Who Decides?

Over the past few weeks, coinciding with the release of Rob Bell’s latest book, I’ve seen an explosion of people talking about heresy, orthodoxy,  heterodoxy, apostasy and false teaching (see heterodoxy).  It’s getting a little ridiculous and, lately, I’ve been wondering who decides what’s in and what’s out, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s false.  And, that brought up another question: Who decides what orthodox?  I mean, seriously, who gets to decide this stuff?

The word orthodox has been around for a long time.  It comes from two Greek words; orthos, meaning right, straight or true and doxa which means belief or opinion.  In the Christian context, then, orthodox means “right belief” (or opinion, but if you were to use that word with some folks, cruxifiction might seem preferable to the result).  Coming up with the “right” belief has a bit of a problem for the church.  As in it’s caused tons of controversy and at least 2 splits in the history of our faith: the Reformation and The Great Schism.  The Great Schism gave us the Eastern Orthodox Church (a group so concernedwith orthodoxy that they put it in their name) and the result of the Reformation was Protestant Christianity.  And, in both cases, the very same words we’re hearing bandied about today, orthodox, heterodox, apostasy and heretic, were in heavy usage.  In fact, over the years, people positing the things we believe today about salvation, the nature of God, the Godhood of Jesus and others were called heretics; some were even burned at the stake for saying such things.  Kinda funny to hear a follower of Martin Luther call someone else a heretic for going against the establishment.

To a great many people, I depart from orthodoxy and, possibly even descend into heresy because I reject traditional views of heaven and hell, salvation, sexuality and what it generally means to be a Christian.  But, my original question stands: who gets to decide what’s orthodox?  Who made the people who fling the charge of heresy at people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others (even lil’ ole me) in the emergent conversation the arbiters of orthodoxy?  Is it because they represent the established church doctrine?  That can’t be it, because many of them don’t represent the big “C” church; they’re fundamentalists of a Calvinist bent and Calvinism is hardly universal doctrine outside of reformed circles.  Is it because they’re saying what we all believe?  Not hardly, nobody seems to be able to agree on anything outside the fact that there is a God.  Other than that, it looks like it’s all up for grabs.  Is it because they’re the squeaky wheel that gets the grease?  Quite possibly, they do tend to be rather vocal.  In his post yesterday about Rob Bell, Matt Turner related that, once, he was in this camp.  I think the following excerpt speaks volumes about the mindset of such folks:

Any time I heard somebody talk about God in ways that rubbed against my theology, I looked for critique. Any time somebody’s answer failed to line up with my correct answers, I cried “heresy” or “fraud” or “dangerous” and once “false teacher!!”

Why?

There were lots of reasons. But two reasons stand out: 1) Because I thought I was right and those who didn’t agree with me were wrong. I had to be right. Anybody who disagreed with me had to be wrong. Not just wrong. But wrong in a dangerous “lead people astray” sort of way.

And 2) because I was fear-filled… not faith-filled. Oh I thought I was full of faith. I thought I was walking the narrow road. But mostly I was overwhelmed with fear, a fear that sometimes pushed me to go to crazy lengths to “prove” my point of view correct, biblical, and in agreement with God’s thoughts on things.

Yesterday, Aaron Reddin(@HomelessHeretic) tweeted, “It’s not really apostasy if what you are abandoning isn’t really that which it claims to be.”  To which I asked “I just want to know who decides what’s apostasy or orthodox or any of those other words regular people never use.”  Aaron’s response is the perfect answer to my question: “I thought me and you are supposed to, no??”

  • http://theologyforreallife.com Michael Raburn

    There are some Christians who think like this, the Mennonites, Quakers, Amish, Moravians – mostly groups that get labelled under the “radical Reformation,” which identifies the groups that got rejected (and often murdered) by both the Catholics and Protestants in 16th-17th century Europe. Many of them fled to the New World (pilgrims you know) to escape the genocidal tendencies of their Christian brothers.
    The Pentecostals started out like this as well, but as they became successful they turned out to be as sanctimonious as anyone.