No Poster Child for Orthodoxy
Written by Myiah Klinger, MSW
Close your eyes and imagine someone who maintains a traditional biblical view in our denomination. What might they look like? In my own mind’s eye, I see a middle-aged man with greying blonde hair. He’s taller than the national average and sporting white New Balance shoes. Did you imagine someone similar? Even if you didn’t imagine that exact person, I am confident you did not see a woman in her mid 20’s with an incomplete tattoo sleeve, piercings, and a pixie haircut. You would not imagine me in association with traditional biblical views. I am not the poster child for orthodoxy. Yet, here I am, holding fast to our shared biblical foundation.
This past summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve at Synod as a Young Adult Representative. I believe it is fair to say my experience at Synod was unique. Throughout my time at Synod, I kept receiving some interesting comments from those who hold an orthodox view. I heard statements such as, “I wasn’t too sure about you at first, but then I heard you speak,” or “I was nervous about you, but then I heard who your pastor was,” or “I was worried when the only open seat was next to you.” In addition, I kept hearing the opposite from those with the more liberal view. Those who might lean more affirming would come up to me and thank me for being there, even going so far as asking if I would like to help write a minority report for the affirming stance. However, the moment I expressed my beliefs, they would recant and recoil back to those of like mind. Many assumptions were made about my convictions based on first glances. This extended even beyond Synod. On our commute to the recent Abide Conference, my pastor lovingly warned me some in attendance may be taken aback by me during first impressions.
I do not fit the mold for what someone who believes like I do should look like. Yet, there is no standard presentation for an orthodox Christian. If we believe in the reformative power of the gospel, we should expect to see a wide variety of different looking people adhering to biblical truth. In this, I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In his letter, he discusses the issue of circumcision vs. uncircumcision. He warns the church to guard against those who would tell them they must be circumcised for their salvation, for their salvation comes through faith. It does not come through works of the flesh, as if still finding salvation through the law. Thus, the church would expect to see both circumcised and uncircumcised Christians among their members. While not a terribly noticeable outward difference, circumcision was still a significant one.
In Galatians 5: 1-6, Paul writes:
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
As the more “conservative” members of the denomination, I believe we have the tendency to try to be “justified by the law.” Not that we believe it is works that save, but more along the lines of: “We are saved through Christ’s sacrifice, but a good Christian would never do [blank] or must always do [blank].” It’s the kind of mentality that would require a Christian to be circumcised in Paul’s time. It’s also the kind of mentality that expects an orthodox Christian to look a certain way today. If anyone were to put caveats and conditions on someone to maintain Christian orthodoxy, I’m afraid we would be the ones to do it. That’s not to say we have free license to sin. The orthodox view is great at this part, the part where Paul cautions against using salvation through faith as a ticket to do whatever you want. He warns later in chapter 5:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 … 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
These are some of the same verses we use to bolster our argument for a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. Yet, there is a difference between living in sin and not looking like a “traditional” Christian, and I caution against conflating the two together. Someone who has the appearance of a punk can still hold fast to biblical truth; someone who may be the most prim and proper among us can still condone sin.
Do not assume the person you’d be uncomfortable sitting next to does not have a desire for biblical truth. This wouldn’t be the first time someone had difficulty sitting next to someone who shared their beliefs but looked different. Again, Paul addresses something similar in Galatians. In chapter 2, Paul writes:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Paul calls Cephas out for no longer sitting next to those who are uncircumcised. He was pressured from the circumcised to not even share a table with Christians who did not share their physical appearance, Christians whose only difference was their cultural background and presentation. Every human being, deep down, is longing for biblical truth, regardless of outward appearances. Are there members of your congregations whose outward appearance make you uncomfortable? Who would you be called out for because you won’t sit next to them?
Our sin can have permanent ramifications on our bodies; however, that does not bar someone from salvation and reform through Christ. Biblical truth supersedes all demographics and outward appearances, but we do not always act accordingly. Do not give up on or write off those who look different than you; you may be surprised by who fights for orthodoxy. Do not shy away from having these conversations with someone who might not look the part. I am not the poster child for orthodoxy, but we should expect to see all varieties of people advocating for it, even those who look like me.
-Myiah Klinger, MSW