Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How Big is Your Circle?

We all have a circle of orthodoxy. It's actually quite an unpleasant aspect of Christianity, but we all make one. Being inside our circle is a necessary but not sufficient requirement before we will have Christian fellowship with someone.

In theory this is a good thing. We are definitely instructed by scripture to judge those who claim to be believers, and to avoid them if we judge them lacking. However, every indication in scripture is that forgiveness, correction, instruction, and discipleship are to be attempted and exhausted prior to excommunication and refusal to fellowship. Love is to cover a multitude of sins.

For myself, I try to use the historic creeds to define a circle of orthodoxy. For example, the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

To me, anyone willing to affirm this creed is a Christian--assuming their actions and deeds do not belie their words. By their fruit they are known. The abominable Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" fame, for all I know, would affirm these words, but I judge him as an apostate and would not treat him as a Christian.

The Nicene Creed says nothing about predestination, eschatology, or the mode of baptism. On all those things I have strong opinions, and on all of them I might be wrong. I wouldn't think of making one's position on those doctrines a litmus test for fellowship. As others have said in other ways: we must not corrupt our certainty in Justification by Faith Alone with Justification by Affirming the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.

I bring this up, because over on Ed Brayton's blog there is a discussion of Martin Luther. It's a rather cheap post, bringing up once again Martin Luther's anti-Semitism, as if we don't all know about that. (Should we remind everyone what Darwin wrote about Africans?)

As an aside, I'll reproduce what I wrote about Luther in the comments:

Certainly many Protestants, such as [me], would regard Martin Luther as a "real" Christian. For his development, or recovery depending on your point of view, of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone--indeed for his illuminating all the solas of the reformation: Scriptura, Christus, Gratia, Fide, and Deo Gloria we owe a great deal to Martin Luther.

At the same time we are repulsed by his anti-Semitic writings. Likewise we are repulsed by the sinfulness we see in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul wrote about Christians dealing with their personal "body of death" --a graphical allusion to the practice of punishing a killer by chaining him to the putrefying corpse of his victim. In Martin Luther, I would say, we see that his body of death includes a hatred for the Jews that goes beyond what could be explained by the times in which he lived. (Lest we forget, anti-Semitism was, at the time, ubiquitous.)

All Christians have a body of death they drag about. I certainly wish that Luther's wasn't as hideous as it was. But I admire him greatly for that which he did accomplish and am proud to be a Luther-ian (but not a Lutheran.)

Besides, he wrote A Mighty Fortress in German, and somehow it rhymes in English! A true miracle.

(Amazingly, a couple people seem to have taken my comment about A Mighty Fortess seriously. Is my sense of humor that bad?)

Now, the catalyst for Ed's post was a comment on a previous post from The Rev. Fr. Philip Mullen, Orthodox Lutheran Christian Pastor, of Columbus, Ohio. Looking on The Rev. Fr. Mullen's church's website, we find quite a different circle of orthodoxy:

In this Confessional Standard we reject and condemn all infidelity, heresy, apostasy, and immorality ancient & modern. For example, we reject & condemn the following: all abortion and other genocide, artificial fertilization & human cloning, deprivation of nutrition & hydration to hasten death, euthanasia, suicide, and all other murder; fornication, adultery, homosexuality & all other sodomy, pornography, illicit contraception, willfully childless marriage, illicit divorce, intemperance, popular culture, & all other carnal immorality; Women's Ordination & all Feminism, Anti-Christianism, Anti-Semitism, Racism, unjustified violence or cruelty to any of God's creation or creatures, false tolerance, all Humanism & false philosophy; the Papal Antichrist & all Romanism, Byzantinism, Arminianism & all Synergism, Calvinism & Crypto- Calvinism, Puritanism & all Pietism, Millennialism, all Anabaptist errors & Pentecostalism, False Ecumenism, Latitudinarianism & all Syncretism, Modernism, Mormonism, Russellism, Non-Christian Judaism, Mohammedanism, Freemasonry, all other Lodgery and Gnosticism, witchcraft & all occult practices, Unitarianism & Universalism, Agnosticism & Atheism, & all false religion; Evolutionism & all false science; the failure of the Divine Institution of Government to uphold the Civic Use of God's Moral Law in all Ten Commandments, Communism & all Socialism, Fascism, Confederate Rebellion, Slavery, the Democratic Party (USA) & all other anti-Christian political parties, abrogation of the death penalty & just war, Pacifism, illegal immigration, the United Nations & World Unionism, as well as all tyranny, false government, and all other crimes (Ephesians 5:11). Hence, we maintain Close Communion and Pulpit Fellowship with all Orthodox Evangelical Lutheran Christians. At the same time, we cooperate in carefully defined ways with other conservative Christians -- including acceptable prayer, pro-life & pro-family charities, education, and other areas of Christian activism.

That’s not quite the tone I find in Paul's pastoral letters. And, as a confession, I don't think it quite matches the literary standards of, say, the Westminster Confession.

In truth, I am appalled that any church of Jesus Christ would boldly proclaim such a hideous confession, and I'm no liberal. What do you think?

I do admit that it is at least interesting that, among other things, they condemn Calvinism and Arminianism.

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