I was just getting ready to do a blog on the comparison of heresy in the first few centuries to that of today since today is so much like the 1st century, when I received a post from one of the members (Anne) of our Advanced Leadership Forum asking if our group had seen the recent article from Pew Research Center entitled “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths.” The report points out that many Americans are now choosing to “blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs. USA Today had the same info on its front page last Friday.
Anne asked this question: do we need to relax our faith in order to reach these people? Here is my response.
The key to what I’m about to say lies in my belief that the 21st century is more like the 1st century than the 20th century. And the key to this likeness is the existence of rampant blended forms of polytheism. Both centuries can be defined as the age of polytheism. When Paul spoke at Mars Hill he had to pass through literally dozens of altars to various gods of the time. He even found one dedicated to the unknown god which became his jumping off point for his message that day.
But if you’ve been watching Oprah, you saw all of this coming. Oprah is one of the biggest promoters of blended polytheism on the planet today. She mixes and matches all forms of religion and faiths. And she thinks she is doing good for people – helping them find a faith that works for them by taking a little here and a little there and mixing it all together.
Oh, I know. She has done lots of good. But so did the witches in the medieval times. But they were heretics. Anyone who believes in any form of the occult is a heretic according to the Scriptures. And that leads us to the heart of this post – mashed-up polytheism always leads to heresy.
Any quick reading of the New Testament or study of early Christian history shows that one of the main issues they dealt with was heresy. For instance: many of Paul’s writings were denouncing heretical acts or philosophies; many of the early writings outside the Bible were attempts to refute growing heresies like Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism – and the list goes on. All of the historic four councils prior to the fifth century were about the heresies growing around who was Jesus, what he actually did, and what his relationship is to God and to us.
So back to Anne’s question about how to deal with all of this. It’s a good question and one that should be front and center in today’s jungle (and you are correct Anne, it is a jungle- see our new book Doing Ministry in Hard Times). If the 21st century is more like the 1st century than the 20th century, and if heresy abounds today as it did then, we have just one recourse – to fight it with everything we have. We must not capitulate by watering down the gospel or holding back on what we believe because we are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. Watering down the faith in the hope of reaching someone for Christ only results in a weak faith and a weak convert. Instead we should become more firm in what we believe. We shouldn’t be swayed by the argument that culture has more to do with how you interpret the gospel than with the gospel itself. Timeless truth never changes.
We should also quit falling victim to the propaganda today that, because of the many centuries that have gone by we should reinterpret the Scriptures to fit our times – this is another form of heresy. The Scriptures don’t need defending or reinterpreting. That’s one of the reasons I have been in so much dialogue with the Emergents.
Folks, we are entering a time when, like the first century, it will require everything Christians have to withstand the onslaught that is about to come our way. Every day, slowly but surely, we lose a little more of our right to exist in the eyes of the Western world. If we believe the 21st century is more like the 1st century than the 20th century, then we also believe that persecution of Christianity will be on the rise the further we go into the 21st century.
If you need help processing what I just wrote, remember 9/11. And if that doesn’t do it read the Huffington Post article by Frank Schaeffer, a New York Times best-selling author, entitled: “Understanding Domestic Terror USA — It’s About the Twisted Theology Stupid!” This article literally names evangelical Christianity as the primary source of domestic terrorism in the United States and that calls on the Secret Service and the FBI to investigate and “infiltrate” pro-life and evangelical Christian groups. The statements that Schaeffer makes about evangelical Christians in that article are absolutely chilling. In fact, there are reminiscent of the types of statement the Nazis would make about groups they sought to demonize in the 1930s.
When you start seeing a respected, New York Times best-selling author make statements like these on one of the largest political websites on the Internet, then you know the rampant persecution of Christians is just around the corner. Basically, Schaeffer stopped just short of advocating rounding up all evangelical Christians and shipping them off to concentration camps.
No, folks. Now is the time to be more firm than ever in what we believe. This means we should have little to no tolerance for heresy in our congregations (Now that should hit a nerve). It means that some people need to find Jesus or quit playing church. They are doing more harm to Christianity than the nut balls who call Christians terrorists. In the first century they kicked these folks out of the church. Should we do less?
Question: What do you believe is the best response to heretics in the church? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.