Saturday, March 06, 2010

What's Wrong?

I've been thinking of heresy a lot for the past few months. That's enough to block up anyone's blogposts . . . at least, anyone who is having trouble "wordifying" what she's thinking about the heresies.

The triggers for this current train of thought have been legion, starting, perhaps, with an email from Antagonist-Andrew, which I still haven't answered. (Andrew, if you are even still deigning to read my blog, it's not that I'm ignoring you on purpose. It's just that I'm afraid of rambling again.) On the heels of the email came my Church History class, and in the midst of that came some ongoing discussions with Third Jon. (You have met both First and Second John, but you may not know them by these names.)

I think the main thing that kicked off the maelstrom in my head, however, was that question about Constantine. Overall good, or overall bad? If I say (as I said) that overall, he was bad for the Church, then what about the fact (as bryancti pointed out) that the new freedom and power that Constantine afforded the Church also afforded them time to work out doctrinal issues? When you're on the run from the powers that be all the time, there's not a whole lot of time to sit down and codify exactly what you believe. I could make a nice romantic assumption (and statement) that you also don't have time to come up with any heresies, but that's not true, because most of the big Early Church Heresies started floating (and I do mean floating) around before Constantine was even thought of. Lots of those people who got burned at the stake or chomped on by wild animals in the Coliseum were not only standing up for Christ in the face of polytheists who thought they were atheists, so different was their concept of God, but had already faced up to esoteric fallacies about Christ from people who claimed to have something to do with Him.

But I'm struggling. I think it matters that Jesus is the Son of God--that He is and always has been co-existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit--that they are an eternal Trinity. I think it matters that He was/is both fully God and fully human. I think it matters that there is original sin. I think it matters that God isn't a dualistic force and we don't live in a dualistic universe--Jesus came to prove it by sanctifying both matter and spirit and bringing them together in one. I can get pretty heated about this stuff, actually.

I also know that the apostles dealt with some of these very issues--Gnosticism was already around when Christianity got started. They just conveniently tweaked a few Christian ideas and absorbed them. The Apostles Paul and John both wrote against Gnostic ideas. It matters that God finally revealed Himself to us through Jesus, and we don't need some special hidden knowledge in order to be enlightened and saved.

The thing is, though? Sometimes I feel like even the orthodoxies turn into claims that we evidently do need some special hidden knowledge in order to be enlightened and saved. I do believe it's the Holy Spirit who convicts people of the truth and that we couldn't know or understand the Gospel without that enlightenment. But I feel like the way we "orthodox" Christians talk about this stuff? A lot of times our codification of how salvation happens sounds awfully Gnostic if you really think about it. I was listening to an evangelical speaker on a DVD this week, and he was very good, and the things he said about Jesus were true, but at the end he said, "If you believe and if you trust and if you understand such and such . . . you're saved."

Most of my life I have subscribed to that sort of teaching and understanding, and to some extent I still think that's true. But there's another extent to which that just sounds like more of "works salvation" to me--except that the "work" that "saves" us is accurate belief of certain propositions. You have to be enlightened enough to know all this stuff, and believe in it, and regurgitate it, and support the Republican party, and then you'll be saved.

And I just thought it was God-driven, God-initiated, we-never-could-do-it-or-even-think-it-ourselves, grace.

It's okay. I've already been called a heretic.


Susan said...

Well, you have far more intelligent and thoughtful friends for me to be posting here, but for what they are worth, here are my (somewhat disjointed) thoughts...

I think that Western evangelists get into trouble because of the culture's tendency to emphasize doing something. The idea of being is abstract and foreign to the way most of us exist. The only way we can quantify anything is by actions or behaviors or thoughts. So, how else is an evangelist going to tell a person *how* to become a Christian except by actions and thoughts?

I guess I've become enough of a *heretic* myself to be disgusted with this idea of telling people *how* to become Christians, while at the same time knowing deep down that I want to share Christ (and that I sure am glad that someone told me!) But, it wasn't the formula of "asking Jesus into my heart" that *made* me a Christian, it was the recognition in my heart of being sinful, living in a sinful world and the need for a Savior who could overcome it all. How do you preach recognition and acceptance, anyway? How do you quantify what has to *done* in someone's heart in order to become a Christian?

I think of the prophets as evangelists with a message for repentance, but I don't think of them as evangelists trying to "win souls." They certainly didn't usually get the benefit of seeing the fruits of their words. It's as if there is a tedious balance between the reassurance of salvation through doctrine and through feeling. I know I depend on both at different times in life. When the "problem of pain" is a rational delima, I rely on the feeling of my love of Christ to reassure me of my belief. When my feelings are dissuasive, I rely on my cognitive persuasion of Christian doctrine to know that I believe. And then, of course, there are actions. I have saved them for last, likely because they are a personal deficit. But, certainly behavior influences belief at some level as well.

I guess what my disjointed thinking has concluded is that I feel as if evangelists are often simplistic in their preaching, formulaic, and that to me, faith is both a straightforward and complicated matter of the heart, which is on the one hand quantifiable (trust in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved) and on the hand impossible to measure (who can know?).

Young Christian Woman said...

Isn't that the classic problem of Arminianism vs. Calvinism? Onthe one hand, human beings are sinful, and no work of our own can save us, sohow can we do something right, even something as simple as believing, while still in our sin? On the other hand, if salvation is based solely on the unconditional election of God,if those who are saved are only able to accept him because he softens and turns their hearts, isn't it a bit capricious not to do that for everyone, since He is not willing that any should perish? But isn't the universal election of everyone also unBiblical?

Let us know if you figure it out.

Jennwith2ns said...

Susan--I can really resonate with what you said in paragraph 3 . . . well, the whole thing, actually. I also really like what you said about doctrine and feeling. You're absolutely right that sometimes you need solid intellectual doctrine to hang onto because the feelings just don't get there. And vice versa.

YCW--Yeah, I guess it is. Sigh. I haven't much hope for figuring it out, but I expect I'll be batting it around in various forms on here for a while.