Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 24th, 2015 by Joel Watts

What is the source of orthodoxy? The Creed. Period.

English: The inside of an Orthodox church. Gre...

English: The inside of an Orthodox church. Greek Orthodox Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, I got into a discussion via twitter with someone who seems to think SSM exclusion is part and parcel with Christology, Creation, and Ecclesiology — the Creed. Indeed, the generalizations made against those who affirm both historical orthodoxy and inclusion is rather unfounded and based, I believe, on personal ignorance of what orthodoxy is and how one can come to a position — as a Protestant — in favor of inclusion.

Orthodoxy is defined by the Creeds.1, we receive those in Antioch also who confess the unity of the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

In Canon 7, we read of heresy and orthodoxy. Notice what makes the heretic:

Those who from heresy turn to orthodoxy, and to the portion of those who are being saved, we receive according to the following method and custom: Arians, and Macedonians, and Sabbatians, and Novatians, who call themselves Cathari or Aristori, and Quarto-decimans or Tetradites, and Apollinarians, we receive, upon their giving a written renunciation [of their errors] and anathematize every heresy which is not in accordance with the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God. Thereupon, they are first sealed or anointed with the holy oil upon the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, and ears; and when we seal them, we say, “The Seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But Eunomians, who are baptized with only one immersion, and Montanists, who are here called Phrygians, and Sabellians, who teach the identity of Father and Son, and do sundry other mischievous things, and [the partisans of] all other heresies—for there are many such here, particularly among those who come from the country of the Galatians:—all these, when they desire to turn to orthodoxy, we receive as heathen. On the first day we make them Christians; on the second, catechumens; on the third, we exorcise them by breathing thrice in their face and ears; and thus we instruct them and oblige them to spend some time in the Church, and to hear the Scriptures; and then we baptize them.

The heretic is one who has denied in some way the Creed.

In Corpus Juris Civilis, the Emperor Justinian gives us another evidence that orthodoxy is defined by the Creeds:

Let all bodies of heretics be prevented from holding unlawful assemblies, and let the name of the only and the greatest God be celebrated everywhere, and let the observance of the Nicene Creed, recently transmitted by Our ancestors, and firmly established by the testimony and practice of Divine Religion, always remain secure.

(1) Moreover, he who is an adherent of the Nicene Faith, and a true believer in the Catholic religion, should be understood to be one

who believes that Almighty God and Christ, the Son of God, are one person, God of God, Light of Light; and let no one, by rejection, dishonor the Holy Spirit, whom we expect, and have received from the Supreme Parent of all things, in whom the sentiment of a pure and undefiled faith flourishes, as well as the belief in the undivided substance of a Holy Trinity…

Let those who do not accept these doctrines cease to apply the name of true religion to their fraudulent belief; and let them be branded with their open crimes…We direct that all Catholic churches, throughout the entire world, shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is the test, the source, and the definition of orthodoxy. It was so much so that those who refused it were not permitted fellowship in the Church:

And those who have fellowship with men that reject the consubstantiality as a doctrine foreign to the Scriptures, and speak of any of the persons in the Trinity as created, and separate that person from the one natural divinity, we hold as aliens, and have fellowship with none such.2

Unfortunately, the burden of proof is on those who seek to combine ethics, dogma, and theology into the Creed as a requirement to be orthodox. Those who know better understand that while ethics, dogma, and theology can never be separated from orthodoxy, this doesn’t mean that they are required beliefs (unlike the Creed). I would recommend reading some on the Orthodox Church and the formulations of ethics as derivative of Scripture and Tradition but not considered a test of orthodoxy.

I would also recommend reading to understand that since the 4th century, the Creed (rather than ethics, theology, or dogma) has been seen as the test of orthodoxy.3 I’d also recommend reading not only the Athanasian Creed which declares a certain and limited set of guidelines of believe for being a Christian as well as the Chalcedonian definition and the role of the Creed as soon by the Church then.

This doesn’t mean that a set of ethics, dogmas, and theologies does not naturally developing from the Creed  (lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi) only that when we attempt to infuse these things into the Creed we gravely ere. Let us not make assumptions about one another, nor import more tests upon what is orthodoxy. The History of the Church, the Great Tradition, has given us that and I am no one enough to change it.

  1. Note, this is the “o” orthodoxy rather than “O.” Simply put, if it is not in the Creed, then it is not orthodoxy. It can be dogma (transubstantiation) or theology (Calvinism), but to consider those things orthodoxy is to divide the Church and instead center the source of orthodoxy upon the individual.

    After the person declared that no one had ever said that the creeds define orthodoxy, I was asked that I provide sources to show that someone has. I provided several sources. While my words were regularly misconstrued by the interlocutor, I maintain still that the Creeds define orthodoxy so that if it is not found in the creeds, it is not orthodox (this does not necessarily make it unorthodox). To make this plainer, orthodoxy is those things stated in the Creeds, more generally given to Trinity and the nature of the Persons to one another, the atonement, the Church, the Resurrection, and the final judgement. These things that define those things are best considered dogma and theology so that when speaking of the final judgement, all Christians everywhere believe in it but some Christians in this place and some Christians in that place see it as a multi-prong event or the end of a 1000 years of peace. So long as the dogma and theology does not counter the Creeds, then the dogma and theology can be said to be orthodox, only in that they align with orthodoxy and are not themselves the source or definition of orthodoxy.

    According to the Greek Orthodox Church in America, the Nicene Creed is the “fundamental source and highest pronouncement of the faith of the Church.”

    The next source, which came into being out of necessity over disputes in the fourth century, was the confession of faith, still known as the fundamental source and highest pronouncement of the faith of Church.

    Indeed, in the canons of the Second Ecumenical Council, we see that orthodoxy is not tested against ethical or dogmatic stances, but against the acceptance of the Creed proper. Not only does Canon 1 excommunicate those who denied the proper formulation of the Trinity, but Canon 5 reads,

    In regard to the tome of the Western [Bishops

  2. Pseudo-Gregory Thaumaturgus, “A Sectional Confession of Faith,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; trans. S. D. F. Salmond; vol. 6; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 645.
  3. I’d argue along with others that the Rule of Faith and various other creedal summaries — all focused on Christ — were likewise tests. Not only do the creeds and creedal summaries equalize everyone, but it prevents legalism.
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

40 Responses to “What is the source of orthodoxy? The Creed. Period.”
  1. Certainly so. Perhaps you need to copy the President of Asbury Theological Seminary on this, as he seems confused on this point.

    • Unfortunately, Jon, many of us (Protestants) do. If we could unite on the things that are essential (i.e., Christ) we could then begin to understand where liberty and charity come in.

  2. Know More Than I Should says

    I would agree, Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) has no place in Christian dogma. And Christians need to be absolutely hardcore about this! 🙂

  3. brentwhite says

    I’m not sure I understand the point of your post. Does same-sex sexual behavior relate to orthodoxy?Who cares? If it doesn’t pertain to “orthodoxy,” as defined by the Creed, then anything goes? The Nicene Creed doesn’t define what is or isn’t sin, and that question is the one currently dividing our denomination. Besides, no self-respecting Protestant would elevate the Creed to the same level as scripture.

    • Wow. That’s a lot of logical fallacies and poor understanding of reasoning, Tradition, and Protestantism.

      Yes, you are correct. You do not understand the post.

      Allow me.

      We cannot say “x” is orthodox if it does not pertain to the Creed. This goes for Calvinism and Arminianism. Yes, we believe God is Creator and for us he died. That is orthodox. To then define “us” is where dogma and theology come in. That doesn’t mean “anything goes” in defining the “us” as evidenced by Donatists and other heresies.

      Further, the Creed does speak to the “forgiveness of sins” which is where Scripture and Tradition comes into play. No, the Creed does not define Sin any more than Acts 2.38 does, but it does require us to understand that forgiveness is required, essential to the Gospel, and is an orthodox tenet of the Faith.

      As far as “self-respecting Protestant” – that’s silly. I would suggest you read more on Anglo-Catholicism and the role of the Creed. Then, I’d suggest you read Wesley on the Apostles’ Creed and the other two creeds and how they aid us in reading SCripture and living out Tradition. Then, I suggest you read carefully, as many times as necessary, my post in order to understand where I place Scripture and where I place the Creed.

      And if you have any actual questions, I will entertain them.

      • brentwhite says

        Ok, let me try again: even if everything you say about orthodoxy is spot on, how does this pertain to the UMC’s position on homosexuality? Whether “orthodoxy” is or isn’t at stake in the question is beside the point.

        • Brent, that is a great question.

          1.) I would say that first our main issue in the UMC begins with doctrinal issues. How many progressives deny the creeds, the Wesleyan doctrines (Arminianism, etc…), and suppose us all to be little more than activists? How many to the right want us to forget the Wesleyan doctrines of perfection, insisting on such things as inerrancy and a rather dry interpretation of Scripture, ignoring Tradition and Reason? How many cannot tell you who Jesus Christ is but instead make him out to be either a prophet (the extreme left) or a modalistic version of the deity (the right).

          2.) If we were to focus on rebuilding our orthodox doctrinal foundations, beginning with Christ, how easy would it then be to look at the essentials and non-essentials and understand what matters.

          My point is thusly see as this: Let us restore orthodoxy, that of our faith in Christ as has stood for 2000 years, and then begin to speak about the ethical issues that divide us. It may be that in reaching back to orthodoxy and coming to terms with it — as Wesley would have suggested — we find the answer to our other points of division.

          Or, to sum up with a question: What is the better reason for schism — the denial of the Creed or a differing believe on an ethical/moral issue?

          • brentwhite says

            I think that when an unrepentant ethical behavior risks excluding one from God’s kingdom, as the apostle Paul warns, then this ethical behavior is as worthy of dividing over as anything else. Was the incestuous man’s behavior in 1 Corinthians 5 worth a schism? Paul thought so.

          • No. You think Paul thought so. There are actual scholars who think otherwise. Just as we do with other “lists” we have different interpretations — and this is allowed, throughout Church history and even by Wesley.

          • brentwhite says

            I do think Paul thought so, and if you want to appeal to authority, I can play that game as well as you, I’m sure. But even if I’m wrong, and most of the universal church is wrong, and has been wrong for two millennia (along with Wesley, by he way), then I’m sure you can at least appreciate why people like me think the stakes couldn’t be higher, and that this is not a question of theological indifference.

          • Yes, we play this other game too. The universal church believed women ministers were wrong but many have challenged the notion that we have misunderstood Paul.

            Further, I think you are forgetting Paul’s charges against Schism as well as the universal Church’s rules against donatistism.

          • brentwhite says

            So Paul, you believe, would rather the Corinthian church stay “united” even if this unity came at the expense of disobeying Paul’s order to excommunicate the incestuous man?

          • I think if you have read St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, you will see his condemnation of schism.

          • brentwhite says

            And you didn’t answer my question, by the way: Is there any doubt that Paul believed that the issue pertaining to the incestuous man was a matter over which the church should divide (I mean, if the faction supporting or tolerating the man’s behavior didn’t repent)? I’m not even referring to one of your “clobber” passages here. Yet Paul’s response seems exactly on point. This is how “people like me” also view other sexual sin—like, for example, homosexual sex. You could say, “But incest isn’t even a part of the Creed!” Well, yes, that’s true but beside the point. Regardless where we stand in the authority of the Creed and what counts as orthodoxy, we would still need to make sense of what most of the church believes is serious sexual sin. Appeals to orthodoxy are a red herring, I believe.

          • Red herring… tell that to the Council of… wait… just tell that to all of the Councils. Tell that to all of the Church Fathers.

            What you miss in your rush to find more fish is that Paul doesn’t say split when it comes to immorality but to remove the person. Try reading 1 Co 5.1-13 again.

            Further, you again miss the point of the post. This is not saying that we do not have ethics or dogma or theology, only that that which is orthodox – universal, everywhere – is defined by the Creed. The Orthodox Church notes that and then notes that we must draw our ethical norms from SCripture. But, they never call this orthodox.

            Try to speak to the post and not what you think is either being said or not being said.

          • brentwhite says

            But you began your post making some point about how the argument over homosexuality doesn’t pertain to orthodoxy—and if we only “got back to orthodoxy,” you told me, then we could sort out whether or not homosexuality is the big deal that the church has made it. To which I say, “Who cares if homosexuality pertains to orthodoxy?” It does pertain to salvation, from my perspective, because unrepentant homosexual behavior risks excluding a person from God’s kingdom. All I’m asking is for you to appreciate where “my side” is coming from.

          • “from your perspective”- spoken like a true Protestant.

            I will stick with the Church Fathers and care little for any side that opposes them.

          • brentwhite says

            I think we’ve reached the end of our dialogue. But since you brought it up: Why don’t you become Orthodox or Catholic and debate them over homosexuality? They, like me, will also fail to see that this is a matter of theological indifference.

          • Brent,

            Their debates are grounded in Tradition more so than “protestants.” And there are Orthodox and Catholic clergy, even using natural law (for the latter) who support inclusion.

            And, again, you misspeak my point. I never said it was a theological indifference. Indeed, I have often pointed to the idea that Natural Law as better expressed by St Thomas Aquinas, is the perfect argument against homosexuality — but so too any sex not for the explicit function of procreation. And I am too young to take his argument seriously.

            Rather, what I have maintained – and it is easy enough to see for most – is that ethics is not the test, source, or definition of orthodoxy.

          • brentwhite says

            By the way, I said “from my perspective” to be polite. Perhaps I should have said, “from the Church’s perspective.” On whose authority are you speaking when you say that traditional doctrine against homosexual practice is wrong. I’m the one who has the Church Fathers on my side. Nevertheless, I’ll stick with the Bible first, and say that the UMC would be making a tragically misguided, indeed sinful, mistake if it changes its doctrine on sexuality. Because we must be faithful to God’s Word before all else.

          • “God’s Word” is Jesus and you are using the same illogical arguments many use against us, either for our Arminianism, our lack of inerrancy, or our women ministers.

            Your attempt at moving the goal posts is commendable, but sad.

          • brentwhite says

            God’s inscripturated Word. Jesus referred to scripture as God’s Word, too. Whatever. I’m out.

          • so much bad theology.

  4. Agreed, but what is SSM?

    • Hey Laura!

      SSM = Same-sex marriage.

      • On words, I had to look up “inscripturated”, to see what the heck it meant. Not in my dictionary. But below “inscription”, is “inscrutable”, in my dictionary, which seems more appropriate. I sure wish Jesus had elaborated more on the “Nephilim”, considering that they seemed to be the cause of the genicide of all humans and land animals pre-Noah. Or at least the Nephilim’s papa’s, the infamous Sons of God. Such a minor incidence in history! (At least in 33 AD). More “inscrutable”, than “inscripturated”. But what the heck, I have a bad attitude. Jesus seemed to address only the important points, pertinent to his current surroundings. So violating the law by picking and eating corn on the Sabbath, was OK. Since Jesus did not say anything directly about being gay, he must not have thought it important. Just like the Nephilim. Paul might have had it right, don’t judge others, just mind you own business (sin)…Romans 2:1 “Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself;”
        So pick and eat some corn on Sunday (or maybe that was on Saturday), and let us mind our own business.
        Creeds and moral laws are two different animals.

  5. Scott Fritzsche says

    It is amazing how uneducated that many of the people I agree with theologically sound. Makes me sad…

  6. For those who are enamored with quoting only the “actual” words of Jesus, he seems to make sexual immorality a reason to at least provoke conflict, if not remove the lampstand of that church (Rev. 2 on Pergamum and Thyatira). While ethics on homosexuality may not be a part of orthodoxy (narrowly defined, which is fine), they are a matter of faithfulness and potentially jeopardize the existence of the church.

  7. John Meunier says

    Joel – Please help me understand why you agreed with Tom but disagreed with Brent. I read them as making the same point.

    • Tom at least gives lip service to orthodoxy and understands the difference between orthodoxy based on the creeds and ethics derived from orthodoxy.

      Further, I agree that there are plenty of instances to provoke conflict, and yes, sexual immorality is among other. We may differ over interpretations, but there at least we can agree that there is such a thing as immorality and that there is sometimes a need for conflict.

      The one thing I do differ with Tom about is that at no time is the Church’s existence threatened. This is a Donatist view, although I’m not sure Tom actually meant to go that far.

      Brent shows a remarkable ability to not understand the argument, the role of orthodoxy, or why “methodists like me” is a argument all too often heard among the progressive wings of the Big Tent, INC when they want to do something different than what Scripture, Tradition, and Reason allows.

      • John Meunier says

        Thanks Nino

      • John Meunier says

        Thanks. The part Tom raised about church collapse is where I saw your approval of his comments as inconsistent with your resistance to Brent. I think I understand your point better now.

    • and one other thing – I do not think ethics is itself a cause of schism. We see dangers of this from the aforementioned controversy. But, we also know of Wesley’s warnings of nominal Christians (which he would say a separation is not a schism because, well, you can’t separate from non-existence).

      On the other hand, I think orthodoxy calls us, by the very nature of the “we believe” clause to watch and be mindful of doctrinal concerns and yes, that sometimes results in separation.

      • I think I understand what your advocating, Joel. When I said that it threatens the church’s existence, I’m not talking about the universal church. I’m talking about a particular manifestation of the church. If Jesus removed a church’s lampstand (Rev. 2-3), my understanding is that that particular manifestation of the church would no longer exist (or would no longer be considered part of the faithful, authentic universal church). My fear is that could happen to United Methodism.

  8. Brilliant, Joel. Especially liked: “Let us not make assumptions about one another, nor import more tests upon what is orthodoxy. The History of the Church, the Great Tradition, has given us that and I am no one enough to change it.”

    This crystallized for me my negative reaction upon reading the Statement of Faith (SoF) of the recently departed (late of Eastern Pa Annual Conference) and inaptly named Wesley Church. Their SoF can be found in their Constitution and Bylaws:
    http://www.wesleyumchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/DRAFTConstitutionandBy-Laws.pdf

    Their SoF makes no mention of any creeds per se. But, at least, within their eight specific articles fo faith, they do include the Trinity. Shockingly one of the other eight is their staunch opposition to same-sex marriage (SSM). How can these two positions be co-equal in importance?

    Deeper in their bylaws, one reads that membership in their church is predicated upon full affirmation of their entire SoF. So if you backtrack on any element, you are subject to church discipline and eventually even expulsion. Can you imagine members there whose adult child later comes out as gay, and eventually finds love and seeks holy matrimony in a Christian Church that supports SSM? Should those members (the parents) have a change of heart and affirm SSM, then this local church could discipline and even expell them.

    This sad situation shows the danger of overconfident inerrancy doctrine untethered from orthodox creedal foundations. I am sad to see Wesley Church leave the UMC, but I nonetheless wish them well, and hope that they will recover from error in due time. Sadder still is watching some who remain in our denomination seemingly “cheer on” Wesley Church both for their reason and their “success” in splitting off from UMC. Let us all pray for unity.

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