Heresy Isn’t All Bad

“The problem with the church today,” the man declared with the finality of absolute certainty, “is that we spend too much time discussing opinions. We need to follow what the Bible teaches and then we can agree on everything.” Filled with a growing sense of horror and feeling that familiar tightening of goosebumps, I took a moment to compose myself before giving my reply,

“The day we all agree on everything as a church is the day I leave because that is one of the warning signs of a cult. Even the Bible has four distinct Gospels.”

I am thankful for the presence of false teachers in the church because this presence is a sign that freedom still exists in our church. True love can only thrive when it breathes in an atmosphere of freedom. Truth can only be accepted by choice. Those who take it up on themselves to weed the church will do little but deface it as they form it in their own defective image.

I am also grateful for the presence of heresy in the church because the heated debates that it generates, forces all to think for themselves and carry out their own investigation. The ability, no, the impetus to think creatively and responsibly alter our environment is part of the image of God within us. We are never more Godly in character than when we seek understanding in order to affect our environment for the good of everybody in it. A system of religion that treats individual thought and understanding as inherently dangerous is antithetical to God’s purpose of making and remaking humanity in His image.

That is why I failed to maintain my attempt at nonchalance when a pastor addressing our youth group (at a church in Zimbabwe) told us to only accept teaching from South American and African theologians because the rest were apostate. After he nodded at my raised hand, I asked him if protecting an atmosphere of free thinking wouldn’t protect us from becoming a dangerous cult. His reply was affirmative but he added that discussion without conclusion isn’t progressive. I wondered to myself how meaningful discussion would be possible with his regional stereotypes while I noticed that since that discussion, he never looked at me without apprehensive suspicion marking his face.

Peter’s description of false teachers struck close to home because in my part of the world, cultural theology is ever in vogue. In most discussions, it becomes apparent that African traditional culture has worn a Christian garb and walked into the church. I don’t eschew all aspects of African traditional culture and find much to admire in it. However, African traditional culture has aspects that are antithetical to Christ’s mission. One of these, is the fatalistic, almost coercive subjugation to the will of authority.

The authorities are always right, especially when they are so wrong. This attitude latches onto Bible verses and twists them to suit it’s purposes. Resistance to change is bolstered with references to verses warning against causing the “weaker brethren” to stumble and of course, those instructing young people to respect their seniors. Parts of the Bible instructing parents not to provoke children and showing the progressive revelation of God’s will are stressed begrudgingly if at all.

Peter says false teachers can be identified by their slavery to sin evidenced by their proclivity to hedonistic behaviour. In my part of the world, cultural theology has shown its bankruptcy through unfettered sexual promiscuity in the clergy and laity alike, corruption at all levels of so called Christian societies and most disconcertingly, in a steadily growing apathy and hostility of young people to the church.

Extensive volumes could be written about the spiritual dysfunction created by the attempt to uncritically fuse incompatible aspects of African traditional culture and Christianity but the problem, and the solution lies in critically examining any teaching and asking,

1. How does this bring me closer to God?
2. How does this make me a better person?
3. How does this make me an objectively better person to live with?
4. How does this prepare me for the life to come?

photo credit: JeromeG111 Polygraph or Lie Detector via photopin (license)

God’s Whirlwind Romance

To be known and loved as you are is the essence of relationship. No relationship can last without the unrelenting pursuit of discovery, the desire to navigate the depths of a loved one and thus it is, that Adam and Eve were naked without shame. Theirs was an innocent love with transparency, not only between themselves, but between them and God. This was not to last, for the serpent’s whispers found a listening ear and with a bite of forbidden fruit, innocence was lost. No longer able to trust God to accept their no longer innocent selves, fig leaf aprons were no longer enough and so they hid. It was to show this, that God asked, “Where are you?” This question was not seeking the couple’s geographical location but was relational. It is a question born out of the Creator’s longing for His creation – it is the unchanging God detecting a change in the relationship.

In the book of Job, the tables are turned. God declares Job’s innocence, not in a forensic sense but a relational one. In a world of business transactions disguised as religion, Job stood out as a man in whose heart echoed the longing for open relationship with God. This longing percolated through the patriarchal culture that he lived in and expressed itself in the sacrifices he made on behalf of his children. Yet Satan brushed this piety off as mere payment for miracles rendered (an accusation more accurately aimed at Satan’s pagan religions). Thus, God allowed Satan to strip away all the goodies, confident that Job’s naked longing for communion with God would shine through all the more brighter.

It is an undeniable tragedy that Christianity has been reduced to a dispassionate assent to cold abstract doctrinal statements. In an attempt to counter the Enlightenment’s assertion that faith and reason could never reside in the same mind, Christians began to turn Christ’s life into a lifeless list of abstract logical arguments and many fell into the trap of believing that righteousness lies in assenting to abstract concepts. Independence from God is fatal (autonomy isn’t). It is the belief that one can ‘go it alone’ that is dangerous and it is all the more dangerous when it presents itself as intelligent independence of thought. To put it all in a nutshell, “think for yourself but don’t think by yourself.” Abstract theology is necessary but it is not all.

This is revealed in Job’s acceptance of God’s divine quiz. Job’s questions have troubled the faithful for generations. Trapped in the belief that God is an unrelenting dictator who cannot be questioned, it is difficult to understand how a blameless man can rail against God. At first, Satan said Job served God because he was on the receiving end of God’s blessings. This was evidently untrue. There is a danger that some would say Job served God because he would ‘understand it better, by and by’ but Job isn’t comforted by a revelation of the cause of his suffering and his inability to answer God’s questions shows that his trust in God is not dependent on his ability to understand reality. Job is comforted by God’s voice.

It wasn’t the loss of God’s goodies that troubled him as much as it was God’s silence. It was not knowledge of what caused his troubles that comforted him, it was God’s presence. Thus, God’s impossible quiz instead of intimidating Job, emboldened him to trust in the God who can tame the untameable leviathan. This was not to cut off Job’s and our curiosity but to remind him and us that at our very best, we are just sinners saved by grace. 

It isn’t wrong to stretch the mind and inquire but don’t take comfort in that. Take comfort in the knowledge that the same God who created all that gives us sustenance is working to save us all.




photo credit: Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer via photopin (license)