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Posts Tagged ‘heresy’

I’m getting stuck in 2nd Peter Two. Holy Moly. Do I know any of these people? I keep checking back to the first verses, “they” this and “they” that; who are “they” who are on the short end of Peter’s wrathful indignation? False prophets, false teachers, and heretics! Whoa!

II Peter 2:10b,12a,17a
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; . . . these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. . . .These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.

Peter is writing some strong stuff here and although I do not take him lightly, how do I apply this chapter to my own life now? Who are “these” people in my world?

Some time ago, there were folks who attacked Rob Bell for his book, Love Wins in public places like television shows, Facebook, blogs, and magazine articles. They reviled the author (and his family) and called him a number of names, of which heretic was intentionally the most inflammatory.

Just looking at Peter’s use of the word heretic shows it to be a compelling word that carries lots of emotional baggage. Interestingly enough, a modern day dictionary is less provocative. Heretic is defined as someone who “has opinions contrary to those accepted by his church and/or one who rejects doctrines proscribed by the church,” or “one who doesn’t conform to established attitudes, doctrines, or principles.” That doesn’t sound so bad; gives me pictures of those “Wild West” Americans or even the Pilgrims who left England for religious freedom.

An old friend of mine, Kathleen Kent, wrote a wonderful book called The Heretic’s Daughter, that chronicled the life of a woman accused of being a witch, from her daughter’s point of view. Good stuff. But clearly, heretic in those days of Salem, Massachusetts, was a label that could get someone burned to the stake quickly.

But Peter had other concerns: the teachings he condemned were teachers/prophets who seduced others and committed blatant sexual acts, used formidable cursing, flagrantly blasphemed anything and everything that remotely smacked of God, and worst of all, they “faked the faith.” [verse 13] The listeners who were most in danger were those he called “unstable.” Why? Because an insecure or unsettled person can be swayed more easily. A person without a solid sense of self and knowledge/faith of the presence of the Holy Spirit, will be blown about by the winds of charm or magnetism.

In October (2011) another book is coming out about Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” (circa 1978), A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres. How could all those people be duped? How could nearly 1000 people commit suicide at the command of a single man? We shake our heads and yet, wasn’t Peter describing “heretics” of that order?

When I was a young believer, one of my greatest fears was that I would follow the wrong denomination or get sucked into something unholy because I didn’t know better. Since I came into my faith in those days of charismata, giftings, miracles, and exuberant praise, there were many in the mainline denominations who called those practices heretical at their worst, and misguided at best. Was I in danger? Had I missed it? Was my faith real? I have to assume I survived in tact: still a believer after thirty years.

Of course, Martin Luther had the same problem back in his day. And let us not forget Jesus, himself crucified for his heresies.

I’m not saying there aren’t heretical people in the world. There are, just as there is true evil and darkness. Some say it’s the culture itself that has betrayed humankind and is ultimately heretical and sexual and misleading.

I believe we are in a time of transition, much like Phyllis Tickle teaches in her wonderful book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.

We need to spend less time looking for the heretics and more time looking for the hungry, the poor, the unclothed [Matthew 25]. Doing this, we will never need fear heresy, for love and empathy and mercy will drive us.

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Acts 5:38-39
“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men [the apostles] alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” [Gamaliel speaking]

There are really two messages here. One is for the believers, to trust that projects and plans, if truly within the will and anointing of our God, will remain. They will survive and even thrive. But if not, then it’s important to let go. There are plenty of good things to do. There are plenty of ideas. Move on.

Years ago, I had developed two shows that I toured to churches and para-church organizations. They were a labor of love but somehow, not of the right time. In that era, churches were not set up well for theatrical performances. Both of my pieces had to be adapted constantly in order to make them work in a traditional sanctuary setting. Just the idea of having theater lights was foreign to most church goers or to ask that everything be stripped from the altar area. Those who saw the shows, were moved by them, but it was an uphill battle to find churches willing to open their doors. In today’s more modern settings, my shows would have fit in perfectly. It was simply not the right fit and in the end, I retired them.

When I let go, it was hard. I felt I had failed and totally missed God. But, now, in hindsight, I think they achieved what they were meant to achieve. I learned so much from that process and my immersion in the scriptures during the research and preparation time has served me continually.

The second message of this story about Gamaliel and the Sanhedrin is critical for everyone. An anointed person or group cannot be stopped by “human” pressures or verbal attacks. An authentic faith and presence of God in a life is a bulwark and will prevail. Faith of this magnitude sustained people like Mother Teresa among India’s poor, Elie Wiesel in the concentration camps, Hudson Taylor in China, David Livingstone in Africa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Billy Graham in the U.S., to name a few.

But this is also true for well-meaning Christians who try to silence the voices of others in the name of “protecting” the faith. The Sanhedrin also felt they were protecting Israel from heresy.

Currently, there is a movement rising up called Emergent Worship and post-modern thought … some are flaying against these trends. Most of the people who are involved with these movements are under the age of 45… they are of a generation that needs and wants to ask questions, to have their faith be an intrinsic part of their culture and their lives. Personally, I think it’s a good thing. This same kind of ground swell happened when the charismatics and Pentecostals started up 20 and 30 years ago in the face of great consternation. And yet, those movements have been integrated into many churches and church traditions.

My message is simple: be wise and remember Gamaliel’s advice: “…if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

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