Want to know what my Homework looks like? Well, actually this isn't a good representation because most of my homework is Grammar, Writing and Language Listening Exercises. But one of the elements here in South Carolina that's very different from what I did in Ukraine is our once a week Culture and History Lesson. I think I could have enjoyed being a History Teacher. I'd much rather hear a good lecture and engage in discussion and read a book than try to remember a million grammar rules.
In any case, one of our texts is The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. Below are my answers to 3 questions from the 10th and 11th Chapter of said book. You may find it boring but what the heck. I know that both of my regular readers want to know what I'm doing these days.
What do you think about orthodoxy's view of the Holy Tradition? Does it seem to you that they place the traditions, such as the 7 Ecumenical Councils, the Church Canon, etc., on a par with scripture?
The author makes that case. He goes so far as to fault the Western Church (and those within Orthodoxy) that separate Tradition and Scripture saying that Scripture exists within Tradition. He says that among the various elements of Tradition that the Bible enjoys pre-eminence…along with the Creed and the Councils. What kind of pre-eminence is that? And what of the elements that don’t hold “pre-eminence”? Writings of the Fathers, Canons, Service Books, Icons, the whole system of Church government, worship, spirituality and art are all elements of Tradition.
As regards Scripture, the author argues that “if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the People.” Not something set up over the Church (my interpretation is that he’s saying the Bible has no authority over the Church) because it was the Church in the first place that determined what books would be in the Bible. “It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority” and “it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”
I can agree that the Bible is best understood (interpreted??) in light of Christian community (Church) but there’s something to be said about Scripture being “God breathed and profitable….” (2nd Tim 3:16).
He goes on to say that Tradition is more than a set of abstract propositions- “it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit” and “it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church”. What? I guess he’s saying that the Holy Spirit works or speaks through all these elements?? I can agree with that but I wouldn’t limit Him to just those elements.
2. What do you think about Orthodoxy's belief that (in Ware's words) "while we cannot 'merit' salvation, we must certainly work for it, since 'faith without works is dead?' Does this appear to be a contradiction to you?
On the surface, yes there’s definitely a contradiction. I think the author is mis-using the passage from James. I don’t think “to work out our Salvation” as Paul says to the Philippians and “faith without works is dead” as in James means that we have to work for our Salvation. In practice… and in my limited experience, I feel like most Orthodox Christians hold firmly to a merit-based Salvation…or at least they seem to reject any concept of Eternal Security. To wit… a Ukrainian Christian friend of mine was recently Baptized. She grew up in an Orthodox Church but in recent years has embraced a non-denominational Protestant Church. Her Facebook status on the day she was baptized was something to the effect of “ Thank God now I know for sure I will go to heaven”…as if her actions in being obedient to follow Christ in Baptism somehow guaranteed her eternal security. Admittedly I don’t know any Orthodox Christians very well, but my observations is that the devout ones are very concerned with all the outward demonstrations of piety- which to me seems to be an emphasis on “works”.
Towards the end of Chapter 11 the author explains the concept of Deification and in his 3rd point stresses that the process of Deification is simple: go to church, receive the sacraments regularly, pray to God ‘in spirit and in truth’, read the Gospels, and follow the commandments. That sounds like works-merited Salvation to me.
3. What do you think of the fact that the Orthodox do not believe that humans were utterly depraved and unable to have good desires after the fall? Is there any merit to their rejection of Calvin's doctrine of "total depravity" and Augustine's unique concept of "original sin"?
Can we be both utterly depraved and still be capable of some good? On one hand Scripture says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags and that none of us are good. I Corinthians 2:14 suggests that we aren’t capable of making spiritual assessments without the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Yet Ware makes a case for what it means to be made in the Image and Likeness of God. I rather like the way he separates the two. Spiritually we certainly are fallen and incapable of attaining Salvation on our own. But as Ware says, we are made in the Image and Likeness of God. There’s something in us; not in any other creation… that makes us the “Image” of our Father. It’s like DNA, there’s something of Him in all of us even in our fallen state. I think we see that when someone who otherwise completely rejects God is does something noble or good. It’s not because of their innate goodness…but because of the hint of the Creator that’s in all of us. To be in the “Likeness” of God is to become “like” Him and that’s a process that begins with following God. Others can argue about Calvin’s view of Irresistible Grace…whether there’s some application of our free will to choose to follow God or whether, like Calvin, we are the Eternal Elect…we don’t automatically “look” like God. That happens over time as we know Him more and more.
Based on the Orthodox understanding of Image and Likeness I at least understand why they reject Calvin’s Total Depravity. As for Original Sin, the biggest difference I see between Augustine and Orthodoxy is how far “we” had to fall. In the big scheme of things I don’t know if it makes much difference if you fall from near the top of a cliff or halfway up the cliff. In both cases, you’re at the bottom at the end of the Fall. The results- separation from God spiritually- is the same.