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May 24, 2014

Things have gotten just so much easier these days.  It used to be that there was a process before the church could excommunicate someone.  In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus said:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

But no longer do we need to do that cumbersome three-step process.  Twitter has made it all so simple.  All you need to do is send an “excommunitweet.”  Of late any number of gatekeepers in evangelicalism have put out tweets neatly kicking someone else out of the evangelical house.  You don’t need to speak to the person at all, just type a general purpose tweet and you are done.

Just recently Owen Strachan of The Gospel Coalition excommunitweeted Rachel Held Evans by calling a two-year-old post of hers, in which she used “She” in talking about God, a heresy.  And just like that, out she went.  There was no need for tiresome interviews or asking for explanations; in 140 characters or less the matter was settled.

Well, at least it was according to Strachan and others like him.  They are part of a rising group of self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the faith who see their calling as sort of a reverse evangelism; the kicking out of the church people they don’t think should be in.  World Vision was similarly excommunitweeted.  I could write a long list of similar stories.

Strictly speaking, heresy only pertains to the issues settled in the seven ecumenical councils that took place between 325 and 787.  These councils are accepted by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches.  A lot of the issues that we evangelicals feely use the word heresy about are not mentioned at all in those councils.  Same sex marriage comes to mind, as does the role of women in the church, or the age of the earth.  Even such things as how the atonement actually works are not explicitly mentioned in the councils.

But Strachan and company don’t mind expanding the definition of heresy.  In fact, if I was to guess their definition it would be nearer to something like “anything that isn’t exactly and only what we believe.”  I suppose that guarding the gates of faith is a good thing – to a point.  But let’s be careful.  Here are some giants of faith who probably didn’t rise to the level Strachan demands.

–          C.S. Lewis, who believed that the atonement did not come through our sins being diverted to Christ but rather that Christ defeated evil through an act of selfless love on the cross.

–          Martin Luther, who didn’t quite live up to current standards of inerrancy.  He doubted the Epistle of James and mentioned other places in the Bible he doubted.

–          St. Augustine, who didn’t read the creation story literally as we define literally now and said those that did were “speaking idiotically.”

–          Billy Graham, who was way more inclusive than modern evangelicals.  Here are his exact words:  “I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. . . . [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.”

Do we really want to kick these people out?

I am not saved by memorizing a set of theological statements.  I am saved by trusting in Jesus who has revealed himself through Scripture. Trusting in him, as far as he has told us about himself, is what saves me, while straying from him is what would condemn me.  I am really not willing to go beyond the answer Paul gave the Philippian jailer when he said “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

I have no doubt that, in the mind of God, there is a perfect orthodoxy.  But we sinful and fallible humans will never be able to perfectly agree on what that orthodoxy is.  The pursuit of theological truth is a grand quest and should always be undertaken with humility.  And, oh yes, we probably should stop with the excomminitweets.


From → Christianity

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