Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Heretical

I just listened to one of my seminary professors insinuate that confrontation of heresy is one of the most important roles of the Christian community today. I coughed. I cursed. Then I suffered through the rest of the lecture like an obedient and graduation-pursuing student. I hate the feeling of nausea I'm experiencing because of it.


There are things that we can say about God that are wrong. There are things we can say about God that are inappropriate. In fact, I think most people (especially theologians and preachers) spend a significant amount of time and breath doing both. Myself included. However, the heresy-burning mindset that pervades some Evangelical groups just... well... burns me up.

No, they don't really want to burn anyone. I know that. However, having been on the receiving end of "heretical" accusations, I know that it feels like they might as well be lighting you on fire. I know what it's like to lose a position in the church because a small subset of people think you "believe the wrong things." I know what it's like to be amputated from the community of brothers and sisters you have lived with and beside for years and lose (nearly) all those relationships.

We no longer live in the world of the Church Fathers. There is no governing church (unless you are Catholic) who can render rulings on Orthodoxy. In fact, I question whether there ever truly was any real such authority to begin with besides Christ himself. The apostles were not divine men, they were men who had an encounter with the divine. It doesn't take a great deal of reading through Scripture to discover that they weren't flawless.

The view of authority that demands that one source can contain all the right answers is flawed. Jesus exposed it as flawed when he confronted the Jewish authorities of his day. I wonder if he might confront the authorities of the church today.

We all believe things about God. Some of those things are true. Some of them aren't. But a survey of church history can tell you that is not infrequently the "heretics" (cough, the Reformers and the Alexandrians) who have been the catalysts for positive and Godly change in the world.

So, unless the guy you've labeled a heretic is telling you that Jesus is a jelly doughnut or that God is - quite literally - dead, take the time to listen to him before flicking your metaphorical Bic. You may find that - even if you disagree with them - they might have some points you need to consider. You may even find that the icon of orthodoxy you've been clinging to all this time is just another fractured fairy tale.

3 comments:

Matt Ray said...

Well, I'm not sure I'm with you 100% on this one Scott.

I agree that we have no infalliable source of authority in the church, regardless of what is said of the Pope. However, I believe a major role of church leadership is to maintain and teach a pure doctrine. Paul was very concerned with this in his ministry.

That being said, the example of Priscilla and Aquila is the one we should follow most often. Apollos was teaching an incomplete gospel. Rather than calling him out in public they invited him to their home and explained the full Gospel to him more clearly. If they would have called him out in public his ministry would have been eliminated. But because Priscilla and Aquila handled the situation with grace, Apollos became one of the early Church's greatest missionaries.

Bottom line: doctrine is important. We should find out what is worth fighting for in our doctrine and not stir trouble in the other areas. But when Christians disagree we need to handle the situation with grace because we are on display to the world. They are watching us to see how we love.

Spot said...

Thanks Matt, I appreciate your honesty. I'm actually surprised *anyone* reads anything here. I'll need to be more careful how I say things. ;)

I wouldn't expect anyone to agree with me 100%, most of the time I don't even agree with myself 100%. And that's my point. Grey area abounds.

There are times when we may find ourselves needing to help people understand things more clearly about God, about Jesus. People often need that, want that, for their own spiritual health.

When hunting down people with wrong beliefs becomes a "primary purpose" of the church... it has gone too far. Crusades (Billy Graham perhaps excluded) have proven historically to be an exceptionally bad idea. And heresy hunting smells a lot like a crusade.

The church grows through questions asked and new ideas suggested. Not all of those ideas are good (ie. relativistic ideas that God is just a conception in our mind to maintain morality), but neither - in my opinion - are some of the ideas we've inherited from the past two thousand years (ie. "female relegation to supporting roles in the church," "slavery is to be accepted," "killing people is okay if we can justify it" and "Republican is religiously right").

I'm simply suggesting that we should listen carefully to the questions being asked and the points being made. We can be honest and disagree, but Scripture is open to a wide berth of interpretation and Church history illustrates vastly contrasting interpretations being held as orthodox throughout time. And even now, the same authoritative scriptures are used by different groups to support opposing doctrines.

I've spent the last year reading through the Church Fathers and I can tell you with great confidence that despite our reverence for those "pillars of orthodoxy" like Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine - they would have labeled you and I heretics, without blinking, for a number of our beliefs.

For me, that puts things in a unique perspective. I'm just not arrogant enough to believe that we've finally got it all figured out.

(It might put this post in perspective if I told you the same professor in the same lecture asserted that we shouldn't use television in presenting the Gospel because that technology has been used as a vehicle of entertainment. Of course, his lecture was being broadcast over the Internet.)

Matt Ray said...

Scott,
Thanks for clarifying your position.

I agree with you in the way that you want an open dialogue within the Church as a whole. The local church should have pastors concerned with ensuring that it, the church, has a sound doctrine. But you are right that it is not the job of leaders in the church to chase down others.

For example, if my dad came to your church and started to teach prosperity gospel or universalism I would hope that your church leadership, yourself included, would ask him what the heck he was doing. But if Ross went around as an elder of Faith Christian to other churches and demanded that they conform to his specific doctrine that would be wrong.

We as local churches have the right and responsibility to explain sound doctrine. We don't not have the responsibility to oversee other churches. That is Christ's role.

Thanks again for the discussion Scott. It's fun and worthwhile to think about these things. And I hope you can stomach your prof. enough to get through the class.