21 comments

  1. I don’t know to what extent you have an international readership, Todd, so let’s consider a related question: what is the state of those denominations and traditions which were either born upon American soil or, having been a significant part of the founding fabric of this nation, have flourished greatly here?

    One approach to this question is to consider the ever-greater numbers of the most commited, serious, thoughtful, and devout Christians who are abandoning such backgrounds in favor of Roman Catholicism or Byzantine Orthodoxy.

    Speaking of which, Happy Feast of the Transfiguration, y’all!

  2. One approach to this question is to consider the ever-greater numbers of the most commited, serious, thoughtful, and devout Christians who are abandoning such backgrounds in favor of Roman Catholicism or Byzantine Orthodoxy.

    What are your statistics on this, Greg?

    I know America is abandoning their Puritan roots.

    And I don’t think America is growing in attraction to LDS Zion.

    As conservative Protestant faith falters, so does conservative LDS faith.

    I think apathetic, theological pluralism will rule the day in America, following the liberal higher criticism of Western Europe.

  3. Gives manifest destiny a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

    Todd, I doubt that the phenomenon of which I speak has reached a magnitude of statistical significance yet. It would be rather hard, I would think, to statistically measure who are, and who are not, among such a group as “most commited, serious, thoughtful, and devout Christians”. So I will have to approach this a bit differently. At the same time, it is worth noting that the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America grew, in terms of numbers of parishes, by 33% between 1990 and 2000. This growth continues, and such growth is also seen in other Orthodox jurisdictions, especially here in the Southeast. The Columbia SC metro area, once the home of only a Greek parish and a mission of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), now has an Antiochian presence as well as a Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russian (ROCOR) mission/parish. Not so long ago, the Charleston area had only a Greek parish. Besides that congregation, it now has communities affiliated with the OCA, the Antiochian Archdiocese, and ROCOR. Growth in the OCA, and especially the Antiochian Archdiocese, is largely a result of conversions.

    However, what I want to focus on is former Protestants of various stripes who are now more-or-less prominent as Roman Catholics or Orthodox. Many of these are clergy, but not all.

    First there are the men, now Orthodox priests, who led about 2,000 people from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy, beginning c. 1970 and resulting in these folks being chrismated (confirmed) as Orthodox Christians in 1987 (in the Antiochian Archdiocese): Peter Gillquist, Gordon Walker (formerly a Baptist), Jack Sparks, Jon Braun, Weldon Hardenbrook, and others. These men met while associated with Campus Crusade in the late sixties, and come from a broad cross-section of Protestant/Evangelical backgrounds. Fr. Peter has documented their journey in “Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith”. He has written “Coming Home” which is a collection of stories about Protestant clergy of different traditions who have become Orthodox, many of them priests. Fr. Peter is fond of saying: “All of Orthodoxy is found in the Bible, but much of it in passages we didn’t underline when we were Evangelicals”.

    Associated with this group is Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer. Also Fr. James Bernstein, who was raised an Orthodox Jew, converted via Jews-for-Jesus, and then, became an Orthodox Christian. There is author Frederica Mathewes-Greene, whose husband is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese. They are both former Episcopalians, he a priest. I’m not sure exactly what Fr. Patrick Riordan’s background is, but he is a convert. He is the Pastor of All Saints, Chicago, which sponsors “Ancient Faith radio”, a 24-hour, streaming internet broadcast source. (BTW, there is a flourishing and newly founded Antiochian parish in Wheaton IL, the core of which is composed largely of Wheaton alumni.) Late Church historian and Yale Professor Jaroslaw Pelikan, a lifelong confessional Lutheran (Missouri Synod), converted to Orthodoxy shortly before his death.

    There are others: Fr. Stephen Freeman, raised Baptist, then an Episcopal priest, now a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. Since his ordination as an Orthodox priest, his mission/parish in Oak Ridge TN has grown to about 150 members, mostly converts, in a few short years, and has spawned at least two other missions.

    A close friend of his, Fr. Alvin Kimel, formerly also an Episcopal priest, is now Roman Catholic. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a graduate of your alma mater, Bob Jones University, converted to Anglicanism (in England), and was ordained. As Anglicanism began to implode, he converted again and is now an RC priest, serving back in Greenville. The Pastor under whom he serves, Fr. Jay Scott Newman, is also a convert.

    Scott Hahn, a former PCA pastor, is also a convert to Roman Catholicism. He is the author of several books and appears frequently on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Professor Thomas Howard, formerly Evangelical, author of “Evangelical is not Enough,” initially became Anglican and then Roman Catholic. Then there is the founder and editor of “First Things” magazine, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, formerly a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor. There are many others; these are just some names that come off the top of my head.

    If anything will save the United States from following in the footsteps of Western Europe, it will be Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or, most likely, a combination of the influence of both.

  4. Todd,

    As most would agree, the use of statistics are a weak argument for the validity of one’s religious worldview since one may selectively marshal just those statisticts that seem to support one’s possition while ignoring statistcs that don’t support one’s position. Moreover dededming the veracity of one’s position on the basis of a religious “experience” is subject to varying interpretations. My conversion from Roman Catholicism to the Protestant evangelical faith was ultimately prompted neither by statistics nor by listenening to the testimonies of converts. I prayfully read the scriptures for myself and discovered that the Christ and gospel preached by Rome was inconsistent with what I read in the bible. As a result I became and remain a Protestant evangelical. Until someone can convince otherwise FROM God’s word, I shall continue in my commitment to ” the faith once delivers to the saints.

  5. Well, Robert, that’s great, but in so converting, you have, at the very least, ignored a big chunk of Scripture that you now must either explain away or simply ignore.

  6. FrGreg, I’m surprized when I learn about evangelicals converting to the various orthodox churches.

    I’ve observed that Roman Catholicism doesn’t produce people who are passionate for God and for holiness. My wife’s home country is predominately Roman Catholic, yet the church makes little difference in the lives of its members or in the culture. The Reformed Baptist church to which she belonged boasts a membership of about 90%-plus former Roman Catholics.

    I’ll bet that the various orthodox churches produce similar fruit. I’ll bet that if I were to visit countries where the Eastern Orthodox church claims the majority in its fold, that the same kind of apathy and worldliness prevails.

  7. Oh, I should add that in one of the countries where we have missionaries, the orthodox priests are the main culprits in the persecution of the evangelicals.

  8. Scott,

    That wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that a lot of the predominantly Orthodox countries are ex-communist cesspools, now would it?

    Oh heavens no! It must be the religion’s fault, right?

  9. Dear FrGregACCA,

    I appreciate your response above and the opportunity to interact with you about religious matters of paramount importance. I trust that neither of us will be motivated by the desire merely to win an argument but rather by the desire to proclaim accurately and defend faithfully the truth of the gospel. I also have to ask your pardon for the typo above. “Dededming” should be “determining.” My only defense is that it was late at night, and I was trying to type on my iPhone.

    At any rate, I am glad that we have leveled the playing field so that sola Scriptura will serve as the ultimate norm for our discussion of religious epistemology and ethics. Of course, religious experience and ecclesiastical tradition have their place. Jesus and the apostles affirmed that the gospel would transform lives (Matthew 7:17-18; John 13:35; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10). What is more, Jesus affirmed that he would build his church and be present with her until the end of the age (Matthew 16:16-18; 28:18-20). Nevertheless, the Scriptures themselves speak of spurious conversions (Matthew 7:21-23; 12:20-21; John 8:30-44; Hebrews 6:4-6) and of professing Christians being led astray from false teachers (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:12), some of which will arise within the ranks of true churches (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Peter 2:1), and, as a result, straying from the true faith (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 2:14-16, 20-21). So determining the validity of personal testimonies of conversion experiences requires us to assess such experiences in the light of God’s word. You can point to many examples of Protestant evangelicals converting to Roman or Orthodox churches. We, in turn, could provide a myriad of examples of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox adherents who, like myself, would claim that they never heard the Scriptures faithfully taught and the gospel clearly preached until they left those ecclesiastical institutions and joined Protestant evangelical churches. Most likely, then, we will not get very far using the religious experiences of others as an argument for the veracity of our position.

    Nor would we make much progress by grounding our arguments ultimately in non-inspired, post-apostolic ecclesiastical tradition. Not all human tradition is bad. Indeed, when human tradition conforms to divine revelation it is good and may serve as norma normata, viz., an extension of human authority that is normative insofar as it reflects the teaching of Scripture, which is norma normans, viz., the final or ultimate standard by which human tradition and authority is judged. Since the apostles were inspired by God’s Spirit (John 15:26-27; 16:13; Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 John 4:1-6), I would place their teaching or tradition in the category of norma normans (1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15). On the other hand, I would place the authority of ecclesiastical tradition in the category of norma normata. Hence, any truth claims advanced by whatever ecclesiastical tradition must be assessed and validated by Scripture itself, which is self-attesting (Exodus 32:15-16; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 2 Samuel 23:1-2; Matthew 22:31; Acts 1:16; Romans 1:1-2; 3:1; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21) and self-authenticating (Matthew 10:5-15; 11:20-24 [that the degree of moral responsibility is predicated upon the degree of exposure to special revelation presupposes the self-authenticating quality of God’s word]; Luke 16:19-21 [that Scripture alone is sufficient for conversion even apart from supernatural miracles assumes a self-authenticating quality of Scripture]; Romans 1:18-20, 32; 2:14-15 [argument from lesser to greater–if general revelation is self-authenticating, how much more special revelation, which is characterized by a greater degree of clarity and specificity]). Furthermore, since Jesus and Scripture itself indicate that historical (even ethnic) continuity within an ecclesiastical institution does not insure or validate its authenticity (Matthew 3:9-10; 15:1-9; John 8:39; Romans 11:17-20; Colossians 2:8), then we cannot use historical succession in-and-of-itself as an argument for the genuineness of any local church or communion of churches. If good churches in the apostolic age had the potential of going bad, having their candlestick removed, and becoming “synagogues of Satan” (Revelation 2 & 3), then we must allow for the possibility that the Church of Rome itself has departed from and invalidated the true gospel by its own human traditions.

    So then, the bottom line is, “What does God’s Word say?” You allege that by converting to my evangelical beliefs and leaving the Church of Rome I am guilty of either ignoring or explaining away a “big chunk of Scripture.” I am eager to hear what particular beliefs I present hold are out of line with a large portion of Scripture. To help you in your assessment, you may access the confession of faith to which I hold here: http://www.1689.com/Confession/confession.html

    May the Lord grant us both teachable spirits!

    Respectfully yours,
    Bob Gonzales

  10. Seth, I’m not sure what you’re getting at: are you being sarcastic? Please clarify for me. Thanks.

  11. Good discussion.

    This past Monday night in the park, we had a fervent discussion, too: one of the sisters in our church family shared her testimony, leaving Catholicism and turning to the gospel of Christ she found in Scripture.

    We were talking to two very nominal Catholics next to the city zoo. The one said she adamantly believed the Bible was the Word of God, but that certain books of the Bible had been lost. (Chuckling) I wonder who she had been influenced by, because she also said she believed there is reward for your faithfulness and work here in on this earth. Depending on your personal righteous merit, this will determine which of the three heavens you will enter.

    The other Catholic said that she was just as happy attending church with her LDS friends.

    Hmmm . . .

    Greg, one of the men in our church family, was a very active Catholic in town. Now, he is an adult Sunday school teacher at B.B.C. Another brother, converting from nominal Catholicism in Idaho Falls, is one of our adult youth group workers. (But I am sure we would all agree that rather than statistics, conversion experiences, and human tradition, the Word of God is the central foundation and authority for finding truth, eh?)

    Bob, I like John 8:39.

    To Christ be the glory among his flock, and not the fold.

    Thinking of heart issues . . .

  12. Hey, Bob. Didn’t realize you are just up the road from me. I was going to post on your blog, but a short preliminary is still in moderation, so I will proceed here. First, as I posted on your blog, let me clarify who and what I am. I am not Roman Catholic. I am a priest of an Independent Orthodox-Catholic Church with jurisdictional roots in the Old Catholic Church but which has embraced the non-chalcedonian Syriac Oriental Orthodox Tradition. Since I am not Roman Catholic, I cannot possibly be a Dominican or a Franciscan. Therefore, I am not a “Friar”. I am a “Father”. But you can call me “Greg”. Everyone else here does. Since you are also in the South, you will know of what I speak in the first paragraph below:

    Growing up in NE Montana as an Evangelical Christian (Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene, and Assemblies of God, with a bit of exposure to Baptist fundamentalism a’la Bob Jones and John R. Rice – long story), where such Christians are in a distinct minority (or at least were: thanks to charismatic renewal and other factors, that is the less the case now), I always assumed that there was no such thing as a nominal Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist. Boy, was I shocked when I came South! As you know, the region is crawling with cultural Baptists and other nominal “Evangelicals”. Apparently there has been a widespread failure to “produce people who are passionate for God and for holiness.”

    I agree that conversions are not, in and of themselves, sufficient to establish truth claims; that was not my point. However, contrast most Roman Catholics who become Evangelical with Evangelicals who become RC or Orthodox: in the former case, the RC’s who convert were largely nominal (the same has been noted with RC’s who become LDS). In the latter case, however, the opposite is often true, and it is certainly true of the people I mentioned; they were serious, committed, devout, thoughtful, well-educated in their faith. Further, none of these people arrived at their present positions without a long struggle with their previous understanding of Scripture, largely coming out of the Reformation. This was especially true of Fr. Gillquist and company and the others who had not been Anglicans. As I said, this is not proof of any truth claims, but it does point in a certain direction.

    Having said that, I think it is important to acknowledge that I completely agree with Fr. Peter Gillquist’s statement: “All of Orthodoxy is found in the Bible, but much of it in passages we didn’t underline when we were Evangelicals.”

    You write: “We, in turn, could provide a myriad of examples of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox adherents who, like myself, would claim that they never heard the Scriptures faithfully taught and the gospel clearly preached until they left those ecclesiastical institutions and joined Protestant evangelical churches.”

    And you speak of Scripture as “self-authenticating” and of “Scripture alone as sufficient for conversion”.

    But there is a problem here. At every Mass, every Divine Liturgy, every Qurbana, there are at least two readings of Scripture, including one from the Gospels, yet you say that you (or those about whom you speak) never heard the Scriptures “faithfully TAUGHT” and the “gospel clearly proclaimed” outside of Protestant Evangelicalism. (Of course, as an aside, this begs the question as to whether the gospel of the NT is the same as the gospel of Evangelical Protestantism: is the gospel first and foremost about acquittal or about regeneration?) So even in your current context, the Bible does not simply speak for itself: “some teaching required”. Of course, Scripture itself affirms this. As the Ethiopian eunuch said, “How can I [understand what I am reading] unless some one guides me?” since “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”.

    But there is another problem: why THIS teaching (in your case, that of Reformed Baptists) over that of, say, Pentecostals or Holiness people, or even that of confessional Presbyterians, or confessional Lutherans, or confessional Anglicans, or of the myriads of others who claim to derive their faith solely from the words of Scripture? Before the Reformation, divisions in the Church were largely based upon one or two disputed points and largely happened along political and geographical fracture lines; this is not the case afterward; all these different groups, on the basis of “sola Scrptura”, took their Bibles in hand and went off in a different direction, in many cases anathamatizing all the others.

    So while I am willing to discuss our differences on the basis of the text of Scripture by itself, I reject “sola Scriptura”, the first and foremost reason being that Scripture’s own words point beyond themselves to a)the Church, which, according to the Bible, is the “pillar and ground of the truth” and “the fullness of [Christ] who fills all-in-all” and b)within the Church, to the authority of the Apostles (“whatever you bind and loose,” “whoever hears you, hears me”, authority which is seen in action in Acts 15) and, by extension, to their successors as well as to “the traditions which you were taught by [Paul, his companions, and\or the other apostles], either by word of mouth or by letter”. Therefore, one cannot, as you do, draw an absolute line between the contents of Scripture and the traditions\oral teachings out of which they emerged, not only in terms of the earliest Church, but also, with regard to those who followed the Apostles (or who, in some cases, such as Clement of Rome and the author of the Didache, wrote prior to the death of the last Apostle). Therefore, while, as you point out, the Book of Revelation indicates the possibility that a local Church might become apostate (but not become a “synagogue of Satan”: the text does not connect these two concepts, even if the RB confession you pointed me to does), Christ’s words in Scripture rule out the possibility that the Church, visible and historical, will ever completely disappear from the face of the earth. Therefore, while Rome may have become apostate (I don’t think it has, but there are Orthodox who do), there must be a visible, historical Church on earth today which is organizationally continuous with the Church of the Apostles and, in fact, is itself the Church of the Apostles. (Part of the problem here is the redefinition of terms: the concept of an invisible “ekklesia” or “assembly” is an oxymoron. This is true a priori and is abundantly verified by the early fathers of the Church.) A group of Baptists realized this, and tried to trace the historical continuity of their church back through a succession of heretical and schismatic communities allegedly going back to the Apostles. Unfortunately for them, history does not support their assertions. There is no connection, historical or theological, between, for example, the Donatists of Augustine’s time and the Albigensians of a later period, and besides, none of these groups bear any real resemblance to post-Reformation Baptists. But I digress, and I’m sure you don’t buy into that anyway, Bob. My point is that even certain Baptists have come to realize that the “Church” in the NT is a visible, historical entity.

    So where is this Church, continuous with that of the Apostles? There are four communions (each with some off-shoots which have maintained the essential characteristics of their various traditions) which can indubitably trace their existence back to the time of the Apostles. They are the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Communion, the Byzantine Orthodox Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church. In light of the Bible, one of these, or all of them together, must constitute the NT Church.

    So here is one place, Bob, in this matter of ecclesiology, that you have abandoned Scripture by either ignoring, explaining away, redefining terms, or some combination of all these. And it is here that our fundamental disagreement exists. In the rest of it, concerning, for example, the role and nature of the sacraments, the extent of the canon of the OT (How DID y’all come to truncate the canon? It certainly wasn’t on the basis of anything the Bible itself says about the canon, since the Bible does not define itself, does not delineate its limits in any way), the possibility of the loss of salvation\the notion that regeneration necessarily entails final salvation, etc., the same dynamic is in play. Consider the following, for example:

    “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
    “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you.”
    “Whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”
    “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you remit the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
    “Baptism now saves you…”

    I could go on (and on), but the point is obvious: while claiming “sola Scriptura,” that Scripture is “self-authenticating”, etc., you simply cannot cope with these passages on their face; you must resort to redefinition or to explaining them away (and I’m pretty sure you would rather simply ignore them). So let me ask you: if Christ in John 6 wasn’t speaking of the Eucharist, why did He speak in terms that anyone impartial or objective and familiar with Christianity, then or now, would immediately understand in light of what he said and did at the Last Supper? Is he trying to fool us? I’m sure you don’t believe that, but in your haste to deny the Real Presence (because, like Calvin, you can’t cope with the worship of the consecrated bread and wine which logically follows? The mention of “idolatry” in this regard in the RB confession would seem to point in that direction.), you must resort to tactics that you would not use in interpreting other portions of Scripture, or indeed in handling any other document. Because of that, your whole approach, the whole approach of classical Protestantism in general, is self-contradictory; however, instead of admitting this, that Scripture is not entirely self-interpreting, was never meant to be, you interpret it, not in terms of the God-given Tradition in which it is rightly embedded, and from which it cannot be harmlessly separated, but through the lens of what really are “traditions of men” which are virtually always based upon turning one or two passages into the key for understanding the whole. Luther did it with “the just shall live by faith” and Calvin, with Ephesians 1:4-5. No, the key to Scripture is not a passage of Scipture. It is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and His mystical body and bride, the Church, historical, visible, and continuous, united to Him by the Holy Spirit. “You search the Scripture, because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me.”

  13. Ahh, John 3:5 – what a glorious text! I just heard that verse by our LDS temple tour guide this week.

    And then John 6 . . . I remember you throwing in the Eucharist, Greg, when I arrived there in the blog posts.

  14. Dear Father Gregory,

    I want to begin by expressing my appreciation for the irenic spirit you’ve demonstrated thus far in our interchange. I hope you sense the same spirit being in my replies to you. In response to our initial exchange posted above, you begin by recounting your personal experience:

    Growing up in NE Montana as an Evangelical Christian (Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Nazarene, and Assemblies of God, with a bit of exposure to Baptist fundamentalism a’la Bob Jones and John R. Rice – long story), where such Christians are in a distinct minority (or at least were: thanks to charismatic renewal and other factors, that is the less the case now), I always assumed that there was no such thing as a nominal Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist. Boy, was I shocked when I came South! As you know, the region is crawling with cultural Baptists and other nominal “Evangelicals”. Apparently there has been a widespread failure to “produce people who are passionate for God and for holiness.”

    I agree that nominalism may be present in any denomination or local congregation—even among churches that may otherwise preach true doctrine and call for heart religion (note that Christ and the apostles had to address this problem). This only reinforces what I said earlier, namely, “determining the veracity of one’s position on the basis of a religious “experience” is subject to varying interpretations.” So your observation of “nominalism” among professing evangelicals will probably not convince me of the falsehood of evangelical faith anymore than my observations of nominalism among Catholics and Orthodox adherents will convince you of the falsehood of those religions. I think you basically concur. In fact, you write,

    I agree that conversions are not, in and of themselves, sufficient to establish truth claims; that was not my point. However, contrast most Roman Catholics who become Evangelical with Evangelicals who become RC or Orthodox: in the former case, the RC’s who convert were largely nominal (the same has been noted with RC’s who become LDS). In the latter case, however, the opposite is often true, and it is certainly true of the people I mentioned; they were serious, committed, devout, thoughtful, well-educated in their faith. Further, none of these people arrived at their present positions without a long struggle with their previous understanding of Scripture, largely coming out of the Reformation. This was especially true of Fr. Gillquist and company and the others who had not been Anglicans. As I said, this is not proof of any truth claims, but it does point in a certain direction.

    Your argument seems to run as follows:
    Major premise: RC or Orthodox adherents that convert to evangelical communions were, in most cases, merely nominal in their commitment.
    Minor premise: Evangelicals who convert to RC or Orthodox communions were devout, well-educated, and thoughtful.
    Conclusion: Conversions from RC or Orthodox communions to evangelical communions are less likely to reflect carefully thought out decisions and may reveal that they really didn’t understand the religion from which they converted. On the other hand, conversions from evangelical communions to RC or Orthodoxy are more likely the result of carefully thought out decisions made by truly devout (as opposed to nominal) persons. Therefore, conversions from evangelical communions to RC or Orthodox communions are more likely to be genuine conversions, whereas conversions from RC or Orthodox communions to evangelical communions probably reflect a degree of naiveté, a lack of religious commitment to God, and therefore, are suspect.

    I might counter with the following observations: first, converting from a condition of nominalism to a state of devotion may be a good indication of a true conversion (Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 4:4; Matthew 5:20; 7:21-27; John 3:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:5). Hence, the fact that the converts to Protestant/Evangelical communions were previously nominal adherents to their RC/Orthodox communions does not discount the genuine of their conversion, but may instead support it. Second, even if one grants that converts from evangelical communions to RC or Orthodox communions were better educated than their counterparts, it does not follow that their “conversions” are more likely to be genuine or more virtuous. According to Scripture, the true gospel often does not appeal to the well educated. Hence, God does not call many wise, but he calls the foolish and the babes (Matthew 11:26; 18:3; Luke 10:21; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27). Third, the very premise that converts from evangelicalism to RC/Orthodox communions are usually more educated, thoughtful, and devout is questionable. Many well-educated and seemingly devout priests and nuns have converted to evangelicalism. Indeed, polemical literature against the RC and Orthodox comes from former priests. I’d be glad to provide you with some names if you’d like. In conclusion, I fail to see how your observations (which themselves are questionable) “point in a certain direction.”
    You go on to write,

    Having said that, I think it is important to acknowledge that I completely agree with Fr. Peter Gillquist’s statement: “All of Orthodoxy is found in the Bible, but much of it in passages we didn’t underline when we were Evangelicals.”

    Okay, I will acknowledge that you affirm Father Gillquist’s statement. But this, I’m sure you agree, doesn’t count as an argument—its just his and your opinion. I might say the same in reverse. Once again, we need to avoid using experiences or statements of opinion in assessing the veracity of our truth claims. God’s word must be the ultimate arbiter.

    You do begin to address one of my doctrinal positions when you object to my view of the self-authentication and ultimate authority of Scripture. In your mind,

    There is a problem here. At every Mass, every Divine Liturgy, every Qurbana, there are at least two readings of Scripture, including one from the Gospels, yet you say that you (or those about whom you speak) never heard the Scriptures “faithfully TAUGHT” and the “gospel clearly proclaimed” outside of Protestant Evangelicalism. (Of course, as an aside, this begs the question as to whether the gospel of the NT is the same as the gospel of Evangelical Protestantism: is the gospel first and foremost about acquittal or about regeneration?) So even in your current context, the Bible does not simply speak for itself: “some teaching required”. Of course, Scripture itself affirms this. As the Ethiopian eunuch said, “How can I [understand what I am reading] unless some one guides me?” since “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”.

    Yes, this does “beg the question.” And it is precisely this question we need to reckon with. According to Scripture (and my confession) the gospel is multifaceted and may be viewed more narrowly (i.e., in terms of justification or acquittal) or more broadly (election, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification). I’m willing to discuss and debate any one of these topics as presented in my confession of faith and, more importantly, as presented in Scripture.

    You do not appear to understand the meaning of “self-authentication.” This nomenclature, when applied to Holy Scripture, refers to an inherent quality of divine revelation. God has so constituted human beings, as the imago Dei, that when He speaks, whether through general revelation or special revelation, we recognize His voice. Hence, God can hold men accountable for their failure to respond appropriately to general revelation (Romans 1:18ff.) and special revelation (Matthew 10:5-15; 11:20-24; Luke 16:19-21). In other words, the authenticity of divine revelation is self-validating, and, therefore, the authority of Scripture is intrinsic to its very nature as divine revelation. This has nothing to do with the question of whether the church has the right and responsibility to explain and apply the Scriptures. We, along with RC and Orthodox communions, acknowledge that Christ has given gifts to the church who are to function in the capacity of pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11). But the authority of their teaching is derivative from Scripture and only extends as far as it stands in accordance with the prophetic and apostolic word (Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2).
    Then you appear to offer an indirect argument against my Protestant/Evangelical faith:

    But there is another problem: why THIS teaching (in your case, that of Reformed Baptists) over that of, say, Pentecostals or Holiness people, or even that of confessional Presbyterians, or confessional Lutherans, or confessional Anglicans, or of the myriads of others who claim to derive their faith solely from the words of Scripture? Before the Reformation, divisions in the Church were largely based upon one or two disputed points and largely happened along political and geographical fracture lines; this is not the case afterward; all these different groups, on the basis of “sola Scriptura”, took their Bibles in hand and went off in a different direction, in many cases anathematizing all the others.

    On the surface, this appears to be a question, viz, why should I view the doctrinal standards of my Reformed Baptist communion as superior or more faithful to Scripture than other Protestant and evangelical traditions? I suspect, however, that this is actually a rhetorical question used as an argument—ad hominem at that! That is, the fact that there are so many factions within the Protestant/Evangelical faith disqualifies it as the true expression of the apostolic faith set forth in Scripture. My responses are as follows: first, even if I believed that the Reformed Baptist branch of the Protestant/Evangelical tradition alone (as opposed to all others) preserved the true teaching of Scripture, that fact would not itself be an argument against my position. You would need to show what parts of my tradition are inconsistent with Scripture.

    Second, in reality, I don’t believe that my denomination or communion holds a corner on the truth. I enjoy communion with Protestant and Evangelical churches outside my own Reformed Baptist tradition. Moreover, I seek to learn from them as eagerly as I might desire them to learn from me. Only when such communions adhere to and promote error of such a nature that it undermines the heart of the gospel do I separate myself from such teachers or congregations in keeping with the apostolic injunctions to separate from false teachers and reject false teaching (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 3:10).

    Third, it seems to me that you intend the statement, “all these different groups [i.e., Protestant/Evangelical], on the basis of ‘sola Scriptura,’ took their Bibles in hand and went off in a different direction, in many cases anathematizing all the others,” as an example of something bad and negative. Or course, we both know that the RC and Orthodox communions have issued plenty of their own anathemas. According to Scripture, curses and imprecations are not intrinsically wrong (Matthew 23; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22). They are wrong, however, when directed towards those who do not merit such. Have Protestant churches ever been guilty of pronouncing anathemas upon individuals or communions when such anathemas were unwarranted? Neither my ecclesiology nor my understanding of Scripture constrains me to answer negatively. There are no pure Christians or churches this side of glory. Would you be willing to admit that? Would you concede that Roman pontiffs or bishops have ever been guilty of wrongly separating from and falsely anathematizing individuals or communions without biblical warrant? (See Benzion Netanyahu’s The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain [New York: Random House, 1995]) What about Orthodox priests? If so, then this entire ad hominem argument becomes invalid. As I’ve tried to say already, we won’t get very far in our discussion if we simply resort to using such argumentation to validate our truth claims.

    Fourth, the same kind of theological diversity and fragmentation can be found in the very denominations or communions that you claim to be authentic. My Roman Catholic priest, for example, denied the inspiration of Holy Scripture. He believed that the Bible consisted of human writings that are fallible (a position analogous to that of liberal Protestantism). I’m certain that there are many Roman Catholic priests who would disagree with him and who still hold to the inspiration of Scripture. But that fact just serves to prove my point. There is not complete homogeneity in the Roman Catholic Church. I also found it interesting to read an article about the denomination of which you are part. Apparently, the American Orthodox Catholic Church is considered to be a faction by other Orthodox leaders (http://orthodoxwiki.org/American_Orthodox_Catholic_Church). Once again, we won’t get very far in the debate using ad hominem arguments.

    I was glad when you went on to concede, “I am willing to discuss our differences on the basis of the text of Scripture by itself.” But what you give with the right hand you appear to take back with the left hand when you continue,

    I reject “sola Scriptura”, the first and foremost reason being that Scripture’s own words point beyond themselves to a) the Church, which, according to the Bible, is the “pillar and ground of the truth” and “the fullness of [Christ] who fills all-in-all” and b) within the Church, to the authority of the Apostles (“whatever you bind and loose,” “whoever hears you, hears me”, authority which is seen in action in Acts 15) and, by extension, to their successors as well as to “the traditions which you were taught by [Paul, his companions, and\or the other apostles], either by word of mouth or by letter”. Therefore, one cannot, as you do, draw an absolute line between the contents of Scripture and the traditions\oral teachings out of which they emerged, not only in terms of the earliest Church, but also, with regard to those who followed the Apostles (or who, in some cases, such as Clement of Rome and the author of the Didache, wrote prior to the death of the last Apostle). Therefore, while, as you point out, the Book of Revelation indicates the possibility that a local Church might become apostate (but not become a “synagogue of Satan”: the text does not connect these two concepts, even if the RB confession you pointed me to does), Christ’s words in Scripture rule out the possibility that the Church, visible and historical, will ever completely disappear from the face of the earth. Therefore, while Rome may have become apostate (I don’t think it has, but there are Orthodox who do), there must be a visible, historical Church on earth today which is organizationally continuous with the Church of the Apostles and, in fact, is itself the Church of the Apostles. (Part of the problem here is the redefinition of terms: the concept of an invisible “ekklesia” or “assembly” is an oxymoron. This is true a priori and is abundantly verified by the early fathers of the Church.) A group of Baptists realized this, and tried to trace the historical continuity of their church back through a succession of heretical and schismatic communities allegedly going back to the Apostles. Unfortunately for them, history does not support their assertions. There is no connection, historical or theological, between, for example, the Donatists of Augustine’s time and the Albigensians of a later period, and besides, none of these groups bear any real resemblance to post-Reformation Baptists. But I digress, and I’m sure you don’t buy into that anyway, Bob. My point is that even certain Baptists have come to realize that the “Church” in the NT is a visible, historical entity.

    You’ve said a lot in this paragraph. I’ll try to address the main points. First, I agree that the Bible derives its authority from Christ, the great and final Prophet par excellence. I, as you might expect, do not agree with your interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:15. The church commissioned with the stewardship of faithful proclaiming and defending the truth of the gospel once delivered to the saints. In that sense, it is the “pillar and support of the truth.” But the veracity and authority of Scripture does not originate or ultimately depend upon the church’s imprimatur. As the passages I’ve already cited indicate divine revelation is self-authenticating. Therefore, the church’s role in identifying the parameters of the canon does not confer the Scripture’s divine authority but only acknowledges it. In fact, the teaching magistrate of the church has been known to err and thereby invalidate the authority of Scripture (Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:8-13; 1 Peter 1:18).

    Secondly, I have not drawn a line between oral and written apostolic tradition. Paul’s oral teaching was just as authoritative as his written epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And according to Peter, the apostolic teaching ranks in authority with the OT prophets (2 Peter 3:2). I do, however, draw a line between the inspired writers of Scripture and the non-inspired bishops who followed the Apostles. And I think my position is reflected in the writings of an Early Church Father (ECF) whom I greatly esteem. Augustine of Hippo affirmed of the infallibility and supreme authority of Scripture as well as the limited and fallible understanding of his and other ECF commentators:

    Freely do I admit to you, my friend, that I have learned to ascribe to those Books which are of Canonical rank, and only to them, such reverence and honor, that I firmly believe that no single error due to the author is found in any one of them. And when I am confronted in these Books with anything that seems to be at variance with truth, I do not hesitate to put it down either to the use of an incorrect text, or to THE FAILURE OF A COMMENTATOR RIGHTLY TO EXPLAIN THE WORDS, or to MY OWN MISTAKEN UNDERSTANDING of the passage [emphasis added]” (Letters 82.1.3).

    Accordingly, I do think we may and should draw a line between Paul and the ECFs. This does not mean that I disregard their teaching. Indeed, I believe I am affirming the same modesty they themselves would express in contrasting their teaching with that of Jesus and the apostles.

    Third, I do affirm, “Christ’s words in Scripture rule out the possibility that the Church, visible and historical, will ever completely disappear from the face of the earth.” I would cite passage like Matthew 16:18 and 28:18-20. You go on to state, “Therefore, while Rome may have become apostate (I don’t think it has, but there are Orthodox who do), there must be a visible, historical Church on earth today which is organizationally continuous with the Church of the Apostles and, in fact, is itself the Church of the Apostles.” I find it interesting that you concede the possibility that the Church of Rome may have become apostate. Allowing for this possibility is precisely what I’ve argued for. That allows us to concede that a remnant of true believers and churches may have broken off from Rome to form that which is “organizationally continuous with the Church of the Apostles and, in fact, is itself the Church of the Apostles.” In my opinion, that organization/organism is evangelical Protestantism. Note, I did not say, Reformed Baptist. My ecclesiology does not demand a pure church, only a true church (Revelation 2 & 3). This addresses your following question:

    So where is this Church, continuous with that of the Apostles? There are four communions (each with some off-shoots which have maintained the essential characteristics of their various traditions) which can indubitably trace their existence back to the time of the Apostles. They are the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Communion, the Byzantine Orthodox Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church. In light of the Bible, one of these, or all of them together, must constitute the NT Church.

    I am not certain why you exclude the churches of the Protestant Reformation from this equation. After all, they can trace their organizational continuity through the western Church to the early church. But let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Protestant/Evangelical churches are precluded from the historical/organizational tree of ecclesiastical history. According to NT precedent, God may cut off natural branches (those with historical, organizational, and even ethic continuity) from the tree of His redemptive community and graft in wild branches (those without historical, organizational, and ethic continuity) (compare Romans 11:16-24). The bottom line is this: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the [legal] right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). And where such disciples gather to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42), there you have a true church.

    So here is one place, Bob, in this matter of ecclesiology, that you have abandoned Scripture by either ignoring, explaining away, redefining terms, or some combination of all these. And it is here that our fundamental disagreement exists. In the rest of it, concerning, for example, the role and nature of the sacraments, the extent of the canon of the OT (How DID y’all come to truncate the canon? It certainly wasn’t on the basis of anything the Bible itself says about the canon, since the Bible does not define itself, does not delineate its limits in any way), the possibility of the loss of salvation\the notion that regeneration necessarily entails final salvation, etc., the same dynamic is in play. Consider the following, for example:

    “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
    “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you.”
    “Whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”
    “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you remit the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
    “Baptism now saves you…”

    Once again, you’ve said a lot, and I’ll have to try to isolate the main points of your argument. First of all, you think my ecclesiology is unscriptural because there must be, in your mind, an unbroken organizational continuity between the modern church and the apostolic church. I do believe that there always have been true congregations of Christ upon the earth. Considered collectively, these local congregations may be termed the one true apostolic church. But I’ve also attempted to demonstrate from Scripture that mere historical-organizational continuity does not guarantee the preservation of God’s true church (Matthew 3:9-10; John 1:12-13; Romans 11:21). Hence, your argument is not persuasive. More persuasive is the argument that identifies a true church as an entity that’s organized in accordance with the directives of Christ and his apostles in the NT and that preaches the same gospel preached by Christ and his apostles. In the context of such ecclesiastical organizations I am ready to entrust the welfare of my soul and those of my family.

    Secondly, you allude to the Protestant/Evangelical’s truncation of the OT canon. Actually, you’ll need to include Jewish tradition as embodied in the Tanakh, which also excludes the apocryphal literature. I’m inclined to reject apocryphal books for the following reasons: First, the Jews have not recognized the Apocryphal books as part of the Old Covenant canon. It is well known that the Jewish historian Josephus limits the OT canonical writings to those composed during or before the reign of Artaxerxes. This would exclude the Apocryphal books. Josephus’ testimony is confirmed by later Jewish rabbis, including Philo of Alexandria. Even the late second century B.C. apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees acknowledges the prior disappearance of prophecy among the Jews. For example, in 9:27 of that book, we read, “A terrible oppression began in Israel; there had been nothing like it since the disappearance of prophecy among them” (Jerusalem Bible). The implication of that statement is that the writer of Maccabees does not consider his own work to be prophetic. Second, it’s very significant that neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever faulted the Jews for “subtracting” books from the canon. Jesus did not like the way the Jews handled the Scriptures. He condemned them for not knowing the Scriptures (Matthew 22:29), for invalidating the Scripture with their own tradition (Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:6-13), and for refusing to submit to the Scripture (John 5:45-47; 8:40ff). However, Jesus never condemned the Jewish assessment of the OT canon. He never accused them of subtracting from the Scripture by failing to include the Apocrypha. Furthermore, we find Jesus and the disciples constantly citing and alluding to nearly every book of the traditional OT canon. But there is no evidence that Jesus or the Apostles ever regarded any of the apocryphal books as canonical (though Peter and Jude appear to allude to pseudepigraphal literature). Thus the lack of Jesus criticizing the Jewish canon together with the absence of His endorsement of the apocryphal books weighs against the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the canon. Third, while the Christian church as a whole has agreed upon the Jewish OT canon and the Greek NT canon, it has not unequivocally recognized the canonicity of the Apocrypha. It is true that some of the early church fathers quoted the Apocrypha in a manner similar to their quoting of Scripture. But it is not until Augustine that we find a clear statement in favor of its canonicity. Yet even Augustine’s high view of the Apocrypha is later contradicted when he accords it a kind of secondary-canonical status. The Western Catholic Church and eventually the Eastern Orthodox Church followed Augustine in according the Apocrypha a kind of “deutero-canonical” status. However, the 16th century Protestant Reformers rejected this distinction between a secondary and primary canon, and as a result, they refused to accord the Apocryphal books canonical status. Thus the testimony of the church as a whole is unanimous in favor of the Jewish canon but divided over the Apocrypha books. To use the words of one Protestant writer, “The history of the Apocrypha is the history of doubts, division and rejection.” For this reason, we do better to follow the example of the Jews, the Apostles, and Jesus Himself.

    Finally, you cite several passages of Scripture that are apparently key texts for your doctrinal tradition and that are presumably ignored, sidestepped, or twisted by those in my doctrinal tradition. I don’t have time to deal extensively with all the passages. Since I think you intend them all to make one basic point, viz, Protestant/Evangelicals don’t take Scripture literally (or if we do, we’re selective), I’ll just focus on one text in my response. How about Peter’s assertion, “Baptism now saves you….” (1 Peter 3:21). What does a Protestant/Evangelical who rejects the notion of baptismal regeneration do with a text like that? Seems like you’ve trapped us on the horns of a dilemma.

    Maybe not. To begin with, I think you and I are educated enough to know that the reader of Scripture cannot simply apply the interpretive canon of “literal” or “prima facie” meaning to every text of Scripture. Meaning is always determined by context—immediate and canonical. For example, when Paul asserts that women “will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:16), I hope you don’t conclude that the bearing of children is an absolutely necessary condition for regeneration or the instrument of justification. A superficial reading of the text might lead to such a conclusion. But I suspect that both you and I would give that text a more nuanced interpretation.

    I approach 1 Peter 3:21 in the same way—interpreting it in such a way so as to arrive at a conclusion harmonious with the rest of Scripture. First, there are examples of individuals who were converted and assured of eternal life apart from baptism. The believing thief on the cross was promised Paradise though he had no opportunity to receive the sacrament of baptism. (I hope you don’t adopt the silly notion that he was baptized with the water that spurted from Jesus’ side.) The publican confessed his sin, looked to God for mercy, and went home justified without the sacrament of baptism (Luke 18). Second, there are far more passages that connect a heart response of faith and repentance to conversion (and its attendant blessings) than those that include baptism (Matthew 9:23-24; Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; 6:29; 20:31; Acts 13:38-39; 20:21; pet Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:11, 24; 10:9-10, 13; Galatians 3:22; 1 Timothy 1:16; 4:10; Hebrews 11:6; 1 Peter 2:7; 1 John 3:23; 5:13). The overall impression from the teaching of Jesus and the apostles is that turning from sin (repentance) and turning to God (faith) are the essential marks of a regenerate heart. Baptism, on the other hand, like circumcision, is a sign or sacrament whose efficacy is not intrinsic but dependent upon the reality of faith in the recipient. As the very passage you cite indicates, the efficacy of baptism is not intrinsic to the physical properties of the water itself. Nor is its efficacy linked to the agent who administers it (i.e., the bishop or ‘priest’). Instead, its efficacy is tied to “the pledge of a good conscience to God,” i.e., the recipient’s response of faith. So I agree with Edmond Hiebert when he writes,

    The material waters of Christian baptism are not the outward instrument that produces an inner spiritual regeneration; baptism is an act of obedience that bears witness to the inner union by faith with Christ the Savior. Peter, like Paul, assumed that in true Christian baptism, the outward sign and inner reality are kept together; the rite without the inner reality is useless; just as the dollar sign on a check is valueless apart from the monetary reality in the bank (1 Peter [Chicago: Moody Press, 1992], 240).

    Interestingly, Peter seems to draw a parallel between the waters of baptism and the waters of the flood. Technically, the waters of the flood served to judge human sin. But out of God’s death-curse arose the blessing of salvation (i.e., the preservation of Noah and family via the Ark). Similarly, like the waters of the flood, the waters of baptism point to the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12), that is, they symbolize the fact that salvific blessing (life) arises from judgment (death). So I interpret Peter’s statement as follows, “[The reality symbolized by] Baptism, which corresponds to [the flood waters], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body [that would be to attach the saving efficacy to the symbol itself] but as an pledge to God of a good conscience [i.e., an outward indication of an inward heart disposition] through the resurrection of Jesus Christ [which, along with his atoning death is the ultimate ground of our hope].

    Analogous to this understanding of baptism is the relationship of animal sacrifices to the grace of forgiveness. According to the author of Hebrews, these animal sacrifices were intrinsically inadequate to atone for sin (Hebrews 9:12ff.; 10:4). Nevertheless, a cursory reading of the OT passages referring to the animal sacrifices gives a prima facie impression that they were intrinsically efficacious (see Leviticus 4:1ff.). How can these seemingly contradictory strands of teaching be harmonized? The solution, I believe, is to distinguish between the sign or symbol and the reality to which it points. The animal sacrifices were but shadows that pointed to a greater reality. Likewise, water baptism is not the sine qua non of regeneration or the instrument of justification. It serves, rather, as a sign and pointer to a greater reality. The tendency to exalt the sign of baptism to the status to which it’s been accorded in the RC/Orthodox communions is analogous to the grave error made by the Jews who accorded the mere circumcision of the flesh a kind of saving efficacy that belonged rather to the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; Philippians 3:1-3).

    I could go on (and on), but the point is obvious: while claiming “sola Scriptura,” that Scripture is “self-authenticating”, etc., you simply cannot cope with these passages on their face; you must resort to redefinition or to explaining them away (and I’m pretty sure you would rather simply ignore them). So let me ask you: if Christ in John 6 wasn’t speaking of the Eucharist, why did He speak in terms that anyone impartial or objective and familiar with Christianity, then or now, would immediately understand in light of what he said and did at the Last Supper? Is he trying to fool us? I’m sure you don’t believe that, but in your haste to deny the Real Presence (because, like Calvin, you can’t cope with the worship of the consecrated bread and wine which logically follows? The mention of “idolatry” in this regard in the RB confession would seem to point in that direction.), you must resort to tactics that you would not use in interpreting other portions of Scripture, or indeed in handling any other document. Because of that, your whole approach, the whole approach of classical Protestantism in general, is self-contradictory; however, instead of admitting this, that Scripture is not entirely self-interpreting, was never meant to be, you interpret it, not in terms of the God-given Tradition in which it is rightly embedded, and from which it cannot be harmlessly separated, but through the lens of what really are “traditions of men” which are virtually always based upon turning one or two passages into the key for understanding the whole. Luther did it with “the just shall live by faith” and Calvin, with Ephesians 1:4-5. No, the key to Scripture is not a passage of Scripture. It is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and His mystical body and bride, the Church, historical, visible, and continuous, united to Him by the Holy Spirit. “You search the Scripture, because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that bear witness to me.”

    In response to your assertions above, I’ll concede, as I’ve done above, that I don’t always interpret every passage literally. If I did, I would have to admit that the Scriptures were self-contradictory. Like any other biblical theologian, I try to interpret any one verse of Scripture consist with the overall theology and teaching of the Bible (the analogy of faith). That doesn’t guarantee that every one of my interpretations is correct, any more than such an approach guarantees that every one of the interpretations of the ECF was correct. I don’t believe my tradition or your tradition is infallible. Like Augustine, I draw a line between my tradition and the teaching of the apostles.
    You ask, “If Christ in John 6 wasn’t speaking of the Eucharist, why did He speak in terms that anyone impartial or objective and familiar with Christianity, then or now, would immediately understand in light of what he said and did at the Last Supper? Is he trying to fool us? I’m sure you don’t believe that, but in your haste to deny the Real Presence (because, like Calvin, you can’t cope with the worship of the consecrated bread and wine which logically follows?” First, I believe the original readers of John’s Gospel may have seen an allusion to the Lord’s Supper, but I do not see how the text constrains me to conclude that Jesus’ disciples (to whom he was speaking) would have drawn that conclusion. Jesus nowhere explicitly ties his statements to the Eucharist. Second, there are contextual clues in the passage that point in the direction of a metaphorical interpretation. For example, Jesus employs Hebrew parallelism in verse 35, equating “eating” and “drinking” with “coming” and “believing.” So I interpret the eating of Jesus’ flesh and drinking of his blood not in a literalistic fashion, but as a reference to faith in Christ. In the words of Donald Carson, “John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper; rather, the Lord’s Supper is about what is described in John 6” (The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991], 280. By the way, Carson offers a helpful review and refutation of the sacramental interpretation of this passage [pp. 276-80]). Of course, every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper by faith we commemorate and proclaim Christ’s death (1 Cor. 11:23ff.). And since Jesus promises to manifest his special presence when two or three of his disciples are gathered together in his name (Matthew 18:20), I can affirm the “real presence” of Christ at the Table. Like the Reformers, however, I reject the notion that the bread or wine are magically or mystically transformed into the actually body and blood of the Savior. Moreover, I find no command in Scripture to worship the elements of the Lord’s Table. So I agree with my confession when it describes the veneration of the elements in the Mass as idolatrous. You can belittle my refusal to venerate the Eucharist as “failing to cope” with the plain teaching of Scripture. But I must stand before God someday in the Day of Judgment, and therefore, I will give no implicit faith to any human tradition regardless of its antiquity (that includes my own Reformed Baptist tradition). Like Luther, my conscience must be gripped and guided by Scripture and sound reasoning—not the dictates of Popes or dead bishops or ancient organizations.

    Finally, I can agree, “The key to Scripture is not a passage of Scripture.” Actually, I’m not sure that any Protestant would make that claim. Most of us would assert that the key to any one text or passage of Scripture is the whole of Scripture (i.e., the analogy of Scripture). Furthermore, I can agree that, from another perspective, Christ himself is the key that unlocks the meaning of the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-47; John 5:39). You have not convinced me, however, that Christ’s “mystical body” is equivalent to “the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Communion, the Byzantine Orthodox Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church.” Nor have you convinced me that these communions hold the interpretive key that unlocks the meaning of Scripture.

    Cordially yours,
    Bob Gonzales

  15. Bob, this is thought provoking.

    Thanks

    What were those famous words by Augustine?

    Where the believing is the eating . . .

  16. Hey, ya’ll:

    I am still up North (great RC Mass at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest yesterday morning: at least 10,000 in attendance. I may have to blog about it), and I’m not going to have time in the near future to fully respond to Bob’s latest comments. However, I would like to point out that Augustine clearly believed in the Real Presence. In two statements, he talks about Jesus, in holding the consecrated bread, “carrying himself in his own hands”. In another place, he also states that the bread, “consecrated by the Word of God,” IS the Body of Christ, and the consecrated wine, the Blood of Christ.

    Therefore, anything else he says about signs and symbols or “believing as eating” must be interpreted in that light.

  17. A Byzantine Orthodox priest, the late Alexander Schmemann, wrote a book called “For the Life of the World.” In the first chapter, he writes that Feuerbach thinks that the statement “you are what you eat” puts an end to all religion. Instead, Schmemann notes, this is a most profoundly religious statement and all discusses the fruit of the tree in the garden vs. the fruit of the cross, the tree of life. He also, BTW, speaks of the Eucharist as “symbol” but in so doing, in no way denies its reality, claiming that the contemporary Western Church has lost the patristic understanding of “symbolism”.

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