Monday, January 25, 2021


It is interesting to see how the Covid situation has resurrected the concept of heresy in a secular guise.  I see increasingly strong reactions against anyone who suggests a different interpretation of the information from that offered through official channels.  Indeed, even to question whether HMG's current course of action is wise and humane is enough to get you told that you have blood on your hands - irrespective of whether you have been carefully keeping to the regulations personally!  Why is this?  Because ideas have consequences.  In this case, it is felt that certain ideas will lead to people taking actions which will result in more people losing their lives.

I am not going to dive into the debates around lockdown (not again, anyway).  Rather I wanted to flag that this is a useful illustration of the theological notion of heresy.  Heresy is not just wrong opinion, but the advancement of ideas which are likely to have devastating consequences for individuals and for the church.  Primarily, heresy encourages people to trust wrongly: to put their trust in things that cannot bear that trust, or not to trust those things which they ought to trust.  The Arian heresy encourages people to trust a creature rather than the Creator for salvation.  The Pelagian heresy encourages people to put confidence in their own abilities rather than in God's grace.  And there are consequences.  Only God is able to bear our confidence; only he is trustworthy.  To put the weight of our need on anything else is deadly, eternally deadly, because it prevents us from seeking salvation in the one place where it is available - in God through Christ.

So just as misinformation about Covid could lead to people acting in a way that endangers themselves and others, so misinformation about God could lead to people trusting or failing to trust in a way that imperils themselves and others eternally.

I think the Covid situation does also highlight one of the dangers of the concept of the heresy.  Some of the anti-sceptical folks have reached the point where there are things which are doubtless true, but which may not be said for fear of consequences.  For example, I read an article over the weekend which castigated the lockdown sceptics for talking about the adverse effects of lockdown on mental health.  There was no suggestion that lockdown is not bad for mental health - I don't think that would be plausible - but that whether it is bad or not, one ought not to say so, because of the potential consequences.

In theological circles, sometimes it becomes impossible to ask valid questions, or to explore genuine issues, because they are very quickly linked to heresy.  The heresy flag is waved early in order to halt discussion.  That is not helpful.  There has to be space, even within the most tightly confessional circles, for investigation of theological issues; there has to always be the possibility that even the definition of heresy has to change under the pressure of renewed reading of Scripture.

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