[@] Orthodoxy? Does it matter? (2)

But seriously now: who cares? I mean, when you get right down to it (to paraphrase a Christian retail icon), all that really matters is Jesus, right? Pope John Paul II, as the slogan has been repeated very often in many camps in the last week, may have had some “significant theological differences” (cf. James Dobson) with “Protestants” (that word in itself should be two blog entries under this topic header), but he vouched for Jesus, right? He was out there putting the shoe leather on the Gospel by standing up for human rights, and the value of human life, and the propriety and importance of heterosexual marriage, so he’s a hero of the faith.

Right? I’m not the only one who read that, was I? I’m not the only one who heard people preaching and teaching and commentating that I hope.

Now look: if someone wants to start up the baptism debate (paedo or credo, and instrumentality) at this point to close the matter that JPII was a Christian, I’m in. I’ll be glad to advocate my view of that matter over and against anyone who wants to bring it. But think about this: that is itself clearly a matter of orthodoxy. Some, like Doug Wilson, advocate that even if you don’t buy that baptism in covenant membership, a proper baptism “sticks” and you are inside the covenant with covenant membership requirements; in fact, Wilson says that the covenant is the basis of criticizing the Pope (for example) for some matter of theological monkey business.

Others, who we have encountered on this blog, are not so charitable. Some have said that anyone discounting baptism as “just a sign” are denigrating it to the place where it means nothing at all because that definition is a subjective one. In that, they advocate that those who take this view of baptism are “Gnostics” who demand a “special knowledge” that saves. And in that, we are back to the matter of “orthodoxy”: is it orthodox not to agree that baptism has necessary salvific implications?

But that’s all blogospheric stuff, right? I mean: you don’t talk to the guy who’s an atheist at the coffee shop about the esoteric definition of baptism – you talk to him about the simple formulas of grace and mercy and forgiveness (and if you’re really clever, you get “sin” and “redemption” in there, too, and if he receives the message you tell him that we get baptized). And most importantly, you’re out there doing something about grace and mercy and redemption – like getting a cup of cold water for a thirsty man, or feeding the starving, or building houses for the homeless.

Isn’t doing that “stuff” the real Gospel? The Gospels are clear that those who have done these things to the least of Christ’s brothers have done it for Him, and are rewarded. The book of Titus is hard-on about the faithful doing the works of righteousness. So unless you’re out there in the thick of public ministry, whatever you think you have is not actually a fully-orbed Gospel. Right?

For the old-timers to my blog, you might remember that Tony Campolo sure thought so – that the American church is completely vacant on the matter of aiding the poor both from a ministerial and a political perspective. (A claim, btw, that I would love to blog about in the future because of its lack of substance) Brian McLaren’s liner notes to Campolo’s book make it clear that he thinks so, too. But let’s not lose sight of something here: this explanation or criticism is, again, centered on the matter of orthodoxy – in this case, orthodox practice as opposed to orthodox theological brainstorming.

If that is true, how can anybody complain about the matter of whether the debate over orthodoxy is either valuable/profitable or necessary? For example, as I was driving to lunch today, my Christian radio station – the one my bookstore advertises on – was playing a public service announcement equivalent to saying, “can’t we all just get along?” The message was saying that denominations who are willing to make a stand on doctrinal issues are denominations that are dividing the church, and that’s not what Christ wants for us.

What? Are they saying, “If you take a public doctrinal stand, you’re violating a doctrinal principle?” Isn’t that taking a doctrinal stand – a stand against taking doctrinal stands? It’s the classic self-defeating logic of the “tolerant”: to object to some viewpoint on the basis of its lack of tolerance is, itself, a lack of tolerance – and can therefore be used to subvert the objection.

The truth is that orthodoxy matters to everyone who has a stake in the Christian life – even those who take marginal views, or what we might call heretical views, or even those who claim they just want Jesus Jesus Jesus. Orthodoxy is the essential fact that there is this Jesus who said some things and did some things that matter to us in some way – and orthodoxy is, unfortunately for many people, the specific and true fillings-in of “some things” and “some way”.

And at the most practical level, it matters in the definition of what is and is not orthodox practice. That was my point before I got sidetracked to the radio and McLaren and Campolo: orthodoxy matters most specifically in the matter of practice because right action begins with right motives and right premises.

So when Bill Gates – who is in the best case agnostic on matters of religion – donates $1 billion for the education of children world-wide (quick math fact: at today’s college tuition, Gates’ $1 billion could only put 10,000 kids through college in the US), he’s done a nice moral thing, yes? Very selfless, apparently. But does it advance the Gospel? Of course not – because Bill’s not a Christian.

So if Bill Gates’ $1 billion isn’t spreading the Gospel – because it has no relationship to the Gospel – we have the rough and ready rule: it has to have the Gospel to be the Gospel. So the atheists who work in soup kitchens (where are they, by the way? Trot them out – I’d be interested in meeting them), the Mormons who are building hospitals and schools, the Hindus who are doctors, the Buddhists who are protesting Communism: these are not heroes of the Christian faith. We might admire their daring-do, but we cannot call them Christian heroes.

And that brings us to the real point of this serious, which we will come back to again and again: what acts are Christian, and how do we know it?

I have an answer from a secular history book for the next installment, and it is certain to raise somebody’s hackles.
EDITORIAL UPDATE: It happens EVERY TIME I do it, but I always FORGET that it happens until it happens again. The "secular history book" is not actually "secular", and I admit that calling it such was my own fault -- because I took someone else's word for it. Never EVER take someone else's "word for it" when you're citing a source.

I am a victim of my own pet-peeve about blogging today -- which is the lack of editorial supervision. Anyone who was half an editor would have said, "cent: read the source before you tease for it so you describe it correctly," but I didn't say it to me.

Thus, for you, my faithful blog readers, I have to apologize and revise that teaser to this:

And that brings us to the real point of this serious, which we will come back to again and again: what acts are Christian, and how do we know it?

I have an answer from a history book for the next installment, and it is certain to raise somebody’s hackles.

It was a careless mistake, and I should know better than to trust a non-adademic secondary source to cite his sources properly. Please stay tuned.