Everyone who plays a sport knows the rules to that sport. In cricket, when the ball is bowled and hits the wickets the batter is out and walks. They are the rules. You never see the batter say, “I am not out! I want to change the rules!” Sport has rules that all agree upon and that is what defines that sport.
If you joined a football club, you expect to play football. Imagine if someone joined your footy club but then start questioning the rules because they wanted to play netball?
What about the Christian faith? What defines being a Jesus’ follower? Is Church like a sporting club with set values or are core beliefs more fluid?
Rules of the game
The Church has been built on some core values, expressed in its central creeds and confessions. And these creeds and confessions go back to the heart of Jesus’ words and His mission to seek and save that which was lost. These define the rules of the game.
The Christian faith is a historical faith with roots deep within the Bible. Each generation has had to wrestle with these “rules of the game” and discover them afresh. If someone comes to play the game but comes with other rules, then they end up making their own game and playing by themselves because they do not agree with the accepted view on Jesus’ mission.
For one listing of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds from one of the Christian denominations explore https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/what-we-believe/apostles-creed It outlines some of the earliest core ideas on God’s plan for reconciliation, Jesus’ identity and atoning death to save us, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance in this salvation plan.
For example, if someone comes to Church and says they follow Jesus yet explain He is just an angel (Jehovah’s Witness) then they are playing a different game. In the same way if someone says Jesus was a wise teacher but not God (liberalism) then they also have different interpretations of the Bible from the rest of the Church over the past 2000 years.
While there should always be room for people to search for meaning, grow in their maturity and room for different views on peripheral ideas, there are central “orthodox” ideas that define the Christian faith that have been accepted over the years by each generation. Substituting in new rules of the game to create a “new orthodox” is changing the game.
Spong & Rohr
An atheist friend of mine commented that Bishop Shelby Spong, in his opinion, is more of a philosopher rather than theologian. Spong was the flavour of the day a few years back for his rethinking away from the fundamental Christian beliefs to question Jesus’ divinity, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection.
When I asked my friend to unpack his statement, he explained that despite his unbelief he saw the Christian faith held together from centrally accepted teachings. And while he enjoyed reading Spong’s ideas he saw it as a “different sport” to what he reads in the Bible.
The same could be echoed for modern “philosophers” who spruik an “alternative orthodox.” Again, these are interesting concepts to engage with, however we are talking a different sport.
For example, if someone, like Roman Catholic mystic Richard Rohr, redefines God and the relationship of the trinity using philosophical language then the rules have been changed. They may be wrapped in familiar Bible language but the core concepts of who God is have been changed to suit. Many of these ideas are fascinating to read, however it is a different sport.
By all means, play a different game but it cannot be moulded into a Christian faith. Christianity has central beliefs: key doctrine that define the rules of the game. These have been interrogated by each generation for the past 2000 years. To change the rules of the game makes it an entirely different game.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover1.html