Creeds as a litmus test

John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism
“Honestly, Joel, don’t you think they get it? “John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1788, John Wesley wrote in his journal,

“There is no other religious society under Heaven which requires nothing of men in order to assure their admission into it but a desire to save their souls. Look all around you; you cannot be admitted into the Church, or Society of the Presbyterian, Anabaptists, Quakers, or any other unless you hold the same opinion with them, and adhere to the same mode of worship.

The Methodists alone do not insist on your holding this or that opinion; but they think and let think. Neither do they impose any particular mode of worship; but you may continue to worship to your former manner; be it what it may.

Now, I do not know any other religious society, either ancient or modern, wherein such liberty of conscience is now allowed, or has been allowed, since the age of the Apostles. Here is our glorying; and a glorying peculiar to us. What Society shares it with us?”

But… this is the same Wesley and the same Journals that declare the Methodists right in their calling, the Creeds vital, orthodoxy essential, and holiness of life a must. This is the same Wesley who lauded the Church of England, with her Creeds, her doctrines, and her doctrinal standards. This is the same John Wesley who fought against various heresies — yes, he was a heresy hunter. How can this be the same Wesley?

Was Wesley bi-polar? Was he otherwise a person who changed dramatically from day to day?

He didn’t. He was consistent. He sought to remove the dead religion of intellectual legalism and move it to a religion alive in word and deed. He would not refuse admission to anyone who sought to love God and do good. For Wesley, Creeds were not the litmus test of admission to his society (note, society, not a church). Further, he did not make them, or seem to make them, a requirement of continued membership in the United Societies. You did not have to think a certain way, but you did have to work and work towards perfection. And, in the end, Wesley would use the Creeds and the Anglican doctrinal standards to fight against the vile theologies infecting Anglo-Catholic Protestantism — Socinianism and Calvinism.

However, the sum total of his work, we see the creeds do something else — something they were meant to do. The Creeds provide a “beautiful summary” of the Christian faith and unite us in a common work. This is why, besides Scripture, Wesley would require one to read Bishop Pearson’s book on the Apostles’ Creed.

Dr. Kevin Watson (the other, other Dr. Watson) has a post up on the essentialness of shared doctrine. You should read it.

I have recounted this a few times, but it bears repeating. When I came from fundamentalism (From Fear to Faith, Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls), I timidly came to the United Methodist Church. In discussing certain things with my soon-to-be pastor, I told him what I thought about a few things, including the Trinity. He simply said that the UMC does not require us to think a certain way, only to think. I think Wesley would agree with that. At no point should we require intellectual legalism as a litmus test.

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.

 

Batman V. Superman = Calvin v. Wesley

Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over on a my facebook wall, someone posted a link to the trailer for Batman V. Superman movie due out next year. Most of you know I am a comic book nerd and I love my superhero movies. I am also a huge fan of the Batman.

In Batman V. Superman, there are supposed to be some callbacks to a Frank Miller storyline wherein Batman returns after years away to find a very different world, one where Superman has become the fascist leader we have always expected him to be. In the end, Batman defeats Superman.

In the middle of all of this, is critical theory and, I think, something to do with Mimesis… a rather natural mimesis where we see motifs replicated in various ways. Because of this, I think I can see in Batman V. Superman various theological points. This is pretty clear in Man of Steel. (Rodney has a four part review up).  So, here are some thoughts on Superman and Batman and how they as characters relate to our Christian theology.

Superman is the symbol that pushes is to a better humanity — but there is an equal danger of having humanity rely upon Superman. If we rely only on Superman, we will grow apathetic. We must take the little bit of order and safety he gives and work to expand it and make it our own. Batman is the reality which we face but there is a danger in accepting this reality as the only worldview. We become cynics and suppose we can impose our vision of justice in the absence of justice. Then we become the villain when we take away the objective system and replace it with a subjective one. Superman’s power is tempered by his refusal to do everything for humanity. In that regard, Superman is rather weak because he is limited. He is, one may suggest, Arminian, whereas Batman is almost Calvinistic because he decides fates. He is almost all powerful, because he will find a way to solve any problem, even if the end is rather extreme. Batman’s limits are challenges to overcome.

The question is rightly raised about whether or not the world still needs Superman (a recurring theme in both the comics and in Superman Returns). I would think so. Even with his powers that are godlike, and almost silly in light of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy not to mention Netflix’s Daredevil, we still need Superman. Why?

Why couldn’t Superman just end it all, take over the planet and restore order? If you have ever read Red Son, then you know why. Because, the human spirit is ended. Superman has become very much the answer, even via pop culture, to the question of why doesn’t God just end evil. Because, we couldn’t then be human. Our human experience would be meaningless. Salvation is meaningless if we aren’t human.

 

Another #QOTD – orthodox is… Freedom

After all, orthodoxy, just as much as the biblical stories it derives from, tells the wild story of the God-man in all its messiness. In fact, orthodoxy is a protection against the all too neat rationalizations of heresy, which take what they deem to be the palatable parts of either the Bible or doctrine and blow them out of proportion to the exclusion of everything else. We all too frequently ignore how much orthodoxy’s function is to remove these fences so that theologians with different temperaments—Aquinas and Bonventure, Rahner and von Balthasar, Anscombe and Day—can run the fields freely;

you can find it Here

Trailer for New #UMC movie… Star Wars, maybe you’ve heard of it

johnwesley
For a time, Vader was a Calvinist but soon same back to the Force

See, I can post this because Star Wars is essentially a Methodist invention.

Only [humans] can exchange information. And the test of how accurate the information is will be whether we all die or not. If we all die, then it wasn’t the right information. I would rather see us be a positive force in the universe than a cancer. We have the knowledge to be either one. That, in essence, is what “Star Wars” is about. We are both good and evil, and we have a choice.

Well, now he’s sort of a Methodist like they have in the West. (Sorry, Gary)

I was raised Methodist. Now let’s say I’m spiritual. It’s Marin County [California, a very liberal area]. We’re all Buddhists up here

Also,

…the San Joaquin Valley put its stamp firmly on both Lucas and his films. Without the white upper-middle-class Methodist values he absorbed during his upbringing in this most complacent and righteous of regions, the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones series, even the more eccentric THX1138, let alone American Graffiti, would have been very different. Indeed, they might not have existed at all, since Lucas, unlike the directors who joined him in building the New Hollywood in the sixties and seventies, is anything but a natural film-maker. Nothing in his character fits him to make films. The process irritates and bores him… It is easy to forget that Lucas, for all his fame and influence, has only directed four feature films in almost thirty year. Repeatedly he’s handed the job to others, supervising from the solitude of his home, controlling the shooting by proxy, as Hollywood studio producers of the forties did.1

Oh, and there is something of Wesley in the Star Wars…

For all his later embrace of Eastern mysticism, there remained in Lucas more than a little of the Methodist.2

I am a bigger fan of Star Trek — and you can’t really compare the two given their focuses. My son does love Star Wars so I guess, as a good United Methodist and father I have to go and see this movie.

  1.  John Baxter, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, Avon Books: New York, NY (1999), page 16
  2. ibid, 126

One blog to rule them all, One blog to find them, One blog to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

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