Saturday, December 1, 2012

Damned to Hell? A Hellacious Accusation.

Franz Franken, The Damned Being Cast Into Hell, c. 1605, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Some might say that if a man has no enemies, he has not taken a stand.  But what if the enmity comes from within one's own church?  For more, click here ...

Lately, I've noticed a tendency for those who take a particular stand on one issue or another within the Christian church to accuse those with whom they disagree with the sin of heresy.  For example, there are those who say that anyone who is not opposed to abortion under all (or limited) circumstances cannot be a Christian and therefore is a heretic.  Under this view, anyone who is "pro-choice" is going to be damned to hell.  

This is but one example.  The modern church has many hot button, inflammatory issues:  economic justice,  ordination of homosexuals, the role of church in society, the list could go on.  But to turn this list back on those who profess it, I ask, "what if the worst sin of all, is to accuse another Christian of heresy?  What if the worse sin is to create God in our own image and so worship a golden calf, based on our view of what is right or wrong?"  For, as Ann Lamott says, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."  

Consider the following quote:  

"[The true spiritual disciple] shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it, — men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.  For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism."

Guess when it was written?  2012?  No!  This quote is taken from Book IV, chapter 33 of  Adversus Haereses, written by Irenaeus in approximately 130 A.D., responding to the issue that challenged the church of that time, gnosticism. 

Schism.  Is it really that bad?  Well, yes, it is.  

It wasn’t until I began working as a professional mediator and became more deeply rooted in the theory and practice of nonviolence that I came to see the willing rejection of forgiveness and reconciliation as the grievous sin that it is, arising so often out of the view that “me” and “my” are more important than an “other” or a “relationship”. When I came to realize that the entire Reformation arose from an unwillingness to reconcile -- on the part of both “sides”, I am not trying to place blame solely at the feet of Protestants for breaking away --  then it became so much less surprising to me that the protestant “family story” of leaving rather than pursuit of the path of peace has been followed to this day down into a factionalized and fractionalized church.  

When Christians experience schism as the result of profound differences in belief and practice, the "sin" is not the considered moral viewpoint of a disagreeing Christian.  Rather,  the "sin" is rather is one of judgmentalism, idolatry, and of elevating one's own cultural viewpoint  into the status of a golden calf.   

On the other hand, there does need to be a middle path.   When do we lay in front of a tank and let it run us over?  Where do we take a stand, to proclaim what is and what is not in alignment with our belief or practice?  

I think it can be healthier at times merely to part ways. But that does not make it right to demonize those with whom we disagree.  Just as a hand and a foot need not carry out the same function in the body, we can each find our own role and place.  Evangelicals, rather than claiming that everyone else is going to hell, need to tone it down.  And if evangelicals are seen as individualist to a fault, non-evangelicals must  likewise resist the urge to become communitarian and works-reliant to a fault.  

Finally, just as intolerance is the one thing that must not be tolerated in a free society that wants to remain free, so also must non-evangelicals take a stand against diatribes and extremist language of the evangelicals.  We must stop tolerating intolerance in the church.  By creating schism, those who advocate extremist claims about other Believers are a real source of harm to the church, much more so than any particular response or position on any particular practical or theological issue that they could choose.  

Isn't it ironic, that those who profess to be saving the church are the very ones who are destroying it?  


  1. I think that pointing out heresy of other has been a regular part of the Abrahamic faith traditions. There are the concepts of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. They are defined by what is not contained within them. When you disconnect individual choice and conscience from some sort of central defining authority you get fragmentation. If you choose an authority, the question becomes who defines orthodoxy. Schism existed in small bits until 1052 (?) with the east west Filioque split and picked up with the Reformation and continues to today when individuals can choose their version of Christ. What is interesting is the banality of the human/political reasons for schism.

  2. Excellent post, although in joining you in the sentiment, it puts us in the irony of having to judge those who judge. In John 17 Jesus passionately prays that those who follow him be "one" and that it is by being ONE that the whole world will be attracted to the Way. Sadly, with Protestant Churchianity being fractured into 30,000+ pieces it is losing relevance, particularly in the younger generation.


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