[@] Orthodoxy? Does it Matter? (1)

In my experience, it always comes back to this question: "Does Orthodoxy matter in the life of the Christian?" "It", in this case, is any discussion in which the name of Jesus Christ is used to advance an agenda.

Let me clear something up before I go on here: having an "agenda" is not a bad thing. Anyone who has ever been in a meeting knows that an agenda keeps the meeting from lasting forever and also keeps the meeting facing some goal. Listen: I know that a lot of people frequently use the word "agenda" to mean "an underlying often ideological plan or program", and intend it to imply some evil motive. I don't intend it that way. When I say, in this series, that someone has an agenda, simply read it to mean that I think this person does what they are doing intentionally. That is to say, they have thought about what they are doing and choose to do it for specific reasons.

God willing, we should all have an agenda. God willing, we all have the right agenda. Don't get all squirrelly because I say someone has an agenda.

So in any discussion where someone is using an agenda and part of that agenda is "Jesus Christ" -- either as an end or as a means -- I wonder if everyone considers the complex matter of Orthodoxy? I ask this because when this matter comes up, it seems like it always causes a wicked stir. For example, someone might say, "I admire the Pope as a Christian leader of historic proportions," and someone else might ask, "I am unaware that praying to Mary 'Possess my soul, Take over my entire personality and life, replace it with Yourself, Incline me to constant adoration, Pray in me and through me, Let me live in you and keep me in this union always,’ was actually 'Christian'. What do you mean by 'Christian'?"

Now think on this: it's not saying that this Pope did nothing of any geopolitical "good". The question being posed is one of orthodoxy, in the same way, for example, that the men at Nicea posed the question of orthodoxy to Arius. The question is not a matter of political usefulness or even humanitarian usefulness. The question is whether the Gospel is being preached when these things were done.

What I have read in the last week or so is this: apparently, that question is irrelevant -- or perhaps it is actually the wrong question to ask at all because of other mitigating factors. Some advocate that there is no right way to determine orthodoxy because of the state of the church; others advocate that the demand for orthodoxy is itself a flawed pursuit because it is abstracted from the good works in evidence. In that, we should be able to call John Paul II, and Bono, and Mother Theresa, and Johnny Cash, and the Apostle Paul all "heroes of the faith" because their work was done in some relationship to the name of Jesus.

Yet it never fails to upset the advocates of this position when one asks anyway, "well, I happen to personally know a fellow who spent 2 years in South America as a missionary building hospitals and teaching school to children -- but he was a missionary for the Latter Day Saints. Is he a Christian hero also?" After you sort through all the hyperbolic rhetoric that comes back, you find the retort, "oh heavens -- he's not even a Trinitarian. That's a stupid example." And that even coming from former Mormons who have rejected the LDS as a false gospel.

Somehow those who will reply in that way simply cannot see the matters of orthodoxy at stake. I would actually agree that being non-Trinitarian (like a one-ness advocate, or a Mormon) excludes one from Orthodoxy -- which is my point in asking the question. What it underscores, however, is the larger issue that the Trinity is not the only matter of orthodoxy. If one is outside the faith for rejecting the Trinity, can't one be outside the faith for adding Mary, de facto via prayers to her that ask her to do the work of the Holy Spirit, to the Trinity? What about worshipping the Eucharist as God? Or for that matter, what about changing Jesus' declaration "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me," to mean that anyone who says he worships the God of Abraham must by implication be brought there through Christ -- even if he explicitly rejects Christ? What if someone was doing all of the above?

All of these questions are matters of orthodoxy -- that is, matters of what is and is not "the Gospel", what is and is not the Good News of Jesus Christ. So if someone finds the cure for cancer and gives it away for free, and dies a beggar for doing so, he may have done something historically exceptional. If someone takes a high-profile stand that flies in the face of both Capitalism and Socialism but it is actually the right moral stand, Amen. But let's not confuse that with Christianity -- which is discipleship to Christ for the sake of the cross and the Gospel.

To be a disciple of Christ for the sake of the Cross and the Gospel means that we are actually referring to "Christ", "cross", and "Gospel" which are the ones which do all the cool things we say they do. If we say "cross" and we mean a piece of jewelry, or "Gospel" and we mean a kind of campy folk music, there is no question orthodoxy matters. But Orthodoxy does not lose its importance in the first standard deviation from truth, and in fact becomes more critical as we work out to 5 and 6 Sigma.

I'm not trying to draw a small circle here -- because, to belabor my 6-sigma analogy, the best quality system produces the most number of parts inside the 6-sigma quality set -- but to say that when we stop thinking about the nature of orthodoxy, we start walking away from it for no good reason. Yes: orthodoxy matters and it should matter all the time to you for your own sake.