My friend Dave Gerber, pastor of a Nazarene Church here in Michigan, is in a debate on facebook regarding the Emerging Church. Dave is not your typical pastor. He'd never make it in a Jan Karon novel. Maybe Tom Clancy.
Like a good student and teacher of the bible, he goes in with an open mind, tries to see both sides of the argument, and engage in a calm discussion. My own Methodist church sets the standard for open-mindedness and calm discussions. As Pastor Dave surely knows, keeping an open mind is a good way to get labeled a "heretic."
It's become a popular word in the 21st century American Christian crowd. My handy dandy Google dictionary defines heretic as "a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church."
For those of you outside the church (and I can't blame you if you fear stepping inside), each denomination has a set of defined principles, beliefs, etc. There's a bit of variation, sometimes in the way they baptize (and at what age), the exact wording of your confession of faith, how communion is served, etc. The Catholic church, of course, varies greatest from the large grouping of denominations labeled "Protestant."
However, the "doctrines" of the church as a whole remain fairly simple and surprisingly few. I prefer Paul's 2 step plan: confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead. It's so simple anyone can do it. Hey! How 'bout that? It's almost as if God intended that anyone have easy access to heaven. No cover charge, just a simple dress code (a white robe...where do I sign up?).
Like any good organization, though, the church has managed to take a 2 step plan and turn it into something the U.S. Congress would be proud of. And here's the rub: those churches who are trying to reverse the over-regulation of the past hundred years or so and go back to the basic principles are the ones getting the bad press. As far as I can tell, in order to be a heretic in the church, you have to reject Jesus as Lord or deny that he was raised from the dead. We can argue a few more, the virgin birth comes to mind. But let's keep it simple for now.
Let's talk about what a heretic is not. A heretic is not someone who believes that the prophecies in Revelations were fulfilled in the first century. A heretic is not someone who believes that homosexuals should be allowed to marry (please...this is not my belief, but I don't feel someone should be tossed from the church for that particular stand). A heretic is not someone who worships on a day other than the one you've chosen. A heretic is not someone who votes Democrat.
This is not the time to make non-believers feel as if they need a masters degree in churchology to sit in a pew. We are in an age when people have lost all hope in their government, in corporations, even in themselves. They need something to grasp onto. If they look at the church and see us bickering like a roomful of politicians, they'll look elsewhere.
I find, as I get older, I respond to questions about faith with "I don't know" a heck of a lot more than I used to. If you have all the answers, please don't let me know. I've heard from you enough. Jesus had 3 1/2 years to teach his fledgling church all they needed to know. And guess what? After that 3 1/2 years most of them still didn't get it! They disagreed with one another, then later found another victim, Paul, with whom to disagree. So which one of the disciples were heretics, my friends?
I'll let you choose. Because I don't know.