Heresy Hunters



I watched CBS’s “60 Minutes” a couple of Sunday night’s ago.  Scott Pelley interviewed King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the King of Jordan.


They talked about terrorism.

They talked about refugees.

They talked about ISIS (He’s causing them fits.)

They talked about how “think tanks” in the West think “they know us better than we know ourselves.”

They talked about Islam.


You can read the interview here.


I learned a lot. But this is the biggie.


The King said this about Islam:  “…in Islam, us traditional Muslims, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.  The jihadists take it upon themselves to call the rest of us heretics…”


Did you catch that?  “In Islam, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.”


That hit home with me.

I’ve been called a heretic more than a few times.


Christians throw the “heretic” word around like pizza chefs throw pizza dough. Hold a view that differs from some Christians?  Watch out for the “H-bomb!


You’ve heard of “witch hunts?”  This is a heresy hunt.


The first heresy hunters were members of the ancient tribe of Manasseh called Gileadites.  There had been a longstanding feud between them and the Ephraimites in northern Israel.  To make sure no undesirables got into their camp, the Gileadites set up a check point at the fords of the Jordan River.  They challenged anyone trying to cross the river to say the password: “shibboleth.” The Ephraimites, no matter how hard they tried, just could not properly pronounce the word.  It always came out “sibboleth.”  When that happened, the Gileadites would cut off their heads.  All because they couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound. I know: Crazy.  Check it out for yourself here.


Over the centuries the church has continued chopping off heads of people who didn’t say something the “right” way.

Iraenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons in the 2nd century, claimed there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation.  Other Christians were heretics and should be expelled, and, if possible, eliminated – killed.


By the 5th century there were over a hundred active statutes in the Roman Empire concerning heresy.  From Augustine onward,  most theologians agreed that heretics should be persecuted.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was a good thing to burn heretics.  Even better to burn them alive.


Any deviation from the current orthodoxy line could be judged as heretical.


Here are few things you could lose your head over:

Allowing women to preach – 12th century (and in some churches today!).


Eating  meat on Friday.

Refusing to take oaths or make a pledge (The Waldensians of the 12th century – and some people today).

Translating the Bible into common languages.

Baptizing adults instead of children.

Opposing capital punishment.

Hanging the 10 Commandments on a wall (1676).

Believing/teaching that the earth revolves around the sun.


The punishments for heretical thinking varied:  Yes, there was the traditional beheading. But there were some more creative methods that would make some politicians proud:

*The Judas Chair:  The “heretic” would be placed in a harness and lowered onto a pyramid-shaped seat, with the point inserted into their anus or vagina, then very slowly lowered by ropes. The torture might last a few hours or a few days.   More often than not, the victim died of infection.

*Drowning-especially for Anabaptist for their views on baptism.

*Skinned alive.

*Some had their mouths stuffed with gun-powder which was then ignited.


*Children were killed in front of their parents.  


All in the name of Jesus.


The hunt continues today for people who don’t say things “right.”


All in the name of Jesus.


When Jesus describes the final judgment scene he doesn’t include questions on belief.  Nothing  about inerrancy, the Trinity, or atonement theory. His concern is how theology translates into how we treat people.


“I was hungry, did you feed me? I was thirsty, did you give  me something to drink?   I was in prison, did you visit me?  I was naked, did you give me clothes to wear?  I was sick, did you take care of me (Matthew 25:31-46)?


Theology matters.  I get that.  But how do we tell the difference between good theology and bad theology?  


Is it, as Jesus indicates, how we treat people (Matthew 7:12)?


The King of Jordan admitted that there are heresy hunters in Islam — yep, we know them – jihadist, ISIS.


What does that say about the heresy hunters in Christianity?




Until I was 10 years old, I had a speech impediment.  There were some letters I just couldn’t pronounce. The impediment resurfaces every once in awhile. It can be a bit embarrassing while teaching.  If you ask me to say “shibboleth,” I may not say it right.


According to some, I don’t “believe” right.  

That’s ok.  
It’s still my desire to live in each moment.  To hear in each moment the voice of Jesus say, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant…”  

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