The Heretic Game
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
The church in the Western world, including Australia, has lived under the shadow of Christendom for so long that we find life difficult engage and live in this post-modern world. During the Christendom period, we didn’t need to reach-out beyond the doors of the church because the people out there were either associated with the church or easily attracted to it. In those times, even the ardent non-Christians had an elementary understanding of the Bible and the basics of the Christian faith. However, things are not the way they once were. Today in a world searching for spirituality the church is the last place people are looking for answers to their spiritual needs. They are more apt to try the smorgasbord of new age spiritualties that are on show, no matter how far-out or wacky they may be, than to check out the church.
At this present time, there is still a group of fringe people on the edge of the church community, who make seeker sensitive style approaches viable. However, these fringe dwellers are ever decreasing in number and before long we will be faced with the task of reaching the hard-core unchurched, something the church is not well equipped to do. The majority of our churches, if they have contemplated engaging such people, and few have, are still thinking in terms of the aggressive, apologetic approaches that were all too familiar in the modern period. Alternatively they use the seeker sensitive ways of Willow Creek, which at its heart still uses a modernist apologetic.
Before we even contemplate moving out to engage the hard-core unchurched generation, I believe that the church itself needs to go through a sea change in the way it handles the truth of the word of God. For far too long truth has been emphasised at the expense of relationship and practice. Believing the right doctrines has been stressed to the neglect of doing the right things and relating to others in the right way. A student of mine was running a Bible study a few years ago. Half the group were Christians, while the other half were from well beyond the fringe of the church. In the end, he had to close the group down because the Christians in the group found it totally unacceptable that the non-Christians in the group held such heretical and unchristian ideas. They simply could not cope with people who believed differently than them, even if they were available to learn and discover the truth of God’s word. In this case, unthinking dogma became an obstacle to the communication of salvation in Jesus Christ. The reason why this group of otherwise godly people had such difficulties relating to and interacting with the non-Christians in the group was that they had been brought up on what I call “The Heretic Game”.
‘The Heretic Game’ is a game that is commonly played in churches. It goes something like this. New Christians or those interested in learning more about Christianity are invited along to a Bible study group. Usually after a few weeks of getting to know the group they start to feel at ease and begin to open up. It’s at this point that they usually make their fatal mistake – they start to think. They inevitably ask a question or speak on an issue that is held dear to those who know the game. They may question the deity of Christ or suggest that abortion is perfectly acceptable. The group then asks them to elaborate and as they do they crawl further and further out on a limb. When they are right out on the limb, the group begins to saw off the branch calling out “heretic” with great delight. At this point the unfortunate person who obviously doesn’t know the game has two choices, either they crawl back in giving their testimony, pledging never to contemplate to such heretic thoughts again, or they leave the group vowing never again to have anything to do with such dorks. Those who end up staying quickly learn the new game, never again do they attempt to think for themselves for hat could be fatal, they simply allow themselves to be indoctrinated into the faith they have recently discovered.
The result of ‘the Heretic Game’ is that many believers remain spiritually immature, they are not in a position to pass on their faith in a meaningful way, and the faith they profess looks very unattractive to those on the outside. If we are to overcome ‘the Heretic Game’ then we need to develop thinking, reflecting communities that are not afraid to ask the hard questions. Communities where there is freedom to grapple with and work through their issues and heresies without the threat of being denounced. In other words, we need to develop communities of trust that work out their faith in the context of real life, with a serious commitment to Bible study, reflection and a changing lifestyle as they are confronted afresh with the living word of God. Then and only then will we have anything to offer to a world without Christ