Heretics and Heresy: On the Intellectual Pursuit of a Christian

Historically, one of the greatest sins in the Christian church has been that of heresy. The theologian Origen was excommunicated when his teachings on the nature of man and God were condemned by the Church. The entire Protestant movement was based in the fact that Martin Luther viewed the Roman Catholic church as heretical, and vice versa. The subsequent divisions within the Church have also been a reflection of this—although some are obviously more apparent and necessary than others.

I once heard a pastor tell how he had been dismissed from his previous church because he was no longer convinced of a pre-tribulation Rapture. To make that clear, this pastor was told he could no longer help shepherd the flock of a body of Christians because he disagreed on a very debatable point in what is the most cryptic and incomprehensible book in all of Scripture.

And so, heresy is one of the greatest sins a believer can commit, but it is also one of the gravest impediments to the Christian journey, both in terms of a personal and intellectual relationship with Christ, as well as in evangelization. So often, we are so concerned about proper theology that we forget that we have tiny little minds. Our relationship with the Son of God is replaced with cute dogmas that we repeat over and over—sometimes from birth, if the situation allows—and we never question them. We attach our ideas to God like a label on a bottle of cheap wine: “Grown in the fertile valley of Old Earth Creationism, this God has already mapped out your days, and will indisputably return to carry his Church to Heaven while he leaves the heretic and the sinner to burn in the fires of tribulation and damnation. Enjoy without questioning.”

And while there is certainly room for dissension and disagreement within the Church, to say that our label of God is impeccably correct is to say that our wine is the only wine. And this is where the cry of “Heretic!” can often become heresy.

As Galileo said, the same God that endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect did not intend that we forgo their use. Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross so that we can go to the grave believing—knowing—that Adam and Eve were literal people, and yet folks like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind make a living attacking Christians who would believe otherwise. We line up across the field from each other, load our muskets, and commence to tear and rip at each other like jackals—all in the name of Love.

Can we see the dichotomy here?

To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe in Jesus Christ: I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is not to set up impediments for others; we can be firm in our convictions while allowing the difference of belief. Just because one prefers the solemnity and depth of old hymns doesn’t give them allowance to judge another for engaging in contemporary worship. Just because a board of elders believes that Christ will return to rapture his people into Heaven before the Tribulation happens doesn’t mean they have to banish one who may feel otherwise.

The danger of this is that it turns the Church—which should be a community of vibrant, thinking individuals—into what effectively amounts to a cult. Even God the Father, the most severe member of the Trinity, allows Job and his friends to spend 30-some chapters questioning His nature. And when He finally shows up on the scene? The only thing He says is “You can’t understand Me. Ask your questions, but stop expecting answers.” The issue isn’t that Job is trying to understand God, it’s that he assumes himself capable of understanding God.

From the beginning, God has rewarded those who seek. If God cannot guide our intellectual pursuit, wherever that may take us, he would not have given us such a vast scope of reason and imagination. And if that seeking starts carrying one toward the mire of true heresy, it is the duty of the Church to help correct the mistake, bearing in mind that the Church is not your local pastor, priest, or two-bit theologian. It is not the Pope, a Patriarch, or yourself. The Church is the cumulation of human history, subject to God the Father and manifested in a traveling rabbi named Jesus Christ, who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, founded a demographically and intellectually diverse community he calls his Church. This is the standard to judge by; not the opinion of a man who has nothing more than a seminary degree, a couple years behind the pulpit, and the notion that he has come to grasp Yahweh in all His magnitude and mystery. The intellectual pursuit of a Christian should not be defined by a fear of the Church, but by a love of Christ.

Not that there’s anything fatal about being mistaken; even Peter was an unintentional heretic. But the measure you use to judge will be measured to you, and if you’re prepared to anathematize a fellow follower of Christ over petty doctrine, you had better hope that you have a perfect bead on the infinite God of the Ages. Because if you don’t, you are setting up some unnecessary roadblocks to Heaven. If we judge others based on our personal theology, it’s a safe bet to assume that God will judge us on ours.

The Great Cynic Defeated (Job Series, Part 3)

This is part 3 in our series on Job. Don’t miss the first part here, and the second part here.

Once again Satan has been repulsed, but he is patient. Job remains strong thus far, but Satan has all the time in the world. Job is in emotional and physical agony, and Satan even deprives him of rest (7:3-4). Job tosses and turns, tormented with visions and nightmares (7:13:15). And now his friends have come, his friends who are convinced that all misfortune is a punishment from God. It is here that we must be careful, for the words of God at the end (42:7) makes it clear that when these friends speak of God, they are not to be trusted. They are right occasionally, but they are often wrong, their words guided by a false understanding of God and how he interacts with us. Continue reading The Great Cynic Defeated (Job Series, Part 3)

…of my servant Job? (Job Series, Part 2)

This is the second part of a three-part series on Job. Read the first part here.

Satan has been defeated, but he is nothing if not persistent. Job is stronger then Satan reckoned, yes, but that merely means that the ultimate cause of Job’s faith must lie in Job’s own person. Satan, of course, cannot understand love, so on further reflection he must have thought, “Yes, of course Job would be unmoved by the death of his children. They were no good to him anyway: He cares only for himself, his own body, and that has remained largely safe.” Continue reading …of my servant Job? (Job Series, Part 2)

Hast Thou Heard… (Job Series, Part 1)

In The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton calls Job “one of the colossal cornerstones of the world,” and in his introduction to the book of Job, he calls it one of the most interesting of all books, both modern and ancient. Further research, including an awesome commentary that I first discovered in Oxford but have more recently discovered on the internet, has only caused me to agree with this statement of vast importance more and more. The book of Job remains to this day one of the most immediately relevant and applicable books of all time.

Continue reading Hast Thou Heard… (Job Series, Part 1)

Naked, Shivering Worship

Some time ago, a good friend told me that sometimes they feel guilty when worshiping. Some days they love it, singing and clapping and embracing the joyfulness of worship. Other times, though, they don’t want to sing at all, and when they try, they feel guilty. The song is not true to their present experience with God, and so they wonder if they should even sing it at all. I myself have felt this at times–I suspect that most Christians have. We don’t always feel like worshiping God, and it feels weird to try… almost dishonest. Continue reading Naked, Shivering Worship

Sacrifice vs. …Sacrifice? : Doing What You Love

Seth Godin recently pointed his blog readers to a heart-warming—and considerably thought-provoking—documentary. Appropriate to Godin’s field of work, “Lemonade” interviews over a dozen laid off advertisement professionals who use their new found freedom to pursue work and recreation that they truly enjoy.

If you scroll down to read some of Hulu’s viewer comments, you’ll notice that the concept of “doing what you love” full-time is controversial. Many argue that “pursuing one’s passion” is often mismanaged, resulting in failure, the loss of other opportunities and a decrease in quality of life. The potential for success may not be worth the enormous risk.

Of course, it’s normal for us to seek pleasure over pain, happiness over unhappiness. There is logical consistency in choosing activities we enjoy over those we despise. Pursuing work that inspires us can be opposed to our basic needs or our familial responsibilities. Even the non-basic comforts of our lifestyle are enough to hinder us from pursuing a motivational occupation because we can’t bear the loss of them. Consequently, immediate needs usually take precedence over long-term goals.

Achieving success while doing work we enjoy is also not as predictable as, say, a corporate job. Some individuals see their corporate work as a service to others, whether they’re serving their coworkers or indirect recipients. But more often than not, it’s the paycheck that keeps them in their offices. Money, after all, can open doors for activities we really enjoy. Saving and preparing for a family’s future is also one of the major reasons people choose higher paying jobs. None of these are unworthy goals.

The potential pitfalls of choosing work solely because we love it can be numerous. Seth Godin—who, if you don’t know, advocates the pursuit of meaningful work—outlines these pitfalls thoroughly in an article from a couple of years ago.

Yet choosing work we enjoy can be rewarding, not only for ourselves but for our families and for our community. Making a documentary about surf camps, for example, “that provide free, therapeutic surf lessons to kids with cystic fibrosis” is a powerful way to impact a community; something as simple as home roasting coffee beans and selling them at the local farmer’s market is yet another way to link people together.

If we truly love the work we do, we’ll be devoted to it, willing to suffer for it, and consequently, be much better at it.  There are times when hard work is not enough to accomplish something. Usually we need certain knowledge or the right opportunities in order to achieve success. But success isn’t possible at all without devoted persistence.

As human beings created in God’s image we find the most enjoyment and meaning when we act according to our natural skills and abilities, which includes the act of creating. By doing that which most fits and inspires us we’ll be able to more fully serve our community (and create better art) as a result.

Even though money itself can be a means to better things, we frequently make the mistake of building our lives around it. Some people are able to make lots of money doing what they love, but for those of us who can’t, is the loss of money worth the loss of utilizing the gifts God has given us?

It’s okay for us to simply live and be and do. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds me that, first, “all things have been done before,” but also that living humbly, I can do work which is most suited to me. It isn’t worth wasting time and energy in an attempt to achieve material wealth when it is not ultimately for the good of our families, for our community or for our own well-being. We should know who it is we want to be and what it is we want to do. Whether it means working to make money for the good of one’s family and for added opportunities, or giving up material goods for the pursuit of higher things (like art, invention, discovery or the betterment of our community and society). ‘