Heretical versus unorthodox: Does heretic mean non-Christian?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Ryft, Apr 16, 2012.

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  1. Ryft

    Ryft Puritan Board Freshman

    NOTICE: On the advice of another member, I am splitting my questions up (Smart 2012) into three separate posts, allowing "folks to more easily focus the discussion on one point" (Lindsay 2012, par. 2). This is the second of three posts; the other two are "Heretical v. unorthodox: What is heresy?" and "Heretical v. unorthodox: Confessional or not?"

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    I present the following questions for the sincere and thoughtful consideration of Presbyterian members here—although it is open to those of other traditions as well—because I am looking for answers drawn and cited from recognized Presbyterian sources, be they scriptures, confessions, catechisms, general assemblies, synods, or otherwise books and articles by theologians who are Presbyterian or whose material is generally accepted by Presbyterians; and, come to think of it, perhaps in that preferential order. (The theological opinions of members here are also welcome, of course, but I am looking for sources and materials which I can cite in a research paper.)

    2. Are the terms heretic and Christian mutually exclusive? In other words, does it follow that to call someone a heretic is to call them a non-Christian? This question is admittedly a bit sticky. For example, the Protestant faith is heretical on the Roman Catholic view; and yet Protestants, perhaps most effectively by those of the Reformed faith, would argue that they enjoy union with Christ and are thus Christians, notwithstanding the opinion of Romanists. So there is one sense in which the terms heretic and Christian are not mutually exclusive.

    But I am inquiring after a Presbyterian context, so I am looking for an answer that is consistent with the five solas of the Protestant Reformation and the confessional standards of orthodox Presbyterian churches. For example, suppose a Reformed Baptist called a Presbyterian heretical over the issue of infant baptism, given that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) militates against such a practice—even though the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and catechisms affirm it. Has the Reformed Baptist misapplied the term, or did he use it rightly (thus rendering the Presbyterian a "Christian heretic")? What I mean to ask is this: Is there a definition of heretic that transcends competing confessional orthodoxies which all Reformed churches acknowledge?

    Surely the matter is not so muddled that all Christians are thus inevitably heretics (since every Christian body will violate the orthodoxy of another Christian body). It must be the case that the Reformed Baptist in our hypothetical scenario has misapplied the term, for even his own confession subordinates itself to holy scriptures, the only infallible rule of Christian faith and practice (LBCF chapter 1, articles 1, 2, 6, 9, and 10). As Philip Schaff notes in The Creeds of Christendom, "The value of creeds [and presumably confessions and catechisms] depends upon the measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. ... The Bible has, therefore, a divine and absolute [authority], the Confession only an ecclesiastical and relative authority."

    There must be a set of orthodox dogmas to which all Reformed churches are agreed as delineating heresy, such that all other contentions permit communion of these saints as Christian brothers. And it is my hope that there is some record of this in sources from, or recognized by, orthodox Presbyterian churches confessing the Westminster Standards. (For my purposes there is no need for an orthodoxy that will include the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, so that can be left to the side. Those of the Protestant Reformation need only apply, so to speak.)

    I appreciate your careful and thoughtful contributions to answering this question. Please remember to cite the references that your answers draw from, if any, so that I may examine them for myself and include them in my research.
     
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