The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. (Proverbs 11:1)
Scripture often speaks about the need to use equal weights and measures in commerce, in order to remain honest. This was a necessary command, as it was a common temptation to alter the scales by which items were weighed in order to obtain a greater profit. The Lord detested such dishonesty and called the Israelites to a higher standard of honesty when He established His covenant with them.
Having considered this, an application may be made in the realm of apologetics, as many use unequal weights or unequal standards in argumentation. For example, some might argue against the communion of their opponent by calling attention to clerics in their communion who have prayed with heretics. They bring this up in order to disqualify their opponent’s communion as a legitimate locus of grace. However, they may fail to consider how clerics of their own communion have done the exact same thing, thus they are guilty of using unequal weights in argumentation.
Another example concerns iconography and the Immaculate Conception. Some Orthodox claim there is little data in the patristic era that would justify dogmatizing the Immaculate Conception, as Pope Pius IX did. Yet, there is just as little, if not less, data to warrant the dogma of venerating icons, as the Second Council of Nicaea dogmatized. The very arguments used by some Orthodox to undermine the Immaculate Conception come back to undermine their own position on icons. This means those who make such a claim are using short-sighted criticisms in their argumentation. It could be that the Immaculate Conception is not patristic and should not have been dogmatized, but the Orthodox fail to demonstrate this when they use such argumentation.
Roman Catholic apologists are not off the hook when it concerns unequal measures. How often has one heard a Roman Catholic tell an Eastern Orthodox: “your church does not maintain the apostolic tradition concerning divorce and remarriage?” In an age when the Roman Catholic bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, are pushing for Holy Communion for those who have divorced and remarried, and have not obtained a declaration of nullity, this is hardly a cogent argument for the Roman Catholic. It may be that the Eastern Orthodox have abandoned the apostolic tradition on divorce and remarriage, however, this is hardly a convincing argument considering annulments are too readily granted and divorce and remarriage is often seen as something insignificant.
There are instances in which Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are equally guilty of using the same unequal measures in dialogue with Protestants. Both communions often critique the Protestants for being doctrinally and ecclesiologically divided. Yet, Roman Catholicism is ripe with doctrinal division and Eastern Orthodoxy is currently undergoing schisms and internal ecclesiological division. Therefore, whatever division Protestantism may have, it is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black when Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox use such argumentation.
Unequal standards are always a sign of short-sighted argumentation. If one’s own communion is vulnerable to the same criticisms one offers, then one sets himself on fire with the very flame with which he intended to burn his opponent, to use an analogy offered by fellow apologist Erick Ybarra. For this reason, before the apologist critiques his opponent he should always ask: “does this argument refute any of my own positions?” If so, one should reconsider the use of such an argument and should even reconsider the critique of one’s opponent. We recall Jesus’ directive: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
Michael Lofton, M.A.