Tony Jones has put up a post talking about how the earliest of Christians were concerned about how one lives and not really about what one believes. He makes the argument that if you read the earliest texts of Christianity they were about living and not about doctrine.
But I’m curious how Jones defines “doctrine.” The most open definition simply means a set of beliefs that a church or organization teaches. If this it the case, then practice and doctrine were intertwined in the early Church. The examples he cites do encourage believers to live the right way, but then turn to doctrine to explain why they should live the right way. So which came first? Neither.
Both Christian practices and doctrines arrived at the same time and neither is the origin of the other. Rather, back then (as now) both were necessary for a Christian life; one had to know what one believed and how one should live in accordance with those beliefs. Then, as now, we discover more and more about doctrine, which in turn challenges how we should live. Some of these discoveries are also caused by how we do live. Thus, the intellectual aspect of Christianity will impact the existential impact, but in other cases the existential impact will influence the intellectual aspect of Christianity. The two work off of each other. Continue reading
I’m not in the business of saying who is and isn’t going to Hell; since I’m not God I don’t know who has truly accepted His Son. However, I – along with all other Christians – should be in the business of discerning certain teachings to see if they are true. When it comes to the latest post by Tony Jones, let me say quite emphatically that Tony Jones’ teachings generally don’t represent the truth.
Tony decided that he would invite a rabbi to speak at his church (not problem there) to discuss the book of John, what Tony calls the “most anti-Semitic Gospel” (now we have a problem). He then explores the idea of Judas (or as Jones points out, “Jew-das,” which somehow shows that Judas was a literary figure representative of all Jews) being a tragic hero in order to validate the quest for Christian universalism. You remember, the same universalism that we’re allowed to discuss, but only as long as we already agree with it.
First, to deal with the anti-Semitic charge, let us just say that this charge is asinine. For one, John 14:22 refers to another Judas as an apostle of Christ, so the idea of there being some Derridian word-play associated with the name “Judas” should be thrown out the window. Judas Iscariot doesn’t represent the Jews to Christian anymore than David Hasslehoff represents Americans to Germans. In fact, lest we forget, the early disciples reached out to Jews alone; it wasn’t until Peter had a vision to visit Cornelius, and even then the Christian Jews weren’t comfortable with Gentiles coming into the faith until Paul solidified his ministry. The idea that the book of John was written as an anti-Semitic device is absurd because there’s no evidence for it and it’s simply us reading back into the text. But what if the author wasn’t Jewish?
Well, that’s actually what Jones contends, which leads to my second point; it’s 2011, not 1880. While the idea that John didn’t write the Gospel of John might be a nice Enlightenment point of view (and make no mistake, this whole “postmodern Christianity” reeks of the Enlightenment), it’s not the plausible point of view. Consider this: Should I trust the dating and authorship of the Gospel of John by some 19th century theologian (and subsequent people who follow), or by two people who knew John and those who were only a generation removed from him? Now, any good Enlightenment student will tell you that the idea of Polycarp and Ignatius weren’t actually disciples of John as there’s no physical proof, but our line of skepticism has to move towards a liar or we end up doubting that Pope Benedict XVI exists or that you and I exist. The most common sense approach to the issue is that the early Church actually had some pretty good knowledge of when their books were written and if real disciples wrote them; after all, there were many Gnostic Gospels written early in the history of Christianity that Christians rejected due to a spurious date or false claim of authorship. Continue reading
The lesson isn’t so much taught by Tony Jones, but rather he acts as a good example. Jones apparently has closed shop for on the idea of having an emergent conversation and would now rather only discuss Christianity with people he agrees with. This is based on the fact that now anyone who supports the Tea Party is considered a “teabagger” to Jones. Now of course this is a very derogatory and grotesque term to use (especially considering the origin of the term), but that doesn’t prevent Jones from using it. Why? Because he’s no different than a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson; he must demonize the opposition in order to defeat and silence the opposition.
Jones goes on to link to an article that accuses people who believe that America was founded upon an evangelical past – such as David Barton – for wanting an era or, “white, middle-class, pre-Civil Rights, pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate past. An imagined day when men were men, women were women, African Americans knew their place, and Mexicans lived south of the border.” In other words, those who see vestiges of evangelicalism in the past, such as Barton, are also racists and don’t like having a black man in office. Instead, they want to go back to the days when blacks were slaves or at least knew they were lesser than the white man. What does the article offer up as proof for these allegations? Nothing, it’s simply a motive that’s ascribed to an entire movement.
I am not a part of the Tea Party movement (as I don’t place my hope in politics and I find the movement to be reactionary, wrong on many points, and uncivil) and I certainly don’t believe that evangelicals founded America (they were involved, but there were many mainline Protestants and Deists involved), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go around calling people “teabaggers” or attempting to ascribe racist motives to an entire movement. The reason I won’t is because I try to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than demonize them.
But Jones, both in what he said and what he linked, is trying to poison the well. “Don’t listen to the Tea Party or evangelicals because they’re racist!” The sad reality is that “racist” has become the new “Nazi.” It used to be that if you could link someone to Nazi ideology, you win. That person is then ascribed as a Nazi and no one would ever listen to what the person said. Being labeled a Nazi delegitimized any point you wanted to make and stopped any hope of discourse on the issue. Now we use the term “racist” and simply try to call people racists. “Oh, they’re not against President Obama’s policies, they’re against him as a black man.” What proof is offered up to prove the biggest problem is a black man is in office? The same amount of proof offered up that a movement is akin to the Nazi Party – none. Continue reading
Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38
I’m just getting into John Chrysostom’s Homilies On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (CUA Press). The homilies attempt to explain that we can know nothing of the nature of God, but we can still know God. St. John gave these as a response to the neo-Arians who said that we could know the nature of God.
In order to give some background information, the introduction explains the controversy of Arianism and what it brought about. He talks about how how the adoption of the Nicene Creed was a response to Arianism. Yet he points out:
“…Arianism did not die; in fact it grew for four decades and was still a disturbing factor at the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it might have been reestablished after Nicaea were it not for Athanasius of Alexandria.”
For those who do not know, Athanasius is often referred to as “Athaansius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius was a deacon when he attended Nicaea, but in 326 (the year after Nicaea) when Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius took his place as Bishop of Alexandria. During Athanasius’ tenure as Bishop of Alexandria he was banished from the city no less than five times due to his refusal to back down on his beliefs concerning Christ.
Eusebius (not to be confused with the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea), the bishop of Nicomedia, was an open Arian and used his position of influence to have the government of Alexandria consistently harass Athanasius. Much to the chagrin of Eusebius, Athanasius willingly faced the persecution; after all, he was raised during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire (303-311) and watched many of his family friends and his mentors die in the persecution. What was banishment compared to what he had endured as a child?
Athanasius turned away the favor of man and a position of prominence in order to stand for the truth. As C.S. Lewis says of Athanasius in the introduction to “On the Incarnation” (St. Vladamir’s Press),
“He knew that the very existence of the Church was at stake; but he was utterly certain of the truth and he knew that it must in time prevail.”
Athanasius was faithful to the doctrines of Christianity and to Christ not out of some desire to be right or some attempt to win an argument or exert his power and control over people, but because he was dedicated to the Truth who is Christ. In being dedicated to the Truth, he desired that all men know the Truth as He revealed Himself. The Arians created a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of history and therefore Athanasius, in loving loyalty to Christ, stood his ground and suffered for his holy obstinance. Banishment back then was not a simple thing; being in Egypt, he was banished into the wilderness. He had to leave all that he knew five separate times and depart into the unknown (though the first two times he went to the Desert Father Antony, while the last three times he went to the disciples of Antony). Continue reading
In the previous two articles we learned that the two best ways to combat heresy is to study orthodox doctrines and live rightly according to those doctrines. These are two aspects of combating heresy that all Christians need to follow. However, if this is where Christians stayed for the rest of their lives, then Christianity would lack the ability to go against heresy.
When we think of a bank teller, we think of someone who knows currency so well that they can know just by looking at the currency if it’s a counterfeit or not. By understanding currency, anything that is counterfeit will stick out. But what if we look at the Secret Service? Their job, aside from protecting the President, is to investigate counterfeiters. Would an agent be qualified to hunt down counterfeiters if he only knew what real currency looked like? The answer is no. In order to be a good agent, he would need to know how counterfeits are made, who is most likely to make those counterfeits, and what are the most common types of counterfeits.
In Christianity, everyone is called to right thinking and right living, but only a few are called to study the heresies themselves in order to better understand what is taught, how the heresies are formulated, and where they error. For instance, a Christian who just studies right doctrine can look at Mormonism and know it’s wrong because it teaches someone preceded the existence of God and that God is created. Orthodoxy teaches that God is eternal and uncreated, preceded in time by none. The average Christian who studies orthodox doctrine, however, could only go so far as to say that Mormonism doesn’t match what is orthodox and therefore must be wrong. The Christian who has studies these heresies, however, could look to Mormonism and show it is wrong without appealing to orthodox doctrine. Such a Christian could point to the infinite regress within Mormonism and explain that such a regress makes Mormonism’s belief in someone pre-existing God quite impossible.
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The rejection of moral codes is nothing new for Christianity, but instead has occurred since its foundation. Since the beginning there were people who would manipulate or simply ignore passages of Scripture in order to live in the way they desired.
St. John refers to a group known as the Autoproscoptae (‘offenders against themselves’). These people cut themselves off from communion with the Church and did away with priestly accountability. Though they kept doctrines, they did not live appropriately, leading John to summarize them as such:
“Thus, they openly cohabit with women and maintain them privately in their homes. They are addicted to business and profit-making and other worldly affairs. They live unreasonably and neglect in deed those things which in word they profess to maintain, so that by the judgment of the Apostle they are transgressors. For, although they are monks and organized under a clergy, they honor God in word but in deed dishonor Him.”
Under moral heresies, we see that the first type of moral heresy is the type that claims one thing, but then does another. We can think of the multitude of fallen pastors who would rail against homosexuality while the entire time engaging in homosexuality. We can think of Christians who talk about how Christ came into the world to save the world, but then use their money and time to better themselves rather than helping others.
We think of Christians who go and worship Christ on Sunday, but their bank accounts and time spent helping others don’t reflect that they’re disciples. We think of Christians who rail against other Christians, but then do the very same things they rail against. This is a heresy that is not limited to a conservative or liberal Christian, but rather infects all Christians and is the most common heresy in existence.