Where have all the good heresies gone?

2018 UPDATE: I disagree with much of the content in this blog now, and am keeping it online only as evidence of how I have evolved and grown in Christ. 

The current situation in the Anglican Communion grieves me. As someone who has come to know and love the communion over the last six years (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in December of 2000), it is like watching the family you have just married into be ripped apart by adultery. As someone who is seeking ordination to the priesthood, it makes me worry about my future livelihood and calling. What, after all, am I getting myself into? I look at other communions / denominations and their relative lack of drama compared to us, and I often wonder if I should jump ship. But everytime I do, God whispers two things simultaneously in my spiritual ears: First, a line from "Mere Christianity" and the Gospel of St. John: "What is that to you? Follow thou me." Second, the grass always looks greener on the other side, but every lawn is crawling with pests, and chances are you will be more miserable with their pests than your own. Stay where you are at, where I have called you.

So, here I am. I am an Anglican Christian following my Lord. I am called to be faithful in a faithless generation, in the midst of a communion struggling with its faithfulness. I am called to remember that Christ has His people all over my communion. People like me. People who have not bowed the knee to the Baals of western culture. People who are struggling to be faithful to the same Lord I am trying to be faithful to. And some of those people even stand on the other side of our conflict... and some of them Love Jesus more than I do.
What do I do?
The thought keeps coming back to me over and over that we have let the forces of the world- the powers, principalities, and gates of hades that war against God's Church- we have let them choose our battle ground... and truth be told, it is a horrible place to do battle. We have allowed ourselves to be defined as that part of the Church that is either for or against homosexuality, rather than that part of the Church that is either for or against Jesus Christ as known through the Scriptures.
Oh, that we would have better heresies to fight against than the "pink agenda"! Where have all the good heresies gone? Where are the good old days when we could fight on firmer ground?
You see, at the very bottom of this debate over homosexuality, there are two different sets of presuppositions about Christ and Scripture. One side emphasizes that Christ is God and Lord of all, and the other side emphasizes that He is a good man and a wise prophet for His day and age. One side emphasizes that Scripture is divinely given by God and is the constitutional document upon which all other tradition and meditation on God must be done. For them, you do not get to Christ by going around, under, or above Scripture, but only by going through Scripture. The other side emphasizes that Scripture is a merely human book reflecting merely human opinions about God and the "Christ event" which is the basis for Christianity. As such, we may get as this Jesus by going "above" Scripture in forms of higher criticism, "under" Scripture by removing its foundation in history and claiming it to be a mythical document, or by simply going "around" Scripture and saying that the content of Scripture s hopelessly tied to its time and place of composition, and can offer no enduring principals for 21st century humans.
Is Christ Lord and God or not? Is Scripture the God-given route to know the Christ or not? It is the true Christian position to say that Christ is Lord and God, and to place Scripture in the controlling position to know who He is and what His will for our life is, without trying to go above, under, or around it. We can have inter-Christian debates over the place of the Church's Tradition in interpreting this Scripture, and who's Tradition represents the best method of interpretation. That is a valid debate. What is not a valid inter-Christian debate is to deny that Christ is Lord and God and to deny the authoritative, constitutional nature of Scripture altogether. This is not a debate between Christians, but a debate between Christians and people who are not yet truly part of the Christian community.
Many who espouse the "pink agenda" are not even arguing on the basis of Christian presuppositions. They deny the authority of Scripture. They go above, under, and around it to rationalize their positions. They make Christ their spiritual guru, but not their Lord and God. Their current position affirming gay marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals is nothing but the tip of a very deep iceberg of non-Christian presuppositions about Christ and Scripture.
Would that our current debate was founded upon these issues and not the "pink agenda"! Would that we have debated three decades ago whether or not Scripture is truly authoritative and binding upon the faith and practice of the Church! Would that we would have debated two decades ago whether Christ was really Lord and God! Whether He was really born of a Virgin! Whether He really died and rose again! Would that we would have defrocked bishops who are not Christian and who cannot honestly affirm the Creed nor truly commit themselves to their ordination vows, in which they promised that "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."
Let us compare our absurd heresy today against the great heresies of the past:
Problem: Is Jesus God or not?
Outcome: Jesus is God.
Ramification: Because Jesus is fully God, He can fully save us. God became one of us to draw us to Himself.
Problem: Is God a Trinity or not?
Outcome: God is a Trinity.
Ramification: God is eternally a Love relationship, and from the overflow of this Love we experience Love.
Problem: Is Jesus a split personality or not?
Outcome: Jesus is one unified person.
Ramification: Jesus is not just a God-possessed person, but God Himself. He became all we are so that we may become all He is.
Problem: Is Jesus fully God or fully human? Does his Divine nature swallow up His humanity?
Outcome: Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
Ramification: Since Jesus' divinity does not dissolve His true humanity, neither does God dissolve us when He saves us. We remain the creature, Him the Creator. We do not cease to be ourselves when in union with God through Christ, but become more fully the individual we were made to be by being in the most intimate possible union with God.
Problem: How do we affirm Jesus' oneness (of person) without destroying His twoness (of humanity and divinity)?
Outcome: Jesus is one person who unites two natures (humanity and divinity) in Himself.
Ramification: Just as the Trinity is Three Persons in One Being, or Three Subjects in One Object, so also Jesus is Two Beings in One Person, or Two Objects united by One Subject. Just as Christ's Self unites His two natures, so also Christ's self and our self may be united in love, so that our life may be united with His eternal life.
Problem: Does Jesus have a divine will that over-rode all of His humanity? Or did He make truly human choices?
Outcome: Jesus has a divine will and a human will and had to submit His human will to His Father.
Ramification: Since God does not work apart from Christ's human will to accomplish our salvation, so also God does not take over our own will to save us. God gives us Himself, but we must receive. He always initiates salvation by His will, but we must accept by our will. Salvation's origin (in Christ) and its application (in our lives) is always a result of a synergy, or co-working, of the divine and human will. We can never be saved without God working in our lives, but God will never work in our lives without our will consenting to His work.
Problem: Can humans worship God through created matter, or is true worship totally spiritual and non-material?
Outcome: We can use icons to worship God, because the honor given to the image transfers to the reality which the image re-presents.
Ramification: Matter is good. God has given us the world so that we may experience Him. Just as He used matter to save us through Christ, He still uses matter to help us experience Him and draw near to Him. Through sacraments, icons, and beauty God opens windows of grace and light that we may get glimpses of Him.
Problem: Where can I stick my penis and get away with it?
Outcome: Stick your penis anywhere you like, as long as you really love them and it is consensual.
Ramification: Sexual love is placed firmly on the basis of personal preference, and not on the basis of covenant commitment. Sex is an outward and visible sign of how I feel, not an icon of the Holy Trinity reflecting the identity, masculinity, femininity, and reciprocity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
In short, we have moved from debating the nature of God incarnate to debating the virtue of our genitals. It can mean nothing less than this: we are screwed (pardon the pun). But it does reflect a certain truism: If you loose faith in God-Incarnate, you are merely left masturbating your own feelings about who and what God is. Without Christ as God's unique self-revelation, everything, including God, becomes a matter of personal taste and feeling. You talk about God becomes merely an exercise in what you wish God would be like, which you have no real evidence for. With such a malleable God, you can form Him/Her/It however you want, to the point that His true nature becomes meaningless. When God becomes meaningless, the only thing that remains meaningful is how you feel. And the strongest feelings always come from between one's legs. So it is kind of a logical conclusion that when a Church body largely rejects Christ and Scripture, the only really meaningful thing left to debate is what we do with our genitals.
We have moved our eyes from pondering the Heavens above to meditating on the wonder of our own genitals: All hail the Phallus! O Great Phallus, save us by your yearning, groaning, sweaty might! It would be comic if it weren't so tragic. Christ must be laughing when He is not busy crying.
Where have all the good heresies gone?
Now, I will make one concession at this point: There are those, and I know some of them, who are pushing the "pink agenda", who are Christ centered and Biblical. I mean this in that they (a) Do truly affirm that Jesus is God-Incarnate, who historically lived, died, rose again, ascended, and will come again; (b) Do truly believe that this Christ is only known through Scripture and do try and make all their points by going through Scripture. Yes, they have very "creative" (i.e. implausible) methods of interpretation, and very subtle ways of getting around those texts that clearly seem to outlaw homosexual behavior. But, to their credit, they do place the debate firmly upon Scripture without editing out the parts they do not like. These people deserve clear Biblical answers and rigorous debate, and lots of Christian love.
But, alas, in our current debate, there are very very few who follow this route to espouse the "pink agenda" (possibly because they see how implausible it is to interpret Scripture as affirming of gay sex). Instead, they just eschew Scripture altogether and go over, under, and around it. These too should be treated with much love, but not as members of the Christian community. But, we cannot do this. Why? Because we have allowed Scripture, doctrine, discipline, and worship to be relativized into a tasteless pabulum that allows anyone to do or believe anything they want and still be Christian, still be part of the Church. Indeed! We have given away our places of prominence as professors of theology and bishops to those who deny Scripture's authority and Christ's divinity. We have created a Church in which the minority voice is the Christian voice and the majority voice is a milktoast pluralism that is eager to do anything to be liked by everyone except Christians.
If we had fought our battle on the noble grounds of Scripture and Christ three decades ago, we would not be fighting on the absurd ground of the "pink agenda" today. The "pink agenda" is a bloodless heresy, a nod to political correctness by those who have sold their birthright as God's Church decades ago.
Would that we would take back the battleground! Would that we would withdraw our troops from this place and re-deploy on the noble ground of Scripture and Christ. Would that we would have our clergy and professors of theology affirm or deny the following:
Do you affirm or deny the following statements, taken in their plain, straightforward sense:
1. I affirm it is true that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. [From the Nicene Creed, Rite II, BCP 1979]
Affirm or Deny
2. I affirm the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. I receive the Holy Scriptures, and commit myself to be a faithful steward of his holy Word. Whatsoever is not read in the Scriptures, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any person, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture I do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. Furthermore, I affirm that the Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. [From the Ordination of a Bishop and the Articles of Religion, BCP 1979]
Affirm or Deny
If we could simply get straight answers on these two questions from all the parties involved in this debate, we could at least understand where they are coming from. Are they arguing from Christian presuppositions (affirm both) or non-Christian presuppositions (deny one or both)? We would know if they were arguing from within the Christian community, or from without it. This makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between knowing whether your opponents need to be evangelized as non-Christians, or reasoned with, as Christian brothers and sisters.
It is my supposition that most of our problem in the Episcopal Church is not from poor Christian teaching and catechesis (of which, there is much), but rather because we are dealing with whole segments of the Church who have not even been evangelized in the first place and who have no authentic Christian faith. This is not to say that they do not have faith at all. This is to say that the faith they have, and which has been told to them is Christian, is actually not at all. It is rather a mix of wishful thinking and political correctness.
It is my prayer that we take back this battle and choose our battle ground, and stop letting the powers and principalities choose it for us. It is my prayer that we would stop being known as the Church that is either for or against gays, but rather as the Church that is for Christ alone.
May we allow Him, and Him alone, to define us.


Bret Wells said...

Nate, you said
"In short, we have moved from debating the nature of God incarnate to debating the virtue of our genitals."
Exactly! And this could be said about many of the different "wars" within the church - surely the women's role issue can be seen in this light. But I also think that "debating the virtue of our genitals" may be appropriate to describe the "worship wars," - which often actually has nothing to do with worship - and other issues which we mistakenly have labeled as doctrinal.

Good stuff.

krister said...

"When God becomes meaningless, the only thing that remains meaningful is how you feel. And the strongest feelings always come from between one's legs. So it is kind of a logical conclusion that when a Church body largely rejects Christ and Scripture, the only really meaningful thing left to debate is what we do with our genitals."

is this really your argument? life is surely much more complex than dividing the world into the binary, dualistic structure that you posit in your entry. Having been to a couple different seminaries (Princeton Theological Seminary and Brite Divinity School), the implication that there are professors who are out there to undermine the community of faith is without merit. These people, by and large, are not there to gain the accolades of men and women. They exist for the sake of the students whom they are equipping for Christian service.

Additionally, when you say that the church now has a "minority voice" that is truly Christian while the other voice (there is the other half of the camp that you argue for, since we can't have more than two groupings) is apostatic, it seems that you have bought into the interesting concept of remnant theology of the 21st century in which those who are truly in the majority (being a white, middle class male) adopt the theological position of the minority and play the victim.

With all of the great heresies that you mention and their solutions, what good has come of the this wonderful Christian community of yore of which you longingly speak?

Do we stand up for the poor, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick? Or do we sit around and complain about the state of our denomination or religion or society or relationships or ...? My guess is that in your attempt to demand that professors and bishops pass a test of orthodoxy you are trying to rid the world (er, church) of those who think differently than you on whatever the topic may be. If it were not for people who had the courage to stand up to the same old way of interpreting scripture, the reformation would have never happened. In like manner, the restoration would never have taken place. Women would not be allowed to minister. Blacks would still be enslaved. The church is always in the process of reforming.

Christ's call for unity is not a call for uniformity. It is a call to appreciate the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Christ himself explained that the wheat and the chaff shall grow together until the day that God determines to separate the two. The decision rests with God, not on humans.

The call to the Christian ministry is call to kenosis, the call to emptying oneself for the sake of others. This requires humility, a posture to see others as incarnations of the Christ. The decision of who is or is not a Christian is ultimately not up to men and women but to God who will judge justly when the time comes.

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.