Friday, January 19, 2007

Unity in Diversity

In response to the "Forever and Now" post, a friend of mine asked a question in regard to Fr. Oliver's comment on women's ordination. Fr. Oliver's comment, cited in part, is as follows:
"David, it is an open question but I think only in the sense that we have not held a council on it. I do not at all think it open theologically. The answer is no. I am friends with at least one person who thinks otherwise, who is Orthodox, and I really respect some of her work on other areas of Orthodox patristics and theology, but on this issue we part."
My friend, a devout Evangelical, asked two questions regarding this--"How is that not the same thing as what I do among fellow Protestants? Thus, how is that unity not the same as I have w/ other Protestants?"--referring to the accusation often hurled at Protestants by Catholics and Orthodox of a pseudo-unity betrayed by a reality of doctrinal diversity. I thought it would be prudent to respond here, as my friend's objections are understandable, but only to a degree. I see a couple of differences in the comparison that might have escaped my friend.

First of all, there's merit in pointing out an apparent similarity of approach. It's similar to what one Baptist might encounter when disagreeing with another Baptist, since the two can disagree on a given, non-doctrinal point and still remain in good standing as Baptists, as there's no clear teaching on subject x within the Baptist convention. In like manner, there's quite a lot--much more than an Evangelical might suspect, actually--within the Orthodox Church that is not a non-negotiable matter of Church doctrine, and which can fall under the category of theologoumenon, or pious or theological opinion. So I can understand how an accusation like the one I framed above would ring hypocritical at first glance.

As to the issue of whether or not women could be priests, it's not immediately and automatically struck down as heresy because such questions have only now arisen in so conservative a communion and because they have been, until recently, unthinkable. Because of this, the Church has never fleshed out and universally declared--not even in or via the writings of St. Paul-- a couple of things:

1) exactly why a women can't teach or exercise authority over a man, and
2) in what context that applies to the Orthodox Church.

(As Frederica Mathewes-Green pointed out, "we have women saints who were missionary evangelists, church-planters, teachers, healers, preachers, apologists, spiritual mothers, counselors, miracle-workers, martyrs, iconographers, hymnographers, and theologians," and the Scriptures point out those women who were deaconesses and prophetesses. So exactly what constitutes a male-only role seems to be restricted, at least at this point in this dialogue, to the sacramental priesthood. Most Orthodox, myself included, are happy with this traditional stance. My thanks to EYTYXOC for the link.)

Back to the main point, however: I hold that the Orthodox position, which allows us on many issues to agree to disagree, is still fundamentally different from that of sola scriptura Protestant groups due both to the nature of the issues on which we as Orthodox agree and disagree, as well as the nature of that which binds us--the latter being, namely, communion with a recognized Orthodox bishop.

To the first point: I see the nature of unity of doctrine and teaching within the Orthodox Church as being fundamentally different from the supposed unity of the many Evangelical, sola-scriptura confessions because of the nature of the specific doctrines upon which the respective groups agree and disagree. While the Orthodox Church has always--I repeat, always--had to deal with differing schools of thought on many issues (Calendar, reception of converts, etc), "the difference"--and here I quote from an old post of mine--"between the more ancient confessions and the more recent Protestant groups lies in Hebrews 6:1-2:
"'Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.'
"In our view, the conflicts that Protestant groups have with each other stem from those things we would define as 'elementary principles'--the nature of faith and works, the nature of baptism, the nature of the laying on of hands, of the end times, as the passage indicates--while those that the Catholics and the Orthodox have each within their respective communions are much more recent...I would rather have merely the problems of today and know that the problems of the apostolic age are settled, so we don't have to go back and re-search the Scriptures in every generation to see if we've got something as basic as baptism right."

To the second point: For Orthodox Christians, our point of unity is not only a common reverence for and submission to the Holy Scriptures, but also a union with a recognized Orthodox bishop. The former has its difficulties, since people can profess the same loyalty to the Scriptures in an abstraction and come up with (as is often the case) diametrically opposed views of some of the most basic of Christian beliefs. Recognition of bishops, of course, can also be problematic, as there have been times when the idea of "who's in and who's out" hasn't always been cut and dry. Nevertheless, the fact that I can walk into almost any Eastern Orthodox Church in the world, mention Archbishop +DMITRI, and be admitted to the chalice is a pretty good indicator that mine is one such recognized bishop. Orthodox bishops have authoritatively recognized one another (as well as the faithful under each respective bishop) as holding to the Orthodox dogmas, so all included in this recognition are invited to the Eucharistic banquet.
Thus, the fact that many sola scriptura groups still remain separate bodies and close off communion from one another is telling, being the most glaring example, in our eyes, of real separation and disunity.

In Orthodoxy, the bishop is the recipient of the sacramental grace given to the Apostles by Christ Himself and, as such, is the one who unifies those he receives into the Church via that grace. This point of union, far from being an abstract, immaterial one of thought, is something that transcends the confines of both our rational capabilities and our individualistic tendencies and unites us in a tangible, corporate, and, yeah, even mystical union through the Chalice, which is ever guarded by the bishop, surrounded by the presbyters and communed by the faithful.


Rhology said...

DANG it! I wasted your time and your insightful writing by failing to enumerate my question correctly to match my ACTUAL objection. \sigh/ Sometimes I'm a real dork.

The text of my question was:

"Sounds Protestant. How is that not the same thing as what I do among fellow Protestants? Thus, how is that unity not the same as I have w/ other Protestants? "

Shoulda replaced "Protestant" w/ "Southern Baptist" therein.
Anyway, you're a busy man so respond if you like. I'll understand if you don't. As it is, I understand w/ what you wrote and agree w/ a fair amount of it actually.

I'll just respond to a coupla things to keep it interesting:

--the Church has never fleshed out...exactly why a women can't teach or exercise authority over a man
>>Sure it has.
1 Tim 2:11-14 - "11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. "
Paul was a part of the Church, right? ;-)

--So exactly what constitutes a male-only role seems to be the sacramental priesthood.
>>To the NT office of elder, yes.

--Heb 6:1-2
>>Back to my poorly-stated question, So Baptists have no disunity of opinion in regard to these things as well...just to say.

--so we don't have to go back and re-search the Scriptures in every generation to see if we've got something as basic as baptism right."
>>I don't know, man... to a large extent such things are really helpful. 'Twas re-examining such things that led to the correction away from the gross errors of Rome.


(Word verification: djyggy Gettin' djyggy wid it.)

Anonymous said...

Egad! Yesterday, before finding your blog, I posted the following note to a good friend of mine:

The more I study (Little 'o') orthodox Christianity, the more hollow I recognize Campbellite theology to be. Christianity was meant to be full. It is the be all and end all, and, despite [Alexander] Campbell's best efforts, cannot be boiled down to a few essentials.

"Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits."
--Heb. 6:1-3

Coincidence or Providence?