Orthodoxy for those living without creeds

Disciples of christ logoI grew up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
If you’re not familiar with this group, the organization began in the late 1790’s in what could described as the first “non-denominational” movement. Many settlers were coming to America back in that time with beliefs and creeds they have learned in the “old world”. What happened in Europe in the 1600’s when the Church of England sought to break free from the grip of the church in Rome would extrapolate to this new country called America. People came here with the idea that the church or denomination or organization they had grown up in, of course, taught them the right things to believe. The eventuality of those beliefs would cause many a folk to argue or fight with their neighbor over the right things to believe. The Disciples organization began with the idea that creeds were divisive and man-made. All we needed was the bible.

Having grown up in this system of thought, it has been an incredibly long journey, it seems, in finding what it is that we truly are to believe. Later in life, after having pulled myself out of church for about 3 years after high school, I found myself following my best friend out to the church he grew up in, the Church of the Nazarene. Boy, you talk about culture shock! Where the Disciples lacked structure and cohesiveness the Nazarenes made for in explanation and quantity. I had never heard much of anything in the way of doctrine. Even though our church was right next door to an ELCA congregation, I really had no idea there were other churches out there and there were different explanations about things. I knew the name, “Jesus”. I remember he was referred to as the “Son of God”, whatever that meant. I finally had my moment of epiphany in June of 1992 when Jesus made sense and i understood who He was and why he was so important to our lives. On top of that, I jumped head first into a Nazarene system of thought that explained everything and anything you could want to know. This had it’s good and bad sides. I didn’t know anything. I was hungry to learn and I ate up everything they gave me. In retrospect, the bad side of that was, I had nothing with which to gauge the information coming at me. I hadn’t ever learned anything concerning creeds and heresy and doctrine. So, was i actually getting the truth or was I getting a biased answer based upon someone else’s opinion about other churches and denominations?

Orthodox. Orthodoxy. What is it? From my standpoint, I really want to know what it is.
If you feel the ideals and standards set forth from a Nicene creed are “the way” to look at things, then can you explain why you feel that way? Can you tell me in a heartfelt explanation or does your explanation come out in robotic fashion, simple because someone else told you to believe it that way?

I tend to have one of those mindsets that I want to do the right things and believe the right things. Human beings tend to get that way sometimes. Maybe you’re that way about football or your sports. Maybe the world of politics drives you crazy because people don’t do or say the right things. For me, its the world of religion. I want to understand what exactly we are supposed to believe and why we should believe it.

This student is listening. What can you teach me about what we are to believe?

(You are free to break the internet now.)

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13 Replies to “Orthodoxy for those living without creeds”

  1. Jeremy,

    Enjoyed your post…wish that the “non-denominational movement” in Europe that became initially in early 1800’s America a unity movement would have continued. I too come from one of your “cousin faith groups” and to see where we are now is a bit disconcerting, to say the least. The trend of leaving off denominational names in front of church buildings I believe is in some part a reaction against the division we’ve created in Christendom. I’ve found that the less I must determine as ‘core-essential faith/doctrine’ allows a wider range of fellowship with many faith groups. So the Nicene Creed’s conciseness is helpful for me.

  2. I wonder if the DOC isn’t being more faithful than it knows in its lack of concern with traditional forms and notions of orthodoxy. In the Book of Acts, and especially as demonstrated at the Jerusalem Council, we see that the focus of most of the episodes is on greater inclusion and not on theological conformance. Perhaps that is not due to a lack of interest in “orthodoxy,” but due to the fact that inclusion is at the core of Christian orthodoxy. Our focus should not be on who can be at the table, but on who else can we invite to the table. As we see in the later written Book of Acts, the various congregations that made up the First Century church were incredibly heterodox, despite the earlier efforts of Paul to encourage greater orthodoxy and greater Orthopraxy. And the Jerusalem council made no effort whatsoever to follow on Paul’s efforts at seeking theological conformance and instead opted for an approach which signaled that it’s primary concern was with inclusion, over and against orthodoxy. If you welcomed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then you should be welcomed into the Body. The definitional specifics could be debated later, and may never be fully resolved, but in any event all were welcomed to the Table. Ultimately, it was between God and each person to work out their own salvation with awe and trembling.

    I am not rejecting orthodoxy altogether, but instead suggesting that where orthodoxy leads to exclusion, or to a de-emphasis on inclusiveness then such orthodoxy is misdirected. Nor am I suggesting that “anything goes,” but there is a balance to be struck and it should in most cases be struck in favor of inclusion. We don’t pull the weeds, nor do we separate the sheep from the goats, those tasks are for God. We are to love and care for those who need us and especially for those who oppose us.

    1. So that I may better understand your thoughts here, could you elaborate on whom you believe to be excluded by orthodoxy, and where it is that you feel orthodoxy leads to exclusion?

      1. I don’t know if you are sincere in your question, but I’ll respond. Those who believe differently are not welcomed, nor are their beliefs tolerated. For example, and the examples are legion, some manifestations of the church exclude the divorced, many exclude practicing homosexuals, some exclude those who have not sopken in tongues,many exclude those who embrace universal salvation, some exclude women from positions of leadership/teaching. Some manifestations of the church exclude those who do not accept the Eucharest as the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Christ, some exclude those who do not embrace their understanding of the Bible as the literal words of God, some exclude those who do not accept the Genesis accounts of creation (as well as much of the rest of Scripture) as actual history. Some exclude those whom they have deemed unsaved. I could go on and on. I can’t count the number of times that I have read or heard Christians of one stripe or another assert that so and so was not a Christian or should otherwise be disfellowshipped or otherwise dnied full communion because they failed a test of orthodoxy. And these cannot be dismissed as extreme examples, especially when you put them all together – the point is that Chirstians across the spectrum are prone to exclude from fellowship those who disagree with this or that cherished theological point.

        1. I was very sincere and thank you for responding. My apologies if my question came off as sarcastic or mocking. Orthodoxy is rooted in the decisions and creeds First seven Ecumenical Councils of the early church. The creeds and decisions of those councils do not in any way exclude any, if not all, of the examples that are listed. I would postulate that what many are considering “orthodox” is in fact doctrine and not orthodoxy. I think that the decisions (theologically, not politically) of those councils and the creeds that sprang forth are maybe our best, and perhaps only, hope for any semblance of unity. I was asking because it has been my experience that most people who have trouble with orthodoxy and those who make honest attempts to adhere to it, have simply encountered people who do not fully understand what orthodoxy means.
          It is true that if one did not adhere to the creeds and lay claim to belief in them that the early church would excommunicate and brand all followers of the heresy as excommunicated as well. That is indeed exclusion, but I think that the creeds that came out of those first seven councils cover the basics of Christianity and set a biblical example of what it means to follow Christ and thus accept the identity of Christian. The Christians that are excluded people today and claiming that they are not Christian based upon anything outside of those creeds should not be considered “orthodox”.

  3. After having grown up a Disciple and not having any creeds or doctrines in front of me to guide me or direct me, I reflected upon my Disciples upbringing and could not help but notice that nobody actually took the time to explain to me that I needed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I cannot remember anyone showing me that I needed to ask for forgiveness for my sins. The Disciples church i grew up in spent so much time wandering around through people’s opinions on things that orthodoxy was never an issue. And, that’s the issue….

    Inclusion is a nice thought but, at the heart of it is the idea that we all need to be on the same page about what we believe. What you see happening in the book of Acts are people arguing about the inclusion of others outside the Jewish body of believers – because – their belief system isn’t wide enough to allow that inclusion. It all comes back to what we believe. And, in this case, the idea that carried through their Jewish belief system was that the Jewish people were to be separate from others. Inclusion is temperate to what people believe about God. Even down to how exactly you became a believer in Jesus. This entire faith system in Christianity is dependent upon exclusion. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him…. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you can’t be a part of this group. Then it comes down to how this new life began for you. Did it happen in a Calvinistic fashion or was it more of a Wesleyan-Arminian experience?

    It’s a nice thought that we can be inclusionary in our body, but the divisions will always be there.
    AND, maybe that’s ok. People learn different ways. Maybe God is using all these different methods and churches and viewpoints to bring people to Himself. That’s truly what it’s all about. People coming to God in Jesus Christ. The Calvinistic way of life makes sense to Joe Schmoe over there, while the Wesleyan way makes sense to me, and a life without creeds and doctrine – just studying the bible, makes sense to another. The Presbyterian will deem what is orthodox based upon the Westminster Confession and the Methodist will deem what is orthodox based upon the teachings of John Wesley.

    And, maybe we need to just be ok with that….

    1. Yes, that is exactly it, we just need to be OK with the heterodoxy. God speaks to each of us in an a language and idiom which makes sense to us. If we listen, we can hear and respond. In a family setting each child has a different relationship with their parent. It would be unreasonable to expect each to have the same relationship, because each child has had a different experience of their parents, and each child has experienced their parents through a different and unique lens. So too with God. Why does it make sense that all of us would share an identical understanding of God? We each come to God differently and we each experience God differently. And for many the different experiences and perceptions of God are so radical different as to be virtually unrecognizable to another.

      As for how we each understand Jesus as Lord and Savior, it will not be experienced in the same way by different people. I imagine that one variation of this divergence may be found in W. Paul Jones, various ‘worldviews’, the divine Jesus as revealer, liberator, example, redeemer, and companion. Perhaps the congregation(s) you experienced in your youth catechized you poorly, or perhaps they simply could not tell you how you experienced Jesus, they could only tell you how they experienced Jesus – it was up to you to live into and then to articulate your own experience.

  4. This is a very interesting topic. What I find most interesting is that there actually is a definition of orthodoxy, but so many people seem to be trying to redefine what it means and thus causing an incredible amount of confusion and dissent. I am orthodox, meaning properly that I agree with the early councils of the church in their theological understandings. As such, while heterodoxy certainly does exist, it properly means opinions or doctrines at variance with an orthodox position. Working within those definitions, someone who is orthodox can not be OK with heterodoxy as a proper expression of Christian faith. To me, the reason for all the confusion is that everyone is trying to find “my orthodoxy” when there really can not be a “my orthodoxy”. There can be denominational beliefs and focuses to be certain, but in the earliest days of the church councils, if one was not orthodox, they were not counted among the body of believers. We would do well to return to what orthodoxy actually is and not what we want it to be.
    As a Wesleyan, there is a definite theological perspective that I have, with focuses on different ideas and actions than say that of a Lutheran, yet both of us, Methodist and Lutheran, can very well be orthodox. It was not intended to be a list of right and wrong so much as the base line of what it meant to be a Christian. In today’s world a great deal of the problems are that we throw around “orthodox” as a negative and “heterodox” as a positive. The early church fathers would be saddened by us in this regard I think. If we actually were to return to the long held and established definitions of these terms in the life of the church, I think we would find ourselves much more unified in faith.

      1. I do accept the virgin birth, the real presence of of Christ in the Eucharist I believe in the catholicity of the church the same way the early church fathers used the concept. The Church of the first centuries used the term as a synonym for the fullness of Truth. Yes, the Christian church is the fullness of truth. I again believe in the binding authority of the magisterium as the early church did. Properly speaking, this Magisterium is a teaching authority; it not only presents the truth, but it has the right to impose it, since its power is the very power given by God to Christ and by Christ to His Church.

    1. No, I am not a Roman Catholic, nor does one have to be to follow the creeds of the first seven councils. Just like there is one body with many parts, there is one church with many parts. Being “orthodox” has little to do with protestant/catholic or Methodist/Lutheran etc.

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