Orthodoxy and Baptism

baptismA few years back I found an interesting audio posted on a podcast called Orthodixie. The audio is a highlight reel where an Eastern Orthodox Priest plays apart of his discussion on the Scriptures and Tradition while offering commentary in between clips. It’s not a debate but a guy asking questions of the Priest stumps him pretty good. Some of the dialogue was a little choppy but I did my best to transcribe it accurately. At times it may seem as if the sentence structures are off but I’m tried to transcribe the words from the audio exactly how it was spoken. Listen to the full audio here.

Background: The Priests name is Joseph Huneycutt and the topic was about Scripture and Tradition. To give you an idea of how it went down a bunch of people arrived to the discussion with their Bibles prepared to ask questions. The Priest seems kind, generally warmhearted but clueless as to how to answer the questions asked by the audience member though the discussion was about Scripture and Tradition the Priest didn’t bring a Bible and seemed unprepared to answer questions about the Bible. The Priest admits he made a bunch of mistakes and I commend him for his honesty and his willingness to expect it with humility. Fr. Joseph Huneycutt was a former Southern Baptist who relates how he fell in love with God and was exposed to the Bible daily, mentioning how in North Carolina where is from, they even take their Bibles camping with them. He moved from Southern Baptist to Episcopalian, eventually leaving the Episcopal church in search of “truth.” I like how Huneycutt believes the churches teachings should never change to suit the sinner, rather, the sinner must change. I’m assuming this is why he ended up becoming apart of the Eastern Orthodox church, the “Ark of Salvation” as he calls it. Someone from the audience mentions 1 Cor. 11.14 which reads, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” and asked about the baptism of infants. Huneycutt mentions the common Baptist idea of confessors baptism, makes the claim that the person asking the question doesn’t understand baptism and admits he doesn’t understand baptism either. Since we give our children good things, baptism being good, we give it to our children. Somehow they receive Christ in baptism. It’s a mystery. They become full members in the EOC and can take part in communion. Huneycutt mentions household baptisms but quickly abandons the Bible for tradition. “Holy Tradition, I’d like to say, is basicly the Holy Spirit plus time. That’s what Tradition is. Our Lord said he would send us the Paraclete, the Comforter, who would lead us into all truth. So the Holy Spirit plus time is my poor definition of Tradition and what Holy Tradition is.” My own thoughts on that: He doesn’t understand baptism. It’s not just his problem but a problem within Eastern Orthodoxy itself, the EOC retreats to mystery far too often, and in so doing lack the ability to defend their position. The EO also assume that since they don’t understand the “mystery of baptism” no one else can. If that isn’t arrogance I don’t know what is. His definition of tradition is useful. He picks back up with 1. Cor. 11.14 “What do I make of that verse? I believe in the church. The church in various times has said hair, beard, set you apart, people know that you’re a clergyman. I’m not going to convince you” The guy in the audience tells him, “So this is just another example than of where your tradition is different from the scriptures.”

Huneycutt: “Where our Tradition is different than the scripture…(slight hesitation) We take the scripture as a whole, we don’t pull verses out, we don’t pull verses out and build our church around it. The church gives us the scriptures, and the same church that gives us the scriptures had a bunch of hairy men that voted which books went into the canon of scripture.”

My own thoughts: The questioner did seem to pull the verse out of context and used it incorrectly. Huneycutt explains in his commentary portion of the audio that Paul was speaking to elaborately adorned hair. I think that makes sense. What is more important is how he answered, not the question itself, but that the EOC doesn’t feel it is bound to scripture in any sense. The scriptures find their authority in the government of the EOC and not the other way around. They are bound by nothing but their Traditions…whatever they may be. cropped-baptism.jpg

Questioner: “Yes sir, thank you for the opportunity to ask you a question. I would like to revisit the subject of infant baptism. It just seems to me that the statement about households being baptized Acts 16 and other places like that, you’re assuming what is to be proven. You’re assuming infants in those households when you would not find that in scripture. When Jesus taught the disciplines to go forth He taught them to teach and baptize. You teach people (a big disgruntled breath, maybe a yawn into the mic, I’m assuming it’s the Priest lol) then you baptize the people you’re teaching. Jesus also said in Mark 16.16 ‘he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” In Acts the 8th chapter v. 35 a man confessed Christ and was baptized. In Acts 2.38 the Apostle Peter said “repent and be baptized.” Repentance involves a forsaking of sin, first of all there is no proof that the infant has any sin and if he does how can he forsake it. My point is, how can all of these things; teaching, belief, repentance, confession of Christ all precede baptism in the Bible examples. Now I know you can find things outside the Bible but, is the Bible going to be our standard or not, and I think what you’re doing is ‘saying we’ll set aside the Bible standard and tradition will be our standard’ if that’s not what you’ve taught tonight than I’ve misunderstood and I’m ready to hear clarification.”

Huneycutt jumps right in: “As I’ve said tonight at the beginning, I don’t know if you were here, I’m not a Bible scholar. I’m just a sinner. But I will say this, what I just said was that for 500 years before, these were universally accepted by the church, the church was baptizing infants. From the very beginning and those same people baptizing infants saw no problem with the codifying the scriptures that you are quoting from.”

Questioner: “Sir, this is the beginning right here in the book of Acts, this is the beginning of the church and there’s no infant baptism. You know that and so do I. And my question is…

Huneycutt cuts him off: “No I don’t, no, no, no, please.” (Laughter from the audience.)

Questioner: “Ok, I’m sorry.”

Huneycutt: “I don’t know what you know what I know. Ok. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything I’m saying the same church that gave you that Bible was baptizing infants and you say ‘well I don’t find it written here.’ St. Basil the Great said, ‘Just because you don’t find it in the Bible doesn’t mean that it isn’t an equal part of our Tradition.'”

Questioner: “Well I would agree that it may be apart of the tradition because it’s not found in the Bible, (Huneycutt chuckles into the mic) but my point is that in the book of Acts, which was authoritative long before there was any council, this was written by Luke by 63 / 64ad at the latest. This is early (can’t make it out, Huneycutt jumps in with)

Huneycutt: “How did they get it? Did they download it? Who all had it?”

Questioner: “It was written by Luke…” (cut off again)

Huneycutt: “I know Luke had it how did he get it disseminated?”

Questioner: “In the book of Colossians chapter 4 the Apostle Paul told the church of Colossi to disseminate his letters among the other churches…” (cut off again)

Huneycutt: “How did Luke get his Gospel out to people?”

Questioner: “Well Luke wrote it and then it was copied, and copies were distributed throughout the churches.”

Huneycutt: “Ok.”

Questioner: “I think, I think you and I would agree on that.”

Huneycutt: “Ok.”

Questioner: “But my point is this, that the book of Acts is early church practice, and maybe you were unaware and I’m sorry for putting words in your mouth, but, when I read the book of Acts I can find no indication of infant baptism. I find that people before they were baptized were taught, they believed, they repented of their sins and confessed Christ. None of which infants can do and why do we then have tradition that runs contrary to those things we find in the book of Acts [that] preceded baptism”

Huneycutt: “I think the way I read, just to go back to your earlier point, we’re commanded, the Apostles are commanded, to go and make disciples of all nations. And my children were all baptized, and believe me they have been disciplined in a Christian home from the beginning. We teach by our living example, you know there’s nothing stirring within me that says, ‘you know he might be right’ because I believe the church is the authority…the same church that gave us the scripture, the same church that’s been baptizing, at least the way the church believes, from the beginning.” (Questioner cuts in)

Questioner: “But sir, this, the book of Acts wasn’t given by the church it was given by the Holy Spirit through Luke. And, and I know you believe that, I believe that, it didn’t take a church 400 years latter to make it authoritative, this was authoritative from the time it was written. That’s, that’s the nature of inspiration and the writings of the Holy Spirit.” The audio is interrupted by Huneycutt’s commentary on the back and forth. He states, “…I knew this was not going anywhere. In fact arguing, verse by verse, with someone not (emphasis added to not) of the Orthodox faith, is usually fruitless.” Audio picks back up.

Honeycutt: “Well then we’ll just have to disagree. I’m not trying to make a convert of you, and you (emphasis on you) will not make one of me.”

Questioner: “Well I’d like to.” (laughter from the audience)

Honeycutt: “I know you would.” A quick commentary by the Priest. When the audio picks back up he is relating his own journey toward the EOC. Another break for a quick comment from Honeycutt and then…

Questioner: “‘For laying aside the commandment of God you hold the tradition of men. As the washing of pots and cups and many other such things you do and he said to them full well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition making the word of God of none effect through your tradition.’ So in those cases where your tradition differs Jesus condemned people in the past.”

Huneycutt: “I don’t think that taking one verse out and comparing it to the witness of 2,000 years of the church, it doesn’t enter my mind to do that. I can understand it, but we just don’t do that in Orthodoxy. Ah, Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees merely for having traditions he rejected the false traditions that the Pharisees practiced. And condemned them for making the observance of certain legitimate traditions more important than following the teachings of God’s word. The Pharisees were obsessed with observing external observances and meticulous detail, while at the same time negating God’s commandments. Jesus taught his disciples to keep legitimate traditions but to avoid being hypocritical as the Pharisees were. This is exactly the position of the Orthodox church. The Orthodox church rejects traditions that are at variance with the scripture, the way we understand it (placed emphasis on ‘the way we understand it’), and practices only those which are proper expressions of the Christian faith. The Orthodox faithful are warned in the services of the church not to fall into same errors as the Pharisees did.” The last few minutes were spent with the Priest claiming he wasn’t trying to convert anyone or make any religious arguments. The Questioner is confused because he thought the Priest was a religious teacher and the audience was instructed to ask challenging questions of he speaking. I get the impression Honeycutt was in over his head and tried to get out of further discussion with the

Questioner: “That’s just my opinion have a listen for yourself.”

Yours in the Lord,

jm

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