Speaking of the Inquisition…some people go to the opposite extreme and object to churches exerting any kind of corrective discipline whatsoever over their members. In any private organization those who break the club rules can be stripped of office, certain member privileges, or membership itself. It’s no different in churches. But some people fail to distinguish between this sort of thing and the Inquisition’s levying of criminal penalties for ecclesiastical offenses.
On July 21, 2002, I blogged on an issue of church discipline that arose in the Church of England. The C of E is a strange creature, a public-sector institution that, for the most part, must play by private-sector rules. And when it does so, idiotarians panic and start seeing
witches Torquemadas under every rock.
(A reference to Bishop Shelby Spong as an “archbishop” was corrected in a later post.)
From the London Telegraph:
“Church of England clergy who deny the existence of God could soon find themselves facing heresy charges in new courts headed by bishops and advised by panels of theologians.”Plans for the special tribunals, which critics fear will lead to ‘witch-hunts’ against liberal clergy, have been drawn up by a committee of the House of Bishops.”
Hey guys, this isn’t some esoteric side issue such as sprinkling vs. full-immersion baptism or the proper use of vestments. This is about whether or not the supreme authority over humanity is who the Bible says it is; if not, then the Bible has no authority and Christianity has no reason to exist. Might as well try to suggest that Hinduism can exist without the law of karma, or that Marxism can exist without the abolition of personal property rights, or that Rush Limbaugh could be a chapter president for NOW.
All churches should be careful as to what offenses they treat as the rough equivalents of misdemeanors and felonies. In my congregational Protestant mindset, I regard the vestment issue (see article) as the rough equivalent of a misdemeanor; evidently some in the Church of England disagree. As for “felonies,” those who teach against those portions of doctrine immediately relevant to salvation (Articles I-V of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion) should be ousted; disbelieving in the existence of God certainly qualifies. Some lesser heresies may also necessitate ouster, depending on the degree to which the church’s ability to function is disrupted, but the majority probably do not; such should be judged on a case-by-case basis.
My advice: if you don’t believe in Anglicanism, don’t join the Anglican Church. Religions and secular ideologies do not exist to be defined by people who don’t believe in them.
Update: If all this seems rather harsh, consider a comment I made in an earlier post: “It is the height of religious intolerance – and intellectual dishonesty – for one to expect to serve as an official in a religious organization or to teach that religion in its seminaries if one disagrees with that religion’s central creeds.” Retired Episcopal
archbishop John Shelby Spong is an example of the intolerance and dishonesty to which I refer. He prescribes for his church a “new reformation” that would discard all notions of the existence of the supernatural, including a supernatural God. Most atheists have the common decency to simply disagree with Christianity rather than insist that Christianity take on assumptions that its founder and early disciples never intended.
On another note, “heresy” is not just a nasty label that people place on ideas they don’t like. It is the act of claiming that a belief jives with a particular worldview when in truth it does not. Drawing on a previously cited example, personal property rights is a heresy under Marxism. This doesn’t mean that Marxists or Christians or Hindus should each be of one mindset. There’s plenty of room for disagreement under each of these philosophies. But each philosophy has its non-negotiables, and any organization dedicated to furthering specific ideologies is justified in making sure that its officials support the mission statement.