Monday, August 6, 2007

Gray's Deeply Pernicious Heresy

While I generally respect Joan Gray the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, the type of thinking she expressed in her editorial "A Deeply Pernicious Heresy" (see, Saturday, August 4th edition) is a frightenly excellent example of the kind of thinking that has made such a mess of the PCUSA. She divides belief in Christ from obedience to Christ, resulting in a view of salvation and church membership as consisting of only certain creedal or mental affirmations. In this way, it is possible to simply believe in Jesus without actually giving one's life to Jesus.
This is the old "heresy" that Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," which allows people to believe they are okay with God just because the have the right belief. Actually following Christ as a disciple is then divorced from belief, allowing one to live life in actual rebellion against God while holding to "right beliefs." How many churches would admit a person to membership who holds only "right belief" in Jesus while practicing pedophilia, or racism, or drug-dealing, or human trafficking? Would anyone say it is being heretical and unfair to insist that a person's life line up enough with their confession of Christ that they seek to eliminate these practices from their lives?
Yes, we should be compassionate and seek to offer such persons the promise of transformation through the grace of Christ, but few if any would say that simple cognitive affirmation of a few certain beliefs is actual Christian discipleship. This is why the same Paul that Joan Gray appeals to in her editorial instructs the Corinthian church to expell from their fellowship anyone who is "sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler." (I Corinthians 5:11) Even these few behaviours mentioned here would have a radical effect upon the PCUSA if we took them all seriously as reflections of our profession of faith in Christ.
I am not saying we become a legalistic legion in our judgements toward one another. Joan Gray is rightfully warning against this. However, it is critical that we not divorce our lives from our profession of faith. The scriptures do not divide life practice from faith, which according to Paul is belief in our hearts more than our minds (Romans 10:9-10). Even the great reformers Luther and Calvin insisted both that salvation is by faith alone in Christ and this same faith must be evidenced by the good works that follow. Neither reformer could be accused of adding another condition for salvation besides faith in Christ, but their understanding of faith is much more life encompassing than mere mental assent. As Luther said, faith is a complete trusting of one's whole life to God, or more typical of his terminology, "You cast yourself entirely upon the Word."
I think that if Joan Gray and I were having a discussion with each other at the local Starbucks, we would probably find a lot of friendly agreement as we talked through our differing points. But the message of her editorial as it stands alone right now is itself "a deeply pernicious heresy."


1 comment:

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Excellent Post. You hit the nail on the head on the problem with her e-mail. To divide Belief and action into separate entities is a dangerous step (one I think the mainlines already have made).