Friday, August 17, 2007

Heresy in the Church

R. Albert Mohler has written a blog article on a recent division in the Australian Anglican Church. This is not about homosexuality or about where the church should head (per se); it is about whether one man can preach in a certain area.

The man at the center of the controversy is John Shelby Spong, himself a retired Bishop of the Newark, New Jersey Anglican Church. The problem arises because of Spong's long-held denial of many of the doctrines of the Christian tradition. Sydney's Archbishop, the Rt. Rev. Peter Jensen has banned Spong from preaching in any of the churches in his Diocese. Meanwhile, Archbishop of Brisbane (and Primate of Australia), Phillip Aspinall has invited Spong to preach twice at St. John's Cathedral in Brisbane.

The Rt. Rev. Jensen is being made an example by the world's media for inhospitality while defending his flocks from heresy. Dr. Mohler rightly states,
This controversy in Australia is indicative of the situation we now face in so much of Christianity worldwide. Archbishop Jensen defends the faith and protects his people and is treated as a divisive figure. Archbishop Aspinall invites a heretic into his pulpit, explains that this is 'not particularly extraordinary,' and is seen as a portrait of magnanimous ecclesiastical leadership. Bishop Spong gets to sell more books, and the public gets to see a spectacle.How profoundly sad . . . and how utterly predictable.
So how should the church handle heretics? Most Christians today believe that execution is an untenable, impractical, and reprehensible solution. Yet the heresy of Spong, amongst others, has caused the church, Christ's flock, much damage. It seems to me that we have lost some of the sense of what is at stake. If we understand heresy to be a denial of God's truth and the promulgation of a lie concerning doctrines that are required for salvation of a believer, we must admit that those who accept heresy are hell-bound. This should be a shocking truth. That many (maybe most?) of the church is likely complicit in various heresies should make us tremble with fear. But the gravity must not be lost. If John Shelby Spong were partly responsible for even one thousand eternal deaths, should there not be an outcry against him?

So, if we agree that we mustn't destroy heretics, how do we minimize their impact on the church? Peter Jensen may have an extraordinary idea. If we cannot prevent their books from being sold and press releases from reaching our parishioners ears, at least we can bar them from the churches under our control. Another good way of sapping their power is to very quickly write cogent rebuttals to their work. This seems to have proven rather effective in the Open Theism debates of the recent past. For all intensive purposes, it seems as though Open Theism has been contained within the Midwest. So the most effective offense seems to be a timely and wise defense. We must defend the truth or succumb to lies.

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