*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 10th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It’s Monday, so let’s head to the mailbag. I got a spicy question from Pete in Joplin, MO- here he is in edited form:
“Maybe I’m on Twitter too much, but I’m having a hard time understanding the difference between a heretic and a Christian whom I disagree with. When is it gatekeeping, and when is it important to protect true doctrine.”
I will take your question through the lens of my special training and experience in church history and reflect as a fellow Christian….
A heresy is a belief, consciously chosen and adhered to, in opposition to orthodoxy. And it is such a belief that to hold it would constitute what Paul calls in Galatians “another Gospel.”
We use this particular word because Irenaeus did around 200 with his book: Against Heretics. Irenaeus- the church father- was well aware of a boatload of beliefs he disagreed with. But there were two he picked out: Gnosticism and Marcionism.
Gnosticism can be a catch-all for several beliefs that diminish the physical in favor of the spiritual- but what Irenaeus pays special attention to is that kind of “spiritual” knowledge that only a few can receive. It is beyond the commonplace and everyday teachings of the church. It’s the Club 33 of Christianity. It is not the faith of a child. It is not for the world. Irenaeus believed it to be another Gospel.
Marcionism is- at its core- the belief that the God of the Old Testament is not the Father of Jesus, the Messiah.
Across the church, theologians have tried to tease out the distinction between heresy and theological error for centuries. There are several conventions for doing this throughout Church history. The Catholic Church has made a distinction with “opinions approaching heresy” as well as situations in which the belief you hold would logically contradict a central doctrine, but you aren’t making that connection. In this case, you would be seen as being “in error.”
Heresy is a set of beliefs that you know contradict the orthodoxy of the central ideas of a particular community. You are a heretic if you willingly hold these positions in defiance of that community’s orthodoxy.
I wrote that sentence out and think I stand by it. The problem, of course, is what is the “orthodox" and “central beliefs” of a community. This is one of the reasons the church has always worked through creeds and statements of belief. None are perfect, but we hold on to them as ways of organizing and communicating in the community.
Once again, I will always say when I answer questions about what is or isn’t central…. I’m interested in individual Christians more than institutions and denominations (although historically, I think the actions of groups are significant).
Let me wrap up by going back to Irenaeus and his contention that Gnosticism and Marcionism are the root heresies.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks, “whom do you say that I am.” This is the central question of Christianity. Peter answers: you are the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus responds: “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father in heaven.”
The Marcionites denied that Jesus was the son of the Living God (understood as Yahweh). The Gnostics denied that true saving faith was a gift, revealed to us and all, not by clever arguments or unique insight only available to a few.
Thanks, Pete- as always, you can shoot me questions at my email (email@example.com) or through that silly bird app.
The last word for today comes from Matthew 16- let’s read the whole section:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Marcion/Martians include the arch-heretic, Stormie O, and Marvin the; he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who went to Club 33 once for a prom. It was ok. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.