So, a while back I followed a site called Ministry Matters on Facebook. I knew it was a mixed bag of conservative and liberal writers out of the UMC. But, I tend to like reading things that come from a different view point than my own, as long as they are well written, well supported and provoke Godly reflection on my part. In the beginning, it seemed this would be a stimulating place to find alternative perspectives that were still grounded in the Bible. I have to say in the last few months, I have grown increasingly to question that. First it was a highly questionable piece by the wife of Rob Bell that caught my attention. Then a few others that I truly cannot bring to mind right now, and the latest was a piece called “Blessed are the Pure in Doctrine?” commenting on the recent firing of a Wheaton College professor.
The trouble is, there is a difference between a different perspective on things, and outright heretical teaching cloaked in the guise of chiding others for calling people heretics, all while intimating that those who disagree with your point of view are heretics themselves. Worse, all without a clear biblical foundation for your assertion. So, a little clarity here. The topic was the firing of Professor Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College. I read a little about it at the time this first began, and Wheaton stated she had violated the contract their staff must sign with regard to doctrinal teachings in the college, and behavior in keeping with the school’s stated statements of faith.
There were two things at issue. The one everyone seemed to focus on, the wearing of a hijab in order to express solidarity with Muslims, as I understand it, was not the main problem for the school. One could argue that it might be unwise, and perhaps even dangerous to make such a shallow political statement in the face of the current world dynamics regarding Islam. But, the reality is, there are a number of Christian sects whose women wear head coverings when they go out in public. There are a number of Jewish sects whose women, and men for that matter, wear head coverings when they go out in public. I have even been known myself to wrap a pretty, light scarf around my head in a style similar to a hijab, both because sometimes I think it looks pretty, and on slightly rarer occasion because I felt led by God to cover my hair for a particular reason. Scarves are not the real problem behind what this woman did.
The author, on the other hand, seems to dismiss the idea that her other action, which he actually never does state in his article, had anything to do with the school removing this professor. Instead he makes wild claims that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount doesn’t contain doctrine, or touch on orthodoxy, instead focusing almost exclusively on orthopraxy. In the next breath, he diminishes the usefulness of his appeal to Scripture by stating that the Sermon on the Mount wasn’t actually a sermon, it was merely a collection of Jesus’ most common teachings put together by Matthew, that somehow reflect the true heart of Jesus’ ministry. Well, I supposed we can just read those two chapters in Matthew from now on, and disregard the rest of the Gospels…
Setting aside the fact that words like orthodoxy and orthopraxy tend to annoy me on principle. I admit that is a matter of the log and speck thing for me. We all tend to be more aware of sins we can relate to, and back in my days of political kickboxing, throwing around ten dollar words to make others feel and look stupid, or to make myself sound smart was an art form for me. I like words. I know a lot of 10, 20 and 100 dollar ones. So, I know that kind of manipulative drivel when I see it, and it always irks me, especially coming from Christians lecturing other Christians on being unChristian. But, setting that aside, the assertions the author made were not an appeal to Scripture, no matter how he tried to clothes them as such.
I have read the Sermon on the Mount recently, and went back to skim it again, and you know, there’s kind of a lot more “doctrine” or “orthodoxy” than he lets on. Not just admonitions of do and don’t do physical things, as he intimates. But things like hunger and thirsting for righteousness, which he somehow tries to impute to this situation, and being pure in heart. Things like being salt and light. Things like thoughts being as bad as actions. And the passage he imputes as a rebuke against those who would guard against heretical teaching and claims as a rebuke against a focus on the badness of sound doctrine actually reads:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (bold mine)
Now, it seems to me Christ was preaching against those who do works for the wrong reasons, rather than those who sought to adhere to other areas of Christ’s teaching, or focus on orthodoxy as it were.
The real trouble with what the prof did is that she claimed Muslims and Christians worship the same God. This is a problem for a professor in a Christian college, professing to be teaching and adhering to the Christian faith. It is a lie. And worse, it is a lie about God. I can’t draw the verse to mind at the moment, but I know Exodus has one about bearing false witness, and there’s one in Hebrews I believe that talks of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, others that state God will not be mocked.
While I am no fan of all the silly, and somewhat less silly, doctrinal divides among the Christian denominations. There is a common Orthodoxy, grounded in biblical teaching, that all of them adhere to as the central core of what it is to be Christian. The short version is the Apostle’s Creed, and even most of the Apostolic and Charismatic churches adhere to some form of it in their declarations of faith. If you want a look at the whole thing, you can find it here if you’d like to brush up on the full text. But here’s the nutshells where the problem arises for the professors, and others like her and I assume the author of that other piece.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
We as Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. The literal son of God, fully God and fully human. We believe in the Triune God, consisting of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christ preached, and this is outside the Sermon on the Mount, so I guess we can understand how we might miss it, sorry, I digress. Christ preached “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV) He also stated, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ” (John 3:18)
Other places in the Bible tell us that God is holy and righteous and just, which means He DOES NOT LIE. Still other places tell us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, which means His essential nature DOES NOT CHANGE. Still other places tell us the God is infallible, which means that He DOES NOT MAKE MISTAKES. The New Testament promises that the New Covenant is the last covenant with man. That the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ was the fulfillment of God’s promised provision for the reconciliation of man.
For the professors claim to be true, the statements in the above two paragraphs must be false. The Q’ran claims to be written by a prophet of God. The claim is made now that it was the same God who authored, through His people and prophets, the Bible. Yet, the Q’ran rejects the divinity of Christ, and the reality of the Holy Spirit. While it acknowledges the historical presence of Jesus, it labels him as nothing more than a great prophet, though a lesser prophet than Mohammad. That would be a categoric rejection of John 14:6 above, as well as the entire center section of the Apostle’s Creed. The holy catholic church here refers to the Christian, or Christ believing to be more specific, church. Again, Islam rejects Christ, and as such also rejects the communion of saints.
So, why is that a problem? The Bible is the Word of God, no matter what lens you choose to interpret it through. The central tenets of the faith rest on Christ the King, His Sonship, the coming of Holy Spirit, and the unchanging, unwavering righteousness and faithfulness of God. For the same to be the author of the Q’ran, the Bible’s promise of the New Covenant would have to be a lie (God does NOT lie). For the same to be the author of the Q’ran, He would have to have changed from the time of the end of the New Testament to the writing of the Q’ran a little less than six hundred years later (God does NOT change). For the same to be the author of the Q’ran, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, which the Bible states emphatically was the sacrifice for the sins of man once and for all, would had to have been not enough (God does NOT make mistakes).
Elohim is God of Muslims, just as He is God of atheists, Buddhists, Hindus and everyone else. He is the God of all creation. But He isn’t the deity they worship. We, as Christians, have to do a much better job of understanding that if we ever hope to shine Christ’s light to those lost and separated from God.
As for the prof, and the author over at Ministry Matters. You can love your neighbors, and even your enemies, without lying about who God is, and without twisting what Scripture says. And heresy isn’t simply about some nebulous “doctrinal purity”, it’s about presenting false teachings as truth and attempting to undermine the truth of God. Before you go lauding someone as a heroic carrier of the virtues listed in the Beatitudes, and canonizing them as a martyr to the cause of Christ, go read the rest of the Scripture. Or maybe just the rest of the New Testament if you’re in a hurry. I’m pretty sure the Sermon on the Mount has something to say about false prophets. And I do believe the New Testament speaks to those who would teach the young falsely about God, something about millstones and the depths of the sea.
Pray always, and glorify the Lord.