Pastor

My friend and fellow-blogger, Peter Carrell, recently said it well:

I belong to the one and only true church. It is perfect in every way, doctrinally, liturgically, morally, ecclesiologically. It only has one member. And you can’t join it in case you wreck it.

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday I rework a blog post from eight years ago challenging people to take greater care in labeling, dividing, excluding, and siloing people. The four labels that spring to mind are: catholic, charismatic, evangelical, and orthodox (in alphabetical order). People bandy them about as a badge of honour and as descriptions of exclusive groups. We have the truth. You do not have the truth…

Whilst I am a strong advocate for digital engagement, I also know the dark side of this medium – it can be a lever (as so many powerful things are) for bad and for good. I understand the conscious, careful decision to leave of social media:

Is this what society has become? A shouting match? A contest of loudest voice, not strongest idea?

Social media can starkly present us-them, and it can strongly reinforce us-them.

I am a member of a nearly-nine-thousand-strong Christian Bloggers Network which seems to have degenerated into a shouting match between those accepting committed-same-sex couples and those against – and very little else. Us-them.

The recent 8,000 engagements with my tweet offering thoughts and prayers for those beginning Ramadan, the majority being at the level of Christians calling for my beheading, crucifixion, and assertions that I did not know Christ, etc., certainly made me think again whether it was worth the effort of being part of this online world.

Us-them. In-out. Right-wrong. This seems to be the model that so many people work from.

If one makes a list of convictions (“beliefs”), 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, catholic, charismatic, and orthodox

I will leave it to you to produce definitions for each of these 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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