In answer to the questions I raised in part 1 of this post, yes, theology and orthodoxy do change over the course of history. Examples abound. At one point people believed the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around it, condoned slavery, suppressed women’s rights, beat children into submission, installed kings to rule over them, and on and on. These were all Christian practices of a different time and place, all supported by biblical interpretation that was considered orthodox in its day. We, however, have the advantage of historical perspective, so we can look back and recognize the error of these positions.
One final example. World Vision recently announced that they would treat employees in same-sex marriages the same as those in heterosexual marriages (see this post for context). They weren’t making an attempt at endorsing homosexual lifestyle, but rather acknowledging that there are a whole range of controversial doctrines within the church (i.e. views of creation, role of women in ministry, practice of baptism). Richard Sterns, the organization’s president, contended that as a parachurch ministry their role is not to define orthodoxy, but to serve a broad spectrum of church denominations. This swiftly drew heavy-handed condemnation from evangelical leaders, eventually causing Word Vision to reverse its position.
Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist leader, was quick to strike back hard. On his blog he stated:
But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.
At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moore has indicated in the past a desire to “soften” the anti-gay position that Southern Baptists have taken in recent years, but this is no indication that he will follow through. Moore is relying on orthodoxy (particularly of his denomination) to define what “gospel” is. “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself, in all of its truth and all of its grace.” He is as certain about his definition of the saving gospel (which in his version includes marriage) as our Christian ancestors were when theirs included and approved slavery.
God is clear in His Word, and His standards never change
In a similar way, Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Association, slammed World Vision's decision, declaring that "God is clear in His Word, and His standards never change" (emphasis added). In contrast, he has offered words of praise for Russian President Vladmir Putin's tough restrictions against gays, further commenting that "Our president [Obama] and his attorney general have turned their backs on God and His standards."
If that’s the case, orthodoxy can, indeed, be heresy. If you don’t think so, just ask yourself whether the Sun revolves around the Earth or not. Only time will tell which points of our theology will be considered misguided and unorthodox by our spiritual descendants.