United Seminary President Wendy Deichmann’s column “What’s Right with Orthodoxy” offers a refreshing articulation of Christian essentials from one of United Methodism’s most important leaders. Across 5 years she has presided over the stunning revival of a once nearly dead school, a rebirth rooted in its transition from old line Protestant liberalism to classic Christian beliefs.
In response to the criticism that orthodoxy is old fashioned, unreasonable, regressive, and oppressive, Deichmann writes:
Although some will assume or argue that Christian orthodoxy is made up of an oppressively long list of doctrines used to subjugate and control people, history will confirm that Christian orthodoxy is most often expressed in a stunningly short list of beliefs that affirm the Holy Trinity and salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy as historically understood does not wed believers to a long inventory of theological, political, and social doctrines. Rather, orthodoxy as we are using the term here and as expressed in Christian history is made up of a relatively short list of core doctrines that have to do with the heart of the gospel. For example, orthodoxy is not even definitive on the nature of atonement. Rather, it generates conversation among believers in the gospel about the nature of Christ’s death and how we then should live.
Contrary to the assertions of its adversaries that it is regressive and backwards-looking, a brief survey of Christian history indicates that orthodoxy has inspired some of the most forward-looking, prophetic movements in the life of the church. Great teachers and leaders come immediately to mind: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Frederick Douglass, Irenaeus, Richard Allen, Billy Graham, Jarena Lee, and Anna Howard Shaw, as well as Susanna, Charles, and John Wesley. These giants of the faith upheld orthodox Christianity and changed not only the church but the world in commendable ways. They also left their critics in the dust spiritually, theologically, and historically speaking. Speaking of dust, one needs only to dust off and reread one’s church history to be reminded of the triumphs of truth over corruption, the well-fought fights for good over evil and social progress over oppressive, status quo politics by Christians who held tenaciously to orthodoxy.
In addition to noting that Christian orthodoxy provides common ground for ecumenism, Deichmann also focuses on what's really at stake in affirming orthodoxy:
Why have fiercely apologetic Christians cared so much about orthodoxy that they defied kings, emperors, torture, and death in defense of the “faith once delivered to the saints”? Why did it matter so much? Why was it dearer than prestige, wealth, and even life itself? For those who have believed Christian orthodoxy to be true, it is truth itself, the foundation for all else.
Orthodox belief for its adherents is an essential matter not only for this life, but for eternal life. In the midst of a world quickly fading away, it is the essence of what was, is, and will remain forever. The gospel truth expressed in orthodox Christianity is worth living for, worth giving away to one’s friends and enemies, and worth dying for. This is not just because it is orthodox, but fundamentally because it is true.
Orthodoxy represents the message, identity, and mission of the Christian church through all ages. It is the heart of the gospel. It does not change with the seasons and cultures of humanity because it represents the core revelation of God in Jesus Christ in human history.
Deichmann's column offers an important articulation of why Christian orthodoxy is a necessary (if not sufficient) foundation for Church vitality. And her column also helps us understand why the repudiation of orthodoxy undermines the Church's witness to the truth of the gospel. As Deichmann notes, "what is right about Christian orthodoxy is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that it proclaims to us and to the whole world."
Read it all.