The Perils Of Orthodoxy

I am reading a fascinating, if moderately frustrating book (review forthcoming), and one of the more intriguing elements of the book is just how difficult and how elusive the course of orthodoxy was. A bizarre array of heresies took matters to one philosophical extreme or another, while “orthodoxy” varied from place to place and generation to generation. Those who seek to look into the pages of the Church Fathers for anything remotely approaching spiritual understanding or consensus are likely to be sorely disappointed.

Part of the problem with the solution of the (largely Hellenistic and heretical) Church Fathers is that they themselves substituted language and philosophical (non-bibilcal) explanations to attempt to answer questions that probably should be best left unanswered. Let us wrestle with merely one of the many questions that prompted accusations of heresy in the early Church, that of the question of original sin [1], debated by Pelagius and Augustine, and many others. According to the Roman Catholic position, mankind is born with original sin. The Bible, on the other hand, is fairly strong and clear that we are condemned for our actual sins, and that death is not a curse that falls on mankind because of the behavior of Adam, but because all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), and so all die, even if their sin is not to the level of Adam.

But this is not a matter that can be wrapped up in a simple matter, and the way that both Augustine and Pelagius dealt with the matter is troublesome. To be blunt, Augustine’s position on irresistible grace (a position copied by the Calvinist) is highly damnable, denying the free will that man is created with, and believing in a form of divine rape that coerces people into behaving righteously and assuming that no consent to repent and follow God’s way is possible given the corruption of sin in this fallen world. And while Pelagius is to be blamed for assuming too greatly in the possibility of man to be entirely righteous, his errors, such as they are, are far less troubling and serious than the errors of Augustine.

We ought not to assume that just because the way of mankind was barred to the Tree of Life that we are not faced with the same choice that Adam and Eve failed in. We all must choose between life and death, blessing and cursing, between choosing ourselves as the origin and source of our law or in freely choosing to accept the offer of salvation which we cannot earn, though which requires our obedience. But the truth is far more complex than the philosophical language that is often used to define it into a doctrine.

After all, we must candidly admit that the sin of Adam and Eve, and of their descendants, has drastically harmed our existence. Every decision made for evil mars the earth in some way and creates problems that other people have to deal with. If we lie, if we steal, if we commit adultery, if we envy, if we betray, if we abuse others, then we harm the lives of those we hurt, making it harder for them to trust, leading them to suffer and influencing them to some extreme, either to open their heart less or to treat others as they have been treated. There have been innumerable sins that have been committed since the beginning of mankind, each of them leaving warps in our mindset and approach to life.

Since we are all both sinned against and sinning, we seek both mercy for ourselves and need to forgive others. For so long as we hold on to those wrongs committed against us, they poison us and influence us in ways that are evil, whether to commit the same evil to others or to fall into the other ditch of refusing to do good to others, both of which are among the four types of sin (missing the mark, crossing over a boundary, knowing what is right and failing to do it, and doing what we think or feel to be wrong, even if it may not actually be wrong, and so sinning against our conscience). Again, questions as large as sin do not lend themselves to easy, pat answers. We must wrestle with them.

Furthermore, our own mental filters constantly betray us in these matters. Since we all wrestle (or not) with our own sins, we know them best and can understand exactly why and how someone might struggle with them. If we have examined ourselves properly we may greatly sympathize with those who suffer from similar sins or who have suffered from similar wrongs that have led them into different but also comprehensible sins. On the other hand, we may not have any understanding or compassion on those who suffer from sins that we are alien to. There are so many ways that we may sin that it is difficult to be both just and merciful in anything approaching, much less realizing, the perfect judgment of God. This is why we are not yet qualified to be the judge of men’s eternal destinies, since our own biases are both so fierce and so limiting.

But we ought not to think that we were ever intended on being experts in knowing and looking out for all sins, or possessing all virtues in extraordinary degrees. Are we not all a part of a body? Do we not all have specific virtues and talents to develop (as well as our own characteristic weaknesses that we struggle against). One of the reasons we need to work together is that we all have blind spots that need the help of others. I know I need the help of others who are strong in those areas where I am weak, who can flatter and charm people and not be constantly irritated and offended by political behavior, and who don’t share the same irascibility and ambivalence I have toward authority and questions of honor and respect. Likewise, sometimes you need to draw a line in a sand and fight over it, and I’m generally good at those moments, and also someone who feels deeply even if my expression of my own feelings tends to be rather limited to my expressive face or fiery keyboard and pen and not in those ways that other people most easily appreciate.

I speak of myself because I know myself best. The same is true for everyone else. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, we all need to be a part of a greater whole, where our strengths can be used to help and serve others, and where we can at least learn how to manage our weaknesses by seeing good examples of how to behave (this is one of the factors that makes dysfunctional families so destructive, by removing any sort of good example that others can learn from). We all can learn from others, and we all have something to teach others as well.

And thus we see that we greatly err in viewing original sin as a strictly individual matter. Not all people and not all societies are fallen in the same ways. There are many ways that the truth can be corrupted, both to the right hand as well as to the left. The fact that there are so many heresies means we must understand the truth is a terribly difficult matter. None of us may understand the whole truth, even insofar as it relates to ourselves personally. The Bible includes no massive creeds in part because the truth in many areas may be beyond human understanding, particularly those flawed human beings who demanded a pat answer and precise language to describe every single possible aspect of doctrine and belief. We must neither arrogantly presume to know the whole truth nor be content with our lazy understanding and practice. It is a hard balance to maintain; it always is. The truth is always a difficult matter, and we ought never to pretend that it is otherwise. Perhaps that is the biggest problem one finds in reading about the fights over orthodoxy from long ago.

[1] This is, of course, an issue I have wrestled with:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/dumbledore-utilitarianism-and-original-sin/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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22 Responses to The Perils Of Orthodoxy

  1. Luzer says:

    El-is-ra-el

    God is-to- be the mystery of man
    God is-to-remain the mystery of man

    Search for the truth

  2. Luzer says:

    I agree and this is a problem as many people are too busy arguing whether or not God exists while they are ignoring the fact that we must “share” our faith and discuss the goodness and truth of God and not try to prove or disprove, we must appreciate God and apreciation is synonomous with “worship”

    • It’s not only that people argue over whether God exists (though that would be enough), it’s that once you admit a common belief in God and in the Bible, and even perhaps in Christ, that you argue over whether God is a Trinity or a family, whether Christ had one nature or two, whether the Father and the Son are equal in glory and substance or not, and on and on. Very quickly people lose grasp over what we can know for sure and enter a world of philosophical speculation with deadly serious consequences, as people anathemize (in other words, condemn) those who think differently on these questions. We ought to remain humble given the extent of our ignorance.

  3. Luzer says:

    “Forgive us or misunderstandings as we forgive them who misunderstand us” is something to consider as much as “forgive us our ignorance as we forgive the ignorance of others”, also, “acept our opinions as we accept the opinions of others”. There is so much that can be lost in translation but the “essence” of each saying is always the same. We are “equal” in the sight of God as we all fall short of the Glory and perfection of the Christ.

    It can be a simple matter in that where a person stumbles upon an argumentive person in relation to God and is not moved in the heart to share, then simple say “peace” and move on, “move out of the way” which is a form of forgiveness.

    Another problem is that people say that others are “taking things out of context”.

    • We often do take things that others say out of context, and just as often people mean or imply exactly what we take them to mean, and they don’t want to admit it at a later time. I’ll have to own up to being at least as argumentative as most people (if not more), but quite honestly there is a lot that people debate about that amounts to the amount of angels on the head of a pin. We ought to keep a matter of perspective, and that is hard for us to do. Any of us. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

  4. Luzer says:

    “We ought to keep a matter of perspective, and that is hard for us to do”.

    I agree and it is so much easier for a person to mind their own business. Personally I can see in a person’s eyes whether or not they are approachable to “share” something of a spiritual matter or a matter of faith. If the counrence is fallen, so may be the whole person. Hmmm?

    • That’s quite possible indeed, and also vastly easier to do in person than online. It’s harder to convey body language in online discourse, which one reason why we tend to have more arguments online, because the tone and body language are unable to convey our point and we have to rely on slippery words.

  5. Luzer says:

    Well “in person” and in the “immediate sense” is where the truth to existence is and is where life “happens” as it becomes manifest in moments and presents to us something of the absurd.. When “online” it does not matter “at all” as to a person’s opinions.
    If you one is truly concerned with what happens online between two people then this person has lost his/her grip on “actual reality”.
    The internet is really just an extension of the internal dialogue or argument and debate that occurs naturally within the confines of each person’s mind as we naturally work out matters of absurd notions to a point of personal logic.
    It is absurd to permit another person to “irk” us while “online”.

    Forgive me for this but I did hear it once said online during a pokergame where two people were arguing to extremes. Quote:,”to argue online is like participating in the special Olympics, win or lose you are still re*********.
    Get the point?

    • I’ve heard that said many times, but most of the time it was used by those who started and felt most passionately about online wars but just wanted to make fun of others. That’s not the way I work. I think you can get a genuine sense of someone through their online interactions; sometimes people are more honest online because of the distance. But it is through a glass darkly, and without the tone and body language that make up most of our interpersonal conversation. Let us not forget that for many people, young people in particular, that they have little personal contact with anyone and a great deal of online conversation. One would do better than to insult them all right off the bat.

  6. reyjacobs says:

    Paul was the champion of “one size fits all” religion. Because Paul was a bad guy (a murderous thug) before he “saw the light” he assumes everyone else is too. So he invents “original sin.” But Jesus, who was a good guy (if not more) says instead of everyone being “children of wrath by nature” (Paul’s view) that some are good and some are bad (my how rational!) for Jesus says “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things; an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil things.” So, Jesus says, some are good and some are evil. But Paul transfers his own personality onto everyone else “there is none that doeth good, no not one.” Sorry, Paul, you idiot, but it just doesn’t work that way.

    • You pit Paul against Christ. Paul was not speaking out of his own words when he said that there is none righteous, not one. He is instead quoting the same law of which Jesus Christ said that not one jot or tittle would be done away with until heaven and earth passes away. Many people misquote Paul and try to pit him against the obviously “Jewish” Christ, making Paul out to be something he is not (a prophet of Hellenism). That said, we cannot pit the two against each other, whether we are foes of Hellenistic Christianity (as I am, and as you presume to be), or whether we are friends of it, as most people who call themselves Christians are. People have been twisting Paul’s words damnably since the first century (2 Peter 3:15-16), so we ought not to be party to the same sin ourselves.

      • reyjacobs says:

        He was misquoting from Psalms and Proverbs, taking passages about atheists and making them about everyone. The passage from which he gets “there is none that doeth good” begins with “The fool has said in his heart there is not God. They are corrupt…” Wow, I’m sure Paul was right in ripped out of that context “there is none that doeth good” and applying it to EVERYONE. “Many people misquote Paul and try to pit him against the obviously Jewish Christ” — not, it was Paul who was doing the misquoting. Yet, it is a maxim in Christianity that “we cannot pit the two against each other” despite the fact that Paul mentions on several occasions that he can’t get along with the authentic apostles. He refers to Peter, James, and John in Galatians by saying “they SEEM to be pillars, but what they really are doesn’t matter to me” (ooh, somebody got punked!) and in 1st Corinthians he talks about how that church was split into 3 factions of “I follow Peter, I follow Apollos, and I follow Paul” — obviously nobody splits into factions following different men if their doctrines are all the same.

      • You may not like what Paul is saying, but he says the same thing that James says when he says that he who breaks one part of the law is guilty of all, even if his sin is partiality and not something we would consider very wicked (like murder). Paul and James are making the same point that you seem to dislike. That point is that when we commit any sin we are counted as evildoers worthy of death, even if we are not pure atheists as you would say (the Bible speaks of mixing God’s faith with heathen religions as equally treacherous to outright denial of God’s ways). Unless we repent and unless we accept the unmerited grace of God and the sacrifice which we cannot deserve of the blood and body of Jesus Christ, we cannot be saved of our own efforts. We all have our own tendencies toward sin, our own secret sins that we do not know or recognize (the Psalmists talk about these matters as well). Unless we repent and change, no matter if our sins do not reach a level that you in your supposed wisdom consider serious, we will all perish, for God owes us nothing. We are the work of His hands created for His purposes, and we owe all that we possess to Him in the first place. You seem to think you are something special, and you resent that in your state of partial disobedience and total arrogance that you are counted along with the worst atheist and heathen in the Holy Scriptures, and you seem to malign Paul to escape your own sense of guilt. It is better to repent, for does not the prophet Ezekiel say “The soul that sins shall die?”

        Concerning your maligning of Paul’s personality, he did have a personality that was difficult for people to get along with. That’s not a sin (it happens to be a problem I share, for many of the same reasons that Paul had). And you seem naive and unexperienced with Christian fellowships if you think that schism requires a difference in doctrine. All too often in my own life I have seen schisms result from mere difference in background or personality that made people favor one speaker or leader over another, and that was certainly the case in Corinth. As the immature Corinthians cared a great deal about personality and such matters, so Christians can be mistaken in that regard today. You yourself consider yourself a partisan of Peter and Paul, and so you are like the immature and schismatic Corinthians, rather than like the wise and mature Christian you ought to be. Repent where you have fallen short, and repent of your reviling against Paul, lest you fall short of salvation because of the root of bitterness in your heart.

      • reyjacobs says:

        As for the warning in 2nd Peter, we ought not just accept anything Paul says without squaring it with Jesus, since that’s what the author is really warning against…accepting what Paul says just because he says it. Obviously Peter, whom Paul says only “SEEMS to be something” in Galatians, and whom Paul slanders as a hypocrite, would not tell us to accept everything Paul says without deliberation. Even assuming that 2nd Peter really was written by Peter — this epistle’s authenticity was disputed heavily in the first 4 centuries — it doesn’t mean that we should accept Paul’s teachings without question — it means the opposite.

      • You slander Paul without context and then insult him for seeming to slander Peter, who had refused for more than a decade to fulfill God’s mandate to preach the Gospel to the whole world because of his own ethnic pride in his own Jewish identity, refusing even to eat with a Godfearing Gentile without divine visions and commands and the visible miracle of the Holy Spirit being received by the Godfearing (righteous) Gentiles with him before he would even baptize them (see Acts 10). When Paul rebukes Peter, as he was correct to do, it is because Peter had hypocritically refused to eat with Gentiles when Jews were around because he didn’t want to get in trouble with his (possibly) racist and bigoted associates in Jerusalem. Paul was not wrong at all to rebuke Peter in that circumstance, and the fact that Paul elsewhere (see 1 Corinthians 15) speaks very highly of Peter suggests that he did not have any sort of negative feelings, nor did Peter hold a grudge, and they both remained Christian leaders.

        Concerning “squaring Paul with Jesus,” there is nothing that Paul says that is contradictory with the rest of scriptures unless you twist his words out of context. Many people twist Paul’s commentary on grace and law to make it hostile to God’s commandments, when in reality Paul is consistent that those who live in sin will not see salvation (see Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, for example), but that it is not the law which saves us, and that we cannot be saved by our own efforts, which is offensive to those who consider themselves righteous and self-sufficient and needing nothing from God except for acclamation and praise for being such good boys and girls here on this earth. That was the problem Paul had to face, and it was not coincidentally the same problem that Jesus Christ faced as well. Do not be numbered among that company.

      • reyjacobs says:

        “Peter, who had refused for more than a decade to fulfill God’s mandate to preach the Gospel to the whole world because of his own ethnic pride in his own Jewish identity”

        So you’re a Peter hater who believes every slander that a close personal friend of the slanderer Paul writes. You’re a typical Paulinist idiot.

      • That close friend of Paul was Luke, and he was divinely inspired to write two books of the Bible, just like Paul wrote at least 13 God-inspired books of the Bible. If you don’t believe in the words of scripture, you have place in a biblical discussion. Repent, lest you face divine judgment, because God’s opinion is worth far more than yours or mine, and by reviling God’s apostles and leaders and those He inspired to write scripture for our benefit, you malign God Himself. That’s very dangerous ground to put yourself on.

      • reyjacobs says:

        Luke proves himself to be an uninspired writer by approving of Paul so much. Besides, Luke and Paul contradict each other on details of Paul’s life. Galatians and Acts are at each other’s throats with respect to the council of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Paul was sent by the church of Antioch to get an answer from the original apostles as to whether circumcision was required — according to Paul he was sent by a divine revelation to school the original apostles. That’s about as bold of a contradiction as can occur between any two books. If Paul’s great friend Luke would contradict him that bad (this is no enemy but his bossom buddy) then maybe Paul is lying in his version of the tall tale there in Galatians. Duh.

      • You sir, are a marcionite heretic. You want to pick and choose what is divinely inspired based on your own mistaken assumptions. You assume a particular view of events long ago, without any evidence, and when things do not fit your blinkered and mistaken views, you others of hypocrisy, assuming that all commentary about Paul’s trips to Jerusalem are the same, not remembering that Luke himself records several of them, and that different visits in Acts correlate to different comments from Paul. The only contradictions are in your imagination. You are a heretic and a troll, and your comments are not welcome here. Why don’t you start your own blog where you can rant about your heresies to a handful of like-minded troglodyte readers engaging in a circle jerk [1]? Your presence on mine is no longer welcome, unless you repent of your heresies and cease to malign the people of God.

        [1] Definition of circle jerk, per Urban Dictionary:

        The practice of expressing emotions, feelings, and impractical sentiments as a means of bonding or gaining appreciation for the members of your team. Related activities may include, but are not limited to making lists, repeatedly affirming one’s consent with another persons already expressed opinion, etc.

        Oftentimes ‘circle-jerking’ will occur during meeting times when people feel the need to express their own opinions over and over for the sake of hearing their own voice. Furthermore, they will speak in circles, never actually reaching a point, therefore, appearing like a total jerk off…the entire session then seems like you’ve experienced a circle-jerk.

  7. Pingback: Book Review: Know The Heretics | Edge Induced Cohesion

  8. Pingback: Book Review: After Acts | Edge Induced Cohesion

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