Absolute Convergence?

her·e·tic (her-i-tik; adj. her-i-tik, huh-ret-ik) n.
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.

or·tho·dox  (ôrth-dks)adj.

1. Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion.
2. Adhering to the Christian faith as expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds.

Continuing my theme of dialogue from yesterday…

I read a blog post this morning from Gladys Ganiel called Kester Brewin, Peter Rollins & the ‘Year of Opposition’ in the Emerging Church which contained a quote from her post the day before, International Museum of the reformation, Geneva: Dinner with John Calvin.

The quote has stuck with me all morning and I just felt like I wanted to share my thoughts with you my lovelies. Here it the quote…

…the room where you can share dinner conversation with Calvin and Co. conveyed a sense of historical and even contemporary disagreement. This reminded me that the Christian story has rarely been one of absolute convergence around all Christian practices and beliefs.

I am often asked when someone disagrees with me how I can so easily question thousands of years of Christian doctrine and practice. My friends it is not that simple. In the history of our Christian faith there have been many disagreements over the finer points of what it means to follow Christ. There are many areas where most Christians agree and there are many, many where they do not. As I said in yesterday’s post,

Do we disagree on this issue? Yes. Does that mean either of us are heretics? I don’t think so. Do I stand in the corner of the rejected and shunned? You better believe it. I am not perfect at it but I would rather answer to God for trying to reconcile my LGBT friends with the God who is the lover of their soul (practicing or not) than to try to explain to Him why I pushed them further away. Once again, could I be wrong? Of course. But you know what we are all going to have things we are surprised by on that day and I would rather err on the side of love.

Consider if you will the following areas where we have and continue to debate and disagree on how best to follow Jesus…

Calvinism/Arminianism
Evolution/Creationism
The heliocentric universe
Women in leadership
Complementarianism/Egalitarianism
Gifts of the Spirit
Drinking
Once saved always saved
Martin Luther and his Theses
Literal Heaven/Hell, when do we go there? Purgatory?
Soul sleep
The priesthood of all believers
Demon possession and what to do about it
Is Christianity masculine? Is God masculine?
The nature of God… Trinitarianism/Dualism/Unitarianism/Deism/Monotheism
At one time even translating the bible into vernacular languages, or helping with the printing of such a bible was considered heresy according to the Roman Church.

For crying out loud we have even fought over whether women were equal to men, whether the races were equal, whether interracial couples should marry, whether slavery should be illegal, and if wives were property or autonomous persons.

And this is by no means an exhaustive list!

Do the answers to these things matter? You better believe it and without the brave men and women who dared to question the status quo and risk being called heretics; Women and slaves would still be property and be denied the right to vote and own property, and millions would not be able to read the Bible in their native language. Can perceived heresies be dangerous? Of course. Is the Holy Spirit able to sort things out and do His work? You know it.

I ran across some other quotes while reading up on this topic. Here are some you may find interesting:

Gerald Brenan: “Religions are kept alive by heresies, which are really sudden explosions of faith. Dead religions do not produce them.” (Thoughts in a Dry Season, 1978)

I love this one. “Dead religions do not produce heresies”.  Many (added by me) “heresies are really sudden explosions of faith.” Again, think of Martin Luther or William Tyndale.
The questions and discussion “heretics” raise (proved right or wrong) help to keep faith alive. They are often a catalyst by which the Holy Spirit leads us. The fact that we are still discussing and questioning and trying to discern the best ways to follow Jesus’ commands to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves shows us that the Holy Spirit is still alive and well and working in and through humanity to help us become all that we are meant to be.

Helen Keller: “The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next.” (Optimism, 1903)

While this isn’t always true, it is certainly has been true in many cases.

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever has overthrown an existing law of custom has hitherto always first been accounted a bad man: but when, as did happen, the law could not afterwards be reinstated and this fact was accepted, the predicate gradually changed; – history treats almost exclusively of these bad men who subsequently became good men!” (Daybreak, § 20)[23]

One generation’s heretics sometimes become the next generation’s heroes of the faith and culture: Galileo, Martin Luther, Copernicus, William Tyndale, Sir William Wilberforce, Anne Askew, Martin Luther King Jr., Joan of Arc and JESUS – Just to name a few. Did she just say Jesus? Yes I did. Many of the religious leaders of the day accused Jesus of blasphemy, came after him for not keeping parts of the law, and even being possessed by the devil himself.

Heresy is often a word that is hurled at a person in order to end conversation. It is a word we use when we are afraid of what the other person is saying or we are unsure of our ability to defend our position over theirs. I humbly submit that we STOP IT.   More discussion is what is needed, not less. When we brand someone a heretic and end the discussion we silence the Holy Spirit’s ability to use us to help the other or to use the other to change us. It is my experience that one can be called a heretic by some while completely embracing orthodoxy. As I said to my friend Justin, we both agree fully with the Nicene Creed even if I disagree with my him on other points not covered there. We need to STOP branding people with that word errantly and thus blowing up a bridge the Holy Spirit wants to use.

Am I saying there are not dangerous doctrines out there? Of course not. Am I saying we should not fight against them? Of course not. Am I saying we should accept every new thing that comes along? Of course not. The irony is that the people on both sides of the above debates often think the people on the other side are espousing the dangerous doctrine. And lest you think that simply going with the majority is the way to be safe, the majority has often been found to be on the wrong side of history when the Holy Spirit finally gets its way.

In conclusion, I believe we need to read, a lot; not be afraid to be in the minority when we feel like the Holy Spirit is moving; and also, let’s not be so quick to expel a fellow member of Christ’s body, discount their doctrinal differences out of hand and brand them a heretic. Let’s keep the bridges open and allow the Holy Spirit to work.  And mostly, let’s heed the words of the Apostle John, “little children, let us love one another for love comes from God.”

Who knows? We just might learn something.

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11 thoughts on “Absolute Convergence?

  1. So much of Christianity for so many seems to be about belief. I believe that action matters more, ways of living, ways of being, worshipping together, being in a supportive rather than a judgmental community.

  2. I always find it interesting when someone from a Protestant background asks how you can “easily question thousands of years of Christian doctrine and practice.” Ummmm…. do you not remember where the whole Protestant Reformation started?

  3. jharader says:

    I get this question a lot as a Mennonite pastor who has officiated a same sex wedding–the “how can you go against tradition” question. Like Matt says, It’s ridiculous coming from any protestants, and especially, I think, those of the Anabaptist strain. Thanks for a thoughtful reflection.

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