Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Extremism and Orthodoxy

The world has been turned upside down.  Perhaps it always was that heresy and apostasy were more popular than orthodoxy, I cannot say for sure.  But I do remember a time when Christians would unite across denominations to condemn unorthodox and heretical assertions.  It is a modern phenomenon that those who challenge the factual basis of the faith and the dogmatic assertions of the creed can count on the cover of support from the pews and silence from the chancel.  One need only look to the way things have changed since the 1800s and the question of difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of Scripture, between God's creative work in bringing all things into being as they are and evolution, and between the institutions of marriage and family and the changing tastes of people.  Now, it often seems, that orthodoxy is the exception and those positions once in the fringes now rule the day.

It seems shocking that we must say it but say it we must:  Orthodoxy is not extremism.  While abortion may have focused the debate, it is not the whole issue.  In every way, modernity has managed to coax from the shadows and fringes every form of strange thinking, every challenge to truth, and every skepticism over what the Scriptures say.  Of course, it is not simply about abortion.  The pro-life causes  extends the protection of life to those born as well as those not yet unborn, to men as well as women, to the poor as well as the rich, to the infirm as well as the healthy, to the without education as well as the highly educated.  While such orthodoxy could be simply humanitarian, it is only Christianity that has stood up to fight for those most vulnerable.  It is the exercise of power by the powerful that gives to the woman the right to kill the child in the womb, to the state to ease the aged and frail into death, and to the troubled in mind the right to decide to end the life they find at the moment to be not worth living.

The same could be said about every article of the creed.  We do not preserve some form of quaint antiquity when we assert that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God in flesh and that He was raised from the dead on the third day.  The very mention of Pontius Pilate plants this faith in historical fact and not in the opines of the intellectual or the superstitions of the ignorant.  We confess the faith, we confess the Gospel, we confess the Church.  We do so as a people who live in the long line of the faithful who before us stood where we stand -- on the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Such orthodoxy is not extreme or exceptional but ordinary.  Anything else is exceptional and hypocrisy.  Why would we say words we do not mean or change their ordinary meaning to fit the shibboleths of modernity?  The only honest thing for those who disagree, if they have such integrity, is to abandon the use of the creeds, of the confessions, of the catechisms, and of the liturgy they cannot pray as a people who believe those words.  It is this very hypocrisy that has become the major challenge to the orthodox Christian faith -- not from government or culture or academia but from within the Church by those who confess its words without believing what they say.

Finally, this same truth can and must be expressed to the liturgy.  It is not extreme to believe what we pray, to confess what we sing, and to live under the discipline of this piety.  This is what it means to be orthodox.  So when the pastor genuflects at the consecration or the bells are rung, this is not about a ceremony but about faith in and the confession of the Real Presence.  Christ is here as His own word and testament promise.  And when the the pastor genuflects or bows at the homo factus est in the creed it is not a quaint ritual but the belief in and the confession of Christ's incarnation.  If we would bow before the Lord standing before us in flesh and blood, why would it seem exceptional to bow or genuflect before Him as we confess that incarnation?  Or when the pastor bows his head at the name of Jesus or crosses himself at the appropriate moments in the Divine Service, is this simply a show or is it not an expression of the faith in and the witness of the meaning and power and efficacy of what has been said, sung, and prayed?  So also, when the faithful in pews mirror these ceremonies, they are not simply mimicking what the pastor does unknowingly but adding their own amen of action and piety to the same faith and making the same confession before their neighbors in the pews and the world watching.

No, my friends, orthodoxy is not extreme.  It is the norm against which every heresy, false doctrine, apostasy, impiety, and carnality challenges -- as an outsider to the inside, as a rogue to the solemn assembly, and as an alien to the homeland of the faithful.  In the Church we need to stop acting as if we are somehow the extremist, the exception, or the oddity.  One cannot be devout and flaunt what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses.

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