Popular Protests of Protestants to Holy Orthodoxy
Concise Theological Strikes Against Protestant's Most Unchristian Protests By Richard Tory MacDonald
Protestant Protest #1
Where's that in the Bible?
Protestants have taught their youngins since childrens church that the only thing God has ever said to His people is contained in Genesis and Revelation (no Apocrypha) (boo, hiss) and so it's not surprising that most of these Protestants hold to that premise as adult churchgoers that everything said or done in the church must be found in this anthology (but mainly the New Testament). This is known as sola Scriptura (SS). Dr. John MacArthur, pastor/teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif. and chancellor and professor of pastoral ministry at The Master's Seminary, defines Sola Scriptura:
"Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture."
In a way, Dr. MacArthur is not wrong here because it is possible for a Christian to be saved and even live a vibrant spiritual life if all they had available to them was the Bible. But what MacArthur means here is that NO Christian needs anything else but the Bible; no further light or input from the church is needed to grow even further in the faith. This is where sola Scriptura becomes a hermeneutical idol. The application of sola Scriptura in a formal church service has been coined the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor & CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary defines The regulative principle this way:
"The regulative principle is simply the assertion that we must worship God in the way that he has revealed himself and the way he has commanded us to worship Him in His word. We need to worship God according to Scripture. Our worship needs to be directed by Scripture. The form and the content of our worship needs to be in accord with the Bible, informed by the Bible, and warranted by the Bible. It needs to be founded in the Scriptures."
So with the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) serving sola Scriptura (SS) in Protestant churches as a bulwak, it seems they have found a most robust defender and the most sturdy foundation for building a church and for drawing up an order of worship plan for church services. I mean, what could go wrong? With everyone reading the same Scriptures and the same ecclesiastical tradition is applied week after week, it seems the kingdom of darkness has no chance of introducing theological errors into the church and even less chance of a schism. But history tells us a different story, in fact, SS and RPW have failed grievously to unite the Reformers and on the most important doctrines within Christendom, i.e., Eucharist, the mode and subject of baptism, and even soteriology itself. How can this be? It's quite simple.
Ever since Protestants separated from their mother church, the Roman Catholic Church, they've had nothing to unify them. They have little respect for the writings of the church fathers; they've rejected the seven Ecumenical Councils, rejected sacred icons, and so they continue to need something to anchor them to keep them from going adrift into heresies and human reasoning. Their invention (from human reasoning) to stave off heresies? Sola Scriptura! In the 14th century, physician and layman theologian Marsilius of Padua, believed in sola Scriptura and so did John Wycliffe. But it was Martin Luther and then John Calvin that made this the theological idea the norm in early Protestantism. SS became the gate through which all truth claims must pass. Unfortunately, this new human rule came with a price.
SS and the RPW trampled on the many blessed apostolic truths the church had inherited in its many rich traditions. The Protestant Reformers (especially the Puritans and the Separatists) weaponized God's Holy Word and turned it against the customs and beliefs handed down through the real pillar and buttress of truth. In their sincere effort to protect their new church movement, Protestants used (and continue to use) sola Scriptura as the border wall to keep sound doctrine in and heresies and excesses out. I suspect however, the founders of Presbyterianism (John Calvin and John Knox) would be rolling in their graves if they could see the utter futility of casting off the most of the ancient ways to start their own anemic religion; one that senselessly pits Holy Scripture against Holy Tradition. The same is true for the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, --All of them use sola Scriptura to protect their doctrines and unify them, yet, strangely enough, they disagree with each other theologically and divide over doctrine.
Any honest historian can see that sola Scriptura (since its invention in 1517) has done almost nothing to unite the schismatic protestant churches and even less to stop the constant tide of theological innovations, contradictions, heresies, and schisms within Protestantism. Every week it seems, another Protestant group believing soundly in sola Scriptura, waves goodbye to their family's denomination (traditions of men) because they have privately interpreted Scripture to meet their theological traditions. They use the very same Scriptures only to arrive at very different conclusions, thus moving in the opposite direction of Jesus' prayerful wish that ". . . they [Christians] be one, as He and the father are one" (John 17).
Protestants cannot see the big picture here because their theology of the church (Ecclesiology) typically begins at Pentecost and picks up again with John Calvin or Charles Spurgeon. Protestants for instance, often do not know that the Christian churches went without Bibles for hundreds of years until the Orthodox Church codified it sometime around A.D. 500. Furthermore, the Gutenberg Printing press did not print its first full Bible for public consumption until A.D. 1455, and even then, the average parishioner did not have a Bible in their hands until much later. So for well over 1,600 years of the churches 2,000 year history, no parishioner had a Bible for personal research, study, and personal devotion, which brings us to the question, if the only thing God has ever said to His people is enshrined in the Bible, how then did Christians have God's Gospel and the faith to be saved? Also, how did they grow in their faith? The Protestant has no good answer here either because their presupposition (sola Scriptura) is not about discovering the truth, but about censoring inconvenient truth (e.g., the Church Fathers, the Apocrypha, the Seven Ecumentical Counsils). Clinging with a death grip to the hermeneutical traditions of their fathers, i.e., the Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodist, Congregationalist, non-denominational, etc., they refuse to interpret the Scriptures as understood by the church over the first 1,500 years and so they are left adrift in the wake of manmade denominationalism!
Protestant Protest #2
"NO Incense in Worship!"
Bah humbug! This one is very confusing to me personally. Why would Christians would take issue with this ancient Jewish and Christian practice? Incense was used by the priests in the temple in Old Testament times (Exodus 30; Psalm 66:15, 141:2). To these references, one may protest: "That was an Old Testament thing; we're in the New Covenant age." Very well then, Luke, in his only gospel narrative, records the righteous Zechariah who while serving God in the Temple, burned incense unto the Lord as a great crowd stood outside, praying. The protest may continue: "Even though this event was recorded in a New Testament Gospel, it was still in the Old covenant context." Fair enough. Let's consider Revelation 8, where St. John witnessed seven angels standing before God. One of them stood at the altar holding a gold incense burner. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out. Who are these people and why is incense being used here in prayer? This is not old covenant! "Well (the Protestant may protest), this is in a future age, after the church age." Wow! Okay then, please answer to whom the Prophet Malachi was referring when he prophesied in Malachi 1:11, "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the Lord of hosts. When will the Lord's Name be honored by people of other nations (Gentiles) from morning till night? All around the world Malachi wrote, that worshippers will offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of His name. When does this take place? The Protestant has no good answer here because their tradition-centered autopsy on the Scriptures thus far has not been about discovering the truth, but supporting of their presupposition: "We don't want incense in the church; we don't like it; we don't do that; it's not our tradition." Clinging with a death grip to the traditions handed to them by the Baptists, Methodist, Congregationalist, etc., they refuse to hear from the Scriptures, the church fathers, or the church on this matter. Their default reaction when an answer is insufficient is to protest!
Protestant Protest #3
"NO Icons in the Church!"
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any gravenimage, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." - God (Exodus 20:4). This command given to God's people through Moses explicitly forbids the manufacturing and worship of any graven image of anything in heaven above (e.g., angels), on earth or in the sea (e.g., trees, birds, fish). This command was given to Moses around 1,450 B.C. Can you imagine Aaron, Miriam, or Joshua taking Moses aside and suggesting to him that he make ark of shittim wood, overlay it with pure gold with a mercy seat to display two large carved cherubims of gold. This would seem like blasphemy punishable by death! But this is exactly what God commanded Moses to do just five chapters after His explicit commandment against graven images in Exodus 20. Remember, now, the Lord God warned Moses not to make any graven images! And so what is going on here? Is this a contradiction in Scripture? No it is not! Look at Exodus 25:16-20.
Exodus 25:16 And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee. 17 And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. 18 And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. 20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
Why would God forbid the carving of images one day and approve of them the next? Maybe this was an isolated incident! It is not. God will once again use images and carving in worship settings when He commands Solomon to build the Temple in 1 Kings 6; some 500 years after His command to Moses forbidding graven images. God tells Solomon to prepare the inner sanctuary inside the temple to house the ark of the covenant of the Lord. The inner sanctuary was very ornate, overlaid with pure gold, with an altar of cedar. He made two cherubim of olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was about 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. and he overlaid the two cherubim with gold. The temple walls in the inner sanctuary and the main room were adorned with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, and these too were overlaid with gold. At the entrance to the inner sanctuary hung double doors of wild olive wood and were decorated with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. and overlaid with gold. Take look inside a model of Solomon's Temple and see if you see any graven images? Look here.
Here is the explanation that Protestants miss. God is the one who gets to define the terms, "idol;" "idolatry;" & "graven images." He alone is has the authority to disapprove and approve of things that seem forbidden to men of poor exegesis. Like Old Covenant Israel, New Covenant Israel--the church--has adorned the walls of their homes, house churches, and catacombs from mid second century A.D.. For an explanation of why we have icons in our places of worship, we take our cues from Moses, Solomon, and the early saints who adorned their homes and churches with icons. For more on holy icons in Orthodoxy, click here.
Protestant Protest #4
"Justification is by Faith Alone!"
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) It is true that people often see what they want to see. This vulnerability extends to all areas of life, from our interpersonal relationships, sports, politics, religion, etc. This is why no Scripture is ours for private interpretation; that is, understood in a way that is foreign to Apostolic interpretations found in the early church fathers. The idea that justification is by faith alone, devoid of any works of love, is a novel interpretation from the anxious mind of Martin Luther. We do see what appears to be pre-Calvinistic leanings in some or St. Augustine's writings, but none of the other church fathers shared his findings nor did any church council ever approve of it as church dogma.
St. James asked in 2:14 of his only epistle asked, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" This rhetorical question is answered in the rest of the chapter with references to Abraham and Rahab who demonstrated the perfect essence of their faith is not mere believing (a mental ascent) but in works of righteousness. The problem many Protestants have, particularly those of the Reformed persuasion, is that they see salvation and all the graces that surround it (Regeneration; Faith; Justification; Sanctification, Glorification) as the Christian's present possession having been fully accomplished by Christ at Calvary, with no appreciation for the way in which God dispenses His mercy and grace in our salvation in time, through the sacraments of the church (i.e., Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Eucharist, Holy Unction).
For Orthodox Christians, we understand that saving faith is not alone, but intimately affixed to love for God and our fellow man, and so justification and faith, while distinct, are like two sides of the same coin. Love is not a work in the sense that we see salvation as grace + works, but a communicable attribute that comes forth from God in us like heat emerges from the flame that produces it. If we have God's grace working in and through us, then our faith is alive and the necessary effects of that grace and faith (which justifies) are works from love which perfects justifying faith. St. James asks, "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect (2:22)? The Protestant would protest, "Faith is made perfect by Jesus!" or "For Faith is made perfect by grace." James however does not mix words, he wrote it is "by works that faith is perfected." Faith alone is dead faith (James 2:17), but faith working through love is made perfect by God. When it comes to people seeing what they want to see, many Protestants see the Gospel taught by the Orthodox Church as legalistic, and even non salvific because it demands all the works of love that Jesus said were part of the Gospel truth. Here are some examples of Jesus differentiating between a faith that saves and one that does not. Saving faith, by its nature, is humble, that is, devoid of pride (Luke 18:12-17); it is faith walking hand and hand with repentantance (Matthew 5:27-30; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10); compassionate (Matthew 25:31:46); and holy (Romans 8:14-14; 1 Peter 1:22-25). As we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as we test ourselves to see if we really are in the faith, look for these spiritual indicators that come from the living Spirit empowering living faith in the risen Lord. These virtues must be part of our Christian walk because they are fruit of the holy Spirit produced by Him in response to true faith. Therefore, through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Voices from the Church fathers
Clement of Rome “Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self- controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words….Why was our Father Abraham blessed? Was it not because of his deeds of justice and truth, wrought in faith?…So we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, were not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the almighty God justified all men.” (Letter to the Corinthians 30:3, 31:2, 32:3-4).
Gregory of Nyssa “Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. Faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither is righteous living secure in itself of salvation, if it is disjoined from faith” (Homilies on Ecclesiastes 8 [ca. A.D. 335- 394]).
Gregory the Great “Neither faith without works nor works without faith is of any avail, except, perhaps, that works may go towards the reception of faith, just as Cornelius, before he had become one of the faithful, merited to be heard on account of his good works. From this it can be gathered that his performance of good works furthered his reception of faith” (Homilies on Ezekiel 1:9:6 [A.D. 593]).
Protestant Protest #5
"The Orthodox Have a Weird View of Sanctification"
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." - St. Paul to the Corinthians (7:1)
It is interesting and no accident that things get "weird" when viewed through the lenses of the Protestant Reformers. What the Protestants fail to understand in Holy Orthodoxy, they call "weird" or even worse, "heretical." One such teaching in Orthodoxy is the doctrine of Theosis. While protestants believe in a fairly robust version of actual and experiential sanctification, they quickly become uncomfortable with the term, "theosis" and "deification." That is a very interesting reaction because the protestors already and correctly believe that God shares with true believers His "communicable attributes," or those Divine attributes which mortal, fallible creatures God are able to receive from God. Examples of God communicable attributes included His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Theses attributes, called fruits of the Holy Spirit, belong to every Christian who makes use of these holy virtues. Deification NEVER means that a believer becomes equal to God. Deification, or becoming gods (from Psalm 82:6), by sharing in the Divine nature, NEVER means the Christian shares the incommunicable attributes of God, namely, His eternal essence, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresent, immutability, and self-existence.
Theosis or deification by sharing in the Divine nature then is actually a Biblical doctrine that no Christian should find objectionable. The angst comes from the words theosis and deification being outside their traditions past down to them from men (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, Edwards, Bucer, etc.) St. John teaches in his first epistle that we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. We do know however, that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is (1 John 3:2). Hebrews 12:10 references human fathers who correct their children and the verse goes on to teach that our heavenly Father chastens us for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Holiness then is a communicable attribute, that is, an attribute He shares with us. Since He is holy, He gives us the grace to be holy too, but this only comes when we put to death the passions of the flesh which wage war against the good things God offers to all who seek His righteousness. This holiness He offers to His people is commanded, which means it is not optional and it is dispensed through His sacraments (particularly Eucharist). God expects not only to act holy (this is what the Pharisees did), but to BE YE HOLY! Holiness what the power of God does in the heart of the humble believer. The Protestant supposes Orthodoxy has a weird view of sanctification (i.e., theosis) because the Protestant has a weird lens in which they examine Christian theology.
Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7)
Voices from the Church fathers
Ignatius of Antioch A.D 110 "For as long as there is not implanted in you any one lust which is able to torment you, you live in God… . For those who are carnal are not able to do spiritual things … (Letter to the Ephesians 8) Let us, then, be imitators of the Lord in meekness, and let us compete to see who shall more especially be injured and oppressed and cheated. (ibid. 10). The beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are needed for a holy life follow after them. No man making a profession of faith continues sinning, nor does he that possesses love hate anyone. The tree is made manifest by its fruit, and so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct. For the work of profession is not needed now, but that one be found continuing in the power of faith to the end."
Irenaeus, A.D. 183 - 186 "We receive a certain portion of his Spirit, tending towards perfection and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God, which the apostle calls "an earnest" [deposit], that is, a part of the honor which has been promised us by God. … This earnest, thus dwelling in us, renders us spiritual even now, and the mortal is swallowed up in immortality. … This does not take place by the a casting away of the flesh, but by the impartation of the Spirit. (Against Heresies V:8:1)