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Tag Archives: Christianity

Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical

This post is about the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical and what they mean. The first question is whether only one branch (denomination) of Christianity can legitimately use any of these words. The answer is No; many churches can use them.

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed includes the words “In one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. So any church that accepts this creed has some claim on the word catholic (as well as the word apostolic).

Catholic means universal so any church that identifies with the universal church (whether as part of it or the whole of it is another matter) has a claim on this word. This includes every branch of Christianity, though the Church of Rome has taken it their moniker.

It is similar with the word orthodox. Any church that considers its doctrine to be orthodox Christianity has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, although the churches of Eastern Christianity have taken it as their moniker.

The word evangelical simply means “pertaining to the gospel.” Any church which promotes the gospel has a claim on this word. That covers every branch of Christianity, though some Protestant churches (especially revivalist ones) have taken it as their moniker.

We could say that the words catholic, orthodox, and evangelical have generic and specialized meanings. Their specialized uses are usually capitalized. No one branch of Christianity has a monopoly on any of these words, though it sometimes seems so.

 

Evangelical varieties

The word evangelical means simply “of or according to the teaching of the gospel (the good news)”. Evangelical was used by Martin Luther to characterize the Reformation so that in Europe it is often a synonym for Protestant. In America the term (often capitalized) has come to have a particular meaning, characterized by historian David Bebbington with the following four distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

To avoid confusion those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Martin Luther could be called Lutheran Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Lutherans. Similarly, those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Jean (John) Calvin could be called Reformed Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Calvinists.

These latter two groups would not insist on a conversion experience, being satisfied with Baptism and Confirmation. Other than that, they (or at least the more theologically conservative among them) would fit in with those called simply Evangelicals. Accordingly, to be more precise about which variety of evangelical is referenced, Evangelicals in America could be called Conversionist Evangelicals.

There are other qualifiers that could be used, too: Wesleyan Evangelicals, Holiness Evangelicals, Pentecostal Evangelicals, Charismatic Evangelicals, Fundamentalist Evangelicals, etc.

Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor move in parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860. Bishop declined rapidly in the 1840s and 1850s.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

Buddhist and Buddhism have been on the rise since 1820. Hindu has been on the rise since the 1790s. Islam and Moslem slowly rose from 1820 to 1950 but then diverged: Islam sharply higher and Moslem lower. Pagan and Paganism were on a long decline since before 1780, with a modest rise since 1990.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Fourfold Gospel

There is one Gospel but four ways of understanding it.  These correspond to the four “Gospels”, that is, the Gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They each emphasize different aspects of the good news of Jesus Christ.  For example, see Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels (which Kregel Publications calls “Four Views of Christ”) by Andrew Jukes.

The fourfold Gospel includes a fourfold atonement corresponding to the key roles and accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

(1) Victor:  He overcame death, hell, sin, and Satan, that is, evil and all its manifestations, without denying the rights of Satan and his minions.  Christ is Lord, King, and Ruler of all.

(2) Sacrifice:  He provided a way for God to forgive us without compromising righteousness.  He did this by satisfying the requirements of justice on our behalf.  Christ is Priest, Lamb, and Temple for all.

(3) Mediator:  He restored our relationship to God, that is, overcame our alienation from God, without ignoring the development of our alienation.  Christ is Prophet and Intercessor for all.

(4) Exemplar:  He embodied the way, the truth, and the life of God, showing us how to live, what to think, and which actions to take.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2005

History and law

The main problem with evolution is not that it has the wrong history but that for evolution history is everything.  That’s everything including the laws of nature, philosophy, religion, God, literally everything.  The one law of evolution is that everything evolves.  There is no being, only becoming; there is nothing fixed, only change.

But surely they accept the laws of physics, don’t they?  Not really.  Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Presence of the Past” attempts to show that nature has “habits” rather than any fixed laws.  Like evolutionary species, the laws of physics are temporary and evolve, too.

So arguing about chronology and history is right up the evolutionary alley.  It doesn’t shift the debate to what evolutionists cannot accept: anything that does not change — laws or created/natural kinds.

Also, if the argument is about chronology and history, it is always possible to argue that God was involved and this is consistent with basic theology.  So the debate goes around in circles because chronology cannot be a basic doctrine of Christianity.

But law is a basic doctrine of Christianity.  If there is no law, there is no gospel: law and gospel go together.  And these are not just spiritual laws, but laws that include physical reality because resurrection is physical, too.

So the debate should be shifted to be about the existence of what does not change — laws, kinds, and the nature of God.

September 2014

Links

Here are various links worth exploring.

Seeking Answers?

Religion and Public Life

Help the Persecuted

Defending Liberty

Three streams movement

The three streams concept was introduced in the book, “The Household of God” by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin of the Church of South India in the1940’s. The movement developed further from the “third wave” of the Spirit in the 1980’s. The basic idea is that the church has been needlessly divided because of differences that should flow together rather than apart. There is the Catholic stream, the Evangelical stream, and the Charismatic stream.

Catholic Stream

This is the catholic and orthodox stream which is the most traditional and liturgical.  It’s roots are in the church of the first millennium. There is formality and mysticism, devotion and communion, inwardness and community. It is a theology of the Father, a gospel of victory over evil. It is sacramental, focused on the Eucharist. It has a kingly, top-down authority structure.

Evangelical Stream

This is the biblical and evangelistic stream from the Reformation but with roots in earlier theologians such as St. Augustine. There is decision and consecration, dedication and sanctification, explication and education, outwardness and commonality. It is a theology of the Son, a gospel of sacrifice for sin. It is Bible-based, focused on the Word. It has a priestly, bottom-up authority structure.

Charismatic Stream

This is the Pentecostal and Charismatic stream from the twentieth century but with roots in the primitive church. There is anointing and envisioning, infilling and enthusiasm, fervor and power, informality and spontaneity. It is a theology of the Spirit, a gospel of overcoming the curse of the law. It is Spirit-filled, focused on Praise. It has a prophetic, egalitarian authority structure.

Three Streams

These three streams have grown apart for the most part. The evangelical stream and the liturgical stream parted after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The charismatic stream was rejected by the other streams in the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, combinations of the streams have joined together somewhat. Some protestant churches such as Lutherans and Anglicans retain a strong sacramental element. The Vatican II reforms opened the Catholic Church to more evangelical and charismatic elements. The charismatic movement in the latter half of the twentieth century flowed through most denominations.

The three streams movement seeks to unite these streams as much a possible. It honors every stream rather than exalting one over the other. It accepts the strengths of each stream. It allows each stream to complement and correct the others. It seeks to unite the church with multiplicity-in-unity.

The movement is most active in some Anglican or Anglican-like churches but is relevant to all churches.

January 2008

Creedal ecumenism

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

Creeds began as a way for the Church to exclude heretics. A council of Bishops would meet and come to agreement on a creed. A creed affirmed propositions that a heretic would not affirm. A creed might also deny propositions that a heretic would affirm. But a creed was not a theology. It did not systematize or explain theological matters.

As long as the Church was undivided, creeds were a way for the Church to separate out the heretics from the true teachers. The other way was through an ordination process that connected the ordinand to the apostles. When the Church divided into East and West, and then into Catholic and Protestant, a common ordination process ended. The ancient creeds remained, at least the three ecumenical creeds which are accepted by nearly all Christians.

Three creeds–the Apostles, the Nicene (Niceno-Constantinopolitan), and the Athanasian creed–form the basic tenets for Christian orthodoxy, apart from the Filioque controversy. The Filioque clause was added to the Nicene creed in the West but not the East.

Other theological issues have arisen and creeds could have been a way to steer the Church through them but divisions in the Church have prevented that. The East asserts that without an undivided Church, there can be no valid council and hence no new creeds. Catholics have added creeds that others do not accept. Protestants have moved away from creeds to confessions or statements of faith or denials of creeds, as in the anti-creed, “no creed but the Bible.”

Non-creedal Christians have implicit creeds, just as non-liturgical churches have implicit liturgies. A statement of faith usually gives some highlights and leaves many questions unanswered but it is a kind of creed. The avoidance of creeds may come from a fear of limiting the faith too much but it is also deficient to say too little. Those who say, “No creed but the Bible,” are asserting a very long creed that leaves open many questions of interpretation.

Creeds are a way for Christians to agree on the key propositions of Christianity. Theologies are revised over time but creeds remain. Short of the age to come, Christians are not likely to agree on a theology but may agree on creeds. As long as we don’t expect too much from creeds, they are a useful ecumenical instrument.

2008

Approaches to apologetics

First, for those who want an introduction to apologetics, I suggest this video by Dr. R.C. Sproul on Defending Your Faith, lecture 1: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/defending-your-faith/introduction-2/.  Note in the second part he addresses Greek philosophy.

One way to compare different approaches is to look at what they consider believers and unbelievers have in common and how to build on that.

(1) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity.

With this approach one does not address questions about the existence of God, different worldviews, how scientific evidence relates to the Bible, etc., there is no recourse but to preach the Gospel again or go on to the next audience.

(2) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also live in a common world.

With this approach one can address questions about science by showing them how scientific evidence may be understood to support the Bible.  But questions about the existence of God or different worldviews cannot be addressed because the ability to reason is not sufficiently held in common.

(3) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity and also a common ability to reason.

With this approach one can address questions about the existence of God by showing them how reasonable it is to believe that God exists.  One can also address a worldview which excludes God by showing them the inadequacy of such a worldview.  But questions about how science supports the Bible cannot be addressed because the world of science is not sufficiently common.

(4) Believers and unbelievers have a common humanity, a common ability to reason, and live in a common world.

With this approach one can address the most questions – questions about the existence of God, a worldview which excludes God, questions about science, etc.  One has the most resources in common with which to remove impediments to the Gospel.

I support approach (4) because I think Christians do have that much in common with unbelievers and because it gives the apologist the most tools to address the most questions.  The other approaches lack tools to address some questions and so impediments to the Gospel may remain.

July 2014

The church and the world

At least from the time of Constantine to the Middle Ages, the Church was involved in the world – i.e., public affairs and endeavors such as philosophy.  The Reformation was partly a reaction against this, refocusing the church on spiritual matters and leaving worldly matters to others, that is, to Christians outside the church’s official structure.  The highest authority for the church was the Bible but outside the church the prince or king ruled.  This was reflected for example in rejecting marriage as a sacrament – Protestant churches did not even perform weddings for several centuries.

Protestants were content to let natural philosophers (scientists) do their thing though the Catholic church remained sensitive to the philosophical and theological implications of natural philosophy – that’s what got Galileo in trouble.  The Bible was the authority concerning spiritual matters but science became the authority for knowledge of the natural world, as the state was the authority for political matters.  Gradually, Christian countries departed from Christianity because the church left the world to others.

Protestants inspired social movements such as the abolition of slavery but it was a matter of Christians influencing society rather than the church directly involved in social matters.  Then in the early 20th century the social gospel refocused liberal/modernist Protestants on society, while conservative/fundamentalist Protestants reaffirmed the spiritual focus of the church.  In the later 20th century conservatives started to get interested in what was happening in the world since it was affecting them, too – Darwinism, abortion, etc.

Where does that leave us today?  Creationists are surprised that Christians won’t let the Bible be the final authority for science.  But the separation of the Bible from matters of the social or natural world has a long history.  Evangelical churches are focused on spiritual matters and leave social and natural matters to others, who are often non-Christians.  Catholics are still smarting from the Galileo affair and have been reluctant to criticize scientists.

I conclude that creationism will make slow headway in and outside the church until there is a spiritual/philosophical movement that relates spiritual matters to natural matters.  To make a military analogy, para-church organizations such as creationists have are like special forces that help with fighting but it is the army that takes over territory, as only the church can re-take society and science for Christ.

May 2014