I believe that in order to understand were we are, we should look at were we have been. In relation to Christianity, I want to take a quick look at our elder religion – Judaism.
There is no way to sum up ancient Judaism, so bear with me as I pretend to do just that. Judaism was a religion based on rules or law. Not just the Ten Commandments, which is almost like a bible story summary of the law, but a total of 613 laws that observant Jews need[ed] to observe. This number could easily be grasped, its the multitude of interpretations and applications that these laws may imply that is overwhelming.
The philosophers of their day – the scribes and priests – were kept busy interpreting and applying these laws within the human culture that they found themselves in. What was produced as a result was a hedge of protection around the Torah law. Many of the Traditions of the elders in the Christian scriptures are the result of many years of making new laws in order to prevent breaking the law of God.
The prophets, however, had to regularly remind God’s people that is was less about the sacrifices, the religious practices and legally following the Law and more about having a contrite heart, seeking justice and showing mercy. In this Jesus was not much different than many prophets that preceded him.
Ignoring the fact that Christianity so often falls back into one form of adhering to the law or another, I propose that we have fallen back into this err to “Make a hedge for the Torah”. Our hedge is not to prevent us from breaking a law of God but to prevent us from believing something wrong about God.
The religion that is based on Jesus has become a religion based on right belief. This is, in my opinion, just as far off as the religion of right actions based on Law. In both cases, the religion does not save us. Jesus did not come to bring us another religion. He was born into Judaism and to his dying day he was a practitioner of that religion.
It was not until Paul came on the scene that the faith of Christ and faith in Christ was recognized as being legitimate outside of the religion of Christ. The goal is not to be better practitioners of a particular religion, but to have faith and/or live by faith.
In the context of Christianity, this faith was successfully lived out in diversity for the first 200-300 years. It was after Constantine made Christianity acceptable, and it became tied to the empire of Rome, that orthodoxy became our Law. Prior to this, though there were differences and disagreements, for the most part these differences were accepted within the Greek concept of free speech.
With the merging of Christianity [the religion] to the Empire, the emperors mandated councils meant to unify the Jesus religion in order to maintain control and manipulate the increasing influence that this religion was gaining. The result was the creeds of our religion. The result was also a birth of violence – for the first time, military might was acceptable within Christianity. And shortly after the birth of the creeds and orthodoxy came the first christian to be murdered by another christian due to being a heretic. The result was also the birth of a new empire – Christendom!
It will be argued that this development was only the Holy Spirit leading Christ’s Church into all truth. If this is true, then we may be right to hedge ourselves in using doctrines and theologies to keep us safely inside of Orthodoxy.
The counter argument, however, could be that maybe, just maybe, the narrow path that Jesus spoke of, includes our faith. Maybe the wide way that leads to destruction is Christendom, the empire of the religion of Christianity. Maybe this new empire’s Law is Orthodoxy. Maybe God says ‘To hell with your orthodoxy, I desire mercy and justice.’
Could it be that before our faith got all tangled up in religion and becoming an empire, God was glorified in a unity that dwelt in a diversity. If we asked the Holy Spirit what the greatest orthodoxy was, would he would answer something like: “Jesus is Lord. And the second is like it, that he atoned for our sins. Everything else is philosophical details.”