August 18, 2007
The evolution of apostasy
I get regular email from a man named Matt Barber, whose opinions I have discussed from time to time. In his latest mailing, he makes a strong claim that seems worthy of discussion -- that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is guilty of apostasy:
Washington, D.C. -- At a recent meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the decision was made that the ELCA would ignore the Bible's unequivocal condemnation of homosexual behavior as sinful and permit openly homosexual clergy to pastor ELCA churches. This has stirred up tension between the ELCA and other more Biblically sound factions within the Lutheran denomination.While Barber sent that text in his email to me, it is identical to a story appearing at the Concerned Women for America web site (where he is the Policy Director for Cultural Issues).
While think the comparison is inapt, the pastor and the church are certainly within their rights to make it, and to refuse to allow the funeral. If you want a gay funeral and the church won't allow it, you can find another church that will. But where's the line here? Suppose the church had allowed the gay funeral. Would that have been an act of apostasy against Christianity?
This begs the question of what constitutes apostasy.
a term generally employed to describe the formal renunciation of one's religion, especially if the motive is deemed unworthy. In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to one's former religion.It is to be distinguished from heresy:
The difference between apostasy and heresy is that the latter refers to rejection or corruption of certain doctrines, not to the complete abandonment of one's religion. Heretics claim to still be following a religion (or to be the "true followers"), whereas apostates reject it.It strikes me that Barber may have used the wrong word here. If we assume that the ELCA has rejected or corrupted church doctrines, wouldn't that be heresy? Most religious schisms have at one time or another been called heretical by those on either side of the doctrinal dispute. Certainly, Lutherans who believe that the ELCA's interpretation of scripture is wrong have every right to leave their church and start another one, as dissenting Episcopalians have. This begs the question of which side is truly "heretical." The founders of this country were well aware of this process, and hence we have the First Amendment, which allows anyone to be a heretic, a counter heretic, or even an apostate.
Of course, Barber is well within his First Amendment rights in condemning the Lutheran Church for apostasy, but that does not mean he used the word correctly. I'm assuming he considers other churches that tolerate or accept homosexuality to be apostate churches as well. The Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, most Quakers, Unitarians, Rainbow Baptists, and related spinoffs all claim to accept homosexuality. Most of these outfits would call themselves Christians, and I am sure that their clergy are well aware that Leviticus condemns lying with a man as a woman. (If in fact that is the correct translation.)
As I've discussed before, a good theological argument can be made that, translation issues aside, the Leviticus prohibitions, as Jewish religious rules governing purity (there are a lot of other prohibitions there), are no more binding on Christians than the rules requiring circumcision, diet, menstrual fluids, beards and haircuts, etc. (The Council of Jerusalem addressed this in general terms.) But whether the Leviticus prohibitions are seen as binding on Christians or not, I don't see how they can be seen as going to the essence of Christianity itself -- to the point where apostasy would result for failure to follow them.
It seems to me that there is an emerging movement to place opposition to homosexuality within the forefront of Christianity -- to the point where such opposition becomes defining of the term "Christian." And not opposing it becomes not mere heresy, but now apostasy (even though the latter is a word that "shouldn't be used lightly").
That simply was not the case when I was growing up. I went to a religious school, but I was taught that there were plenty of ways to interpret the various scriptures. Those who interpreted the scriptures literally were in one camp, and while they were called "fundamentalists," in those days the word was a lot less inflammatory than it is now.
Yes, there were the Ten Commandments. "Lying with a man like a woman" isn't there, but coveting is, and everyone knows we all covet. My school may have been heretical, but it would never have occurred to anyone to declare the acceptance of the covetous to be apostasy. Even Sabbath breakers and makers of graven images were tolerated in those days.
Christianity -- and apostasy -- had yet to, um, evolve.
Of course, I try to be tolerant and openminded about these things, and I have to recognize that tolerance by definition must includes tolerance for those who are accused of apostasy, as well as their accusers.
It's worth bearing in mind that every single one of us is an apostate -- at least to somebody.
(There's a certain oneness there, if you think about it.)
posted by Eric on 08.18.07 at 12:25 PM
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