For centuries the reaction to heresy has been dealt with using some pretty severe reactions. The Christendom church were particularly ‘efficient’ in some pretty gruesome punishments for any theological deviants. Pretty much everything that threatened the system was quite literally banished. Its easy to make the arguement that it was simply to protect the purity of the gospel. How can this be? When you look at the theological nuances of the dominant Roman Catholic church of the time (and even today) its harder to find more theological deviance from the gospel. That, after all was the source of the Reformation.
Talking about the Reformation, even there we see the bitterest debacle. The ‘new message’ challenged the fundamentals of the Roman Church in so many ways – the new heresy was dangerous. Yet, lets go much further back in this brief exploration of heresy. Was not Jesus himself accused of heresy by his Jewish brothers? ‘ BLASPHEMY!’ they cried out as they tore their clothing and hurtled him off before the nearest Roman official. In the end, the hung him on the cross as a heretic. Jesus challenged the system. In fact, he indicated the end of a system which even killing him didn’t stop because as he drew his last breaths, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Within 40 years of his death and resurrection, the physical temple was gone.
Jesus shows us that truth often stands in the face of orthodoxy and indeed those who see themselves as holding the keys to orthodoxy.
If you were to ask me to define my 20s, I’d say that I probably spent them holding keys to what I saw as Salvo orthodoxy. Anyone who has been reading me for any particular amount of time will be able to agree with that. Thats not to say that there weren’t good and true things that I was championing. What was concerning was not the way I’d champion ‘truth’ but reactions to anything opposing that. I still believe all the doctrines all the way from the first ‘We’ to the last ‘wicked’ (great line to end your doctrine set on!) Yet, thankfully, it was my desire to be true to Jesus which kept me moving through when I suspected that there may be more to discover and more critical things to lift up. Where I began to become beyond the pale in Salvo circles was probably more with regards my theology of leadership…in fact, there is no ‘probably’ about it. My final essay on leadership wasn’t looked upon kindly and it was made clear that there wasn’t going to be any opportunities for me to even explore new forms even if they eventually benefited the Army. It clearly challenged the system to much. There is, of course, some areas that I am probably not seeing the fuller picture, but all I knew is that I couldn’t go on as I was having been bowled over by something more. If you haven’t read my thoughts on leadership, head over to either my old blog (Army Renewal) or to the Journal of Aggressive Christianity and search for my name.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we have to be aware of things which are inherently wrong or untrue. The Lord Jesus has a desire to move us into all truth, and if indeed we know him, we already have truth personified in front of us. A search for truth will highlight error, of course. Yet how we do that is important. All that is needed to banish darkness is to light a match and in the same way, all that is needed to show error for what it is is to rejoice in the truth. We need never be condemnatory of our speaking of a thing, and by the grace of God he’s helping me with that. I pray that if I err, I’ll err on the side of grace.
So, how do we respond when we come across something that grips us and takes us beyond the pale with regards to the situation we find ourselves in? I think the key, as I’ve said is to respond graciously. I can assure that this is no easy thing to do when you start to feel the pain of the knife being twisted in your back. I couldn’t think of a better way, I simply presented my thoughts on paper and in conversation and in the end, when it appeared that there was not going to be any space created for a different perspective, I chose to leave. Someone close to us said ‘why should the Army make an exception?’ My initial response would have been ‘because we must never pretend we’ve arrived or cast our practices or patterns in stone’ but ultimately, I conceded the defeat with regards to the organisation because there clearly isn’t a critical mass with any will to forge forward. Yet, we live in hope.
I can honestly say that I have no desire to be a ‘member’ of a church again. I won’t be, as the above cartoon suggests, church-hopping until I find the perfect one because it simply doesn’t exist. There are as many challenges in the Methodist and URC churches as anywhere else. I simply come alongside them as a brother to serve them, ask them the difficult questions, share my walk with them and they with me. I fully identify myself with them…more than that, I submit myself to them out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
Card-carrying denominationalism is not the way of Jesus…not to the extent that it drives the wedge between followers of Jesus. I have no desire to sign up to anything that requires me to practice (or not practice) something that doesn’t add up. The truth, friends, is that the church is not something that can be defined in linear terms or by denominational approval. The church of Jesus Christ is all those who are in Him, joined together by the Spirit of God through the blood of Jesus for the Glory of the Father. What matters is the renovation of our hearts as recovering sinners and our particiation in Jesus. I will always serve the Lord and his people.
One of the hallmark motto’s of the Reformation was ‘Sempre Reformata’ (Always Reforming) expressing the fact that the church, or anyone who is in Christ, must never think she has arrived at the final destination or that we should remain static. We must never rest where we are but actively celebrate what we have already disovered and what is still to be discovered. By God’s grace, as I enter my 30s, I pray he will help me to pursue him like never before.
Incidentally, for those who are curious, it is my intention to explore a relationship with the Northumbria Community which is a community of people, grounded in the roots of celtic Christianity with much to say to us as they embrace the ‘Heretical Imperative’ and who express their commitment to Jesus and the church by embracing a new monastic rule as Companions in Community. I’m sure I’ll blog about that as things progress. However, here is a quite from Bonnhoeffer:
‘…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…’
For further reading on this subject, look at ‘The Heretical Imperative, published by the Northumbria Community