Saturday, June 18, 2011

Settled Questions... Established Doctrine

For the last several hundred years or more, it has been fashionable to rethink established doctrine.  We have taken this to a new extreme in the 20th and 21st centuries.  It has become the mark of educated and erudite Christianity to look at settled questions and start afresh as if the question or doctrine were not settled.  I am not talking about things on the fringe of the faith but even things at the core and center of established Christian truth.  It is as if the creeds are seen as childish answers to satisfy only the childlike.  The real thinkers and those who are therefore closer to God dig deeper.  Digging deeper may then lead to different answers than the creeds, than the confessions of old, and even than Scripture itself.

So, for example, this kind of thinking begins by suggesting that just maybe Arius was misunderstood and that he was not so far from the truth as may have been first thought.  Or, it might head down the path that other gospels were discarded and the Gospel that triumphed was thinking imposed upon the historical Jesus and not at all an accurate reflection of Him.  Or, the Scriptures themselves might be rethought to see if they are what they purport to be or whether the canonization process was instead a battle of ideas in which one side won and their version of authentic Scripture won.  Or, it may suggest that the modern day situation not even on the radar in the days of old and therefore neither Scripture nor Jesus ever spoke to such -- despite what it seems that Scripture literally says.

There are those who would try to make Christianity into a moralistic religion with much in common with other moralistic religions.  There are also those who would remake Christianity into a mystery religion not much different from other mystery religions.  There are those who see parallels in other religious expressions and therefore presume that Christianity (or Judaism, for that matter) is merely another version or derivation of the primitive source of them all.  There are also those who suggest that Scripture says pretty much the same thing as holy books and oracles of truth in various ages and religious expressions -- albeit with certain unique variations.

Once this was mostly an academic pursuit but it has entered the mainstream of Christian thought and practice.  From issues of sexuality to the role of women to morality, the folks in the pew are being inundated with new ideas that insist they are as old as Christianity and Scripture and that modern day "settled questions" and "established dogma or truth" cannot be trusted or accepted at face value.  The Bart Ehrmans of this world have taken their own personal doubts and points of view and baptized them in history in order to make them appear to be at least as legitimate as the catholic and apostolic faith -- if not more so.  In the end, we are left merely with doubt and fear -- doubt that what has always been believed and taught is correct and fear that we can ever know truth with any certainty or confidence.

Recently I have found more and more lay folks who have been taken in by these merchants of doubt and fear and I am troubled more and more by the fake legitimacy of their claims and the ease at which they impose their uncertainty upon ordinary Christians.  I do not consider myself any authority on anything but I have learned over the years that the pursuits of my youthful rebellion were more and more foolish and empty.  I find that I defer more and more to the great teachers of the faith -- those from early Christian history and those of Lutheran orthodoxy alike. The funny thing about it is that I appear to be the radical and the purveyors of doubt and fear seem to be the reasonable ones.  And therein lies the problem -- where reason triumphs, God's truth suffers.  Our reason reaches its highest when it hears the voice of God speaking through His Word and answers with the "Amen" of faith.

Lutherans have been less inclined to harp on things Lutheran (as opposed to that which is catholic and apostolic) and more inclined to that which has always been confessed and believed in every place and time.  If we are the only ones confessing something, then we Lutherans are inclined to wonder if we got it right.  It is to our joy that there are good Lutherans in every tradition who confess as we claim to, the evangelical and catholic faith.  Why we give those nattering nabobs of negativism (ala Agnew from Safire) to bother us is beyond me.  It would certainly make my job easier if I did not have to keep answering their latest diatribes.... unfortunately, it is less and less convincing to folks to give the answer that the Church has always believed.... this is catholic and apostolic faith and practice...


Emily Cook said...

It is exhausting to be a postmodern person "seeking" truth. It is to have bought the lie that reality is what we make it to be- therefore each one must start from scratch and use only his "inner light" or "reason" some nonsense to guide him.

The one holy catholic and apostolic faith is something so much bigger and more solid than what I could create in my own head.

Thanks be to God for established doctrine.

Terry Maher said...

Hmm. In college (RC) I was taught that truth is independent of formulations of truth, and that our formulations depend not so much on truth but on the times and culture in which they are formulated.

Thus it happens that the same truth is said in different ways, and we should not get all caught up as they used to do right up until now in those ways, because they are not truth itself.

The overwhelming significance of Jesus in the lives of the first Christians for example found expression suitable to the times in stories of empty tombs and a resurrected body. As the People of God spread both in time and place they will seek new formulations of the same truths.

What unites them is not one stage in the People of God's formulations, but the overwhelming significance of Jesus. Therefore one may equally hold "he rose from the dead" to be a metaphor from ancient times of the continuing significance of Jesus, or to be a literal statement but either way one professes the impact of Jesus which did not end with his death, and either way one is Christian.

This was taught in the classroom by the same crowd that was making sure in the church that we no longer bind ourselves to the old lectionary with all the miracles and Matthew but instead open up more Scripture over a three year cycle, and that we no longer bind ourselves to the old orders but open them up in new ones with multiple settings options and options within the settings.

The biggest source of confusion is trying to hold on to the liturgical fruit of this movement but reject its theological fruit. The lex orandi was changed precisely to reflect the change in the lex credendi.

Which is why the "mainline" churches, which have all gotten on board with this, either go ahead and change the lex credendi too, or try to make the new lex orandi serve a lex credendi it does not and insist nothing really changed, and the world leaves the pews in droves.

Fr Steven Little, STS said...

From an old Classmate at Sr College:

It began, our slow descent into the sin of American social protrstatism as a a way of thinking that was cool, and new, and well 70's. I rememmber so well my own arrogance and have fought the long fight to proclaim Crist crucufied, risen abd retrning from the midst of my repentence and firm reliance upon the Faith of of the Scriptures articulstr by the Fathetrs and rstored by the confessions.

Steve said...

Other than Scripture this was the best sentence I have read in a long long time; "therein lies the problem -- where reason triumphs, God's truth suffers. Our reason reaches its highest when it hears the voice of God speaking through His Word and answers with the "Amen" of faith."

Thank you for writing it.

Steve Foxx

Pastor Peters said...

A friend has reminded me that the Ehrman is a good writer and a good teacher and that we need to raise up someone to answer him on the merits. This is true, indeed.