Testament and could not simply convince each other which interpretation was correct. The problem was resolved in a meeting of the whole Church worldwide.
This begs the question, why do those who hold to Sola Scriptura not follow the Bible on this point? Whenever we Protestants disagree with a doctrine, we start a schism and establish our own church (or vote with our feet and find one that suits us.) This is the exact opposite of what the Bible actually shows. In Acts 15, the issue is deliberated by those rightfully in authority and then when a decision is made, it is binding upon the churches.
None of this means that councils can add new teachings to the Scriptures. Rather, having a council is the Biblical means of settling doctrinal disputes. Orthodox have continued to hold councils and synods to solve such disputes and as a result have avoided the sheer degree of fragmentation over doctrine that has existed in Protestantism thus far. This is probably because Orthodoxy follows the Biblical mode of solving doctrinal disputes. The fact that Protestantism does not reveals serious hypocrisy when it is claimed the Bible Alone is the Christian’s authority.
I am not Orthodox yet I am still being catechized
Well, that and there’s always the Apocrypha and the fact that the Ethiopian cannon has what – 81 books? For being a group about “only scripture”, there’s always the possibility of ruling out whole books that just aren’t “scripture” enough.
This is not entirely relevant to the article, however. Acts is accepted by everyone, so the issue is whether we follow the Biblical example in this undisputed book.
2 Peter 2:1 says “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. The conciliar approach is what the Church has always used, not only to discern proper interpretation of Scripture, but also to determine which books (ie what is Scripture to begin with?). The Church exists before the NT books are written. The books were written several years after Pentecost. At some point a decision must be made as to which of the many writings are to be considered canonical. I believe that it was not until a council in the late 300s that the church formally canonized the 27 books that we all now accept. Interestingly, the oldest existing intact codex was hand written by scribes in the early 300s and is called the “Codex Sinaiticus”. It contains 29 books in the NT portion (all 27 that we now accept and the Shepherd of Hermas as well as the Epistle of Barnabas. The Church had not yet settled the cannon. In the OT portion the Codex Sinaiticus contains the entire Septuagint, which is what the Jews had translated their OT into Greek 250 years before Christ. The NT writers quoted from the Septuagint and this is the OT that the early church used and which the Orthodox continue to use to this day. It includes what the Protestants refer to as the apocrypha and the Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books. To put it rhetorically, for the Orthodox, if the Septuagint was good enough for the NT writers as well as the early Church, what better witness do we have? I am not certain who in the Reformation period had the authority and by what reason/logic/approach he or they excluded what is now called the apocrypha? 1 Timothy 3:15 says “…the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.”
Again, informative but a bit of a non sequitur.
1. Neither the RC nor the the Protestant churches ACCEPT the ruling of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 as binding. Both believe it to be time-bound, the Catholics having abrogated it long, long ago. Only the EO hold onto it as authoritative.
2. Protestants tend to hold the first four (post-apostolic) Ecumenical Councils as binding, the EO hold to the first seven, and the RC has a whole bunch. So all three are, to some extent, conciliar. Nobody goes by just Scripture when it comes to interpretation. This practice was pretty thoroughly rejected by the early magisterial Protestants in light of Anabaptist excesses. (The Westminster Assembly acted basically like an Ecumenical Council for the Reformed.)
3. The Council of Trent willfully excluded the Protestants (and the EO, for that matter), so how in the world can it be considered ecumenical? And that is where the Deuterocanonical books were authenticated as canonical. I don’t believe the EO have ever authenticated them. In other words, they are NOT the result of conciliar action, except perhaps in a regional sense. It might be good to remember, as well, that the RC and EO have different canons. 99.9% of “sola scriptura” groups have exactly the SAME canon!
4. If you truly believe in ecumenical councils, let’s get everyone under one roof and HAVE one for the first time in 1300 years or so. And until we do, quit speaking of the EO and the RC as anything but sectarian!
I think you may have Gloucester the point of the article . Simply the problem is that in Protestantism when there are doctrinal issues they are not solved in Council . Why not when this is the only biblical example of how we are to deal with differences ?
Protestantism, just like RC and EO churches, establishes doctrine via confessions and catechisms.
(Unlike the latter two, however, it has had to deal with the power vacuum arising from the necessity of splitting from the “older” fellowships. As a result, there are far more dissident groups. This we should blame on the spiritual disintegration of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, NOT on Protestantism’s good faith efforts to “put Humpty together again.”)
For EO, we have the Synod of Jerusalem, as well as the Confession of Mogila and the Catechism of Bulgaris. For RC, we have Canisius’ catechism, followed by that of Trent, Baltimore, and the recent CCC. For the Reformed, we have either the Westminster Confession or the Three Forms of Unity. For Lutheranism, we have the Book of Concord (which includes the Augsburg Confession and a couple catechisms). For Anglicans, we have the Thirty-nine Articles, as well as the catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer.
What I am not aware of are ANY major doctrinal issues which have NEEDED to be solved since the publication of these creeds. They are still subscribed to, basically without modification, for nearly 400 years!
Again, you are ignoring the obvious fact that every major Protestant body has had schisms from within, most due to not submitting to their own councils and previous confessions.
What do you mean by schisms “from within”? Sometimes dissenters leave and form their own bodies with divergent dogma. Sometimes they take over a denomination, and those true to the confession must leave. But it’s never difficult to figure out which has happened. (And for the most part, we’re speaking of recent “modernist” incursions, which have also decimated the EO and RC communions. You all just leave them where they are and talk of “a few tares among the wheat” when, in fact, it would often be truer to say “a few stalks of wheat among the tares.”)
I don’t happen to believe that it’s noble to prioritize unity over purity. Eventually, what do you think you’re unified around? Absolutely nothing.
No purity. No meaningful unity.
Another misdirection, it appears you concede the argument
In a sense, yes, I like Councils. BUT Orthodoxy only works things out within Orthodoxy. It doesn’t work out disagreements with Roman Catholics or Protestants. Our “fragmentation,” as you put it, is also YOUR fragmentation. Both because we split away from RC/EO hegemony and because we are still part and parcel of Christendom. (You disown us, but we can just as easily disown anyone who diverges from the WCF. They went out from us because they were not of us….)
Within traditional Reformed churches themselves, there is less variation than within Orthodoxy.
Become Orthodox and then you can work things out within the CHurch.
For the record, the Orthodox never “disowned” Protestantism. Rome is in schism and Protestants left Rome.
// Orthodox have continued to hold councils and synods to solve such disputes and as a result have avoided the sheer degree of fragmentation over doctrine that has existed in Protestantism thus far. //
Erm… a few notes
1) no they haven’t avoided fragmentation, in fact you might have noticed they are schismed from Rome? and THEIR councils, plus under the umbrella of Orthodoxy there are several different traditions AND …. the Coptic/Ethiopian branches? so pray tell why “Protestants” are being held to a different standard? I mean I don’t rate “confessions” personally, but most reformed churches hold to some kind of confession held at some church council – right?
2) the council in Acts 15 was to address a foundational issue of the Gospel and cut the disputers/Judaisers off at the pass with the authority of the Apostles, to re-assure the newly added Gentiles of their position before God. There is NO such similar situation in subsequent councils.
3) In the form of “unity” you seem to be suggesting (i.e. under a Dominionist state-church system), it would seem that councils and conformity are more important than truth?
So for example, just because Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presybyterian and Congregational have “decided” at some point that Paedo-baptism is some kind of Gospel prescribed medication, sort of like shaking salt over a meal and hoping it tastes ok afterwards – that doesn’t make it scriptural. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are any Christians from and in those traditions, it just means that they are unable to prove their tradition on this from the scriptures and therefore I do not see their tradition as authoritative The same as when the Catholics dogmatised the Immaculate Conception, which the Orthodox reject. So that “authoritative” council and tradition – along with a “holy day of obligation” are essentially meaningless to the Greek Orthodox tradition, but they DO affirm Mary’s sinlessness – which “might” give a reasonable basis for concluding that in these matters those “councils” have often been “making it up as they go along”. Which means in turn that Protestants who reject both of those traditions do not need to regard their decisions on all other matters as “authoritative” either – THATS a consistent position.
Why the inconsistent standard when applied to Protestants? but a free pass for the Dominionist Imperial Roman state churches? (and just ignore North Africa and pretty much all other movements of Christian history such as the Montanists, etc. )
Sola Scriptura allows for a spectrum without hypocrisy according to conscience, with disagreement in non-essentials and the trial of these traditions which “claim” to be scriptural. The alternative is having your life governed by accruing traditions which must be blindly accepted and carried out, regardless of personal conviction – because that is supposedly “unity”. It sounds more like “useless” then “unity” to me.
In other words, you cannot brag about Orthodoxy as this great force for unity when the entire Western portion of Christianity broke away from you. Today, EO is roughly 1/7 of Christendom, meaning 6 out of 7 left you.
Again, how does this address the argument of the article? And, when did I brag about Orthodoxy being an unifying force?
If I became Orthodox, I could only work for unity in one small segment of the Church.
You cannot be unaware that Protestants reached out to the Orthodox and were unceremoniously rejected. Plus, the Synod of Jerusalem was convened for the express purpose of disowning Protestantism.
Acts 15 depicts an action of the entire church, pure and unified. No church today could reenact that.
You didn’t brag about EO being a unifier, but you ungraciously dismissed Protestantism as a divider.
Protestantism divides within itself and does not submit to its own councils.
Protestantism divides WITHIN itself only because of the broad scope of the definition often given to it: any church which is not Catholic or Orthodox.
This is not how the magisterial Reformers defined it. It was quite possible to split off and be beyond the bounds of orthodox Protestantism. Granted this definition, most of what you call Protestantism would be in schism from the founders of the movement.
Traditional magisterial groups do indeed submit to their “councils.” Some of them are extraordinarily strict about it.