[!] ... by which you are being saved

I find myself in a very problematic position: I find myself agreeing with, in broad terms, the sentiments of P. Andrew Sandlin found here. It’s uncomfortable because I am certain that if we dig down into all the nuances, the agreement is superficial at best.

Before I get to my problem, I had a chuckle over this bit:
In making this point I am not suggesting that evangelicalism is cultic, though it has elements of this approach within some of its more conservative circles. (I have witnessed cultic elements in a number of small charismatic and Reformed churches, and reforming movements, that are strongly leader-based. These are generally defined by anti-modern mindsets, and the rigid use of confessions or particular human traditions, that require followers to surrender to the authority of the “elite” who properly understand the tradition!) Furthermore, I am not suggesting that the more militant and separatistic forms of the older fundamentalism dominate most of what is now called evangelicalism.
The punch line (for those of you who didn’t get it) was that the camp over at communio sanctorum are themselves practitioners of “the rigid use of confessions or particular human traditions, that require followers to surrender to the authority of the ‘elite’ who properly understand the tradition!” If we go back to their old blog at reformed Catholicism, we can find them and their allies calling all kinds of people who practice inside traditions they reject “Gnostics”, “heretics”, and (while nicely dancing around the particular word) “idiots”.

Now here’s my problem: I’ve been writing this blog now for 3 months (maybe a little longer), and I’ve been working to talk around a problem that seems so evident to me that I think about it all the time – and that problem is “the Gospel”. I was about to type “let me give you an example”, but this blog is loaded with examples – people on the left (theologically, not politically, though these often go hand in hand) who have completely forgotten this fellow called Jesus who I know as Christ, God the Son, Lamb of God. They have made him into first-century social worker or political activist, and frankly they make me sick.

But the other examples – which I have not been so careful to inspect – are the ones on the right who call every difference of doctrine a heresy that must be resolved right now. For example, there’s a fellow at CARM (and if you read the forums at CARM, my condolences) who has been for the last week calling Presbyterian infant baptisms heretical, and any person who doesn’t advocate strictly for the baptism of adult believers a closet Catholic.

Very rational, as you can see.

It all goes back to that matter of orthodoxy which I had been blathering on about for a while, but I’m going to return to it now in a concrete way. And I’m going to do it from the perspective of a particular summary of the Gospel offered by Paul:
    1Cor 15: 1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ[1] died for our[2a] sins[2b] in accordance with the Scriptures[3], 4that he was buried[4], that he was raised on the third day[5] in accordance with the Scriptures[6](ESV, emph. Added)
Now you might quibble over my choice of summaries, OK? You might be very testy over the fact that I chose 1Cor 15 rather than John 3:16 or Acts 2 or whatever, but I chose this passage for a specific reason: Paul here says (underlined text) that this is specifically the Gospel – that this is the teaching “of first importance” (green text), a translation which is rendered “as most important” in the HCSB, and “first of all” in the KJV. So whatever else Paul taught them, this was the thing he holds out as most important.

That “thing” was the simple news: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Now think on this: there is no sacramentology in that “most important” teaching, no church government, no complex prayers or social manifesto. There are certainly things we could call “other teachings” which are implied by the statement that this is “most important”, but there is no doubt that this is the one which has to be the centerpiece.

The other reason I picked this summary is that it has all the parts explicitly listed, which I have numbered in [brackets]. So if we unpack the 5 major aspects of this “most important” teaching ([3] and [6] are the same thing, applied to different other components), we have something that is critical to the matter of orthodoxy: we have the central teaching of the Gospel as explicitly stated by Paul.

That may seem like chicken feed to some people, and I suggest that those people go ahead and feed the chickens. In a world where an argument can break out between two people where the matter of baptism – which both agree is necessary for the believer – can be used to make one person call the other a “heretic”, this specific definition of the Gospel offers us the ground on which to stand and actually point to the solution as to whether any ceremony or ritual ought to stand in the way of calling one another brothers in Christ.

The next few blog entries are going to unpack this statement of the Gospel for the explicit purpose of determining the limits orthodoxy. And let me be clear about something as I type these words: anyone who rejects the teaching contained in Paul’s summary is a person who is rejecting orthodoxy. The question which shall remain after the definition is fleshed out is this: what can exist without denying orthodoxy which does not separate one from orthodoxy?

Orthodoxy matters. The question is: in what way does orthodoxy matter? I hope I can shed some light on that over the next few days.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |