Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3 ESV)
A Glimpse into a Classroom
Early in my teaching ministry, I was assigned a class on Christian doctrines. The classroom was filled with students, about 40 from eight or nine nations from diverse cultures and denominations, including Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Assemblies of God, and various independent churches.
Some of my students came from “creative access nations,” where most churches are planted by mission agencies, and so usually do not carry strong denominational traditions. Instead, they hold firmly to certain theological stances, such as Lutheranism, Calvinism, Arminianism, and Pentecostalism.
So, on nearly every topic, I faced various traditions and doctrines. Infant baptism? Open communion to non-baptized believers? Alcohol in Holy Communion? “Once saved, always saved?” Premillennial or amillennial? Biblical inerrancy? Evangelism alone or also social concern? Christocentric or theological biblical interpretation for preaching?
Challenges of the Information Age
I stressed to my class that we should embrace Christian orthodoxy that keeps and passes down the whole counsel of the Bible. Orthodoxy demands a worshipful heart for the living God, a moral soul for loving others as we love God, a disciplined mind for learning God’s Word, and sober judgement on controversies and conflicting doctrines.
These days, I notice that most of my students are IT-savvy, accessing information anywhere, anytime. But online content mixes good with ill, true with false, shaping society’s worldview and values. Christians inevitably interact with more and more controversial issues in every area of life.
So, I challenge my students to deeper contemplation. Are not Christians of this generation in great need of discerning conflicting ideas with a disciplined mind shaped by biblical wisdom and the Christian worldview? Is this not the best time for theological minds to serve this generation and reach out to the lost?
Yet I also need to face the realities of the classroom. How should I help my students deal with disputes caused by different Scriptural interpretations, doctrinal stances, or practices conditioned by cultural and historical contexts? Should a teacher decide for the class what and what not to believe or practise? As a theological educator, I keep searching for better ways to train pastors and scholars to engage with social realities and church issues. I am afraid there is no quick fix.
In any debate, interpersonal conflict is a danger. If a theological institution cannot resolve controversies effectively within its classrooms, what hope do we have for our students to resolve them in their churches and organizations? So, let us consider how to handle conflicting opinions. This will also determine how we learn about truth and resolve differences.
The Contours of Orthodoxy
I will draw light from the Epistle of Jude, verse 3: “To contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The faith mentioned here is the truth of salvation, which we profess in sound doctrines (orthodoxy), guides our feelings toward God and deepest desires (orthopathos), and is reflected in how we relate with others (orthopraxis). We can see these three dimensions of faith in verse 4:
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
False teachers are against orthodoxy — they do not hold to God’s grace, and deny our Lord Jesus Christ. They are against orthopathos — ungodly and perverting grace into sensuality. They are against orthopraxis — Jude elaborates on their wrong teachings and immorality from verses 5 to 16.
Teaching for the Church
How does this translate to the classroom? First, teachers should guide students to appreciate and affirm the orthodoxy of their denominational or church traditions. Second, teachers should encourage students to understand and respect other traditions. Third, teachers should help students think through and ‘own’ orthodoxy through good biblical exegesis. Fourth, teachers should direct attention to the whole counsel of the Bible. Lastly, teachers should exemplify orthopraxis and orthopathos which are in line with orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy is difficult, but worth our lifelong effort to guard it with all our heart by loving our God, with all our mind by learning God’s Word, and in every part of life by doing God’s will — for the sake of God’s salvation for ourselves and others.
- How is the orthodoxy of your church tradition in line with its orthopathos and orthopraxis?
- How should you weigh the differences between other church traditions and your own?