Posted by: markbasil | August 3, 2016

Christian Orientation, not “worldview”

A friend had an critical look at the phrase “Christian worldview”, and suggested “orientation” is more fitting for Orthodox:

“Acquiring an orientation to Christ is very different from acquiring a Christian worldview.  I can’t think my way into a better orientation, I have to move there, to practice staying there, to recognize when I’m not there.  I do this by following Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  His ways are prayer, fasting, almsgiving, service, self-emptying or humility, submission to the will of God, living in communion with God and others.  These practices become revelatory.  It is only as I practice this Way, putting myself in the stream of God’s light that I can gradually become filled with the light of God and can increasingly respond in life-giving ways to the messy and complex world I live and teach in.  This is the knowledge that matters, this is the wisdom I long for.  This is what we hope a Christian worldview will give us, but so often it doesn’t.”

 

A fellow objected, and argued for a worldview common to all “Christian orthodoxy” and made up of our “mere Christianity.”  He worried without this “worldview,” without this “mere Christianity” that is shared by all orthodox Christians, we would have no meaningful content to the word “Christian” at all.

Here was my reply:

“I see what you’re saying. I would agree that “Christian” loses meaning without some semantic demarcations. I remember attending a poetry class at UBC, and no one could come to consensus on the meaning of the word “Poem” having no definition drove me crazy! Like you, I felt we needed some sort of common understanding lest just anything pass as poetry… My voice was a minority. But then question; who’s authorized to define? Who is the keeper of the boundaries of poetry?
Your comment sounds like an argument why there “aught to” be an orthodoxy to the Christian Faith. But I do not think there actually is such agreement.
For example: who keeps the gates of this “mere Christianity”? If a group of people start claiming they are Christians, who’s right is it to disagree?
Mormons like to include themselves in the Christian fold; should they be considered within our “mere Christianity”? Initially St John of Damascus (I believe it was) spoke and wrote about “Mohammedism” (Islam) as a Christian heresy! They seemed to meet some standard of “mere Christianity” at the time. Another challenging set of puzzles come in the form of Christian heresies. Take the early Arians; were they Christian? They acknowledged much in the Christian Faith but denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. And today, we have Charismatic Monists (or so I have heard), who do not believe in the Holy Trinity.
All of this is circling in on my point: I agree there should be a Christian orthodoxy, but I do not think it is possible via the route of a “mere Christianity”. In contrast I think of early church authority. St Paul wrote of a member of the congregation who should be excommunicated (for matters of behaviour, not belief). St Paul also, of course, was writing against the “Teachers” of various “Judaic” tendencies. These ‘teachers’ claimed to be part of a “mere Christianity,” but it did not prevent them from heresy. St Paul however, would not consider them members of the Apostolic Church. By this logic, Arians may claim they are Christian, but they have chosen a path that moves them away from Christian orthodoxy- this is made visible by their ex-communication.
To use a more challenging modern example, Calvinists may claim that they share the “mere Christianity” status, but Orthodox Christians would say their predestinationism is heretical, and has not place within the Christian gospel. So Calvinists cannot be Orthodox- and there is a break in communion. In this case the Holy Spirit’s work in the counsel of the Church holds authority. The earliest recorded example, of course, is the counsel at Jerusalem: the Apostles met and made decisions about gentile inclusion. They had the authority to determine who was “in” and who was not in. This authority rested in the established Apostolic hierarchy of the Church. I do not know where authority would rest in all the breadth of the “self-identified-Christian” world today. Do you have some thoughts on this? And even if we say that it’s those who hold to the creeds (which ones?), I would say first: what right do we have to proclaim this? And second, more importantly, what about the vastly different *meanings* attributed to the words of the creed? (for example Marcus Borg might say Jesus rose from the dead on the thrid day, but he would mean this is a “spiritual” resurrection. Who has authority to say to him, “that’s not the Christian faith”?)

More important is the question, why does it matter? What matters to the Christian Faith? Here I find myself in agreement with Kim’s point: Christian orientation is a more helpful descriptive phrase than worldview.
Afterall, can I not be a Christian during periods of doubt? Uncertainty about belief in the Resurrection? If I find a simple believer who faithfully attends Church yet does not know whether Jesus is God or not, could he still be a Christian? What if this person were a little child? What if this person were intellectually handicapped? Do they really have to believe these things to be Christian?
I think it’s unhelpful to be too precise in our definitions about what one has to *believe* to be a Christian. Our relationship with the Creator is such a deeply intimate matter of the heart; in this sense It is more about orientation. Repentance is the act of turning toward God; turning our minds and our whole being toward God and away from sin. Christian faith is movement toward deepening communion with Christ.
And it is in this sense that I mentioned to you things particular to my Tradition (Orthodoxy) that are indeed important for everyone’s salvation, yet not common to “mere Christianity”. Your questions to me about salvation already reveal differences in our understandings of so fundamental a notion as “what does it mean to be saved?”
I am speaking of “salvation” as synonymous with “union with God in Christ”. In this sense our salvation is something we can grow in. Here again, I found Kim’s use of “orientation”. more in line with this understanding of salvation.
As we know, Christianity was initially called “the Way”. It is a Way of Life (an orientation). Further, elements of the “worldview” shifted and grew and developed (E.g. the Trinity!) but the precision in articulated belief was not necessary for participation in the Church. Participation in God’s life is salvation; communion is salvation.
Fr Stephen has much to say about this understanding: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2013/08/09/get-out-of-your-mind/
St Paul spoke of excommunication. He wrote to excommunicate a certain church member- someone placed outside the Church not based on a belief, but a behaviour. This person’s orientation was off- he was not fixing his gaze on Christ; he was not walking with the Holy Spirit.
I’m sure there is much that you and I would have in common in our shared Christian faith, however I believe some of our differences are relevant to salvation, when salvation is understood as communion with God that transfigures us into Christ-likeness. A friend described Orthodox Tradition as the passing down of tested “good farming practices” for preparing the garden of the heart to receive Christ’s gospel. I have heard Catholics speak of “anonymous Christians”- another attempt at getting beyond “belief” or even “self-identity”, to the matter of communion and participation. It is in this sense possible for Buddhists and Muslims and even Atheists to be “oriented” toward Christ- wherever they seek beauty, mercy, justice, etc. All of these are only possible by the work of Christ’s Holy Spirit in them.
Anyway I think I’ve said rather more than enough. I’m conscious of taking up too much space on this blog.
If you wish to continue the discussion in its finer points, I am open to email: man or they at gmail dot come [all one word]

Love in Christ;
-Mark Basil”

 

 

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