Orthodoxy? Not Really


Prof. Timothy Tennent from Asbury Theological Seminary shared some thoughts:

What we actually have is a group (however imperfectly) which is committed to historic Christianity. The second group (however imperfectly) is committed to a re-imagined church. One, however flawed, is committed to the recovery and defense of historic Christian orthodoxy. The other, however nice and erudite, has not demonstrated a robust commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy. Thus, we actually have two groups; one orthodox and one heterodox. I will be the first to concede that even orthodoxy in North America has become so weak and bland that is has become hardly recognizable. Likewise, I believe that many in the heterodox camp are driven by important “branches” of the gospel, even if they have lost touch with the Christian “root.” But, this should not confuse the deeper point I am trying to make.

I dearly love this paragraph.  The orthodox aren’t as orthodox as they should be; the heterodox are orthodox in a lot of ways.  That doesn’t really matter because at least the orthodox don’t want gay people sullying our churches.

The orthodox group stands with the Apostles, the prophets, the martyrs and the biblical witness as revealed in Scripture. The orthodox have the whole of the church throughout the ages standing with them. The orthodox are contending for the faith “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). The heterodox come and go with every generation. They rise up, make a big noise, cause a huge stir, and tell the church that we are no longer “relevant.” However, in just one generation the faith of the heterodox has withered away until the next challenge comes. We are now over 2,000 years into the Christian proclamation. The orthodox message is still here. In fact, from a global perspective, it is alive and well. It is robust and flourishing. The heterodox are sweeping in for another assault. We’ve endured the gnostics, the Arians, the Marcionites, the Montanists, the Pelagians, the Manicheans, the neo-liberals, the “prosperity” gospel, and the populistic reductionists, to name a few. But, take heart, in a generation this group will be long gone and orthodoxy will still be preaching the gospel, baptizing new believers, believing the Bible, worshipping the Triune God, planting new churches and looking for the return of Christ. So, be encouraged: Do not lose heart. Keep the faith. Keep Loving. Remember the Gospel. Preach the Word. This present storm will pass and the gospel will prevail.

Now this is a thing of beauty.  “Orthodoxy” is not “a thing” that has persisted over the Christian millennia.  It has changed constantly; just ask Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, Jan Hus, John Wesley, Peter Waldo to name a few.  As for what “the orthodox” have stood for over the centuries – butchering men and women indiscriminately; burning people at the stake who thought differently than they did; chasing the Jews of Jerusalem in to the synagogue, blocking the doors, then burning them alive; torture; burning or hanging women who were accused of “witchcraft”; the Roman Catholic branch of “orthodoxy”, just over a century ago, denounced as “heterodox”, among other thing: democracy, “Americanism”, and freedom of religion.  The church supported slavery for nearly 2,000 years as a natural state for some people.  I could go on, but I hope you understand the point here.  Standing with “the orthodox” on any particular moral issue creates all sorts of far more troublesome moral issues, unless you are willing to face them.

Furthermore, when has support of gay marriage ever in the history of the church been a test of orthodoxy?  Indeed, when has any particular moral issue ever been a test of “orthodoxy”?  Holding the centrality of the Gospel story as our story – the story of God’s infinite, prodigal, intra-Trinitarian love overflowing to create an Other than God that would exist solely to give God praise; the broken, sinful creation saved from death understood as separation from God redeemed in the death and resurrection of Christ; the hoped-for consummation of the New Creation when all – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – shall kneel and give this loving God the Glory.  That is orthodoxy.

Gay marriage?  Not so much.  Taking a stand on orthodoxy that includes gay marriage is kinda-sorta not understanding what “orthodoxy” means.  Except, of course, as code, as I wrote, for not sullying our churches with gay people who think they can be Christians.

Finally, I would add Matthew 25 to the whole discussion.  Central to the teachings of Jesus was not “orthodoxy” as a bunch of stuff we say and think.  It is how we live in love toward others.  Have we welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, fed the hungry?  Then, we are orthodox.  Marriage, one way or another, just doesn’t enter in to it.  Furthermore, I would contend that an expansive “orthodoxy” that includes jettisoning forced rape and marriage, which has Biblical roots as deep as hatred of sexual minorities; that opens our pulpits and the episcopacy to women, despite clear Biblical injunctions against it; such an expansive orthodoxy should have room enough to welcome our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans brothers and sisters as full participants in the life of the church.  I mean, compared to celebrating the near-destruction of the Jewish population of Jerusalem during the Crusades, it seems to me, if that is indeed “heterodox”, I might be willing to go there a lot quicker than holding on to a tradition that is glossed over too quickly, without care or a willingness to see how much blood drips from the word “orthodox”.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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