Following my previous post on heresy, Patrick Ramsey post an important quote on the problems that have arisen within the Protestant church in not dealing with heresy.
Yesterday I found a series of three lectures on the emergent church given in February 2004 by Don Carson. I’ve only listened to the first one. It was quite informative. Dr. Carson was attempting to describe the emergent church. This is a pretty difficult task as you may imagine. Nevertheless he seemed to do a pretty good job.
In closing Dr. Carson listed five things that were good about the phenomenon. I thought it would be worth listing them here (they are my notes, not a transcription). We must not approach these issues as some kind of balancing act, as though if the good things outweigh the bad then we can give it the thumbs up, and vice versa. Both the good and the bad things must be addressed individually. Those outside the phenomenon must learn from the good. While those inside must sort out the bad. As an outsider, I am only to pleased to consider what must be learned from the good. So here they are:
- The Emergent Church is trying to read the times. The EC is often found where there is a diversity of culture where the church needs to understand the people around them.
- They push the value of authenticity. Dr. Carson notes that sometimes in our conservative churches there can be a kind of phoneyness. Often the efforts of the church to be ‘relevant’ (e.g. Willow Creek/Seeker Sensitive, Saddleback/Purpose Driven Church) can generate a market-style phoneyness.
- They recognise the effects of postmodernism. The times are changing. Twenty-five years ago atheists were ‘Christian’ atheists – the God they did not believe in was the Christian God. They thought in Christian categories. But not now – the questions people have are different. This affects how the gospel is introduced and explained.
- There is a deep concern to reach the ‘way-outs’ There is a whole class of people in society who have no contact with church, who have never heard the gospel and so have no idea what we are talking about. Who’s going after these people? The conservative churches are good at talking to their own kind. The EC seems to have developed the ability to talk with anyone. Dr. Carson believes one of the real needs of the church today is for evangelists and pastors who have the ability to talk to anyone.
- They display a willingness to question tradition. This means that all things are questioned. While this can unfortunately lead to questioning important doctrinal positions, it also points out traditions that have no basis in Scripture. For example, Dr. Carson asks the question about dress codes in church, both for the pastor and the congregation. EC asks, “What can we dispense with to reach the culture?”
These are important questions for conservative churches in our day.
No doubt the next lecture will not be quite so friendly!
You have got to listen to this. It’s funny!
Go on – play it!
Play it now!
Calvin comments of some words of another writer, Themistius, an Aristotlean philosopher, on the ability of men and women to judge what is evil and what is good. It takes a couple of reads to get the gist:
Themistius more correctly teaches that the intellect is very rarely deceived in general definition or in the essence of the thing; but that it is illusory when it goes farther, that is, applies the principle to particular cases.In reply to the general question, every man will affirm that murder is evil. But he who is plotting the death of an enemy contemplates murder as something good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in general, but will privately flatter himself in his own adultery. Herin is man’s ignorance: when he comes to a particular case, he forgets the general principle that he has just laid down.
(Calvin’s Institutes II.ii.23, Battles’ translation)
Calvin himself actually goes further than Themistius. He writes that in addition to the above, the conscience sometimes kicks in so that although the general principle is known, a particular act can also be known to be wrong.
Interesting insights into how the sinful human mind works.
The word ‘heretic’ or ‘heresy’ always sends shivers down my spine. It is one thing to read about Marcion the heretic of eighteen and a half centuries ago. It’s quite another when someone uses it in conversation in all seriousness.
A few days ago I read on Emergent No a discussion on what does and does not constitute heresy. You can read about it here, including the 69 comments (at the last count). The list that the good people on that blog produced contained some pretty fundamental issues, and some not so fundamental.
The latter not-so-fundamental classification troubled me. I too am concerned about the ’emergent church’ and the effect it is having on souls before God. I am concerned that it seems to be culture and experience driven, with biblical truth taken for granted. However, I also believe that it is a many-headed animal which will take time to master and get the better of. Therefore I will reserve final judgment for the moment.
However, it does no good, in my view, start throwing the term ‘heresy’ around, and then having been challenged, to hurriedly lash together a quick definition. Unfortunately, the Emergent No list has sticky tape and bits of badly knotted string all over it.
Now, my own definition of heresy not well formed. I am still working it out, and writing this post helps. Heresy is certainly deviation from those beliefs which, if not believed, would result in damnation. However, it would seem to be more. ‘Heresy’ derives from the Greek word hairesis meaning ‘choice’. The word was originally used in connection with the choice of a philosophical school an individual may follow. However, it may also occur within the Christian church and is characterised by factionalism. The factions may form around both fundamental and non-fundamental doctrines.
George Gillespie, a Scottish Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly in the 17th century, has written helpfully on this matter though his language is a little opaque. Having reviewed the Scriptures he gives six helpful marks of true heresy, which I summarise with my own words and comments:
- It arises amongst members of the church, or an assembly professing to be a church. In other words, it is an irrelevant term to apply to adherents to non-Christian religions such as Buddhism or Islam. However, it would apply to Mormons or J.W.s
- It is an error voluntarily and freely chosen, both when initially proposing it, and in the maintaining of it or adhering to it. This in contrast to those who are compelled, say, under persecution to accept an error.
- When it chooses an error, it is accompanied with a rejecting of truth. Something which is already accepted as truth is kicked out in order to accommodate the error
- It is an error which is professed and maintained, as a result, becomes a ‘scandal and snare’ to others. In view here is the effect the profession has on others in the fellowship, drawing them into sinful behaviour. Views that are privately held are not the concern at this point.
- It is an error which contradicts some primary and substantial truth which is grounded upon, or, by necessary consequence, drawn from, the Bible. The subtlety here is that, historically, heretics have always appealed to Scripture, but they have always failed to agree with some primary truth that follows from Scripture.
- Heretics are schismatics and draw others away to their heresy. Their tendency to factionalism always leads to separation.
These points raise a few challenges to the modern church:
- Heresy fits nicely with our Western trend to individualism and freedom of choice. As the church accepts individualism, we should see more heresy.
- It shows the need for a fully worked out confession of faith in order to be able to identify what are primary truths, and therefore what are heresy (note that adherence to the Scriptures is not enough!)
- Teachings which lie outside the confessions may not in themselves be heretical. It may take a considerable amount of time and effort to work out whether such teachings really do undermine what has been commonly accepted. But then, if they do, what is to be done about it?
There may be more which I have not thought of. But it leaves me with problems regarding the Emergent No people – by what standard are they defining heresy? Frankly some of the issues they raise have not appeared in any confession, creed or basis of faith I have ever seen. They need to work a bit harder, IMHO.
I don’t usually comment, but Girl has a developing sense of taste and style. She’s always trying things out. This is the latest offering. Clearly her friend is envious and wants to emulate her. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t? But, what do you think?
By the way, it is the first day of the school Easter holidays…
(This is part of a comment I made on another blog about the Schiavo case. But I want to say it here too. Deep breath…)
Let’s be clear. Administering food and water is not a treatment. It is a necessity, It is in the same class as the air that Mrs Schiavo breathes. The fact that it is administered through tubes doesn’t change anything. It is simply another kind of “spoon”. People who advocate euphemistically the removal of her “treatment” are advocating cruel starvation. They might as well argue that it is kind to remove her access to air. There are plenty of pillows that could be used for that purpose in the corner.
Shocked? I hope so. We live in days of muddled humanistic, godless thinking. Occasionally it bursts out in the horrors we are seeing in Florida. In the coming days I expect we will see more cases like it, and society will become desensitised. And the sad thing is we have people who are called ministers of the gospel in support of it.