Monday 11 November 2013

Mere Christianity = Christian Heresy doesn't necessarily matter (so long as the heretics are real Christians)


To be a Mere Christian is to believe that heresy is not of fundamental importance - so long as someone is a real Christian.

This is just as well, because - if we are brutally honest - each of us regards almost everybody else, even in our own denominations, as a significant heretic.

Therefore, in order to do anything; we need to work with heretics.

All we need to do as a Mere Christian is extend the charity we accord to the heretics within our own denomination to embrace heretics more widely.


What is the worst you can say of a Christian heretic?...

Can you be a Christian heretic and yet saved? Yes.

Can you be a Christian heretic and yet spiritually advanced. Yes.

Heresy is therefore, at most, a matter of mere matter of pros and cons, of statistical probability, of potential implications or consequences...

Therefore not fundamental.


We can ask - are Christian heretics fundamentally wrong, or fundamentally right?

As Christians we should say that any other real Christian is fundamentally right - that is they are right about the mst fundamental things - whatever their heresy.

That 'fundamentally right' may be very minimal - may be just enough for salvation - but that is precisely what is meant by fundamentally right.


So, every real Christian is almost certainly surrounded by Christian heretics (from his perspective, that is) - and this situation is not going to change.

Christianity requires strong, exclusive denominations and not a mush of compromise, yet there is no realistic chance of all Christians converging into a single denomination... so what is to be done?

It is a question of attitudes - Negative? Or Positive?

In a world of mutual-heretics among real Christians, should we regard each other with suspicion and mistrust, or with whatever love and brotherliness we can muster?

Surely the latter - certainly the latter.



Bookslinger said...

But what if your definition (or boundaries) of "real Christian" are different than the other guy's?

Where do you put this boundary, and how do you go about getting those "heretics" in other denominations to all agree on it?

It seeems a recursive type of problem, as the same reasoning or differences in reasoning that is at the source of the heresies can also be the source for disagreement on the definition of real or mere christian.

It seems that it would have to come down to an issue by issue ad-hoc coalition. And then be constrained to issues that are only "outward facing" to all those who don't consider themselves to be Christian at all.

Christian in Hollyweird said...

Here's my dilemma. The Bible takes heresy very seriously. There are many denominations. Choosing one may lead to false doctrine or damnation. Not choosing one may lead to the same. Careful study often leads to more confusion and doubt on these matters. What's a mere Christian to do?

Bruce Charlton said...

@B - I think this is an example of a situation where you have to rely on your own discernment - because there is no obvious authority to turn to (and turning to an authority is itself an act of discernment - whether the authority be a person or Scripture - my plain man's understanding of scripture often contrasts very sharply with another plain man's).

@CiW - The first move probably has to be to establish for yourself what you think is necessary for salvation. This was what I concluded:

When I look at the history of supposed heresies - I am struck by how trivial the grounds seem - for example the Monophysite controversy seems to have been one huge mistake in the sense that both sides were right (as has been shown by the subsequent history of both sides) and the same applies to the Great Schism - although I lean to the Eastern Church, clearly there were and are serious Christians on both sides, and the whole thing was really a huge mistake. And the Reformation too - unnecessary - as was shown by the success of the Church of England (which was both Catholic and Protestant).

There were a few serious so called heresies - for example Arianism - but that was not really a Christian heresy but rather it was just not Christianity at all, same with Unitarianism and modern liberalism.

So my take is that the heresies were ultimately trivial (evidenced by the fact that even many generations later there were good Christians on both sides of the supposed heresy) - while the serious heresies were actually better thought of as apostasies.

Adam G. said...

T. Matt's trio works for me:

Did the resurrection actually happen as a real-world physical event?

Is Jesus the only path to salvation?

Is sex outside marriage a sin?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - That sounds on the right lines to me. But to who or what does T. Matt refer?

Nicholas Fulford said...

There are a lot less arguments when a person's good actions are what is speaking, and the witness of one's life is the visible fruit of that tree.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - Yes - although we must remember that all are sinners, and all churches too, so good actions are only relative (and may be more or less chosen: good actions that are compelled are not worth the same as when chosen). And so on.

But the general point is that if a heresy is evil then that will presumably become more obvious over time; and when that does not happen, then we may infer that the heresy was 'trivial' (or else a matter of swings and roundabouts).

Adam G. said...

T. Matt is a religion journalist who blogs at

One of his bugaboos is ignorant religious reporting that calls people 'fundamental' or 'liberal' without any idea what they mean by that. Those three questions are what he uses to establish a baseline in his own religious reporting.

Matthew C. said...

re: "physical resurrection", see 1 Corinthians 15:42-50

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body...

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

Also note that Jesus' resurrected body was not always visible to all the disciples, they did not always recognize Him when He appeared, it could appear inside a locked room suddenly, etc.

All this casts a lot of doubt on the notion that Jesus, or anyone else, is resurrected into a body of "dust", or atoms, but rather into a spiritual body not composed of "dust" at all. Also n.b. the appearances of Moses and Elijah to Jesus during the transfiguration, modern near death experience accounts, and plentiful other evidence that life after death involves leaving behind the limitations of a material body.

Arakawa said...

@Matthew C.

That seems like hairsplitting to me.

The resurrected Jesus could nevertheless interact with solid objects, eat, be poked at to ascertain His solidity, so His body is readily understood as physical for all the purposes that matter, with some additional capabilities.

Though just to muddy the waters further, note that Moses would have been on the Mount in spirit only, whereas Elijah would have been there in the pre-resurrection flesh (having walked with God many centuries prior, rather than dying), and the apostles did not remark on any obvious difference between the two.

jgress said...

In the book of Revelation, Christ pours his greatest scorn on those who are neither hot nor cold. You're better off choosing the wrong denomination and defending its teaching fiercely than you are being wishy-washy about the whole thing and arguing that it doesn't matter what doctrine you hold.

Of course, you're best off choosing the truth and defending that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - "and defending its teaching fiercely" it depends what you mean by fiercely - but otherwise yes, good point.