Such a lot of heretics, so little firewood. When we look at an individual case of heresy in the Christian Church we might be astounded at the temerity of an individual daring to question what so many take to be granted. On the other hand when we look at the last two thousand years history of heresy our astonishment might rather focus on how unkind the human species can be with so little serious cause.
Recently a local church leader, the self proclaimed Bishop Brian Tamaki, leader of the Destiny Church, came under criticism in the local media for heresy on the grounds that he did not share the main stream church belief of the bodily resurrection of Jesus at the first Easter. I admit I do not have a lot of confidence in Bishop Brian’s ability to make accurate judgements on matters of faith, but that is a purely personal opinion based on his 1993 prediction that within five years he saw the Destiny Church sweeping to landslide control of the government within five years. If they did, I missed it.
However as to the charge of heresy, I would be a little more cautious. When I think back to some accused of heresy in the past I find many examples of sectarian violence perpetrated in the name of Christ and even on occasion instances of genocide when whole communities and areas were put to death, in many cases for nothing more than being out of step with the current and now superseded beliefs of the day. No doubt at the time the church authorities were convinced they were doing the right thing, but looking back was Galileo really guilty of anything more than following the evidence of science (which again has been since superseded). The Catholic Church in Luther’s time certainly had much to fear from Luther’s so called heresy, yet in time even they discovered the need for reform with the Counter Reformation. The flat earth and Universe centred beliefs of Bible times have given way to a more realistic cosmology, the 6000 year history of the Earth has given way to the one time heretical notion of a history of 4.6 thousand million years and apart from the Flat Earth Society at Zion, Lake Michigan, no-one except a diminishing number of absolute fundamentalists appears any the worse for the advance in knowledge. At the very least, the number convicted of heresy through the years for what now seems silly judgement should give us some reason to hold back with the tinder box.
Starting with Jesus himself who definitely fell out with the Church of his day when he questioned what he clearly believed to be hypocrisy in leadership, and underlined what he meant by demonstrating an alternative leadership, since heresy often means questioning what everyone else takes to be important, the crucifixion might in hindsight have been inevitable. Paul, who started his involvement with Christianity by presiding over a stoning of a Christian martyr, accused in effect of being a heretic, appears a few years later to have suffered a similar fate himself in Rome. Ever since there have been numerous victims of the charge of heresy.
Glance through the following list and see how many you recognise.
The Roman Church started executing for heresy in 385 (with Priscillian) and the last executed by the Roman Catholic Church was Cayetanol Ripoll in 1826. The early Anglican Church, seeing Catholic Church priests as heretics, did its own culling. Some of the better known heretics through the centuries (by me anyway) were Peter of Bruys, Anne Askew, Peter Cole, Batholomew Legate, St Joan of Arc, The Cathars, the Waldesians, The Hugenots, Jan Hus, Hugh Latimer, Jerome of Prague, etc etc.
Looking back may I suggest the Church should be embarrassed at who it felt should be treated so badly. For example these days the Bible translators whose heinous crime was translating the Bible in the local language would probably be congratulated rather than consigned to the flames today and I am convinced that the Roman Catholic Church looks back to the Spanish Inquisition as a time left best to passing memory.
This should not be taken to mean that heretics were correct in their claims. Some of the predictions proved to be horribly astray and from a sociological point of view it is reasonable to assume that the proportion of the population suffering religious schitzophenia is probably much the same as it has always been. However as modern scholars are probably all aware, knowledge of everything is fragmentary at best which in practice means that most people’s beliefs are likely to show huge gaps in knowledge and this is bound to mean a good proportion of false belief. Knowing this, this should make us more hesitant to cast the first stone.
I know some would have us believe that all that is necessary to do is to believe in the Bible, but in practice so many parts of the Bible are ambiguous that even if this claim is justified, it does not always tell us how to respond. And for good measure I want to suggest my own piece of heresy.
There is a verse in the Bible which states, “Even the devils believe and tremble”. Might it be that the list of beliefs we subscribe to is not in the last analysis what ultimately counts. Rather might it not be the beliefs we choose to live by that counts.
Then the heresy would be if we failed to take on central injunctions of the sort Jesus advocated, like compassion and forgiveness, and showed by action that we refused to live them out in our lives.
So back to Bishop Brian Tamaki. If he is a heretic in this sense it would be obvious in the outworking of his life. Is he humble? Does he live for others or himself? Is he tolerant and compassionate – or intolerant of others beliefs and self-serving in his attitude to possessions. Surely these things are a better measure of heresy and or true belief in the sense of going against or supporting Jesus’ teaching. But there is a catch. Only those who themselves are in a position to cast the same spotlight on their own lives would be in a position to judge. I prefer to leave that to someone else.