Summary: How important is dogma to the life of the church?
Putting the “Dog” in Dogma
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
Oct. 1, 2006
Mission and Vision, Rnd. II
In the movie Dogma Hollywood takes a very irreverent look at the Catholic faith. Cardinal Glick apparently thinks the church suffers from an image problem – it is outdated, he says, and the crucifix is “wholly depressing.” So he conceives and executes a plan to make the church more hip. To improve the image of the church and make it more accessible to today’s youth culture, Cardinal Glick launches the “Catholicism: Wow!” campaign, where he updates the image of Christ. In the update, he removes the crucifix and replaces it with the “Buddy Christ.”
This smiling, congenial, schmoozer Jesus is presented in an elaborate ceremony and is heralded as the new face of the Savior of the world. No longer must we gaze upon the bloodied form of the crucified Christ. Now, we have a Jesus more like us – as easy going and as fun-loving as we are. What more could you ask for?
How about some Truth? How about some real dogma?
Dogma is one of those words that has fallen out of favor in general parlance. Much like the word “queer” simply use to mean “strange” but now is a disparaging term for a homosexual, so the meaning of “dogma” has migrated from “an authoritative decree or judgment” to “referring to concepts as being ‘established’ only according to a particular point of view, and thus one of doubtful foundation” In other words, today “dogma” means an opinion without authority; something held by blind faith and only true to the person espousing it.
To put it in a pun, “dogma” has gone to the dogs. So much so that Hollywood has made spoof of it … dogma is whatever is convenient and works at the moment. And as much as I hate to admit it, they have good reason to portray the modern church this way.
Much like the cardinal in the movie, the itch to update, shape and rewrite the essential teachings of the Christian faith to more closely mirror the surrounding culture has distressed the church for as long as there has been a church. There is no doubt that the church in North America has become entangled in consumerism – instead of strategies for evangelism, I receive offers in the mail for marketing strategies on a weekly basis. There is a reason for that – you can believe the advertising and marketing industry, whose specialty is sniffing out audiences and making an appealing pitch for a product, senses the church is ripe for the picking. They know the church is so open to new ideas, that it is willing to compromise some the old established ones in the interest of survival.
In other words, the church has begun to look at dogma in much the same terms as the world – an opinion whose authority can be questioned on the basis of new realities; shifts in culture and thought. As long as we still tell people that Jesus loves them, what does it matter how we go about it? In today’s world simply preaching the Gospel doesn’t work – we have got to offer them more.
Now, I understand that all this talk of shifts in culture and thought comes off as a bit academic. So let me say it simply. In the view of most people inside and outside the church, dogma doesn’t work. People don’t want dogma, you hear experts say, they want a relationship. True enough, at least the relationship part. But there is a real problem brewing when we say that dogma is not important.
Dogma is one of those words that come directly from another language into the English language – in this case from Greek to English. If you say “dogma” you are actually speaking two languages at once. As mentioned before, its original meaning references a decree or judgment that is authoritative. In other words, dogmas were accepted and obeyed as nonnegotiable. For example, in Luke 2:1 Augustus sends out the dogma or decree that a census shall be taken of the entire Roman world. That particular dogma set Mary and Joseph upon the path to Bethlehem and an appointment with God’s plan of redemption. Another example comes from the writings of Paul, where he uses the word to describe the Law of Moses – again, a decree that is fixed and nonnegotiable.
Now, I will admit, we don’t have much to do with decrees of Caesar today and as Paul points out in Colossians 2:13-14
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, b God made you c alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.