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03 January 2019

Feedback, and orthodoxy tests.

When heresy-hunters attack. Or email; it’s not all that dramatic.

Some of you know TXAB has an email link. Whenever I redesign the site, it gets moved around, but it doesn’t feel like placement has anything to do with how much mail I get. Besides, when people don’t know the email address, they tend to stick non-sequitur comments at the bottom of articles, and get ahold of me that way. Hey, whatever works. Just remember I do have a feedback policy around here.

Most of the TXAB emails are theology questions. People wanna know about God, and I’m all for that. People wanna know how God thinks about this or that subject, or what Jesus teaches, or how Christianity tends to lean. I point ’em to the scriptures, offer my studied opinion, and remind ’em I’m not infallible—but Jesus is.

People likewise wanna know about other people. Whether a Christian ministry, or famous preacher, or widespread teaching (or even little-known teaching) is orthodox and biblical, or not. ’Cause either they, or their friends and family, are dabbling in those teachings, and they wanna be sure nobody’s going astray. I don’t blame them. We’re trying to follow Jesus, and while many Christian teachings are useful (or at least harmless), many are self-serving, or can definitely be bent towards evil, and we don’t need any more falsehoods spreading through Christendom, and monkey-wrenching our relationships with God.

And every so often I get a question from someone who’s testing me.

There are a lot of dark Christians who have appointed themselves heresy hunters. Sometimes for understandable reasons: They got caught up in some cult, got out of it, and wanna make sure nobody else gets into it. Or they have an apologetics ministry, and naturally wanna make sure we’re defending orthodox Christianity from people who hold more heretic views. But too many heresy hunters are of the view they’re saved, not by God’s grace, but by believing all the right things—a form of works righteousness I call “faith righteousness.”

If you’re saved by your faith—by what you believe—it means holding false beliefs might get you unsaved. Certainly the devil would be interested in anything that might get Christians unsaved! So faith-righteous folks like to go on the offensive, shake the trees for anyone who might make ’em stumble out of heaven, and go heresy hunting. Yep, that’s why certain Fundamentalists you know are so paranoid and argumentative: They don’t trust God to save them. Only their vigilance.

Naturally they wanna make sure I won’t lead ’em astray. So they pitch me some questions, to which they already know “the right answer,” just to see whether I’ll give them the correct response. And if I don’t, they’ll furiously try to correct me… and if I don’t concede, condemn me as heretic and warn all their friends about me. Or they’ll skip correcting and go straight to condemning; it all depends on how they interpret Jesus’s procedure in Matthew 18—if they consider me a “brother” they’ll bother to correct me, and if they don’t they won’t.

Invariably I'm gonna disappoint these people. Because I might get their first question right, but you know I’m gonna fail one of their future tests.

See, when you’re into faith righteousness, there’s no such thing as an optional Christian belief. Freedom in Christ doesn’t exist. Freedom of conscience is never entrusted to the average Christian, because they’re entirely sure people will compromise righteousness for the sake of convenience. (To be fair, they’re largely not wrong!) They insist there are no shades of gray in Christianity; there’s black and white, right and wrong, godly and satanic, orthodox and heretic.

What about when Paul wrote one Christian can believe one way, another Christian another, and we shouldn’t condemn one another over it? Ro 14 Oh, they skip that part of the bible. Because they don’t trust people to apply that level of commonsense without abusing it, or creating loopholes which means the rules don’t apply to them. The kind of freedom of conscience Paul writes about, makes it impossible for legalistic Christians to condemn one another over every little thing… and they can’t abide that idea. So they find excuses why it doesn’t apply to this situation… or any.

Anyway. If I suspect I’m getting an orthodoxy test, I’ll admit it: I try to fail the first time. Even if my answer is likely the very one they’re looking for, I’ll try to throw in some comment which’ll flunk one of their future questions.

No, not because I’m trying to pick a fight. It’s because I wanna get this charade over with. I’m here to help, not to play “Spot the Heretic.”

Y’know they pulled this stunt on Jesus.

Not that I’m any way on the same level as Jesus. (Striving to be, but let’s be realistic.) But he wasn’t immune to people throwing orthodoxy-test questions at him.

Matthew 22.15-22 KWL
15 Then the Pharisees, enacting a plan they came up with to verbally ensnare Jesus,
16 sent Jesus their students with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know you’re genuine; you genuinely teach God’s way.
You don’t care about anyone’s approval; you don’t look at people’s faces.
17 So tell us what you think: Is it right to give census-taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 Jesus, knowing their trickery, said, “Why are you hypocrites testing me?
19 Show me the census-tax coin.” They brought him a denarius.
20 Jesus told them, “Who’s this icon and inscription of?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus told them, “So give Caesar’s things back to Caesar. And God’s things to God.”
22 Hearing this, they were astounded, left him, and went away.

Contrary to the way too many pastors preach it, Jesus’s clever answer did not satisfy both pro-Romans and anti-Romans. The only pro-Romans among the Judeans were Sadducees. The rest, the vast majority, considered the Romans a curse on Israel—one Messiah would free them from. So the only proper answer any of them expected Messiah to give would be anti-Caesar. (That’s why the Pharisees brought the Herodians along.) Jesus’s ruling was one they never, ever expected him to make. It’s as if Jesus stood up in the middle of the most right-wing church you could think of, and endorsed a Democrat.

But of course it’s the right answer. Jesus’s kingdom isn’t of this world, Jn 18.36 so political orthodoxy has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy. But you try telling partisan Christians that.

The Pharisees were right about one thing: Jesus didn’t care about anyone’s approval. Theirs included. He spoke the truth as best he could. As kindly as he could; let’s not read our own short tempers into the story, and remember Jesus’s character is best described with the Spirit’s fruit. When I monkey-wrench orthodoxy tests, I’m not rude about it. I simply tell the truth as best I can: Here’s what I think and why. Always allowing for the fact I might be wrong, I don’t know everything, and to be gracious to those who think otherwise. Including my interrogators.

It’ll irritate ’em anyway, because they seldom know the difference between grace and liberalism, and think I’m practicing one instead of the other. That’s the thing about faith-righteous people: When you don’t realize you’re saved by grace, you’re not gonna be all that familiar with the concept, and certainly don’t pay it forward. I get no points for believing most of what they do; everything falls over one wrong answer.

If that’s the sort of email you’re thinking about sending me, please don’t. Find someone else to bug.