With An Apology To Arius: When And How Should We Deal With Heresies And Heretics? -- By: H. Wayne House
JCA 1:1 (Summer 1997) p. 29
With An Apology To Arius:
When And How Should We Deal With Heresies And Heretics?
The old adage is that heresy is the position held by the group that loses. Such a perspective may seem to be a natural result when one side triumphs over another, but it does not take into account fundamental factors relating to the lexicographical and historical sense of the word “heresy.” Moreover, a biblical and creedal view of the nature of truth surely necessitates something more substantial in defining heresies and their promoters than the above popular and glib definition.
Charges of heresy are not new to the Christian church. In fact heresy as we shall see below, has helped the orthodox church to develop and clarify its theology and heretics, in the providence of God, are responsible for forcing the church to define its thinking. Heretics are not necessarily devious individuals who hope to unravel orthodoxy or revel in destroying truth and the faithful who hold it. Rather, they regularly believe themselves to be maintaining the faith against another false teaching (such as many Arians did against gnosticism or modalism), or bringing clarification to a Christian doctrine.
Not only are heresies and heretics important to the development of theology, those who oppose heresy perform an important function. Often such individuals are maligned by those they oppose and unappreciated by the orthodox, whose faith they defend. Athanasius contra mundum is not unusual in the battle for orthodoxy. Though the post-Nicean Athanasius found himself forsaken by the emperor and opposed by the eastern church, he was willing to stand alone against the world. Such is the case of Luther when he indicated that his conscience was chained to the Word of God and that he must stand against the powerful medieval Roman church.
Recognizing the importance of these combats and combatants in the church, one must then, however, decide when heresies should be challenged and by whom. As well one must determine to what extent those who either merely hold or teaching such heterodox views should be “marked out” by the orthodox church for special discipline and expulsion from the communion of the saints versus
* H. Wayne House is Professor of Theolgoy at Michigan Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan.
JCA 1:1 (Summer 1997) p. 30
those who teach false doctrine. Granting that the church should not tolerate false teaching in its midst, it is still incumbent to decide how one proceeds in distinguishing difference of opinion on theological points, sometimes very fine points, from truly heretical ideas, and what procedures should be instituted to deal with these ide...
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