For our Sunday night discussion groups this year at Faith PRC we are studying the various major religions of the world, starting with those that fly under the Christian banner. That includes the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, which we will be discussing tonight.
As a guide, we are using Fritz Ridenour’s book So What’s the Difference (Bethany House, 2001). A fundamental difference between classic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodoxy is the doctrine of Scripture’s authority in relation to the church.
This is in part how Ridenour breaks down that difference, particularly as it relates to the Orthodox understanding:
Protestants put the Scripture above everything else as the supreme authority over the Church. The Orthodox put the Church over Scripture, saying that Scripture is only part of a larger tradition that makes for a complete organic whole – the ‘fullness of the Christian faith.’ In this regard, they agree with the Roman Catholics, but not completely.
The Orthodox have no objective,clear and formally definable criteria of truth, such as papal authority (Roman Catholics) [which she rejects] or sola scriptura (Protestants). Instead, the Orthodox speak of an ‘internal norm’ for determining authority – the Spirit of God living within the Church. A record of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church can be found in Christian Tradition, the Nicea/Constantinople Creed, the Decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Fathers, the canons of the Church, the service books (liturgy) and holy icons.
…A standard Orthodox view is that the Bible gets its authority from the Church, not vice versa. According to Orthodox theologians, the Church existed and flourished before any of the New Testament books were ever written. The Orthodox stress that the Church originally decided which books would be in Holy Scripture; therefore, only the Church can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.
The Protestant view of the Bible is much different. The Bible does not get its authority from the Church; in fact, as John Calvin put it, the Word of God gave birth to the Church. The Bible gets its authority from being the inspired (‘God-breathed’) writings of men who were led by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Tim.3:16; 2 Pet.1:20,21). The Church did not ‘decide’ which books would be in Holy Scripture; the Church took approximately 200 years to recognize which writings had ‘divine authority’ and belonged in the canon of Scripture (pp.55-56).