This episode of CS will be significantly different from our usual fare. Whereas when I give commentary on things, I usually verbally mark it off by giving a caveat and saying I’m offering an opinion. Well, this entire episode is that. Here’s why . . . and hang with me for a bit because it’s going to take a little time to explain.
This series on Heretics, of which this is Part 4, assumes a right and wrong perspective on Christian Doctrine. To call a belief or person heretical, means accepting some standard of orthodoxy. To say someone is OUT, means knowing what “In” is. And not a few of the subscribers to CS no doubt find that assumption to be hideously arrogant; many more at least consider it at best to be arbitrary.
I wish I had solid figures but there’s no way to know what percentage of the CS audience hails from various faith & non-faith perspectives. But speaking anecdotally, I can say with confidence, a significant part of our audience is religiously un-affiliated. Some are agnostic, others, atheist. But they’ve shared their enthusiasm for the podcast because it’s helped fill in a hole in their education and knowledge of an important part of history. While there have been a couple non-theists over the last few years who’ve expressed their hostility both to the podcast and to me personally, the vast majority have been kind, civil; even respectful while expressing disagreement on theological issues. And I dig that!
The following comments are offered with the intention that they may, hopefully, add some perspective to the interaction that takes place between theists and non-theists today. It seems we’re talking about and AT each other more than with one another. So, what follows is aimed at two groups: 1) Post-modern skeptics & 2) Evangelicals.
It’s important that PM skeptics understand when they engage a sincere and consistent Christian, that person comes to the table with a set of fixed presuppositions that are part & parcel of their faith. They’re non-negotiables, if you will. Of course, HOW they hold and express them is another matter.
Evangelicals need to be reminded that when speaking with a PM skeptic, clinging tenaciously to The Gospel must be done in an overarching sphere of love. As the Apostle Peter said, our defense of the faith must be conducted in a spirit of meekness.
For those who’ve imbibed the post-modern conviction that truth is relative and that one person’s truth doesn’t necessarily have to be another’s – let me clarify that Classic Christian theology and a Biblically-consistent worldview don’t allow that as a presuppositional starting point. A Biblically-consistent Christian worldview regards Truth as absolute, eternal and unchanging. Truth corresponds to what is real. And reality is determined by an Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent Creator Who exists in a category of being completely different from everything else, because that other category contains all that the Creat-OR, Creat- ED!
So, while for the post-modern, calling something “heretical” appears arrogantly judgmental and arbitrary, in a Christian WV, it’s simply a statement of fact. For sure, a judgment has been made, but it need not be made arrogantly. And if done properly, it certainly isn’t arbitrary. It’s the result of a laborious and careful analysis governed by a concern for truth but tempered by the virtue of grace and humility.
This is a good place to insert a comment about the Christian obsession with evangelism. While the religiously unaffiliated may be tempted to shut the episode off at this point, I ask you to indulge me for a moment because I think it may give you an important and helpful insight into Evangelicals like myself . . .
Christians living in Europe and the US are feeling the heat of opposition. As the West has grown increasingly secular and Christianity has been squeezed from the place of cultural favor it once enjoyed, the success of secularism has emboldened it to become more overt and hostile in its opposition to The Faith. Prayers & Schools, Christmas Trees & City Hall. The 10 Commandments & courtroom walls. The removal of the words Christmas & Easter from the holidays. All these harbinger society’s emerging hostility toward Christianity. Commensurate to all that is the sense of empowerment on the part of individuals to freedom from being “harassed” by Christians sharing their faith. Some would say that while Christians have a right to believe what they want, others have a right to not hear a Christian ever say what they believe! Being told Jesus can “save them” is offensive because it means there’s something they need to be saved FROM; that they aren’t okay. Yet for a good part of their lives they’ve been fed a steady diet of affirmation & told they could do and be anything they wanted to. So, being evangelized by a zealous Christian is considered deeply offensive and harmful since it erodes that fragile confidence.
We’re already seeing that mindset emerging. It’s certain to become more official as agenda-pursuing secularists continue to hammer away at Christianity.
What post-moderns need to keep in mind is that Evangelical Christians, living a consistently Biblical WV, are COMPELLED to share their faith and seek to persuade unbelievers to put their faith in Jesus precisely because they don’t want to be hypocrites!
That’s the biggest criticism modern Christians face; we’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Granted, there are a lot of people calling themselves Christians who lack a lifestyle consistent with Biblical morality and virtue. But to NOT share the Gospel and earnestly seek to persuade people to be converted would only ADD to the reputation of being hypocrites.
Maybe an illustration would help. Let’s say I claim to love my neighbors and want the best for them. Then one night while taking a walk in front of their 2-storey house, I see the 2nd floor is on fire. As I look in thru the living room widow, I see the family sitting around watching TV, oblivious to the fire over their heads. What does love compel me to do? It sends me running to their front door. If they ignore my knocking, telling me to go away, they’re busy watching their favorite show, I yell thru the door that their house is on fire. If they reply back that they don’t believe me, I’m not going to walk away and say, “Well, sucks to be them.” I’m going to kick their door in & PLEAD with them to at least come outside and see for themselves. They won’t be happy I kicked their door in; they may even get angry and hate me à UNTIL they realize I just saved their lives.
Here’s the point: Christians really believe the world is on fire & unless people get out of its way, they’re doomed to an eternal hell. The way out, the rescue comes thru The Gospel. And once received the Gospel changes the human heart to one that loves God and others. So if I really love people, I HAVE to tell them about Jesus and urge them to be saved. Anything else would be the worst kind of hypocrisy.
I preface what follows with all of that to lay the groundwork for following up on how we ended the last episode.
As a heretical sect, the Bogomils we looked at last time, were able to attract nominal Christians for 3 main reasons that have been repeated by other heretical groups ever since.
The first reason the Bogomils attracted Christians not well grounded in basic Christian theology was because some of them practiced their faith more zealously than many what we might call plain-stripe Christians. Of course, there were plenty of nominal Bogomilians as well. But they weren’t the one’s the easy-target Christians were influenced by. They weren’t because as nominal Bogomilians, they weren’t sharing their faith as the zealous were. And the zealous were because their religious system required them to. Not out of the love I spoke of earlier that ought to fuel the passion of Evangelicals, but because Bogomilians believed it scored them points with God.
This is a consistent theme with heretical sects. They alter The Gospel’s main point that salvation is a gift God gives, apart from merit or good works, into being a product of good work and religious devotion. The zeal of the heretic is less the product of a restored relationship with God as it is an endeavor to attain a restored relationship with Him.
Today, when a recent convert to Christianity encounters a cultist walking their beat, ringing doorbells or passing out literature while trying to talk to people about spiritual things, they compare that to the few Christians they know and wonder why their peers aren’t out doing what the cultist is. Maybe it’s because they’ve got the truth.
Once can be sincere and still be wrong.
Zeal isn’t evidence of truth; just that the person is motivated. The question is, motivated to and by what?
A second reason nominal Christians were attracted to Bogomilism was because it seemed to provide an easy answer for the sticky problem of evil; the key word being easy.
This is a philosophical problem that’s proven to be a major challenge not just to a Judeo-Christian WV but to all major religions and philosophies. It’s not within the scope of this podcast to handle it here. We’d have to devote several episodes of extended length to do so. Suffice it so say that the dualism of Bogomilism posited 2 poles; one good, the other evil that was easier for the uneducated and illiterate to grasp than that provided by medieval Christian theologians. There’s a really good answer from the Christians WV to the question & challenge: “If God is all loving and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?” But it can’t be reduced to an 8-second sound bite, though some have tried. Actually, the answer is a powerfully persuasive apologetic for The Gospel. But that’s for another podcast to deal with.
It was easier for the uneducated of the 10th – 13th Cs to accept the spiritual-physical / good-evil dualism of the Bogomils than to wade through Orthodoxy’s sometimes labyrinthine explanation of The Fall.
And third, when too few Christians were properly equipped to dispel the heretical ideas of the Bogomils, civil authorities resorted to force to suppress them. The Church of the Martyrs became a Church of Martyr-makers. That may work to suppress a movement in the early stages, but it has a pernicious way of creating a controversy that fuels convictions, which only add to a more impressive display of zeal which perpetuates the sects attractiveness to the nominal.
Onlookers witnessing official persecution wonder why, if the sect is errant, it can’t be dealt with in the realm of words & ideas, rather than swords & spears. Beliefs are rarely altered by iron or steel. They’re changed by thoughts pressed home by a cogent argument. But when the mouth speaking the argument is connected to an arm wielding a weapon, threatening to use it if the subject doesn’t comply – the force of the argument is drastically diluted, not matter how erudite and convincing it may appear.
Historically, The Church of Jesus’ Followers grew far more rapidly when it was persecute-ed than when it did the persecute-ing.
The Church cannot not, it MUST not, look to the civil authority, no matter what banner it flies, to enforce its dictums or act as a regulatory agent over doctrine.
“Peter – put up your sword!”
As I said at the outset, this episode was a wide swing away from our usual fare for CS. But I hope it’s helped to set at least some of the philosophy behind the Church’s long battle with heresy.