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05 November 2015

Getting one’s theological ducks in a row.

’Cause orthodoxy is important. But don’t over-exalt it.

Orthodox /'ɔr.θə.dɑks/ adj. Correct; conforming to what’s commonly or traditionally believed true; generally accepted as right.
2. Usual, conventional, normal, customary.
3. [uppercase] Of the ancient churches originating in the eastern Roman Empire, which formally split from the Roman Catholics in 1054.
[Orthodoxy /'ɔr.θə.dɑks.i/ n.]

I know we Christians teach we’re saved by God’s grace. But way too many of us actually believe we’re saved by orthodoxy.

These Christians call it “saved by faith,” and claim the Protestant reformers actually taught it, and called it sola fide/“faith alone.” “You’re saved by faith alone. So if you don’t have faith—if you don’t believe who God is and what Jesus did—you’re not saved.” Gotta get those beliefs right. Otherwise you’re a heretic, and hell-bound.

It’s a really inaccurate redefinition. Sola fide doesn’t at all refer to salvation by faith alone. ’Cause we’re not saved by faith: We’re saved by grace, remember? Sola fide is about justification—being declared right in God’s sight—by our faith. We’re justified by faith alone. God’s okay with us being in his family and kingdom for one and only one reason: We trust Jesus, Ga 2.16 the one whom he sent us. Jn 6.29 We believe in the Son and get life, whereas those who don’t, won’t. Jn 3.36

Those who try to stretch justification into salvation, insist it’s not just believing in the Son, but believing in all the correct things about him: “Yeah, we believe in Jesus, and it’s just as important we believe in him rightly. We gotta sort out our doctrines so we’re the most proper, correct, infallible Christians ever. So get out that bible and those theology books, ’cause you got a lot of w… Whoops, almost got me to say the W-word. Nope, we’re not saved by works. Ep 2.9 You already knew that. We’re saved by faith. By right faith.”

You can see where it all falls apart. Much as they correctly point out we’re not saved by works, they somehow wanna slip into the mix, without anyone really noticing, the hard work of sorting out our beliefs and becoming orthodox Christians. And convince us if we don’t do it, we’re not really saved—because they don’t believe, can’t believe, God might extend his grace to heretics.

They’re not gracious, so they’re trying to remake God that way too.

But orthodoxy is important, y’know.

Another common mistake Christians make, is assuming if we’re not saved by it, it’s not important.

We’re not saved by good works, as you know. As a result, too many Christians figure we don’t need to do any. It’d be nice if we were good, but it’s hardly mandatory—’cause they don’t save us. In fact, certain dark Christians claim if we make any effort towards being good, it likely means deep down we don’t really trust God to save us; that we expect works to make us righteous; that we lack faith; that good works are actually sin. This’d be one of those examples of calling good evil and evil good, Is 5.20 but they think they can get away with it ’cause Paul rebuked the Galatians for trying to be righteous through Law. Ga 5.1-6

We’re not saved by obeying the Law either. Likewise too many Christians teach we shouldn’t bother to follow it—scriptures to the contrary. Mt 5.17-19, Ro 6.15 Don’t have to learn the Ten Commandments. Don’t need to do ’em. Go ahead and murder, steal, and worship idols; makes no difference ’cause grace means God’ll save you anyway.

We’re not saved by orthodoxy, as I just pointed out. So loads of Christians figure that doesn’t matter either: “Believe what you like. All roads lead to God anyway. All religions are basically the same, right? I mean, other than that Hindus won’t eat cow, Jews won’t eat pig, and Christians won’t stop eating bacon burgers. God’ll forgive our misdeeds and misbeliefs, and we’ll go to heaven regardless.”

These are some of the many excuses we Christians use for laziness. For our lack of self-control. For living pagan lifestyles, yet claiming we’re Christians nonetheless. For embracing cheap grace.

Look, the reason God saves us is so we can do good works. Ep 2.10 Not so we can sit on our growing behinds and bask in his salvation. Now that we’re saved, we’ve got work to do. And just so we get cracking on the stuff God actually wants us to do, instead of the busywork our Christianist culture does instead, it just makes sense to get to know the actual God, instead of the Christianist interpretations which con us into doing anything and everything else—preferably things which get their candidates elected. Stand back and look at what they’re demanding we do: If Jesus is just gonna overthrow it once he returns, stands to reason it’s a colossal waste of our time, effort, money, and passion.

So, orthodoxy. True, having correct beliefs doesn’t guarantee we’re saved. I remind you of the demons whom James pointed out know precisely who God is. If it were possible for non-physical beings to soil themselves in fear, these’d be the beings. Jm 2.19 But salvation isn’t the point. Doing our post-salvation good works is. Orthodoxy is a good work.

The opposite of orthodoxy, heresy, isn’t a bad work so much as it’s no work. People stumble into heresy. Very few of us actively seek it out in order to embrace it—and those who do, are usually just trying to piss off certain Christians. The most common reason people go heretic is because it’s the path of least resistance. People stop believing God’s a trinity because it’s easier to embrace a nontrinitarian view. People refuse to believe in miracles because it’s easier to live in a universe where God stays out of it, rendering everything predictable, permitting us to be totally sovereign moral agents. People refuse to denounce sin because it’s easier to tolerate sin than actively oppose it—and conversely people show sinners nothing but wrath and judgment because it’s easier (and more satisfactory) than showing them God’s grace.

If we want a growing relationship with God—aw heck, if we want a relationship with him period, instead of just taking him for granted, expecting him to save us even though it’s obvious to any outsider we really don’t know or love God at all—it only makes sense we’ll try to get to know him as he really is, and not just embrace whichever interpretation of him is most convenient. We’ll trust him enough to actually tackle the things he tells us to do, instead of preemptively assuming they’re impossible, unfathomable, too righteous for unrighteous humans to approach (sola fide notwithstanding), too perfect for imperfect humans to do without ruining everything. We’ll embrace God instead of embracing cop-outs.

After all, Jesus came to earth to reveal God to us. Jn 1.18 Dismissing Jesus’s mission as irrelevant doesn’t strike you as the most Christian of behaviors, does it?

Who decides orthodoxy?

Now, here’s where things get tricky: How do we know which Christian beliefs are orthodox, and which of ’em are heretic? How do we sort the good from dumb, the wheat from weeds, the gold from fool’s gold, the kosher hot dogs from the pure pink slime?

Well, every church in Christendom claims they have the solution:They’re orthodox. Believe ye in their doctrines, and ye shall be saved. Believe ye not in their doctrines, and for a lot of ’em, out you go. Either they’ll kindly ask you to go elsewhere, or they’ll formally excommunicate you, and hand you over to Satan, 1Ti 1.20 ’cause they’re pretty sure God won’t have you.

I agree every church (more accurately, every church’s leadership) has the ability to decide for themselves what they believe, and how firm they’re gonna emphasize those beliefs. Fr’instance one of my previous churches believed Christians shouldn’t drink. No, the bible mandates no such thing; it only recommends we don’t get drunk. Ep 5.18 But that church ministered to a lot of alcoholics, and the leaders felt those who could drink might lead astray those who can’t drink, so it was more important to protect the weaker believers. Ro 14 Makes sense, right? But was this a make-or-break issue, where you’re going to hell if you drink? Absolutely not…

…Okay, not absolutely not. One of the leaders believed strongly and vocally that if you drank, it meant you thought so little of your fellow Christians, you were so selfish as to do your own thing without taking other people into consideration, that you were essentially an antichrist. He doubted such thoughtless people were even saved. To his mind, people God truly saved people would never, ever do that. To him this was a make-or-break issue. Drink, and you’re a heretic.

Now, who died and made him God? But that’s how it works when individual churches, and individual Christians, determine what’s orthodox and what isn’t. Some of us have pet beliefs, and elevate them to first priority when they really don’t need to be. Others are a little too loose with the theology, and permit all sorts of weirdness and corruption in the name of “generous orthodoxy.” Legalists make just about everything into a dogmatic statement, whereas some theological liberals are so permissive, you gotta wonder whether they consider “Jesus is Lord” Ro 10.9 to be optional too.

So churches are free (and really ought) to set a standard. But do they set an ultimate standard, true for every Christian everywhere? Well, some of ’em think they do. Fundamentalists in particular. Disagree with their doctrines and you’re not a real Christian. In fact they’re pretty sure they’re the only real Christians; that when the rapture comes the only ones you’ll find in heaven are Fundamentalists, the first apostles, and Ronald Reagan. Realistically though, who sets the ultimate standard? Who has the final word?

I’d say Christ Jesus. Should be Jesus, right? I mean, why’re we calling ourselves “Christians” otherwise? If we’re gonna be judged in the End by him, obviously he determines what’s correct and what isn’t. That’s the whole point of his teaching, “You’ve heard it said… but I tell you” Mt 5.38-39he defines Christianity. Not me. Nor my favorite Christians. Nor my favorite church. Nor my favorite beliefs, faith statements, creeds, or anything else. We don’t get to the Father except through Jesus, Jn 14.6 and that’s true of our beliefs as well: We don’t “get” God unless Jesus interprets him for us. He sets the standard—and he forgives us when we fall short of it, as we will.

Okay, now who decides heresy?

That word heresy, though. It’s a word too many Christians use with impunity: Anyone we disagree with, we’ll quickly call heretic. And too many people assume heretic means damned. Some of ’em actually teach if you’ve got God wrong in any way, you’re not actually worshiping him: You’re worshiping some devil who’s pretending to be God, and stealing all your worship. At the End you’re gonna discover this to your shock and horror, ’cause surprise!—you’re going to hell. Guess God’s not as merciful as you thought.

Yeah, it’s all kinds of bad theology, but it’s precisely what Christians teach about heretics. Ask ’em what they think God’s gonna do with the Mormons. Or the Muslims. Or the Jews. Or the Catholics. Or the people who speak in tongues—or the people who refuse to speak in tongues, depending on your denomination.

And some of us aren’t too particular about the dividing line between heretic and incorrect. Technically there isn’t one, if orthodox means correct. I remember one blogger, years ago, stating, “We’re all heretics”—’cause we’re all wrong. He was being gracious about it. Other Christians aren’t and won’t be.

Hence I wanna emphasize the fact of grace. Heresy does not mean damned; it only means wrong. And all of us are wrong—we all have errors in our theology, mistaken beliefs which can bollix our relationship with God. We mistakenly trust our favorite beliefs, instead of finding out what Jesus actually teaches, instead of even believing what Jesus actually teaches. These wrong beliefs won’t unsave us, ’cause again, we’re not saved by works. But they’re not good fruit either.

I don’t care to use the word heretic for every single person I think is wrong. Some of us are pursuing Jesus better than others, so it’d be wrong to drive people away from them with the H-word whenever they make a slip-up. And there are levels of wrong. There’s seriously wrong, and there’s not-so-seriously wrong. Every wrong belief can be a minor issue in some areas, and a serious problem in others. Fr’instance if you don’t believe God’s a trinity, you’re wrong—but if you’re still obeying God, most of the time it’s not gonna cause a problem. But it will cause a problem when you start treating Jesus like a lesser god, or not-really-God, and put inadequate faith in him; or claim he’s the Father in disguise, and as a result all the statements in scripture distinguishing the Father from the Son make it sound like Jesus’s apostles were really confused about him… and didn’t know him at all.

Here’s where I stick the dividing line. I reserve heretic only for people, whether Christian or pagan, who believe something contrary to the historic Christian creeds. Since the creeds accurately reflect what Jesus revealed about God, and every orthodox Christian since ancient times has held to ’em, I consider them a useful standard. Teach contrary to the creeds, and I’ll use the H-word. Teach contrary to other Christian beliefs—ones the creeds never touch upon—and I may care, ’cause they might be really, really wrong, like legalism and hypocrisy. But if they’re not violating the creeds, I don’t feel justified in calling them heretic. It’s not one of the big-deal issues we had to formally put to bed 1,000 years ago. It’s not an historical heresy.

If that’s too liberal for you, good grief; I’m still calling ’em wrong. And regardless of what I label ’em, their eternal destination is far from up to me. Whatta you want, anyway? An empty heaven, or a kingdom where anyone who calls on the LORD, even when we’re mistaken or confused, will nonetheless be saved? Jl 2.32, Ro 10.13 Either God saves us by grace or he doesn’t, and if he does, that grace extends to heretics too. Because if it’s only for the right-thinking, it becomes salvation by merit, and by definition that’s not grace.

And if you don’t believe in grace, in the forgiveness of sins, that’s creedal. So that’s heresy.