I watched a TV show yesterday on PAX television entitled: “Faith Under Fire.” The premise of the show is to bring on guest participants holding opposing views on important and often controversial issues within the Church dealing with faith and society.
Yesterday, one of the segments dealt with the Christian faith in the 21st century, with guests Bishop Shelby Spong (retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark who is quite controversial for advocating a “new” Christianity for the sake of the religion’s survival within the 21st century) and the president of a Southern Baptist seminary (I do not remember which seminary or the guyç—´ name, but he held to the current American-Fundamentalist position). They sparred!
Others have told me that I am too generous concerning my belief that the majority of those of the American American-Fundamentalists/Religious Right-Evangelicals are honest people wanting to know Truth just like me or anyone else. Those who make this accusation of me are themselves American-Evangelicals. Maybe I place too much faith and hope in what they say concerning their desire for Truth no matter what, and concerning their desire to love God and their neighbor. I don’t know. Maybe. I’m starting to think I do.
Listening to the Southern Baptist president/theologian last night, and reading lots of other stuff (more recently Focus on the Family’s stinging criticism of Newsweek’s current article on Jesus), presents me with the regrettable thought that they only want and demand conformity to their own point-of-view. There seems to be no honest desire to “come, let us reason together,” as St. Paul suggested to the Greeks, but only the requirement to conform to a very narrow and rigid version of Christian doctrine.
The experiential nature of Southern Baptistsï¿½ faith (as with any Christiansï¿½) is absolutely valid. The cognitive nature of Spong’s and othersï¿½ faith is absolutely acceptable. The problem is that there are few given to accepting the possibility of Truth, or even valid questions, coming from the other side. Despite the testimony of experience with God coming from one side or the other, it is often not enough even for an acceptance that Christ may truly dwell within the heart of the opponent. Spong has a strong faith in God, in Christ, as does the Southern Baptist, but their faith looks very different one from the other.
I am more and more convinced that a base of our faith is truly in orthopraxis (right practice) rather than orthodoxy (right belief), although both are important. Orthopraxis, which rests in our encounter with the living God, willful and proactive, transforms us so that we are able to DO rightly: to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Our different beliefs within Christendom are vast. Just consider for a moment the differences between strict Calvinist notions of predestination, as opposed to Arminius’ ideas of free will (Arminianism), not even considering something like Open Theism. Just consider the fundamental differences between the Eastern Church and the Western Church on issues concerning original sin. Proclaiming the “right belief” of orthodoxy does nothing to secure “right practice.” There is a danger in orthopraxis as well. Our salvation is not a result on simply being good people or doing the right thing. Here, Paul and James are important to consider as they bring forth a balance between the two. The must be held in balance and hypocrisy within both areas must be resisted.
In Life Together, Bonhoeffer argues for Sola Scriptoria, but at the same time condemns Fundamentalism for seeking a “paper pope” as they lift up the Bible as the only authority.
Many American-Fundamentalist/Evangelicals, and definitely through several of their denominational and para-church organizations, demand acceptance of a rigid and narrow “orthodoxy.” Those who do not accept their view of things are not Christian, are not believers in the True God, the True Jesus, no matter what their experience may be. Adherents may be involved in gross and intolerable activities, but as long as they hold “right belief,” they are still in the club. Despite the claim of acting only in love, I’m afraid they are about to convince the rest of American society that their brand of “Christianity” is the what being a Christian is, period.
Those like Spong, liberal Christians, however, who may demonstrate through their actions a desire for, love for, and faith in God and neighbor and a true and honest practice of their faith, are considered apostate because of differing belief. They do not acquiesce to a Fundamentalist mind-set, a Fundamentalist “orthodoxy,” so therefore they are not Christians according to Fundamentalism.
All this is not new, of course. History attests to that. I just have to admit that there is little I can do – my testimony is worthless to them. The issues are so polarized that those attempting to hold to a middle-ground (even within Anglicanism, the classic place of via-media) are simply crying in the wilderness. Too many people wish only to have those around them who scratch their inching ears. No longer, it seems, is there a willingness to grant mercy or integrity to others who hold differing opinions. And the world watches and wonders whether this is an example of what their god wants and the way their religion tells them to behave, and if it is then to hell with them.
Orthopraxis centered in the Great Command of Jesus to love God and love neighbor always and with integrity, buttressed by an experienced relationship with and continued encounter with God through Jesus, seems to be winning the day in my sense of what is more appropriate to emphasize in the Church and in my ministry.