Sadly, what I’ve witnessed in my own discussions with fellow believers is the temptation to make “essentials” into “non-essentials” and vice versa.
Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? But hey, if the writers of the Nicene Creed could hash it out, I bet we could too, if we were ever willing to give half as much as we try to take.
Thanks for the original post and the added heresy explanation. I’ve read about this from somewhere else just this month (was it your book Unchurching covering this?) and sharing it with others. Heretics being those who separate or cause division … EVEN IF ON THE DOCTRINE THEY ARE RIGHT, they are still guilty of heresy if they DIVIDE with it! Wow!! Walk with that one for a while. How do we petition the dictionary to change it back? My dream job is to become the English Czar one day and fix all the oddities in English.
Thank God for the Internet, @Lee_Newton, or else this knowledge wouldn’t even be as widespread as it is. (Though, yes, it’s still not widely known, which is a shame.) If you ever get that role you mentioned, remind me to embroider you a “czar” baseball cap and send you a box of cigars!
For weeks we have read all the comments on this blog about the cost of unity in the body of Christ. We have said nothing because all the comments are very interesting and as varied as our backgrounds. But now may be the time to speak since we all seem to have varied ideas and have
perhaps decided that there is no true solution to the dilemma.
But there may really be a solution to the problem. We all came out of a system that we now see was very flawed, yet for some reason we suppose the flawed system we came from had better doctrines than the other flawed systems. Therefore, we tend to cling to our flawed doctrines while at the same time finding fault with where those doctrines came from. We believe it is time to rethink what this movement, we are a part of is really all about.
Are we not really saying that we want Jesus to be the head of the church? If it is true that we want to abandon all for Jesus then why can we not prayerfully renew our minds? Can we allow the Holy Spirit in us to help us sort through this maze of doctrines of men and demons? If we can find others who are willing to abandon what they have been taught and seek the truth guided by the Holy Spirit then we can start from there. Do not kid yourself unity in doctrine is important. If unity in doctrine is not important then the Pauline doctrine of adding Gentiles to the church would never have been agreed upon and perhaps many who know Jesus today might not have been saved.
What am I saying? In a nutshell: START OVER. Abandon ship. Clear the decks and prepare for action. Those who will listen, then bring them along those who won’t listen, let them stay where they are. Teach those who are coming along how to listen to the Holy Spirit and then trust the Lord to lead them. What price is unity? It will cost us everything because we will have to surrender to Jesus.
@Ron_Cindy_Shepard my friend Justin describes our beliefs as a house. Christ and his teachings are the foundation, our doctrine is the walls, and our traditions are the roof. And if we build in this order, we make a solid house. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Unfortunately, by insrirutionalizjng our beliefs, we then teach others to build their own houses in reverse order. Rather than starting with Christ and teaching new believers how to follow him, how to live a new way of life as his disciple, we emphasize “going to church” instead. Finding and joining a church is step one, because we equate church attendance with following Jesus.
But as soon as someone joins an institutional church, what happens? They are immediately exposed to a bunch of traditions for which they have no existing framework. Stand, sing, kneel, eat, drink, give money, listen to a lecture, pray at the altar, etc.
Therefore, they are immediately filled with questions. Why do we stand for this part of the service and kneel for that part? Why do we listen to this or that, or repeat this or that, or raise our hands, or go down front to pray with this person or that person, etc. And so we give them doctrinal answers. Yes, they are based on Scripture, but since they are our specific interpretations of Scripture, we are actually teaching them our doctrine.
Of course, our hope is that, by attending these services and participating in this institutional church life, our friends will encounter Jesus. And, thankfully, many of them do. In fact, that’s how many of us did. But think about the sequence of how this came about: they learned about Jesus by doing certain things a certain way. We basically taught them how to build an upside-down house.
The reason I say this is because the living, breathing Jesus did things—and commanded others to do things—that constantly contradicted their own doctrine: picking grain or healing on the sabbath, commanding the crowd to eat his flesh and drink his blood, not commanding his disciples to ceremonially wash their hands, allowing the adulteress to go unpunished, etc.
We are called to walk by faith, not by sight, because his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and his ways are higher than our ways. We can’t simply “reason” our way to him; we have to hear his voice and follow. And looking at his pattern of discipleship in Scripture, it’s a safe bet there will be times we must defy our own understanding, and step out of the boat and onto the water, in order to get to where he is.
Therefore, I would say that if we always need a theological or doctrinal justification for each step, before we’re willing to take that step, we’re walking by sight, not by faith. By exalting our own interpretation of Christ and his teachings above the person of Christ himself, we are making an idol of our own doctrine. “But wait! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow! Jesus doesn’t contradict himself! The real Jesus would never ask us to do anything that contradicted Scripture!”
Indeed, this is true. When he told the crowds to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he was speaking metaphorically. But notice how he didn’t tell them that at the time m. And notice how he then made his closest disciples decide—right then and there—if this “heretical” teaching was a dealbreaker for them, even though he knew they had taken his words literally. Why would he do this? Why not just tell them he wasn’t actually contradicting Scripture but only contradicted their own interpretation of what he was saying?
In the story, he doesn’t give his reasons, of course. But I think it was to teach them the lesson we’re taking about here: to follow him, not their own, man-made idea of him. After all, what did Peter say in this moment, when Jesus told them to make a decision, without explaining what seemed like a very “heretical” teaching?
Even though all the disciples agreed, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” it was Peter who finally said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Even though, in that moment, Peter couldn’t reconcile the words of Jesus with the person they had followed for three years now, he chose to keep trusting in the person.
I suspect the reason we claw and tear at each other and break fellowship with one another over doctrine is because we know our own doctrine better than we know our own Savior. After all, where did he stand on this matter of division? He clearly spilled his heart out about it in John 17. And many of us truly wish we could see his heartfelt prayer fulfilled. But when it comes to taking practical steps, we always seem to be waiting for everyone else to step off their square and join us on our side of the game board.
The only answer I know of—as you said (basically)—is to die to ourselves, to pick up our crosses and follow. And I would submit that: if we aren’t breaking out of our old ideas, our old constructs, and becoming more united with one another, but only becoming more and more secure and confident in the lines we’ve drawn that divide us, we aren’t really growing all that much, and we may not be following him closely enough. At least from the way I read everything.
Thank you for the clarity of your position. We agree. But the early church knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit. At Antioch the Holy Spirit told them to separate Paul and Barnabas for His purposes. The scriptures indicate that they never held a board meeting to discuss the proposal. They simply obeyed what the Holy Spirit told them to do. There was no vote to see if they would obey, they simply did what they were instructed to do. We often forget that the Kingdom of God is not a democracy and that we cannot vote on what He tells us to do. If we are seeking God with all our hearts and willing to die to self then it is possible to have unity. It appears that in the Book of Acts that those who were truly seeking the Lord would put aside their own pet ideas and listen and obey the Holy Spirit’s instructions. The problems arose when fleshy ideas dominated the people and there would be, as always a battle between flesh and spirit.
If one has a relationship with the Lord that is truly what Jesus intends for the believers to have then it is not difficult to “trust and obey”. Our relationship with the Lord is paramount. If we do not trust Him it is hard to obey Him. Often times believers love and obey God with reservations and that is part of the dilemma in true unity. The early church in the book of Acts seems to have been less concerned about their own personal agendas and more interested in finding and fulfilling the will of God. Why? Perhaps one reason is that there were requirements for being in leadership in the church. [IE: requirements for deacons Acts 6] And of course, there was this little incidence with a man and his wife who tried to lie to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. Today, in most churches the requirement for being an elder or deacon is: do you attend our church regularly and do you have good credit so you can co-sign our loans?
What does that have to do with unity? Simply this: many doctrines of the modern day church were thought up by fleshy people who had their own agenda and wanted believers to follow them for their own purposes.
Our personal relationship with Jesus can bring unity. He will not tell one person one thing and someone else something else. Like you say He hates division and wants us to be under His Kingship and obey Him.
@Ron_Cindy_Shepard, you said “We agree. But…” However, I can’t tell what particular point in my previous statement you’re making a counterpoint to (or how your latest comment is actually a counterpoint). Could you clarify which part of my statement you’re addressing with your comment? Sorry. Just trying to follow along but, somehow, I seem to have lost the thread.
Nothing we disagree about. Just adding to the conversation. Our main point is Jesus would never give the church a task to perform if it were not possible to preform it. Believers must learn how to come under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must die to self and desire to be directed by God rather than our own thoughts and doctrines of men. It does appear that at least for a while in the book of Acts that many believers did accomplish the task by putting God first in their lives.
At first, when Paul returned to Jerusalem and presented what he had accomplished and told what had been done among the Gentiles, it appears from scripture that there was opposition to what he was presenting. In the end, however, the ones who opposed him surrendered their opposition and embraced the will of God in the matter.
My point is this: If they can, we can. We just need to start. Not all will follow or agree, but as they seek God on matters He can convince them of His will. And then it is said, “But we have tried to do that, countless times.” To that, we reply: “Try again. And lead by example and find out what grace and humility can do when applied with agape and demonstrated by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
WOW… I love that. Sounds like a great chapter in a new book.
Thanks, @Lee_Newton! I’ve been collecting random thoughts for awhile now, hoping they’ll eventually coalesce into a book, like last time.
This reminds me of what was spoken to the church in Ephesus in Revelation.
$19.95 or 4 laying hens.
Coming in way late to the conversation…just wanted to say your post about the meaning of heresy was very cool! I’m such a nerd over language and finding new colors and shades of meaning to things (in the Bible and elsewhere). Thinking about heresy as more about sectarianism than anything else gives me much to ponder on…
Yeah, isn’t that cool? When someone shared this with me, it totally rocked my world.