Everyone’s a Heretic Sometimes

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Abby Norman -Everyones Heretic Sometimes3

I was introduced to the word heretic on the Christian blogosphere. Much like a child learning a curse word on the school bus, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know exactly what it meant. I knew it was a thing Christians called other Christians: heretic. I knew I didn’t want to be called that, and I knew you only used it on people you really disagreed with. This word was all about someone being very, very wrong. You did not want to be called a heretic.

Then I got into seminary, took a basic Christian history class, and found out heretic doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. It just means the person espousing the beliefs is a little outside the norms of what a committee of old Christian dudes agreed to believe way back when. My professor explained it like bumper bowling. There were boundaries put in place about the ways we all agreed to think about God, Jesus and the church. When your ideas jump the bumpers and move into another lane, you are a heretic.

Y’all, I don’t know about you, but I assumed the church had our beliefs totally figured out more or less since forever. I thought those things came straight to our ears from Jesus’ mouth by way of the Bible. I thought it was easy and not even worth talking about. I thought Jesus told us everything we collectively decided to believe. I thought arguing about those things was like REALLY REALLY bad! Heretic bad. I thought disagreeing with other Christians was like telling God that God was wrong.

As it turns out, the church has been arguing about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus basically since Jesus was crucified. Since the ascension of Jesus Christ, we have been fighting about what this means, and if you think the Christian blogosphere is ugly, please be aware that people were literally killing each other over what exactly the trinity meant.

The Nicene Creed was set up to put boundaries around Christian thought. You can think whatever you want as long as it is within these ideas: God is one, Jesus is God, and the one God is a triune God. Jesus was born a virgin, died on a cross, was resurrected, and is coming back. You have to believe all of that. Otherwise, it is up for debate.

Our beloved St. Nicholas (that’s right, Santa Claus) punched someone in the face at the Nicene Council because the man was a heretic. It had something to do with the way the trinity was described. Santa Claus punched someone in the face for getting an explanation of the trinity wrong. What the heck?

Christianity has always been messy and complicated. There have always been fights about what is okay and what isn’t. I think this is one of the reasons we are called siblings in Christ. When someone has a new idea, they often get told they are a heretic. A few hundred years later, this idea isn’t even controversial.

Fighting isn’t going to destroy the church. We’ve been like this since the beginning.

The Council of Nicene convened to try to get us not to fight so much, or at least stop getting violent about it. Despite the hot mess of church in-fighting, the church still grew. I’ve often heard that if the Christians don’t stop fighting, no one will join the church. But y’all, perfectly agreed upon theology has never been what draws people in.

The church has never been what attracts people to the church. This is good news. The church has been a hot mess arguing with each other since the beginning. Jesus is what attracts people.

The church has always been fighting about exactly who Jesus is, how he works, who’s in and who’s out. We haven’t always been nice about it. Sometimes we even killed people over it. It used to be a lot more dangerous to be a heretic.

The more I learn about Jesus, God, and the historical beliefs about all the things I thought had been settled forever, the more I am drawn to Jesus. Everyone’s a heretic sometimes. It just means we’re trying our hardest to follow God.

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Abby Norman
Abby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or “wifeing”, she blogs at accidentaldevotional.com. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.
Abby Norman

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  • fiona lynne

    I love everything about this! The historical perspective is so important to hold on to, otherwise we start thinking we’re somehow unique in this little period in either our belief or our doubt. “Everyone’s a heretic sometimes. It just means we’re trying our hardest to follow God.” YES. Thanks for writing this x

    • Abby Norman

      Um yeah, I felt so….normal and free.

  • I see this happening in the New Testament church where the Jerusalem Council meets to iron out the details of just exactly what it means to a Gentile Christian.
    Wonder if there was any undocumented nose-punching in that heated discussion?

    • Abby Norman

      You know there was. You know someone was like, keep that out of the notes!

  • Carolyn Phillips

    Love this. I’m studying church history, and the more I learn, the more I see that God is so much bigger, and grace so much wider than we realise. The first church was no ideal, it was just as messed up as we are, but they persisted in following Jesus in whatever way, and that gives me hope that we will too.

    • Abby Norman

      And it didn’t make people afraid of the church! Jesus still attracts people, because….because Jesus.

  • Rea

    I love this. It’s also exactly the sort of stance that got me called…a heretic. Because apparently trying my hardest to follow God wasn’t enough when my beliefs and questions strayed outside the prescribed lines. A year later and that is still a huge wound.

    • Abby Norman

      Oh I am SO SORRY someone said that to you. Follow God, even outside the lines, follow God.

  • So much truth!!

  • sandyhay

    Maybe heretic should be our word of the year…at least of the day. This bunch of crazy women who are thinking for themselves and worshiping God freely . What a wonderful place to be. xoxo

    • Abby Norman

      i am IN!

  • This whole post makes me happy. YES: when I read that currently there are many different “Bibles” out there (the Ethiopian church has 81 books in it, the Protestant only 66–and Luther wanted to kill a few more) I realized that “Bible” was a whole HECK of a lot more complicated then I had learned. It’s worth remembering that as important as theology is, it is also a mystery.

    • Abby Norman

      ALWAYS a mystery and if you think you have it all nailed down, it isn’t God you got all figured out.

  • This is great! Yes, it’s illuminating to read what the actual definition of heretic is, and to discover that what they were fighting about would be so low down on our priority list today. I still find it bizarre that the great schism was apparently at least partially caused by when to celebrate Easter…

    Love this column!

  • Love this! I’m going to embrace my inner heretic! Isn’t it funny that, for as much as we can be SO rooted in church history, we forget the feisty side?

  • Andrea Christiansen

    Yesss! The church isn’t what draws people to the church, Jesus is! I just love the freedom that comes when we can let go of some of that tension because it isn’t all up to me, all up to us, to get it all right. Great reminder to get our focus straight!

  • “Everyone’s a heretic sometimes. It just means we’re trying our hardest to follow God.” YES and AMEN. I love this column Abby and you’re exactly the right person to write it. Thanks for bringing us along on this fascinating journey.

    Also, I think someone needs to make t-shirts that say “Everyone’s a heretic sometimes.”

  • Kelley J. Leigh

    Santa Claus punched someone in the face over the Nicene Council. Favorite.