A Heresy of My Own (Part 4) | Orthodoxy

A Heresy of My Own (Part 4) | Orthodoxy

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–10, ESV)

As a wisdom book, Ecclesiastes admittedly gives us a rather cynical glimpse into the wisdom gained through the pursuit of satisfaction in anything other than God alone. Yet the phrase “…and there is nothing new under the sun…” rings true whether or not the reader shares in Solomon’s cynicism. For any serious student of scripture, new should be met with a healthy degree of skepticism. We interpret and apply scripture in communion with 2000 years of church history. Any new revelation from scripture is usually a short-cut to error and even heresy.

My own spiritual journey, however, has seemed a constant discovery of the new. Of course, there’s a difference between new and new to me. I purchased a new car last year. It was manufactured in 2011 and I am not the first owner. That’s the only kind of new that’s safe when it comes to interpreting scripture.

Here are three of the new to me discoveries I’ve made on my spiritual journey.

The Holy Spirit is present and active within the Church today.
All the gifts, manifestations and fruit of the Spirit described and experienced in the Bible are still available for believers today. This was new to me when I discovered it, having been raised as a child in a church tradition that, at best, minimized the current work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But in the early 80s, through the ministries of James Robison, Milton Green, John Wimber, Jeanne Rogers, and also the community of faith at First United Methodist Church of Bedford, I discovered the person and work of the Holy Spirit in a very experiential way.

The material realm / earthly reality is good.
Gnosticism and Platonism have seriously influenced Western thought and theology in such a way that the gospel I was handed early on assumed the opposite. We understood the gospel as God’s answer to how to escape this earthly realm and spend eternity in non-material heaven. Any discussion of our responsibility to steward the earth was quickly dismissed with the assumption that it would all burn up anyway, so it doesn’t matter. In the late 80s, through the ministry of Jim Hodges, Michael Massa, and Dutch Sheets I was introduced to the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the hope that God promised to fill all the earth with the knowledge of his glory. Later reading from John Wimber and George Eldon Ladd further solidified this way of understanding the gospel. I no longer live with the expectation of escaping the earth and being raptured to heaven. Instead, my future hope is anchored in my anticipation of Jesus’ return, the resurrection of the dead, and the renewal of the earth as heaven and earth are joined together once again.

Mystery is healthy and necessary.
I grew up in a religious culture that was so very certain about a great many things. Our unity was based on our agreement, and therefore certainty was essential. Questions were discouraged. If questions couldn’t be discouraged, we had books filled with clever answers to help us return to the comforts of our certainty. Faith was primarily expressed and experienced as an intellectual assent to the doctrinal, moral, social, political realities about which we were so very certain. The Bible, within this framework, was a textbook for use in defending our rightness. Then I met a man named Jim Armstrong. He had lots of clever answers to lots of questions and was quite certain about some things. But there were times his answer to my questioning was simply “I don’t know.” He would say this with a twinkle in his eye. Through his influence, I discovered that worship deepens at the place of mystery. Later, Bill Johnson expressed this well when he said something like “a God who fits neatly between your ears is probably not worthy of your worship.” More recently, Greg Boyd’s amazing book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty has made me very certain that certainty is an idol worth tearing down.

I remember reading When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson back in 2008. It seemed he was putting into words the entirety of my spiritual journey of discovery in a single volume. But I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind–was all this new? If this was all revelation that broke into our ecclesiastical awareness in the 20th century, how trustworthy could it really be?

Then my friend Steve Billingsley turned me on to a writer named Timothy Ware. He is a former Anglican who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, changed his name to Kallistos, and has become a Bishop under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As a westerner who has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, he is positioned as a great translator/bridge to help westerners like me understand Eastern Orthodoxy.

As Protestants, we are aware of the Protestant Reformation that took place in the 16th century. As a result, we are mostly aware of ourselves in reaction to Roman Catholicism. But there was an earlier schism. Five centuries prior, the Bishop of Rome broke away from the other bishops. There were doctrinal issues in dispute, but the main issue seemed to be the See of Rome’s desire to govern the church autonomously. It was a power play in which he moved from an accepted role of first among equals to an unacceptable role as first among inferiors. So the Western Church (Roman Catholicism separated from the Eastern Church (Eastern Orthodoxy). Eastern Orthodoxy has continued in existence to this day and represents the vital root system from which the entire church world-wide finds its most ancient history. Most in the west have almost zero awareness of this vital community.

Timothy “Kallistos” Ware has written two books. The Orthodox Church is a history of Eastern Orthodoxy, telling the centuries-long story of this ancient faith. The Orthodox Way is a survey of the doctrine and practice of Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I read these books, what blew me away the most was the realization that the transforming discoveries that have shaped my life to the core were not new at all. They were just new to me. In fact, they were quite old.

Orthodox even.

Like G.K. Chesterton expressed metaphorically in his book Orthodoxy, I have set out from England to discover a new world and ended up only rediscovering England.

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