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Monday, April 07, 2003

Defender of the Truth-An interesting food fight broke out in the comments of Thursday's Edifier while I was busy over the weekend. The holy trollee was Karl Thienes, who makes this synopsis of his Orthodox views on his blog
The common answer to this problem is one I keep hearing (and it was posted by someone in the comments section as well). It was the "if you just read your Bible on your own and pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance, everything will work itself out" answer. I have many problems with this answer, and I've posted about them before, but the foundational issue was summed up nicely by someone during a discussion at the Evangelical-Orthodox Group. This person said, "If someone expresses an interest in the Christian faith, the answer is invariably "read the Bible". Which, in my humble opinion, is like trying to teach people to sing by giving them a sheet of music." I love that! Analogy: If you want to learn out to play music well, you've got to join the orchestra. (And the best orchestra at that). But very rarely can you just sit at home, with a bunch of notes and books and become a world class musician. It could happen. But it would be the exception, and a huge one at that. It would not be the rule to follow. To become the best musician possible, one would need intense dedication, ascetic labors (like forgoing other activities and practicing for hours a day), as well as deep mentoring by someone who has already achieved some level of musical success etc.... That recipe sounds like the Orthodox way of life to me! Common liturgy, ascetical labors, sacraments, spiritual discipleship....*AND*, of course, the Bible. But it is a package deal.
One doesn't learn in a vacuum. You can learn better from other people than you can from the Bible alone. The Holy Spirit is capable of giving you that knowledge alone, but we’re not meant to be Lone Ranger believers. I'm not sure that I'm going to buy common liturgies and a whole list of sacraments, but the rest are part of good spiritual development. Fasting, prayer, giving and Bible study are all parts of a good spiritual diet. Don Batton had this starting point "What I find difficult about the Bible is that it tells you to do all kinds of things like this but it doesn't tell you how nor even exactly what it means." Fellow believers are helpful in giving it context. Here are two classic counterpoints-first, evangelical/charismatic John Adams
"The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, not the Bible!" Whoa, you're getting into dangerous territory there, Mr. Thienes. Unlike the Church's doctrine, the Bible never changes.
Thienes' rebuttal
Don's original question CAN'T be answered with the "just read your Bible and pray" answer. His question *begs* for a context. And that context is the Church.
Let me play the mugwump and say that they're both right. The Bible standing alone doesn't do much without believers to preach it's good news. However, the Protestant in me insists on making the Bible the Constitution; we can only have doctrine that passes Biblical muster. We scuffle over how to interpret the Constitution; just today, we had nine of our sharper judges split 6-3 on whether to validate a anti-cross-burning law. Likewise, we will agree on taking the Bible as our basic guide, but disagree on how to interpret it. We do a better job of making decisions collectively than we do individually. A few verses come to mind-Proverbs 12:15-"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel." and 13:10-" Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel." These might have been used in a personal finance context in our class yesterday, but they seem to apply to non-financial questions of doctrine. Individuals tend to be more heterodox in their theologies than churches, who have a longer track record of hacking theology. The Church (in the sense of the collection of all believers) can help guard the truth, but only to the extent that they are striving to do so. When a church isn't guarding the truth, believers may have to walk away from it, but that should be a last resort when a church has become clearly heterodox.

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