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Orthodoxy and Advent - Dec 7

By Dan Baumgartner on
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Dec 06 in Musings
This one's coming to you from 40,000 feet up. Alaska Airlines Flight #1214 from LAX to
JFK in New York. The small screen map in front of my seat says we are approaching Omaha, Nebraska. Still a ways to go. Anne and I are looking forward to being with two of our kids, running a race in Central Park with them and a few of their friends, seeing an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney Museum and observing the annual page-turning of Dickens' original A Christmas Carol manuscript at the Morgan Library. This year it will display the description of Ebenezer Scrooge as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.”  Great fun.
 Recently I've been thinking about...orthodoxy. It's an interesting word. It is often defined as "a widely accepted belief." I'm not sure about that, because it sounds more like a description of whatever happens to be popular in a given moment. Maybe this ancient definition is more promising: "That faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all."  The connotations involve scripture, practice and longevity.
I don't worry that Christians are choosing to be less orthodox today as much as that we don't even know what orthodoxy is any more.  In 2006 a pastor named Brian McLaren helped usher in the emerging church by writing a book called "A Generous Orthodoxy." It was interesting, and I appreciated parts of it. I also struggled, because it seemed the author was so intent on Christians becoming more generous (which desperately needs to happen) that he swept the orthodoxy piece aside.  Generosity of spirit and action come out of a biblically grounded theology, not vice versa. While a focus on right beliefs can lead to legalism and inaction, the solution is not to abandon orthodoxy but to build on it.
I'm meeting a good friend once a week or so who is a newer Christian. We decided to read the little John Stott classic Basic Christianity. The title tells all. It was written 50-some years ago. It is concise, not flowery, with short chapters and easy to read. It tells what scripture says about the basics of the faith. What is the Bible? How do we pray?  What did Jesus say about his own identity?  Did his character match his speech?  Why is the resurrection important?  It's basic stuff. Solid. Orthodox. But each time we talk about a chapter, it strikes me again- do Christians really know this?  Are people in churches grounded in this?  Do our actions and attitudes come out of this?
It's an especially good time of year to think about these things. At Christmas, in many different ways, we review the story. The Story. Virgin Birth. Incarnation. Word Become Flesh. Fulfillment of past prophecies and hints of the future journey to the cross.  In this season every traditional orthodox tenant is challenged and dissected and sometimes dismissed. Do we even know what we are dismissing? Since the third century, the church (Apostles' Creed) has affirmed Jesus as "born of the Virgin Mary."  Today people make careers out of trying to disprove that birth, concluding that it is impossible. OF COURSE it's impossible! That is exactly the point!  Since the 4th century (Nicene Creed) Jesus' people have recited "for us and for our salvation he came down." Do we understand the reasons why Jesus came? It wasn't just to inspire and encourage us. It was to save us.
At Christmas, in many ways, we rehearse the basics. Sermon texts and choir anthems, children's pageant and band music, candled prayers and congregational caroling. It's the Story. The True Story. We learn to be good and generous and compassionate people because we know deeply what Jesus' people have always known. The Story is infinitely complex, and yet at the same time, as G.K. Chesterton once said, "is plain enough to be understood by the shepherds, and almost by the sheep."  Maybe that's the reason Chesterton's most well-known book is simply entitled...Orthodoxy.  What has been believed everywhere, always, by all. Come, Lord Jesus.
See you soon,     
       Pastor Dan

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