This last week Rachel Held Evans hosted the “Rally to Restore Unity” blog-fest on her blog. I encourage you take a look – it is refreshing to see the dialogue between Christians that think differently.
The last post she hosted/referenced was this one by Greg Boyd. In it Boyd makes a compelling argument that the command to love trumps all other commandments in the New Testament (Note he is not suggesting the command to love removes or replaces any of the other commands; it is paramount to them). Looking at the argument in reverse, any command that is followed without love is not being followed at all.
Greg makes a very bold statement in the midst of his writing: “We can have all the right doctrine in the world, but if we fail to love as Christ loved us, we are all “heretics.”
Following this blog post a small debate ensued. Though I believe much of the debate was based off of misunderstanding (ie that love alone is following Christ even if it ignores truth), that ugly word was thrown around and around: heresy.
Ah…that takes me back to my college experience…
After two years of leading coed Bible Studies for freshman students, I felt God calling me to take on the pastoral role of care-taking a group of small group leaders. They honestly were my pride and joy. Every week I enjoyed catching up on their lives, giving them resources, and praying for them. You get the picture, right? Pastoral, loving, friendly, challenging, and an experience that was drawing each of us towards Christ.
Midway through the year a deep schism began in our fellowship. Some of the people who were Bible Study leaders were asking if they could resign their positions – they no longer thought that it was acceptable for women to lead Bible Studies over men. They became aware of this new position via a man who was discipling them at a local church. I was torn – here were these leaders that I loved who each had small groups of their own, and they wanted to leave. Out of my love and concern for the freshmen, I asked the leaders to wait out the end of the quarter, and then leave our fellowship if they chose to. It wouldn’t be fair to stop that from happening.
Did I mention that the church I attended was the very same one this teaching was coming out of? And that half of my friends/teachers/pastors/mentors attended that church?
So the division didn’t stop at those small group leaders leaving. It went much further. Soon everyone was asking the question – what does the Bible have to say about the role of women in the church. I had only recently studied the “passages under question,” and after talking to people on both sides decided that, for me, it was not a foundational issue… or at least not enough to stop the growing ministry I was a part of.
After a few months our fellowship brought in a guest speaker to host a discussion. That is when the fangs came out. He was a very kind and loving pastor from a church outside of town who hosted the talk on campus. It was open for all to attend, and he would present both sides as well as his own opinion.
The event turned ugly fast… a small contingent of people in the room started hurtling accusations as he spoke. And I heard it: “HERESY!” My heart cracked at that very moment.
But it got worse for me. During a leadership meeting the guy that headed up our college fellowship called the guy discipling people at my church “evil,” and then used other colorful language to describe what was happening. I was truly torn: both of these sets of people had shown me Christ, had taught me right doctrine, had prayed with me and for me. Both of these sets of people claimed that they wanted to know Christ and to make Him known. But they disagreed to the point that I could be heretical depending on the side I chose.
One day I was with a couple of friends discussing a campus-wide gathering to unify the Christians. I broke down. My feeble faith couldn’t take the division. One of them verbally slapped me – “Derek, get a hold of yourself. The important question is which of them has shown the love of Christ.”
And I thought and prayed a lot. I realized that one side was trying to love and care for people by listening more than talking, giving freedom to choose instead of applying rules, and walking alongside the confused (like me) by presenting both sides instead of just one. I realized that the only doctrine that would take me away from Christ was that of division, of selfishness, and of pride. And so I was set free.
So, like Greg, I ask – what do you consider to be heresy? Perhaps we liberally use the word on issues that are not as important as the issue of loving God and loving others. And the consequences of creating division or rejecting those we disagree with are far worse than say, allowing a woman to teach in the church.