Orthodoxy as Primary to Morality

These are brief thoughts on why I choose orthodoxy. I hope to edit, and develop this later. It is, thusly, unfinished.

I am asked why I strive for orthodoxy when it is presumed this since I came from a fundamentalist background I am less likely to navigate towards orthodoxy. Shouldn’t I be atheist or worse — progressive? Or because I would like to consider myself one who studies Scripture on the academic level, shouldn’t I refrain from the perilous seas of orthodoxy? However I believe that orthodoxy has a lot to offer and it is what I choose to believe is the better form of Christianity. My intention upon becoming a United Methodist was not to be orthodox but to remain just outside of doctrinally indescribable. I insisted that I could have my own view of the Godhead. I insisted I could define easily the boundaries of what I would and would not believe. However, the more I approached church history and scripture as well as engagements with both conservative and progressive Christians, the more important orthodoxy became. It is in orthodoxy where I find the refutation of both conservatism and progressivism as well as the stabilizing force needed to renew the Church universal.

If given enough time on this earth I would like to explore every facet of the Christian experience. However I would do so within the orthodox framework. It is not because orthodoxy is empirical or because I can prove (as a matter of science) orthodoxy is “best” or “absolute;” however, I can show it is a matter of value and worth and should not be so easily discarded upon the trash-heap of modernity, post or otherwise. Orthodoxy is that lens that has guided us for 2000 years and will continue to guide us forward.

I do not see it as a restriction or a boundary — neither as some evolution of a conspiracy centered on maintaining power and privilege. I see it rather as like a teacher to guide us, to shape us, to mold us and to finally set us free to find a value in the lessons we have learned. In fact, I would suggest that orthodoxy developed as a counter to privilege, either imperial or personal, so that no one person could place a stranglehold on the Gospel.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Orthodoxy is not restrictive. Indeed as it restricts to contain heresy it also expands to build upon the lessons learned during the rebellion. We would not have the Trinity except we first had the faulty notion of the Father who died. Orthodoxy reigned and contained that heresy — and yet was able to expand into the doctrine of the Trinity we have today.

Orthodoxy does allow for exploration and even experimentation. Its rigidity allows for freedom. Indeed it allows for mysticism and challenging long-held notions. It allows us to experience Christianity from different points of view and different angles. But yet it always maintains that it is the truth even when it expands to take in that which we did not know.

I believe there is always room for improvement and to change no matter the system but if you seek to just simply abandon the system then it becomes an issue. We see the great thinkers of the past who improved upon what they had, not by destroying the foundations upon which they themselves were built but by tackling the subject at hand while grappling with new information and new questions. It is not that they shut everything out in a fundamentalist manner but they brought in new things to help enlighten truth that they already had.

We cannot too harshly judge the great thinkers and minds of the past and consider them as our contemporaries — complete with the problems and solutions we now ourselves enjoy. Orthodoxy does not mean that that which is past is always better; progress does not mean that which is now is likely any better.

When I examined orthodoxy, especially with my background as anti-orthodox, I find it a level that is both stabilizing and liberating. Without orthodoxy, without that ability to remain grounded on (not “in”) the past, the Protestant Reformation would’ve been derailed. This is why the free churches and others today have no specific context to progress or understand doctrines as the world itself shapes our questions and demands new answers. Orthodoxy is a structure in of itself and unites those who hold to it even if in the nonessentials they disagree strongly.

Orthodoxy, then, allows for us to actually progress, to move forward, to handle the world that is revealed to us daily. It gives us a basis for deciding how to handle these new things our sacred writings did not speak to. We cannot simply say “the Bible says” or “the Bible does not say” and expect that to remain unchallenged. There is a logic and consistency at work in orthodoxy. This logical consistency is met by the Mystery of freedom provided for in orthodoxy. But when we meet new forms of life and love we can expect orthodoxy to provide an answer for us, not in restricting ourselves to the past, but an opening ourselves up to what it means to understand the incarnation of Christ. Orthodoxy is founded not upon one thing (Scripture) itself a part of orthodoxy, but but several experiences.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, every doctrine must have a social intention.1 Therefore if we hold to the incarnation we can build our doctrine from the proper use of this, we can build our doctrine on the proper use of the body, the proper use of love, and the proper use even of doctrine. Justification likewise has a social intention we should explore in this modern world. Justification, like incarnation, is not a holdover of the past. It is one of the grounding doctrines of the Christian faith. The creeds mention that Christ has died for us. While we can explore atonement models and theories, we must always remember that the basis of justification is that we as a church, as a people, even as individuals are set right with God through the death and physical resurrection of Christ. Likewise, these two doctrines are dependent upon one another. Justification is effected only because of the unique, divine Son of God.

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten ...

Westminster Abbey, West Door, Four of the ten 20th Century- Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These two doctrines are related in no less way to the doctrine of Creation itself, including to the image of God as St Athanasius tells us in his tract on the incarnation. If we properly understand the incarnation then we know what justification achieved. If we can grasp this, then we can finally understand the imago dei.

Everything we do as Christians — whether it is liturgical, practice, ethics, or morality — must come from proper orthodoxy and orthodoxy in its proper place. Without these things, the foundation of Christianity as we know it falls. For those like Oneness Pentecostals who believe in “Jesus only,” we must remember that the very book given to us that tells about Jesus — that book which we recognize in someway as an authority in our spiritual lives — is likewise given to us through orthodoxy. It was assembled by those who sought not to control or to have power but to protect and defend the Gospel as once for all delivered to the Apostles by Christ. Those who believe in a “Jesus only” Christianity do not truly exist as a Christian specimen except in their own minds. “Jesus only” Christianity is a logical fallacy and a paradox.

Is orthodoxy oppressive? No, not in of itself. Are people oppressive? Surely so. Those on the left who continuously claim that orthodoxy is oppressive fine their replication on the right with those who claim all things are persecution. I contend, with experience, that the oppressive systems are not orthodoxy but generally built around an independent personality, who believing him or herself more knowledgable than all of Church Tradition has created themselves a church. Orthodoxy itself is not oppressive, only those who misuse it and those who ignore it for their own private revelation.

Is orthodoxy biblical? Indeed, very much so. Further, the gospels testify to a level of orthodoxy, as well as a door to generous orthodoxy — if not heterodoxy. In Matthew 16.19, Jesus gives to Peter the much-discussed keys of the Kingdom. In John 20.21-23, Jesus gives to the Apostles the door of forgiveness. Matthew establishes a view of orthodoxy by not only using a rabbinical legality but also by pinning it to the role of the prime minister as found in Isaiah 22.22. Jesus created a line leading directly to orthodoxy. Further, Jesus was likewise exclusive. Jesus threatened to throw some into outer darkness. He had no issue saying “depart from me.” As much as Jesus was exclusive Jesus was likewise inclusive. He allowed that people could fall into that gray area of the middle as we see in Luke 9.49-50.

Let me return to Bonhoeffer. In Cost of Discipleship (293n.), he writes,

False doctrine corrupts the life of the Church at its source, and that is why doctrinal sin is more serious than moral. Those who rob the Church of the gospel deserve the ultimate penalty, whereas those who fail in morality have the gospel there to help them. In the first instance doctrinal discipline applies to those who hold a teaching office in the Church. It is always assumed that only those will be admitted to the ministry who are didactikoi, able to teach (I Tim. 3.2; II Tim. 2.24; Titus 1.9), “able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2.2). If hands are laid on any man before he is ready for his office, the responsi­bility rests with the ordaining minister (I Tim. 5.22). Doctrinal discipline thus starts before the actual ordination. It is a matter of life and death for the Church that the utmost care be exercised with regard to ordinations. But this is only the beginning. When the candidate has been approved and admitted to his office, he must, like Timothy, be admonished unceasingly to maintain the true saving doctrine. In this connection the reading of the Scriptures is especially emphasized. The danger of error is only too strong (II Tim. 3.10, 14, 4.2, 2.15, I Tim. 4.13, 16; Titus 1.9; 3.8). Further the minister must be exhorted to live an exemplary life—“Give heed to thyself and to the doctrine.”

It is not merely enough to say that what we teach must be biblical. Indeed what we teach must be orthodox. Because it is only by orthodox teachings we can understand the social intention of the Gospel. This is our fabric and our lens for viewing Christianity and questions that arise. Orthodoxy is not a rulebook nor is it a fence. It is a pathway protecting against stumbling blocks. It is what teaches us about morality and ethics and indeed, assigns to them importance. Likewise, it teaches us what love is and brings forth its primacy.

While John Wesley never articulated it so well, Wesley’s intention was not that far off from Bonhoeffer, which is not completely surprising given the Lutheran influence on Wesley along with Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran formation. While this is the case, Wesley did not suffer from the false notion that morality can exist independent of nor primary over doctrine. His teachings always began with correct doctrines, including justification. Justification, if we understand it correctly, leads us to holiness which is the goal of the Gospel. Even in his interpretative strategies, Wesley began with Scripture. He did not begin with morality. Correct morals comes from understanding God’s revelation and covenant. Orthodox doctrine without holiness is Gnosticism — that ancient and modern way whereby our salvation is dependent upon correct knowledge.

One of the stranger things about protestant orthodoxy is the fight’s inherent paradox. Perhaps if we contend for orthodoxy, we must likewise contend for those who established it, as enshrined better either in Rome or the East. Or, rather, we contend for the creedal orthodoxy, allowing for a small measure of Protestantism whereby we hold to the Creeds, forgetting that these were established by Councils and Councils Bishops and Bishops Apostles. If we contend for this creedal orthodoxy, wherein the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Resurrection are held as paramount next to Creation, Mary’s place in the Gospel, the Scriptures as a testimony to Christ, Justification, and a Church universal then we will do well enough. I still, however, find it difficult to contend for orthodoxy while ignoring, even in small pieces, those who establish orthodoxy.

When it comes to other forms of Christianity, I do not generally concern myself with them, finding something of value in Paul’s words of preaching Christ. On the other hand, if they pretend to be orthodox or if they are fundamentalism, then it raises my rancor. Indeed, I have little or no issue with gnostic Christians, Mormons or even American Baptists. I do, however, take issue with oneness pentecostals and progressives. I try to always watch my language and call those who attend or pretend to orthodox Christianity “orthodox Christians” and expect of them to be true to their self-identification.

So… there you go. Some thoughts. I wrote most of this while traveling down the road. Apple’s iOS dictation is awesome.  

  1. “Because God has entered human history, new relationships are engendered. Those who respond to this revelation bear a responsibility. Bonhoeffer insisted on the social intention of every Christian doctrine.” (Bonhoeffer’s Costly Theology – Christian History & Biography – ChristianityTodayLibrary.com).

Quote of the Day: Inerrancy v. Inspiration (Joel Stephen Williams)

From the conclusion of the matter:

Positive statements about the usefulness of the Scriptures in instructing mankind for salvation affirm more about the Bible than a negative statement that it is without error. The Bible is not the ultimate end. Instead, it is a witness to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As John the Baptist pointed toward Christ, the Bible is a witness pointing toward God. A witness is not identical with that to which it attests. The Bible stands under the authority of God. By calling the Bible a witness, the emphasis is placed on God as the end, with the Bible as the means to that end. The Bible is revelatory as it points toward the will and nature of God. God is infallible and the word of God that we learn from the Bible will thus be infallible, but the two should not be confused. The Bible is our final court of appeal in this world, since it is the written document which records God’s historical revelation of his will to man, especially in Jesus Christ, but the Bible’s authority derives from God. In this context the truth claims of the Bible should be examined and accepted.

Inerrancy, Inspiration, and Dictation.

William Law on the effects of a church decree

Benjamin Hoadly by Sarah Hoadly

This guy is being laughed at by Zwingli. Just imagine that scene. Benjamin Hoadly by Sarah Hoadly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basically, and help me if this sounds familiar, the Bishop of Bangor said that there is no biblical support for church government/authority of the church. William Law did not take kindly to this rank heresy and proceeded to literarily flay the bishop alive.

Again; I presume it may very justly be said, that the Christian Revelation hath some Effect towards the Salvation of Mankind; but then it hath not this Effect always and in all Cases, it is only effectual upon certain Conditions. Now if Excommunication can have no Effect, because it is not effectual when it is wrongfully pronounced, then the Christian Revelation can have no Effect towards saving those who embrace it as they should, because it has no such Effect on those who embrace it otherwise. The Reason of the Thing is the same in both Cases, and anyone may as justly set forth the Vanity and Insignificancy of the Christian Revelation, because it does not save all its Professors, as your Lordship exposes the Weakness and Vanity of spiritual Censures, because they do not absolutely, and in all Cases, throw People out of God’s Favour.1

  1. William Law, The Works of the Reverend William Law (vol. 1, 9 vols.; London: J. Richardson, 1762), 160–161.

William Law on the Authority of the Church – almost sacramental… #UMC

St Peter in Penitence

St Peter in Penitence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m almost convinced that William Law is one of the greatest unsung theological heroes of the past 500 years. Here, he is urging something… using something else…

Remember, he is Anglican. Also, This entire 9 vol set is available on Logos.

I hope, my Lord, it may be allowed, that the Sacraments are Real Means of Grace: But it is certain they are only conditionally so, if those that partake of them are endowed with suitable Dispositions of Piety and Virtue. Glorious Means of Grace of the Sacraments, which is only obtained by such pious Dispositions; and then it is owing to the Dispositions, and not the Sacraments. Now, my Lord, if there can be such a thing as instituted Real Means of Grace, which are only conditionally applied, I cannot see, why there may not be an instituted Real Authority in the Church, which is only to be conditionally obeyed.

Your Lordship has written a great many Elaborate Pages to prove the English Government Limited; and that no Obedience is due to it, but whilst it preserves our Fundamentals; and, I suppose, the People are to judge for themselves, whether these are safe, or not. Glorious Authority of the English Government, which is to be obeyed no longer than the People think it their Interest to obey it!

Will your Lordship say, There is no Authority in the English Government, because only a conditional Obedience is due to it, whilst we think it supports our Fundamentals? Why then must the Church-Authority be reckoned nothing at all, because only a Rational Conditional Obedience is to be paid, whilst we think it not contrary to Scripture? Is a Limited, Conditional Government in the State, such a Wise, Excellent, and Glorious Constitution? And is the same Authority in the Church, such Absurdity, Nonsense, and nothing at all, as to any actual Power?

If there be such a thing as Obedience upon Rational Motives, there must be such a thing as Authority that is not absolute, or that does not require a Blind, Implicit Obedience. Indeed, Rational Creatures can obey no other Authority; they must have Reasons for what they do. And yet because the Church claims only this Rational Obedience, your Lordship explodes such Authority as none at all.

Yet it must be granted, that no other Obedience was due to the Prophets, or our Saviour and his Apostles: They were only to be obeyed by those who Thought their Doctrines worthy of God. So that if the Church has no Authority, because we must first consult the Scriptures before we obey it; neither our Saviour, nor his Apostles, had any Authority, because the Jews were first to consult their Scriptures, and the Heathens their Reason, before they obeyed them. And yet this is all that is said against Church-Authority; That because they are to judge of the Lawfulness of its Injunctions, therefore they owe it no Obedience: Which false Conclusion I hope is enough exposed.

If we think it unlawful to do anything that the Church requires of us, we must not obey its Authority. So, if we think it unlawful to submit to any Temporal Government, we are not to comply. But, I hope, it will not follow, that the Government has no Authority, because some think it unlawful to comply with it. If we are so unhappy as to judge wrong in any Matter of Duty, we must nevertheless act according to our Judgments; and the Guilt of Disobedience either in Church or State, is more or less, according as our Error is more or less voluntary, and occasioned by our own Mismanagement.

I believe I have shown, First, That all your Lordship’s Arguments against Church-Authority, conclude with the same Force against all Degrees of Authority: Secondly, That though Church-Authority be not Absolute in a certain Sense; yet if our Saviour and his Apostles had any Authority, the Church may have a Real Authority: For neither he, nor his Apostles, had such an Absolute Authority, as excludes all Consideration and Examination: Which is your Notion of Absolute Authority.1

  1. William Law, The Works of the Reverend William Law (vol. 1, 9 vols.; London: J. Richardson, 1762), 14–16.

the #rosary as symbol

Irish penal rosary

Irish penal rosary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The monotony of these repetitions clothes the poor old woman with physical peace and recollection; and her soul, already directed on high, almost mechanically, by her habitual gesture of drawing out the rosary, immediately opens out with increasing serenity on unlimited perspectives, felt rather than analysed, which converge on God.… What does it matter, then, if the humble orante does not concern herself with living over again the exact meaning of the formula she is repeating?… often she does better, she allows her soul to rise freely into a true contemplation, well worn and obscure, uncomplicated, unsystematized, alternating with a return of attention to the words she is muttering, but building up in the long run on the mechanical basis they afford a higher, purified, personal prayer.1

  1. J. Maréchal, Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics, Eng. trans., p. 158.

Hans Urs von Balthasar on the #Rosary and Life of Mary

Quadtych with scenes from the life of Christ a...

Quadtych with scenes from the life of Christ and Mary – Resurrection of Christ and Nativity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary’s life must be regarded as the prototype of what the ars Dei can fashion from a human material which puts up no resistance to him. It is feminine life which, in any case more than masculine life, awaits being shaped by the man, the bridegroom, Christ, and God. It is a virginal life which desires no other formative principle but God and the fruit which God gives it to bear, to give birth to, to nourish and to rear. It is at the same time a maternal and a bridal life whose power of surrender reaches from the physical to the highest spiritual level. In all this it is simply a life that lets God dispose of it as he will. From that life Christ chiselled the form he needed: unsparingly he took it, used it and squandered it to the limit, and then, with the greatest consideration, he honoured it and glorified it. The situations of this life are inimitable, unforgettable, both unique and universally valid, universally significant. The three cycles of the Rosary offer these situations to the anamnesis of the Church and of Christians, in strictest unity of form with the life of Christ. And, in fact, Mary’s life possesses no detached form of its own; it is the most intimate possible accompaniment of the Christ-form; it stands in the shadow and in the light of Christ’s form alone. But Mary’s form is not simply outshone by the form of Christ; rather, precisely because Christ exploits Mary, precisely because she bears the Cross with him, her form is inundated in a light radiating from him.1

That, my friends, should be enough to anger just about every one of you.

  1. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics I: Seeing the Form (trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis; San Francisco; New York: Ignatius Press; Crossroads Publications, 2009), 548.

Universalism* in Sodom and Gomorrah?

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a paint...

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a painting by John Martin (painter), died 1854, thus 100 years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not like the term “universalism” for several reasons.

  • It smacks of (Reverse) Calvinism
  • It smacks of white privilege
  • It doesn’t do justice to the wrath of God, judgment, and sin

However, I can’t think of a better term right now. So, universalism* it is.

In reading the notes in The Jewish Study Bible, I caught several statements (drawn from Jewish Tradition) that helped to highlight the text.

  • In Genesis 18.24, forgiveness and preservation for the several cities lead by the Twins is not found in the act of the sinners, but in the righteousness of the innocent.
  • This hope from God is found in Jeremiah 5.1 as well.

We can look at 1 Corinthians 7.14 in the same manner.

So, if a small measure of righteousness can ward off the wrath of God and save a city, what then can the wholly righteous act of the death of Christ do if in the Church the Body of Christ and the Spirit remains?

Austin Farrer on the #Rosary

how to pray the rosaryIf I had been asked two dozen years ago for an example of what Christ forbade when he said ’Use not vain repetitions,’ I should very likely have referred to the fingering of beads. But now if I wished to name a special sort of private devotion most likely to be of general profit, prayer on the beads is what I should name. Since my previous opinion was based on ignorance and my present opinion is based on experience, I am not ashamed of changing my mind. – Austin Farrer, Lord, I Believe, 1958. p. 80

 

Orthodoxy for those living without creeds

Disciples of christ logoI grew up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
If you’re not familiar with this group, the organization began in the late 1790’s in what could described as the first “non-denominational” movement. Many settlers were coming to America back in that time with beliefs and creeds they have learned in the “old world”. What happened in Europe in the 1600’s when the Church of England sought to break free from the grip of the church in Rome would extrapolate to this new country called America. People came here with the idea that the church or denomination or organization they had grown up in, of course, taught them the right things to believe. The eventuality of those beliefs would cause many a folk to argue or fight with their neighbor over the right things to believe. The Disciples organization began with the idea that creeds were divisive and man-made. All we needed was the bible.

Having grown up in this system of thought, it has been an incredibly long journey, it seems, in finding what it is that we truly are to believe. Later in life, after having pulled myself out of church for about 3 years after high school, I found myself following my best friend out to the church he grew up in, the Church of the Nazarene. Boy, you talk about culture shock! Where the Disciples lacked structure and cohesiveness the Nazarenes made for in explanation and quantity. I had never heard much of anything in the way of doctrine. Even though our church was right next door to an ELCA congregation, I really had no idea there were other churches out there and there were different explanations about things. I knew the name, “Jesus”. I remember he was referred to as the “Son of God”, whatever that meant. I finally had my moment of epiphany in June of 1992 when Jesus made sense and i understood who He was and why he was so important to our lives. On top of that, I jumped head first into a Nazarene system of thought that explained everything and anything you could want to know. This had it’s good and bad sides. I didn’t know anything. I was hungry to learn and I ate up everything they gave me. In retrospect, the bad side of that was, I had nothing with which to gauge the information coming at me. I hadn’t ever learned anything concerning creeds and heresy and doctrine. So, was i actually getting the truth or was I getting a biased answer based upon someone else’s opinion about other churches and denominations?

Orthodox. Orthodoxy. What is it? From my standpoint, I really want to know what it is.
If you feel the ideals and standards set forth from a Nicene creed are “the way” to look at things, then can you explain why you feel that way? Can you tell me in a heartfelt explanation or does your explanation come out in robotic fashion, simple because someone else told you to believe it that way?

I tend to have one of those mindsets that I want to do the right things and believe the right things. Human beings tend to get that way sometimes. Maybe you’re that way about football or your sports. Maybe the world of politics drives you crazy because people don’t do or say the right things. For me, its the world of religion. I want to understand what exactly we are supposed to believe and why we should believe it.

This student is listening. What can you teach me about what we are to believe?

(You are free to break the internet now.)

Willimon – “We cannot be accused of bibliolatry, inerrancy, literalism, or fundamentalism”

Yesterday, a question was posed in one of the UMC FB forums about inerrancy. Granted, this question was posed by a rather young, confused non-Methodist, but it sparked conversation. One of the people in the conversation brought up Bishop Willimon to his defense. Willimon is not an inerrantist.

As John Wesley began his search for a relationship with God, he began in Scripture. He said that he studied the Bible because it was “the one, the only standard of truth and the only model of pure religion” [Works, Jackson, 2:367). Toward the end of his life he could continue to claim, “My ground is the Bible. … I follow it in all things great and small” (ibid., 3:251), In speaking of a fourfold test for belief, it is clear that Wesley set Scripture above tradition, reason, and experience in terms of ultimate authority. (The quadrilateral is not equilateral.) United Methodists can therefore be said to have a “high” view of scripture. However, we cannot be accused of bibliolatry, inerrancy, literalism, or fundamentalism. Wesley could boast that he was “a man of one book.” However, he did not mean this in a naive, uninformed way. He also meant that he not only believed but attempted to live by this one book.

The quad tries to maintain this view, although many have made all of the sides equal while misunderstanding such things as “experience.” In my view, Scripture is the authority of the Church (much like the Constitution is for the United States), but Tradition, Reason and Experience are there to help us read and apply Scripture (much like case law — although Tradition produced Scripture (and legal issues produced the Constitution).

151457171

Learn How To Be an Exorcist in Tulsa OK

I guess that, in the Charismatic capital of the World, this seems to be a very appropriate place for the practice of exorcism. Perhaps Charismatics are not the target, but, I think they should! From the local AM/FM Tulsa station KRMG

Read here