Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 19th, 2015 by Joel Watts

doctrine and theology

This comes from a discussion over the weekend. Thought I’d share and expand it a bit.

Doctrine: lex orandi lex credendi

Theology: fides quaerens intellectum

1.) The doctrine of the Church, sans fundamentalist conspiratorial notions and colonialist revisionist history, is the product of the lack of full understanding by the early church but one we were led into because of our limited revelation of the full revelation of God, Jesus Christ (the unique Son of God). Thus, we prayed and we worked and we lived and we thought — and through this our understanding was open to God’s will which became manifest in creeds and canon.

Once this doctrine was settled – and it is – then we sought to understand it. This is theology. Theology is the meditation upon the mystery of the doctrine of the Church. This is where we get such notions as justification, eschatology, Arminianism.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further, having these understandings right within us prevents from legalism, or the notion we can be saved or we can save via our own works. This heretical notion, only prescribed via the cute but sad phrase of “orthopraxy over orthodoxy” is found in many forms of fundamentalism where the historic doctrines and mysteries of the church have been related with subjective trends. Indeed, I see only a matter of difference of believe systems between progressive Christianity and my previous oneness-holiness cult. Both rejected orthodoxy, the authority of Tradition, the instead focused on their own subjective understanding and formulation of God, history, and reality while enforcing the “salvation by works.”

In Jude, the system of beliefs given to the Apostles is called “the faith once delivered.” Christians should understand that while it was “once delivered” it was not “fully delivered.”  In other words, we have license within Scripture to see Tradition as the work of the Church, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.” (Ephesians 4.13–16) Likewise, Tradition maintains that maturity once it is attained. 

This is where theology comes into play. Theology is the reflection of doctrine. Theology is taking statements like “Jesus is Lord” and seeking to understand what that means now. Jesus is Lord, against Caesar. Against Empire. Jesus is Lord against ourselves. None of these things countermands the original and developed notions of “Jesus is Lord” (i.e., the unique Son of God), but makes it applicable to us. Likewise, we take the notion of “forgiveness of sins” and dig deep into that to understand better what sin is. Is sin a legal and moral code? Is it our unjust actions against ourselves and our neighbors? Or, perhaps, it is simply counteracting God’s will so that we are sinners when we are opposed to God’s desire for us and the kingdom.

Simply, theology changes, sometimes radically, while doctrine is polished.

Here are the words of St. Vincent of Lerins

Chapter XXIII, “On the Development of Doctrine in the Church”

[54] “But some one will say perhaps, ‘Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church?’  Certainly; all possible progress.  For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?  Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith.  For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alternation, that it be transformed into something else.  The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

[55] The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.  There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same.  An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same.  Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which mature age has given birth, these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children.  This, then, is undoubtedly a true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant.  Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

[56] In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterated, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

[57]   For example: Our forefathers in the old time sowed wheat in the Church’s field.  It would be most unmeet and iniquitous if we, their descendants, instead of the genuine truth of wheat, should reap the counterfeit error of tares.  This rather should be the result, there should be no discrepancy between the first and the last.  From doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, doctrine of the same kind-wheat also; so that when in process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, no change may ensure in the character of the plant.  There may supervene shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same.  God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles.  God forbid that in that spiritual paradise from plants of cinnamon and balsam darnel and wolfsbane should of a sudden shoot forth.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God’s Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance an go forth to perfection.  For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes one, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but no that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated.  They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties.

[59] But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view, if  there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined to keep and guard it.  Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude?  This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils this, and nothing else, she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by Tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

 

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “doctrine and theology”
  1. “The doctrine of the Church, sans fundamentalist conspiratorial notions and colonialist revisionist history, is the product of the lack of full understanding by the early church but one we were led into because of our limited revelation of the full revelation of God”

    Repeat “because of our limited revelation of the full revelation of God”

    Perhaps you are right. Except for one major mistake that the so-called church fathers made. They should have left “Revelation” out of the canon. If they were in such love with it, they should have included it in the Apocrypha, part II, as a follow on to Maccabees (or what happens when you get ripped a new one by foreign powers). Just think of all the crazy doctrine that would go away if Revelation was in the Apocrypha, since no one really reads the Apocrypha anyway. Actually, the same goes for Daniel.

  2. What does Razis and the author of Revelation have in common?

    “[41] When the troops were about to capture the tower and were forcing the door of the courtyard, they ordered that fire be brought and the doors burned. Being surrounded, Razis fell upon his own sword,
    [42] preferring to die nobly rather than to fall into the hands of sinners and suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth.
    [43] But in the heat of the struggle he did not hit exactly, and the crowd was now rushing in through the doors. He bravely ran up on the wall, and manfully threw himself down into the crowd.
    [44] But as they quickly drew back, a space opened and he fell in the middle of the empty space.
    [45] Still alive and aflame with anger, he rose, and though his blood gushed forth and his wounds were severe he ran through the crowd; and standing upon a steep rock,
    [46] with his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails, took them with both hands and hurled them at the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death.”

    Both cockoo for cocoa puffs.

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