I woke up this morning intent on spending a peaceful day at our cabin with my dog. I was looking forward to having the time to reflect on all that has happened this past month and there is a lot to reflect upon. Unfortunately, I made the decision to post my comments for Rachel Held Evans “Rally to Restore Christian Unity” late Saturday night. It was obvious that a couple of the folks who commented on my post were looking for the “Keep Fear Alive!” rally. They opposed my opposition to calling people heretics who disagree with one’s theology. One gentleman asked the questions, “ Does this mean there is no such thing as a heretic? Is so, how would we know? Or how would we warn others about them?”
As I was making the hour long drive out to my cabin this morning, I was composing a response to the heretic seekers question. It was titled, “The Second Coming of the Pharisee’s”, and I admit it did nothing to promote Christian Unity. I was so lost in my debate with my invisible nemesis that I completely missed my turn. I make this trip at least once a month and can navigate it with my eyes closed but I was so distracted by the temptation to debate this person I have never met, that I got completely off course. I started to feel like something was wrong about five miles into going the wrong way, but it took almost 20 minutes before I was fully aware of just how far off course I was.
As I was doubling back, the Holy Spirit used my misdirection to remind me of something. I don’t have to prove my faith in Christ to anyone. I simply have to follow the one who called me and stay on course. God has called me to a much higher purpose than debating theology with a total stranger. While I love writing and enjoy the debates, they can become a distraction and can get us all totally off course. Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy came to mind, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.”
When I finally arrived at my cabin, I was struck by all the new growth since my last visit. The trees are in full bloom, the butterflies have emerged, even the mushrooms and fungus have taken on brilliant colors. For some reason this place always helps to ground me and to remind me of just how small I am. I don’t know whose theology is right and whose is wrong. All I know is that God called me to love people and to encourage others to love one another.
As I looked at all this new life, I thought of the new life I am seeing in our community. I thought of the Facebook post from Joe who wrote to me yesterday, “You always believed in me and now I can believe in myself.” I thought of Debra who shared on Thursday that for two years she sat on her porch and no one talked to her until we came into the community and now she makes a point of talking to her neighbors. I thought of the young man who thanked Janie on Tuesday for making him help out at the food pantry. New life comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. However, it all comes from the same creator’s hand, birthed out of love and it produces in kind.
To my friend who asked how to detect a heretic, I would suggest you look for signs of new life birthed out of love that are producing loving relationships. If someone’s ministry is producing people who are experiencing new life and who are learning to love like Jesus, then in my book that is more important than their doctrinal beliefs. Those with sound doctrinal beliefs who bear no fruit are like the fig tree that Jesus cursed.
There is a ministry in our city that literally goes up to people on the street and asks them if they were to die tonight do they know where they will spend eternity. I personally find this fear-based approach distasteful. However, I cannot deny that this particular ministry is producing people who love God and who are seeking to love their neighbors. I will never agree with their theology but I respect that God has called them to their particular way of doing ministry and I pray for their success.
I don’t think using one’s interpretation of scripture as the basis of determining their heretic status makes any sense. There is no one way of interpreting the Bible and we are foolish to pretend that there is. Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets…By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15, 16) The Apostle Paul taught us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “(Galatians 5:22-23) Thus the ultimate Heretic Detection system is the fruit.
I have read criticisms of Bell that were based on his treatment of historical facts, his lack of support for his conclusions, and his biblical interpretation but I have yet to read any critique of him that focuses on his fruit. From what I can see he appears to be producing Christ followers who appear to love the Lord and who appear to want to love their neighbors. From what I can see he is doing this to a greater degree than his critics.
So, there you have it – the Jesus method of detecting heretics. Can we now proceed with our quest to restore Christian Unity or at least civility?