Friday, July 12, 2013

Heretic or Hero?

Since the summer break I have been pondering many things about the Christian life : what we believe and how it affects our being and our living. Here are some of the thoughts that have been running through my head and upon which I have been pondering.

We live in a fast changing world. What‘s “in “today is on its way “out” tomorrow. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of technological advancement. Before you know it the ‘latest’ phone you've bought is getting out of fashion.

Our world is punctuated by fads which have a following among folk whose life experience, cultural, social, economic context is almost unrecognizable from that of the previous generations.

We all products of the socio economic and historical period that we live in. It does shape our worldview, our way of thinking, our problem solving our creativity and even how we respond to God sometimes.

Every era throws new light, new revelations, new inventions and discoveries. Some of them are so radical that they challenge the very paradigm upon which the previous era rested its ethos, philosophy and world view. For instance Galileo discovered that the world was not flat but indeed round. He stirred up a might commotion in the world of science. The Industrial revolution was path breaking from the Guild System and the Master Craftsman of the day. The pioneers of that time had to endure much hardship and ridicule. Some of them even had their lives threatened and some even died being denounced as tools of Satan or heretics

Many a Christian fore father had to endure much the same for revelations they received that they strongly believed were Biblical and from God. For instance the Ana Baptists firmly believed in baptism by immersion and they paid for it with their lives.claiming that since infant baptism was scriptural and null and void, the baptizing of believers was not a "re-baptism" but in fact the first baptism for them. Balthasar H├╝bmaier wrote:
But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ...As a result of their views on the nature of baptism and other issues, Anabaptist were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th by both Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics.
  Martin Luther was denounced as a heretic for talking about justification by faith. The list can go on and on (You just need to read The Foxes Book of Martyrs) . What about those who believed that the gifts of the Spirit are available for us even today? They were mocked, ostracized and put out of main stream churches. 

This gave rise to what we know as the Charismatic movement that many of us enjoy being a part of today. Many paid the price for the path breaking revelation the fruit of which we now enjoy and take for granted. Today we look upon them as heroes of the faith and not as heretics as they once were.

The Bible does tell us that we know in part and we prophesy in part. Now we shall see dimly but then we shall see clearly.  ( 1 Cor. 13:9-12) 

Even Jesus was met with much resistance from the established order of the day. What He said and did was radical and provoking – it was unlike anything they had ever experienced or knew how to relate to. This incensed the Pharisees greatly who were “ever hearing but not understanding”. Claiming to see, therefore blind. Jesus paid with his life to set us free, to give us a new way to the Father.

So I believe it is true for us. We have not received all the revelation there is to receive. Remember we are always encountering an infinite God whose ways are not ours and can never be totally comprehended on this side of eternity.

One generation gets a portion of the revelation according their measure of faith and lives according to it as best they understand. Then, comes the next generation which throws up further light. Often the pioneers are met with resistance and ridicule before it is received.
Take the message on the wonderful doctrine of justification by faith : Martin Luther shed some light on it. But then down the ages more people have had further revelation and taken our understanding to another level.

As I said earlier we are products of our time that has bearings on our outlook to life, and our understanding . The 1800s, and early 1900s saw society transforming at a very slow pace but a transformation work had begun. New cities were emerging and science was making great advance. There was a time there was wide spread scarcity and poverty and only the upper class gentry knew the “good life”. And so the focus naturally was on just coping from one crisis to another. Life was hard and often cruel. The focus of the Christian was to persevere under every trial that was flung at them and to keep the faith. Frugality was a  great virtue. Godliness with contentment was of great gain.

As time went on the socio economic conditions began to improve all around with the Industrial revolution opening doors for new opportunities and financial well being the chance to break free from the never ending cycle o f poverty. Once could better one’s station in life. As society rises above the basic needs, higher aspirations come into play. One is able to lift one’s vision higher from just “give us this day our daily bread” to realizing that there is so much more in the kingdom of God. And we see progressive revelation come into play. Christian writings begin to change in their slant and flavor from endure hardship, be diligent ; to " lift up your eye and look around you - the nations are waiting",  "you can believe in miracles",  "there is so much more than just coping" etc.

Then there was a fresh wind blowing across the church in the early 1960s and it was being carried across the nations. There is now a whole new movement of “faith” “baptism in the Spirit” . "gifts of the Spirit", the Ephesians 4 ministries ,which was looked upon with suspicion at first. Today we embrace it as core and foundational. 

Am I suggesting that our doctrine is a reflection of the age we live in and therefore relative and subject to change? This  I know, that the Word of God has stood and will stand the test of time. It is eternal, unchanging and timeless. But I do know that there are mysteries to unravel and more revelation to be obtained and history bares witness to a change in understanding and therefore practice.

My pondering are this: does a particular age help usher in new revelations and how does that understanding then get translated into life and society?  A women’s plight in one age was pitiful, but in another, men of God upon receiving further revelation of God’s word begin to change things and see men and women as equal. This starts a whole cycle of change for woman and society .This is true of the slave trade as well. Change came with revelation from God and Godly men spear headed the abolition of slavery.

So what are the new challenges we are facing today? What new revelations are we resisting as heresy and which men of God are we denouncing as heretics only to be crowned heroes in years to come? More thoughts ,in the next blog post.

Navaz D Cruz
July 2013

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