Some things are clear. Some things are not.
This statement grabbed my attention:
Yesterday’s offense becomes tomorrow’s heresy.
When I heard this statement in a discussion of how the early church fathers handled (and mishandled) disagreement I had to pay attention.
Far too often I’ve heard the word heresy thrown at people on the journey –people who are in process, people who have not yet arrived. I have wondered what the difference is between being in error and promoting heresy. Perhaps this statement helps to clarify.
Yesterday’s offense becomes tomorrow’s heresy.
Some things are clear. Some things are not. By heresy I mean the big stuff – lies about the character of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), lies about who we are, and lies about God’s intent and interaction with us. By heresy I definitely do not mean the size and shape of a communion cup or how you cut your hair or your preferred worship style. I mean orthodoxy, the essentials of the faith, the Apostle’s creed kind of stuff. Behaviour and practices (orthopraxy) are the result of living out what we really believe.
So many truths are suspended in the tension of paradox (two seemingly conflicting concepts, dying in order to live, for example). In the process of asking the questions which give meaning to answers God gives latitude (aka grace) to explore all the neighbourhoods inside a paradox. Sometimes we revel in the revelation of an aspect of God we have not seen before. We celebrate it. We take it out for a spin to see how it works. We proclaim it.
Then we feel the backlash from those who have had a different understanding. Then the bashing over the head with the Bible starts. Then proof-texts send less-than-subtle messages telling you to change back. Change is uncomfortable. It throws off the equilibrium of everyone around us.
I have friends who are vegan. The reason is not important here, although it is valid and unique to their situation. They will tell you that as soon as people learn of their choice they are confronted by the defensiveness of those who feel their freedom to eat egg salad sandwiches is being attacked. The temptation for some people in this situation is to retaliate and disparage the character of those who consume animal products. My gracious friends are not among them. You are perfectly welcome to consume a cheeseburger in their presence. Sometimes in Christianity, if you ask a scary question or make a choice that is different from others around you, the backlash can take you by surprise.
In the discussion about heresy one person pointed out that historically if the conversation stopped at the point where both sides could agree, or agreed to disagree on emphasis or the priority of a concept and how it plays out in our actions, there was still unity (if not uniformity) and a chance for seemingly different truths to exist within a paradox. Since ideas have consequences the way we choose to live out our faith in Christ will reveal which truth we emphasize (and our understanding at that particular moment – which, if I may remind you, is subject to change as we seek the Lord and pay attention to what He is showing us. It’s called growth.)
Heresy takes root when we are unwilling to honour the truths in the understanding of others and must not only prove ourselves right, but are compelled to prove them wrong. I use the word “compelled” because the father of lies takes advantage of anger and unforgiveness to plant lies in this fertilized soil. That’s what he does. And history proves he has taken his role seriously.
People who have gone off the rails have often been good people who desired to pursue and honour God. Often a stream of Christianity has a revelation they have stewarded well, but when they chose to stand against other streams, to devalue and dishonor them in order to feel better about their choices, we can see heretical ideas begin to form within a generation or two. Out of feelings of hurt and rejection comes the defense and explanations that lead to division, proof-texting that ignores or dismisses context or other passages of scripture, and loss of sight of the other end of the paradox scale.
In other words, as 1 Corinthians 13 states, “We see in part.” There are already too many sects holding up their piece of the puzzle as if it is the only one. No one denomination has a monopoly on the truth, and no one denomination is entirely in error. As uncomfortable as questions and change and the potential for error make us feel, or as frustrated as the restraints of traditional understanding and practices make us feel, we in the universal church cannot afford to make our choices from a place of offense, unresolved issues and unforgiveness.
This way heresy lies.
Truth needs to upheld and error corrected, yes, absolutely. But there is a better way.
It’s called love.