Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 18th, 2016 by Joel Watts

pursuing orthodox purity like Lucifer

Saint Cyprian http://www.satucket.com/lectiona...

Saint Cyprian http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Cyprian.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anytime someone mentions orthodoxy in a positive context to the heretical or heterodox, there are a mixture of responses:

  • We’re ____ not Orthodox. That’s too Catholic.
  • It doesn’t matter what you believe as long you love your neighbor.
  • The orthodox are all about purity tests and burning people at the stake.

The first one is obvious.

The second one is a logical fallacy, indicative of someone’s inability to process certain things. For instance, “orthodoxy” means “right teaching.” Given that Jesus calls His followers “disciples,” we are to have teaching. Added to this is when someone says “there is no orthodoxy,” then what they are insisting is that their teaching, rather than the teaching of the Church, is right — thus, they are insisting on their own orthodoxy. Further, one cannot truly define concepts like “love” without some sort of teaching of what love is, why this is important, who commands it, and what/who the neighbor is.

The third one, however, is the one people tend to use when they are pushed into a corner. Again, illogically, opponents use this in conjunction with “grace,” insisting that if their measure of grace is not employed, then it is wrong while they hope for a “winnowing” or other boundary restriction.

But, I’m not writing this to argue who is more restrictive – orthodox Christianity or some heretic/heterodox version or progressivism (hint, the orthodox Christian has more grace). Rather, I am writing this to show that within orthodoxy is the necessity to refrain from going over the edge. While this has not always happened — such as with the Puritans who burned witches; the Catholics who burned Protestants; Zwingli who drowned Anabaptists — the rule of orthodoxy is to forgive and move on, with those who insist holding on to purity often cast aside, regardless of adherence to doctrinal purity. In fact, I would argue that those who are unable to retain grace in the midst of doctrinal impurity are those soon to be considered heretical while those who they opposed find repentance, grace, and fellowship.

Rigorism

During the Decian persecution, many Christians — laity and clergy — fell away. St. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, was not happy with the easy re-admittance offered to the lapsi. Long story short, there were three parties that developed, causing a schism of sorts. There was the laxist, which allowed for easy return; the rigorist which denied return; and St. Cyprian who took a “firm but moderate” stance on return. A sort of “yes, but.” Indeed, because of this stance, schism was healed, Christians restored, and persecution withstood.

Under Diocletian, another persecution of the Church erupted, causing more to fall away (thus, denying Christ). Donatism has several hallmarks, but in the end, they would sit in judgement of the “impure.” Indeed, Donatism was a resurrection of the rigorists from a century before, allowing for no grace — even in the midst of persecution. Those who had chosen their own life were judged too unworthy to serve. This wasn’t merely about doctrine, but about ensuring that the person was 100% pure. After warnings against such thought (including St. Augustine’s infamous maxim concerning the wheat and the tares), the Donatists finally exiled themselves into history.

Lucifer of Cagliari

Lucifer of Cagliari

Lucifer of Cagliari

Then there is (St.?) Lucifer of Cagliari. Yes, a possible saint since he is venerated by some. Lucifer was a staunch defender of the Nicene Creed that in the end, he refused to love anyone who could not measure up to his doctrinal purity. He eventually had to retreat to Sardinia where he established his sect. Ironically, once that sect was declared a heresy, it came to be protected by the Roman Emperor who simply chose not to destroy it.

These sectaries pretended that all priests who had participated in Arianism should be deprived of their dignity, and that bishops who recognized the rights of even repentant heretics should be excommunicated. The Luciferians, being earnestly opposed, commissioned two priests, Marcellinus and Faustinus, to present a petition, the well-known Libellus precum, to the Emperor Theodosius, explaining their grievances and claiming protection. The emperor forbade further pursuit of them, and their schism seems not to have lasted beyond this first generation.

It is possible that Lucifer actually prevented an East-West remerger because of this adamant rejection of anything that did not sound “exactly right.” Plus, by all accounts, he seemed to be an a… um, well, he lacked tact. This is not say he did not contribute to the Church universal. Indeed, it is likely due to Lucifer that we have the Apostles’ Creed. And he was a strong defender of the Western Church, of St. Athanasius (and Marcellus of Ancyra, I assume), as well as the Christological view that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. Indeed, until a point, Lucifer was as orthodox as one could be — except he lacketh this one thing, that he loved as much as they knew. Because he could not handle grace, he would go on to lead a schism, yet another one based on doctrinal rigorism.

There is no doubt that I believe the lapsi, the traditors, and the Arians, were all doctrinally wrong. My hope, however, is that while I can recognize them as wrong, I would never refuse grace. St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, and St. Basil all survived to render to these groups the grace needed, not as victors but as Spiritual leaders. Orthodoxy becomes heterodoxy, if grace is removed.

Think of the lists mentioned above. Only after Western Christianity become enshrined in the State did heresy become a death penalty. Why? Because heresy is treason, if Christianity is political. But before Christendom, heresy was treated with grace. Granted, heretical bishops and clergy were soon tossed out, but never forsaken, and never murdered on order of the Church. No, the orthodox party does not concern itself with doctrinal purity; given that our maxim deals with wheat and tares. There is a balance of doctrinal rightness and allowance for maturity.

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

18 Responses to “pursuing orthodox purity like Lucifer”
  1. Two comments (for whatever they are worth)
    1. “A sort of “yes, but.””….best definition of the current Pope’s view of doctrine. I could actually be Catholic if he remained Pope.

    “Given that Jesus calls His followers “disciples,” we are to have teaching.” I consider his “disciples”, not the general, run-of-the-mill follower, like me; but His “Super Heroes”, willing to give up everything to follow him, including being hated by your entire family. So, everyone hot and bothered about schism, seem to be the ones that want to be disciples. That is, the ones that teach orthodoxy, be willing to be hated by their family, be willing to give up everything for their orthodoxy and mission, and finally be placed in a position to judge other people, and provide the fire to burn the tares. So, for us “run-of-the-mill” followers, not disciples, we like to chill-out, and be “A sort of yes, but”, on doctrine.

    PS – yes, UMC seems to want everyone to be a disciple. But I view that as “A sort of yes, but”, too.

    • Gary, I think there is room for both, to be honest — and no one is run-of-the-mill in my opinion. We can be right, wrong, or otherwise, but those with a good heart can add to the conversation, as demonstrated by history.

  2. Was the prohibition of women serving as ministers, not to mention speaking out in church, yesterday’s orthodoxy and, if so, does that mean orthodoxy is not fixed in stone?

    • Mike, that confuses dogma with orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is enshrined in the Creeds and is “everywhere taught and believed.” Dogma, theology, et al., is different and not set in stone, so to speak.

      • So, what comes first, orthodoxy or dogma/theology? If I am confusing the issue, let me be clear: Why is the prohibition against full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our Communion different from the previous prohibitions against full inclusion of women, e.g., they previously could not be ordained ministers? I can well argue that our creeds are inspired by the Holy Spirit but nevertheless human interpretations of that revelation. That is, I don’t consider orthodoxy, whatever the terms means, is fixed in stone but can be modified through continuing revelation, albeit with fear and trembling. I reject refusing to discuss important issues, e.g., full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals, falling back on orthodoxy as if all issues have already be settled.

        • Mike,

          Theology is usually developed from orthodoxy. For instance, we believe Jesus did for our signs. This is a “must” for Christianity. Now, theology can include the whys and the hows and the what ifs. This is where we get calvinism and ariminians, neither of which define what makes a Christian.

          The reason LGBT inclusion is different is because for the life of Jewish and Christian teaches, we are told that gay sex is a big no-no. We can look at Scripture and point to Deborah and Mary and Priscilla and so on. Can we do the same for LGBT issues? Not really. Further, we can look at Acts and understand that women played an equal part in the early Church. AND we can look at early canons and see their prohibitions against women in ministry increasing which tells us that women were ministers. There has always been a tradition, even minority, of women ministers in the Christian faith.

          But ordination (and I would argue LGBT issues) is a theological and dogmatic concept, not an orthodox precept.

      • One more thang for now, relating our civil legal system to current issues in the UMC: We must not use bad laws to accomplish good ends. I can, based on my life experiences, be process oriented, e.g., changing the Book of Discipline through established processes, as long as the process does not become obfuscation to preserve a point of view.

      • Well, I need to make one more comment before getting on with my tasks today: I do not believe our creeds are “everywhere taught and believed” in detail. For instance, the creedal statements concerning the Virgin Birth are not, in my opinion, necessary for belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

        • You don’t have to, but since the Virgin Birth (however that is understood) has always been taught by the Church to point to the divinity of Jesus, and it is included in the Creeds, then it is an orthodox statement.

  3. Know More Than I Should says

    In politics and religion, there are typically two types of people. There are those seeking common ground among diverse opinions, and those focusing on differences of opinions.

    Throw in the need of some people to be superior to others, and the results become thoroughly interesting.

    • Common ground in politics and religion –
      Has anyone noticed the commonality of seeking orthodox purity in 2016 regarding schism in both politics and religion?

      Methodist year of the schism (2016 conference in Portland – seeking orthodox purity).

      Republican year of the schism (Cruz and Trump seek Republican orthodox purity, with schism coming at their convention).

      Democrat year of the schism (Clinton and Sanders seek Democrat orthodox purity, with schism coming at their convention).

      Chinese Year of the Monkey (anthropomorphically related to humans). Proving that humans and monkeys are directly related. We stick our hands into the coconut, to grab a treat, and we can’t get our hands out of the coconut, because we are too greedy to let go of what we’ve grabbed hold of.

      Yeah – irrelevant, but this is better than watching a sitcom on Reality TV.

      • Better than watching TV – that is, the Democrats and Republicans. Not so much, for the Methodist part.

      • Know More Than I Should says

        Any position in politics or religion will generate an opposing position. In theology, it matters little whether the original ideology is labeled a dogma, orthodoxy, truth, or statement of faith.

        While alternative points of view can be easily labeled as heresy or treason so long as there is a consolidation of power, this simplistic approach becomes more complicated as factions proliferate to the point of coming full circle. This is much like the case of old styles in clothing becoming fashionable once again.

        Furthermore, as is most clearly evident in Clinton-Sanders cleavage of the Democratic Party, differing positions can derive from a generational perspective. Likewise, as is clearly the case in between Democrats and Republicans, gender issues can determine perspective.

        Many times, political and religious divisions can merely be the difference new books versus old books. This become evident in the battle between religion and science. Whereas theologians quote ancient documents, those of a more scientific mind point to the most recent research.

        The fun comes in realizing that no one has a corner on the absolute truth of anything. The inevitable conclusion of any rigidly held and unyielding belief is a disaster. In fact, if that position is sufficiently fixed and narrow, it can become a working definition for mental illness!

      • “purity” is found in many areas. In the Church, if we go for purity, we will become legalistic.

        • After a second thought, I think I can say there is no purity in Democrats, Republicans, and politics. What was I thinking? 🙂

          • Know More Than I Should says

            There can be purity in politics in the sense that all those not fitting a arbitrary groupthink are purged from the party. That’s been happening to Republicans over the course of the past four decades. That’s how the GOP has become caricature of conservative, old, male, white, and dying.

            It’s also why Republicans got saddled with Donald Trump in a case of revenge of the outcasts.

            Much the same thing happened to Democrats half a century ago when conservatives bolted from the Democratic Party after Lyndon Johnson pushed through civil rights legislation.

  4. Ah ah! I think John Boehner meant this Lucifer, when referring to Ted Cruz! I don’t know, though. The reference to SOB might have been John’s tendency to sob. And you thought the UMC conference had problems. You could be a Republican Delegate in Cleveland!

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