Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Clearing up a Couple of Points

Recently, I wrote a post about how there is no such thing as being "on our own" or "apart from God," although there is indeed such a thing as "apart fom faith".

Now I'd like to point out two similar straw men that come up fairly regularly.

First Straw Man:

It's true the Orthodox do not exercise "private judgment", but this is not because we are required to kow-tow to the corporate judgment of the Church. Instead, it is because, in the Church, there is no such thing as "private judgment". We can, do, must excersise personal judgment, of course, but it is never anything like private. This is because of the nature of the communion the Holy Spirit gives us in Christ, in the saints and in one another, one Body, one Heart, one Mind, one Love, one Life. His Life is Mine is the English title of one of Archimandrite Sophrony's books; but so is your life mine; and my life also is yours, in the Church. Even a convert's becoming Orthodox is never a private decision. It involves the penitent, his spiritual father, his parish, and the whole Church on earth and in heaven. Above all, it involves the Holy Spirit.

We don't "surrender" our personal judgment to the Church, either. We are allowed humbly, prayerfully, to wrestle with issues all we like, until the Holy Spirit gives us to understand for ourselves, until we no longer need to take anybody else's word for it. We are not expected merely to capitulate.

Second Straw Man:

There is such thing as the Church setting up false doctrine or setting up doctrine "on her own" or of her own initiative. A body doing this has ceased beforehand to be the Church, or else never was. The Church, the Body of Christ, is always animated by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. Does this mean you will never hear anything false coming from an Orthodox pulpit, or read anything false in an Orthodox publication? I wish! No; it means falsehoods come from certain people or groups within the Church, but they do not accord with Christian teaching. True Christian doctrine is what has been believed from the beginning.

Is a doctrine true because the Church says it, or does the Church say it because under the guidance of the Holy Spirit she has recognized it to be true? The latter, of course, technically. But in practice, in the true Church, these two turn out to be equivalent.