Well, much has happened since the first part of this series. I had intended to write more quickly, but found that my thoughts were scattered and that this, among other things, was rather distressing. One of the things that I must grasp to be able if there is a possibility of understanding Orthodoxy is their claim that scripture does not stand alone, and scripture was and always has been together with verbal teaching. I was taught that scripture stands on its own, is able to be understood and interpreted by individuals, and that nothing else is needed for instruction in the faith and in Christian living. That this is different from my personal experience never occurred to me. Also, it made it seem that scripture is written by men, while I have always understood that men wrote scripture as they were inspired (or breathed) directly from the mind of God. How, I was asked, do you think the early church had any notion of how to behave, how to have a service, how to live, since scripture had not been written (after what we term the “Old Testament”)? Where did scripture come from, I was asked. Was scripture not the compilation of the history of the church and of letters written to the various churches? Were the apostles teaching prior to the written word? What determined that these letters and these gospels are inspired scripture among the many that were written?
The question is answered as it has always been. The church determined which letters and books were scripture and were inspired. I had never thought much about that, but in this context it really threw me. If men determined which books were scripture, is all of faith merely something determined by man? Was my faith merely a made up thing, a construct of man? I struggled with this, although my experience with God was never in doubt. How could I know in my innermost being that God is real, having spoken to him and heard from him, having seen the unexplained and having had his healing touch on me, and yet be wondering about scripture and the church? Unless you have been a person of faith, you may not understand the shaking that went on inside of me, the feeling of living in an earthquake.
I was at the time enchanted by some wonderful science documentaries, reading some books on physics and scientific history and preparing for some additional science classes in college, and enjoying the studies greatly. The math of it, even though I don’t understand it all, seemed so beautiful, so magnificent and so clearly designed by a Creator. As I heard once again the scientific theory of the Big Bang and the explanation of it by a famous physicist, it struck me how this sounded like the creation story–from nothing something, from no time to time, from a formless earth, to seas forming, and on and on, until it seemed to make poetry of the Genesis story of creation, just as the Orthodox understanding of the creation story had been explained to me.
Additionally, I have some health challenges, one of which seems to bring out the inner snake oil salesman in every crowd, every nutritionist, every wacky theory and so many differing opinions from health people that it is confusing, so I tend to take the things presented to me and look for the scientific tests behind it, the facts, the proofs.
One day as I was thinking through the problem of scripture being inspired or man made, it occurred to me that there was no difference in this and scientific theory. How do we know that the earth is round? People used to believe it was flat! They used to believe that earth was the center of the universe. How do we know differently? We observed. We studied. Theories were written, equations formulated, tested and put up for peer-review. While the initial review of a round earth theory was ridiculed and rejected, continued review proved it to be true. The science didn’t make it true, what was true was simply observed and then the observation was reviewed by others and the consensus was that, yes, the earth is round. Other scientific theories are presented the same way. Einstein didn’t make the universe behave in a way it hadn’t previously, he simply observed and developed a way to explain and quantify what was already there. The math was there, waiting to be discovered.
In the same way, God and his ways are not created by man, but observed, explained, and witnessed by man. The truth of those observations, explanations, witness testimony and understandings are then put to the test by others. Others who have made it their life to observe, explain, witness and understand God and his ways, and the ways of Christ and his Church, then discuss those things and come to a consensus.
The difference between what I feared was being said about scripture and what was being said is this: Scripture was written by men, inspired by God, and the understanding and approval of this as Scripture and truthful teaching has been tested and approved by the Church and her leaders, by those who witnessed and told of those events and truths, it is not simply made up by men. It is peer-reviewed, as it were.
With that struggle out of the way, I need to examine what the church teaches and what I believe, what those contrasts are and determine–is this the true New Testament Church? Are they what they claim to be?