Opinions on faith and life

Heresy

2009-05-13

Definition: her⋅e⋅tic —noun

  1. a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church.
  2. Roman Catholic Church. a baptized Roman Catholic who willfully and persistently rejects any article of faith.
  3. anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle..

2 Peter 2:1

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies (Gk. haireseis), even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them— bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Titus 3:10-11

Warn divisive people (Gk. hairetikon) once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

The Greek words highlighted above carry the meaning of choosing, a way of thinking, dividing, separating, or a religious sect. So when there is a difference of teaching within a religion, the charge of heresy is of course a matter of perspective; that is, it depends upon which view is the “right” one. Within Christianity, we would prefer that the NT writings are impossible to misunderstand such that we would only need to consult them in order to discern between right and wrong teaching. But while many claim this is the case and that their interpretations are the obviously correct ones, such claims are impossible to prove unless God Himself were to come and give the interpretation.

Many today think “heretic” is practically a four-letter word, but when we understand what it means, we realize that it can be reasonably applied to anyone who disputes what we personally feel is divine truth. So my first point is to ask the Christian community to change how they react to this word. If it is wrong to call someone a heretic, then it is also wrong to flame the person who makes the charge. We need to remember that this is about division, and in Christianity as history shows, there is no end to it.

But I do believe it is reasonable to claim that any teaching which decrees division, as opposed to “causing division” by disagreeing, is properly labeled a heresy. This merits emphasis: there is a huge difference between division caused by disagreement on disputable matters, and teaching that the Body of Christ should or must be divided. Now let’s read a sample quote wherein egalitarianism is called a heresy (source):

These considerations have weighed heavily on me because of my concern with egalitarianism, which I have identified as a heresy. Although the identification was not difficult from a theological point of view—and our opponents are now in many places returning the compliment, accusing us of subordinationism: but surely one of us is heretical—its publication was very difficult indeed. In our day one must weigh the advantage, for oneself and others, of speaking what he believes the truth, against the disadvantage of being scuttled down to the category of the peevish and rude, unworthy of being heard by reason of his un-Christian manner of speaking.

— S. M. Hutchens, for the editors

Mr. Hutchens is wrong on at least two counts: that whoever disagrees with his personal view must be divisive, and that his assessment is the clear and obvious conclusion to which theology points. In fact, it is the dividing between men and women in Christ which is truly a heresy (Gal. 3:28), along with other divisions such as by race or class. Since he believes that, contrary to clear scriptural principles (see also Mt. 20:25-28, Rom. 12:1-21, 1 Cor. 12:4-31, 1 Pet. 2:9), the Body of Christ is divided into “pink” and “blue” halves, then I can call him a heretic per the Bible’s own standards.

These same principles and verses can be applied to the clergy/laity division as well, for it puts barriers between the people and God. Read this quote about the Catholic priesthood (source):

The Christian law also has necessarily its priesthood to carry out the Divine service, the principal act of which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the figure and renewal of that of Calvary. This priesthood has two degrees: the first, total and complete, the second an incomplete participation of the first. The first belongs to the bishop. The bishop is truly a priest (sacerdos), and even a high-priest; he has chief control of the Divine worship (sacrorum antistes), is the president of liturgical meetings; he has the fullness of the priesthood, and administers all the sacraments. The second degree belongs to the priest (presbyter), who is also a sacerdos, but of the second rank (“secundi sacerdotes” Innocent I ad Eugub.); by his priestly ordination he receives the power to offer sacrifice (i.e. to celebrate the Eucharist), to forgive sins, to bless, to preach, to sanctify, and in a word to fulfil the non-reserved liturgical duties or priestly functions. In the exercise of these functions, however, he is subject to the authority of the bishop to whom he has promised canonical obedience; in certain cases even he requires not only authorization, but real jurisdiction, particularly to forgive sins and to take care of souls. Moreover, certain acts of the sacerdotal power, affecting the society of which the bishop is the head, are reserved to the latter -- e.g. confirmation, the final rite of Christian initiation, ordination, by which the ranks of the clergy are recruited, and the solemn consecration of new temples to God. Sacerdotal powers are conferred on priests by priestly ordination, and it is this ordination which puts them in the highest rank of the hierarchy after the bishop.
The terminology in that quote speaks of rank and division, a hierarchy contrived of tradition and worldly power.

Now of course this does not mean I recognize no other false teachings; there are many that, while not teaching division, are clearly against the foundations of the faith: the divinity and humanity of Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. But I am saying that when a teaching espouses division, we have every right to call it a heresy.

And we must remember what the Bible says about teachings that are simply a waste of time and resources, such as “endless genealogies” and “quarrels about the law” (Titus 3:9), and Calvinism. Not even the Eternal Security debate can justify the rifts it has caused in the Body, since neither side has demonstrably better behavior than the other.

There are many dangers to our faith, and we must not silence those who warn. But our focus as believers should be on what truly unifies, on the foundations of our faith. Yes, we must warn of “destructive heresies”, of Satan’s subtle lies, but we need not divide over “disputable matters” (see Rom. 14). Disagree, yes... passionately defend our views, yes... but treat others as lost because they disagree with our interpretation, NO!

If a teaching is strictly academic and has no practical effect upon how we live, it should never take center stage in the community of believers. But if it divides, restricts, belittles, undermines, or otherwise grieves the Holy Spirit, it must be warned against. Some examples of my personal opinion:

“Disputable Matters”

Essentials of Purity

These are hardly exhaustive lists, but just give an idea. Again, the question to ask on any topic is whether it affects us spiritually, and for that we need to be familiar with the whole Bible (see Galatians for example). Salvation by faith alone is not a matter of only personal conviction but also is the very definition of Christianity; being dead to sin means having to know what displeases God because we claim to have reconciled with Him; telling other believers that they can’t do something you do is both hypocritical and egotistical; claiming divine authority over another believer is likewise egotistical.

Today many undermine our ability to even define Christianity by reducing the Bible to a collection of moral tales for the primitives of the past (which is itself a very egotistical and insulting view of those people). Without the Bible, we cannot say what Christianity is; we cannot know what displeases God; we have no hope, no assurance, no unity. But on the other hand, those who treat the Bible like a weapon to use against other believers have undermined the faith as well, because they dismiss the relationship we have with God through Jesus and treat their fellow servants badly.

How can egalitarians and male supremacists coexist, since one side (male) wants to restrict and control the other (female)? How can egalitarians and clergy/laity class supporters coexist, since one side believes themselves to be “called” in a way no one else is “called”? How can a fellowship function if it allows all manner of sin, not in an effort to correct it and rescue those it enslaves but to celebrate and “tolerate” it?

Those are the questions that help me discern between that which is vital and that which is secondary. We must figure out who we are as a community before we can be any kind of witness to the world.

6 Comments

Janice

You wrote the ’h’ word. People are lying low. I have some thoughts but they’re a bit inchoate at the moment. They have to do with slavery and freedom, prophets and kings, and what Allison wrote about practising submission in your previous post. Right now all I will say is that if anyone’s promoting heresy in this issue it’s the subordinationists.

Paula Fether

Dat be da point, Janice. ;-) Nothing causes division like that other H word, hierarchy.

Janice

Alison mentioned someone who recommended that she let the man she’s dating make decisions, and who implied that refusing to let him do so is, "an issue of sinful pride". I began to think about why women might want to let someone else make decisions for them.

They might be insecure. They might lack necessary expertise. They might be lazy. Or they might have no say in the matter, i.e., they might be slaves or prisoners.

I’ve been reading Breugemann’s Prophetic Imagination. It was published in the late 70’s and is full of abstract ideas as well as language relating to that period of history (e.g., alternative, false consciousness). So it’s not an easy, or always comfortable, read but he has some very interesting insights into the nature of the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. The clash was between the God of freedom (who cares for the oppressed) and the rigidities of an earthly royal house (which orders things for the sake of maintaining the privileges of its members).

The Israelites were enslaved to preserve that earthly order. They were refused permission to go to the desert and serve God for the sake of preserving Pharaoh’s idea of his own authority. And then came the plagues.

With the creation of the monarchy in Israel and the building of the temple God was more or less "domesticated". The temple, and God’s presence there, were used to serve the kings’ interests. The common people were enslaved (via forced labour and heavy taxation) for the sake of the king and his court. Hence the need for prophets to remind the Israelite leaders (kings, princes and priests) that God is free. He was not a captive but could, and would, leave the temple and deliver the people up to judgement for failing to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him.

Interestingly, in both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, the Israelites who were taken captive and deported were not the common people but the elites. It was a sort of reverse exodus. Instead of the oppressed being led to freedom the oppressors (whose rapaciousness had caused so many of their fellow Israelites to have to sell themselves into debt-slavery) were led into captivity.

I am convinced that freedom to serve God in whatever way God calls us to serve is what God wants for all of us. But the male supremacists want freedom only for themselves. They domesticate God with their hermeneutics and say that God requires women to be in bondage to them; they are not free to make any decisions for themselves. They say that women may not go into the ’desert’ and serve God unless they decide that it’s OK and won’t inconvenience them too much.

I’m not a prophet and don’t know where all this will lead but I do believe, on the basis of past history, that there will be a judgement before repentance, and mercy, comes. Maybe it will just be that all the hard complementarian mega-churches will fall apart as all their members go through divorces and go broke. Maybe there will be a general revolt of women who’ve decided they’re tired of either real or metaphorical burqas. Maybe it will be way worse than that. I don’t know.

Paula Fether

Good thoughts, Janice, and an interestinc perspective.

We could say that patriarchs of other generations were worse than some today, and thus today’s male supremacists are no more worthy of special judgment. But we could say that of all churches in general. However, this is not the only assault on believers; we are seeing a unique combination of patriarchy, mysticism, worldliness, hedonism, and other pressures all at the same time. This parallels the prophetic signs for the whole world; many have happened before but never all at the same time.

So I do believe that God is preparing the world for final judgment and the church for a purification, one way or another (by persecution or by rapture). I believe egals have risen at this time as part of that purification, to call people back to God and back to scripture. Or will the churches, like Israel, stone the prophets and cover their ears?

Lin

Oh Boy, Touchstone is a scary place full of arrogance and pride.

Paula Fether

Yep. Sad thing is, we can now say that about the majority of "Christian" organizations.