Before you drop the H-bomb ("heretic"): Fighting the right battles with the right spirit

I was walking in San Francisco along the Golden Gate Bridge when I saw a man about to jump off. I tried to dissuade him from committing suicide and told him simply that God loved him. A tear came to his eye. I then asked him, “Are you a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, or what?”

He said, “I’m a Christian.”

I said, “Me, too, small world. Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too, what denomination?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too, Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Well, ME TOO. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Well, that’s amazing! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.”

I said, “Remarkable! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “A miracle! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “DIE HERETIC!" and pushed him over the rail.

Yeah. It's funny. But it also makes a very good point.

Is someone really a "heretic" simply because he/she has a different view than you on some of the finer points of theology?

In this regard, I hear and see the word "heretic" abused more and more these days.

So before you gratuitously drop an H-bomb ("heretic") on someone, consider this saying that goes back at least 400 years...

In essentials, unity.

In nonessentials, liberty.

In all things, charity.

Of course, now the question is:
What are the essentials?

That's a critically important discussion.

I hope you and your friends dare to engage that question.

And if you find that you need to open your Bibles to answer that question, that's a good thing.

I dare you to invite your pastor/elders/small group leader to that discussion.

Here's a classic case where good and godly people have room for disagreement.

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Todd Giardina said…
Very funny! Love the joke, and I get the point. I looked up where the saying first appeared, and this is what I found:
"So, when did the quotation first appear? The earliest known use is by Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624)in 1617. He had been a Catholic bishop in Italy, but he sided with the Archbishop of Venice in a fight against the pope and was forced to flee for his life to England. The Anglican Church received him with open arms, and he wrote a bitter polemic against the papacy in which he argued that the church should be a republic not a monarchy. In book 4, chapter 8 of De Republica Ecclesiastica he summed up his proposal for ending church conflict by saying “And we would all embrace a mutual unity in things necessary; in things non necessary liberty; in all things charity. This I feel, this I desire, this I do indeed hope for, in him who is our hope and we are not confounded.”

Interestingly, the author of this irenic statement was personally quite hard to deal with and was unpopular in England. When the opportunity presented itself, he reconciled with the papacy and returned to Rome where he wrote a book against the Church of England. Unfortunately for De Dominis his new papal protector died, and the next pope imprisoned him in Castle San Angelo where he eventually died. But his works remained in use in England, and soon the English pastor Richard Baxter, a Puritan, adopted the phrase about liberty in nonessential things."

The history is also backed up in a blog post from a scholar at Georgetown University as well. So a guy who was hard to get along with coined the phrase! I found that to be such irony. However, the meaning of it is not lost because of that. It is frequently used by those wanting peace between the various denominations of the Christian churches. Which is why your joke is so funny as well. Hopefully no one wants to push me off the bridge after posting this...
Bill Allison said…
Thanks Todd. A story for the record: I was listening to Christian radio and the guy speaking was talking about pre-tribulation stuff and said, "Beware of anyone who holds a different view. It's heresy." Really? Wow. I thought there was a lot of room left for debate in eschatology—especially since it's not history—it's yet to come. Guess not : ) I'm simply saying that dropping the H-bomb ("heretic") without due justification circumvents all learning and wrestling. Of course, we should use the word "heretic" when it is an accurate description of one who denies or distorts the truth of that which is truly essential. But what is essential? Great question! This blog (nor any social media) is not a sufficient medium for such a great question. In the words of John: "I have much more to say to you, but I don't want to do it with paper and ink [or Facebook]. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face" (2 John 12). THIS is why you have pastors and elders at your church—so you can wrestle these complex questions face to face. I encourage you to ask them this great question. Seriously.

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