Friday, January 06, 2006

Heretics: Watch Your Damned Language


Alright, let's talk about language a little bit more. I've done a little bit of blog skimming over the break, and run into something almost as disturbing as communing the unbaptized. But still not as much as "liturgical dance."

So I don't have many friends among the far right. I don't know if that's because I hang out with the wrong people, or perhaps I can be a little off-putting (cough, cough), but that's just the way it is. As a result, I'm not "hip" to what the other "angry young conservatives" are doing these days.

I'm young, not as angry as I used to be, and it should be noted that I rarely recieve the compliment of being labeled as liberal or conservative. I should note that the other side doesn't talk to me much, either. Nope, nobody here but us moderates.

Anyway, the kids love to throw around the big emotional religious words. Heretic. Heterodox. What the hell is all of that? Can we just start with a very basic premise, girls and boys? Baptists do not get to call other people heretics! That's like me telling Alan to cool down the sarcasm, or Josh to be less contrarian, or Noakes to be less dramatic. The pot does not get to call the kettle black (cliches? What?)!

When you want to talk about heresy, or heterodoxy, or orthodoxy, first realize that in a post-reformation, modern, post-modern, pre-United Federation of Planets, post-Darwin or post-whatever-you-want-to-call-it (so you sound like you know something when you don't) there is no universally agreed-upon body of Christian teaching that we get to label "Orthodoxy." Sorry.

If I managed to gather in a room, Al Mohler, Brian McLaren, Benedict XVI, John Zizioulas, Rowan Williams, Donald Miller, John Piper, Kendall Harmon and just for fun added Ambrose of Milan, Clement of Rome, Lord Jesus the Christ, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther and John Calvin and asked them each to make a list of the absolute boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, it would be a pretty diverse and often (I daresay) mutually exclusive collection of bullet points.

I'm starting to suspect that "orthodox" just might be a word that people apply to themselves so they can pretend to be something they're not, and "heretic" or "hetrodox" are words applied to adversaries so they can pretend that those folks are something they are not.

Now here's what we might be able to do: perhaps we can agree to deal with the Scriptures in some way (sometimes referred to as "believing in the Bible"), the ancient ecumenical creeds (you know, the Nicene-Cosmopolitan one, the Chalcedonian Definition, things like that) and quit pretending that petty little party lines that spring from our own private little philosophies have anything to do with Christian orthodoxy. And then maybe we can call that orthodoxy.

Can people accidentally be heretics? Probably not. For my money, people only get to be heretics if they blatantly disclaim something that the Bible or the Creeds are pretty clear on as the accepted belief of the Church. Like, the ancient and universal one. And sorry, if we do that, we're kept from being too specific and detailed about what's "orthodox." 'Cause you know what? If you're the only one who thinks your particular interpretation is the clear teaching of scripture, you're wrong.

And hetrodox? It means different. Unconventional. As in, "gee, we hadn't thought of it like that before, maybe we should think about it a bit and see what we think about it." Without a little heterodoxy, we can't form our orthodoxies. We'd be stuck parroting the same faith formulations for generations without learning what they mean or claiming them for ourselves.

And people who throw around those words at their opponents? I would ask, "Are you really so grounded in the ancient and broad traditions of scriptural interpretation, so formed in the faith of the New Testament, so deeply immersed in the Jesus stories and schooled in mystical encounters with the risen Lord, so empowered by the Holy Spirit and so well schooled in every stream of Christian theology, that you can tell the rest of us what's properly heretical or not?"

I mean, really. Such arrogance.

This is a question I try to ask myself from time to time.

'Course, I usually answer, "Well, yeah."

Love,

Captain Sacrament

Now let's go fishing. Ahem.

15 comments:

Ben Finger said...

I once saw where I good man once wrote that if we keep talking about God long enough somehow we will eventually fall into hetereodoxy.

J Hearne said...

I think if you got that Battle Royale together, my money would be on Zizioulas. Anybody who has two Zs in his name must be tough.

Additionally, Kyle, I'm absolutely not contrarian. Not at all. You're wrong and probably a heretic. Possibly going to hell, it's not my call and I'm not the one who is supposed to judge because that's God's job... but you are.

Booyah.

Tom Mohan said...

This is almost as disturbing as aclown mass. They are heterodoxical clowns of course.

Tom Mohan said...

I am no good at linking on this, sorry, try cutting and pasting this:
http://www.expagan.info/blog/?p=123

naak said...

Well, I guess I might be one of those far right people, one who thinks that there is only one authoritive stance in Christendom, which is derived solely from holy Scriptures, not including creeds, papal bulls, or doctrinal or theological statements. When one some thing is released, from the list above, and it goes against the Truth, the very Word of God, then it is heretical and the person saying such a thing is a heretic.

Now who gets to make such a claim to who is a heretic and what is heretical I don't know. So it might be safe to say that when the whole church finds something to be wrong then it might be deemed profitable, such if one is to say that the worship of satan if found in Scripture as a good thing (to use an extreme example),to lable such a person as a heretic.

But, at the same time, it has long been the stance of the Roman Catholic tradition that the Protestant tradition is heretical, and the same vice versa. So am I in error to say that I think that the Roman Catholics who teach that salvation by works are heritics? If so I guess I am wrong, but that is how I see it. I guess as God judges the true heretics, He will be judge of me also to wheter I am wrong or right.

Kyle said...

Ah yes, Tom, I remember the clown eucharist well. It was when I was still thinking, "oh, the Episcopal Church! That could be the ticket!"

Naak, you can be my token right-wing friend. ;-) But see, the problem with tradition and the scriptures is that people disagree pretty widely about what the scriptures say. Tradition is the history of our interpretation of the Scriptures. I also agree that when we can see the tradition developing in such a way that takes it away from the reasonable intent of the Canon, we need to turn back and critique it. Semper reformanda, baby.

The question is, of course, how do we decide those things? The reason I hang my hat on the most ancient creeds is because they represent the earliest, most universal interpretation of scripture by the early Christians.

At this point in history, at least from a Protestant perspective, there's no mechanism that allows "the whole church [to find] something to be wrong."

I'd just like for us to be a bit more honest about that and use words like "heretic" a little less freely. Less heat, more light.

And I'll let my Roman Catholic readers tackle the question of whether they believe they are justified by their works...

+ simonas said...

just to throw my two cents (lithuanian cents are about three times less value than the us cents)... i absolutely loved the clown mass. i don't think they tried to be just as much reverent if not more then we most of the time are. they were using a different medium to worship while at the same time making a statement to others. i like their humorous approach.

and i do keep my creeds. i think they are important. one question i have about them is why do they not include much of the life of jesus and mention only (well that's a good chunk, but still) his birth as well as resurrection and ascention?

+ simonas said...

sorry, i meant to say i think they didtried to me just as reverent if not more. too many negatives in my preivious comment. :-)

+ simonas said...

seems like i can't write in english anymore...

Kyle said...

The irony seems to be getting thick around here...

Assuming you might be serious about the creeds, I guess I don't see the need to insert "historical jesus" material. They had Jesus stories, and the creeds tease out their soteriological implications.

I also don't think that talking about the theological meaning of the birth, death and resurrection in any way minimizes the stuff in-between, and that lots of people who do think usually don't like to imagine that those stories have their own theological significance.

Actually, those folks often do clown masses.

+ simonas said...

i wasn't talking about "historical jesus" material in the creeds. i was just thinking that there seems to be a part of jesus' mission omitted in the creeds, i.e. the aspect of the immanent kingdom of god in a tangible way. like what's the point in all those healings? the whole thing about OT looked for justice? the whole thing about accepting the outcasts? i know, they are present in death, resurrection, and ascension, but are they represented enough? well, i know, the answer is "shut up", it's not for me to decide, but following +alan's recent suggestion, i question this so that i know why i believe the things i do.

Kyle said...

Actually, no, I think you're right. That's a good point, and since that's the stuff we sit around and talk about and which some of the early Christians might have lost sight on, it would be nice if were in one of the creeds.

But no, they got all philosophical on us...

-mike- said...

Dramatic? I have no idea what you're talking about...

Ben Myers said...

Great post, Kyle. I've linked to it over at my blog.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Ben, I appreciate it.