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.
Susan (t’wife) spotted a great letter in The Independent today. I thought it worth quoting in full:
Admit it: abortion is used as contraceptive method of choice
Sir: Your leading article on abortion (16 March) states: “Information about birth control should be more widely published … Abortion is never the contraceptive method of choice.” There may be a small minority of people in this country who aren’t aware that contraception can prevent pregnancy. However it simply can’t be true that the vast majority of people who get pregnant by mistake do so because they have never heard of contraception.
There were 181,600 abortions in 2003 compared with 621,469 live births. How many of those 181,600 women took proper precautions to be really sure that they wouldn’t get pregnant, and how many of them took risks? Only 1 per cent of people will get pregnant if using contraception properly. I think the majority who had an abortion in 2003 knew about contraception and had used it in the past, but on the occasion they got pregnant they had sex when they knew they had forgotten to take a pill or didn’t use a condom. They chose to take that risk, and therefore did choose to use abortion as contraception should they get pregnant.
If you are old enough to be having sex you are old enough to remember to use contraception. Excuses such as being drunk and getting carried away aren’t good enough. We condemn people who kill by drink driving. We think that fox hunting is barbaric. Why is killing a foetus because you didn’t act responsibly when having sex any better? Whether or not people are prepared to admit it, abortion is used every day as a method of contraception by people who know all the facts of life.
I don’t know about you but I was horrified by the numbers. I knew that the number of abortions was around the 180k mark, but I had no idea it was so large relative to the live births. Think about it: for every ten live births there are three abortions.
Yes, society in general likes to believe the idea that, “Abortion is never the contraceptive method of choice”. But it’s blind faith driven by an ideology.
The facts tell us to believe something else.
Why am I saddened? I did not meet him. I did not attend a lecture that he gave or a service of worship where he preached. No, the one opportunity I had to hear him give a lecture series at The Tron, under the auspices of Rutherford House in the 80’s, I had to miss, I think because of illness.
But I got the tapes. And I have listened to them many, many times. I listened to them again this month. I can honestly say that they have been seminal in my thinking about Christ in the Old Testament.
Saddened, but rejoicing in God’s provision.
I’m grateful for this discussion of the vocabulary of the Emergent Church from tallskinnykiwi (Let me guess. Is he tall? skinny? a kiwi? Nah! Too obvious.) It helps fill in my admittedly limited knowledge of the movement. Here’s a quote (but go and read the whole thing):
“Emergent”, as it is used in “emergent theory”, is a name given to the phenomena of how new organizational structures progress from low-level chaos to higher level sophistication without a hierarchical command structure. Emergent theory explains how birds change direction, how slime mould moves, how ant colonies are built and how Amazon.com knows so much about us. The process involves constant communication and feedback among the lowest level of organization, pattern recognition, local action affecting global behavior, and takes into consideration the element of unpredictability in a chaotic system. Solomon was wise in suggesting that we observe the ways of the ant and be wise (Proverbs 6:6) And the emerging church has been wise in allowing the vocabulary from emergent behavior to give a window of insight to the traditional church.
This is interesting. Others looking from the outside can give interesting viewpoints on how the church is developing and maybe see influences that the church itself is not aware of. I find the application of “emergent theory” to church kind of quirky but interesting.
The problem, I think, is the last sentence of the above quote. It seems that there is an attempt to give the idea of an emergent church a biblical basis (though I admit I may be making too much of this) by looking at the ant, as Solomon did. Ant colonies are chaotic systems which emerge. Solomon counsels looking to the ant. So churches should be chaotic systems which emerge.
Except Solomon was not talking about the system. He was addressing the question of a godly work ethic, or the lack of it. He was challenging slobs, layabouts, wasters. This verse is not adequate as a paradigm of the church. There needs to be something else.
I have to admit, though I am interested in the analysis of this movement from a scientific theoretical point of view, this whole approach screams alarm bells at me. If you can analyse a system in an a-spiritual, deterministic way without any reference to principles, should this not worry us? Perhaps there is more that can be said and I just don’t know about it.
I am concerned that the structure of such communities just evolves. It can’t. There are principles in the Bible that tell us how to organise.
It is bottom-up:
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.(I Thess 5:12, NKJV)
Those who work hard for the people of God get recognised by those people.
But it is also top-down:
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. (Heb 13:17, NKJV)
Those who are over us in the Lord, get to rule and direct.
You see, there is a much better biblical paradigm for the church. Not ants in a chaotic colony, but sheep in a well shepherded flock. In this paradigm, instead of groping about, we get to go places where the Shepherd leads.