Perhaps one of the greatest attractions to the Eastern Orthodox tradition or the Roman Catholic Church is the claim to an authoritative interpretive tradition that cuts through all the different interpretations of the Bible.
For example, a Roman Catholic acquaintance posted this from G.K. Chesterton yesterday:
“The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally. The Catholic refers it to something that can say something, to the living, consistent, and continuous mind of which I have spoken; the highest mind of man guided by God.” – G.K. Chesterton, Why I Am A Catholic
There is of course a grain of truth in the accusation brought against Protestants. And that grain is what makes the counterclaims of an authoritative tradition appear appealing on first glance. And given this surface attraction, it’s hardly surprising that this would appear even a bit more shiny in our current cultural tar pit. A friend tells me that while visiting an Orthodox church on the weekend following the Obergefell decision, the homily was on the dangers of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In other words, when you don’t submit to the authoritative tradition of the Orthodox (or Roman) tradition, you open pandora’s box to all manner of heretical interpretations, including gay mirage. In other words, the moral of the sermon was: See? This is all Protestantism’s fault.
So how do we respond to the accusation that Protestantism has led to sodomites being granted marriage licenses?
There will be more to say on this as we go along. But let’s begin by noting that appearances are deceiving. In both directions. While Protestant dirty laundry may be easier to spot, a little more flagrant (and fragrant), it’s simply not true that a single authoritative tradition solves the interpretive problems.
For my first exhibit, I give you “Orthodox and Gay” which is a website with two guiding principles: “One: The Orthodox Church is the Bride of Christ. Two: Being gay is a gift of God, the Creator. Therefore expressing that gift in a healthy and mature relationship is also blessed by God.”
Second, we have “Inclusive Orthodoxy,” an organization that “seeks a revitalization of the faith, which is both orthodox in theology and grounded in the radical message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—a message of love, a proclamation of hope for the oppressed, an invitation towards all regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
I draw your attention in particular to the page of endorsements which includes this little gem: “I want to applaud your efforts for InclusiveOrthodoxy.org. Although your approach is not to underscore a progressive Eastern Church, it is orthodoxy and Orthodox to underscore that Christ emphasized that we love God and one another as he loves us — unconditionally and without judgment. — Bishop Paul Peter Jesep, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church“
Third, we have Axios which is “an organization of Eastern & Near Eastern Orthodox, and Byzantine & Eastern-rite Catholic Gay & Lesbian lay Christians.” If you refer to the Links page on the Inclusive Orthodoxy site, you’ll notice that Axios has chapters all over the world with several in major cities in the US, Russia, Canada, and Australia.
The Links page at Inclusive Orthodoxy also includes a link to male-to-female transgenders who are committed to the Orthodox faith.
And if all that weren’t enough, you can go here to learn about a male model calendar where “gay Orthodox priests strip” in order to raise money to support “marriage equality.” The article seems less sure exactly who is doing the stripping, but the Huffington Post (cave lector) cites an unnamed priest who at least acknowledges that Eastern European priests are leading this effort — maybe our friend Bishop Paul Peter Jesep knows something about this?
Fifth, there is also the Gay Christian Network that has an online Eastern Orthodox community.
Sixth, a quick search on Facebook produces several LGBT Orthodox groups.
Ok, so why go to all the trouble of pointing this out? Not, to be absolutely clear, to heap up scorn on the body of Christ. The simple point is that Tradition has not kept Orthodoxy unspotted from the world. It is not a magic superglue that keeps everything intact or an incantation that keeps all the other interpretations from creeping in. In fact, what you find on several other Orthodox sites are arguments for the Biblical case for monagamous heterosexual marriage and the image of God found in male and female. But the fact of the matter is that we are driven in two unmistakeable directions. Either we have merely created a new focus of interpretive debate, ie. instead of arguing about what Scripture means, “traditionalists” argue about what the Tradition means. Or, we are driven back to Scripture itself, but then let’s admit it — we’re all Protestants now.
The bottom line and what Sola Scriptura actually teaches is not whether the Church and the Christian tradition play a role in interpreting Scripture — no thoughtful, historically conscious Protestant denies that — the Fifth Commandment applies to the Church no less than families. The fundamental question is: where has God promised to speak most clearly? Where has God promised to speak perfectly? Where has God spoken with no mistakes, no missteps, no stuttering? God has and does speak through the Church, through councils, through the creeds, through pastors and presbyteries, through the people studying and praying and living faithful lives, but these voices in the Christian tradition can and do err. But God’s Word in Scripture cannot be broken. The Bible is God’s sure word, His constant Word that does not change, does not vary, does not stumble. And because it is God’s Word it is not unapproachable, not indecipherable, inscrutable. Because it is God’s Word, He has spoken to us, He has spoken for us, so that we might know Him and hear Him and trust Him and obey Him.
“These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn. 20:31)
“For all flesh is grass, all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” (1 Pet. 1:24-25)
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:16)
Yes, we may indeed wrestle with what various passages mean, but it’s far safer to wrestle over God’s Word than to throw ourselves onto the mercy of human interpretations. It’s a far better place to be sparing over what God said than to be wandering around in the jungles of human speculation.
We may stumble at various points, but God always speaks clearly. His Word is Truth, but Tradition has often spoken with a lisp.