Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Jonal entry 945 | Monday, January 30, 2006
Some highfalutin terms have been thrown around here during my first week back after my hiatus to finish my book. Though the terms were considered self-defining or defined by their context in the previous Jonal entries, I thought it would be worthwhile to back off and look at a few of them more deeply. (Highfalutin, by the way, does not appear in the Merriam-Webster's site linked below [and they call themselves an authoritative American dictionary?] but a Google search provides a wealth of information about that 19th Century Americanism. I'll leave you on your own if you want more on that one.)
Heresy was used in our discussion of Gnosticism last week, one of the earliest heresies in the Christian religion. Here again, the Merriam-Webster site is misleading, by attempting to link "heresy" to Roman Catholic dogma, but in fact any belief system has its heresies. The third MW definition should be the first, "a dissent or deviation" from the dominant theory. So in American liberal "public" education, Intelligent Design, or even mention of the existence of God, is considered a heresy; something out of place and not accepted by the educational establishment.
Christian heresy is a special term meaning a deviation from Christian orthodoxy, or even more to the point, using Christian doctrines to teach systems of thought antithetical to Christianity. So Marxism (Communism in its theoretical sense) is often referred to in the academic literature about it as a "Christian heresy." Like Christianity, which is built on the three pillars of creation, fall, and redemption, Marxism uses the same concepts, but redefining them in its own way. Where creation in Christianity is the work of a personal God making everything from nothing, in Marxism creation is the work of impersonal evolution or on a more down-to-earth plane, the work of an enlightened proletariat. The Christian fall is the sin of our first parents; the Marxist fall is the failure of capitalism to provide economic justice. And the Christian redemption is the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and in His resurrection, but Marxist redemption is through the proletariat's throwing off the shackes of its oppressors, the capitalists or in a word, in revolution.
More generally, Christian heresies are systems of belief or redemption that claim to be Christian but are based on heterodox doctrines. So the Christian heresy of Gnosticism (which also has other forms that don't pretend to be Christian) bases itself on its claim of "inner knowledge" of Christ and His teachings, while Christian orthodoxy says there is, by principle, nothing secret or kept to an inner circle in true Christianity; it's all in the Bible and summarized in the church's creeds and catechisms.
Apostasy is a word from the Greek New Testament that describes a church or a professing Christian that has lost its original love for its Head, Jesus Christ, and no longer existing to serve, worship, and glorify Him. Such churches are those that say Jesus was not the Son of God incarnate but perhaps just a good teacher, an example of humanistic character, a concept or an ideal to be emulated, but not to be confused with anything that ever happened in real history.
Protestantism is founded on the assumption that the Roman Catholic church became apostate. Martin Luther and his churches and his historical followers in the Calvinist and the Anglican churches believed that had occurred in their time, the 16th century, and its most egregious evidence was the sale of indulgences. Indulgences were popularly construed as being the sale of salvation or the forgiveness of (or indulging of, allowing) sins and their penalties without having to have a personal reformation or entering into a personal relationship based on holiness with a holy God. In the Twentieth Century, the Roman Catholic church stressed that indulgences were never intended to permit sin but merely the "temporal consequences" of sin and in its 1992 Catechism reflecting the reforms of Vatican II, it also stressed that salvation is to be undersood as a personal relationship with God. The Lutheran church, or major segments of it, has pointedly revoked its earlier declaration that Catholicism is apostate, and though other denominations have been less specific, in general conservative Protestants today consider liberal Protestants (unitarians and those who deny miracles and the deity of Jesus) the most apparent example of apostasy and look to Catholics as allies in the fight against an "anything goes" conception of the church.