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:: Monday, October 20, 2003 ::

Being Led Into All Truth: Part I of a Response to NeoTheologue

This post is Part I of my response to NeoTheologue's critique (his 10/7 post--permalink doesn't work) of an essay written by John Craton. This series of posts will make more sense if you're familiar with these two papers. However what follows should be coherent enough to stand on its own (hopefully!). With all the introductory material, this post is the longest.

Rather than defend the Craton essay, per se, I'll stick to analyzing several quotes from Neo's paper. While I think the Craton essay has a lot of good things to say and I agree with his final conclusions, I concede he doesn't do a great job of explaining certain concepts. By the way, his essay also includes other chapters and was originally meant to be read only by members of the church from which he left as a brief explanation of why he was becoming Orthodox. Thus, I will concur that it is far from complete, sufficiently nuanced, or researched. In any event this is all to say that some areas of Neo's critique stand uncontested by me. Others may wish to add further comments.

Neo wrote, "Jesus wasn't promising his Spirit to a church in John 16:13, but was promising it to eleven individual men....there is no textual evidence that Jesus is speaking dogmatically here with the whole Church in mind."

The Greek in this passage is ambiguous, you are correct. So why couldn't Jesus have meant the promise to *both* the Apostles as individuals *and* to those who would follow the Apostles, who would read these words from the very pens of the Apostle, who would be fully united with them in the Church?

One could ask where the Scriptural text is to back an "either/or" interpretation rather than a "both/and" perspective. What you argue for seems like an unnecessary false dichotomy, especially since the Church for 2000 years has always interpreted Jesus' words in John 16:3 to apply to the whole Church. The consensus within the Tradition directly contradicts your interpretation.

You are right in one respect: Jesus wasn't speaking to "a" church, but to the very Church that the Apostles would go on to become pillars of; this same Church which is the Orthodox Church. Not counting all the references of St. Paul in the Bible (like 2 Thess 2:15), we also see from Church history that the teaching, direction, and truth Jesus gave the Apostles was to be passed on and lived out by all those in the Church, not just the eleven. I just posted these quotes in my discussion with Justin the last few days, but they are relevant here too:

St Basil: Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery ... both are of the same force ... Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals ...

St Augustine: "... there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings."

Saint John Chrysostom: (commenting specifically on 2 Th 2.15), "From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief." (Props to Christopher for these quotes)

Continuing on, Neo wrote, "The idea that it is the church (or even more exclusive, a particular church) that is indwelt with the Spirit and not individual Christ-followers is Biblically unsupportable."

Two things here. First, there is only One Church because there is only one Jesus. There is the Church and then there are "denominations" that splinter away from, not within, the Church. This understanding is a direct result of the Nicean Creed's "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" description of the Church. See here for more on this....

Second, the idea that the Spirit only indwells the Church but not the people themselves is flat out not an Orthodox teaching! No Orthodox has ever posited that the Spirit is limited to just the institutional forms of "the Church" and is not for the individual believer to participate in. If you saw this dichotomy in the Craton essay, I'd be curious to see a specific reference.

Those who have studied Orthodox pneumatology understand the holistic experience we have of the Spirit. For example, during the Sacrament of Chrismation we personally and intimately share in the event of Pentecost itself. During the Liturgy we pray that the Holy Spirit "who is everywhere present and filling all things" may "abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls..."

Many more examples could be given. Suffice to say, the idea that the Holy Spirit is limited to the institutional forms of the Church and is not intimately involved with the believer is absolutely not our teaching. However being most fully "Spirit-filled" and being a visible member of the Church are always interconnected in the Bible and throughout the writings of the Fathers.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an "autonomous experience of the Holy Spirit." The Bible tells us that those who are "being saved" were added to the Church (Acts 2:38-47). They were not merely making "decisions for Christ", or beginning a "personal (i.e. private) relationship with Jesus" , or "receiving a special anointing." (None of these modern, subjective, and individualized concepts are Scriptural) Rather the early Christians were repenting, being baptized for the remission of their sins, partaking of the sacraments, and actively immersing themselves in the liturgical, ascetical, and sacramental life of the one Church.

Part II coming soon....

:: Karl :: 1:09:00 PM [Link] ::

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