My good friend Chad has blocked me from commenting on facebook. Perhaps it because I challenged him on his very unWesleyan bibliolatry by suggesting that he took Wesley out of context and as such, should not be a “man of one book.” However, as he has now proven himself almost heterodox in his need to see everything through the issue of homosexuality even to the point of willingly forsaking the Trinity, I am a former “Jesus Only” guy, and I believe in Christian orthodoxy, I feel the necessity to respond in the only way available to me. Given the recent conversations in the methoblogosphere about orthodoxy, this conversation will likewise serve as my entry into it.
First, I want to address the poorness of the post by Dr. ]]. I realize this language may be somewhat shocking, but I assure you it not an insult to Dr. Tennent but rather calling attention to the lack of wealth of grace found in his post. For instance,
There are two main reasons why I do not like the term “progressive” to refer the faction within the UMC who are pushing for an ongoing re-imagining of the gospel, the debunking of biblical authority and a radical new morality in step with contemporary culture. First, the term “progressive” calls to mind the word “progress” and implicitly suggests that the “progressive” positions, if embraced, will move the church forward, rather than backward.
I agree that the terms conservative and progressive are haphazard and unlikely to generate anything except poor discourse. However, Dr. Tennent suggests that those who imagine a more inclusive church are intent on “debunking of biblical authority.” He then suggests that the term is rather opposite of inclusion. Sadly, this is the same tired argument many have had and still do have on women in the ministry among other dogmatic and doctrinal issues the Church Universal and sectarian has faced. He goes on to suggest that those who are argue for a more inclusive church stand against historic Christian orthodoxy.
As I implied today, those who do such things are usually doing so from a position of power. For example, Arius argued for orthodoxy because he thought he had the Emperor’s ear. He did, for a while, until it threatened to destroy the empire through schism. Emperor Theodosius argued from a position of power when he issued the Edict of Thessalonica. Unlike Theodosius, Arius may have been the actual orthodox position for quite a while, at least in some quarters. Of course, by the time the centuries moved to Theodosius, he was orthodox and Arius the heretic.
What is orthodoxy? From the aforementioned edict,
It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.
(Or, we could go with the group that first defined orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church. How many of us United Methodist Christians are really “orthodox.”)
Orthodoxy, then, is allegiance, almost supreme allegiance, to the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. Indeed, if you have studied the Fourth Century for any amount of time, you will recognize many of some of today’s more questionable doctrinal positions, even universal reconciliation, were ignored, allowed, and even openly helded. These weren’t the issues. What was the issue was the nature of Christ in relation to the nature of the Father. As St. Athanasius put it so well in On the Incarnation, and I’m paraphrasing, what matters in all doctrine is if Son is of the same substance as the Father. While some Church Fathers could separate love and lust at a minute level, what must not be separate was the Father and the Son.
Now, let us turn to Chad’s take. He is not as adamant about the Trinity and its defense as he is tunneled in on homosexuality. He has decided to challenge Drew McIntyre who writes,
Part of why I don’t like giving a simple “yes” or “no” to those kinds of questions is that it cheapens a complex discussion. First of all this isn’t something that is remotely a chief piece of doctrine – this isn’t of the same order as the Trinity or Incarnation, which are our ultimate non-negotiables.
Drew is absolutely correct. Chad, unlike the host of Christianity Tradition, sees no difference between homosoexuality and the Trinity on the level of what orthodoxy requires. He gives three reasons:
- The doctrine of the Trinity has arguably less Scriptural support than the Scriptural condemnations of practicing same-sex sex.
- I know some “Jesus-only” followers who are passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Why should a doctrine which is confined in large part to the intellect (most congregants, even pastors, cannot articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in a way that makes much sense, nor describe how it affects their day to day living) take precedence over a belief which affects both mind and body (as all sex does)?
He offers his reasons on his blog, which I am sure you’ll check out. Let me offer a rejoinder.
- Less support? False. First, I can argue for the Trinity by both Scripture and Trinity. The building blocks of the Triune nature of God is laid down before the birth of Jesus. In the New Testament, we read of entire books dedicated to supporting the notion that Jesus as God died. We also read that Jesus is the exact representation of God. As an academic and a theologian, I can argue for the Trinity from Christian Scripture, as well as the allowance for the full development of such a belief structure by later Church divines. Further, as Paul said, “Jesus is Lord,” is the only creed as a mark of salvation.Since homosexuality is not a point of salvation, but if contained as a prohibition in Scripture is a sign of good conduct, it something to negotiate over. Yes, we can speak of the 6 times people believe homosexuality is mentioned as important, but we could then speak of entire passages in Paul’s letters, the Book of Hebrews, and the Gospel of John that point to the necessity of Jesus as deity asr required for salvation. The earliest Christian creeds were centered on but a few things. Who was Jesus? Not once in the baptismal creed is a list of moral exhortations offered as required like doctrinal matters are.
- Muslims are passionate. Jim Jones was passionate. Others who purport to love God and Jesus are passionate. Passion doesn’t make a Christian. Further, are they really making disciples of Jesus Christ? I guess. Of course, then we have to ask, which Jesus? Is it the traditional doctrine of Jesus as God the Son, or is the rank heresy of patripassianism condemned by logic, reason, Scripture, and Tradition? In desperation, we make strange bedfellows. When we know we cannot win the argument by wit or fact, we seek numbers. As a former “Jesus Only” believer, let me testify that they are out of Christian orthodoxy not merely in regards to the solid history of Christian Tradition, but have so alienated the sacrifice that they have need to make their own Christianity divorced from the rest of us. It is not merely the Trinity we deny, but once we have removed the one true God, we replace it with idols — with the idol of “the bible,” with the idol of our “plain sense reading,” with our arrogance that somehow everyone else has gotten it wrong except for us.
- The inability to correctly articulate the Trinity does not reserve it to a matter of the intellect, but instead shows the ineptness of theological training. Here, Chad is ready to giveaway hundreds of years of teaching and doctrine — and the central tenet of Christianity — because he admits he and others, among whole congregations, do not understand it nor the importance of it. And yet, he believes we should be consumed with policing sex and attitudes towards sex. The Church didn’t start in sex. As a matter of fact, the Church started expressly because of the lack of sex. Rather, the Church is founded upon Jesus who as God the Son died and was resurrected to bring about salvation to all. It is not that they didn’t have a chance to speak about rampant sexual immorality — and they did, but the Church Fathers spent centuries defining and defending the nature of Christ in relation to the Father. How can we so readily throw it away?
Finally, let me call attention to the fact that “orthodoxy” either as a term and as a well defined concept is not in Scripture.
In this debate, our eyes are not upon Jesus. We have turned away from the cross and instead focus on our neighbor’s bedrooms. We have become busybodies, which is actually mentioned more than the act many see as homosexuality! If our focus is on sex, then we are not orthodox. Unless we can recover the Trinity and the Incarnation and especially what it means to us as Christians and as United Methodist Christians, we will all become heterodox. If we want to renew the United Methodist Church, if we want to renew Western Christianity, then we must seek to repair our lack of doctrinal care, concern, and knowledge.
Christ is before me, others beside me, the world behind me.
By the way, check out the comments in which the basis for some of Chad’s sexuality views are challenged because of the original language.