Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Where I am Now: 2. Theologically Orthodox

I have written earlier about how I came to prefer the description orthodox Christian as a way of describing my theological beliefs. (See Personal Journey 14) I am more and more convinced that we need to rethink the old labels we give ourselves and others: evangelical, charismatic, liberal, catholic, and so on. This is not to say, as some Christians argue, that labels are without use. After all, as someone once said to me, ‘without a label you don’t know what is in the package’! Labels can be useful as a shorthand for describing what we believe and where it is we are coming from. Equally, labels can be restrictive, narrowing who we are and whom we are willing to speak to.

Perhaps more seriously, the labels can over time become out of date so that a label that once said something meaningful is now irrelevant because the debate has moved on. At the risk of being provocative, I think this is true of some of the labels that came out of the reformation, but which are still used by Christians today. Even labels such as evangelical and charismatic are, I suggest problematic, originating as they do in specific historical circumstances, one in eighteen century England, the other in renewal movement of the 1960s and 1970s. What matters, surely, is not the continuing use of labels that describe products now pass their sell by date, but what these products originally represented and how what is still good in them can be preserved in a way that is relevant to the changed circumstances of our day.

Was it necessary for Protestants to protest against abuses in the then Roman Catholic Church? On the whole, yes. Was it right for evangelicals to stress the authority of Scripture against the exaltation of human reason in the enlightenment? Undoubtedly. Were charismatics right to call for a renewal of the church and a rediscovery of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. But we cannot be fighting the battles of the past over and over again when there are serious issues to be faced in the present.

Roman Catholics may have different beliefs to those who are not, but surely most of us think the Pope is a Christian and not the anti-Christ? Is it evangelicals only who are saved? Do only charismatics experience the Holy Spirit?

What we need is a coming together of Christians who can share the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. What are these? Here generosity is called for. Some Christians would define these so tightly that they exclude everyone, but their own kind. Others would define them so loosely that they have no meaning. Others are opposed to any attempt to define the Christian faith believing in an open faith that is always changing.

I believe that the real issue in present day Christianity has to do with whether the Bible is trustworthy and whether the Creeds are an accurate and reliable statement of the Christian faith. There is a myth of Christian origins doing the rounds that the Da Vinci Code tapped into and which is believed by many Christians. I regard this as the most dangerous heresy facing the Church today. It is a myth that questions the reliability of the four canonical Gospels, criticizes the role of Paul, gives credibility to Gnosticism, and challenges the authority of the Creeds and the nature of the canon.

It is perhaps not surprising that they attack the foundation because once the foundation falls all those of whose faith is built on it fall with it. We need to accept that there have been errors in the past and that our labels reflect this, but what we need now is for all who accept the Bible and the Creeds to put aside their differences and strive together for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

What is more, if orthodox Christians can get together there will be an added benefit. As we come out of our ghettos, we can listen to one another and learn from one another as we hear what God has been doing with each of us while we have been apart.

I am not advocating a lowest common denominator approach, nor am I saying that the various groups should sacrifice what is dear to them, just that we should be prepared to work together with those who share an orthodox faith. A coalition of the orthodox is what I am advocating.

Anyway that’s where I am. I value all I have learnt in the past as an evangelical and charismatic, and I don’t reject it. I just want more. I want to be able to explore the Christian faith and its meaning for today learning from the past, but not being limited by it or to it. I want to listen and talk to those not from my tradition and hear what they have to say. I want to present the Gospel to people in a way they can understand and hopefully respond to. And I want to resist the attempt to abandon the authority of the Bible and rewrite the Creeds.

Coming from an Anglican background, I am gratified that that was originally what Anglicans stood for!

No comments: