Is the Bible a book which each person should read and decide for himself what it means, or is the Bible a book whose meaning is given by the Church?
The former idea appears to contain perfect liberty to allow the Bible to speak to the individual unhindered by man’s tradition; the latter idea appears to be the exact opposite.
Having converted to the Orthodox Church 5 years ago from charismatic Evangelical Christianity—a movement within Protestantism that believes it is imperative for the individual to interpret the Bible without tradition (so long as they come to conclusions sympathetic to charismatic Christianity, of course)—I can say in unison with the Apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints of the Holy Orthodox Church these last 20 centuries that “The Church is the ground and pillar of truth” (1 Tim 3:15) and not my own ideas about the truth according to my personal interpretations.
Converting my habits of thought over to the Orthodox Church freed me from this prison of self-enlightenment, which is always a ruse. As an Evangelical I was never free to simply believe and follow Scripture because I was always waiting for the final verdict of what I would decide it meant. It was challenging for me to put faith in Scripture when its interpretation was constantly changing based on my changing opinions. Now I simply trust Christianity, which was never about me and my changing fancies, but about what is true and made known through the Holy Tradition from the beginning.
Anyway, I came to a remembrance of these things yesterday during a chrismation service at our church. I was the sponsor for a new convert who is actually a New Testament professor at the university I graduated from. This is not your typical convert. This is a man who spent the majority of his life as an instructor of Biblical interpretation, a master of the Biblical languages, and a person whose opinion holds academic authority.
You might be thinking “so what?” and if so, you’re right. However, men of this stripe are typically not fond of subjecting their hard earned Biblical interpretations to non-academic entities. There is a basic understanding in Evangelical academics that one consults commentaries last of all in their Biblical hermeneutics—and only if absolutely necessary. For the Orthodox one consults the commentaries of the Church fathers first, not last, and pretty much end the dispute.
Why the service reminded me of this is because there is a point in the ceremony when the convert declares that he/she trusts the teachings of the Fathers on matters of Scriptural interpretation. It is literally a baptismal vow! Not a suggestion, a vow.
What a contrast to the spiritual life I once lived. Prior to Orthodoxy I was, as I said above, a prisoner to my own lack of knowledge; the faith was always in flux, never established. As an Orthodox Christian matters of dogma and doctrine were battles fought and won early in the life of the Church. They are battles I never have to wage. I can rest in the arms of this great Mother—the Church—and trust her with both my spiritual growth and eternal well-being. I don’t trust me to do the dishes, how could I ever trust myself to arrive at eternal truth unaided by the Spirit’s Holy Tradition?
This is just one of the meditations this week of Lent afforded me, but it seemed to be one of the major ones.
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And for those readers who are Orthodox I encourage you to press on. Holy Week is upon us! The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Take it this week. 🙂