Monday, March 16, 2009

Remember, With Moxy, Your Own Orthodoxy....

I have touched on this topic before, but perhaps it merits a revisiting in light of recent comments. There are two kinds of "orthodoxy" in my view. The first (we'll call it Big-O Ortho-doxy) represents those things which must be believed in order for a person to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of that word. Most traditions look to the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds as examples of Big-O Orthodoxy.
Then there are various little-o orthodoxies that compete with one another for the other, umm, non-essential doctrines (I shuddered a little just now).

So while any claim to Orthodoxy must include a correct understanding of, say, the divinity of Christ and the hypostatic union of his two natures in one Person, where one stands on the issue of the metaphysics of the Eucharist or the timing of Christ's return may play a part in the orthodoxy of whichever tradition one may be a part of, but they do not affect Orthodoxy with a Big-O.

So for example, Calvary Chapel's orthodoxy demands a belief in the pretribulational rapture, while the PCA's insists on the doctrine of imputation, and Rome's orthodoxy includes the immaculate conception and assumption of the blessed virgin Mary. But all three of these traditions would affirm the tenets of the Nicene Creed (even if, as in our first example, they've never heard of it).

So when the question is asked, "Can your tradition guarantee orthodoxy?", we need to determine what the interlocutor means by "orthodoxy" before we can answer. If he means Big-O Orthodoxy, the answer is "Yes," because if a person in just about any Christian church denies the tenets of the Nicene Creed he will be disciplined, and if the entire church denies them, they will be relegated to the status of a false religion such as Mormonism or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

But if the questioner is asking whether a tradition can guarantee little-o orthodoxy, well, the question is somewhat redundant. Can the PCA guarantee belief among its members in the doctrine of imputation? Can Calvary Chapel ensure that its pastors hold to Dispensational eschatology? Can Rome guarantee that those in her communion affirm transubstantiation? Well, with varying degrees of success, the answer is pretty much "Yes."

But when we identify Orthodoxy with orthodoxies of whatever stripe, the question "Can your tradition guarantee orthodoxy?" becomes meaningless. No, the PCA cannot guarantee belief in the immaculate conception any more than Rome can protect the sanctity of the seven-year tribulation or the "Moses Model" of pastoral ministry.

And for the record, all churches hold to this distinction, whether they admit it or not.