There are three main bodies of Christians in the world today: Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. I myself am personally grateful for evangelicals who helped me come to faith in Christ when I was 17 years old (I’m 53 now!). I don’t know where I’d be today if they didn’t love me enough to reach out to me, even though I was religious at the time. I’ve learned a lot over the years from Evangelicals and continue to do so. Still, it is my conviction that there was and is a continuous and consistent tradition of apostolic faith passed down through the centuries, and that the Orthodox Church most faithfully embodies it at least on a formal level. I’d like to share just two examples that illustrate how the Orthodox Church has maintained its unbroken succession with Christian antiquity, and reveal why it is particular attractive to an increasing number of Christians. Today I’ll speak of Scripture; next blog, I focus on the role of history. The third blog to come, however, will put the Orthodox Church under the microscope of an evangelical critique.
Orthodox and evangelicals agree that the Spirit’s witness through the Bible is the main criterion of the church’s faith. Tradition simply witnesses to, safeguards and corrects itself by the integrity of the biblical message. But Orthodoxy has something more to say. It was the churches of the early centuries (East and West) which decided, piecemeal, which texts constituted the canon of Scripture by recognizing their apostolic origin and content within the worshipping community. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was the Spirit through the canon who embraced the believing community, more than the church embracing the canon. Still, the canon was composed within the context of the believing community by members of the Church, such as St. Paul who (as is often overlooked) belonged to Christ’s body, his church. Scripture was never external to the believing community. This does not mean that Scripture owes it inherent authority to the church, but that the Spirit was inseparably united to the church and its sacred texts. The church functioned as the mediating authority that simply witnessed to the work of God that was already there within its own life.
So whether they are aware of it or not, every time evangelicals pick up their Bibles, they are relying on the Orthodox Churchâ€™s judgment on the colossal issue of canonicity. Often without acknowledging it, they are validating the authority of the Spirit-led tradition as a norm of canonicity that recognized which books were and were not to be considered as Holy Scripture. That same Spirit-led tradition has governed the life of the Orthodox Church over the centuries.
I believe an increasing number of people fascinated with the early church will see that Spirit, Bible, (real, identifiable) churches and tradition were, and are, inseparably united, then as now.