The other day I was joking around on Facebook, noting that the problem with hermeneutical gymnastics is the unstable landings.  Jugulum, a frequent poster here, commented about judges holding up score cards during sermons.  Very tongue-in-cheek!  But it did get me thinking: What if delivering Christian truth were like an Olympics competition, where the presentation of the Christian message would be judged by a diverse body of reviewers from various traditions to merit qualification?

I used to faithfully watch figure skating in the Olympics (since in my younger years I actually tried to do it).  Now granted there is some subjectivity to judging, even under the new rules implemented in 2004.  But judges are astute enough to recognize IF the skater is performing the required elements and IF they are performing them well.  Why? Because the judges are asked to rate the performance of the skater based on a set of established criteria that is historically defined.  Each element is examined and judged according to how well each technical aspect of the sport was performed based on the established standard.    There are no substitutions: if a double axle is required, the skater cannot substitute a toe loop for it.  The judges will know what an axle is supposed to look like.  If a program is supposed to have a minimum number of elements, the skater must perform those minimum number of elements.  Otherwise, skaters can be disqualified from competition for performing insufficient elements.

Now, I certainly am not suggesting that Christianity become a competition.  But I am thinking, What if anyone wishing to hang their shingle out, purporting to be Christian, had to meet a recognized criteria of the essential Christian message: a stamp of approval, if you will, that authenticates legitimacy?   What if a panel of reviewers existed consisting of members who have tested the historic confession of the faith that was once for all handed down, as Jude declares in his epistle (Jude 3)?  I don’t think it would be feasible to hold up score cards during sermons and other discipleship activities.  But individual reports could be provided with specific critiques, and there would be a minimal score necessary based on the cumulative scores of the judges.

I think this would crack down on some of the messages out there that claim to represent Christianity but, measured against the test, fail.  There are a lot of relatively “new” ideas about what Christianity is and means for someone who follows Christ.  I would think the promoters of unique ideas would want to authenticate their message with more than just big crowds.  I would think they would want to go for the gold, if you will.   But if persons espousing heretical teaching care more about promoting their ideas than for the message of Christ and refuse such evaluation, then, as the saying goes, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

This actually was the work of the ecumenical councils.  Speaking specifically of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, a group of church leaders were asked to evaluate the merits of various charges for the defense of historic orthodoxy.  These men were knowledgeable about the core historic message based on God’s self-disclosure in Christ and therefore had grounds for effective examination.  I think this was a tremendously good thing.  Regardless of whatever political maneuverings existed, the evaluative process authenticated the faith that Jude speaks of, that which declares THIS is what Christianity is and THIS is what Christianity is not.  The collective good of this process was to weed out heresy and defend the Christian faith.  Even though the councils were formed in reaction to charges, how much better would a proactive process be?   But, to be clear, I am not promoting watch-dogging.

Now I do realize that 2000 years of church history has produced such a splintering in traditions that it would seem inconceivable for alignment across traditions.  Nevertheless, there is a core message that I believe all can agree on concerning the faith.  Just as Olympics judges have style preference and will rate their individual scores accordingly, so the scores of the Eastern Orthodox judges would not be the same as the Protestant evangelical judges.  But the collective score would produce the proof of the pudding.

So would this idea work?  I am not sure.  It may be that the fracturing has become so severe that confinement within each tradition may be necessary.  The hermeneutical deviations alone raise doubt.  I realize it would be tricky even to defend evangelicalism.   I suppose this was the attempt of the Manifesto, which Michael recently wrote about, and why it failed.  I applaud efforts to provide definition to an evangelical confession – based on a sound hermeneutical approach to Biblical theology – that establishes a base minimum of what defines evangelicalism, as well as historical preservation.  Again, the point is the merit of rigorous evaluation and for established standards that guard against infiltration of distorted or even destructive ideas.

I do think, however, that without a standard rooted in historic orthodoxy, the floor is open and subject to overly creative ideas.  I also believe an evaluative process does much to preserve that which has been believed everywhere by all.

I have the sense that many today would consider methods of evaluation or criteria establishment somehow intrusive and deem them contradictory to the love and unity so foundational to Christian belief.   The historic ecumenical councils are vilified as man-induced criteria established for political preservation.  But what would have happened had the ecumenical councils not have been formed in defense of the true Christology, without which, our love, hope, and unity would be in vain?

    14 replies to "Going for the Gold: Ecunemical Olympics and Historic Preservation"

    • Dr_Mike

      I believe what you are suggesting, even if the details could be worked out, would never happen. Not because it’s a bad idea: it’s actually a very good and much needed idea. But it would never work.

      Why? Because the people who would most need to submit to authority will never submit to mere human authority. Their authority – and their sole authority – is “Jesus,” which is actually their own imagination most of the time.

      Others who would refuse are those who are in fact very pleased with their unique ideas and even more excited about the big crowds they attract.

      They’re already going for the gold but it’s the kind that jingles in their pockets, not the kind that Christ will award at the bema seat one day.

      But maybe I’m just cynical. I’ve never been confused with Pollyana, that’s for sure.

    • rayner markley

      Lisa: ‘But what would have happened had the ecumenical councils not have been formed in defense of the true Christology, without which, our love, hope, and unity would be in vain?’

      I hope you’re not suggesting that the Christian faith has survived mainly because of the council doctrines on Christology. I’d like to believe that it has overcome the world because of the basic spirit inherent in Christ’s life and death and teachings—a Holy Spirit that can work personally in everyone.

    • AJ

      Hmmm . . . where would we find some (evangelical) bishops to form an authoritative council that can play referee?

    • rick

      Dr. Mike-

      Prof. Scot McKnight would probably agree with you:

      “…either we embrace canon and creed as a singular moment when God was at work through his Spirit in the history of the Church, or we relativize both canon and creed and throw everything back on history or individual conscience.”

    • Dr_Mike

      I’ve always appreciated Scot’s discernment and wisdom.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Rayner, what I am suggesting is that an “official” evaluative process helped stem the tide of heresy. The Holy Spirit was as much at work through that process as well.

    • rick

      Lisa is right, a core is available in which unity can be found.

      Let’s also keep in mind that much of the wording and theology used was already available in various “catachetical training” and baptismal questioning. The creedal/theological summaries had been developing since the NT era and continued until the council periods. It was not something that they had to completely start working on from scratch.

      As Lisa indicated, this put a more “official” stamp on all that in the face of pockets of heresy.

    • Joshua Allen

      Jonathan Edwards was obsessed with determining whether specific members of his congregation were “elect” or not, and turning them out if they were not elect. This was apparently more common in the Puritan days.

      It reminds me of something I read in Jacob Neusner’s “Judaism In the Time of Christianity”. Neusner argues that Judaism is a religion where membership is determined by following some laws, whereas Christianity is a creedal religion. You authenticate yourself as a Christian by professing to believe a creed.

      Obviously it’s not as black and white as Neusner states, since one can be expelled from the Christian community for breaking rules. It happened from the very beginning, and Jonathan Edwards (for example) used behavior as much as creed to expel people.

      I’m very fascinated by the topic…

    • rayner markley

      I agree that the official process and the official creeds have been valuable assets in the Western church even though they have not eliminated all ‘heresies’ and divisions of course. Sure, the Holy Spirit was involved in some way. I wonder if He was also involved in the branches of the church that were cast out as heretical.

      By the way, you probably aren’t suggesting that every sermon be scored that way, but I wonder if some folks occasionally do sit in the pews picking apart a sermon rather than seeking a blessing.

    • rick

      “Sure, the Holy Spirit was involved in some way. I wonder if He was also involved in the branches of the church that were cast out as heretical.”

      But could they be considered “branches of the church”, or should they be considered apart from the church?

    • rayner markley

      Only the Holy Spirit can determine that for sure, but for practical purposes we do have to make our best determination. If we see evidence of the fruits of the Spirit, perhaps we should grant them the benefit of the doubt. The term ‘heresy’ makes sense only in reference to one particular group vis-a-vis another. We cannot be sure what God Himself thinks of it.

      Our canon and traditions come from one direction; not all of the apostles are represented there. We have seen, especially since Martin Luther but even before that, that the Spirit does not operate within just one group.

    • rick

      “Our canon and traditions come from one direction”

      so why should we expect:

      “Only the Holy Spirit can determine that for sure, but for practical purposes we do have to make our best determination. If we see evidence of the fruits of the Spirit”

      Why is that true? Is there a Holy Spirit? Doesn’t that come from part of the canon?

      Perhaps He could not lead the church in core beliefs (guide us in truth), and we really can have over 1 billion individual determinations of what God is.

      It is not a problem, then, that some pockets had an opposite view of God, and Jesus, than other groups, including the overall general consensus.

      It’s then ok that some see Jesus as God, and some not. We can’t be sure God if thinks that is a problem or not.


    • rayner markley

      That’s probably correct and evident from church history.

      When we become comfortable and confident in our traditions, we may try to identify doctrinal points that we call heresy. We might do better to spend our time loving God and pursuing moral truth and righteousness.

    • rick

      “We might do better to spend our time loving God and pursuing moral truth and righteousness.”

      Since He seems interested in us preserving doctrine (as the Holy Spirit helps the authors indicate throughout Scripture), it is something we should keep in mind.

      I think the creeds come out of that time of loving and reflecting on God (loving Him with our all (heart/soul/mind/strength). It is part of, not separate from, loving God, loving others.

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