Outside the Pearlies

Back at the second infamous Auburn Avenue conference, when representatives of “both sides” were trying to work something out, one particular clash came over the definition of heresy. The representatives of the TRs were taking any doctrine that was out of accord with the Westminster Confession as heresy. There are enormous problems with this, as I pointed out at the time.

If a minister subscribes to the Westminster Confession, but his views are better represented by Augsburg, or the London Baptist, this is not heresy. It might be dishonest, or cowardly, or subversive. It is “out of conformity” to the Confession. But it is not heresy.

Well, it is not heresy, depending on which part of the Westminster he is denying. If he is a liberal who denies the chapter on Scripture, he is a heretic. If he is a Socinian who denies the chapter on the Trinity, he is a heretic.

The early creeds of the church (I am thinking here of the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Definition of Chalcedon) sought to establish the line between Christian and non-Christian. This over here was orthodox, and that over there was not. As time went on, and Christians continued to set down their faith in statements or confessions, the time eventually arrived when these statements set the difference between this kind of Christian and that kind of Christian. The catholic era was gradually transformed into the denominational era.

Then came the liberals. They, by their evasions and denials, pushed the church back into a fundamentalist catholicity. Every denomination had its orthodox, and also its modernists. And an orthodox Methodist had far more in common with an orthodox Presbyterian or Baptist than any of them had with a heretic who happened to be a fellow member of the same tribe, that unbeliever just across the table.

Add to the mix the increased ease with which believers (and unbelievers) could communicate with one another across denominational lines. I am thinking about magazines, conferences, books, and as the technology accelerated, blog sites, video conferencing, and so on.

So there are two things going on. The first has to do with different understandings of what the truth is. The second has to do with the nature of truth itself.

Now back to the FV thing. It is absurd to define a man in a Presbyterian communion as a heretic because he is more in line with Augsburg, and then turn around and head off to your ministerial association meeting chaired by the Lutheran pastor, steeped in Augsburgery from his youth onward. Puritans and Lutherans are very different, but their differences are differences between Christians. Heresy doesn’t enter into it.
But the devil knows his onions, and we have not made him go away just because we have our confessions of faith. Remember that we live in a time when that postmodern sticky stuff has gotten all over everything. The differences between Westminster and Augsburg do not represent heresy. But to say that Augsburg and Westminster are all saying the same thing is a heresy. This is not catholicity; it is confusion. It is not charity, it is wooly-mindedness. And if it is a wooly-mindedness that is embraced on purpose, it is heresy. This is because denying the law of non-contradiction is the royal gateway to every heresy imaginable.

Because there is always a ditch on both sides of the road, it is also heresy to reify (and deify) the Westminster, and treat it as though it were an appendix to the book of Romans. Ironically, the i-dotters and the t-crossers here are the best friends the heretics ever had. No need to produce slanderous caricatures of the Defenders of the TRUTH when they are doing it for you.

One final coda. When I say that position x is heresy, it does not follow from this that every one who holds to position x is a heretic. Real life is more complicated than that. Some heretics do embrace the heresy, of course, and promulgate it afterwards. But there are some deceived by the heresy, people who are better Christians than they are logicians. There are other people who are simply confused, and who if you asked them to construct the doctrine they profess to embrace, they would be utterly unable to do it. There are others who are orthodox in the substance of the matter, but who are tangled up by the vocabulary. There are others who are orthodox on the merits, but who are too proud (for personal reasons) to admit it.

If we were saved by our works, including our doctrinal works, then all these poor folks would be hosed. Not only that, all Christians everywhere would all of us be hosed. Try to imagine a doctrinal entrance exam outside the Pearlies, and there you are, sharpening your number two pencil, sweating bullets. You hear someone talking about the works of the Trinity ad intra and ad extra, and it was a car wreck, happened so fast, and you don’t have your review cards. Or perhaps you never had any review cards. Loser.

But bringing it around full circle, the devil does not generate heresies for his own personal amusement. His interest is in the damnation of souls, and confusing all the issues is a prime way to advance that result. Heresies are not innocent, and we shouldn’t play with them just because John Mark was tangled up with the circumcision for a time, and still wrote one of the gospels.

Some people walk away from plane crashes too, but that is not an argument for trying it.

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John DekkerJane DunsworthrcjrMattbethyada Recent comment authors

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Michael Hansen
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Always enjoy your insights into the FV/AA stuff!

Thanks

timothy
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timothy

I ran into the Roman Creed when reading the Apostle’s, Nicene and Definition; that seemed good enough for me. I will leave the inside-baseball stuff to you pros.

Jonathan Frank
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Jonathan Frank

A Greek Orthodox priest and father of a friend of mine was once discoursing with some approbation on the ministry of a particular Protestant – I forget now who it was, though I want to say it was Luther. I, being rather puzzled by his appreciation for the man given his own creed, asked him why he was so pleased by a man he would normally find heretical. He corrected my terminology, saying a Christian could be heterodox – that is, teach “different doctrine” than the one Truth without falling into heresy – rebellion and un-Christianity. No doubt this priest… Read more »

RFB
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RFB

Thankfully, it most definitely is not turtles, all the way down.

bethyada
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Ironically, the i-dotters and the t-crossers here are the best friends the heretics ever had.

friends or unwitting allies? I doubt much love is lost between them.

I was aware that Paul and Mark had a dispute, but unaware he was part of the circumcision group. Can anyone point me to the verse or explain the reasoning?

bethyada
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One of the problems addressing heresy is it tries to define orthodoxy as a bounded set. While appropriate for creeds this is not how salvation works. So they should probably be really the central essentials like the deity of Christ and a literal resurrection. The problem with bounded sets is it emphasises the doctrine and not the man. It pays less attention to orthopraxy and obedience. Salvation is a centred set. Are Christ followers actually following him. While doctrine is important we are on a journey and we can only obey what we know. This means that a man with… Read more »

Matt
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Matt

Near the end there, Doug laid out four types of non-heretics who profess a heresy – the fourth one was this: “There are others who are orthodox on the merits, but who are too proud (for personal reasons) to admit it.” The first three categories of this type of person were clear as day (and are true observations), but I’m not sure exactly what he means by the quote I put above. Can anyone clarify this for me? The closest thing I can come up with is someone who skirts orthodoxy on some issue b/c it gores their personal/sanctification ox… Read more »

Jane
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I don’t know what Doug meant by it, but my first reaction was the guy who’s too cool for theological school — he has to be more subtle, more nuanced than those boring old orthodox guys, and veers a bit into heresy into order to maintain his distinctiveness. If he were really pressed, he’d admit that, yeah, orthodoxy is the only thing that really makes sense and how he functions in real life, but that tang of heresy enables him to think of himself as more subtle than the rest.

rcjr
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As I recall one wise, and parenthetically, rather good looking soul said something like, “This may make you more mad, but I don’t think you’re heretics. I think you’re Lutherans.”

John Dekker
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Matt, when I read that, my first thought was that of a up-and-coming biblical scholar who wants to get a job at a prestigious college. If he were to admit that the Bible was divinely inspired, he’d never get tenure.

John Dekker
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(It is interesting how we do reader-response interpretation on blog posts, though!)