I've always been amazed at the emphasis that evangelical Christians put on identifying heresy. It seems to be one of the main subjects of their religious education. I sometimes imagine evangelical seminaries and Bible schools having game nights where they play, Name That Heresy. Future pastors, theologians and ministers compete against each other to see how few of a religious opponents words they need to hear before they can identify his heresy.
Game Show Host: This so called minister was from Texas but his ministry headquarters were in Tulsa, Oklahoma and he was close friends with Oral Roberts.
Contestant #1 Future Pastor: I can name that heresy in 10 words.
Contestant #2 Future Professor of Theology: I can name that heresy in 5 words.
Game Show Host: Name that heresy…
Most evangelical ministers seem to be more familiar with the various heresies than they are the Bible. They can tell if a preacher's a Pelagian, or a Manichean, an Arian or a Montanist faster than you can say, "Please turn in your Bibles to…" Why waste time studying the Bible when learning to recognize heresy is a much faster route to all, acceptable, truth.
I shouldn't let the Catholics off the hook, but they've apparently narrowed all the heresies down to one, " Are you now or have you ever been a member of any church other than the one true, Catholic and apostolic church? " At a Catholic internet forum I was reading, someone had asked about a particular healing ministry. The healing minister had been a Catholic Priest and the poster's parents liked one of his books, so the poster wanted to know more about the healing minister. It didn't take long for a Torquemada-wanna-be to come online and assert that the healing minister was teaching heresy because he had suggested that the Catholic Church had missed it in the area of healing. Torquemada Jr. claimed that since the Catholic Church was the body of Christ, it was Christ, and to suggest that the Catholic church had missed it in any area was the same as saying that Christ had missed it. Okaaaay… well there's not much you can say to that.
Anyway, I said all that to get to this: This emphasis on heresy, by Christian churches, is an artifact of Bubble Boy Christianity. I mean "bubble boy" like the "boy" in the Seinfeld Episode who had to live in a
bubble because contact with the outside world would be deadly. Bubble Boy Christianity is Christianity that has lived inside the bubble of government protection for 1600 years and as a result has lost all its power.
Government protection tempted Christianity to exchange the power of God, which only becomes available through considerable spiritual development, for the power of the state; which is much easier to access. Instead of convincing people of the truth of Christianity through the power of God, Bubble Boy Christianity convinced them through the inducements and sanctions of governmental power. Bubble Boy Christianity is religion whose orthodoxy is decreed by government sanctioned authorities instead of being demonstrated by divine action.
The Bubble Boyishness of Christianity is evidenced by its obsession with heresy. Arguments about orthodoxy are the refuge of powerless religions. When Elijah encountered the baal worshipers he didn't challenge them to a debate. When the Apostle Paul preached he was more interested in the show than the blow:
1 Corinthians 2:4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
But, as Papa Hagin liked to say, "You've got to do something when you've lost the power."
Bubble boy Christianity is bureaucratic Christianity, full of rules, procedures, regulations, enforcement, and licensing requirements, but void of power to heal or deliver or rescue. Like all bureaucratic systems its only aim is its own survival. To this end it has developed an extensive intellectual apparatus to defend its primacy against usurpers. Bubble boy Christianity surrounds its god with huge bulwarks of intellectuals and their arguments in an effort to convince that impotence is true piety. Like all intellectuals engaged in the defense of orthodoxy the arguments of Bubble Boy intellectuals inevitably devolve into irrationality… ad hominem, ad antiquitatem, ad nauseam.
Bubble boy Christianity has no response to the declaration that, GOD IS DEAD, because its theology has been developed to defend a religion whose god acts very much like he is dead. So, Bubble Boy Christianity focuses, as one man put it, on answering questions no one is asking.
Bubble Boy Christianity searches for the costumes, props, and prose which will attract adherents and keep the bureaucracy alive.
Bubble Boy Christianity is form without substance. Bubble boy Christianity is a cheap country club. Bubble boy Christianity is all marketing and no product. Bubble boy Christianity is big hat, no cattle; all mouth, no trousers.
Bubble boy Christianity acts like the skillful conman who assures his "mark" that all will be fulfilled once the "mark" is dead, but can deliver nothing to the living. Bubble boy Christianity is user friendly, post-modernist, missional, emerging, house church, small group, cell church, evangelical, fundamental, mainline, traditional… whatever.
Christianity didn't always live inside the bubble of government protection. There was a time when Christianity depended for its continued existence on the exploits of its God. Prior to Constantine's edict of Toleration in 313 A.D. and Theodosius I's edict of 380 A.D. which established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity had been not only illegal, but legally persecuted. The public torture of Christians during this era is the most well known but not the only cost associated with becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian prior to 313 A.D. was a dangerous proposition, not something entered into lightly. Why then did people become Christians?
According to Ramsay MacMullen, Professor of History at Yale, in his book Christianizing the Roman Empire,: Prior to 313 A.D. the evidence indicates that people were converted to Christianity because Christianity proved itself with supernatural power. Here he summarizes the case:
"As a reminder of much that has been said earlier on the subject, here is how Saint Athanasius in the 350s, writing the Life of Saint Anthony, depicted the old man demonstrating the superiority of Christianity. He had been visited and challenged by 'persons counted as wise among pagans' (§74). In answer to them, he undertook to offer proof (§80) that 'believing, pistis, in Christ is the only true religiousness,' derived not by 'seeking logical conclusions through reasoning' but rather through that believing in itself.
'We convince,' he says, 'because people first trust in what they can actually see, and then in reasoned argument.'
Well said!—defining in a few words a distinction (I have called it "proof and content") and a sequence already met with in dozens of scenes. But Anthony adds, as his biographer imagines,
'Look now: here are some folk suffering from daimones' (for there were present some who were troubled by demons and had come to him; so he brought them forward, and went on). 'Either cleanse these men by your logic-chopping or by any other skill or magic you wish, and calling on your idols, or otherwise, if you can't, lay down your quarrel with us and witness the power of Christ's cross.'
And with these words he called on Christ, sealed the sufferers with the sign of the cross twice and a third time, and straightway the men stood forth all healed.'
This moment sums up and sharply delineates a great deal that has been discussed in the preceding pages: emphasis on miraculous demonstration, head-on challenge of non-Christians to a test of power, head-on confrontation with supernatural beings inferior to God, and contemptuous dismissal of merely rational, especially Greek philosophical, paths toward true knowledge of the divine. The learned and intellectual indeed existed, though always few in number. But the church that counted lay, rather, among the simple folk illuminated through ascetic experience…"
Here's an excerpt from an interview with MacMullen again on how Christianity spread and why people became Christians during this period of Roman history when there was no practical advantage to being a Christian and when becoming a Christian could sometimes end with you being served as the main course at the King of The Jungle Buffet. This is from an interview MacMullen did on Mars Hill Journal in 1998, I've transcribed the relevant portion below. (Here's the audio Ramsay MacMullen Interview )
MacMullen: When today you wonder how was it that Christianity made converts, brought people over to its side. The thing you think of first is the preaching of Saint Paul; which is well attested a marvelous story spreads over a very wide domain. And you suppose that that example would have dictated a long process along the same lines, but it aint so. It doesn't work out that way.
My guess is that after saint Paul's death and in a long period of persecution and hostility directed against the church open preaching was a very difficult thing. In contrast what worked best was one on one talk about the proofs of the truth of Christianity and those proofs would lie in exorcism above all. Keyed into the most common concern of people, ordinary people the man in the street the man on the farm when he thought about religion at all, that is, concern with good things in this life, and principally and above all good health.
On this level to solve this sort of problem Christianity advertised its own particular remarkable powers through the driving out of the demons that cause ill health. Driving out of the demonic influences that bring anything bad in life. And the tales of miracles which Christians pass around when you come to look for stories of conversions actual anecdotes and details make up the great bulk of the evidence.
Of preaching there is hardly a word hardly a word throughout all the centuries that I look at in this book and in fact earlier too in the second century on up to the eighth, ninth, tenth. Very very little mention of Christians talking to the entirely unpersuaded and trying to bring them over by reasoning. Instead what is talked about is the operation of wonderful things by holy people as a consequence of which those who hear about these wonders are brought over by self interest. They want the benevolent power the Christians promise. and as part of the bargain they enlist in the church. just as pagans would have enlisted in the service of any deity advertised to them and convincingly
Interviewer: Which ever deity had the best benefits package, in other words.
MacMullen: Yea that's right.
So, prior to the Christian church acquiring exclusive distribution rights for religious products in the Roman Empire it felt the need to demonstrate the superiority of Christ by supernatural acts, afterward… not so much. Instead, it fell back on the tools the pagans had tried to use against St. Anthony, i.e., "…merely rational, especially Greek philosophical, paths toward true knowledge of the divine."
Well, it's a lot easier to come up with an argument than a miracle. Who was going to complain? Who was going to try and prove otherwise? Christianity had a monopoly on religion, it didn't have to prove anything to anybody. In fact, Christianity, with sanction provided by Augustine himself, could now use the power of the state to do to its opponents exactly what the Romans had done to the Christians. If any later day Anthony tried to raise objections, the Church, no longer proficient in God's power but extremely adept at preserving it's own, would quickly identify and then stamp out the heresy. Thus is Bubble Boy Christianity Born.
Bubble Boy Christianity can't flourish in the wild. Its government protected Bubble Boy existence has resulted in the loss of Christianity's ability to demonstrate the superiority of Christ by supernatural acts. Now that government protection has been removed,Western Bubble boy Christianity is on life support, kept alive only by the finances bequeathed to it by prior generations of the pious and faithful. Now, even that is being exhausted.
Bubble Boy Christianity is not long for this world.