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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Protestant Problem

There is no substance within Protestant circles alone of a claim against a particular teaching, or claim that a particular teaching is heresy. For the Protestant, "heresy" is, more often than not, a proclamation made by one individual against either a group's claim or against another individual's claim. Collectively, the church universal (catholic) is not involved, unless the claim of heresy is one that has already been confirmed by the catholic church (historically). Therefore, the issue is reduced to a mere individual's preference of one doctrine over and against another.

There is no weight in this type of action at all. It merely reduces Protestants to smaller factions and groups which ultimately reduces itself from these factions and groups to an individualized Christianity, which is (in my estimation anyway) not Christianity at all. Historically the catholic church has moved toward or against such issues and matters as a collective group and never reduced itself to individual personal opinion on such issues.

So where does that leave Protestants with regard to claims of heresy? The only genuine claims of heresy that could actually be made by Protestants are claims that have already been settle by the catholic church . . . collectively (thus the use of the term "universal"). Does anyone else there have any thoughts about this? I would certainly love to hear them.

6 Comments:

Blogger Aaron G said...

DG Hart's recent book Deconstructing Evangelicalism points out that the lack of a polity and the lack of a creed lead to the type of problems you mention.

1:13 AM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger attycortes said...

The claim thatgenuine heresy is only what the universal church has already settled as heresy leaves much to be desired, I think. First, when the universal church (or genuinely ecumenical council) first got to the task of determining what is heresy and what isn't it didn't have precedent to base its determination on, simply because there's a first time for everything. What therefore makes its determination authoritative, as distinguished from ours? Is it force of numbers, majority vote? We can have that as well, at least theoretically. Is it because they were there "first" and by virtue of simply being "first" had the right to lay down a universal definition of heresy? But this sounds quite arbitrary, doesn't it? Or is it because the Scriptures clearly pointed to the truth and therefore also pointed clearly to what is clearly against the truth? In which case, heresy is heresy not because the universal church says so but because Scriptures say so. Besides, the universal church during that time is not absolutely universal because at least as far as defining heresy is concerned it was bound to exclude heretics who, if not for the action of the majority, had a prima facie right to membership in the universal church. I find it unsatisying that a particular heresy cannot be considered genuinely as such simply because the catholic church (which means the majority who agree that such is such is heresy)has historically not ruled on the matter. It seems what has been done before can be done again if only the universal church basically agreed on the same things they did before (such as the authority of Scriptures). I think that if a particular definition can be proven as standing solidly on the same presuppositions on which the catholic church agreed on in the past then it has worthy claim to genuineness. The fact that we can't muster enough votes for that definition today doesn't mean it isn't intrinsically a genuine heresy. One more thing, what about those who don't feel bound to respect universally settled heresies as heresies today because of "changed culture" and "development of doctrinal understanding" and the like? I realy have more to say on this, but that's all for now.

2:39 AM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Aaron,
I was unaware of Hart's book, thanks for mentioning it, I have added it to my Amazon wish list for future purchase.

attycortes,
Welcome and thank you for your comments. You declare, "First, when the universal church (or genuinely ecumenical council) first got to the task of determining what is heresy and what isn't it didn't have precedent to base its determination on, simply because there's a first time for everything."

I guess I don't see the significance of this point. It seems to be a given that at some point doctrinal issues had to be agreed upon, so regardless of "the first time" precedence, the Church had to have some type of agreement regarding doctrinal issues, especially since during the early church period various views were floating around.

You ask, in response to your first point, "What therefore makes its determination authoritative, as distinguished from ours?" This question, I think, is getting at the heart of the issue. As Protestants we read the Bible (many hold that it is inerrant), however, it was these same catholic councils that are being called into question by Protestants that put together the canon. This same question can and should be asked regarding the canon of Scripture – what therefore makes its determination authoritative?

You state: “Or is it because the Scriptures clearly pointed to the truth and therefore also pointed clearly to what is clearly against the truth? In which case, heresy is heresy not because the universal church says so but because Scriptures say so.”

I think this is actually getting at an answer. Clearly, Scriptures were used by each of the councils to determine certain heresies against what was believed to be genuine Biblical teaching which the church could agree upon. The notion of a “majority vote” certainly could not have been the deciding factor since this was clearly not the case at Nicaea, where the majority was in favor of the Arian view of Christ. But the Scriptures did seem to play a vital role in the formulation of certain doctrines – but not to the degree, with certain doctrines such as the Trinity where the language by which all Christians agree upon universally as the doctrine is stated. Thus, the council played a larger role than the Scriptures in that instance.

I think the thing that seems most obvious is that within Protestant circles, there is no consensus regarding doctrines beyond the core creeds and councils which have formulated the primary doctrines of Christianity (from the early church). Now, as in the time of the Reformation, Protestants disagree upon an issue/doctrine and the end result is immediate division (smaller factions and groups). That, in and of itself, seems to reduce the whole issue to personal opinion, or denominational opinion, and this, to me anyway, seems very problematic. And yet I continue to be Protestant.

11:00 AM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Chris Petersen said...

...an unfortunate consequence of the Protestant Reformation...

2:27 PM, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Dean McConnell said...

Most new heresies are really old ones anyway - so in application your idea may not make a pratical difference.

As protestants, we believe in the word of God as authoritativce and sufficient for our guidence. We need to magisterium, no pope, no modern counsel. So often scripture shows they have been wrong anyway.

As for finding and fighting heresy, we have the bible, the pulpit, the printing press, and the internet. Evangelical Christians are, for the mosy part, no longer issolated from the views of those in other evangelical churches and denominations. We can easily discus matters and reach consesus without a central hierarchy. It is true that there will often be splinter groups. We cannot have an inquisition or an army to inforce our will - but we should not want one. Nor should we want to avoid splits based on real issues of heresy. THere is no sense disfellowsiping people because they dunk three times instead of once. But we ought to be willing to argue for the Trinity, the resurection, the attoinment, the authority of scripture, and other core issues.

The governmental division of protestants is not a weakness, but a strength. No errant group can fool all of the protestants all of the time.

2:05 PM, July 10, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Deah, Welcome to my blog. You declare, "So often scripture shows they have been wrong anyway."

Can you give me some examples?

5:49 PM, July 10, 2006  

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