On “Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy” by Pastor Jack W. SawyerJul 29th, 2011 | By J. Andrew Deane | Category: Blog Posts
Recently I had the pleasure of coming across an article entitled “Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy” on Ordained Servant, a Journal published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I was a member of this denomination for six years, and the title immediately caught my attention. Pastor Jack W. Sawyer’s article can be read here.
So many times on Called to Communion we have rightly spoken to the areas in which we differ from our Reformed Brethren, from which we have in a sacramental sense have broken the ties which have bound us. The issues that divide us are important, that is true. But in so many ways, as former Reformed Christians who have become Catholics, we acknowledge the light and goodness, the beauty and truth, that is found within the Reformed Protestant circles from which we left. And so with the spirit of thankfulness for what we still hold in common with Reformed Believers, I want to focus on Pastor Sawyer’s article on Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy.
He introduces his position on what Christ’s test for our Orthodoxy is by discussing what may be obvious tests of orthodoxy, but moves to the words of Our Lord Himself. In what is not too surprising for those who know the texts of the Gospels in our heads, he moves to a point which may be surprising to our experience in our own hearts. By discussing the words of Christ which speak of people knowing we are His disciples by our love for one another, he makes this comment:
Here Jesus declares that observable love between believers is to be the hallmark of the Christian community. It is to be considered the definitive mark of genuine Christianity, a certifying badge of discipleship. When outsiders observe a Christian community, according to Jesus, they are to see a beautiful, Christ-like love evidenced in the various relationships. Thus, as they observe the Christian community’s marriages, families, friendships, or gatherings, this signature mark is to stand out as the prominent atmosphere of all the relational exchanges.
After stating the hallmark of Christian life and community, Pastor Sawyer moves to his conclusion in the article with some words of practical advice. How do we reflect the heart of Christ in a world of fractured Christians? His suggestions are insightful, and in my estimation, reflect the heart of a God who holds Love to be preeminent, of a God who is Love Himself.
Similarly, I wonder what might become of a session’s ministry if it maintained a deliberate record of, at least, remaining sincerely concerned and cordial to the most challenging people that leave its church? What if these elders saw every such circumstance as a providential opportunity to demonstrate Christ-like, cross-like love toward such sheep? What if this session firmly held its doctrinal convictions—amid all such encounters—yet it also determined that agreeing to disagree, wisely and lovingly, was also just as central a matter of Christian orthodoxy?
When I read these words I could not help but think of my own life in leaving the OPC for the PCA, which was a story in itself, and the even more “dramatic” change of growing into full communion with the Catholic Church. There have been instances, as he points out, where those who have left the Presbyterian world of the OPC for other places, the Catholic Church not being the only destination. I do not want to rehash words that have been said to me and other former Calvinists, for they bring up painful moments. And truly, there have been and there will be cases of Catholics who have not continued to love those who have left the fold of the Catholic Church for Reformed Christianity and other places. There have been instances where calls for faithfulness verge on not following Our Lord’s words to forgive even seventy times seven in a day. And clearly relativism is not the solution. But the point is that Pastor Sawyer and others are making strong calls to keep loving one another after differences have been shared, to keep reaching out, even when roads diverge into different Christian communions. How can we learn from these mistakes of a lack of love for our former homes? How can we not cease to make a Call to Communion? He concludes with these words, which speak so well for themselves. As I read those words, I used them for my own spiritual reflection on my spiritual health. It reminded me of how much I am still thankful to God for my time as a Presbyterian, because the words that he wrote ring true in my ears, even to this very day.
In conclusion, all of us are remembered for something, and leaving spiritual legacy is something we do—whether good or bad, whether we like it or not. Is your orthodoxy of community as pure as your orthodoxy of doctrine? What are you currently well known for, and what do you want to be remembered for in the future? What is your church currently well known for, and what do you want it to be noted for in the future? Jesus’s will is crystal clear: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Amen, Pastor Sawyer. Amen.