Monday, February 11, 2013

About Heresy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

My daughter who is in graduate school wrote about the difference between humanism and modernism. When it comes to such words and definitions, conversations can be interesting, even stimulating.  But when such words shape lives, attitudes and eternal destinies, conversations can be pitiful and meaningless. Some grieve over the atheists in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and we all should. Although the atheists will not grieve for themselves we should grieve with fervent prayer for them and for the destructive force they bring to our denomination.

But atheism is not the only destructive force pushing its way into the PC (U.S.A.). I am not talking about immorality. Immorality has a solution: the cross, the blood of Christ, the resurrection. But what if there is teaching within the denomination, which still has to do with religion, yet at every turn it cancels out the work of Christ on the cross? And we keep calling it Christianity. We keep refusing to call it heresy.

It is true, atheism is growing even in the church, but there is still a creeping movement which resembles both the human potential movement as well as the new age movement pushing in the doors. One should point out that there are similarities between atheism and the other religious movements that are changing the way we think about God and ourselves. 

For instance atheism is materialism. Everything is explained by science—there is nothing supernatural. But on the other hand there is the idea that everything is one and that we are a part of that one or that we, our true selves, are the one. This has been called, by some, supernatural naturalism. Both of these belief systems remove a transcendent being that is both other and personal.

Both kinds of heresy inhabit the PC (U.S.A). For instance John Shuck writes about the after life, "that human consciousness is the result of natural selection. Human beings do not have immortal souls nor will consciousness survive death. Thus there is no afterlife. There is no heaven, no hell, and no need for salvation from one realm to another." And among other thoughts, he adds, “I give my heart to that reality.” That is a closed system and one that is held by Shuck with fervent faith.

And then there are the statements offered for a class on the Enneagram by teaching elder Jud Hendrix. He holds a rather esoteric Buddhist-like view of humanity. One of his statements is a quote from the book From Fixation to Freedom - The Enneagram of Liberation by Eli Jaxon-Bear:

True Self "If souls are like sparks flying out into the infinite night, then true Self is not only the sparks, but also the night, the universe, and the field that the universe arises in. (Pure awareness) The cosmic joke is that the soul is made of that which the soul is searching for: immortal consciousness." Enlightenment is to realize that who you are essentially is the same immortal consciousness. God, soul and unvierse (sic) are realized as One.[1]

This second view of reality is also a closed box. One never connects with anything transcendent and personal. The ending also holds no relationships, no community, since it is non-dualistic. One is as destructive to the Christian faith as the other. Both are void of the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ.

And one of the problems with heresy in the denomination is the way such thoughts spread and corrupt.  The extremely bold heresy taught by Hendrix, has a soft, pliable and useful counterpart when it is turned into a popular kind of pluralistic spirituality —we almost miss the point. For example Tara Spuhler McCabe in her article about marrying a same sex couple and being disciplined for it writes of discipline in faith:

Discipline in faith is, for me, the practice of navigating and relishing the mystery of it all. It is daily acknowledging that I am a part of others within the embrace of the Sacred. For me, faith has always been. Faith is not nothing and never just something. It is a cultivated awareness of how the intricacies of creation are connected to one another. Disciplined faith is not unlike the way I have taught kids to be with the ocean while at the beach: Always be in awe of its beauty and power. You get to be a part of this and enjoy it, but you are never more powerful than it. Know your place within the beauty and power of it all.

This is a statement about faith that has nothing to do with Christianity. It is the way heresy becomes diluted in the denomination while at the same time being strong enough to carry the weight of antinomianism. It is a weak panentheism which prevents the sinner from reaching the cross and finding forgiveness.

There are other heresies floating through our denomination—not differences of opinion on minor issues—but true heresies. Anything that cancels out a personal God, bypasses the Trinity, changes the identity of Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, declares that the cross is unnecessary, and belittles the word of God is heresy in full bloom. 

Most of the New Testament epistles are concerned with the heresies that arose in the first churches. And Paul in the first history of the church, Acts, declares to the Ephesians that some will appear like wolves ready to tear the church in pieces:

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock; and from your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)"

The essentials are important. Jesus the risen Lord, giving instructions through the apostle John, in the book of Revelation upholds the faithful. He promises the faithful in the church of Thyatira who have not held the false teachings promoted by the woman called Jezebel that he, among other things, will give them the morning star.

One of my first inklings of what Christianity was really about came through the preaching of a Free Methodist preacher. When I was eleven I visited the church with a friend. The pastor preached on Jesus as the morning star. He explained that sometimes when we are sick in the night it seems so dark and so lonely. And then we see the morning star shining brightly, and we know that night is almost over. I was often sick as a child and I experienced the pastor’s analogy.

The faithful in Thyatira were encouraged to hold fast to the faith and they were promised that they would carry no other burden, but the burden of standing faithful in the midst of the false teaching that other members kept promoting. And they were promised, besides a minor issue of ruling the nations, the morning star, hope fulfilled, Jesus Christ.

[1]Hendrix references this to a web site, online test but it does come from Jaxon-Bear’s book. 


Bruce Becker said...

The Greek word for "savage" is bareis which means "weighty." The heretics impress with their long words, poetic imagery and refusal to use puerile simplistic images like "father" and "savior." They appeal to our arrogance, our eagerness to be all "grown-up" and like God knowing good and evil and everything. For a gospel of inclusion, that philosophic blather seems to me to exclude a lot of children and mentally challenged adults.
"Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know that they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable." CHESTERTON, Orthodoxy, 124.

Viola Larson said...

A very good quote Bruce. And thank you for the information.