Archives For heresy

The Greatest Heresy…

November 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

2013-11-21_10-17-57Many pastors fear that if they were honest with their congregations about their doubts they would be fired, and the sad fact is: They probably would be. Not fired for some moral indiscretion mind you. But fired for being honest, fired for taking a stand of integrity. Those in the pews are no different. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from people who tell me stories of how they’ve been given the clear message that their questions are not welcome, and if they keep asking these questions they wont be welcome either. The same is true of seminary professors who are often reluctant to honestly pursue their studies, knowing that if they stick their neck out too far, it might get cut off. So while they should be pursuing truth, they can’t. Otherwise they put their livelihood and the well-being of their family in jeopardy.

So we are left with an isolating silence where we think we are the only ones with these thoughts. That’s indicative of a deeply unhealthy faith. Something is very wrong here…..

Stop for a moment and consider what it is we are defending when we focus on who is “orthodox” and who is a “heretic.” Consider the legacy we are upholding here: The history of heresy is one of people being tortured and killed. Is that really something to be proud of and uphold? Ask yourself what’s the bigger crime: Not getting the formulation of the Trinity quite right, or slaughtering those people by the sword? What’s a greater sin: Questioning a fundamentalist doctrine or working to destroy someone’s career and livelihood because they questioned it? The simple fact is, all the so-called “heresies” throughout history pale in comparison to the hurtful ways that people have been ostracized, threatened, and wounded by those who act as the champions of so-called orthodoxy.

The biggest heresy, the only real heresy, is the idea that trying to silence those by force, threat, and violence who disagree with you is a good and faithful thing to do. In fact it’s a sin. It’s wrong. And the fact that so many churches, seminaries, organizations and theological societies still do this is something we should be ashamed of.

SOURCE: Derek Flood: The Greatest Heresy | Red Letter Christians.

Another thought provoking article from my friends over at Red Letter Christians. To me the exclusiveness of so many very conservative evangelical denominations is the primary reason why the church of Christ has shrunk so dramatically in the past decades. When discussions and especially questions are so adamantly stifled that usually leads to a mass exodus by those who are above the intellect of a toad.

To do almost anything to prevent questions be asked is just plain wrong headed in any aspect of our lives but particularly so in our spiritual lives….

This is a continuation of the previous post about heresy and why it has contaminated the church. We all have our opinions of what God wants us to do and believe and we are for the most part not at all tolerant of those who might think differently than we do. It seems when someone has the inherent power to do something about those who disagree with they usually deemed their opponent a heretic and  then drive them from their midst. In the post-Constantine age over 25,000 were murdered for not totally aligning with the then current church leader.

I must make it clear that heresy is by no means limited to the pre-Reformation times. Our Protestant brothers and sister have become very good at it. They might not any longer be executing those who they proclaim heretics but they have become very proficient at shunning and dividing when they can’t agree. 39,000 versions of Jesus Christ! Shame on us for fracturing so easily about man-made beliefs. I believe that our fracturing is one of the primary causes for the current church implosion. We as believers are somehow supposed to pick the one true church and then go about shunning all the rest. How can a new Christian even begin maneuver through that terrain?

Fractured Church CoverJesus clearly told us he wants us to be one just as he and the father are one. What happened? I will be studying that in the coming weeks and report more info then. One of my primary sources for this info is a new book I recently encountered entitled The Fractured Church by Bill Sizemore. It will be interesting to see more info about how we have become so fractured. One interesting question  this book presents  is will Jesus come to us while we are so fractured or will he do something to bring us back together before his appearance?  A question that deserve some time to  study and contemplate.

My initial thoughts on the effect of heresy in the church is that it has done almost irreparable damage to the church of Jesus. We have become so stiff-necked in our beliefs that we just can’t tolerate anything representing the diversity that were so common in the early Christians. I truly believe that what makes the United States a world leader is our diversity. We are almost totally the results of immigrants. Likewise the Christian church could become a leader in world spiritual rejuvenation if we simply celebrated diversity in our midst instead of prosecuting it.

Am I saying that there are no reasons that would justify fracturing the church? I am absolutely not saying that! But what I am saying is that it is insane to believe that there are 39,000 reasons to fracture.

The Emergent church movement that I am hanging so much hope on sees this in a completely different light. They deem diversity in thought as a plus. Here is what Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church says about that:

 They (the emergent church) value open and inclusive approaches to Christianity and are less interested in having all the answers than in living the questions. Emergents wish to participate in communities of faith that take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Emergents believe that following  Jesus isn’t just about getting to heaven when they die, but is about partnering with God to bring heaven to earth in the here and now.

 

What is Heresy??

December 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Many people throughout church history have been put to death because of heresy. But, just what is heresy? That is what this post will be about. Many church leaders have charged others with heresy many times in its history. The most recognizable instances are the inquisitions, post-Constantine period, the Crusades, and of course Galileo and Joan of Arc.  Of this list I am the most familiar with the post-Constantine period. It is estimated that about 25,000 Christians were put to death for heresy during the two centuries after the Roman King Constantine made Christianity a State religion. That number far surpasses those put to death by the Romans in the Coliseum.

Let’s look at the definition of heresy:

1.  opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.

2.  the maintaining of such an opinion or doctrine.

3.  Roman Catholic Church . the willful and persistent rejection of any article of faith by a baptized member of the church.

4.  any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith tells us that heresy is a man-made invention that came about many years after the first Christians.

In the last few decades, however, all these assumptions have proven erroneous. The following are now evident. First, there never was a single “early Christianity” there were many, and the idea of “heresy” was unknown. Second, it was not the apostles themselves, but subsequent generations who invented “apostolic authority,” and both creeds and hierarchies emerged much later than had been thought. Third, an essential key to comprehending the earliest Christians, including those who wrote the New Testament, is to see their movement as a self-conscious alternative to the empire that tyrannized them. And the best way to understand the succeeding generation of Christian leaders is to notice how they reversed course and gradually came to admire and emulate that empire.

It turns out that heresy is almost exclusively about beliefs and has nothing to do with “being” a Christian. Why does this problem between beliefs vs being crop up so frequently in the church?  I think much of it has to do with the power structures built up by the church and of course the egos that go along with  that power. No, the church is not exempt from the old saying that Power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts. Throughout its history the Christian church has had a very vertical hierarchy. As a result almost all change comes from the top down. Grass roots change is very rare among any Christian church structure both before and after the Reformation.

Since God is obviously not in the refereeing business, or he would have taken care of this long ago, he leaves it up to us to work out. Obviously we are not good at it at all! Too many egos in play. It just seems difficult for Christians to allow diversity of beliefs to exist in Jesus’ church

More about that in the next post.

The primary reason there are 39,000+ Christian denominations is that each are trying to maintain “purity” of beliefs. Here is how that logic usually plays out:

” If we allow differences of opinions among us then we will soon reach a slippery slope where we will slide into heresy. For that reason we must be on the constant watch to exclude anyone among us who asks the ‘wrong’ questions or dares to disagree any of our creeds or beliefs.”

I have personally felt the stink of one of these churches. But what these church authorities espousing this view overlook is that they are looking at Jesus through the lens of many others who came before them. Things like their recent stubborn insistence that every word in the Bible came directly from God is putting themselves into a straight-jacket that is almost impossible to wear, and very uninviting to those outside their clique.

Of course institutional purity is not new to the twenty-first century. It has been going on since the time of Constantine in the fourth century and probably even before that. Here are some words from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

 During the ensuing “Constantinian era,” Christianity, at least in its official version, froze into a system of mandatory precepts that were codified into creeds and strictly monitored by a powerful hierarchy and imperial decrees. Heresy became treason, and treason became heresy. The year 385 CE marked a particularly grim turning point. A synod of bishops condemned a man named Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. Christian fundamentalism had claimed its first victim. Today Priscillian’s alleged theological errors hardly seem to warrant the death penalty. He urged his followers to avoid meat and wine, advocated the careful study of scripture…

There are countless similar stories from the years following. One historian estimates that in the two and a half centuries after Constantine, Christian imperial authorities put twenty-five thousand to death for their lack of creedal correctness.  And of course we all know that in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic. In the twentieth century she became a saint.

Here are some additional words by Philip Gulley in his book The Evolution of Faith about trying to maintain institutional purity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future indeed if our world has a future it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition,  just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages. The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. 

Inspiring words indeed! We should not be locking and bolting the church door against others beliefs but instead should be embracing them if they celebrate the Divine Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words we should do as he did.  And that is what I hope the coming emergent church will bring about.