Jay Dyer recently released a video claiming to refute Protestantism from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. The video contains numerous errors and distortions which I feel it is necessary to point out, especially given the popularity of Eastern Orthodoxy on the dissident right. (To see another critique of Eastern Orthodoxy that I put out a few years ago, go here.)
Dyer makes it clear in the video that his goal is not to offer Biblical proof texts to counter Protestantism, but rather to undermine the Protestant understanding of the Bible, thereby rendering Protestant apologetics impossible. His main argument is as follows: the Biblical canon was determined by Church councils, but Protestants deny that the ancient Church councils possessed infallible authority, so therefore Protestants have no right to claim the Bible as an infallible authority. This argument is deeply flawed, for the books of the Bible were understood to be the infallible word of God before any Church councils were held. When Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans it was already divine Scripture. Paul knew that the epistle was divine Scripture, and the Roman church that received the epistle recognized it as divine Scripture. This was all done before a council declared the epistle to be canonical. Therefore approval by a Church council cannot be a defining feature of Scripture. The only way to account for the immediate recognition of Scriptural books by the original audience of the faithful is by the self-authenticating nature of Scripture itself.
The self-authenticating nature of Scripture is the fundamental belief of Protestantism, but Dyer strangely does not even acknowledge this argument. Instead he simply points out alleged Protestant embarrassment about the fact that the Biblical canon was derived from the ancient church councils. Throughout the video Dyer mentions how well-read he is on theological subjects, so it is hard to believe that he has not encountered this argument before. The most obvious conclusion is that he simply avoided the argument because the Eastern Orthodox do not have a coherent response to it.
The Eastern Orthodox maintain that their church never has (and never could) err in matters of faith. When it is objected that numerous Church Fathers contradicted each other, or that numerous local councils held views now rejected by the church as a whole, the Eastern Orthodox reply that only the Ecumenical Councils are truly infallible and that local councils are liable to error. This is the position that Dyer maintains. This position, however, is untenable, for over the years local church councils have made decisions that that would create enormous controversy, if not schism, in the Orthodox Church today. For example, the Council of Elvira, a local Spanish council in the early 4th century, condemned the use of images in church. If a local synod in the Eastern Orthodox Church reached such a conclusion today, it would immediately be declared heretical and be excommunicated. Even more significant in this respect is the history of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. The Eastern Orthodox hold that the filioque clause is a fundamental error in theology and christology. The rejection of the filioque from the creed is now a defining feature of Eastern Orthodoxy. And yet, for over 500 years before the Great Schism between the Greek and Latin Churches, the filioque was regularly used in the West and affirmed by local councils! If the filioque is fundamentally unorthodox, how did churches in the West publicly affirm it without being anathematized? Clearly the faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church has changed. There was a time when the Eastern Orthodox Church was in communion with churches that accepted the filioque and condemned the use of images, while today this would never happen. Furthermore, if local councils can make errors in matters of faith and not be corrected by Ecumenical Councils until centuries later (if ever), how can one claim that the Church as a whole is incapable of errors in matters of faith?
Finally, it is necessary to ask some questions about a curious statement Dyer made when explaining the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity. In Protestantism it is clear that Scripture is the final arbiter of all theological questions, while in Roman Catholicism the Pope has authority in these matters. But in Eastern Orthodoxy the exact location of theological authority is left a bit fuzzy. Dyer acknowledges this and states that in Eastern Orthodoxy there is no objective, public standard that can determine matters of faith. As Dyer puts it, the Eastern Orthodox do not engage in “dialectics,” which presumably means that they are comfortable with their illogical account of infallibility and authority. This statement by Dyer brings up a number of questions. How is he defining “dialectics”? Has he used “dialectics” in his criticism of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, while denying that such criticism can legitimately be used against his own church? Simply put, saying “we don’t do dialectics” is not a valid defense.