“Does God Pose an Authority Problem for You?”

While reading a recent post from Wintery Knight, I stumbled upon an excellent little article from Tough Questions Answered. I’m just passing this along third-hand, so I definitely recommend checking out the entire thing:

“Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!” (continue reading here)

This resonated with me because I, too, have observed a correlation between those who reject traditional Christianity (either by adopting a very flimsy, self-centered, humanistic kind of theology, or by turning to atheism or agnosticism), and those who have difficulty accepting authority in general. This seems particularly true for my own generation.

I was also reminded of a college class I took in which we studied the book of Genesis. My classmates came from very diverse backgrounds, so this opened the door for some interesting discussions (to say the least). One of the most prominent themes in Genesis is the idea of “faithful obedience”. Just think about Adam and Eve being instructed by God not to eat from a specific tree; think about Noah being instructed by God to build an ark; think about Abraham being instructed by God to leave his homeland, and later being told to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In every case, the individual is being asked to submit to God’s authority as an act of faith. Quite honestly, this is a virtue that isn’t widely recognized by society today (nor was it regarded as such by most of my fellow students). From the time we’re children, we’re constantly being taught to question all forms of authority – to analyze and critically examine the world around us. I mean, let’s face it: to most people, words like “rebellion” and “independence” carry a lot more appeal than the word “obedience”. The thought of putting aside our own reason and placing our trust in God’s authority is often regarded as a sign of ignorance, weakness, even foolishness.

Yet if we take the Bible seriously, we see that this kind of obedience really is a virtue. I would even go so far as to say that humble obedience to God is the most basic and fundamental form of good. After all, it’s the exact opposite of pride – arguably the most basic and fundamental form of evil.

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30 thoughts on ““Does God Pose an Authority Problem for You?”

  1. Hi Matt,
    Having read your post, I’m trying to reconcile what you say here with the description of yourself in ‘About the Author’: first and foremost a Christian: Protestant and non-denominational.
    This seems to suggest that whilst you bow to the authority of Christ, you don’t seem to adhere to any earthly Church authority yet Christ builds his Church on Peter the Rock, thereby passing his authority to the Pope. Also is ‘Protestant’ not the same as ‘rebellion’?
    Hey I’m not criticising you for one moment, but just wonder if you are searching for an earthly authority, or church you feel you can trust. I will keep you in my prayers so that God may speak to you in the quiet of your heart. If I’ve got this all wrong, please forgive me!
    God bless.

    • Hi Chris,

      First off, I want to say thanks for the excellent feedback. You raise an interesting question.

      I think we probably agree that our lives ought to be submitted to God’s authority. The difference lies in what we consider to be the “proper authority” (Sola Scriptura in my view, versus a combination of Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and church hierarchy in the Catholic view).

      Having said that, I will be the first to admit that, for many Protestant churches and denominations, this lack of *church* authority has led to some serious problems. In the absence of an outside standard of orthodoxy, it opens the door for anyone to simply re-interpret the Bible *through their own pre-existing worldview*. There’s definitely something to be said for the unity enjoyed by those who derive this kind of authority from Rome.

      In my view, Luther raised a number of very legitimate criticisms. Although I sincerely wish that these differences could have been resolved without fracturing the Church (which I, as a Protestant, view as one of the greatest tragedies in Christian history), there are a small number of Catholic doctrines and practices that I have great difficulty reconciling with Scripture.

      So for me, the idea is to subject myself to God’s authority *as found in Scripture*, through the most honest and prayerful approach possible.

      Anyway, thanks again! You’ve definitely prompted me to look into this more closely.

    • Matt, this is a very poignant article. You raise that age-old question of whether or not faith and reason, or perhaps, devout obedience vs. critical analysis, are opposed to each other or contradictory. Your observation on the link which often exists between people who have a problem submitting and joining themselves to traditional Christianity and those who have general problems with authority is one I share.

      Few people realize that the literal meaning of the Greek word from which we get “obey” does not mean to submit or bow down, but actually, to listen carefully. Thus, in our modern and increasingly secular culture, the term “obedience” carries a strongly negative and “authoritarian” connotation, and this is magnified considering that few people know what obedience actually means in its proper context.

      I was raised as a Roman Catholic, so I find your and Chris’ exchange interesting. My family remain Catholic, and I hold no animosity toward the Church in which I was raised- I am grateful for learning the Gospel from it, and many times experiencing the grace of God in the sacraments as a Catholic. But I do not believe Rome is the ‘true church’ for many reasons I can go into (in more detail) of you or Chris are interested. Here is a link to a post on my blog which does this: http://ryanphunter.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/the-faith-once-delivered/

      I am now an Orthodox Christian, and so, naturally, I agree with you Matt that Luther did indeed have some valid criticisms about different practices and doctrines in the Roman Church which had developed over the years (papal supremacy, indulgences, Purgatory, the doctrine that unbaptized babies would go to hell because they died in a state of original sin, etc). But I would submit that his problem was that he set up Scripture on a pedestal above Church Tradition, without license giving to Scripture an authority the Church, which put the books of the New Testament together, never gave it. From a historical perspective, there is no precedent for ‘sola scriptura’ in the Bible itself, nor anywhere in Church Tradition. Nowhere in the Bible does it say ‘look only to this book for your faith’. Thus, it is a heresy, and because Protestants cut themselves off from what was the historic and original Church in the West, they have since splintered into over 28,000 groups. Ultimately, Luther and the many Protestant sects which sprung up rejected many books of the original Bible, so the claim to ‘sola scriptura’ itself is flawed because Protestants do not, generally, use the full canon of the Bible.

      Upon careful review of the Scriptural passages in question which suggest Peter as the Rock of Christ’s Church, and examining Church history (not just Rome, but the entire early Church, in its Eastern and Western traditions), I found myself seeing the early Popes in Rome as first among equals, since the Church in this period was not at all monarchical, even in Rome, but governed through Ecumenical Councils. I realized I could not believe in the dogma of papal infallibility ex cathedra as revealed at the First Vatican Council in 1870- for how could this doctrine be true, for it was foreign to the early Church! Any Catholic who disbelieves this dogma is, by the Council’s own declaration, outside the Catholic Church and incurs anathema upon his or herself.

      What increasingly troubled me as I looked more into the Roman Catholic Church’s history is that, following the 1054 “Great Schism” which separated Eastern (what became the Orthodox) Christians and Western (what became Roman Catholic) Christians, was that while the Pope was the supposed source and visible sign of unity of the Catholic faith, that unity of the faith (orthodoxy) was no longer present in the way it had been in the pre-Schism Church. After 1054 Rome introduced many new innovations and dogmas unknown in the early Church, mainly due to the Scholastic Thomist scholars’ need to reconcile Christian doctrines and beliefs with Aristotelian logic and Augustinian juridical thought. This increasing departure from orthodoxy culminated in the Vatican II reforms (some of which were very positive, such as having the Mass in the vernacular language), which caused disorder in the inner liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics worldwide are increasingly disunited in their faith and practice of it- with more liberal parishes following the Novus Ordo Missae and often holding very Protestant views of the papacy or the Church, and more traditional parishes using the Extraordinary rite or “Latin Mass” and often holding more ‘orthodox’ Catholic views in support of a strongly monarchical papacy. Thus, the actual unity of faith in the Roman Church, which the Pope is considered to lead and enforce as its visible head and vicar of Christ, has been shattered due to the modernizations of the liturgy and the often incomplete education many Catholics receive in basic elements of the Faith, such as papal supremacy and infallibility.

      I apologize for writing so much. May the risen Lord bless you both!

    • Thanks for your comment, Ryan! I think it’s kind of cool that we have three major branches of Christianity represented on a single comment thread.

      I confess, first-off, that my knowledge concerning the Orthodox Church is embarrassingly limited. Part of this might be due to growing up in the Midwest surrounded mostly by Protestants and Catholics (not that this is a good excuse). From what I do know, however, I’m certainly drawn to the “sense of mystery” retained by many Eastern Christians. Incidentally, one of the major problems I have with certain evangelical/Protestant circles is our tendency to act like we know all the answers (rather than acknowledging legitimate areas of doctrinal disagreement – or that certain facts are unknowable in this present life). I do my best to avoid this kind of thinking, but it’s fairly common in the tradition in which I was raised.

      I largely share the disagreements you listed concerning Catholicism (most notably Purgatory and papal supremacy). An additional grievance I have against Catholicism actually arose from a visit to the Vatican in high school (our mutual friend Alex Abbot was actually with me at the time, haha). I was walking through the gift shop next to St. Peter’s Square, and noticed that, for an additional price, the purchased items (beads, crucifixes, etc.) could be blessed by a Vatican priest and delivered to the purchaser’s home or hotel room. I don’t really have a problem with church gift shops, or raising money for the kinds of noble causes supported by the Catholic Church…but the concept of essentially *selling blessings* really just didn’t sit well with me.

      But despite these differences, I want to reiterate that I still have a tremendous amount of respect for the many devout Catholics that I personally know. To paraphrase something I once read: all of us doubtlessly carry around a number of heretical beliefs – I just pray that my own are both minor and few.

      On that note, I’m a little curious about the claim of sola scriptura being a heresy. This doctrine, as I understand it at least, doesn’t really say: ‘look only to this book for your faith’ – nor does it totally deny extra-Biblical sources for guiding Christian living and thinking. Isn’t sola scriptura more of a belief that all other such sources of authority should be *subservient* to what’s found explicitly in Scripture?

      I don’t by any means discount the importance of tradition, church authority, etc. I believe that these should have a very real and very important place in the Church. But I also don’t believe they should be placed on nearly the same level as Scripture.

      God bless!

      Matt

    • I think it needs to be noted that the shops in question in the Vatican were NOT following Church teaching on blessings, even if on Vatican soil. The Catholic Church has thankfully recognized, partly due to Luther’s concerns I think, that there needed to be very strong policies against simony (selling of blessings) and that is absolutely forbidden and has been for many years. If a shop was doing so it was in direct violation of this.

    • In one sense, I guess my response to that incident wasn’t entirely fair (since it does, as you correctly pointed out, violate official Church teaching).

      I think what bothered me at the time – as one of the few strongly religious students on my high school trip – was the fact that this was taking place *at the Vatican*. I recall spending a good part of the initial Vatican tour defending Catholicism in some whispered discussions with a couple of my…less religious…classmates. Then at the end of the tour, when I saw what I did in the gift shop, it just felt like a punch in the gut.

  2. Reblogged this on Missionwriter and commented:
    Bow down to no other gods. Where we lean, the rest of us will follow. Great attack on the solitary giant obsession in our generations.

  3. I read your post and immediatly printed this sentence in the front of my Bible…”In every case, the individual is being asked to submit to God’s authority as an act of faith.” So true.

  4. Pingback: God as a Big Purple Dinosaur « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

  5. this is always a matter of concern for many who reject authority. there is another POV on why this is, i think. many people have had God presented to them as an authoritarian tyrant, having no real concern for us as individuals except as He can make us into what He wants. nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus, saying ‘if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father’, went on to heal the sick, raise the dead, deliver the bound, and wash the feet of His disciples. here in the flesh, the Word made flesh, was the prime servant.

    there are three things i would say to those who reject His authority. first, He is love in all its glory. nothing He does or says is outside of absolute love. second, He is God. that by itself is enough reason to obey Him. third, He always keeps His word, always.

    the bottom line is i believe that too many people just dont take the time to get to know Him. its so much easier to trust someone you know. and obedience takes trust.
    k☼

  6. Matt, It’s a good thing to wrestle with doctrine and theological issues and I appreciate you putting your thoughts out there. I commend you for your gracious response to the first comment. In most of the non-catholic theological blogosphere, that comment would have been treated like a giant stink bomb and the thread quickly devolve, especially without any attempt at a proper exegesis of their position.
    Keep up the good work!
    Chris

  7. This brings one question to my mind, which is – how willing should we be to point out what we think is sin in non-Christians? I’m thinking especially about when we get into arguments about faith. I do think that many people reject God because they have an authority problem, or out of pride, or for some other “reason” that has very little to do with reason. But I almost never suggest that – I limit myself to intellectual arguments instead. Is that proper? Or should I point out sin? And what if I’m wrong?

  8. Yet if we take the Bible seriously, we see that this kind of obedience really is a virtue. I would even go so far as to say that humble obedience to God is the most basic and fundamental form of good. After all, it’s the exact opposite of pride – arguably the most basic and fundamental form of evil.

    A hearty amen! Awesome post. 🙂

  9. Matt another one out of the park as they say…one of the biggest issues I had in returning to the Church was the question of authority. So what you share definitely resonates to me. To follow up with Chris Moore, I do personally believe that authority begins with the Church, which actually gave us the Sacred Scriptures which we all agree are the Word of God. But it took a world-wide (catholic) Bishop’s Council to determine which books they were. So I think there is a very real place for Sacred (not every tradition is sacred however) Tradition along with the written Word. It took “Tradition” to even give us the New Testament.

    But knowing you the small time I have, I know you are not one to rebel against the Church of Christ. And I agree with you that Luther and Calvin and others had some very valid points against some terribly corrupted practices within Rome, especially at that time in history. But a wise Cathoic apologist I know, Tim Staples, like me a former Assemblies of God minister, once said “don’t reject Peter because of Judas.” I like that, and think it is worth some time meditating on.

    There have always been those who led, or attempted to lead, the Church astray, and some have been in very high places and done much damage sadly. We cannot and should not defend them. But the real question is whether that means the institution is wrong, or simply some high-powered individuals within it. Worth pondering.

    The bottom line and the biggest issue however is not rebelling against Christ in our hearts and souls, which is what your post is about, and I know you love Him and would never do so. Obviously on that central point you, Chris, and I agree. We are family. Truly.

    And I am so grateful to have you as my brother in Christ Jesus our Lord. You have ministered to me more than once. Again, wonderful article.

    • And I would go one step further and emphasize that I do not believe everyone who is not Roman Catholic is somehow “less Christian.” I also would say not all who are Democrats, pro-choice, or other issues I may view differently are less holy in the eyes of God than me. Period. I have views, but I believe in discussing them and then moving on, not demonizing those who disagree with me. Just today someone on my FB page deleted and blocked me for not fully taking his part and for choosing to end a discussion when he was ripping on a personal friend of mine. How that is ‘Christian” is beyond my brain. To him it was and is.

      All to say, Matt, I think we are all learning together. And that is how it should be. God bless you and yours this Lord’s Day.

  10. Pingback: open to authority (figures of speech) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  11. This just seems to be a matter of spin. Where one sees the vice of pridefulness, another sees the virtue of tough-minded skepticism. Where one sees the virtue of obedience to God (who so obviously exists), another sees a shameful surfeit of baseless credulity.

    But why should we attribute moral failure to those who disagree with us in the first place?

    • The objective, as I see it, isn’t to attribute moral failure *as we define it*…but to accurately convey the moral implications of pride/obedience *as found in Scripture*.

  12. Both WinteryKnight and yourself attribute (so it seems) atheism to a general problem with authority, which itself stems from the fundamental evil of pride. But a person must have an implicit belief that an authoritative person exists in order to be guilty of pridefully rejecting that authority. By definition, this person could not be an atheist if that authority were God. For myself, attributing (the worst) moral failure to my opponents as well as a deep insincerity violates the principle of charity.

    But then, there’s no reason to attach credence to your appraisal or Winteryknight’s appraisal of the moral status of atheists, when they in turn regard what you identify as a vice as a virtue, and vice versa. But perhaps your article was only meant to “preach to the choir.”

  13. I enjoyed perusing your posts this morning…

    I can’t recall the book title now, but it was a review of the family and social backgrounds of some of history’s leading athiests. Almost without exception there was a problem involving conflict with a father figure. (Certainly not all athiests fit this category.)

    The most rebellious men that I’ve personally known either didn’t know their dads or hated them.

    My father was the most godly man I’ve ever know. I’ve lived almost a half-century. I’ve never had a boss that I had serious trouble with. I’ve never had a problem with a policeman. I’ve never had to break fellowship with a pastor or other church leader.

    My point is not that I’m something special. My point is that rejecting authority is often the product of the abuse of authority at an earlier point in one’s life.

    As a pastor I’ve had to patiently wait on folks to overcome their jaded views of authority, as they slowly begin to trust pure, Christlike authority in our church. When a parishioner shares how they were abused by a priest or deacon when they were young, I wonder how some folks ever overcome such abuse of authority.

    My wife frequently has to remind me that the people I’m talking to week in and week out did not have the father and bosses that I’ve had. Authority has always been a positive concept for me. I am so blessed by God. I feel sorry for those who have not experienced true, Christlike authority. I pray that they come to know the Father and His pure, selfless love.

  14. Good stuff!

    I am going to share this on my facebook page – I wrote a chapter simaler to this in my unpublished book Even If . . . entitled “The God Makers – making God in our own Image.

  15. Sorry for the delay in responding Matt. Thank you for your kind and courteous reply. It is great that we have the three main branches represented on here! No worries about not knowing much about Orthodoxy! I believe God comes to us in His own way, teaching us about Him in many different Christian groups—and from my own experiences, I see the grace of God at work in every Christian community I’ve met!

    If you want to learn more about Orthodoxy, I would recommend going to http://www.ancientfaith.com or http://oca.org/orthodoxy. These sites offer comprehensive articles, book excerpts and recommendations, podcasts, summaries and overviews of Orthodox beliefs and history. You are also always welcome to attend the Divine Liturgy (Sunday worship service) at a local Orthodox church. I would also highly recommend borrowing or buying “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware, a brilliant Oxford lecturer, bishop and an English convert from Anglicanism, or Peter Gillquist’s “Becoming Orthodox”. He is a former American evangelical leader who is now an Orthodox priest and speaker.

    No one can be faulted for growing up in an area where they are unexposed to many different religious groups! I had to research a lot to learn more about evangelical and non-denominational Christian groups since these do not really exist in my primarily Catholic and mainline Protestant hometown on Long Island, NY. I have visited two or three evangelical churches and the people I met there were all very kind, warm and friendly. Their hospitality made me feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting very different from the Mass or Divine Liturgy. I also admire many evangelicals I have met for their deep faith and prayerful relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Thanks for sharing your experience visiting the Vatican in high school. Isn’t it a beautiful place? I can understand a Catholic wanting to take home a religious item from the Vatican, since it is third in holiness to Catholics after Jerusalem and Bethlehem as it marks the spot of the martyrdoms of Apostles Sts Peter and Paul. But the ‘charge’ for a blessing you remembered doesn’t sit well with me either. I went on a high school student trip to Europe in 2005, and the Vatican was our first stop off the plane. I was pretty badly jet-lagged but I remember feeling uncomfortable as I realized that the selling of indulgences heavily financed the century-long renovation of St Peter’s Basilica. Selling blessings or obtaining forgiveness of sins by ritual works (ex: adoring the Eucharist, performing the Stations of the Cross) seems wrong and clearly against Scripture to me.

    The idea of a priest blessing a crucifix or rosary and then having it mailed to your house also reflects something of the nature of the Church kind of institutional or depersonalized approach to giving out various holy items or in the very core sacraments of the faith. For instance, when I went to the National Basilica in Washington, D.C. for Mass, afterward my friends and I would look through the large gift shop, where you could choose from a vast array of religious items which had not actually been blessed. When Orthodox Christians receive the Eucharist, the priest or deacon calls us by our baptismal name as we step forward, whereas in Catholicism the communicant is simply impersonally handed the host and offered the chalice without his or her name mentioned. Catholic parishes tend to be larger, and this is part of why communion is a less personal thing. In Orthodoxy the priest also spoons the Eucharist directly into our mouth (all Catholics used to receive the sacrament orally). In Orthodoxy, we venerate (but do not worship) icons, and this practice dates to the very first Christians and was confirmed at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 and defended by the Roman popes as well. We would never pay for a priest to bless an icon– the priest or bishop would naturally want to bless it at our request!

    My immediate family and most of my relatives remain Catholic, and they are wonderful people whom I love very much—I usually don’t bring up religion just because I don’t want to offend anyone or be seen as “pushing my beliefs” on them as an “over-enthusiastic convert”. I’ve had friendly discussions with my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who remain devout Catholics, and my cousins, most of whom have become agnostic or “lapsed Catholics”. We all love and respect each other. My parents have been really supportive and respectful of my decision (my dad is a lapsed Catholic, but my mom still attends Mass). Apart from these personal connections, I too really respect the Catholic Church for its crucial charity work around the world.

    With as much respect as I can convey here, even if we take your view of sola scriptura Matt (that other sources of Christian inspiration and authority are not excluded, but should be subservient to what is found explicitly in the Scriptures) this is still an innovation, and a slippery slope. Sola scriptura is entirely absent from the text of the Scriptures themselves. It is also absent from any historical record or account in the ancient Church or the medieval Church. For 1,500 years there is no record of any Christians believing that we should look primarily to what is explicitly contained in the Scriptures for our salvation or inspiration, or that the Holy Tradition of the Church must subordinate itself to the Scriptures. This is because the Church was understood not simply as a group of people who profess themselves believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. It was this, but the Church was also a corporate being, a living Body to which one had to join oneself and be communion with the bishops chosen to lead it.

    Rather than keep their attacks to the institution of the papacy and its many innovations and corruptions, the first Protestants ended up rejecting the Catholic (and Orthodox) view of Holy Tradition, recognizing that it conflicted with their new theology of ‘sola scriptura’ which gave an unprecedented primacy to interpretation of the Scriptures over the guidance and wisdom of Holy Tradition’s interpretations of these Scriptures. Thus, they sowed the seed for their almost immediate fragmentation into different confessions (eventually, denominations) which had different interpretations of these Scriptures.

    What power other than his own conscience or his own subjective interpretations moved Martin Luther to proclaim that everything taught and held by Christians must be in accordance with Scripture? More importantly, to whose interpretation of Scripture were Protestants to hold or look to for authority, since they separated themselves from what had been the one Church in the West? For Luther, the answer was clear: to him! Within a generation of Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to Wittenberg Cathedral (many of which were absolutely valid criticisms of papal abuses), Protestantism had already divided into Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Calvinist confessions often at war with each other. Today there are over 28,000 Protestant groups and denominations.

    Who put together the Scriptures of the New Testament? The Universal, Catholic (meaning ‘whole’, from the Greek ‘katholikon’) Church. When the Church put together the canon of the New Testament, its leading bishops and and theologians had to look through hundreds of existing books and gospels, including many Gnostic texts. Many of these were ultimately dismissed and kept out as heretical, with the Church deciding that they did *not* belong in the Christian Scriptures. This same wisdom of the Church, its living, inner Tradition, of which the Scriptures are a crucial and vital part as the written Word of God, was always recognized as supreme over the Scriptures. How can the Scriptures possibly be seen as supreme over Church Tradition, when the Church itself put the Scriptures together? This makes no sense!

    “I believe that these should have a very real and very important place in the Church. But I also don’t believe they should be placed on nearly the same level as Scripture.” Matt, I would ask you: why do you believe this? This is ultimately an opinion you share with many evangelical and Protestant Christians, but ask yourself: what is the historical root or basis for belief in ‘sola scriptura’? The root only goes back five hundred years. Relative to us, this seems a long time, yes, but ask yourself: for the 1500 years of Christianity before Martin Luther, did anyone believe that everything had to be measured against what was explicitly found in Scripture? There is no proof of this, in any writing we have or any artwork. For the first 200-250 years of the early Church, the Bible as it exists today did not even exist!

    With respect, most Protestants do not actually use the full canon of the Bible, as Luther omitted the apocryphal books largely because he saw them—again, this is one man’s subjective decision or viewpoint—as incompatible with his theology. What greater contradiction can there be than the man who first preached and wrote “Sola Scriptura” actually taking certain books *out* of the original canon of the Bible because he disapproved of them? This is ultimately why sola scriptura is such a contradiction. I respect your Christian faith deeply, and you seem like very kind man. I would just urge you to think on these things.

    Warmly in Christ,
    -Ryan

    • I also apologize for the delayed response! Like I mentioned on Facebook, I spent the weekend backpacking with my wife…then over the last few days I’ve been busy starting a summer research rotation.

      But enough excuses. 🙂 There are just a couple things I want to respond to:

      “I believe God comes to us in His own way, teaching us about Him in many different Christian groups—and from my own experiences, I see the grace of God at work in every Christian community I’ve met!”

      I just wanted to affirm my agreement here. 🙂

      “Rather than keep their attacks to the institution of the papacy and its many innovations and corruptions, the first Protestants ended up rejecting the Catholic (and Orthodox) view of Holy Tradition, recognizing that it conflicted with their new theology of ‘sola scriptura’ which gave an unprecedented primacy to interpretation of the Scriptures over the guidance and wisdom of Holy Tradition’s interpretations of these Scriptures…ask yourself: what is the historical root or basis for belief in ‘sola scriptura’? The root only goes back five hundred years.”

      I can’t speak for all Protestants (being nondenominational myself, I have some pretty significant disagreements with several of the “mainline” denominations…you might say I’ve turned protestant against the Protestants, hehe). Based on what I know, however, it seems that the doctrine of ‘sola scriptura’ was in many ways a reaction against abuses by the Catholic Church at that time. It acknowledged the sinful nature of man (even supposedly infallible Church leaders, who pass on tradition), and sought to establish a permanent benchmark by which such traditions can be measured against.

      The doctrine is relatively new (admittedly) and it isn’t found *explicitly* in Scripture (which can be said for a number of other beliefs we both share, incidentally), but I do believe it to be *consistent* with what is found in Scripture. I believe that a teaching can be inferred from what’s found in Scripture without *necessarily* being heretical (the word “trinity” never appears explicitly, for example). Of course, we obviously need to be painfully careful about such things.

      The primary claim of ‘sola scriptura’ – as I understand it – is that “the Bible alone contains all knowledge necessary for salvation”. To me, this statement seems perfectly sensible and consistent with what I’ve read in Scripture. If a lost tribe on some island in the South Pacific were to stumble upon a Bible in their native language, I’m convinced that this alone would be sufficient for them to become genuinely and recognizably Christian…and as an aside, I’m not really convinced that God couldn’t reach them in a less direct way, as well.

      On a more personal note, one of the aspects of my own faith background that I find immensely appealing is the “down-to-earth frankness” – both during worship services and among the community in general. This is by no means a *theological* difference that I have with Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant churches…but it is a *cultural* difference that carries a good deal of weight for me. Although I don’t think there’s really anything necessarily WRONG with it, I’m sometimes put off by the ritualistic, ceremonial aspects of other Christian traditions (the beads, icons, saints, fancy-looking robes and cathedrals, etc.). Where I was raised, I always felt closest to God sitting around a bonfire with an old Bible and a couple of guitars – in the middle of the woods – singing cliched worship songs late into the night. At the same time, of course, I recognize that those from more ceremonial faith backgrounds might regard my own church as somewhat “crass”, seeing our pastor deliver the sermon in jeans and a t-shirt. Like I said…it’s more of a cultural difference, haha.

    • I also forgot to mention – thanks for the Arctic Cross trailer you sent my way! I’ve only spent a small amount of time in Alaska, but I’d love to move there some day.

      I’m very much an advocate of the style of mission-work you described – as opposed to the “slash and burn”, “convert or die” approach that’s tragically been practiced in some cases.

  16. Well the last thing I would do is attempt to take this beautiful post and turn it into an argument between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy…but I would point out that there are certainly more sides than what Ryan has presented so eloquently, while hastening to say that I also agree with Ryan on many points too.

    A friend of mine, Devin Rose, who is a convert from athiesm to Baptist and then to Roman Catholic, has a blog as well as a tremendous little book by the name of “If Protestantism is True.” A few months ago he had a series on the Eastern Orthodox positions which differ from Rome. In reality they are very, very close but the few differences which do exist are significant and I am adding a link here to one of his posts, the original one, which led to much (occasionally heated but mostly very positive) discussion and several further posts as well. They are all linked to the original one so that would likely be a great place to start.

    http://www.devinrose.heroicvirtuecreations.com/blog/2011/10/17/the-six-attractions-of-eastern-orthodoxy/

    Ryan the one thing I might challenge you is to consider Eastern Catholicism…it is the “best of both worlds” so to speak. The Byzantine Liturgy is virtually identical to yours and yet they are united with Rome too. We live in a day and age where one does not need to choose between the two “lungs” of the Church as Blessed John Paul II spoke of. Just something to think about.

    God bless you Matt and Ryan…and to all who may be searching for home beyond evangelical boundaries, as well as those who remain evangelical but have chosen to think outside of their own circles of the Faith. I think the beauty some of us are FINALLY discovering, and some of us later in life, is that there is truly so much we can share one with another instead of battling constantly as to “who is right.” Not to say we cannot share views that differ, not at all, but the unity we have is stronger than the differences we acknowledge as well. And that unity will prevail.

    • “Not to say we cannot share views that differ, not at all, but the unity we have is stronger than the differences we acknowledge as well. And that unity will prevail.”

      Well said!

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