within (orthodox) Christianity thinking outside the lines

I was recently musing with someone over the thought that it would be nice if there was just one church in the world which let people disagree on a host of things, but was intact and centered in what the Bible is centered in: the gospel. The problem would end up being over matters related to the gospel, including specifics about it, and its scope. But that would be alright, if people would just get a grasp of the richness of the faith both in scripture, and in the tradition of the church, particularly in its early centuries.

Yes, lines have to be drawn. God is Triune, something like one Being in Three Persons. Jesus is human and Deity (divine in an equal to God sense, unlike the rest of us). Etc. We have been taking our grandchildren to an evangelical megachurch and have been pleasantly surprised on a number of scores, including both their passion for truth, and their indifference over nonessentials, and I take it, in letting believers disagree over a number of matters.

I get in trouble over accepting evolution and believing in creation and the Genesis account at the same time, and probably on other matters, too. At this stage in my life, I prefer to avoid debate, and trying to influence others that way, so was finding our time at the new church refreshing, because like where I work, they major on what unites us in Jesus, and not on what divides us.

But now Greg Boyd’s Cross Vision, the book adeptly setting forth the message from his massive work, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God sets me up for once again getting into something I prefer to avoid: controversy, and in this case downright disassociation from some, I suppose. And yet if people would read the work, they could choose to disagree, but see that it is not at all departing from the faith, including the truth that the Bible is the inspired, breathed out word of God, it is God’s word written.

Never should teaching like that be made a test of orthodoxy, except where it either departs from the gospel, or puts its teaching in jeopardy. Those who make some new suggestions out of the richness of scripture, and with due consideration of tradition (both very true, in Boyd’s case) should not be automatically dismissed as heretics.

I do see value in churches which emphasize this or that, and I don’t see the end of the world over the diversity of churches, like some people do. We are one in Christ by the Spirit, with one faith (Ephesians 4). While we must contend for the faith in a world of lies and blatant as well as subtle unbelief, we must also hold to it in all its wonder and glory. In the beauty revealed at the heart of it: the good news of God in Jesus.

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drinking deeply from the faith

The first title that came to mind when I was thinking of something of this post in general was “drinking deeply from the Christian tradition.” I like that title, and believe in what I would mean for it to convey. Usually I don’t concern myself much over titles of posts, but the title of this post is probably more directly related to its content than in many of my posts. Drinking deeply from the Christian tradition is important and we’re at a great loss when we don’t consider the history of the church from the very early church to the present day. There’s much wisdom for us to receive from the church mothers and fathers. And how the Spirit led the church through the centuries is something that we not only have to take into serious consideration, but in terms of the gospel and of the faith certainly has straightforward application for us, especially as expressed in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed.

What I’m getting at in this post is just how we’re to live in the reality of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which are anything but faith friendly. Ironically this can be the very factor which helps us to find and learn to drink deeply from the faith that is ours in Jesus.

When I feel overwhelmed, or just burdened down about this or that, I by and by come to realize my own great need of pressing hard into the grace that is ours in Jesus, and seeking to live all the more through that, in the word and through the gospel. In a way, in the midst of it all, sometimes the pummeling that occurs in life, I can learn to relax by faith, and say to myself that through God’s grace in Jesus, all will be alright. That I may need to work through this or that, but to take one thing at a time, and above all seek to trust in God and God’s word through it all.

It is completely gift, the scriptural meaning of grace, in and through Jesus. But we have to make every effort to enter into this rest of faith, to live in God’s grace. This may mean almost feeling our way along at times in a kind of semi-darkness in which we have just enough light to keep us going. Maybe in seemingly complete darkness, crying out to God to be our light, and to give us light through his word.

We in Jesus need to learn to drink deeply from the faith, and to keep coming for more and more. Because that is nothing less than our life, and through our drinking others can come to receive that life as well, in and through Jesus.

false teaching matters

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Jude 1

Nowadays it is common place to belittle the need for correct belief. It is often said or suggested that correct practice is what is needed, and that correct belief is relatively unimportant. In fact in a world influenced by postmodernism, such an idea as truth is inherently viewed with suspicion, if not an automatic disqualification. It is true that the dust has settled, and the church long ago settled the score with various heresies which came upon the scene such as the Arian heresy in which Jesus is simply human, and not God.

It did take the church a few centuries of struggle to finally arrive to the teaching from scripture of the Trinity, and the full deity and full humanity of Jesus as its official teaching, even though both antenicene fathers (before the Council of Nicea and the formulation of the Nicene Creed)mk, and the scripture itself supports such teaching. But the fact is that there are still those who either are slipshod about such truth, or actually deny it. We certainly need to be like the Bereans who daily searched the scripture to see if the claim of Jesus as Messiah was the case, because of that many of them believing and receiving the good news, the gospel for themselves (Acts).

And we also need to be settled in on what the Spirit has said to the churches not only in scripture itself, but in the interpretation of scripture, since no prophecy is of private interpretation (1 Peter 1). The Spirit doesn’t just guide individuals, but actually guides the entire church, so that we should expect the Spirit’s amen on what the church has understood scripture to teach.The heart of it, the main point, all of the church will be united in full agreement, while finer points removed from such basics will be more open to variations in understanding, and oftentimes even actual differences, which end up being of relative less importance, since the heart of the gospel itself remains fixed, being in Jesus, and God’s revelation in him.

We do need to be settled in what scripture teaches, which essentially amounts to what the Spirit has helped the church to understand concerning its teaching. This is never a private affair, the Spirit doesn’t guide individuals, except to affirm to each of us what both the Spirit and the Bride, the church say scripture teaches. The church is taught by the Spirit, and we are to submit to such. God will make the truth clear enough to each one of us, as we do that. Even while we continue to listen and read the word for ourselves, that God might do his work in us by the Spirit in the communion and witness of the church in and through Jesus.

 

scripture and tradition and Anglicanism

It seems to me that Anglicans are “caught betwixt two.” That is, often regarded as the middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism, Anglicans are not uniform in addressing what place tradition has in the church.

Some seem to think like the Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox), that tradition is equal with scripture, because scripture not only opens the door, but is the door to this through apostolic succession. So that the traditions which we gather from the early church fathers were actually derived since they were evidently (arguably) received from the apostles. And therefore are equal in authority for the church with scripture itself.

Others put a high value on tradition, but see tradition in more of a Protestant light in the sense that it is helpful and useful in being faithful to the gospel, but not binding in the same sense that scripture is, certainly not for a church to be a church. In other words, they would acknowledge many churches as being genuinely churches who would not subscribe to such tradition. The emphasis here would be more on what scripture itself teaches, aside from what followed in the history and especially the early (and later, for some) centuries of the church. But with a respect to how the church has read or understood scripture. So that for them, tradition would still be important, but more so as a help in being obedient to the faith of the gospel. With this group, reason is included as an important help, with tradition. And they would probably emphasize testing all tradition by scripture, although everyone would believe that scripture and traditon must be in sync. And for all Anglicans, there is scripture, tradition and reason.

Again for some, tradition is so much derived from scripture that it has equal footing with scripture. God gave a certain authority from Christ to the apostles, and that authority continues to those who followed them from generation to generation, right up to the present day. With the unique authority the apostles had, passed down to the present day always through consecrated leaders and evident in practices, which are likewise consecrated.

It certainly doesn’t matter where I stand on the issue. My position would likely be less Catholic as in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, or what is called, the Great Tradition. I respect tradition in the sense that it includes specific ways in which the church is obedient to the faith of the gospel through the word and the sacraments. But precisely how tradition is carried out when scripture itself doesn’t specify that, I can’t see as having an equal authority and place with scripture itself. I value tradition and even high church as potentially helpful. And more than helpful, I see it as wisdom to follow in at least something of the tradition which the church has gathered, especially in the earlier formative centuries of the church, and with that, the formation of Christian orthodoxy. But I don’t believe for a second that professed churches which don’t carry out the same tradition are therefore any less churches, at all. I believe that God’s grace and special Presence in and through Christ extends to them as well, even when they don’t follow the same tradition as in prescribed practices and the understanding of such. Instead, they would have their own tradition for sure, derived from their reading of scripture, but hopefully and to some extent necessarily, not a tradition which doesn’t have respect for the tradition of the church in general.

I consider Anglicanism to have two primary strengths: the Book of Common Prayer, and how it does not claim to be the true church, but only a part of it, while celebrating all the other parts as well, including traditions such as Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Roman Catholics, etc., etc., etc. All united together in Christ in the faith of the gospel.

not tossed about (on hot button issues)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Change seems to be in the wind today. If you are like me I want to study every side so as to best understand the positions, to put the best case construction on all, but not simply to think that I must treat each argument as equally worthy. Perhaps the leading hot button issue today, certainly one of them is same sex relationships. In the past decade the United States has experienced a sea change in public opinion now accepting of gay marriage. And a number of evangelical pastors and scholars have come out in support of “gay covenant unions,” believing that such a position is compatible with scripture.

Christian scholars of course don’t just go to their translations of the Bible but necessarily to original sources. Even Bible translations are dependent on this kind of study. Most of us can’t do much if any of the scholarly work due to limitations in academic training and time. We are necessarily dependent on others, on professional scholars to do that work for us. And we including our scholars must trust that God through the Holy Spirit is guiding the church, even and we can well say especially through the hard places.

So what are we to make of such issues and all the clamoring around them, even of the divisions among Christians themselves and questions that we with certainty can’t answer? We should consider carefully just where the differences lie and as much as possible try to discern what factors are involved that are influencing and effecting the call for change. And above all we shouldn’t think that we can figure it out for ourselves. None of us is foolproof; we all have blind spots and we all err. What we need to look for and desire is a consensus of the churches and among the faithful. Burden of proof for change should lie with its advocates (C. S . Lewis). Such challenges might lead to some kind of change even if only a refining of a traditional position. We need not disregard our own inclination, but we do need to treat it with suspicion as we seek to submit ourselves to Christ through our submission to the church and the church’s interpretation of scripture.

What does this mean for us practically speaking? It means we need not get hung up on or unsettled over the latest controversy. We can and therefore should be rest assured that the Lord will guide his church. We should continue on in the truth in Jesus as we have come to understand it. With all humility in dependence on the Lord in the communion of his church.

the search for a pure church

I grew up under the teaching that there could be and therefore indeed should be a pure church in this life. And there are parameters in scripture, both in teaching and in life that are to mark the true church. Indeed the church is called no less than God’s household and the pillar and foundation of the truth. Those who violate either orthodoxy (example: denial of Christ’s resurrection) or orthopraxy (example: living in unrepentant sexual immorality) are to be questioned and instructed and disciplined respectively – in love and then if they do not respond they are to be put out of the church and they become those who need to be evangelized.

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds (traditionally, tares) is interesting for this discussion. That seems to suggest that sometimes we can’t tell the difference between those who are genuine and those who are not in this world. So that we have to be careful. Applied to the church that might say we should go out of our way and bend over backwards not only to give time for repentance, but also to clear up misunderstandings on their part and perhaps on ours. But to remain faithful to scripture there does seem to come that time when lines are drawn. For example one who denies that Jesus is the only way to God should not think that they can be a “Sunday School teacher” even if they can teach quite well.

In the end, I’m not sure we’ll ever arrive in this life to a pure church. Strictly speaking we would all have to leave the church and then there would be nothing left. And we don’t want to discourage people from attending who may claim no faith at all and who may be overcome in sin.

But we also want to be those who affirm the truth of the gospel in our profession of faith and our life in this world. We are called to be faithful, to be the faithful ones in Christ Jesus. The confessing church in word and deed. And we must not forget that the church is called the bride of Christ no less, a bride he is preparing to be not only pure, but radiant in beauty. May the Lord help us all.

humility (in theology)

Scripture, then tradition, reason and experience. In that order, I take it, I think there is much help in the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” Of course scripture and tradition is perhaps the most tricky part. God used the church to write scripture as well as to recognize what books are scripture, or have canonical status. But the scripture accepted is to be the primary means of judging everything. And yet on the basis to some major extent of how the Spirit has led the church to read the text over time. Circular reasoning, as is often the case in a good number of things in life I suppose. Actually all four in the quadrilateral are in play most all the time. But the primacy I believe must go to scripture. Scripture as God’s word ends up judging the church, reason and experience.

I think one ought to take the utmost care before willingly rewriting theology, which is best done in community. But there are those professional theologians. They had best adhere to tradition or Christian orthodoxy, unless they can make a compelling case or argument from scripture, at least one that can be respected in trying to weigh all of God’s written word along with the church’s reading of it.

What can be a problem is when people go off one way or another, not carefully doing the necessary work beforehand. They even may be humble in what they are doing, while simply ill-informed, or perhaps unwise, or maybe both. Such a person may not be entering heretical territory. I’m understanding heresy here as disagreement over issues which are foundational to the faith according to the church at large and what this term has come to mean, and not as much in light of what the corresponding term means in scripture, simply divisions among God’s people. Sometimes the church has done better than its pronouncements. A careful study of church history will reveal that many of us are “heretics” today, but the church within the Great Tradition simply winks or practically speaking (to some extent) ignores such pronouncements.

One example: Openness theology. It all depends, but I doubt that a lot of that is heretical if measured in terms of orthodoxy. Not to say that some of it could possibly become that. Are all “heretics” outside the faith? They may be outside of the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, but they still may well be among those who belong to the Lord. I think now of the Jesus Only Pentecostals who deny the Trinity, yet believe God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one person, Jesus.

We must be slow in making any statements theologically, especially statements we know are outside the boundary lines drawn by the church. If we do, we had better be ready to defend any such argument from scripture and in line with the faith of the gospel. Of course certain things are entirely nonnegotiable. That God became Incarnate in the person of Jesus is one such nonnegotiable. The same can be said concerning Jesus being raised from the dead. Either Jesus was resurrected, or we have no faith at all.

We must beware or at least be reticent to think that we can speak anything new or novel at all (C.S. Lewis). We do best to turn over the old again and again, seeing more and more of its beauty from so many angles. At the same time, yes, questioning or challenging perhaps established interpretations of scripture from time to time. But hopefully with the utmost humility before God and others. Together in Jesus in this in and for the world.