Heresy is a Cruel Mistress
by Lori Heine
Right now, I’m reading a fascinating book, The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy, by C. FitzSimons Allison. It tells of the struggles in the early Church to clarify and safeguard authentic Christian teaching. There were a bewildering variety of heresies, then as now, and it took centuries to sift through them and establish what the Holy Spirit intended to be preached and taught.
In the media, at the same time I’m reading this book, I’m hearing a lot of bluster from anti-gay Christians about “orthodoxy.” They’re trying to claim that “orthodox” Christianity condemns “homosexuality.” It’s quite clear that those who are misusing the word in this way are heretics. That is true no matter how fine their theological credentials might be, or (more likely) how famous and highly-paid they are for their piety.
Let’s set the record—in a manner of speaking—straight. Orthodoxy concerns doctrine. It has to do with the core beliefs of the Christian faith, as specified in our historic creeds: the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the crucifixion and bodily Resurrection of Christ and His victorious return at the end of this world. It has absolutely nothing to do with matters like “homosexuality.” It is as ridiculous to speak of an “orthodox” opinion on same-sex marriage as it would be to claim that there was one “orthodox” position on dancing, card-playing or the consumption of alcohol.
To present as doctrinal something that is not is heresy, plain and simple. To slyly slip opinions on morality—however “traditional”—in alongside points of doctrine, taking advantage of the average layperson’s ignorance of the distinction, is dishonest. Christians who say that disapproval of “homosexuality” is doctrinal do not understand the faith they claim. Preachers who do this are frauds. And politicians who do it are con artists who take their constituents for fools.
Are “leaders” who are willing to distort doctrine in order to drive people out of the Church worthy of greater respect than those who love Christ and desire nothing more than to belong to it? About the committed love between two people of the same sex—if that is, indeed, what these “leaders” mean by “homosexuality”—the Bible in which they supposedly believe is totally silent. There are only six passages in it that speak of anything that might even remotely be connected to same-sex attraction, and absolutely none of those specifically deal with that. If they cared more about the spiritual well-being of those they’re trying to exclude than about excluding them, they’d also likely have enough respect for the Bible to admit this. Their attitude and behavior is more like those who had Christ crucified than it is like His disciples.
Heresy may be seductive to those who want a religion tailored to their own whims, or to those who would gain power and riches by exploiting such people. But heresy is a cruel mistress. One of the major themes of the book I’m reading is that heresy corrupts our relationship with God. It gives us a false picture of God—one in which He is either arbitrary, merciless and sadistic or else coldly unconcerned. It leads to nothing but judgmentalism, rejection and despair.
Heresy drives people away from Christ. Sound teaching draws them to Him. Jesus said that we would “know them by their fruits.” Resisting the temptation to make a bad pun out of this quote, let me merely assert that those of us who love Jesus are not bad fruits, but good ones.
Orthodox faith teaches us that we belong to God because of what Christ did for us on the Cross. He rose from death into new life, and graciously invited to share in that new life whosoever believes in Him. Our inheritance as His children—ours not by any merit of our own, but because He has chosen to bestow it upon us—is a full measure of abundant life. Including the right to love according to the ability with which we were created.
“Christians must make sure that the orthodoxy they proclaim is truly the ‘right opinion’ and not another heresy lurking under the garments of ‘conservatism’ or some other term that the unwary will assume to be orthodox.” Thus warned the author of The Cruelty of Heresy. It is a warning we would all do well to heed. And those least inclined to listen to it are the ones who need it most.
© 2017 Lori Heine
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