On this episode we take a hard look at the things the we are known for. The labels “Christian” and “Evangelical” come fully loaded with definitions we explore. Our hope is that we would be known for having a Benevolent Orthodoxy founded on the person of Jesus instead of all the things evangelicals are said to be known for in studies like this:
 Being Known for a Benevolent Orthodoxy – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (Narration): Welcome to the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast! My name is Josiah and I am a Guerilla Pastor, and today I would like to talk to about what it means to be known by a Benevolent Orthodoxy. So far in our previous episodes we have discuessed what it means to be a Guerrilla Pastor, doing Guerrilla ministry founded on subversives presence. We’ve also shared with you our ideas of what it looks like to cultivate a broad kingdom imagination. Inherant withint both of these ideas is a shift for how church is done, and today we continue that journey.
Today we explore the idea that God is at work everythwere, all the time in all people. We don’t own this truth, we are simply simply tour guidres pointing it out along the way. Join us as we dream about how a benevolent orthodoxy might shift how we do ministry not just tomorrow, but right now.
The Introductory Hook (features numerous voices):
“What I noticed was that Christian’s could not have conversation with each other if they disagreed with one another.”
“It’s all about entering in to the textured presence of lived lives. The sanitation of it just broke for me. Like, church can’t be sanitized.”
“I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.”
“I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do Construction work. It’s good stuff!”
“The Church is struggling and declining in ways that we’ve never experienced in the United States and Canada right now.”
“We have to like allow ourselves to embrace new way of being in a place.”
“Insurgent revolutions, i.e. guerrilla warfare, is 20% bullets, and 80% blessing the people.”
“How do we be eternally faithful? Like, literally, how do we be faithful in a way today that in 20 years people aren’t going, ‘He was evil!’”
“Why are we so afraid? We believe that God is at work in all places, in all people at all times, and that is amazing. That should give us hope!”
We are the gorilla pastors join us as we explore a world of ministry founded on subversive presence!
Josiah (Narration): Let’s talk about Benevolent Orthodoxy.
There definitions as individuals words are pretty clear cut. Orthodoxy is defined as right practice, or put simply, it’s the way things should be done. Benevolent is defined as an action that is well-meaning or kindly.
Orthodoxy also has a historical component to it as well, meaning we can look back and see that there is a general consensus on what would be an essential belief or practice, and what isn’t. Seeing orthodoxy through a benevolent lens begins to give us an idea of what these two terms mean when used together.
Instead of focusing on being right, we instead shift towards pointing out what is right. Instead of pridefully believing we have ownership of the truth, we pivot to a posture of once again pointing it out instead. This belief that truth can be possessed quickly leads to a practice that is less than benevolent and very unorthodox.
Truth is cheapened and becomes a commodity that can be bought and sold. It becomes a shallow version of what it once was. It can be mass produced, and sold cheap. Since it can be owned, it can also be manipulated to be exclusive or divisive.
This, friends, is never what Jesus intended for the truth found in the Gospels. Still, so many commodify some version of it for mass consumption which brings us to why this idea of Benevolent Orthodoxy is so important to us.
It speaks to what we are known for. It forces us to evaluate ourselves in light of our commission to be image barers of the Son of God. So, the question we must ask ourseleves is this:
What are we known for?
Is it how much we strive to be like Jesus?
Or is it something else?
To find out, we did some research on a term that many associate with Christian or even the church as a whole. Though plenty of folks debate this, there are those outside looking in, as well as self-proclaimed Christians that have been known use these words interchangeably. Growing up, it was also the label that verified something was the right type of Christian.
The term in question: Evangelical.
We sought to find out if it was known overtly for following Jesus, for having a benevolent orthodoxy. If not, then was it known for something else? Very quickly trends began to appear, so we followed the information available. It lead us to an incredibly robust study done in 2018 by the Public Religion Research institute (link above) and it shows clearly what it is Evangelicals are known for.
Spoiler alert, it had very little to do with Jesus.
Instead, it told a story of just how entangled Evangelicals had become with a particular politically charged worldview. While this study was done in 2018, it seems that very little has changed based on the findings they share. We have link the study in our show notes, but we’ll discussing its findings at length in another episode.
For our purposes today, the question is simply one of accuracy. Did this research accurately depict what it was like to be an evangelical? Is the Evangelical world fraught with examples of being known for any and everything but Jesus?
To answer this question, I would like to share some of my experiences growing up in it. Specially those that most informed my opinion of what church was all about.
As a fairly mischievous teenager, I would often push back against what was expected, asking questions or simply outright protesting whatever the rules might have been. This would be on full display at my churches hymn sing. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it’s essentially a service where you can go in a request hymns that you want to sing. This was not the most engaging service for a young teenage boy, and quickly I realized that “Oh Canada” and “God save the queen” were in our hymnals.
Instead of calling out the names, I simply yelled out hymn numbers. After so many tries, my privileges were revoked.
Still the focus on a culture founded on proper behavior didn’t stop there. The Sunday morning I decided to forgo a tie in protest to the “god honoring” dress code my congregation had was quite a doozy. There are only so many ways a person can tell you that your wardrobe selection is a disgrace to God, and I heard each and every one of them. Some seemed to have genuine fears for my eternal soul based solely on the absense of a piece of clothing.
While these examples are probably widespread, there is one brief story I would like to share that gets to the heart of why this discussion is worth having. Our church had two different worship services. It also offered a myriad of different Sunday school classes that occurred during both hours as well. My High School Sunday school class was during the first hour. The second hour Sunday School that shared the same classroom we were using just so happened to be the largest and oldest Sunday school class in the church.
Very quickly it became clear just how much of an inconvenience we were to them. On more than one occasion, someone from the senior group would come in to our first our Sunday school gathering, place a bible on a seat, and scold us about keeping our hands off of it. They were saving that seat for second hour, and if we knew what was good for us, we would leave well enough alone.
Now for a teenage boy, this is just not fair. You can’t have this much temptation served up on a silver platter.
Especially given the fact that I quickly grew weary of these frequent scoldings to keep my hands off of someone else’s bible. So, being that I couldn’t help myself, I decided to move every bible that was left. I did this for a number of weeks, and despite never being caught, I heard all about how disrespectful teenagers were when my Youth Pastor bore the brunt of their frustrations. To be fair, I’m not trying to pretend this was a mature decision to make, but as a 15 y/o I simply did not understand why this was acceptable or OK and this is all I know to do to respond in protest.
As an adult, I must confess, I still don’t know. To get to the heart of what we are talking about in out episode today I ask yet again, what were they trying to be known by?
Or maybe a better question is, did they realize their witness was less than Christlike? Do they know that I will forever associate that Sunday school class with seeing me as an inconvenience to then. Now I will report that since then, many have actually made amends and owned up to how poorly we were treated in those days.
Still, I share this story for a very simple reason. What we believe informs how we live and what those around us know us by.
What message is the story of our life telling to those around us? My hope is that would choose a story that exudes Benevolent Orthodoxy and not one that screams at teenagers for looking at your bible wrong.
To choose to be known by a Benevolent Orthodoxy is a choice to let go of fear, or power, or ownership of Truth and to simply live in right relationship with God and neighbor. It’s a choice to take seriously Jesus calling to deny ourselves so we can daily take up our cross to follow Him.
Here is more of our round table conversation on the subject where Brian lays out what Benevolent Orthodoxy is all about.
Brian: It’s a way of living in which I’m not going to focus on me being right or having the correct belief, but believing that we’re all on a journey and that we’re all in relationship.
And so what I would rather hold on tightly to is the ability for us to journey together, which includes not only the walk, but then also the togetherness, the relationship. I believe it’s reflective of our Trinitarian theology in that the Godhead is always in relationship with the different aspects of the Godhead, and yet they still crate out of that uniqueness of each and that togetherness.
And so, if I can… in generous orthodoxy… when we hold to… or actually the opposite of generous orthodoxy, when we hold too tightly to right belief, and then name people as either in or out based on that, right belief, we take away relationship and we take away the idea that God is consistent, constantly restoring in relationship.
So the question within that then is how does it look. I think it really… if you’ve ever been in relationship with anyone that doesn’t believe in act exactly like you and yet you’re still in relationship. I think that’s what it is. Uh, I think we, we practice right belief, um, in a way, in a wrong way, when we cut relationships, when we say, when we try to draw a line.
I think to understand grace, to live into grace, to live in the mercy, that any time I’m drawing lines, I’m breaking relationship. It doesn’t mean that truth doesn’t exist, but I don’t want. So I would rather walk in, in a, in relationship with you in relationship with God, both of us in relationship to God and then, and allow then truth to be revealed.
I think that’s probably it in a nutshell, um, what it looks like.
Ryan: I’ll add, um, generous in generous orthodoxy, I think both means big as opposed to small and benevolent as opposed to miserly or greedy. In other words, orthodoxy is a large flowing river, as opposed to a small, tiny stream. We tend to define our set of propositional beliefs and very definitive narrow terms when the Christian tradition and the orthodoxy in which it beholds and embodies is a huge river across time and continence.
And it’s really grabbing hold of that. And it’s valuing that and holding it dear as, as definitive of the type of orthodoxy that we employ and practice, and then it’s benevolent as opposed to miserly, meaning it’s generous. It gives. In some cases, as Brian has articulated, it gives relationally, gives the benefit of the doubt and prioritizes the relationship, which is both prioritizing self-giving love, but it’s also prioritizing the possibility of correction.
So it leaves… our orthodoxy is left open to learn, while we journey with others in relationship.
Brian: Yeah, I think I would add to all of that is it holds dearly to that Trinitarian theology of this belief that God chooses us, always loves us always. And then individually, whether… whatever the belief, whatever the truth, I choose you as well.
I choose our relationship as well.
Josiah (Narration): A point of clarity before we her more from Brian. We dicussed at length whether we should use the phrase generous or benevolent before the word Orthodoxy. In the end we decided on the latter, but you could hear in the discussion how interchangeably we used those words.
Still, our roundtable conversation remained very philisophical, so I did a follow-up conversation with Brain pressing him to share what this Benevolent Orthodoxy looked like practically, day to day. What was it we were going to be known for specifically?
Brian: The definition of benevolent is actually kindly and well-meaning. Hold that as we try to talk through the practice of a benevolent orthodoxy. In the last hundred years, really Christianity has been whittled down to people arguing about what ends up to us at the end and who’s in and who’s out.
Who gets, you know, into the kingdom and, you know, heaven and gold streets and who gets banished to this other place. So when we hold benevolence kindly, and well-meaning, we’re taking the conversation away from end time or whatever happens at the end. We’re trying to back up into how do we live and in a way that allows us to be fully human, fully who we were created to be in the image of God.
And not just me, but all of humanity. And so when we take our benevolent orthodoxy towards all of us trying to be fully human, and we take the idea of well-meaning and kindly that has to be played out in such a way that I am not going to say, you can’t smoke and be on the worship team. There’s a practical way.
I even think about my kids. I was always told not to hang around with the unyoked, kids or just from families that didn’t believe like me. I always thought from my kids, that only helps us to understand love and grace even more.
So I think the most practical way I can say this is of what does it look like to live it out?
For us to truly believe in the love of God and then to be fearful of sin means we actually do not believe that love conquers that love wins in the end. That we actually don’t believe that love wins now. We actually don’t even believe in Jesus and his work on earth. I know this gets into orthodoxy or it gets into belief, but if we do not believe that Christ, the love of Christ incarnate does not conquer and does not bring in a new way… and we don’t live in that new ways as an invite. Not only from the first coming of creation, but in the second coming of Christ incarnate, then it’s not, we’re saying that we fear evil…
We fear sin more than we believe in the power of the love of God…
When I believe in the power of the love of God then I can actually live into a benevolent love to all people. Not see each other as in or out, not to see each other as evil or good, but to see us as what I hope to be our full humanness.
Now that is still so philosophical…
So as I move in a neighborhood, I am going to love my neighbor. Before I ever try and figure out what they believe, or how they act, or what their past was or where they think they’re going in the future. I think as I try to run a church, it means, there is no separateness from sacred and profane, which means that I’m going to, allow the church building to be hospitable to all neighbors no matter what.
It also means that in the same way that when my neighborhood does a neighborhood dinner every summer, where they invite everyone out in the street and we all do a potluck… That’s the imagery that I want to live my life with.
That if you’re a neighbor, you’re welcome to the table. If I can’t live there, and I can’t see that as being fully human, me and them, then I, I don’t know any other way to practice it.
Josiah (Narration): Instead of arguing about who is in and who is out, what if we simply loved others and pointed to a God that loves. If we stopped fighting for power and influence, we could spend our time and energy feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger. Forsaking the culture wars of being right while insisting others are wrong, we might instead be good neighbors known by the way they love.
A brief google search will show you that the alternative can be incredibly bleak..
The church in America is going through significant reformation. Politics and the pandemic share some of the blame, but really, we needed a wake up call. We needed an opportunity to ask ourselves what we, these self-proclaimed Christians, were doing as faith communities and why.
Are we focused on what Jesus told us to focus on? Is this what we are known by? What would an in-depth study of the things we are care about reveal?
Are We are tired of being known for a laundry list of things that have little or nothing to do with Jesus. This is why we must shift out focus from behavior modifying legalism, to a simple and benevolent orthodoxy focused on loving neighbor.
Jesus himself said we would be known as His followers by the way we love.
As simple as it may sound, the shift may be difficult if you are like us, growing up in this Evangelical world where fighting for beliefs is this never ending cultural war that takes all of our focus. The temptation for power and influence will always be there, but the Son of God calls us to humbly deny ourselves so we can better follow Him.
In closing, we remember what Brian asked. “Is the power of God’s love greater than the evil of this world?”
How we answer that question will give insight into what it is we are known by. While many say yes with their words, their actions say something else.
But Benevolent Orthodoxy challenges us for more than just words… It calls for us to live as people of hope. This is our challenge, and we encourage you to join us as we endeavor to be known by how benevolent our orthodoxy is.
Stay tuned next time as we share what it looks like to celebrate a diverse praxis. Thank you so much for listening to the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast!