26 August 2005

Why orthodoxy? (Part 1)

There's been a lot of talk in certain church circles lately about something called "Generous Orthodoxy". If you're not familiar with the term, take the time to Google it and check out the top five or so hits. In a nutshell, it's a term that means intentionally situating yourself within the spectrum of beliefs of the historic Christian faith (Orthodoxy) while at the same time building bridges, not walls, between yourself and those who differ from you (Generous). For me and for many whom I know (though by no means for all Christians or all humans in general), the "generous" part seems obvious. Bridges are better that walls, well sure, peace out, brother! (I'm poking mild fun as us hippies, but rest assured I am one.) Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is not necessarily of such obvious benefit. What's wrong with just doing your own thing? Orthodox, shmorthodox, it's all between the individual and God, right?

It's this point of view that I wanted to consider a little bit. I have sympathy for it, no doubt. But I think it creates some problems that are worth considering.

First of all, I'll take a stab at loosely defining "Christian orthodoxy". That's a bold thing to attempt to do, no? And make no mistake, many Christians would differ vociferously with the following definition. But here, for the record, is what Mike Croghan thinks defines an orthodox Christian.

An orthodox Christian believes that:

  • The Trinity is a valid model for understanding the nature of God.
  • God the Father or Creator was and is intimately involved in the creation of the universe and everything in it, seen and unseen.
  • Jesus of Nazareth was and is God made manifest on earth, God's Son in a unique way, in complete union with the father.
  • He was the the earthly son of the Virgin Mary and born through the power of the Holy Spirit. (I don't think we need to believe that we know exactly how this went down.)
  • He really lived, was really killed, and in some sense really was resurrected and is alive now.
  • The "Kingdom of God" that he inaugurated while he walked the earth will come to full fruition of earth and will have no end. When this happens, all of us, alive or dead, will experience something like Jesus' resurrection--whatever the nature of that might have been!
  • The Holy Spirit is the real presence of God within everyone from the ancient prophets to the individual believer today.
  • The Church in its broadest and best sense is a divine, holy, inclusive, and welcoming institution. The two main sacraments of baptism and communion are also divine in origin.
  • The writings of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit, meaning that the Spirit was intimately involved in their composition, and they are all profitable for teaching, etc. I don't think we have to believe that the Bible is inerrant or infallible, nor that what the Spirit wants to teach us in a passage is necessarily the literal, uncritical meaning of that passage.

I think that's about it. If you can affirm each of those points in some way, shape, or form, then I think anyone who claims you're not an orthodox Christian is being extremely unGenerous. I also think there's a lot of room for mystery within every one of those points. I don't think we need to claim that we know or understand the nature of the resurrection, or of the Holy Spirit, or the sense in which Jesus' mother is called the Virgin Mary. We don't need to claim that we know what the Spirit is saying through a difficult passage of Scripture. It is enough, I claim, to affirm that these words point to realities that we believe are indeed Real, and authentic, and fully part of our personal faith, and that these are realities we want to get to know better. That, I claim, is enough for orthodoxy.

But why bother? Why affirm these things--why make an effort to be orthodox? Why not just believe whatever comes easy to us and whatever makes perfect sense to us right now? I'll try to tackle that question in the next post in this series.

1 comment:

Elizabeth M. said...

I don't think we need to claim that we know or understand the nature of the resurrection, or of the Holy Spirit, or the sense in which Jesus' mother is called the Virgin Mary.

What does it mean to "affirm a belief" in the absence of knowledge or understanding? For instance, what would it mean to say that I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, but I don't know how that could be possible and in fact don't believe it is possible in any conventional sense?

Wouldn't I be saying that I in some sense "know" Jesus was born of a virgin, while simultaneously admitting there is no way for me to "know" any such thing? By this way of thinking, what would then prevent me from affirming a belief in just any old thing: the noodly spaghetti lord, the blue dogs of the moon, the existence of invisible pink unicorns?