Friday, June 26, 2009

The faith once given -- and my favorite heresies

Those who have known me for awhile will already know that I consider the New Testament record an essentially reliable record of the early Christian community, its thoughts and its memories of Christ. It is for that reason that I form my thoughts about "true Christianity" -- orthodoxy v. heresy -- in terms of the apostolic church's teaching as "the faith once given". And it is for that reason, oddly enough, that I find myself sometimes at odds with official orthodoxy according to some.

These days "orthodoxy" has a lot of different varieties, and what counts as "heresy" depends on where you stand. What is orthodoxy to me (that baptism saves you by the resurrection of Christ) is heresy on some neighboring blogs, and other examples are so easy to come by that there's no need to bother.

Here I just wanted to name some of the "heresies" with which I find myself in sympathy, precisely because I think they may have very well been in-bounds rather than out -- or in some cases, not even a question on the table -- in the apostolic church.
  • Annihilation of the condemned - I am not convinced that the annihilation of the condemned is true; it's just that I am not convinced that the faith once given included eternity in hell for the damned. I am aware of a passage which makes it sound as if hell is eternal; I am also aware of several more where the plainest reading is the annihilation of the lost. On the basis of such passages, I think that annihilation should be "in-bounds" as far as beliefs go, and not considered heretical.
  • Single procession - the earlier versions of the Nicene Creed confessed that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father" which is a quote from Christ. The phrase "and the Son" was a late addition to the Creed, and one that has never been universally recognized the way the original creed was recognized. For this reason, I think that belief in single procession should be in-bounds, rather than heretical, and reciting the Creed without the "filioque" ("and the Son") clause should be an acceptable variation.
  • Faith as trust - Jesus once compared the kingdom of heaven to a man who had two sons and sent them out to work. One said "Yes sir" but ditched when it came time to work. The other said "Take a hike" but actually did what he was asked. I have to ask myself whether this applies to the nominal atheist -- the one who keeps it in his pocket that "If God really is good, he'll have some compassion on us and judge us with decency and mercy." and lives his life according to this faith. I think that an atheist who can say that has a better confession of faith than a Christian who confesses all the points of an intellectual creed but proclaims "God is a hard man, who reaps what he did not sow," who preaches the injustice of God rather than his goodness.
  • The three hypostases and the one essence or substance - The language in which we describe the Trinity is mainly foreign to the apostolic church. I am fully on board with the fact that the early, apostolic church -- and Christ himself -- and the Old Testament, while we're on the subject -- all speak as if God, and His Word, and His Spirit are all inseparably bound up in what it means to be God in relation to this created world. That is not quite the same as thinking that the philosophical explanations hammered out in the 200's, 300's and 400's (and later) actually do justice to what it means to know God in relation to this world. I think those philosophical explanations should be in-bounds, no doubt, but not to the extent that they limit the discussion, or are seen as the ultimate word on the subject, or preclude exploring fuller explanations of the essential mystery of God.
In all these cases, it is "the faith once given" that makes me consider these "heresies" to be in-bounds. Orthodoxy, rightly done, keeps the faith once given from being distorted. But every once in awhile, the idea of orthodoxy is abused and actually distorts the faith once given.

I'm curious, does anyone else have favorite "heresies"? And if so, why?


ahswan said...

I have to say that I can't disagree with you. I've often found myself thinking that the early church may have been much more inclusive of various theories on many theological points that we now would consider watershed issues. The statements of faith found in the New Testament are quite simple.

jacob said...

I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions, one which has embraced the real Christ of the gospel, the Law and the prophets.

If this doesn't interest you, I apologize in advance.

If you are interested let me tell you that we are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:

I am not that I am trying to sell you something. We are not 'some kind of cult' (like Jews could ever take orders from anyone!). We're just a tradition which has lasted for centuries.

If your interested, your interested. If your not, your not. No big deal.

If you can't afford the book you can see the website of one of our living teachers -

I just wanted to let you and the scholarly world that there have always been more than one type of Judaism in the world at any one time. Some forms of the faith had to learn to hide their beliefs in order to survive and perpetuate themselves.

Shalom, God Bless
Everything is perfect with God

Beth El Jacob Frank

Howard said...

Whilst I understand that some have reached a conviction about this through their inter-action with scripture, I find the concept of total non-existence far more terrifying than the understanding of hell as a place of eternal detachment from God (the ultimate realm of being given over to our own fallen estate). The scriptures speak of a 'destruction' of body and soul following judgment, but this appears to be an eternal denuding of our proper status - made to bear the divine image, which is indeed a realm of darkness, anguish and true disfigurement.
It would be valuable, perhaps, to consider the redemptive work of God in relation to that domain.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

Ahswan - that's exactly what I'm saying. My "favorite heresies" are mainly things that I suspect would have been in-bounds in the apostolic church.

Jacob - I can't tell if you're a commenter or if I somehow kicked out on some feed you subscribe to. I've actually been curious what kind of continuity there has been in the Jewish Messianic movement over the years. I know in the early centuries of the church, the Jewish contingent was both sizeable and respected.

Howard - I knew I was likely opening a can of worms mentioning annihilation. People get so passionate pro and con. I'll be curious to see how it goes. What you say isn't strictly impossible, but I'm curious whether you feel any certainty about it as if it's on the level of revelation?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Howard said...

Preaching about the reality of hell was very fervent in my early Christian experience, but my thinking these days is far more influenced by the possibilities of Ireneaus' recapitulation of creation theology. Christ's teaching in passages such as John 3 clearly shows the aim is to save from the horror of 'perishing' - to free us to become truly human; that must be key to the entire issue of the life which is to come. In Christ's work of salvation, it is natural human life that finally emerges as victorious - that certainly seems to be part of the mystery of the work of redemption.

Weekend Fisher said...

I hadn't noticed the tie-in between the "perishing" (John 3) and the question of annihilation. Now that you mention it, it does seem like a plain enough thing that we shouldn't miss ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF