On the Word “Heresy”

Part of the problem has been that in using the word ‘heresy’ (which I didn’t but do now) we have been talking past each other.

A couple of implications follow, given my role as a Presbyterian minister of the gospel. I have the responsibility to make sure that my parishioners are aware of the problematic nature of this teaching, since these views are widely published. I also have the responsibility to make sure that men who hold these views are not ordained within my denomination. Thus, to address the viability of this teaching over against the creeds and confessions of the Reformed churches is not to meddle in someone else’s business but to address issues of practical pastoral import.

 
Since my first posts on the reinvention of Trinitarian theology in the church I have had the opportunity to have personal discussion with two of the main players in the debate, Drs. Ware and Grudem. Both conversations were pleasant and helpful in clarifying our different positions. Dr. Grudem particularly agreed that public debate over publicly expressed positions was entirely acceptable. Publicly expressed error must be addressed publicly. Where they expressed concern was in my suggestion of heterodoxy. For me the primary consideration in this debate has been the honor and glory of God; it was that which drove me to write as I did. On the other hand I would also want to be sensitive to my duty to brothers in Christ not to dishonor them unjustly in any way. Knowing the institutions in which my brothers work they have not infringed any doctrinal commitments they have undertaken. I don’t want to be seen to be saying what I am not saying about Drs. Ware and Grudem and I can’t speak for their respective ecclesiastical settings, but again, the honor of God is at stake.

Part of the problem has been that in using the word ‘heresy’ (which I didn’t but do now) we have been talking past each other. Heresy is not a word to be used carelessly and hurled indiscriminately at anyone who dares to disagree with us. In confessional bodies, such as Episcopal, Reformed, Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist churches, heresy is a formal charge of preaching or teaching error. In such churches, confessional subscription carries more weight than in broadly evangelical churches or general Baptist churches. To teach something that strikes at the heart of the creeds and confessions of the church makes one, at least formally speaking, guilty of teaching heresy. It doesn’t declare one an unbeliever, nor does it immediately disqualify one from teaching. Church courts exist to adjudicate in such matters. Teachers in the church are justly held to a higher standard of orthodoxy (especially Trinitarian orthodoxy) because of the trust placed in them and their impact of the laypersons that read or hear their views expressed.

While I cannot speak for whether or not Ware or Grudem’s views place them outside of the pale of their ecclesiastical confessions, I do believe their teaching contradicts the Nicene Creed as well as the major Reformed confessions. A couple of implications follow, given my role as a Presbyterian minister of the gospel. I have the responsibility to make sure that my parishioners are aware of the problematic nature of this teaching, since these views are widely published. I also have the responsibility to make sure that men who hold these views are not ordained within my denomination. Thus, to address the viability of this teaching over against the creeds and confessions of the Reformed churches is not to meddle in someone else’s business but to address issues of practical pastoral import.

Another issue in our debate where we are talking past each other relates to Biblicism. There is a recognizable shift in some quarters of the evangelical world to an atomized reading of Scripture cut off from the church’s tradition of exegesis and biblical interpretation. The Creeds are dismissed without due regard to the very thorough exegetical work done by the fathers and reformers. This movement is found in general evangelicalism and in movements emanating from Sydney and London. Treating the bible as if it landed on my doorstep this morning, instead of reading it in fellowship with Christ’s church is a failure to recognize the communion of the saints and is to breach the command of the apostle concerning the ‘unity of the faith.’ It was in the pursuit of this unity that the church sought early on to affirm its faith in God as Trinity. The reformation did not involve eschewing tradition, but refining the relationship of Scripture to that tradition. Sola scriptura is not solo or nuda Scriptura. Bannerman in his magisterial work on the church clearly defends the role of doctrinal standards in evaluating doctrine and identifying error.

Here is the state of play thus far. There are, as I wrote in my first post, those who are revisiting and revising the creedal and confessional affirmation of our Trinitarian faith. Whether they are promoting a popular agenda, engaging in academic speculation, or formulating a new Trinitarian model they are nonetheless moving from orthodoxy. Let me be specific:

There is no argument generally about how God relates to us in the economy of redemption (how He chooses to reveal Himself to and relate to His creatures in the created order). The issue remains the ad intra being of God; God as He is in Himself.

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