Tag Archives: theistic evolution

Heretic!

inquisition

I was labelled a heretic.  In fact, I’m sure that it’s happened more than once.  No, it wasn’t Roman Catholics or Muslims saying this, although they would/should certainly classify me as such.  It was other Reformed believers.  The particular occasion was this blog post where I shared Richard Sibbes’ answer to the question of whether saints in heaven are aware of our trials and miseries.  Some didn’t agree with that and I was therefore labelled a “heretic.”

There are at least two related issues involved here.

First, there is a popular notion amongst some Reformed believers that every theological error is a heresy.  This notion equates error with heresy, as if they are complete synonyms (words meaning the same thing).

Second, there is another popular notion (found with some) that all theological errors are essentially of the same weight.  Every theological error then becomes a matter of heaven or hell.  In such thinking, to administer the Lord’s Supper differently is virtually in the same category as denying the Trinity.  It might not ever be said that crassly, but when you look at what’s said and done, it often seems to come down to that.

The word “heresy” is not found in the Bible, although the concept is.  To really understand what’s involved, however, we need to turn to church history.  Popular misuse of the terms “heresy/heretic” trace back to a lack of understanding of how these terms have been used in church history.

In the centuries after the apostles, debates raged about certain doctrinal points.  In these debates, certain teachings were ultimately considered to be heretical.  By “heretical,” the Church understood that holding to such doctrines put one’s salvation in jeopardy.  In fact, there were certain teachings where, if one held them consistently and unrepentantly to death, one would not be saved.  The word “heresy” was reserved for these teachings that struck at the very heart of the Christian faith, attacking fundamental doctrines.

One of the most obvious examples is the doctrine of the Trinity.  Denying the doctrine of the Trinity (in various ways) is regarded as heretical.  The Athanasian Creed lays out the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and then says in article 28, “So he who desires to be saved should think thus of the Trinity.”  If in any way you deny that God is three persons in one being, you are a heretic.  Another example has to do with Christ and his two natures.  Says the Athanasian Creed, “It is necessary, however, to eternal salvation that he should also believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Now the right faith is that we should confess and believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is equally both God and man.”  If you deny that Christ is both true God and true man, you are a heretic.  When we say that, it should be a clear that we are making a statement about the seriousness of this error, namely that this is an error for which someone can be damned.  A heresy is a deadly error.  The biblical basis of making such strong statements is found in places like 1 John 2:22-23, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father.  Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

Another classic example of a heresy is Pelagianism.  Pelagius and his followers denied original sin and taught a synergistic view of salvation:  since humans are not dead in sin, they can cooperate with God in salvation.  The Council of Carthage in 417-418 condemned Pelagianism as a heresy and declared that those who held to it were anathema — anathema means “eternally condemned and outside of salvation.”  The Council could confidently assert that because of what Scripture itself says in passages like Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let me him be accursed.”  In Greek, Paul used the word anathema.  The Church has always regarded Pelagianism as another gospel, and therefore an accursed heresy.

Our Reformed confessions are rather careful in what they label as heresy.  Canons of Dort 3/4 article 10 reaffirms that Pelagianism is a heresy.  Belgic Confession article 9 mentions several “false Christians and heretics”:  Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, and Arius.  These were in deadly error with regard to the Trinity.  Certain Anabaptists are also described as holding to heresy in Belgic Confession article 18.  Though they’re not mentioned by name, the Confession is referring to Menno Simons and Melchior Hoffmann.  They taught that Christ does not have a real human nature from Mary but that, in his incarnation, he took his human nature from heaven.  This is a heresy because it runs into serious trouble with the two natures of Christ, and specifically whether his human nature is a true human nature.  I have more about that in this article from a few years ago.

So with that in the background, let me mention two prevalent errors that are not heresies.  Theistic evolution is not a heresy.  It is a serious error which may lead to heresy, but as such, it is not a heresy.  I have never referred to it as such and I have cautioned others against describing it as such as well.  Women in ecclesiastical office is a serious error that conflicts with Scripture, and emerges from a way of interpreting the Scriptures which could lead to far more serious doctrinal trouble.  However, you should not say that it is a heresy because it does not fit with the way this term has been understood and used in church history and in our confessions.

Not every theological error is a heresy.  Certainly someone’s disagreement with you on a particular doctrinal point does not allow you to loosely throw the term “heretic” around.  The words “heresy, heretic, heretical” should be reserved for only the most serious doctrinal errors, the ones where the Church clearly confesses from the Scriptures that these views are salvation-jeopardizing.  By that, we also recognize that not all errors are of the same seriousness.  We definitely want to strive for doctrinal precision and accuracy, but we also have to realize that not all points of doctrine carry the same weight and therefore we can, even in confessional Reformed churches, have some room for disagreement.  So, if you happened to disagree with what I wrote in that blog post about the saints in heaven, I think you’re wrong, but I will never call you a heretic.  Will you afford me the same courtesy?

[For those who wish to dig deeper into this topic, I highly recommend Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1, especially chapter 9, “Fundamental Articles and Basic Principles of Theology.”]


Synod Dunnville 2016 (6)

(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)

(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)

We spent the weekend (and a bit more) without Internet.  As of last night, it’s back up and running and so I can continue the blogging about the recent CanRC Synod.  Today let’s review what happened on Day 6, Tuesday May 17.  I’m summarizing from the Provisional Acts found here.  Some of the highlights from where I’m sitting:

  • Article 86 mentions the appeal of Ancaster regarding Dr. Jitse van der Meer.  The discussion on that Tuesday was held in closed session.  We can skip ahead to Day 7 and article 103.  There we find that the decision in this matter is only going to appear in the confidential Acts.  And what happened to the Providence appeal?  It doesn’t appear again anywhere in the Provisional Acts.  I suspect that it might appear in the final, public version of the Acts.  We will have to see.
  • The matter of women’s voting was certainly something of interest at this Synod for a lot of people.  There’s a long history on this topic in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  It took a long time for the momentous decision at Synod 2010 recognizing that this is a matter for local churches to decide upon.  Synod 2010 left it in the freedom of local churches whether or not they wanted to allow female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  Numerous churches appealed that decision to Synod 2013 and it was overturned.  By then the horses were already out of the gate.  Churches that had been doing it since the decision of Synod 2010 continued doing it in the conviction that this was not agreeable to Scripture, Confessions, and Church Order.  More appeals were submitted to Synod 2016.  Consequently, this most recent Synod decided that Synod 2013 erred in its overturning of Synod 2010 on this matter.  Confused yet?  Let me make it simple:  the Canadian Reformed Churches are back to where they were after Synod 2010.  Whether female communicant members vote or not is a matter for local churches to decide.  My view on this has not changed.  I remain convinced that there are no sound biblical, confessional, or church political arguments that can be brought to bear against allowing female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  I understand that some local churches believe differently about it and thus I think the approach of Synod 2010 (buttressed now by GS 2016) is the best approach — really, it’s the only approach that can be justified.  I would urge readers to look carefully at the arguments presented by GS 2016 in the Acts.  For this post, I am going to open up the comments.  If you want to argue the case for the opposing view or make other comments, I’m giving you the opportunity.  However, please don’t expect that I’m going to interact.
  • Article 90 dealt with another topic relating to the role of women in church life, but this time in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA).  The Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA) recommended that the CanRCs offer ecclesiastical fellowship to the RPCNA.  This despite the fact that the RPCNA allows for women to be ordained as deacons.  The CCCNA pointed out that the RPCNA doesn’t consider the deacon to have “an office of ruling authority.”  Contrary to the CCCNA’s reasoning, Synod Dunnville decided that the RPCNA’s view on this matter did, in fact, constitute a significant obstacle to EF.  After all, article 30 of the Belgic Confession says that faithful men are to be deacons.  Moreover, they said (Consideration 3.2.3) that the office of deacon does “involve the exercise of authority in the church.”  It appears to be the end of the road for any possibility of formal relations with the RPCNA, though informal interactions will continue through venues like the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).

Synod Dunnville 2016 (3)

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I’ll make two remarks about the latest set of Provisional Acts (which you can find here).

The other day I used the word “boilerplate” in reference to the Acts of the first day.  Perhaps I sent some of you scrambling for a dictionary.  “Boilerplate” is a term often used in the legal world to refer to standard wording.  If the same wording gets used repeatedly in all kinds of documents (like contracts), you might hear it referred to as “boilerplate.”  It’s not a derogatory word, just descriptive.  The word came to mind again as I reviewed the latest Acts, especially articles dealing with the Reformed Church of Quebec (art. 59), Reformed Church in the United States (art. 60), and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (art. 61).  In each case, there have been concerns expressed in the past about what we used to call “divergences” — a fancy word for different views and practices.  Past committees have been mandated to discuss these.  Some churches feel that these discussions should go on.  Synod 2016 disagrees.  In each of the aforementioned articles, you read this boilerplate in the adopted decisions:

Rule 1 of Ecclesiastical Fellowship states that “the churches shall assist each other in the maintenance, defence and promotion of the Reformed faith in doctrine, church polity, discipline and liturgy, and be watchful for deviations.” Within this context, there is always room for discussion about differences in matters of doctrine and practice.

When we enter EF, we accept each other as faithful churches without qualification.  Differences that were noted and discussed prior to EF but which did not hinder entering EF, do not require resolution. It is incorrect to speak of “outstanding differences.” The word “outstanding” implies a need for resolution. Bringing up these issues repeatedly, without proper proof of necessity, is potentially damaging to the sister-church relationship.  Discussion of these issues may take place naturally in the course of EF, but a specific mandate, identifying particular issues, need not be given.

As I see it, there is a subtext behind past mandates to continue discussing these differences.  The subtext was:  we have to keep discussing these things until they see things our way.  The above-quoted boilerplate is an explicit rejection of that subtext.

Another interesting item in these Acts is the mention of creation as a concern of the ERQ and RCUS.  The CCCNA had discussions with their ERQ counterparts about “the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 in the CanRC.”  They also affirmed to the ERQ that the CanRC “has not adopted any statements regarding the doctrine of creation.”  In discussions with RCUS, it “was acknowledged that some in the CanRC are looking for room within the confessions for views other than a literal six-day sequence of creation.”  Sister churches are taking note of what’s happening with the doctrine of creation in the CanRC, at least in certain corners.


CanRC Synod Dunnville 2016

It begins next week.  Every three years the Canadian Reformed Churches hold a synod, their broadest assembly.  This year’s synod is being held in Dunnville, Ontario.  Usually we get news of CanRC synods via the federational website.  I expect this year will be no different.  I hope to blog about some of the highlights as they become available.  Some of the important items on the agenda:

  • the relationship with the Dutch sister churches (see here for more info on what’s being recommended)
  • the matter of women’s voting — will the CanRCs make a change in direction again?
  • theistic evolution
  • the ongoing saga of working towards federative unity with the United Reformed Churches

I think there’s enough there to keep our interest, don’t you?


Critiquing Keller on Evolution/Creation

As most readers know, I’m also involved in another blog, a cooperative venture entitled Creation Without Compromise.  That blog was the brainchild of Dr. Ted Van Raalte — together with Rev. Jim Witteveen and Jon Dykstra, we seek to “promote a biblical understanding of origins.”  Since its inception, Creation Without Compromise has published several significant pieces addressing the challenges we face in upholding the biblical doctrine of creation.  Some of the best ones, in my view, are collected on this page.  Last week, Dr. Van Raalte began a series that has long been in the works, one that likely contains the most important material we’ve published so far.  A number of years ago, Tim Keller wrote his “White Paper” for BioLogos.  In case you’re not familiar with it, BioLogos is one of the foremost promoters of a synthesis between creation and evolution.  Keller’s paper has been influential and is therefore worthy of a closer look.  Does it stand up to biblical scrutiny?  Does Keller present a good model for reconciling Scripture with the conclusions of so many scientists regarding origins?

Part One of Dr. Van Raalte’s critique can be found here.

Part Two is found by clicking here.