Our Matt Kennedy and George Conger of Anglican Unscripted have had an interesting exchange. You can catch that on a special Preventing Grace podcast that Matt hijacked from Anne and, before that, on Anglican Unscripted #803, beginning at about 23 minutes in.
I think highly of Kennedy and Conger and listen avidly to both. I will not venture to somehow referee their apparent disagreement. Also, I should make clear that Conger did not use the term “heresy hunter” although he used some uncomplimentary words. Nor did he name the names of those he was criticizing. In any case, both are reasonable men on their good days. They will work it out.
But I think this a good excuse, I mean, occasion to sing the praises of heresy hunting.
Now even I, as odious as I am, concede it would be nice if heresy hunting was unnecessary. And, thanks be to God, after Jesus returns, heresy hunting will be redundant.
Before then, however, we are in no golden age of the church that needs not those who ferret out error. There is yet to be such a golden age of the church. Even in the New Testament, we see that heresies arose that required exposure and rebuke, and the Apostles dished that out very well. If you want winsomeness and mutual flourishing, don’t read Galatians or Jude or the letters of John or the Apocalypse. To have a Tone Policed Bible (not yet available at Crossway), you’d have to cut it up more than Marcion.
Thank God that the apostles and the fathers after them did go heresy hunting. What if the attitude of Athanasius and others was the following: “Well, we disagree with Arius about some details of the person of Christ, but he’s a brother who loves the Lord; we love him and pray together with him and look forward to his ministry.”
We would not have the Nicene Creed. Would we have the Faith at all?
Actually, we do not have to speculate about what happens to churches that allow heretics to spread their falsehoods without correction and discipline. Look at the mainline Protestant denominations. Look at the Church of England.
In those churches for decades, instead of church discipline against heresy, there were excuses:
“Yes, we have a few odd nutters, but we all say the Creed every Sunday.”
“Yes, that parish is odd, but that’s just one parish.”
“Yes, that bishop is odd, but that’s just one bishop.”
“Yes, our denomination is odd, but our bishop is sound.”
“Yes, our denomination and bishop are odd, but our priest is sound.”
And on and on until they found out the hard way that Richard John Neuhaus was right:
Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.
And I don’t want to see any smug looks from you Papists. Orthodoxy has been optional in the Church of Rome for decades. Now under your Jesuit Pope, you are just a decade or two behind the Prots.
And we in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) had best not be smug either. We have a rather notorious diocese in which Critical Theory ideologies and even Liberation Theology are pushed. Perhaps our House of Bishops is close to dealing with this situation; I do not know. But if this continues, do we really think we will not eventually pay the price also? We also are not exempt from Neuhaus’ Law.
And allow me to remind Anglican priests and bishops ordained under a traditional Book of Common Prayer that you are obligated to deal with error. You pledged at your ordination “with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word.” (The ACNA 2019 BCP has equivalent language.) That is not optional. That is a duty.
Are you doing your duty?
Now, of course, there has to be discernment in going after error. There are, of course, many secondary issues we can agree to disagree on. Orthodox Anglicans have a range of views on, say, Mary and the saints. It’s good to respect that and be in full communion and hearty fellowship. That’s part of being Anglican.
But even in going after error on which we should not agree to disagree, there should be discernment. Not only does no one expect the Spanish Inquisition; no one of good will wants to be like the Spanish Inquisition or like Bloody Mary and treat faithful Christians like heretics. Heresy hunters can err, too, and should be open to correction as the Inquisition and Mary decidely were not. There should be willingness to progress from disagreement to godly agreement as the Jerusalem Council did. Nor is burning heretics advisable, not even the real ones. We just don’t want them as bishops and priests.
Which brings up another important distinction. Church people who are not leading and teaching are to be treated more gently. We are all learning. All of us at some time have had “erroneous and strange” ideas before we knew better. I know I have. Such need gentle correction as we all do. Having grave error taught by bishops or priests or other church authorities and deceiving those very learners is what crosses lines.
Nonetheless, we need more heresy hunting, not less. The majority of the institutional church in the West is already too far gone. So it is all the more important that orthodox and faithful churches remain so, strive to remain orthodox and faithful. With all the deadly errors assailing us from without and within, it is all the more important that we do not enable or commune with error, but expose it, correct it, and drive it away. We are to “contend for the Faith once for all delivered unto the saints” as Jude did. And contend means contend, not cohabitation with error, not “good difference” or “dialogue” or other excuses for allowing heresy to spread like gangrene.
To do less is to go down a well trodden path to irrelevance and destruction.
To do less is to leave the church wide open to predatory false teachers who lead people astray and spiritually sicken and even murder them instead of guiding them in The Faith.
To do less is to fail Christ and His flock.
So let’s not be cowards. Let’s not fail. Let’s go hunting.