Friday, June 06, 2008

The American Heresy

Something that I've been thinking about for a while is that America has its own "native" heresy. I call it individualism. Fr. Dan Martin's latest post on the Diocese of Pittsburg got me thinking about this again. Both on the progressive side and on the reasserter side, we are obsessed with our own individual rights. This focus on our "rights" as individuals causes us to lose focus on God. We yell out to others "You're not the boss of me!" This individualism causes us to search for affirmation by listening only to those voices that sound like our own and causes us to be convinced of the rightness of our own positions.

It also causes us to believe that we are the captains of our own ships of fate. We take our fate into our own hands and we make our future. We have all fallen for that "if you can conceive it and dream it you can achieve it!" line of positive thinking and subsituted it for Christianity.

This heresy manifests itself by wanting the church to affirm us as we think ourselves to be. We want a divorce? Well, God wants us to be happy, so the Church should allow for divorce and remarriage (because God wants us to be happy). We want our sexual expression blessed (today it is mutually monogamous life long relationships (at least if the intent is life long at the time) or "serial polygamy." I've heard voices on the progressive side that say that marriage is a heterosexual construct and homosexuals should not be tied to it, but that their relationships should be blessed as well.

On the reasserter side, we see this manifested by the desire to leave TECUSA because it is totally left the Christian faith. We want to find our own solutions to the problem of TECUSA and chart our own course as individuals, congregations, and dioceses. We are not content to wait for the communion as a whole to provide a solution.

It seems that we, as a church, have bought into the lie that God made us as individuals who exist to acheive self-fulfillment.

My brothers and sisters, God did not create us as individuals to find ourselves. God created us as persons who are designed to live in community and that community should reflect the inner life of the Trinity. So long as we depend on the strength of our own arms or minds or wills to solve our problems, we will fail. We need to remember that the solution to our problems is to surrender to God and live the life that He has shown us in His Self-Revelation.

Phil Snyder


Dan Martins said...

Phil, your analysis is brilliant. Alas, the disease of Individualism is part of our American DNA, it is proverbially "as American as apple pie."


plsdeacon said...

Thanks Dan,

Now that we have diagnosed the problem, what is the solution? What, specifically, can we do to combat this American heresy?

Phil Snyder

Robert said...

I agree, individualism is the American way but it isn't God's way and never was.

Two things can happen to reverse this. One is, people as individuals can decide that they aren't self-sufficient and they ARE dependent on God and each other.

Secondly, individualism and consumerism go hand in hand. If the economy tanks, the drug of consumerism isn't as readily available to numb the pain of an otherwise empty existence, and people may start turning back to God's ways and to community.

Anonymous said...

I think the solution is more and more to "abide in Christ," so that our desires reflect His will, rather than our own.

And, it's as we abide in Him, that we are drawn into closer communion with each other despite our differences, and struggles.


plsdeacon said...

I agree Grace, but the problem become which "Christ" are we to abide in?

One of the problems with individualism is that we tend to come up with our own idea of "christ" and then "abide" in that. This is where Holy Scripture and Tradition become important correctives to Individualism. As a member of the Church, I am to submit my ideas to the teaching of the Church. I am to work to make my ideas and my thoughts and my theology conform to the limits of what the Church teaches.

I am to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship."

How does anyone know the teaching of the apostles? It's recorded in Holy Scripture and maintained by the Bishops of the Church (all the bishops, not just the TECUSA bishops).

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...


I totally agree that we are to be informed by tradition, and reason, as well as Scripture. But, as an evangelical, I do give a greater weight to the witness of Scripture.

Also, I believe that we should certainly continue in the "apostle's doctrine." which is reflected in the creeds and confessions of the church.

But, at the sametime, I think it's possible, as Martin Luther once shared for the councils of the church to err at times.

For me, this matter of the blessing of SSU all boils down to a difference of opinion relating to the correct interpretation and application of God's word.

I see no reason at all why people who are abiding in Christ can't remain in communion, agreeing to disagree for now, in the same way that we can agree to disagree relating to the ordination of women, or divorce and remarriage, as well as other matters.

Phil, I'll tell you the truth, I don't feel totally comfortable in either camp with this whole issue. Christian brothers and sisters who should be loving each other, respond to any difference of opinion with total contempt, and despising, or mockery.

Folks like me are deemed as "heretics," by reasserters. While those in your camp are accused of being hateful, obsessed with sex, or labeled as "cancers" to be cut out of the body.

It's all sad, and a horrible witness for our Lord. Where are the fruits of the Spirit in all this??


plsdeacon said...

Hi Grace,

Thank you for your "grace"ful comments. All the anger and hatred and name calling around this issue tends to make me believe that it is not from the Holy Spirit. I admit that I could be wrong on this and that God may desire some people to live in homosexual relationships. But, shouldn't we explore the reasons with our brothers and sisters and get them to agree that this is not an essential matter before we act on it? One of the biggest problems is that TECUSA discussed this in an echo chamber and, listening to the echos, decided that the other voices didn't matter and that it was good to continue on their trajectory.

I find it rather ironic that the very people who accuse GWB of "imperialism" because he only consulted with England, Canada, and Australia are engaged in their own "theological imperialism" by listening only to some of the voices in England, Canada, and New Zealand. In the face of almost universal that to continue in their trajectory would cause schism, they went on ahead anyway. To act in defiance of united and virtually universal pleas not to act is not prophetic. It is schismatic.

And, now, we see the result of that action and its counter action. We have vestry members being sued by TECUSA. We have canons ignored and "re-interpreted" so that they mean what the PB says they mean. We have entire dioceses voting to leave TECUSA.

It is odd, but every fight of heresy has produced its own heresy in the "opposite" direction. For every adoptionistic heresy (where Jesus was said to be less than fully God), a docetic heresy (where Jesus was said to be less than fully man) was born. The splitting of the Church is, to me, a sign that what is occurring is not from the Holy Spirit.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

Oh, Phil,

I struggle with this, too. But, at the sametime, I'm so concerned for gay and lesbian people to know Christ. I think the church's traditional stance has, humanly speaking, hindered many from hearing the gospel, and coming into the church.

And, a gay brother just recently shared with me how much a church blessing would mean to him, and to his relationship. They are so hungry for that support,and affirmation.

We have it in our marital relationships. Should it be denied to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Let's keep all of this, and each other in prayer, Phil. I appreciate your graceful spirit too, and all of your sharing with me.

Your blog is awesome!!