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:: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 ::

We had a very difficult discussion in class tonight over the definition of the terms "heresy" and "heretic." It's not a pleasant term; most people avoid using it these days (even in theological discussion) because it has such a sordid history.

It seems that we have a few things going on at once. First, we find that we need a definition or a threshold between "Christian" and "non-Christian." I don't think that too many people would deny that there is a point of distinction - a horizon - that defines the inclusion of certain people, tradtions, beliefs, and practices and the exclusion of others from the term "Christian".

Second, not too many of us, (at least in our class) were all that comfortable with our own default positions on defining the content of what could be termed heresy. We all realized that, to one extent or another, we defined "heresy" within ourselves. Most people in our class were uncomfortable with the idea that they individually determined who was heretical and who was not. But no one wanted to really give it up for some authority truly external to themself, with the exception of God's authority: which is, of course, almost invariably carried out through human beings (as far as we know).

Third, there was general consensus that differences of opinion on certain subjects and to certain extents was not heresy. We found certain views to be disagreeable and unfortunate from our point of view, but not heretical. Other ideas and practices are, however.

Fourth, we found ourselves in a catch-22 if we wanted to make the community the arbiter of deliberations on heresy. We are all protestants of some type, whose forbearers were all at one time expelled or separated from one church structure or another. Furthermore, if it were majority rule, even (especially?) Jesus would be a heretic, as judged by his community.

So we ended up putting ourselves over a barrel. We want to retain the individual right to determine the boundaries of the Christian faith. At the same time, our definition of what is truly Christian is based off of the faith and practice of communities that have held to some vaguely-defined boundary that is challenged from time to time.

Where should we go from here?

:: Matt 3/11/2003 11:54:00 PM :: permalink :: ::
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