In this essay I would like to address three critiques offered in response to my recent series on justification. The first critique is from Mark. I opined that no one (both in the responses on the web site as well as in face-to-face conversations) was addressing the exegetical issues of Gal. 2. Mark pointed out that while I referred to them, I didn’t focus on exegesis but rather relied on N.T. Wright’s exegesis without telling my readers what he said in detail. It was therefore natural to talk about the ecclesiological and historical issues. Trying to address the exegetical issues would have required a great deal of background study.
I stand corrected on this point. Mea culpa. While I am primarily interested in the exegesis, it is only natural that this set of essays would generate response about ecclesiology.
The second critique comes from a recent phone conversation about the essays. My friend (formerly Protestant but now Orthodox) took strong exception to my characterization of Orthodox liturgical life being too Byzantine in its social structure. Specifically, I said the following:
“In the end, the conversion to Orthodoxy is as much conversion to ancient Byzantium as it is to Christ. Converts are required to take up the yoke of Byzantium – leaders and their courtiers, who dress up and act like Oriental despots, making divine liturgy look and feel like an Oriental throne room, complete with ancient Oriental sensibilities and actions, etc. And if one doesn’t put on this yoke of ancient Oriental serfdom, then one isn’t going to become a Christian in the fullest sense of the word.”
My friend’s response is that this “Byzantine” model is far friendlier to scripture than anything familiar to contemporary Western culture. St. Paul said we were slaves of Christ. My friend contended that until we were pedagogically taught to be bond-slaves (Paul’s frame) or Byzantine serfs (my take on the Orthodox frame) we could never possibly understand the meaning of freedom in Christ.
Upon further reflection, he’s correct. But I would add this caveat: The Orthodox Church demands a very specific cultural embodiment of this principle. I suspect that Orthodoxy in general is far more aware of the cultural embodiment than they are the underlying theological significance. That probably strikes many people as far too cynical, but that’s how it appears, although my only specific evidence on this point is admittedly weak. I appeal to the attitude toward the Western Rite, which I talked about in the sixth essay.
And this discussion leads to the third critique made by David. I compared contemporary Orthodoxy to Second Temple Judaism in its latter stages. My contention is that both have used the Mosaic Law (Judaism) and the Tradition (Orthodoxy) as a wall to protect itself from an outside world that is generally considered (for good reason) malevolent. While this is understandable, it creates a dynamic in which outsiders have to jump through many extraneous doors to get through the wall. The result is that rather than coming to God through faith, one is required to come to God by “the works of the Law” or “the works of the Tradition” (to update St. Paul’s phrase).
David disagrees. He says,
“The Orthodox Church has many major issues of it’s own to resolve. It’s true that these issues occupy much of the attention of the Church outside the parish clergy and their lay charges. … While I admit to all those things, they aren’t walls against the outside world, but demands for time, attention and institutional necessity.”
I’m pretty sure David’s contention is the majority opinion within the Orthodox Church and again my opinion might be viewed as cynical. But it simply makes no sense to me that the systemic problems are that easily dismissed. Even though I realize I am taking a minority position, on this point he and I will simply have to disagree.
I have come to my conclusion based on the Orthodox Church’s outlook on the world. It is primarily concerned about Orthodoxy and only secondarily concerned about the world. This basic attitude was also true of some of the Presbyterian churches I served as a pastor. Everything they did had a what-will-this-do-for-our-survival calculation involved. Inviting new members was not primarily about the Gospel mandate, but rather about bolstering the precarious financial position of the parish, for instance.
But while that is true of many local churches, my sense of the PC(USA) as a denomination is quite different in my experience. Their mission and service outreach is not aimed at improving the PC(USA), it’s about serving the world. The focus is specifically about serving the other person for the sake of Christ, without little regard for what the PC(USA) gets in return.
Orthodox mission and service appears to have a rather different mindset. I will use the International Orthodox Christian Charities as an example. Three or so years ago when there were devastating fires in California, IOCC had no response. When there were devastating fires in Australia, with many lives lost, IOCC had no response. When there were devastating fires in Portugal that not only killed people but destroyed several significant religious shrines, IOCC had no response. But when there were fires in Greece, IOCC sent out pleas for cash and emergency response teams to address this terrible tragedy. Could it be that the IOCC’s unspoken mission is to serve the Orthodox with little energy given to places where Orthodoxy is not strong?
A similar dynamic seems to exist in the relationship between the Patriarchates and the new world churches. North American Orthodoxy is in a shambles because of this dynamic. Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) has been quite vocal in his opinion that the primarily problem is the old world Patriarchs who want to maintain control of the American churches. The general opinion is that it is money driving this attitude – without control over the North American churches, the Patriarchates would lose much of the money that flows back to the Middle East, Russia, and Greece. No matter what the specific reason, it is clear that the Patriarchates are in a defensive position, making decisions based on how they are going to survive financially, not based on what the church needs.
These two items illustrate the attitudes that result in the walls that have been erected around the Orthodox Church. Because of this inward rather than Godward focus, conversion is not so much to God as it is to the thing that the church is focused on: its institutional self. The result is a requirement to do “the works of the Tradition” (to paraphrase St. Paul) in addition to faith, which St. Paul says nullifies the faith.
In summary, David, my friend who chooses to stay anonymous, and Mark have all provided excellent and needed critiques of the previous series of essays. Some of the criticisms I agree with, some I do not. But it needs to be clear that in the places where I disagree, I am taking a minority view on the subject.
Finally, back to the exegetical question. None of this addresses the question of what St. Paul was talking about in Galatians 2. I agree with N.T. Wright (and contra the vast majority of Protestants) that when Paul speaks of “justification by faith rather than the works of the law” in this passage, he is not talking about salvation, but rather the question of how people on whom the Spirit has been poured out relate to one another. In the third comment down of the first essay I mention what I think is the critical exegetical issue: Wright assumes the Eucharist is the background story of Galatians 2.
I suspect it is not the Eucharist but the Agape Meal that was eaten in conjunction with the Eucharist. (It is my understanding the 1 Corinthians 11 also deals with the Agape Meal.) I also believe the evidence would indicate that the Agape and Eucharist are so closely related that a problem with one spills over into a problem with the other. Therefore I believe that Wright’s assumption about the context of Gal. 2, while slightly off base, remains valid. But I am aware that this is a contentious point among Protestant (and particularly Lutheran) scholars. It is something on which, as far as I can tell, the Orthodox exegetical tradition is completely silent.
If the Lutherans are correct, and Wright is incorrect, then all of this discussion about ecclesiology and polity is for not. But if Wright is correct, I hope the clarifications of this essay have been helpful.