Doctrine prioritizes the Christ and the Church before ourselves

The Shield of the Trinity or Scutum Fidei - a ...

The Shield of the Trinity or Scutum Fidei – a traditional Christian visual symbol which expresses many aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity, summarizing the first part of the Athanasian Creed in a compact diagram. Original Latin-language version. Text was converted to paths for improved display. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt has responded to a previous post. I want to quickly answer a few things.

First, it seems to me a false step to set our theological priorities against the positions we hold. Is it not the case that our priorities influence, perhaps even determine, the positions we hold?

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: On Priorities, Positions, and the #UMC Via Media (@eJoelWatts).

I don’t want you to think I intend to aim my criticism directly against Matt, because I am not; however, these view to me is the basic problem of (modern) Protestantism. We are so focused on “living” we have forgot to think about why we are living. Our focus is on our bodies and our neighbor’s but not on Christ. Indeed, if we spent as much if not more time focusing on Christ — Who he is, What he did — we would find relief. Theology must come before our individual positions. Why? Because theology exists outside of ourselves. It is not concerned with our individual actions so much as it is in continuing the Great Tradition. Thus, the Trinity (et al) comes before our views on LGBT issues and even alcohol.

If we confuse the great doctrines of the Church with positions, we are in serious trouble. But honestly, haven’t we? In discussing things with John, he said he would take holiness over doctrine. This smacks of Pelagianism. When we call LGBT issues a matter of salvation, we are setting our position against the priority of the Church.

Matt goes on,

How does the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity relate to marriage and sexual ethics?….Perhaps different attitudes towards human sexuality emerge from fundamentally different visions of God and what it means to bear the image of God. 

And yet, Genesis 1.26-27 doesn’t really include sexual ethics, or if so, ethics that may surprise you. I believe a reasonable argument can be made that the “male and female” bit “in the image of God” can be understood to be androgynous. This view is not modern, post or otherwise, but can be found in ancient works as well. I mean, read 2 Clement.

Let me also suggest that there is a lot more to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 than sexual ethics (Wright can argue for Creation, the sanest anti-LGBT argument a Protestant can/should make). There is the whole notion of personhood and what that means in light of the image of God. If we are going to argue for positions, we need to start with God as Creator, move through the notions of things in proper order, and what it means for humans to exist as persons of sacred worth. In that final discussion, I believe, is the subset of sexual ethics.

But, beyond arguing, I want to give you “real life” examples of Doctrine v. (for a lack of a better term) Holiness.

The Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Constantinople) do not speak of holiness of the life of the Christian. These originated as baptismal formulas meant to shield the doctrine of the early Church. The questions weren’t asked “Do you promise to lead a Christian life?,” “Is X Christian?,” and so on. No, the questions were simple. Do you believe in God the Father…In Jesus…in the Holy Spirit…? What do you believe about them?

Where are the moral positions in the creeds?

Or, as Tom from Good News brought up but never returned to answer my questions, the Articles of Religion and Confessions of Faith? In the Articles of Religion, marriage is mentioned once,

The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God’s law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness. – Article XXI

Why is this in there? No doubt because of the still lingering Catholic influence – which is why Wesley had to define his doctrines against Rome in matters of purgatory, the sacraments and ministerial marriage.

Where, though, are those positions related to holiness? Yes, Wesley mentions that these things will follow our justification (Article X). Does he list them? In the great doctrinal standard handed down to us by Wesley, does Wesley list the aspects of holiness or does he list doctrines and then say holiness will follow our justification? By the way, justification is a doctrine that is defined doctrinally.

Tom pointed out the Creeds do not give witness to episcopal authority. Yet, the Creeds were approved by Bishops. For us United Methodists, our doctrinal standards were approved by the ordained. This means the episcopal authority pre-existed the creeds and in fact, the creeds are dependent upon episcopal authority.

But, before I finish… Let me call attention to the (so-called) Athanasian Creed. While Fr. John disagreed with certain clauses of the Creed (such as the Hell bit), the creed that existed in Christianity long before Wesley is important for this conversation.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

If I were in any given mood, I might suggest that orthodoxy (right doctrine) is all that “saves us” but I don’t think so. I don’t think Scripture upholds that, nor the majority of Christian teaching. However, this creed is important because it establishes the importance of proper doctrine before anything else.

Our positions on holiness, however you may define that, will come after — not before, and not alongside — in regards to proper teaching.

What gets me here is that the right and the left are virtually the same when it comes to this matter. No one wants to invest the time in doctrine. This has left us with the idea that gay marriage is related to salvation and that the only thing we need to do to be a Christian is to love our enemies.

my 4th #painting on canvas. Just call me Vincent van No.

I tried to paint a flower – a purple-white lily (real thing) on a black background. I didn’t get very far. So, I painted something else.

The first painting is the black-painted canvas. The second is me attempting to draw a stem. It looked like a wine class. Perhaps it was a sign. Anyway, after a week of looking it, I moved on. I wanted to paint a bridge. I got the inspiration driving north recently. I passed over several of these types of bridges. The final pictures are the progress.

more on priorities over position, a continuing discussion #UMC

English: Ignatius of Antioch

English: Ignatius of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, John M. has a post up. I have left a comment I am reproducing here:

A few things… Wesley didn’t argue for holiness before doctrine. Why? I would suggest that unless we know our doctrine, we don’t know much about what is holy and why we need holiness. I do not think all we need is doctrine, but if we can agree on doctrine and then move on, based on that, to discussing everything else. At the moment, we have a myriad of views express by both the right and the left I would consider heterodox if not downright heretical.

Do we really disagree on what it means to be holy? Are you suggesting that marriage, LGBT or otherwise, is the sum total of what makes someone holy or the sum total of what an agreement is worth?

And I’m going to disagree with you about Christ and his holiness. We were not founded upon his work in his life, nor his manner of life, but upon his death which renewed the covenant and brought the Gentiles into Israel. This means knowledge of sacrifice and covenant came before what was expected of us.

Look at the early baptismal creeds. This was about the work and person of Christ, not about holiness.

Conversation is continuing over there. Please be sure to check it out.

Second, Tom Lambrecht from Goodness has left a comment on my previous post.

He writes,

Joel, are you saying there is not an orthodox doctrine of marriage? I believe that the Church has always defined marriage as between one man and one woman, no? And what about all the commands in the NT about avoiding sexual immorality and adultery? Are they not doctrinal in nature? I can’t imagine any of the great historical theologians of the church being considered orthodox while holding a definition of marriage and sexuality in line with the current progressive “doctrine.”

You uphold episcopal authority as a matter of orthodox doctrine. Yet it is not mentioned in either the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith, nor is it in any of the ecumenical creeds. So how can it be a matter of orthodox doctrine?

So I guess I’m arguing that if you can include episcopal authority as a doctrine, so can marriage and sexuality be included as doctrines of the church.

My reply,

Tom,

If there is an “orthodox doctrine of marriage” it is most likely the Catholic view that includes natural law almost to the level of doctrine. I do not believe marriage is a doctrine – unlike, say, the Trinity, baptism, and episcopal authority. Further, we know marriage has changed in the West during the past two thousand years.

I believe we should avoid sexual immorality and adultery. This is not doctrine in nature, but in the realm of holiness. Holiness as a whole should be a doctrine and is at least a Wesleyan precept. I would contend that Wesley understand perfection as the doctrine and holiness as the means to attain it.

The great theologians believed a few different things about items we may object to. Surely you aren’t appealing to authority to defend a position they cannot answer.

Given the newness of -sexuality as a concept, it is doubtful at best the great theologians would have grappled with what we are grappling with today. Further, given the current critical studies of Scripture, they may not have had the same facts to base such pronouncements on. Yes, knowledge changes and we are given more knowledge. I would assume this is in line with some of the great theologians you mention, such as Augustine and Calvin who allowed science may give us a better understanding of Scripture. I believe as well a catechism dear to the UM’s heart holds that both science and Scripture reveal to us God.

In regards to episcopal authority, I would submit this: Ephesians. Acts. Ignatius of Antioch. Cyprian of Carthage. Augustine. The Church Council as progenitor of the Creeds and Canon. I give to you Wesley’s demand for ordained clergy to administer the sacraments and his desire to never schism from the Anglican Church which he considered under episcopal authority. Without Episcopal authority as a prevenient doctrine we are left without much of what we consider Christianity. I mean, the Articles of Religion are themselves a form of authority, albeit ecclesiastical.

As to your line of questions… since nothing in the Articles of Religion, Creeds, or the Confession of Faith strictly forbid “gay marriage” I guess you should okay with it then, or at least understand it not to be a (Wesleyan) orthodox doctrine? I mean, nothing in the Creeds, Articles of Religion, or Confessions of Faith proclaim marriage between one man and one woman as doctrine either.

And honestly, Tom… a the “progressive ‘doctrine’”? Like progressives even know what that word means… ;)

 

One of my “book notes” for Religious Studies Review is not published at Wiley Online Library

You can find it here:

A Common Written Greek Source for Mark AND Thomas. By John Horman. Studies in Christianity and Judaism 20. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Pp. viii + 256. Cloth, $85.00. – Watts – 2014 – Religious Studies Review – Wiley Online Library.

I can’t reproduce it yet, but… I found the concept fascinating but deeply flawed. Horman (an independent researcher, which is awesome) has a great theory, but in the end, it is a theory biased on the need to make Thomas more canonical than the other Gospels. I just don’t see it. One thing Horman does (and Francis Watson does) is to de-gnostic-fy Thomas, which is a welcomed feature.

Walking a line that is not so fine on Israel

A flag, with the Shahadah, frequently used by ...

A flag, with the Shahadah, frequently used by Hamas supporters Proportions: 9:16Citation needed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As one who has no problem going controversial, I find that this topic is something I stress about with finding the correct words. I strongly condemn the attacks by Hamas and Israel. I mean, Israel lives with people in their house who have a sworn blood oath to eradicate them. People like to really focus on the current situation with Israel and Hamas without taking into consideration the centuries predating the last 50-60 years. Yet, I’m not sure Israel has the best footing in their attacks on Hamas either. A pinpoint operation should be a pinpoint operation. Further, there should not be a ceasefire until Hamas is gone from Gaza.

Instead of arguing for one side or the other without actually knowing each side, I have stayed out of it. I do not believe an American can rightly suggest to either side the route to take and find it sad when some of my fellow bloggers attempt to craft carefully designed methods for the path to world peace.

I also look around at what is going on in Europe with the increase of anti-Semitic protests and a general feeling that it is now okay to say Jews are the the devil. And I cannot help but to connect it to American sentimentalarians who take the side of Hamas. I have to wonder if there isn’t something ingrained in automatically taking Hamas’s side? Does that tell us anything? But, that would be stepping into something I don’t really know much about.

So, there is tumblr post a Rabbi (who supports Israel) posted this morning. I think it is profound enough to share.

This Is Not Jewish (How to Criticize Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic).

is it about positions or priorities? #UMC #UMCschism

CELIBATE

Never be sorry to celebrate

You should read Matt’s post. At the end, he asks several questions. I wanted to see if I can provide some answers from my perspective.

If two people with irreconcilable views can both be said to occupy the middle, it’s not clear to me that language of “a middle way” really gets us very far. It may help us have a conversation without it devolving into fisticuffs, and for that it is commendable, but it’s not clear to me that this is sufficient to bring about unified United Methodist Church, which seems to be a goal of those who see themselves in the middle.

For me, the via media focuses on Christ. As a subset of this, it focuses on orthodox doctrines of the Church. For most of us, the issue of homosexuality is not a doctrinal matter (i.e., Trinity, baptism, episcopal authority) but is a matter (in Wesleyan terms) of holiness. That is why I can focus on episcopal authority even while arguing for inclusion. I can focus on orthodoxy, hold to prima scripture, and attempt to be a part of the Great Tradition while arguing for inclusion.

If the via media is a way of thinking about an issue and not an actual position on a particular issue, how does it actually move us forward? Who can help me? What is the via media? How do I know it when I see it? What am I missing?

I would say it is not a way of thinking about an issue but about priorities. I have argued consistently for a return to a theological grounding. I believe if we focus on affirming the proper role of Scripture, on what it means to be human, and how to stand as a Protestant in the Great Tradition, we can slowly began to answer the questions posed by all of the fields related to the issue of inclusion. In my opinion, via media is the theological finger trap keeping inclusionists from going liberal protestant and conservatives from going fundamentalists, or worse — Southern Baptist.

For me, via media is not the middle between left/progressive and right/conservative — because those two sides are usually defined, or start with, the issue of LGBT. Rather, the via media is about placing orthodoxy before other issues. Thus, we argue for orthodoxy and attempt to build up from there.

Rather, it is not about sex, but about the Virgin-born.

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: Defining the Methodist middle: Is there a via media for the #UMC?.

Ken Ham, not content on sending humans to hell, now looks to the stars for the godless

War of the Worlds

Do you know our lord and savior, Zenu-nu-nu the Bloody Conquerer? (Photo credit: jurvetson)

A few weeks ago, Ken Ham posted something decrying the United Methodist Church and our internal troubles. Several of the more conservative people on the forums ate it up as they do with most things non-Wesleyan. I suggested it would be easier to tolerate the basest of changes to “traditional marriage” than it is to swallow anything by Ken Ham.

Ham’s latest spewing is why. A few weeks ago, NASA (not a UK news site) suggested we may find proof of alien life within 2 decades. Ken Ham has, by far, the most expected response:

And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.

via “We’ll find a new earth within 20 years” | Around the World with Ken Ham.

He goes on to say “Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved.” Beyond this idiotic statement is the underlying misunderstanding anthropos. I can do nothing but laugh at how silly his reasoning is. But, I note it is in line with fundamentalist views of God. God is limited to our words and to our expectations. Further, our notion of atonement is limited to those with the correct knowledge. Ham’s philosophy is no more evolved than the small-pox soaked blankets given to Native Americans or the enslavement of Africans, both actions taken (in part) because those people were somehow less worthy of humanity (and salvation) than the rest of us.

So, beyond the inane stupidity this represents, let me offer you some correct approaches.

  • The end of the world as pictured in the New Testament seems to be more in line with Stoic conflagration. Regardless, it is not a physical destruction but a symbolic change of order. We find this idea in Genesis but especially in Isaiah with its talk of “new creation.” We need to learn biblical cosmology and how to apply it to soteriology and eschatology. We need to understand words like creation and universe before we make sweeping proclamations about the state of the universe beyond our blue jewel.
  • If Jesus repairs the sin of Adam, and if Jesus’s death is only for humanity, then only humanity under the curse. Then, by necessity, the xenozoic would not fall under the Fall and would not need the death of Christ. This does not mean they “go to hell.” This simply means our religious expectations as Christians do not apply to them. On the other hand, if all of “creation” is under the “curse,” then likewise all of creation is under the death of Christ.
  • If alien life is discovered, we are going to be a world of hurt theologically. I am not sure Christianity, or rather, Protestant Christianity, can survive. Judaism will. Islam may. Some of the eastern religions as well. Catholic Christianity may find it difficult, but we will see. Fundamentalism will retreat even further into intellectual darkness.

What happens if when we discover alien life? Our theology either gets really small, really big, or dies.

Also, I have a real issue in how Ken Ham describes the atonement.

Cardinal Ratzinger on Discipleship of Jesus v. Discipleship of Christ.

Jesus will return!

)Photo credit: Bazstyle | Photography)

I am going to help lead a new class in the fall (if it all works out) on covenant discipleship, from the Wesleyan perspective. I am looking for various quotes and thoughts at the moment. This one…

Well, he was pope for a reason:

This linguistic change reveals a spiritual process with wide implications, namely, the attempt to get behind the Church’s confession of faith and reach the purely historical figure of Jesus. He is no longer to be understood through this confession, but, as it were, in and through himself alone; and thus his achievement and his challenge are to be reinterpreted from scratch. Consequently people no longer speak of following Christ but of following Jesus: for “discipleship of Christ” implies the Church’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, and hence it involves a basic acknowledgment of the Church as the primary form of discipleship. “Discipleship of Jesus”, however, concentrates on the man Jesus who opposes all forms of authority; one of its features is a basically critical attitude to the Church, seen as a sign of its faithfulness to Jesus. This in turn goes beyond Christology and affects soteriology, which must necessarily undergo a similar transformation. Instead of “salvation” we find “liberation” taking pride of place, and the question, “How is the liberating act of Jesus to be mediated?” automatically adopts a critical stance over against the classical doctrine of how man becomes a partaker of grace.

Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (trans. Graham Harrison; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 14.