February 15, 2016

Rigid Orthodoxy, Army Intelligence, and Other Tautologies

Recently a person whose opinion I respect lamented my commitment to what she termed “rigid orthodoxy”, the use of the word “rigid” being both a pejorative (who wants to be considered inflexible these days?); and a tautology, because calling orthodoxy “rigid” is like saying “one hundred per cent out of one hundred”.

Of course orthodoxy (right thinking) is “rigid”, that’s the point, it doesn’t shift from its position.  The very Christian faith is built on the premise of handing on what Jude 1:3 describes as “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

And note the context:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 

Jude is keen to write about a common (rigidly orthodox?) salvation, but finds it necessary to put that to one side to ensure his audience contends for a faith that is, er, rigidly orthodox.  Right at the outset of the gospel mission the warning is clear, don’t mess with the message.  That’s orthodoxy right there, rigid or otherwise.

And why does Jude have to do this?  Because of wrong thinking or heterodoxy:

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

But not heterodoxy as an end in itself. No way, that’s never enough.

Jude’s concern is not that these “certain people” move away from orthodoxy to heterodoxy, but that their goal is to shift themselves, and others, away from orthopraxy (right practice) to heteropraxy (wrong practice).

Heterodoxy isn’t content with perverting grace, it’s aim is to encourage perversion.

So far so good, or so bad as the case may be.

But let’s flip it over into the positive.  If the goal of heterodoxy is always heteropraxy, then it stands to reason that the goal of orthodoxy is orthopraxy.

Why do we need to say this?  Because perhaps my friend is on to something.  If we make the goal of orthodoxy orthodoxy, it will tend towards rigidity.  Certainly the people who do so will tend towards that.  Put a community together that is orthodox simply for the sake of it, and the word “rigid” certainly springs to mind. They’re not a fun crowd to be around, and to be honest, scratch the surface of their orthodoxy and you will find all sorts of sophisticated, self-righteous heteropraxy!

It’s helpful to remember the Westminster Shorter catechism’s first question regarding the chief end of man: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. There’s a whole lot of orthopraxy right there springing out of orthodoxy.

And guess what?  Such orthopraxy never looks rigid!  A God glorifying person who enjoys God here and now, in the certain hope of enjoying him forever, is invariably vibrant but gentle, humorous but sober-minded, self-deprecating but confident, attractively holy, but safe for sinners, sensible but risk-taking, thrifty but generous.  In other words, a reflection of Jesus the God glorifier par excellence.

Just as an orthodox commitment to flight mechanics enables the beautiful orthopraxy of winged flight; just as the orthodox commitment to running technique leads to sheer, exhilarating speed; just as the orthodox commitment to creating weight bearing loads leads to a bridge that won’t collapse, so theological orthodoxy leads to a beautiful, God glorifying life.

Heterodoxy, on the other hand, is the gateway to an ugly heteropraxy that promises people the liberty of flight without the bothersome necessity of flight mechanics. And the end result will always be a crumpled mess of feathers and bones on the ground.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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