April 20, 2008

An ignorance of history is one of the most horrible and debilitating aspects of Evangelicalism. Sure, some of us know about the Reformation, but it gets pretty cloudy during the “Middle Ages” and back down to late antiquity. especially after (should I mention his name???) Constantine. Ecumenical councils…..?

Basically, the only Church Father many of us read or care about is Augustine. Then, history goes back to the time of the Bible, and that’s about it. We somehow assume that there’s overwhelming biblical evidence for a certain narrow sola scriptura stance and then take the Reformation formulation of Christianity (at least what we think the Reformers had in mind) and then go on labeling every other form of Christian belief that disagrees with us as “dead tradition” or “works righteousness”.

My question is: What about the 1500 years or so between the closing of the canon, i.e. the writing of the final book of the Bible — Revelation, and 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenburg Door? If Jesus had so much confidence in 12 men who would pass his message along for the redemption of the cosmos, primarily in a gathering of people, i.e. the ekklesia — the church, then why do we Evangelicals have so little confidence in this group of people living out its faith in the next few hundred years? We accept some things, such as the canon of scripture, which was finalized a few hundred years later by Athanasius in 367 AD and then by the African synod of Hippo in 393 AD. We also accept the Trinity and the Christological formulations of the first four ecumenical councils, but we don’t accept other things, such as priests, veneration of saints, veneration of Mary, the “real presence” in the eucharist, episcopal authority, etc. I just wonder what the early church would have thought about such picking and choosing. More often than not they simply labeled people who “went it alone” as heretics. I don’t think that being an Evangelical automatically nails you down as a heretic, but I think that an understanding of the way the early church saw itself may lead us to have a greater appreciation for other Christian traditions, especially ones which accept the first seven ecumenical councils as being authoritative.

For the first thousand years of Christianity, there was no question as to what church you belonged to, or which “denomination”. There was the church, and that was it.

Maybe it’s not the Bible alone (Protestant) or the Bible + Tradition (Catholic), but something closer to the Bible interpreted through tradition (Orthodox).

I don’t know, just some thoughts as I struggle to understand the fullness of my Evangelical faith. This article represents Robert Webber’s answer to my problem. People like him give me hope for Evangelicalism.

“The only alternative to Tradition is bad tradition” — Jaroslav Pelikan. I’m tired of bad tradtion.


One Response to “anachronism”

  1. Kent said

    Logos Bible Software is hoping to produce an electronic version of Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future series, and these books are currently available for pre-order. I thought you might be interested.

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