Christian Creeds and the Great Apostasy

Gundek and Kullervo are on me to clarify why I don’t think Mormons have creeds in the way traditional Christians do. I thought I would go further and try to explain why Mormon rejection of creedalism is also a critical part of their belief system. I think G.K. Chesteron’s essay “What is America?” is a good place to start. (This is a bit long-winded so be warned.)  Chesterton describes how he was required to answer numerous questions about his political beliefs before being allowed to enter the United States, something he found laughably intrusive leading him to compare the Spanish Inquisition to the American Constitution:

“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. And it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.  Continue reading

Do the differences swallow Protestant “orthodoxy”?

Kullervo was kind enough to point out that Protestant theologians have been tackling the Christian Unity problem lately in the form of a written debate and discussion of Peter Leithart’s call for a visible sign of unity between traditional Christians (during the oral discussion he explicitly said that Mormons wouldn’t be at the table.)   The links Kullervo shared give a good rundown of the discussion held at Biola University and the aftermath.

If anything, it was good to know that somebody very smart can point to what seems a huge problem in Christianity with few, if any, practical suggestions on how it can be accomplished.

Leithart said something during the discussion at Biola that resonated with my observations of Protestantism:

All members of Christ, recipients of the spirit, baptism and confession of certain truths, is a visible expression of unity, but those expressions of unity have become meaningless in the face of our differences.

I think this is on point.  Mormons are outside the boundaries because they don’t accept the summative doctrines of the creeds, but the differences between other Christian groups add up to dramatically different religious experiences, doctrines and spiritual foci. For a Mormon, the protestant world looks like a bunch of camps, with a barely visible unity, that essentially boils down to the Trinity, and often that doctrine is presented in a misleading or straightforwardly incorrect way.  The lack of unity, or even a path toward unity makes the Christian world look less-than-Christian to those who are (by definition) outside the tent.

Also, even if Mormons are properly excluded from the big tribe Leithart advocates, the way Protestants deal with Mormons shows some of the same sort of tribalism he feels is a leprosy on the body of Christ.  Identifying the tribalism on the margins of orthodoxy may help identify tribalism within.

From my perspective the entire discussion was very enlightening, and gives a very broad view of the differences between traditional Christians and why those differences matter theologically and historically.  I would recommend it to non-traditional Christians as a snapshot of what matters between the varied versions of Christianity, and how the differences grew and how they are sustained.

Interfaith dialogue: Knowing God Exists

I was reading Summa Theologica the other day and couldn’t get his imagery out of my head. So I dreamt up this dialogue: 

Kathy:  I think you can know that God exists.

Carl:  What does it mean to say that God exists anyway? Whether God “exists” necessarily depends on your definition of God.  If there is only one God, can there be more than one correct definition, and if you don’t or can’t define God, how can you know he exists?  But, if you alone decide the definition of God, then “knowing God exists” is simply affirming a personal belief in a certain definition. Right?

Kathy: St. Thomas Aquinas tells us:

To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him.

This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

Norman:  In terms of that example, I know God exists because I have met Him in my personal experience. I can positively recognize Him every time as the same Spirit.  I define God by the doctrines and teachings that are spoken through the Spirit.

Chris: I have felt God as well, I know God as Christ, a historical person.  I have a lot of beliefs about God but I really only trust what comes from the Bible.  If you don’t believe the Bible, you can’t really know that God exists, because you won’t know who or what God is.

Kathy: But wait, in order to identify God you must be able to identify God’s interaction with humanity,   If you can’t identify God’s church—you can’t really <i>know</i> assuredly God exists, because whatever you call God will either be your interpretation of your experience, or your personal interpretation of the text.   And these subjective interpretations will always result in a morass of different definitions.  The Church provides the tangible basis for the existence of God and is the only reliable basis to define and identify God.

Carl: So does the entire question come down to whether your church is also part of God’s church?

What do you all think? 

Reverse Course

In a stunning announcement World Vision has reversed course two days after changing their employee handbook to allow for the hiring on people in open, unrepentant homosexual relationships.

http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/26/world-vision-reverses-decision-sex-marriage-mistake/

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

 

World Vision has placed itself in the tragic position of creating a controversy and angering both sides of the issue.  I can’t imagine that Richard Stearns will not be shortly offering his resignation in order to restore credibility back to the organization. What ever might have been his motivations it appears that at least once in this controversy he made an unprincipled decision (your guess is as good as mine on whether it was Monday or Wednesday).  Neither conservative nor liberal supporters of World Vision can feel a deep sense of trust in his leadership.

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy went on a Twitter rant about the events of the last two days and shared some other thoughts on his blog. He discusses both World Vision’s misstep as well as whether or not Evangelicals are displaying a deeper commitment to fighting same-sex marriage than fighting poverty.  I think his comments are well worth reading.

Update:

This post from Timothy Dalrymple offers some great insight into what when wrong:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2014/03/27/the-right-lesson-to-learn-from-the-world-vision-debacle/

The core of the mistake, it seems to me, is precisely in regarding this as merely a “culture war issue.” When Richard Stearns addressed the Q Conference in Los Angeles in April, he pointed to Westboro Baptists as an example of “angry Christians protest[ing] gay marriage.” He then admonished Christians to be outraged by the right things. “As far as I know,” he said, “no one ever died of gay marriage.” That statement, I think, set off alarm bells amongst some Christian leaders, and that framed how they interpreted this change of policy. Even in the letters and phone calls and statements since the reversal, the leadership of World Vision has explained that they were trying to bracket a “culture war issue.”

That’s the problem right there. This is not a culture war issue. It’s much more than that.

World Vision and the Redefinition of Christianity

Yesterday news struck that World Vision, one of the top ten charitable organizations in the world would no longer prohibit the hiring of Christians in open homosexual relationships.

World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’s largest Christian charities.

World Vision argues that the decision about whether or not homosexuality is a sin is a theological question and as a parachurch organization they leave open theological questions to be solved by local churches. This news did not go unnoticed.

Russell Moore responded:

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper posted:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

But worse than fancy, removing homosexual intercourse from its biblical alignment with fornication and adultery (and greed and theft and drunkenness) trivializes its correlation with perdition.

Trevin Wax posting at Gospel Coaltion said:

Sex is our god. Children are our sacrifice.

 

Albert Mohler challenged [perhaps my favorite of all the responses]:

Richard Stearns has every right to try to make his case, but these arguments are pathetically inadequate. Far more than that, his arguments reveal basic issues that every Christian ministry, organization, church, and denomination will have to face — and soon.

The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.

I think there is much that is tragic about this situation. What stands out to me most keenly is that our culture’s interest and preoccupation with sexual identity is causing a subtle redefinition of Christianity.  I agree with Word Vision that human sexuality is not at the core of Christianity, it ought not be a part of their intentionally inclusive statement of faith.  But the question of righteous Christian living in regards to sexual practice has become so decisive that I think many churches and organizations will be tempted to place their understanding of Biblical sexuality at the top of their doctrinal standards.

Driscoll’s Open Apology

I’m not a follower of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, but it’s hard to be an Evangelical and not see his name pop up now and again.  Driscoll has recently been hit with charges of plagiarism, unfair ghost-writing practices and most recently a book sales manipulation scheme.  Yesterday he presented an open apology to his congregation.  I’m pleased to see Driscoll make this step and to re-align his priorities around his congregation and his family.

You can read the letter here. http://renuemag.com/2014/03/16/an-open-letter-of-apology-from-pastor-mark-driscoll/

I was particularly pleased with this section:

First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.