Monday, May 15, 2006

Speaking of orthodoxy ...

One God, Two Testaments, Three Creeds, Four Councils, Five Centuries

Reflections on orthodoxy by C. Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's deputy for ecumenical and inter-faith relations from a January 2004 issue of The Living Church.

As ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church, I am often asked today, either implicitly or explicitly, whether we are still "orthodox" or not. In other words, now that we have revised our liturgy (and continue to experiment with "supplemental" liturgical texts), ordained women and homosexual persons, and have acknowledged that, at least in some of our churches, same-sex unions are blessed, have we departed completely from what might be called "orthodox" Christianity?

Obviously, we are not Orthodox (with a capital O). That designation is reserved for the Eastern or so-called Oriental Orthodox churches, tracing their identities back beyond the Great Schism of 1054. By this definition, the Roman Catholics, as well as protestants and Anglicans, agree that we {are all "non-Orthodox." The question is, are we orthodox (with a small "0") -- do we hold "the right opinions" on essential matters of the Christian faith?

Read it all

38 comments:

Jeff Martinhauk said...

I'm not sure I agree that I'm orthodox even with a small "o" (which has nothing to do with my sexual orientation), but I like the basic concepts of this article and think it offers a path forward under which I could operate.

Focusing on the basic truths instead of the fine print is what I have always thought the Anglican Communion was about. When Elizabeth pulled both the Catholic and the Protestant together, I don't think she did it based on the details of the theology!

Darius said...

What I seem to see is a growing split in Christianity more fundamental, so to speak, than the interdenominational schisms. It's between those who cling to dogma more firmly; and those who are in-process of letting it go and seeing something more profound in the symbols of our heritage than we have yet lived up to.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Well said, darius.

hg said...

Jeff and Darius,

Your comments remind me of novelist Flannery O'Connor's reaction when a dinner companion once explained to her his view that the consecrated eucharistic bread was truly only a symbol of Christ's broken body. Her heated response was: "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it!"

revsusan said...

hg ... and YOUR comment reminds me of how limiting the "either or" construct is. Why can't it be both "real" and "symbolic"? Do we really have the hubris to believe that the theologies we construct, the rituals we treasure and the symbols that draw us closer to God and to each other come CLOSE to capturing all of who God is? Last time I checked that's called "idolatry" and whether it's a golden calf or a prayer book or a piece of communion bread if we're worshipping "it" instead of the One it was intended to draw us to we're on shaky ground. (In good company, given our scriptural history, but shaky ground nonetheless.)

hg said...

Sister Susan,
On any day, I will take being on what you consider "shaky ground," knowing Jesus is a steady companion, rather than risk keeping Jesus at arm's length by epistemological philosophizing and asking rhetorical questions that few people care much about.

Doug said...

hg,
Evidently a lot of us do care about the "rhetorical questions," as many people who can't accept the literal truth of things like the actual transubstantiation have walked away from the church, not realizing that there is another way to look at those truths that doesn't require me to check my brain at the door. I have no problem with people who can believe literally, but I cannot. If I had not started reading books by Spong and Borg, and blogs such as this, I would either be an atheist now or off trying to discover Buddhim now. Now that I realize that I can accept many of the things spoken about in the Bible as symbolism, and continue to be informed and uplifted by those things, I can continue as a Christian. Jesus is more powerful to me now than he has been since I was a child. And I think that the continued insistence on using a particular set of beliefs to define Christianity is tragically getting in the way of trying to show people what Jesus is all about.

revsusan said...

At the risk of sounding defensive, please read my "Of Sheep and Shepherds" sermon posted earlier this month on this blog and then talk to me about "keeping Jesus at arm's length.

Tony said...

Are we orthodox? Not according to 3/4s of Anglicans worldwide today.

revsusan said...

Well, we still think we're catholic and if you poll the Roman Catholic faithful they don't think we're that EITHER so there ya go!

Catherine + said...

I agree with Jeff in that it is hard to say if we are really "o" orthodox. I do agree with his opinion of Elizabeth I, and at the risk of being redundant, I give you again her quote on the matter:

"I have no desire to make windows into men's souls. There is only one Christ Jesus, one faith.
All else is a dispute over trifles.
Believe what you want about the bread made holy, but come to the rail to receive it."

~~The brilliant "Elizabethan Compromise" summed up in this quote attributed to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I~~

I so admire that woman!

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Tony - I think this author would propose that the 3/4ths you are talking about are bordering on Orthodox (big O), not orthodox (small o). As I've said before, I'm not sure that the "majority rule" is always the best; or we would still have no women priests, still have slavery, still have no voting rights for non-landowners, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately, civil rights do not usually come because the majority just ups and says, "Gee, I think those oppressed people need to be included now. Let's just do it." It usually begins with the Holy Spirit working in a minority, and spreads from there.

To hg, I say again that there is so much to be learned from the literal truths that the literalists ignore. Jesus condemned the "shaky ground" of the scribes, pharisees, and saducees for beginning to worship the tradition instead of the One True God, which seems indicative in your first comment. I relate much better to your second comment; for me Jesus is a steady companion that should not be held at bay by the traditions that we as humans have built up around him. In this case, the divisions among us are chiefly that-- and I think that is the point of the article.

hg said...

Here's what I bet all of us agree on: Before there was any Christian dogma or doctrine, there was Jesus, who taught and then showed, through his crucifixion and resurrection, that God is not interested in the precise thoughts of our minds, but in the orientation of our hearts and how we therefore treat one another. Just this much ought to be seen as world-changing orthodoxy enough.

Peace and mercy!

rmf said...

Notice that everyone here is concerned with discerning Scripture, the will of the Spirit, and of being Christ-like. Notice that with all the various interpretations and paths, who is at the center of them all--Christ. God. Spirit.

Some traditions and faiths demand and insist that we step on precise and specific stones to get to that Cross. Others, like ours, the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, do not. This is not new. This is our tradition. We do not build windows.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

HG - I agree again!!

That's twice in one post!! We're on a roll!

j

Tony said...

Jeff writes:
Tony - I think this author would propose that the 3/4ths you are talking about are bordering on Orthodox (big O), not orthodox (small o).

Jeff, what exactly is this based on? It is certainly not based on any Orthodox perception that I am aware of. The Eastern Orthodox certainly don't think that we are part of their communion. The 3/4s I was referring to are all Anglicans, including Anglicans from the largest (numerically) provinces.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Tony -

What I mean is that the "Orthodox" 3/4, or whatever the number is, is closer to the teaching so Eastern Orthodoxy in holding to the teachings of specific dogma and one application of truth for many.

The "orthodox" that we all can hold to is not the specific application of that truth but the essence of the truth itself; the points that the author raises.

The things that have been pointed out here time and time again - the Eastern Orthodox, as with the Anglican Orthodox, place great emphasis over Scripture, valuing it over the relationship with God-- even using it to define their relationship with God.

To allow Anglicanism to go that direction turns it away from its historical past-- the many applications of the one truth. We have over six billion people on this planet, all created by God, all equally valued by our Creator. To assume that the truth is applied and useful to all six billion of us in the same way is, in my view, arrogant and narrow-minded. That is how I group the two together.

Now don't take that as hatred- that is opinion. In my opinion, the Orthodox viewpoint is a result of a disdain for diversity. A disdain for the genuine appreciation for those who are different. Even a fear of those who do think, act, or behave differently. I don't hate the Orthodox for that lack of appreciation. I still welcome them into the church because I understand that the church is one of the best places to heal those fears. But that doesn't mean that my opinion doesn't exist as it does, or that it is hateful because I welcome diversity- even diversity that by its existence would wipe my own existence out. I can do that because I trust in the Lord my God to reign triumphantly in love and justice over fear, and have hope in his eternal rule so that I have no need to fear the differences that would seek to harm me today.

Tony said...

Jeff writes:
"the Eastern Orthodox, as with the Anglican Orthodox, place great emphasis over Scripture, valuing it over the relationship with God-- even using it to define their relationship with God."

Jeff, this is absolute nonsense. It is nonsense with respect to the EOs as well as Anglicans. I'd like to know where you got this ill-founded idea. It sounds like a typical liberal charicature (sp?) of conservatives.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Tony -

Can you please give me an example of where an Orthodox Christian has used relationship with God as a way forward placing the relational aspect in higher priority over Scriptural elements? I cannot think of one.

In fact, it is the exact problem that the Anglican Orthodox have with the actions of GC03-- we placed heavier weight on the relational aspects of God and what we know from that relationship than the Scripture.

j

All Along the Watchtower said...

I think there are actually two major issues before us. They are related to each other, like two streams that finally join together to form a river.

One is how we apply the Scriptures to our life together as a Church. This is the progressive vs the traditionalist, the revisionist vs the fundamentalist, the liberal vs the evangelical - whatever label suits.

The other issue concerns revelation. How do we apply personal revelation in our life together as a Church? The "spirit is doing a new thing" we hear from our leadership - but how do they know this? What is the criteria for which we decide that the spririt is doing a new thing? If the spirit is truly "the Spirit of Jesus" and He is doing a new thing, how do we know that's true? On what authority do we make that judgment?

Is it personal experience? is it majority rules? Is it tradition? Is it reason? Is it the Scriptures? Which Scriptures? Who decides how to validate extrabiblical revelation?

I think this is where we are seeing a chasm deepening in the Episcopal Church and with the worldwide Anglican Communion. We cannot find common ground to even agree on the parameters of this discussion and our differences are ultimately irreconcilable unless we can agree on the criteria. The criteria itself is the issue - we can't agree on the Scriptures, how will we agree on revelation?

If the basis for judging the vality of revelation is the scriptures vs experience (if I have all ready decided that my behavior is Godly, what difference does it mean if the Scriptures say something else?

Do we not say this over and over: "I am blessed in my lifestyle, in my sexual identity, therefore I am blessed and what I am doing is blessed and affirmed by God. if the Scriptures disagree with that then the Scriptures are wrong, out of date, or obscure - but I will validate the authority of personal revelation by my own experience, not the experience of a bunch of dead people from 2,000 or more years ago - I will decide, it's my choice - the spirit is doing a new thing because I experience that in my life."

Now how can that ever be reconciled with the Anglican understanding of interpreting Scripture and validating personal revelation? For Anglicans, it is Scripture that informs personal revelation, not the other way around.

If we cannot agree on the criteria, have we not all ready chosen to walk apart?

aatw

Jeff Martinhauk said...

aatw -

I think you raise some really interesting ideas.

But I think in the end the biggest problem is this:

"If we cannot agree on the criteria, have we not all ready chosen to walk apart?"

I do not agree.

Remember the quote from Elizabeth I when she formed the church that Catherine posted earlier:

"I have no desire to make windows into men's souls. There is only one Christ Jesus, one faith.
All else is a dispute over trifles.
Believe what you want about the bread made holy, but come to the rail to receive it."

That is the point of this article. That is the point of this discussion. If we are agreed in one faith, one Christ, why do we have to agree on personal revelation over Scripture or vice versa? It is but a trifle. It is the act of coming together as a community at the rail that binds us together as Anglicans. It is not a set of shared beliefs and doctrine. We are NOT a confessional church. We do not claim to have a central set of doctrinal theology. We are diverse. We have been since the days of our foundation. We are both Catholic and Protestant. At once. We are both Orthodox and Progressive. At once. It is this juxtaposition, this balance, this oxymoron, that makes us Anglican. To throw half of the equation out makes us distinctly NOT Anglican.

Chip said...

"If we are agreed in one faith, one Christ, why do we have to agree on personal revelation over Scripture or vice versa? It is but a trifle."

The simple but challenging answer for all of us is that it's not "a trifle": You can't separate Christ from Scripture because it is the Scriptures that testify to Christ. How would we ever know of Christ outside of the Scriptures? How would we know of our sinfulness and our need for a savior outside of the Scriptures? How would we know that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and not just another wonderful human being? How would we know "all things necessary to salvation" apart from the Scriptures?

That's why even Anglicans have considered Scripture to be the final authority for faith and practice throughout the centuries. (See the Thirty-nine Articles and the testimonies of many Anglicans over the centuries.) Yes, our branch of Christianity does hold Scripture, tradition, and reason in balance, no question although we would undoubtedly differ on the definition and the weight given to each one). But there's a reason why our Anglican predecessors felt compelled to insist that the church could never set one Scripture against another or command a Christian to believe anything outside of Scripture (see Article XX). There's a reason why John Jewel would insist that Anglicanism brought nothing new to Christianity but instead was a form of Christianity that lined up with the early church fathers.

Our "personal revelation" (as well as our reason and experience) must always be measured against Scripture. Suppose that my "personal revelation" leads me to murder someone. Was that personal revelation from God? Of course not. But how do we know? From the Scriptures (and more specifically, in this case, the ten commandments). Yes, our conscience may stop us from murdering someone, but it may not as well; just look at some of the criminals out there. A faulty conscience is a sign of how deep our fallenness truly is, and a sign of our sinfulness.

Our "one faith, one Christ" is based on Scripture; if it is not, then we will have neither one faith nor one Christ. Some will believe in our need for a savior, the fully human, fully divine Son of God who came to redeem us from our sins. Others will believe in our need to follow the teachings of a human being who was possibly the best example who ever walked this earth of what God is like. The two beliefs are not the same, even if you consider both acceptable; there is not one faith there, nor one understanding of who Jesus is.

"It is the act of coming together as a community at the rail that binds us together as Anglicans."

Even there, our common prayer binds us together in common doctrine. Our eucharistic prayers and our words of institution are full of doctrine.

"It is not a set of shared beliefs and doctrine."

Just take a look at any of our BCP prayers (not just the eucharistic one) and look at how they are full of doctrine. "Shared beliefs and doctrine" do not bind us together? Thousands of Anglicans are spinning in their graves right now.

"We are NOT a confessional church."

Yes and no. No, we're not as that term is popularly understood these days. But are we a confessional church? Of course we are. Every week we confess, "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Every week we sing the Gloria, in which we confess our belief in certain attributes and facts about the Holy Trinity. Every week we say the Nicene Creed. I agree with those who say that Anglicanism has a diffused rather than a systematic theology, but we still confess our faith each week in our worship, and perhaps daily in our private devotion.

****

All of this is not to say that there are no doctrinal differences among Christians (of course there are, and there are doctrines that are adiaphora), but that we cannot say that doctrine does not bind us together. It does, and the lack of agreement on essential doctrine separates us greatly, even if we are in the same denomination.

Peace of Christ to all,
Chip

All Along the Watchtower said...

Alas, Jeff (and by the way, I do enjoy reading your posts very much - are you going to Columbus?) you write that the Anglican Church "is not a set of shared beliefs and doctrine." Aye, there is the rub. The majority of the Anglican Communion believes that it is (as contained in the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles). This is why it seems that we have all ready chosen to walk apart - the Episcopal Church has long been on this road (and I think many Episcopalians do sincerely believe it is a good thing, that God is really doing something new and the Anglicans worldwide have not yet been enlightened). But for the majority of Anglicans, the millions and millions of Anglicans worldwide, we are bound together by a common faith. We Episcopalians do not agree with the majority of Anglicans and we haven't for a long, long time. The church you describe is not what Elizabeth I envisioned, nor is it the one that Ridley and Latimer died for. The new expressions of sexuality and marriage are examples of how far we've walked apart all ready. I will say it again, we cannot agree on the criteria to even discuss how we apply Scripture to our lives and how we test the validity of personal revelation. By saying everything is okay does not make it so. And that is what makes this so darn sad. The Anglican doctine matters very very much to evangelicals and Anglo Catholics and some charismatics as it is expressed in the Prayer Book and the 39 Articles - it matters very very much. All ready our Prayer Book has drifted far from the Prayer Books around the Anglican Communion. It matters and to have those doctrines dismissed as irrelevant in light of the progressive doctrine of "community" continues to break us apart. It doesn't work - and again the doctrine of revelation becomes a stumbling block. It's irreconcilable differences.

We don't even speak the same language anymore. The definition of our words are different. We have been walking apart for a long time - at least 30 years all ready. General Convention 2003 just woke the rest of the world up to what has all ready happened.

This is why all the Anglican Instruments of Unity have warned and suspended the Episcopal Church from full fellowship with the Anglican Communion at this time. They are trying to tell us the truth - but we can't hear it. As American Episcopalians - who are so used to getting our way and believing we are right all time - we just can't believe it. We just can't believe it.

aatw

Jeff Martinhauk said...

I think that Chip and aatw have proved my point-- Orthodox Anglicans do put Scripture over relationship with God.

It is relationship with the Bible that Orthodox Anglicans value, as Chip expresses:

"You can't separate Christ from Scripture because it is the Scriptures that testify to Christ."

I've already commented on why I don't agree with this. To add to my previous comments, that doesn't mean that I don't value Scripture.

I'll just quote again the UCC taglines that I love: "God is still speaking" and "Never put a period where God put a comma."

God continues to work actively in the world and in our lives. As I've also said before, in a political race a campaigner on one side once said "I offer you a bridge to the past." That was a mistake in my mind, the same mistake of Biblical literalism. "I offer you a bridge to the future" was the response. That is the promise of Christ (and don't worry - I'm not implying that Christ is in any way tied up with either political candidate, I just like the imagery). The Bible is the bridge to the past. It offers a wonderful starting point for the journey. But it isn't the destination. Christ alone is the destination.

Chip said...

Jeff,

I guess you'll have to refresh my memory: Why do you disagree with the statement, "You can’t separate Christ from Scripture because it is the Scriptures that testify to Christ"? I don't think that any Christian can deny this statement, no matter how much weight he or she puts upon personal revelation. How would we have any words of Christ apart from the Scriptures? How would we have any information about Christ's love, mercy, and grace apart from the Scriptures? How would we have any accounts of Jesus' healing and other miracles apart from the Scriptures? Would our BCP be sufficient? Even there, our BCP is full of Scripture. Sure, God could have ensured that accounts of Jesus were accurately transmitted orally from generation to generation, but he didn't leave us to that; in his providence, he had Christians write the gospels. Christ himself, if we believe the words attributed to him (and I realize that some here may come from more of a Jesus Seminar-type perspective, while I do not), opened the eyes of the disciples to how the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of him. You may believe that the Scriptures contain an admixture of truth and error and are only a "starting point" for the faith, but even so, without them, we don’t have any record of Christ's life, teachings, or death on the cross. How, then, can we separate Christ from the Scriptures?

My second question would be this one: How do we judge whether our personal revelation reflects the will of God? Again, my conscience could conceivably malfunction and lead me to do a whole bunch of evil things. My reasoning could be wrong. My experience does not give me the whole picture. My point is that even the commands given to Israel at Mount Sinai are not natural to the human heart. We envy regularly; murder and theft occur every day; many human beings commit adultery. Since our minds, hearts, consciences, and every other faculty that we have are susceptible to sin, how would we know absolutely not to steal or envy? And so when it comes to our personal revelation, what is our measuring rod? How can we determine that something reflects the heart and mind of God? We must turn to the revelation that God granted us in the Scriptures. (Even the two greatest commands come to us through Scripture. Would we ourselves, given our natural self-centeredness, ever have dreamed them up?)

"God continues to work actively in the world and in our lives." What Christian doesn't believe this, Jeff? Of course, God is at work in the world. He continues to draw people to himself. He continues to justify sinful human beings and then transform them into the image of his son. He continues to use Christians as agents of transformation in the world. Of course, Christ is the destination—God's plan is to bring everything in heaven and on earth under Christ's lordship (Ephesians 1:10).

I don't believe that you or any other progressive don’t value Scripture, Jeff. Do those of us who are orthodox put Scripture above our relationship with God? Not at all. Rather, we realize that Scripture and our relationship with God inevitably go hand in hand, as I tried to illustrate both in the first two paragraphs above and in my previous note. We look to Scripture to know how to love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We look to Scripture to know how to pray. We look to Scripture to follow Jesus as his disciples and obey his commands. We look to Scripture throughout our Sunday worship because we believe that "all Scriptures were written for our learning"—and, more than that, our heart transformation. We look to Scripture for the basis for our sacraments. We look to the Scriptures to share the good news about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. Our relationship with God simply does not exist without the Scriptures, Jeff. They are not above our relationship with God; the goal is to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ, not a book. Undeniably, though, in God's providence he has made the Scriptures indispensable to our relationship with him.

Peace of Christ,
Chip

Anonymous said...

Chip,
As a GLBT Christian who usually (although not always)concurs with more progressive interpretations of doctrine, I think you raise some excellent points for which we progressives often skirt direct answers. By what criteria do we discern whether a change is "of the Spirit" or of some other motive? It had better not be exclusively whether it feels 'right' or 'good' or 'liberating' to us individually. We are all subject to sin; none of us completely surrenders all ego to God's will. My personal answer is that my discernment about such matters comes in three phases. First, I pray about it, asking the Spirit of Christ to lead me in discerning right from wrong. Second, I ask myself: if I were on my deathbed, would I feel anything squeamish, regretful, or shameful about the action, position, or behavior? If the answer is no, nothing about it would create a wedge between me and God, then I move to my last phase of discernment: am I the only one of my peers (or one of a neglible minority) who feels that way? The rule of majority is not always moral, but it's a feasible cross-check for fallible human conscience. That is why I believe the actions of GC2003, approved by the majority, are of the Spirit. Unfortunately, much of the interaction and exchange since then has been flagrantly self-serving, politically driven, and abhorrently unChristian in spirit, on the part of both progressive and conservative Christians. We will be held accountable some day for how we have treated one another. Thank you, Chip, for your civility and for asking some of the hard questions.

Jon said...

I seem to recall hearing that the Jewish historian Josephus (circa 70 CE) confirmed that Jesus existed and was crucified, but other than that you are quite right, Chip, to insist that we can't know anything about Jesus without looking to Scripture. On the other hand Scripture doesn't exist separately from the authority of the community or an individual's experience. The Church set the canon in the first place, and no one is able to entirely separate one's experiences from how one interprets the Scriptures.

Actually this seems to point to the caricatures of both the left and the right. The left gets painted as mostly ignoring Scripture, while the right gets painted as being clueless about the gap between Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. In both cases the caricature has some basis in reality, although it is not an accurate reflection of reality.

Jon

Tony said...

Jeff, Scripture for the orthodox is the objective standard by which we discern what is going on in our experience. If this is placing Scripture over relationship, then you have thousands of years of Jewish and Christian history to argue against. For the orthodox, we try as best as we can not to take our experience and make Scripture fit it. For the orthodox, Scripture is revelation given to us by God so that we can understand how best to walk with Him and live with everyone else.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

I'll answer Chips questions as best I can. And I disagree that progressives don't use the Bible and don't take discernment seriously. I always spend time in deep prayer before making serious decisions. And I read the Daily Office every morning, usually with full Morning Prayer.

1) I would say again that the starting point for knowledge of Christ is Scripture. And, I would definitely say it is NOT the ending point. I cannot have a relationship with a book. I can use it as a learning tool to begin a relationship. A relationship through the Christ I experience in prayer, in the world, and in the Christ I experience in every person I meet. From this perspective I am more open to the "evangelical" version of the "personal relationship with Jesus."

2) I think discernment can use scripture as the starting point, but again it cannot be the sole input, and it cannot be taken literally. And the spirit moves in many ways. As my rector once said when the accusations flew about the consent of Gene Robinson being "out of order" because we hadn't formalized ordination of gay and lesbian persons canonically yet: "The Holy Spirit doesn't always come in through the front door, well announced. Sometimes the Holy Spirit slips in through the back door, or the alley, or in the manger of a stable behind an inn." I think thats true. How do we discern if its valid? In community (I love the Quaker "Clearness Committee" approach). In prayer. In careful contemplation. Do we exclude Scripture? No. Do we use Scripture literally? No. It is the historical context that is important. The guidebook for the journey, not the rulebook for the classroom. What does it tell us of God and God's character? What is consistent with the love, peace, justice, hope, and compassion that we know to make up God's nature? And that is the main difference. I find the judgement, the fear of God, the limitations, the restrictions, to be inconsistent with God's character. I find only love in God's character - God is love. Does God ask us to always improve ourselves? Yes. Does God always hope that we will find the path that leads to a better way? Yes. But passages leading to the demoralization, discrimination, even hatred, of anyone, are just not consistent with God's character. We have to take all of this into account when we discern. In my own discernment journey for the priesthood, I read a book by a Presbyterian minister. One of the things it said was "God wants for us for our innermost desires, wants, and needs to be fufilled." I believe that to be true. Just like any parent wants that for a child. That is the essence of discernment. It isn't selfish once we have dealt with those things which are not the "innermost" desires- the things that block us from knowing those innermost desires. Then we desire to love and be loved. To serve. To be a part of God's kingdom on earth. Those are good things. And that is what God wants for us. I hope that answers the question.

The dilemma before us is this: I consider the Orthodox desire to prevent inclusion of GLBT people to fully participate in the church as one of those "blockages," namely homophobia. Orthodox folks see my homosexuality as one of those "blockages" preventing me from living up to my potential. While you can always find a few dissenters, most mental and medical health professionals agree that homosexuality is not a "blockage." It doesn't matter why I am gay. It only matters that I am. And God loves me as the whole person that I am.

Now I hate these big long posts, but there you have it. And I'm still not sure I completely answered the question. But there just isn't time without taking up even more space.

Chip said...

Jeff,

Thanks for your thoughts. Allow me to question you on a given point, however.

"Do we use Scripture literally? No."

Does anyone here take Micah 6:8 literally, or is "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" metaphorical without any literal meaning intended? What about the many commands to care for the poor? How about the command not to commit adultery?

All of us take Scripture literally at many points in our discernment processes. We have to do so. Scripture doesn't allow us to take a totally metaphorical approach to it. Let's say that I'm tempted to steal a possession of a friend of mine. Do I take "You shall not steal" literally? Of course. Or what if I envy my neighbor, for [whatever reason -- fill in the blank]? Do I take God's command not to envy literally? Of course.

And because we are sinful, God does not want all of "our innermost desires, wants, and needs to be fufilled." Sure, God loves to give us our Holy Spirit-inspired desires, including the desire to love and serve God; absolutely! But he does not bless the deeply rooted sinful desires that every single human being has, whatever they may be for each individual. We always will struggle with sin in this life, even as the Holy Spirit transforms our lives to make us more like Christ. God loves us, yes -- more than we can ever imagine. But like any good parent, he tells us "no" at times, and he already has said "no" in the Scriptures to stealing, adultery, envy, and murder, among other things.

I don't know about you, Jeff, but the more I look at my innermost desires, the more sin I find where I didn't see it before. (Envy is a particularly difficult one for me.) That's something that, when I'm submitting to Christ, humbles me and drives me to him. Sin, in its many forms, is as natural to us as breathing. I'm thankful, though, that God is in the lifelong business of transforming Christians more and more to be like Jesus. It's incredible, amazing grace that when we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, God adopts us into his family, gives us the Holy Spirit, and begins the long process of transforming our character so that we become like Jesus. That's too wonderful for any of us.

Peace of Christ to you,
Chip

Chip said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your thoughts. They are clearly heartfelt, and I appreciate them. Much of what you say regarding discernment resonates with me. The major point in my decision making process that you don't mention is the most important one for me: Will my decision violate God's commands in Scripture? (Or, put more postively, is my desire in accordance with God's will for me as expressed in Scripture?)

And thanks for the sober-minded reminder that God will hold us accountable for how we treat each other. As C.S. Lewis once said, we've never met someone who wasn't an immortal, and that should influence us to treat each person with respect and dignity.

God bless!
Chip

Chip said...

Jon,

Yep, I recall that Josephus does mention Christ's existence and death on the cross, but little else. Thanks for that contribution! I'll also agree with your other points concerning Scripture; without the superintending influence of the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to see it clearly due to our sinfulness.

Peace of Christ,
Chip

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Chip -

I tried to distinguish between "our innermost desires" of the true self, and the false desires when we are mislead by sin. I think that is the difference that you mention with envy, etc. I believe that people are, at our core, good. I don't believe that, at our core, people are bad, evil, or sinful. We live in a world of good. If we didn't, as Desmond Tutu likes to say, you wouldn't be able to trust stoplights to keep traffic from running into you, or walk down the street without being constantly afraid of your life, etc., etc., etc. Do we sin? Yes. Is it deeply embedded within us as the core of our being? No. I think as we find our true self we find our innermost desires push us to be less sinful. We may not attain sinlessness, but we find ourselves aware internally, as you mention, of our own internal wants and needs to do good instead of evil. Those are the internal wants and desires that God wants for us. When someone gets to this level of spiritual and psychological health, those wants and needs usually do not consist of selfish wants and needs, but as I have mentioned the need to serve others; the need to love and be loved, the need to walk in Christ's footsteps.

On literalism- as I said, we have to read scripture with the context of God's character. The verses you mention reinforce our understanding of God's character. But there are verses which don't. Take the creation story. We've got two of them. Both written in the post-exhile period. We have to look at the motivation for why the authors wrote what they wrote. Was it to describe how the world was created (7 days, etc) Was it to give Israel returning to Jerusalem a sense of order out of the chaos of Babylon? I think it was the latter. We see in the first creation story the sense of order out of chaos. Reading it in this context renders a very different meaning from trying to project an actual creation "how" story on it, as our Creationist brothers and sisters would try and do. That is what I mean by taking it literally. What we can do is use the story as a starting point for the "why". God created us out of love- to be with us, to spend time with us, in God's own image. Yes, it is selectively literal. I never said it wasn't. I am actually explicitly saying that it is- and that we move from there to the application in our lives. Again- scripture is the starting point. Scripture can never be the ending point.

Chip said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You write, and make points, well.

Here, we get to what I'd guess is the primary difference between progressives and orthodox: Are human beings essentially good or sinful? We both believe that God created humanity, and it was good. We both believe that God has given common grace to everyone that makes things less bad then they could be: both the sun and the rain are experienced by the righteous and the unrighteous, etc. However, because of humanity's fall, the orthodox believe that every faculty of human beings has been corrupted by sin —- not that we are as bad as we could be, but that we are sinful to such a degree that we are separate from God and need to be reconciled to him. Consequently, we are not "good" when we are born into this world due to our proclivity to sin, and every human being needs to be reconciled to God. That reconciliation occurs through repentance and faith in Christ, through which we are adopted into God’s family and given the Holy Spirit to transfom us into becoming what God desires us to be.

I realize, however, that many (most?) progressives do not believe in original sin, which has been the teaching of the Christian church for centuries. Differences about even that one doctrine, however, change how we view salvation, Christ, and many other facets of the Christian life. Hence, our divisions run deep.

Peace of Christ,
Chip

Jeff Martinhauk said...

You may be right in the identification of this issue. I think two things point me in the direction I take on it:

1) My parents and their love of me, which allows me to love freely, knowing that no matter what I do they want the best for me; and

2) My children, and my love for them, knowing that no matter what they do I want the best for them.

I understand that strong as the love is between my parents and I and between my children and I, Gods is stronger. I can't imagine a just God who would ever allow, no matter how wrong something one of his children did, to suffer in eternal punishment for one mistake. Especially when there are so many environmental, genetic, and socialogical factors that can contribute to those choices.

So yes, I agree we need to be reconciled. But I believe that even if we don't chose reconciliation, God's love is so big, God's Grace is so wide, that we are forgiven anyway. So sin is taken care of. That isn't an excuse to do whatever we fancy. But it is joy and something to celebrate! Not something to be sorry about, feeling the Catholic guilt that is so often focused on. God loves us! All of us! More than we can know! Rejoice! And be happy! And serve the Lord in love and peace! The knowledge of God's love is enough to motivate us to serve. We don't serve out of a self-serving interest to try and cleanse ourselves of sin, or out of guilt. We serve out of joy and love! Goodness- the weight you orthodox folks carry around astounds me. I don't think that is what God wants for us. I can't believe that.

Laura said...

Jeff-

This thread may be too old for you to respond, but something you said in your last post got my attention.

"I understand that strong as the love is between my parents and I and between my children and I, Gods is stronger. I can't imagine a just God who would ever allow, no matter how wrong something one of his children did, to suffer in eternal punishment for one mistake. Especially when there are so many environmental, genetic, and socialogical factors that can contribute to those choices."

What if one of your children killed someone...purposefully. They were hurt to the core, so they planned it and excuted it. and they went to jail, and got the death penalty- after a jury of their peers convicted them. Would you be there every step of the way, loving them and hurting with them? Just from reading your posts, I would have to say you would. I know that my heart would be breaking for my child,and I"dbe with them every chance I had, and love them unconditionally. But all of that would not change the fact that if they were guilty, they would have to pay the price of their actions. I could not, nor would not change that.

I guess that is how I view God. His love is so great as to encompass all our sins...but there are consequences to our actions, and I can't believe that He will just forgive them because He loves us so much. If that were the case, we wouldn't need a Savior. I love my children desperately, but if we don;t allow them to face any consequences of their actions, is that really instructing them? If you are late everyday to work, you're going to get fired. If you don't learn to be on time, you will have a hard time keeping a job. That is the reality of consequences. And I think that is where some of the disagreement lies.

Chip said...

Jeff,

Laura stated much of what I wanted to say very well. As C.S. Lewis once said, "We are all rebels who need to lay down our arms against God." The theology that you outline makes Christ no longer a savior, but just an example.

And, Jeff, do you know any of us who are orthodox personally? I think you'd find that we are quite joyful in our following Jesus. The Christian life is a paradox: Christ bids us all to take up our crosses and follow him, but his burden is also light. There is more joy in following Christ than anything else in the world.

Peace of Christ!
Chip

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