Two days ago was Pentecost Sunday and Girdwood Chapel, like many, many churches around the world, celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to God’s church.
Of course, we read Acts 2:1-21, with some dramatic flair–even starting worship with it. We also read from John 14, closing with:
”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
We sang “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” and “Spirit of God” as found in The Faith We Sing hymnal. We had our “Pentecost People” (red clothing in the shapes of persons) up on the wall.
The occasion of the coming of the Spirit got me thinking a little bit about “ORTHODOXY” — right belief.
See, some years ago I had a member of a church approach me with questions about the Holy Spirit. This person believed in Jesus as “Lord and Savior” and believed in God the Father. This person recited the Lord’s Prayer with gusto and sang in the choir and served the poor. From looking at his life, he certainly “looked” a whole lot more Christian than a lot of the other people sitting in the pews. What this person said was that they could not do was believe in the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, several years later, I’m not exactly sure what the holdup was. I understand that, intellectually, the Spirit seems to take more of leap of faith for some persons. It’s that whole “you can’t see the Spirit but you can see what the Spirit does” thing. But, at the end of the day…and at the end of the conversation…he didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit.
Is that outside the realm of “ORTHODOXY”? If so, what does that mean? Is that person going to burn with unquenchable fire? Does grace abound? Does it matter if one stands outside of traditional orthodoxy? These are not simple, little questions.
So, is this outside of the realm of “Orthodoxy?” I want to say, “yes.” I view traditional orthodoxy as the historical creeds of the church — the Apostle’s, the Nicene, etc. I want to say that this…this…is right belief…orthodoxy. So, if that’s where I draw the lines, then what does it mean to be outside of that? What does it mean to have “incorrect” or “wrong” belief?
What if I believe that God used evolution as a tool to create the human race whom he loves? What if I believe women should be priests/pastors or if I’m a pastor who has experienced divorce and still is serving a local church? What if I believe that Scripture is the infallible and inspired Word of God but have difficulty with “literalism”? What if I believe in premillennial dispensationalism rather than postmillennnial dispensationalism? How narrow a circle are we drawing here and what are the ramifications for being on the outside of that circle…being “heterodox” in belief? And, where does grace come to us on our journeys outside of orthodoxy? And where does our quest for orthodoxy merely lead us into the realm of the Pharisees, straining gnats and swallowing camels?
Two thoughts here:
- Eternal ramifications: I know that whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. Beyond that, it is not my place to say. I put my trust in a God whom I believe has “Grace greater than all my sin” and will be much more welcoming at the pearly gates than I ever would.
- Rather than focusing on a legalistic, separating, self-defining, other-defining orthodoxy, it’s important for the church to bring persons into relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ, to be in a posture of growth, and to cast ourselves upon Christ’s great mercy. “Correct belief” is not unimportant. I’m just not so sure we need to get into the level of detail that we have been known to do.
So, where does that leave the fellow who didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit? Well, I want to say that his belief system was not orthodox. He stands outside the realm of orthodox Christianity and, if I were still his pastor, it would be part of my job to explain the reasons for our traditional understanding of the Holy Spirit and continue to work with him to live his life fully in Christ. And I’ll put my trust in the Amazing Grace of our God to work out all the eternal details for each of us.