The reoccuring question. Handling heresy

May 14, 2007

I preached in Witbank, DRC Panorama, yesterday, in the evening. It caused quite a lot of thinking, but I’ll maybe touch on that later. I was there with a group, of which my brother is the chairman. It’s a small group of students doing some performing arts stuff, dancing and making music. They needed someone to preach at a church service they helped this congregation with, so I got to go along. Witbank is just over an hour from Pretoria, so we started talking in the car on the way back. First about the service, a lot about the church, doing theology, and about the emerging church.
In the end most of the conversation was between myself and Annelie, she had a lot of great questions and critique on some of my ideas about stuff. I thought I should just touch upon one of them, since I think this is a very common question.
How do we handle heresy in a church trying to emphasise conversation – dialog over monologue. The problem some might see is that when we don’t have one official voice, and everybody can give their take on something, we will end up with “un-orthodox” ideas in our churches. What do we do in house churches, cell groups and other small groups, and round-table churches? Places where conversation about something is encouraged, and different points of view are respected?
Well, my first question, and sadly I could only ask this when we stopped at church, is how would a “traditional” or “institutional” way of handling heresy look? Do we really have examples of churches handling heresy effectively? I feel like most times when someone was accused of heresy, and then banned out of the church or something, or made silent, when looking back, sometimes hundreds of years later, we say that maybe the heretic had some good points. And if we don’t have really good examples of handling heresy, then maybe we need to be open to those experimenting with different ways of having this theological conversation in faith communities.
I tried running a search to get some other points of view on this, but the problem is that when using a word like “heresy”, most of what I get I find useless, and when using terms like “emerging church” together with “heresy” I find… well, those following the conversation might guess it, mostly people talking about the heresy of the emerging church, and those defending it from heresy. But what I did get which was quite useful was a post by Andrew Jones, you might want to read this. He reminded me of a very important thing. Heresy can happen very easily when one person get the right to speak unchallenged. When we give the pastor the right to preach what he want to, since he have “theological education”, and can preach the “absolute truth”. When we are all open to critique, to people differing, discussing, it might even be a place better equipped to handle “heresy” than the in the traditional way in a church structured around monologue.
I find the thoughts given by Tony Jones on Orthodoxy as event to be insightful to this conversation as well.

I know I have been using a lot of these (” “), but I think we need to discuss words like heresy, traditional, institutional, un-orthodox, and emerging church (this one I have spent some time on in the past), but I simply don’t have time to give thoughts on them now. So just be aware that there might be different understandings of these words.
Please feel free to share thoughts on this, or links with further discussion.

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