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June 16, 2011



I actually found this very helpful as I struggle to process my own thoughts about the relationship between scripture and tradition.

I am a student at a Mennonite seminary, which is traditionally a more narrowly Biblically-focused denomination, but I am Episcopalian myself which has a much wider range of expression on that count.

You can believe I get strange looks when I describe myself as an "Evangelical, Anabaptist, Anglo-Catholic"!

Peace to you all.


@ Brad,
I'm sorry this happened. But don't give up hope. While I am by no means ready to convert to the Catholic or Orthodox church, my understanding/interpretation of scripture, acceptance of other believers and their differing beliefs have changed over the years because of discussions with those who disagreed with me. Some of those conversations might have sounded a lot like you experienced at your gathering.
I also think an important part of facilitating unity is not using catch phrases that are fraught with antagonistic connotations between the two sides. Phrases like, "each of us our own pope".

Brad Jersak

My two cents:

To be fair to our Orthodox friend, I was a witness of the proceedings that gave rise to the parable. Context is important. The gathering in question was a deliberate attempt to address the difficult question of church unity and some of us thought that we should invite a variety of believers who are open to dialogue and to being bridge-builders. We were thrilled that the meeting included a cross section of evangelicals and charismatics, conservatives, liberals and progressives, and what was more unusual, Roman Catholics and Orthodox. On the face of it, this appeared to be a great success. 'Unity gatherings' tend to exclude 'mother church' traditions or are shunned by the latter as irrelevant or sectarian. There was significant bridging happening and some very warm receptions to these first time guests.

Unfortunately there's a dark side to the story. When it came time for individuals to share spontaneously with the group, I must say that I was embarrassed by the insensitivity displayed. A number of pastors shared how their idea for unity was to basically turf all of our traditions and 'just get back to the Bible.' Somehow, they thought that individual interpretations of the Bible alone would settle all disputes. Beyond the tremendous naivety around hoping to solve disunity by making each of us our own pope, the reiteration of Protestant disregard for church authority or the value of 20 centuries of wisdom seemed almost deliberately insulting.

It go worse. A couple of men spoke up and talked about times when the city was on the verge of 'revival' as the 'Spirit-filled, evangelical churches' had come together in the past. The language was so exclusive and the implication was that there were particular churches present who were neither Spirit-filled nor evangelical and that the speaker could probably tell you who they were.

Or was I hearing things? Sadly, no.

After the meeting, one Christian leader queried the priest and when he gently and graciously tried to explain that Church traditions are important and that the Church had in fact written and gathered the books that would become the New Testament, and that it too was part of Church tradition, he was asked, 'So don't you believe in the New Testament?'

Later, another pastor expressed deep concern that people had been invited to the meeting who were 'not true believers.' I guess he could tell who they were.

The parable was the Priest's way of processing this experience and he shared it with one of our editors, who passed it to me and I asked for permission to post it (it wasn't initially written for publication). So if there's an offence that comes with it, I'm glad to bear it. In light of the disrespect shown that day to a brother trying to cross the floor towards harmony, I thought it a mild response. Sadly, I don't think we need to worry about seeing him at another 'unity' meeting like that. He probably got the message.

Wayne Northey

Heh Flyn!

Thanks for your response to the parable. I say this carefully from limited experience: Orthodox believers from other traditions too often think they have "arrived", and discard their own spiritual nurturing that brought them to Orthodoxy. And those long in Orthodoxy can lack graciousness in openness to learning from other traditions (with at times a sense given by them of there being nothing to learn...), which is sad.

I'd further say that the Bible is more than (mere) "potatoes": better the sine qua non "meat and potatoes" metaphorically that ultimately sustains all traditions. That said, having been raised on sola scriptura, the parable resonated because I have seen the Bible so misused and misinterpreted that I'm convinced the Bible can be tragically too readily closer to a poison, as such a distinction is explicated by René Girard between "pharmakos/pharmakon", as English "Gift" is linguistically linked to the German "Gift", meaning poison. (See the brief article on this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharmakos.) As my generous atheist aunt once said compassionately of a close relative about her devotion to the Bible, an aunt to whom this relative had tried to be a witness for years: "I sometimes think Marie would be so much happier if she stopped reading her Bible." Sadly, for all "Marie's" (not her real name) devotion to the Bible, she was uptight and lacking in the joyous abandon of discovery of that "Pearl of great price"! precisely it seemed because of her (poisonous) religious devotion to the Bible... My aunt had a point indeed about that kind of sola scriptura... You know the type too, Flyn.

Trust you and family are doing really well.


Flyn Ritchie

A very optimistic outlook Adit!

I'm sure the priest is an good insightful person and I'd have lots to learn from him if I met him. (I'm not so sure about the reverse!) I certainly agree my understanding is limited - and I try not to get entirely stuck in the certainty of my opinions.

We're all entitled to our views, but I still find the potato parable pompous and misleading.

Blessings to you and to the priest!


if Flyn could see through Orthodox Priest's eyes,
he would not at all,
be troubled.
not for one moment.

and if Orthodox Priest's mind
could fathom Flyn's understanding,
his heart would be at rest.

our understanding is so extremely limited,
but we believe it is fully trustworthy.
completely trustworthy.

(struggling is good!, right)

with ALL sincerity and respect!!!

Flyn Ritchie

Good parables are hard to write; they should illustrate universal truths. This one simply strengthens stereotypes about evangelicals, and is condescending to boot.

It also doesn't accord with what I know of most evangelicals, leaders or otherwise.

It would be nice to think that an Orthodox priest could have come away with something more original and balanced to share with his own tribe. It's so easy to see the worst in others.

I remember a nice interview Peter Chattaway (himself a convert from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy) did with Fr. Thomas Hopko for BC Christian News. After giving him quite a bit of opportunity to explain what might draw evangelicals to Orthodoxy, he ended with this exchange:

BCCN: Is there anything the Orthodox would find appealing about evangelicalism?

Thomas Hopko: I think, I would hope, that it would go both ways. I don't know if it often does. There was a joke that maybe contains kernels of truth, where it said, "Evangelicals come to Orthodoxy, and we teach them how to be orthodox, and they teach us how to be Christians." [laughs] I don't know if you want to quote that. But in other words, their commitment to Christ, their zeal for Christ, their missionary enthusiasm, their enthusiasm for works of mercy, helping the poor, the needy, sacrificing their life to mission fields, well, Orthodoxy is definitely recharged by that, no doubt about it.'

Eric H Janzen

Well done, but now I feel like having some hash browns...with eggs, toast, bacon, and some orange juice...thank you Lord!

Wayne Northey

A great parable!

Thanks so much.

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