Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Who wrote the New Testament? - Part 5

For the earliest Christians, God spoke His Word not only to but through His Body, the Church, and it was within His Body, the Church, that the Word was confirmed and established. Without question the Scriptures were looked upon by early Christians as God’s active revelation of Himself to the world. At the same time, the Church was looked upon as the household of God, “having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21).

There was no organic separation between Bible and Church as we find so often today. The Body without the Word is without message, but the Word without the Body is without foundation. As Paul says in I Timothy 3:15, “The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The Church is the living body of the incarnate Lord. She is an integral part of the Gospel message and it is within the context of the Church that the New Testament was conceived and preserved.

This study was instrumental in my eventual conversion to the Orthodox Faith. If the Church was not just a tangent or a sidelight to the Scripture, but rather an active participant in its development and preservation, then it was time to reconcile my differences and abandon my prejudices. Rather than try to judge the Church by my modern understanding of what the Bible was saying, I needed to come into union with the Church that produced the New Testament, and let her guide me into a proper understanding.

To make a long story short, I am now an Orthodox priest serving in Seattle, Washington, and am striving to witness to the power of God’s Holy Church. To those who, like I once did, stand dogmatically on “Sola Scriptura,” in the process rejecting the Church of God which not only produced the New Testament, but also selected through the guidance of the Holy Spirit those books which compose the New Testament, I would say only this:

Study the history of the early Church and the development of the New Testament canon. Use source documents where possible. (It is amazing how some of the most “conservative” Bible scholars of the evangelical community turn into cynical and rationalistic liberals when discussing Church history.) Examine for yourself what happened to God’s people after the 28th chapter of the book of Acts.

If you examine the data and look with objectivity at what occurred in those early days, I think you will discover what I discovered. The history of God’s Church didn’t stop with the first century. If it had, we would not possess the New Testament books which are so dear to every Christian believer. The phenomena of separating Church and Bible which we see so prevalent in much of today’s Christian world is a modern phenomena. Early Christians made no such artificial distinctions.

Once you have examined this data, I would encourage you to find out more about the historic Church which produced the New Testament, preserved it, and selected those books which would be part of its canon. Every Christian owes it to himself or herself to find out more about this Church and to understand its vital role in proclaiming God’s Word to our own generation.
Fr. A. James Bernstein is the pastor of Saint Paul Orthodox Church in Lynnwood, Washington.

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