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).

Resources for Luther (Sunday School)

Because I may need this later, I wanted to break my usual Sunday fast of blogging and post a few things.

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

Martin Luther – drunk theologian, gossiper, and oath-breaker. Also, he hated your favorite animal

First, I of all of Luther’s works, the most recommended for small group study is On Christian Freedom (or The Liberty of the Christian). You can find a nice public domain copy here. That’s right, by a Jesuit school. I bet Luther is spinning over in purgatory right now.

Here are some points to take away from his small, dualist, letter.

…Man has a twofold nature, a spiritual and a bodily. According to the spiritual nature, which men call the soul, he is called a spiritual, or inner, or new man; according to the bodily nature, which men call the flesh, he is called a carnal, or outward, or old man, of whom the Apostle writes, in II Cor. iv, “Though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Because of this diversity of nature the Scriptures assert contradictory things of the same man, since the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v)….

And, of course, his 95 Theses. Because he was a blowhard who couldn’t leave well-enough alone.

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You might be a Lutheran if…

…you only serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color for the season.

…you didn’t know chow mein noodles were a Chinese food.

…when someone mentions red and green (in terms of Christmas), you immediately think of a battle over hymnals.

…during the entire service you hold your hymnal open but never look down at it.

…during communion you hum the hymns so you can see who’s at church that Sunday.

…rather than introducing yourself to a visitor at church, you check their name out in the guestbook.

…you think Garrison Keillor’s stories are totally factual.

…you have your wedding reception in the fellowship hall and feel guilty about not staying to help clean up.

…a midlife crisis means switching from the old hymnbook to the new one.

…you forget to put water in the baptismal font but never forget to put water in the coffee pot.

…the pastor skips the last hymn to make sure church lasts exactly 60 minutes.

…you make spaghetti at your house with the little macaroni noodles because they’re not so messy then.

…you don’t make eye contact when passing someone in the hall because you think it’s impolite.

…your choir believes volume is a fair substitute for tonality.

…you don’t know what was sooo funny about dat movie “Fargo” then.

…in response to someone jumping up and shouting “Praise the Lord!”, you politely remind him or her that we don’t do that around here.

…you think a meeting isn’t legitimate unless it’s at least three hours long.

…peas in your tuna noodle hotdish add too much color.

…you make change in the offering plate for a ten.

…your dad’s name is Luther N., your brother is Luther Hahn and you are Lew Theran.

…you think butter is a spice.

…the church is on fire, and you rush in to save the coffee pot.

…you have more than five flavors of Jell-O in your pantry.

…you know what a “dead spread” is.

…you talk to someone else and look at their shoes first.

…you have more than three friends whose first names have the letter “j” as the second letter.

…the only open pew is up front, so you volunteer to shovel the sidewalk.

…Ole and Lena are really the names of your relatives.

…you know what a Lutheran Church Basement Woman is.

…you give a party and don’t tell anyone where it is.

…you think hotdish is one of the major food groups.

…http://www.luthbro.com is one of your bookmarks.

…your five-year-old recites the Old Testament books as Genesis, Exodus, Lutefisk…

…someone asks you after church if there’s any “decaf coffee” and you laugh because you KNOW that if it doesn’t have caffeine, it can’t be coffee!

…you think anyone who says “casserole” instead of “hotdish” is trying to be uppity (or maybe even Episcopalian!)

…you think the term “Jell-O salad” is redundant.

…you freeze the leftover coffee from fellowship hour for next week. (HT)

Martin Luther – Here I Stand

Martin Luther, for all of his faults, and those who followed him, accomplished more than many who had gone before him. In refusing to bow to logical Tradition, he made a stand which could have cost him his life. Today is Reformation Day. Regardless if you are Reformed or not, today is a day to remember the men and women who turned Western Christianity on it’s head.

‘Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the word of God.

It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience.

Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.  So help me God.

95 Theses Nailed to the Door, October 31, 1517

Today is Reformation Day – enjoy.

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

 

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory. (read the rest here)

Heinrich Bullinger, Reformer

Another Reformer, often unknown, was Heinrich Bullinger. Below are a few quotes – feel free to add your own.

“This depravation of our nature is nothing else but the blotting out of God’s image in us.”

“There was in our father Adam before his fall the very image and likeness of God.”

The ineffable mercy and divine grace of the eternal God are proven, first, in that God offers this covenant not in any way because of the merits of humans but rather out of the sheer goodness which is God’s nature. I do not know whether humans are capable of conceiving this mystery fully or conveying how praiseworthy it is (BE 104-105).

To Save Protestantism, should we turn to… Mary?

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most ven...

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing with a post(al) thought from yesterday, I am reminded that many Reformers allowed for Mary’s place in Christian theology. As we have lost theology, protestantism is dying. Maybe it is because we have lost Mary as well…

Below is a snippet from a page linked before. On this page are several reformers and their views on Mary.

Huldreich Zwingli

 

He turns, in September 1522, to a lyrical defense of the perpetual virginity of the mother of Christ . . . To deny that Mary remained ‘inviolata’ before, during and after the birth of her Son, was to doubt the omnipotence of God . . . and it was right and profitable to repeat the angelic greeting – not prayer – ‘Hail Mary’ . . . God esteemed Mary above all creatures, including the saints and angels – it was her purity, innocence and invincible faith that mankind must follow. Prayer, however, must be . . . to God alone . . .’Fidei expositio,’ the last pamphlet from his pen . . . There is a special insistence upon the perpetual virginity of Mary.

{G. R. Potter, Zwingli, London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976, pp.88-9,395 / The Perpetual Virginity of Mary . . ., Sep. 17, 1522}

Zwingli had printed in 1524 a sermon on ‘Mary, ever virgin, mother of God.’

{Thurian, ibid., p.76}

I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil . . . I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity.

{Thurian, ibid., p.76 / same sermon}

Martin Luther (founder of the reform), speaks on Mary.

So, if the Reformers — these great men of the faith and sublime bowed the knee to Mary as “mother of our salvation,” then do we not need to properly reform ourselves out of our traditions to see what she may yet hold for us?

What is the proper place for Mary in the lives of Protestant Christians?

 

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John Wesley on enthusiasts and their false witness

Stripped image of John Wesley

Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are stanzas 18 and 19 of his sermon, linked to below:

A second sort of enthusiasm is that of those who imagine they have such gifts from God as they have not. Thus some have imagined themselves to be endued with a power of working miracles, of healing the sick by a word or a touch, of restoring sight to the blind: yea, even of raising the dead — a notorious instance of which is still fresh in our own history. Others have undertaken to prophesy, to foretell things to come, and that with the utmost certainty and exactness. But a little time usually convinces these enthusiasts. When plain facts run counter to their predictions, experience performs what reason could not, and sinks them down into their senses.

To the same class belong those who, in preaching or prayer, imagine themselves to be so influenced by the Spirit of God, as, in fact, they are not. I am sensible, indeed, that without Him we can do nothing, more especially in our public ministry; that all our preaching is utterly vain, unless it be attended with His power; and all our prayer, unless His Spirit therein help our infirmities. I know, if we do not both preach and pray by the Spirit, it is all but lost labour; seeing the help that is done upon earth He doeth it Himself, who worketh all in all. But this does not affect the case before us. Though there is a real influence of the Spirit of God, there is also an imaginary one: and many there are who mistake the one for the other. Many suppose themselves to be under that influence, when they are not, when it is far from them. And many others suppose they are more under that influence than they really are. Of this number, I fear, are all they who imagine that God dictates the very words they speak; and that, consequently, it is impossible they should speak anything amiss, either as to the matter or manner of it. It is well known how many enthusiasts of this sort also have appeared during the present century; some of whom speak in a far more authoritative manner than either St. Paul or any of the Apostles.

via The Wesley Center Online: Sermon 37 – The Nature Of Enthusiasm.

Be sure to read this one as well.

Discover thyself, thou poor self-deceiver! — thou who art confident of being a child of God; thou who sayest, “I have the witness in myself,” and therefore defiest all thy enemies. Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting; even in the balance of the sanctuary. The word of the Lord hath tried thy soul, and proved thee to be reprobate silver. Thou art not lowly of heart; therefore thou hast not received the Spirit of Jesus unto this day.

Wesley grew throughout his life — something people fail to to realize. Perhaps he had a previous understanding of enthusiasm, but seeing it so enacted by people “barking like dogs” may have changed his mind.

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Review of @ivpacademic’s Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition

I must admit, I love these little books.

After turning friends on to their value, either through Logos or the Pocketref app or even through the tradition hardcopies, these hand-sized books have become a staple in my life. No doubt it is because they cover a wide variety of topics, with each dictionary covering the topic with concise entries easily digestible as a sort of morning devotion.

The Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition covers just that — the Reformed Tradition. Sure, it has one entry on the Reformation, but this is about the Tradition evolving from that moment in history. Because of this, you will see the familiar names (like Luther and Calvin), but so too Karl Barth and the Niebuhrs along with doctrines such as the perspicuity of scripture and dialectical theology. You’ll also get a glimpse into the rather un-ecumenical moments of the Church, such as with the entry Babylonian Captivity. Also included are various Reformed organizations, such as the WARC – the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

These little books come in very handy for building up knowledge rather quickly, and given that many of the entries are cross-linked to other entries, you can almost create a choose-your-own-adventure of learning about the Reformed Tradition.

ad fontes! (Which, if you don’t know what that means, buy the book and turn to page 11.)

Looks like Luther got one thing right after all, I mean, besides the beer

Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, temper...

Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, tempera on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Our prayer should include the Mother of God.. .What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!” –  Martin Luther, Personal Prayer Book, 1522

See more here.

Thanks to Kevin B. via FB for this.

Yup, even Zwingli allowed for Mary. And infant baptism too, but that is another story.

There, sue that Jim.

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