Sermon #4 in Deconstructing Theology Series

This week’s installment focused on dealing with the inevitable outcome of the previous weeks’ work: divisions are going to happen – so how do we deal with each other in the midst of our disagreements? More to the point: How do we maintain the Spirit’s unity in the midst of such diversity? Hopefully, there’s something helpful here. Enjoy.

Deconstructing Theology #4
Alum Creek – Jan. 24, 2010 – Alum Creek

Why Don’t We Burn Heretics at the Stake Anymore?

Have you ever thought about the fact that some of the most horrific torture devices ever created by humankind were created or at least used by Christians? Have you ever thought about the fact that some of the most horrific atrocities that have ever occurred on the face of the earth, have occurred in the name of Christ? Spend a moment describing the following torture devices from the Inquisition . . .
· Judas Cradle
This horrendous torture device is a chair with a steep and sharp point in the middle of it. The victim was tied up with chains around all their extremities. They were set on top of the chair and weight was added to the chains so that they were slowly, and painfully impaled by the sharp point.
Image here

· Strappado
This device is designed to dislocate the victim’s shoulders arms by pulling them up by their arms and then lowering them quickly, and then coming to an abrupt stop. To make matters worse, weights would be added to the victim to make the abrupt stop even more painful.
Image here

· The rack
This device is probably one of the most well known torture devices. In this one, the victim would have their extremities tied down on a board and the board would slowly move apart from each other pulling the body parts of the victim away from each other.
Image here

· Burning at the stake
And one final example of torture, probably the most well-known – burning at the stake. People whose views were deemed heretical were often tied up so that they could not escape, and then publicly burned in front of the rest of the community as a public spectacle of what happens to those who cross God (or, in reality, the church).

The idea behind the Inquisition was that if the church could just sniff out all the false teachers and anyone else who they didn’t feel lived up to the godly standard . . . in other words, anyone who didn’t agree with the church’s position on an issue . . . and have them publicly dealt with, there would be no opposition left. The opponents would either be killed or forced by fear to repent. The end goal was, then, that by force, the church could be the one, pure, united people of God. Force, however, is never a good answer to the problem of disunity and disbelief. Force is not the way of the one who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

We have a bad track record as the church when it comes to dealing with those who see things differently than we do. The history of the church is really the history of those with “orthodox” opinions defeating those with “heretical” positions, and sometimes the defeating was an actual physical beating and defeating. With the stakes so high, debate within the church has often come at a costly, costly price.

We have set down some important touch points in recent weeks in this opening sermon series of 2010. We have seen that transformation begins with the renewing of our minds and the renewing of our minds often begins with the realization that we could be wrong. If we could be wrong, we next found out that we have to be willing to say, “I don’t know” more often. And then, last week, we discovered that at the heart of our faith must be a spirit willing to ask questions. Questioning our beliefs steadies the rocks beneath which we stand.

But now, an important question remains: What do we do with each other when we disagree? How do we coexist in such an environment? How far do we have to go?

If everything that we’ve said is true, so far, the inevitable fact is: disagreements will come. Major disagreements. Big ones. About big stuff. Important stuff. It seems there are a couple options on the table . . .

– The Inquisition presents us with one – rise to power and do away with those who think differently. If you believe that you are right, that God is on your side, then you just may decide to hand fate over to God – go on a murderous binge and whoever is still standing at the end of the day . . . . clearly must have been on God’s side. Below is an excerpt from the Edict of Worms where Martin Luther was officially branded a heretic by the Catholic Church. It illustrates this “identify and conquer” mentality:

To the honor and praise of God, our creator, through whose mercy we have been given kingdoms, lands, and domains hereabove mentioned, it is our duty to help subdue the enemies of our faith and bring them to the obedience of the divine majesty, magnifying the glory of the cross and the passion of our Lord (insofar as we are able), and to keep the Christian religion pure from all heresy or suspicion of heresy, according to and following the ordinance and custom observed by the Holy Roman Church. We are rooted in that faith with a true heart, like our predecessors and progenitors, who by the grace of God also persecuted the enemies of our faith and banished them from their lands. Through their labors, expenditures, and indescribable perils, they have augmented and preserved the faith of our Savior Jesus Christ. They were unceasingly concerned that no appearance or suspicion of heresy or unfaithfulness appear in their kingdoms and domains.

For this reason-after having learned of the mistakes and heresies of a certain Martin Luther, of the order of the Eremites of Saint Augustine, who teaches iniquity, preaches false doctrines, and writes, in both Latin and German, evil things against our Catholic faith and the Holy Roman and Universal Church, things which have already been spread throughout almost all of Christendom, and abusively into some of our lands and domains, greatly diminishing the honor of God and the Catholic faith, imperiling and endangering Christian souls, and bringing future confusion to all the public affairs of our Holy Mother Church-if we do not put an end to this contagious confusion, it could lead to the corrupting of all faithful nations and to their falling into abominable schisms.
Note the fear embedded in this perspective. An alterative voice to the understood “orthodoxy” is deemed destructive, harmful, and potentially eternally impacting (“corrupting of all faithful nations and to their falling into abominable schisms”). This is some harsh language. The answer . . . get rid of them.

Hopefully, it goes without saying, this option is not really an option. The church continues to pay the price for our violent, oppressive history. However, I did see an article in the paper this week about some gun sights that are being issued to some in the American military that have Bible verses quoted on them. So, just in case, I’ll be looking into getting some of those for us, if we choose to set orthodoxy the old fashioned way.

– Perhaps aiming for the same goal, only through a more non-violent means, another possible option could be to quietly leave the established church and begin a new – purer one. As Protestants, we are pretty good at this one. If you don’t agree with the direction or teaching of a particular church find another one . . . or start your own.

While, on the surface, this may sound like a great, nonviolent approach to
achieving some doctrinal purity (and truly the absence of violence is always a better alternative), the reality has created an incredibly splintered church that has polluted its witness to the world. I went to an area pastor’s meeting this past Wednesday and met with pastors who lead churches all over our area. One meets right back here at the Alum Creek Elementary School. One meets over there at the new Freedom Trail Elementary School. Another from the Anglican Church down the road. Another from the Christian Church over on Peachblow. Another from the church that meets in office buildings over on Orange Rd. All these churches, all over the place. What’s the point? Imagine what we could do if we ever united! That’s what I appreciate about the Just for Jesus gathering that the Berlin Church hosts up the road.

So . . . what is the answer?
The first thing we must do is realize the incredible importance the Bible places on unity. Paul pays special attention to the idea of unity in his letter to the Ephesians. Read Ephesians 4: 1 – 6. Paul tells the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” . . . notice that he doesn’t tell them to make every effort to keep their doctrine pure (though he certainly wanted the pure message of Christ maintained). And, as if to remind all of us in our moments of individuality he reminds us . . . “there is one body and one Spirit . . . one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”

I don’t think Ephesians gives the answer of what we are supposed to do when we disagree, but it does insist that whatever we do in our disagreements, we some way, some how, maintain our unity of the Spirit. That, then, presses our question further, “How do we maintain the Spirit of unity in the midst of disagreement?”

We must overcome our tendency to think that the answer lies in some yet-to-be-achieved consensus. That all will be better when I am done convincing everyone of my way while allowing for some slight improvement from your way. The Bible declares that we should be united but nowhere indicates we must be uniform. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows a great deal of variety of practice, thought, and language.

In John 17, Jesus cries out to God in His prayer that His people would be one. Read John 17: 20 – 26. “May they just remember that they are in this together,” Jesus begs of His Father. “May they unite in Me as I have united in You.”

We live in a world of division and diversity. Everyone has an opinion about everything. Now, thanks to the invention of the Internet, everyone has a platform to express his or her opinion to the rest of the world. There was an interesting article in the paper a few weeks ago about global warming. It was during the Climate Summit in Copenhagen that brought about quite the rhetoric from everyone. No doubt there are people here who trumpet the “climate change” cause . . . and others of you who think its some big sham. We could probably have quite the exercise in diversity with an open forum on that this morning.

Instead, I want you to consider a few things from this article entitled, “Climate ‘Debate’ Pits Loud vs. Louder.”

“Consider the global warming debate: The skeptics shout. The skeptics’ opponents shout back. The scientists insist they have research in their corner. And public debate shifts from the provable and the empirical toward the spectacle of argument.”

“Because whatever side you are on, to sample the worldwide conversation in the age of the broadband connection and the constant, instantaneous comment is to be confronted with one recurring thread: Knowing what you’re talking about ain’t what it used to be.”

And this diversity of thought and skepticism of expertise is nowhere more alive than in discussions involving faith. And in the smattering of questions and opinions we can quickly lose our minds and our bearings. The fact of the matter is that we’re never going to have a consensus on alot of important matters. There’s always going to be “experts” and “professionals” who disagree and have opposing “facts” supporting his or her side. It can leave us discouraged, frustrated, and cynical. Questions remain: What is worth fighting over? What is worth complaining about? What is worth arguing over?

I don’t have years and years of ministry experience to make this following comment especially impacting, but I can say that in my ten years of ministry, I’ve never witnessed a “church fight” or a “church dispute” that I felt was worthy of the time. Never once have I seen a silver lining in the cloud that was being pursued. We all need to be reminded of what is worth the fight, what is worth protecting. If we move away from the fence line that we have been talking about in recent weeks, and move to a central fountain in our midst, then we must understand what that fountain is. I have a proposal for us this morning. Across denominational boundaries and through a long and prideful history, there has been a creed that the church has proclaimed as a summary of her faith. I believe it is this creed that stands as the fountain in our presence, and anything not in this creed . . . and I believe this, and yes I know how broad-sweeping it is, anything, is not worth the fight. We can disagree, we can argue and even get kind of loud once in awhile, but the Spirit of unity must be maintained. Let us stand and read this great and glorious document as we close. Read the Apostle’s Creed together.

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of the heavens and earth; and in Jesus Chris, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; on the third day he was raised from the dead; he ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; in the holy Catholic church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the flesh; and eternal life.”

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