So who/what is a heretic?

In honour of St Nicholas, the study at Campus Edge this past evening focused on saints and heretics. It was done under the influence of sweets that are common to celebrating Sinterklaas (St Nicholas Day) in the Netherlands, as well as looking at a passage in Jeremiah as part of wrapping up the (Saturday) study series on Jeremiah.

One of the joys of studying and meeting together is that we can challenge each other and help each other see things that we might not see on our own. It is also my hope that in the time following the study, we might continue to ponder thoughts and insights from the study. Since the study ended, I continue to ponder the following question.

Does it really matter if we believe the “right” things? The question was in response to a short discussion of the controversy between St Nicholas and Arius. The conclusion of that controversy was the Nicene creed, and clear teaching that Jesus is fully human and fully God. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q & A 15-17) provides a short theological answer. Yet, there is also a different answer, one that is (also) fundamental to Campus Edge: central to our identity is the pursuit of truth and that includes understanding the truths of the Bible, Christianity, church history and doctrine more fully.

So yes, it matters. And no, maybe it doesn’t matter as much as we sometimes believe it does. An honest pursuit of truth results more often in asking uncomfortable questions than it does in finding simply, easy answers. In some circles, simply daring to ask these questions can cause us to be called heretics. The passage we read from Jeremiah 28 about the false prophet (i.e., heretic) Hananiah provides a fascinating litmus test:

Jer 28: 15-16 (NIV) 15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. 16 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.’”

The problem is not that Hananiah believed or prophesied the wrong things. The problem was rebellion against the Lord. Translating this to today, perhaps what is central is not whether those who claim to have a relationship with God believe the right things, but whether what and how we believe turns us towards God, being faithful to Him (cf Jer 35), and listening and open for the Holy Spirit to convict us, or whether our beliefs are more about justifying what we want to do (apart from – and in rebellion to – God).