|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part 3 of a series. Read part 2.
The Roman and Orthodox theories of authority, which date back long before the Reformation, bury Holy Scripture under an avalanche of worldly philosophy, legalism, and man-made doctrines.
In this series we are focusing on God's command to the prophet Jeremiah to speak "all the words that I command you to speak...Do not diminish a word." As we have seen, the fuller sense in the original language is, "Do not omit, restrain, or withdraw a single word." We have seen that Jeremiah and the other Old Testament prophets, and Paul and the other New Testament apostles, faithfully obeyed God's command, even at the repeated risk of their lives.
But by the time of the Reformation, the Word of God was greatly diminished in the visible church. Satan's millennia-long strategy to introduce worldly philosophy, legalism, and man-made doctrines into the church had reduced the authentic Word of God to the point of effective irrelevancy in the pre-Reformation church.
Why was this so? We can understand the explanation by briefly examining the five sources of authority that the Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, and related bodies such as the Syriac and Coptic churches) have asserted for over a thousand years. When we think of the Protestant Reformation, we most often think of men of God being raised up in opposition to the darkness of Roman Catholicism. But the reformers were also raised up in opposition to Eastern Orthodoxy. In many ways, even today, the Orthodox Church is more vocally anti-Protestant than Rome itself.
The Orthodox Church asserts not one source of authority (Holy Scripture alone), but five.
"The Church Produced the Bible, The Bible Did Not Produce the Church"
The Orthodox Church says that it gives first place to the holy Scriptures. But the Orthodox Church puts Scripture in the realm of what it refers to as Church Tradition - capital C, capital T. In Eastern Orthodoxy, "Church Tradition" is the effective equivalent of "Church Authority." The Orthodox Church insists that it produced the Bible. We, the church, produced the Bible, they say. The Bible did not produce the church.
Just as God used unbelieving Jewish scribes to providentially preserve the Old Testament in its original languages, He also used unbelieving Orthodox monks to preserve the New Testament in Greek. But God the Holy Spirit, not an institutional church, produced the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 declares that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, is God-breathed, i.e., His very words]. 2 Peter 1:21 declares that the Scriptures "never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved [literally, were driven] by the Holy Spirit."
Furthermore, the church is not, as Eastern Orthodoxy asserts, an institution established by man. Jesus Christ is the Builder of the Church (Matthew 16:18), which consists not of buildings made with hands and a membership determined by the actions or will of man, but is His body made up of those through all time who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 1:15-2:1 and 5:30; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 12:22-24).
Scripture Obscured by Liturgy
The Orthodox Church says that its second source of authority is its liturgy - its worship rituals. These explain the church's doctrine, as they put it, "better than any book", and they assert that nothing can take the place of liturgy as a source of authority. But God's Word never says this.
The Orthodox position emphasizes going to church as an experience - the pomp, the ceremony, the robes, the ornate altars and statues, the incense, the procession. These things obscure the Word of God. The emphasis is not on the verbal (the authoritative Word of God read and preached) but on the visual - subjective experience rooted in feelings.
The Orthodox Church says that its third source of authority is the church councils that have taken place over the centuries. Some of those councils have wrestled with crucial matters of doctrine and have produced godly results. But others have produced heresy. The Orthodox Study Bible refers to the very first church council, in Acts chapter 15, which at its heart dealt with the issue of the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from the works of the law, as a "compromise" between the Jewish legalizers and the Apostles. It was nothing of the sort. It was a clear declaration that all, both Jew and Gentile, are saved by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to which they can add nothing.
But it is not surprising that the Orthodox Church would say this, because Orthodox theologians deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone, just as Roman Catholicism does. They insist that salvation comes through water baptism, and that an individual receives the Holy Spirit not by His sovereign, unilateral action but by an act of man - "chrismation" in Orthodox terminology, the application of "holy oil" by the hand of a priest.
Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church says that the church councils over the centuries, and the statements that they have produced, are authoritative in essentially the same way that Scripture is authoritative, and in the same way that they consider their liturgy to be authoritative. Once again, they assert the preeminence not of Christ and His Word but of Church Tradition - capital C, capital T. But as Martin Luther pointed out at his trial at Worms in 1521, these councils have often contradicted one another, and this has resulted in confusion. Scripture declares to us that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). The church's source of authority cannot bear that trademark.
The Church Fathers (and Mothers)
The Orthodox Church says that the fourth source of its authority is the teaching of those whom they refer to as the Church Fathers. The Orthodox Study Bible says that the writings of the great church fathers are a "faithful and true testimony" just as Scripture is a faithful and true testimony.
But many of the individuals that they name as the church fathers, and in some cases the church mothers, denied essentials of the faith. The Word of God calls such people "savage wolves [who] will come in among you...speaking perverse things" (Acts 20:29-30). The Holy Spirit describes them as those who "have crept in unnoticed...[who] deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude verse 4). They cannot be the true church's authority in anything.
The Orthodox Church says that the fifth source of its authority is church art. The Orthodox Study Bible says that church art is a means of revelation. Church art includes the icons that are worshiped in Orthodox churches. But the Orthodox Church declares that these things are also means of divine revelation, in the same way that Scripture is, in the same way that they say the liturgy is, in the same way that they say the church councils are, in the same way that they say the church fathers are, allegedly. But what are the icons that they venerate? They are idols. They are distractions from the Word of God, diminishments of the Word of God.
The Orthodox Study Bible speaks of church art, as well as the liturgy, as part of "the Orthodox experience." The focus is upon subjective, highly variable experiences and feelings rather than on the sure, unchanging, objective truth of Holy Scripture.
Romanism Goes Even Further
The five sources of authority claimed by the Orthodox Church are "Scripture-plus" - which as we saw in our last article is Satan's millennia-old strategy, ever since Eden, to diminish the unadulterated Word of God to the point of irrelevancy. The philosophy of Roman Catholicism is essentially no different in all of these points. But Romanism adds to all of these things the alleged authority of a pope to speak infallibly as the representative of Christ on earth, and the alleged authority of a College of Cardinals to speak new doctrines into being as the successors of the twelve apostles.
The Roman and Orthodox theories of authority, which date back long before the Reformation, literally bury Holy Scripture under an avalanche of worldly philosophy, legalism, and man-made doctrines. The Roman and Orthodox structures leave no room for the work of the Holy Spirit in revival, and therefore no room for Reformation, because Reformation is the result of revival - it is the sovereign work of the Spirit. The Roman and Orthodox theories of authority "quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). They represent a warfare of sinful flesh against the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and against the person and work of Jesus Christ. Scripture is vastly diminished.
1. The material in this article is taken from The Orthodox Study Bible, New Testament and Psalms, New King James Version, an official publication of the American Greek Orthodox Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993 and 1997), especially the section titled "The Bible and Orthodox Tradition," pages iv-xii.
Next: Exalting the Word - The Responsibility of All True Believers
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