We need to take greater care with the words we use. Some (many?) Christians, are using – I would say abusing – words. Four words being abused spring quickly to mind: catholic, charismatic, evangelical, and orthodox (in alphabetical order). People bandy them about as a badge of honour and as descriptions of exclusive groups.
If one makes a list of convictions (“beliefs”) and issues, however, the longer the list of convictions – the smaller the groups where everyone is in total agreement with everyone else in that group. It is simply not true that, for example, all who seek to claim the term “evangelical” agree on everything from women’s ordination and headship, through presidency of the Eucharist, to ways of responding to committed same-sex couples, and the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis – to name but four current issues. And I could easily list more. One could similarly make lists for each of the other three terms I have chosen.
I will leave it to you to produce definitions for each of the four terms whilst highlighting, appropriately for the theme of this site, that “orthodoxy” is first and foremost a term meaning “right worship”. Once one looks at these four terms it will be clear that every Christian is to be evangelical, charismatic, catholic, and orthodox. They are not choices within a smorgasbord Christianity. They are to be facets of every Christian life. Each one of us is called to be orthodox, and charismatic, and catholic, and evangelical.
Like the marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These overlapping marks of the church are not choices. One does not appropriately have a church with a perspective: “OK we’ll be one and catholic, but we won’t be holy or apostolic”! Similarly, it is not appropriate to say as individual Christians, for example, “OK I’ll be orthodox but not catholic”! Nor, hence, is it appropriate to claim for one’s grouping one of these four: charismatic, evangelical, catholic, or orthodox – in such a way as to appear thereby to deny such a term to any other Christian grouping.
In the oversimplifications and often belligerent attempts at polarisation and partitioning, other characteristics are sometimes bandied about as if they stand in opposition to these four terms highlighted in this post. As if “liberal” and “evangelical” are of necessity antonyms. As if “radical” is always the converse of “orthodox”. And so on.
More appropriate and more fruitful, in my opinion, is to treat convictions and concerns issue by issue. An example: discuss women’s ordination and headship but make no assumptions that a certain position on this of necessity only appropriately connects to a particular position, say, on presidency of the Eucharist. One will find people for and against women’s ordination and let us listen to one another on this. And let us not assume that those who agree with each other about ordination will therefore agree on everything else. This issue by issue approach I am advocating is treating individuals and their positions with respect.
Furthermore, let us not apply terms to one another, or to groups, that they would not apply to themselves.
I am regularly asked what is my theological position – and what is the theological perspective undergirding this site. I am even sometimes berated for being unclear about this and that I should have this plainly expressed for all as one arrives at this site. Well it is time to come clean:
I am an orthodox charismatic evangelical catholic.
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