Bearing the name

by Richard on April 28, 2004

My two faithful hounds belong, I think, to the dog breed with the longest name. They are Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, a breed which traces its roots back to 16th cent France. Bred for following huntsmen on foot rather than horseback, what they lack in speed they more than make up for in stamina. Their original quarry was wild boar, though there are not too many of those in this part of Swansea so my pair have to content themselves with alarming any local cat foolish enough to take a short-cut through our garden. The breed name is a description of the dog: Petit (small) Basset (short-legged) Griffon (rough-coated) Vendeen (from the Vendee region of France). If you know what the words mean, reading the name gives an indication of what the dog will be like in a way that few other breed names do.
Of course, the name is not the end of the description. The PBGV, like all breeds, has a breed standard which sets out the breed characteristics in some detail. A dog which bears the name PBGV should at least resemble the standard.

One of my dogs, though he is a PBGV in name, is anything but petit. In fact, he is distinctly grand-ish. He doesn’t meet the standard, and never will. He has the name, but lacks at least one important characteristic. (But don’t misunderstand me — he is a great family dog!) “Names” and “standards” have been on my mind the last day or two in relation to believers. We bear the name “Christian”, but how do we meet the standard? The Church has tended to focus on orthodoxy (right believing) as the test of salvation, rightly turning away from the temptation to believe that salvation from God can be earned. I wonder, though, if we have given insufficient attention to orthopraxis (or right-doing)? No one could read the gospels for the first time and come away with the conclusion that it is only what we believe that has a bearing on our salvation.

When Jesus tells us “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. - no one comes to the Father but by me” he surely means much more than “anyone who prays the prayer will be OK”. He says “I am the way” and then shows us what that means by going to the Cross. The “breed standard” for the Christian is not to be found in any book, set down in any creed or been codified in doctrine, important as those things are. Our breed standard is the Cross of Christ, and the call that goes out from there is the one with which Christ began and ended his ministry in Galilee: “Follow me.”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Dan 04.28.04 at 11:54 am

Interesting that Jesus doesn’t tell us “what I do is the way” or “what I say is the truth”.
Instead he said “I am the way” and “I am the truth”. Hence, neither doing what Jesus did,
nor beliving what Jesus said is the whole story. There’s something quite journey like in
saying “I am the way”, he could have said “I am the destination” but he didn’t. Not sure
what it all means yet, I guess I’ll never know fully.

2

Godfrey 04.28.04 at 1:04 pm

I was having a conversation about the old “faith versus works” argument a while ago with someone who was raised in one of the charismatic Christian “breeds” (to use your metaphor). She was very much of the belief (and pulled out Scripture to back up her viewpoint) that it was faith alone which led to salvation. One of her examples was the thief on the cross with Jesus; he had had no chance to perform righteous works, yet he was promised salvation simply for believing. Any passages I could bring up wherein Jesus specifically called for good works, she dismissed out of hand with other passages.

At the time, it almost seemed as if we were discussing two different religions. Given your metaphor, perhaps the differences were more like that between a Chihuahua and a mastiff, rather than between dog and cat. But even more extreme divergences — such as Christian Reconstructionism — make me wonder if they’re the equivalent of the breeds which have been pushed past the point of biological feasibility — some breeds have difficulty breathing, some are practically insane, some cannot even conceive or bear young without human intervention. (Are the English kennel societies as bad as the American Kennel Club in this respect?)

Or is there such an equivalent? You’ve recently objected to quote marks around the word “Christian”; you didn’t explain why you were unhappy with it, so I can only guess. But it leads me to wonder, how far can one diverge from orthodoxy before one is no longer a Christian? Or is there such a point?

3

Mike 04.28.04 at 2:39 pm

I’m sure if the guy on the cross had had the opportunity to do “good works”, and hadn’t, Jesus would be pretty annoyed. Still, no one is beyond redemption. However, a large portion of Jesus’s teachings focus upon a dedication to continued expression of the virtues imparted to us through Christ. ‘Peter, do you love me?’ ‘Tend my sheep’ etc; ‘Sell all you have, THEN follow me’. There’s an element of continuity here that implies that even if we don’t HAVE TO do all these things, we SHOULD. Even if it’s just out of courtesy. After all, the guy died for us. Even if we don’t have to do anything in return (and remember, whosoever does it to the least of these my brothers does it to me…), it’s a little rude not to.

4

Godfrey 04.28.04 at 5:08 pm

Still, no one is beyond redemption.

I’d say that depends on whether or not you believe Paul’s assertion (in Hebrews 6:4-8) that it’s impossible for those who’ve fallen away from belief to return to a state of grace.

5

Mike 04.29.04 at 1:32 pm

I Suppose it does. If I did, however, i’d be screwed.

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