Biblical Spirituality


Gaius:
I see that you posted some of my comments on your site. Well, things have certainly taken a turn for me. After repeated attempts to attend an Orthodox service (at least 5 different times) and ALL of those attempts failing, I figured that someone was trying to tell me something.
The church that was going to open in Colorado was all of a sudden shut down and I'm not sure what happened there, and then the Archbishop of Colorado, Archbishop Gregory was, I guess, demoted because he had a huge disagreement with the Metropolitian. I guess the Metropolitian put someone in charge of Bishop Gregory's territory that believes in ecumenism, in accepting for church membership people that were not even baptized in other religions etc. I know Bishop Gregory is absolutely a faithful man of God but things have gotten so bad that I decided to forget it.
I have gone back to my Reformed Baptist church where the bible is studied and the Word really preached, verse by verse. Anyway, that's why you haven't heard from me.
The website with a slight explanation of what is going on with the local Orthodox church is as follows:
www.russianorthodox-roac.com/Bulletin.html.
I left the Lutheran church because of the decisions made at their recent Synod meeting. They basically caved in to the liberals and got rid of the conservatives and I didn't want to be a part of a dying church.
Also, I did have a lot of problems with some of the "(Church) Fathers" and how they explained the scriptures. I mean some of those verses were so "spiritualized" and so much allegory etc, that you couldn't even recognize the verses. I blame Origen a lot for that. He had a huge influence on the people back in his time and I'm afraid he led a lot of people astray.
I have always enjoyed reading the Early Church Fathers but they certainly were not inspired like the Apostles were. You can see a huge difference in the writings of the Apostles and the Fathers. They were just people dealing with the time they lived in and did the best they could do, but I by no means put them on a par with the Apostles.

I don't know though, maybe after all this stuff blows over and I have more time to re-investigate everything I'll try again with the Orthodox. But I've never had such a problem trying to just go to a church on Sunday. I went six weeks without attending a church, but not for lack of trying.
Anyway, keep up the great work and keep the faith.
Sincerely,
Don in Colorado Springs, CO

Don,
What's going on in Colorado? The problems you're having there with going to church seem unusual. And what's this about an archbishop allowing ecumenism? I've never had to deal with that, thanks to God. But don't worry; God always works things out. Archbishop Gregory will be exonerated probably somehow in some way.

I hope that you keep reading the ancient writings with your Bible studies. My experience with the Church Fathers started as the means of understanding Scripture better. But I already had a preconceived bias that the spirituality of the Church Fathers must be closer to the original spirituality of the Apostles, & therefore more truthful. Is this bias false or not? I can't personally prove it, but I do believe that Christianity was never & should never be relative. There should be a standard of biblical truth somewhere & all the evidence & logical indications point to the Early Christians. Without the Early Christians there is no way of knowing if the Apostolic Faith is Apostolic.

I've already written about this before, but we rely heavily on what the Church Fathers tell us is the Christian Faith because we have no direct, tangible evidence from the Apostles to prove anything they said. Much of what even the Baptist denomination believes about the Gospel come as much from the Church Fathers as it does from what the actual biblical texts themselves state. So there is a lot of preconceived bias from the Church Fathers that every Protestant has inherited, which is not clearly from Scripture. For instance, the gospels tell us to wash each others' feet. The gospels also tell us to take Communion. Why should washing each others' feet be taken figuratively & yet Communion be taken literally? If the teaching of literally washing each others' feet were to have been treated like Communion since Apostolic times, the rest of Scripture would be perceived through the lens of literally washing each others' feet once a week. What I mean by this is that the understanding of all Scripture & Christian spirituality in general would have been affected by this slight difference in thought & practice. In combination with other examples like this, our preconceived notions & unthought-of assumptions about what Scripture teaches, like going to church every week, if originally taught differently, would have made Christianity much different from what we now know it to be. And this has happened many times throughout the centuries. For example, there was a popular Gnostic sect in Early Church times that seemingly proved from Scripture that Jesus was not born divine, that He only became God at His Baptism, which seriously affected one's spirituality & Bible studies. Yet the Church Fathers say that Jesus was born God, yet fully Man, for all His life, thus seriously affecting how we view God & Scripture. Therefore, if we admit it or not, each Protestant trusts what the Church Fathers teach us about what Scripture unclearly says as much as he trusts what Scripture clearly says.

The fact that Christian spirituality & biblical study can be so easily affected is why I struggle (like most Orthodox) with the question of if or not Protestantism is a heresy. In some ways it is Apostolic, yet in other ways it is anti-Apostolic. In some ways it perfectly parallels biblical principles & in some ways it perfectly parallels the old Gnostic heresies. Because Protestantism's faults are unintentional, the Orthodox Church has never declared the various kinds of Protestantism to be heretical, though some individuals have. As I've observed from my own studies, Orthodox spirituality is more closely aligned with the spirituality of the Ancient Jews & Early Christians, so that this spiritual context must have been the spiritual culture of the Apostles & of Scripture. One will come across many inconsistencies if he says otherwise. This means that we should & must interpret Scripture based on that spirituality if we intend to understand it in its original sense.

It took me about 10 years of studying the Bible & the Church Fathers before I caught on to their spirituality. Though I understood what they were talking about in my mind, I didn't apprehend it in my soul until 10 years later! That's how different the spirituality of Protestantism is from that of the Church Fathers. 10 years! But that was only because I had no one to guide me & train me in these studies. I was on my own. So don't feel bad if you see inconsistencies with the Church Fathers; they come from a spiritual context much different from what you & I were raised in.

Your statement that the Church Fathers distorted Scripture by over-analyzing, over-spiritualizing, over-allegorizing it, etc. is a decent complaint. For the average Christian unfamiliar with this ancient spirituality, it should be complained about because Scripture was written to be understood by historical people with tangible problems to deal with. However, the Church Fathers were not writing to average Christians; they were usually writing to Christians whose faith had advanced toward the higher stages of maturity &/or perfection &/or they wanted to record dogmas designed for that audience. This is important to understand because the audience being written to or designed for, unlike in today's spirituality, was a necessary element in theological presentation. In this ancient biblical spiritual context, the stages of immaturity, maturity, & perfection were definite & distinctly different, not just in faith & spirituality but also in doctrine. This is why one can find comments in the Church Fathers about the Apocrypha being used primarily as introductory Scriptures to the rest of Scripture & about babies in Christ never being allowed to be baptized until after 3-5 years. There were successive stages of doctrinal beliefs & teachings which spiritual teachers utilized when taking worthy initiates step by step through the Faith, as far as the initiates' zeal & spiritual strength could take them. I could provide for you countless examples from Scripture, the Ancient Jews, & the Early Christians to show how relevant & universal this practice of separating distinct doctrines for each spiritual stage of the Faith had been, but it would make this e-mail really long! I'll just mingle in some examples below as I continue with this e-mail.

I don't know if you've caught this in your studies or not, but some of the ancient Christian teachings of the monastics were initially contained only within monastic circles, so that the average Christian could never learn them. This was purposely established for the sake of preserving the best quality of Apostolic spirituality & dogma & keeping it from being profaned, no matter how slightly. Anyone who wanted to hear this higher doctrine could simply visit a monastery & begin a little or a lot of training in this more sublime spirituality. Thus in the 1800's, monks were appalled & horrified to find out that the Philokalia & other monastic books designed for the most worthy initiates had been published & given to average Christians. The monks reacted this way not because they saw themselves as a superior spiritual elite, but because they feared that these texts would lose their meaning, thereby becoming profane & worthless, since the average Christian would read them without an apostolical teacher to train them in understanding what the spirituality of these books is saying, thus making the books seem just like any ordinary religious text. And that has taken place because many Christians have now bought these texts in bookstores &, like all the other religious books they've read, they assume that they understand the spirituality & even practice it, when in reality they do not. Your reaction to the Church Fathers over-spiritualizing Scripture is similar to what the monks were worried about, only in your case it is Protestantism that has confused biblical spirituality & profaned (weakened or dummied down) the quality of the Christian Faith, thereby altering its spirituality so much that the Church Fathers' system of biblical spiritualization is no longer understood & it is even criticized.

I don't know if you are aware of this or not, since it is common knowledge for students of Ancient Judaism. But over-allegorizing & over-spiritualizing Scripture were always acceptable forms of biblical analysis, especially for the more spiritually advanced souls. Jewish Tradition states that there are 4 ways to interpret Scripture- literally, by hints, by parables, & esoterically. It was later termed "Pardes", a Hebrew acronym for each of the 4 methods. This Tradition not only over-spiritualized Bible verses, it also manipulated each letter of each word of each Bible verse, called Gematria, which is why we now get books about Bible codes. A vast array of doctrinal meanings were derived from such analyses of Scripture, so that new, & very often quite beneficial & edifying, meanings went far beyond what the Bible verse actually states. St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 actually relates to this one aspect of this Tradition when he talked about his journey to the 3rd Heaven, or Paradise, an experience whose details he had to keep secret. He adds 2 times that he couldn't tell if he bodily ascended or if it were a vision. This trip is precisely what the Jewish Tradition describes as the Merkavah, or Chariot, which was a mystical meditation, leading into a trance, derived from over-spiritualizing Ezekiel 1 for the sake of communing with God in the 3rd Heaven, or Paradise. The Ancient Jews of this devotion were sworn to secrecy & it was unlawful for them to reveal it to anyone but the most worthy disciple. They also often debated if or not they had bodily ascended or if it were a vision, since it was so real that it was difficult to determine.

Because the Apostles were Ancient Jews, it is logical that they too should over-spiritualize Scripture, & they did. For example, Acts 1:20 is the famous proof that St. Peter used to show how Judas fulfilled Scripture. In this speech, he quotes Psalms 69:25 & 109:8 as evidence that Judas Iscariot was to be rejected as an Apostle & that another should replace him. However, these verses in Psalms don't clearly speak about Judas & a replacement for him. In fact, in order to understand the passages in this way, one must take them out of context, change who the speakers are, alter what the verses literally state, & spiritualize them to make them talk about Judas & Matthias. And there are many other examples like this throughout the Bible & Sacred History. But though the Apostles over-spiritualized Old Testament prophecies, this activity was not considered fraudulent or disingenuous or opposed to Scripture in any way. The Ancient Jews made it a devotional practice to take a biblical verse & then over-spiritualize it to indicate a fulfillment of some historical event. I've already spoken above about how the Jews took apart letters & words from Bible verses; & there are stories of personal prophecies being made from this practice, which were then later shown to be fulfilled. The Talmuds, reflecting traditional Ancient Jewish theology, are full of Bible verses over-interpreted for the sake of proving divine doctrines that are not specifically taught in Scripture. In Berachoth 5a, for instance, Exodus 24:12 is interpreted to esoterically teach how each phrase is a description of how God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai the Written Bible & the Oral Bible, though the verse indicates nothing like that. Nevertheless, the interpretation was treated as Holy Spirit inspired because the oral doctrine that God had indeed revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai a Written Bible & an Oral Bible was taught by the Prophets & their disciples to have come from the Holy Spirit.

There is even over-spiritualizing not just in the Bible but also in Apostolic Tradition. The Shepherd of Hermas & the Epistle of Barnabas, along with Paul's letters to the Galatians, Romans, Hebrews, & others, over-spiritualize many Old Testament doctrines, rituals, & symbols for the sake of christianizing them. John's Revelation is overwhelmed with over-spiritualized concepts of the Old & New Testaments, even including a spiritualized version of Mary's flight to Egypt when Jesus was a boy in chapter 12, which in Tradition took three and a half years, as in verse 6. Many of these biblical things in Revelation are written as though they are to be future events, or some fusion of past, present, & future. The Liturgy also is a spiritualized depiction of various Old & New Testament themes, & even the Apostolic disciple, Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Smyrneans, over-spiritualized Communion to be the literal Body & Blood of Jesus Christ. Plus, St. Paul in the Bible over-spiritualized the Cross as though it is a living entity bringing salvation to the world.

All of these samples from Scripture & Sacred History of over-spiritualizing biblical concepts are the cause of the Church Fathers also over-spiritualizing Scripture. But why did they do this? The reason why the Bible, the Ancient Jews, & the Church Fathers over-allegorized Scripture is because Scripture is meant to be taken literally, allegorically, spiritually, & esoterically, but each method of analysis was also recognized as conforming to certain spiritual levels of faith, that is, to certain audiences only. This is what Jesus was partly talking about in Matthew 7:6, when He told the crowd not to give what is holy to unholy people, who He called dogs & pigs. Certain sacred doctrines were expected to be kept only for a certain group of people. Hence, the Liturgy, the Trinity, the mystical concept of the Virgin Mary being our Mother, & other doctrines were in the first centuries of Christianity rarely discussed & written about, thereby making it seem as though these dogmas evolved over the centuries until the Church became legalized & publicly codified these doctrines as something new, though in reality they were always Apostolic teachings that were just too sacred to make public until the Church became dominant in society. This concept of separating certain doctrines into separate audiences is better expressed in Mark 4:10-12 & 33-34, where Jesus told His Disciples that He had to teach the crowds in parables because they were not worthy to hear superior sacred teachings, which He taught His Disciples in private. As a result, Scripture begs for superior lessons to expound on or esoterically interpret what it teaches. Because parables & parable-like teachings dominate all 4 gospels, it can be surmised that these books are for the spiritually young or weak. Paul's epistles also are filled with statements that his readers are babies in Christ, feeding on milk & not meat, etc., so that his epistles are meant for the spiritually young & weak. These observations indicate that Scripture must have higher spiritual teachings hidden in the obvious lessons it contains.

One of the examples of hidden meanings behind Scripture occurs in Matthew 19:3-9, where Jesus debated with some Pharisees about marriage & divorce. Jesus told them that no man should divorce his wife unless she is unfaithful. The Pharisees pointed out that Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1 had taught that men can divorce their wives for various reasons almost at will. Jesus then told them that this Holy Spirit inspired law in Scripture from God through Moses was wrong & that He was correcting it. He added that Moses had purposely written into Scripture this wrongful doctrine because of the hardness of men's hearts. In other words, the Holy Spirit chose the lesser of two evils in order to advance & preserve the Faith, much like God's acceptance of slavery in the Old & New Testaments. This also means that the Prophets were aware of higher truths that sometimes Scripture seemingly opposes, so that they can only be discovered by over-spiritualizing the Bible through interpretations based on the oral Holy Tradition.

This is not something that Jesus made up or is falsely interpreted from the passage; the Ancient Jews actually perceived Scripture in this way & Jesus was simply using this method of biblical analysis. Philo, the famous Jewish biblical commentator of Christ's time, reported in his book On Dreams- Book I, 40 (234-237) that the Prophets on occasion wrote into Scripture certain false spiritual concepts because of the hardness of men's hearts for the sake of hiding higher truths from their spiritually feeble readers, which can only be realized by knowing Holy Tradition. The example he gave was the Old Testament depiction of God looking & acting like a human or animal, having hands, wings, a mouth, holding weapons, acting like an implacable king, getting jealous, etc. According to Philo, therefore, even parts of the Old Testament were written for the spiritually young & weak, which begs for over-spiritualization through Holy Tradition to obtain the truer meanings.

In addition to these facts, St. Clement of Rome, a famous disciple of Peter, wrote in his Homilies, a popular Early Christian religious text, in Homily II: 38-52, that Peter told him how the Prophets mixed in a few human dogmas with divine precepts in the Bible. Peter says that Jesus actually addressed this problem by telling His Disciples, "Be good money-changers." (Many Early Christians quoted this verse & accepted it as authentic). As Clement writes, Peter said that Jesus taught this about reading Scripture because, like a money-changer of those times weeding out counterfeit coins from true ones, people need to weed out inferior ideas from the divine doctrines of the Old Testament, such as accepting Scripture's teaching that God does not change His mind (Numbers 23:19), while rejecting Scripture's other teaching that God does change His mind (Exodus 32:14, Jonah 3:10). In other words, we have to know how to deal with Scripture's alleged contradictions & spiritual difficulties by over-spiritualizing the verses through Holy Tradition's oral assertions about God, despite what the passages actually say.

On top of all these facts about the acceptable method of over-spiritualizing & over-allegorizing Scripture, Hebrews 5:12-6:3 actually commands all Christians to go beyond the obvious teachings of the Gospel & advance toward higher spiritual teachings of the Gospel in order to attain spiritual maturity. St. Paul here actually states that we should leave behind the basic teaching about Christ, which I have demonstrated to be the Scriptures themselves, since major sections of them are written to & for the spiritually immature. Paul infers all this by his stating that we should go beyond the foundation of the Gospel, which also includes repentance, faith, baptisms, the laying-on-of-hands, doctrines about the resurrection & doctrines about eternity. In other words, we are expected to go beyond understanding the literal & basic concepts of Scripture, seek its inner teachings, & over-spiritualize them in order to apply them in a deeper way. This is what the Church Fathers were doing when they over-spiritualized & over-allegorized the Bible. They were writing to a spiritually advanced audience for the sake of putting into practice Hebrews 5-6, as well as continuing the Apostolic Tradition of a superior biblical analysis.

Paul's statement in Hebrews 6:1, that we should go beyond faith toward God, fits in with his statement in Romans 1:16-17 that in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. We are taught in Scripture to understand both the literal & the allegorical teachings of Scripture, going from faith to faith, so that we can leave behind the basic teachings of Christ & advance toward the superior teachings of God imbedded in the Gospel. This does not mean that the higher spirituality & leaving behind the basic teachings of Christ is a way of minimizing or ignoring Scripture. On the contrary, Scripture becomes more important when one is able to apply its parables, its historical events, & its literal dogmas in a more internalized way for current times. Scripture therefore fuses the past, present, & future, much as the Liturgy does, allowing Christ's acts to remain functional for all time.

As I hope you can see, the Church Fathers were not inflicting damage to Scripture & the Gospel by their analyses of the Bible. And, though Origen was popular for over-spiritualizing & over-allegorizing Scripture, he was not the one who influenced the Church Fathers to do this. It was begun by the Prophets in the Holy Spirit, advanced by the Apostles, & brought to fruition by the Ancient Jews & Church Fathers according to the pattern of separating some doctrines into appropriate levels of faith. Moreover, Origen himself was denounced at some major council only a few centuries after him, which has effectively given him a lower status as a teacher of the Faith & even prevented him from being a canonized a saint.

I've written all of this in order to help you perceive & possibly apprehend in your soul the Apostolic spirituality, or at least help you to comprehend how different the spirituality of the Bible actually is from the spirituality that you & I were raised in as Protestants. But there is more. You also wrote to me that the Church Fathers were not inspired like the Apostles were. That is true. Nevertheless, some of the writings of the Church Fathers were regarded by the Early Christians as Holy Spirit inspired. This is something that I'm going to write about in my article on the history of Holy Spirit inspiration (if I can organize my ideas better). Divine inspiration in writing wasn't limited just to the Apostles; even the Church Fathers were given that grace, as well as some extra-biblical texts, when they perfectly reflected the Gospel. However, only the books of the Bible were determined to be canonical, superior, & to be the final authority of the Faith, of course when interpreted according to the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.

All this stuff that I've written to you is vast, & it proves how the ancient spirituality of Scripture differs in serious ways from modern spirituality, or Protestantism. In order for Protestants to be true to themselves and to actually study the Bible in the context from which it came, as they admit they should do, then they have to become Early Christians, not Lutherists. Lutheristic spirituality only deflects some of the Light of Scripture & transforms it through human lenses, much as the Prophets had to write inferior dogmas into the Bible for the sake of the hardness of men's hearts. Yes, the Church Fathers were just "people dealing with the time they lived in & did the best they could do", as you also said in your last e-mail, but so are we Orthodox Christians today just people dealing with the time we live in & doing the best we can do by emphasizing the Church Fathers & struggling to help people to get out of the modern spirituality & return to the original biblical spirituality. Protestants cannot see Scripture in any other way than their human methods of perceiving it have trained them to do. That's why the Church Fathers are so valuable now, since they help us to see Scripture as they learned it from the Apostles.

Your issues with the Church Fathers, therefore, come from the difference in spirituality between them & us, not because they in general were confusing Scripture. And this is why I think it might be good that you can't get to an Orthodox church right now. You may need to study & learn biblical spirituality more, since it is so different from modern spirituality. Sometimes, going too fast in changing one's spirituality may create confusion or distrust, which is another reason why the monks were so agitated by the secular publication of important monastic texts. Also, it may be good that you stay at that Baptist church, at least for a while, because some people there may need to hear something of the original biblical spirituality. But keep up the good sacred work that you're already doing! Your questions & concerns are quite valuable because they deal with some profound issues. They enable me to put into words some of the most precise points of doctrine, thus hopefully helping Christians to be of one mind, that is, to be of one Apostolic mind, as St. Paul commands us in 1 Corinthians 1:10.
-Gaius