Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Orthodoxy (Generous and Otherwise)

I’ve been thinking lately about how to relate the idiosyncratic beliefs and emphases of a particular Christian tradition to the Christian faith as a whole, and it seems to me that there are a few approaches we may take, at least.

First, we can choose the course that minimizes the specific idiosyncrasies in order to emphasize commonality. Accordingly, if a particular doctrine gets in the way of ecumenicity, it should be either deemphasized or jettisoned altogether. Protestant liberalism seems to prefer this approach.

A second option would be to do the very opposite, willingly sacrificing broad catholicity in order to maintain faithful adherence to the tenets of some Christian tradition or another. When I think of this approach, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church comes immediately to mind. Say what you will about its relevance or lack thereof in the culture, the OPC has the stones to say, "Look, we don’t give a frak about how small we are, we’re maintaining fidelity to our confessions, whatever the cost." Agree or not, you gotta give props to the OPC for their audacious lack of interest in success as defined by their transformationist peers. And for their bow ties.

A third option would be to attempt some hybrid of these two, which is where the PCA seems to fall. Should we ordain women as deacons? Well, that would certainly gain us some street cred in "the city" (you know, the place God really cares about). But then, whatever tolerance we display on the diaconate is canceled out if we oust all the Federal Visionists because they cross their "i"s and dot their "t"s instead of the other way around.

What this all boils down to is the relationship of Orthodoxy and orthodoxies. The former, I would maintain, consists of all the stuff you have to believe to be a Christian. The latter includes the stuff over and above the former, all the peculiar beliefs that make Pentecostals Pentecostal (like the Second Blessing), Calvary Chapel people Calvary Chapel people (like the Rapture), and Presbyterians Presbyterian (like the doctrine of Imputation).

The Protestant belief in the invisible church usually precludes us from equating our various orthodoxies with Orthodoxy with a big O, meaning that we treat the former more as house-rules and not as the actual apostolic paradosis and deposit of faith. There is one church, of course, that sees no distinction between its every dogma and Orthodoxy itself, but they’ve been around long enough to brag a bit, even if they get carried away at times.

But when it comes to the PCA, I hardly think it would be appropriate for me to make such lofty claims, especially about a denomination that was born the same year I was.