Spend a little time in the church and you’ll hear the word “orthodox” thrown around a lot. I explained to one bishop’s wife in Nigeria this summer how I thought the unity of Christians was a deeply Biblical concern. “Unity of orthodox Christians,” she tartly replied.
At the end of a summer traveling in the world church, I find myself wondering about the usefulness of a concept like orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy means “right thinking.” But Christian unity really isn’t about what we think. It’s about what we feel. There will never be a day when all the Christians in the world will be able to write down what we believe and have everyone sign on to it. (We should praise God for that.) Even the councils of the early church that produced our statements of orthodoxy like the Nicene Creed were incredibly divisive events. The Council of Nicaea did not settle the questions raised by Arius once and for all. Instead, it splintered and further divided Christians and led to more councils some decades later.
Christian unity is, rather, about the feeling that exists between Christians, a feeling of, for lack of a better word, agape. These are the kind of feelings I had when I encountered sisters and brothers in Christ who think differently to me on some issues but who love me (and I them). This is true of people like Paul, Chuks, and Chike in Owerri, “ashamed” Anglicans in Uzuakoli, refugees in Abyei, or Lisu on a mountain in Yunnan, or, or, or…. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps what we need to start thinking about is what I am now calling orthopathos, or “right feeling.” (There are Google results for this word but I’ve never heard it used before. Has anyone else?) Christian unity might best be served by concentrating on developing this feeling of love between fellow believers rather than spending so much energy on getting all our thinking ducks in a row. Indeed, the latter effort often, it seems, serves to undermine the former.
The body of Christ is not a metaphor. Paul knew that. I know that now, too. How do I know that? Not because I’ve thought it. It’s because I’ve felt it – in real, concrete relationships of Christian charity across deep cultural divides that I pray will only deepen with the passage of time.