Thursday, November 04, 2004

Defending Orthodoxy

Recent discussions on this blog have basically come down to what is orthodox? How far is too far? When is an idea too crazy? I think when we have these discussions what we run into is the desire to defend orthodoxy. It is about drawing lines. Who is in and who is out.

But I've been wondering, who are we defending orthodoxy for? I think the desire of Christians to strictly define what is orthodox is a mechanism of institutional and organizational survival. The fear is that without strict boundaries of acceptable thought the organization (the Church) will lose its distinctiveness. But how does that translate into spreading the good news? I think the inclination to defend orthodoxy is destructive to the mission of the church, because institutional concerns trump the ability of Christians to share Christ's radical message of love and grace.

Think of Martin Luther King Jr. Certainly his message was well outside "orthodox" for many southern Christians. But almost no one would argue now that people of color should be excluded from the church. Think of the movements within mainline denominations to allow women to participate in ministry. Again, outside of orthodoxy. But most Christians now would never think of denying women the right to be full partners in ministry.

Those social movements trumped the desire to defend orthodoxy. What if gay/lesbian/bisexual rights are the next movement? How are conservative Christians keeping the church from sharing the good news in the name of orthodoxy?
I think crazy ideas are good things. They're not all right, but we need to have space where we can think wild thoughts and ask crazy questions. Crazy questions like, "why does God love me?" "How can God forgive me?" When we try to limit thought to what is appropriate and orthodox, the body of Christ suffers.

I'm going to leave you this quote from Jeffrey John (read the full article here):

... If you're ever disillusioned by other Christians it's your own fault because you shouldn't have had illusions in the first place - either about them or yourself. We are all on the margins where God is concerned, but he holds his nose and he uses what he's got. If he wants to use a bad-tempered old bag to feed the poor of Calcutta, who are we to say otherwise? If he wants to use a rampant adulterer to bring freedom to a billion black people, who are we to complain? It was probably their sins that brought them to God in the first place. The question for us is, what comparable good have we achieved to balance out ours?

The Church that Jesus first assembled was a gang of sinners and rejects. Any Church that is His Church ought to know that it is the same. It has to show the same kind of love, the kind that includes and embraces first, then let’s the love do the healing from the inside. That’s what Catholic means. Michael Marshall once wrote: ‘the test of genuinely Catholic Christianity is not that it makes good people better, but that it makes bad people holy’.

Or as Oscar Wilde, another good Catholic put it: We are all in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars.

Thanks to Father Jake for the link.



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