What is Orthodoxy and Who Decides?
This question has haunted me for some time. If you read on, realize that I am struggling with this issue. In my attempt to answer it, I have tried to use the Scriptures exclusively to find the answer. So, if you want to procede, please understand the depth of my struggle. Your suggestions would be most helpful in dealing with the question, "What is Orthodoxy and who decides?"
My quest begins with another question: How can it be that a vast majority of Protestant churches claim that Scripture is their sole authority (sola Scriptura) in spiritual matters ‚Äì and yet thousands of denominations exist because they can‚Äôt agree on what the Bible says? The Scriptures teach that there is ‚Äúone Lord, one faith, one baptism‚Äù (Eph. 4:5). Yet, in reality, there are many denominations, many versions of the faith, and many understandings of baptism. The Scriptures teach, ‚ÄúLet there be no division among you‚Äù (1 Cor. 1:10)‚Ä¶ yet because there is no oversight of orthodoxy, and many believers see themselves as autonomous, Scriptural truths are up for grabs. In democratically operated churches, interpretation of truth may be subject to majority vote. Please show me in the Scriptures a model for church democracy. Where in the Bible is the truth subject to majority vote? Because of the lack of authority, Christians are free to interpret as they will,hence; we have thousands of disagreeing, disengaged, diverse denominations. The one loaf has become many little wafers. I believe the reason for division is that there is no authority other than "my opinion."
Do the Scriptures teach that the Bible is the only authority in spiritual matters? I know the Scriptures are ‚Äúprofitable for doctrine‚Ä¶,‚Äù but is that the same as being the only authority? Does "Profitable" equate to "exclusive?"
What does the Bible say about this? The Bible does not claim that it is the only arbiter of truth, but it does claim that there is a ‚Äúpillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).‚Äù The Scriptures teach that this distinction and responsibility belongs to the Church. Is this observable in the life of the Church as recorded in the Scriptures? Yes, I believe it is. Consider the teaching of Matthew 18 concerning discipline. It admonishes us to go to a person if we are having an issue with them and discuss the problem. If that doesn‚Äôt work, we are to take one or two others with us. ‚ÄúAnd if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the Church.‚Äù If these two Christians belong to churches of differing denominations, to which church should they go for resolution? THE Church is presented as the final authority in these matters. When Paul returned to Jerusalem, a council of the Church including apostles and elders was convened. Acts 15:6 says, ‚ÄúSo the apostles and elders met together to resolve the issue.‚Äù Acts 16:4 is instructive. ‚ÄúThen they (Paul and Timothy) went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the Churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger everyday.‚Äù This is the teaching of Scripture concerning proper authority‚Ä¶ ‚ÄúThe pillar and foundation of truth‚Äù is the Church‚Ä¶we do not find authority vested in everyone as autonomous individuals‚Ä¶but rather, all believers are in subjection to the decisions of the apostles and elders.
This is so important because it moves us from ‚Äúme reading my Bible and reinventing the wheel,‚Äù to asking the question, ‚ÄúWhat has the Church said about this‚Ä¶How has the church always interpreted this passage of Scripture.‚Äù Further, it introduces discipline into the reading of Scripture. I am not free to reinterpret the Scriptures to suit my fancy. And, if I disagree with a brother, or I am confused about a passage, I know where to go‚Ä¶to the authority‚Ä¶the Church.
In the Old Testament we find a three pronged approach to orthodoxy. There was the Law. There was the teaching of Moses called the ‚Äúseat of Moses‚Äù (Exodus 18:13, Matthew 23:2), and there was the Oral Tradition.
In the New Testament I believe this three legged stool of authority remained. There was the written Word, the Oral Tradition or ‚ÄúKerygma‚Äù (*2 Thes. 2:15) and the teaching ministry of the Church (expressed through the councils and creeds - Acts 6:2, 15:4-11, 16:4).
*‚ÄúSo then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.‚Äù
This is what I find in the Scriptures concerning Church order and authority. What is orthodoxy and who decides? While the question remains‚Ä¶the answers are really causing me problems because they don‚Äôt look very familiar.
Please offer me some help on this one!