The Shield of the Trinity or Scutum Fidei - a ...
The Shield of the Trinity or Scutum Fidei – a traditional Christian visual symbol which expresses many aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity, summarizing the first part of the Athanasian Creed in a compact diagram. Original Latin-language version. Text was converted to paths for improved display. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt has responded to a previous post. I want to quickly answer a few things.

First, it seems to me a false step to set our theological priorities against the positions we hold. Is it not the case that our priorities influence, perhaps even determine, the positions we hold?

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: On Priorities, Positions, and the #UMC Via Media (@eJoelWatts).

I don’t want you to think I intend to aim my criticism directly against Matt, because I am not; however, these view to me is the basic problem of (modern) Protestantism. We are so focused on “living” we have forgot to think about why we are living. Our focus is on our bodies and our neighbor’s but not on Christ. Indeed, if we spent as much if not more time focusing on Christ — Who he is, What he did — we would find relief. Theology must come before our individual positions. Why? Because theology exists outside of ourselves. It is not concerned with our individual actions so much as it is in continuing the Great Tradition. Thus, the Trinity (et al) comes before our views on LGBT issues and even alcohol.

If we confuse the great doctrines of the Church with positions, we are in serious trouble. But honestly, haven’t we? In discussing things with John, he said he would take holiness over doctrine. This smacks of Pelagianism. When we call LGBT issues a matter of salvation, we are setting our position against the priority of the Church.

Matt goes on,

How does the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity relate to marriage and sexual ethics?….Perhaps different attitudes towards human sexuality emerge from fundamentally different visions of God and what it means to bear the image of God. 

And yet, Genesis 1.26-27 doesn’t really include sexual ethics, or if so, ethics that may surprise you. I believe a reasonable argument can be made that the “male and female” bit “in the image of God” can be understood to be androgynous. This view is not modern, post or otherwise, but can be found in ancient works as well. I mean, read 2 Clement.

Let me also suggest that there is a lot more to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 than sexual ethics (Wright can argue for Creation, the sanest anti-LGBT argument a Protestant can/should make). There is the whole notion of personhood and what that means in light of the image of God. If we are going to argue for positions, we need to start with God as Creator, move through the notions of things in proper order, and what it means for humans to exist as persons of sacred worth. In that final discussion, I believe, is the subset of sexual ethics.

But, beyond arguing, I want to give you “real life” examples of Doctrine v. (for a lack of a better term) Holiness.

The Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Constantinople) do not speak of holiness of the life of the Christian. These originated as baptismal formulas meant to shield the doctrine of the early Church. The questions weren’t asked “Do you promise to lead a Christian life?,” “Is X Christian?,” and so on. No, the questions were simple. Do you believe in God the Father…In Jesus…in the Holy Spirit…? What do you believe about them?

Where are the moral positions in the creeds?

Or, as Tom from Good News brought up but never returned to answer my questions, the Articles of Religion and Confessions of Faith? In the Articles of Religion, marriage is mentioned once,

The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God’s law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness. – Article XXI

Why is this in there? No doubt because of the still lingering Catholic influence – which is why Wesley had to define his doctrines against Rome in matters of purgatory, the sacraments and ministerial marriage.

Where, though, are those positions related to holiness? Yes, Wesley mentions that these things will follow our justification (Article X). Does he list them? In the great doctrinal standard handed down to us by Wesley, does Wesley list the aspects of holiness or does he list doctrines and then say holiness will follow our justification? By the way, justification is a doctrine that is defined doctrinally.

Tom pointed out the Creeds do not give witness to episcopal authority. Yet, the Creeds were approved by Bishops. For us United Methodists, our doctrinal standards were approved by the ordained. This means the episcopal authority pre-existed the creeds and in fact, the creeds are dependent upon episcopal authority.

But, before I finish… Let me call attention to the (so-called) Athanasian Creed. While Fr. John disagreed with certain clauses of the Creed (such as the Hell bit), the creed that existed in Christianity long before Wesley is important for this conversation.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

If I were in any given mood, I might suggest that orthodoxy (right doctrine) is all that “saves us” but I don’t think so. I don’t think Scripture upholds that, nor the majority of Christian teaching. However, this creed is important because it establishes the importance of proper doctrine before anything else.

Our positions on holiness, however you may define that, will come after — not before, and not alongside — in regards to proper teaching.

What gets me here is that the right and the left are virtually the same when it comes to this matter. No one wants to invest the time in doctrine. This has left us with the idea that gay marriage is related to salvation and that the only thing we need to do to be a Christian is to love our enemies.