This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Restorationism vs. Cessationism

i've decided to post some edited versions of email conversations i've been having with people leading to my decision to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.  i've edited these in order to leave out the names of everyone else involved other than me.  Here's one i wrote trying to formulate a deep tension i detected in my own theology as a CoC-er:

What is the major tension/criticism? Right now, i'm going to express it as a tension, but 
i think the 'criticism' part actually goes well beyond merely expressing a tension.  So 
to oversimplify, so far as i can tell right now, the tension is this:
A consistent adherence to a Restorationist project is in tension with adherence to Sola Scriptura.  

THE RESTORATIONIST PROJECT: i admit that there's debate now (and i believe has always 
been) about in precisely what sense the Restoration Movement ought to be 
"restorative."  Or put another way, what is it that we ought to be restoring?  
Some see it as merely an aim to restore the unity of the early church.  So far as i can 
tell, this is a reductionist project: Let's get rid of all distinctively denominational 
practices and beliefs, and try to just unify around a very minimal but core set of ideas. 
 The other side of the debate would say that the restorationist project is to attempt to 
imitate and reproduce all the distinctive practices and beliefs of the early church.  
There is a lot that could be said, but at this point i'm just taking for granted the 
latter position.  So what 'restorationist project' means as far as i'm concerned is that 
in order to for me to be what the early church was or to have what they had, i need as 
much as is possible to imitate and reproduce what they practiced and believed.

SOLA SCRIPTURA:  It's also not hard to find out that there is also debate about precisely 
what SS means--just glancing at the introduction to the Wikipedia article demonstrates 
that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura).  Keith Mathison came out with a book 
fairly recently (see here: http://www.amazon.com/Shape-Sola-Scriptura-Keith-Mathison/dp/18
85767749/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1325876450&sr=8-6) in which he argues that traditional 
Protestantism holds to Sola Scriptura which leaves some room for tradition so long as it 
is subordinate to Scripture whereas Evangelicals believe in what Mathison coins 
"Solo Scriptura" in which all tradition is repudiated (to put it tritely, it's 
a more "just me, God, and my Bible" version of the doctrine).  i would argue 
that we (The CoC) likely fall into the latter camp.  

But to cut to the chase, let me try to state the meaning i'm assuming: Sola Scriptura is 
the belief that the 39 books of the OT and the 27 books of the NT are the exclusive 
authority for the faith and practice of the church.  Now, i think further assumptions are 
always made by default to those who would agree with my statement of SS even if those 
assumptions are not strictly entailed by it, but i'll leave those alone for now and try 
hard just to stick to this simple definition.

THE TENSION: The early church (that is, at least the church of the first century) could 
not possibly have held SS.  The 27 books of the NT did not all exist until the end of the 
first century.  They did not exist as an 'official' canon and unit until the 4th century. 
They couldn't have even functioned as a practical unit for all the church for at least a 
few decades after the first century if not more.  And the early church clearly had and 
recognized other sources of authority.  

Notice then, if i take SS to be true, it is not because of my commitment to a 
Restorationist project.  Well, then why should i hold to SS?  The typical CoC move here 
(and probably the move of some other denominations too) is to say: Cessationism!   And 
what do we mean by cessationism?  Strictly speaking, the term only refers to the belief 
that the charismata (miraculous gifts of the 1st century) ceased, but i think our version is 
more robust than that.  We don't just take cessationism to mean that the gifts ceased, 
but that God had always intended a transition from the gifts to the completion and 
canonization of a written code--that the way that authority functioned in the early church 
was infantile, temporary, undeveloped, a necessary but inferior structure, and this was 
how God meant for it to be.  

Enter the tension:

Side #1 of the tension:  If we want to adhere consistently to our restorationist project, 
then we won't hold to SS.  Even if we can't restore the charismata, there are still other 
features of the authority scheme of the early church (the oral teachings and traditions 
of the apostles not contained in the 27 books of the NT). Doesn't our commitment to a 
restorationist project commit us to restoring those features in addition to the 
Scriptures?  i don't see why not.

Side #2 of the tension: If we want to adhere consistently to our cessationism (and our 
related commitment to SS), then we won't hold to a restorationist project.  Why?  Because 
if what we say of cessationism is true, then it's not the early church we're trying to 
restore, but it's God's intention/design for the post-apostolic church we're trying to 
produce.  Doesn't our commitment to cessationism (and SS) commit us to conceding major 
(as in non-arbitrary and non-trivial) and unavoidable differences between ourselves and 
the early church?  Why then try to restore other of the early church's features?  Or put 
another way, why think we need to have beliefs/practices similar to that of the early 
church because of a commitment to a restorationist project?  --especially when these 
beliefs/practices already seem to result merely from our commitment to 
cessationism/SS!  This additional reason is superfluous.  (It's not our commitment to a 
restorationist project that gets us weekly Lord's Supper and no-instruments; our brand of 
cessationism and SS by themselves would still give us those conclusions!)

THE WAY I SEE IT: i've never really seen or heard anyone in the COC acknowledge this as a 
tension.  But i do see that we clearly lean toward Side #2 of the tension--that is, it 
seems to me we're far more interested in consistently adhering to cessationism and SS.  
If we do lean toward Side #2, then frankly, shouldn't we expect to have really darn good 
reasons to believe cessationism or SS?  

No comments:

Unique Users