03 September 2005

Why orthodoxy? (Part 4: Why orthodoxy?)

OK, I'm finally getting to where I wanted to go with this series, after far too much side trip, background, and disclaimer. So: If you're a Christian, why bother trying to be an orthodox Christian? Here are some reasons, in my opinion:

  • The historic Christian belief system, for all the bad fruit it's borne down the centuries, has value. It's been the bedrock of the faith of a great many great souls in the nearly two millennia since it took form. St. Benedict of Nursia. St. Francis of Assisi. St. Patrick. St. Teresa of Avila. Dame Julian of Norwich. George Fox. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Martin Luther King. Desmond Tutu. So many others. The creedal statements of orthodox Christianity are a way for you and me to stand together with these great souls in a single, unbroken tradition. It is good for that tradition to be whole and unbroken. It's a precious thing that shouldn't be cast off lightly, although it should naturally grow, evolve, and heal its own maladies, which admittedly are many. But that healing, I think, shouldn't result in breaking off from the essentials of that tradition. (What exactly are those essentials? That's a matter for honest discussion, but I would claim that the items listed in the first post in this series would be in that list.)
  • All orthodoxy demands (in my opinion) is agnosticism tempered by an optimistic confidence in God. What I mean is: you don't have to say you know these things are true. Orthodoxy is just saying you don't know for sure that they aren't true, but that you accept them as part of your tradition and trust God to reveal their truth and meaning to you if and when it suits God's purposes to do so. The alternatives are to either say you know with certainty that these items are true, you know with certainty that they are false, or you couldn't care less. The first two alternatives to orthodoxy, it seems to me, are completely at odds with both faith and reason. The last is only at odds with faith.
  • Orthodoxy gets you a seat at the table with conservative sisters and brothers in Christ. This may seem cynical, but it's not, and I think it's vitally important. I am not saying,"Lie to the conservatives about what you believe so they'll talk to you." However, if you can honestly say that you can affirm the basic tenets of the historic Christian faith, then you may be recognized as a brother or sister in the faith by those for whom orthodoxy is a fundamental requirement. If you must deny some of those tenets, you may be considered an outsider and not welcomed to the table. And in my opinion, being welcomed to that table is vital to healing the jagged divisions in the body of Christ that cripple us and hinder our mission. It's vital to enabling the mutual love by which Jesus said his followers would be recognized. Again, I'm not advocating dishonesty. I'm just saying that it's worth considering whether your discomfort with some of those tenets is close enough to negative certainty to preclude the trusting agnosticism mentioned above. To thine own self be true, but are you honestly that certain? Certain enough to trump Christian love?

So that's my case. I really don't think it's going to convince anyone, but if it's food for thought, that's all I hope for. I'm very hopeful that we, the body of Christ, might to some substantial degree heal our bitter left/right divisions and meet on the common ground of generous orthodoxy. So many of my evangelical and post-evangelical brothers and sisters are working hard to convince their fellow evangelicals, for whom orthodoxy seems self-evident, to be generous too. I feel compelled to do my part (as a mainline post-liberal) to try to help my fellow liberals, for whom generosity seems self-evident, to reconsider orthodoxy if they have dismissed it in the past.

So that's my first fumbling attempt. Sorry it took so long. In my wildest prayers, I see us in the left hand and our friends in the right hand working toward a future in which we're both clasped at the heart of the Body of Christ. And I rejoice, though I also see that there is so much work that God has given us to do. God, be with us. Amen.


car said...

God be with you. Hopefully the filthy hippies will heed your word and advice. Great blog!

Mike Croghan said...

Thanks, car! Hopefully I won't forget that I'm the filthiest of the lot!


Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts. Keep it up!


Jayce from Rochester said...

Hi Mike,

Although a bit of a peculiar way to say hi after a long time of no communication, but at least I'm reading the blog, right?

Anyway, you said, "All orthodoxy demands (in my opinion) is agnosticism tempered by an optimistic confidence in God" and went on to outline several logical combinations of alternatives.

So the difference between faith and non-faith is how you read a tautology. By that, I mean that God revealing Himself to you (is that the right phrasing?) may or may not happen. Faith argues, "but it may" while non-faith argues, "but it may not."

Given that this "revealing" is guaranteed to happen when you die (I'm making an assumption instead of asking just to speed up the comment-response cycle) then wouldn't that aspect of faith be a claim to knowledge you cannot possess?